How to Downshift?

You want more of this or more work?
You want more of this or more work?

“My only issue is the “getting time” part. For example, for many people, myself included, it’s not possible to have a full-time job and work “less” while maintaining that job. The employer will mandate that the employee work 50 out of the 52 weeks, granting a measly two weeks off for vacation (sometimes which cannot be taken consecutively); thus, the employee can’t take any more time off than that, save for the occasional sick day, national holiday, etc. There is no option: either work 50 weeks of the year and be employed full time, or work zero weeks of the year and be unemployed. Most companies* are not going to offer such flexibility.

My dream would be to work about six months a year and have the rest of the year off for cheap bike travel, then return to a state of employment. I could easily make that work financially. But the difficulty in finding regular temporary work upon return has prevented me from doing so. The best I think I could hope for is work three to five years, then take a year off for travel, or something like that.

* I suppose people who are self-employed, freelancers of some kind, or skilled in a specific, in-demand trade could give themselves some flexibility here. Or maybe there are employment options that I am not thinking of … and if so, I’m all ears!”

Patrick posted this ^^^ comment on my post about Opportunity Costs. Since it was a great question and an issue I’m working through myself I figured it deserved its own post.

Disclaimer I don’t have an easy and simple answer to this problem. I do have a bunch of ideas that I am going to use in my own life that I’ll share and as things actually unfold for me I’ll post updates on how it’s going.

Reduce Costs

If you want to end up part-time in the long run you need to reduce your cost of living to the appropriate level. If you want 6 months off a year you need to only spend one of every two after tax dollars you bring home. If you are having a hard time doing this I would start with a written budget in a spreadsheet and track every dollar you spend. Don’t go from spending every penny you make to trying to save half. Shoot for a smaller goal like saving enough for an extra week off each year and build from there.

Welcome to my office...
Welcome to my office…

Save and Invest

So you are hitting a savings rate of 50% and ready to switch to part-time. That’s awesome. Since you have extra cash available every paycheque sock it away in a low cost diversified investment portfolio. Use whatever tax advantaged accounts you can that make sense for you [ie. RRSP & TFSA in Canada]. You are building your Fuck You Money. If you can’t find part-time options you might end up quitting and hitting the road for a while then finding a new job later. This money will fund that trip. It’s also nice to have a solid nest egg that will grow on its own with reinvested dividends and capital growth while you ride your bike. So whenever you can save and invest. Even working part-time look for ways to save a bit.

$20 is not too little to invest. Every dollar counts.

Become the Best Employee at the Company

Find ways to rise above the rest of the folks you work with. Become indispensable. Go the extra mile every single time. Let your boss know you appreciate the job and enjoy being a part of the company’s success. At the same time share your dream to spend time travelling with your bike. Explain why that means so much to you. You are building the foundation for your future requests for time off here. Don’t rush it.

Leave of Absence/Unpaid Holidays

You have saved some Fuck You money. You have worked hard to be a stellar employee. You have shared your dreams with your boss. Now is the time to get some extra time off. I’d start incrementally by asking for a couple weeks unpaid for a trip. See what they say. Some companies have a leave of absence process to get bigger chunks of time off. Look into it if your firm has something like that. If you get time off make sure to share photos and stories from the trip as well as saying thanks to whomever approved the request. Build on any success by asking for more time off. Make sure bigger chunks of vacation get scheduled when your company has annual downtime. Come back from trips exactly when you said you would and work hard the first day back. Don’t give anyone a reason to not want to let you go away again.

If this does not work don’t panic. Keep on saving and investing as much as you can from every pay cheque. Don’t do anything drastic or emotional.

Research Your Options

While you are working at reducing costs, saving money, investing it and getting your employer to let you have extra vacation time you should be assuming you might fail and figuring out what to do then. Look for other jobs in the same field. Consider trying something new that is seasonal or that is in high demand so you’ll have bargaining power. Are there any self-employment or contract possibilities with your education/skills? This may require moving to a location that sees an annual influx of tourism or an industry that goes hard while the weather is good for work then slows right down. You might need to get some new training or education.

The important thing is do all this planning while you are earning money and saving it.

You can do this and make money with your investments...
You can do this and make money with your investments…

Put your cards on the table…

If gently working the system at your company isn’t getting results and you have a nice amount of $$ in your investments it’s time to push harder. I’m a fan of being loyal to your employer and being polite. So don’t say “Give me 2 months off this year or I’m out of this shithole!” Just say “Look this is really really important to me. I want to keep working here. I want to be a great employee, but I need more time off to achieve my life goals. I’m willing to work around the company’s schedule. I can be flexible about how it happens, but I can’t stay here in the long run if I only get two weeks off a year.”

Of course this could result in you losing your job no matter how nice and reasonable your are. So have a plan for that. Maybe you’ll do a sweet road trip across the country to ride and use the opportunity to move to a tourist town where seasonal work is easy to find. Maybe you’ll go back to school. Just don’t get caught with no plan and no FU money. That would be dumb.

Negotiating a New Job

If you have to get a new job to live the dream make sure your need for extra unpaid holidays is part of the discussion when you get hired. Don’t ask for 6 months off at the interview, but do set the ground work for it later by saying “I’m looking forward to working with you here at company X long term. I do have some person goals like school and travel that will require some extra time off occasionally. I wanted to make sure the company supports employees in this area.” How they respond will tell you a lot about your chances later.

Job Share

If you can find someone qualified and interested in part-time work you can trying sharing a job. That might be a month on and a month off or every other week. The schedule will depend on your job share buddy and your company. They get two capable people at a reasonable cost. You get more time off. Folks with young kids who can’t financially swing the stay at home thing, but want more time with their little ones are good people to talk to.

