Posted on October 21, 2016
Why I don’t side hustle
Short answer: kids and a husband.
Long answer: I know that there is a lot of emphasis on side hustles in the FIRE community and I completely understand that. What is better than retiring early? Retiring even earlier! It makes complete sense to me that people would want to actively seek out ways to make even more cash they can stash.
But it’s really not my thing.
A couple of years ago I did have the opportunity to work part-time from home doing some consulting work while I also worked a full time job. I just couldn’t do it. At the time my kids were 2 and 4 years old and between work, commuting, the kids, and all the wonderful things that happen in life, I just felt so exhausted by 8pm that I didn’t have anything left to give. I really envy people who can do all these things, and then when their kids are in bed give even more, whether it be to their art, a side hustle, or to volunteer work. I don’t want to take away anything from these people, they should be super proud of themselves for having these goals and working towards them.
Truth be told, I love the idea of side hustles. I read articles about people like Sean Cooper and my first thought is, “WOW, what an incredible accomplishment! Congrats to that guy!” (of course, not everyone is as keen to heap on praise). So please don’t conflate my lack of interest in side hustles with snubbing them. I think they are a worthwhile pursuit, in the same way going back to school can be: short term pain for long term gain. It makes sense to me, and if you can do it, that’s amazing.
For myself, I am a mixed bag of interests that all sort of float around this idea of personal finance. I read the The Complete Tightwad Gazette when I was 18 and Your Money or Your Life when I was 20, then I cut my teeth on the The Simple Living Guide in my early 20s, so I am no stranger to the statistical outliers of the personal finance game. But if you notice from the above, those three books alone all have similarities but also differences, and that is mostly how I feel about my view of FIRE.
For us, I am willing to cut our expenses to the bone and look for alternatives so that we can save as much as possible. I’ll happily eat beans and rice, and wear socks and a sweater inside in winter. However, I am not willing to give up my evenings cooking with Mr. Tucker while enjoying a glass of wine, helping the kids with their homework, or playing board games as a family. To me, there has to be a balance between today and tomorrow: I am fine with making smart decisions today to reap the benefits in the future, but I am not ok with completely sacrificing today. My kids are only going to be young for so long and I don’t want to miss these moments when they happen. Sure, I could work after they go to bed but KNOW THYSELF: I need some time to decompress after the day, work on personal stuff or catch up on reading, and I need to go to bed early to have the energy for the next day. That’s just me.
I will be the first to admit that the harp was not a frugal choice.
You do you
We all have to choose the levels that work for us. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and it is perfectly acceptable to figure out what your levels are and live with the results. Besides, everyone starts their FIRE journey at different starting lines: some people are younger, some are older, some are just starting their careers, and some are mid-career. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the way we run this race and while some people will cross the finish line sooner, almost all of us cross the finish line before people who stick with traditional methods.
Mr. Tucker and I both make really good salaries, have a good – but frugal – lifestyle and an ability to cut our expenses to the bone without feeling the pinch. But cutting expenses for a middle class family of four looks very differently than cutting expenses for a single person. While we don’t mind doing the myriad of things we do to save a dollar, we also spend money on things other people – other families, even – do not. Our kids both take music lessons because we put a high value on music in our family and were not capable/willing of teaching our kids. Other people will balk at that idea, because music isn’t a priority, or they will learn music from some youtube videos then teach their own kids. I consider this an awesome way to go about things but it isn’t for us. So we still keep music lessons in our budget because it’s a priority for us. It also satisfies other values in our lives, such as keeping money in our community and supporting local artists.
We understand and accept that when we spend money on lessons for our kids that we are subsequently taking our dollar bill soldiers out of commission from helping us work towards early retirement. We are ok with that and feel the tradeoff is worth it for our family.
You can’t have it all
Of course, when chasing FIRE you have to be judicious in your use of all your resources and cut what you can down to the bone. It’s nice to review your financial situation and know that you can still retire in 5-10 years even if you have some fun along the way. It’s another thing to review your budget and decide to keep a 5000 sq ft house, two expensive resort vacations yearly, music lessons, dance lessons, premium name-brand clothes, eating out at lunch every day, dinners out on the weekends, and high-end alcohol and THEN complain that you don’t understand how other people can retire early.
That’s not being smart with your money, that’s whinging.
Win/win: a friend needed storage for her piano, we wanted to borrow one!
The reality is that we all have choices to make and goals to set. If you want to retire in 10 years but when you crunch the numbers and it tells you that you need to work 15 years, then it’s time to cut. If you are unwilling to cut, then you need to admit to yourself that early retirement is less of a priority to you than the things you are currently spending money on.
Our quality of life is enhanced by music lessons, so those stay in our budget and we plan for them. But when we keep one thing in, another thing has to go. By carefully analyzing what is important to us we can get maximum value from the money we do spend on stuff and experiences.
Conversely, I am not willing to side hustle so that means I either have to strip our budget down or find cheaper versions of the things we need. Mr. Tucker and I are constantly reviewing our expenses and trying to find cheaper versions of everything from cell phone plans to quinoa. Almost all of our attempts to scale down have had either minimal or no impact on our quality of life – but they have reduced the time we have to spend working. I guarantee it, once you actually put the thought and effort into reducing the costs of things, you will often find those things weren’t as important as you once thought. I just tell myself when I reduce that I will always be able to bump it back up if I don’t like it. Nothing is forever.
One-size does not fit all
I don’t like financial advice (or any advice, really) that it dogmatic: THIS IS THE WAY AND THE LIGHT! Yeah, no. But I also don’t believe that a> complaining about things solves problems, and b> criticizing people for doing things differently from you is ok.
In the first instance, your entire life is going to be full of people who (you think) have had it easier than you, or who weren’t as affected by the economy as you, or who just generally have more luck in general. It sucks, and I get it. We all encounter these people in our lives and it’s demoralizing to watch them ride the wave to success while we struggle for our piece of the pie. Honestly though, what can any of us benefit by complaining about it? Does bitching about it make your life any better? No, it does not. It doesn’t because now you are wasting precious time and energy out of your day hyper-focused on something you will never, EVER be able to change: other people. You can change yourself however. You can stop ruminating and put that energy someplace else, maybe even someplace where you can have more success.
Secondly, none of us are going to do things the same way 100% of the time. I will not side hustle at this point in my life but when someone else does and is successful at it I am not going to criticize them. The article above on Mr. Cooper is a great example of this: he busted his butt and achieved something great. So naturally people who didn’t make the same choices as him feel some personal affront at his success. Why? What compels people to jump on their high horses and pick apart someone else’s success? Jealousy. Jealousy is a wasted emotion. It contributes nothing to your life and like complaining, has no value-added. In fact, Mr. Cooper’s side hustlin’ his way to mortgage freedom has ZERO impact in my life, except that I thought it was a cool thing to do and read about.
Finally, it’s important to live with your decisions. I choose family time and a higher quality of life over making more money and retiring a bit earlier. I made these decisions based on our financial situation and our values. I own this decision and I am comfortable with it. If we had less money, we’d have to chop more, if we wanted to retire earlier, we’d cut those music lessons. Maybe you make more, maybe you make less, maybe you have kids, maybe you don’t but the point is that it doesn’t matter. We all have to make choices with the resources we have available to us whether those resources be time, money, or energy so make choices you can live with.
Eventually we all ride off into the sunset