Walk away from work and live a better life? Count me in

Back in the day when MPR News would let me on the radio to actually host a talk show, I had a guest who wrote a book on reordering your life’s priorities and eschewing the rat race.

I even read the book before interviewing Vicki Robin, author of “Your Money or Your Life.” Her definition of money has stood with me for a couple of decades now. “Money is what you exchange your life’s energies for,” she wrote.

These sorts of books can make people wonder where they went wrong, even if they’ve generally been pretty happy with their lot in life and their kids remember them on Mother’s and Father’s Day. But spend more time away from work and more time with family and/or doing what I’d rather be doing? Who wouldn’t choose that?

Downsizing? Sure, why not?

If memory serves, Vicki graduated from an Ivy League school and she’d done pretty well with her career in New York City when she retired and lived a simpler life, in Vermont, I believe.

What I found from her book — and why it didn’t work for me — is it’s a lot easier to walk away from the rat race after you slay the rats and make some money.

But how many people can really do that?

That was the question I had when reading today’s fascinating interview in the Star Tribune with former KARE 11 weatherman Jerrid Sebesta, who quit his job to spend more time with his family, and moved in with his wife’s parents in Winnebago.

Still like the idea of dropping out of the rat race?

“I knew from the way we had chosen to live our lives early on that we had a financial cushion that a lot of people don’t have,” Emily Sebesta said. “We could live for five or six years with no income — not because we have so much, but because we know how to live on very little.”

But the article was missing some key information. Numbers. Lots of numbers. Money. The things most people don’t like to talk about. How is it that he could live for five or six years with no income?

“TONS more content coming after I relaunch my website,” he replied when I asked him on Twitter today.

He’s a life coach now, much like Ms. Robin is. The money is in telling people how to live with less money.

Get out of debt. Get on a budget. Save money. Live on less than you make. That’s his instruction and none of it is new information. Financial planners have been saying it for generations. But, again, not everyone has relatives they can move in with.

No doubt, as a commenter on the Star Tribune website noted, Sebesta is rich in a different way.

And no doubt there are fools who don’t know the meaning of fiscal responsibility.

Somewhere between the two are people who are going to work every day, generally responsible about their money, living in fear that the next layoff will target them, who still are able to spend time with their kids.

We’ll wait for the website before passing judgment, but color us interested in how people can really take control of their financial lives when their existence in the working world depends on the whims of someone whose priority is profits and the bottom line.

  • RRP
  • Erik Petersen

    Your skepticism / incredulity is proper Bob, as is your desire for numbers that proves some of these concepts.

    Yeah, not being in the rat race, having a lot of free time to smell the roses is a good thing. But guilting people for not being able to achieve that… its bogus. Life is expensive. Raising kids is expensive.

    My number: It takes an after tax and bene income of $60 – 75k to run a 2 adult and 2 kid suburban household, and you’re doing it sparse at that level.

    • Tim

      Right. Technically, yes, I do think it is possible for most people to achieve it. But for some people it takes a lot longer (and thus more discipline and sacrifice) than others; it becomes a marathon rather than a sprint you’re only doing for a relatively short period of time.

  • PaulJ

    It’d be ok to make make enough to get by if didn’t have work 50 hours per week to do it and if you had enough money emergencies and for the last twenty years of life, when the bills go up and the abilities go down.

  • tboom

    Fifth piece of advice Sebesta missed: Don’t get sick, don’t get cancer, don’t get anything chronic, just stay away from clinics and hospitals.

    • Jack

      Bingo! You have hit on why I haven’t walked away from jobs – health insurance!

      That said I have been fortunate to have positions that allow me flexibility to attend to school events and family issues with elderly parents.

      Still – I had a self-imposed sabbatical from work for 5 months and I about went crazy since I didn’t have anything to do. Never had been so happy to return to work.

      • tboom

        Good point about the cost of health insurance.

        My point was more that a major illness can/will wipe you out (savings and future earnings if still capable) regardless of insurance. We’re currently spending deeply into retirement savings to pay for treatment of a chronic problem while I’m still working, we have what most would consider to be good insurance. And we’ve got it good compared to others!

  • jon

    We make a choice every day on how to spend our time and our money.

    I’d love to quit my job and take up a life of leisure, and I’m going to, but not at the cost of my quality of life.

    While I’ve no doubts that I could cut my expenses further, I’ve no plans to, unless forced to by a change in income.

    There is only one piece of life style/financial advise I can give, learn to love doing things that make your life better and cheaper. Bicycle instead of drive, garden for some of your food, cook instead of eating out, turn wrenches on your own car, camp instead of hotels, etc.

    If your hobbies save you money instead of cost you money you’ll be able to enjoy coming out ahead, and when you can afford to quit your job you won’t need to wonder what you’ll do with your self in all your new found free time.

    As for taking my own advise… I’m trying, hitting maybe 70/30…

  • Anna

    Just as the Great Depression profoundly affected how the Greatest Generation viewed careers and money, The Great Recession had similar effects on the Generation X/Millennium generations and their Baby Boomer parents.

    The focus now is on keeping a job at all costs, even if it means going against your personal values and social mores. There is no guarantee that you’ll be able to find another one.

    We no longer have employers who “take care” of their employees with decent benefits and guaranteed pensions. The focus of business today is on profit margins and the bottom line. Not that it wasn’t in generations past.

    The saying goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

    I loved what I did—professional musician and nurse—still do, but the cognitive dissonance that developed over many years in the healthcare industry made me reconsider my nursing career choices and I felt it was better to semi-retire from the profession than to suffer the health effects of beating my fists against a wall of indifference I had no chance of breaking down.

    I’m happy being an instructor and passing on my years of experience to the next generation of nurses. I love teaching in general and friends tell me I’m pretty good at it. I’m trying to instill my love of life-long learning into the hearts and minds of nursing students and I am hoping some of it sticks.

    And yes. I don’t make near the money I did as a staff nurse but my stress level is considerably less and I still feel like I am making a difference, which is what drew me to the medical field in the first place.