I am so excited to bring you the next Slow FI Interview with Zach, who writes at Four Pillar Freedom. Four Pillar Freedom is one of my absolute favorite blogs.
Surprisingly, I’m not really a numbers person (and yes, I am a personal finance blogger). Zach can explain complicated financial concepts in such an accessible way that I now feel like I know what I’m talking about. Zach answers all of my questions before I even think to ask them.
I had the opportunity to meet Zach last year at FinCon, a financial media conference. By the time we met face-to-face for the first time, we felt like old friends.
Zach and I went through a similar mindset shift around the purpose of financial independence around the same time. We both shifted our mindsets away from believing that the goal of financial freedom was to retire early. We now know that the point of financial freedom is to allow us to do meaningful work on our own terms.
Because of this camaraderie, Zach was an early champion of Slow FI. Just a few short weeks after we unveiled this new concept to the world, Zach wrote his “Shockingly Simple Math Behind Slow FI.” This post mirrored Mr. Money Mustache’s Shockingly Simple Math, and I found it even more inspiring.
For these reasons (and more), I’m so excited to include Zach’s story in the Slow FI interview series. Over the last three years, Zach has built up online businesses. Within the last year, he was able to quit his day job and become a full-time entrepreneur.
Let’s get into Zach’s inspiring story!
1. Tell me about you.
Hey there. My name is Zach. I’m 26 years old, I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I currently own and run several of my own websites as a full-time job. In my free time, I love to lift weights, play basketball, spend time in nature, and read.
2. What deliberate decision have you made to slow down and improve your life? Why did you decide to make this decision?
After graduating from college at age 22 with a degree in Applied Statistics, I worked at three different jobs as a data scientist. Although the pay was good and the field was generally low stress, I eventually reached a point after three years where I realized that I just wasn’t happy when I woke up each morning.
The commute was time-consuming, the work itself felt meaningless, and I found myself constantly wishing it was the weekend.
That’s why, at age 25, I quit my job as a data scientist to pursue entrepreneurship full-time in the form of running profitable websites. I now run five different websites in a variety of niches that provide a full-time income for me.
Ultimately, I made the decision to quit Corporate America at a fairly young age because I felt that there would be no better time in my life. In my 20s, I have few responsibilities and a lot of free time to build my own online businesses.
3. How has this decision to become a full-time entrepreneur impacted your quality of life?
Deciding to quit my full-time job as a data scientist has led to significant improvements in my overall quality of life. I can now work whenever I want, from wherever I want, for as long as I want. Best of all, I get to do work that I find meaningful and rewarding.
Quitting my job has led to a few other improvements that aren’t related specifically to my work. I can now run errands during the day when traffic is the lowest. I can enjoy popular outdoor areas like parks and nature reserves when most people are at work.
I’m able to visit my immediate family (who live about an hour away) much more often. I can simply drive up there during the day and hang out for a few hours without needing to worry about fighting rush-hour traffic in different parts of the city.
Another benefit of working for myself is that when I finish up working for the day, I don’t have to worry about receiving a text, call, or email from a coworker or boss asking about some project or some deadline. I feel much more at peace during the evenings and weekends when I know that I don’t even have to think about anything related to work.
To put it simply, I have more energy now than I used to when I had a corporate job. I now have the freedom to work for as long (or short) as I want. When I get tired, I’m able to take a break and go for a walk. Better yet, on days when I just don’t feel like working for long, I am able to call it quits early. This is in direct contrast to when I had a day job and had to be at my desk until 5 each day, whether I had real work to complete or not.
The most unexpected effect of working for myself is that I don’t actually work much less than I did when I had a day job. I still work around 40 hours per week. The difference is that I don’t spend any time sitting in meetings, responding to emails, or commuting. I can focus all of my time and energy purely on doing the work needed to grow my websites, which means that the work I do in 40 hours goes a lot further.
4. How did becoming an entrepreneur impact your financial goals or timelines?
I currently make about 40% less income each year compared to when I worked as a data scientist. This means that I’m unable to save and invest as much money as I used to in prior years.
Since quitting my day job about 8 months ago, my net worth has remained roughly flat. Fortunately, I care much more about my income than my net worth. In fact, I don’t have any specific net worth goals that I’d like to achieve by any specific dates.
Instead, I’m more interested in making sure that my online income slowly increases over time. When this happens, my net worth will naturally increase as well. As long as I’m able to earn enough money online that I never need to go back to a 9-5 job again, I don’t mind if it takes me 10 years or 30 years to achieve financial independence.
One lesson that I’ve learned is that I’m not actually interested in acquiring enough money to never work again. Rather, I’d like to simply always have the means to do fulfilling work as long as I can. Using this approach, I don’t actually need to hit any net worth milestone by a certain date. I love the idea of always doing work I find meaningful and enjoyable, and I know that it will also generate income.
5. What enabled you to quit your job to focus on building your own business?
There were three big factors that made it feasible for me to switch from a 9-5 job to entrepreneurship:
- I have no family or kids to provide for, so my costs are low. I don’t have to generate a higher income to support a larger lifestyle.
- Cincinnati is a fairly low-cost area, so I don’t have to earn a super high income to support myself.
- I had slowly been building up my online income over the course of three years. I reached the point where I could already cover around 75% of my expenses with my online income before I quit.
