I’ve Reached the Breaking Point

I have officially reached the breaking point. I took the wrong highway exit coming home from catering at 11:00pm a few nights ago, and I burst into tears. I was so exhausted, so upset at my life, so completely done with everything, that I just cried it out on the frontage roads.

I got back to my new apartment, where my awesome boyfriend was waiting up for me, and I was so short with him. I was resentful that I had spent the last 10.5 hours working a really hard event, and that I had to get up tomorrow morning to go to my non profit job.

I am working way, way too hard, for way, way too little money. I’m in the throes of burnout, and it’s a bad place to be.

I did some calculations the other day. For working roughly 50 hour weeks across three jobs, I will net $39,400 this year.

This is a tough number for me to look at. On the one hand, that’s more money than I have ever earned in my whole life. That’s a real person salary! That’s the income goal I set for myself this year, and if I keep things as they are, it’s kind of amazing to know I can hit that goal.

On the other hand, the thought of working myself to the bone for just under 40k makes me want to burst into tears again. It’s important to note that I net $39,400, but I will gross only $30,200.

I turned 28 in early April, and amidst the fun of having a birthday, I felt disheartened by a lot of the financial realities of my life. I’m trapped in a low income cycle, and it’s strangling other parts of my life. I have amazing friends, a wonderful boyfriend, a great place to live– but all of these are overshadowed by my low income.

All my jobs are pretty demanding. Catering is so physically exhausting, it’s amazing. The non profit job treats me like a full time employee, even though it pays me like a part time contractor (my actual status), and it requires a lot of brain power. My freelance writing also requires a lot of brainpower and creativity to do well.

I feel pulled in all directions, and I have come to the conclusion that this can’t continue. 40K is amazing, but this is not the road to get there. I’m unhappy much too often for this to be the right choice.

As I’ve written about before, letting money pass me by is really hard for me. I struggle with it. Even when I was sobbing in my car, I was crunching numbers. I’ll be able to max out my IRA by the end of April, which is huge for me. It’s still $4,500 short of my retirement goal for this year, and still $9,300 short of my savings goals for the year.

I know that I need a change. I just don’t know what change to make. Catering is exhausting work I don’t love, but I can leave it at work. The nonprofit is more money, but much more demanding, and stressful. It’s also got a very hard ceiling- the maximum amount I’d be able to make there for the next two years is $36,000. 

Here are the figures: I gross roughly $120 for a 10 hour catering event. I gross just around $2,000 a month for the nonprofit. Financially, it makes more sense to quit catering and stick with the nonprofit. Quality of life wise, I’m not sure which makes more sense. Catering dominates my weekends, and is a time consuming job. The nonprofit leans way too heavily on me, and is emotionally demanding. Neither is a field I’m interested in pursuing as a career. 

My bare bones budget is $1,100 a month. In order to hit my goals for this year, and do the traveling I’ve already lined up, I need to bring in $26,600, after taxes. 

If I quit a job, that goal’s impossible. I’ll have to make a sacrifice in my savings goals. I’ll be looking for a new job of course, but there will definitely be a period of underemployment. I’ll have to dip into my emergency fund, and I won’t be able to save any money.

I feel confident I can bring in $1,100 a month through writing and catering, and the hope is to grow my writing side of things. The uncertainty of being a freelance employee is what holds me back. I still feel like I’m walking on financial eggshells.

If I quit catering in May, I’d still bring in enough to live off my bare bones budget and save. I’d still be a stress ball, but definitely less of one. I’d have my weekends off, though my food costs would go up.

If I quite the nonprofit it May, I’d lose way more money, but gain way more time. I could develop my writing career, cater on the weekends, and most likely make enough money to not dip into savings. I would not be building my savings though.

Finally, I’ve been planning a huge trip in September, one that will take me three weeks. It’s part work (writing), part play, and I’ve already set some balls in motion. So while normally I could throw myself into a job search, I’m hesitant because of this trip.

This dilemma has me aching for FIRE more than ever, but it feels so far out of my reach. How can I save enough money to retire at 43 when no one will pay me money right now?! I’ll definitely max out my IRA this year, but if I quit, that may be the only retirement savings I can put away. That’s not enough.

What a downer of a post. I promise there are good things in my life too! I’d love to hear from y’all about what you think I should do. I feel much better than I did in the car last weekend, but I know that I need a permanent shift. I’m just not sure what yet.

