quitting the rat race, the easy way

I notice a lot of articles like this at CNN’s personal finance site. I have to admit a certain amount of irritation at the gloating tone of ‘people who have managed to quit the rat race’ as that’s interpreted by whoever is doing this work at CNN.

In this article, a childless couple, both working at apparently lucrative jobs, decide to ‘live frugally’ and take the big step for one of them to ‘quit the rat race’ and start working for a non-profit. At age 42 the wife used $20,000 of their money to start a nonprofit.

Starting a non-profit that does what theirs does (working with abused children) is admirable, don’t get me wrong. For CNN to portray an executive couple who drop one salary as daring, bold and risky is annoying. They still have one executive salary. They have no children to support. They have health insurance. They only used $20,000 to start the nonprofit, so if they were making ‘mid-six-figures’ – both of them – prior to starting it, that’s hardly a massive amount. I doubt, for example, they were cashing out their retirement savings or raising money on their almost-maxed-out credit card.

To me, a truly impressive feat is when you read about a single mother doing something like this. My wife ‘quit the rat race’ to raise our son, and we did it living in a very expensive area. She was not an executive before quitting, and I was not either (I was senior management). We managed to do the same thing this couple did, effectively, and we’ve managed to live well enough to accumulate $20,000 if we needed or wanted to start a not-for-profit. We wouldn’t, since then Bubelah would have to juggle child-care with the not-for-profit work and we’re not prepared to do that at this point. Yet we could.

I guess my point is that once you introduce children into the mix doing something like this (quitting the rat race, running a marathon, going to do charitable work in Nepal) becomes exponentially more difficult, both financially and organizationally. I have to be honest and say that I don’t find it impressive if a childless couple decides that one of them should drop out of the rat race. Admirable, sure. Impressive, no. If they share a home and don’t spend like average Americans one salary should be plenty. If you add kids to the mix, balancing the money becomes very difficult and finding the time becomes nearly impossible – unless you plan to ditch your kid in day care 10 hours a day.

So again, I’m not knocking the aspect of starting a not-for-profit at all, but painting it as some sort of heroic achievement against the odds is a little bit irritating to me.