Although quitting my job and forgoing a regular paycheck was scary, these three factors made the transition much less daunting. I knew that I was already making decent money online. I also had a large emergency fund, so I knew that I didn’t even need to experience success right away to make things work financially.
6. Were there things in your life you adapted to make it work better so you could continue to work toward your goals?
There weren’t many things I had to change in my life to be able to work towards my goals. In fact, I’ve found that I have lower expenses in several different areas of my life since I no longer have a day job.
For example, I used to buy lunch at work sometimes. Sometimes, I wasn’t motivated or couldn’t find the time to pack my own lunch. Now that I work for myself, I’m able to cook lunch every single day at my apartment. This means I eat healthier, and I spend less money on food.
Since I no longer have a commute I also spend less money on transportation costs to and from work each day.
7. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
There are a lot of financial and social factors to consider when making the decision to downshift. The obvious signal that you may need to downshift is when you feel overwhelmed and unhappy on a consistent basis. Another sign could be if your work is affecting your health and time with family.
For me, downshifting meant quitting my corporate job entirely. For many people, they don’t actually need to quit their job to experience a higher quality of life, though.
Alternatives to quitting your job entirely include:
- Switching to a part-time role within the same company.
- Switching to a different team or department that is known to be less stressful.
- Negotiating a work from home arrangement for a few days a week.
All of these options can make a massive difference in your quality of life. It doesn’t hurt to ask your place of employment if this is possible.
No matter what route you would like to pursue, downshifting is always much easier to do if you have money in the bank. Savings is the one thing that can give you the confidence you need to make the leap to a less stressful work situation.
8. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decision to become an entrepreneur?
When I first heard of the idea of financial independence, I made it a goal to hit that goal within 10 years. However, I then read several stories about people who had achieved F.I. at a fairly young age. Instead of feeling completely blissful, they actually felt a bit lost without a routine or anything to work towards.
For me, I realized that early retirement wasn’t the best goal for me to pursue. I didn’t want to make it my goal to save so much money that I never needed to work again. Instead, I wanted to have enough money in the bank and be able to generate enough income in an enjoyable manner. Then, I wouldn’t need to rely on a day job to support my lifestyle.
Fortunately, the savings that I accumulated during my three years as a data scientist gave me the cushion that I needed to feel comfortable with quitting my job. I knew that I could survive for over a year purely on savings even if I didn’t earn a dime of income online.
9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
There’s no debating that downshifting has massive benefits. It can give you more free time, more energy, and overall higher quality of life.
But in order to make downshifting a real possibility, you need to have a plan in place. There’s nothing worse than leaping from a steady 9-5 job making decent money to working for yourself for more than eight hours per day making no money.
Ideally, your goal should be to make at least some money through your own entrepreneurial efforts before you actually quit your day job. Once you’re making money consistently outside of your day job, you can be confident that your income will increase once you’re able to spend more time on it.
The advice I often give to people who want to downshift but aren’t sure how to earn income outside of their job is to look for areas where they have niche knowledge. They can earn money from that knowledge.
For example, I have a Master’s degree in Applied Statistics, which is a field that very few people actually have knowledge in. For this reason, I started a website called Statology where I write tutorials about statistic concepts and monetize the articles with ads. The site now generates passive income when people find it online by searching for certain statistics-related questions.
There are plenty of people online who run websites and consulting, coaching, and freelance services based entirely around one specific niche subject. This could be anything from foreign languages to programming languages to nutrition to school subjects or anything else.
If you’re looking for a way to downshift your lifestyle while still being able to generate income in an enjoyable manner, identify areas where you have unique knowledge. Then, monetize that knowledge through a service or product.
Thank you so much, Zach, for sharing your story with us. The way that you built your online business on the side and finally took it full-time is incredibly inspiring.
I want to see everyone designing their lives on the path to financial independence. Zach is such a great example of this concept. While he originally wanted to use his financial freedom to retire early, he designed his ideal life along the way. During this lifestyle design process, he realized that he didn’t need to retire early to be happy. All he needed was to do meaningful work on his own terms.
Zach now gets to choose his work and how he structures his days. He no longer has a commute, finds it easier to disconnect from work, and has more time to spend with friends and family. For Zach, running his own business gives him the lifestyle he wants to live.
I love Zach’s advice about becoming an entrepreneur, and I am personally taking it to heart. His advice is to start your business on the side as you continue working your day job. This will allow you to have a proof of concept that you know will make money before you take the leap.
This is exactly the model I plan to follow as I build up my own business. I know that I’m too risk-averse (and it would be unadvisable) to quit my job to start a business from scratch. I will have a lot more confidence in my efforts if I build up my business on the side first. Once I start to generate income from my own business, I will likely consider taking it full-time.
The great thing about building a business is if you can build up income on the side, you can generate even more income if you have more time to spend on it.
If you are interested in running your own business over time, I’d encourage you to start it as a side hustle to see if you can generate income doing it.
If you aren’t interested in running your own business, there are so many other options to make your life better over time. This could include working part-time, finding a job that’s a better fit, taking a mini-retirement, or working for a portion of the year.
There are so many options to design your life, and it’s important to figure out what’s right for you.
If you’d like to follow Zach’s story, you can find him in the following places:
- Blog: Four Pillar Freedom
- Twitter: @4PillarFreedom