I’m always on the lookout for new examples of people living a Slow FI lifestyle. When I started following Self-Employed FI on Instagram earlier this year, I knew I wanted to pay attention to her story!
She recently transitioned from a six-figure digital marketing career into freelance work. She wanted a life with more freedom and flexibility so that she could spend her days doing the things she wanted to do. I loved this!
Not only has she not yet reached FI, but she’s also still a few years from reaching Coast FI. But, never fear; she is not putting her future self at risk. She is still on track to reach Coast FI at some point in her late 30s.
If freelancing ends up providing her with the time freedom she’s looking for, her FI timeline won’t matter so much anymore anyways!
Let’s get into the interview.
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
Hi there, I’m the blogger behind Self-Employed FI.
In 2021, I quit my six-figure job to become a digital marketing freelancer. At the beginning of that year, news of the Great Resignation was everywhere. While I had fantasized about quitting – don’t we all? – I never really considered it before. But in a moment of clarity, I realized quitting my job was my only option to begin living the life I wanted – a life with time freedom. Three months later, I put in my notice.
As a freelancer, I work about 50% less than I did in my full-time job, and I make about 25% less income. It’s a trade-off I’m 100% happy with. With self-employment, I’m actually taking advantage of some of the benefits of coast FIRE now – time freedom and meaningful work – while I’m still working toward it. I’m not fully financially independent yet, but I am no longer dependent on a single employer, either.
I started Self-Employed FI in early 2022 to document my journey to financial independence as a self-employed freelancer, and share educational tips about self-employed finances.
I’m in my 30s, and I live with my partner in Philadelphia. In my free time, I love to spend time outdoors with my dog, travel, and read classic literature!
2. What deliberate decision have you made to slow down and improve your life? Why did you decide to make this decision?
When I was in my 20s, I found the rat race somewhat intoxicating. I prioritized work, and I did what it took to climb the ladder. I didn’t understand people who didn’t share this kind of ambition. I wasn’t happy exactly, but I told myself surely after I achieved the next milestone, whatever it was, I’d finally be content.
Then I got to my 30s and asked myself where I was headed. What was all of this hard work for if I wasn’t happy?
Around this time, I started to get into the FIRE movement and started dreaming about early retirement.
Then the pandemic hit. I became more focused on time freedom instead of financial freedom.
Life felt like a never-ending to-do list. I was trying to make everyone happy but myself. I was also burnt out and no longer fitting in with my employer’s hustle culture. Years of grinding in my career led to desperation to just be still for once.
I also knew I wanted to start a family eventually, and the career path I was on would not enable me to raise children in the way I wanted (i.e., spending lots of time with them). I could see a path before me that led to more money and more prestige in my career, but further away from time freedom.
At first, I tried looking for other full-time jobs. I thought about finding a less stressful position, pivoting industries, or working at a company with better hours.
After a few months of interviewing, I recognized that my heart wasn’t in it. Then, I had my realization that quitting my job was the only way to gain the time freedom I wanted. So I made a plan to leave and start freelancing. I wasn’t sure if I would freelance long-term. At the time, I actually thought I might eventually go back to the full-time workforce.
I’m so glad I took the time I needed to pause and reflect instead of jumping into another job. With time to actually take stock of my life and goals, I decided to fully embrace freelancing—a path my risk-averse nature would probably never have considered before.
I haven’t completely ruled out the possibility of working a traditional job again in the future. With my embrace of a slower style of living, I’ve also tried to be less categorical in my thinking. There could be a time when a traditional job appeals to me, and I’m open to that change. But right now, self-employment provides me with my ideal lifestyle.
3. How has this decision to pursue self-employment impacted your quality of life?
Before I transitioned to self-employment, I was working or thinking about work during almost all of my waking hours. You know the drill: work, eat, sleep, repeat. It was a career that valued immense facetime culturally, whether spent efficiently or not, as well as the appearance of constant busyness and 24/7 access.
