Planning to quit your job? Do these 5 things first

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Before we jump into this week's topic: I'm looking to interview a few people who have made career changes. If that's you and you'd like to chat about how you did it, reach out at alicia.adamczyk@nbcuni.com.

At 19 months into the coronavirus pandemic, many U.S. workers are tired of their current jobs and looking for a fresh start.

Some workers believe now is the time to find a new, better-paying gig in a highly favorable market. Others, though, are planning to take a few months off from work completely to recharge after a stressful and chaotic time.   

"For some people, leaving a job has more to do with leaving a particular company because of burnout or even boredom, but for others, an entire career change may be what they are looking for," says Elise Freedman, workplace transformation practice leader at Korn Ferry, a global organizational consulting firm. "Many people are taking the time to really do a self-analysis on what they're good at and what motivates them."

Taking a break can be good for your mental health, and it never hurts to look for better career opportunities if you're discontented with your current gig. But it's also not a step everyone can easily take without some serious planning.

With that in mind, here are five tips from financial advisors on what to do before you take the leap.

1. Consider your cash flow

Before you leave your job, first take stock of household income outside of your personal paycheck and total liquid savings. Does your partner make enough to support both of you, or do you have a side hustle that brings in extra cash each month? 

Then, calculate how many months of necessary expenses — housing, food, debt payments, etc. — your current savings and anticipated income will cover. This calculation will look different for everyone, depending on the size of your household, your expenses, where you live and how much money you earn, among other factors. Don't forget annual expenses that might creep up in the coming months, like holiday gifts.

If there's a difference between how much money you will have and how much you will need, make a plan for getting the excess. You might need to wait a few more months to quit so that you can save up, pick up a part-time job or make some major lifestyle changes.

And if you don't have another gig lined up already, plan to be out of work longer than you think. Always give yourself some wiggle room, since there's no guarantee you'll find another position right away.

2. Upgrade your skills

Before you leave your current job, think through what career path appeals to you going forward and what you need to make that work, says Brian Blackwell, director of financial planning at Spotlight Asset Group.

Ask yourself, "if you do plan to continue to work in the future, will you need to get any additional education or acquire any new skills?" Blackwell says. "It is best to pursue these endeavors before you quit your job so that you don't have to take on additional debt for education."

Plan for any skill-acquiring expenses, like online or in-person courses, you might incur during your sabbatical. 

3. Cut out extra expenses

If you're making less, or no, money, you'll need to spend less. Look for obvious places you can make cuts, like meals out and certain monthly subscriptions.

Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert and writer, also suggests looking beyond the obvious. For example, if you're not working, you might not need your car, or you may be able to get by with just your spouse's. Consider selling yours — you can likely get a pretty good price right now — and you'll earn some cash and save on car insurance.

4. Make use of your benefits

Before you leave your current job, schedule basic doctor appointments and use up the funds in your flexible spending account, if applicable. Spend some time on your company's HR website if you're not familiar with other benefits: You might be able to use a fitness reimbursement or benefit from mental health services before you leave.

Make sure you understand the vesting period with your retirement benefits and any stock options you may have been given. If you haven't vested fully, consider whether losing those benefits is worth the break or not. 

And if you haven't used all of your vacation time, make a plan for that. The days might be lost if you leave, in which case you should use them first. In some states, though, your employer must pay you for any unused accrued time, which can help your savings.

5. Don't cash out your retirement

As tempting as it may be, financial advisors stress not cashing out your retirement accounts to fund a few months off. The reason: You could lose more than 30% of your total savings between taxes and early withdrawal penalties if you do.

If you're in a really good financial position, consider maxing out your workplace retirement account before you leave. Most people spread out their contributions over an entire year, but if you're leaving early and can afford to, max it out now for the tax benefits.

But do rollover your 401(k) when you leave so that you don't forget about it (a lot of people do). Luckily, you'll have plenty of time on your hands to get this task — and maybe a few others you've been putting off — taken care of.

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