I’m excited to bring you this next Slow FI interview with Liz and George. Recently, Liz reached out to me to share their story, and I knew I wanted to feature them in a Slow FI interview.
Ten years ago, Liz scaled back work significantly. She worked part-time for 18 months while evaluating her options. Later, she transitioned to a different career field. One great thing about scaling back was that she had more space for reflection. She found FI, and even though she was making less, they started saving more and working toward FI.
Recently, they reached Coast FI. This gave her husband the confidence to switch careers to something that was less stable but more rewarding.
Let’s get into the interview!
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
We are Liz and George. We’ve been married for almost 20 years and have two children at home. We are in our 40s. We live in the south-central U.S. in a growing exurban area. George works in government, and I (Liz) work in the financial industry.
Previously we both worked lower-paid jobs in nonprofit and media. (Sometimes, jobs that look sexy and exciting have access as a perk. But, often they pay little and are unstable. )
2. What deliberate decisions have you made to slow down and improve your life?
About 10 years ago, I decided to leave the nonprofit management job that required me to be “on” around the clock. I was making the most money I had ever made (although still not much…). But, I realized that moving up in my career there would have required relocating often since it was such a niche organization.
I had also grown tired of evening and weekend work. Part of this overwork was tied to the need to look important, but a bigger part was tied to unrealistic job duties and expectations. I made this decision before we had kids and before we heard of financial independence.
It took two years to escape, but I eventually took a part-time job. I treated this as an 18-month career break to figure out the direction I wanted to go. At the end of the break, I chose an office job in the financial industry.
Initially, I took a 45% pay cut, but the change paid off. Now, my income is higher than it was when I left my previous career. And, I work fewer hours (30-35 hours/week) and take a lot more time off (6 weeks guilt-free). Best of all, there are no expectations for after-hours or weekend work.
My husband, George also made a recent change in the direction of career happiness as well. For several years, he worked in a “safer” staff job in a cubicle. He was definitely “making a dying,” in the immortal words of Vicki Robin in Your Money or Your Life.
Last year, he transitioned to a more challenging management role with more responsibility. While the benefits and employee protections are not as good, he has a great deal more influence and autonomy. He can now use this influence to create a better work environment for himself and his employees.
While my career move focused on slowing down, George’s did not per se. But, it definitely improved his quality of life.
3. How have these career changes impacted your quality of life?
Since I made my career change, I feel like I’ve barely worked a day. While I do go to the office, the pace is manageable and the work enjoyable. There are no meetings before 9 AM or after 4 PM. I am not expected to look at my email after hours.
I take my kids to school in the morning and have started picking them up earlier in the afternoon as my schedule permits. Getting home before 5 PM is huge! It makes the evenings seem so much longer, and the kids get time to play. This allows us to have a fairly leisurely home life compared to the lifestyle a lot of families endure.
George couldn’t be happier with his more recent change. This shift helped him escape a toxic work environment and gave him a lot more control over his time.
Now we are able to be there for our kids and don’t have job misery hanging over our household. Job satisfaction is an amazing feeling!
As parents, having even one parent that is very available is a dream. Within reason, this allows us to not have to manage complicated child care arrangements. Because I can do all of my work from home, I can tend to them if they are ill. I also get to go on the occasional field trip without being penalized at work.
We cannot imagine being chained to desks with our kids in school/daycare 10 hours a day.
4. How did your career changes impact your financial goals or timelines?
We have always been willing to take risks to escape toxic environments. In the past, we made decisions that were not wise–such as quitting a job without another and no savings.
However, my move to part-time work 8 years ago and George’s recent job change have not compromised our long-term financial stability. Our household income has doubled since then, and almost all of our retirement savings and debt payoff happened after I downshifted.
When I started working less, I had a lot more time to be reflective. I learned about financial independence, stumbling upon it accidentally through an article quoting Jacob Lund Fisker of Early Retirement Extreme. Through exploring the websites and other resources he shared, I learned a lot about frugal living strategies and the math of early retirement. Most importantly, I gained inspiration and motivation to put our financial house in order.
Now, we are Coast FI. Coast FI means that we don’t need to save another dollar to retire at the traditional retirement age. We want to be totally done working in our 50s, so that will require a few more years of savings. Our current plan is to have 3-to-4 more years of heavy savings. After that, George will have the luxury of stepping back from his more-demanding job if he wishes. He could pursue enjoyable part-time work, and I would continue what I’m doing since I’m basically part-time already.
Achieving FI in one’s 50s may not seem like a big deal to some people, but it is to us! In 2011 we were in our early/mid-30s and had $14,450 in retirement savings. To get past Coast FI in just 10 years while also having two children is something we are very proud of! On top of that, neither our current budget nor our future retirement budget is bare-bones. We are too old to scrimp. We’ve also seen enough of life’s curveballs to add slack to our budget.
5. How did you change careers? What enabled you to do so?
When I decided to scale back, we didn’t have a lot of savings. But, we did have manageable expenses relative to our overall income. Keeping our living expenses low was a key factor in being able to make this change. One big piece of that was that we didn’t have kids yet.
