It’s nearly impossible to reach a career crossroads of any significance and not encounter a wave of confusing feelings centered around your relationship to the dollar bill.  Are you making as much as you should be at this stage of your career?  Have you been underpaid to date?  Overpaid?  Will you have enough money to retire comfortably?  Time and time again, we’ve heard the anguish of job seekers dealing with the anxieties that come with needing to replace their income stream in a hurry and find a position that will enable them to maintain a comfortable living.

One aspect of the financial question that isn’t discussed nearly enough, however, is the benefit of using one’s career transition to develop improved family budgeting habits — and to reduce your economic “burn rate” so that your future paychecks stretch even farther.  Along these lines, there’s a great YahooGroup we’ve discovered where thousands of individuals across the country trade ideas each day about how to cut back on expenses and reduce unnecessary household waste, expenses, and consumerism.  The group is called The Compact and you can read more about it — and subscribe, if interested — by clicking here.

One recent posting to this group caught our eye, in particular, because it describes a family that was forced to adjust its spending habits dramatically after relocating to the U.S. from South Africa.  As you’ll read below from this partial citation of their message, this family learned to live, and thrive, as a result of the experience and their concerted efforts to streamline their lifestyle.

“My name is Bronwyn McIntosh. We live in Richmond , VA (myself, husband, 2 kids – ages 7 and 9). We have lived in Richmond for nearly 5 years – came here from South Africa . It is amazing how quickly you can declutter when you ’emigrate’ (though we are still tied up in that bureaucratic red tape). We didn’t have the money or the inclination to bring everything across here, so we prioritized and came across with clothes, CD’s, a few prized rugs, toys, some kitchenware and that was it. I joked that I could have packed all I really needed to take with me into a backpack.

After we arrived, we had so little and had to start from scratch – and have had a very tough 5 years of doing so – I found that what made me feel a whole lot better about our situation, was the following. I bought two little notebooks at the dollar store, I labeled one Wants and one Needs. I wrote up our Needs and of course it only took about half a page (food, roof over our head, health, happy family) and each time I really wanted something, I wrote it up in the Wants book. I felt a whole lot better afterwards because I had recorded it and one day if I had enough money, I would be able to look up one of my Wants and go and purchase it. Some of my Wants were as simple as a hairdryer, I used the one at the gym every day but didn’t have money for one for myself.

The interesting thing for me is that we went from real Haves to real Have-Nots in the space of a couple of months of relocation – in South Africa we had 2 fulltime maids and a fulltime gardener etc etc. Despite that, I wouldn’t trade the past 5 years for anything, I have learned so much about myself, and our family has grown much closer than it would ever have been.”

We’ve witnessed similar experiences among many of our own clients who have been forced to tighten their belts during a period of transition, so would encourage everybody to contemplate ways in which they might be able to simplify their own lives in the coming year.  Not only is this an extremely wise idea if you’ve recently lost your job, given the uncertain timelines involved, but you might be pleasantly surprised to find you continue your thrifty habits even after you take your next position.  And belonging to an on-line community such as TheCompact, above, can help out tremendously with moral support.

One final tip, however, if you subscribe to the above group — we’d strongly encourage you to select the “Daily Digest” option for message delivery, since the group tends to generate 50+ messages per day!