Exchange Freedom for Money?

The lovely city of Freiburg im Breisgau. A worthy short trip from Munich two weeks ago, and only 30 EUR return by the new "Deutsche Bahn Bus".

The lovely city of Freiburg im Breisgau. A worthy short trip from Munich two weeks ago, and only 30 EUR return by the new “Deutsche Bahn Bus”.

Hi Guys, it’s been quite a time since the last post, but what can I say:

Spring hit Germany very early this year and with this is coming the wonderful season of outdoor activities, travels, short trips and general idling in the sun. And this is what Woodpecker & family are quite busy with these days.

Today I’d like to share a few more thoughts on the work world, a topic where you can never spend too much thinking on how to (down)optimize this unfortunate time-consuming necessity.

Because besides enjoying the sun I was somewhat busy with an issue at my workplace:

A potential move within my company

… a move to an even more bright spot from a monetary and “power” point of view, but of likely negative effect on freedom and work load.

The thing is that the new position would increase salary quite substantial (+12% or so and a better outlook for future growth) and it would come along with one of these stupidly important titles in the company and thus more “prestige” and “power”. But it would most likely mean that I’d have to sacrifice my holy days in home office, have much fewer relaxed coffee breaks with colleagues, work under a quite work-focused and demanding boss and have a slightly increased commuting time. And it would be a much more challenging job than today, meaning that any 80/20 effort scheme would not work anymore but quite likely frequent stressful times would be part of the package.

As often I seem to think in quite different ways about these things than most of my co-workers or other rat-racy people, most of whom would lick their fingers for this “opportunity to get ahead” or to gain that “warm feeling of power”.

But getting ahead where to? To having the most lengthy title on your business card at the end of the career?

And what warm glow of power? For some reason the fun of having power is a feeling that my cerebral system is missing entirely. I know all sorts of warm glow, but they come from having a good authentic and relaxed time with friends, see a foreign city, collect new impressions and experiences, wrestle with my kids on the sofa on a rainy evening, sailing through a thunderstorm at the edge of your abilities to steer a sailing vessel.

But getting warm feelings because you are able to command others?

Sorry, but this always struck me as quite pathetic and to be honest as a very pitiable way of having a good time.

So no, power drops out as a motivator for Woodpecker.

And same holds for prestige.
If people want to talk to me and spend time with me I enjoy this as every other human does. But the reason should be that this very people like me, find talking to me or spending time with me interesting, and not because they fear me or somehow are attracted by my potential prestige, title, money or whatever.

Good, that’s done then, so we are left with the last motivator:

More Money

Yes, the warm glow of more money pouring in is more understandable to me. Or, to be more precise, the warm glow of the things, experience and freedoms I can buy with this money. Because getting warm feelings from the money per se is as poor as the power thing. Money itself is only numbers in your bank account, not more. Nothing against enjoying these numbers, but if your life is reduced to feeling proud or happy more or less only about the size of this number, then you certainly life a failed life. And many, many people with money do exactly that. They are called Scrooge or niggard.
Not my goal obviously.But buying more freedom, working even less, yes, this are worthy goals.

So, slowly we come closer to the solution:

Sacrifice freedom for more money?

Hm, after the bullets above you might have figured out where this is leading.

Should I sacrifice a fairly large degree of freedom I have in order to earn more money which I primarily are planning to spent to buy myself more freedom?

Sounds like a stupid trade, doesn’t it?

And in my case, indeed it is.
Because +12% is nice but not a world of more money. This 12% can be tucked away for saving, yes, and earn interest, yes, but it is not likely to make a tremendous change in Woodpeckers wealth position, while the costs of freedom outlined above are substantial plus they are difficult to predict. Could be that in the end the new position is less stressful than anticipated, but could also be (and my inofficial research indicates this) that the potential new boss would give me a really hard-working time (something that is priority one to be avoided! 😉 )for a mere 12% more of solatium.

