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Part-time work: can I make it work?
December 7, 2010 9:17 AM   Subscribe

I daydream about quitting my job and spending a few months working part-time while I figure out my next career move. Feasible or foolish?

I've been working in the same field for four years, and at my most recent job for a little over one year. I kind of fell into this line of work, and I never planned on doing it forever. I'd like to change careers in the next year or two, but I don't really know how, or to what, and don't have many transferable skills. (This will probably be the subject of a future question.)

While I'm not quite burnt out at my current job, I seem to be heading in that direction. I'm itching for a break. However, I don't want to quit without anything lined up, because I need money and something to do with my day, and I doubt I'm senior enough to be granted any sort of leave. Finding a different awesome job seems like too tall of an order, and finding a similar job at a different company seems like it would just be more of the same.

My dream is to take a chunk of time off, between three and six months, and find a part-time job somewhere that I really enjoy, and spend the rest of my time working on personal projects and developing new skills that I could transfer to a new career. Kind of a semi-sabbatical. The part-time job would be mostly to experience something new, get me out of the house, and keep a little bit of external structure, but I'd need the money, too.

The kicker is that I don't have very much saved. If I lost my job tomorrow, I could squeak by for a couple months, but I don't have nearly enough to feel comfortable quitting. And I don't know of any part-time jobs that I'm qualified for that pay more than a pittance. I don't know how many part-time jobs exist, period, besides retail and service jobs. (Which I would consider, given the right work environment.) I have no debt and no unusual expenses, and I'd like to keep things that way.

My ideal part-time job would be three to four days a week with a consistent schedule (same hours each day), an informal and cheerful environment, moderately social (no hard selling, but I don't want to sit in a cubicle by myself all day), and easy to compartmentalize - I don't want to take work or work stress home with me. And I want to have a physical workplace to go to, rather than telecommuting or constantly traveling.

So, my questions:

1. How doable is this, generally speaking? Is this a total fantasyland plan?
2. Are there any part-time jobs that provide the environment I'm looking for, and that pay decently? I know I'll be making significantly less money no matter what, but I don't want to be making minimum wage.
3. How should I budget for this, so I don't have to worry about going broke? Should I expect to be living off my savings?
4. Is there anything else I should be taking into consideration? What else should I plan for, and what questions should I be asking myself?

Anecdotes are welcome if you've done something similar. And if this is a bad idea, please talk me down. Thanks!
posted by Metroid Baby to Work & Money (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
1. This would have been in total fantasyland territory in 2007. Now it's simply insane. Competition for retail, cashier jobs is unbelievable. "Informal and cheerful environment"? Forget about it.

2. No, there aren't. Not working for someone else anyway. Self-employment is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish, but then you have to have something with which you could employ yourself. A lot of those things involve sales. Lots of sales.

3. Take a look at your existing budget. Quitting your job isn't going to change the expenses side all that much.

4. You should consider that unemployment is currently sitting just under 10%. People who don't have jobs can't get them, and people who have jobs aren't leaving them. Almost no one is hiring. Quitting your job without something else lined up is a dicey move at the best of times. Doing it today is certifiable.

Please, please don't do this.
posted by valkyryn at 9:24 AM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


What about benefits, namely health insurance? Do you get that through your current job? Many part-time jobs don't provide it, or do so at higher-cost/lower quality. Buying it on your own will be even worse.
posted by unannihilated at 9:24 AM on December 7, 2010


I would delay this plan a year and save as much as you possibly can in the mean time. I think you are overestimating how much money a part-time job would really bring in. My husband worked in a grocery store when we first moved to a new city and it was a serious shock to the system. In a year, you'll have more of a safety net to work with, you'll have had a lot of time to think about where you want to go next, and who knows, maybe the economy will have turned around and you'll have an easier time finding a workable part-time position.
posted by something something at 9:27 AM on December 7, 2010


Most part-time jobs in retail or the service industry aren't that great, as you note. Part-time jobs outside of this area are gonna be really hard to find right now. The only thing that I can think of would be test prep, if you feel like you might be able to tutor the SAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT or MCAT that can be a really fun, flexible and decent paying part-time job. There's more money in LSAT and MCAT, more opportunities in SAT. Teaching in general, if you have a skill that's in demand, seems like it would be the most likely way for you to partially support yourself.
posted by bluejayk at 9:28 AM on December 7, 2010


I've thought about this a lot myself, and I have a friend who just up and quit his job in the financial section because he hated it so much and needed time to reset himself before figuring out what he wanted to do with his life. He seems much happier.

