In a normal year, back-to-school anxieties revolve around spending too much on school supplies or finding a good after-school program.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic adds a new layer of stress. As some school districts begin the year remotely and many families choose virtual school options, some parents are left wondering if they’ll need to quit their jobs to help educate their kids.
Nearly three-fourths of respondents from a Care.com survey said they’d have to make major changes at work if schools do not fully open and stay open — with 15% saying they’d have to leave the workforce entirely.
But before you put in your two weeks notice at work, there are a few questions you should ask yourself to determine if you’re financially ready to take that leap.
1. Can I Take Paid Leave?
Before quitting your job, you might want to look into taking a leave of absence instead.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act has provisions for parents to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave through Dec. 31 if they need to care for a child whose school is closed or whose child care provider is unavailable due to the pandemic.
You can take the leave intermittently (perhaps trading off child care duties with your spouse or a grandparent) or all at once.
Your paychecks will be lighter, because this paid leave covers only two-thirds of your salary. There are also a few restrictions with this law:
- It only applies to certain public employees and private companies with less than 500 employees.
- You have to have been employed by your company for at least 30 days.
- You have to be unable to telework.
You also won’t be able to take this leave if your child’s school is open, but you choose a virtual education option instead.
If you don’t qualify, that doesn’t mean that a similar arrangement can’t be made with your employer. Talk to your boss about your situation and if other accommodations can be made.
2. Can I Adjust My Schedule?
Perhaps you aren’t able to take a paid (or unpaid) leave of absence from work, but maybe you can rearrange your schedule to create a better balance between work and child care duties.
That could mean working virtually (if you aren’t already) or adjusting your schedule. You might be able to reduce your hours or switch to part-time work. Perhaps you can work in the evenings and weekends instead of during the day when your child needs your attention and assistance with virtual school.
3. Can Our Family Live Off Less Income?
Spend time crunching the numbers to determine whether you can feasibly afford to quit work right now.
Jen Hemphill, an accredited financial counselor and founder of the Her Dinero Matters podcast, suggests examining all your regular expenses and assessing what are true priorities and what you could do without. Compare those necessary expenses to the household income you’ll be left with if you quit work.
“Does [your remaining income] fully meet the expenses?” Hemphill asks. “If it does — great. If it doesn’t, how much is needed to supplement, to make those ends meet?”
Create a bare bones budget to find out how much money you absolutely need to bring in to cover everything essential.
4. What Expenses Can I Cut?
Living on a reduced income often requires significant reductions in spending.
Groceries and eating out are common areas people overspend, Hemphill says, so you might want to start there.
Save money on groceries by using coupons and cash-back sites, going generic, buying in bulk, avoiding impulse purchases, buying what’s in season and planning meals based on what’s on sale. Meal prepping once or twice a week means you’ll be less enticed to order takeout after a long day.
Another thing to scan your bank statements for are monthly subscriptions you can do without. Subscriptions may seem inexpensive on their own, but collectively they can really add up, Hemphill says.
Also, just because a bill is essential, doesn’t mean you can’t change how much you’re spending.
“Look at all your bills,” Hemphill says. “Don’t be afraid to call and negotiate.”
Yes, you need car insurance, but could you get a discount now that you’re not commuting each day? Cell phone service is a must, but can you switch to a cheaper provider?
5. How Long Will My Savings Last?
Before the pandemic, having an emergency fund to cover three to six months of living expenses was great. Now, that may not be enough to keep your family financially secure.
Hemphill said a family that’s considering having one parent leave the workforce should ideally have about 12 months of expenses saved up. That can be a major challenge — especially for families living paycheck to paycheck.
That’s why cutting expenses and looking for supplemental income are often more practical courses of action than relying on pulling money from savings.
And not all savings sources should be treated equally. Hemphill recommends against tapping into retirement savings or your home equity unless it’s the last resort.
Your emergency fund, however, is fair game. If a pandemic and shuttered schools don’t qualify as an emergency, what does?
Additionally, if you had been saving money for a nice vacation, new car or another big purchase, consider pushing off those expenses and using that money to tide you over.
6. How Can I Make Money During My Career Break?
Saying goodbye to your regular paycheck doesn’t mean you can’t find creative ways to bring in extra cash.
In addition to schooling your own child, helping their classmates with schoolwork can be a profitable gig. The rise of online learning and homeschooling has created an increased need for tutors and leaders of “pandemic pods.”
Jobs for nannies and babysitters are also abundant and sometimes flexible enough for you to care for your own child while earning money as a caregiver.
Of course, there are other money-making opportunities that don’t involve watching other people’s children. Snag a remote side gig as a freelancer, virtual assistant, bookkeeper or transcriptionist. Or when you’re done with the homeschool day, you could deliver groceries or do odd jobs through TaskRabbit.
Bringing in extra cash after leaving your job will help make the adjustment less financially taxing. Also, since this career break is likely to be temporary, make sure to stay connected with colleagues and keep up with happenings in your field for an easier transition back to the workforce.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.