Last year, Americans left their jobs in record numbers. Known as the “Great Resignation,” the voluntary quit rate was 25 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels. Some moved on to better offers; others left their fields or dropped out of the workforce entirely. Last fall, we spoke to five women who had either recently quit or were planning to do so to see how they could afford it. A year later, we caught up with them to see how they’re doing.
“I definitely want to quit again. But the thought of going through what I went through last year makes me want to throw up.” — Lauren, 29, a brand manager who formerly worked for a hotel in Maine
A year ago, I started a new job in marketing. I knew it wasn’t the right fit, but I took it anyway because I was running out of money after I quit my previous job. And it pays decently — $77,000. I’m learning a ton, but there’s still a lot of bullshit. I definitely want to quit again. But the thought of going through what I went through last year, applying to a million places and not getting any offers, makes me want to throw up. I don’t know if I can do that again.
Recently, our director of marketing — my boss — left. She gave two weeks’ notice, and the rest of the department had to absorb her work very quickly. I thought it was reasonable to ask for a raise given my new responsibilities. I’m doing things that are not in my job description and definitely above my pay grade. So I asked for $10,000 more, and my new boss said no. I don’t really feel valued or seen.
I am trying to check myself because I don’t want to feel bitter or money-hungry. This is way more money than the $48,000 I was making at my old job. But it still doesn’t feel like enough because of the bad company culture and the rise of inflation and cost of living.
I am saving a lot. I contribute to my 401(k) and the company matches it. I have about $14,000 in cash saved right now. I don’t worry about money in the way that I used to. I feel very secure, and that means a lot to me. I’ve been traveling; I went to Puerto Rico, and I went camping in Massachusetts. I really love my life when I’m not working.
The good news is that I could quit again and be fine for an extended period of time if I was frugal. My rent is still only $500 a month because I live in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with no closet and two roommates. But now I’m worried that I’m too addicted to stability. This job has given me a portal to my next job and my next salary, and so I’m feeling like it’s important for me to stay even though it’s not where I want to be.
This “quiet quitting” stuff that’s going around — it made me laugh because that’s exactly what I do. My job helps me afford to show up for the people I love the most, that’s what’s important to me. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but sometimes it kind of does.
“I’m making significantly less money than I was as a doctor, but my finances have never been better, and I’ve never been happier.” — Katie, 37, an editor for a medical publication who formerly worked as an ER doctor in Charlotte, North Carolina
Initially, I was feeling pretty good about leaving clinical medicine and changing my career, and I thought that would wear off in a honeymoon way. And the opposite has been true. It just keeps getting better and better, like I’m on an upward spiral. I cut back on my spending and found a career that I actually like, and those things continue to feed into each other. I didn’t anticipate how great it would be.
When I quit being a doctor, I sold my house and moved into a two-bedroom apartment. I chose a two-bedroom because the idea of going from a 2,800-square-foot house to a small rental seemed not fun. But then earlier this year, I downsized even more, from a two-bedroom to a one-bedroom, because I realized I didn’t need that extra space. I sold more furniture, got rid of more stuff, saved more money on rent. My mortgage used to be about $3,300 a month, and my current rent is $1,600. It also means that I don’t have to offer people a spare bedroom when they come to visit. It’s so simple and great.
I started to take inventory of all the shit I waste time, worry, and money on. And my finances have never been better. For example, I used to spend a lot of money on dinner dates. And I will still take myself out for a nice dinner, but before I’d be like, “Well, let me find a date and go with them.” That ends up being more money because you drink more, or you pay for the other person, or whatever. Now, I’ll just show up at the bar, have a simple dinner and a glass of wine by myself. I’ve just cut out a lot of extraneous stuff.
When I had my old job, working in the ER, I used to shop as a form of escapism. A new sweater felt like a nice treat, a little squirt of dopamine that I needed to occupy my mind after a bad shift. Now, instead of shopping, I’ll go to my reading nook and read a chapter of my favorite book. Of course, if you had told me two years ago, “Hey, don’t go out and have a glass of wine or buy a sweater; read a book instead,” I would’ve been like, “Fuck off.” My nerves were so shot that I needed something stronger to stimulate them or calm myself down. But now I’m finding that the more I cut back on big spending, nights out, fancy dinners, the less I want it. It just continues to be this positive, self-perpetuating cycle.
Even though I’m still making significantly less money than I was as a doctor, I’m saving more than I ever have before. And I just got a $10,000 raise, so I’m making $185,000. That’s still a great salary, even if it’s less than half of what I could make in my old job. I could go buy myself that $600 coat I’ve always wanted, but then I’m like, “No, I don’t actually really want it.” There’s something that I find very satisfying about having less. I also didn’t have a ton of savings before this because I was paying down my student loans. So this is all very new for me still.
“I’ve always hated September because it’s the beginning of the school year and there was so much stress. But now that I’m retired … I have a new favorite month.” — Susan, 64, a former special education teacher in Massachusetts
I just got back from a vacation to celebrate my retirement from teaching. My husband and I went to Nova Scotia, and it was incredible. We took the ferry, we hiked, we drove, we Airbnb’d, and we brought our own food. There were no fancy cruises or restaurants. We were economical.
I’ve always hated September because it’s the beginning of the school year and there was so much stress. But now that I’m retired, I can go on vacation and there’s nobody around, and the weather is still beautiful. So I have a new favorite month.
