Taking the Plunge: Freedom Without Boundaries is Enslavement

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I can still remember the day like it was yesterday. It was nearly a year ago that I was freed from prison (err…my last corporate job) and it was like I won the Powerball and scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl on the same day. Seeing as we don’t play the lottery and will never play professional football I can dream, right? I remember walking to the car after tendering my resignation and Mrs. Frugal Rules said it looked like she was seeing a new man with the weight of the world suddenly off his shoulders. No longer was I miserable in my stock broker job, but the world was open with possibilities. I was free to do what I wanted, when I wanted and had only myself and my wife to answer to. It was that freedom that finally got me to take the leap and is something that I have come to cherish over the last 11 months.

Freedom Comes With a Responsibility

I’ve written before about loving being self-employed and I really do. That’s not to say it’s not hard work, because it is, but I really do love the freedom that comes with being my own boss. When some hear that we run our own business certain things come to mind. Some think we sleep in until Noon (an impossibility with three under the age of five in the house, mind you) and sit around eating Cheetos all day while watching Seinfeld reruns in our pajamas. Nothing could be further from the truth. My newfound freedom of self-employment requires much of me and comes with a lot of responsibility. If we don’t put the work in to get the business, then our kids don’t eat. We’d also not able to do things like save for retirement and thus the onus falls on us, and that’s more than okay. I learned early on that this responsibility is what drives me as I want to leave it all out on the field. Sadly, or not too sadly, depending on how you look at it, the decisions we make require action on our parts. Passively watching life pass you by will only take you so far. I learned early on in my self-employment endeavor that there are two main parts of this journey – freedom and responsibility. In order to maximize these and become efficient I have learned that the ability to set boundaries is vital, otherwise you’ll swing to one end of the spectrum or the other.

The Search for a Good Work-Life Balance

I know that I have written before about how work-life balance was one of the reasons why I hate being self-employed and that’s because it is slim to none. I have always been a person who struggles with keeping those boundaries of not working myself into the ground. Since I work from home most days this means that I am working at 5:00 am and also working at 11:00 pm, if not later. Not every day is like this, but it’s also not uncommon. What it comes down to is that I hate leaving something undone and can always find something else to do. Mrs. Frugal Rules, on the other hand, does a much better job of separating herself from work and moving on with other things going on in the house. Slowly, but surely, I am learning that balance is necessary and that my family will benefit greatly from it. I know that it’s a great “problem” to have in being busy, as that will usually result in making more money…but at what cost? Do I want my kids to think that their Dad comes with a computer? Do I want them to think that they play second fiddle to my work when they have a need or simply want Dad to be silly with them? Of course I don’t and that is what drives me to find that balance. Without that balance, without seeking those boundaries, I am allowing myself to become enslaved to that felt need of always working as opposed to enjoying life. It means that I need not look at what I have on my to-do list all the time, but enjoy some of the fruit that comes with working hard for myself. Because, after all, if I do not take the time to enjoy it with my family then what good is the freedom? Also, how good is it to run my own business if I am enslaved to it?

How Can I Apply this to Finances?

This wouldn’t be a true Frugal Rules post if I did not talk about money.  🙂 Going through this experience over this last year since taking the plunge, I have seen even more why having balance with money is vital to long term success. Regardless of where you’re at in your financial journey, balance is vital. I could be spending my money like there’s no tomorrow and end up with nothing or I could miserly save everything and not enjoy life one bit. Neither is good and both lack balance. Those that might miserly save will point to their money and say they’re doing great. I’ll cede that saving a lot of money is a valid and great thing to do, but how do you enjoy life? How do you allow yourself to enjoy the fruit of your labors? I happen to think that you can enjoy life and still save for the future without sacrificing either. On the flip side, if you spend everything you have with no concern for the future, are you really enjoying life, or are you spending because you’re trying to fill a void that you sense is present? Regardless of what side you find yourself on, it requires work and insight to find that balance and one that you individually need to be comfortable with and works best for you.


What are you trying to find balance with? Do you think too much freedom is a bad thing?


Photo courtesy of: McKaySavage

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.

Latest posts by John Schmoll (see all)


  • Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says:

    The biggest area that I am trying to balance is between my extra income activities, 9 to 5 job, family time and then my free time. Unfortunately the current amount of things I am trying to do at once leaves me with pretty much no free time πŸ™
    I am sure there is a balance, I just haven’t found it yet.

    • John says:

      I can so relate to the lack of free time Glen. There seems to be a very big shortage of it. That said, I find that you just have to make it sometimes and ignore the list.

