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Career Changes

With the start of a new year, many people decide to quit their job and look elsewhere for work or a new career.

Can you afford to join them, or should you pursue less drastic options? Here are some options to consider before you make the leap.

Part-time or flex-time?
Too often, employees focus on why part-time work would benefit them. Instead, workers should address the advantages and disadvantages for the employer. If there are objections from the boss, agree to be flexible about your schedule and reachable on your days off. If flex-time is more desirable, suggest four 10-hour days with a resulting long weekend.

Employees should expect objections from management and prepare counter-proposals. For example, if a manager objects that his group has never had a part-timer, the employee could suggest a three-month trial.

Ask for a raise
There’s an art and science to asking for and getting a better compensation package, according to Jack Chapman, author of Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1,000 a Minute. Keep a journal or notes of things you’ve done well, and show the boss the evidence with a one-page memo of highlights, he says.

If corporate downsizing has discouraged you from asking, consider that there may now be fewer employees with more responsibilities, so you have a valid argument for gaining more compensation.

Do you need two salaries?
You really have to sit down and figure out where the money is going, says Denise Topolnicki, author of How to Raise a Family on Less Than Two Incomes. The biggest expense is childcare, which can run $5,000 to $7,500 per child per year. Other major expenses include gasoline and maintenance on the second car, dining out or buying more prepared foods, and perhaps a house-cleaning service. All these can total $200 or more a week.

If someone is going to stay at home, it’s going to take a team effort, says Joanne Watson, author of Team Work: How to Help Your Husband Make More Money. For example, Watson suggests helping your husband (or wife) get a better-paying job by networking with friends.

Before you commit to living on one income, do a cash-flow summary. If it indicates the family is going to drown without your income, begin reducing debts and stretching your income. Then a year down the road, your family may be ready. In any case, start building up an emergency fund by living on one income and saving all take-home pay from the second salary.

If you can live on one income while you both work, living on a single salary later will be a piece of cake.

Work at home?
Many people dropping out of the workforce have plans to become an entrepreneur or otherwise work at home, while taking care of the kids. The experts urge you to try working from home with the children before you commit to becoming a “dadpreneur” or “mompreneur” full time; it’s not for everyone.

You can also ask the kids what they think. Sixty-three percent of children ages 9-14 polled by the Center for a New American Dream said they wished their parents had a job that offered more flexible schedules so they could spend more time together. Only 13 percent said they wanted Mom and Dad to make more money.

One of the most valuable lessons parents can teach is that it’s okay to change careers, while encouraging a wide range of skills, roles, and talents. Don’t talk about hating your job, but do explain to older children what you like and dislike about your job, suggests Sue Shellenbarger, in her Work & Family column in The Wall Street Journal.

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