I’m excited to share Tim’s story with you. Tim decided to work part-time after his son was born with medical complications. Just 24 hours after birth, his son was diagnosed with a spontaneous brain bleed. Eventually, he was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy.
This meant that their son would have 6-8 medical appointments every month for the foreseeable future. And, they needed time to implement everything they learned in the appointments.
They had originally planned for Tim’s wife to take on a per diem schedule, but that still didn’t provide them with enough time. Eventually, Tim dropped down to part-time as well. This allowed him to better share the household and childcare responsibilities. It also enabled his wife to continue focusing on her career.
I love sharing stories of men who decide to slow down to be able to spend more time caring for their families. Too often, it seems like we only hear the stories of women slowing down (by necessity, not choice) and bearing a much larger burden of household and childcare responsibilities.
Tim and his wife are both nurses and work one full-time schedule (36 hours/week) between the two of them.
Before we get into the interview, I want to make an important note. Nursing is one example of a flexible career, but it’s not the only one. I’ve seen:
- Software engineers, government workers, and marketing and finance professionals take mini-retirements
- Arts administrators and city workers work seasonally
- Government workers, construction managers, and engineers go part-time
- People in almost any career go freelance or start their own businesses.
Flexibility is not just for nurses or people in particular career fields.
Let’s get into the interview!
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
My name is Tim. My family and I live in Sacramento, CA, but I’m originally from Buffalo NY. I’m 31 years old, and I have a son who is 2. Keeping him entertained is a full-time job in itself.
I love traveling and adventure, which looks different now than before I was a parent. In this season, we are doing a lot of road trips and long weekends. We recently bought our first pop-up trailer and are excited to go on camping trips and do a cross-country road trip visiting national parks! I often find myself experimenting with my free time and figuring out what things fit into this phase of my life.
My wife and I both work as registered nurses in an emergency department. I’ve worked in a hospital since I was 18 years old. I started as a nurse’s assistant, which led me to the nursing school route. I graduated nursing school in 2013 just before I turned 23.
At that time, I transitioned from nurse’s aide to RN at the hospital I worked at (which is also the hospital I was born at) after I passed my boards. After a little over a year of nursing (and the stress involved), I realized that I yearned to travel.
For the next 3-4 years, I took up travel nursing. I worked in Washington state, Oregon, Colorado, and California before eventually putting down roots in California. During this time, I focused on paying off student loan debt and exploring the local areas.
During my last travel contract, I met my wife. I decided to accept a full-time staff position instead of continuing to do travel contracts. Soon after, we left the Bay Area and moved to a lower cost of living area (still in California) where we bought a house in 2018.
Shortly after our relocation, we found out my wife was pregnant. At the time, my wife and I both worked full-time, which is around 36 hours/week for nurses.
We originally planned for her to take some time off when our son was born and eventually work per diem, which is a non-benefited position that is hired to staff needs a few times a month.
About 24 hours after our son was born, he was taken to the NICU. He was eventually diagnosed with a spontaneous brain bleed. I vividly remember being pulled into “the consult room” in the NICU. The neonatologist told us that our son may not ever be able to move the left side of his body. She wasn’t sure if he would be able to eat or breathe without tubes. Then, he was transferred to a hospital more suitable for his critical level.
Fast forward almost two and a half years later, and our son is doing AMAZING. He started standing on his own right after he turned two. He is now walking and running around the house like a champ. He was weaned off his seizure medications about six months ago and is close to “graduating” from physical therapy.
He was eventually diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy and was given in-home early intervention services including speech therapy, occupational therapy, infant specialist, and physical therapy which ends up being about 6-8 appointments a month.
I now work part-time and my wife still works a per diem schedule.
2. What deliberate decisions have you made to slow down and improve your life? Why did you decide to make these decisions?
My initial decision to slow down and improve my life was to switch onto a dayshift schedule after years of working the night shift and mid-shift. I quickly followed that switch by going down to a 24-hour/week schedule. I now work three 8-hour shifts each week from 7 am-3 pm.
My wife works about 12 hours a week so between the 2 of us we only have to work about 36 hours a week (one full-time schedule).
