A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

Career Break Musings: Letting Go?


"I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” - Brene Brown

I haven't felt up to writing super-long posts lately. Ideas, sentences, and paragraphs are sloshing around in my brain, but I lack the motivation to pull them together in a coherent, complete way. It just seems like too much work requiring too much energy.

But at the same time, I know these thoughts need to get onto a page. That's what I've always done to work through complicated situations: throw words onto paper and see what those ideas look like on the outside.

It helps. It always helps.


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Still Lost But I Guess It's Cool?


In my post about quitting, I compared my career path to being inexorably lost in the woods and my indefinite sabbatical to sitting down on a tree stump to wait for either help or an epiphany. I'd spent more than four years stumbling pell-mell through the employment wilderness, searching for the right path and getting more and more lost instead (as if I'd started out in the Adirondacks and somehow wound up in, like, Death Valley), and I felt done. Pass the sleeping pad and the trail mix.


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It's been nearly 2.5 months since I took a seat, and I'm still here. No unicorn or recruiter has come to rescue me, and it appears that what was left of my career map has disintegrated altogether. Nevertheless, it's kind of nice here in Whoknowsville. I've set up a metaphorical hammock, am gathering wood for my metaphorical fire, and am learning to hunt metaphorical squirrels!

Hanging Onto A Pile Of Poop For Dear Life


Over the last few days, two people have reached out to ask me how I'm doing, which is very thoughtful. I haven't been sure how to respond. I'm... great? Confused? Relaxed? Frustrated? In a weird midlife twilight zone? Jonesing for gummy worms? All of the above?

So I've spent some time trying to work through my stack of mismatched thoughts.

In previous posts, I've shared that I went back to school for my PhD when I was in my early 30s. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. I was passionate about teaching, passionate about research, passionate about fieldwork, and passionate about my academic community. I finished in four years and landed a tenure-track job right away, which in my mind was a sure sign that I had done everything exactly right.

I thought I had found my calling. I thought I had it made.


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But that's not how it went. Everything after my PhD was kind of a disaster. I taught for two years under the direction of a brain plagued by anxiety, in a department driven by testosterone, before calling it quits. (That one sentence doesn't adequately describe the complexity of the whole experience, but good enough for now.)

After I left, I couldn't bring myself to let go of academia entirely, so I went the "alt-ac" route.

My next job was as a college advisor.

The one after that was as an online instructor.

The Job From Hell was editing in my area of study.

In general, each position was worse than the one before it, but I never considered going for something completely outside of academia.

As my friend Lisa Munro, who also left the world of tenure-track academia, wrote last year in her post When Moving Forward Requires Letting Go, 

"I wasn’t sure what else I could possibly do and I desperately wanted to still have one foot in work that I still loved. Instead of directly participating in oppressive and exploitative academic systems, I found that as an alt-ac person whose work still relied on academic research production, I’d simply continued participating from the sidelines. Academia-lite."

Exactly. Exactly.

Here's the thing. Neither academia nor academia lite has been great to me or for me, to the point that I should probably go to therapy for the sole purpose of dealing with academia's aftermath. It's been very difficult in a way that's hard to explain to anyone who hasn't experienced it.

In summary: I loved it, it treated me badly and made me feel terrible most of the time, and yet I can't seem to get over it because I loved it so much and because so much of my identity is wrapped up in it. So I keep taking whatever scraps it's willing to give me.

Now, as I start to scrounge the job boards and prepare applications, I find myself once again honing in on academia and its periphery like the proverbial moth to the flame.

Or as Lisa so beautifully put it,

"...in my now pseudo-academic life, I find myself trying too hard to still prove that I’m a smart person who deserved the career for which I’d invested a huge chunk of my life and a lot of money."

And maybe that's the problem. Maybe that's why I've started to feel so confused and conflicted over the last few weeks. I've been looking for jobs, and there's a deep chasm between what I feel I should be doing because it'll make me feel smart/needed/legitimate/worthy and what I want to be doing (if I give myself the space to admit what I actually want).

What's Holding Me Back From Letting Go?


Honestly, I think it's shame.

Everyone (not exaggerating, ev.er.y.one.) else I know who graduated from my program now has a top-notch job in our field of study. They've stayed focused, worked hard, and moved up.

Meanwhile, I've bounced around from job to job, lived in an RV for half a year, moved to two different cities, and am now... pet sitting. Don't get me wrong: I love it and am seriously thinking about trying to build a business. I love where I live. I appreciate my family and good health. In the grand scheme of things, we are doing fine.

But here I am, holding on with one hand to a career that has never worked and with the other hand to a giant bag of shame that grows heavier with time as I toss in more and more self-perceived failures. How am I supposed to try to grab onto something new? And... given what I'm holding onto, why am I not letting go?


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One more quote from Lisa, because everything she says is so spot-on:

"...Here’s what I’m learning: saying yes to new possibilities, especially ones that seem risky and thrilling and exciting and make me feel dizzy and like I’m going to throw up often involves letting go of that which is no longer serving me. And letting go, even when necessary, still provokes strong feelings of loss on top of the huge amount of loss and heartache I already feel with the loss of my academic life. But sometimes letting go is a necessary part of moving forward."

I don't know what, exactly, letting go looks like yet, but I'm starting to think it's the key to figuring out what's next.
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Career Break, Month Two: Eight Things I've Learned About Myself


As I begin to type this post, I've been on my career break for 68 days. I'm kind of astounded at how much time has passed and how quickly it's gone by since I kicked Nightmare JobTM to the curb. (Guys, THAT GIG WAS A SHITSHOW. How did I last even two months?!)

On the other hand, I often feel as though the days themselves pass more slowly than they did when I had a traditional job. Sometimes I'll lie awake at night and think, "Wow, did I really do that today, or did it happen earlier this week?" It's possible to pack a lot of activity into a span of 16 hours.

That said, month two of my career break was challenging for me. It felt very different from the first 30 days, when I was basking in every moment of freedom and enjoying the shiny newness of owning my time. Month two was more like, OMG, what am I even doing with my life (cue panic, doubt, lack of self-confidence, etc.)

Plus, my energy seemed to tank. Right after I quit, I felt ready to conquer the world; more recently, I feel ready to take a nap. I chalk this phenomenon up to life settling down and me finding more of a routine. Abigail from I Pick Up Pennies warned me that this might happen - that I might need some serious rest and downtime to recuperate from what boils down to years of stress.

Basically, month two was a time of reflection, figuring out what's working and what isn't, settling into a new lifestyle, and grappling with the question of, Where do I go from here?

Here's what I've learned.

