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Why my wife went back to work

For those who have been following my comments on other blogs by now you know my wife went back to work. What I have yet to touch on is why. I suspect the reasons may resonate with others.  I also believe it may serve as a warning for those considering becoming a stay at home parent or retiring early.

Why my Wife Became a Stay at Home Parent

In October of last year my wife decided to become a stay at home parent. I wrote a whole series on the impact effects of doing so.  In those posts I cursory mentioned that my wife stopped working to allow her to spend more time with the kids. This was what she left work too.

Leaving Work to Do?

Personal finance gurus and anyone who really understands what it is like to change your life style will point out that if you do choose to leave work voluntarily, you need to leave work to do something else.  If you leave one thing that drives you, whether it makes you happy or not, you need to go to something that also keeps you driven or you will fail.  This is especially true for those in high end careers.

Engineers and Drive

Someone like my wife, who is an engineer, is used to going full bore on everything in pursuit of success.  She started with engineering school which I swear sometimes treats the college process as an exercise in survival of the fittest.  Both of us remember the first week in college being told look to our left and right.  One of those people would not graduate. I can validate that was true in both our cases.   After college she entered a career that required 60-70 hour work weeks.  For anyone that tells you that engineering is the easy way to wealth, take heed there is a reason it pays well.  Easy is not what I would call it.

Kids as a Passion

But I digress, there are plenty of difficult careers.  The point here is to be successful leaving work you must be dedicated to the passion you go to.  My wife is just as dedicated to our kids.  She left work to spend time with our kids.  From that respect her choice to be a stay at home parent has been very successful. Our youngest is currently at home all day.  Our oldest spends about 6 hours a day in a public preschool.  They do all sorts of things: Go to the library, play groups, various educational activities, museums, etc.   I can attest that staying at home is not an easy choice or job either.   It is not one yours truly would be fit to survive.

Something was missing, why my wife went back to work

However, doing so was not enough.  She missed being able to see the success and enjoyment of her engineering work.  She missed being able to say she was an engineer.  She even worried that our kids would not be able to tell others what Mommy does for a career.  Altogether something was missing from her life, she enjoys spending time with our children but it was not enough.  Enter contract work.

Early Retirees, leaving work, and Side Hustles; not about Finances

It’s not an uncommon refrain of those who retire or leave work.  They find a side hustle.  Almost every one of the early retirees out there have a side hustle.  Think Save Retire for example retired to running a video blog and working on rock start finance projects.  Countless others have similar situations.  In every case, just like in my wife’s, these are not decisions about finances.  My wife is not going back to work to make a few dollars.  Her job will be helpful to retirement funding, but she started down this path before even knowing what she would get paid.  Why?  Because work is part of her being.  That side hustle is part of what drives her, and she needs some of that in her life.  I suspect anyone who is truly a driven person will experience a similar need when they leave work.

So, what is my wife going back to work to do?

My wife will be doing work for a different department at her prior company working with the same technologies in a different manner.   She enjoyed it before so I am sure she will enjoy it again.  The difference is she will now be doing so at a rate of about 10 hours a week as a contractor.   This is an important distinction as she can work from home and has the flexibility to choose her hours in the context of her contracted deliverables.  She has maintained the ability to spend the time she wants with our kids, while allowing her to have a career. Ultimately, she has managed to pursue both her passions, and do so under her own terms.  Cool.

An Unintended Plus Side, Money and going back to work

I mentioned before this move was not about money.  It wasn’t.  She even had asked before this all started to work part time for her employer.  They declined. Ironically, as a ten hour a week contractor she will now make marginally less than what she made previously working full time.  The first words out of my mouth after I saw she now makes more an hour than I do was a joke about being a kept man.  Ultimately, it will have an impact on our retirement, perhaps as high as an extra year of expenses in savings annually.

Social Security and going back to work

Moreover, it will increase her social security. Social security pays out based on an average of your 35 highest paying years.  For those that retire early or become a stay at home parent this is especially a concern as any years you have not made income is a year that is averaged as 0.  By leaving work early, you risk receiving significantly less in social security (we will ignore the political points about risks to social security).  By working ten hours a week my wife is still adding to her social security measured earnings.

Bringing it All Together. Why my wife went back to work

I wrote all of this down for an important reason. As a look at my wife’s situation I see an important message. If you’re a driven person working, you will be a driven person once you retire or become a stay it home parent. You cannot just shut it off.  As such to be truly happy you should look for a part time side hustle to complement the other now larger parts of your life. Sure the money might help also, but likely such a hustle won’t be about the money.
For those who have left work or are contemplating doing so, do you have a side hustle?


  1. Financial Coach Brad
    Financial Coach Brad May 31, 2017

    My father retired and golfed almost daily for about two years… then went back to work.

    My wife and I early-retired three years ago. So far, so good. Neither of us have interest in full-time work again, but both of us have kicked around the idea of something part-time out of the house to engage socially and, well, to just be out of the house. 🙂

    • May 31, 2017

      What types of part time work are you considering?

  2. Leo T. Ly
    Leo T. Ly May 31, 2017

    I am aspiring to retire as early as I can. However, my definition of retirement is not to sit around and do nothing. My definition is to work on my passion when I retire rather than working for money.

    I do have a few passions such as blogging, real estate and investing. So if when I retire, I am pretty sure I will be doing one of those three things or even do all of it.

    • May 31, 2017

      It sounds like you have a pretty good plan. Besides being a realtor what else do you actively do in real estate?

      • Leo T. Ly
        Leo T. Ly June 1, 2017

        I do in vest in a couple of investment properties and also in REIT. Being a realtor is great as I can do a lot of market research anytime I was as I have access to data. I can also go to view any properties that are on the market for sale.

