Leaving work - how do I decide?

28 November 2013
I received an email from Amy last week asking about working outside the home. I'll contribute my two cents worth and with Amy's permission, I'm bringing this to the blog because I'm sure there will be many great ideas come in through the comments you will leave. This is what Amy wrote:

When did you know it was time to "retire" and come home? Have you ever thought that if you had known sooner how good it would have been, would you have left the work force sooner?
I have been in the workforce for only about 6 years after having stayed home with my children until they were all in school. I did this because I thought that it was what was expected of me from the "world". I have never thought of it as being long term. I work to only pay for my children's college tuition of which my last payment will be made next month for her last semester-yeah. We have done it with no debt. I still have a 9 yr. old boy at home and want to come home full time again BUT if I would work for 3 more years and use my paycheck to make double mortgage payments, our house would be paid off. I have a sometimes stressful job due to a boss with mental/emotional problems so I never know how the day will be.  I have to count on a babysitter for my son starting this summer because the college-daughter will be in the workforce starting in May. My heart is telling me to come home, but my practical side is saying to deal with it for 3 more years to knock out the mortgage. How do I decide?

Amy, I gave up work because I had no choice, I was burnt out. After a couple of weeks I decided to simplify my life and the day-to-day tasks of shopping, cooking, cleaning and gardening;  then I realised how full and productive life would be. I had been really ambitious during my working life and although I was burnt out at that stage, I still wanted to be challenged and satisfied by whatever I chose to spend my time on. I had to see housework for myself and make sure it wasn't what everyone was saying it was: the menial work no one wanted to do. 

I well remember the morning many years ago when I was working in my garden planting out seedings. I was alone. I'd just finished cleaning up inside, the bed was made, bread was baking and my plan was to sew napkins and a tablecloth later in the day. With my hands deep in the soil, it occurred to me that most of what I touched in my daily life was man-made. And here I was with dirt under my fingernails, looking for the worms that indicate fertility and growth and I was as happy as I could remember being in a very long time. I knew then that I'd hit the mother-lode, that I would continue working in my home and this was not just a short break from work. When I knew that and thought about it, I wished I'd discovered the significance and satisfaction of working for a life, instead of working for a living, long before I actually did.

I really admire what you've done in providing for your children's college tuition and wanting to continue to pay off the mortgage. I don't know how to answer your question other than to ask you: what do you want to do? What would satisfy you most? I think you know the answer to that.  Would it be possible for you to give up work now, and the stress of that boss, work at home with your son until he's a bit older, and then return to work to help with the mortgage? It's really up to you to write down and consider all your options. For instance, if your husband is not healthy or your marriage is a bit shaky, maybe it's prudent to pay off the mortgage fast. Does your son need you at home?  Will you benefit by being at home? Only you know all the circumstances that will impact your decision. I'm sure the readers will have wise words for you so I'll throw it open to comments now.


  1. Hi Amy,

    there isn't an easy answer, and I think it depends on quite a few factors. You mention college tuition, and that makes me think you are in the US? I guess I would be thinking, how stable is the economy? How stable is your partner's job? And are you close to retirement age? Would it be prudent to get rid of the mortgage ASAP? If you are a relatively young Mum and there's a reliable income coming in, then perhaps paying off the mortgage isn't so urgent?

    Staying at home we can usually save a lot more money because we are able to shop and cook carefully, make sure nothing is wasted etc...You may still be able to pay off he mortgage fairly quickly. And is part-time work an option?

    I wish you luck with your decision,Amy :)


  2. "Working for a life, instead of working for a living"..... I love that..... that says exactly how feel about my retirement. Wish I had figured it out years sooner.

  3. Hi Rhonda, hope you are well, I've been away on holidays and although I read the blog on my phone, I couldn't comment as I'd forgotten my password. Amy - it sounds to me like you know what you want to do. You don't need assurance from anyone, go with your heart. Your nine year old will be a man before you know it, enjoy him being little. Best wishes, Kathryn xo

  4. You must do as your heart leads you. Writing all the pros and cons down is a good starting place though. Will you be left enough money out of the one wage to begin your simple life straight away or maybe you will choose to work towards it for 6 months or so. If I were in your shoes I'd be looking for another job and I think you will find that the 3 years will fly by. You are in a good position friend. May folk would love to be 3 years away from no mortgage. All the very best to you.

  5. On the surface it sounds like you really would like to stop working and be there more for your son. As Rhonda says, if there are no other family concerns....I would be seriously thinking of chucking in your job. If you want, you could always do some part time work to help expedite the mortgage payments....

    I love being at home but I am here for a whole different set of circumstances, there is always something to do and I am just as busy as I ever was at work.

