The U.S. is on track to record roughly 46 million quits this year in what's become known as the Great Resignation. As the economy rebounded in the spring, scores of people took their chance at a surge of job openings to jump to something with higher pay, better working conditions, more flexibility or an entirely new field.
CNBC Make It spoke with three women who did just that about how they prepared their finances.
In Oak Park, California, Giselle Sitdykova says quitting without another job lined up was never in the picture — until now.
The 45-year-old previously worked as an analytics manager for a mortgage company. Being able to work remotely during the pandemic gave her four hours back in her day. She suddenly had more time to spend with her 11-year-old son and to dream about launching her own business: a website that would give personal recommendations to help people planning to move, based on data like lifestyle, weather and community preferences.
She hoped to use her free time building her business until, in the spring of 2021, her employer said everyone would be required to be back in-office by July. She took it as a sign to officially quit and become her own boss.
To help finance her new company, and to prepare to have zero income, Sitdykova refinanced her personal residence and a rental property she owns near Los Angeles. She bought them during the last housing crash and says the property values on both have nearly doubled since then. She took out a home equity line of credit on one ("It's risky, but I'm going to pay it off first," she says) and did a cash-out refinance on the other. All told, she ended up with a roughly $500,000 lump sum.
She earmarked half of that payment for her business and her living expenses, and saved and invested the rest to tap later.
She also cut unnecessary spending, like extra activities and home maintenance projects that weren't pressing. And because she's now working from home full-time, she no longer has to pay for after-school care for her son.
Finances aside, she also had to prepare mentally: "It's like moving from a nice house to an empty lot and starting to build from the foundation up, where you hope that at some point what you build will be bigger than the house you once had."
But she's confident about preparing for the new phase of her life and career. "I've done this before, when I came to the United States 20-plus years ago," Sitdykova says. "I didn't have a home or a job and didn't even know English. I was alone. Now, I have my son. I'm doing this not just for myself, but also for my family."
In New York City, Ranee Soundara, 37, had a sobering conversation with her doctor about her burnout. She realized the stress of the pandemic, as well as 18 months of non-stop work as a product marketing lead, were taking a toll on her mental and physical health. She gave herself three months to financially prepare to quit and take the rest of the year off from working.
Throughout the pandemic, Soundara was able to save more than half of her paycheck because she wasn't spending on shopping or going out. Then in April 2021, she let the lease on her $4,000-a-month Manhattan apartment expire. Because she could work remotely, she spent the next few months hopping around short-term Airbnbs, staying with her parents in Seattle, and house-sitting for a cousin in Seattle. After she officially quit in July, she did low-cost extended stays in Hawaii and in Europe for a few months before returning to see family for the holidays.
"I took the opportunity to just be a nomad," she says. She also recognizes that "if I had a family or other financial obligations, I wouldn't have been able to do this." Now she's back in New York and plans to jump back into the job market next year.
Stephanie Becker, 22, quit her job in order to preserve her mental health, too.
In May, she accepted a job at a dog boarding and day-care facility in Phoenix, Arizona. She was eager to be back at work a year after she was laid off from her retail job.
But problems started instantly. Instead of working the day shift as previously discussed, Becker was assigned to work mornings that began at 4:30 a.m. She was asked to do work outside of her job description, and she didn't get along with her boss. Then, her uncle got sick with Covid, and her request to take off work to care for him was denied.
Every day after work, she says "as soon as I got into the car, I wanted to break down and cry. I just didn't want to do it anymore."
After one particularly stressful shift, followed by a tearful evening at home, Becker says her boyfriend encouraged her to quit. He agreed to cover the bills until she found new work, and she would use her side hustle selling artwork online to pay for groceries.
She worried about how long it would take for her to find a job, but the day after she quit, she had two interviews lined up.
Becker says the hardest part about quitting was making sure she didn't rush into another bad decision. "It was hard finding a company that actually cares for its workers, has benefits and doesn't underpay," she says.
After a month of interviews, Becker accepted a job at a Starbucks not too far from her house. She feels better about her pay, the hours and her colleagues. One bonus that sealed the deal: Starbucks' employee benefit to cover 100% of tuition to take online classes at Arizona State University.