Sunday, June 2, 2013

Less Pay for Less Stress?

My wife and I have what most people would call "good" jobs.  We are "professionals", with salaries that put us closer to the higher end of the income spectrum.  The jobs feature benefits like paid time off, employer-matching retirement contributions, and company-sponsored insurance plans.  My guess is that many people who are currently looking for work would be happy to be hired into either of our jobs for these reasons.

By working at these jobs for a number of years, we have given ourselves the means to pay off our mortgage and accumulate substantial savings and investments.

Our jobs do something else for both of us:  they add stress to our lives.   The associated project deadlines and other responsibilities keep us thinking about our jobs often, even during traditional non-working times.  Both of us stay connected to our employers remotely and will work as needed during evenings, weekends, and holidays -- my wife especially (she's not as completely jaded as I am yet).

As I've mentioned before, we're frustrated because our careful planning has put us in a situation where we don't need to work like this.  We could meet our current spending needs with only a portion of one of our salaries.  But there doesn't seem to be a better option.  There is no part-time option at my employer (I've checked).  My wife may eventually have the option to move to a part-time position, but she feels that once she asks for a part-time role, it would be unlikely that she'd be given a chance to go back to full-time employment (so she wants to ensure the time is right before making such a move).  And even if she did move to part-time, the nature of her work means that she would still have deadlines and responsibilities hanging over her head.  Knowing my wife, I anticipate she'd still end up working during her "free" time to ensure that she kept up with her "part-time" assignments.

Since we paid off our mortgage two years ago, we've been operating under the assumption that we'd keep our full-time jobs (and all associated stress, etc) until the time we felt our savings and investments reached a point that we could completely quit.  Lately, however, we find ourselves discussing alternate possibilities more and more often.

My wife suggested we just draw a big X on the calendar, and commit to quitting when we get to that date, regardless of our financial situation.  At that point we can take a "sabbatical" of sorts, hopefully in the form of a long-distance hike on the Appalachian Trail, or something similar.  Afterward we could take stock of our lives and decide what course of action to take next.

I've suggested the possibility that both of us look for part-time jobs working as a team for the same employer, doing lower-stress work.  For example, there is a business here in town that we think would hire us (based on conversations I've had with the owner).  They are always looking for people to work on weekends, because that's when they do most of their sales.  If my wife and I could get into a rhythm working a three-day schedule, say Friday - Sunday or maybe Saturday - Monday, we could have four days off each week to do whatever we wanted.  This is the type of job where the instant we walked out the door, we'd be completely off the clock -- no deadlines to meet, no projects looming, nothing to worry about until we arrived at work the next day.  The caveat is that we'd lose a lot of the benefits our current jobs offer -- no paid time off, no matching retirement contributions, lower pay.  But I wonder if we wouldn't feel richer overall if we didn't have the stress of our current jobs:  working at any hour of the day, 5+ days per week.

Reflecting back on my own employment history, I remember fondly the jobs I had which could be easily mastered, and which didn't follow me out the door at the end of the day.  In high school I worked at a sandwich shop.  I got really good at making delicious sandwiches (something I liked), and was expert at taking responsibility for the entire customer experience:  from the greeting when they walked through the door, through the order and payment, the sandwich assembly, the delivery, and the clean-up and exit.  There was very little stress because it was within my power to correct almost any error or customer disappointment, and each transaction was discrete, lasting no longer than 30 minutes or so.  I didn't have to come home at night and think about the 6-month sandwich project I was working on, because that didn't exist.   The job was part-time, so it didn't dominate my waking hours.  And while the job itself was not the most stimulating, the lack of stress meant that I could fully enjoy my time off the clock, and find stimulation elsewhere.  That job didn't define me -- it just allowed me the resources (cash) to follow other pursuits which made me feel whole as a person.  Because of this, it may have been the best job I ever had.

I had several other jobs like that as a young adult.  I didn't get rich working at any of them, but I felt more happy and healthy overall when I was employed in those types of roles.

If my wife and I did decide to make a move to lower-stress, part-time jobs, we would almost certainly have to reassess some of our other goals, like moving to our eventual "dream property" or reaching true financial independence.  Although we wouldn't be preventing ourselves from reaching them, we would most likely have to push the desired achievement dates to the more distant future.

