2019: The Year of Non-Stop Work
2019 was the year that I formulated a crazy plan to retire in 10 years on a modest salary. I needed to hit my retirement nest egg number of $1,000,000 by the end of these 10 years, so that involved a lot of working and very little spending.
As such, in 2019, I packed my weekly schedule with as much as 70 hours of corporate work, side hustling, and commuting. Sometimes, this would extend to 75, or even 80 hours. All so I could take home a modest salary to fund my retirement nest egg.
I changed a lot over the year, and by the end of 2019, I was ready to pull the plug on my early retirement plan to retire by 36.
And in 2020, I firmly decided to step away from full-time work.
2020: The Year I Stopped Working Full-Time
What sparked this change? Well, many things, like career, relationship, health and financial reasons.
1. I have zero interest in my corporate job.
When I first started working in 2017 as an analyst, I was idealistic, enthusiastic and eager to impress. My job scope was to analyse companies, write reports and make recommendations. Since I enjoy writing, and I wanted to learn more about financial analysis, I initially thought this job was a good fit.
However, my enthusiasm started waning as soon as I realised that all I was doing was pushing paper all day. There was so much red tape – forms, procedures, emails, data-entry, manual data-tracking, and everything you can think of. I was doing so much paperwork, that I barely had any time to learn about financial analysis.
My breaking point was a 4-hour meeting on how to draft a single email to a superior on a completely non-life-altering issue.
2. There is close to no chance of progression at my corporate job.
My first year on the job, I got a pretty decent performance review from my boss. That year’s increment? 2%.
My second year on the job, I received an even better performance review from the same boss. According to my boss, I received the best increment in the whole team. Excitedly, I opened my letter from the company, only to find that I had received a 3% increment.
My third year on the job, a new boss gave me an even more outstanding performance review. The company then announced a wage freeze, company-wide.
Three years at my company, and my modest salary increased by a whopping $200 a month. And that’s after scoring pretty good performance reviews.
3. My side hustle is another dead-end job.
I started tutoring in 2015 for money, immediately after I knew I was in deep shit with my parents because I had come out as queer. At first, I loved my tutoring side hustle, because:
- It provided me with some money, so I could put a roof over my head if my parents threw me out; and
- I enjoyed teaching and forming real relationships with my students.
However, I soon realised that as a tutor with no classroom experience, my income potential was capped at around $25 to $35 (Singapore dollars) an hour for the grade that I was teaching.
In addition, I had to commute a lot to get to students’ places, causing my real hourly wage to drop to maybe $10 to $15 (Singapore dollars) an hour.
It’s sad to admit that the enormous amounts of commuting and the limitation on monetary compensation was enough to wipe out whatever passion I had for teaching. But it is what it is.
4. I wasn’t interested in the rest of my other side hustles.
In addition to tutoring, I also picked up a few other side hustles along the way. After my corporate job and tutoring, my next biggest source of income was from flipping items online. I made anywhere between $50 to $200 a month, depending on my luck.
I also did smaller and more irregular side hustles, like:
- Participating in customer interviews (pretty fun and lucrative, but inconsistent);
- Proofreading (makes decent money, but I found it boring);
- Handing out flyers (incredibly boring, and not lucrative at all); and
- Doing online surveys (what I found was the most time-wasting side hustle ever).
Although I could probably scale some of these side hustles into a full-time career (with some luck of course), like many other people who drop-ship or proofread for a living, these aren’t things that I’m interested in.
5. I needed time to make a career change.
After some time of reflection, and though it was difficult to admit, I realised that I not only had a dead-end corporate job, I also had dead-end side hustles.
I was in desperate need of a career change, but I couldn’t do that while working 70 hours a week.
The only other option for me was to scale down my existing money-making obligations, in order to free up time for a career change. Here’s what I did:
- I went part-time at my corporate job, and now work 3 days a week instead of 5.
- I reduced the number of hours I side hustle, by dropping all side hustles except for my tutoring.
Now, instead of working 70 hours a week, I work a much more manageable 35-40 hours a week. I plan to use the freed up time to pick up new skills and beef up my resume.
6. I need to spend more time with my girlfriend.
Another big reason I had to stop working full-time was because I needed to spend more time with my girlfriend.
As I’m still living with my parents, they get to dictate how I spend my time. And they absolutely refuse to allow me to spend any time with my girlfriend. If I flouted their rules, there will be severe consequences.
