The night shift can be difficult for many working parents to handle.
As our interviewee today relates, working nights across state lines at a distance? That’s an entirely different ballgame.
But doing so may well put our guest today on the path to financial independence perhaps within the next decade, especially with a solid government pension in play.
If you’re interested in participating in one of three interview series, please download the most appropriate form for your life situation: FIRE Starter, FIRE Crossroads, or Post-FI Notes. To see other posts in the series, visit our Q&A archive.
Getting to Know You
Hi! I’ve enjoyed your site for years and use it as a major source to educate my residents on basic financial literacy and how to avoid mistakes I’ve personally made.
My goal is for all my residents to achieve FI as early as possible while hopefully maintaining their passion for medicine so that they can become a generation of fearless doctors who can challenge terrible systems and help our patients by doing so. I hope that they will be amazing doctors with long, happy careers by choice so that when my loved ones and I need help, we will be in good hands.
Where are you on your financial independence journey? Have you crossed the halfway point in terms of net worth and/or passive income?
We are nearing the halfway point.
Tell us about your household. How many people and at what ages? Are you supporting anyone outside of your home? Where do you live?
Married, both 41. Three kids age 5 and under and no more planned. We both are generous with our parents, but otherwise don’t support anyone outside our household. We live in a mid- to high cost of living area in Texas.
In what field are you working? How is your career going? What do you like best and least about your chosen profession?
I’m an IM nocturnist in an academic setting. I enjoy my job on multiple key levels, including my fantastic partners, getting to teach residents, having a good relationship with hospital staff, and a rewarding patient population.
Do you feel you’ve come to a crossroads of sorts? If so, tell us about it. What options are you contemplating?
Not quite yet, but as my kids are getting older and approaching school age, I may need to consider whether to make career changes to optimize time spent with them.
How is your nest egg invested? Approximately what percentage is allocated to stocks, bonds, real estate, and alternatives?
Over half is invested in index funds (this was a higher percentage until the recent drops, but I have a long timeline and continue to invest as usual); about a quarter is in cash value of an active whole life policy, and the rest is in crowdfunded real estate and savings accounts.
Are your investments primarily in tax-deferred, Roth, or “taxable” post-tax accounts?
Well over half is tax-deferred accounts, and the rest is in a taxable brokerage account.
Do you have investments in an HSA? How about 529 Plans?
There is some old HSA money that’s invested although I can’t add more to it under my current health insurance.
We also have three 529 accounts which we don’t count toward our nest egg money.
What has been your best investment?
Index funds over time. They are boring but effective.
Your worst investment?
The whole life policy, although I didn’t realize it for over a decade when I started learning more about investing. At the point I am now, I’ve decided to keep it, as I’m past all the initial fees and as an older parent it seemed not unreasonable to keep it active for our kid’s sake.
Into the FIRE
Numerically, what is your FI goal?
$3.5 million, or roughly $110,000 annually. I base my goals on a 3% target withdrawal rate instead of 4%.
When do you suspect you will achieve financial independence? Will you retire from your career once you’re comfortably FI?
If the market stabilizes, I’m hoping to hit our goal within 10-15 years. If I still enjoy my career, I’ll likely keep working in some capacity until our kids are all in their early to mid 20s so that we would have more flexibility to lend them some financial aid.
In addition, I’m a federal employee on the FERS pension system, so the longer I work, the larger that pension will be – of note, my FI number is independent of the pension and social security. Those would be lagniappe for us.
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What are your post-FI plans? How will your life change? What do you look forward to the most?
Honestly, we live a happy life now so the biggest change would be getting to supercharge what we already love. For instance, I love gardening and would pursue our area master gardener and naturalist certifications which currently are out of reach as I don’t have time and flexibility to do mandated events or volunteering.
My husband would love to work as a mentor for kids with dyslexia and other neurodivergent processing conditions. Plus we’d enjoy traveling to or hosting friends and family. If we have the extra retirement money, we would love to treat our kids and their families to great family trips.
Have you made any major changes in your lifestyle or investments to accelerate your FI path?
Not particularly. We are generally frugal, with our biggest splurges being dining out or ordering in. We have our new investments aggressively allocated at this time in stocks, which might change in ten years or so.
Are you facing any unique challenges making FI or RE more difficult?
