Help me work less and live.
June 23, 2007 5:32 PM   Subscribe

How do I work as little and as flexibly as possible, and yet earn enough money to live?

I have considered the lilies and find I resent my dependance on full time work. How does an independant person free himself from the rigid 9-5 wage slave routine, whilst not starving and still paying bills?

I realise that without winning the lottery I will have to maintain a job of some sort. What I suppose I am really taking issue with is the amount/rigidity of the time required in my current (standard, 9-5 office job) situation. I would like to work four days a week. Or shorter hours in the day. I want to have more time to do what I choose (which is pretty much working on creative projects).

I am a creative sort, but my mind fails me on this. Help me overcome my deeply rooted programming concerning the actual existence of sweetly balanced work/life opportunities. Thanks.
posted by 6am to Work & Money (27 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
This is why freelancing was invented.
posted by occhiblu at 5:36 PM on June 23, 2007

Someone gave me a copy of this zine, called "Working Sucks" a while ago. There are some ideas in there for working less, or living very cheaply so that you can work for a month or two and then live on that money for an entire year. Check it out.
posted by bonheur at 5:37 PM on June 23, 2007 [4 favorites]

I would like to work four days a week. Or shorter hours in the day. I want to have more time to do what I choose (which is pretty much working on creative projects).

Which is it? Do you want to work less? Or do you want to work on the creative projects that you choose? If it's the latter, why not try to make that your job?
posted by me & my monkey at 5:43 PM on June 23, 2007

Response by poster: If it's the latter, why not try to make that your job?

I want to have more free time. I do not really consider my personal projects as 'work', but yes it would be great to make them my job - but that may only become possible after having more free time to improve my abilities with them.

My biggest worry is the fact that really ANY job, no matter how great it appears, gets dull and painful to some degree when performed in excess.

I've thought it before and you may be right - freelance could be the way.
posted by 6am at 5:58 PM on June 23, 2007

Along the lines of what bonheur suggested, I know someone who works for a few months at a time and then lives off the money for a year or so. The tricky part (aside from being frugal) is that during those few months he makes a fair bit of money, and he has a relatively easy time getting hired when he needs a job. So, if you can obtain skills that are in high demand and are well compensated, you might be able to pull something like this off as well. This particular person is a dentist.
posted by epimorph at 6:13 PM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is there anywhere you can teach whatever skill is involved in your creative projects? I dropped the 9-5 cubicle thing to freelance as an nfp consultant and to coach a sport at various community centers: I get to set my own schedule within the constraint of the classes offered, but it's way more flexible than office work.

(Did I mention the $30K salary cut? Be careful what you wish for.)
posted by nax at 6:30 PM on June 23, 2007

See if you can get some skills that rich people like and then freelance for them. Example: I once dated a girl who was a licensed massage therapist. It took her something like six months to get her license. Then she got a rich couple as clients and pampered them like crazy. They recommended her to friends and so on. I'd say she worked about 1/3rd of the week.

Rich people will pay more money than poorer people for the same services: dog walking, gardening, whatever. The trick, of course, is getting your foot in the door of an affluent community.
posted by grumblebee at 6:37 PM on June 23, 2007 [5 favorites]

How do you feel about working really hard / long hours for X weeks at a stretch so you can then not work at all for Y weeks? The ratio of X to Y of course depends on the job, but that kind of lifestyle is possible in a number of occupations. Things ranging from software engineer (consulting / contract gigs) to fishing to construction work.
posted by Riemann at 6:40 PM on June 23, 2007

Etc. etc. etc.

If you make your dollars go further (much, much further), you will need fewer of them to live. Therefore you will need to work much less.

If you own a house/condo/whatever in an expensive area, sell and purchase a home in a cheaper area. This may mean relocation to a rural area. However, if the numbers work out for you, you may never need to make another mortgage/rent payment.
posted by unixrat at 6:52 PM on June 23, 2007

I spent 1996-1998 living in a ten-bedroom share house. Rent for my room was $50/week, bills $15, I spent $20/week on food, leaving $15/week for "entertainment/medical/other" out of my $100/week budget (I'm in Australia - medicine is socialized here).

To get my $100/week, I spent five nights per month driving taxis. Taxi driving paid about $7.50/hour on average, for twelve-hour shifts (4pm-4am), but it was cash in hand at the end of the shift and it suited my odd body clock.

I had *lots* of free time, and came to the conclusion that although people say time is money, time is actually better than money, by at least an order of magnitude.

Seems to me that the easiest way to accomplish what you want to do starts by cutting your expenses to the bone, and that the easiest way to do that is to get with a bunch of like-minded people and share resources.

