The Joy of Part-Time Work
Between the frosty North Pole of Unemployment, where your bank account dwindles and your debts multiply while you sit at home and fidget nervously, and the Sweltering Jungle of Full Time Employment, where you wield a Firehose of cash but have absolutely no free time to do anything besides work and eat, there exists a temperate la-la land where the climate of life is balanced and happy. It’s called Working Part Time!
“Meh”, you might say, “I already know about part-time work. That’s what burger flippers and Wal-Mart greeters do. But I’m a professional – my choices are only 50 hour workweeks plus commuting, or a slow death of whining at home on my couch while bankruptcy swallows me”.
But it may not be true! The world of Professional Employment is actually much more open and flexible than we’ve all been trained to assume. And the reason is that behind the granite-carved corporate logos and expensive office furniture and the uncomfortable formal clothing, companies are secretly run by other humans, just like you and me. On the lower rungs of the corporate ladder, these humans tend to cling to the rules and policies and try to limit your individual choice. But you don’t have listen to them. With some gentle pressure and plenty of underlying job competence, most of us have more negotiating power than we realize.
When Mrs. Money Mustache first came to the United States in 2000, and got her first job offer for $40,000, she was pretty excited. But when I suggested she enthusiastically thank the company for the offer and accept it – while requesting that the pay rate start at $44,000 – she was quite nervous and skeptical. But with the confidence of knowing she was valuable, and the backing of a low-cost lifestyle that would allow her to continue searching for a job if this one didn’t work out, she made her counter offer.
A week later, she walked into her new office and started raking in the shiny new $44,000 salary, which became the basis for future raises for the rest of her corporate life.
When Mr. Money Mustache was ready to tip work-life balance a bit more to the Life side in 2004, he suggested the benefits of the arrangement to his manager at the big high-tech company. The manager happened to be a career corporatist who didn’t see the point of anyone ever working LESS. But after a few conversations and a shared meeting with a very high level director, a deal was made and MMM started taking every Friday off, in an exchange for a 20% pay cut.
You, the MMM readers, are some of the world’s most innovative and competent professionals. Your company needs the skills you provide, and they don’t want to lose you. And you have an electric personality and are quite good looking as well. Because of this, it is quite possible that you too can write your own ticket and start working less whenever you feel ready.
The benefits are mutual. Your company will see an increase in productivity from you on a per-hour basis, because you will be operating in a more efficient creative range, much further from burnout. You might even get MORE done in three or four great days of work, than in five ho-hum days. You will gain the mental space to innovate.
But your personal life will take an even bigger leap upwards. Imagine: EVERY weekend is a long weekend. An extra fifty-two days, or Ten Weeks, of vacation per year. Your free time jumps by 50%. You can use the extra day for self-development: sleep in a bit, do a huge workout and/or bike ride, get the groceries, read a book, practice a new skill, then cook a fancy dinner for yourself or your family. Isn’t that better than the fifth day of work?
The ideas above are written from the perspective of a person who already holds a corporate job. And not all corporate jobs have that flexibility: a high school teacher or a police officer may not have the option to redefine their job, no matter how good they are. Then again, I do happen to know both a teacher and a police officer who did just that. There are always surprises waiting for people with the cojones to actually ask for something.
And luckily, there is still hope for everyone in the long run: Self-Employment. Whether you ease into retirement by slowly scaling back your corporate job, or jump into retirement by ending a less flexible job completely, the idea of doing something productive in retirement that may eventually earn you some cash is a great idea.
When you’ve led a life of single-payer employment, the idea of earning money for random things seems quite strange. “I don’t have any skills, other than middle manager at Megacorp! Who would pay me to do anything?”.
But the real world is simply more fun than that. As long as you remain curious and energetic, and don’t work in a monotonous job so long that it crushes your spirit completely, you will find that things just magically start to happen once you have time to actually think instead of just working. This is why I feel that the earlier a person can retire from a less-than-fulfilling career, the better.
One early retiree I know found herself writing articles and magazine stories occasionally after leaving her full-time job as a writer. Another fiddles around with academic research projects and gets paid to review papers before publication. My brother will always be a touring musician even when he is done with his job of being an elementary school teacher by day. Others might be interested in real estate, photography, starting a climbing or kayaking school, bed-and-breakfast hosting, Android or Iphone app development, running an online store, becoming a fitness instructor, or self-publishing a book. Even after finding my own retirement nirvana with carpentry projects, I now find that even writing the Mr. Money Mustache blog could become a paying job if I wanted to put effort into making it earn real money.
The joy of part-time work is that it tends to lead you into unexpected new directions. Another joy is that it makes your retirement planning much easier. With a part-time income doing something you really enjoy, you might already be fully qualified to retire from full-time work with the savings you already have. You can retire MUCH earlier if you have a little spigot of money that you can turn on and off whenever you like.
Imagine that you need $24,000 per year to live on comfortably. You’ve been saving for a while, so you have $300k in retirement assets ‘stashed away. Using the conservative 4% “safe withdrawal rate”, you might only feel you can draw $12,000 per year from this fund to pay for your retired lifestyle. But with part-time work, you might find it extremely easy to earn the extra $1,000 per month. If you’re part of a couple, you only need to earn $500 each, or a little over a hundred bucks a week on average, to make up the difference. That is easy money to earn, in the United States anyway.
But the biggest reason for my love of the idea of part-time work, is that it is simply a more natural and human-oriented way of doing things. When we get up every day and travel to the same place to work for a pre-determined number of hours, we are making ourselves part of a giant machine. It can still be fun at times, depending on who the nearest cogs are that we get to grind against, but it is still a never-ending factory that tends to dull our creativity over the decades. And the Western tradition of 40 (or more) hour workweeks is ridiculous. Paid work becomes the dominating part of your life, which is very efficient for saving up a large sum of money, but very inefficient if you have any other plans like raising children or accomplishing things other than work.
When you work at your own pace, however, everything changes. You get to decide what your goals are each week, and balance your work production against other things that are important to you. Sometimes work may be completely shelved when you take a trip or make a vegetable garden or move across the country to care for an elderly family member. Other times you might laser yourself in and become a Master of Disaster and produce a whole year’s worth of income in just a few weeks or months. It can be difficult, since it all depends on your own motivation. But I think that slowly mastering your own motivation and learning to run yourself as a fully independent person is one of the most worthwhile things you can do with your life.
I sure have plenty of learning in the Self Discipline department to do myself, but man is it ever a great feeling to get a little bit further along in the project each week or each year. So that’s why I feel the need to stand up for the often-disrespected concept of Part Time Work.
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