It’s your dream job, but the pay is a nightmare
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Are you in your dream job? (Credit: Alamy)

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? An astronaut, a ballerina, a firefighter? And did you decide instead to become an accountant, lawyer or banker?

If you had to do it again over, would you?

The encouraging news, according to a global LinkedIn survey is that around the world, nearly a third of workers say they’re in their childhood dream job or a related field.

Some of the top dream jobs, according to the survey? Everything from an Olympic athlete to a writer to a teacher. Most respondents said they are in it for the love, not the money.

Some of these dream jobs pay so little that one can’t subsist on that salary alone.

Around the world, nearly a third of workers say they’re in their childhood dream job or a related field.

That’s the case for Steve Silberberg, who owns Fitpacking, a weight loss backpacking company, after spending 20 years as a software contractor. He loves his job, which involves taking people on backpacking trips around the country and occasionally around the world.

“It’s an unbelievably rewarding job, and I live a high quality of life,” said Silberberg, 54, who lives in Massachusetts in the US. “But it barely pays the bills. Every year I hope that Fitpacking will sustain me financially all by itself, and every year I’m disappointed.”

Silberberg secures other work to keep his head above water, and he has almost nothing saved for retirement. “I’m sure I’ll regret my poor fiscal planning, but I already regret not maximising my happiness when I was in my twenties, so I don’t want to let the middle-aged years go by in some kind of drudge job,” he said.

If, like Silberberg, you want to follow your heart, but the pay is not promising, there are a few survival skills you need to consider:

What it will take: You’ll need to love what you do — really love what you do — and be willing to sacrifice some creature comforts, and even general financial security, in order to do it.

“If you don’t love it for the sake of the art or for the topic, then you need to find something else,” said Stephanie Lee, a financial planner with East Rock Financial Services in California in the US. “Because it has to be something you want to do, even if you make no money.”

How long you need to prepare: The first thing you need to do is create a budget with how much you need to live off each month, and devise a plan accordingly. If you need to tap into your savings while you work this job, you’ll need long enough to save a substantial nest egg ahead of time.

“If there’s a way, before you enter into this, to have a cushion of three to six months of basic expenses in savings, that would be a positive thing,” said Kathryn Hauer, a financial planner with Wilson David Investments in South Carolina in the US.

Some dream jobs pay so little that one can’t subsist on only that salary. (Credit: Alamy)

Some dream jobs pay so little that one can’t subsist on only that salary. (Credit: Alamy)

“It’s important to go in with your eyes open and be realistic with respect to the financial outcomes of such a role,” said Brett Evans, executive director of Atlas Wealth Management in Southport, Australia. “Does the role allow for career progression, and if so, what are the salary prospects like? There are many roles which pay a minimal wage at the beginning but if you can stick it out, represent both an advancement in career and financial prospects.”

Do it now: Don’t panic. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the “shoulds” when you’re barely scraping by, but you don’t have to be. “I always tell people, ‘We’re betting on an 80-year life,’” Hauer said. “Most of us are going to work well past the age of 62 that people used to work to, so you have a lot more time now to make money than you did even 30 or 40 years ago.”

In other words, it’s OK if you aren’t squirreling away 10% a year toward retirement — for now.

But save a little. Establishing the habit of saving can go a long way, even if it’s just $20 a week. “You might have a lean year or two as an entrepreneur or musician, but you’re still light years ahead of the person who doesn’t save anything, because habits are so important,” Hauer said.

Establishing the habit of saving can go a long way, even if it’s just $20 a week.

Stay out of debt. This is easier said than done when you’re living close to the line, but try to avoid using credit cards to make up the difference between your salary and your spending. “This is incredibly important because you won’t have the free cash flow to support little, if any, debt repayments,” Evans said. “And should the time come when you have to change roles to a more financially-rewarding position, you will then spend a long time paying off that debt.”

Accept help. If there are people in your life who are willing to offer assistance, think about taking them up on it. “Many times there are parents and aunts and uncles and friends, and they’re not willing to give cash but they’re willing to have you over for a meal or give you their expensive old business suits or their samples from Sephora,” Hauer said. “That’s one dinner you don’t have to buy for yourself and that $20 can go into your savings account.”

That said, try not to rely on a parent or partner for the long term. “What I’ve seen in circles I’m in is people who get rescued by somebody who can support them, so then they do their art full time and they’re suddenly in their fifties and their marriage breaks up,” Lee said. “That’s a really tricky position to be in.”

Downsize your life. The cheaper your obligations, the less money you have to make. Can you live in a smaller home, take on a flatmate, give up your car or give cable the boot? “A lot of people have far more house than they really need,” Hauer said. If you’re in a position to sell or rent your house for a profit and move into something with a smaller mortgage payment, that could free up some significant funds each month.

The same goes for your car. Could you sell it and buy something cheaper?

Make cash on the side: If your lifestyle is already in check, then you need to increase your income. “Nowadays, with the gig economy, this is a lot easier,” Lee said. “You can become an Uber driver and you can work around your auditions.” Freelance work or doing part-time jobs on the side can supplement your lifestyle until things improve — either you make more money or move on.

Keep your day job. It may be that in order to make your dream job work, you have to work a regular job that makes more money, and do your dream job on the side if it is somewhat flexible.

“My advice is to seek a profession that will support your lifestyle and then spend your leisure time pursuing the dream, which may or may not eventually lead to a career that could support you and your family,” said Charles Sachs, a financial planner with Private Wealth Counsel in Florida in the US.

Do it later: Set a timeline. Hopefully, you’re not planning to work on an unsustainable salary forever. Maybe it’s a finite commitment (such as a volunteer opportunity abroad) or you’re at the bottom of a career ladder with higher-paying rungs ahead. If there is no end in sight, make a decision about how long you’ll stick with it before trying something else. “Your time table can be based either on time, like you need to do X within five years, or the amount of debt or assistance you’re willing to take on,” Lee said. “And it can be based on your life goals. If you want to become a parent, there’s a time frame for that, too.”

Do it smarter: Realise that your priorities could change. Living with a roommate and eating beans and rice may be OK for now — but probably not forever.

“I find for most people, the realisation comes when there’s a major life change,” Hauer said. “They have a baby, and they realise, ‘Oh my gosh, that lifestyle was fine, living hand to mouth, but now that I have a little one, I don’t want to live like that.’” That changes priorities.

“They say, ‘OK, I wanted to change the world, and now I’m just going to have to change the world as a hobby, and I’m going to need to go do something that pays me a living wage,’” Hauer said.

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