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Field Report: 3 Lessons My Husband and I Learned by Quitting Our Jobs

Tyler’s Note:  This is a Riskologist Field Report by Sarah Russel of Common Sense Marketing. Field Reports are written by readers just like you, so be nice, enjoy the story, and take action on the lesson. To contribute your own Field Report, go here.

When I think about risk-taking, I think about people who drop everything to move across the world or those who make it a personal mission to scale a mountain on every continent (yep… looking at you, Tyler!).

In fact, I don’t even think of myself as a naturally “risk-oriented” person, but in February, my husband and I both took an uncharacteristically major leap and quit both of our jobs on the same weekend.

A little background, first…

I’ve been working online since 2007 as a freelance writer, affiliate marketer and blogger.  In nearly all those instances, though, I’ve been making money online alongside a day job – meaning that I never really had anything “on the line.”  The extra cash was nice, but if I slacked off and let things slide for a few weeks, I still had a regular paycheck coming in to pay my bills.

Around June of last year, I started thinking about making the leap to full-time self-employment.  I can’t say it was the result of a single, life-changing moment—rather, I’d begun to feel disillusioned about what the traditional work environment entails.

I enjoyed some aspects of my job, but I was growing frustrated with the inefficiencies of the corporate structure and the lack of personal and professional development opportunities available to me as someone else’s employee.

So, I started planning.  I mapped out how much self-employment income I’d need to have to make working for myself feasible, as well as what I’d need to earn to pay off the credit card debt my husband and I acquired when we were young and stupid.

I analyzed what I’d need to set aside for taxes and what we’d be looking at for individual policy health insurance costs—even going so far as to calculate what my husband and I had spent on discretionary purchases in the last year to see how much extra money I’d need to earn to not seriously compromise our quality of living.

Nothing says “I’m a huge risk-taker” like months of concerted planning and effort…

With the results of this analysis, I started growing my writing client list and web businesses while my husband picked up a few extra nights of work as a bartender.  I won’t lie—it sucked.  It sucked hard.

With both of us working nearly 70 hours a week, we hardly saw each other and we were both sick, tired and stressed out most of the time; I’m just now getting over a cold I’ve had for four months straight!

But the results were worth it.  After about six months of working these crazy schedules, we’d paid off nearly $15,000 in credit card debt and I’d built up enough steady income through freelancing to cover our regular expenses.

I was on track to put in my two-week notice mid-January, but over the Christmas holidays, we started to discuss my husband leaving his job, too.  The bar he was working at had gone downhill, substantially decreasing his income and increasing his stress level.

It was always his intention to find another job, but we began to look at the possibility of him taking a full month off to recoup and get healthy again after years of bar work—something that seemed pretty risky given the state of the job market and the uncertainty of finding another job in our timeline.

On February 3rd and 4th, my husband and I both quit our jobs.  It certainly hasn’t been all “margaritas on the beach” like most of the “work from home” programs out there have you dreaming of, but we’re making it work for us, due in part to the lessons we’ve learned so far:

Lesson #1 – Managing a major change together takes effort (aka, how to not kill your husband when you’re home together all day)

My bartender husband and I had worked opposite schedules for nearly six years – so suddenly being home together, all day every day, was a huge change.  I wouldn’t say we handled everything perfectly, but we did put a few ground rules in place that made the transition easier:

  • Respect each other’s boundaries – Since my husband and I are both very independent people, we established pretty early on that we’d both need alone time (even if that simply meant hanging out on different floors of our house).  Being able to say, “I need to be by myself right now” isn’t always easy (especially since my husband and I have both had to adjust to having much less social contact outside the house), but I think it’s helped to keep both of us sane.
  • Maintain social ties – You really take for granted how much social contact you have at a regular job, even if it’s just idle “water cooler” chatter.  To go from gossiping away half the day to having one person as your sole social network isn’t sustainable (especially considering that person is dealing with many of the same transition issues you are), which is why my husband and I were careful to keep in contact with our separate groups of friends and make those relationships a priority as well.
  • Be open about what’s working and what’s not – My husband is about a hundred times better at talking about feelings and emotions than I am, but we’ve found it’s crucial to check in with each other regularly to see how we’re doing.  I think we both really underestimated how much of a mental and emotional transition it is to go from full-time work to being at home full-time, and there are many different feelings associated with the process.  It’s been great to have someone going through the same thing with me and even more important that we’ve been up front with each other about what is and is not working throughout the process.

Lesson #2 – Talking to extended family about a major change is tough (aka, how to get your in-laws to think you’re batsh*t crazy)

In a lot of ways, I’m lucky in that my family has always been incredibly supportive of my self-employment goals.  There’s no one in my life telling me I’m silly for wanting to work for myself or that I’m doomed to failure since most small businesses fail within the first year or two.

However, we did find that talking about wanting to be self-employed versus actually announcing your concrete plans is a bit of a different game—especially for my traditional, conservative, businessman father.  I imagine my husband and I both announcing our plans to quit our jobs was quite a bit removed from the tame, settled life he always pictured for me!