As such, over the past few years, my girlfriend and I have had to find all ways and means to spend time together. Many of these methods, such as sneaking out of my house after midnight every weekend, are unhealthy and unsustainable.
By working a 3-day week, but having my parents believe I’m still working full-time, my girlfriend and I get to spend a good 1-2 days a week together. This is a huge improvement.
One of the ways we spend quality time together is through scoring good deals and eating different foods.
7. My mental health was deteriorating.
My whole life, I’ve had mild obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Thankfully though, because the disorder was mild, it didn’t cause a lot of disturbance to my life.
However, after I realised that the corporate life wasn’t for me, and I started really loathing my job, my OCD slowly worsened each day. It got to the point where I was taking long showers after work, scrubbing my skin raw, in an attempt to escape the “work germs”.
It didn’t stop there, and started spiralling out of control. I slowly grew more paranoid, more anxious, and this affected my sleep severely.
While this isn’t the place to delve into issues of mental health, it suffices to say that mine was deteriorating severely, and I needed to find a way to stop that.
8. I spent a lot of time dealing with negative emotions.
I’m not proud to admit that I grappled with a lot of negativity while working 70 hours a week, both at my corporate job and side hustling. Every day, I would find myself thinking, “I’m not learning anything”, or “I can’t believe I’m doing this for this little pay”, “What am I doing with my life?” or “Is this all my life was meant to be?”
Deep down, I knew that I had settled for a job that offered far less than I was capable of, and it caused a lot of pain and regret.
9. Sunday night scaries were regular occurrences.
Sunday nights felt awful. After insufficient rest on the weekend, I felt a huge amount of dread returning to work on Monday.
Because that meant 5 long-ass days of full-time work and side hustling, without a single break, from Monday to Friday.
Monday mornings were equally bad, and I often struggled to get up in the morning. The worst part of the day was the rush-hour traffic, where I often find myself thinking incredibly negative, pessimistic thoughts.
During those days, I often got tension headaches. I would then need to spend time recuperating from the headaches, which ate up even more of my precious, scarce free time.
10. I had no motivation to do anything at all, even things I love.
Whenever the weekend rolled around, and I found myself with a few small chunks of free time, I would squander it by lying in bed, refusing to get out, or doing mindless things like watching TV shows that I don’t even find enjoyable.
In addition to that, I stopped doing everything that I actually love doing. I didn’t bother playing the drums, I made very little progress in learning Japanese, I did close to no writing at all, and my exercise schedule was irregular at best.
I love all my hobbies, and there was a time when I would wake up early just to do all these things, but at that time, I chose to lie in bed and do nothing.
A few of my loved ones thought I might have been suffering from something called dysphoria, but I don’t know whether that was accurate.
11. My part-time arrangement covers all of my expenses.
Since my take-home salary of S$1,750 a month is sufficient to cover my monthly expenses of S$900 a month, I felt secure enough to make the transition from full-time to part-time.
By doing so, I would free up some time, and not have to dip into my nest egg at all. In addition, I’ll still be able to save a few hundred dollars a month, which was good with me.
12. I had a nest egg of close to $250,000.
At the time of transitioning to part-time work, my nest egg amounted to S$233,840. I had S$47,721 in retirement accounts, and a respectable S$186,119 in cash, stocks and bonds.
Assuming that I were to work part-time for the rest of my life, with my income covering all expenses but having no money to invest, assuming a 7% real return on investments, this S$186,119 would grow to a whopping S$1,010,148 by the time I’m 51. (See the chart below.)
Because of this “safety net” beneath me, I felt safe in making the leap to part-time work. Even if I were never to go back to full-time work, that’s okay. All I need to do was the cover my low expenses, which seems quite manageable.
13. I have no dependants.
A big reason why my expenses are so low is because I have no dependants. I don’t have kids, and I don’t have parents who need money from me.
Transitioning to part-time work to pursue my interests now, when I’m still 26 years old, is far less risky than transitioning to part-time work at age 35 when I might have kids or a whole family of mouths to feed.
No time better than the present, right?
14. My girlfriend is doing well financially.
My girlfriend started saving money when she was 27-28 years old, which was when I experienced my financial wake-up call because of what my parents did to me. Before that, she had very little money saved up.
However, now, just 4-5 short years later, my girlfriend has more than S$500,000 of net worth in cash, stocks, bonds and retirement contributions.
Although she doesn’t make a lot of money as a government civil servant, she side hustles, and is quite careful with her earnings. Also, she doesn’t want to quit her job anytime soon, even though I’m certain she can reach early retirement in 5 years or so.
