An average family who became location independent with a three year plan
Location Independent, International Jobs: Sarah
Today I have the pleasure to introduce Sarah. Sarah is a long-time reader of the blog, and first contacted me almost a year ago to share her desire to become location independent. She recently accepted a full-time remote job and is now proud to call her family LI! Sarah graciously agreed to answer some interview questions and will now join the ranks of Steve, Jaime, Moose, and more in the “Location Independent, International Jobs” series. Without further ado, here’s Sarah!
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where you’re from, how long married, degrees, kids, ages, etc.
I’m Sarah and I live with my family near Sacramento, California.
I live with my husband of nearly 10 years, our two kids (ages 5 & 8), and two cats. I have a master’s in library science and he has a PhD in the biological sciences. We’ve lived in the Sacramento area for 2 years, having spent time in the Bay Area before that and over a decade in the Chicago suburbs before that.
My family is from the Pacific Northwest, and my in-laws are in Chicago & San Francisco. The majority of our family is on the west coast, so we’re able to see them a lot more than we did when we lived in Chicago.
How did you make the decision to work remotely?
Working remotely was actually suggested by my previous employer in late 2013 (after they’d denied the request in 2009), as we transferred from their Chicago office to San Francisco. I absolutely jumped at the opportunity, since commuting was a huge factor keeping me from my kids. I started looking for new remote work in early 2018 and accepted a new position in July. I’m the librarian for a digital library at a relatively small company based in the Bay Area.
What’s the impetus for wanting to become location independent?
I was treated for depression and anxiety after our oldest was born; it was then that I came up hard against the realization that what I was “supposed to do”–work full time and see my baby for a few hours and be totally ok with that–was not actually working for me.
And so I cut down to part-time and began to radically change our spending, habits, and lifestyle, and really started to question everything. I read blogs like The Minimalist Mom, Frugalwoods, Zen Habits and others, and we kept at it as our son grew and our daughter was born. Then my husband lost his job and we moved to CA in the hopes that there would be work (there was!).
Between the 2-3 hours a day we spent commuting in Chicago, to this stressful time moving across the country for work and cramming into 900 sq ft so we could be closer to work in the Bay Area, my husband and I were unhappy with being tied to a workplace.
Enter our move to Sacramento and my finding The Three Year Experiment, and we started thinking about where we really wanted to be (still under discussion!). I guess we chafe at the ideas of things we have to do, like work in the city, live in the suburbs, have a commute, buy a house, live paycheck-to-paycheck, and so this idea that we could set the terms around where we live and what we do was incredibly appealing. For me, I’d been reading about Financial Independence for some time, but it was a bit nebulous without a really firm vision (we’re still working on that).
Did it take a long time? How does it work for your family?
Even though I started to be remote in January 2014, the job was not truly remote in several senses: I had to be close enough to commute in to San Francisco, I couldn’t tell anyone outside my small team that I worked remotely (lest they desire the same situation), and there was no path to promotion because I couldn’t be reached via an office phone.
This company didn’t provide a laptop or work phone, and didn’t utilize software to keep teams connected from afar (and my team was spread around the east coast, even though they were in physical offices).
My husband travels to meet with clients west of the Mississippi, and once his office in our town closed, we realized that he only has to be near an airport on the west coast in order to visit his clients.
That’s when we realized that my job was the one hindering us, and several other factors pushed me to see what I could find that was truly remote.
Now I have a work computer, a phone allowance, and my entire team is remote–so every meeting has a remote option and there’s no prejudice against workers not on site. I’ve also returned to working full-time, but since I work from home (or the library, or a coffee shop), my only commute is the time it takes to walk or bike the kids to/from school and their aftercare program.
I am expected in at my company headquarters for quarterly meetings, but they pay for travel/accommodations and you can dial in remotely if you are unable to attend. So far, everything is running pretty smoothly! I’ve been starting to think of our town not as a place I must live, but a place we choose to live, which is a new idea. (My dad was in the military, so I’ve moved a lot!)
Are you able to travel with your remote job?
Yes! I could work from anywhere and my employer cares only that my work is done and done well. The biggest challenge is that my husband gets only 2 weeks of vacation per year, so there’s not much time for all of us to travel in the near future to take advantage of working away from home. However, the possibility is one we talk about and I’m sure my dream of a two-week vacation in British Columbia is going to happen eventually.
Why would you recommend this for others? Why would you not recommend this to others?
