In a recent discussion with one of my coaching groups, someone made an acute observation. Every single member of the group had mentioned feeling resentful toward their jobs. It wasn’t that everyone hated their jobs. Work simply took up too much time, keeping them from focusing on what matters most to them – adventure, relationships, creativity, and health.
Many people say that they want to retire early because they want more time. But, what if the answer isn’t to quit work entirely? What if you could reduce the amount of time spent working and have a better balance between all of the areas of your life?
One way you can reclaim your time along the path to FI is by working part-time.
I haven’t worked full-time since 2018. At that time, I quit a toxic job to take a career break and then decided to go back to work part-time. Initially, part-time work allowed me to focus on recovering from burnout.
Several months later, I learned about Coast FI (the point at which you can stop saving for your traditional retirement because what you’ve already saved will grow to provide you with a comfortable traditional retirement). Upon this realization, I realized that I’d never need to work full-time again unless I wanted to.
When my mental health improved, I used my extra time to start a passion-based business (doing the work I’d want to do post-FI anyways even if I didn’t generate income). Then, when I took the leap to entrepreneurship nine months later, I decided to keep a part-time schedule.
I’m no longer racing to the FI finish line. I’m designing a life I don’t want to retire from. This lifestyle makes racing toward FI unnecessary.
So many people still believe that financial freedom is all or nothing. You might feel like you need to reach FI or be much closer to achieving it before making lifestyle changes. But, that’s not necessary.
Let’s take Sam, from Government Worker FI, for example. He used to think that he needed to reach FI before requesting to work part-time at his government job. He really loved his work (just not the schedule) and would be happy doing part-time work long after reaching FI.
In 2021, he needed to work through the cons of working part-time and his fears of scarcity. He realized that even if he decided to work part-time now, he’d still end up with more than what he’d actually need in retirement. Continuing to work full-time longer would simply mean that he’d over-save for retirement and miss out on important parts of his life now. Ultimately, Sam requested to go part-time and is enjoying his reduced work hours today.
Pros and Cons of Working Part-Time
Recently, a reader reached out and asked if I could write a post on the pros and cons of working part-time. I thought this was a fantastic idea.
My first step was to reach out to the Slow FI Facebook group to ask people who already work part-time to share their experiences.
In this discussion, I heard from a wide variety of people who work part-time, including the following fields:
- Speech Pathology
- Occupational Therapy
- Energy Trading
- Assistant Principal
- University administrator
- Business Analyst
- Social work
- IT Consulting
- Tax Preparation
- Massage Therapy
- Freelance Writing
- Airline administration
- And, even UPS (which provides surprisingly great benefits to anyone who works more than 15 hours per week).
Here is what I heard.
Pros of Working Part-Time
There are so many benefits to working part-time.
- More time to focus on what matters: health, relationships, family, adventure, and fun. Many people also cited being able to start side gigs and small businesses doing something they enjoy.
- Less stress: working fewer hours allowed many people to recover from burnout and figure out what they really wanted out of life.
- Ability to be more intentional: a few people cited that when they worked less, it didn’t negatively impact their finances as much as they expected. They were able to be more intentional which led to spending less.
- More schedule flexibility and ability to set boundaries: While some part-time workers have less flexibility over their schedule, others noted that they had much more flexibility than when working full-time. People also noted that it can be a lot easier to set boundaries in a part-time role when you aren’t expected to work until the job is done.
- It keeps your resume fresh for other future options: One thing I love about coast FI and part-time work is that it actually feels safer than early retirement. From my point of view (and others I heard), it seems a lot easier to scale up the income you already have than to find a new job after being out of the workforce for a few years.
- Access to employer-sponsored retirement accounts: Employees who work more than 1,000 hours/year (which is approximately 20 hours/week) or 500 hours/year for three consecutive years are eligible to participate in employer-sponsored retirement accounts.
Cons of Working Part-time
The picture isn’t all sunshine and rainbows though. There are certain drawbacks to working part-time. Each person needs to assess their situation and decide if the trade-offs of working less are worth it for them.
Here are some of the drawbacks that I heard:
- Smaller Salary: Part-time employees working for companies noted making proportionally less money based on the amount of time they worked. For example, when I worked 3 days/week, I made 60% of what I would have made if I worked full-time. Because some part-time roles don’t include leadership responsibilities, you can also make less per hour as well.
- Some companies don’t offer health, disability, and other benefits to part-time employees: From my survey, I actually heard from many part-time employees whose employers do offer them full benefits. However, there were others who noted that they lost their benefits if they went below a certain threshold of hours.
- Having less responsibility and clout: People who work part-time may not be considered for bigger and more exciting projects. They may not be given the type of responsibilities that would prepare them for future promotions. Lastly, some cite feeling a loss of a part of their identity, which was previously centered around work.