1. Despite my Type A proclivities, I would make a really good retiree.


As a quintessential Type A personality, I went into this career break with serious concerns about how I would respond when faced with boredom or a super slack schedule. Predictably, the lack of productivity and aimlessness that I faced a few weeks in made me nervous and uncomfortable - but only briefly. After a short adjustment period, I found myself relishing the opportunity to stay up late and sleep in (although now that I've given myself permission to do so, it happens less often than you might think), stare off into space while nursing three cups of coffee at breakfast, go for long walks or runs, dive down random Wikipedia rabbit holes, and scroll mindlessly through Twitter.

I mean, I'd like to accomplish more than that in a given day, but it turns out that the world doesn't fall apart when I don't. And... wasting time is kind of fun.

I'm impressed that I've been able to relax to this extent. Apparently, I'm not as attached to productivity as I thought I was.

2. That said, there's always something to do.


My days can be empty, but they can also be jam-packed with activities - and it's not hard to find things to do. Recently, I've filled hours with things like learning Italian, running, reading, hiking, going to my kid's soccer practice, hanging out with friends, baking, and petsitting.

In other words, you don't need a job in order to create a completely full schedule.

We're trained to think that work is necessary in order to find meaning and structure in life, but based on my super-scientific study of n=1 (me), I'm here to tell you that this is a lie.

3. I don't want to be a freelance writer.


I went into my career break with the vague sense that perhaps I should pursue freelance writing as a job. It seemed like a good idea: after all, I've watched many friends in the personal finance community find success in the wordsmithing arena. I've even received a couple of emails asking if I can write about certain topics.

When I was a kid, my mom used to say to me, "When you WANT to do something, you're really good at it. When you don't want to do something, it's impossible to make you get it done." As annoying as it is to admit that she might have known me better than I thought, it's true. Even if something sounds like a good idea, something I should pursue, my level of interest is always reflected in whether I actually do it.

Because at the end of the day, no matter what I say or promise, if I don't want to do something, I simply... won't.

That's how it's been with writing. Do I enjoy it? Yes - but only when I feel like it, and generally only when I'm talking about my own life. To be a paid, professional writer, I'd need to move beyond my little me-bubble and actually do what editors want me to do. I'd have to research stuff and, you know, take direction.

Right now, I don't want to. Maybe that will change. For the right gig, I might do it, but it's become apparent to me that professional writing is not something I'm ready to pursue at the moment.

4. Petsitting is a different story.


I started petsitting with Rover a couple of weeks into my career break to make a few extra bucks. At that point, it was the one side hustle that sounded even remotely palatable to me. One, it didn't require me to be parked in front of a computer. Two, it's something I can do even when I'm not feeling particularly sharp or energetic (more about that in a minute). Three, although I often feel overwhelmed and depleted by other people, especially in a work environment, I'm great with animals and am naturally comfortable around them.

I landed my first gig in early May, and since then, I've had only a handful of days without at least one drop-in visit. Because I set my rates low in order to quickly land clients and reviews, I haven't made a ton of money - but I've made enough that I'm now eying the possibility of turning petsitting into more of a full-time job. In fact, I'm seriously thinking about starting my own business.

5. I don't think my brain is built for traditional employment.


This is something I wasn't fully aware of until I quit. When I was doing traditional 9-5 work, I almost always felt like I was dragging my brain through sludge. On average, I felt confident and alert and on just one or maybe two days a week. I thought this was normal. I figured everyone goes through their working life alternating between exhaustion, anxiety, and cloudiness. I also figured that I was just a weenie who wasn't handling adulting as well as everyone else.

What I've discovered is that even when I'm not working, there are many days when I'm operating in sloth mode and can't pull myself out of it. I've had a full physical and a full set of blood tests, all of which came out squarely in the "normal" range, so it's not that I'm facing some sort of underlying health crisis.

I think the truth of the matter is that I am a highly sensitive person whose circuits get overloaded very, very easily. And when the circuits get overloaded, the whole system shuts down. I need time and rest to get back up to speed, and by time, I don't mean a few hours. I mean a couple of days.

One coping option is to make the system - i.e., my brain - work more efficiently. I've tried that. I've attempted different eating plans, sleeping plans, workout plans, not drinking alcohol, drinking more water, etc. etc. etc., and none have made a significant or lasting difference.

The other option is to accept that this is how I am and stop putting myself in situations where I'm setting myself up for failure on a daily basis. In other words, as a highly sensitive person who gets overwhelmed by interactions with other people, I should probably avoid jobs that involve frequent interactions with other people. I should probably create or find a job that gives me the time and space I need for regular recuperation.

6. I am a pretty good person.


This might seem like kind of a ridiculous statement. I think most people who've met me would say that I'm a good person - or if not good, then relatively average and mostly tolerable. Most people don't seem to think I'm a jerk.

But over the past four years, I haven't felt that way about myself. I viewed myself as:
  • angry
  • impatient
  • bitter
  • frustrated
  • disorganized
  • scatterbrained
  • inarticulate
  • generally dissatisfied in a lot of areas of my life
I felt that way because work made me feel that way.

Now that I've separated myself from my former workplaces, I see more of my innate positive traits surfacing more often (or maybe they never stopped surfacing, but I couldn't see them through all of the negative emotions). I'm more aware of my kindness, generosity, creativity, ability to listen to and empathize with other people's stories, and sincerity.

I mean, nobody's perfect, but I'm not the asshole I was starting to suspect I was.

7. There are a lot of things I really, really want.


This one surprised me. I'm typically not a materialistic person. I hate shopping, and I generally buy new things only when I absolutely need to replace something (like if there's a hole in the butt of my jeans or if my running shorts are literally falling off). 

But this whole being-on-a-super-strict-budget thing has brought out the wanter in me - big time. All of a sudden, I'm a 40-year-old with a list for Santa.

I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want:
  • a new phone (the screen on mine is doing weird, poltergeisty things)
  • a mountain bike
  • new running shorts and tights
  • entries to three different races
  • a trip to FinCon
  • a trip to the next CentsPositive
  • a weekend getaway with Fortysomething
  • a vacation in Colorado 
  • dinner at my favorite pizza restaurant 
  • regular visits to local breweries
  • a donut
They say money can't buy happiness.

I understand the sentiment, but trust me, a lot of things would be easier and more fun if we had more money.

8. I'm less worried about our remaining debt than I thought I'd be.


After spending almost two years obsessing about our debt and paying off credit cards and student loans with almost religious devotion, I'm a bit shocked to discover that it's been easy to let go of our original debt payoff plan. Yes, we still have an obnoxious student loan to destroy, and yes, the balance is still something like $37,000. Yes, $400 a month is going towards this loan. Yes, it's money that could be used elsewhere.