I would absolutely recommend working remotely to everyone! I think this is the future of work and pretty soon we’ll reach critical mass so that it’s not so rare and more work teams are hybrid. I love having zero commuting and the ability to turn over a load of laundry or start the bread machine during a work break.
I also have a flexible schedule, which allows me to do what I need to do when I need to do it, and that works best for me right now when school starts at 8:15 and there are piano lessons at 4pm on Thursdays and swim lessons at 5pm on Fridays (and my husband is traveling).
It takes some adjusting, but I don’t have a problem working next to an unfolded load of laundry (i.e. I tune out my messy house–maybe a little too well!). For some, finding a shared workspace might be necessary, but those options are frequently available. It’s can be harder on days when my husband is is not traveling and also working from home as there isn’t a lot of space in our 2-bedroom apartment, but we’re working it out.
Any tips for how others could make remote work possible?
I had a hard time finding remote positions, since I was looking for a permanent, full-time, 100% remote position from the get go (I’d worked for my previous employer for 6 years before I went remote, so they knew my work product).
I searched industry job boards and spent a lot of time on LinkedIn. What I ended up doing was to look for Bay Area companies, reasoning that companies over here are more open to remote workers. For several positions they were listed as being in a San Francisco-area town, but then in the job description they said “or remote.” So I ended up reading a ton of postings all the way through in order to find positions to apply for. Needless to say, I’m glad several months of that worked out!
Before you even apply for a remote position (or asking your boss to go remote), however, I recommend being the absolute best at what you do and have the evidence to show it. There’s a ton of advice out there about your professional profile and you want to have a track record that makes the hiring manager think, “I’ve got to talk to this person!”
How has (or how will) a location independent job positively (or negatively) impacted your finances? (since this is a personal finance blog!).
I don’t have to pay to commute, but I do have to pay for electricity use during the day that I wouldn’t have to otherwise. I still have a business casual wardrobe for trips into the office or local meetings (my remote boss happens to live one town over).
I don’t have to pay for before-school care that I would with a typical 8-5 position I’d have to commute to, so that’s a plus. However, this drive to become location and financially independent has really lined our savings accounts. We don’t yet know where we want to be (perhaps it’s where we are now?), but we think we might want to own a home again and we need a down payment for wherever that is.
So our mindset has really been what has helped us improve our finances (for example, I have a spreadsheet from Mr. Slowly Sipping Coffee, recommended by the Mad FIentist=>let me know if you want the link!) and then following blogs like this one for practical tips and moral support (note to Laurie: more frugal Chilean recipes please!) [Laurie: Who knew? I have a ton!!] have kept us on the straight and narrow.
This new job did come with a raise plus increased hours, meaning that we expect to have a California-sized downpayment in about three years. Hopefully we’ll figure out what we want to do by then!
What are your future plans for future trips/travel?
My best friend recently went freelance and is now location independent, so we’ve talked about visiting each other and sharing an ‘office’ for a week. I’m thinking next summer is the time to test that out!
My husband’s family is from Taiwan and we are planning to take a trip there in 2019 or early 2020. Until then we have a few domestic trips lined up (Harry Potter World for our 10th anniversary in a few weeks, a tag-along with my husband to San Diego over my son’s birthday, and two national parks when school’s out). Canada is a perpetual family favorite, but I’ve just got to get my trip planner hat back on–we went to Denmark earlier this year and I’m still worn out!
Anything else I may have forgotten?
I think the best part of being location independent is the possibilities. I like options, and working remotely gives me that in spades. I’m not sure what value you can put on peace of mind, but it’s got to be significant and it is the most valuable aspect for our family. When my husband lost his job in Chicago we were trapped: my part-time job 25 miles away, a house that was worth 2/3 of what we paid for it, and few scientific jobs outside of universities (and a new baby!).
We felt trapped by geography, work, and family, but in the subsequent 5 years we turned that feeling of being cornered into financial stability and now location independence (at least for me), so that we won’t be in that situation again. I really sympathize with any readers who are currently stuck and offer encouragement that with time you can turn your finances and your employment around.
Thank you, Sarah, for this fantastic and inspiring story. Readers, if you’d like to get in touch with Sarah or have specific questions, please leave a comment in the blog, or email me and I’ll put you in touch. As always, if you’d like to share your location independence story or know someone who would, reach out to me at laurie @ thethreeyearexperiment dot com.
And now, I’m off to my very first financial blogging conference (FinCon), so look for updates soon!