Slow Motion Retirement–A New Way to Look at the Rest of Your Life

Traditional retirement looks like this–work until you’re 65 or so, and then stop working until you die. More recently, views of retirement have begun to change, as more and more “retirees” are forced to work long after 65. There is a major problem with this approach to retirement, which I’ll come to in a moment. But first, how would you answer the following question: How much of your life today is spent doing what you want to do when you want to do it?

If I were to answer that honestly, the answer would be somewhere around 20%. Yuck! And I don’t hate my job. I wouldn’t work where I do if I were independently wealthy, but I have a good job, work with good people, and earn a good wage. But I still work. I still get up five days a week, spend one hour getting ready for work, spend 50 minutes commuting to work, spend about nine hours at work, and then another 50 minutes returning home. Under the traditional views of retirement, I will keep doing this same routine for the next 24 years, then I’ll stop cold turkey and do who knows what until my end of days.

I started this website in part because I don’t like the traditional way of looking at retirement. And what’s worse (here’s the major problem I mentioned a moment ago), I believe that looking at retirement as something that happens decades from now for many of us is one of the major reasons why so many people don’t save for retirement. It’s just too far away to worry about, many believe. I want to change that way of thinking, so consider the following questions:

  1. Would you move to a different, less expensive city if it meant you could begin immediately to work less than you do now?
  2. Would you move to a smaller, less expensive house if it meant you could begin immediately to work less than you do now?
  3. Would you own fewer cars (or less expensive cars) if it meant you could begin immediately to work less than you do now?
  4. Are you passionate about something that you would love to spend more time doing AND could make some income doing it?
  5. Are there changes you could make in your current job that would give you back some of your time (e.g, telecommuting one or two days a week)?

Slow Motion Retirement

The questions above bring me to the key point. What are you willing to do to get back some of the time you now spend doing stuff you’d rather not do? I call this concept slow motion retirement. The idea is to start retiring now, little by little, not waiting to take the plunge when you’re too old to enjoy it. So what sacrifices are you willing to make today in exchange for getting more of your life back?

Six years ago I took a $100,000 pay cut (yes, $100,000) to get back more of my time for my family and me. I haven’t regretted it for one second. And it’s not enough. I want even more of my time back that I now give to my employer. So how am I going to accomplish this? I have a 3-step plan that looks like this:


Step 1–Telecommuting: My first step to get back more of my time is to telecommute to work one or two days a week. For each day I work from home, I’ll save at least 1.5 hours commuting and about $15 in transportation costs. If I telecommute twice a week, in a year I’ll get back the equivalent of 12 days of my time and save nearly $1,500. Over the next 20 years, I’d get back 240 days and save $30,000. I’ve begun discussions with my supervisor about telecommuting, and will be writing more about how that goes over the coming weeks.

Step 2–Work part time: My second step will be to scale back to part time work. Even if I work four days a week instead of five, the time I’d get back would be substantial. Over the course of a year, I’d get back more than a month of time. Combine this with telecommuting one or two days a week when I do work, and I’d quickly take charge of a significant portion of my life that I now give away to my job.

Working part-time would of course involve a financial sacrifice, although probably not as much as you might think. For somebody making $100,000, a 20% cut in pay would not actually cost them $20,000. You first have to look at the after-tax cost, and then consider the money you’d be saving by not working that fifth day of the week (e.g., transportation costs, clothing costs, lunch, daycare). For me, a 20% cut in pay would actually cost me about 12% of my take-home pay.

Step 3–Redesigning your life: This is where we don’t just get back some of our time; we get it all back. To me, this is not retirement in the traditional sense. This is where I spend most of my time doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. The key question to answer is this: If you could design your life from the ground up, what would it look like?

Notice I’m not asking: If you won the lottery, what would you do with your life? That’s a common question, but beyond some entertainment value, it’s not helpful (unless of course you win the lottery). Most of us have responsibilities, whether to a spouse, our children, our parents and so on. And we all have to eat. But within those responsibilities, what would your life look like if you could redesign it?

Here’s what my life would look like. First, I’d teach at the college level. I love teaching, and I’d love to be a life-long student, as well. Teaching is one profession that offers an incredible work-life balance. Second, I’d write books. I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time, but have never had the discipline to complete a book. Third, I’d spend more time taking care of my family and me. I’m taking some steps toward this reality that I’ll write about another time.

But enough about me. What would your life look like if you could redesign it (within reason) and what are you waiting for?