- Part-time jobs may have less stability: One person noted that she has chosen not to work part-time because part-time jobs are the first jobs to be cut when layoffs occur at her company. While this may not be the case everywhere, it is certainly a consideration.
- Social pressure or isolation: People shared that working part-time can be challenging because colleagues, friends, and family have a hard time understanding why they would want to work less and make less money. They sometimes get pressured to work more or feel like other colleagues resent them for choosing to work less.
Cons Are Considerations, NOT Barriers
Creating pros-and-cons lists can be an excellent tool in helping you decide what you want to do next. But, it’s important to note that the cons are considerations, not necessarily barriers.
Whenever I’m faced with a consideration (or what may feel like a barrier), I like to ask myself a few questions:
- What’s possible here?
- Under what conditions, would this consideration/barrier not hold me back?
- Given the benefits, are the trade-offs worth it?
While working part-time isn’t for everyone, I do think that it’s accessible to more people than we might think. So, I want to walk through each of these considerations to help you see the trade-offs.
It is true that by working part-time, someone is often accepting a lower salary. The question here is, “Who can accept a lower salary?” or “Under what conditions, is this possible?”
Ultimately, it depends on your career field, how much money you already have saved, and the support system you have.
If you are a high-income earner, you may be able to work part-time and continue to save for retirement at a high (or at least respectable rate). This could allow you to transition to part-time earlier in your career than you might expect.
If you are a moderate-income earner, you may be able to cover your current expenses with part-time work but may not have excess money to save or invest. If this is the case, you could transition to part-time work after you have solid emergency savings and reach Coast FI. Coast FI is the point at which you no longer need to save for traditional retirement. You’ve already saved enough that, if left untouched, it will grow to provide you with a comfortable traditional retirement.
If part-time income would not cover your full expenses, you still have a few options. You could work full-time for longer to get to a point where you could take a semi-retirement or barista FIRE approach. You could withdraw money from your portfolio to cover some of your expenses and cover the rest with active income from a part-time job. Other options here are to share expenses with a partner or roommate or to generate additional income from a side hustle.
If you want to work part-time (and you live in a country that doesn’t provide universal healthcare), health insurance may feel like a barrier. But, there are a few options:
- Some employers provide health insurance to part-time employees. If you check out the Slow FI group, you’ll see that someone recently compiled a huge list of employers that do this.
- If you have a partner who also works for an employer, you may be able to get onto their health plan.
- You can pay for health insurance yourself through the exchange. Some people find that their health insurance premiums are less than expected. Others find that they qualify for a subsidy. Even if they don’t, I’ve heard from folks that paying for their own health insurance is simply one price they pay for freedom.
I loved this quote from Kim, a member of the Slow FI enthusiasts facebook group.
Having a Higher Potential to be Laid Off
This may or may not be true at your company, but it is certainly a consideration. There are two main things that I’d consider when thinking this through.
- Do you have solid emergency savings that could shelter you through a layoff?
- Would you be able to find a new job or generate income in another way?
If your answer is yes to both of these questions, you can then decide if the trade-offs are worth it.
Having Less Responsibility and Clout
The key to this one comes down to figuring out what you really want and what is most important to you. Perhaps, being chosen for exciting projects and having leadership responsibilities are really important to you. Depending on the context of your employer, it would be important to know if it was possible to do those things on a part-time basis.
But, if you realize that advancing your career is not actually a high priority for you, perhaps you could focus on decoupling your identity from your work. Who are you outside of your job? What other aspects of your identity do you want to lean into if you lean out from work?
Social Pressure and Isolation
When you work part-time, people don’t always understand what you are doing and sometimes feel a certain way about it (and, by extension, you). They may put pressure on you to work more. Or, they might be envious or resentful of your schedule. The best-case scenario is that you simply have some people who don’t understand.
When working part-time, you get to decide how much you want to share and who you share it with. Not everyone is going to agree with or respect your life choices, and that’s okay.
A few things that can help with this are:
- Building confidence that the choice you’ve made is the right one for you
- Being clear and consistent about your boundaries
- Realizing that having a fulfilling life outside of work doesn’t make you any less good at your job (or any less of a team player). In fact, it might even make you better at your job.
- Embedding yourself within a like-minded community of people outside of work who support and understand your goals.
Deciding if the Trade-Offs are Worth It
After working through the considerations, only you can decide if the trade-offs are worth it based on your unique financial, career, and social context. What is most important is to examine the potential barriers and make an intentional choice.
Too often, the potential barriers go unexamined, and we assume something won’t work. In reality, we may be more capable and resilient than we think.