Leaving Work Behind

How to Get Closer to Leaving Work Behind Today

Written by Tom Ewer on January 14, 2014. 31 Comments

MoneyMost people’s lives are controlled by money.

The combined weight of your outgoings is probably the primary reason why you cannot quit your job. As such, you have no doubt determined that you must create a business that makes money in order to leave work behind.

You’re half right. While you will need to create a profitable business, you can accelerate the process of leaving work behind dramatically by cutting down on your expenditure. And believe me, everyone can cut back on their expenditure. It’s all a matter of perspective.

With the above in mind, in this post I am going to show you how to dismantle and rebuild your outgoings with a fresh perspective and also give you a little insight into how you should view your inessential purchases from now on. In doing so, you will take a huge leap closer to leaving work behind.

Create Your Base Point

Grab yourself a pen and paper (or fire up a spreadsheet) and start with a blank sheet. In terms of limiting your outgoings, a blank sheet represents perfection. It may be unobtainable, but by aspiring to perfection, you will achieve far more than you would otherwise.

From that point you should add only the bare essentials: food and shelter. Not only that, you should think long and hard about how you can limit these outgoings. You could live in a less expensive home; you could stop eating out; you could cut out alcohol; you could use less expensive ingredients in your home cooking. The list goes on. Be utterly ruthless — act without consideration for your current quality of life.

Once you are finished, write down the total (I recommend totting up the annual costs then dividing by twelve to get an average monthly figure). Believe it or not, that is the money you need, in absolute terms, in order to survive. If you’ve gone through the exercise correctly, it’ll be a very low number.

In theory, if you could earn that much from your online endeavors, you could quit your job.

Add the “Essential Inessentials”

I know what you’re going to say at this point: there are an enormous number of “essentials” that I have missed out. Health insurance, schooling costs, travel costs and so on. You might call these “essential inessentials” in that they are demanded by modern society.

Point taken. The practicalities of modern living often demand that you have additional outgoings, so start adding these to your list. However, as before, be utterly ruthless in limiting your theoretical expenditure. You could opt for a less expensive insurance package or consider selling your car and using public transport.

Finish by subtracting the income produced by any passive investments (shares, bonds, etc.) from your total expenditure. What you should be left with is a practical representation of the amount of money you need to earn in order to survive.

Consider the True Inessentials Carefully

Now drill the following truth into your head until it is firmly lodged in your brain: any expenditure beyond the above total is inessential.

Any additional money you spend can be directly correlated with having to do more work. By spending less you can leave work behind more quickly and make less in order to maintain your quality of life once you have done so. That’s the simple equation.

You should frame every single purchase you make in the context of that reality. It is inevitable that you will spend more — you’ll want to watch a movie, listen to a CD or read a book (alternatively, you can do all three of these things free of charge by joining your local library). There will be additional items of expenditure and you shouldn’t necessarily feel guilty for spending more than the bare minimum, but you should learn to truly appreciate what spending money on inessentials truly represents: more work.

The Psychology of Consumerism

Every time you spend money on an inessential item should be an event; it should be consciously considered in a qualitative manner.

First of all, ask yourself if you truly need it (the answer will invariably be no). Then demand a compelling and logical argument as to why you should purchase it. Will it truly add value to your life, or will it simply add to the noise?

A desire for something bigger and better is often shrouding an intrinsic issue linked to your desire. If you want a bigger television, you probably watch too much TV. If you want a new tablet, you’ve probably become too attached to technology that didn’t even exist a few years ago. If you want to go to the cinema more often, movie-going has perhaps become more of a somewhat tedious habit than an event to be relished.

Alternatively, you may simply be blowing the benefits or your potential purchase out of proportion. For example, I recently justified getting a new iPad Mini on the basis that my iPad 4 felt heavy and cumbersome by comparison. Did I think this before the iPad Mini came out? No. My argument was based upon persuasive marketing more than anything else. (I should mention that I got the iPad Mini as a present for Christmas — I wouldn’t have bought it for myself.)

How Much Closer Are You to Leaving Work Behind?

I know it’s not glamorous or particularly exciting, but spending less can get you much closer to leaving work behind than you are now.

And as the old saying goes, the best things in life truly are free. Leaving work behind means having more freedom to do the most rewarding and fulfilling things: spending more time with family and friends and expanding your horizons.

Most importantly, it puts you in control of your life. Your existence will no longer defined by how much money you make. Take it from me — that’s a really good place to be in and is well worth the perceived material sacrifice.

