Taking a Work Leave? Here's How to Prepare


You may be looking to take some time off from work to stay home with your children. Or perhaps you have a new business venture you'd like to get after.

Leaving the traditional workforce is something people do for a variety of reasons. I left my 9-to-5 a little over five years ago to stay home with my daughter. It was a big transition, both personally and professionally. I can tell you firsthand, though, that if you're smart about it — it may be one of the best moves of your life.

1. Make a Budget

If you don't already have a budget, make one — today. It's incredibly important before you take a job leave to understand how much money you have, where it's going, and how you'll deal once you don't have a steady paycheck coming in. Making a budget can be an enlightening or frightening process, but you definitely want to look before you leap into the financial unknown.

To start, write out exactly how much money will be coming in after you leave your job. Then write out how much money goes out between fixed expenses (housing, student loans, car payments, etc.) and variable expenses (groceries, entertainment, clothing, travel). Don't forget big items like health care, either. After that, you can look for opportunities to cut your budget for the big change. (See also: Build Your First Budget in Five Easy Steps)

While you're at it, try saving as much as you can and building an emergency fund. My husband and I actually spent a good part of the year before I left my job trying to live within the budget we'd need after the baby. Any money we saved in the meantime went directly into our bank account.

2. Get Introspective and Creative

Leaving your job may mean making some pretty tough sacrifices. Maybe you won't be able to buy new cars or go on vacation. Maybe you'll need to stop eating out or even downsize your home. There will likely be days when you will ask yourself: "Why am I doing this again?"

Having a long, hard talk with yourself (or several) will help you solidify the motivations for your leave. They will become stronger and stronger in your mind. Sure, you may hit some difficult or tricky times, but if you are passionate about the reason, you'll have the perseverance to continue on and figure out solutions.

If you're feeling on the fence about it all, you may want to get creative. Meet with your HR department to explore other opportunities. Maybe you could scale back to working part-time. Maybe your department offers a more flexible schedule. Or maybe there are other jobs in your community that would afford you the time you're looking to gain.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

After chatting with HR, I discovered that the university where I used to work offered up to eight months of unpaid child care leave. Before I decided to quit my job for good, I let my boss know that I wanted to take the maximum amount of leave. During this time off, our family continued to practice what life would be like — and what our budget would be like — without my paycheck. It wasn't a totally easy transition.

For example, within the first month of my leave, our furnace died. It was the dead of winter, so we had to dip deep into the emergency fund earlier than expected. A few months after that we had a major roof leak. This is where our savings and budgeting really came into play.

In the end, we realized that we would be fine because we had planned for these types of minor disasters. I had moments of doubt, though, and I was thankful to know that I had a job waiting for me if I needed it. Find out what type of temporary leave options are available to you. A trial run is a wonderful opportunity to see if your plans will work out in real life. Think of it as a pair of training wheels.

4. Leave on Good Terms

Even if you hate your job, you don't exactly want to leave burning all your bridges in the process. Of course, you may find yourself with a boss who doesn't completely understand or support your decision. And that's okay. What you can do, though, is to ease the transition for everyone involved as much as possible. That will help you leave on the best of terms.

Give your boss plenty of notice before your leave. You may even want to, as I did, ask if you might return to your workplace in the future. Though my boss wasn't thrilled to be losing a dependable worker, he ultimately understood and respected my reasons for leaving.

I left scrupulous notes for my replacement, organized all my digital and paper files, and even offered to be available for a short while if anyone had questions. On my last day, we shook hands and I felt confident — and still do — that I could apply for future positions.

5. Keep Your Toes Dipped

When I left my job, I wasn't totally sure how long it would work out. On paper, things were looking good. In practice, well, we kept hitting some financial roadblocks. I knew I wanted to stay home with my daughter, but I also knew that bringing in some money would be helpful. Keeping my resume and skills relevant was another important thing to me.

That's when I started looking around for freelance writing work. Some of my friends were working on different gigs, so I reached out to them. Networked. I asked tons of questions and even got some leads on jobs. In the years since, I've worked at home anywhere between five and 30 hours a week. I've had a lot of situations in my life where I've needed to scale back or almost entirely from freelancing. Still, I have these jobs on my resume.

I'm keeping current. (And I'm enjoying it, too!) Even if you don't want to actually work during your time off, you can volunteer. You can absolutely include volunteer work on your resume. Experience is experience. And the great thing about volunteering is that you can often put it on your own schedule.

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