The Math and Strategy Behind Working Only 4 Months a Year

By Nat Eliason in Finance

Published or Updated on Jun 19, 2017

When people think of financial freedom, they typically think of the “two-phase” model. In phase one, you work hard and save and invest (or not invest) your money, then in phase two, you live off of the savings and returns.

In the boring, traditional model, you work 40+ years and funnel money into a retirement account and then you get to enjoy it when you’re 65.

In the slightly less boring method, you save much more aggressively, cut your cost of living, maybe develop some passive income, and you can start living off the savings in less than 10 years.

But there’s a third kind of early retirement that fewer people talk about: a continuing bimodal work schedule where you work intensely for a few months, then take the rest of the year off. In this schedule, you can work for 3-4 months each year, then spend the other 8-9 doing whatever you want while living off of most of what you earned those few months.

It’s perfect if you want to free up time to work on writing, photographytravellearning new skillsentrepreneurship, or anything else that requires a large amount of time but might not pay off yet.

Say you’re a developerdesignermarketer, or any other skilled knowledge worker with a salaried job. If you’re currently making $60,000 a year, you need to change your work schedule so that you earn that $60,000 in 3-4 months, instead of 12.

Let’s assume that you want to do it in 4 months. That means you need to make $15,000 a month. If you work hard during those four months (you’re getting the next 8 months off, after all) maybe you can bill 45 hours a week, or 180 a month.

At 180 hours a month, you only need to charge $83.33 an hour. Let’s put it at $100 to be safe and to account for fluctuations in project availability.

You could take on small freelance roles charging this amount, but it will be easier to try to find projects lasting 2-4 months for more security. If you get three four-month projects and bill each of them $5,000 a month, you’ll earn your $60,000 in those 4 months.

You can do it with smaller projects, but the longer ones give you a bit more security that you’ll actually earn enough, and since you’re not dealing with office politics, meetings, and other little things that eat up the time of salaried workers, you can do as much as, or more, than someone working 40 hours while only working 10-20.

Billing $100/hour for skilled labor, coming from a $60,000 a year job, is not crazy so long as you have a skill you can sell independently and charge based on value. It won’t be doable coming from a job like ditch digging where you’re easily replaceable and charging based on time, or any entry level job out of college where you only have grades and not skills.

For me, I help startups set up content marketing systems and train them on SEO strategies. I did that with a few companies for three months at the beginning of the year, and now I can travel through Asia and work on this site and my podcast and basically do whatever I want for the rest of the year.

And, yes, you might wonder “well why not work all year and make 3x as much?”There’s a balance, but what’s the point of spending 52 weeks a year working and never enjoying it? If you can work 4 months, 6 months, 8 months, and take the others off using a system similar to this one, why wouldn’t you?

There’s no reason to wait till you’re older or richer to experience long-term travel and working on your own projects.


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