How Much Money Is Enough to Walk Away?

enough to walk awayJohn Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, wrote an interesting book a few years back called Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life
In it, he talks about how he accidentally returned about $50 billion back to Vanguard shareholders by making the company a mutually owned business rather than a privately held business like Fidelity. Instead of $50 billion, he’s only worth about $50 million. That’s the first time I was confronted with the thought of how much is enough to walk away. 

How Much Was Enough for Me?

If I had stayed on as a bond trader, my net worth today would probably be around $300,000 to $400,000. It is a little less than that, but I’m cool with that. I felt underappreciated at work. I didn’t like the idea of sacrificing 50 hours a week of intense effort for something that didn’t fulfill me.

If I’d gone to Wall Street for a trading job, I probably would have started at around $200,000. That total compensation might have grown to as much as $500,000 over a five year period if I proved myself there as a trader on the Street. Even so, I doubt I would’ve been happy. If my family needed me to work in a traditional job such as this, I would. If I needed to clog this blog with click bait ads and lousy credit cards, I’d at least be tempted.

However, my “early retirement” or whatever you want to call it is only possible because I decided that my savings was enough to walk away from corporate America. I could be more secure, in fact it would have been very wise to work for a few more years. Blogging certainly doesn’t make very much money. I’ll be shocked if someone refinances their 6% student loans to 2% to 3% with Sofi along with a $100 reader bonus, but it’d probably be great for them and I’d make money too. I’ll be equally shocked if someone signs up with Wealthfront and gets sophisticated investment management for 1/10th the cost of expensive wealth managers like Wells Fargo and Merrill Lynch. If someone did though, I’d make a few bucks and they’d probably be way better off.

Even if I had plenty of money, I’d probably refer people to products and services I think add value to your life at a good price. I gain happiness by helping people find value. The part of my bond trader job that I loved was coming up with ideas to buy undervalued assets. I love fantasy football because I can find underdrafted free agents that perform like elite players. My “work” of blogging and doing $100 student loan consultations that can save people thousands of dollars is now fun, so it’s not about walking away for me as I have nothing detestable to walk away from.

Would Your Job Pass the Lottery Test?

What I mean is, if you won $10 million tomorrow in the lottery, would you keep doing what you’re doing now at work? Would you quit, take more time off, or tell off your boss if you became wealthy enough to do anything you want? For most people, the answer is yes.

If that’s the case, the only thing stopping you is figuring out what your “enough” figure is. Like I said, for me it was very low. I’m not financially independent, but I can pay rent and living expenses out of my savings for about 20 years or perhaps 7 to 10 years if I started a family.

Defining ‘Enough’ is Easy, It’s More

The problem when you ask people what “enough” is, it’s always more.  Esquire magazine recently profiled four men at different income levels to ask them about money. The common thread? They all said they’d need about three to four times their current wealth level to leave their jobs.

I have words for them. EVENTUALLY BOTH YOU AND I WILL BE DEAD. For me, that means I want to attempt to find worth in glorifying God and following the example of Christ. As long as I live, I want to help people as much as I can. I believe that my gifts are in teaching others about personal finance. If I can help them take financial control over their own lives, I have a purpose. When I traded bonds, I tried to impact people positively by not using as many swear words, treating people with respect even when they did not respect me, and doing the best job I could.

Eventually though, I realized that every year I’d be trading it would be for the money. I decided to cut my expenses drastically and now I’m free to do most anything. If I make some money doing it, like suggesting you sign up with Republic Wireless to get 2GB of LTE data and unlimited talk and text on a brand new phone for $30 a month, then great.

Questions for You
  1. What is ‘enough’ for you to walk away from your job right now and why? 
  2. If traditional work was not financially necessary, how would you spend your time?
  3. What is the lowest level of spending you could have and still enjoy life? (Multiply this number by 25 and you have your ‘enough’ number) 

16 thoughts on “How Much Money Is Enough to Walk Away?”

  1. Bond trading job was killing me; as you said, long, intense, unfufilling hours. I decided at 53 I did have enough money saved up to walk away, and now living in our off-grid kingdom in NY having a blast. We both have part-time jobs at Lowe’s and I have to say I get more satisfaction from that than I ever did from trading. We probably don’t have to do the part-time gig, but if it’s (mostly) enjoyable, we have the time and it puts shekels in the pockets, then why not? By the way, using your formula in #3 was just a little under where I was when I quit, so hopefully both you and I are right about that!