  6. Not an easy choice, l think one must follow ones heart. Someone above said about children growing up quickly, they really do and we don't get those years back. Trust your feelings, and whatever you choose; best wishes, Pam

  7. I hope that you are doing well, Rhonda. I love your blog and your compassion to the young about true living.
    Like others have mentioned, there are many, many factors to leaving the workforce and contact with the outside world as it is. Age, the situation in your life at that moment, if you have kids, or not etc. etc.
    At 60 for my husband and me, at 55, we finally bought a home of our own and paid cash for it. But it was with a lot of years of stress, sweat, worries, and sometime angry emotions at turmoil in our lives, but we did it. Like others have mentioned, please follow your heart, my dear. To me, if you will finish the last payment of tuition, and your are done with that, if your family and husband can slow down and you can live on one paycheck, you can quit the job you have, and take a few months to "re-evaluate" your life, and possibly find part time work or work from home? I quit years ago, because I battled cancer, and decided that life was too short, and my life was not worth nasty bosses or dealing with co-workers who live life by drugs and alcohol. Now, I have a home of my own and a place to restart my home business. But, I am at a time when I can do this, as there is no mortgage to worry about. But again, please follow your heart and your family's heart. My prayers and blessings to you to help make the decisions less daunting.
    Hugs from Nebraska US

  8. I'm not very wise yet, and still new along this path, but I think giving yourself permission to follow your heart is the best answer - there will always be more money that needs to be made, but time is not something we can get back.

    1. Not wise yet? I think you underestimate yourself Jaime, that answer was very wise.

    2. Rhonda, I couldn't agree more with you.
      Ngo Family Farm, I share the same thoughts as you! Time waits for no one, do what your heart desires, cause before you know it might just be too late.

  9. Hi Amy......a big decision. As others say, your decision rests with you knowing all the facts of your life. Often when we decide it's time to give up something....... in your case your stressful job with a lot of daily uncertainty about your boss's frame of mind.......and take care of ourselves and opt for what our heart is telling us, other opportunities arise that we hadn't imagined. And if you're going to pay a babysitter now, that expense has to be figured into your calculations. I say life is short, your boy is still little enough to enjoy having mum waiting when he gets home and able to join in school activities. If you do leave work, you could decide to revisit the work question every 6 months or so to check this option is still working for you. Good luck, will you let us know what you decide?

  10. Hi Amy,
    Well, you have a big decision to make. When I left work I wrote every thing down on paper and realized by the time I paid taxes, union dues, and all the other deductions, I was working for very little money. This made my choice much easier. The kids do grow up fast and it's over before you know it. I feel the world is so unstable these days and the more stable the home is the better. You can't get those years back. That's my two cents. Good luck with your decision. p.s I'm a home body at heart, so the decision was easy for me. Also I was the eldest of 9 children and knew how to really be thrifty. Hugs Cheryl

  11. Hi Amy,
    Whatever you do, I think it is so important to make every moment count, be it working away from home, or in the home. The majority of us still have to work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, and it makes no sense to sit there wasting away that time by wishing things were different. I spend my weekends and evenings doing the homemaking things I love to do. I come to work looking for ways I can brighten my own and someone elses day, and that makes every day meaningful. You have received some great advice here, and I am pretty sure you will make the best decisions for you.

  12. I like that everyone is offering suggestions and whatever decision you make it's for you to make which is right for your family. I have been in stressful workplaces with horrible bosses or nasty employees and waking up each day and having to face that is horrible. The fact that you have one more payment on the college education is a wonderful achievement and you should be proud of that. Your son is only 9 and being the last you want to give him the same time at home as the others and he probably needs you more the most even though boys at that age want to be cool ...they still need their Mummy around. My son turned 10 yesterday so I know what young boys are like. Only 3 years to pay off your mortgage is fantastic also so perhaps you could toss in the horrible job and give yourself 2 months off work to redo your budget, get your housework in order, cooking meals and enjoying some down time and then look for some part time work. By not working you are saving on petrol, or transport costs, work clothes also at every work place someone is always leaving and you end up putting in every week for some going away present or birthday cake....that would save you a bit. You could work part time a couple of days a week and put that straight into the mortgage and the other money you were earning...well that probably was consumed with petrol, work clothes, putting in for gifts etc. so no great loss there. It is true that we can't get those years back with our kids once they are gone. Also the fact that now you would have to earn $15-$20 an hour to pay a babysitter $15-$20 an hour to mind your son doesn't make a lot of sense. Being so close to the end of your mortgage is great but being there for your son is important and so is not being totally stressed out from a negative stressful work environment. From the sounds of things it's a good idea to work 3 more years and pay off the mortgage however equally as important to take a bit longer and be there for your son. It sounds like you feel like the right thing to do would be to work the 3 years but in your heart you would love to be there for your son.....working in the home you can actually save more money and for every $1 you save it is one less dollar you need to earn (well more really because of taxes). Good luck with your decision and it's okay for you to do what you think best suits your family needs at this particular time in your life. As someone mentioned above, you could always re-visit things every 6 months as it's not a decision that can't be changed if you feel differently in 6 months time. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane, Australia

