Young, fresh-faced and full of enthusiasm, I ventured into the City in search of a fulfilling and financially-rewarding career in marketing. In my early 20s, I was working with like-minded professional women within the marketing department of a Lloyd’s insurance broker. Although it was a junior role, long hours were expected from the outset, but this was balanced with a lively social life. We were treated to meals at some of London’s finest restaurants, and I soon became accustomed to enjoying such fine dining on a regular basis.
The next decade brought pay rises, promotions and opportunities with new firms. By the age of 30 I was regional business development manager at a large accountancy practice. The role required a great deal of commitment, as I had to travel to different offices across the country on a regular basis, attend evening networking events and work into the early hours of the morning on proposals. It was quite an exhilarating working environment, as a high level of professionalism was required at all times and I was keen to prove myself to my superiors. I enjoyed meeting a wide variety of people and the work was varied, which kept it interesting. Along with a healthy salary, I had private medical cover, a decent pension and a generous holiday allowance. I couldn’t complain, I was very comfortably off, but I’d worked hard at school, university and in the work place to get to where I was, so I felt it was well-deserved.
I was progressing with momentum, but then I became ill. If you work long hours and try to squeeze a social life, romantic life and family life on top of this, then sooner or later you’re going to burn out. It happened to me in spectacular style, my immune system gave up on me, and I don’t blame it after the way I treated my body. In trying to accommodate the demands of the job; the long-distance travel, long hours and networking events; I’d neglected my health. I was struggling to find the time to exercise and to prepare healthy meals for myself, and I was sleep deprived, as I’d regularly wake up in the middle of the night worrying about work the next day. To make life easier for myself, I was using take-away dinners and sugary snacks to support myself through my working week. Also, I’d put pressure on myself to create a good impression and to exceed the expectations of my boss and the partners at the firm, which had left me quite stressed.
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave the job that I’d worked so hard to get, as I still enjoyed the role and I felt as though I’d be letting my boss, and my team, down. However, I realised that there is nothing more important than your health, and I needed to give my body enough time to fully recover. The timing of my departure wasn’t particularly convenient, as I’d just purchased my first home with my partner. Luckily, I’d managed to put aside some money for emergencies, and my savings covered my half of the mortgage payments for the next six months.
During my recovery, I had plenty of time to think about my future, and to re-evaluate the direction in which my life was going. I realised that I’d become fixated with earning as much money as possible, in the belief that a high salary was somehow linked to success and self-worth. I think my competitive nature persuaded me that it was an achievement to earn more than my colleagues, that this would make me happy. But it didn’t. Once I’d jumped off the career train, I felt so much more relaxed, the stress evaporated and I began to enjoy life in simpler ways.
I started spending more time with my partner, my family and my friends, the people who really matter to me, rather than mingling with associates I hardly knew. When you stop moving at a million miles an hour, you find time to take pleasure in nature, to go for walks and enjoy the feeling of the sun on your skin.
The benefits of my new laid-back lifestyle were contrasted with the realities of life. There were still bills to pay and it wasn’t long before I found myself under financial pressure. I was working part time at my partner’s company, but we were struggling to find the money for two incomes from the business. Knowing I wasn’t physically strong enough for a demanding full-time job, I found myself a part-time job at a local coffee shop.
I can honestly say that I love my job. I enjoy going into work and I look forward to my shifts. It’s a stress-free job with social interaction, and I’m not sitting on my backside in front of a computer all day. I walk to work, chat to our regular customers, get on really well with my boss, and I don’t have to work long hours. I feel that my work/life balance has greatly improved since downsizing.
However, downsizing has come at a cost, I can’t afford luxury holidays anymore, I hardly ever eat out at restaurants and I’ve had to give up shopping at the local luxury department store. Now that I don’t have the means to support this lavish lifestyle, I actually don’t miss it. I’ve re-evaluated what’s important to me; designer clothes, fancy meals out and expensive holidays aren’t exactly life essentials and they only make you happy for that moment in time. If you enjoy your day-to-day life, why would you need to take a holiday from it? It seems ironic that people work long hours in high-pressure jobs, just so that they can earn enough money to pay for a luxury 5* holiday.
Sometimes I experience doubt about the way I’m living my life. I feel guilty for not being more ambitious, as if I’m letting myself down by not making the most of the skills I’ve acquired through work and study. I worry about my financial future too, as I don’t have a pension plan and I can’t see a way of ever being able to move up the property ladder. However, all things considered, I would say that, for me, the downsizing of my life has been worth it. Although I can’t afford to treat myself very often, when I do, it’s all the more enjoyable because I’ve had to wait and save for it.
- If you don’t own a home, but have always wanted to, apply for a mortgage before you quit your permanent role. It’s a lot easier to get a mortgage if you have a stable, full-time job. Once the mortgage is in place, you’ll have more freedom to try other career options, and if you can’t afford the full mortgage repayment each month on your new salary, try renting out a room.
- Before you quit, make sure you have some money set aside for unexpected events. If, like me, your new salary will only allow you to cover the basics each month (mortgage, bills and food), then you’ll need some spare cash for emergencies, such as boiler or car repairs.
- Live within your means – cut back on the non-essentials, some of the essentials may have to be streamlined as well. Be prepared to spend more time shopping around for better deals from energy providers, car and home insurance providers etc. – don’t just automatically renew each year without checking if you’re getting the best price. When it comes to food shopping, Aldi and Lidl make great alternatives to Waitrose and M&S.
- Don’t forget the extras – on top of your mortgage/rent you’ll have bills, phone contract, car tax, m.o.t., motor insurance, buildings insurance, contents insurance and food. If you’re determined to down size, you may have to work more hours in a less demanding and lower-paid job. I’m currently working two part-time jobs, which sometimes sees me working a 7am-8pm day.
- How supportive will your family and friends be? Will they understand that you won’t have the necessary funds for fun nights out, expensive birthday meals and lavish family gatherings? If they’re used to expensive days/evenings out, they’ll have to adapt to your new circumstances if they want to spend time with you. You could suggest movie nights at home, free local community events, going for walks in the countryside/along the coast etc. Since I’ve adjusted my life style, I’ve found these to be just as enjoyable as meals at fine-dining restaurants.