Topics: Retirement Planning

11 Responses to “Slow Motion Retirement–A New Way to Look at the Rest of Your Life”

  1. i’m on board with you on this.

    I quit my job last november to focus on my own ventures. planning to start my MBA in the fall, which should be a sort of 2yr vacation!
    then I’ll work for several more years.

    that way I can take mini-vacations now and then.

    no point waiting until 65 until you can enjoy your life.

  2. I accidentally did some of this when I failed to get the job I wanted and settled for a desk-jockey job. This actually reqires only 40 hours of work per week, virtually every week. And my commute is by bus, which is covered by my employer, and it takes a while, but that’s when I get a lot of my reading done.

    I live in a relatively cheap city because I like it and it just happens to be affordable. I bought a small house and drive a very used car because it’s all I could afford and still not live month to month.

    I have a very nice pension plan which would allow me to retire at just about the same lifestyle (including insurance) in seven years. But pension plans change, so I’ve also been saving additional money so I can retire in seven years regardless of what happens.

    I don’t know how to switch to part-time. The part-time jobs at my employer all pay much less per hour than I’m earning now, and taking one would greatly reduce my pension (due inflation, the last years count the most for pensions).

    Another idea is to look for some other (more fun) higher-paying job so I can quit early and use my savings to hold me until my pension kicks in (14 years from now if I quit today).

    I’ve thought of starting some kind of side business, but the ones I’ve thought of are time-consuming and not lucrative. Even my old favorite moonlight job has increased the pay only once in the past 15 years, so I don’t work there anymore.

    So, I’m likely to stay with my current employer, at my lovely low-stress job (or another one) for the full seven years. I just make sure I have fun on my time off. Oh, I do get more and more vacation time each year, which I do take, so I do get a small amount of extra time to do as I like as time goes on! (So far I get off about 4 weeks of vacation plus about 2 weeks of holidays each year in addition to all weekends). So, I have a weird golden handcuffs thing going on.

  3. I think this is a great way to look at retirement. I would eventually like to get to this point as well, but as I haven’t hit 30 yet, I have a ways to go. For now I am investing a very large portion of my take home pay, and working on diversifying my income streams. Eventually, I would like to have a rental property or two to go along with my other alternate forms of income. That could get me to the point where I would be less reliant on my j-o-b for income. I think your plan is a great one.

    What would I do? Surprisingly, I actually would like to do the same things – teach at a college level and write a book. I have a novel in mind that I haven’t been able to stick with. Mostly because I just don’t think I’m ready. I have the story, but the characters just haven’t quite revealed themselves to me yet. And the family part – that’s the whole reason you do it. 😉

    • Patrick, the sooner you get a rental property, the sooner it will generate money to help fund retirement. I started buying rental properties about 2 1/2 years ago. I have four now with a friend, and it’s amazing how the cash flow builds up over time. I think it’s a great way to invest for a steady income stream.

  4. I got laid off in 2006 but I wasn’t quite financially prepared to pre-retire and I got another job thinking that I would quit in a few years. I’m working on that plan now but everyday I get sucked in to my job further and further. I don’t know how I will be able to quit just because the people have latched on to me so tightly. I think I’ll either have to get pregnant or move away so I’ll have a good excuse.

    • Daizy, let’s set some boundaries here. This is your life, not theirs. You don’t need a good excuse to retire. Enjoy your job while you have it, but move on when it’s your time, not theirs. Besides, they will survive without you.

  5. Gee, it sounds like I have everyone’s dream job. I teach introductory courses for a state university. I mostly teach online courses, which allows me to have a very flexible schedule and let’s me do most of my work in my home office with my cat in my lap. Even though I teach a summer course each year, I still get around two months of vacation time (but official government holidays don’t mean too much to me since my schedule is dictated by how much work I have to do).

    Lest people start throwing daggers at me, I must insist that college teaching is also like wearing “golden handcuffs”. I am a non-tenure track instructor (the best you can usually get at a university with just a master’s degree, and if I was tenure track, then I would have to do tons of research with tons of publications), my current happieness largely depends on the longevity of my current (excellent) department head, and I make less money than my sister did when she was working at a Target supercenter (I don’t just teach the summer class because I love to teach, although I do love teaching most of the time).

    Still, I think I would be a lot less happy with my life if I had to punch a clock in the business world, even if that meant making double my current salary.

  6. I know this article was written (quite) a while ago, but I thought I would comment anyway. The real challenge I have is step 3. When I try to redesign my life, I draw a blank, just like I did 12 years ago when I had to make that decision.

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