Updated on 07.21.08

Reflections on Abandoning the 9 to 5, Four Months In

Trent Hamm

When I walked away from my nice and steady nine to five desk job in March, a lot of people asked for my reflections on it, and I provided my thoughts two weeks after quitting, which were almost entirely positive. Naturally, many of those readers wanted me to return to the topic in a few months to see whether I still felt as positive about the decision to quit a full-tme decent salary job to essentially work at home as a writer on an extremely flexible schedule. My reflections below will likely apply to anyone with young children who has made the decision to work at home.

Below is a mishmash of reflections on that change.

My family is the big reason I quit, and that’s been a huge positive
I quit my job because I felt like the demands of my simultaneous 9 to 5 job and my writing activities was simply eating too much away from the time I could spend with my family. I have a two year old son and an infant daughter and, at the time, I continually felt regret that I wasn’t spending quality time with them.

That concern is now gone. I spend hours upon hours each day with my wife and my kids. A couple hours of playing in the yard and at least two meals a day at the kitchen table with my children is not only now the norm, but the expectation. I read them stories, teach them things, kiss their “owies” when they get hurt, and reaffirm their self-confidence. We go to the park, the circus, the zoo, the library, and all sorts of other enriching activities.

The flexibility of my schedule gives me some aspects of being a stay at home parent. We still take our children to daycare on an irregular basis (usually our older one, because after several days he begins to loudly miss the people there, especially his closest friend and his favorite teacher, but we’ve taken the younger one, too, in order to spend a day solely with our son), but that’s aided by the fact that my wife is currently on a lengthy break from her own job. When she returns, I’m not sure what we’ll do quite yet.

The best part, though, is experiences like this: I’ll be eating lunch with my son and he’s starting to get sleepy. He says he wants to go to the park and I say, “Sure, we can go right after your nap.” Then we trudge upstairs, I read him a book, and he drifts off to sleep. A couple hours later, after I’ve finished some work, I hear him awaken and so I stop what I’m doing, roust him, and we head off to the park. I’ll get the stuff I’m working on done late in the evening or early tomorrow morning – right now, there are important monkey bars to climb on. That is something that could never possibly happen at my old job – it happens all the time now.

The huge amount of time that I didn’t have before has opened the door to countless projects
Since I’ve quit, I’ve written a book (due to be published on December 17), went on a vacation with my family, planned another vacation, polished up a second book proposal, and initiated two other big projects that you’ll see in the coming months. None of this would have happened without stepping away, and all of them help to cement the decision I’ve made, shoring it up with other opportunities.

In an average week, my career shift has freed up about fifty five hours, and I had already been devoting about thirty to The Simple Dollar and related activities. Now, The Simple Dollar (and related activities) eats about fifty hours out of the week, which means I have thirty five hours (or so) to spend with my family and on personal projects that I didn’t have before.

I feel genuinely fulfilled by my work
When I’m actually engrossed in writing, I deeply enjoy it. I almost can’t believe that I can earn a living doing something that I enjoy so much. While I do still have management-type things to worry about (making sure I’m working on the right stuff, interacting with editors, etc.), they’re only a small fraction of my time and quite manageable. I get to spend the vast majority of my time on the things I’m passionate about.

Those are the good things. What about the bad things?

I miss my old job – at least the socialization aspects of it
Let’s face it: at my new career, I’m at home by myself in an office. No one else is there – just me and my work. If I’m stuck, I can’t just get up, stroll down to the refrigerator, get out a beverage, and chat with two or three people along the way. Instead, I’m alone.

Sometimes I just randomly IM people. At other times, I send emails. On occasion, I’ll even place some phone calls, just to hear a voice and to socialize a bit. I tend to miss people.

I get stir crazy and often have to leave to go do something
After a few days straight of not leaving my property, I get really stir crazy and get compelled to go do something during the day. I usually turn one of these trips every week or two into a grocery shopping trip and about once a month I’ll make a library trip, but many of the other sojourns are simply excuses to go interact with people.