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26 Replies to “I’ve Reached the Breaking Point”

  1. You are right, you’re in a tough spot. It’s so discouraging to feel like you’re working so hard and to be so, so exhausted.

    My two cents: Quit the catering and spend a couple weekends free. Then, decide if you could side hustle that time at a higher pay rate than the catering? Is there something (even volunteer) that is in your field that you could use to get a foot in? Stick with the non-profit for a while until the right job comes along. It will, in time.

    Keep your chin up! It seems like you’ve put very high expectations on yourself and although it’s great to meet and exceed those, you also have to acknowledge when you may need a little breather. 🙂

    1. I think your 2 cents makes the most sense (word play!) but I am just so over my nonprofit job. I am growing to dislike the work itself. But I guess I also hate catering, and it’s much more draining work. Thanks for your input!

  2. Take the focus off numbers and focus on yourself for a while. Constant stress causes illness. Quit the job that is causing you to be stressed and taking all your time as long as it leaves you enough to live off now. If writing is your passion then spend more time doing that. “Do what you love and the money will follow.” If you are doing something you enjoy you won’t be wanting to retire from it at 43. I just started my new career of nursing at age 43, I work 4 days a week 8am to 4 pm and I love it. I work with terminally ill adults of all ages and I would hate to think any of them spent their life stressed out working the whole time. You are living your life right now, please go and enjoy it! xo

    1. I know you’re right on the health front. It’s terrible to be this stressed. But I come from a place of no money- like, really, no money- and the advice to ‘do what you love and the money will follow’ is too scary for me. I think I would be more stressed! But you are absolutely right that today is my life, and I need to enjoy it. I forget that all too often!

  3. If you’re passionate about neither, then they’re both going to seem like they suck more and more each time you go to them. Especially at the end of a long week when you’re tired and more emotional. I did a lot of restaurant work, kitchen, serving, and even bar backing but I liked it for the most part. That made it a lot easier.

    My suggestion would be figure out what you are passionate about and would like to work this hard for, even if the income stays the same. If you find some things that you want to put your energy towards, then start figuring out how you could get paid to do them. I’m being overly vague (sorry) on purpose, because I don’t want to paint you into a corner with only a single option.

    Keep your options open on how to get money from whatever your new focus is. If it’s writing more, try to figure out how to up that income so you can ditch one of the other gigs. If you find a cause that you’re more connected to, could you figure out how to get a job working with them instead of your current non-profit? Network the hell out of your connections at your current non-profit, or volunteer at somewhere you may want a job and network there. When I was doing volunteer stuff for non-profits, those guys are super “cliquey” and they seemed to know everyone at other non-profits. Get your name in the circle you want to work in and try that.
    Sorry to be so long winded, but hang in there – parts of life suck. When I was in school full time working full time, there was a lot of SUCK. waking up at 5 am, working outside until 3pm then going to class until 9pm, then repeat 5 days a week sucks. Or, class for 7 hours then working from 3 pm until 1am, followed by a 9am calculus class sucked too. It gets better though, but not unless you set something better in motion.
    Good luck!

    1. I’ve been in the service industry in various ways for 5 years now, so I’m just really done with it. I’ve been networking, but that’s constantly on the to-do list. You can never know too many people! Two years ago I took a leap into underemployment with no plan, and this time I want to make sure I’m building towards something more lasting and concrete. I don’t want to be in this same place in another two years!

  4. Wow that is a really tough place to be.
    I’m a big believer in education as a way to increase your income in the long term (as long as you choose a marketable qualification). Is there anything that you can think of that you’d like to study which would improve your salary over the long term? Even if you trade catering hours for studying? I know it is a long term plan but it is an investment in yourself.

  5. Sorry I just read your about page and realised you have been down that path and paid off your student loans. Apologies I’m not being very helpful!

