Q: I’m thinking about changing jobs to reduce stress, potentially within the next year. This change could result in a big pay cut, so I’d like to discuss what that could mean for my financial future.

Chris, St. Louis Park

A: The financial penalty of working for a slimmer paycheck can be less than you might think over the long haul, especially if the shift allows you to find meaning on the job. The trick is to test various scenarios and lower your cost of living before taking the leap. You should also plan on working well into the traditional retirement years.

The economy is running in favor of anyone thinking about making a change. Employers are increasingly scrambling for qualified workers, an environment that lowers the risk for job-changers.

First, you want a job that comes with less stress. That’s a worthwhile goal. I would expand the ambition to find a job that also offers greater meaning as well as (smaller) paychecks. Set aside half an hour a day to focus on your future. A daily diary can help you organize your thoughts. “We can all find a half-hour a day to work on something this important,” notes John Tarnoff, author, teacher and reinvention coach.

Take those ideas to your network of colleagues, friends, acquaintances and other relationships developed over the years. They’re a valuable sounding board. Once you’ve figured where you might find meaning and money, your network will help you to land the job.

Second, take the time to play with the numbers. From your e-mail, I know you have ample savings and own a condo. Resources like the online financial planning program ESPlanner are valuable for trying out “what if” scenarios. Mint.com and similar online products are useful, too. So are a calculator, pen and paper.

Test out your household cash flow with the lower paycheck. What if you paid off the mortgage? Owning your home free and clear can ease the financial stress from downsizing your paycheck, but weigh that gain against maintaining a healthy savings cushion. If you come up short financially, where might you cut? I would experiment living at your projected lower income level for several months. This way you can figure what adjustments you need to make.

The longer you work, the less the blow to your future standard of living from taking a lower paying job now. For instance, you’ll want to delay taking Social Security as long as practical to boost your monthly benefit. Good luck. 

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.