It's hard to believe I did the unthinkable two years ago. What's that you ask? I quit my job with benefits, a pension, and not to mention a good salary in exchange for a career of self-employment where we now earn a variable income and lack many of the benefits corporations offered including health insurance, 401k contributions, and paid vacation. Despite these financial changes, we are not starving or homeless.
The average person is expected to change jobs at least 12 times in their working career. While most people don't take a 60% pay cut, unless one parent decides to stay home with the children, there must be a lot of destitute families, correct?
In Fact, It's Quite the Opposite
We have always had a roof to sleep under every single night since I turned in my office keys and company laptop. And, we've never missed a meal because we couldn't afford to eat.
Today, two years later, our only debt is our home mortgage that we are actually making extra payments on to pay it off in six years instead of fifteen. And, we are doing all this on an annual income of about $35,000!
I teach four mornings a week and double as a freelance writer in the afternoons. My wife teaches ballet and music eight days a month. And we have a two-year-old and a four-month old.
Are we insane in the membrane? Perhaps.
But we haven't missed a bill payment, have a positive savings rate, and take several trips each year.
While I will discuss our “secrets of success” in the upcoming paragraphs, here are the highlights:
- We planned for two years before I switched careers
- We had (and still have) a very supportive family
- The past two years have required hard work
- We're frugal in almost every facet of life
- The Lord has blessed us in ways we didn't imagine
Let me expound on these points a little further.
I Planned To Quit My Job
It took me
months years to say “I quit” to my former employer of seven years. From almost the first day on the job, I knew I didn't want to be an operations supervisor for the rest of my life.
However, I stayed for the following reasons:
- I had $50,000 in student loan debt to repay
- I borrowed money to buy my dream car
- I was single, enjoyed the relatively large paychecks, and received a pay raise each year
- My first day was in July 2008…right before the Great Recession took a number on the job market
I finally determined I “had enough” after meeting my wife and we found out we were expecting our first child. Corporate downsizing was only going into full effect meaning employee layoffs and longer hours for the remaining employees. As a salaried supervisor, the writing on the wall was clear, more hours for the same pay.
The luring incentive of a big paycheck was gradually disappearing as personal priorities changed. Several other co-supervisors have also come to the same conclusion and switched employers too with no regrets.
A Brief Recap of Our First Year
For the first year, I essentially took an adult gap year where I didn't earn a regular income for the first nine months. This wasn't by intent, my original work plans fizzled out shortly after starting my new job. Since I needed the evenings and weekends free, to build our house and another family members house, we decided to pinch pennies and live on my wife's income.
We lived in a spare bedroom of my wife's parents and I guess you could say we were “boomerang children” for a stint. It was cozy as it slept us and our newborn daughter, but, our monthly “rent” was helping pay utilities and helping out around their house. Fair enough.
I also used this time to focus on teaching for the next academic year and I also “fell in” to freelance writing. These are two income ideas we had talked about off and on before I quit and I finally had a sabbatical to put the plans into action.
A Brief Recap of Our Second Year
Since I was working full-time again, we finally had a small disposable income. And no longer felt like we were living paycheck to paycheck as we did that first year.
We also had our second child this Spring, so we were grateful to be living in our completed house with more living space for a family of four.
Since we are both self-employed, we have still had to hustle and put in some long days. We have scaled our income streams and are still working on expanding them further so we never have to get a corporate job again.
Even though we are living on 60% less income than before, I don't have the same endlessly unpredictable work schedule nor the stress factor.
Frugality is Crucial
I couldn't have quit my job if our monthly expenses matched my $80,000 per year annual income.
While our children are still young (and not as expensive), our monthly expenses are only around $1,500 ($18,000 per year). Once we repay our mortgage, I can theoretically work at McDonald's for minimum wage and we will live within our means. There might not be many family vacations but it's a relief to know you can have one of the lowest paying jobs in the nation and still make it (for the short-term).
This might sound selfish, but, I never want to be forced to take a high-paying yet stressful job again because I “need” a high paycheck just to pay the bills.
I miss my old paycheck because it was so easy to save for large purchases, max out retirement accounts, and never worry about balancing the checkbook. My wife and I could have squandered our income. Instead, we saved it for a “rainy day” by paying for half of our building costs with cash and pulling from savings while I didn't work.
How are we frugal?
- We shop Craigslist as much as possible.
- Never borrow money as monthly payments=higher monthly expenses=you cannot afford to quit your job
- We wait 24 to 48 hours before making a large purchase
- Cook as many meals as possible at home
- Shop online with Ebates to get cash back.
- Buy as many items on sale (instead of paying retail)
These small, daily financial decisions add up and ultimately keep our monthly expenses as low as possible.
It's really that simple.
Self-Employment Was Our Best Employment Alternative
For us, self-employment was the best alternative given our community connections and skills. My wife is a natural entrepreneur and even though we constantly think of ways to find new students and clients, it's still better than a typical 9-5 job where we work with a morning and evening commute.
For you, you might only be striving to switch to a more flexible employer. That's great. As I mentioned earlier, there are some benefits to working for a company and I might have to re-enter Corporate America down the road to if our circumstances change.
Before you quit, ask yourself these two questions:
- Why do you want to quit?
- Is your employment alternative going to improve your quality of life?
You Gotta Have Faith
There were more than a few times I felt insane for quitting my job which was akin to leaving the Mafia. There are some things in life you don't do. Especially when my initial job plans fell through and I had to go to Plan C after I couldn't find any reliable work that also allowed us to build our house in the evenings.
Both my wife and I are religious. While our testimony pales in comparison to many across the world, our first year was a faith strengthening experience. Doors opened that we never imagined as people have entered our lives and also because our extended family was charitable during the transition.
To this day, I believe it was a miracle I quit my job when I did. I still stay in touch with a few of my former co-workers and I don't envy their situation as the bean counters continue to consolidate operations and reduce payrolls to meet budget goals. Being self-employed is another blessing as it gives us schedule flexibility and quality family time I couldn't enjoy with a regular job.
My Opinion on “Leaps of Faith”
While you might say we took a “leap of faith,” we did so after careful planning and prayer.
The last thing you should do is quit your job because you feel like it and think everything is alright. That's recklessness.
From my own personal experience, I took the leap to leave what I knew to try something new. My initial plan fell through, but it gave us enough money to make ends meet until my wife could start her business up again (she sold it when we moved away for my work). It took several months for all the pieces to fall into place for me to finally realize what I needed to do next, but it worked out.
I won't spend much time on this as I've mentioned family throughout this post. If it wasn't for family, we couldn't have quit either. Just as we help them when they need help, they helped us.
Never underestimate the value of family. Life is unpredictable and just remember that blood is thicker than water.
One day, I might write a book about our experience. Until then, there were three factors that have helped us not go homeless or starve: Faith, Family, and Frugality.
Have you switched careers or plan to soon? Do you have a similar experience?
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.