How To Finance Your Career Change: The Complete Guide (With Real-life Stories And Honest Numbers)

Financing a career change

If fears about money have stopped you from going after a career you love, this piece is for you. Here, Natasha shares the three most effective ways to manage your cash through a shift, and takes a frank, warts-'n'-all look at how successful career changers have made it work. 

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • “Not knowing where my next paycheck is going to come from if I leave the security of a long-term job”
  • “Watching my life savings disappear forever.”
  • “Not being able to give my kids the life I want to give them.”
  • “Being without means to pay my mortgage, maintain my insurance, continue saving for the future.”
  • “I'm the breadwinner and currently earn a good salary. It's going to be a challenge to find a way to do it without risking things for my family.”
  • “Not having a secure income is the scariest thing.”

Money.

For almost 70% of our community at Careershifters, it's the biggest concern.

You have responsibilities: a mortgage perhaps, maybe a family, bills to pay and futures to save for.

You can't imagine waking up a year from now and still feeling as miserable at work as you do right now. But that doesn't mean you're willing to ruin yourself financially.

And yet, exactly how to go about managing your money as you shift into a new industry can be confronting, confusing, and a great incentive to stick your head in the sand.

So let's get it out on the table.

Let's talk about money: the key strategies you can adopt to make your move work financially (including stories from real people who have done it themselves), and the actions you can take right now to get the financial ball rolling.

The three approaches to financing a shift

1. Saving

When most people think about making a career change, this is the approach they imagine.

If you're the kind of person who likes to be prepared for everything, only making a move when there's a solid safety net in place, then this is probably the approach for you: building a nest egg that will keep you safe while you:

  1. Figure out what you want to do next, or
  2. Launch a business and stay afloat in the tricky first years, or
  3. Retrain or upskill for a new industry, or
  4. Weather a pay cut as you start at the bottom in a new industry.

This approach is best for you if you're risk-averse, emotionally able to stay where you are until you're ready to make a move, or balancing a lot of responsibilities that can't be adjusted.

Streamlining

When we think about saving money, this is usually the first place to start.

Where are you currently spending money that could be redirected into savings instead?

The classic example everyone seems to use is your morning Starbucks – but there are often hundreds of little outgoings that can be cut and adjusted to save cash.

Take a look at your bank statement and comb it for outgoings.

What services are you paying for that you hardly ever use? Do you actually need those extra 20 TV channels? What's included in your internet package that isn't necessary? Are you paying for subscription services, like Spotify, that you could probably do without?

Think about your purchasing habits, too. Are you an impulse shopper, coming home at the weekend with a couple of shopping bags 'just because'?

Where does your money actually go?

Lottie Williams streamlined her finances to enable her to retrain.

Lottie Williams streamlined her finances to enable her to retrain.

"My career change from PR involved three years of studying – which meant academic fees and going from full-time to part-time working.

"This all came at the same time as planning a wedding, so I knew I was going to have to look carefully at my finances.

"My partner and I sat down for a few hours with a spreadsheet and worked out exactly what could be cut down or totally removed.

"It was boring but hugely satisfying to see the savings rack up.

"The main ways I cut back were:

"1. Fitness. I was spending around $275 a month on a personal trainer. I wasn't great at motivating myself, so I justified this expense as it meant that I actually made it to the gym and worked out. But it was very expensive so I cancelled this and booked myself into fitness classes instead, reducing my overall monthly spend on fitness to around $85.

"2. Groceries. I'm a very keen cook and our groceries bill was creeping up each week. I set the target of spending around $70 a week rather than $100. To do this I swapped to a cheaper supermarket and got better at meal planning. I'm training to be a nutritional therapist so I wasn't prepared to compromise on the quality of what we eat, but eating less meat and more things like lentils and dried beans has made a huge difference to our bill!

"3. Switching utilities. We moved gas and electric supplier and saved around $28 a month. I changed my cell phone contract and went from spending $60 a month to $15 I also haggled with my internet provider and brought our broadband / landline down by about $14 a month. This was time consuming but worth it!

"4. Changing how I socialize. Dinner and drinks 23 times a week was how I socialized pre-career-change; I was probably spending around $140$210 a week on that. I now eat out about once a week and instead cook for friends here in our home. I probably spend around $50–70 a week socialising now.