But what're you going to do. We're in a pay-just-above-the-minimum mode, and that's how it needs to be for now. It'll get paid off eventually. 

Going into month three


I'm excited to see what the third month of this career break will bring. More running, more naps, and more petsitting, I hope.

I've applied for a handful of jobs so far, and I plan to ramp up my application efforts over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I'll keep taking whatever petsitting jobs I can snag and try to get a better sense of whether establishing my own business is a viable possibility. Between working for someone else and working for myself, I'd rather choose the latter - but we'll see what happens!
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Finances After 40 #5: Finding Joy In The Moment (One Frugal Girl's Story)


I'm thrilled to share another installment of Finances After 40a series that profiles women 40 years and older who are making their money work for them.

This week's post comes to us from One Frugal Girl, a financially independent blogger who's been writing in the personal finance space since - DRUMROLL PLEASE - 2006. 

This makes OFG a PF OG, if you ask me. There's something extraordinary about bloggers who are willing to share their stories over the span of many years and who invite their readers to join them as their highs, lows, challenges, and successes unfurl. Thus, I was kind of beside myself with excitement when she offered to write a post for the series. 

If you aren't familiar with her blog, I suggest setting aside a couple of hours and diving in, as she's a skillful storyteller with a wealth of experience and advice.

Note: If you're just catching up with Finances After 40, be sure to check out the first four posts:

Take it away, One Frugal Girl!

Embracing The Detours


I am a forty-one-year-old wife, mother, blogger, personal finance enthusiast, optimist and former software developer. I believe in the power of reframing unfortunate events and trying my best to see the good in bad situations. My husband and I are financially independent.

In my mid-twenties I faced a medical crisis that forever changed my outlook on life. What began with flu-like symptoms quickly escalated into a frightening trip to the ER, a weeklong stay in the hospital and a six-month quest for diagnosis. I spent the majority of my late twenties managing debilitating pain and searching for answers from the medical community.

"Fate has an odd way of interfering with my plans for life. Over the years I've learned to accept those detours and sometimes even embrace them."

I started my blog, One Frugal Girl, in 2006 during the height of my medical saga. It began as a way to distract me from my pain, but over the years it played a pivotal role in my financial success.

Career-wise, I worked as a full stack JAVA developer for over twelve years. Due to ongoing health issues, my husband and I delayed having children until our early thirties. Then we struggled with infertility for two and a half years. Four months into my pregnancy, my job was cut in a massive round of lay-offs that obliterated my entire department.

I interviewed and accepted a new job offer, but never started in that position. Thanks to a healthy severance package and over a decade's worth of savings, I seized the opportunity to stay at home with my newborn son. It was not an easy decision, but I now view my lay-off as a blessing in disguise.

Fate has an odd way of interfering with my plans for life. Over the years I've learned to accept those detours and sometimes even embrace them.

Choices On The Road To Financial Independence


I bought my first house at the age of twenty-two and the second at age twenty-seven. Financially speaking, this was a great decision, but if I could go back in time, I wouldn't do it again. I spent my twenties worried about paying down mortgages, mowing lawns, trimming bushes, painting walls and doing a whole lot of housework that my peers in apartments never considered. Buying that first house made us grow up too quickly. I don't think we took advantage of our youth because we were bound to our financial obligations.

"The power of compound interest is truly amazing. We are proof that saving today can lead to a huge net worth in the future."

On the flip side, we are most definitely financially independent because we spent our twenties and thirties focused on the power of earning more, spending less and investing the excess. The power of compound interest is truly amazing. We are proof that saving today can lead to a huge net worth in the future.

I am incredibly proud of my relationship with my husband. We've been through a lot together, including a medical crisis, difficult family members, co-owning a business, a workplace assault and infertility.  Yet somehow we've managed to push through life's obstacles together. Our marriage is a work in progress. To be honest, it has not always been great, but when we drift apart we work hard to bring our relationship back together.

I'm also super proud that we reached FI as equal partners. We co-own all financial responsibilities. We can interchangeably manage the books, review our taxes, discuss upcoming expenditures, journal credit cards, pay the bills and do anything and everything else related to money.

Preparing For The Future


Despite my medical problems, I wasn't concerned with long term care or quality health care when I was younger. This fear has grown over the past decade.

It began when my 80-year-old grandmother wanted to move to a clean, well-run long-term care facility. She could afford care for five or ten years, but if she lived longer than that she would run out of money. She had a net worth of $500,000. Imagine reaching the end of your life with half a million dollars and then realizing you need more. Thankfully, she was healthy enough to remain home alone until the age of 94, but I do believe the quality of her life suffered. Despite having family nearby, she was very isolated and lonely.

More recently I've watched my mom suffer through a horrible medical ordeal. She now needs full-time care. Just one day of 24-hour round-the-clock care costs $600. That is simply not sustainable over the long haul.

I worry for the health of my family and I am concerned that even with a sizable nest egg we will not have enough to help us deal with situations like these in the future.

"I wanted to earn a significant amount of money, but I didn't feel the need for work to be meaningful. Now I would like to find a job that provides value beyond the money."

I have absolutely no idea what my future holds. Financial independence is the ticket to endless possibilities! I plan to return to work when my youngest reaches kindergarten, but I'm not sure what I will do.

Looking back, the focus on my software career feels very selfish. I wanted to earn a significant amount of money, but I didn't feel the need for work to be meaningful. Now I would like to find a job that provides value beyond the money.

I spend a lot of time volunteering for worthy causes and I would love to find some way to earn money while helping others. I plan to spend the next year volunteering more as well as polishing off my dusty coding skills.

Advice For Other Women


I think many women (not just those over 40) lack the confidence to take control of their finances. Some women are worried about the math required for money management, but I promise there is no reason to be afraid. You don't need to be a math whiz with knowledge of advanced algebra and calculus. Simple addition and subtraction is all you need.

"If you are knowledgeable about your finances, speak out loudly and clearly to the next generation of women. We need to speak to young girls about money and we need those same girls to see their parents talking about money together."

We also lack female money mentors who can guide us. My grandmother loved to talk to me about personal finance. She focused on the importance of education, increasing income and living within one's means. Despite living in a time when men typically controlled the money, my grandmother took the reins of her family's finances. She demonstrated that gender should not divide financial responsibilities. I am eternally grateful for the lessons my grandmother shared.

If you are knowledgeable about your finances, speak out loudly and clearly to the next generation of women. We need to speak to young girls about money and we need those same girls to see their parents talking about money together. Remember that women can be a powerful financial force even if they don’t earn money on their own.

We all think happiness is lying just around the corner. Slightly out of reach. When we land that next job, meet the right partner, go on that next vacation then we can bask in bliss. Unfortunately, happiness isn't lurking somewhere else. If we cannot find joy in the here and now, we will most likely never find it.

