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Planning for “Un-Retirement”

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Yvonne came to me with one question: “Can I afford to leave this all-consuming stressful job, and instead work at the non-profit I’m passionate about? It won’t pay nearly as much, but I’ll be so much happier!” I’m going to walk you through the process we followed to help her answer that question.

If you’re considering a departure from “corporate,” leaving the comfort of a regular paycheck and benefits, you know it’s a multi-faceted decision. Money is not the only consideration. Nor should it be the most important one!  I encourage all women to think deeply about

  • what brings you joy and gives you energy,
  • how your relationships are affected by your work,
  • your physical and mental health,
  • and how you can move forward feeling engaged and making a difference.

And we must acknowledge the reality of the world we live in. Unless you live off the land, grow your own food, and can fix your own plumbing, you need to think about money!

 

Here’s my suggested framework to look at your own numbers and decide if you have enough to head out the door.

Step One: What does your current life cost?

There’s no way to get around the need to assess your spending. Lots of women feel really uncomfortable with this part. There’s some unspoken internal (or presumed external) judgment going on – of how many dollars you have and/or where they’re going. Remember – the numbers on the page aren’t judging you! Numbers are just numbers. Whatever shame and guilt you might be feeling is coming 100% from your own head. Please be gentle with yourself! Try to set that judgment aside and instead adopt an approach of scientific curiosity. What can you learn from looking at these interesting numbers?

You need to figure out your Burn Rate. That’s the amount of money you’re spending each month (don’t forget the things that occur less than monthly, like vacations, holidays and gifts, insurance and taxes). Also consider if you’ll need to add in health insurance costs, if that’s something you now get a work but will not in the future!

 

Step Two: What if you pare it down to the bare minimum?

What’s your “ramen noodle budget?” (BTW I totally stole that term from a client – thanks K.A.!)  This is not about how you want to live, it’s just an exercise to understand if you had to cut down to survival mode, what would that number be? If things go sour, what could you squeak by on?

 

Step Three: What financial resources do you have?

Add up your assets. This is an important exercise no matter what’s going on in your life! Look at how many dollars you have AND what types of dollars they are. The type of account they’re sitting in affects their liquidity, accessibility, taxation and risk. What are your income sources? Do you have any that would continue if you leave your job? These could be things like rental income, side businesses, annuities – or for the future, pension plans and Social Security.

 

Step Four: What might your new chapter cost?

Is this change going to require some monetary investment to get started? Training or certification, supplies or equipment, software or subscriptions? Do you need to build a website, rent an office, hire some help? If you’re considering a completely new field and don’t know the answers, find people to ask! Tap your network, and your networks’ network. Remember those Informational Interviews we did back in college days? It’s amazing how many kind-spirited people are willing to help. They can point you toward helpful resources, or suggest mistakes to avoid.

If you will have start-up costs, where is this money going to come from? Do you have savings you can tap? (Ideally not inside your retirement accounts, as they should be earmarked for your living expenses down the road (and remember the 10% penalty that applies to most withdrawals before age 59 1/2). Would you take out a loan? If so, be sure to factor in the loan payments to your future expenses.

 

Step Five: Calculate your Runway

Math time!  (You can do this – everyone’s phone has a calculator these days. :))

  • Start with how much of your assets you are willing to spend to get going.
  • Subtract any start-up costs (step 4)
  • Divide the result by your monthly Burn Rate (step 1)

The result is the number of months you could float yourself if no revenue comes in from the new initiative.

 

How does that number feel to you?

If you don’t like the result, are you willing to make some cuts to your ongoing spending? Maybe to move somewhere closer to your ramen noodle budget? How important is this reinvention to you? Are you willing to make some sacrifices? Try to be realistic!

If your answer is zero months, or a very small runway of time, maybe you can set a goal of building up to a comfortable number before you jump. Maybe you start working on the new idea part-time while you’re still earning an income. Or you think about working at Starbucks for the health insurance while you’re ramping up.

 

Step Six: How much do you think you’ll make?

And how long will it take? Remember it’s always safest to use a conservative number in your projections. We like positive surprises much better than the opposite!

I want to acknowledge that leaving corporate doesn’t always happen on our schedule! Forced reinvention has been a reality, especially for women of a certain age, for a very long time. And COVID has only made it more indisputable. We can’t always lay down these nice, neat plans before we’re off the cliff. So it behooves all of us to have a reinvention plan in our back pockets!

 
Also consider: What could go wrong?

Some say jumping without a net brings a higher likelihood of success. As a financial planner, I like to err on the other side. Think about the potential pitfalls now, since we humans make better decisions when we’re not in a state of high and stress. What will you do if getting off the ground takes longer than expected; if you reach the end of your runway and income is not covering your living expenses?

  • Would you turn to other ways to bring in some revenue? Think now about what those might be.
  • Would you be willing to sell some of your investments? Decide today in which order and how it would work.
  • Would you ask a friend or family member for a loan? Have some conversations and plant the seed sooner rather than later.
  • Would you tap the equity in your home? Understand the pros and cons of that move and talk to a lender now.

Maybe you have a line you would not cross. You could give yourself a set amount of time, and if it’s not working you move to Plan B. You decide ahead of time on a certain number of dollars of your assets you’ll use, then you’d move to Plan C.

 

Yvonne’s Happy Ending

Yvonne and I talked through these steps and crunched her numbers. She did quite a bit of self-reflection and talked to trusted people in her life. She decided to save as much as she could for 6 more months, then make the leap. This also gave her time to have an orderly transition in the job she was leaving, to not burn bridges and to keep her network strong. Today she feels lighter and more fulfilled than when we started working together!

Like Yvonne, if you follow this framework, do some math and think through your options ahead, I know you’ll feel more confident moving forward.

This article is written by Stephanie McCullough

Financial Planning for professional women 45+. GenX and Boomer women who want to be sure they’re being smart with their money are my people!

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