    1. Hahaha, no worries. That’s what kills me- I’ve seen no return on my education from a very fancy school. I really need to be making more money at one job, but I have really struggled finding that job

  6. You are so far ahead of what I was at 28. Let me tell you very briefly about my financial journey.
    At 28 I was still on one of those work visas that get you ‘stuck’ at work with no hope to change it, I was then working at a non profit making $40K a year living in NYC. I saved NOTHING and let me repeat NOTHING. Except paying my own expenses I have been ongoingly helping my family back in Poland with at least $3-$5K a year which would leave me with bare bone budget each month.
    Then I finally got a green card and at 30 I got another job at another non profit. This time @45K a year. Progress. Yes! This is the first year I started to save at all. I had $5k by end of that year. I never imagined I would make more than $45k in a non profit, I felt, ok, this is it and I need to plan around it. But I was just open to change and very hopeful and there you go, someone contacted me on LinkedIn and I got another offer. I went to an interview and BAM $50K a year a brand new job at another non profit. That was me at 31. I am still at the same job but now 4 years later I am at $60K.
    I never imagined at 28 or even 30 that I would ever make that kind of money. I will give an advice more to myself than to you, please ‘relax’ and ‘let’s stop crunching the numbers’ for a moment. I do it all the time too! Ha. You and I are doing it WAY too much. I am driving myself crazy sometimes.

    Also, please remember that once you and your BF truly make it a ‘team’ it will not be just you, the numbers will work out differently when there are 2 of you. You never know what will happen in a few years. Maybe your freelancing takes off BIG time or maybe your now BF will just make loads of $$ and you will be able to retire at 40 instead of 43! I am just saying, you are doing great now, pat yourself on your back, you are awesome and grounded and know what’s important (hey, after all you did not kill your boyfriend when he stole your lunch ;). But I surely know what you mean, it’s ok to feel ‘financially blue’ sometimes. We are building a nice virtual community here and I love how everyone is supportive. I love all our posts, downer or not 😉 x

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My number crunching habit is bad, and I do need to tone it down. Your story really gives me hope for work in the nonprofit world! I’m glad you’re earning more now. I also love our community. Thanks for all your support!

  7. […] why I am even writing about this now, one may ask? Well, I just read Kara’s latest post and seems like it is not just me who is having this kind of a […]

  8. I’m sorry that things feel discouraging right now, Kara. Is it helpful at all to think about how much you’ve achieved and how far you’ve gotten? Because you’ve done a lot: you’ve paid off your loans, you created this awesome blog, you have lots of work experience in a couple different areas, and I’m guess you probably have lots of other achievements that I don’t know about. 🙂

    For what it’s worth, when I was 28 I was in an unhealthy and stressful relationship, was making $18K/year, had $28K of student debt, and was applying to go back to school and take out $28K more. I know this information doesn’t change anything about your situation, but my point is just that I think you’ve made a lot of really good choices already.

    September is still a ways away. It might be helpful to start looking for other jobs if you can find the time and energy. I know that when I was applying for jobs in December/January/February, it took me a while to figure out what I was doing and how to frame myself and my skills/experience, as well as to survey the job landscape and understand what kinds of things were out there. You may be more prepared to apply than I was, but either way I think it can be good to at least start looking around, doing some searches on Indeed, exploring your LinkedIn connections, etc. This stuff is definitely tiring, but if you can do it a little bit, a couple of days a week, I suspect it would end up paying off in the long run.

    Feel free to email me anytime if you want to talk/vent/whatever. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Sarah. I’m torn between trying to find a new job, or pursuing writing. I think writing would make me happier in lots of ways, but it would also be a financial stressor. Thanks too for sharing your story. I think i see a lot of people in our world who are just a few years older than me and are about to exit the work force, and it makes me bad. I need a reality check, and I also need to remember there’s nothing wrong with my life or my pace.

  9. I think you should definitely plan to quit one of the jobs in the near future and focus on building up freelancing income or pursuing some other work that you feel better about. I know you’re probably already doing this but saving like crazy will help provide you with a better financial cushion so that you’re not worrying nonstop if your income dips for a few months while you establish another source of income. Investing is awesome for your future but you also have to think about your mental head and happiness now.

    With burnout I know the feeling. I felt officially burnt out at my job last November and feel like I work tirelessly and get headaches some days just to earn less than $40k at my FT job. It’s not worth it and I know there are other ways to earn way more without so much brainpower so I’m trying to find those opportunities. But saving like crazy these past few months has been helping me get closer and closer to leaving my job and feeling confident financially with some savings lined up to supplement my income if need be.