As we’ve gotten older and had kids, we realize that we’ve gotten more conservative with our financial risk-taking. We were confident that George could change careers last year because our financial situation had improved even further. We didn’t have any debt beyond our mortgage. And, since we are Coast FI, we feel comfortable with our level of savings and what it means for our future selves.
Having confidence in ourselves and our abilities also enabled us to do this. Our familiarity with FI strategies and lack of consumer debt helps us know that we can scale back our expenses if the career strategies we pursue go sideways. We could live on a lot less if we had to, but we also manage our career paths to position ourselves for continued success through continuing education and relationships.
6. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder this decision?
Our pursuit of FI, which we started about 8 years ago, has helped us work through career challenges. Through FI, we learned to save, keep our expenses low, and not take on debt. Prior to our pursuit of financial independence, we did not employ any financial strategies beyond saving a little if a retirement account was available and paying our bills on time.
When George started looking to make a job change last year, he was able to consider positions that paid far less. Ultimately, he chose not to accept one of these, but it gave him a lot of confidence to know he had the option.
7. Were there things in your life you adapted since changing careers so you could continue to work toward your goals?
There are a few things we’ve adapted so that we can continue to work toward our goals.
To be honest, I struggled with stepping back in my career for a long time. Without a high-powered career, I felt a lack of importance and prominence in my profession. Over time, I’ve developed other outlets for this (such as board service) that have lower overall time commitments. I’ve also invested in quality continuing education so that I can continue to grow in my forever profession.
On the financial side, we’ve diversified our investments. We now own one rental property that currently pays for half of our mortgage.
8. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
If you are feeling burned out and looking to make a career change, downshifting your career by taking a position with lower responsibility or fewer hours, as I did, could be a good idea. We encourage this often among people who are overworked and stressed. Asking for a down-shift internally might also be an option for some positions (although it wasn’t the case for us)
Having children was not the reason we decided to transition into work that was more “chill” (for me) and more rewarding (for George). But, this is a very legitimate reason to slow down. Having kids can exacerbate already stressed schedules and resources, and parenting takes a lot of brain space!
9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
First, don’t do anything financially foolish if you have substantial responsibilities. But, if you are miserable, move heaven and earth to make a change. Get your debt to a manageable place. Lower your expenses so that your money goes further. Then, you can take the leap.
I see a lot of people who are miserable at work, but they aren’t willing to cut back on their lifestyle. This is one important way to make changes quickly.
Lastly, when times are good, save as much as you comfortably can for your future self or a rainy day. Even though we are Coast FI, we are currently happy in our work and enjoy our lives. This is the time for us to be shoveling money into our retirement accounts. Then, we’ll be better prepared if/when things change.
Thank you so much, Liz, for sharing your story with us!
There are so many insightful things from this interview that I want to dig into.
First, reducing her hours allowed Liz to get a lot more intentional with her finances. For so many people, when they scale back work, it allows additional time for reflection. For Liz, this allowed her to find out about FI and learn about frugal living. Even though she took a pay cut at the time, the level of intentionality supercharged their finances.
This is a common thing we hear in Slow FI interviews. For example, Angela Rozmyn, who runs Women’s Personal Finance, scaled back her hours as well. It wasn’t until this point that she became more intentional with her finances.
This level of intentionality allowed Liz and George to reach Coast FI in their 40s (after having less than $15,000 in retirement accounts in their early 30s). It’s amazing to see how far people can come so quickly.
As a result of being in such a strong financial position, George was able to leave his toxic job that would provide a better work environment. He also found a job that provided him with more autonomy and influence. And the best part – he knew he was Coast FI, so there was a lot less pressure on the job search. I love imagining the feelings of personal power and confidence someone has when they know they can wait to find the right job.
Lastly, I love that there are so many options once people reach Coast FI. Once you reach Coast FI, you can:
- Scale back work and only cover your actual costs of living (allowing your investments to grow in the background until traditional retirement age).
- Continue saving for longer so that you could coast to an earlier retirement date (in your 40s or 50s).
- Continue saving so that you could semi-retire (drawing some money from your portfolio and generating some active income).
Liz and George don’t feel like they need to sprint to the early retirement finish line. They’ve designed their lives along the way to FI. Now, they plan to continue saving for a few more years so they can coast to an early retirement date in their 50s.
Like Liz and George, we reached Coast FI a few years ago. Since then, we also have made changes to improve our lives. Similarly, these decisions (working part-time, becoming an entrepreneur, etc.) had a lot less impact on our FI timeline than we expected.
This allowed us to continue saving at a high rate for a couple more years. Because of this, we could now choose to coast to a FI date in our 50s. This gives us the confidence to start embracing even more radical lifestyle changes (like buying and building out our campervan which will be done by May).
Thank you again, Liz, for sharing your story with us!
If you are reading this and want to share your own Slow FI story as part of this interview series, reach out to me thefioneers (at) gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you.