A Recipe for Long-term Success: Work Less + Earn Less = Live MoreStart living a cheaper, happier and more sustainable life with these tips
Downshifting as a concept
The first time we heard about downshifting it sounded strange.
Work less and earn less to live a better, more fulfilling life? That’s crazy!
Or is it?
While pondering the idea and reading more and more about downshifting, it slowly started to make sense… Until it felt utterly obvious!
Now we honestly feel like we were led astray by capitalism for years before realising that there’s so much more to life than work and money.
When you put living first and then work out your need for earning instead of the other way around, you build a much more robust framework for a sustainable lifestyle with the aim of long-term happiness and satisfaction.
And isn’t that what we all want anyway?
Table of contents
Suffering for happiness
It’s universal to want to lead a life filled with love and happiness devoid of suffering.
So why is it that so many people think that they need to suffer to obtain happiness?
Too many people get caught up in a hamster wheel of consumption.
Once you’re in it, it feels almost impossible to get out as it’s spinning so fast. And the faster and longer you run, the faster the wheel spins.
This may be the reality for you without you even realising it.
To find out if you’re inside a hamster wheel spinning out of control, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you bought something more expensive than before because you started earning more? (A bigger house, a better car, nicer clothes, more expensive dinners…)
- What would happen if your income got halved tomorrow? What would you have to give up?
- Would your life quality be affected by having less stuff or doing luxurious things less often?
- Do you ever make compromises on your family’s behalf because you feel like you have to support them? (Like missing important life events because you have to work)
- Do you live where you live because of your job?
- Would you own the same car if you worked for yourself at home?
- Do you spend more money shortly after receiving your paycheck?
- How would you like to spend your time differently if you worked half as much?
”I wish I would have spent more time working and less time with my family”…
Said no one ever!
Looking back at life, very few people will feel that working more or earning more money would have been a better way to spend time than with their families or enjoying their hobbies.
Yet people routinely make compromises in exactly those areas because they have to work.
If you could design your lifestyle from scratch, how many days and hours would you work each week?
Chances are that you would first and foremost like a more flexible schedule that could fit into other life commitments more fluidly.
Secondly, you’d probably want to generally work less.
So why don’t you?
Why you have a job
You have to earn money to live, right?
For most people, not having any kind of income is virtually impossible.
On a basic level, you work because that’s what you have to do. That’s what almost everything in society tells us.
To be a positive member of society, you need to contribute. And that means putting in your labour…
The illusion of capitalism
On the surface, the well-being of society functions around the idea that everyone shows up for their job.
But what if that’s an illusion?
Capitalism works really well at one very specific thing: to create material wealth.
To our knowledge, no other system works as well for exactly that purpose as capitalism does.
But capitalism alone can’t fix every problem.
While material wealth certainly has merit, it’s not a catch-all solution for society. Far from it!
What we really need
As human beings, we need purpose, love and connection to live a fully satisfying life.
We also need water, food, a roof over our heads and security, but we’re at a point in time where those things can come for cheap – and even for free in some (lucky!) countries.
Purpose, love and connection are free, too – if you have the opportunity to experience them. And that takes time and energy.
Do you know what might take up a proportionally big part of your time and energy?
Your job. The hamster wheel.
Isn’t that truly backwards when you think about it?
Instead of fitting how much income you need to the lifestyle you want to live, you get caught up in a certain lifestyle because of your job and the expectations of society.
You need to be brave
Stepping out of the wheel requires courage.
Saying no to something that so many people aren’t even aware that they’re saying yes to isn’t easy.
You will encounter resistance in the strangest of ways once you start questioning how our capitalist societies work.
First of all, you certainly don’t have to quit your job from one day to the next (although it might be the right thing to do!)
Instead, it’s a great idea to take baby steps towards your new lifestyle.
Reduce your needs
If you spend less money, you will need less money.
It’s such a simple concept that it flies directly below the radar for many people.