  3. Matt @ Optimize Your Life
    Matt @ Optimize Your Life May 31, 2017

    I have witnessed others jumping in and out of the workforce after having kids. I’d imagine it is difficult to find that perfect balance between work, family, and hobbies, especially because it is different for everyone. I hope that this new step hits that balance for your wife, but either way it is great that she was able to recognize an imbalance and work to address it.

    I would definitely keep some form of work going if I left the formal workforce. Even if I was just writing without any hope of income, I know myself well enough to know that I would feel a need to be doing something.

    • May 31, 2017

      Thanks Matt. We shall see if it is the right balance. I think it will be in the long run, but I do worry about timing with kids summer vacation looming on the horizon.

  4. Jim @ Route To Retire
    Jim @ Route To Retire May 31, 2017

    That’s actually great to hear! When it’s not about the money, it makes everything a happier decision. Hope she enjoys the new department and the social rewards that come along with it.

    — Jim

    • May 31, 2017

      Thanks Jim. So far she seems very happy with the new situation.

  5. May 31, 2017

    I tend the emphasize the “FI” in FIRE, because I think a lot of folks who “retire” early go crazy after the frist 6-12 months and get involved in side hustles or a lot of volunteer work.

    I once had a boss who had hit it big early in the 90s with a, cashed out, and retired in his 40s. After two years, he came back to work because he was incredibly bored, and all the folks on the golf course were in their 70s.

    I’ll be financially independent in 39 months, but I don’t think I will go sit on a beach (at least not for a while)

    Mr 39 months

    • May 31, 2017

      I could definitely see that. If I won the lottery tomorrow, not that I even play, but if I did you would still likely see me running a part time gig somewhere. Its against my nature not to produce.

  6. Mr. Need2save
    Mr. Need2save June 1, 2017

    10 hours a week sounds like a good compromise. Enough to be engaged with meaningful work and interactions with her colleagues, but not enough commitment to get stressed over.

    Mrs. Need2Save was in a similar situation. She stopped working for around 6 years after we had our sons in rapid succession. Like your wife, she enjoyed the time with our sons, but she did miss parts of her working life. Although she’s not an engineer (that’s my role), she has always been ambitious and driven. Once our sons were in elementary school, she went back to work part-time. Once they reached middle school, she transitioned to full-time work.

    • June 1, 2017

      What does your wife do for a living?
      I forsee Mrs. FTF following a similar path.

      • Mr. Need2save
        Mr. Need2save June 2, 2017

        Mrs. Need2Save is in HR, specifically benefits. She is currently the Director of Benefits for a public company with over 5,000 employees. Probably explains why we have so many benefits related articles on our site 🙂

  7. Mustard Seed Money
    Mustard Seed Money June 1, 2017

    Wow that’s incredible that your wife can work 75% less and get almost the same amount of pay. That’s incredible!!! Sounds like she is in high demand and very valuable. Plus an added benefit of keeping her skill sets relevant and engaged. Sounds like a win/win all around for everyone. Thanks for sharing!!!

    • June 1, 2017

      Thanks MSM. We’re very lucky to have such an opportunity land in our laps.

  8. The Grounded Engineer
    The Grounded Engineer June 1, 2017

    As a fellow engineer and having a young daughter, I’m jealous! I’d like to find that same type of gig where I live!!

    • June 2, 2017

      I wish I could advise on how to get there, but she just sort of fell into it. Luck favors the prepared I guess.

  9. Amy @ LifeZemplified
    Amy @ LifeZemplified June 2, 2017

    I totally understand her need to fill a missing void. I quit my HR management position when my daughter was 5 and my son was 6 months old. Eventually, I started a side fitness business that became full-time when they were a little older.

    Congrats on your wife working out what sounds to be a great arrangement!

    • June 2, 2017

      Thanks Amy. Do you still do the fitness business?

  10. Teacher Investor
    Teacher Investor June 2, 2017

    “If you’re a driven person working, you will be a driven person once you retire or become a stay it home parent. You cannot just shut it off. ”

    Thanks for this post . . . something I ponder quite often. I expect many of us in the PF world are driven, so ways by which to handle early retirement are helpful. I wouldn’t exactly call it a fear, but more of a worry of mine (for both my wife and me). That said, it will be a different kind of challenge. Really enjoyed hearing your perspective.

    • June 2, 2017

      Thanks teacher investor. On the positive I have noticed while my wife stumbled into her contract position, most early retirement folks seem to eventually stumble on their why. I.e. It seems like luck, but it also seems to be common.

  11. Steve Poling
    Steve Poling June 2, 2017

    If two high-earners marry, I believe the Social Security spouse benefit defaults to the max of the two, not the sum of the two. (A strategic divorce may fix this, provided SSA will recognize it.) The SSA doesn’t come out and SAY it works this way, there’s a complicated bit of jiggery-pokery that appears to net out that way. If you’re counting on your wife’s high engineering salary to improve her Social Security benefit, make sure yours is worse than hers. I hope I’m mistaken, so please verify this yourself.

    • June 2, 2017

      Hi Steve, You are correct. At the moment our Social Security earnings tip in my favor. Still if I had to pull the plug early and she does not for some reason then her Social Security might end up being the higher option. You never know with life.

      Thanks for the feedback.

  12. Rich @
    Rich @ June 2, 2017

    I completely relate to that feeling of missing something. Even after a 2 week vacation I’m usually ready to get back to work. The side hustle lifestyle doesn’t do it for everyone.

  13. SMM
    SMM June 5, 2017

    Good for her! And the flexibility is awesome since she only has to do 10 hours a week. Sometimes with kids it’s hard to manage work and parental stuff if both parties are working. But this seems like a great set-up for you guys!

    • June 6, 2017

      Most definitely. It takes some adjustments with summer vacation starting but ten hours is still relatively easy to find.

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