Being on the older side of parents to young kids means we won’t feel comfortable completely retiring even if we hit our goal by our early 50s. I definitely don’t have the energy I had in my 20s and 30s, so I could also see myself cutting my hours to part time and working longer to ensure I can give the best of myself to our kids.
For the last decade, I’ve been commuting out of state for my job for roughly 11-12 day blocks every month. This preceded meeting my husband and having kids. My annual cost for this between flights, housing, transportation, etc. is roughly $20,000 annually, and it is unfortunately not tax deductible as I’m not a 1099 contractor.
My husband runs the household while I’m away – normally the kids would be in daycare, but during the pandemic they stayed home and my post-doc neuroscientist husband would do data analysis and remote meetings while I was away and work in the lab when I got home. My husband is currently on sabbatical but we anticipate the kids will resume daycare or in-person school this fall, at which time he will be back to normal work.
The reason for my job situation is simply that where we live is better situated as far as schools, social support (we both have parents, siblings, and good friends locally), activities, travel, and job opportunities for my husband.
Originally, I thought this position was a temporary job, but it ended up being such a good fit that I would hesitate leaving it for most local opportunities without significant assurances. I would love to find something with a similar work-life balance, benefits, workload, and job satisfaction locally just so I could be home everyday.
That being said, when I’m home I’m literally a state away which makes it much easier to turn off the work side of my brain and focus on my family. Plus, my current schedule means I have about 20 days in between each work cycle which is wonderful as a night shift worker, since I can more fully shift between days and nights.
Being away from my family during my shifts is the worst part of my current job, but the fact that my time off is so protected can’t be ignored. As an example, my prior job over a decade ago was 7 on-7 off, but my workload was so heavy that I was often at work for over 14 hours daily, not including a total commute time of over an hour and having to go in on days off to complete administrative duties.
This would have resulted in me not seeing my kids for much meaningful time, as I would leave before they woke up and would get home maybe an hour before bedtime. In addition, my stress levels were exceedingly high. Obviously, there are better local jobs, but I’ve heard of too many bait and switch cases to walk away from a known entity that is rewarding on many levels. Not to mention that my frequent traveling has led to me having a surplus of airline miles to use for pleasure trips with my family.
As it is, my kids and I talk multiple times a day over FaceTime when I’m gone, and we use apps such as Caribu to read stories and do puzzles together which helps. My husband has a long history of family in the military or other jobs where one parent required frequent travel for work, so for us this works.
If there comes a day where it’s less optimal, I would look at options such as decreasing to part time and possible remote work options at my current site, as opposed to looking for a new job locally.
What advice do you have for others who are seeking financial independence?
Figure out what brings you joy early in your life so you don’t waste money and time on things that end up being meaningless to you.
How much will your pension pay annually when you retire?
This depends if I cut my hours to part time, my age at retirement, and if I deferred my pension to minimum retirement age (57 for me) if I did retire before then. Assuming I worked full time until age 57 and immediately started receiving the pension upon retirement, it would be roughly $77,000 annually.
If I worked full time until age 62 (when all my kids should be in their early 20s), the pension would be around $115,000, enough to cover all our expenses without touching our investments, so we would be very comfortable.
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I thank today’s interviewee for sharing their story, and I’ve shared my feedback privately with them. I wouldn’t want my opinions to influence yours. Please give your take and answer any questions they have had in the space below!
Again, if you’d like to partake in a future Q&A, please download a FIRE Starter, FIRE Crossroads, or Post-FI Notes interview form.
3 thoughts on “FIRE Crossroads 032: Working Nights in Another State – A Sustainable Approach to FI?”
It’s wonderful that you found a job that’s such a good fit academically, emotionally, financially, and professionally! Even though you have to travel to work, I agree that you should think long and hard before giving it up, even to be home locally. So few physicians seem to be happy in their work you set a great example that it can be done! Sounds like you’ve found a “permanent locums” on a W2 basis. Congratulations!
Great post and ideas.
My only comment…I would never trivialize a federal pension and social security. You never know what is in front of you or your family. Sometimes life will throw you a curveball.
Very true! I primarily try to keep my goals untethered from the federal pension because I don’t want to lock myself in mentally in case other good opportunities arise outside of my current position. I’m hoping that by aiming towards a retirement that can be comfortably funded without the pension that I’ll either have the chance to retire earlier or have significantly more money in retirement to indulge our whims if I continue within the FERS system. If social security pays even half what it’s supposed to 20 years from now, it would be a welcome third source of retirement income.