    1. That’s great to hear Darlene ! I hope to go off grid one day in the wilderness too. That’s fun that you work in Lowe’s , what department is best for bond traders just in case I need a job someday ? Haha

  2. Interesting idea, Travis. I hadn’t heard of the Bogle book, but will definitely check it out. Thanks for the recommendation! For now, I am lucky enough to have a job that passes the lottery test. But if that changes my enough number could drop pretty quickly.

  3. Thank you for sharing “…that means I want to attempt to find worth in glorifying God and following the example of Christ. As long as I live, I want to help people as much as I can. I believe that my gifts are in teaching others about personal finance. If I can help them take financial control over their own lives, I have a purpose.”

    Finding the ways that the Lord wants to use you is more important than any amount of money. To answer your question what would make me walk away from my job. It’s something that I truly struggle with.

    Honestly, I think I’m probably pretty close but at 35 I honestly don’t know what I would do the rest of my life. So until I hear otherwise from the Lord, I will probably stay in this job for the foreseeable future.

  4. Travis, It almost sounds like you’re still trying to justify your own decisions. That’s understandable. I am sure that you get occasional raised eyebrows and maybe even outright questions from friends, family, and acquaintances.

    Having reached retirement the old fashioned way (working for many years, saving, and investing), I can confidently say that every job (and even not working) has good parts, bad parts, and opportunities to serve God. If, however, you are one of the fortunate few who have the talents to earn a very-high salary (with which you could also do much good in the world) and you choose to “bury” those talents (or, at least, use them in more-modest ways), you may be short changing yourself and God… I think there’s a bible story about that.

    To the extent that your choices and blog posts encourage others to question the “rat race”, that’s good. To the extent that you encourage people to live within their means (as opposed to what seems like the lifestyles of the vast majority of Americans), that’s even better. Hopefully, though, those people will still choose to live up to their full potential.

    1. Great points about not burying your talents. For me, I felt like I was a talented bond trader but that I wasn’t created for that purpose. I felt like I could be replaced by another worker and they would have been able to do my job just fine. Where I’m at right now I think I’m teaching people about financial literacy and feel like I use more of my talents than I did when I was just using the analytical part of my brain. Now I have to use creativity, entrepreneurial hustle, writing, and more. So I’d say each person should find where God can use them best in the world and go for that. The bold way would be to do that without worrying about the financial implications but the safe way is to save and build up a chunk of money so you are free to go where you feel lead.

  5. Not sure what enough would be for me, but I love my life as it is now and I’m making good money, so I’m not sure if I’m in a hurry to figure out what “enough” is. Maybe it’s this. Maybe I already have it. Doing what I do, making good money and not wanting to walk away from it.

    1. I think you definitely have already arrived Stefanie! Most people aren’t there yet though. Lots of surveys show the majority of us would rather be doing something else, so it’s those folks we personal finance bloggers have to reach

  6. Loved reading this article this morning so I came back to it! I had a bad week at work last week and that bad week just confirmed why I’m doing what I’m doing – saving and optimizing my finances. I wish I could cut my spending a bit more but difficult to do so until I stop paying the mortgage on a house I’m trying to rent out. Love your articles. You write different stuff from the other PF blogs which makes it interesting. Keep it up!

    1. Thanks Julie! Very high praise. I hope I can keep churning out original stuff. Millennial Boss is a lot of fun to read too

  7. To me, most people have this number thing all wrong. Surprise, Financial Planners drive everyone to build a large pile of investments which usually equals higher fees to them. The more important number is your cash flow, not the size of your account. Having a million with a return of 1% is way too low to retire on. Having a 250K portfolio with some passive income, website sales, Lending Club level returns etc. drives a good cash flow. We need to switch the thought process to cash flow, not the size of the portfolio to “retire”…

    1. I’d agree with that. I was able to “retire” at 25 using a cash flow planning approach over a portfolio size approach. I use income from side hustles to supplement my portfolio so I don’t have to work in a traditional job

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