  13. I think it is so important to weigh up the pros and cons. I am just retiring from work after being in the same job for 23 years but I was fortunate to be able to work part time and, as it was at the school that my children attended, I was able to take them to and from school and we all had the school holidays together as well. That was an ideal job and my work colleagues were my friends as well so you can't get better than that if you can afford to live on a lower income.

    I have no regrets about my decisions but you have to do what is right for you in your situation. When we bought our home in the 1970s, house prices were much lower and our house was paid off in a couple of years so that made it so much easier for us but that situation has now changed and paying of a mortgage takes so much longer now.

    I haven't read all the comments above but I am sure you have been given some good advice. Amy, I wish you and your family all the best and I am sure you will make wise decisions as you plan for the future.

  14. Hi Amy, This was very timely letter to Rhonda and with the exceptions of a few small details I feel like you knew exactly what I'm struggling with, wanting to better myself and my family's situation but also wondering whether or not I would be making a bad decision- after all a job brings in money. My advice to myself and also to you would be to not make a knee jerk reaction based around a difficult time or situation at work but rather when all is calm, keep the lines of communication open with loved ones who know your situation- in my case my husband as he will become the sole breadwinner and that can add to his mental stress. Other than that it is a very personal decision and I wish you every bit of luck that it turns out just the way that is right for you. Janelle

  15. Dear Amy,
    I'm sorry I haven't had time to read the replies so excuse me if I'm repeating an opinion :)
    Rhondas words of 'working for a life instead of working for a living' sum it up for me (wonderful words Rhonda). You will undoubtedly make the right decision for you and your family but I will share my view.

    Due to illness I have had to give up paid work, for now. It has been difficult to manage financially but we are doing fine. We are covering all of our committments (mortgage etc) and thriving. We have a 6 year old daughter who is almost finished prep. I have been able to take her to and from school, bake for her lunches, have a clean, tender home ready for her and for my husband after a day of hard work. I've never been happier even though I am ill. What I'm saying is, 3 years is a long time doing something you aren't happy doing. Yes it would be wonderful to pay the mortgage off but is it that important to sacrifice? What would you tell a dear friend to do in your shoes? There will be your answer. Good luck with whatever you decide.
    Warm regards,

  16. Dear Amy, You will know when the right time to leave work is ...because when you do it will just 'feel right' . I had a couple of goes at leaving work myself , then schooling fees etc came into the equation and I had to go back for a bit and then come back home. There is no set way to do things , just what feel right for you. From reading your letter you can tell that you care very much about your family and also that this simpler way of living would make you very happy. My advice is , if it is possible,find a gentle time in your life when you are sure you a making a rational decision and then just try it and see...then you will know if it is right for you or not. From the comments you will have read, I think you will see we have all gone through the same feelings as you are right now ,and have approached it all in a myriad of ways. Good luck whatever your decision is. x

  17. Hi Amy, I find that working in the home and continually finding ways to save money is actually saving more money than going out to work. There are lots of frugal ways you can find on the internet which will help you to save money in the home. Every week I seem to find new money saving techniques.

    Children grow up so quickly and you can never get back those years. I have had a few little jobs I have fitted around family life but never seem to stop working in the house, batch cooking and freezing, researching frugal grocery shopping, making do and mending, taking time to really study the running of the home and running it like a business. We have learned new skills which have saved us calling out tradesmen much of the time, thus saving money. As a result, we have overpaid our mortgage and will have cleared it in 5 years time, 10 years earlier than planned.

    I once worked for a very stressed out boss and it was horrible. The stress made me ill and I brought it home with me. My husband also suffered from burn out years ago, so I know what you're talking about.
    Good luck, and if you decide to give up work, don't feel guilty. Home-makers and being a full-time mum is more than a full-time job in itself x

  18. Life can turn on a dime.
    Live in joy.

  19. Dear Rhonda, what a lovely and thoughtful answer. I really have nothing to add; only perhaps that in many times, as it is said, when there's a will there's a way. I have always been a homemaker, from the beginning of our marriage. During times when we were doing OK financially, and during times when we struggled with unemployment (except for a brief period when my husband stayed home with Shira and I went to work). We've made it on one income when it was a "nice" income, and when it was "impossible" to make it. Now our goal is to save in order to buy or build a house mortgage-free. If I went to work we could perhaps save more, but not *much* more (as it would mean a second vehicle, or moving to a more convenient and thus more expensive area, putting the girls in preschool, new work clothes for me, less cooking from scratch, perhaps giving up the chickens, etc). And it would disrupt the life we love. We we skrimp and save. We stretch meat like you wouldn't believe, and most of our furniture is salvaged. We're cheap and loving it.