My solution, over the last month or two, is to simply look for more social organizations to participate in – blogger meetups, public speaking groups (like Toastmasters), and so on. I’ve also gotten more involved with some community groups and committees. I simply need to do something out of the house, preferably with other people.

Time management is a completely different challenge than before
With my previous career, it was always pretty obvious what needed to be done next – and I just did it. If I was ever unsure, I’d just ask my supervisor.

Now, I’m effectively deciding the priority of all of the stuff I want to work on, and that can be tricky. I’ve discovered, for example, that even though I might be several days’ ahead on articles for The Simple Dollar, that doesn’t mean I should give more articles a low priority, because just when I do that, something comes up that eats a few days and I’m right back where I was at. I also have to make a lot of hard judgments on starting new projects. Will they actually fit? What will I have to cut back on to try out this new initiative? Sometimes it’s obvious – sometimes it’s very hard.

Another big challenge is knowing I have the freedom to just slack off whenever I want. I could easily just retire to my comfortable chair with a book, or browse a mountain of blogs, and really, in the end, no one would be the wiser. The only drawback would be that I’d simply be less productive. I’d miss out on writing opportunities and other interesting chances.

My biggest frustration is the interruptions
Where I used to work, if you closed your office door, that meant you were left alone, period, unless it was a mission critical emergency. Doing that meant I could have time to really focus on a complex task without interruption.

At home, the same isn’t true. If I’m settling in to focus, I have to turn off the ringer on my house phone, turn off my cell phone, log off of all instant messaging programs, close my email program, close the blinds on my windows, and shut my office door, and even that’s only a partial block. I still get interruptions from things like my wife coming in and asking me if there’s anything else we need to add to the shopping list, or my two year old pounding on the door yelling, “MY PANTS ARE POOPY!”

Once I’ve lost the focus, it takes me a while to get back on the proper train of thought – I can’t just sit down and pick up with the sentence I was on when I walked away.

The new money management stresses me out sometimes
Without the drumbeat of a steady paycheck (and a drop off in income), careful money management and frugality are more important than ever. My income is simply no longer steady from month to month – some months leave me feeling rich, while other months seem to point towards poverty. It’s not consistent.

As a result, our emergency fund is bigger than ever – almost a year’s worth of living expenses in cash. With this, I can handle the variability of any month – or even a downhill string of months. This has meant something of a slowdown in our debt repayment schedule, obviously, since the total income isn’t as big as it once was and also there’s not as much cash to go around.

Interestingly, our actual living expenses have gone down significantly, too. I have more time for frugal projects – our garden is tremendous this year, and we’ve made tons of bread, fresh pasta, and other such things.

So, in conclusion…
It was a great decision. I feel more fulfilled by the work/life balance than ever before. The change is not without problems (mostly social interaction-type problems), but overall I’m still very glad I made the switch. If you’re thinking of doing the same, give it some very strong consideration, particularly if you’re self-motivated and can keep yourself on task outside of a management structure.

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  1. Claire says:

    I think it’s great to see such an honest assessment of the changes in your life due to your career change. Not everything can turn up roses – like the lack of social interaction at home – but you have to weigh the pros and cons of every decision you make in life. I’m glad that the pro column is longer for you than the con!

  2. Laura says:

    I’m glad that the new work schedule is allowing you to get closer to your family. I’m glad that you’re finding your work fulfilling.

  3. Mike says:

    I look forward to this–all of it.

    I’m 22 years old, and I’m constantly thinking of ways to try to turn my passions into a source of income. I understand it takes work, and sometimes I don’t always feel up to it. Reading posts like this helps me find motivation to do the things I need to do so I can get where I need to be.

  4. Thank you for continuing to share your experiences, Trent. For me, the scariest part of leaving the 9-5 would be the fluctuating income. Dave Ramsey has an Irregular Income budgeting sheet which seems helpful, but I’m wondering if you’ve created your own system to deal with this.

  5. Carrie says:

    How do you make fresh pasta and is it actually cheaper than a box of pasta? (79 cents to feed our 2 person family for 3 meals. Plus the cost of sauce)

  6. Julie says:

    I’m surprised that you would take your kids to a circus, and further that you’d describe it as an enriching activity. I’m assuming you’re not talking “Cirque du Soleil” or another kind of art.

    The animals in circuses are a shadow of themselves.. all the circuses teaches kids is that it’s just fine to chain up an elephant inside a transport truck to travel across NA for 300 days a year so he or she can stand on his head for a cheap laugh…

    David Suzuki, the famous Canadian biologist said “In ten years, people will look back at what we did with exotic animals in circuses with astonishment and revulsion”.. I hope so..

  7. K says:

    Carrie – homemade pasta is basically 1 egg and 1 cup flour per serving. So for 6 servings (2 people for 3 meals), it would cost about $1.40. That is a little higher than your estimate, but I find it very hard to believe that a box of pasta makes 6 servings for you. One box gives me about 3 servings. But the quality is much better, and I bet that if you used whole wheat flour, the cost would be cheaper than buying whole wheat pasta.

  8. tonester says:

    There’s no such thing as a God. Why is god a He/Him again?

    No one has been able to answer my question.

    I find it inexplicably perplexing when religious folks (Christians, the like) tell me to find Him before “it’s too late.” Sure, right now I’m trying to find out why those folks need to shove their religion down my throat. You know, before it’s too late.

  9. Carol says:

    I’m really glad for this update. I am so excited for you and your family and all your projects. I’m looking forward to your book coming out. Thanks for updating!

  10. I’m glad the transition is still mostly a positive one for you. I chuckled at the poopy pants mention…I have four kids here at home with me, and I’m often interrupted by something like that when I’m trying to write something for my blog! It’s a good thing my operation isn’t as big as The Simple Dollar. =P

  11. Joe McCoy says:

    I truly hope the focus of this post becomes book number 3! I work at home on a regular basis and your experiences really hit home (3 boys – 5 and under!). Most people are a little disillusioned by other bloggers saying that working from home is nothing but cake. The reality is that it is challenging and is not for everyone. My worst experience was water pouring out of the bathroom (not the bath) beside my office and our 2 year old moaning. Push the handle once and LET GO son.

  12. Leisureguy says:

    It sounds like a nicely appointed backyard shed as a separate office building might be useful in preventing family interruptions, which probably happen because you’re right there.

    Socialization needs I can understand. For me, having a cat helps a lot. Two might help even more..

  13. Marcin says:

    Hey Trent,

    I know how you feel . I’m 25 Years old Trent and the aspect of staying at home alone working no one to socialize makes you feel lonely sometimes. i get the same feeling. I don’t have kids so I think that easies your pain.
    Working at a 9-5 job is so much easier than your own business. Working for yourself you must really have to know how to organize yourself. But as you now business is not easy because you must think about every aspect of your business. You look at every corner where to cut costs. While an employee you look at as the company is paying not you no too much care in that.
    Look at it this way when you work for someone and you take a day off you feel relived. When you work for yourself and take a day off you feel a days of income lost. Totally different mentality.

    Thanks for the update.

  14. tiphaine says:

    about children,
    how do you estimate how many children you can provide for?
    My fiance and I would like a big family with 4 or 5 kids.. We were not started yet so it’s still not a reality but we figure that with a simple lifestyle it’s doable, especially if we move to Illinois (right now we are in NYC).

  15. Bill says:

    What about just working from home? If I could watch TV and work at the same time I think would be fine.

  16. writer dad says:

    Wow, do I know how you feel. My wife and I both left our jobs three years ago so that we could stay with our children as much as we could while they were still small. She’s a teacher and I’m a writer. The socialization, the frugality, the time management. Sometimes, it’s enough to make you want to tear your hair out. Even so, I’ve never once questioned whether it was the right thing to do. I haven’t missed a single day with my four year old son in the last three years of his life, and I’m proud of the little girl that we sent off to Kindergarten last September. I’ve also written more than I ever thought possible, with lots of children’s stories for them and a grown up book for me. Thanks for doing such a great job with the site. It’s always thoughtful.

  17. Angie says:

    Hey – nice article in the SF Chronicle! http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2008/07/21/moneytales.DTL

    Very nice!

  18. Amanda says:

    I’ve known many a writer (& work with them daily)–perhaps a sign, a bit flippant & fun like “Masterpiece in progress” on the door of your office would let folks know when to let you keep going w/ your writing. The flipside could be “Come in” or simply your open door.
    Your family is ridiculously well-adjusted (at least from what you tell us), I bet they won’t mind as long as you keep the communication up, which I doubt will be a problem.
    Has anyone ever noted the “earnest” quality in your writing? I hope you carry that over to your non-fiction books…it’s a rare trait for a person & a modern writer.

  19. Frugal Dad says:

    Trent, you mentioned your wife is taking a break from her job for a time. Are you guys still covered under her health insurance plan? My wife stays at home, and a family plan purchased outside of my employer is cost prohibitive in our case. Just wondering how you approached health insurance after leaving your job.

    Thanks for sharing the details of your new schedule. It is inspiring for those of us also looking for a way out of the rat race!

  20. paula d. says:

    Thanks for the update Trent, it is hard to ignore the “poopy pants” cry (nor should it).

    I stepped away from the 9 to 5 work scene 19 years ago when I was pregnant with my son and it was the best thing I ever did. I was able to pursue my talents as a jeweler for many years.

    It has been only in the last couple of years that I have once again ventured into a more “traditional” job and I’m happy to be doing it again.

    They both have had their benefits, and I’ve enjoyed both ways of living. I hope you enjoy yours!

  21. Ryan McLean says:

    Wow, this is a great post and really informative for me as I am looking to work full time blogging and working online (writing financial books etc). So this is a great post for me. I has given me encouragement to keep going and has also warned me of the problems that may arise in the future when I do go full time into being an entrepreneur.
    I am lucky though because I go to church and I get to socialise with my friends at church.

    Great post and really helpful thankyou.
    ps. To the circus hater Julie, just wanted to let you know that I never go to the circus if they have animals. My girlfriend gets upset at this but hey, I have to stand for something :)

  22. Yes, BOO! to circuses, I must agree.

    But, Trent, congratulations on your first 4 months. Everyday I wish my work would let me work from home at least one day a week. I do every single one of my tasks online using the World Wide Web. I can’t imagine the gas I would save working from home just one day a week. You must be saving a TON of money on fuel, huh?

  23. GrantParish says:

    I have enjoyed reading your blog and can certainly identify with your work-at-home issues. I have been working out of my home for 9 years (as the executive director of a trade association). I really do love it – especially the flexibility for those afternoon naps and making my own schedule.

    I also struggled with the social issues and found that a big help was to make a standing Thursday lunch date with a former co-worker who is a good friend. She keeps me up to date on industry issues and provides “water cooler” conversation.

    Financially, I am making more money now but with no benefits, it has been a hassle to find and manage health insurance coverage. And I still have issues with time management – so easy to get wrapped up in one project and let other important, but not urgent, issues slide.

    I think you will find this to be a great experience but like anything there are downsides to manage. Welcome to Freelance Nation!

  24. JReed says:

    Yes and make sure with your new money management that you are escrowing 15% quarterly for your social security payments…this is off the top before tax deductions. Wow, what a whopping surprise we received after our first year of self employment.

  25. 2million says:

    Nice update. I am not sure I could moderate the way you do – my work for some reason seems to be either 100% on or off. Working only for myself would probably force me to overwork myself.

  26. Erin says:

    Thanks for the update, I really enjoyed reading your honest opinion on working from home. Glad to hear that it is working out for you.

  27. When I was working at home, it felt like the trade-off was sacrificing the peacefulness of my free hours by about 25 percent to improve my working hours by 80 percent.

  28. I totally agree with the time management issue. When I was in grad school I had all the time in the world and never wrote a single thing. But now that I’m working full time and trying to manage a writing/PF blog on the side I’m seeing I have very little time but I’m noticing my time-management skills are much sharper. The less time you have, the more you value it, it seems. So I can’t imagine having to manage as much “free” time as you have right now.

  29. Anne says:

    @K – an egg and a cup of flour per serving? That is a 600-calorie serving of pasta before you add sauce!

  30. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Unless you’re eating a disturbing amount of pasta, a cup of flour and an egg should make enough pasta for two people at least, if not more. I always seem to make way more than our family needs – I made a batch with a cup and a half of flour and two eggs yesterday and I came out with more than enough pasta for two meals for all three of us. Plus, no preservatives – remember, there’s more to health than just calorie counting.

  31. Julie O. says:

    To add to the pasta question- Taste is another key factor for me. There’s nothing like homemade pasta. I usually make a big batch so that we have some leftovers for my husband and I to bring to work/school. This is also great way to impress guests on a budget. Add some homemade pesto into the mix and you’re set. You can also mix in spinach, tomato paste or saffron into the pasta dough to spruce it up a bit. And, if you want to make it healthier, I’ve read that you can adapt your recipe with whole wheat flour, although I haven’t tried it myself…yet.

  32. Sam says:

    I can relate. The only reason why I’m doing blog thing now is to provide me with multiple passive income enough to quit my job so that I could spend more time with my 1 yr old son. Maybe my own experience with my dad leaving us for job abroad had its toll on me. I wanna make sure this will never happen on my son.

    Indeed, time with family is priceless, no amount of money can ever take its place!

    Fix My Personal Finance

  33. Leo says:

    Hi Trent! Thank you for sharing! Your experience is a big inspiration for a lot of people, me included. I found your blog about a month ago, in Donna’s Smart Spending, and became a regular reader. Just to let you know you have at least an enthusiastic reader on the other side of the Atlantic, waiting for your book! :)

  34. Leo says:

    I’m Portuguese, by the way… :)

  35. fathersez says:

    Your writings impact many people. I am a keen follower of your blog and I love the way you write about your true situations that can be applied as a template to our lives.

    Whilst we may not have your skills and talent, you help crystallise our thoughts. Like how you have said here (and in many of your earlier articles) that your family is the reason and the focus.


  36. berndt says:

    I have been selfemployed for three years now and I have exaktly the same experience as you.

    Lower income – but better economy. More time – but need to be more carefully with my time. More freedom, but miss the social life at the workplace.

    difficult to stay focused the time I stay home to work, as today… reading your blog :-) (I have a small office downtown)


    All the best to you!

  37. Bill says:

    Truly inspiring Trent.

  38. Ryan says:

    I find inspiration in every word that you post online. As a 23 year old finance major with one semester left of school and a full-time internship the uncertainties about the “right” career choice are higher than ever! I understand the social drawbacks of being at home, however avoiding the feeling that you are an ant methodically trudging into the ant farm everyday must give you a great sense of meaning and joy! Thank you for sticking with this project as it’s as essential to my morning as the first cup of coffee.

  39. K says:

    I admit I’ve never made pasta but that’s the estimate I have in the recipe I’ve been wanting to try. Good to know that they might have been overestimating.

  40. Lara says:

    I suscribe to a fwe websites but I don’t read their updates etc. This is THE ONLY ONE I actually read every day. I enjoyed reading about the transition in your life.
    I am going through the same right now. I had my dream job and had to relocate because of my boyfriend. Instead of going back in to the same business working for someone else, or finding that 9-5 job, I am taking a few months off (I saved for it) to think about what I really want and what it realistic for me and my future. I decided to start my own business. It is an amazing feeling. I mixture of excitement and fear…but if you truly find your passion and are able to turn in into a career, you can overcome the negatives of being your own boss (and dealing with income fluctuations and all those variables).
    I am looking forward to your book :-)

  41. Lenore says:

    Hey Trent, does your family have any pets? If not, do you think adding a shelter pet to your household might ease your loneliness and “cabin fever” while working alone? What do you think about pet foods that cost more but supposedly have superior nutrition versus generic brands?