By the time I left, I was anxious almost all the time about both work and what I was missing by working so much. In a parallel way to how many people closely audit their finances for optimization, I became very aware of my time. Before quitting, this awareness bordered on obsession since I had so little free time. It made me irritable and have unreasonable expectations for my time away from work.
Now that I’ve reduced my hours greatly through self-employment, I don’t think I’ve ever felt better mentally, physically, or in my relationships. I feel truly blessed to have time to actually take care of myself, travel, pursue hobbies, and enjoy time with my loved ones.
Even simple things like being able to arrange my schedule so I can take my dog for a walk, go for a hike, or meet a friend for drinks on a nice day feel like gifts. I remember in my old life feeling resentment for being shut in an office or unable to leave my computer in case something came up.
In addition, I have more job satisfaction. Now that I work fewer hours, I recognize that I actually do like what I do. I don’t get the Sunday Scaries anymore.
Lastly, I also think I’m a better friend, partner, and member of my community. I’m more patient and compassionate. I’m not as obsessed with making every minute of my day productive. I take more time to listen. I feel more connected to humanity and to the environment.
4. In your opinion, what things in your life contribute most to your happiness and contentment?
For me, time freedom is everything. My FIRE journey helped me realize I didn’t want to work to afford nice things or appear successful to others. I wanted to work so I could use more of my precious time doing things that actually bring me joy.
This mindset was solidified after I read 4000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. The idea that the average human lives only 4000 weeks was a gut punch. I don’t want to reach the end of my weeks and wish I spent more time enjoying life while I was young and healthy.
Burkeman’s book also explores how conventional time management advice focuses on fitting more in. Instead, he urges readers to consider what to cut out since we actually cannot do it all. I think many women in my age bracket bought into the idea of “leaning in” and having it all. So, it was very refreshing to see someone say you probably can’t, but that’s OK. This helped me see that achieving time freedom (what I deeply valued) at the expense of a prestigious career (what I didn’t value as much) was a tradeoff I’d gladly accept.
Externally, I have control over my schedule and life. But internally, I also have gained more confidence. Quitting my job was extremely out of character for me. Some people in my life were legitimately shocked. Many said to me, “But you don’t have a full-time job lined up?!” I’m so proud of myself for listening to my inner voice and not the opinions of others.
5. How did becoming self-employed impact your financial goals or timelines?
My goal has always been to coast to FI. I actually like working and making money. Just not all the time!
Reducing my work hours in exchange for lower pay certainly extended my coast FIRE date by at least five years. Now that I’ve made this pivot to self-employment, I’ve eased off of the timeline tracking. I think I could work happily this way for a long time, so I’m less focused on a particular coast FIRE date.
I actually discovered the concept of Slow FI after I quit my job, and it immediately resonated with me. In my mind, I was just extending my path to coast FIRE. After learning about Slow FI, I see I’ve actually made more of a lifestyle shift instead of just a financial shift. Connecting with the slow FI community online has been a great support network.
6. What enabled you to take the leap to self-employment?
I’ve had many privileges that helped me even get to the point of considering coast FIRE. I came out of college with no debt, so I was able to begin saving and investing as soon as I started working. I had already saved up a full year in emergency funds during the pandemic, so I had a cushion to fall back on. I also do not have children, and I live with a partner which keeps expenses low.
I am also aware that without grinding for a decade, I wouldn’t be in the position financially to downshift to self-employment and still reach my goals. That hustle also taught me the skills I use as a freelancer and gave me a professional network. So as much as I bristle at my prior attitudes toward work, I do have that work ethic to thank for my current financial position.
7. Were there things in your life you adapted so you could continue to work toward your goals?
Self-employment introduces many financial changes that I had to adjust to in order to continue my FIRE path. Foremost, I lost access to a traditional 401(k) plan, so I opened a solo 401(k). These accounts have amazing tax benefits, so I’ve shifted my investment strategy slightly to take more advantage of my solo 401(k). I also now have to pay for my own health insurance, pay taxes quarterly, and keep track of business expenses.
