Boost savings with temporary budget cuts

Go extreme in the short term to create a financial safety net

Opening Credits columnist Eric Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for

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Question for the expert

Dear Opening Credits,
I want to quit my job in five to six months so I can focus on finding a new career. My goal is to save at least $5,000. So far I have $1,000. My problem is that I don't make enough and live beyond my means. Do you have any suggestions on how to budget myself so I can actually quit my job and not work for a few months while I find another job? I don't want to rely on my credit cards, even though I have them. Thanks! -- Nancy 

Answer for the expert Dear Nance,
Repeat after me: "I will not use my credit cards as crisis cash because I quit my job to look for a new one and am now coming up short." Say it again. It shouldn't be something you're considering at all, so abandon that thought process now. You see, a line of credit is not unemployment insurance. Use it as such and you'll end up with a big debt to deal with when you finally do begin your new career.

Instead, prepare. I'm all for you squirreling away $5,000 to have as "just in case" money. Maybe your current position isn't as secure as you'd like, which means that having extra cash in the bank will protect you in case of sudden unemployment.

To reach that monitory goal, your first step is to develop a budget based on your current habits. You admit to overspending, but do you know exactly how much money you're wasting on unnecessary items and expenses? Find out by listing how much you have coming in and going out today. Be super comprehensive -- include everything from rent to holiday cards.

After that, subtract the total from your monthly income and see where you stand. You'll use these numbers as your baseline for the second step, which is to create a temporary dream budget: a full-on, blow-out effort that will help you hit your target within the desired time frame. It will require short-term, drastic changes to the way you've been spending and saving money. To accumulate the remaining $4,000 in five months, you'll need to set aside $800 or $666 to do so in six.

Start streamlining your expenditures. Think hard about what you can live without for a while. For example, you might want to eliminate all dining out (including lunches and coffees), trips to the movies, new clothes and cable TV. Be hard on yourself. Remember that it's only temporary. You'll be surprised by how low you can go when you're truly committed. You may also consider working a second part-time position or putting in some overtime hours to bring even more cash in.

Now, on to you quitting your job so you can concentrate on finding another: Don't do it, Nance. Yes, looking for employment is time-consuming, but hiring managers want to see initiative. Most will value you more if you're still working.

In the meantime, I also urge you to get copies of your credit reports so you can see what's being reported about you before a future employer does. Most are checking these reports to see what type of borrower you are. Credit reports can give employers a more complete picture of your character and level of responsibility. Many reports contain errors, however, so you have a few good months to clear up anything that seems wrong.

When you have those security funds safely tucked away and have begun your new career, go ahead and let the budget belt out a bit. Celebrate with a caramel frappe and see the latest blockbuster! 

See related: Making a budget? Break down the 'Big 4' expenses first, The first step in any budget: monitoring spending, Over your head in debt? 5 extreme budgeting ideas, 6 myths about credit report checks by employers

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Updated: 01-23-2019