How Can I Afford My Career Change?
April 26, 2014 9:23 AM   Subscribe

How do I make my financial situation work? Late 20-something living in Chicago trying to financially survive a career change. Tons of details here, but any ideas, suggestions, or help would be so appreciated.

so, to try to keep it short: went to college and then graduate school for psychology. eventually realized I hate the mental health field, and want to be a sign language interpreter instead! currently, i’m working part time (20hrs/week) as a crisis worker making $15/hr before taxes. i am also taking 2 classes a semester to finish my interpreting degree in 2017.

problem is, my expenses (rent, bills, groceries are really all my expenses) are slightly more than my income, so this is becoming unsustainable quickly. i’ve looked/applied for full-time jobs in the mental health field, but none of them have the flexibility i need for classes (my class schedule changes every semester, and often classes are only offered smack in the middle of the day. i plan on yelling at the school about this, but it’s still an issue). my choices are also limited because i don’t have an IL counselor license, and getting one is expensive and time consuming process for someone who is leaving the field anyway.

i’ve thought about moving to a cheaper neighborhood, but my lease doesn’t run out until next spring and any neighborhood i move to will be either over an hour commute to work (current commute is an hour) or an unsafe neighborhood. considered roommates, but have a cat and an apartment full of furniture that i would have to deal with - have not ruled this possibility out, though.

i’ve also thought about getting a job outside my field. my only experience is in retail, which i don’t think i would make enough even at full-time. i have zero waitressing experience - would anyone even hire me, or would i make enough at my zero experience level?

i am paying for school with some investments my grandparents set up for me, but that will run out before i’m finished. i haven’t even thought of what i will do about that when the time comes. my father is very generous about helping me out by sending money my way every once in awhile, but I hate relying on that, and really need something more.

I already have so many loans from graduate school, I am reluctant to take on more.

I don’t mean to come across as defeatist, but I want to outline all the things I’ve considered in case my thinking is wrong and needs to be corrected. I do feel slightly hopeless about the whole thing. I feel like giving up: if you can’t afford something (school), you shouldn’t buy it, right? but every day I work in the mental health field, I feel more miserable, and I don’t want to be stuck there. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I just can’t figure out how to not run out of money before I get there.

if anyone has any thoughts on this, i would so appreciate it. i can give more info if needed.
posted by carlypennylane to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Seems like the roommate situation is the easiest way to remedy this situation. Plenty of people like cats; some people might even be OK using your furniture. I'd certainly prefer taking on a roommate to getting another job. There's no reason to be hopeless.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:29 AM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you work part time now, could you start looking for waiting jobs while keeping your current job, and just see if you like it/are good at it/can make money doing it?

considered roommates, but have a cat and an apartment full of furniture that i would have to deal with

I live in NYC and not Chicago, but "fully furnished apartment with a cat" describes the last three places I have sublet. I'm not sure why this seems like a stumbling block!

How many bedrooms/offices do you have?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:32 AM on April 26, 2014

(sorry to threadsit) roommates do sound like the option that's the most open - but i live in a small one-bedroom now with nowhere for anyone else to put a bed, so it would have to wait until my lease runs out next spring (2015). but thank you guys for pointing out that this option is easiest!
posted by carlypennylane at 9:38 AM on April 26, 2014

Can you increase your course load to finish up faster? Only you know the full details of your personal situation, but a lot of people balance a full-time course load and 20 hours of work on top of that. If you can't figure out a good FT job + PT school option, then consider FT school + PT job. It wouldn't eliminate the shortfall but it would shorten the time that you've got to deal with it.
posted by drlith at 9:42 AM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you get some part-time work to supplement your current income? 20hrs/week is a tough schedule to make enough money for anyone to live on on their own, so if you could get some temp work in there, that would probably help a lot.

I would also see if you can stretch out your courses a bit longer, so you have some more time to make money. If you wind up crashing and burning because you tried to do everything all at once, you'll be left without money and without a degree.
posted by xingcat at 9:44 AM on April 26, 2014

If you ask nicely and give ample notice many landlords will terminate a lease early. Just make sure you get it in writing. Honestly a landlord would rather terminate with notice then deal with the hassle of an eviction and attempting to obtain back rent.

Also what do you mean by 'unsafe'? I'm totally comfortable as a small white female in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood and my rent is cheep. I'd also think about living in hyde park. But not everyone is comfortable.

I do know of some places that do case management that would be flexible with your schedule. Pm me if you want more details. In addition places open 24/7 like residential treatment centers and psych hospitals do hire students in situations like your describing.

Many people jump careers and it is ok. Good luck.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:58 AM on April 26, 2014

Nighttime parking lot attendant requires basically no skills and allows you to study almost the entire time. It is very student-friendly work if you can find it (and don't mind night shifts). Look for other similar overnight things like receptionists, phone answerers, etc., for 24-hour places. You have to look a little bit, but a lot of places open around the clock just need a warm body to sit there in the overnight hours. The pay isn't great, but they generally don't mind if you study.

Another option is babysitting/part-time nannying. You can make at least $10/hour if you find some grade schoolers who need to be picked up at school, transported home, and watched and entertained until mom and dad get home at 6. And you can do your homework while they do theirs. A lot of families who need 10 or 20 hours of childcare a week can be pretty flexible on schedule semester-to-semester, and it's easy work if you like kids.