    1. Thanks for the input! We’re on the same page. I’m trying to save in a lot of different ways so I can take the leap into underemployment. My IRA is a non-negotiable, but I also have a liquid E-Fund that’s got about 4 months of expenses, as well as a travel fund I could dip into. I would never quit both jobs at the same time, because the risk is too big, financially speaking. So my (sort of) plan right now is to quit one job, keep my other income coming while I build up freelancing, and hopefully, see that through! But I go back and forth so often…

  10. Oh wow. I went through something similar a couple of years ago, with last year being my breaking point. It was so bad that I lost it in front of my boss and his boss and actually broke down into tears when I was ordering food @ 9:00 pm after a part-time course. I had no time to eat in between work and my course, so it wasn’t until 9:00 pm that I was able to eat.

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It’s really tough when you’re burnt out working several jobs and feel done. Have you thought about attending meetups in your area? They usually don’t cost anything, except your time. To stay motivated, I usually listen to podcasts and read those motivation books. Even though a lot of the times the advice they give is obvious, sometimes you need to hear or read it, in order for it to make an impact.

    Best of you luck to you. It’s not easy, I know, but you’ll get through it.

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words. I do love motivational stories and quotes. I’ve been reading some success stories of people who changed direction or followed a passion- it’s so important to keep moving towards a dream!

  11. […] week I wrote about how I’d reached my breaking point. I’m pretty unhappy with my professional life, which is not great. And as many of you pointed […]

  12. Know I’m chiming in late here, but wanted to add to the encouragement that others are sharing! Sorry you’ve hit your limit, but maybe it’s a good thing, to force a decision rather than you just continuing to grind yourself into the ground without choosing paths. I certainly think dropping catering is a no-brainer — it’s not going to help you get other future jobs, while the nonprofit gig might. Can you keep doing the nonprofit job for a while, while you get your freelance writing business built up? That way you’re also building your resume at the same time, even if the job itself isn’t perfect. I just think you need to earn more, and the resume building could also help with that if freelancing doesn’t happen as quickly as you want it to.

  13. Hey Kara- I read this and it could have been me for the last seven years (before this past Dec when I got a good full time job). I felt like I was working my ass off for seven years as a freelancer and I was going nowhere (or so it felt) and I was 45!!! I can’t give advice, but I can offer empathy, and my guess and hope is that things will change for the better with time, patience, and persistence.

    1. Thanks Tonya! I appreciate the empathy. And actually, as I’m headed into a freelance career, I would love to speak to you about yur experience doing it for so long. Can I shoot you an email?

  14. […] Frugal to Free. She has a track record of kicking debt fast and now she’s just about to venture out on her own! She’s here today to report on taking the Roth IRA Challenge which tracks $5500 of money (how […]

  15. Hello lady 🙂 I am a reader from the shadow.
    First, congratulation for debt free! it is a huge accomplishment! I am proud of you! I was there for a while and now …another mortgage 🙂 so enjoy the freedom!

    As an idea from my life experience: get out one of the jobs. Don’t decide now the witch to kill ( it is difficult to choose between the bad and the ugly), but discuss with your close friends what chances for future you have. You can stop one in 2 weeks or in 7 weeks, it is a matter of personal decision. In the meantime write on a paper what you love to do as a job! Make it visual, and think what will make you happy, or what will make you out of actual path, to meet different people. It is not a problem if you don’t secure now the financial goals, the year is not ended :), and you never know what big chance is waiting for: search the job market, ask the friend’s fresh experience ( interviews, open job positions, personal feedback) etc
    Think too, to another idea: stop for a while one of these jobs. Like in 3-6 months of not working, if you feel financial bad just turn back. You will have a half of savings, but it is better than nothing. Just take a constructive break, and think to do some ideas like: a course or a ‘unpaid job’ in a big company for experience, anything to increase you CV and your stamina; or offer some consultancy for people to do their taxes etc .
    I will recommend you to do some sports these calming days: the jogging outside always calmed me and helped me to see “la vie en rose”, or to discover a new hobby ( I started gardening in a small rent space, and the effort and the quality of vegetables gives me the calm that I can survive with less jobs).

    All these pushed me to think outside of the box.

  16. […] I’ve worked hard to get here. Really, really hard. But my privilege has been with me every step of the […]

  17. […] It’s wonderful to feel good about sitting down to work every day, instead of stressed out. What a game change from a few months […]

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