Figuring out each of these shifts can be overwhelming – that’s why I started my blog! At the same time, I’ve really enjoyed the sense of empowerment that comes from the realization you are no longer employer dependent.
Time freedom can also allow you to reduce your living expenses in new ways. I have always been frugal, but when I was working full time, there were a lot of conveniences I paid a premium for in order to protect my precious free time. Now that I have more time, I’m able to be even more frugal by doing more price comparisons before making a purchase, traveling off-peak, cooking from home, walking, or taking public transportation instead of paying for a car service, buying used, etc.
8. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
If you’re aggressively pursuing FIRE but deeply unhappy, I think it is time to reevaluate. I firmly believe life is too short to sacrifice your joy, time, and health. Chances are you are already in a good financial position if you’ve been saving and investing. You may be able to design a better life that gives you some of the benefits of early retirement now.
9. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decision to become self-employed?
Taking a pay cut is usually not part of the path to FIRE, but my FIRE journey taught me what I really care about: time freedom.
This knowledge started with my awareness of the four forms of wealth: financial, social (status), time, and health. This framework was popularized by author James Clear. Status was the least important to me, so I slowly, and with effort, began unlearning concepts about conventional success. The less I cared about status, the easier it was to determine my own definition of success.
So strangely, my pursuit of FI helped me have the confidence to break out of traditional employment and reduce my income in exchange for more time. For others, the movement leads to the confidence to ask for a raise or go for a promotion in order to reach full FIRE sooner. For me, it was the opposite. I wanted time freedom now, even if it prolonged my journey to complete financial independence from work.
10. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
For those considering downshifting to self-employment, here are my top three tips:
First, make sure you have an emergency fund. It may take time to grow your income from self-employment. If you’re not able to cover your expenses in the beginning, you need a safety net to fall back on. For me, having a full year saved up gave me more peace of mind.
Second, listen to your gut and worry less about other people’s opinions. Before I quit my job, I worried about what other people would think if I just up and left a promising career. I worried my friends would think I was a loser. I was worried about letting my parents down. I’m so glad I didn’t let that worry keep me from making the right choice for me.
Third, open a solo 401(k)! These accounts offer major tax advantages. Figuring out the contributions can be difficult, so seek the help of a CPA if you need it. You can make contributions until tax time, so opening this account doesn’t have to be your first priority when you start self-employment. But it should be high on your list!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! It’s always inspiring to see people start optimizing for time and quality of life rather than money! There comes a point in our FI journey where we’ve saved and invested enough that we can tip the scales and find a new balance that works for us.
One thing I loved hearing from the interview is that she is now working 50% less but only making 25% less. This means that she’s making a lot more for each hour of work she puts in! If you think about this in terms of the true hourly wage, which subtracts work-related costs from income, I’m sure her true hourly wage would be even higher than before. This is particularly true because she found that she now spends less money after scaling back and reducing the things that trigger spending in the first place.
We both have similar stories. In my 20s, my identity was also tied up with my career. I was ambitious, wanted it all, and truly believed I could have it all if I could just get that next promotion. Then, there was a point in my early 30s when I got that promotion and still wondered, “What was all this hard work for?” I was more miserable than ever. I’m so glad that she was able to get out of that situation before it did more damage to her health and sanity.
I also loved the reference to 4,000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals! I love that this book doesn’t just recycle the same time management nonsense helping you to optimize your life so that you can fit more in. Instead, they actually encourage you to do less. This can allow us to focus on what’s most important. None of us can do it all. There will always be trade-offs, so we need to decide what we want to invest our time in.
Thank you again, anonymous blogger behind Self-Employed FI, for doing this interview! You’ve demonstrated how self-employment can provide people with a lot of flexibility and time freedom long before FI.
If you’d like to learn more about Self-Employment FI and follow her journey, you can find her in the following places:
- Blog: https://www.selfemployedfi.com
- Instagram: @SelfEmployedFI