The thing that helped us most was having a very clear plan we could share with them.  We weren’t just saying, “Hey, I think we’re both going to quit our jobs next month!”  Instead, we shared the long-term preparations we’d been making, as well as the backup plans we had in place.

I think any parent’s biggest worry is that his children will go without, so knowing that we had plans for covering health insurance, taxes and other expenses helped put our family at ease.

In fact, it was my former co-workers who freaked out more than anyone about us leaving steady paychecks and employer-paid health benefits.  If you and your partner are thinking about making this type of leap together, I highly recommend developing a thick skin and embracing the motto “Haters gonna hate” while letting their faux-concern criticisms roll off you!

Lesson #3 – Financial planning for a major risk doesn’t look the same for everyone (aka—no, we don’t have a six month emergency fund and here’s why I don’t care)

I’m a huge Suze Orman fan, but I’m guessing if she and I got on the phone together, she’d be pretty pissed about the financial risks we’re taking…

We don’t have a six month emergency fund–heck, we barely have enough to pay one month’s mortgage if the sh*t hit the fan.  After putting all our effort into paying down debt, we only have about $1,000 in the bank as a safety cushion, and although we certainly plan on growing that amount significantly, there’s no arguing with the fact that it won’t get us far in an emergency.

At the same time, I don’t regret the decision to leave our jobs before the account was fully stocked.

We both could have worked a few more months to beef up that number, but we were so burned out by February that staying would have seriously compromised our health.  We have extra credit card space to use in extreme emergencies, but I like that the threat of racking up debt again or losing a big client (and the related income) keeps me motivated to push forward with my businesses.

In many ways, I actually feel more secure now.  I’ve built my writing business to the point where, even if I lost all my existing clients, I believe I could find new customers fast enough to minimize the blow.

Compared to putting all my eggs in one basket (aka, working a day job with a sole employer who could fire me at any time), I feel like I’m more in charge of my future than ever before and will be able to better protect us from emergencies by taking responsibility for my income.

Who would have thought that leaving a “secure” job could lead to feeling more secure than ever?

The lesson we’ve found here is that only you know what’s right for your financial situation.  There are tons of books and blogs that’ll tell you to have a certain amount in the bank before you consider making the leap to full-time self-employment, but like so many other blanket recommendations, I believe these should be taken with a grain of salt.  As long as you fully understand the risks of the decision you’re making, you’ll be able to figure out what’s right for you in terms of savings and income before taking a major risk like this.

If that’s you, good luck!

Sarah Russell is a newly full-time self-employed writer and marketer who shares her experiences with affiliate marketing on the Common Sense Marketing website.  Say hi to her on Twitter—being home alone all day can get awful lonely!


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What smart people are saying about this...

  1. I can relate to the co-workers freaking out.

    Many, many years ago I was a truck driver, which I hated.
    I quit several times to go sell real estate, which I sucked at.

    After I finally quit for good, a friend told me that
    my co-workers hated me whenever I would quit the trucker job.
    I couldn’t understand that.
    I thought they would be supportive.
    I mean, I was trying to make a better life for myself, they should be happy for me.
    He explained that they were too afraid themselves to take a risk
    and try a different line of work.
    But when I was willing to do just that, they resented me for it.

    Very few people, especially friends and family, will be supportive
    of an independent lifestyle. They would prefer that you be like them and stay stuck in a job and miserable.

    • Mark – Sorry to hear your family and friends haven’t been supportive of your choices in the past. Hopefully they’ll come around and support you in the future, especially when they see that you’re a happier, healthier person because of the independent lifestyle you’ve pursued!

  2. Mark nailed it about others not wanting to see you follow your dreams of an independent lifestyle.

    It’s really a shame.

    I applaud both of you for taking the leap.

    Your paragraph about security is spot on. No one is secure in any job. Far too often, people toil away for years at a job, thinking they are secure and then one day, wham-o, laid off. Now what do they do.

    You secured your own security by starting your own gig and developing the skills required to survive. That’s not risky — that’s wise.

    • I think I’ve been incredibly lucky in the way my family and friends have supported my decision – I can’t imagine how tough it would be to make the leap without such a committed support network!

      My hat’s off to all of you who make the decision to pursue real security over other peoples’ objections :)

  3. You guys are all right – There’s no such thing as a “safe and secure” job anymore. I was let go from a place I worked for 8 years after it was sold. At least I had a severance on that one. And I was let go after only 6 months from another with no severance – and this one happened in the first week of my return from maternity leave after they asked me to come back a month early! Whammo is right!

    The only way to be truly secure, as you have discovered, is to be in control of your income. I’m putting the pieces together to make that happen for me.

    I agree that working from home can be a challenge. In our house there’s no set schedule for the day. Every day is different. It also varies as to who is caring for which of our three small children (my husband or me). Major flexibility is the only answer.

    Huge kuddos to you guys for making the leap successfully!! Life will continue to get better and better for you!

    • Wow – Congrats on pulling things together after being let go from two jobs! That takes a lot of courage, but I’m sure it will wind up being better in the long run for you and your family :)

  4. Your story is very inspiring and realistic! I always read about what you mentioned – having that 6 month security of savings for emergencies. We all know most of us can’t do that. You are taking a real risk, but like you and everyone else has mentioned – you are never secure at a full-time job working for someone else. I was let go of my job of 6.5 years. I landed a new full-time job after only 4 weeks of being unemployed, but who’s to say that won’t happen to me again? I’ve been on the edge of trying to stop working for someone else and letting someone else dictate and decide the level of my success. I just can’t take the leap. Reading real-life stories like this with the facts and experiences helps me take another step closer to the edge. I just hope I leap someday, but I can’t say when. Risk-taking is tough for me, it doesn’t come naturally. Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m sure it has inspired many, it certainly has inspired me. All the best to you both :)

    • Thanks Nicole, and best of luck with both your new job and the side projects that’ll make you more secure in the long run!

      I think making the leap to self-employment is a lot like what people say about having kids – there’s never going to be a perfect time, so you do the best with what you’ve got. Obviously, I wish we had more saved up, but I also wish for a pony, a speedboat and a whole bunch of other things :) You make it work one way or another!

  5. I like this real look on becoming an internet marketer. Great article!

    I have been blogging for about 7 months now and I definitely learnt that internet marketing isn’t all “passive income” and a “lavish lifestyle”.

    It takes real hard work and patience.

    But I say, good on you and your husband for taking the leap! That’s something 90% of the world wouldn’t dare to even try or think of!

    • Just about all internet business is harder than people make it sound (otherwise, how would they ever sell you anything?!). Of course, it’s still worth the effort, so keep at it!!!

  6. My partner and I are planning to do the same thing in the next 9 months… but I am not brave enough to do it without a huge safety net. We are saving up 3 years worth of living expenses before taking the leap. Fortunately my current job is not stressful and the extra time it’s taking is not harming our health, so I am okay with being patient. I wish you well in your new endeavors!

    • Good for you! If you’re able to stick it out and build a nest egg, that’s great – I’m sure that’ll come in handy in terms of giving you the freedom to pursue the path that makes sense for you, not just what brings in money the fastest.

      Best of luck with your future projects :)

  7. Good read, very honest, very real. I have been self employed for over 32 years. Never really worried about it too much because I could always work harder and make more, to cover the difference or to pay for my last two mistakes. I faced the same things then that you are now. I am the anomaly in my friend and family groups, but that is also what makes it interesting and alive.

    Now that I am older, the equation has changed a bit. “working smarter” has become my new mantra. The only real apprehension now is health insurance costs and what if’s, after seeing and helping both my parents in the final years of their lives. The solution I came up with is to create a great deal more wealth than I had previously understood was necessary to grow old.

    Sounds a bit unrealistic but not really. Not when you consider that you are the only limiter you have. The world is full of people who overcame greater odds than any of us could phathom to succeed and achieve greater things than we’ll ever attempt.

    The key is to push all your scenarios forward, far enough into the future to see what needs to happen TODAY, right now, to make equal your later. You already have that skill sets, based on your number crunching to make your big move. It was very wise of you to factor in all the “Other Stuff” outside of regular expenses. Also your understanding of real is real.

    Lastly, make appointments with yourself to do things like rest, go to church, spend time with friends, think and be, and have fun with your husband. In balance, your “out-of-the-box” thinking will multiply beyond your own understanding.

    Good Luck and God’s Speed.

    • Thanks for the words of encouragement! I’m feeling incredibly blessed to even be in the position of trying to figure out how to best invest in my business in order to grow it in the way I envision for the long-term.

      Learning how to work smarter and align activities with the goals you set for yourself is incredibly challenging, but it’s a challenge I’m happy to be facing at this point in my life.

      Best of luck with your own business goals!!!

  8. Congrats! Just started reading “Take this job and shove it” and its a really good read. I’ve been meaning to quit my job for some time now but haven’t gotten to with all my inhibitions, mostly due to financial and family reasons but with this, it really got me thinking and will start practicing your advises.

    PS: I really like your blog. 😉

  9. Thanks so much!!! If I can do it, you can do it too :) Feel free to email if you have questions or need encouragement!

  10. I was laid off twice in a seven-month period in 2008, and after the second layoff, I started my own business as a freelancer. I vowed that I would never put all my eggs in one basket again. I was fortunate that I had been saving up to refinance my house, so I had some backup in the bank. And I had been working as a contract employee for the first company that laid me off (still am!), so I already had my first client.

    Congrats to you and your hubby for thinking this through. When people ask me about starting a business, I tell them to do what you guys did: Start the business, then spend the next year getting clients, beginning the marketing plan, and saving every penny you can so that when you go solo, you already have a foundation in place. Just because you planned it doesn’t mean you didn’t take a huge risk!

    Also understand about the support — or lack of it — from family. I found out the hard way that my parents and some of my siblings really DON’T think I should be doing this, since I’m a single parent. Fortunately, my 17-year-old son is so supportive of me that he has forbidden me to go back to work full time in an office. That’s all that matters!

    Thanks for the inspiration. I’m going to be sending out the link to this blog quite a bit in the future!

Founded with love by Tyler Tervooren

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