Over the last year, I’ve been incredibly inspired by Angela from Tread Lightly Retire Early. I started reading her blog about a year ago, and since then I’ve gotten to know her well.
Not only does Angela encourage and create a space for women in the personal finance space, but her story has also personally inspired me.
Back in the fall, when I considered accepting a part-time job, knowing that Angela has previously walked this path made it feel easier to do the same.
Angela has also been instrumental in helping me learn to set boundaries at work and say no more frequently. One of her posts called “The True Cost of Saying Yes,” continues to be a mantra for me to this day.
Angela was one of the first people who I thought of when I started this interview series.
She is only one of the many people who’ve chosen to slow down their financial journey to live a better life along the way. Others have chosen to pursue semi-retirement, quit side-hustles, or travel the world. With the financial freedom that comes along the path to financial independence, there are endless options to choose from.
I’m very excited for Angela to share her story with you.
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
Hey there. I’m Angela. You might know me from my blog, Tread Lightly Retire Early.
On my blog, I share my version of financial independence. I save close to half my income, travel a lot – mostly locally, tend my large front yard garden, lift up female voices in the personal finance space, and work 80% time in my dream career.
I’m currently thirty-one years old, have been married to my husband for just shy of a decade, and have a four-year-old son.
Our loose goal is to hit financial independence by forty-five, which will be the year our son turns eighteen. After tracking our spending closely for the last year and a half, we may hit that target much sooner – closer to our fortieth birthdays. That said, we are in no particular rush.
2. What deliberate decision have you made to slow down and improve your life? Why did you decide to make this decision?
Before I tell you about my decision, I’d like to set some context.
I’ve always been an extremely busy person. Throughout college, I had a packed schedule with varsity softball, an elected position in my sorority, an on-campus job, and an off-campus internship. Even with all of these activities, I still graduated in three years.
After graduating, I moved cross-country where I worked a great, but very low-paying internship. I worked at my internship full-time and at Petsmart over the weekend to cover my bills and student loan payments.
About a year and a half after graduation, I found my dream career job. I was working as a full-time park ranger at the time and decided to keep that job too. For a while, I was working 80-90 hours/week until I finally cut back the park ranger job to the occasional evening or weekend.
Once I finally settled into a 45-to-50 hour/week job with “just” one other seven-hour shift every few weekends, I felt like I had all the time in the world. I was able to work out five or more days/week, begin a garden, and learn to cook.
For the first time, it felt like my evenings and weekends were mine. We had barbecues on most weekends. I felt like I had so much time left outside of my normal 9-to-5 job if I didn’t waste it!
I expected to work full-time (or more) forever.
This wasn’t because I didn’t think I’d have the money to retire; it was because I love what I do. My work makes a tremendous impact on the world, and I still felt like I had time for everything else.
Everything changed when my son was born.
When we decided to start a family, I thought that working full-time would still leave me with plenty of free time. My plan was to ramp back up to full-time over a stretch of four to six months.
By the time my son was just three weeks old, I was ready to go back to work part-time. When he was five months old, I went back full-time.
That’s when the craziness set in.
We hadn’t yet put him in daycare and my family could only watch him for so many hours. He was with them for about half the time and the other half I worked from home. I worked during his nap time, during nursing sessions, and after bedtime.
Every waking moment was spent focusing on a high needs baby or working.
I didn’t have time to work out, cook, or garden. My husband also worked (more than) full-time, so weekends became a blur of attempting to catch up from the week.
When my son was about to turn a year old, I realized this wasn’t sustainable. Something needed to change.
First, we enrolled him in daycare for the time he wasn’t being cared for by family, so I would work from the office.
Then, I had a conversation with my employer about working part-time. I wanted to have more space in my days and not feel completely exhausted on the weekends. My employer agreed to an 80% schedule. Since then, instead of working 8 or 9 hours/day, I work 6 to 7.
3. How has this decision impacted your quality of life?
Having an extra 10 to 15 hours per week means that I had time to complete chores and go to appointments during the week. I have time to cook and clean during the week without being completely frazzled.
I now enjoy time with my son a lot more.
Because he is being taken care of by others during my work days, I am able to direct my attention to him outside of those hours. I started including him in everyday activities like cooking, hanging laundry, and going to the grocery store because there was no longer a clock ticking on how quickly I needed to complete those tasks. We even had time to go to the park and meet up with friends.
Life started to slow down. It was no longer a blur.
Our weekends became much more enjoyable. Since we were able to take care of the day-to-day things during the week, we were able to spend time on the weekend together as a family. We found time for camping trips again, local adventures, and time to garden.
I finally had the bandwidth to tackle our finances again, which had mostly been on “just okay enough” autopilot.
4. How did this decision impact your financial goals or timelines?
This decision ultimately had a different impact that we thought it would.