"5. Pausing before I buy. I had a pretty terrible online shopping habit – kitchen gadgets, books, expensive beauty products mainly I was constantly buying 'stuff'. I knew this had to stop so I set myself a 24-hour cooling period, and found that this halved the stuff I was buying online. With clothes, I said I would buy a couple of new things each season, but I would buy better quality and mend things if needed, rather than buying lots of cheaper clothes on a monthly basis.

"6. Keeping everything visible. I started checking my bank account every day so I knew exactly what I was spending and even just having this knowledge made me a bit more conscious about not buying silly little things I didn't really need. I was terrible for constant low-level spending  a pair of $10 earrings at Accessorize while waiting for a train, for example. Just getting on top of this has made a big difference.

"Cutting down my spending has meant that I've been able to work part time and study for the last two and a half years it would not have been possible without making a few changes across the board. The wedding is done and dusted and I'm nearing the end of my training, but I know setting up my nutrition business will require investment, so I'll need to keep things on track.

"Living this way doesn't feel like a hardship at all – it's actually quite liberating to be spending less. I wish I'd done it earlier!" – Lottie Tupholme (From PR to Nutrition)

Top strategies for streamliners:

  • Get it all out in the open. Take a deep breath and a close, honest look at your spending habits. You can do this with a highlighter pen and a copy of your bank statement, or take the tech approach with apps and spending trackers.

  • Run the numbers. Once you've identified places you could cut back on your spending, work out (even if it's only a rough figure) how much per month your cutbacks will add up to, and how long it will take you to reach your savings goals.

  • Start squirrelling. Redirect the savings into a separate account every month – doing this as a standing order the day after your payday means you don't have to think about making transfers; the money's gone before you even see it.
Downsizing

If cutting back on minor luxuries isn't going to be lucrative or fast enough for you, a more drastic drop in expenses might be required.

Your home is often the most obvious place to start.

You might move to a more affordable area (keeping an eye on the implications of a move on your commuting costs, if you have them), move in with other people and pay for a room instead of a whole property, or even bite the bullet and go home for a while.

It's not always easy on an emotional level, and can feel like a big commitment, but if you're clear that you need to cut some significant costs from your monthly outgoings, and you're limited in terms of time or energy, this approach can be a gift.

Steve Coster set up his business from his parents' home.

Steve Coster set up his business from his parents' home.

“I sold up my flat in the city and went back home to live with my parents for three years. I had a choice: stay in the flat and worry about paying for it while I studied, or sell up and start again with no financial burdens.

“I was very lucky that my parents allowed me to do that. It was tolerable, but it's very difficult to live at home as a 38 year old! You have to take their feelings into consideration at every turn.

“I had a few thousand pounds when I left my city job and a lot of equity in the flat. When I sold it, I put 50% into paying for my course, commuting, buying books, and feeding myself. I put the other 50% aside for when I would set up my business. ”
Steve Coster (From Broker to Acupuncturist)

Top strategies for downsizers:

  • Be clear on your rewards. A change to your living situation can feel like a major move, so it's important to be clear (and excited!) about the financial rewards you'll be reaping as a result. Work out the amounts you'll be able to set aside each month, and translate those figures to the amount of time you're buying for yourself.

  • Set an end date. If downsizing isn't a welcome option, but you're willing to do it for the sake of your career change, set a clear time limit to stick to. Having a finish line in sight will help motivate you and move you forward.

  • Find ways to make your downsize fun! Look at it as a playful opportunity to discover a new area, meet new people, or try out a different lifestyle for a fixed period of time.
Financial re-engineering

If you have a mortgage or loans, taking another look at what you're paying and renegotiating your agreements can free up a surprising amount of cash.

“When the introductory fixed rate of my mortgage ran out, I decided to increase the term from 22 years to 35, and reduce my payments to as low as possible. Renting out my spare room now basically covers my mortgage payment, bar about $60 each month.

“Once I'd made it work financially, it felt great. If I hadn't had that option, I'd have had to push my shift back by a year or two.”
– Richard G. (from Law to Start-up)

Top strategies for re-engineers:

  • Don't do this alone. Unless you're a financial whizz, find a financial advisor you trust to help you navigate the process, and potentially uncover options you didn't know you had.

  • Start with your mortgage, if you have one. This is likely your largest monthly expenditure item. Understand what options you have for remortgaging to have a lower monthly repayment.

  • If you have credit card balances you're paying interest on, transfer those balances to a 0% interest offer.

2. Side-gigging

If you're thinking about starting your own business, moving into a field where you have little previous experience, or if you need to get creative building a financial safety net, running a side gig alongside your day job could be a smart option for you.

Evenings, weekends, lunch hours, spare minutes at the bank… for a side-gigger, these are all opportunities to work on a project or money-spinner.

You're not quitting your day job… yet.

Instead, you're doubling-up, working over and above your usual hours to test-drive your ideas, build up experience, and / or bring in extra cash to oil your financial wheels.

This approach is not always easy – it can take a lot of energy and often means long hours, coming home from your day job and getting right down to business all over again.

But if you're not ready to pack in your regular salary, and unwilling to wait until you've got all your ducks in a row before you get started, it's a great way to test out your ideas, supplement your regular income, or squirrel away a nest egg. If all goes well, it also means you'll have a fairly smooth transition from your current situation into your next career.

There are two main ways to side-gig.

Mini-gigging

Mini-gigs are the little-and-often approach to side-gigging.

From AirBnB to freelancing on Fiverr.com, pet-sitting to eBay, there are countless ways to make small amounts of cash, especially if you get creative – and they don't have to take up a lot of time.

None of these options are likely to make you a lot of money in one go. But by taking a little-and-often approach, you may be surprised by how much it all adds up.

Jo Opoku mini-gigged her way to freedom within a year.

Jo Opoku mini-gigged her way to freedom within a year.

“I'd always heard you should have three months' living costs saved in case of any emergency, and that felt achievable, so I decided to aim for that.

“I had a spreadsheet set up so I could see all of my income and outgoings, and I used that to monitor my savings too.

“About a year before I shifted, I had started to develop an interest in minimalism and decluttering my life, so I started selling my stuff on eBay, which brought in a bit of extra cash.

“I started renting my flat out on AirBnB on odd evenings and weekends every couple of months, when I was going to be away anyway.

“A friend had told me about a translating platform she used, so I signed up for that as well. Those small jobs checking final translations paid about $20-30 per hour..

“I did a couple of hours per week of touch-typing tutoring after work for $50/hour, which I got either casually through word of mouth or via tutorhunt.com.

“It sounds like a lot all lumped together: renting out your flat, tutoring, translating, selling your stuff, but I did it all bit by bit alongside my day job and took it slow.

“And once I'd started, I found it really inspiring and my confidence grew. I liked feeling like an entrepreneur!

“Depending on when you start counting all the bits and pieces I was doing (eBay selling started much earlier than everything else), it took me 6-12 months to hit my three months’ savings target.”
Joanna Opoku (From Advertising to Literacy Training)

Top strategies for mini-giggers

  • Have a clear financial goal in mind. Without an end point to aim for, you can mini-gig indefinitely! Plus, watching your earnings inch their way toward that final figure is a great motivator for pushing yourself to make more.

  • Keep your mini-gig money separate from your core cash flow. Open a separate bank account (some banks will even pay you to open an account, which could be counted as your first gig), and don't touch its contents for any reason. Spending your freedom funds on groceries is not a smart exit strategy.

  • Start with the most easily available source of extra income.If you already have a garage you don't use, rent that out. If you already walk your dog daily, knock on all your neighborhood doors and ask if anyone wants a dog-walker. Once you have a couple of easy wins, you'll feel more confident going after bigger-ticket mini-gigs like freelance work online.
Moonlighting

The idea of quitting your job to do something totally different can be a terrifying prospect. What if it turns out you don't actually like this new career path as much as you thought you would? If you're starting a business, how long will it take to get profitable? Who will take you seriously in a new industry before you've built up some experience?

Whether it's freelancing after-hours, testing out a passion project, or launching a business in a small, low-risk way, moonlighting takes a lot of the risk out of starting a new path, and gives you the chance to make some money on the side before you make a leap.

© Cristina Rossi Photography

Ilaria Petrucci started her wedding photography business on a shoestring at night.

“I didn't want to take any loans or borrow money when I made my transition, so I decided the only way I could make it work was to continue with my full-time job and run my business on the side.