My advice: figure out how you can feel fulfilled in this very moment. Search for hobbies. Explore your passions. Find friends. Connect with a supportive community of women. Look for mentors online and in real life that can guide you. Yearn to feel confident and secure in your decisions and trust your instincts.

"Happiness isn't lurking somewhere else. If we cannot find joy in the here and now we will most likely never find it... My advice: figure out how you can feel fulfilled in this very moment."

Financially speaking, search for ways to increase your income. Request additional work, demonstrate your eagerness and constantly strive to learn more. Many of us stop learning after graduation. To excel in the workplace you need to attain new skills and continually look for ways to improve processes.

Now is also the time to focus on mindful spending. It's easy to swipe your credit card or enter numbers into an online shopping portal. Use the Marie Kondo method of decluttering before purchasing something new. Ask yourself, "Will this spark joy?" Then at the end of the month diligently review your expenses and decide if it did.

Remember every dollar you don't spend is a dollar you can invest.

If you are looking for guidance on FI, check out "Meet the Women of the Financial Independence Movement" at Tread Lightly Retire Early. When I began blogging fourteen years ago, it was difficult to find women writing about money. Now there are so many amazing voices echoing and empowering women across the Internet.

Where To Connect With One Frugal Girl


Website: One Frugal Girl
Email: onefrugalgirl@gmail.com
Twitter: @onefrugalgirl 

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Career Break Life In Numbers


It occurred to me yesterday that I haven't written a blog post in more than a week. Honestly, I just haven't felt like it. Like I said in my last post, it's kind of boring to write about money when you don't have it and/or when every cent is already earmarked for something essential.

On the other hand, I hate when other bloggers suddenly disappear, so I'm going to throw something out there. It won't be particularly well written, but you know what? Sometimes messy writing is accurate, honest writing.

So here we go: my current life in numbers.

37,579


Our current debt balance. It's been a while since I've posted a debt update, so as a reminder, this represents our one remaining student loan (or as I like to call it, THE LOAN THAT WILL NEVER DIE). You can find our detailed debt numbers here.

56


Number of days I've been on my career break. It doesn't feel that long, but I suppose time flies when you're doing things you mostly enjoy: reading, learning Italian (Il mio cavallo mangia caramelle! Thanks for the applicable phrases, Duolingo), running, watching multiple seasons of Survivor, pet sitting, baking cookies.

Not that it's all roses and rainbows. I still have to deal with the anxiety that is the cosmic background radiation of my life, and if I'm not careful, I can waste hours worrying about future job prospects. I try not to.

12


Number of days since I've consumed alcohol. Last year, I tried to make it through June without drinking. I was cruising along nicely until Anthony Bourdain died; his passing hit me hard, and the beer (okay, beerS) I drank in his honor put an immediate end to my dry month. Now I'm trying again. This time, I want to see if not drinking alcohol will improve my running performance. Although the verdict is still out, abstaining has definitely improved the quality of my sleep.

However, if I'm being totally transparent, nothing sounds better right now than a cold, crisp glass of rose.

79


Dollars we spent on our cat's healthy pet visit and rabies shot. Fine. Ugh.

103


Dollars we spent on an oil change and air filter replacement in our car. FINE. UGH.

11


Total number of petsitting bookings I've had via Rover.com. Not too shabby considering that I can't offer doggie day camp (the most efficient way to make money as a petsitter) and I'm still getting started.

503


Amount of money I've made petsitting over the past six weeks. Again, not bad, although I'm realizing that I really need to factor the amount of time I spend driving to/from these visits into the total cost. My plan is to maintain my current rate through the beginning of August, snag a few more five-star reviews, and then increase my rate again. I don't want to scare away potential clients, but a) gas is expensive and b) I give my all with every client, and I'm worth it. I don't want to undersell myself.

4


Number of job applications I've submitted since quitting my previous job.

  • Unicorn Job #1: Company received 2000 applications (!) and did not select me for an interview.
  • Unicorn Job #2: Government job. I doubt I will ever hear from them because they rely on bots to select their candidates, but I can still dream.
  • Job #3: Part-time freelance work of questionable quality. Will give it a try and let you know whether it's worthwhile.
  • Job #4: Part-time, at-home, well-paying gig that promised to get back to me within two weeks "because that's our culture!" Did not get back to me within two weeks.
I posted this on Twitter, but it's worth repeating here. This is me sifting through job ads:


Pay me. Respect me. Communicate with me. Don't make me jump through eight million hoops just because you don't know how to conduct an efficient job search.

Not having a full-time salaried position isn't making me feel any better or any more hopeful about the current state of work in the United States. It's just giving me time to contemplate how exploitative and dysfunctional much of it is. Unfortunately, most of us are tethered to it because it's one of the only ways to obtain reasonably priced health insurance and because freelancing is expensive.

750


Amount I'd need to earn per month after taxes in order for us to break even (expenses = income). That's with our cheap, temporary health insurance. Once the Kiddo and I have to move to my parter's plan, I'll need to earn about $1300 per month.

6


Current average daily running mileage. I'd really like to train for a specific race, but race fees are so expensive, and I get overwhelmed with the number of choices available.

7.5


Average hours of sleep per night.

0


Amount of money we plan to transfer from savings account this month (thanks to Fortysomething's bonus + Rover earnings). Woohoo!

2


Number of trips we're taking this summer - one to Disneyland (generously covered by a family member, because otherwise there's no way we'd go) and one back east to see family.

1


of the things I've been thinking about lately:

I wish I hadn't been so obsessed about paying off debt last year. Don't get me wrong - I'm glad we worked so hard to ditch our high-interest credit card debt, and I'm glad my student loan is gone. However, there were some things we chose not to do that we could have done, and now I wish we'd done them (e.g., attend a close friend's wedding last fall) instead of dumping every extra cent towards student loans. I wish I could go back and tell younger me to chill out and have some fun. 

Like... when you have money, yes, do smart things with it. But also do some fun things with it.


5


The next installment of Finances After 40! Guess who's being featured.

Guess.

Okay, I won't wait to tell you. It's One Frugal Girl, and I'm thrilled because IT'S ONE FRUGAL GIRL! Stay tuned - that post will drop in a few days.

So that's it for now! What about you?
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The Personal Finance Community Is A Bubble... And Sometimes I Feel Like I'm On The Outside


It's been a few weeks since I've written a blog post, although I've tried to force myself (unsuccessfully) to do it multiple times. It's not that I don't have ideas: I could write about my Rover hustle. I could write about Swagbucking. I could write about how we've managed to shave a few more dollars off the grocery bill. I could write about how we're pretty much exactly on target with our May budget, which is awesome.

