I’m incredibly excited to share Lee and her family’s story in this Slow FI Interview. The purpose of this interview series is to show ordinary people living extraordinary lives.
Sometimes, I hear people say they could never do something because they have kids or don’t have high-paying technology jobs. The power of this interview series is to show that people from many different walks of life have figured out how they can design lives they truly love.
Lee’s family has a lot of characteristics that I often hear people using as the reason they can’t design their lives. But, Lee’s family has figured out how to become the architects of their own lives in this context:
- She and her husband have two young kids (ages 5 and 7)
- They live on a single income (her spouse’s)
- Her spouse works a blue-collar job as an HVAC technician
Over the last year, they’ve taken significant steps to design lives they truly love. They now have much more flexibility to enjoy their daily life and incorporate peak travel experiences.
Let’s get into the interview!
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
I’m Lee. I’m a 47-year-old stay-at-home mom with 2 kids (5 & 7). Before I had kids, I had a variety of experiences working in entrepreneurship and management.
The FI community, mindset, and lifestyle have always resonated with me. We were heads-down and tunnel-vision toward our FI goal for a long time. We were going to reach it as soon as possible. Now, I see money as a tool to fuel a soulful, meaningful, joyful, and intentional life. I’m excited to share more about this transformation with you.
2. Over the last year, you’ve negotiated a lot more flexibility in your husband’s work. Could you share more about this?
Let’s start with some context. My husband is an HVAC technician, and he works physically hard and long days. When he got home after a day at work, he didn’t have a lot of “gas” left in the tank. He’d spend the weekends recovering and be back at it on Monday.
I was taking care of our small children, homeschooling them, and generally managing our life. I was so tired that I’d get the kids to bed and immediately go to bed myself.
Throughout the week, it felt like my husband and I were “ships passing in the night.” Our kids were growing up so fast right in front of our eyes. But, we were often just trying to get through the days, rather than enjoying our precious time with them.
This was not our best life. It was not representative of who we, deep down, know ourselves to be.
About a year ago, my husband and I began having conversations. At first, we were both airing our discontent and frustration. Eventually, we realized that we needed to take control and find some solutions. Gradually, these conversations helped empower us to not only slow down but also to see ourselves as the architects of our lives. We could stop letting forces outside of ourselves and unquestioned ways of thinking be in the driver’s seat.
After 4 months of conversations, we honed in on specific changes we wanted to make. We decided to ask my husband’s boss if he could switch to a 4-day workweek. This one change would take a lot of pressure off of both of us.
This conversation was a bit complicated because my husband’s boss is our brother-in-law. One might think that this would make it easier, but it was actually quite intense. Because of our personal relationship, we didn’t want to let him down or seem ungrateful for the amazing job and the many skills learned over the years. They are family and such close friends. We didn’t want to damage our relationship with him and my sister.
We ultimately came up with a plan for how to have the conversation. Our brother-in-law was surprised at first, but he’s always trying to take good care of his employees. He came around and realized that being open to different approaches would provide a better work-life balance. It would be good for everyone and the company in the long run.
Since then, they’ve actually implemented a 4-day workweek for all the techs, and it’s gone over really well!
Once the lid was off the box, more and more creative ideas that would enrich our lives began to emerge in our thoughts.
We floated an idea with my brother-in-law of taking a couple of months off each year to travel. Again, this was a surprising request at first. As we discussed it though, it became clear that this could actually be advantageous for the company due to having slow times in the late summer and winter. If my husband took time away, it would mean that other techs would continue to have plenty of work, and they wouldn’t need to lay anyone off. Win-win!
What’s even more exciting is that my brother-in-law got the travel bug too. He and my sister ended up joining us on our first month-long trip to the UK in the Fall of 2022. We traveled all over England and Scotland and had the experience of a lifetime. We experienced the somber feel of London on the day of the Queen’s funeral, the majesty of the Isle of the Skye, and so many cool footpaths through fields and forests. Oh, and the playgrounds!
The UK has the best playgrounds and we got to enjoy seeing our kids playing side-by-side with kids from all over the world.
3. How have these decisions to negotiate flexibility impacted your quality of life?
These decisions have dramatically improved our quality of life. We no longer feel like ships passing in the night.
We feel more balanced and free. There’s more space in our days to enjoy life and each other and pursue things we enjoy and that inspire us. And there’s even time to focus on our marriage. Imagine that? Date night is back!