So chances are that I will decide to not go for this position and leave it to someone else eager for career.
And probably I will just wait until fate washes a better chance to my shores – more money without giving up freedom… 😉

All my life experience so far shows that typically all sorts of great chances simply appear sooner or later if you only wait and stay open and prepared. As a undestroyable optimist I do not see any reason why this should not be the case in future again.

OK, this was my special situation.

What is my general advise?

Obviously it is not to decline any opportunity that shows up, but the following:

  • Strip the benefit of the new opportunity from all valueless benefits, which are: Power, pride, prestige etc.
  • Remaining benefits are: More money, shorter hours to work, more freedom, a nice and relaxed boss (very important! maybe the most important of all), a nicer office, less stress, more satisfying work, shorter commuting, nicer colleagues, better lunch meals etc.
  • Check honestly for all disadvantages, which are basically the opposites of the items listed under the bullet above.
  • Do a lot of informal research to find out about all these “soft” factors. Use your informal network of co-workers that you hopefully have to find out the “truth” about the position in question.
  • Actively test readiness of the potential boss for your needs. E.g. I openly (but diplomatically) raised the home-office question and got a quite clear (negative) answer. Better for both sides to know before than later what they are up to.
  • Deduct for uncertainty. In case you can not get accurate information, assume a more negative scenario.
  • At the beginning of your career you will most likely be able to improve on many of the items above. So change a lot while you are young, eager and flexible.
  • The longer you are in a current position (especially if the boss is nice) the more difficult it will be to improve. You will already have a satisfying salary, you will have found your niches and made it comfortable, you will have a set of informal rules and tacit agreements with co-workers and bosses at hand that avoid stress and conflict. Thus later in the career, a step only makes sense if it offers a lot.
  • If in doubt, decline, stay open and prepared and wait. Your day will come.

And, most importantly if in doubt of sacrificing freedom:

  • Check for opportunity costs!

As with spending the question freedom vs. money boils down to the concept of opportunity cost, i.e. “what else could I do with the time / freedom I have to sacrifice for the job?”

It might be different if you have no family, less hobbies and inclination towards outdoor activities, but in the Woodpecker case the opportunity costs are simply huge.
I have just too many ideas how to spend my time outside of work in a very satisfying way, and the Woodpecker family not only needs a lot of vacations, days off, parental leaves etc to do so, but also a very relaxed working week to get household things done Monday to Friday evenings, such that the weekends are completely free from Friday early afternoon on.
Social life at Woodpecker’s is booming, the network of downshifting and outdoor focussed people is ever-growing and requests / ideas for frugal weekends and weekday evening activities are piling up higher than ever before! 🙂

So, sorry, dear employer, but no way that I am sitting in the office until 6 o’clock each day or on Fridays after 3!



ps. There was a second project related to the work place that I chased the last weeks but this post is too long already. More of this later.


6 comments on “Exchange Freedom for Money?

  1. AJ says:

    While you’re probably making the right decision for your own down-shifting lifestyle, it’s worth doing the maths on what this means for somebody seeking early retirement. That 12% increase in pay can actually make a very big difference to how much you can put away each month.

    If we assume a healthy existing saving rate of 25%, then what does it mean to get a 12% pay rise? Assuming you don’t increase your costs so you add the whole increase to your savings each month, then your savings rate will actually jump to 40%!

    As we know from posts like Mr Money Mustache’s (, that will have the following impact, if we start from a point of having zero investments:
    * 25% savings rate = 32 years to retirement
    * 40% savings rate = 22 years to retirement

    That’s a ten year difference from a “relatively” small salary increase!! Worth looking at in this way if early retirement or financial independence is your goal

    (Note that I’m ignoring tax in this for simplicity but that’s obviously also a factor)

    • mrwoodpecker says:

      Hi AJ,
      thanks for that notworthy comment!

      Yes, you’d have to look at taxes as well as increased cost of living (e.g. due to longer commuting, less time to do things at home on your own, need for additional childcare, less time to optimize spending, do cooking etc.)