I have no regrets about leaving my job. None. Zero. Some of my teacher friends call me to complain, and oh my God, it’s getting harder and harder to listen to it. Hearing about what’s happening to teachers in some states, I couldn’t imagine those conditions. I have three master’s degrees so that I could be the best that I could be. Teaching is hard work.
Retirement was a transition at first. I was worried about how I would be able to handle things financially, and I had a lot of anxiety about money. I took a big pay cut to retire early — about half my former salary. As a teacher, I get a pension, but it’s about 15 percent less than it would be if I kept teaching for a few more years. My husband and I talked about it, and we were both on the same page that continuing my old job was not worth the toll on my mental health. My mental health is worth more to me than money. When I was teaching, especially during the pandemic, I couldn’t sleep and I was stressed all the time.
We went through the numbers and made a budget. We’ve had to cut back on things, but I’m not just quitting my job to do nothing. I’ll find different types of work to do instead. I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire.
My glass art is doing well. Pet portraits are really popular, and they’re going for $1,000 or $1,500 apiece, depending on what people want. I could do a couple of them a month if I really devote my time to it, so I’m looking forward to doing more of that. I’m also self-publishing a children’s book that I wrote to help kids understand sensory issues. And over the summer, I was invited to teach stained-glass art at a summer camp in Maine, which I’ve never done before. Being the youngest of 11 kids, we could never afford to go to a summer camp, so it was like a vacation for me. It made me realize that I could teach art to kids on the side. I’m also taking a class online to learn more about how to promote myself as an artist and promote my book. I’m trying to put myself out there, and I’m more and more confident that things will work out.
“It felt really bizarre to send out six to ten résumés every day, for production and administrative jobs on Indeed or Glassdoor, and just hear nothing back.” — Eva, 36, a retail-store window designer who formerly worked as an office manager in Los Angeles
After more than a year of scraping by and looking for work, I finally got a new job. I started last week. I’m a project manager, designing retail-store windows, and it combines elements of my television-production background as well as the fact that I’ve always dreamed of having my own decorating business. When they offered me the job, oh my God, I was so happy that I cried. I just started last week, so I haven’t gotten my first paycheck yet, but I was literally down to my last $3. My salary is $75,000, and it’s such a relief to know that I’ll have money coming in soon.
Even still, no matter how hard it has been, I don’t regret leaving my old job at all. That place was so toxic and has since imploded. They can’t hire or keep anyone because it’s so bad.
After the stress of my last job, I developed ulcerative colitis. I have medical insurance through the state, but unfortunately, between the X-rays and the procedures and the medication, I owe about $6,000 or $7,000 in medical bills. I’ll have to negotiate them down.
Things did get really dire. I cobbled together little jobs, helping neighbors with things for $20 an hour or whatever they would pay. I became an extreme budgeter and coupon clipper. But even cutting everything out, my monthly expenses were about $3,200, between rent and my car and other stuff. I sold almost all my furniture and I’ve maxed out my credit cards — I owe about $15,000 on them. I’m two months behind on rent. I’m on food stamps. At some points, I couldn’t even leave my apartment because it was too expensive — I couldn’t afford gas. My mom has helped me out a few times, but reluctantly. I don’t like to ask her. It felt really bizarre to send out six to ten résumés every day, for production and administrative jobs on Indeed or Glassdoor, and just hear nothing back. Everyone was saying there was a labor shortage, and I was like, Well, what about me? I managed pretty well, I think, and was proactive. But it took a lot longer than I thought it would.
I plan to keep myself on a really tight budget until I can pay everything off. It’ll probably take six to eight months, maybe longer. I haven’t even gotten my first paycheck yet, so I don’t even know what I’m budgeting off of. I want to also rebuild some savings. I’d love to get to a point where I can put 20 percent of every paycheck away.
“I don’t feel great about our finances, but I love that I get to spend this time with my son.” — Kira, 37, a freelance arts administrator and former events coordinator in Queens, New York
I still have zero regrets about quitting. Looking back, it was certainly a bold decision because I’d been with my former company for ten years. It felt wild to enter a void of not having anything lined up. But I also really needed that time, partly because I was really burned out in my old job and also because I had just become a mom in May of 2021. The pandemic was still happening, and I didn’t have help because my family is abroad and there were still travel restrictions in place. It was a really intense time for me, psychologically. So quitting my job allowed me to focus on my son and then also spend quality time with my family once the travel restrictions were lifted. I hadn’t seen them in two years. They came here, and then I went to spend time with them for about a month. It was amazing.
When I came back, we finally figured out child care because that had also been a struggle. There aren’t any good day-care options where we live, and getting a nanny to come to this part of the city is hard. But we finally found a great person to work with us part time, and that has given me the headspace to look for a job. I was starting to freak out a bit because I’ve always made my own money, and I didn’t love being totally dependent on my husband.
I’ve done some freelance work and just got a part-time role with a social-impact business in the arts. I’m not making bank, but I’m making a decent hourly rate. We’ve kept our cost of living really low, and my husband works full time in video production, so financially we’re doing fine. At the same time, paying for child care has meant that we haven’t been able to save much. Hopefully that will change once he’s older and I’m working more. I don’t feel great about our finances, but I love that I get to spend this time with my son.
Sometimes it does feel like I have too many balls in the air, between all my different projects — and when you’re freelance, every minute counts. I do a lot of work at night after I put my son to bed. But I also like having the flexibility to pick him up at 3 p.m. and spend the afternoon with him.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.
The Cut’s financial advice columnist Charlotte Cowles answers readers’ personal questions about personal finance. Email your money conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org