This guest post from Tim Stobbs is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes. Tim Stobbs is the writer behind the blog, Canadian Dream: Free at 45. He lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada and despite his recent pay cut, he hopes to reitre by his 45th birthday.
I left my boss’s office with a huge smile on my face. I had asked for a 20% pay cut, and was thrilled that he had agreed to it. Had I lost my mind? No, not yet. Did I have the worst performance review on the planet? No, that wasn’t it. So what happened? That’s a long story, but it goes something like this.
Like many middle-class people, I had a decent job, a wife, two young kids and, of course, a mortgage. There was just one small problem: I didn’t find my work all that meaningful. It paid well, it had good benefits, and I wasn’t bored by it — most of the time. Yet, I was never fully engaged at work. It all seemed like rather pointless paper shuffling.
I was looking for something more meaningful to with my life. I was open to all possibilities, so on a whim one day I looked at who was running in our civil election for city council and the school boards. I noticed that no one was running for the Public School Board for my subdivision. Out of curiosity, I looked up the requirements to enter the election, and then called the previous trustee who told me that he wasn’t running again.
So, just days before the nominations closed, I went around to get my signatures and paid my deposit. When talking with the election office staff a couple of days later, I had it confirmed: No one else ran against me. I was acclaimed and just got elected to my Public School Board for a three-year term. The kicker was this: I didn’t realize they also paid you for the job. Beyond a new title and a lot of responsibility, I also found out that I earned just over $23,000 per year in salary.
I really didn’t need the extra salary since I was already living below my means, so my wife and I decided to pay down the mortgage faster. With the school board pay and most of our regular savings, we managed to pay off just over $25,000 of the principal in six months. If we keep up this pace, we could be mortgage-free by the end of my term on the school board!
So, yes, I was rolling in extra cash, and I was enjoying my school board work, as it was directly meaningful to my own children’s lives. To a lot of people I had it all, except I had a major problem: I had no time. Working a full-time day job, a part-time job as a trustee, helping to raise two young boys, and keeping up with the household chores left me falling asleep from exhaustion most nights. I felt like Bilbo Baggins I was “stretched out and thin”. After six months of this, I realized something had to give — I couldn’t work this hard for the next three years.
My initial response was to look at my calendar and drop things that I didn’t need to be doing. Then I looked at where I was spending my time in a week. I got merciless with my time as I turned down meetings and avoided extra projects like the plague. In the end, it still wasn’t enough; I rarely got to do anything for myself, and still fell into bed exhausted more often than not.
So I looked at my more extreme options:
- I could quit the school board (but I didn’t want to give up that meaningful work).
- I could work part-time instead of full time at my day job.
I assumed that dropping to part time at the day job was a long shot, but it was worth a try. I made a meeting with my boss and explained my situation and how I wanted to drop down to 80% time (or a four-day work week). “I want the time more than the money,” I said. It took a few more meetings and some discussion on how to move the workload around in the department, but in the end my boss agreed.
I started my first four-day workweek in July. I had every Friday off all summer long — and as far as my calendar goes into the future. My first morning off, I woke with a pounding heart as I looked at the clock. I assumed I was late for work until I remembered I didn’t have to work on Friday anymore. I rolled over and slept in for another half an hour.
The cost of this choice isn’t cheap: I’m losing 20% of my day job’s salary. Yet, my-take home pay is actually higher than I would have expected. Why? Taxes. By dropping my income, I’m also no longer paying as high a tax rate on that income. My overall take-home pay only dropped around half of the total salary reduction. Yes, this means I have to keep my mortgage for a little longer, but I’m okay with that choice because I have the time now to do more of what I love, like writing and spending time with my family.
In the end, this was the right choice for me and my family. It does come at a cost, but it’s not nearly as high as some people would assume. Besides, money is just paper and metal coins or numbers in an account. Having a balanced life again is worth every dime of income that I gave up.