According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average worker changes careers three to five times during their lifetime.

In this tight economy, this move may be a choice or it may become a necessity. Here are four simple steps for getting off on the right foot with this big decision.

Make a Financial Plan

1. Build a nest egg. Choosing to save gives you more control over your career path. With the right motivation and methods, you can save a remarkable amount of money, even on a modest income.

2. Diversify your income. Keep some freelance work going on the side even if you work full-time. Your extra income may turn into a full time job or provide a buffer in times of unemployment or transition.

3. Put money in perspective. People often have difficulty giving up a well-paying job even if their enthusiasm for it has run out. While high unemployment creates challenges, it may also provide opportunities to move on to something you’ll love more.

Conduct a Self Assessment

1. Browse for free tests online. There are many free online tests that are effective in giving you a general idea of your talents and abilities. Some are based on the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Try taking several tests to see if the findings are consistent.

2. Hire a career counselor. For more precise guidance and support, you may want to hire a career coach. To help evaluate possible coaches, look for relevant experience, like work in human resources, and ask for references from people in situations comparable to your own.

3. Review your career history. Wherever you work, you bring yourself along. Be honest about recurring patterns like conflicts with authority so you can resolve them and move ahead.

4. Invite feedback. Ask friends, family and colleagues for their views on what they think you’d be good at. They may confirm your own observations or offer you new ideas to consider.

Research Your Chosen Field

1. Evaluate future job prospects. Browse online or visit your local library. The Labor Department’s Occupational Outlook Handbook and industry publications can help you identify fields with high growth.

2. Learn more about specific positions. Narrow down the kind of position you want. Job advertisements can give you a sense of the type of positions available and the qualifications employers are seeking. Pay attention to common keywords that suggest skills that would make you a strong candidate.

3. Network. Now is the time to go out on informational interviews. See if you can join the local chapter of the business association you’re interested in, or at least visit some functions as an observer.

Strengthen Your Qualifications

1. Go back to school. Your employment prospects may improve if you get some additional education and training. Many graduate schools have evening programs to accommodate working adults. Leading universities now offer online programs you can take anywhere.

2. Become a volunteer. Take a trial look at your new line of work by doing volunteer work. Even if you want to work in a corporate setting, you can start your portfolio of experience in the new field by volunteering.

3. Edit your resume and cover letters. Focus on transferable skills that are applicable to any work setting, such as being organized or working as part of a team. Briefly explain why you are making a career change and how you can contribute. Use stories to make your documents and interview materials more interesting.

Changing careers will have a big impact on your future, so approach the decision carefully. Strive for financial independence, get to know yourself better, and seek out the kind of work that will make you excited to show up on Monday morning.