  • Money Bulldog says:

    I’m completely with you on this John (although I am writing this with my little boy sat next to me, oops). I suppose work-life balance could also be called work-life separation. It’s important to work hard but for my family it’s also important to have set times when I completely separate from it and just be a Husband and a Dad. I find it difficult to snap out of work mode sometimes but although it doesn’t feel like it at the time, some things can, and have to wait until tomorrow or I’d never stop.

    • John says:

      I can definitely relate Adam and agree that you do need to have those times that you separate those roles. Btw, isn’t it awesome that you get to work at home? I love that I can take five minutes out and just be silly with the kids. πŸ™‚

  • Snarkfinance says:

    Love your points about self-responsibility when it comes to self-employment/doing your own thing. Many people day dream about a lifestyle like this, primarily focusing on the “I can wake up whenever I want” aspect, not realizing that often times it is not as glamorous as it sounds. All deadlines are on the individual, you can’t “burn a day” surfing the internet and expect that to add to your bottom line. However, this work set up does provide more flexibility than a full time gig, and a better opportunity to set boundaries.

    • John says:

      Yes, that responsibility is a big one. I’d love to just lounge around and do whatever I wanted, but then who would bring in the income to feed the kids. That said, it does provide great flexibility. Thanks for stopping by!

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Great post, John, and I definitely struggle with work-life balance. If I didn’t have this site I would have no problem at all balancing my 9-5 and everything else, but with the site I end up working at it in almost all my free time. I would really like to have more of a balance, but unfortunately it does seem like the more work I put into the site the more I get out of it, especially financially.

    • John says:

      Thanks DC! Yes, a blog can seem to take up whatever time you have. Like you said though, the more you put into it, the more you get out…generally speaking of course.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Even though I am now working from home, I’m working a lot this week because I’m trying to catch up from vacation. I’m hoping that starting next week I will have a healthier work/life balance. But, like you, I have the tendency to overwork….so we’ll see.

    • John says:

      Yes, those vacations are fun…but you always (hopefully at least πŸ™‚ ) have a bunch of work to come home to. However, those vacations make it all worthwhile.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    I have the same problem, John. It’s hard to walk away to an unfinished “to-do” list! But I try and have some set work hours to alleviate this issue. Still a work in progress though. BTW, a day of Seinfeld reruns and Cheetos sounds wonderful! Maybe we’ll make that a part of our super frugal vacation this summer. πŸ™‚

    • John says:

      Ah…those to-do lists can be killers and I have just learned to be ok with the fact that I will still have stuff on it when I go to bed each night. I think we might make it part of our vacation this year as well. πŸ™‚

  • Matt Becker says:

    This is an incredibly relevant topic for me right now. I love the new work I’m doing with my blog, but it takes up a ton of time and even when I’m not directly working on it I find myself thinking about it. While I’m excited about the new venture, I hate that it makes me lose focus when I’m spending time with my family. You’re 100% about the need to be better at setting boundaries. That’s something I really need to work on.

    • John says:

      Yes, the blog can definitely become that way if you allow it to. I struggle with that as well and have learned that I simply need to force myself to focus on spending time with the family….otherwise I’d be a zombie.

  • cashrebel says:

    I know that I crave boundaries and structured time. College was easy because I went to class, ate, and then studied, and that was it. Now that I’ve got mote freedom, I still structure my free time, its hist with stuff want to do.

    • John says:

      I long for the college days when it was so easy to structure my time. However, as I look back to my college days I overcommitted myself there too.

  • Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter says:

    Like Cash Rebel, I also crave boundaries and structured time, which is why I still love working for a company. I am always trying to find balance though, between work and life. Too much freedom is definitely not a bad thing!

    • John says:

      Finding that balance can be difficult, though I would say that can be difficult even in a corporate setting.

  • Grayson @ Debt RoundUp says:

    Finding the balance is crucial. It is harder to do these days, with a full time job (which I love), a blog, and a family. It gets harder and I am working on putting it all together to make sure I am satisfied. Good article John!

    • John says:

      I hear ya Grayson…it seems like there is always something more to do. However, finding that balance is well worth it.

  • Jacob@CashCowCouple says:

    I love having structure in the form of a list. It really just saves me. When there are tons of options and I want to be in the middle of everything, I get less done.

    Luckily my wife is better at this than I am. She is a life saver!

    • John says:

      It’s funny how spouses balance us out, isn’t it? I like to do a list as well…as long as I know that it’s ok to not have to feel like it all has to be done by the end of the day.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    I think it depends on the person. Some people need a strict schedule and someone to answer to, especially early on. If you are on your own time, it’s possible to set a schedule, but you are much more likely to vary if something comes up. I doubt I would have gotten anything done early in my career with 2-3 days being out of the office each week, but now I have the discipline to get things done in the time I have (most days!) Do you think if you’d never had the corporate job you’d be able to do what you do now?