The best thing is that we now feel empowered to keep going and be the architects of our own life. It is a work in progress for sure. We feel like we’re just getting started on this adventure, and it’s exciting to think about what the future holds.
4. In your opinion, what things in your life contribute most to your happiness and contentment?
There are so many things that contribute to happiness and contentment, including:
- Being able to express our own unique creative gifts
- Relationships with family (biological and chosen)
- Feeling a part of a community
- Being of service in the world.
Financial independence (or at least financial flexibility) helps create space for all of these things, so that’s a factor as well.
As I mentioned above, we realized that we had gradually and unconsciously ended up where life was living us, instead of the other way around. Taking responsibility as creators and architects of our own life has been really energizing and empowering!
Ironically, when we first started this process, we felt like the victims. Then, we took time to explore and questions our thoughts and the limitations we had unconsciously placed on ourselves. We knew this wasn’t the best we could do or have. One step at a time things started to shift. Cultivating this mindset is still a work in progress, but it does get easier after the first few empowered choices. The momentum builds and the path forward fills with possibilities.
5. Were there things in your life you adapted so you could continue to work toward your goals?
We have 3 main financial goals:
- To live simply (i.e. basic cost of living)
- Continue to fill all our retirement and charitable buckets.
On my husband’s income, we could afford to do 2 out of 3. Learning about travel hacking (using travel rewards to travel for free) is allowing us to do all three!
Another interesting development is that my husband was offered the chance to switch to a pay system that is based on technicians making sales on the job. He was very skeptical at first because he doesn’t see himself as a schmoozy salesperson. But, he decided to try it because the potential pay increase could be substantial. It turns out that people like genuine, considerate salespeople. He’s doing quite well and is on track to make the same income he was making while working 5 days per week all year round. I am so proud of him for stepping outside of his comfort zone.
6. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
For us, it was the feeling of being on autopilot. We were just going through the motions, losing ourselves, and missing the simple joys in life. When we realized how brief our time with our kids actually is, the choices and changes flowed easily from there.
7. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder the decision to negotiate more flexibility?
It helped so much. Because we have maxed out our IRAs for years and have lived simply, we already had a considerable nest egg. We knew that if things didn’t work out, we’d be able to take a year to reset, re-evaluate, and set ourselves on a different course. We can still do that at any time.
8. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
Start by questioning every limitation you may be experiencing. Ask, “Is this really true?” For us, it started with questioning thoughts like:
- “This is just the way it is when you have young kids.”
- “My husband has to work full-time to meet our needs.”
- “We can’t afford to travel.”
What is it that you think you can’t do? What if you could do it? What if you… did?
Try making one small change at a time. See what happens. Experiment. Try new things!
I’m reminded of the story of the guy who hangs on for dear life under a train bridge in the dark as the train rumbles above. Finally, he just can’t hold on any longer. When he lets’ go, he finds that the ground was just a foot below him.
We’ve found that the freedom and joy we are looking for are closer than we thought. A lot of the work we need to do is in our own minds. So, working through your mindset will be an ongoing effort and investment.
Thank you so much, Lee, for sharing your story with us!
There are a couple of key things that I want to reinforce from what Lee shared. The first is negotiating flexibility at work can be a win-win proposition. Flexibility can take many forms, including:
- Reducing your hours (or even working four 10-hour shifts each week)
- Working remotely
- Taking a sabbatical
- Taking time off on a seasonal cycle
On the surface, these might seem to benefit the worker more than the company. But, if we dig deeper, we see that workers who have flexibility are actually more productive.
In addition to productivity, flexibility was also a win-win for Lee’s spouse and his employer. Why? Because his work has slow seasons. If he takes time off during the slow seasons, they don’t have to lay anyone off. That’s a huge win for the company, so they’ll have the personnel they need in the busy seasons.
Second, I love the way that Lee talks about being the architect of her own life. Previously, she felt like their life was living them, and now, they are making intentional choices and living their lives. You can be the architect of your own life by questioning the assumptions about who you should be and what you think is possible. You can then figure out what small changes to make and experiment your way forward.
If you’d like to keep up with Lee or if you have any questions for her, feel free to send her a Facebook friend request. She loves talking about this stuff and would be happy to hear from you.