This post, specifically, was supposed to be about our May 2019 wins.

But every time I sit down to compose something new, I have this overwhelming feeling of MEH. My writing is paralyzed by it.

Yesterday, I finally pinpointed the source of the MEH.

It's because I don't really feel like talking about money.

I just don't.

Today I forced myself to sit down and figure out why.


1. It's More Fun To Talk About Money When You Have It


As it turns out, money is more fun to discuss when you're actually making it and have enough of it to do stuff with, like distribute it into different savings pots or invest it or purchase vacations.

Currently, we're losing money like water leaking from a slightly compromised barrel. Drip by drip, cent by cent, the balance is decreasing. We're using the money we have for what we absolutely need and nothing more. That's fine. We knew that would happen. (Don't get me wrong - there is not even a tiny part of me that regrets investing in this career break. I'm happy with this decision and feel that it was the best and only viable option at the time.)

With few choices surrounding what we can do with our money at the moment, I'm not super excited to write about it.


2. Who Am I To Talk About Money? (And Other Self-Imposed Insecurities)


Second, as of late, I just don't feel like I have the pedigree to be a Real Personal Finance Blogger. In many ways, I'm completely out of my league. People talk about their five-figure bonuses and six-figure (or more) net worths; meanwhile, I'm over here with my five-figure student loan and a net worth that's going to be in the red for the foreseeable future. Career break aside, even if we were bringing in last year's total income and saving half of our salary, we would still be really far behind.

I often wonder if I have anything of substance to share with this community. I can write a blog post, but what am I contributing, and to whom? How am I helping when it seems like most other PF bloggers have their financial shit wayyyyy more together and have wayyyyyy more experience and wayyyyyy more success, and therefore have so much more to offer their readers?

Basically, I'm not sure this blog is inspiring anyone from a financial standpoint. I mean, maybe? If it is, I'm thrilled, but given that our progress has been stalled for months, I have a hard time believing that's true. I feel like I'm doing everything you're *not* supposed to do if you're digging out of debt and have paltry retirement savings. (Granted, maybe that's why some people read this blog!)

I know these are my own insecurities talking. Yes, I feel like a very slow recreational jogger trying to train with a bunch of Olympic-level marathon runners - I mean, that's pretty much true - but I'm the only person making myself feel bad about it.

Don't make comparisons, run your own race, personal finance is PERSONAL, yadda yadda yadda. I get it. Wrestling with my insecurities is still challenging. I know all of us can relate. We've all been there.


3. Your Judgment Is Showing, And It's Gross


Third - and here's where we get into the weeds - there have been some recent conversations in the Twitter personal finance arena that truly make me feel like an imposter for not being debt free enough or wealthy enough or successful enough. Those conversations weren't directed at me, but the criticism was leveled at people that I can relate to far more than I relate to people who have achieved true financial security.

It just makes me think... Why bother?

I'm certainly a little sick of the occasional criticism we receive for the financial choices we've made. True, some of the choices were less than ideal, but they were also made a long time ago, and we've righted ourselves since then - sort of. However, I chose to put myself out there. I've shared the details. You know about our financial situation, so if you want to judge me, at least you've got the facts.

More than that, though, I'm sick of other people - individuals and groups - being judged and criticized for the financial choices they've made, even if they were the best choices for those individuals at the time, and even when we don't know all of the circumstances and details.

I'm sick of other people being judged for being poor or for living paycheck to paycheck.

Or for taking out student loans.

Or for not being able to cover the rent when their government job is suddenly put on hold because the well-paid politicians who run this country can't get their act together.

Or for not being able to negotiate a pay raise.

Or for not being able to find a better-paying job.

Or GOD FORBID for choosing to take their family on a vacation instead of tossing every single cent to a pile of debt that's going to be there for years.

I'm sick of this notion that if you haven't made it, it's because you don't want it badly enough. You don't have the right mindset! You're not thinking positively! You're NOT TELLING THE UNIVERSE WHAT YOU WANT.

I'm sick of the predictable, repackaged pieces of blanket advice that certain personal finance gurus keep trying to sell us as if those of us on the lower income/net worth rungs haven't heard it all before.

I'm (DON'T HATE ME) kind of sick of how personal finance now seems to be all about FIRE and financial independence, and how if you're not aiming for FI, you're doing it wrong.

I'm sick of people who label 9-to-5 cubicle jobs as "sad," as if there's something inherently wrong with having reliable and predictable employment.


Messages From Outside The Bubble


Am I happy that there are people making fantastic financial decisions? Yes! Am I proud of my friends who are hitting huge milestones with their careers and their money? Yes! Do I think we should be talking about those success stories? YEEEESSSSS. We should.

But.

Here's the but.

The personal finance community is a bubble (or... sometimes more like an echo chamber). 

Moreover, those within the bubble do not represent every facet of society. Not even close. Based on the above-mentioned Twitter convos, sometimes I think some of the people in the bubble can't see that.

A few days ago, I read an article about an up-and-coming personal finance expert/writer/speaker.

I have an abundance of respect for this individual. I think the work they're doing is important, I appreciate their transparency, and I'm thrilled for their success. I know this person works incredibly hard. Reading the article and being aware of some of the things they've gone through to get to where they are now, I'm so proud of them. I will cheer them on.

And then I read the comments.

At first, I thought, "Damn, this is what they mean by NEVER READ THE COMMENTS," because not a single one was positive or congratulatory. Not one!

Sour grapes, I decided.

But then I read them again and realized a couple of things.

One, the feedback reflected more of a general frustration with the current societal status quo than anger towards the specific person in the profile.

Two, I was relating very hard to some of the circumstances described in the comments: ballooning college tuition, huge and intractable student loan balances, rising rents, rising medical costs, rising daycare costs, flatlined wages.

"How in the world are we supposed to do what this person has managed to do?" seemed to be the general outcry.

I feel that so much.

The people voicing their anger and frustration aren't doing it because they're lazy, incompetent, stupid, jealous, or really bad at planning. I mean, statistically speaking, some of them probably are, and given that it's the Internet, I'm sure there were some mean-spirited trolls in the bunch.

But not all of them.

Some of these people feel ignored.

Some of them feel hopeless.

Some of them are completely aware of the reality of their financial situations and know that it's going to be next to impossible to build financial stability given their circumstances.

They're commenting with anger and frustration because they want to get to the same solid financial place, but they don't see how.

They're commenting with anger and frustration because they're doing their very best, and it's sometimes still not enough. Why? Because some of the most essential and non-negotiable things in life - again, education, health care and health insurance, childcare, rent - are also some of the most expensive. Meanwhile, costs are rising while wages are stagnating, and minorities and anyone who doesn't identify as male are still at a disadvantage.

