I wrote a guest post for The Fioneers summer of 2019, reflecting on my choice to cut down my hours at work and live out my #SlowFI priorities. A year and a half later, my husband has joined me in reduced work hours.
While I had mentioned the option to him many times over the years since I first cut my hours, he hadn’t really found a reason to do so. Like me, he doesn’t plan to quit work once we hit financial independence, so neither of us have the intense drive to find ways to stop working (unlike Purple who just retired at 30).
We might both enjoy our jobs for the most part, and aren’t looking for a way out, but that doesn’t mean fewer hours isn’t appealing. With better work life balance, I find I enjoy my job even more because I have time to do the other things I enjoy as well.
Equal Childcare and COVID-19
When COVID-19 first hit here in Washington at the end of February, I immediately pulled the kiddo from preschool and started working from home myself full time. Soon enough, those hours *did* become full time instead of my normal 80% time due to covid related and other work demands.
While the money was nice, juggling childcare and full time work from home wasn’t sustainable forever. My husband’s job requires him to be in the field at least 90% of the time, so making the switch to working from home wasn’t an option for him. Instead, I’d work from home while trying to occupy the kiddo, and then I’d head out the door for a long walk in the afternoon as soon as my husband got home.
Months later, once we realized that this was going to be life for a while, we knew that we would need to do things differently. Most things can be sustainable for a few months if they need to be, but after we’d been at it for almost half a year, it was time do make a change.
Part Time Work for Both Parents
After working full time (or more) hours for a quarter, I was able to drop back to my 80% time schedule at work. Instead of going back to five shorter days like I’d done previously, I adjusted my schedule to have four regular work days and one weekday entirely off to spend with the kiddo.
At the same time, my husband finally had the conversation to cut his own hours and work four days a week as well, taking a full day to be home with our son as well. While he was pushed into this initially due to the COVID situation, he’s since come to love his weekdays off with the kiddo.
We are extremely lucky though, because cutting our hours only covered two of the five weekdays. Our roommate is still out of work, so we have an arrangement for him to watch our son one day a week as well, reducing his living costs to where he is still able to add to savings while on unemployment, and we have an extra weekday covered for childcare.
The final two days are spent with our parents, masked. These days are harder though, so we keep them shorter, and they spend a lot of time outside. My husband has also made his schedule work to take the kiddo home those two days a week, allowing me to work longer on those days. While COVID is absolutely a negative in our lives, the added time with our son has been an absolute positive.
At the same time that we made the decision to cut our hours to take care of the childcare dilemma, we decided to homeschool our son for kindergarten. Our plan had always been to put him into public school, but with public school looking like full time Zoom, we decided to change our plans.
We still expect to send him to in person public school once it is safe, but for now, homeschool has been better than any of us would have expected. My husband and I both adore our days, getting to be hands on teaching him and spending time out in the woods that would otherwise be spent at work.
Our parents are also loving the “bonus” year with him, as they had been expecting to get much less time with him as he transitioned into public school and away from their preschool days together. While they may not be the same as pre-COVID, missing hugs and close up play and adding in masks, the time together is precious and the brightest spot for all of us during 2020.
Trading Money for Time
While we had to have employment that allowed for a cut in hours at work (a few other people we work with also have worked less than full time as well), we also had to have the means to do it financially. While we won’t hit a fifty percent savings rate yet again this year, especially since we are now making considerably less money, being judicious with our spending means we can choose how we spend our time.
In a year where so little feels in our control, knowing we have control over our finances feels like a really big thing. I know we are so fortunate to have held onto our jobs throughout 2020, and there are many we know who have not been so fortunate. That being said, the ability to have both of us pull back our hours at work while also spending on childcare (and homeschool supplies) that we hadn’t expected is something that we prepared for in years’ past.
We’ve been so privileged, but we’ve also worked hard and with intentionality. Privilege, hard work, and luck go hand in hand, and just because hard work is true doesn’t mean you can’t also acknowledge the parts in play that are out of your hands.
While early retirement may not be for everyone, financial independence absolutely should be. We’ve been intentional with our finances for years now, and that intentionality meant that we could both step back from work and step up for our son in the year that it truly mattered.