She told me before that if I really can’t go back to a full-time job because of my mental issues, that’s okay. As long as I’m trying my best at what I’m doing, she’s more than happy to support me.
This brought me a lot of comfort, and was also a significant factor in my transitioning to part-time work. Even if I were to quit work completely, her income is more than enough to sustain the both of us, as we’re both pretty thrifty.
Of course, I would never force the burden on her to care for me and any future kids that we might be fortunate enough to have. However, I still like the idea of having this “safety net”.
Cons of Going Part-Time
There were also many negative impacts that I had to consider when transitioning from full-time to part-time, but after some careful thought, I decided that it was worth the risk anyway.
1. I’ll have a gap in my resume, which might lead to fewer job prospects in the future.
Coming from a conservative and traditional Asian country, I wasn’t really sure how future employers might view my decision to work part-time in 2020 and take a mini-retirement in 2021. My fear was that these things wouldn’t look good on my resume, and future employers might see me as lazy and unmotivated. This might lead to fewer job prospects in the future.
However, I was chronically bored at my corporate job, and I couldn’t stand the thought of having to do what I was doing for years and years. I desperately needed time to step away from my current job to pick up new skills.
With the help of certain guides, like this one from Bren on the Road, written by people who have themselves taken mini-retirements, I figured that this “gap in my resume” worry was overblown.
Perhaps I’ll have a gap in my resume in terms of not having a full-time and stable corporate job, but as long as I fill that gap up with meaningful activities (like writing a book, and starting this blog) and useful skills (like SEO and social media marketing), I might actually even stand out from the crowd.
Employers are attracted to interesting people who stand out, like those who take a mini-retirement to travel the world.
2. My career advancement will be negatively impacted.
Working part-time and taking a mini-retirement can be viewed as a lot of “wasted time” when it comes to my career in a full-time, stable, corporate job. Many of my peers will continue climbing the corporate ladder while I’m taking a break to do what I love; this means that when we’re all 30 or something, they would be managers earning 6-figure salaries and I’d still be an analyst making half (or even less than half) of what they make.
And while that’s not a pretty thought, I constantly reminded myself that I never liked my career anyway.
There was a line that I had to draw between career development and personal development. My job was boring, and I was hardly learning anything. Most of what I did each day consisted of pushing paper, writing emails, and pushing even more paper. Sure, my job looked nice on my resume – I was an analyst in a financial institution. But my personal development was suffering; I wasn’t learning, and at the end of each year when I looked back at what I had done for the year, I wasn’t proud of myself.
Since I never liked my career, it was high time to make a career change. When I come back out to work in 2022, I’ll be 28, turning 29, I’d probably start out at the bottom of the food chain again, but this time in a new career that I might actually enjoy.
3. There’s a greater risk of me being laid off.
Employers typically view part-time employees as being less committed, since they earn less and work less than their full-time counterparts. There are plenty of articles that suggest this, like these ones here and here. This negative perception usually means that part-time workers are more likely to being laid off than full-time ones.
While I haven’t been laid off, I have experienced some professional prejudice while working part-time that I did not experience while working full-time. For example, I was recently been passed over for a promotion because of my part-time status. If my company ever finds itself in financial trouble, I have no doubt that I would be the first to be laid off.
However, I try not to let this concern me.
After all, I don’t really see a huge loss to myself, since I never liked my career or job. If I do get laid off, I’ll just use the extra time to continue writing and picking up new skills.
I’m prepared for a potential lay off; it’s actually exciting to think that I might have more time for learning what I love.
4. My timeline to early retirement would be delayed.
Another obvious negative impact is the delay of my early retirement, as I’ve explained in much greater detail in these 2 posts:
- My Original Plan to Retire by Age 36 (and Why it Failed)
- My New Plan to Retire by Age 40 (Update #1 – I Quit Working Full-Time!)
The gist of it is this: There’s no race to early retirement. While I wanted to reach early retirement ASAP in the past, I now believe that it’s perfectly okay to reach early retirement at 40, 50, or even beyond, as long as I enjoy my journey.
In fact, I feel that my decision to delay my early retirement is a good one. While rushing to early retirement ASAP eradicated my physical and mental health, my delayed plan actually allows me to focus on happiness, time, passion, and relationships.
5. Feelings of failure or inadequacy might arise.
Coming from a society that tells you that the key to a good life is to work your ass off in a desk job for 40 years and then retire, I dealt with many feelings of inadequacy when I decided to work part-time.