For those who go through this process, I am curious to know just how little you can budget. Let us know what total you come up (and how) in the comments section below! Alternatively, if you have any suggestions and tips of your own for reducing expenditure, please share them with us.

Photo Credit: JD Hancock

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31 Responses to “How to Get Closer to Leaving Work Behind Today”

  1. Darren Boland
    January 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Hey Tom,
    Interesting post, the psychology of Consumerism is with out a doubt the most crippling thing, for people wanting to make a change from a 9-5 job. Letting go of thinking that you need the latest Gadget, is a huge first step.

  2. debashish
    January 14, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Intriguing post Tom, but I disagree. If I have a job that pays me well, and I ruthlessly start cutting out expenses, I’ll reach a point where I have cut out many of the things I enjoy. All I’ll have to show for it is extra money in the bank. This approach has a good chance to backfire, if the dislike towards ruthless cost cutting keeps building up and ends in a no holds barred shopping spree.
    It is based on the psychology that causes people to fail to build good habits, follow their diets religiously etc. Too much change, too soon, and expecting big results really fast can throw a major spanner in the works, if one isn’t careful.

    • Tom Ewer
      January 21, 2014 at 1:41 pm

      Hey Debashish,

      I think you’ve misinterpreted the post. I don’t encourage “ruthless cost cutting,” all I do is encourage the notion of considering purchases more carefully.

      By the way, “All I’ll have to show for it is extra money in the bank” — you make that sound like a bad thing!

      Cheers,

      Tom

      • debashish
        January 21, 2014 at 3:34 pm

        Considering purchases carefully definitely makes sense. I think getting more specific is the key to building this mindset. Like starting off with just cutting out the Friday night pizza, and maintaining the habit for a few weeks.
        Money in the bank is not a bad thing. But, money is a means to an end. If I don’t know what that end is, I might start to get frustrated. Probably the reason why so many people are unsatisfied with their jobs, even though they are well paid.
        I get the essence of the post – spending less is a lifestyle you have to adopt if you want to leave work behind. I feel a how-to post would be a nice follow up to this.

  3. Tom Southern
    January 15, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    You seem to be moving up a gear with the theme of this post. Not just the usual quit your job/make money blogging stuff. Good to see.

    I like the emphasis on change of priorities as an important part of getting into leaving work behind mode. It reminds us of how much our jobs become support for our “stuff”. I’m coming up to the jump-point in my own job and considering
    leaving behind the few hours I still spend at it. One of the saddest things I see about my colleagues lives is the way a lot of them have to keep at the job to pay for their car, but need a car to get to work. It’s one of several savage circles that seems to make their working lives so wretched.

    Modern life! Hmm! It was all so supposed to so much simpler and easier, wasn’t it?

    I think there might be a bit of a backlash to this gadget-love though (allbeit just in my town). The Apple Store here closed down recently. Apparently the products were too expensive.

    And, to answer your budgeting query, so far, I’ve come up with a figure of £7,000 that I could live on & still pay the mortgage & keep warm.

    • Tom Ewer
      January 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      £7,000? I presume that’s per year rather than per month 😉

      Funny you should mention the car thing. I’m just about to hand back my financed car, which has been costing me £500 every month since October 2010. In its place I’m going to buy a completely different (yet still awesome) car, in cash. Paying £500 per month for a car has taught me to understand something important about cars: you can get something that runs reliably for say £3,000, and anything above that is purely to increase your enjoyment and appreciation of it. Is the satisfaction of a £20,000 car worth an extra £17,000? That tends to put things in perspective for me…

  4. Daryl
    January 16, 2014 at 3:48 am

    Hey Tom,

    I’m leaning in a couple of different directions here. But what I’ll say here is this:

    The goal that people are searching for isn’t necessarily to leave work behind – but to be able to live a relatively comfortable and stress free life. Most people “think” that they want to be able to relax for the rest of their life, but in reality they simply want a different *type* of work to do. They want to decide when and where to work, and yet still be able to afford the modern comforts and some luxuries in life.

    While your point about reducing expenditure by cutting out inessential items is extremely valid, it wouldn’t apply to most people because part of what these people are working for is exactly that – inessential items.

    I get the idea that we don’t truly need these items, and that we can actually have a fulfilled and enjoyable life without them, but I think that most people need to actually go through the process of working and attaining these things in order to be able to see that clearly.

    Thats my 2 cents anyway.

