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More than half of Americans who switched jobs in 2021 took a pay cut. How to budget for a lower salary

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About 47 million workers left their jobs in 2021 amid the Great Resignation.

Many of them did so for less pay.

Last year, 53% of workers who left their jobs said they made less money in their new roles, according to a January online survey of 1,000 adults by Real Estate Witch.

The average pay cut was around $8,000 per year, according to the survey, but some workers indicated they would be willing to take an even bigger reduction. What's more, those who quit in 2021 but have yet to find another job said they would take an average $23,000 pay cut, the survey found.

The catalyst for taking that lower-paying job? Overall satisfaction and work/life balance. More than 60% of those surveyed said they were happy in their new roles, and those who said they were very satisfied compared to their previous position jumped nearly 50%.

An earlier survey of workers from Paro, which provides accounting and finance solutions for businesses, focused on workers who do mental tasks for a living — such as programmers, pharmacists and lawyers. The survey found the group also prioritized their work/life balance over making more money.

"The pandemic and experiences they have had have shifted their values," said Anita Samojednik, CEO of Paro. "Right now, the salary is just not enough."

To be sure, many people who switched jobs have seen increases in take-home pay. A survey from The Conference Board found that about one-third of workers who left jobs during the pandemic are making 30% more in new roles. However, about 27% who switched jobs said pay was the same or less in their new job.

What to consider

Of course, taking a pay cut will directly affect your finances and may not be advisable right away, according to Tania Brown, an Atlanta-based certified financial planner and founder of FinanciallyConfidentMom.com.

If you're considering taking a job where you will make less money, there are a few things you need to consider before you do so, she said.

First, ask yourself why you want to leave your current job, she said. Are you burned out? Will a different job or career be more fulfilling? Are you planning to move?

Contemplating the answers to these questions will help ensure that you don't make a rash decision you'll later regret, said Brown.

"Emotions have no logic, and you're trying to make a math decision based on emotion," Brown said. "It's just not going to turn out."

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Additionally, if you're only a few months from paying off debts or hitting a similar financial goal, you may want to hold off.

Plus, you may realize you don't want to leave your job, but instead would like more flexibility or a change in your role. If that is the case, now is a great time to ask for a different schedule, to take on different responsibilities or to try to introduce other flexibilities into your job, Samojednik said.

She said she's seen many people dip their toes into freelancing in addition to a full-time job to test the waters of a new gig or becoming their own boss.

Doing the math

If you discover that switching jobs is truly what you want, then you have some important math to do, Brown said.

That includes doing a deep dive into your current budget needs and financial goals and seeing if you can achieve your objectives on a smaller income.

Brown suggests you should over a trial period of a few months, say, try to see if you can meet your goals on smaller take-home pay. That test run could help you decide if a pay cut is right for you.

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You should also think about how making less will affect your long-term goals, Brown said. If you're saving up for a house or plan on having a baby, how will your new income change the timelines on those milestones? If it will take longer, is it worth it for you to wait?

If you're part of a family, you should also consult the other members in your household before making your move. That means talking with your spouse and children about what changes would take place, such as fewer trips or less money for extra activities — and deciding if it works for everyone.

"This has to be a family decision because your decision is impacting everyone in the household," said Brown.

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