I met up with an acquaintance recently, and she asked me how my part-time work schedule was going.
I love having the opportunity to catch up with people after a period of time. We often have different types of discussions than I do with people I regularly see.
My close friends or family ask, “How are you?” on a regular basis. This allows them to infer how things are going in the grand scheme of things. We don’t always reflect on the bigger picture.
It’s fun to catch up with someone I haven’t seen in 6 months or more. We’re more likely to ask overarching questions and share higher-level, more reflective responses.
When this acquaintance asked me how my part-time schedule was going, I had so many positive things to say. With close friends, I discuss the daily ups and downs. This was an opportunity to step back and reflect on the big picture.
I love working part-time. Everything isn’t perfect, but it’s a significant improvement. A little over a year ago, I was working 50-hours/week, commuting 90 minutes a day, and I was miserable.
This isn’t the case for me anymore. Working part-time has given me my life back.
Benefits of Working a Part-Time Job
By working part-time, I have taken a step toward my ideal life. While there are some challenges, it has been a very positive experience for me. It’s so great, in fact, that I will likely never go back to full-time work.
1. Work Fits Into My Life: Not The Other Way Around
As many of you know, I used to work 50 hours/week in a very stressful work environment.
After four years in my last organization, I burned out. I ended up taking about 6 months off of work to deal with a health issue.
Like many young people today, I thought that I should find meaning and purpose primarily in my job. This pushed me to work too hard and not prioritize other important aspects of my life (health, relationships, etc.).
When I went back to work earlier this year, I knew that I wanted to have more balance in my life.
I now know that there is so much more to life than work.
I count myself lucky to work in a nonprofit organization whose mission I believe in. I am happy that the “traditional” work that I do is contributing to something bigger than myself. Yet, I have many things in my life that give me meaning and purpose. I don’t need any job to feel like I matter.
My work can be meaningful. At the same time, it doesn’t have to take over my life.
2. Time to Focus on Important Things
Because I only work three days/week, I have regained about 20 hours of my time each week. That adds up to over 1,000 hours each year.
Because I work less and have more time, I no longer feel constantly frazzled. I am not running from one thing to the next, trying to keep my head above water. I have the opportunity to do things at my own speed and have time to focus on things that are important to me.
Focusing time on mental and physical health has been important. I see my therapist weekly on one of my days off. I no longer push off doctor’s appointments because it’s hard to schedule them during the workday. Cooking healthy meals is now a priority and doesn’t feel overwhelming.
I also have time to focus on doing things I enjoy. Spending time with family and friends is high on my priorities list. On almost every nice day, I take my dog for a long walk. I have time to write and rarely feel stressed about deadlines or my posting schedule.
Slowing down has allowed me to focus on things that are important to me. This has increased my happiness and quality of life.
3. Setting Firm Boundaries
When I worked full-time, I had a hard time setting boundaries. I felt like I needed to say “yes” to requests. I used to think that full-time work meant that you needed to get your work done, even if it took more than 40 hours. I didn’t realize how important it was to set boundaries within a full-time job.
Working part-time means I work 60% of a full-time employee or 24 hours per week. I don’t get paid hourly and sometimes I do work a little more or a little less. But, it’s only ever a small variance.
When I worked full-time, I would work 50 or 55 hours a week, and it would feel normal. Now, if I worked 10 to 15 hours extra, my employer would need to pay me a full-time salary.
From the beginning, I set clear expectations about my work hours. My employer is now very open to pushback about priorities and projects. This level of flexibility and autonomy isn’t always extended to full-time employees.
4. Paid Time Off Goes Further
My organization provides a lot of time off – 18 vacation days, 3 personal days, 10 sick days, 6 holidays, and 4 floating holidays.
I was somewhat disappointed when I realized that I only got 60% of them, although it makes sense. This means I get 10.8 vacation days, 1.8 personal days, 6 sick days, and 2.4 floating holidays. On top of that, I only get paid for holidays that fall on my regular workdays. I worried that this would feel meager.
After I thought more about it, I realized that every weekend is a 4-day weekend for me. This means that I don’t need to take sick time to schedule doctor appointments. I can schedule them on my days off. To take a long weekend trip, I don’t need to take any vacation time at all.
We did a ton of travel this year (Panama, Vermont, Cape Cod, Washington DC, and Chicago). Even with all this travel, I still had a lot of vacation time left. It was enough to take off the entire week of Thanksgiving and the two weeks between Christmas and New Years. With all this time off, I will still carry over a few vacation days into next year.
Because I work part-time, the paid time off that felt meager actually stretches quite far. I will need to be more even more proactive about using my vacation time next year.
5. I Spend Significantly Less Money
Now this one is counterintuitive. You might think that if someone has more time, they might spend more money. I’ve found this not to be the case.
