Aside from being financially independent, I also maintain a 4 hour work week just to prove that you don’t need to accumulate six figures of net worth to leave a full time career. Consider it a form of social service: Oh, the sacrifices I make just to prove a point :-)

Update: I no longer do this. The excitement of solving copy editing puzzles eventually wore off and I got busy finishing my book. I haven’t worked on this since Feb/2010. However, that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a viable alternative for those who prefer a continuous part time job compared to working full time for several years in order to become an investor.

While not exactly equivalent to the zero hour work week of financial independence, four hours do come pretty close, and so it could be the choice of those who do not want to hold full time career over 5 years to become financially independent.

For the purposes of this discussion I will define work as something you do that makes money but which you would otherwise not do if you did not get paid. I realize that some of you guys looooove your jobs and don’t consider it work. I used to feel the same way, but realize that this can change.

This post is more for those who don’t love their jobs but see it as a necessity to pay for other expenses.

The key requirement for this to work is, like with extreme early retirement, to either have an extremely large hourly rate or conversely, have an extremely low level of expenses. Here, I will go with the latter since there are more people capable of spending little (like $500 a month) than there are people capable of earning much (like $200/hour).

My 4 hour work week job involves typesetting scientific articles using LaTeX which is a program/programming language which determines how equations, paragraphs, etc. should appear on the page. Requirements involve some rudimentary understanding of equations e.g. knowing that breaking (log(x)+log(y)) right before (y) would be really really bad, nothing a high school graduate shouldn’t know; a certain command of English—hey I’m a foreigner, and I have it as should most high school graduates—, and knowledge of LaTeX (get the books by Knuth and Lamport and read them).

Learning La/TeX involves some effort/self-education on your part, but I would say you could reach a decent level in 6 months if you put your back into it. If you’re a computer whiz, you could probably learn it over the weekend. The hard part probably involves finding the job. Actually for me, it wasn’t hard at all, I wasn’t even looking. DW sent it to me from craigslist, when she was looking for jobs for herself. I thought it sounded interesting and had the job half an hour later, so consider this a result of serendipity.

It pays $35/hour. Hence, 4 weeks of 4 hours equals $560 (minus taxes) which is higher than my expenses, which proves the concept. I work from home, being set up as a home business, and all correspondence is via email and an online database. I can work whenever, however, and how much I want, which fits ideally with the rest of my life. For instance, I can work from home or from the beach. Or I can work 4 hours one day and take a week’s break (which in fact I just did since I got busy with something else). In that sense it is ideal for the way I live.

The income also means that I can maintain a savings rate of 50%+; I’m doubly covered; or alternatively, if DW looses her job, I can cover her. Employment also lends a certain level of respectability, something which I still find personally problematic due to a deeply ingrained protestant work ethic and old-fashioned “the husband should be the provider/earn more than the wife” values. Ugh!

Jobs that are similarly arranged (work whenever and however much) include doing online surveys or tutoring, but they pay much lower, more akin to $10/hour if they go that high for the surveys.

In comparison, $35 seem like a very high salary and in a sense it is, but it reflects the rarity of people with sufficient skills. Hence, and I can not stress this enough as part of the compleat ERE life strategy: You need to make yourself valuable and skilled in whatever you do. Be a little bit better than the competition (Not wasting time watching TV already puts you ahead of 95% of everybody else). Now this may sound like work, but it is not a lot of work, especially not when compared to doing surveys.

Alright, so now you’re saying that … hey, surely I’m cheating because I actually am what computer guys call a whiz (and everybody else calls a nerd :-P ) and thus I didn’t have to spend months with my nose in the books. Okay, I’ll give you that. I am, therefore, trying to learn watch repair (surely a non-nerdy profession, no?) well enough to get paid for it, but for starters well enough not to pay someone else for it(*).

(*) I own a beautiful 1961 Omega Seamaster which costs a couple of hundreds to get serviced every few years. I figure it’s worth spending some time learning how to do this myself.
In conclusion, you can have a 4 hour work week (for real!). My suggested strategy is to kill your stupid TV and instead spend your time learning a handful of skills that are worth $35/hour on the open-market as well as being personally useful to you(*) and (actively) wait for one of them to be requested. I think such a diversified strategy beats concentrating on one and then trying frantically to find it. All it requires—but maybe that IS asking for a lot :-( —is the drive to learn new stuff and a proactive response whenever an opportunity presents itself.

(*) Yes, I’m typesetting the book I’m writing in LaTeX and I used to write my papers using LaTeX.