BUT--it's about six months later and he's still jobless. To be fair, I don't think he really kicked it into high gear until more recently, but I think there have been a number of reports recently about entrenched barriers to unemployed people being hired back into the workforce full time. Employers seem to view continued employment as a sign that the person is fundamentally better than an un/underemployed person.

Granted, you say you will be looking for part time work, but it bears considering how your next potential employer will view this work period--more like being employed, or more like being unemployed? (I think employers are jerks; they make me very angry.)
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:32 AM on December 7, 2010


The kicker is that I don't have very much saved. If I lost my job tomorrow, I could squeak by for a couple months, but I don't have nearly enough to feel comfortable quitting.

My advice is: don't do it.

find a part-time job somewhere that I really enjoy

You'll be lucky to find any job, much less something you really enjoy. If you're set on doing it then get the job first, and quit second.

My ideal part-time job would be three to four days a week with a consistent schedule (same hours each day), an informal and cheerful environment, moderately social (no hard selling, but I don't want to sit in a cubicle by myself all day), and easy to compartmentalize - I don't want to take work or work stress home with me. And I want to have a physical workplace to go to, rather than telecommuting or constantly traveling.

The problem is that the jobs that are available probably cross at least a few of these off the list.

One thing I came up with is catering, but there goes consistent schedule (you work when they give you hours, and you're thankful for them), constantly traveling (you work within the range of your company and probably drive to your jobs), cheerful (it depends... some companies are good, some are bad, most are mixed bags). I could probably do this all day for any job you could list. Part time labor is often exhausting, demeaning, and aggravating. That's one of the reasons it's part time -- its hard to get people to stay there. If you hate your desk job then something more physical or less demanding isn't going to magically be better. There's a reason they're paying you to do it, after all.

Go on Monster.com and look in your area -- see what's coming up as part time, and then realize that the people who've been out of work for X months and are about to fall off unemployment are even more desparate for these jobs than you are. And realize that there are probably hundreds of thousands of them in your area.
posted by codacorolla at 9:40 AM on December 7, 2010


The only kind of job I can think fits your requirements is bartending or waiting in a high-traffic location in a major metropolitan area. I have friends who take home about $200 a night from that kind of gig. However, the stress levels can get pretty intense and if you want to make good money, you're going to be working graveyard.
posted by griphus at 9:41 AM on December 7, 2010


> 1. How doable is this, generally speaking? Is this a total fantasyland plan?

I'd keep your job, and devote every possible moment to finding out what you want to do. Instead of taking a leap off a cliff, to somewhere you know now where, face the direction you want to be in, and start heading there, step by step.

> 2. Are there any part-time jobs that provide the environment I'm looking for, and that pay decently? I know I'll be making significantly less money no matter what, but I don't want to be making minimum wage.

Probably not. This is your dream, not the dream of someone who'd want to pay you to accomplish what you want. It would be better to get your own business started, rather than work for somebody else. Is there a business you can get started in the evenings and weekends? If so, keep developing this. When you're hanging on for dear life trying to keep up is the time to let go of the other one.

> 3. How should I budget for this, so I don't have to worry about going broke? Should I expect to be living off my savings?

Stop spending money. Your savings should keep increasing.

> 4. Is there anything else I should be taking into consideration? What else should I plan for, and what questions should I be asking myself?

Where do you want to be in five years.
posted by johnlvs2run at 9:41 AM on December 7, 2010


You're going to get loads of responses along the lines of valkyryn's, and I have to admit that despite being a sinker, he's totally right. The market right now is full of reasons to hold that bird in hand.

Still, I'm going to be a Pollyanna and try to offer a positive. This jumped out at me from your post:
My ideal part-time job would be three to four days a week with a consistent schedule (same hours each day), an informal and cheerful environment, moderately social (no hard selling, but I don't want to sit in a cubicle by myself all day), and easy to compartmentalize - I don't want to take work or work stress home with me. And I want to have a physical workplace to go to, rather than telecommuting or constantly traveling.
The first thing that came to my mind is in-home child care. If you live in any kind of population-growth area with families, I guarantee you could likely find a scenario where one or more parents is an executive-level professional who works from home and needs a part-time nanny on site. You'd have to dig, but they are out there. You might also have success with a family with two working parents and an infant, looking for a mother's helper. And it meets all your criteria. (The one challenge might be that few families only need a nanny for 3-6 months; most I know are looking for someone who can make at least a 1-year commitment.)