    • John says:

      I agree Kim, I do think it depends on the person – which is why self-employment is not for many. In terms of if I think I could do this never having the corporate job…I don’t know. I learned so much of what NOT to do from that job that I was able to learn from.

  • pauline says:

    I am really bad at dissociating work and fun, since they are kind of the same and most happen inside my computer, I have 12 tabs open, go back from FB to work stuff, this is something I want to work on. And not check emails between 10pm and 9am or something.

    • John says:

      LOL, I sound the same way Pauline! Checking email is the worst for me. I just have to force myself to check it only at certain times of the day.

  • Budget and the Beach says:

    I think one of the reasons I’m not as successful as a freelancer as some of my counterparts is because I NEED my me time. I’m an 8-5er…which doesn’t necessarily go along with the freelance model, although Tim Ferris from the 4 hour work week would disagree. Maybe I need to be smarter? I also do find a bit of a balance problem with spending/saving. It seems I swing to one extreme to another month by month.

    • John says:

      You hit on a good point Tonya, and it is important to have that me time. Without it, life gets awfully boring and really quickly. I find that a lot of it does come down to working smarter and not necessarily harder.

  • Michelle says:

    I’m trying to find balance with my side hustles and my full-time job. I have been thinking about leaving my full-time job though to pursue my passions!

    • John says:

      With the way you’re rocking the side hustles, I’d think you would do quite well going it on your own Michelle. πŸ™‚

  • Mackenzie says:

    I think as a parent, finding that balance between “me-time”, parenting, work, chores, etc… It is hard. There just never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done!

    • John says:

      I could not agree more Mackenzie. I still need to find that mystical 26 hour day…though I am fairly certain I would fill up the extra two hours really quickly.

  • anna says:

    I think it’s great that you’re aware of wanting to find that work-life balance, especially when it comes to making time with your little ones. I don’t really have the entrepreneurial spirit and prefer regimented work hours, but I admire the people who have that drive and succeed while still striking that balance!

    • John says:

      They really are what encourage me to have that balance. If it was just my wife and I it would still be a focus but to a lesser extent. Having the kids definitely makes me want to find that balance.

  • #Broke Millennial says:

    I really appreciate you addressing how your work life impacts your children. One thing I always admired about my father was his impeccable work ethic, but he somehow ALWAYS managed to be there for important events.

    The man traveled for work almost 150 days a year, but made our (my sister and I) sporting events, birthdays, graduations and plays. He made us the priority and managed to just “make it work” (insert Tim Gunn voice here).

    You loving your job will be a positive influence in the home too!

    • John says:

      Thanks Erin! That’s awesome your Dad was like that. Mine was very similar and was always there for my activities, no matter how silly they were. I do see that my job and how I act out on it has the potential to be a huge impact on our kids.

  • Sicorra says:

    We too find ourselves working 7 days a week and many evenings until midnight. We have so much that we want to do and when we take a day away to do something fun or even things around the house we actually feel guilty. It is a struggle right now to find the balance but we feel like we need to do it now while we can. The thing that keeps us going right now is seeing results, both monetary and achievement wise.

    • John says:

      I can completely relate Sicorra as I have been there before. The one thing I would caution against is that you can only keep that up for so long and can become wearing over time.

  • Girl Meets Debt says:

    What a great post John! I’m glad Mrs. Frugal Rules balances you out. I’ve never really had trouble with a work/life balance before until I started blogging. It doesn’t help that J is always working on his blog as well. We (mainly me lol) are trying to find a better balance and spending more quality time with each other rather then quantity time. Apparently date night does not include me working on my laptop and him working on his computer watching a movie together πŸ˜›

    • John says:

      Thanks GMD! She does balance me out, because without her I am sure that I would be working 24/7 and running myself into the ground. Lol at the date night, we have had our share of those…though I usually hear about those and NOT in a good way. πŸ˜‰

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    It is tough balance – work/life, frugality/enjoying life and sometimes I feel like I do pretty good and other times, not so much. πŸ™‚ I always try to cram 12 working hours into 8 so that I can go home and be “mom” until they go to bed. I try to keep weekends pretty family focused too, although we probably still pack too much into one weekend! It also helps that the markets aren’t open on the weekends. πŸ™‚ It’s a delicate but one worth figuring out!

    • John says:

      It is a tough balance Shannon, but one that is worth finding and keeping. I love being a Dad and really need to focus on that more as I know that will impact my kids. It’s probably a good thing the markets are closed on the weekends…I know it makes Mrs. Frugal Rules happier because it’s one less thing I am checking on. πŸ™‚

  • retirebyforty says:

    I know that euphoric feeling well. πŸ™‚ It would be great if everyday is like that. Being self employed beats working for the corporate any day for me.
    I’m balancing work/life pretty well, but that’s because my kid won’t let me work 10 hours/day. He keeps me grounded and I love spending more time with families.
    It would be much harder to balance if both of us are at home.