We all know this.

But instead of acknowledging and addressing these really obvious, data-supported systemic issues, some members of the community just want to place blame.

"They're not trying hard enough."

"They don't have a positive attitude."

"They're playing the victim."

"They made some big mistakes and these are the consequences." (I've seen this a lot with respect to student loans.)

"Well, they majored in art history. What did they THINK was going to happen. Everyone should major in engineering!"

And sure, you could say that it's just Twitter being Twitter, but these are ideas that are also more broadly held. The judgment exists beyond social media.

There are very real, intractable, and systemic issues that aren't being addressed other than to tell people they just need to try a little harder and bootstrap a little more and plaster on a smile and just be more like the people who have succeeded

It's depressing and demoralizing, and it bothers me. A lot. This community has the power and resources to do far more than just place judgment. It has the power and resources to fuel systemic change if it chooses to do so.

I'm disabling comments because I suck at debating. I don't want to argue with anyone, and I don't want people trying to shoot holes into my feelings-based argument. Again, this post is a personal vent designed to help me figure out why I'm in a blogging rut and work out some of my feelings concerning finances. That's all.
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Finances After 40 #4: FIREstarting After 40 (Latestarterfire's Story)


Our fourth installment of Finances After 40 comes to us from latestarterfire, a 47-year-old Australian blogger who writes about her journey to FIRE (financial independence/retire early) at latestarterfire.com. 

The path to FI is full of well-prepared, determined 20- and 30-somethings marching towards a life of financial freedom. But what if your early retirement epiphany happens a little later than that? Enter Latestarterfire, who brings a unique perspective, experience, and example to the personal finance community. I'm thrilled she's sharing her story with us. She's inspired me, and I know she'll inspire others, too.

Waking Up To An Epiphany


Hello, I am latestarterfire from Australia! Thank you very much for allowing me to share my story at The 76k Project.

I dreaded my 47th birthday - I don't know why, precisely. Just that I woke up one day, really stressed and anxious that I would be retiring with not 'enough'. At this stage, I did not know what my 'enough' was or when I could possibly retire.

I panicked merely at the thought of retirement being on my horizon. After all, retirement was for the oldies, not me. What would I do in retirement? What if I hadn't saved enough for retirement? How do I know how much I would need after I retired, to sustain me for the rest of my life?

"I want to add an 'older' voice to the mix - as someone who discovered FIRE later in life."

Coincidentally, ABC TV was advertising a new podcast about personal finance aimed at women, hosted by comedian Claire Hooper. As I quite liked Claire Hooper as a comedian, I started listening. It was fun and hilarious and I felt hey, this personal finance thing wasn't that hard or intimidating after all.

Then I was introduced to my first personal finance book, The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape, a phenomenally popular personal finance guru who has been described as having a cult following. From him, I learned about investing in low-cost listed investment companies (LICs) and exchange-traded funds.

While googling "how to calculate how much I need in retirement", I stumbled across the FIRE community and discovered there were people who retired in their 30s - I mean, wow! Here I am, panicking about retiring at 65...

As I read more and more blogs and listened to podcasts, I wondered if I too could achieve FIRE even though I was such a late starter. I decided to try anyway.

I must admit, I do feel old in this space of young 20s and 30s who are crushing it with frugality, minimalism and living with intention on their relentless journeys to FI. It is one of the reasons I started blogging - I want to add an 'older' voice to the mix as someone who discovered FIRE later in life. Many of the bloggers and podcasters in their 40s have already reached FIRE - that was how it came across to me, anyway.

Looking Back


My Twenties

I spent my twenties and thirties working very hard - lots of long hours - 12 or more hour days, 60-hour weeks or more, earning a decent wage as a health professional. I never earned six figures but was privileged to have a company car to use. This benefit alone has saved me thousands of dollars in petrol, insurance and registration fees over the years.

My only financial goal was to save enough to put down a deposit for a house. Owning a house was every Australian's dream - maybe it still is, but stratospheric property prices have made it very difficult for today's 20-somethings. My parents, especially my Mum, had also drummed that into me: owning your house provides you with security. So I saved for this deposit.

In the meantime, I also spent lots of money. Even back then, property prices were increasing rapidly. I would be discouraged by what I could afford and after so many open house inspections and missing out at auctions, I would decide to go on a holiday instead - to New Zealand, China, Europe, Singapore, Malaysia, the Whitsundays.

I was and am still not very good at delayed gratification.

My Thirties

Eventually, I saved enough to buy a townhouse in my early 30s and put down a nearly 60% deposit. My mortgage was very manageable and I had no other debt. My salary was deposited directly into my loan account. And as long as I was ahead in my repayments, I could withdraw the extra payments whenever I needed it.

My parents taught me to be debt averse, to never borrow money for depreciating assets such as a car. They nagged me to pay off my mortgage quickly. But I was also seduced by the conventional wisdom that everyone has debt these days, and that it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy yourself while paying off a mortgage. After all, one has to live.

"For me, the security that comes with a paid off home is priceless. No one can kick me out of this house. I will always have a roof over my head."

So I continued to go on holidays - to Italy, France, London, the US. And I proceeded to fill my house with stuff - I loved buying things 'for the house'. I enrolled in short courses - baking and cake decorating, mainly.

The biggest mistake I made then was to stop making extra contributions to my superannuation, my retirement account. My employer continued to make their compulsory contributions. I was content now as I had achieved my goal of owning a house (even though I still owed the bank at this stage).

My Forties

In my early forties, an opportunity came up to part own a business - I took it. I still worked part time in the original business. Financially, it was a mistake. I used the equity I'd built up in my house. It was tough - we did not make any money. But I learned that I could live with a lot less and still survive. After 3 years or so, I walked away from the business and returned to my previous full-time role.

I've since paid off my mortgage completely and can really say I own my home. This is probably my biggest financial achievement. It was such a weight off my shoulders. I know there are great debates in the FIRE community about whether to own or rent. For me, the security that comes with a paid off home is priceless. No one can kick me out of this house. I will always have a roof over my head.

Being single also plays a big part in me wanting to be financially secure. There is no backup plan - I am it. I cannot rely on anyone else. At times, this is scary. Especially as I age.

"Don't drift. Pay attention to your life, your finances, your relationships, your work. Stay engaged."

In your forties, retirement is looming whether you like it or not, whether you are prepared for it or not. Health care and aged care are potentially two big unpredictable upcoming expenses. In Australia, the heath care system is very good (particularly if you compare it with the US, sorry!) but I would still buy private health insurance for peace of mind. I do not want to depend solely on the public system and be at the mercy of waiting lists for surgery.