I have no idea where you are so I can't offer more specifics but please be aware that customs and standards for nannying vary wildly across the world. In the US, at least in the South/Southwest, you'll get the most money if you have a car, insurance, a clean driving record, a clean background check, and some level of post-secondary education.
posted by pineapple at 9:44 AM on December 7, 2010


Have you explored whether or not there are options through your current job you could take advantage of? Things like job sharing, flextime, or just working part-time?
posted by smalls at 9:57 AM on December 7, 2010


Now it's simply insane.

I don't think it's insane. You're tired. You won't have health benefits most likely, unless you get a job at Starbucks. But you'll probably get paid min wage.
posted by anniecat at 9:57 AM on December 7, 2010


I did this from 2004 - 2006, after losing my job. Part-timing it instead of going to another full-time job was largely intentional; wifey and I had a substantial side-business thanks to eBay and such, and while it didn't pay all the bills, it afforded flexibility and was something we enjoyed, so I worked part-time to make up the difference.

In your plan, finding #2 will be very, very difficult. Everyone wants a fun, friendly job -- so those are an employer's market and they can pay as crappily as they want and demand as much as they want. Jobs that are easier to get and pay well are crappier. I delivered Pella windows to rural jobsites in -40* weather, I assembled furniture in unheated new office buildings, I delivered beds to houses with too-narrow stairways. I actually liked the physicality of the window-delivery job, it paid well enough to keep the lights on, but it was far from my ideal job. When I was delivering pizzas, I was constantly under fear of being fired, because there's plenty of people willing to deliver pizzas, so if you're late or don't say "yes" when assigned a shift you don't want, you're closer to being replaced. Also, in several jobs I was also regularly up against the personalities of people who can hope for nothing more than a part-time or temp job; I was an advantage because I could read maps, understand written instructions, plan my work for efficiency...all of which relied on help from people who were unable or unwilling to do so. That was while "temping", so the bar was much lower.

Once you get yourself into a model of "have to keep my part-time job so that I can keep the bills paid" might mean you're going from stressful job that barely does what you need, to worrying about money every time you go to the store or pay a bill, and then back to that job. If you can balance that with whatever you're gaining from the experience, good for you -- I felt good like that while delivering windows, despite the physical drawbacks -- but when stress and anxiety become the way the process works, you'll need to find a different way to get things done.

And, as above, insurance is a big deal; COBRA your existing insurance if you can afford it, get private insurance if you can get it, but one emergency-room visit for a sprained ankle can torpedo a tenuous financial situation. If you've got savings, stay away from it as long as possible; a part-time job might fire you the first time you're late, and a bad car battery might be the difference between a paycheck and unemployment if you can't afford the $70 to replace it.

Budgeting: Be honest about your budgeting; put everything on paper, not just the 'screaming' bills -- if you let last month's electric bill slide, don't only put the past-due amount on your 'to-pay' list, figure the full amount. Once you fall one month behind on more than one bill, you'll be taking from one to pay the other and then you won't ever catch up. Put all your debts on there, too, total balances: if you find yourself $500 ahead, you might feel encouraged to go buy yourself a present. If you're living paycheck-to-paycheck, pay off the debt first. You also don't say if you're married or have a 2nd income to lean on -- if you're leaning on somebody for financial help, make sure they're on board, too, and are willing to take on the stress.

I would recommend, however, talking to your current employer -- if they like you, they may be willing to do a sabbatical, or at least tell you if they'd be willing to rehire you in the future. That might be all the safety net you need to reduce stress of what you're jumping into. Simply being a skilled person, you might feel like, "whenever I'm done with this I'll just go get a full-time job" -- but those are hard to come by, too, and you might find yourself stuck working the part-time job and not having any time left over to find that full-time job again.
posted by AzraelBrown at 10:04 AM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know of any part-time jobs where there are no special skills or qualities required and which nevertheless pay moderately well.

If you can figure out some qualities that you have that not everyone does, and are valuable to some or other kind of employer, you might have a shot.

Even with that, the fact that you have no savings tells me that whatever you currently earn working full-time is also roughly what you spend. Unless you can get your expenses way down, you won't be able to make ends meet working part-time. And you can't count on getting a new full-time job in any fixed time-frame, so you'd better be able to live on the part-time income for as long as it takes.

Last point... be honest with yourself. Are you the kind of person that truly would use the break to reboot your life, build new skills and get that new career? Or are you more likely to drift, dabble in a few things, and end up six months later no wiser about what you want to do, and considerably poorer?

Overall, my guess is you should stay in your job and figure out where you want to go next while still earning an income. If you really are headed for total burn out, maybe see if you can cut back your hours in your present job. (Always remembering that you'll need to cut back your expenses in line with the lower income.)
posted by philipy at 10:05 AM on December 7, 2010


Thought about a working holiday? Australia's unemployment rate is hovering around 5.6%...
posted by clipperton at 10:33 AM on December 7, 2010


All right, it sounds like there isn't really any part of this idea that is likely to work in my favor. I appreciate the dose of reality, though!