“I was in the office between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.; I'd then come home, do the usual home stuff, then work very late, sometimes until 2 a.m.

“I worked two jobs like that for two and a half years. I had so much drive and passion for what I wanted to achieve, that helped to propel me forward through the hard days when I was really tired.

“I went part time for a couple of months towards the end of my corporate job. My idea had been to go part time much earlier, but because of the nature of my job, that wasn't possible.

“It was quite difficult to figure out how much and where to invest my money in the beginning. I've learned about that along the way.

“For instance, I worked out that a professional camera body was the main thing and then, as I worked out my style, I hired lenses rather than buying them as they can be very expensive.

“Because I didn't have a huge budget for advertising, the first thing I did was establish an online presence with free platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and a free blog for my first website.

“Financially, in the first year I managed to break even, in terms of what I was earning before. In the second year I made about $8,500 more than what I used to earn in my corporate job.”
Ilaria Petrucci (From Telecoms to Weddings)

Top strategies for moonlighters

  • Prepare yourself (practically and emotionally) for hard work. Moonlighting takes a lot of time and energy. Put systems in place (and call in favors) to make sure you're taking care of yourself as well as your new business. Who can help you with childcare, if you have kids? How will you structure your time so you don't burn out?
     
  • Build a community of other people starting businesses for support, advice and understanding. Facebook groups and local events for entrepreneurs can be a great place to start. 
     
  • Bootstrap your business to begin with. You don't have to invest a huge amount of capital to get your first few clients, and starting small will help you grow your confidence with minimum risk.
Rejigging

Doing something on the side of your day job might sound great, but what if you just don't have the time?

Rejigging, or dropping / rearranging your hours at work, is a pitifully underutilized option that's often far more accessible than you'd think. And while it's not strictly a financial technique, it does free up time – which for you, may also mean money.

Some rejiggers choose to go part time. Others negotiate flexible hours with their organisations, essentially staying late at work to complete five days' worth of work in four.

Even one day per week to focus purely on your career change – whether that's volunteering, meeting new connections, or building a business – can make a huge difference to the speed of your shift.

Our Content Manager, Lisa, boosted her moonlight business by reducing her hours in her day job.

Our Content Manager, Lisa, boosted her moonlight business by reducing her hours in her day job.

“There was no way I could have done a big leap or taken time off. Even saving up enough to do that just wasn't possible.

“So I worked the full-time day job while working on my own plans in my free time for six months. Then I decided that I wanted to give it more time, so I reduced my hours to just doing four days a week instead of five.

“That gave me one whole delicious, incredible day per week to breathe and grow my coaching business.

“It did hurt my income, but I thought I was never going to get out of that job unless I built something new.

“With four days a week I could cover the basics. So I knew we had to be careful with spending and maybe not plan a holiday. We trimmed our budget so that we could cope with that.

“Once I made the space to do more of something else, the opportunities just showed up. It was uncanny: clients started appearing, and soon I came across an advert for a job with Careershifters, and was taken on formally a few months later. I was amazed at how it seemed to just happen because I'd created the space.”
– Lisa Russell 

Top strategies for rejiggers

  • <Don't dismiss your options before you've tried. Even if going part time feels like a total pipe dream at your place of work, floating the idea with your manager can reveal possibilities you didn't realize you had.
     
  • Focus on the value to your organisation, not to yourself. You're most likely to be able to sell the idea to your boss or your company if you can frame it in a way where your new working arrangement is as beneficial to them as it is to you.

  • Offer a trial period. If your organisation is skittish about this kind of idea, offer to test it out with them on a trial basis for a few weeks or months (and then work like a trooper to make it seem like a great idea). If everything goes smoothly on a trial basis, they're much more likely to be open to a longer-term arrangement.

3. External support

This is your career change: your dreams, your life path, and your set of choices to make.

But that doesn't mean you need to do it alone – even when it comes to your finances.

Asking for financial help to find work you love can raise a whole host of fears and emotions and limiting beliefs.

What will people think? Isn't it self-indulgent? Can you really do that?

But once you get past the nerves and the discomfort and the disbelief, finding a source of external support can be incredibly liberating – both financially and emotionally.

Family support

If you're thinking of making a major career change, your family is inevitably a part of that process.

Your mood, your health, how you're feeling at work – these impact everyone around you.