While we weren’t pursuing financial independence at the time, we believed that this decision would make us worse off financially.
This decision meant that I both decreased my income by 20% and increased my childcare expenses.
Surprisingly, it had an unexpected positive impact on our financial goals.
Cutting my hours gave me the mental energy to be more intentional about our decisions and our finances. I had read about financial independence while I was paying off my student loans, and I jumped back into the personal finance community with fervor. I found myself tackling our expenses little by little.
With my newfound time, I even started my own blog and doubled down on tracking our finances.
One of the first areas we tackled was our food spending. Right after our son was born, we would spend money just to make our lives easier. We were somehow spending $2,500/month on groceries and take-out. When we started being more intentional with our spending, we cut our food expenses by 63%.
Since I started working part-time, we began pursuing financial independence and we doubled our savings rate.
It might seem completely backward to make less money and have a higher savings rate. However, working less gave me the mental energy I needed to be intentional about our spending and grow our savings rate (though a few raises over time certainly haven’t hurt either).
5. What enabled you to make this decision (i.e. what financial or social context helped)?
The main reason that I was able to make this decision was that our fixed expenses were very low.
Although we live in a high cost of living area, we bought our small home at the right time, so our mortgage is quite low compared to the market. Having a roommate further reduced our housing costs.
Besides our mortgage, we do not have any debt. My student loans are paid off. We’d saved up for birth and childcare costs. We drive older, paid-off cars. Luckily, our families have the ability and desire to watch our child part-time.
I now realize that I could have made the decision to work part-time before having a child. It’s amazing to have more space every day. That said, for me, the tipping point was being completely overwhelmed by being both a mother and a dedicated employee.
6. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
I think that almost everyone could benefit from downshifting where they are able. As much as I love my job and my career, I love that I have time each day for more than just that.
If you hate your job, I would strongly urge you to find something else to do NOW. Don’t wait until you’re financially independent.
As long as you can cover the basics and save a little bit of money, I believe your next goal should be on improving your current lifestyle and happiness.
Clearly, if you are struggling to pay your bills and are stuck in a job because of these realities, I’m not going to tell you to work less. This question is a privileged one, but if you have that privilege, I would think about how it could look for you.
7. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder this decision?
I made this decision before I decided to pursue financial independence. Sometimes I wonder how my decision would have been impacted by a pursuit of financial independence with an intense timeline attached.
Clearly, adding 20% more income to the equation would move us forward significantly on the path to FI. Our timeline would be compressed, but I don’t feel like this would be either necessary or worth it.
My husband and I both enjoy our careers. Neither of us are ready to retire and walk away from them anytime soon, even after we reach financial independence. I may never be ready to walk away completely.
Even though I’m making less money, I can’t put a price tag on the hours of my life that I’ve gotten back through this slowed down path.
For these reasons, I’m certain that I’d make this decision all over again. I haven’t regretted it once.
8. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
There’s a lot of advice out there about side hustling your free time away and putting your head down until you make it to your FI “finish line.”
I hope this is a reminder that your life is happening now, and there are no guarantees for the future.
Once you have a baseline of financial stability, I believe it’s time to start looking for ways your life might be better in the present, instead of waiting for some arbitrary day where you will be completely free.
Your life is worth living now. Don’t count down the breaths you’re taking now, because you’ll never get them back.
Thank you, Angela, for inspiring me with your story, as always.
There are so many things that I can identify with from Angela’s story. One of those things is mindless spending to cope with busyness.
When I was working a (more than) full-time job, it was all I could do to barely keep head above water. Because of this, we spent a lot of money to help make our lives more manageable and spent even more money mindlessly because it took too much effort to be intentional.
Like Angela, the biggest category of overspending for us was our food spending. At one point, we were spending more on food than what the USDA says is “liberal spending” for a family of 4! Once I quit my full-time job, we were able to be much more intentional and we were able to cut our food spending by about 50%.
We’ve also been able to dramatically cut our expenses more generally because we are able to be more mindful of borrowing things or buying only the things we need in the most economical way possible.
Another thing I love about Angela’s story is that it reinforces this power of being intentional with your finances. Because Angela both made a high enough salary and had low enough fixed expenses, she was able to cut back her hours and make less money.
What is even more amazing is that this gave her the mental energy to become more intentional with her spending and ultimately saw her savings rate double. If this isn’t an argument to work part-time (at least for anyone who has mindless spending habits), I don’t know what is!
Finally, I love Angela’s approach to work more generally. If you can cover your expenses with your work, she recommends focusing on finding a job that you enjoy and focusing on your happiness now along the journey!
In my opinion, the purpose of financial independence is not about saving as much money as possible so you can retire as quickly as possible. It’s about building a life you want to be living now and along the journey.
If this is what it means to be a Fioneer, Angela is an exemplar.
If you want to learn more about Angela, you can find her in the following places: