Getting paid to ski : Reader case study

Ski

I got an intriguing email from Sam, a financially independent reader of this blog, that mentioned how, in his 40s, he and his wife Bella got paid to ski by working as chalet hosts.

As both had previously been IT professionals,  I loved what this said about breaking pre-conceived ideas about status so I followed up with some questions.

So enjoy this interview with Sam,  who quit his job about 14 years ago and who has since then done lots of fun and interesting things.

The Escape Artist

 

TEA: What jobs did you have before FI? 

Sam: We had both been pretty lucky career wise. My background is software and my wife was a client service manager for a consultancy company. When I quit, I was running a department for an Internet Service Provider – they had bought the small startup I’d been working for. I wasn’t one of the founders but I was the first employee and by the time we were bought out, I headed the development team and ended up with a lump sum equivalent to several years salary.

We both kind of sneaked into our professions. I was working in the accounts dept for a company that decided to bring its computer system in house so I ended up spending a lot of time with the programmers and decided I could do this stuff.

My wife was a temp who was offered a permanent job in a dept for an organisation that got outsourced and she transferred to the outsourcing company and ended up managing a large team. It’s funny that neither of us went to university but we both ended up working in relatively senior roles for organisations that wouldn’t have considered directly employing someone without a degree.

What gave you the idea to pursue FI?

We didn’t – I just wanted the I part of FI; I’m not very good at being told what to do.

When we were working all hours in London we bought a small flat, effectively using the money we saved on commuting to pay the mortgage. When we stopped working in London in 2002 we let out the flat. Over the years we paid down the mortgage so it’s now mortgage free and the rental forms a decent chunk of our income. I’d also got smart about money by then so was saving in ISAs etc – my wife had always been smart that way, and used all her employers perks to the full – eg matched pension contributions, share purchase schemes etc.

Were any books helpful to you back then? 

Several decades ago I had been involved with Multi Level Marketing. That’s a story in itself but the summary is I’m glad I got in and I’m glad I got out. That introduced me to positive thinking books – particularly The Magic of Thinking Big.

Its not from that book, but one phrase which has been a huge driver for me is:

In every adversity there is the seed of an equal or greater benefit

which I believe is attributed to Napoleon Hill. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy because if you believe it, you look for the benefit. It gave me the confidence to go contracting many years ago and more than double my income, to pack in working for a large, safe and not very rewarding corporate to go and work for a start up, and generally has been a driver in my attitude to life.

How did you resist the pressures to spend? Did you monitor your savings rate closely?

Yes, and no. We didn’t monitor our savings rate as such but we saved a lot and we always tracked our finances. We both worked hard, had teams working for us and effectively had no life on Monday to Friday other than work, so basically our only expenditure during the week was work related. We both earned well so we saved a lot by default rather than by design. Neither of us is motivated by flash cars or ‘trendy’ things. We get far more pleasure from experiences than owning things.

How did you figure out you how much was enough?

We didn’t have an end sum as such – our decision was more driven by our expenditure and our non-employment income. I’d never heard of the 4% safe withdrawal rate or anything like that, but we were always good at keeping track of our finances. In the years when I wasn’t working but my wife was, we had got very good at knowing what we spent and what we earned without her income. They weren’t too far apart and I could tell that even if we overspent our budget a year, and our investments only held their value and didn’t return any dividends, we would be well into pensionable age before it would be a worry and then we’d have our state and private pensions too.

What year did you quit?  Did you agonise over the decision or was it easy?

I ‘quit’ in 2002, my wife in 2008. It was easy, but not for the reasons you might think. I didn’t think I was quitting, just taking a year or two off to pursue my own projects.

I packed in ‘proper’ work in my early forties and worked, without pay, on a series of projects with other people who had various start-up ideas.  This was the not long after the dotcom boom and bust, but the culture that you didn’t need a fortune to set up a web based business was still there. In the end, they all came to nothing but even so working on them was still preferable to the commute & corporate cog work I’d been doing before.

After that there always seemed reasons to postpone looking for another job, like moving house for example, until one day I realised we didn’t need to work a “career job” again.

My wife loved her job initially but went from working with clients to working at home on company procedures. It became a job she didn’t like. I knew that we could live a nice life on our savings and investment income and so she decided to pack it in. We were particularly cautious in the first year or so but we have watched our net worth grow despite no employment income.

What did you do after you quit?

GardenWe enjoy outdoor activities and, after we quit, we moved from Commuterville to the country. It was really liberating choosing somewhere solely because it seemed a nice place to live.