I don't know much about ASL translation programs, but a big part of your money problem is that you live in Chicago. If breaking your lease and moving is one of the easiest options, what about picking up and moving downstate when you move, to another ASL program in a cheaper city? Do some job hunting in other, smaller, cheaper midwestern cities and towns with ASL programs and see if you can find the right combo of job + school somewhere outside Chicago. Smaller college towns are pretty used to people coming and going with the school year and a lot of jobs will accommodate that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:08 AM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am pretty sure you could make very decent money as a babysitter, kid sitter or adult companion. With your background, you would be great caring for people with special needs. Like my kid - he has special needs and I would be thrilled to find someone like you to take him places, care for him at our house, and play with him. I would gladly pay a premium to have a graduate student looking after him rather than a teenager who might be distracted. In Northeast Ohio, you'd get about $15 an hour for this, possibly more. I think once you met a few families you could work out some standing gigs with them and that might work well with your odd hours. Could be a pretty good source of income for you over the next year or two.
posted by Kangaroo at 10:27 AM on April 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you've thought of most of your options. It's not ideal, but I think choosing one of the options, or a combo of them, is what you have to do. Don't even consider giving up. I was also in the mental health field and switched careers to become a mobility instructor for the blind. It was hard to make the career change financially but I am glad I did it.

It seems you have a supportive dad; do you think you could sit down with him and brainstorm ideas? Chances are that he doesn't know you are struggling as much as you are. What if he can commit to providing some consistent short-term support that you can agree to pay back?

Also - I made extra money during school by being a dorm supervisor at a rehabilitation center for the blind. See if there is something like that in your area. It was overnight, and we got our own rooms and bathrooms and would assist in an emergency (which happened once). Otherwise, we were paid to sleep and socialize with the students.
posted by Sal and Richard at 10:41 AM on April 26, 2014

I think working 20hrs/week is not enough. I did my MA at night working full-time, doing the same thing- 2 courses per semester. And I went through both having roommates to moving to a further away location to save money when I decided it was time to live alone.

To me, again, it just seems like you aren't generating enough income to live on your own, so you either need to work more, or find roommates. Look for a full time job and finish your program in the evenings. No one likes to "downsize" their lifestyles from comfortable to slightly less comfortable (further away, less amenities or roommates, and/or less free time/more work hours) but sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Something has to change, right? So you need to pick what that something will be.
posted by bquarters at 10:53 AM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Look for "PRN" or "Pool" positions at psychiatric hospitals in the area. These are flexible positions where they call you if they need extra staff and you can be flexible with your hours. I am sure there is one somewhere that will let you pick up 3p to 11p or 5p to 11p or weekend shifts. May have to do some searching and asking questions and telling them about your school plans (they may consider you a bonus for eventually being able to interpret for psych patients...we pay an interpreter GOOD money to follow a deaf psych patient around all day and interpret for them. Most interpreters struggle with interpreting for psychotic patients so you will be in demand with your psych background).
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:17 AM on April 26, 2014

Start here. "Per diem" also means pool or as needed, which means flexible schedule.

UHS Chicago
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:21 AM on April 26, 2014

Is the scheduling completely random, or are some (maybe core) courses typically offered during the day, with others (maybe electives) offered evenings? If so, could you study full time for 1-2 semesters to bang out the daytime courses now (while you've got some money), and leave the evening courses for later, when you could work full-time*?

Catering companies often take and train people without serving experience, that might be something you could do on the side. The wage would be comparable to what you're making in your current job, but the advantage is scheduling: if you turn out to be good (quick and reliable) you can take as many or as few shifts as you like, and can talk about that up front instead of committing to a schedule that would threaten your studies. (It's why actors do it.)

Speaking from experience, the commute you're doing now is a killer and probably contributing to your state of mind. Why not sublet your place as is, and move in with roommates nearer your job?

*For FT 9-5 work during PT study, if the above is swingable: I'm wondering whether you might be able to parlay your psych training into a junior role in HR recruitment, e.g. for a big agency. I don't imagine it's easy work, particularly (it's commissions-based, and uh, it's recruitment, so), but I occasionally see postings that don't ask for experience for those types of jobs. Or maybe, a staff job at a university (admissions, etc).
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:26 AM on April 26, 2014

1. Rent: This is presumably your biggest expense. It sounds like you just re-signed your lease - you could always sublet and move somewhere else in the meantime. Most grad students I know have roommates (and I know plenty who have cats and furniture). You will probably need to, too. Also, if you're willing to tell us what part of the city you work/go to school in, people might be able to suggest neighborhoods you haven't thought about.

2. Bills: Make sure you're only paying for necessities. You don't need cable. If you have a couple of internet options, switch to one with a promo rate (for a long time, we were paying like $20 a month for decent internet). Avoid using A/C this summer for as long as you can

3. Groceries: I don't generally recommend the ramen diet, but it is an option.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:05 PM on April 26, 2014

I heard that students working 20 hours or more do qualify for food stamps. If you do apply bring a copy of the statute, proof of your average hours and copies of your rental expenses, utility expenses and any health expenses you may have. You may or may not qualify based on income but it is worth a shot.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:38 PM on April 26, 2014

thanks so much for all the suggestions/ideas/feedback, everyone! you all have given me some things to look into as well as some hope to not give up! i will keep checking back in case anyone else adds anything, but i appreciate all the answers.
posted by carlypennylane at 7:24 AM on April 27, 2014

Good to hear you're staying positive. Please check your mefi mail, as an alternative. Either way, I hope everything works out for you.
posted by lunastellasol at 9:45 AM on April 27, 2014

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