Becoming aware of your actual spending is a crucial step in figuring out how to reduce it.
Tracking your expenses is really the only way of gaining awareness about how you’re spending your money.
Make an inventory of all your expenses.
Be as meticulous as possible. Every little purchase adds up.
Try categorising your expenses into needs and wants.
The difference between needs and wants
Needs are those things that are directly related to your survival like food and housing.
Wants are more entertaining in nature – like catching a movie at the cinema.
Once you have your list ready, be diligent in combing through all of your items for expenses that you can realistically reduce.
Some are simpler than others.
It’s relatively easy to go to the cinema half as often while selling your house and buying a cheaper one is a much bigger commitment.
The most important thing here isn’t to reduce your spending overnight but rather to become aware of your spending patterns and habits.
This awareness is what you will build upon – so do yourself a favour and do this exercise with as much care as you can.
Rediscover your passions
Before starting your current job, it’s realistic that you spent more hours on your hobbies. Why did that change?
Whatever they were or still are, now is as good a time as ever to start rediscovering your passions in life.
Once our adult ways get settled, it can feel difficult to do the things we enjoy doing the most. And isn’t that a shame.
Here’s official permission to put a few hours each week into something you really love doing.
And if you don’t know exactly what that is yet, don’t despair.
Follow your heart and interests and try out stuff that excites you.
Doing that isn’t a distraction from “real life”. It is real life, and it’s meant to be enjoyed!
Build passive income
As it’s unrealistic to completely opt-out of the money aspect of society in most countries and places around the world, it makes sense to have some kind of income.
Make your job work for you instead of working for your income.
You still have to work. You just have to shift the perspective around to make your income a product of your lifestyle instead of the other way around.
We have written about building passive income here on Northabroad – mostly through the perspective as living as a digital nomad.
But you certainly don’t need to live a nomadic lifestyle to build passive income.
On the contrary, building passive income is actually much easier if you don’t live nomadically.
10 tips to live cheaper and more sustainably
- Trade your time for other purposes than gaining income – like contributing to society through volunteering.
- Cook food from scratch. Save on time and money by buying ingredients in bulk and cooking up bigger batches at a time.
- Grow your own food. Start with easy stuff like salads in your windowpane to get a taste for it. You don’t need a big garden to feed yourself and your family if you follow optimal principles. Look into permaculture.
- Repair stuff that’s broken instead of buying something new. While learning how to fix your broken smartphone might be difficult, it’s doable to change your own bicycle chain or mend clothes. Always try to find spare parts or go to a professional repair shop before buying new.
- If you do buy something ”new”, try finding a second-hand version first. It will both be cheaper and much better for the planet.
- Make ” everyday luxuries” even more luxurious by doing stuff like buying to-go coffee less often. Convenience can feel cheap in the short-term (taking a taxi to avoid walking in the rain) but very expensive in the long-term (having to work more because you ”need” to make more money).
- Sell stuff that you don’t need. Owning fewer things will make you appreciate the things you actually use and love even more while clearing out physical and mental clutter.
- Opt-out of expensive material gift giving at birthdays and holidays. At least consider giving non-material things like mutual experiences or homemade stuff instead. Not easy in some families – you might have to go slowly with this one.
- Consider driving a smaller, more fuel-efficient car, carpooling or even taking the bicycle more often.
- Ask yourself if you can pay less for a smaller apartment or house? Then use your surplus on better experiences or to be able to work fewer hours a week.
Continue the journey
How downshifting manifests in your life is entirely up to you and will be a dynamic journey filled with adventure and self-discovery.
Being willing to see your life in the light that you might not have been totally conscious about all of the actions that have led to where you stand right at this moment is scary, but it’s also completely liberating.
It means that finally, you will be able to think for yourself and decide your own priorities.
We would love to hear your thoughts on downshifting and earning less to live more. Let us know what you think in the comments below.