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.

6 comments

  • I agree that the CNN story is lame. However, you left out the worst line, “So eight years ago, at age 42, she quit. And soon after that she adopted a Weimaraner puppy named Gabriel and started volunteering at a shelter for abused children.” If she was really that dedicated to the cause, she could have volunteered while still working. Or used her companies resources to back a charity. I consider her retiring at 42…I’m even more bitter than you are!

  • Perhaps the underlying issue is calling work a “rat race.” Maybe this person didn’t like their job and wanted a change…

  • This couple is obviously not the best example to be used. It would be more impressive if they said this couple adopted a child or two AND founded the non-profit organization for abused children. How happy they would make that child by giving him/her a loving family and comfortable life.

  • And the gender side of things, don’t forget. I’d be impressed if it were the man who decided to leave his job rather than the woman. Children or not. I’m glad I know of one case where this is so.

  • Ian McFerran

    Well said!

    I once contacted a man who said he was offering a business deal for people to “make their money work for them”. When I asked if it was possible for the “really poor” to pay off the small investment he was asking up front, he said that his company did not offer that service as his business would provide for everyone 100% so it was not worth worrying about. I explained that his company would still benefit from these very poor people joining, just not as fast as if other people with money would allow him to benefit to begin with. I also reminded him about his initial boasts of how well he is doing (showing himself on his website with fast cars, big houses and wonderful holidays) and clearly not in “need” of any more money, unlike most of the people reading his Internet advert were… strangely, he did not reply!!!

    I have found that most of these ideas are good – up to a point – but, when you add into the equation serious matters like “reality” and “moral obligations to your fellow man” and point out that our brothers and sisters around the world are suffering as a direct result of the very system these people are advocating, they suddenly don't want to talk to you anymore. Hmmmmm!

    Success is not the size of your bank account, which you can't take with you when you “go”. It is the size of your heart! Virtue is its own reward!

    Ian McFerran

  • Ian McFerran

    Well said!

    I once contacted a man who said he was offering a business deal for people to “make their money work for them”. When I asked if it was possible for the “really poor” to pay off the small investment he was asking up front, he said that his company did not offer that service as his business would provide for everyone 100% so it was not worth worrying about. I explained that his company would still benefit from these very poor people joining, just not as fast as if other people with money would allow him to benefit to begin with. I also reminded him about his initial boasts of how well he is doing (showing himself on his website with fast cars, big houses and wonderful holidays) and clearly not in “need” of any more money, unlike most of the people reading his Internet advert were… strangely, he did not reply!!!

    I have found that most of these ideas are good – up to a point – but, when you add into the equation serious matters like “reality” and “moral obligations to your fellow man” and point out that our brothers and sisters around the world are suffering as a direct result of the very system these people are advocating, they suddenly don't want to talk to you anymore. Hmmmmm!

    Success is not the size of your bank account, which you can't take with you when you “go”. It is the size of your heart! Virtue is its own reward!

    Ian McFerran