Pictured above: Lalomanu Beach, Samoa.
With our second little angel arriving soon, I’ve got family on the mind.
Both my wife and I work full-time. Life is busy but not too insane: a majority of days we work 8-5, but there are occasional mornings, afternoons, or even full days off scattered throughout each of our schedules. We also employ a babysitter in the form of Mr. D—a retired CPA and neighbor who got bored in retirement. He picks up our son from daycare, saving us 45 minutes of travel time each day.
One of the biggest choices any young family struggles with is whether one or both parents will work. This decision is often made with an eye toward balancing desired income and time spent with children. Who doesn’t want to spend more time with their children, right? (OK, smart alecks, you can put your hands down.)
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (2016), both parents work in 61% of married-couple families, and one parent works in 36% of these families. Parents eventually figure out what works once the little humans arrive, and more than one option is almost always in play.
Full-time Frank versus Part-time Pete
At this point in our lives and careers, I see two options. Our “roads diverging in a yellow wood” are:
- Both continue to work full-time, and fully retire earlier
- Switch now to part-time (one or both of us), and fully retire later
The pros and cons of each side are embodied in my potential future selves: Full-time Frank and Part-time* Pete.
*For the purposes of this exercise, part-time means about 50% time, but the exact percentage is not critical.
First, we should address the pink elephant in the conversation: Frank will earn more money than Pete. Frank will also work fewer years before retirement. I trust you follow my complex analysis thus far.
Others have delved deeply into the comparative numbers of full-time and part-time work, and how they relate to retirement savings. After reviewing a few of these exercises, the salient impressions I get are:
- It will take Pete about twice as long to hit his retirement nest egg “number” compared to Frank
- For both Frank and Pete, investment returns play a substantial role in the time needed to reach that number—perhaps more of a role than the actual amount saved or years worked
Generally, I take a big-picture approach to my finances, so I’ll let others fiddle with the numbers. Certainly running different scenarios can be useful, but of one thing I am certain: the future is uncertain.
As a working assumption, we could say Pete—starting the moment he switches to part-time—will need to work twice as long as Frank to attain his retirement nest egg.
Becoming a part-time Pete would mean more time spent with my little angel(s). First, let’s examine what full-time Frank’s days look like now.
After arriving home between 5:30-6pm, the next hour is spent greeting his son (wrestling is involved lately at our house), chatting with the babysitter, feeding and walking the dog (barking and lunging at squirrels is usually involved), and preparing/eating dinner. Then he has about 30-45 minutes before the bedtime routine starts.
Days like this make it tempting to quit tomorrow and go to the zoo with junior! But let’s think through this first.
Quality time is key and usually fun for everyone. But according to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (and, frankly, common sense), kids also need time without human helicopters overhead:
Some play must remain entirely child driven, with parents either not present or as passive observers, because play builds some of the individual assets children need to develop and remain resilient. — PEDIATRICS Vol. 119 No. 1 January 01, 2007
Exactly how much time children need to spend throwing rocks at each other versus “helping” mom make butternut squash risotto is unclear.
Interestingly, a recent study evaluating children’s academic performance, emotional well-being, and behavior suggested that time spent with adolescents (ages 12-17) is more important than an equivalent time spent with children (ages 3-11). The time spent with adolescents need not be large: the average was 6 hours/week. That is, if you believe parenting has any effect on a child’s outcome whatsoever.
Regardless of how you approach the precious hours spent with your kids, working part-time affords the option to spend more time with them. That can’t be a bad thing.
What about “me” time, or as those without children call it, “time”? I’m talking about time to exercise, meditate, walk, read, garden, day drink, or chat with the lawn service people in your neighborhood.
Pete would obviously have more free time at the outset. However, keep in mind that half-time can mean working 2 week per month, or working 2.5 days per week; whether or not Pete is happy with the arrangement depends on how well his desired schedule meshes with the needs of his employer.
Frank, though he will continue working full-time for now, will be dancing out the door while Pete still has years left to work. Frank must consider how much free time he needs to remain content during the intervening years before his earlier exit.
ADVANTAGE : TIE
4. Job satisfaction
This two-word phrase may be an oxymoron to some, but others honestly enjoy their work. Most people (including yours truly) derive a sense of purpose and sometimes joy from their jobs but, given a choice, would rather not be restricted by a regular work schedule.
Part-time Pete works less overall, but may or may not have greater control over his schedule. In fact, some part-timers are forced to fill in gaps left by full-timers, resulting in a more restricted schedule for someone like Pete.
Job burnout, especially among physicians, is a big problem. For Pete, simply spending fewer hours at work can mitigate burnout; it may be frustrating and hectic for Pete today but, heck, he’s going on a river float all day tomorrow! Relief in the form of time off is always just around the corner.
Frank seems to get the short end of the stick here, but not necessarily. Working regularly keeps mental and physical gears well-oiled; I certainly need a few days to grind off the rust when returning from a long break. Pete may feel rusty all the time! Frank’s constant presence can also result in a better handle on office politics and stronger relationships with work colleagues.
- Full-time Frank
- Wins: 1 (money)
- Ties: 2 (time, job satisfaction)
- Part-time Pete
- Wins: 1 (children)
- Ties: 2 (time, job satisfaction)
Overall, we have a tie!
OK, OK, I’m not going to leave it at that. Certainly each issue is not as simple as I presented here, and in our case we have the added possibilities of one or both parents going part-time.
Our current plan is for me to continue working full-time, and my wife return to work part-time after her maternity leave. If this setup works going forward, it will probably delay our full retirement by a few years, but will mean a less hectic day-to-day schedule in the meantime. We also plan to reassess the situation periodically and decide if it still works.
How to you calculate your “score”? Do you plan to follow the path of Pete or Frank, or something else? Please comment below!