Within the last year, we’ve spent about $17,000 less than the year before. I attribute this to both beginning our journey to financial independence and working part-time.
I now have the energy to cook and meal plan. We find ourselves eating out or ordering take-out less frequently. I prepare lunches at the beginning of the week and brew my coffee at home.
Most importantly, I have more time to reflect on what I actually value. I rarely buy random things to make my life more bearable or convenient. I also don’t settle for buying something that isn’t the exact right thing I need.
Because we spend less money, working part-time hasn’t had as large of an impact on our savings rate as we thought it might. We can still save 50-55% of our income and have much better lives while doing it.
What I Don’t Love About Working Part-Time
While working part-time is more aligned with my ideal life, it is not perfect. Part-time work provides me with a quality of life that makes me feel like I don’t need to sprint toward the financial independence finish line. Yet, there are still aspects of my ideal lifestyle that part-time work doesn’t support.
1. Location Dependence
One goal that we have is to become location independent. We won’t become nomadic travelers, but we would like to be able to travel for 1-3 months at a time.
With a part-time schedule, I get a lot of time off. I work fewer days (3) than I don’t work (4) each week.
Because the time-off isn’t concentrated and my job requires me to be in the office, I am still location dependent. I would not be able to take a vacation that is longer than a few weeks.
This is okay for us right now. The main reason is that Corey has a full-time job that he enjoys, so this is not an option for him yet either. At some point, we do hope that our business grows to the point where we will no longer be location dependent.
2. The Pressure to Work More
Most people don’t understand why I’d choose to work part-time. The idea that I’d trade money for more time is completely foreign.
I’ve had more than a handful of people say things like, “Maybe your job will eventually become full-time” or “I hope this job becomes full-time.” To which I respond, “I hope not.”
I am lucky to have a boss who respects my boundaries, even if she doesn’t completely understand them. Even with a supportive boss, I often feel the pressure to work more.
I have to continually set firm boundaries. It can be exhausting when people don’t understand why you can’t just do this “one more thing” for them.
To complicate things, my organization is growing. Many people would like me to work full-time, but I’m lucky that my boss is a strong advocate for me.
We’ve come to the solution that we’ll hire a full-time junior HR Specialist to work under me. In this situation, this is the best solution possible. At the same time, I am worried that having a direct report will cause my boundaries to break down over time.
3. Every Monday Feels Like I’m Coming Back from Vacation
Do you ever get the “Sunday Scaries?” I sure do. My Sunday Scaries are made worse by the fact that every Monday feels like I’m coming back from vacation.
When I worked full-time, I was reasonably sure that nothing “blew up” over the weekend between Friday and Monday. When I leave work on Wednesday evening and return on Monday morning, I have no such reassurance.
When I open my computer on Monday morning, I’m also usually greeted by at least 60 unread emails that I need to catch up on.
This might sound like I’m complaining about something that isn’t so bad. While these feelings have gotten better over time, I want to be honest that this is a challenge for me. As someone who struggles with anxiety, the anticipatory nervousness about what I might find when I arrive is heightened.
4. 20 Extra Hours Isn’t That Much Time
On the one hand, 20 hours/week is a lot of time. It provides me with time to focus on my health, writing for the blog and relaxing.
I still don’t feel like I have time to do everything I want to do. I’d like to spend more time writing for other blogs. I don’t have enough time to do that as often as I’d like and write for my own site.
I would love to start a career coaching business. I have begun to create a course on salary negotiation. On top of keeping the blog running, it is hard to find the time to work on another project. I am slowly working on this, but it must take second priority.
I’m worried that if I take on too much that I’d get overwhelmed by all my “passion projects.” Then, I might not enjoy them as much.
I’d also like to spend more time keeping in touch with family and friends and exercising. These things have improved since having more time, but they aren’t “fixed.”
Life is all about trade-offs. Even with 20 extra hours per week, my time is still limited. I still struggle to prioritize my time and focus on the things that I value most.
Money Isn’t on Either List
Yes, you are reading a personal finance blog, and I didn’t include money on the lists.
For us, the point of pursuing financial independence is so that you don’t need to worry about money. It’s not about getting to a particular number so that we can retire early and never work another day in our lives.
Our strong financial foundation allows us to make decisions to improve our lives.
We created this foundation by doing many things, including:
- Increasing our income early in our careers
- Not succumbing to (much) lifestyle inflation
- Reducing our expenses through intentionality
As I’ve reflected on the growth of my organization and their desire for me to work more hours, I realized something.
I don’t think that someone could pay me any amount of money to work more hours. At least not any amount of money that is within the realm of possibility.
For me, this is the benefit of Slow FI. Even though we haven’t reached financial independence, we can already use our financial stability to improve our lives. Financial freedom is not all or nothing; it’s incremental.
How have you used your incremental financial freedom to improve your life?