Best of luck!
posted by flabdablet at 6:52 PM on June 23, 2007

Perhaps seconding dentistry as a long-term solution. My entire dentist's office shuts down for a three-day weekend every week. That would be a nice rhythm for me.

My cousin was an ER nurse. He worked 3 12-hour shifts per week and used the rest of his time for rock climbing and publishing a magazine of nursing humor. He was very happy.

I have taught writing part-time at community colleges for the past 12 or 13 years. The money sucks if you compare it to full-time professor wages and benefits, but for part-time work, it's really good. It's semester to semester, so I've been able to flex my time depending on financial and family needs (new baby? Teach one class. Debt to pay off? Teach three). It's easy to leave and go back. It's very portable--there are community colleges everywhere and I have found finding new work easy when needed (in the interest of full disclosure, it's been a long time since I've been wholly responsible for my own support).
posted by not that girl at 7:28 PM on June 23, 2007

Cut your expenses. Get rid of all your debt and all your obligations and get out of the habit of buying shit you don't need. Pay off your mortgage, stop using your credit cards, cancel the cable channels you don't need. Do that and you'll find that a few days a week of whatever you do will be plenty to cover your much smaller monthly nut. If you can make some good investments while you're still in the rat race, something that will kick out reliable dividends/interest, you might not even have to work those few days.

Kinda like this.
posted by bink at 7:39 PM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I worked as a freelance and part-time bookkeeper for years. It was part-time work that supported me. But it gets fucking boring after a while. Now I'm in nursing school with the same basic goal you describe.

I also will echo everyone's suggestion of spending less money.
posted by serazin at 7:43 PM on June 23, 2007

My tax preparer only works 3-4 months of the year and does just fine. He spends the rest of his time fishing and spending time with his family.

The old adage "you need money to make money" is somewhat true as well. If you had the resources to buy a small apartment building (and to pay someone else to manage it for you) you'd get passive income every month as long as the tenants were well-screened and all of the units were rented. This takes a LOT of research and upfront hassle though. If you don't know what you're doing it can be a gamble with a very bad outcome.
posted by Ostara at 8:03 PM on June 23, 2007

become a seasonal worker. There are lots of jobs where you can live and work in picturesque locales where room and board is included. I worked on Star Island for six months out of the year, lived on the top floor of the hotel, was provided three meals a day, plus a salary. When my six months were up, I left the island and traveled living off the thou$and$ of $$ that I saved. There are summer time jobs, winter time jobs, here's just one link to get you started. The world is HUGE, go travel.
posted by pelican at 8:22 PM on June 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

There are all sorts of ways you could simplify your life. You might find this interesting.
posted by Sailormom at 8:24 PM on June 23, 2007


About 1 year ago, I got very burned out on a 9-5 corporate job and started wrestling with the same questions you are. Here is how i am doing it.

1.) Minimize expenses. For me, that meant moving out of my nice apartment and into my brothers unfinished basement with his dogs. (Yeah, it sucks and I cant bring girls "home", but its free rent.) Also minimize any bills you have. Luckily for me, losing my job and my apartment also cut out alot of bills (no cable, no internet, no medical bills,etc).. so it all happened in one fell swoop. Figure out what the bare necessities are that you can live on and ditch the rest.

2.) Work multiple jobs. This had 2 advantages. One - you get some variety (instead of doing the same job over and over).... and two,.. you get multiple paychecks. TRUE : this doesnt answer your question of "working less".. BUT, it earns you alot of money in the short term and then you can drop the jobs you hate and live off savings while you do #3 (see below)

3.) Migrate from 9 to 5 to "creative projects". Sick of working for the man?.. then freelance or work for yourself. Take the topics/skills that you enjoy the most and start asking around your local area for people to help you with them. You'll be really suprised at the help you will find if you express enthusiasm in doing something you love. Over time (6 months to a year) you should be able to work your way out of the 9 to 5 rat race and find enough creative projects to make a living. (Of course this assumes that your skills, creative mindset and ideas are actually GOOD and not lame (no offense---but thats just reality. Everyone has ideas.. but most of them are crap))

4.) Dont give up. Dont sacrifice your principles for a job you dont like. I was unemployed for 6 months before i finally got a job offer from the "perfect company" that I was looking for. Had I caved in and stopped looking, I would have never made it to where I am right now. (working the night shift at an ISP pretty much getting paid to sit and do nothing but spending the time at my desk working on my own creative projects.

Good Luck...
posted by jmnugent at 8:57 PM on June 23, 2007

Rich people will pay more money than poorer people for the same services: dog walking, gardening, whatever. The trick, of course, is getting your foot in the door of an affluent community.