We have a garden so one of the first things we did was make a vegetable patch.  My wife loves pottering in the garden and a nice side benefit is that the veggie patch & freezers provide us with lots of fruit and veg throughout the year.

We are not on mains gas, so were dependant on oil for our heating, which historically  has been more expensive than gas. We decided to install two wood burning stoves and also planted 50 ash saplings in our garden. If you think you or Warren Buffet get good returns you should look at the growth rate of an ash tree in its first 10 years! As a potential fuel it’s an example of a low downside, high upside experiment (about £1 a sapling and a few hours planting for a potential future sustainable provider of our winter heating ).

While we wait for our ash trees to do their stuff, I joined a local wood group. We buy literally tons of wood in the form of cut trunks, then over 3 days spread throughout the summer we chainsaw them into blocks and chop them into logs.  The work provides each group member with 3 days exercise and a winters fuel for a fraction of the price if we’d bought it processed. Much like the vegetables, it’s a lifestyle thing. There is something that just feels good about heating your house with wood you have sawn, chopped & seasoned yourself.

What about travel?

PuffinDuring our holidays when we were still working, we realised watching wildlife in its natural environment gave us great pleasure.  Gradually, we found our holidays being influenced by what wildlife we might see, to the extent that every year we now spend a week with friends volunteering on Skomer, an island known for its birdlife.

 

SkomerThere are no shops, no roads, no television and the accommodation is best described as basic.  Our volunteer tasks are not demanding, but when we put the day visitors on the last boat home it becomes a magical place. Watching the sunset go down over the ocean from an outcrop with the waves lapping beneath is a cliché we’re both happy to be part of.

A phrase everyone seeking FI will be familiar with is “paddle your own canoe”.  We’ve taken that advice literally. We live near some great paddling rivers and after starting a few years ago, we are competent enough to undertake trips ourselves.

Venice

Canoeing in Venice

For several of the last few years we’ve gone on multi day paddling trips with friends on some of Britain’s finest rivers such as the Tay, the Spey, the Severn and the Wye.

We load up our canoe with  camping gear and where we can (Scotland) we just rough camp on the bank.

Occasionally we’ve swapped our canoe for sea kayaks – Britain has a lot of coast!  You can pay for guides to take you on trips like these but we’ve found by organising them ourselves we increase the flexibility and enjoyment and reduce the cost.

Sydney

Not Britain either…

We’ve canoed in other countries and we like other outdoor activities too.  We typically spent up 4 to 6 weeks in the summer in Europe and 1 or 2 weeks in Scotland on these.

Skiing is still something we do every year. One season my wife and I got paid to go skiing by working as hosts in a ski chalet.

 

 

I love the chalet idea…what was that like?

We have always liked skiing but wanted to spend more than a week a year skiing. After we’d quit we went to a ski recruitment event in London in 2009. We were offered work as chalet hosts that day. Most of the other hosts were several decades younger than us, but they were wonderful…even though we didn’t always understand yoof lingo.

Our job was feeding 16 guests twice a day and cleaning the rooms, including the ensuite loos and showers.  We had a pre defined menu for the week. We thought that would be boring but in fact it was great as we quickly got to know how long each meal took and so what time we could ski until. We had one day off a week which we’d always use to the full – often visiting other resorts and always eating out in the evening.

After breakfast the guests would go out skiing and we’d do some prep for the evening meal and I’d clean the rooms and loos. Bella would bake a cake for the guests returning in the afternoon.

We’d generally get three to four hours skiing each day which was enough when you are working every day. We got pretty good! In the evening we’d cook a three course meal – it was non stop from 5ish through till 11 what with cooking, serving and washing up. The hardest day was changeover day when we might have to be up before 4 am and if incoming flights were delayed might not get to bed until near midnight – a long day with no skiing either. It was very hard work and I was set to pack up on several occasions, but at the end of the season neither of us wanted to leave.

Did you have any hang-ups about status?

I am no longer concerned about it. On the rare occasion when I meet someone who is obviously status conscious, they will invariably ask what I do, so I can be placed in the appropriate pigeonhole. I like to put on my sad face 😦 and tell them that I don’t have a job at the moment.

SuccessOur season running the ski chalet meant we met hundreds of different clients from all walks of life.  Occasionally a new arrival (normally a Young Professional from London) would look upon us initially with a kind of “You must be sad bastards – having to run a chalet at your age” look, which I found quite amusing.

Then again, I suspect that they were fantasising about some hot off-piste action with a 20 year old chalet host – or maybe that was just me when I was their age – so finding their hosts to be a middle aged couple would naturally have been a big disappointment.

