Can You Afford Your Dream Career?

Would you rather spend your day with lawyers or pear trees?

Posted Apr 26, 2014

One of my favorite parts of the Suze Orman show is the segment called, “Can I Afford It?” where Suze asks her viewers to share their dreams (from Alaskan cruises to home remodeling to a new Lego set— yes, children are allowed to participate).  Suze does a quick analysis of their financial status— savings, investments, college or retirement funds and then stamps the word “Approved” or “Denied” depending on her verdict. I like Suze Orman in general because I think she does a great job of demystifying and simplifying otherwise complex topics like taxes and retirement planning.  She empowers women with financial knowledge, and her “Can I Afford It” segment provides a valuable perspective on budgeting for everyone.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen her do a segment on “Can I Afford My Dream Career?” but such an episode would likely be fascinating, enlightening— and probably depressing.  After all, can you see her tackle the 20-something guy who wants to put all he owns in his car, drive to Hollywood, and pursue his dreams of becoming an actor? I can hear her now: “So you don’t have an emergency fund of six-months income, you have no savings or investments beyond the $150 in your wallet, your only asset is an old Toyota Corolla, and you have no professional acting experience. And you want to enter a career field with a 95% unemployment rate.  Go for it!”  Not.

Actually, I suspect her “Can I Afford My Dream Career” waiting list would fill instantly with lawyers who want to quit practicing law but need their income to pay student loans and support their lifestyle. After all, switching from lawyer to pear farmer is going to force a change in lifestyle.  

Fortunately, not everyone’s career dreams are as risky as becoming an actor or a pear farmer— in fact, many career dreams and ideas can be attained with some careful thought and planning.  But the fun part for most of us is thinking about the business we’d like to start, the creative career we want to pursue, the bed & breakfast we’d like to open, the great idea we have for the next app or computer game, etc.  When we have to start thinking about money, the fun stops.  Money is certainly one of the levelers of many a dream. But it doesn’t have to be and there are some great resources to help you work through any money issues related to your dream.

Julia Cameron, the inspiration behind many dreams thanks to her brilliant and groundbreaking book, The Artist’s Way, recognized that money was often a stumbling block for creative types. Her more recent book, The Prosperous Heart, provides all sorts of exercises, tools and strategies for becoming prosperous in your life— not just monetarily but spiritually as well.  She describes prosperity as a spiritual matter— a matter of faith.  And the primary tool to develop prosperity is “counting.”  She asks you to keep a ledger of money in and money out.  She considers it a great way to attain financial clarity.  Noting that the opposite of prosperity is not poverty, it’s anxiety— she focuses on our concepts of what is “enough.” Cameron’s simple counting system is a great start to get a snapshot of the kind of spender/saver you are and what habits you might need to change if you need to build your funds to support your dream.

In their excellent book, Build Your Dreams, Alexis Irvin and Chip Hiden devote two chapters to what they call “Feeding the Pig”— ways to save money for your dream, and raise additional money for your dream.  They recommend you take a year to “chase the dream” that is, start adjusting your finances and learning all you can to move toward the dream.  Irvin and Hiden simplify the budgeting process by having you create two budgets: your daily living expenses and then the expenses related to your dream.  As you analyze your living expenses, they encourage you to look for ways you can cut them back so that you have more money available for your dream. Do you really need the full cable DVR system?  Could you make coffee at home and save the expensive café for a treat?  Is your cell phone plan too expensive? How ‘bout getting your protein from beans instead of expensive meat?  By making some basic cutbacks you can channel those savings to your dream.

As you look at expenses for your dream they offer a creative idea: the rule of three.  Before you pay for a product or service, get at least three estimates so you don’t pay too much. Consider alternatives to paying for services from bartering to doing it yourself.  They also offer an informative chapter on ways to raise income for your business from quick part-time jobs, to fundraising events, fellowships/scholarships, and crowdsourcing ideas.

But I think the real value in these chapters is this deceptively simple process of taking a year to “chase the dream.” The insight gained from this year will be invaluable.  It’s one thing to fantasize about leaving that law practice to start the pear farm: it’s another to begin living out the lifestyle changes to save money and develop the dream.  You may learn that a high income and a certain lifestyle are more important after all-- and that is a valuable piece of learning.  Or you may surprise yourself and learn that Cameron’s view of prosperity as more spiritual than financial fits you better.  And you may learn that pear trees are more interesting than lawyers.

So dream on.  Dream big.  And then plan.  Oh— and that 20-something wanna-be actor going to Hollywood with no professional experience or money?  Well who am I to tell Jon Hamm how to manage his career? 

©2014 Katharine S. Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons Zamani