This next interview in the Slow FI interview series is unique. This the first interview with someone who is already financially independent.
From people who reach financial independence and retired early, we often hear that they wish that they would have slowed down and transitioned soon.
For Carol, who writes at Downsize your 2080, this is not the case. She and her husband deliberately chose a slower path to financial independence. On this slower path, they were able to deliberately focus on the things that they value – family, giving back, travel, and health.
Now that they are financially independent, they are happy that they took this slower approach and designed a life they wanted to live all along the way.
Carol has worked part-time for most of the last 25 years, with a few stints of being a full-time stay at home mom.
Through her blog, she is a strong advocate for non-traditional work schedules (i.e. “downsizing your 2080”). 2,080 is the number of hours spent at work annually for a full-time, 40-hour per week job. Carol encourages people to think about what they really value in life and “design the work year to create the life you want.”
When I was considering part-time work last fall, I stumbled across Carol’s work. Because I saw people like Carol working part-time and finding fulfillment and balance, it helped me to believe that this was a possible avenue for me.
We started the Slow FI interview series so that we could expose the financial independence community to different lifestyle designs. Our hope is to share ways that people are utilizing their incremental financial freedom along the way. Hopefully, you will find stories you identify with and get ideas for how you could have more freedom in your life now.
Let’s get into the interview!
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
I am a woman who finds it hard to believe I’m already in my mid-50s. It’s crazy to me that two of our kids have already finished college and are out of the house. I love being married (approaching 30 years!) and having kids. My family is most important to me.
I earned my degree in chemical engineering and have worked in manufacturing, environmental compliance, and various areas of planning. For a few reasons, I’m currently not working outside of the home. It feels a bit odd now that our youngest child is back in school all day, but my days are still full.
Though I am in my 50s, I feel too young to never “work” again. I’ve always enjoyed working. For now, I am embracing the need to help our youngest son navigate middle school academics. I’m also trying to smooth the addition of a second dog to our family. At the moment, I’m not sure which of those is more challenging… (half kidding).
We are financially independent, and it’s a good feeling to know that I don’t have to work. This accomplishment feels even more real now that we will be paying off our mortgage this month. Moving forward, our monthly expenses will be minimal. We can access money from taxable investments, if needed, before retirement age. My husband still chooses to work. He is growing a company that he started from scratch (a long-time dream of his).
2. What deliberate decisions have you made to slow down and improve your life? Why did you decide to make this decision?
I haven’t worked full-time since 1994. For 25 years, I’ve either worked part-time or stayed home full-time with my kids. We also fostered kids from three different families in a five-year period, including two of the kids for nearly two years each. This experience was far more meaningful than I anticipated.
The decision to go from a full-time career to part-time one felt natural for me. I was thrilled to be able to continue working and spend more time with our baby (first with our daughter and then also our son).
I did have a bit of trepidation when leaving part-time work to become a stay-at-home mom. I was worried about not feeling intellectually fulfilled. In hindsight, I have no regrets about downsizing my career. I didn’t want to miss too many hours of my kids’ childhood and their time at home.
3. Paint a picture for me. What did your life look like before this decision? What does it look like now?
When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I were both in our late 20s. We had been working in engineering for several years. Our dog was our baby. We were the youngest homeowners on our street. Most neighbors already had kids.
We were your typical double income, no kids (DINKs) working couple. We were busy with our daily routine, and we didn’t fully understand how a baby would change our lives. Most people don’t.
I had worked hard for my engineering degree and enjoyed earning a decent salary. My professional identity gave me a strong sense of self.
After nine months of pregnancy, being a mom became a big part of my identity too.
I started my 12-week maternity leave with no set plans for childcare at the end, but I fully intended on returning to my full-time job. I didn’t want to miss too many hours of her development but, at the same time, I didn’t want to NOT work.
Once our daughter was born, I was smitten. Newborns sleep a lot and obviously require a lot of work. They’re totally dependent, but they are fascinating. Watching her grow and develop was amazing.
I learned quickly that I love being a mom. Our son was born two years after our daughter. I worked part-time during my kids’ first three years and quit when they were fun preschool and early elementary ages.
A few years later, with both kids in grade school, we returned to our beloved Colorado, where our parents and most of our siblings lived. There, both my husband and I realized independently that we wanted to add to our family. Doing so naturally wasn’t meant to be – I suffered three miscarriages.
Through networking, I found another part-time job in engineering and returned to work. It was great to have a professional identity and a paycheck again! The desire to parent more children didn’t go away.
Some friends shared with us that they had adopted three children whose individual parents’ rights were legally terminated. After some thought, we went through the required training and got licensed as foster parents.
Becoming foster parents will change your life… in a challenging but good way.
It is sobering to see up close what some families are going through and struggling with. You quickly learn that foster care is NOT about growing your family but instead providing a safe place for kids while their birth parents are working (or not) toward reunification. The primary goal is to reunify the kids with their parents. The kids we fostered each had a different outcome.
It was sobering to see a birth mom crying as she handed her baby back to me at the end of her weekly visit. My gut told me she was ready to regain custody but it wasn’t my decision. I was so happy for her when the judge decided her baby got to go home.
It was challenging when a birth parent screamed at me in the lobby of the county services building because she somehow learned that her child called me “Mom” because I’d been caring for him for so long.
I was heartbroken when the caseworker let me accompany the sweet child, that I’d cared for and loved for nearly two years, to another state to live with his extended family. I acted cheerful in front of them but cried my head off in a hotel room that night because I knew my relationship with this child was over.
It is sobering when a birth parent doesn’t show up for their scheduled visits, and I drive home with the school-age child who is processing the disappointment. When parental rights are terminated, we adopted him and know we will help him process his loss throughout his journey to adulthood (and beyond if he’ll let us).
We didn’t judge any of the birth parents because we realized they got stuck in a bad place, be it an addiction or a harmful relationship. Instead, we continued to keep their kids safe as long as the kids were in our care.
Through parenting my own kids and others’, I more deeply internalize that motherhood is far more than just changing diapers. Mothers add value to our world. Fathers as well. I am so thankful to have a husband who is such an intentional parent to our kids.
4. How did downsizing your career impact your financial goals or timelines?
We were financially responsible from the start of our marriage. We set up automatic contributions for our savings, investments, and retirement accounts. We bought less house than we qualified for and, more often than not, we bought used vehicles rather than brand new.
Because we had never set a target age for early retirement, my decision to work less didn’t affect any timeline. When I made this decision back in the 90s, there were no personal finance bloggers promoting early retirement.
I don’t think knowing about FIRE would have influenced me to keep working full-time. I really wanted to enjoy the extra time with my kids that working part-time provided.
We’ve lived according to our values, so in addition to living expenses, saving for short- and long-term needs, and investing for retirement, we had to figure out what the rest of our spending plan would look like. For example:
- We value helping others, so we prioritize charitable giving. For at least 20 years, we’ve been giving away at least 10 percent of our gross income.
- We value family time, so we’ve always made room in the spending plan for family trips (partially travel-hacked, of course) to enjoy vacations with our kids and to create fun family memories. Some of those trips were family volunteer or disaster relief trips because we wanted to ensure our kids would reach adulthood with compassion for others.
- We value education, so we were willing to pay for half of our kids’ college tuition. When two of them were in college at the same time, I went back to work to help save for those expenses. Our oldest two have finished and they worked part-time and/or earned scholarships to pay for their portion.
- We value health and fitness so have always belonged to a health club. We’ve always encouraged our kids to participate in organized sports if they wanted to.
Had we put all of this money into early retirement accounts, we would have reached financial independence earlier. We’re okay with reaching FI in our early 50s because we’ve lived the life we wanted. We spent the money we wanted to spend, and we are still a decade ahead of the standard age 65 retirement.
5. How has this decision impacted your quality of life?
I got my desired combination of extra time with our kids as well as professional accomplishments.
I reduced my work schedule before I needed to try juggling a full-time work schedule with having a family. I know many working couples who manage but also admit that two full-time careers in a family with kids can be a stressful combination.
Because we started saving and investing in our 20s, it put us in a good financial position for my husband to fund his share of his new company. He’s now accomplishing a long-held professional dream and loving it.
Our kids are awesome, and their heart for others inspires me. I learn from them regularly.
Our daughter is passionate about personal finance and wants to help young adults avoid debt. She works and volunteers with kids living in poverty. She helps us stay mindful of others’ needs and how we can help.
Our older son graduated with his engineering degree and left for Southeast Asia five days later for a humanitarian engineering internship. He returned to the US to finish his master’s degree. He is launching into the world of independent adulthood this month. Though he’s in the engineering field, he’s also interested in establishing a balanced life that includes helping others. That’s much more interesting to him than sitting at a desk with lots of overtime hours.
Our youngest loves his friends, playing outside, and riding anything with wheels. He is a natural athlete and musician, and he adds so much to our family. Had we not adopted him, we’d be empty nesters by now. He keeps us young.
If our quality of life equals satisfaction in categories such as health, family, education, and employment, then I have to admit our life has worked out well for us.
6. What enabled you to make this decision (i.e. what financial or social context helped)?
Before I switched to part-time work, my husband and I made approximately the same salary. I made slightly more, and I voluntarily cut that salary in half.
About a year later, my husband switched to a job with better career growth potential. My husband became the primary breadwinner, which allowed me to work less and still reach financial independence in our early 50s.
7. Were there things in your life you adapted to make it work better so you could continue to work toward your goals?
There were many things we adapted so that we could continue to work toward our goals.
