Happier Without a Salary


For the first 5 or so years of my career, my number one goal was to get a permanent, full-time, salaried position with a pension and benefits. That was when I knew I had “made it” in my career and wouldn’t have a financial worry in the world.

It was nice to have salary and benefits. I loved knowing that my health, dental and vision care was well taken care of. Seeing the number in my pension account grow provided me a little rush every time I got my Pension Statement.

Then I realized that my nice salary, benefits, and pension wasn’t what was going to “buy” my happiness.

Over half a year ago, I let go of salaried employment, and through this, gained more freedom than I could have imagined. Financially, I am not making as much money, but what I’ve lost in money in my bank, I’ve gained in freedom. Here’s why.

Compensation is a Direct Result of Work

As an owner of a tattoo shop with my husband (who is the artist) and a writer, all the money we earn for our family is on a freelance basis. The term freelance, often attributed as “free lance” to the writings of Sir Walter Scott (shudder, flashback to Romanticism 101) described a mercenary who worked at the service of whoever would pay him or her more. This is how we work.

We get to choose our income based on what we will get in return for what we put in. For tattoos, it’s based on the amount of time required to do a custom drawing as well as the size, time and intricacy of the tattoo. Sometimes we don’t work for our minimum, and when we want to do moneymaking work, we book larger pieces. Sometimes we coast by doing our shop minimum, which means a lot of “pura vida” tattoos in the context of a tattoo shop in a Costa Rican tourist town. Sometimes we decide we’ve made enough money for a day, week or month and shut down operations early to enjoy our lives in Costa Rica.

For my writing, I apply for and accept jobs based on my perceived compensation based on my efforts of working with the client, research, writing and editing.

The benefit of this type of work is that it allows us to easily meet our required quotas for expenses, and then from there, we can work as hard, or as little as we want. We determine our financial income and is not a result of vague expectations and a carefully calculated salary based on the sometimes-arbitrary confines of Human Resources job evaluation.

It’s all about the hustle in this kind of lifestyle.

Budgeting is Easier

In my former salaried setting, I would hit the jackpot once a month. My eyes would always widen in glee when I’d see that fat (and it was fat when I think of it) sum of money hit my bank account. Those digital numbers meant survival, expenses, and fun.

I suck at budgeting. Each month, I’d find myself at a huge crash at the end of the month after paying all my expenses, living as though I was a high roller, and failing to adequately pace myself out. I own that.

I have come to terms with the fact that I am not the smartest with money; losing a salary meant that my access to cash would become more frequent, but in smaller sums, allowing for an intentionality of purchases and most of all, prioritization. This makes me able to think more short-term while keeping big picture financial goals in mind.

Less Money, Less Problems

I’ll admit that walking away from a salaried position gave me a lot of anxiety, because what about BILLS?! Bills, bills, bills. Here’s my secret.

  • I gave up my car and bought a motorcycle.
  • I gave up my cell phone plan and do pay as you go.
  • I stopped putting so much stock in the digital numbers on my online banking screen.
  • I stopped making mindless debit purchases.
  • I worked out a debt repayment plan with my bank that works for both of us.
  • I started giving myself a 1-3 month period between seeing something I wanted to buy, and actually buying it.
  • I’ve found a way to have “free fun” (i.e. every single beach in Costa Rica is public)

When you make less, you have less to spend, and it’s as simple as simplifying what you’re spending your money on.

Losing a Necessary Part of my Identity

I lived a part of my life where I did identify myself by my “successful career” and the fact that I was making a pretty decent chunk of money before I even hit 30. Losing that financial validation or that “worth” that a salary had put on my head made me wonder how I would again “sell” myself to make the same level of money.

I realized I didn’t need that same level of money, nor did I need to value myself by the arbitrary number some institution had assigned to my value as a professional and talent. Now, I “sell” my worth on what I can do for someone in that moment, often choosing to work on fixed-cost contracts where lines are drawn, I set my own rates, and my clients agree to pay me what I ask for. I then do as many fixed-price contracts as I want to, or don’t want to. I control that!

Don’t Go Losing Your Salaries

I am not writing my story of walking away from a salary because I think it’s the way people should go, but I do want to let those who are considering leaving salaried employment know that it is possible. I loved the comfort of my paycheque and knowing that at certain times in the month, I would have a wealth of money available to me. I would then see how much of what I earned would be taken away from me immediately by first the government, and second, the laundry list of expenses I had created for myself by living a complicated lifestyle.

I’ll never be “rich”, that’s not a goal of mine, but I can say that I am more financially comfortable now that I have walked away from salary. The freedom we have as a family to turn work up high when we need to, and coast when we would like to, and take time off when we need to is worth an exponential amount of zeros on a paycheque.

No salary, no problem.

One thought on “Happier Without a Salary”

  1. It’s amazing that you are able to transition and share your journey. The traditional tapes that we have grown up with just don’t make sense for this movement that has happened in our generation. #liveyourdreams #dontwait


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