The decision to slow down was an accumulation of many different reasons.
My son had a lot of appointments (1-2/week). We knew we needed more time for these and to implement everything they taught us. Reducing my hours allowed me to better share the responsibility. This allowed my wife to focus on both being a mom and keeping her nursing career and skills.
I also felt like I had hit a wall at work. I was dreading going to work every day, and I hated leaving my family at odd hours to go into a stressful environment.
First, I started working the day shifts only. When that didn’t provide enough relief, I reduced my hours too.
3. How did the decision to reduce your hours impact your quality of life?
I am SO much happier and less stressed about continuing to work as a nurse.
I’m naturally a morning person, so I now get to wake up every day at the same time and my sleep has never been better. I now feel so much better about going to work. When I get home, my son is still awake and greets me at the door. I love feeling like I still have the energy to spend time with him in the evenings.
Because of how my schedule is set up, I basically have a weekend or long weekend after every two days of work! Now, I never feel like I have to wait to do things with my family. When I was working more hours, it was easy to put things off to the weekend. Now, I feel like I still have the energy to be present, cook dinner, and take time with them.
Because my schedule and sleep are consistent, I feel so much less stressed about going to work. In addition to focusing on time with my family, this has also allowed me to focus more on hobbies and health.
Now that my work schedule feels so manageable, it feels so much easier to pick up extra time occasionally to help out when needed. When I work over my 24 hours, it’s by choice. It feels much different than when I had to work those hours.
4. How did the decision to reduce your hours impact your financial goals or timelines?
I’m the type of person who plays around with a FI calculator for fun, so I love this question. I’m always tinkering with the calculations.
This decision, of course, will slow down our journey to FI. But, this doesn’t matter much because my wife and I are close to Coast FI. Let me tell you what I mean by that. I don’t know exactly what I will need at my traditional retirement age. But, if I never contributed another dollar to my retirement, we would be able to keep a roof over our heads and live a similar lifestyle in retirement. Right now, we only need to cover our actual costs. This also doesn’t take into consideration my company pension or social security.
I’ve done the math. If I work 24 hours/week, we can pay all of our monthly fixed expenses, max out my 401k for the year, and still put food on the table. For leisure things such as vacations and material possessions, my wife and I are able to pick up overtime easily as needed if something comes up that we really want to do or buy.
5. What enabled you to reduce your hours?
While I worked as a travel nurse, I paid off $48,000 on student loans and vehicle loans. The only debt left is our mortgage. It’s helpful to be debt-free because it lowers our annual costs of living.
We also try to keep our fixed costs low. I occasionally go through all of our monthly bills to see if we can tweak anything or make calls to companies to negotiate a lower rate.
Finally, the willingness to relocate was huge for us. I can only speak for nursing since that is what I do, but I’m pretty sure it applies to most professions.
Pay is not the same across the country and neither is the cost of living. There are some places where my wife and I would both need to work full-time jobs to maintain our same standard of living. Fortunately, travel nursing helped me learn what compensation was like in different regions. This helped us make the best decision for our family based on our desired quality of life and work-life balance.
When searching for a home with my wife, we looked for an older/smaller home that we could afford on one of our salaries. We did this because we had an idea of the lifestyle we wanted to live. Buying a smaller home also meant fewer things to buy for our home and lower bills associated with homeownership.
6. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder the decision to reduce your hours at work?
Pursuing FI gave me a stable foundation. It inspired me to keep my fixed expenses low and not get myself into consumer debt. It also allowed me to save a comfortable amount of money.
Now I can look at my situation and realize I can give myself permission to slow down. I will still be ok. We will still have a roof over our heads.
7. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
Why? If you were to magically become FI today, how would you spend your time? If you can’t answer that, a downshift might be worth considering.
Not too long ago before I made the decision to work part-time, I did a stretch of overtime where I worked 20 days in a row. Obviously, I was excited when I had my first day off.