I've been feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea of plotting out a career change while working a full time job, so that's what appeals to me about working part-time. I'll have to figure out a different strategy. And save my money.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:49 AM on December 7, 2010


From what I've read the 10% unemployment rate is everyone that has checked in with their local unemployment office in the last 4 weeks, if you include everyone that's looking for full-time work I believe it's around 17% (can't find a good reference to this, but I've heard it a few times). Something to keep in mind.
posted by theNeutral at 12:30 PM on December 7, 2010


Depending on how much you are looking to make through part-time work, I would toss in the possibility of finding a paid internship.

Most internships are going to pay a level that is just livable with no benefits. If you save up enough to cover yourself for six months an internship could be a great way to try out an area that you've been interested in, and it could even end up landing you a full time job.

I'd also suggest looking into temp work. You may end up doing something excruciatingly boring (data entry or filing), but temping also pays better than a lot of retail and food service gigs.
posted by forkisbetter at 1:31 PM on December 7, 2010


Clipperton's suggestion of a working holiday is good. Also, if you're only looking to take 3-6 months off, and you don't have a binding lease on where you live, why not go abroad and find somewhere very cheap you can live for that time? I apologise for always banging on about travelling in my AskMe answers :), but it's because to me it's a perfect solution to a problem like yours I've had many times and have again - needing to take a few months off but not being able to afford to not work. Save up a couple of thousand dollars - or do what I do, take your last month's pay and the returned security deposit from where you're staying - and go somewhere like Thailand where the cost of living is very low and where the amount of money you'd need to live in your home town without working for a month will do for three out there. I'm planning on taking at least six months off from March next year doing this; there is no way I could do it if I stayed in my home country.

If you really want to stay where you are, you could try night shift and or social sector work - I currently work three nights at a women's shelter, which is tiring at the time but which pays the bills and gives me plenty of time to pursue my own projects. I'm not sure what the situation is where you live, but here in Ireland/the UK working in shelters/homeless hostels etc is pretty well paid, and fairly non-stressful if you work the night shift. Getting experience in that sector is also something I'd recommend in general - again, I'm not sure what it's like where you are, but here there are always jobs doing that type of work, and any time I come back from travelling it's easy enough to find a job again. It's not my career, and not the career of my friends who work in similar jobs, but it's a good way of doing a fairly well paid job and still having time to do your own thing to a large extent.
posted by mudkicker at 3:03 PM on December 7, 2010


It sounds like service industry is what you're describing to me - you can make decent money on four shifts, it's social but you're not always selling, there's a physical workplace... On the other hand, it is hard work, and it can be hard to break into (you really have to sell yourself, perhaps exaggerate past experiences into relevant ones... that time you served your mom a home-made breakfast? You waited tables in new mexico...:)).

If you're really unhappy where you are, I'd try to save up in general, and stay on the look out for possible part time opportunities. YOu don't have to make this choice right this second - it can be an ongoing investigation, and you could even start the part-time thing before giving up the day job in some cases, just to check if it really seemed feasible to you.
this thread got into some discussion of alternate ideas, too.
posted by mdn at 3:18 PM on December 7, 2010


Are you happy with how you use your free time now?

At half-time, you'll have about 3 extra hours per day (on average) of free time...will that make you happy about how you use your free time?
posted by sninctown at 3:44 PM on December 7, 2010


Is there any way you can ask your employer to cut your *current* job down? Working <35 hrs a week instead of 40 can make a big difference. That extra hour or so a day feels like heaven.

Without knowing what skills you have, it's hard to make a recommendation as to the kind of job that might work in this situation, esp. paying a living wage. But nthing waiting until you have something else lined up before you quit!
posted by smirkette at 5:11 PM on December 7, 2010


> The kicker is that I don't have very much saved. If I lost my job tomorrow, I could squeak by for a couple months

This looks like the major issue for me. The first thing I would do is to figure out where your income is going, and reduce the drain to the absolute minimum. It doesn't make sense to toss away money after you've worked hard to get it. If the money was too easy to earn, then save it all anyway. The key is how much you keep. See how much you can earn, and how little you spend. Your idea would immediately slash your income, and your expenses would still be the same. I would do the opposite of that. Earn more (or the same) and spend nothing, except for absolute necessities.
posted by johnlvs2run at 12:05 PM on December 10, 2010


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