Balancing the short-term damage of stressful employment against the long-term benefit of financial independence is proving to be a challenge.  My wife and I haven't made any decisions to make a change yet, but we are working to find a course that will help give us the most life enjoyment overall.

15 comments:

  1. Does your job involve life and death decisions? If not, you and your wife are the ones making your job stressful. You need to manage your boss's expectations. If a deadline is missed - bid deal. What will they do? Fire you? Once again - big deal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't see a way to perform our jobs to a minimal level of satisfaction without a certain level of stress. It comes with the job. It doesn't need to be life or death to be stressful.

      Our employers require a minimum level of commitment to continue working as we are now. We either need to decide to keep the jobs we have, as they are -- stress and all -- or we need to decide to move on. Getting fired accomplishes nothing. If we are going to slack off to the point of getting fired, we may as well just quit.

      Delete
  2. I've been following your blogs for a few years now as it closely reflects what my wife and I have done, only a couple of years behind you. Mortgage pd off in 7 years last Jan, prof jobs and wondering what to do with the $.

    We had planned to keep working for a few years more to build up funds but the week after we sent off the last mortgage payment we found out I had leukemia. Quite a bummer. Even though in my case it is not expected to be life shortening it is life changing in that lifelong treatment is expensive and I must stay employed to have good coverage and keep my costs down. I'm only 43.

    If you can secure funds or insurance for your future health costs without working so stressfully, do it and spend more time together. Time is the most precious thing. My own stressful job is not as stressful anymore after the diagnosis. Priorities are in order.
    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, thanks for sharing your story. Sorry to hear of your diagnosis, but I'm glad to hear it won't cut years off your life given continued coverage and treatment.

      Also, congratulations on paying off your mortgage! Glad to hear your job is not as stressful now. Is that purely due to an attitude shift, or did you make some changes?

      Thanks for your input. Hopefully we can become more "time-rich" in the not-too-distant future.

      Delete
  3. Mostly attitude change. Realizing that life is good, very good helps in setting priorities. For most of us our jobs are a means to an end, not our life's work. It's a balance not only of time but of attention and attitude. Traveling overseas also helps to realize that the while world does not revolve around our little jobs.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Is it important/mandatory that both of you downshift at the same time?

    Can you accept/make your current residence "good enough"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good questions. I suspect we can downshift at separate times. We still need to figure this out.

      We do like our current house, but neither of us sees ourselves living here for the rest of our lives in ideal circumstances. I think we would most likely sell this house and buy a similar house in a less urban setting (fewer neighbors) if we had to compromise.

      Delete
  5. Great article. I can really relate to the thought process you and your wife are going through. We did the same exercise a year ago and decided I would downshift first while my wife stayed working full-bore. She is much more driven to succeed in the traditional way, while I'm more independent and less sensitive to social stigma. We're a few steps down this downshifting process, and I can't complain. Good luck figuring it out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like a good first stage in the transition. My wife and I have talked about something similar, but that still may be a few years out.

      Delete
  6. I hear ya! My job is very stressful and once the mortgage is paid, I'm not sure I'll have the motivation to continue working in my current position. Luckily, my husband loves his job! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hopefully your husband will continue to love his job over the long run. But the long run can feel very long at times.

      Good luck on paying down the mortgage!

      Delete
  7. My wife and I are in a very similar position (even down to paying off the mortgage early!)

    I'm interested in which direction you choose to take.

    We're leaning toward leveraging our current roles into part-time work. But that's a couple of years away, so more investigation to do still.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Have followed a very similar path (mortgage free since April 2012) and faced a similar dilemma - stay on and earn more now, or quit to lead a less stressful life. In the end I figured it will always be tempting to stay (which is why so many people end up hanging on until they are pushed out at 65)! I leave at the end of this year and although I will be poorer I will be a LOT happier!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very nice. How did you decide that you had enough to stop working? Was it more of a logical or emotional decision?

      Delete
  9. My husband quit at the age of 46 while I continued to work (now 44). But what happened was quite interesting. He/we were presented with a real estate investment opportunity BECAUSE he met someone while he wasn't working and that's translated into a business for us. We've just recently incorporated and see this business going strong for at least the next several years providing our income. When you're not stuck in an office every day, new opportunities crop up allowing you to find the source of income you need. I say do it. Quit. :)

    ReplyDelete