    Can't wait for the forum to be back. :o)

  20. Hi Amy,
    I agree with several of the comments above that you may find that can save money by not working.Add up your work related expenses such as work clothes, lunches, gas and you may be surprised at what you are actually bringing home. Add in some economizing in the household budget and maybe you can stay home and pay off your house in five years instead of three. Whatever you decide to do I wish you luck!

  21. It is so hard to make the "right" decision. All you can do is make the best decision for you, based on the information and feelings you have, for now. Who knows what the future will bring? Things change. Some time down the track, things might change, and then you can make another choice.

    What you choose for now doesn't have to be forever. Make your choice, then do your best to make it work. In a little while, like all those wise people have commented before me, re-evaluate, and see if you need to change.

    Good wishes with whatever you choose.

  22. Rhonda you give us the best thoughts. I worked my last 5 years because I had to but I prepared to stay home by being frugal, using coupons, eating well but inexpensively. It's just as easy to fix a good potato for dinner as it is to go out, use gas, go to fast food etc. And much less expensive. Now, I am happy to be at home to work. I do have some health issues because of the last 5 years at work. So it is up to each of us what we do. I am making a list of even more I will do without because I live in US and it appears our insurance will go up through no fault of our own. They are not things I need or even especially want just what I am use to. Thank you for caring about us enough to give us good advice.

  23. Wow, what a wonderful post, and it hits me right at home these days. I have been wondering for about 2 years about this kind of thing. At this point, I am trying to accept that I am not yet ready to make any final decisions! Thanks to Amy for her brave post and to Rhonda and all those who commented for sage insights and kind support to those of us in this space.

  24. As others have said, you must do what is right for your own situation: but here is another thought: Perhaps another option that you may not have considered is to give yourself a timeline and then decide how you feel. For instance, give yourself one more year of work (in your plans) to help pay off the house; and then if you really cannot stand the job any longer, at least you are one year closer to paying off the house, and will feel better about retiring; at least from THAT job. Good luck and take things a day or week at at time. You will know when it is time to leave that place of employment.

  25. I chose to stay at home raising my three kids till they all went through primary school. That was the plan. When my eldest began high school my Hubby decided to take the 'plunge' - leave a well-paid job with a company car, paid for medical insurance and a few other bells and whistles. Fortunately we managed to pay off the house prior to his decision. I supported his decision and his wish to take a risk, 'have a go' and invent a whole new concept in his line of work.

    His former place of work (bullies as it turns out) got wind of his 'inventive concepts' and as with other former employees who left and attempted to succeed on their own - we found ourselves being sued for 'theft of intellectual property'. That's the line they adopt when they feel threatened and want to remain sole monopoly.

    Five years of court action with my "David" and the "Goliath" company could have cost us everything. After Hubby's first year at home working night and day in his little old garage, we had no income. I needed to look for work. Even tho it was part time I worked for five years in a highly stressful and physical job. I'd come home bitter and tired and angry - usually. I believe in most situations the mother is the 'heart' of the home. When my heart was hurting as it did during that time, I didn't realise my loved one's hearts were also hurting. I affected 'everyone'! My stress caused them stress. But I remained there cos the family needed to be fed.

    Hubby survived, court action from the bullies failed, I left work after five years and Hubby was finally free to take off with no one trying to pull him down. I love the saying 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' - tho you need to know just how close you are to feeling 'killed'. I left at the right time otherwise illness would have nailed me.

    Today? I'm in a fantastic place and feeling utterly blessed. But many hoops and hurdles had to be jumped to get there. Life is full of challenges and I guess it's all about how you handle them but one thing that no one should tolerate is the actions of thugs and bullies.

    Amy, do you bring home any negative traits as a result of your workplace? Is it affecting the people around you? Do you feel angry, sad, resentful? Do you feel ill? If you do, is the money worth it? With the benefit of hindsight for me personally it wasn't worth it. I should have looked for work elsewhere instead of 'settling' and then moaning and whinging about it. It's all too easy to play the 'victim' card. Facing up to my insecurities and fear to better succeed would have been much more empowering. I had a perfect example in my Hubby and yet I failed to do it myself. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.



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