    • Tom Ewer
      January 21, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Daryl. First of all, “leaving work behind” as a phrase isn’t intended to be taken literally. What you describe is precisely what leaving work behind stands for, in my book. So I think we’re in agreement there 🙂

      Secondly, I don’t advocate the idea of getting rid of all the things that you love. What I do encourage is that you reevaluate whether many of the things you pay for are really worth the cost. I think that’s a valuable exercise for anyone to take.

      Finally, I’m totally with you on the idea that people have to make their own “mistakes” in order to figure out what works for them.

  5. Joel
    January 16, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Hi Tom, nice post! I think that many people delay making the transition to a life that would ultimately make them happier. Many people use money as an excuse when in reality they are possibly afraid to enact change, with its inherent risk of failure.

  6. Casey
    January 16, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Hi, Tom, great post! It’s true that most of what keeps people on the hamster wheel of work is not strictly necessary. I try to remind myself and my kids that the purchase of “wants” usually leads to even more, usually unanticipated, expenses later to maintain or upgrade them. My feeling is that the less stuff I have to take care of, and the lower my overhead, the less stressed out I’ll feel, no matter what kind of work I’m doing.

    • Tom Ewer
      January 21, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      That’s a great attitude Casey.

      To expand upon that, buying things you love can actually create more stress. If I buy a brand new top-end sports car, I’m going to feel financial stress, but I’ll also be petrified of dinking or denting it. I don’t think a lot of people consider the “net” effect of their purchases in terms of quality of life.

      • Casey
        January 22, 2014 at 3:10 pm

        Yes! I found that out the hard way when I bought an above-ground pool for my kids last summer. Got a great buy and figured it would keep the kids more active in the Texas heat. Underestimated the time I’d spend patching leaks, cleaning, maintaining pH balance, changing filters, and fighting the kind of algae that’s the bane of pool owners here.

        Long story short, the thing cost me hundreds of extra dollars and so much time on daily upkeep that I didn’t have time to put in my summer veggie garden, so no fresh tomatoes.

        Got rid of the pool. Lesson re-learned!

  7. Brian
    January 17, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    These are some great ideas. I appreciate that you do not talk about just what we add through our work but also how we can more efficiently live in consistency to what we desire. If we want to leave work behind, it does not mean we necessarily get to live at the same level we might like or, at least, assume we should.

    Thanks! Keep it coming!

  8. nader
    January 19, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    We’re a family with two kids and there is a certain point where you cannot scale down anymore (apartment, kindergarten, food, etc.). After having done the calculations in a spreadsheet it is pretty shocking to see the amount of money you need (not counting in occasional trips with the kids, etc.) on a monthly basis. It is possible but surely easier if you are single or don’t have a family.

    • Tom Ewer
      January 21, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      Definitely easier if you don’t have a familiar (arguably even easier if you live with a partner as you can share expenses). Not impossible though, as you say 😉

  9. Ragnar
    January 20, 2014 at 2:27 am

    There’s also the interesting connection between mental exhaustion and bad long-term decision making. So you might be better off working 6 hours rather than 8 if you can’t seem to stop excessive spending or get any traction towards leaving work behind. I know when I was working, or even back when I was studying, I would just kind of let the hours waste away after I got home.

  10. Konrad Sanders
    January 20, 2014 at 2:32 am

    Interesting post here Tom, cheers! Luckily I learnt to live frugally when I travelled for 3 years as a younger man, which has proven to be a useful mind-set. In fact sometimes it’s hard for me now to splash out!

  11. Glenn Dixon
    January 20, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    What really sucks is when you add up all of the money you’ve actually made, money that flowed through your checking account at some point. Then look around and see what you have to show for it. The imbalance can be jarring.

    Since we quit our ‘real’ jobs and started slow-traveling we’ve averaged below $1500/month in expenses, and even that seems exorbitant. Right now we’re living in modern apartments in a mountain-top valley in southern Mexico, averaging around $1200/month. Web dev work will exceed that by a nice amount this month, preventing us from having to deplete the savings. In a few years we’ll be able to truly retire and coast on pension money. We’ll respond by traveling more, but not by locking ourselves in to any sort of consumerism or mortgage.

    • Tom Ewer
      January 21, 2014 at 1:55 pm

      “What really sucks is when you add up all of the money you’ve actually made, money that flowed through your checking account at some point. Then look around and see what you have to show for it. The imbalance can be jarring.”

      I couldn’t agree more Glenn — that can be a really effective exercise in fact. Frightening, but effective!

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