When that day came, I remember sitting around the house, acting very fidgety and uneasy. My wife asked me what was wrong with me. I couldn’t relax. I did not know what to do with my free time. That helped me to realize that I needed to slow down. I didn’t want to work so hard to hit FI and not know what to do with my free time once I got there.
For me, being in a place where I had financial security but not independence felt like the right time to consider downshifting. So many people clean up their financial life and are no longer living paycheck-to-paycheck. But, their work drains their energy. They keep doing it though to increase their net worth and reach FI. It can feel like an endless void.
As cliche as it may sound, you don’t need to sprint to the finish line. It’s much more beneficial to slow down and enjoy things along the way. And, not simply to enjoy the journey, but also, to learn how to enjoy the finish line too.
8. What’s next for you? How will you keep designing your life?
Over time, I plan to continue downshifting my traditional work. I’d love to have more time to test out other interests and hobbies that could bring joy and meaning to my life. It’s really easy to get sucked back into working overtime because numbers are a straightforward and easy way to see progress. I’m trying to stay committed to slowing down and not getting pulled back into the sprint mentality. This will allow me to make progress in other areas of my life.
Recently, I felt like a sense of community was missing in my life, so I signed up for a beginner yoga class. I primarily signed up for the health benefits and now feel like I am part of something not work-related outside of my house.
My wife and I just made a decision to purchase a pop-up trailer since we now have a lot more free time and like taking road trips. We used to do some tent camping in our pre-parent life and thought this would be an awesome/easy way to get out for more adventures and introduce camping to our son.
9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
Practically, the first step is to figure out how much you need each month to cover your expenses. Then, make sure your part-time work can cover those.
I would also encourage you to give yourself some time. When I first transitioned to part-time, I found myself picking up lots of overtime just because I could. It’s a skill on its own to be able to sit with your newfound freedom and make something of it. This is something I am still working on. Learning to be bored can spark creativity. I’m learning to try new things with my time to see what really fills up my cup and gives me meaning.
I also know that some people work night shifts because that’s what works for their family schedule. That wasn’t the case for me. I worked that schedule simply because it’s what I was hired into. When I made the shift, I remember people telling me I’d miss the shift differential. Some people love night shifts. But, I was not one of them. So, I want to encourage you. If night shifts don’t work for you (and your home life allows you to make the change), do yourself a favor. Have a normal sleep routine. That had one of the largest impacts on my health and happiness.
Thank you so much, Tim, for sharing your story with us.
Tim’s initial motivation to downshift focused on helping with childcare and household responsibilities. I’m happy to see that he’s taking full advantage of the freedom that he’s gained to focus on health, hobbies, and personal development as well. He’s not in a hurry to go back to work. Now that his son doesn’t require such acute care, he also has the opportunity to focus on things like taking a yoga class and traveling in their camper.
It would have been so easy to just go on autopilot and go back to full-time work as soon as he was able.
My favorite part about the interview is when Tim says, “If you were to magically become FI today, how would you spend your time? If you can’t answer that, a downshift might be worth considering.”
Just last week, I was having a conversation with someone who recently went to a workshop on “one-more-year syndrome.” The facilitator told her to “make a list of everything you love to do and do more of it.”
This advice only works for people who already have time and energy to spend time doing things they love to do. So many people spend so much time focusing on work and their other responsibilities that they don’t even know what they love to do anymore.
That’s exactly where I was in 2018. I read Your Money or Your Life. When it asked, “What would you do if you didn’t need to work for a living?”, I had absolutely no idea how to answer that question.
If you are in this mental space, it likely means that you are experiencing burnout. If you have the ability to slow down, I’d absolutely encourage it. Slowing down could allow you to both recover and rediscover the things that bring you joy.
As Fioneers, we often talk about enjoying the journey. Tim adds a new element to enjoying the journey as well. He says, “You don’t need to sprint to the finish line… And not simply to enjoy the journey, but also, to learn how to enjoy the finish line as well.”
Downshifting and taking time to focus on the things that bring us joy will enable us to actually enjoy retirement whenever we get there.
If you’d like to continue to follow Tim’s journey, you can find him on Instagram (@iAirplaneMode) where he documents his family’s adventures.