But we also met far more people who thought what we were doing was great and had no issues with status.  One client, who owned a chain of restaurants in London, insisted we join him on the skiing competition he organised every year. Others asked us to  join them for a tour of the bars.  All season, I recall there were about 6 clients I’d be happy not to meet again, but that’s a good ratio out over 250.

What about other projects?

We have also tended to do one project a year on our house or garden. We have no plans to move so we are quite content to spend time and money on getting things the way we want them.  Where we can, we do the work ourselves, but otherwise our local builder is more than happy for a free labour assistant.  This not only reduces the cost, but also increases our sense of ownership.

Did your friends think you were mad to quit your jobs?

As for friends and colleagues, it has never been a problem.  I guess people do ask but it tends to be a one-time conversation. I tell them, quite truthfully, that we have no mortgage, no car payments, no loans to pay off, no children to look after and that without those expenses you don’t actually need that much to have a good standard of living. Plus we have income from our flat and other sources.  I think many people have an ingrained assumption that they will be working all their lives so they may as well have a nice house/car/holidays or whatever while they are working, not realising that it is because of those decisions that they will indeed be working all their lives.

We are lucky to have friends in Europe and further afield so it is lovely to both visit them and have them visit us. This year we had about 4 separate weeks of overseas visitors.  We simply couldn’t do this when we were working full time.

What’s next?

The other day, we bumped into some old friends who mentioned that their son was biking from the North to South of New Zealand. “I think that’s a fantastic thing to do” I said. “Let’s do it ” said my wife. So that’s now on the list. We haven’t planned a date yet, and even if it doesn’t come off, just being able to consider these things as a genuine option is to me what FI is all about.  But having previously cycled Lands End to John O’Groats and the Coast to Coast and enjoyed them immensely, I think we may well make it happen.

If you think your story would make a good case study for the blog, I’d love to hear from you. I’d especially like to do one on a busy, working pre-FI reader who either suspects that they may be over-spending but is struggling to get things under control…or has recently successfully cut their spending.  Email me at TEA@theescapeartist.me or look me up on Twitter.

The Escape Artist

21 comments

  1. This was quite a depressing read. The last sentence of the first paragraph says it all really. Incidentally, you are missing an apostrophe after the word years. Luck is a big factor in life, as is proven by this post. This is not a very inspiring post, in that most ordinary people doing “grunt” jobs are not the beneficiaries of corporate pay-outs. Anyone can live frugally if they don’t earn much in the first place.

  2. mmm the guy does come over abit ‘smug’
    having no kids is the biggy here but if everyone opted for that there’d be no future generation
    big corporate payout helps- us self employed dont get that !!!

  3. SuffolkShandy · · Reply

    I believe posts like this are quite inspiring to those of us maybe stuck in the ‘middle ages’, looking to get out of t’ratrace. Plus to be so petty as to pick up ‘poor’ gramma(?) smacks of having nothing better to do. Me and t’missus do ‘grunt’ jobs, live frugally and try to find ‘luck’ rather than moan about not having it. I particularly enjoyed ‘I like to put on my sad face 😦 and tell them that I don’t have a job at the moment’. Being comfortable with who you are and not worrying about what others think is a big plus too!

  4. ooooh no that bit really bugged me ! ‘i like to put on a sad face and tell hem i dont have a job at the moment’ why not tell the truth and say’ ive saved enough and now retired from work and can do what i want’

  5. Good on this couple, there’s no accident in how their lives have panned out, yes they had a bit of luck, but if we’re reasonably grateful enough to see it, we probably all had a break once in life.

    They got what they got by doing several things right consistently – work hard when you get a good shot at it, work together well as partners, delay gratification, reject peer pressure & recognise what enough means. These are all powerful drivers just on their own …..& one of those things that are simple [to understand] yet also counter-intuitively ‘not easy’. [nobody enjoys disciplining themselves when it seems like deprivation at the time]

    It also shows the reaction of the majority of any given population to even the deserved successes of others – resentment, envy & even spite. That’s why so many who’re FI keep their heads down about it, to escape harsh judgement by those who feel they missed the boat in life, while ignoring the fact that it happened through their own decisions, consciously made or otherwise. Given this blinkered reaction, it’s totally understandable when the FI are elusive on how/why they don’t have an easily labelled, pigeon-holed, career job.

    1. This is a hard-hitting comment.

      On the one hand, its a bit painful to read. We don’t like to be reminded of our faults. On the other hand, it contains enough truth to encourage us to think a bit deeper.