So if you want to make a shift, they may be more willing to support that process than you'd think.

Whether it's changing the main breadwinner in the family or reaching out to your parents for a loan, there are lots of ways your family can help facilitate your shift.

Leigh Cavanagh's wife increased her hours while he shifted.

Leigh Cavanagh's wife increased her hours while he shifted.

“I left teaching in February with a settlement from my old job, and it wasn't until September that I joined St. James's Place to start training as a financial advisor.

“While the settlement did help, to make sure we were financially secure my wife, who also works in teaching, went up from four days to five days a week.

“She and I spoke about it a lot – I could sense her concern but she was able to be there for me. She was also really good at managing the children with me while I worked through the burnout of my previous job.

“While I had enjoyed a regular income in teaching, it wasn't particularly high, so my wife's income meant we could be stabilized and go forward knowing the mortgage would be paid.

“We're still getting over making the change in financial terms but we're on the way. In the New Year I'm looking to start up pension contributions again, and by the end of the end of the academic year, I'd like my wife to have the option of reducing her hours.

“She has stayed doing five days a week. I think she enjoys being the main breadwinner and her career has been reignited to a degree.”
Leigh Cavanagh (From Teaching to Finance)

As with everything in career change, starting small and testing out your ideas for financial adjustments can be a great way to ease yourself (and your family) into a new way of living.

Rather than asking your family to make a drastic change, you might choose to try out a particular approach before you go full-tilt.

Roly Simpson's family rehearsed living on less before he made his leap.

Roly Simpson's family rehearsed living on less before he made his leap.

“For about a year before making the move, my wife and I practiced living on one salary.

“When it came to the crunch and I started training we didn't find the shift as daunting or arduous as I suspect it would have been. It also meant that we had some extra savings in case of emergencies.”
Roly Simpson (From Property to Food)

Top strategies for family support

  • Start with the hardest part. The first conversation, raising the idea of leaning on your family financially, is usually the scariest and toughest bit of this approach. The sooner you can float the idea with your partner or your parents, the better. Don't get stuck worrying for months about how the conversation will go!

  • Get creative. Two (or three, or four) heads are usually better than one. Spend some time coming up with all the different ways this could work. Can you live on one income, like Roly Simpson and his family? Could someone loan you a lump sum?

  • Set up clear agreements. Finances can be a touchy subject, and, for many career changers, asking for help feels like a no-no because of the risk of what might happen if something goes wrong. Make sure everything gets laid out on the table from the start, and have clear agreements in place on amounts, timescales, and dates to review how things are going.
Financial support for retraining

The cost of retraining can feel enormously prohibitive.

A big chunk of time not earning, often spending chunks of money on courses, books… who can afford that?

Fortunately, there are opportunities to retrain and get paid at the same time.

Rachael Ibbot earned while she learned to shift into the social sector.

Rachael Ibbot earned while she learned to shift into the social sector.

On Purpose offers its associates placements in purpose-driven companies, alongside training on how to move into the social sector. Associates are paid a basic salary to facilitate their participation in the programme.

“I found that actually living off $29,000 (the On Purpose wage) was really liberating.

That's less than I've ever earned but I checked and, as a single person with no dependants, it puts me in the top third of people in the country in terms of disposable income. That was a real wake-up call for me in terms of the relative privilege I have come to accept as my normal life.

It turns out that the On Purpose wage is easily enough to live off and have a nice life in London. I don't think I spent more than I earned at any point. Sure, I didn't go on extravagant holidays or buy lots of new outfits, but I did continue to live well, go abroad, socialize, decorate my flat...

Having that as a baseline income also meant the job hunt afterwards was a lot easier – I considered a much wider range of options because almost everything paid more than $29,000!”
Rachael Ibbot (From Credit Cards to Charities)

Five things to do right now

1. Fact-check your money mindset

Whether you're sitting on a huge financial nest egg or starting from scratch, your mindset is the first big obstacle you're likely to encounter when it comes to making a shift.

We're all raised with ideas about what money represents, what it's for, and how it relates to the world of work.

They might include things like:

  • "The more money you make, the better you are at your job"
  • "You can either have money or happiness; you can't have both"
  • "Making a career change means taking a pay cut"
  • "Saving money is hard to do"
  • "Managing money is hard and unpleasant"
  • "Meaningful work = low-paid work"
  • "Time = money"
  • "Salary = security"

And these beliefs, however true they might feel, may actually be keeping you stuck.

