How To Work Part Time And Still Afford The Life You Want
Simone Ubaldi owns her home and travels overseas regularly, but only works three days a week. This lifestyle took a lot of planning and a little fine-tuning, but it’s totally within reach.
My life isn’t perfect and it isn’t particularly remarkable, but it does involve a reasonable amount of freedom. That’s what a part-time work schedule gives me – the freedom to choose how I spend my time, most of the time, without worrying too much about money.
I’m not an entrepreneur, I’m not financially independent and I’m not going to bowl you over with tales of my go-getting, world-conquering success. I’m just a girl who likes to sleep in on a Thursday morning. And this is how I do it.
Finding the right part-time role
Decent part-time jobs are difficult to come by. A 40-hour working week is the default setting for most employers, without much consideration for different models of how the job might get done. Can the work be done in fewer days? Can two people job share? Will an employee working from home produce the same or better results?
Most employers won’t consider an alternative model unless they have a good reason, so you have to give them one. Before you ask to go part-time, be excellent at your job. If you’re an incredibly valuable full-time employee, your boss might be willing to negotiate.
Otherwise, you may have to make concessions around what kind of work you’re willing to do. I applied for a part time job that was roughly in my field, but a rung down the ladder from my previous managerial role. It was a clear step backwards in my 9-to-5 career, but it offered the hours I wanted and a relatively good salary, despite the drop in prestige.
I’ve never been defined by my day job, but it was scary just the same. If things didn’t work out with my part-time plans, I didn’t know what career I’d be going back to, and my earning capacity would probably be compromised. I had to accept that there were risks to going part-time (and do it anyway).
Travel is still possible: negotiating leave
Other than the 40-hour week, the biggest imposition of a steady job is that you’re generally obliged to work it 48 weeks of the year. Four weeks of holidays isn’t the end of the world and we certainly have it better that many other countries, but it doesn’t work for me, even in a part-time role, because I like to travel. Extra leave is part of my part-time plan.
It’s actually not unusual for organisations to grant employees extra leave. In fact, best practice work places offer purchased leave arrangements for parents who need to stay home with their kids during the summer holidays. I don’t have kids, but in the past I have negotiated leave without pay or leave at half pay to cover my overseas trips. These days, I adjust my part-time work schedule around my holidays, build up time in lieu, and take roughly two months off each year.
My boss is flexible because I asked him to be. I set the right expectations before I took on the role, but I also do my best to keep him happy. I work harder before I go on holidays and when I come back, to make sure there are no unfinished projects or glaring holes that someone else in my team will have to fill. No bad blood, that’s the rule, or ‘next time’ won’t happen.
If holidays or travel are a priority for you, you need to find a boss who is supportive. Again, it helps to be really great at your job – good bosses support great employees. If you can afford leave without pay, highlight the cost savings for your company. Most importantly, you need to be able to prove that your absence won’t affect the business.
Ask nicely, it always helps, but don’t apologise for asking.
Managing money is about managing perspective
Managing money when you work part-time is easy; it’s just a matter of adjusting your expenses to suit your income. The tricky part is maintaining a decent quality of life.I’m not mentally materialistic, but between travel and my fancy sneaker collection, I manage to spend a lot. I maintain my lifestyle by making extra money from my hobbies and passions – primarily writing, but also marketing, events and project management. I freelance as a journalist and radio broadcaster; I help run a live music venue; I manage a small film distribution label; and occasionally, I write other people’s memoirs. I don’t consider any of these extracurricular activities ‘work’, although they do generate an income. These are the fun, playful, creative parts of my life that I do by choice, not necessity. I don’t rely on these things to pay the bills, and that makes all the difference.
I worked very, very hard in my 20s to develop networks and experience that I’ve leveraged into these diverse income streams. I wrote my first two books, for example, while I still had a full-time job; ghostwriting is now a significant chunk of my additional income.
If you’re looking to work part-time and live well, you need a side hustle. You can run a small business, develop your hobby into a freelancing or consulting career, drive an Uber – whatever works for you, whatever opportunity presents itself. The more specialised your skills, the more your side hustle will be worth; and the more your side hustle is worth, the more you’ll bank. Extra cash means fancy meals, fancy trips and a truly unnecessary amount of sneakers.
Building financial security
If you go to work part-time, you’ll dramatically reduce the amount of money paid into your super fund each year (unless you make voluntary contributions). This is a really serious consideration – you could end up retiring with no assets and far less money than you need to survive in a future, cost-inflated world. If you’re going to work part-time, you need to think about your long-term financial security.
My super needs a little love, but I do own my own home – I bought it before I went part-time. Short of a financial windfall or a tidy inheritance, I can’t see how you could work part time in Australia and afford to own your own home, particularly if you’re single. It’s rough out there. Even working full time, I needed help from my partner to get started.
Our first house was the worst property on the best street, a ramshackle junkyard pile dubbed ‘The Meth House’ because it looked like somewhere you’d go to buy drugs. It was truly awful, a really shitty place to live, but it a smart investment.
It was the kind of property you could renovate or redevelop to add value, which is what we did. When we sold the property, we made a decent chunk of change but instead of expanding into a bigger, more beautiful home, we chose instead to buy a townhouse and significantly reduce our debt. My partner and I wanted a mortgage we could pay if we were both on part-time salaries.
If nothing else, consider the fact that you probably won’t qualify for a mortgage on a part-time income, even if your side hustle can cover the repayments. Whether it’s property or the stock market, think about investing before you quit your full-time job.
It takes planning and you’ve got to think long game
My life is obviously not a one-size-fits-all template for everyone who wants to work part-time. I have specific skills and interests that have led me down this path, and good luck has been a factor in the way things have turned out (I’ve had my share of bad luck too, but that’s a whole other story). The most practical advice I have is that you need to get your ducks in a row before you take the leap into part-time work, or it will be a very short ride.
How will you make extra money? How will you build financial security? How will you find a job that suits your needs and a boss who understands your priorities? Opportunities will come up, but you have to be ready for them. Be smart, be brave, work hard and have a plan. It sounds like a lot of effort, but it’s worth it.
Simone Ubaldi is a ghostwriter, music journalist, film critic and has co-authored four books, including memoirs of Bon Scott and Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. She stashes a lot of her writing here.