      Most of us seem prone to envy sometimes. My request to you Survivor is that the next time you detect envy in something I write, please call me out on it and I promise to punch myself in the face, MMM-style.

      Thank you for the comment.

  6. @ TEA,

    No worries – I actually didn’t particularly mean to take a swipe at anyone there, I am also only human – perhaps I should clarify, I was trying to keep it brief but maybe it was too much so & therefore lost context.

    On reading the story of that couple I had mixed feelings like I suspect almost everyone else would who judges that they haven’t done as well – as you say, envy is hardwired – because competition is inseparably entwined with the survival urge.

    However, whilst it made me wish I was as happy [what we probably really mean when we think of ‘doing as well’] as them, I can separate that from begrudging them their situation. I had everything lined up sweet in life, & even had also caught a good break – a decent redundancy package …..so was on track to be free by 40 when a clusterfk of a divorce blew me out of the water. Now I can feel sorry for myself over the pain & delay, but at the same time I can’t complain, because if you look more closely, I caused that lucky break by working hard for over a decade at a soul-sucking corporation that cost me my 30’s. Equally, I should have had more intelligence & courage handling my relationship to come out of that better, so I accept that step by step, decision by decision, you reap what you sow – only if & when you can accept responsibility for your life, can you improve it.

    I am fighting my way back up & while I still have whiny days when I feel sorry for myself, others have told me I am a much better person now after having had to look deeply in the mirror & start again …..I never thought I’d say there was some good in something that derailed my life’s work up until then. So my point is that that couple’s story should inspire, no matter what your initial feelings are …..& first impressions are notoriously inaccurate.

    I think the judging issue is what touched a nerve, because when I was at a very low point & met new people, I was shocked at the hostility I invoked in a lot of them when I admitted I was living off savings at the time. I wasn’t hurting them, anyone else or taking money off anyone, including the state & was clearly not wealthy, so saw no need to disguise my circumstances because I thought they were so unenviable. As such, while only a little worried about being judged a slacker, I was shocked at how some people could get angry at the stranger they just met not having to do daily busywork like them – even though I made it clear that my lifestyle was dependent on simple living. [that they would most likely be unwilling to do] So it is the mindless ignorance of knee-jerk harsh judgement devoid of any facts that I was getting at, not the ordinary, instinctive, human feelings of envy that are often devoid of malice…..

    1. Loved this comment. Super thoughtful and self aware. All the best with fighting your way back up.

  7. TEA, firstly many thanks for including another case study. I believe there is always plenty to be gained from reading about people’s experiences. In this case, the inspiration of two people who did not go to university and have found a way to FI by their forties. They have shared a positive summary of their life of FI, together with plenty of ideas for those of us in FI and those aiming for it.

    There is a great deal of similarity in this case study and my own (10 Years out of the Camp); IT background, age, no kids, love of the outdoors, travel, even growing veg. Yet I detect a level of negativity in the comments section that I, fortunately, did not have to face back in 2014. This I find intriguing.

    I have a theory. It has nothing to do with the content but has more to do with how a ‘Life of FI’ is presented. When I prepared the first draft of my case study, I read it and imagined that many readers would be thinking ‘It’s alright for you’ or ‘How smug?’. I am an introvert who has no resilience for negative feedback when all I wanted to do is help and give encouragement. My solution…. I edited the original version and turned the ‘humility’ dial up. But why should we have to do this?

    I applaud Sam and Bella for telling it the way it is. We have a lack of respect for success in Britain. We should be celebrating achievements of this type.

  8. I loved this case study and my smug detector registered zero. As an aspiring escape artist, it’s great to read about people who’s route to FI has made them so happy. It can be extremely tough to keep on track so wonderful to be reminded that it will be worth it. I don’t care how they got there because I know that one day I will too.

    1. Thanks TA, I would love to publish your case study…either when you get over the line or before. Open offer…

  9. Thank you to everyone who commented on this. It has been an education.

    @Chandon. You are right if you think the buyout helped. It undoubtedly bought my own retirement forward by several years and I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time. However, you are wrong to think that it ‘says it all really’. If you knew the facts you would see that even if I hadn’t spent most of it working on other ventures that weren’t successful, it would still say less than 20%. The remainder was acquired by the well proven FI route of avoiding debt, spending less than we earned and investing the difference.