  • You don't even consider any careers that might require retraining, for example, because retraining is expensive and you don't have the spare cash.

  • You'd love to do more meaningful work, perhaps, but it's not an option for you because your lifestyle requires a certain level of income that you just won't get in the social impact sector.

  • Or maybe you want to save some money before you leap, but you're stretched at the end of every month as it is and you don't have the time to earn anything else.

But what if these financial facts you think are holding you back were actually myths?

Could it be possible that you're not as financially trapped as you think?

And what might you do to find out?

The most powerful first financial step of your career change is to get your beliefs about money out in the open, and start to challenge them.

2. Run a reality check

One of the scariest things about trying to finance a career change is that it feels so big and fuzzy.

You don't know exactly how much money you're going to need, because you don't really know how long this is going to take.

You've got a sense of how much money you have, or could have, but it doesn't really feel like it's going to be enough.

You're not sure of anything, and that lack of clarity leads to a particular brand of financial rabbit-in-the-headlights paralysis.

So the first thing to do, however uncomfortable it might feel, is to get your hands on the facts.

For some people, the thought of a night in with a budget spreadsheet is an invitation to heaven. For others, it sounds like their worst nightmare.

But whether number-crunching is delicious or torturous for you, it needs to be done – and it needs to be done early.

Where is your money? Where does it come from, and where does it go?

What are your priorities, financially, and what are the exact figures you need for those to be safeguarded?

Look at your finances from every possible angle. Educate yourself about your own financial habits.

You can't plan your journey until you know your starting point.

Find it.

3. Get into conversation

Money can be a taboo subject in polite conversation.

But it's also something that everybody deals with, and there's huge value to be gained from bringing it out into the open.

Whether it's your friends and family, financial discussion forums online, money podcasts, or the stranger next to you on the bus, it's likely that anyone you speak to about money will have an interesting perspective, insight or idea to share with you.

Maybe your next-door neighbor halved their gas bill last year with a well-worded phone call (and you're with the same supplier). Maybe your sister got a great low-interest deal by moving bank accounts this month, or your friend knows of a great clothes-swap event that you can go to instead of dropping a chunk of your salary in stores at the weekend.

No, it's not always comfortable, especially if you were raised to think that money isn't to be discussed.

But (as with everything in career change), people are often the key to discovering exactly what you need.

4. Do the things you can while you still can

If you have a hunch that you might be headed into the kind of career territory that makes banking institutions nervous, it's a good idea to take care of anything big before you leave.

Securing a mortgage or credit cards can be harder after you've made a move to self-employment, for example, or if you're shifting to a job that pays less than where you are now.

So if you have any big-ticket financial moves to make, it's a good idea to time your shift in a way that gives you easiest access to them.

5. Start now

Taking some time to weigh up your financial options is important.

And so is actually making your shift happen.

By all means, set yourself a date by which you'll decide which approach you're going to take.

But you've probably already got a pretty good hunch about which approach (or combination of approaches) is going to work best for you.

And there's never a better time to start than today.

If you think you're going to want to streamline, cut back on one expenditure today.

If moonlighting takes your fancy, choose a small, low-risk project to go to work on this week.

If you're going to need to lean on your partner or your family, float the idea next time you have a quiet moment together.

Start now.

The best financial approach to career change is the one that works for you

Financing a career change can feel like a giant task – a big decision that will affect every area of your life.

And if you don't have much wiggle room in your cash flow to engineer a big change, it's easy to assume it's just not possible for you to finance your shift.

Not everyone has a mortgage they can re-engineer, or a partner who can step up to be sole breadwinner.

But a combination of several techniques can make a far bigger difference than you'd think.

Virtually all of the people we spoke to about their finances used a blend of approaches.

You might streamline your spending while you moonlight; borrow a lump sum from your family while you undertake paid training; or rejig your hours and side-gig to supplement your savings.

Play with your options until you find a mix that works for you.

Which of these approaches feels like the best fit for you? And what concerns do you still have about making it work? Let me know in the comments below.

All currency is shown in USD.

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is Head of Content and Head Coach for Careershifters. She also speaks, writes and facilitates events on the art of human connection.