I Was a Slave to the Rat Race

I used to be one of those rat race people. I was stuck in a dead-end job I hated, I wasn’t learning anything new, my work wasn’t appreciated, and I felt like a slave just robotically processing one project after another. There was no variety. There was no room for creativity. There was no way out… or so I thought.

Like most of my colleagues I was frustrated at the situation I was in but I didn’t know what to do about it. I had a victim mentality. I blamed the big bad system, which I thought was so much more powerful than poor little me. I felt powerless.

I did try to find a solution. One day after a particularly crappy day at the office I desperately typed “I hate my job” into Google in the hope that someone out there had a solution for me. They didn’t. Not back then. It turned out there are a lot of books targeted at people like me, a lot of them bestsellers. But they tend just to be about how to get your dream job or how to negotiate better terms in your current job. That wasn’t what I was looking for. I needed something more radical.

Having Kids Was the Wakeup Call I Needed

After our daughter was born at the end of 2012, I took six months maternity leave. That’s a really short time here in Germany. Most people take a year since that’s how long you get maternity pay for. People were surprised, but at the time it was what I wanted to do. I still don’t regret it. It was nice staying home with my baby daughter, but after 6 months I was climbing the walls and ready for a change. It was actually nice to be able to drop my daughter at the childminder’s house, knowing she would be well looked-after, and going to the office for a few hours. The office was a little haven for me. There was no crying baby. I didn’t have to use my brain much. I didn’t have to work overtime. In fact I only worked half the hours I used to before the baby. I just sat at my desk with a nice cup of coffee and worked through my projects like a little mindless robot.

That went on for a year before our son arrived in summer 2014. I originally planned to take only six months off like I had before, but when I realised I’d be entitled to more maternity pay per month than I’d be able to earn working part-time at my crappy job (don’t ask…the system in Germany is complicated), I decided to take the full year. As the six month point neared, I couldn’t imagine going back to work so early. I was enjoying my year off. Then as the magic date of August 1st 2015 approached, I was filled with a sense of dread at the thought of ever going back to that horrible job. I’d had a taste of the freedom that not working as an employee had to offer and I wasn’t ready to give that up. So I quit my job. Once I’d made the decision, it was really easy. I wrote my letter of resignation in a 5-minute window I had while Mr W was making lunch. It felt great!

Now for the Hard Part

So now that I’d quit my job, everyone wanted to know what I was going to do instead. I had a couple of ideas of things I might want to do on a very part-time freelance basis, but I gave up on them because they wouldn’t have allowed me the flexibility I wanted and needed to focus on my family. More about that in another post maybe. So anyway. Most people seemed a bit worried for me and desperately tried to brainstorm about how I could make some money. When I told them I was just going to do some casual work for a friend and help Mr W out with his stuff, I got some funny looks. I could almost see some people’s brains recategorise me from “normal working person, worthy of a normal level of respect” to “housewife, dependent on her husband, probably just sits about all day painting her nails”. It was frustrating, but that too is a whole other post. I think the thing that got most people worried was that I seemed so calm about it all and I wasn’t freaking out about how I was going to make enough money to pay the bills.

How Do I Pay the Bills?

I’m in the very lucky position to be married to someone with the same financial and lifestyle goals as me. Mr W and I have worked really hard over the last couple of years to optimise our finances so that our bills are as small as possible. Ok, so we still have some optimising to do, but that’s the fun of this whole journey – it’s a game trying to find new ways to optimise things. Fortunately we don’t have any bad debt (credit cards, cars, mortgage on our own home etc.) and neither of us has a high-spending lifestyle. We don’t have a car, designer clothes, flashy gadgets or the like. Mr W does have a fairly major addiction to gadgets but he has it under control.  He’ll tell you about it some time. Instead of spending our money on flashy consumer toys, we’ve invested it instead, and those investments are going to cover our bills while we enjoy a life of FI. Again, more on that in another post.

Basically Mr W makes enough money passively through his websites and working very part time on projects he enjoys to pay our bills. Nevertheless it’s still really important for me to be able to contribute and not rely on him 100%. We used to split all our shared expenses 50-50, but since I had to take a huge paycut so that we could have kids, the split is now 66-33. At the moment I’m paying my part of the shared expenses from my savings (it hurts, that money was originally earmarked for investing!) and making barely enough money to cover my own expenses (health insurance, gym membership and so on). My cashflow situation isn’t great at the moment, but bearing in mind I’ve only been self-employed for three months and Little W has only been in childcare properly for a week, I reckon things will get better fairly soon.

The Luxury of Not Having to Worry

Even if things don’t get radically better, I’m not stressing about it. Before we reached FI I was basically financially dependent on Mr W actively working, which was a horrible feeling. Now if he suddenly died and I was left alone with the kids at least we wouldn’t have any financial worries and I’d still have the time to raise the kids properly. I know that sounds a bit morbid but it’s something I used to worry about and now that I know we’ll be ok no matter what it’s one less thing to worry about.

There are other benefits of self-employment that are so fantastic that I wouldn’t want to go back to being an employee. Last night I was at the parents’ evening at Miss W’s kindergarten and some of the parents were stressing about the kindergarten being closed over Christmas for two days longer than they’d expected. And apparently it’s not enough for the kindergarten to publish its holiday calendar for 2016 in October 2015. One woman said that at her company she had to put in her holiday request for summer 2016 already in June 2015. That’s crazy. Imagine having to stress about whether you’ll be allowed to take time off work to look after your kids when the kindergarten is closed. I couldn’t go back to that.

I see lots of people working crazy hours at jobs they don’t like and are not appreciated in. Some of them get so stressed they get seriously ill. Then their company decides to have another reorg and their job is suddenly gone and they are moved to a different role like pawns on a big corporate chessboard. Scott Adams expresses it all much more eloquently than I ever could in his Dilbert cartoons. I highly recommend reading his books as a way of gaining some perspective on the futility of the corporate world and giving yourself a kick up the ass to get out of it.

Dreaming of Having Enough Time

Mr W’s post about what FI means to him seems to suggest that we have loads of free time to focus on all sorts of interesting things. Unfortunately that’s not always the case since taking care of Miss W (soon to be three) and Little W (14 months) takes a huge amount of our time and energy. Stay tuned for a post about a typical day in the life of a mum.

It is true though that as self-employed FIers we have infinitely more time than our employed friends. We work from home with no commute. We eat lunch together every day and take the time to talk about what we’re working on and what we’re going to do over the next few days. We go to the gym three times a week. I plan out our meals and cook them in advance so that come 5:30pm I’m not stuck with two whiny hungry kids and no food in the house. Those are all luxuries that are unthinkable to most people who work. Maybe they manage some of those things, but not all of them or if they do manage them they have absolutely no time for anything else.

Of course we’d always like more time. I have an endless list of things I’d love to spend time on. Most of the stuff I want to spend my time doing at the moment won’t bring in any money but is really important – raising the kids, planning and cooking our meals, exercising, blogging, learning more about investing and about a hundred other things. There will never be enough time to do everything we want. But we’re on the right path. I’m still trying to persuade Mr W to spend even less time working so he has more time for big ideas and for projects he’s really passionate about, like writing this blog. He’s getting there. Stay tuned for more tales from our lives as FIers.