$3 million

If you were offered one million dollars would you take it? I bet you would emphatically say “yes, most definitely, without a doubt!” I never thought I would pass up that much money, but one day I did. In fact, I’ve given up $1 million worth of income over the past seven years.

If you are saving, investing and dreaming of financial independence you probably think I’m either crazy or a complete idiot. After I made the decision I might have agreed. I’ve experienced many complex emotions since quitting my six-figure job.

A Little History

Growing up my mom left her job to stay home with my brother and I. As a kid I wasn’t aware that this was a decision my parents made. It was just the way our family worked. Every weekday dad drove to a job in the city and mom stayed home. It was the only world I knew.

This was common in my community. In fact, I don’t think any of the moms in my neighborhood worked in a traditional 9-to-5 job when I was a child.

Then one day my mom talked about going back to work. I was nine years old and mature enough to let myself in and out of the house alone. (Latch key kids were all the rage back then.)

The Lesson I Learned

That’s when my mom first mentioned her decision to stay home. It was a simple explanation; straight and to the point. Her job wouldn’t cover the cost of child care so she quit.

It’s interesting how my nine year old brain internalized and interpreted my mother’s words. Inside my head I created a mantra of sorts: after giving birth a low salary was the only reason to quit your job.

Over the years I heard this message echoing back to me time and time again. Women told me they didn’t earn enough to continue working. Many said, “by the time I pay for daycare I have little to nothing left.”

Many of those women wanted to stay home with their children, but none of them framed their decision in that context. None of them listed desire as the number one reason for leaving the workforce. They always mentioned money as the primary reason for staying home.

Quitting a Six-Figure Job

So imagine how conflicted I felt when I made six figures and decided to stop working. Didn’t people quit their jobs because it didn’t make financial sense to continue working? I didn’t fit that mold.

My female role models at work all remained in their jobs after children. No one I knew left their professional careers to raise kids. I didn’t meet any fellow software developers on the playground. Yet, after being laid off and lining up a new job I still chose to leave the workforce.

I was and still am incredibly proud of my prior career. There is something very rewarding about being a female in a male dominated industry. To be honest sometimes I still miss the pride I felt in my former role.

So, was it a mistake to give it all up? I asked myself that question for years. In real life I asked every stay-at-home mom I met about her prior profession. Online I scoured the Internet for stories about other women who gave up high paying careers. Then silently memorized the article on Grown and Flown when I couldn’t find any.

$1 Million in Lost Wages

Why was I so conflicted? Because I spent the greater part of my life obsessed with money. I wrote a blog about personal finance. A blog that centered on maximizing earnings, saving as much as possible and investing for the long haul. My weekly routine consisted of clipping coupons, searching sales circulars, increasing my income and nickel-and-diming my way to $1 million.

I began working at the age of fifteen and worked throughout high school and college. I was proud of that fact. Who was I without a job? After years of growing our net worth I found it difficult to stop focusing on wealth accumulation.

Then there was the question of lost wages. What did seven years out of the workforce cost my husband and I? I estimate around $3 million. At least $3 million! It amounts to over $1 million in lost wages over the past seven years alone. Add on additional compounding for an extra thirty to forty years and holy mackerel that’s a lot of missed moola! And of course the longer I stay out of the workforce the larger that number looms.

Searching for Role Models

My situation is unusual, but not entirely unique. I was searching specifically for stories of happy, stay-at-home parents who left high paying jobs, but now I realize I should have widened my net.

While I still don’t find a lot of highly paid parents exiting the workforce I have found an entire FIRE community full of individuals who are leaving money behind. In fact, that’s the case for anyone who considers early retirement, isn’t it?

Do I regret the decision? Not at this point in time. I have many thoughts on the subject, (some still conflicting), but at the end of the day I know life shouldn’t be taken for granted. My heart pulled me in this direction and thanks to significant savings and a spouse who continues to work I’ve been given the option to stay home.

That’s a personal choice. It doesn’t reflect on the choices other women make or on the fact that many women don’t have the luxury of choice at all.

I don’t worry about money anymore, but sometimes I still fear for our financial futures. What if we get sick or need long term care? $3 million would certainly cover the cost of those bills. Will I regret the decision in the future? Perhaps, if I’m still blogging then I’ll let you know.

The truth is life is all about choices. I love so many aspects of staying at home with my children and I don’t regret spending the last seven years outside of a cubicle. If you handed me $3 million on the day my son was born would I have felt differently? Most definitely, but thankfully that didn’t happen, because life is about so much more than money.

A Change of Heart

In retrospect I wish my mom had said, “I stayed home because I would have regretted leaving you behind each day.” Or “I stayed home because I cherished the time I spent with you.”

My mom could have said, “I didn’t do it out of necessity, but rather out of desire.” Staying home was her preference, so these things all would have been true and hearing those words would have completely changed my mental model.

In fact, I wish money hadn’t factored into the way she spoke about that decision at all. I wasted too much time second guessing my decision for ridiculous financial reasons and feeling guilty for passing up so much money.

That Lightbulb Moment

Then one day I woke up with my a change of heart. I thought carefully about my decision and flipped the scenario upside down. After quitting my six-figure job I mistakenly focused on what I’d given up. Instead I should have focused on what I’d been given in return.

That’s when it dawned on me. I didn’t give up three million dollars. I simply traded the money for time with my children.