Telecommuting/Remote Work

Look for opportunities to work remotely. Things like programming or tech support. Maybe you can do your normal job remotely part of the year. Mobile data plans are getting robust and affordable. You could work from a campsite or a cheap motel during the day and ride early/late plus weekends.

Big Trips Between Jobs

If nothing is working for you do as Patrick suggests above and work work for 3yrs full time while saving 50% of your pay. Then quit and take a year off to do what you want. By saving that much money you can probably travel dirt bag style for 3yrs+, but I would go for a year.  If you are currently working full time it’s shit ton of extra living. Have a wicked time and then look for a new job that’s better aligned with your lifestyle. The extra money will either help you transition back to working if you have a hard time finding a new job or it will turbo change your investments and make your Fuck You! stash bigger.

And honestly I like nothing better than a huge Fuck You!

Pro tip #1 – look for that new job someplace awesome for the stuff you love to do. That way you can play during the day and look for work at night or when the weather is shit. So your job hunting time is just more sweetness.

Pro-tip #2 – don’t burn any bridges. Do not be shocked if the job that let you quit wants you back after they realize what a bunch of losers are available to replace you. So don’t poop on your boss’s desk as you leave. Respect yourself and respect their choice.

The Whole Enchilada!

If you are young enough and highly motivated it’s not unreasonable to save and invest like a MoFo until you are financially independent and never have to work again. The math is right here. If you can hit a high savings rate like 70% it will take 8.5yrs of full time work. If you can’t quite hack that you can get halfway there and then stop working full time. Your FU money will grow on its own making you financially independent over time while you just work enough to pay your minimal expenses and travel. Let’s just stop and think about that. You are riding your bike and making money at the same time just because you saved and invested. Holy bad ass MoFo!!!!! 🙂

Don’t Wait for Perfection

You will likely not find the perfect answer to this question. A totally flexible high paying job that syncs beautifully with your outdoor recreational pursuits. If you do congrats! I salute you. For the rest of us just do the best you can. Every extra week off you get away from work doing what you love is a victory. Set small goals and make them bigger and bigger. Make every hour you do work count by saving as much money as you can. Make your money work for you in an investment account. Accept that your dreams and reality may not collide exactly. Do not accept a month of your life without progress towards your goals. You are either working and saving, planning and learning or out there recreating.

Look for Role Models

If you run into anyone online or in real life living life the way you want to talk to them. Ask them how they are making it happen. Most people are happy to share and help others with similar interests. Figure out what they are doing that will work for you. Put that knowledge into action. There is no point reinventing the wheel. Accelerate your success.

Dirt bagging does involve some compromises...
Dirt bagging does involve some compromises…

Celebrate Each Win

If you are doing any of these things you are a god damn champion and you should feel like one:

  • living on less than you make and saving it
  • investing your savings so your money is working for you
  • working hard to become a top notch employee
  • upgrading your skills and/or experience so you can open new opportunities
  • researching new job/employment options with more time off
  • planning low cost adventures
  • spending the free time you do have enjoying your life

The one thing you can’t control on that list above is getting extra free time off. Everything else is in your power. There are no excuses.

Don’t give a fuck! Be rad. Live large!

It’s Hard to Fail

There is exactly one way to be a loser at this game. Spend more than you make and do nothing about it so that you work until you die surrounded by shit you bought that you didn’t need. 😦

If life tries to serve you a shit sandwich look life in the eye and say “fuck you!” Go to the kitchen and make your own freaking awesome adventure sandwich! 🙂

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6 thoughts on “How to Downshift?

  1. I’m a fan of where you’re taking the latest blog posts. I agree that over-production and over-consumption are two sides of the same coin, and not only are they needlessly complication our lives, and robbing us of freedom, but they’re also making a mess of our spaceship.

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    1. Yup. Over-consumption is expensive, time consuming, and does not make you happy. There is no win there for anyone except the person selling you shit you don’t need and taking your money.

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      1. I should note that I am not putting myself forward as any sort of minimalist consumer, recreational economist or financial planning rock star. I’m no amazing role model. All I am espousing is that if you want more free time you need to spend less on shit you don’t need.

        There is a dichotomy between an outdoor recreation industry that is supposedly about helping people get outside and moving, but that is seemingly chaining people to their desks more and more.

        It’s time to get real about that conflict in priorities and decide what’s really important to us? Owning a bunch of sweet bikes or actually riding them?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I like your attitude and advice, Vik. I am delighted to see this post.

    Luckily, I now realize I am already doing many of the MMM-style lifestyle fundamentals you mention (I may have even been introduced to that blog from yours), such as as the high savings and investing rate. The job share idea is a novel, practical approach I’d like to try, especially in a six months on/six months off setup. And living in a location that is more convenient to one’s preferences should make one’s time spent full-time working more palatable.

    I will offer up a couple more ideas for those reading:

    1. Caretaking, housesitting, or whatever permutation of what is essentially living rent-free in a (hopefully desirable) place in exchange for doing some chores. If I do leave a full-time position but can’t quickly find a new job afterward, I’d try to do this (1) out of necessity and (2) because it sounds interesting.

    2. Leading a bike tour. Adventure Cycling Association apparently is always looking for new people to do this as it’s always posted on their careers page. Don’t know a lot about it or working for the organization, but for the right person, it might be preferable to the “quitting my job and doing an epic solo adventure” thing.

    I admit I am a little spoiled. A few years ago, I was able to negotiate a three-month unpaid leave for a long bike trip and then returned to my (still current) employer. Your advice is spot-on: Be polite and excel at what you do to increase your odds. I am proof it can work—and before I asked, I was almost certain I would be denied.

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