Aged care is another matter. The federal government funds part of the cost but as yet, I do not understand how it works fully. The standards of living arrangements differ greatly, with some new facilities looking like 5-star hotels while others are run down and dilapidated. I would like to be able to choose a level of care that I am comfortable with, not be forced to live in a run-down facility that smells of urine.

Additionally, there is dementia in my family so at the back of my mind, I wonder if I too will be susceptible to the disease. If dementia is in my future, then I need to make doubly sure that at the very least, my finances are in order and that I will not be a burden on anyone.

Advice For Other Women


I drifted through life, particularly after I bought my house. So my advice is don’t drift! Pay attention to your life, your finances, your relationships, your work. Stay engaged.

Looking back with perfect hindsight, I should have continued to salary sacrifice into my superannuation. That would have boosted my retirement savings. I weep now to think of the opportunity costs with compound interest. As I did not care or think about my finances, I certainly never cared about what sort of investment vehicle my superannuation was in. Even though it was my money, it didn't feel like it. Because I wouldn't be able to touch it till I turned 60 - and hey, that is decades away. I still have time to worry about such boring things. I should have chosen the high growth option and be 100% invested in equities. Instead, I just left it in the default balanced option. Ah, another lost opportunity.

"Let compound interest do the hard work. You won't then wake up in a cold sweat at 47 years old wondering if you have saved enough to retire at 65."

So my advice to young people in your 20s and 30s is to think about retirement, whether or not you want to retire early. Keep chipping away and save towards that retirement - contribute towards whatever retirement accounts you have at your disposal. Let compound interest do the hard work. You won't then wake up in a cold sweat at 47 years old wondering if you have saved enough to retire at 65.

Looking Forward


"This is the decade where I realise there is no dress rehearsal for life. This is it."

Strangely, taking action to sort out my finances after discovering FIRE in my late forties has led me to question how I live my life and where I would like my future to be heading. This is totally unexpected. But it makes perfect sense. Why else would you agonise over ways to increase savings rate, frugality, side hustles, living with less crap if you don't know how you want to use that money?

I have always been a workaholic - work always came first. I am not overly ambitious but I do want to do a good job and be good at my job. However, the stress is now getting to me. I honestly don't know if age is an issue or that I've come to my limits after years of working in a demanding job. Or perhaps I am less resilient because I now yearn to retire. And I'm sick of being time poor - coming home mentally and physically drained every night. So I am learning to live with intention and carve some time out of my day/week to think about what I want out of life and dream a little.

This is the decade where I realise there is no dress rehearsal for life. This is it.

It goes without saying that it has been a huge learning curve since discovering the FIRE movement. It's not just the numbers and how-to nuts and bolts of the various strategies. That is the 'easy' part for me - automating savings and investments then leaving time to do its thing ... (Mind you, there is a lot of calculation and recalculation!)

The hard part is having the courage to live the life I want to live (and find out what that is!) This is where the FIRE community is really brilliant - there are so many inspiring people living lives that inspire me and that I am continuously learning from.  I am looking forward to the future now, not with trepidation and fear but with enthusiasm and zest.

Retirement - here I come!

Where To Connect With Latestarterfire


Her Blog: Latestarterfire
Twitter: @latestarterfire
Email: info@latestarterfire.com

Thank you, everyone, for your support! I would love to support you on your journey too so feel free to drop me a line :)
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My Career Break One Month In: Ask Me Anything!


Four weeks ago, I pulled the plug on the worst job I've ever had (a job that capped off a series of other not-so-great employment situations) and embarked on an indefinite career break.
In the 28 days since then, I've been doing a lot of what I thought I'd do with my time off: blogging, cooking, running, working out, learning Italian, catching up on Netflix series, spending time with my son, napping, daydreaming, and basically letting myself meander. I've also done a few things I wasn't planning on, like applying to a couple of dream jobs, starting a petsitting business, and meeting some of my favorite personal finance bloggers.

I don't always have something specific to do, but I'm rarely bored. As trite as it sounds, it's been everything I hoped it would be and more.


To celebrate my first month of freedom, I took to Twitter and invited (begged?) people to ask me anything about the experience so far. Props to those of you who indulged me. Here's what some of you wanted to know:

How did people you know IRL react to your decision?

There's an Olin Miller quote that says, "You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do!" It's so true. Almost everyone I told has been supportive, at least to my face, but I suspect many of them are thinking nothing more than, Cool, that's nice. Friends and family who are happy in their work have congratulated me for doing what's best for my well-being; those who are dissatisfied with their work lives have generally expressed a desire to walk away from their jobs, too.

My break has spurred some really thought-provoking conversations with a few of my friends about workplace culture and expectations. Almost everyone has a handful of nightmare stories about previous or current employers. Clearly, we have to advocate for ourselves - which may include walking away if we're being treated unfairly or subjected to unsustainable circumstances.

I did encounter one particularly awkward situation right after I quit. I was with a group of people, some of whom I knew, some of whom I didn't, and everyone had to take turns saying what they did for a living, which in my opinion is a strange way to introduce yourself. My response was met with polite silence. I was feeling raw and self-conscious, so that was hard for me. I've also encountered people who want to give me unsolicited career advice. I know they're trying to help, but I wish they'd ask first.


Do you wish you'd done it sooner/pulled the plug this way from your prior position?

Hindsight being 20/20, I wish I'd never taken the last job at all. Had I known what it would actually be like or that my employer wouldn't pay me my final paycheck (that's right, they've ghosted me, and I may never see that money), I would have never pursued the position. I suppose I wish I'd stuck with my former job for a few more months, saved as much money as possible, and then quit to take some time off, which was actually something I started considering early last year. But I jumped into the most recent job because I saw it as an opportunity to learn some new skills and grow my career in a different direction.

In reality, my work hasn't been working for me for years (I'm sure it's partly me, but friends have also told me that I've had a string of really bad luck with jobs), and a career break was probably inevitable at some point. It was just a matter of when.


What is the thing you're missing about your job? 

This question stopped me in my tracks because it made me realize that the only thing I miss about my most recent job and the two before that is the paycheck. That's it. I do not miss the stress, the micromanagement, the unclear expectations, the many pointless tasks, the lack of room for creativity, or the feeling of being a cog in a big machine designed to make substantial money for a handful of people.

Note to self: the next job cannot be anything like the previous three jobs.

What’s been the scariest thing you’ve experienced in this career break?

For me, the scariest thing is not knowing what's next. I wish I could say that I have some sort of plan, but... I really don't. By nature, I'm a planner; I like to have a sense of what my next move is. In this case, though, I have no idea. Few things sound good to me at the moment, in part because I feel so burned (and hurt, if I'm being honest) by my last job. I'm terrified of getting into another bad situation.