    Have you ever considered taking on a part-time job or volunteer position to help with the socialization issue? Even a few hours per week or month might provide a trickle of income, valuable contacts, inspiration for the blog or general stimulation.

  42. Hey Trent,

    Great to hear I’m not the only work-at-homer who goes stir crazy from the lack of socialization. I knew it was bad when my wife and I sat down to watch The Office DVDs and I got nostalgic ;) Good tips – I’m a regular reader now thanks to my dad :)

    Oh also – this post made me want to extend our safety net from 7 months to 12. So I will.


  43. Paula says:

    Hi, I found your website a few weeks ago and I am thrilled with not just the information you provide, but your style as well. I always read all the comments too – you have a wonderful membership. I’m so glad that you’ve had success with leaving your 9-5 job to give more time to family and other pursuits. Now, to address your lack of social contact – try Meetup.com. Incidently, this could be good for your wife too..
    I have been a member and organizer of several groups for over 3 years and have enjoyed it tremendously. Meetup is NOT a singles site, although there are singles groups. Meetup is International and consists of member-run ‘Interest’ groups. If you don’t see a group you are interested in it is very easy to start one. Just go to Meetup.com and punch in your zipcode to see what is available in your area. BTW, I don’t work for meetup, I’m just a very happy member/organizer. I’d be really interested to hear if you and your wife (or the others on this site) join/start any groups in your areas.

    p.s. my site is http://hiking.meetup.com/64/about/

  44. Gabriel says:

    I was doing the work from home thing for a while, but every so often needed a break from home. I live on Capitol Hill, in Seattle, and we have a cool co-working space – http://www.officenomads.com – which is basically a drop-in office space. It provided a nice respite from my place once or twice a week – cool people working there, an “office socialization” vibe, but without having to be in a formal office job. I know there’re a few other such places in Seattle, and am guessing there’re similar elsewhere. Might be worth looking into one day a week or so when you’re feeling a bit socialization-starved.

  45. Joel says:

    I have been a reader of The Simple Dollar for a few months now. I look forward to reading your articles every morning.
    I am also wondering how you manage your health insurance. Many of us dream of working on our own. I think the high cost of health insurance stops many from making the leap. Perhaps you could give us a few pointers in a future article. Thanks! Joel

  46. Ben says:

    Wow, I’m jealous! Sounds like it’s working out pretty well, congrats on the successful transition.

  47. Rob Madrid says:

    HI Trent

    The wife and I have been weighing the same decision about her leaving the corporate world. Right now the companies doing their “annual” restructuring and the Wife has been working mega hours (yesterday 8am to 11pm) plus being gone from home.

    I done the “job loss” budget and we can comfortably live on an English teachers salary, even with rent but it’s the unpredicability that worries me the most.

  48. Sarah says:

    I’ve solved the’stir-crazy’ and interruption problems by picking up and going the half-mile to the library. This also keeps me off the internet when I shouldn’t be there, since our little town library has no wireless.

    But, I have no children.

  49. reulte says:

    I second Joel’s comment (#46) — I’d love to hear more about health insurance. It’s the only thing keeping me from being a SAHM (and a single one as well, so there is no 2nd income).

  50. Vaze says:

    Trent is honest and very straight about his choice. But i have one question, simple dollar has very few or practically no advertisements. So what is source of income by writing? Is it books or any other source. Also if I have a source of income which pays me handsomely (almost two times my expenses) every month and i have comfortable emergency funds, can I have lavish lifestyle. Idea of Financial freedom is great but if i dont want to make frugal choices every time, i can still manage right?

  51. michael bash says:

    Agree completely with yours on “socialization” I went from a school to a mountain where we are the noise and the traffic. Huge, i.e. near total difference. Now almost 2 years in, it’s good to hear others with similar symptoms. Enjoy the blog too; the register is just right. MBash

  52. Travis says:

    Vaze, ever clicked a link on here? The Simple Dollar Family thanks you! Loved this post, Trent. I hope I have the fortitude and circumstances someday to make the same move.

  53. Carolina Little says:

    You summed up my transition as well! I was floored when I read this! Thanks for writing it so well.

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