Saying No to Opportunities
During my pregnancy, a temporary promotion to Branch Chief gave me the opportunity to supervise my coworkers for a few months. I didn’t apply for the permanent promotion because I recognized that I didn’t want the added responsibility when I returned from maternity leave.
Before returning to work, I asked my boss if we could convert my permanent government slot into a two-person job-sharing slot. He fully supported this and eventually hired another young mom who also wanted part-time work.
I got to pick which half of my responsibilities I would keep doing and which half I would pass on to her. Job sharing kept the workload expectations manageable for both of us. My book review on Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home identifies a few ideas that the book’s author suggests working parents and especially their employers could incorporate.
Adjusting our Spending
On the homefront, we reduced spending to account for the reduced income as well as to accommodate the increased expenses that accompany a baby. Of course, there was a learning period as we had been used to two full incomes from our years as DINKs.
We considered increasing our income in other ways. My husband offered to rejoin the military as a reservist. We considered side hustles like delivering residential phone books. I even tried direct sales. Ultimately, we decided that adjusting our spending made the most sense.
Growing my Husband’s Career
What helped our financial situation most was my husband’s desire and willingness to build up his career and income. Shortly after our second child was born, my husband began his MBA studies while also working full-time.
I was working half-time and serving as the primary caregiver to our two-year-old and our newborn. We were both on the path of our choice, and we knew it would pay off in the long term.
The ‘good Financially Independent (FI) life’ you see in our 50s has nearly 30 years of teamwork behind it.
8. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
When kids are added to the family, whether by birth or adoption because kids are awesome (and of course, challenging)! Part-time work is a great compromise for combining a career with parenthood.
A lot of people complain about their jobs, schedules, stress, and busyness. If your job makes you miserable, please try to find a new one. Life is too short to live miserably. If you have kids, they will grow up before you know it. You don’t want to miss out on important things in their lives.
9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
I have so much advice I’d like to share!
- Start saving and investing before you have kids. Allow for some childfree adventures and purchases but, at the same time, build up your savings so you have a buffer before you reduce your household income if one parent decides to work less or stay home.
- Invest in yourself by obtaining meaningful credentials that will increase your value to employers. When you are wanting to work, especially if part-time, you’re in a better negotiating position if you can present solid credentials that support your asking price.
- Keep your professional identity alive with networking and continued professional development so you can jump back into the workforce. This is something I could have done better.
- Invest in the spouse (both if that’s the case but it might take longer) who is willing and wanting to pursue the full-blown career. My husband got his MBA because he wanted to and because his employer had a tuition reimbursement program. I didn’t get an advanced degree because I didn’t want to. I received a lot of government-funded advanced training during my employment.
- Do some financial modeling to demonstrate your plan’s viability before reducing your hours.
- Invest in your marriage and in yourselves as individuals. Keep the long-term in mind for your marriage and for each family member.
- Figure out what motivates you to help others and make a difference in the world. For us, our Christian faith inspires us to both give money and time. Quality of life is much more than net worth, and good stewardship of our time and money is important to us.
Thank you so much, Carol, for sharing your story!.
I love how Carol shares part-time work as a viable path for parents who would like to have both professional accomplishments and more time with their kids. I don’t have kids, but I’ve seen how challenging it can be for young parents (or anyone, for that matter) to work full-time to find balance.
Part-time work can be a great way to balance your career with living a fulfilling life outside of work, whether that’s kids or other passion projects.
We often see women deciding to work part-time more often than men. However, it is important to note that this opportunity isn’t just for women! For example, David (Mr. Burrito Bowl) from the Burrito Bowl Diaries started working part-time when his daughter was born. Kevin Udy, who I recently interviewed, started working part-time to balance his work with his health, passion projects, and travel.
All this to say, part-time work is a viable option for those who have kids AND those who don’t have kids. It’s a great opportunity for someone of any gender to live a more meaningful and balanced life.
I also love Carol’s emphasis on using your freedom to consider the impact that you want to make in the world. Carol’s family did this through fostering children, going on domestic disaster relief and international volunteer trips, and donating a significant portion of their income to charitable organizations and their church.
It’s important to think about how we can utilize our financial freedom, not just to help ourselves, but also to help others. This is part of the reason why Corey and I have both worked in nonprofit organizations for our entire careers. We are willing to make lower salaries than our private sector counterparts to do work that we believe will make a difference. This lengthens our timeline to FI but feels worth the tradeoff.
We also want to use our freedom to promote financial literacy and helping people understand different ways of living their lives. This is why we have this blog – to hopefully make a difference in the world around us and in the lives of our community.
Sometimes, personal finance can feel very self-centered. This interviewed helped to remind me that serving others and making an impact in the world is what will bring me the most fulfillment. Thanks, Carol, for this reminder.
If you’d like to follow Carol’s journey, you can do so here:
Pinterest: Downsize Your 2080