In the Slow FI Enthusiasts Facebook Group, I recently asked people (particularly non-bloggers) to share the decisions that they were making to improve their lives.
My interest was piqued when Natalie shared that she recently quit her corporate job to take over a seasonal tax business. When she said, “I essentially get 7 months off to play each year,” I knew I needed to learn more!
My first thought was, “What would I do if I only needed to work 4-5 months each year?”
Surprisingly, it was hard to imagine how I would spend all of my time. I can imagine taking a mini-retirement where I don’t work for 3-6 months a few times.
But, Natalie will now get this every year!
Maybe you’ve said you want to retire early. Reducing your hours doesn’t sound good to you because what you want is more concentrated time off. Who knows? Maybe seasonal work could be an awesome option. And, you could start doing this long before achieving full FIRE.
Let’s get into the interview!
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
As a little girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I loved to explore and try all the things.
My Dad was a big part of teaching me to embrace the cliff edges of discomfort. The ultimate joys of life were found in jumping off of high things, not standing at the bottom looking up.
He would take me out on our boat each weekend in the summer and made a habit of throwing tiny me into the middle of whatever lake we happened to be at before shouting “SHARK!” This was his idea of swim lessons. At that moment, you can either splash around and cry for help or teach yourself to swim.
I’ve turned this into a sort of mantra whenever I find myself staring down a new challenge.
I never wanted to pick just one thing to “be” when I grow up, I want to try all the jobs and experience all of the complexities of being a human. The TV show Dirty Jobs hosted by Mike Rowe is probably my dream job and so I pieced together my own version.
Dirty Job #1 was my college gig as a SCUBA Divemaster leading night charters for tourists on shipwrecks and reefs in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Dirty Job #2 was enlisting in the US Coast Guard first as an Honor Guardsman in Washington, DC (not so dirty) and ending my military tour as a Lighthouse Keeper scrubbing guano off of Aids to Navigation buoys in the Chesapeake bay (the dirtiest of jobs).
Dirty Job #3 after finishing my MBA at GWSB I became a Project Manager at Dell Technologies in Austin, Texas essentially cleaning up outdated processes and data practices (this counts as dirty too right?).
2. What deliberate decision have you made to slow down and improve your life?
About a year ago, I decided to quit my full-time job to become an entrepreneur. I had the opportunity to take over my mother’s seasonal tax preparation business.
My single mother gave me my entrepreneurial spirit. She was my role model early on as I watched her start her business from scratch with no money in the bank. She had a belief in herself that she could and would be successful.
The company’s motto is “Why Pay More?” Its mission is to provide affordable and accurate tax preparation as an accessible service to the community.
The typical filing season for individuals and small business tax returns starts in late January and runs through April 15th. About 95% of the business income is earned during these months. From May through December, operations are scaled down to just a few hours per week.
She grew her company from a handful of clients that first year to now 30+ years later having more business than she can handle.
About a year ago, after barely squeaking through the 2020 pandemic season, she realized she needed help and offered me the chance to buy her business – I said yes!
In order to give the business my full attention and work to also become an expert in the field, I decided to quit my job instead of trying to juggle both. I knew this decision could slow down my path to FI. I was choosing not to maximize work hours to optimize our finances.
To be honest, I probably could have done both. As a business owner, I could craft my own hours to fit my life’s needs, but I didn’t want to become burned out.
I’ve always wanted to follow my passions into the “coolest” job roles and hobbies that I can dream up. I knew this would eventually lead to a wonderful and fulfilling life. So, when I had the opportunity to become a seasonal Tax Preparer, I jumped at the chance!
Things for my husband shifted around this time too. He had been doing intermittent contract work at the time. He was starting to realize that he missed working full-time with the added responsibility and recognition. So, he reached out to his former manager. When the architecture firm offered him a remote position a few weeks later, he jumped at the opportunity.
This was the best of both worlds. Now, my husband has a predictable salary which allows us to ease into this new entrepreneurial life without the financial stress of two unpredictable incomes.
These shifts also allowed us to make significant life changes. We packed up our house in Austin, TX, and moved to the rural town of White Salmon, WA. This allows us to be closer to nature, have more options for outdoor activities, and spend more time with our favorite people (most of whom live in Portland).
3. How has the decision to run a seasonal business impacted your quality of life?
Since becoming a seasonal business owner, I’ve realized that there are so many benefits!
First, I have a lot more time!
While there were certain things I liked about working in a corporate role with a global team (e.g. high visibility and opportunities for growth), my schedule wasn’t mine. I worked all hours and wasn’t able to establish a healthy routine.
Some people thrive on that corporate momentum. I didn’t.
With seasonal work, I only work 4 months/year now.
During tax season, I typically arrive at the office around 8:30 AM and leave around 6 PM. My commute is about an hour, so my typical day away from January to April is 7 AM to 7 PM. I can take time off if I need to for doctor’s appointments and things. However, because tax season is so short, most non-urgent life needs get put on hold until the end of the season.
Outside of tax season (May through December), I am only accessible two days per week (about 6 hours/week total). That work is by appointment only and most can be done remotely. The rest of the week is mine to focus on my personal goals! This means I essentially have 8 months off per year!
Since the “off-season” of 2021 began, I’ve been able to do so much:
- A week-long scuba trip to Maui
- A long weekend in the San Juan Islands
- Visit my grandmother in Arizona who is on hospice
- Went river rafting
- Hosted two parties and crashed a family friend’s wedding
- Took kiteboarding lessons with my husband
When I’m not on vacation, I’ve also been able to establish really wonderful habits around home, including:
- A workout routine
- Home cooking most of my meals
- Taking my dog, Barley, on daily adventures exploring the scenic Columbia River Gorge we now call home.
We have more time to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life. I feel like I now have the opportunity to spend my time on only the things that are a priority for me, which helps to build the life we want.
I also have the opportunity to make the world a better place.
You might be thinking, “What? How do tax preparers make the world a better place?”
Hear me out. First, taxes are the way that our government funds its initiatives to change the world, so I am pro-taxes for that reason. Second, being intentional about tax planning is one way to help save wealth and avoid paying an unfair share into the system.
From what I’ve learned so far, people who are already wealthy are very aware of their tax situations. They also have the luxury of spending time and money to optimize their legal tax outcomes. The average person who works hard to earn a respectable paycheck doesn’t necessarily have the time, energy, or knowledge to optimize.
My firm primarily serves people in the second category. It’s my mission to provide an affordable and accurate tax preparation service. While I have their attention, I also want to empower people to understand their financial and tax situation, so that they can optimize it moving forward.
I still have a lot to learn, but I feel fortunate to have found a platform to make a positive impact in my community.
4. How did your decision to work seasonally impact your financial goals or timelines?
To be honest, it hasn’t impacted our finances as much as we expected.
Before the move, my partner was doing part-time contract work, and I was the main breadwinner. Our conservative projections showed that we would have reached FI in about 9 years.
After the transition, I’m working full-time for 4 months each year and my husband is working full-time remotely. We are now bringing in a higher income, but our expenses have also gone up as well.
The real estate market is on fire this year. That helped us sell our house in Austin, but then, we had to spend more than anticipated on our current home. I also pay slightly more for commuting, income tax, and the general costs of living (groceries, gas, restaurants, etc.) are higher in Washington.
One great thing is that by working 4 months, I’m able to earn ~75% of what I made at my corporate job in a full year. There’s also significantly increased earning potential if I choose to go that route. My company currently does very little advertising and could scale up if we decided to. Plus, there’s a shortage of tax preparers in my area relative to the demand, so I know I’ll always have clients. I feel like I have a lot more control over my income now.
All things considered, we are at about the same timeline if we choose to continue earning and spending at these levels.
But, we’re planning to take an even more Slow FI approach. We’re opting to spend more of our income on landscaping in our yard. We might add a pool. We’re also hopefully starting a family soon. All of these decisions could increase our FI timeline by about 5 years, and we are okay with that.
5. What enabled you to decide to work seasonally?
I acknowledge that I have so many privileges that have helped me get to where I am today:
- A supportive partner with a stable paycheck who is able to work remotely.
- Being healthy allows us to live in a rural area with limited healthcare options nearby.
- I’m white, so I haven’t experienced discrimination in education, housing, and work that so many people have.
- We don’t yet have a family that we’re responsible to feed.
- We have fully paid off college degrees.
- My Veteran status provides me with free healthcare and a favorable VA home loan option.
On the financial side, we’ve reached Coast FI. We also have a healthy emergency fund should we ever need to use it.
I am also incredibly grateful for the opportunity to take over my mother’s business. I know this is an opportunity that most people don’t have.
Even with all of these privileges, I still feel like my story is worth sharing. I strongly believe that people can achieve this same success even when starting from scratch (like my mom did) if:
- They have an interest in taxes or another seasonal professional service, and
- They come into it with a hungry mindset to develop and grow a base of client relationships.
Tax preparers do not need a college degree to become licensed, so the bar for entry into the field is very attainable.
6. Were there things in your life you adapted so you could continue working toward your goals?
Before making this shift, we wanted to make sure that we could live off one income. It was important to curb our lifestyle inflation so that we could have more flexibility.
When we moved, we made sure that we could afford our new life on my partner’s salary alone. Mine would be “bonus” money that went toward savings, investments, and other fun goals.
Having a larger cushion between our income and expenses served us well both in Austin and in White Salmon.
7. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
I spent the first 30 years of my life trying to prove to myself and the world that I have value. I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome at every job. I always put my best efforts into everything. I convinced myself not only that I could reach the top but that I wanted to do what it took to get there.
In my current chapter, I’d much rather focus on soaking up the present moment. I now know that being productive is not always the highest purpose or calling.
We can all be intentional with our time. You don’t need a reason.
You can downshift if you want to:
- Sleep a bit longer
- Make your own cup of coffee in the morning
- Pretend like you’re a writer for a day (or actually become one)
It’s your life, so live the way you want to! If you’re putting too much energy into things that aren’t aligned with your “why,” maybe it’s time to shift your focus. You don’t have to wait until you “make it.” You can build joy into your life right now.
8. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decision to run a seasonal business?
Pursuing FI gave me the confidence and security to know that failure is an option. Even if my business fails, I will still be okay.
Here’s an example. Even in the worst-case scenario, I will still be able to afford avocado toast (literally and metaphorically). How?
- I’m resourceful (if needed, I’ll bake my own bread).
- I have a community of support (I’ll find a friend with an avocado tree).
- I have emergency savings (if my oven breaks, I won’t have to think twice to replace it).
The FI community has taught me so much about basic financial concepts. Even if a job or an investment doesn’t pan out quite like I hoped it would, I just need to keep trying and growing the gap of saving/spending. If I do this, I will never truly fail.
I’ve spent the past 5 years building solid financial systems and now I’m trusting the process while I pursue other things. I’ve learned enough to make good decisions, but I’m no longer consumed by them.
9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
If you would like to make a shift to entrepreneurship, I’d encourage you to consider 4 main factors.
Define Your Why
Why did you set your current goals? What’s driving your new future goals? What is your motivation to get out of bed in the morning? What do you want out of your whole 100 (or so) years of life? What do you want to do today?
It’s important to strike a balance between long-term and short-term goals. Reflecting on these questions before you make a life-altering change will help.
Create a Plan that Aligns with Your Why
Now that you’ve defined your why, how will you execute? You need to create a plan. When it comes to seasonal work, it’s also important to create a plan for what you’ll do in the off-season.
For me, having more time is a big part of my why. But, for many, having too much unstructured time could be overwhelming.
Know what you are Giving Up
Many people think through only the exciting parts of their plan. You’ll want to make sure you think through all of the cons and drawbacks.
For example, it can be expensive to start something new and to move. There are unexpected business costs. Becoming a business owner takes a significant amount of time upfront.
Are you ready to take responsibility for your customers’ experience? For ensuring your employees are taken care of? To make sure the lights stay on? To handle the fallout when you or someone else makes a mistake?
Once you are clear on all of the drawbacks, you can move forward without looking back. No regrets!
Determine if Now is the Right Timing
Amazing opportunities will come your way. But, maybe you still have another $20K left to save for a down payment or you still have student goals to pay off. Or, maybe you want to live it up for a bit longer and travel the world while you still have consistent cash flow.
Or maybe all of these things are true for you and it’s still a big YES (if you’re a badass and much braver than I am). Just be honest with yourself about whether the timing is right for you.
I’ve always approached life as a series of projects, chapters, sprints. I wasn’t the 5-year-old kid that knew what I would be when I grew up. I didn’t think Tax Professional was going to be my jam in 30 years.
We don’t need to follow someone else’s rules. It’s up to us individually to design and build the life that we want to have. We get to keep reinventing that wheel whenever we hit a lull or experience a shift in priorities. Life is short. Why waste a minute of it chasing after a goal or a dream that isn’t yours anymore?
This mindset has allowed me to pivot quickly and seize opportunities as they come. It’s also given me the courage to regularly redefine what is important to me.
Our money is no longer our top goal, and that makes me happy.
Thank you so much, Natalie, for sharing your story with us!
I love the idea of doing work in a seasonal business. Natalie works hard for about 4 months each year. Then for 7-8 months each year, she gets to work about 6 hours/week (remotely). It’s like having an annual mini-retirement! How cool is that?
Mini-retirements can give you concentrated time off to travel, enjoy a slower pace, and set up healthy routines. This structure has allowed Natalie to travel, visit family, establish great habits around home-life. And, she gets to do this while still doing work that feels impactful to her.
One factor I want to dig into a bit more is risk-taking. For many people who are pursuing Slow FI paths, we are grateful for the financial freedom we’ve built because it allows us to take what we feel like are huge risks!
Then, once, we take those risks, we realize that it actually didn’t impact us much in the first place. And, in some cases, we might be even better off financially than before.
For Natalie, it felt like a huge risk to quit her job and slow down her path to FI. Then, once she took the step, it wasn’t so scary after all, and her timeline to FI remained about the same.
The same happened to me when I decided to work part-time. It felt like I was taking such a huge risk to decrease my income. But, once we realized that working less allowed us to spend less, this “risky” decision didn’t even impact our FI timeline.
Angela, from Tread Lightly Retire Early, found the same exact thing to be true. When she had more time to not just survive, she was able to focus on her finances. She paid off her debt and increased her savings rate significantly, all while working less.
Finally, I know countless business owners (including myself) who felt like quitting their jobs to take their businesses full-time was so risky. Because we had been running the businesses on the side (and saw a track record of success), the businesses continued to grow after quitting. It felt risky, but what we were scared of didn’t actually pan out.
While I don’t ascribe to the “leap and the net will appear” mentality, I think we sometimes don’t give ourselves enough credit for the nets we’ve already built for ourselves.
Have you built a safety net already that you aren’t giving yourself enough credit for? What could you do with it?
If you’d like to follow Natalie’s journey, you can find her in the following places:
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn.com/in/natmay
- Instagram: @CarperAloha