- “Crap, everyone’s advancing their careers but me.”
- “I’m not working as hard as everyone else; I’m a failure.”
- “I’m not earning as much as everyone else; I suck.”
However, I was constantly inspired by people who don’t work a lot, but who still get a lot of productive work done during those few hours of work. For example, both Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens worked just 4-5 hours a day. Somewhat closer to home, we have Zach from Four Pillar Freedom who does just 4 hours of deep work each day, but has seen incredible success.
I eventually figured that if I had 4 hours a day (or 28 hours a week) to myself this year and the next to work on writing and website-building, I might be able to see some success as well.
While it’s unlikely that I’d see any monetary success within the next 1-2 years, I would be building a great foundation for such success in the further future. Even though I’m currently not being paid a cent for writing and website-building, I still see this as career advancement in a sense, because I’m picking up new skills that could be used in the future.
My Plans Going Forward: 2020 and Beyond
As a quick recap, I’m working part-time this year (2020), and will be on a mini-retirement in 2021.
While I don’t know for sure what I would be doing at the end of my mini-retirement next year (2021), at the time of writing this post in June 2020, I know that I want to focus on the following things:
1. This personal finance blog.
I very much enjoy updating my financial progress on this blog (through monthly net worth updates and yearly passive dividend income updates), and seeing my progress towards early retirement over the months and years.
Most importantly, I really, really appreciate the people that I’ve met through this blog, and the fact that I’m getting reader emails. It means so much to me, and it makes this journey worthwhile.
2. Building other websites.
At the moment, I’m thinking of trying my hand at other websites as well, as a means to pick up new skills and pad my resume for when I do have to resume full-time work. I don’t know for sure what I plan to do yet, but there’ll certainly be more updates on this in due time.
While I planned to start freelancing at the end of this year, I decided to put this on hold while I build websites and pick up skills. I’ve actually tried securing a few freelancing jobs here and there, but found that I dislike it.
I might try to pick this up next year to earn more money though.
More time on my hands means more time with loved ones. Previously, when I was starved of time, I used to be stressed out and unhappy when spending time with family or friends. It wasn’t pleasant to not have my priorities figured out. I’ve been working on this, and I think it has been going better this year.
5. Physical health.
I’ve been improving my physical health by exercising much more regularly than last year. On some days, on top of my short morning workout, I would also go out for runs. I hadn’t gone for a run for many years, and this was a refreshing change.
6. Mental health.
As for my mental health, I had planned to see a therapist, but this was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the situation gets better, this will definitely be on top of my to-do-list.
After I stopped working 60-70 hours a week, and I now work a more manageable 35-40 hours a week, I thought that I would have much more free time each day.
However, in contrast, despite having at least 25-30 hours of free-up time every week, I seem to have my schedule packed with numerous things to do each day. The only difference is that I’m much happier now than I was before.
And I don’t think I’d ever regret my decision to quit working full-time.
Were there any considerations that I missed out when quitting full-time work? What else might you consider if you were to move to part-time work?
As always, thank you for reading and supporting this blog.
I can totally identify with your situation.
I work at a job that is physical blue collar, but it requires a lot of mental calculations each hour I put in.
It is so demanding that turned me into a ball of stress.
The money was great, but the job sucked.
Working three days a week lets me balance mental health well being and the ability to think about the future clearly.
My investments are up so I figure I must be doing something right.
Life is short, find the important things that matter the most, not the trappings of success.
Hi Mike! Thanks for taking the time to drop by. 🙂 Glad to hear that you’re balancing mental health with work much better now! I truly believe health is our greatest asset, and that we shouldn’t sacrifice that for money or the trappings of success, like you rightfully said.
Happy to hear that your investments are up even though you’ve chosen to earn less. I bet that even if you never go back to full-time work, you’ll still reach FIRE soon 😉
There is so much inspiration in this article! I love that your girlfriend saved $500,000 in 5 years and is willing to support you. I need a girlfriend like that in my life! ? You are set for early retirement even with this decision to go part-time which is AH-MAZE-ING. So. Many. Wins. Good for you! I hope your new creative endeavors give you just as much success as they are fun to pursue!
Awww thank you so much! Yeah I’m really lucky that my girlfriend and I managed to get on the same page (even though it took me more than a year to convince her HAHA). Yeah when I did the math I was so pleasantly surprised to discover that I could still retire early! Compound interest really is amazing. Thank you loads! I hope that you find great success in your writing too 🙂