    • John says:

      I agree, it would be great if everyday were like that. πŸ™‚ It does make it difficult to have that balance since we’re both at home, but it does have its benefits as well.

  • My Financial Independence Journey says:

    I struggle a lot with trying to find a balance between saving and spending. A lot of the time, I think I’m just a bit too cheap. I don’t have any great work arounds or advice. Since I live alone and barely know anyone here (the joys of moving across country to a completely new place) there aren’t a lot of external motivations to counteract my natural cheapness.

    • John says:

      I struggle with that as well occasionally MFIJ. I am naturally cheap by nature, but try to balance that out to a certain extent. Being in your situation I am sure there is little motivation to counteract that trait.

  • krantcents says:

    I always go all in! I spend time doing the things I enjoy whether it is work or fun. I need to balance work and other things much more. I am in the midst of doing so.

    • John says:

      I tend to be the same way. I’ve always been that way, but having a little balance certainly makes things better.

  • Nick @ says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences John. For me, the structure of a 9-5 job is definitely beneficial. If I were my own boss I know I would have a hard time creating balance for myself.

    • John says:

      Not a problem Nick. The structure of a 9-5 job really can be helpful for many, which is why it can be so difficult to make that transition. It all comes down to wanting it enough, at least that’s what I have found. Well, that and the need to put food on the table. πŸ˜‰

  • Jacob @ iHeartBudgets says:

    I think personality is important, and you need to know how your work before taking the plunge. being self-motivated is key, otherwise you will starve. On the flip side, if you choose work at your #1 priority over relationships, then you really need to keep yourself in check, and actually put time on the calendar that REQUIRES the computers to be powered off (AND CELL PHONES TOO!) I find myself putting time into the blog when I should really be putting time into relationships, and have to cut myself off. Sure, my content/traffic suffers, but it’s totally worth the cost.

    • John says:

      You’re exactly right Jacob, it is worth the cost. It is not always easy to see it that way, but it really is.

  • KC @ genxfinance says:

    Just because it’s “work at home”, it doesn’t men it’s easy. It’s difficult to find blance too. But I liked your story about the day you resigned. I can imagine the feeling and it must be awesome.

    • John says:

      You’re exactly right KC, just like I have said many times before. It was quite the feeling. πŸ™‚

  • Untemplater says:

    I am definitely more productive when I have deadlines although this usually leads to more stress. I’m trying to find a balance with my focus and efficiency on work that doesn’t have strict deadlines. Prioritizing and planning help a lot with keeping balance and staying on top of my goals

    • John says:

      I am the same way Sydney. I thought it would be difficult for me at first, but it just requires effective planning and a willingness to be flexible.

  • Debt Blag says:

    That’s odd that there are some people who think self-employed people sleep until noon. My view of the self-employed is the exact opposite — having to think about and work at the business all the time.

    • John says:

      I agree, but many do think that’s the way things roll for many who run their own business. Sure we could do it, but we’d have nothing to put on the table. πŸ˜‰

  • jim says:

    You guys all have little ones at home – it’s no wonder finding the right balance is difficult. It is – it’s damn near impossible. Just remember those little ones are going to grow up and be on their own in the blink of an eye. I’d never be able to not work 24/7 if I was working at home, so the structured corporate life is for me. When I’m “off”, I am 1000% off. In a couple of months our youngest will be on his own, 1/2 way across the country. Then and only then will I consider doing a blog and/or working at home. Just enjoy the insanity of raising little ones. It’s soooooooooooooooooo much fun (and exhausting), but it really is over in the blink of an eye and you NEVER get that back with them. Best of luck to all!

  • Carrie Smith says:

    This is a lesson I’m learning all too well right now. After taking the plunge myself and going into freelancing full-time, I’ve seen how crazy it can get if you don’t set the right kind of boundaries. Not only for my own work-life balance, but for my family and friends. Otherwise, they don’t take me or my work seriously — like you mentioned, just sitting around all day in my PJ’s watching TV and eating junk food. Hardly!

    A certain amount of freedom always comes with boundaries, or else you do find yourself frustrated and a slave to yet another type of grind. Thanks for the reminder and words of wisdom.

  • Chad | The Stock Market and I says:

    compartmentalizing is something I learned too when our daughter was born. It’s like different times of the day I wear different hats: father, husband and work-a-holic. Sometimes trying to fit it all in seems a little overwhelming. But in the end being able to be a part of everything that is important in your life is rewarding.

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