Q. I want to change to a job that pays a lot less money but will make me happy. It should cover my bills but it won’t leave anything left over for retirement or college savings. How do I weigh my happiness and money concerns?
— Big changes

A. Money can’t buy you happiness, right?

Of course, money can make like easier, but plenty of people with lots of money aren’t fulfilled.

It’s time for some soul searching.

“To a certain extent, money is very overrated as I have seen many people make a lot of money, but lose their family and health in the process,” said Jerry Lynch, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton. “Your kids are only around for a very short time and if you miss it, you will never get it back.”

He said you need to take a close look at the numbers and see how far off track you would be if you earned less.

Let’s take a closer look.

Since the beginning of time, human beings have had to work and have sought meaning in their work, said Lisa McKnight, a certified financial planner with Lassus Wherley in New Providence. That’s why it takes more than a healthy paycheck for employees to be happy on the job.

She said other factors such as culture and values, career opportunities and work-life balance may be more important than the pay.

Salary may not be the primary focus if you are making a career change and will be gaining a new set of skills and experiences that will in the long term pay off with higher income and potential, McKnight said.

“You may be willing to take a slight pay cut to have a better work-life balance, do something you are happy at or is an opportunity to work for a company or industry you have been trying to get into,” she said.

Even if money does not make employees work harder or isn’t crucial to job satisfaction, it still is important, McKnight said.

McKnight said money confirms value, and the right money can make less-than-ideal work situations tolerable. You may love your boss, your job tasks, coworkers, and most all conditions of your employment, but if you are not making enough money to meet your financial goals, you may be forced to move on.

“Compensation has a way of validating an employee, making them feel valued for the work and effort they are putting forth,” McKnight said. “A pay cut is not something you should take lightly without making sure it will work for you. You need to understand if a pay cut will cause dissatisfaction by lowering your motivation, self-satisfaction and drive for work.”

If in fact the new lower paying job is one you cannot refuse, McKnight said, it will be very important to reshuffle your priorities and budget so your reduced salary does not impact meeting your expenses and goals.

You’ll need to balance out lower pay with lower expenses. Take a close look at your budget and expenses.

“Definitely included in your budget should be an allocation for retirement savings. You may need to adjust your budget to make it work,” she said. “Make every effort to reduce expenses to leave enough to save for retirement and savings.”

Consider also other expenses that may arise outside of your weekly/monthly bills such as unexpected medical expenses and home and car maintenance.

“You can begin to train your brain to think of your income as the amount you have left after taking out your retirement savings, and you adjust your lifestyle to that amount,” McKnight said. “Commitment and consistency is the key to making this work. The secret to saving for retirement even when your work is low paying is to make sure you prioritize your retirement savings.”

Think of it in terms of long-term happiness. Not having sufficient assets for your goals such as retirement, travel or helping your children may eventually lead to your unhappiness, McKnight said.

Will you be happy if you do not have sufficient assets to retire and are forced to work longer than you had planned? Will you be happy if you cannot not meet any of your other personal goals, such as traveling or helping your children and/or grandchildren?

In addition to ensuring your new lower paying salary covers your expenses and retirement savings, you will need to make sure you have sufficient dollars set aside for a safety net/emergency fund, McKnight said.

” You want to have peace of mind in having sufficient savings to cover an emergency or see you through a period of unemployment,” she said.

If you have personal debt, make sure it is paid off prior to changing jobs, she said.

“Lastly, try to negotiate other perks to made the move worthwhile if a higher base pay is not possible, pay-equivalents such as a signing bonus, annual performance bonus, additional vacation time, paid time off or tuition reimbursement,” she said.

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for The Star-Ledger and she’s the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Click here to sign up for the NJMoneyHelp.com weekly e-newsletter. Like NJMoneyHelp.com on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.

Sign up for the NJ1015.com Newsletter

Get the best of NJ1015.com delivered to your inbox every day.