At the beginning of 2015, I was a public school teacher, Lauren was doing marketing for a small financial company near Orlando, and we were both getting a little bored with working 8+ hours a day for ~$40k/yr.

Luckily, we had a plan to fix that: We decided to quit our jobs and move to Hawaii for a six-month vacation.

Photo of the Hawaiian night sky from a Miata
Staring off the west side of Hawai’i Island from the seats of our 2000 Mazda Miata. No jobs; no problems.

It seemed perfectly reasonable to us, although we got some concerned feedback from other people: “How will you afford to live?! Why would you give up steady income at age 24?! Won’t a gap in your resume make it harder to find work again later?!”

But we weren’t really worried about any of those things.

We’d spent the previous few years living modestly and saving up about $150,000. Thanks to some frugal habits, our annual spending was only around $22k/yr combined, meaning we could survive for up to 7 years without working at all, if we felt like it.

We weren’t rich enough to retire forever, but our jobs still felt totally disposable.

Why You Should Make Your Job Disposable

Not everybody is trying to take a six-month vacation, but everyone can benefit from saving money and just feeling free to quit at any time.

Most people’s decision to go to work every day requires very little thought: They need a paycheck to survive, so they show up. If they enjoy the experience, that’s a lucky bonus.

But when you view your job as financially optional, you can give some consideration to why you’re doing it in the first place, and what alternatives might exist — because those alternatives are real possibilities for you.

Here are three employment superpowers you’ll gain by viewing your job as disposable:

1. Ability To Leave a Job That No Longer Suits You

You probably don’t hate your job right now.

Not many people start out in a workplace they despise, but even the best ones can turn toxic. Abrupt changes in management, coworkers, or responsibilities can ruin a good job pretty quickly.

Think about what it would feel like to face an abusive boss or crappy working conditions day after day, knowing that you have no way out.

A stack of savings in the bank gives you the ability to escape bad circumstances if they ever show up.

In less extreme cases, just having the ability to quit if necessary can give you the confidence to say “no” to projects or assignments that you don’t feel comfortable taking on. When you view your job as disposable, you start to think of your employer as more of a client than a “boss,” since they no longer have as much power over you.

Thankfully, we actually liked most of the work we did on our path to early retirement. But it was nice to know that if one of our jobs went sour, we had an easy escape route.

Aside from that, we never had to worry about “job stability,” either. If either of us (or even both of us) got laid off, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, because we’d have practically unlimited time to look for another job, stress-free.

2. Stronger Position To Negotiate For Anything

Even if your workplace environment is the best ever, you still need to be your own advocate when it comes to compensation.

A lot of people are too afraid to ask for raises on a regular basis, so they end up waiting around for years, hoping to get recognized by their bosses. When unsolicited raises come, they’re often barely enough to keep pace with inflation.

Those who are willing to ask for more money sometimes lack the confidence to do it effectively.

Imagine trying to demand a big pay bump, knowing that if your boss says no, you’ll just have to crawl right back into your office and keep working anyway. Negotiating your pay with no savings in the bank is like playing poker without any cards in your hand.

The same is true when trying to negotiate other benefits, like better hours or time off.

A few years ago, we were planning a 7-month trip to every US National Park. I had a full-time job, but at this point in our lives, Lauren and I had multiple decades worth of living expenses saved up. Instead of asking permission to take our trip, I politely informed my boss of our plans (with plenty of notice).

And guess what? He took it really well! He was happy to work with me on a part-time, remote work arrangement for my sabbatical period, and he even held my full-time position for when I returned.

Maybe the reason he was so cool about it is that he’s just a nice guy. But I made it pretty clear that I was happy to quit to take the trip if necessary, which definitely forced him into a choice: be flexible, or lose a good employee forever. I wouldn’t have been able to deliver that ultimatum if I didn’t have plenty of money in the bank to back it up.

Photo of the American Samoa coastline
Shoreline in the National Park of American Samoa: A sight we might’ve never seen if we weren’t willing to set ourselves free from the shackles of a steady paycheck.

3. Courage To Take Risks and Grow

Some people truly love their work. Maybe they’d never dream of stopping. But interestingly, those people have even more to gain by giving themselves the freedom to quit.

With courage enabled by a cushion of savings, the job you’re passionate about can turn into an even more profitable, fulfilling, or flexible business.

A friend of ours worked as a veterinarian at a university for years. It was exactly what she always wanted to do, and it paid really well, too!

While she was happy with the work, the hours seemed a lot more demanding once she decided to have kids, and she found herself annoyed with the bureaucracy of the university environment. It was still a good job, but she wondered if she could create something even better.

So, she quit her childhood dream job to start a freelance vet business, and it turned out to be a huge success! She now makes even more money doing the same type of work she’s passionate about, while working way fewer hours.

If she’d been living paycheck-to-paycheck at her university job — spending 100% of what she earned — she would have never had the freedom to take that risk and improve her life.

Don’t let the love of your work make you complacent about saving money. You can still benefit from having the option to quit.

How To Make Your Job Disposable

Okay, so it’s liberating to have access to a giant pile of money. Maybe that’s not a super revolutionary concept. The real question is: how do you get it?

Assuming you already have a middle-class income, all you need to do to save money quickly is reduce your spending. When you spend less, you save more. And that’s not the only benefit of having lower expenses…

Remember, the goal is to reach a level where you could go without income for a long time, worry-free. Rather than thinking about how much money you have saved up, start thinking in terms of how long you’d be able to live without work if you needed or wanted to.

Someone who has $100k saved and spends $100k annually would blow through their entire stash in just 12 months without a job. But the same amount of money could buy four years of freedom with annual spending of $25k/yr instead.

If you can learn to be happy on less, each dollar you save is more impactful.

It’s best to work on your biggest spending categories first: housing and transportation (check out the links for detailed guides). From there, take a look at any recurring expenses, like insurance, TV services, and groceries/dining.

The point is not to deny yourself fun. Instead, realize that you don’t really have to spend much money to have a good life. Get out and explore nature. Play some games with friends. Work on a project you care about. The best things in life are free.

Once you get your expenses optimized, money from your job will just sorta start piling up automatically. Truthfully, saving money isn’t that hard after you get into the habit of spending less. For some people, the deeper challenge is to finally overcome the fear of leaving work.

If you like what you do, that’s fantastic. But it’s also important not to let your job become your whole identity. What things might you try if you didn’t have to go to work for a few months — or years?

Once you’ve gained a bit of financial freedom, make sure you actually use it to find out!

— Steven

Wanna learn how extended time off can fit into a path to early retirement? Taking a big break from full-time work is Step 4 of our six-step Financial Roadmap. Check it out!

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