      But in principal you are still right, if your only goal is to retire as early as possible, it is simple:
      You always have to go for the higher income option in this case (and have a second job for the weekend and a third job for vacations). And you always have to go for the lower consumption level (abstain from having kids, abstain from holidays, travelling etc).

      This sounds interesting in theory, but leads to a somehow too narrow-focussed and too un-interesting life from my personal point of view.

      Thus my goal is a bit more complex.
      My goal (and what I advocate in this blog) is to follow a downshifting and middle way, where I live a life as pleasant as possible now by optimizing work satisfaction and available free time while still saving heavily by spending efficiently to open up additional flexibility in life planning.

      So I am having a bit of a more complex optimization problem at hand than the guy who simply wants to retire early. But thats fine, otherwise I would have nothing to talk about in my blog, wouldn’t I? 😉


      • AJ says:

        I like your concept of a middle way, and it’s a change from some of the other blogs, but even within the middle way there is a range.

        For example I’m also not interested in having a massively stressful life, but I will put up with some of it to retire (or rather, have the financial option to retire) at 50 instead of 65 . We all make the same choices but perhaps you would prefer more leisure now and a retirement at 65? I don’t know. Maybe in Germany you can still retire early. If you leave at 3pm every Friday then what you have there is certainly not typical for the Anglo-Saxon corporate world!

        I would never work a second job. I don’t sacrifice my weekends. I travel. I eat organic vegetables 🙂 I see this as a sliding scale of income vs frugality, rather than early retirement being an extreme goal. If we are speaking about EXTREMELY early retirement (in your 30s) then you are right, but I think that WE (as in, you and I) are on the same path, just with slightly different trajectories.

      • mrwoodpecker says:

        I have to add that I start working quite early in the morning usually, around 7:30 typically, or latest 8 o’clock. Generally in Germany for many jobs you have your working hours per week written in the contract (typically between 35-42 hours per week). The thing is that very often your employer will expect you to do unpaid additional hours. And a lot of people want to push their careers by doing so (if this works out is another question) and/or are simply working inefficiently (e.g. because their position is in fact too challenging or not fitting for their abilities – something that often happens), so many people here in Germany work much more than they are obliged to.
        But if you do a good job (so no risk your employer’s calculation does not work anymore) and if you are ready to take the risk of your career slowing down considerably, you very often can shift down to the obligatory work time. I firmly belief this is possible in Anglo-Saxon companies too, and I know quite some positive cases there as well.

        The question is more: do you want to and do you dare to?

        Because the sad thing about our still old fashioned world of work is that no matter how brilliant you perform, you will find yourself quickly in the group where in the past only part time mothers or elderly employees have been – not much of a career ahead but good mate to everyone (as you are not considered as a rival) and respected for leaving early.
        I don’t care anymore, so I just do it. But I have to admit that I already climbed a few stairs in the years before my downshifting started, so I don’t feel to unconfortable where I am now.

        Btw. No way to work until 65! 😉
        My calculations hint to a retirement time around 50 if I continue to work full time. As I actually plan to reduce to part time in a few years plus add a couple of sabbaticals etc. the more likely outcome will be 55. Or I might simply start something completely new, something I really love, in a few years time which might delay retirement further. There are so many ways to enjoy life; focussing only on a specific retirement age seems to be a bit narrow minded to me. However, the point of reducing spending, living efficiently, increase saving and decline silly consumerism is where I wholeheartedly agree with the extreme early retirement community!

        What is your age, and your savings rate?
        Mine is 39 / 35% (this is whole family with Mrs Woodpecker working 40%; on my own I would hit around 50% savings rate. But would I want to have no kids to retire earlier? God beware, no way!).


  2. sendaiben says:

    Hi Woodpecker

    I have the same aim in my job as a university teacher. It’s going well so far (12 hours a week fixed work, then a lot of freedom to work on interesting projects).

    My friends make more money, but I think I enjoy my life more than I would theirs 🙂

  3. […] of my favorite bloggers, Mr. Woodpecker at A Good Day To Live, strives to minimize his work commitments in order to have more time to travel and enjoy leisure […]

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