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Can You Afford a Career Change?

Farnoosh Torabi

Considering a career change? You’re not alone. The average worker switches professions three to five times during a lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. While an exciting move, the transition does carry financial risks. It may mean a pay cut, investing in higher education or being out of work for a little while. Can you afford it? Here are some key considerations before making the big leap.
Be Honest About What’s Not Working
We all have bad days at work, but does it mean we’re more suited for a whole other career? Before throwing in the towel and taking on a completely new path, identify what’s actually making you unhappy. “You definitely want to do some soul searching,” says Nicole Williams, best-selling author and career expert. “Sometimes it’s the manager you work for, sometimes it’s the hours you work. You may be able to fix those things instead of doing the 180-career change which can actually cost you a lot of money.”

Do Your Due Diligence
If you realize you still want to jump ship, you’ll want to start gathering research and crunching real numbers starting with your projected salary. “Find out what you’re realistically going to make in those first few years in this industry,” says Williams. Sites, like salary.com and payscale.com, can offer some general figures, but even better, Williams recommends asking someone you trust in that industry about what they earned during their first few years.   
Scale Back
If the switch means taking a potential pay cut – and you’re okay with that – you’ll want to adjust your budget sooner rather than later, especially if you foresee being out of work during the transition for a while. Start by taking a long look at your monthly spending. If your current expenses eclipse the average starting salary in your new career or don’t leave much wiggle room for saving, make adjustments or trade-offs now to ensure a smoother transition. Do you really need that comprehensive cable plan? Maybe time to get a roommate?
Paying for Higher Ed
Next, Williams, says, you’ll need to determine how, exactly, to make the switch and be qualified when you’re ready to start interviewing. In some cases, you’ll have to go back to school and earn a whole new degree or get specific certifications or licenses, which can really add up. Her advice: Don’t assume you have to pay for classes all by yourself. “If this a skill set that you’re using in your current job, you may want to ask your employer if they’ll pick up the tab,” says Williams. If your new career requires a new degree, don’t quit your day job right away, either. See if you can accomplish this while working – at least part-time - so that you can cover your financial bases.
Relocation Costs
If your budget’s tight, you may want to limit your job search to nearby cities and towns since your new employer may not pay for relocation costs. Note that moving costs may still be tax deductible if your commute to your new job is at least 50 miles from your old residence.
Health Care Replacement  
If your current employer provides health insurance, figure out the cost of continuing that coverage through COBRA until you’ve landed a new job with benefits. This can be pricey and more than what you were previously playing when you were on the company’s group plan. Under the COBRA insurance federal law, you have to continue to pay your share of the expense, in addition to the cost of what your company used to subsidize plus a 2-percent administration fee. More affordable alternatives may be to piggyback on your spouse’s or domestic partner’s insurance plan or, if you’re under the age of 26, to be added to your parent’s insurance plan. You can also comparison shop online for individual insurance plans at websites, like ehealthinsurance.com and insure.com. This is a cost you for which will certainly want to budget ahead.
“Changing careers can be really hard and there are many financial considerations but if you’re willing to do the homework and sacrifice on some luxuries,” says Williams, “I promise you that you’re day-to-day life is going to improve and nothing beats that.
If you’ve changed careers recently, what was your experience like? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #FinFit.