For now, my strategy is to sit tight (thinking back to that "what to do when you get lost" analogy in my quitting post) and go with what feels good to me. Applying for full-time jobs willy nilly, scrambling to land freelance work, and networking for the sake of finding an "in" don't feel right at the moment. Spending time with friends and family, exercising, chilling out, and working on my own creative projects (like this blog) do. The same goes for petsitting. I have no idea whether that'll be an occasional fun gig or whether it will turn into something that brings in some reliable income, but it's something that energizes me, so I'm pursuing it.


What anxieties have changed, disappeared, or have been replaced by something new? 

Although my anxiety has not disappeared since quitting, it is now manageable. Some of my mental health issues are innate: I'll always be prone to anxiety and depression. For example, I felt pretty panicky yesterday, but with some focused breathing and exercise, I was able to work through it by lunchtime. Other aspects of my mental health are clearly exacerbated by certain situations (like impossible 60-hour work weeks!) Take away the negative situation, and boom, I'm calmer, more relaxed, and more in control. I think that last one is really important for me: I hate feeling like someone else is in charge of what I do hour to hour, minute to minute, all day and on a daily basis. It makes me feel trapped.

My hunch is that many modern workplaces, with their unrelenting focus on productivity, personality, metrics, and feedback, are breeding grounds for mental health issues. Once I distanced myself from that toxic brew, I felt better immediately.

Are you finding it easier or harder to stay on your new budget?

Easier! It's been a thousand times easier to adhere to our budget now that I'm on a career break, and I think there are two reasons for that. One, we know we have to conserve our money, and we have an enormous incentive to do so. Every penny we don't spend is a penny we can use to buy more time. Time feels more important than anything right now, and if sticking to the budget means I can afford a longer break, well, I'll stick to the budget.

Two, because I feel less stressed out (see above), I don't feel the need to look for diversions or stress relief. For example, going out to eat used to be a way for me/us to let off some steam after a long week of work. Our evenings are so much more relaxed now. Eating dinner at home provides the same benefits as going out used to do.

It helps that we have a little miscellaneous spending ($100/month) built into the budget. For the most part, we're using that money to purchase things for our son, like replacements for his ripped pants (I don't know how, but he destroys them) and admission to the summer soccer league. Although we want him to understand why we're on a tight budget, we don't want him to miss out on all the things he needs and cares about.

In reality, I don't feel like we're missing out on much. If anything, we feel richer in time.


Would this career break have been possible if you were a single parent or had a spouse that also wasn’t working full time?

I think it would have, but it would have taken far more planning and saving. My partner's salary covers about 3/4 of our monthly expenses; our savings cover the rest. Therefore, I have quite a bit of runway for this break even though we don't have tens of thousands of dollars in our bank account. If I were a single parent or had a spouse that wasn't working full time, I would have wanted to have at least a year's salary in savings (maybe more) before calling it quits. It would have taken a long time to accumulate that money.

What would you tell someone considering similar?

First, I would tell everyone - EVERYONE, even people who are happy at work and have no current desire to leave - to start saving now. You need an emergency/FU fund because you never know what will happen at work. Gone are the days of employer loyalty and workplace stability. All it takes is one reorganization, one bad boss, or one poorly conceived office policy to throw your entire work life into disarray.

If you're even slightly unhappy in your job right now, this is the time to save aggressively. Sure, it's possible that your situation will improve or that you will develop effective coping skills, but it's also possible that your situation will continue to erode or that all the coping skills in the world won't be enough to shield you from the BS being thrown your way. Depending on your salary and your budget, it could take you months (or longer) to build a sufficient FU fund. So don't wait. Begin contributing to that FU fund ASAP, and save enough that you could sustain yourself for an extended period of time without a salary. (I know that sounds much easier than it actually is.)


Second, I would also say that if your job is seriously impacting your health, you need to get out. Personally, my sleeping habits are my canary in the coal mine. If my job is making me feel so stressed out and anxious that I can't sleep at night, it's time to leave. On the same note, if your job is making you feel suicidal and your coping strategies aren't working, you need to leave as soon as possible - even if your safety net is flimsier than you'd like it to be. I know others would disagree, but as someone who's been in that situation, staying can be incredibly dangerous. (I feel obligated to say that if you are suicidal, you need to prioritize yourself and reach out for support. In the U.S., contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or, if you're like me and hate the phone, send a free and confidential text to the Crisis Text Line.)

Third, if you do have a financial cushion and you want to leave, just go for it. Let's face it: unless you've achieved financial independence, there will probably never be a great time to quit your job and take a break. So yes, it is a bit risky, but with a little planning, you'll figure it out.

At least, that's what I'm telling myself. I'll let you know how that goes.

Lastly, if you do take a career break, realize that it's like any big life change in that it involves an adjustment period. You're going from doing a lot all the time to doing perhaps not that much. Slowing down can be a challenge, and it's easy to feel guilty for not being productive. For me, that sense of "I'm so lazy" lasted about a week. Then I started to lean hard into those afternoon naps.

Did your outlook on life change?

I think I've always been kind of resistant to traditional work, which is probably one reason why I've struggled so much in my previous jobs. I've been happiest in low-stakes part-time jobs, in jobs with lots of time spent outdoors, or when I've had the freedom to approach tasks and problems without being micromanaged. This career break is reminding me that I'm at my best when I'm not trying to stuff myself into a situation that I'm clearly not designed for, and I hope I won't try to do that anymore. It's also reminding me that contrary to the unremitting message that our capitalist society sends to us, there are many ways to approach life and work, especially if one is willing to live frugally. Although there is nothing wrong with 9 to 5 work - in many ways, it's ideal - there are other options, too.


Career breaks are becoming more common and more popular. I'm choosing to believe that decent companies won't hold it against you when you're ready to jump back into the employment pool. In fact, some people - like this guy (who, granted, is probably rich) - take career breaks on a regular basis because they see them as a way to stay fresh in their fields:


What’s surprised you the most during your career intermission?

I've been most surprised by how this intermission seems to be impacting my family in positive ways. There's a part of me that feels guilty for not bringing in an income, for expecting my family to adhere to a tight budget, and for putting the aggressive repayment of my partner's student loan on hold - not that Fortysomething has ever indicated that he's resentful of any of these things. In reality, everyone seems happier now that I'm more relaxed. My kid gets as much time as he needs with me when he comes home from school; we go over homework, study for tests, and talk about his day without me having to worry about getting back to work. My partner just seems relieved that I'm not crying and ranting on a daily basis. It's clear to me that my job stress was putting a strain on our relationship. That strain is gone now.

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