Even better, rich people will pay a very high premium for reliable help.
posted by jayder at 9:19 PM on June 23, 2007

The guy behind Goal-Free just posted a blog post about this - he managed to turn a 110-hour work week into 20 hours.
posted by divabat at 9:42 PM on June 23, 2007

I know several people in medical-type fields (ranging the scale of no-college-ed necessary to advanced-degree jobs) who work 36 hours/week as three 12-hour shifts or four tens. I always think that sounds nice.
posted by pril at 9:48 PM on June 23, 2007

I've done a variation of this on and off for the last 10 years. I would work my butt off for 6 months, waitressing, temping and cleaning people's houses and then coast for 6 months and travel. The only downside that I have experienced is not having health insurance. If you are a good waiter in an upscale restaurant, you can make a lot of money fast. Same goes for being an efficient, fastidious, reliable, trustable cleaning person, but to a slightly lesser degree. If you have good tech skills, you can sometimes score decent temp or contract jobs. I have done transcription work for grad students.

It helps if you are willing to live with other people, drive a sensible used car, wear clothes from thrift stores, have no debt, cook all your own food and unsubscribe from mainstream materialistic culture.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:56 PM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can live very very cheaply in some countries in the developing world. Try working (say) half the year in a developed nation, then head off somewhere cheaper for the other half.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:18 AM on June 24, 2007

Someone previously asked a very similar question that you may find useful to look at.
posted by louigi at 3:25 AM on June 24, 2007

Would you like to work less, or simply have more time flexibility? If you start freelancing or a small business, you will have much more control of your time, but you will also work more hours per week. That sounds like a contradiction, but it's not -- you just choose which 60 hours you want to work. Good fields for this include anything where you can provide a valuable service to a businesses or affluent individuals as an independent -- graphic design, web design, programming, business consulting, financial advising, college counseling, real estate brokering, photography or any of hundreds of other endeavors. You can also start a small online businesses such as blogging or an online store. You say you like creative endeavors--why not take up photography, making crafts and selling them on Etsy, or one of the design professions. If you work for a company the jobs that have the most flexibility in time and place are usually higher level, outward-facing, people-facing jobs that don't tie you to a desk and a task -- these include such things as being a product evangelist for a tech company or sales. All in all there, are lots of ways to either work less and/or have more flexibility in when and where you work.
posted by lsemel at 7:50 AM on June 24, 2007

unsubscribe from mainstream materialistic culture pluckysparrow nails it.
I know people that "blitz" for a 6 month contract (IT, finance, education are all good for this) then coast for the next 6 months, usually traveling.
I left it a bit late myself to do such a life, now I have wife/kids/mortgage, but I am heading that way by accelerating clearing my mortgage so I can dial back.
If you can live without buying stuff you want, as opposed to need, you are 90% of the way there.
posted by bystander at 10:02 PM on June 24, 2007

You say you want to work-for-money less and work on your creative projects more. So may I guess that your ideal would be getting paid a living wage to work on your creative projects?

Even if right at this point you don't see yourself as a "professional level" practitioner in your creative area(s), I will strongly encourage you to at least start investigating what kinds of funding, prizes, commissions, residencies (free housing/meals) and other opportunities are available in your field.

The best places to start (for both research on your own and access to expert humans who will answer your questions for free) are
1), particularly their extensive free database "NYFA Source"; and
2) The Foundation Center, specifically its free training for individual artists (both online resources and free training courses in six U.S. cities).

Both of these orgs are U.S.-based and fairly U.S.-centric, but if you're outside the U.S., both will be happy to point you to the equivalent orgs in your region.

You might spend years or a decade mostly working for money and just doing your creative work 'on the side', but at some point, if you really commit yourself not only to your creative work but also to applying for funding opportunities, you can start crossing over. After school I spent the better part of a decade mostly working for money before I got to my current state of supporting myself (in a non-extravagant lifestyle, as everybody above points out) with grants, prizes, commissions & residencies. If that feels worth working towards, it is NOT a pipe dream and it is not dangerous or 'unrealistic' if you simply start out now as a freelancer in a non-creative field where you already know you can make money, but also spend some of your time always researching and progressing towards getting money for your creative work.

It takes dedication and it will always take at least some of your time (in practical terms, my 'work' is the pleasant but constant part-time job of researching and applying to all these opportunities), but it would bring you closest to the ideal of being able to focus totally on your creative work.
posted by allterrainbrain at 2:26 AM on June 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

See if you can do any of your work at home. I am not exactly sure what your job consists of, but maybe you could make an agreement with your boss? You could ask for a two week trial run of working a certain amount of your job at home, and go from there.
posted by slc228 at 4:26 PM on June 25, 2007

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