    @Dawnmartyne. Yes, it does come over a bit smug and I apologise for that. I should have used BillyBow’s tactic and turned up the ‘humility dial’.
    Please don’t assume that every childless middle aged couple has ‘opted for that’ situation. By doing so you may be rubbing salt into an already sore wound.
    The reason I hold back initially on saying I am financially independent to those I think are hung up on status is that if they decide they don’t want to know me because in their eyes I have no status, then I consider they have done me a favour. At the risk of appearing even more smug I have no desire for friendship with such people, just as I have no desire for friendship with those who resent our situation.

    @Survivor. Thanks for your insightful comments. I wish you every success with your own fight back up.

    @BillyBow. I loved your original article and I remember thinking at the time how I could relate to a lot of it. As you noted I told a positive summary – there were many not so positive steps along the way which I have chosen to ignore. I think your theory on presentation is right – I’ll know for next time.

  10. Thank you for being kind enough to share your situation on this blog.

    I am no way near financial independence but I appreciate being able to read case studies in so much as I can see what can be done, and compare and contrast to what I could, or want, to do.

    I never write in comments but I do get a lot from reading these articles and I have decided to add my thanks, so future case study authors are not dissuaded from revealing all, to help others, by thinking that people will just see the end result and cast it away as luck.

    It is very obvious to me that despite your positive spin, you have worked hard and done things that whilst enjoying, you must know a lot of people wouldn’t dare do. Or even think of doing.

    Taking away the fact that you have been sensible with your money even before any payouts. I believe there must be plenty of people who receive redundancy packages/bonuses that are equally large but still don’t do what you did, with that money either.
    Also some readers don’t have children and this is sometimes but not always , painful in itself. These readers may enjoy reading about similar situations . Even so just because a case study doesn’t fit detail by detail with your own life, doesn’t make it pointless.

    In essence you told your story to be helpful, for a website concerned with achieving financial independence and taking alternative paths. You were likely asked to do it, and haven’t made your own website just to celebrate your choices. The word I would use to describe this is “helpful”, not “smug”.

    Thank you

    1. You are absolutely right…I asked Sam to tell their story. The reason was to illustrate that FI is possible for a range of people from different backgrounds. Yes, good luck certainly helps along the way. We can’t determine our luck but we can note the common themes that seem to come up again and again: hard work, frugality, spotting opportunities and taking some calculated risks.

      Great to have a comment from someone that doesn’t usually comment! Thank you 🙂

  11. oh dear, everyones annoyed with me now with my ‘smug’ comment! but im allowed an opinion .

    I to have no children and not by choice either! and Im possibly only 4 years off FI myself !.

    I love folks being sensible with their money and not thowing it away.

    maybe because ive been a self employed sole trader all my life [my choice] and a women on my own making my own way [ not my choice ] , the journey is harder and all you guys seem like men clubbing together in a man’s world.

    where are the girls in all this???

    Its not freedom from work i aspire to , i enjoy my work, its security and independance.

    1. I have no children. I am a woman surviving after the breakup of a long-term relationship. Security and independence is what I seek too.
      The journey is hard but FI is something I have been seeking for a while and was trying to seek when I was part of a couple. Its just sad that status anxiety split us – he didn’t want FI.
      The past few years have been depressing, I lost my relationship and my job to redundancy (twice). My redundancy did not equate to a few years salary. I had a reasonably good job but I’m not senior manager material so will never achieve the salary scales that others have luckily been able to benefit from so the path is longer and slower for me.
      I just want escape from the rat race, I did so for a small period of time last year but my investments have dropped below my FI target so I am back at work, saving harder.

      1. dawnmartyne · ·

        Good for you sparkleb33 and i wish you well. i admire a strong women.

        My hearts been broken a few times and i often think it must be wonderful to have a supportive partner to battle through this life with striving for the same goals together. 2 are stronger than 1.

        As women on my own and not on a large salary with big payouts, like you, it is hard.
        But your better on your own than with the wrong man, so FI is all the more important.

  12. Just to point out, I am also a female

  13. TEA, I love this case study! I won’t trudge through the previous commenters’ comments, but think what stands out most is that this couple was able to embrace “ENOUGH” in a big way. Maybe they saw that they had some magic number saved, maybe not, but they recognized that they could live well off their passive income, and decided to go for it rather than try to accumulate more status or things. Bravo. And, by the way, I’m completely inspired by the chalet host idea! We live in a ski town in the American West, but have always wanted to be able to ski the Alps for more than a few days — that could be the answer!

    1. It must be fun living in a ski town! Thanks for the comment and glad you liked the case study…getting paid to do things we enjoy is a theme I plan to return to in future posts…

  14. Great article, I loved hearing your story and knowing that one day something similar will be ours.

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