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I Took a 90% Pay Cut and I Couldn’t Be Happier

Most of us are, at least for a while during our professional lives, on the income improvement treadmill. We’re looking for ways to increase our income, perhaps by delivering more or being effective at work and earning raises and promotions, or maybe looking into side hustles that will bring in income, or working to develop passive income streams.

There’s a lot of good in that approach, because of course during the accumulation phase, you need a wide margin between your income and expenses in order to build up a nest egg.

But there’s also another factor to consider: your happiness and values. And as your income grows and your investments compound, you may find yourself asking, what is all of this for?

Money Smart MD explores this concept through the lens of his new micro business in today’s guest post.




This past weekend, my wife and I did something we’ve never done before – we were vendors at a craft show here in Picton, Ontario.  For years we’d dreamed of building a business together, but my hectic career in medicine and four young kids at home just wouldn’t allow it, not to mention the fact that a culture saturated with disposable furniture (thanks Ik*a) has made it difficult for woodworkers to put food on the table.

But financial independence changed things, and a little over a year ago we finally did it: we started Mattlin Woodcraft.  I do the building and my wife helps with everything else from design to administration.  Even the kids pitch in from time to time.  The hours I spend in my workshop are a blissful combination of challenge and reward.  At the show, sitting at our table with my favourite person by my side, meeting other creators, and having customers happily spend their hard-earned money on items we created was a dream come true.

Just for fun, I did a rough calculation of my hourly rate as a woodworker versus a physician.  The results and my reaction to them might surprise you, especially if you’re a high earner.  I took a 90% pay cut – and I couldn’t be happier.


Blinded by wages


I know a lot of high earners who balk at the idea of working for a wage far lower than what they are used to earning.  Even if they hate the higher paying work and love the lower paying work, the income differential alone can dissuade them from pursuing their passion.

I wonder if this happens because we get so used to money being the main, maybe the onlyjustification for the exhausting work we do. For many of us, money becomes the currency with which all work is valued.  This is myopic.  The value of what we choose to work at spans far beyond the paycheck that is attached to it.

I believe we need to ask ourselves a simple question: What is money for?


What is money for?


Whether it’s real or digital, money is just paper.  It represents stored value, but you can’t eat it, wear it or live in it, so you have to use it as a tool to create other things that actually do have value.

So, what is money for?

Most people think it’s for buying things.  We all need to buy things.  But once the essentials are taken care of – food, shelter, clothing, some entertainment – additional spending on consumer items doesn’t make us any happier.  Why?  Because we trick ourselves into thinking that a new phone or car or renovation is important, that buying it will give us lasting contentment.  But they don’t.  We quickly adapt.  The special becomes normal and we’re just as unhappy. Money is not just for buying things.

The truth is, we’re not after the money.  Dig a little deeper and we don’t really want the “stuff.”  We’re wanting a feeling – the feeling of contentment, connection, and meaning.  How do we get that?

It sounds esoteric, but finding that path is not as hard as it seems.  You just have to take a step back and figure out what is important to you.  Not what our culture says you should care about (new kitchens, iPhones, Teslas, and so on), but what matters to you–your values.


Why values matter


Values are not things.  If you are tempted to say, “I value living in a nicer house” or “I value driving fast cars,” try asking yourself why.  Keep on asking yourself the question until you get to a fundamental belief.

An example might help.  Yours will differ, but a few of my most important values are:

I can answer the question “what is money for?” very easily – the purpose of money is to allow me to spend time with my wife and kids, provide us with a sustainable and comfortable (though not luxurious) lifestyle, allow me the time to make things, and grant us the freedom to pursue new interests as they arise.


“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”


Mahatma Gandhi is famous for saying, “happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  Compared to Gandhi, I’m selfish, confused and foolish, but I can feel happy with a 90% pay cut because I know what’s important to me.  With Mattlin Woodcraft, I get to spend time with my wife and connect with other artisans in the community, I get to design and create new things all the time, and I am constantly learning new skills, from woodworking techniques to building a social media portfolio to selling in-person.  And we can do it all without financial pressures because, even though we’re not rich, thanks to aggressive saving and dividend investing, we’re financially secure.

If I’m making $20 per hour, that’s fine, because our little business is not for the money. Rather, the money allows us to run the business.



Where does your validation come from?


A lot of us judge our self-worth using external factors. What do others think of me? Do I look successful?  What is my net worth today?  The problem with that – and I say this from experience – is that how you feel about yourself is pushed and pulled by things that are external, beyond your control.  One of the unexpected benefits of financial independence is the ability to step back and think about what you actually care about, and then to spend time on those things.  That is internal validation and that’s what money is for.


The purpose of money is to buy time


Time is the limited resource; we are all going to run out of it.  Sure, for years we have to trade our time for money.  That’s what work is: being compensated for adding value to society.  But if we do that intentionally by doing good work that we’re proud of, not spending mindlessly on crap we don’t need, and saving and investing wisely so that our money grows into a sustainable income stream, then we put ourselves in a position to build on our values, whatever they may be.

Remember, every dollar you save is a piece of your future you are taking control of.

But once you have enough, ask yourself, “What is this money for?”

If you can answer that question, you’ll have a purpose that transcends work, wages, and luxuries.

Because at the risk of alienating those who come here to learn about money, it’s not about the money.



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5 thoughts on “I Took a 90% Pay Cut and I Couldn’t Be Happier”

  1. Profound statement about money! I forwarded the article to my four grown children who am I all hope to be financially independent years before they are 50! It took me to age 60 because I didn’t have your wisdom at a younger age!

  2. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  3. Great post – as i woodworking hobbyist and MD who is considering spending less time on achievement treadmill of medicine, and more time with a Wood-Mizer LT40, my family, and our creative ideas this really hits home. 2 years from FI… Saving for future review. Thanks for sharing the valuable perspectives!

    • My pleasure, Jeremiah. It can be tough to get off the “achievement treadmill” and the dopamine hits it gives us, but a calmer, saner life awaits 🙂

      And for those who don’t know, a Wood-Mizer is a magical machine that turns trees into workable boards – the first of many satisfying steps in the woodworking process. Have fun with it!

  4. Yesssssssss!!! This is a truly brilliant article with so many words of wisdom. From “we’re wanting a feeling” to time as the most valuable asset. And your products are beautiful. 🙂

    • Wonderful to get comments like this – thanks, Amy. Yes, I think it is so important to realize that it’s not the things we are wanting but a feeling of contentment. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t so great at distinguishing between wanting and liking. For me, it takes daily reflection and I still stumble more than I’d like to admit!


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