Courtesy of Sassafras Lowrey The author (right) and her partner.
“I think you should quit your job,” my partner Kestryl said late one night. I had just gotten home from another rough night at work ― a client overdosed, staff called out sick, we didn’t have enough funding. I was sitting across the kitchen table from Kestryl, and I was crying.
This wasn’t the first time we had this conversation; it came up often. For years, I would come home emotionally and sometimes physically beaten down from my job as a director of a large nonprofit in New York City, where I supervised all aspects of the operation of a homeless youth drop-in program. I hated my job, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually quit. I had spent a decade building my nonprofit career and had reached the point where I was regularly called on to participate in meetings with city officials.
I was seen as a national expert in the field, but I was also miserable and burned out. I had become disillusioned, not just with my job but with the entire nonprofit industrial complex, yet I didn’t feel like I could leave. It wasn’t that I thought my partner’s ongoing offer to cover our finances was disingenuous. Instead, my refusal to quit was tied up in my feminism.
One of the first feminist lessons I learned growing up was to be self-sufficient: to get an education and a career to make money, and never rely on anyone ― especially a romantic partner ― to pay my bills. Even though I trusted my partner completely, and we had been living together sharing all finances for well over a decade at that time, I was still afraid, not afraid that they would leave me, but afraid that if I quit my job, if I chose to become financially dependent on someone that I was weak and somehow betraying my own politics.
One of the first feminist lessons I learned growing up was to be self-sufficient: to get an education and a career to make money, and never rely on anyone — especially a romantic partner — to pay my bills.
But the violence and stress of my job was taking a real toll on not just my emotional health, but my physical health as well. On multiple occasions I found myself hooked up to EKG machines in my doctor’s office, everyone concerned I was having a heart attack. So two years ago this month, I quit my high earning job in New York to pursue writing full time while spending about $40,000 to get an MFA in Creative Writing ― probably the least lucrative field imaginable. My partner took over covering all of our bills: mortgage, car, health insurance, vet care for our large family of dogs and cats, food, and everything else we need or want.
I know that a lot of couples fight about money, and they fight about money a lot. I see it every day on the internet, in memes and jokes that people tell about not telling their husband or wife about a purchase. In fact, I grew up knowing that money was something to fight about. My mother and stepfather fought often about reckless spending, saving money and financial priorities. I had grown up with the idea that I should never trust a spouse, and that I needed to always support myself. It’s funny how much I clung onto that idea since I have systematically worked hard to not hold onto any of the lessons I grew up with.
Kestryl, who uses the pronouns hir and ze, openly communicates with me about every aspect of our relationship, and that was key for me when quitting my job. We have always talked about our finances honestly. There are no secrets, no sneaking around. Big purchases are always decided on together, and discretionary random purchasing happens with open communication. We implemented this nearly 16 years ago when we first started living together. We were young, punk and broke. I was 20 and Kestryl was 19, and we had no meaningful assets and very limited income. Quite frankly, it’s easy to blend finances when you literally have nothing and build trust in one another over time.
The key for me with quitting my job was the intense open communication that my partner and I have in every aspect of our relationship.
But what does this practically look like? For the last 15 years, Kestryl and I have had joint checking and savings accounts, as well as a joint credit card where we consolidate purchases for the household. We have similar values, reflected in our monthly budget lines for everything from groceries and car maintenance to new clothing for each of us, and our dogs’ subscription toy box. Separate from that, we each get “spending money” that we can use for anything we want. For me this usually looks like bubble tea; and because I’m a toy collector, small plastic toys, whereas Kestryl usually saves hir weekly money up for bigger ticket items.
Each week on Sunday afternoons we bring our receipts for household purchases together ― dog food, vet bills, going out to dinner, groceries etc. For birthdays and holidays, we sit down and discuss the budget for how much we will each spend. Because this is something that we have done since early on in our relationship, it was seamless to transition to doing so on a single income.
Early on in our professional careers my salary was larger than Kestryl’s whereas now I don’t have a steady salary. For us, worth in the relationship or being able to purchase things we want doesn’t have a correlation with how much money we bring in. Full disclosure: I know that me quitting my job would not have been possible if Kestryl didn’t have a very successful and well-compensated job that ze loved. We have a lot of financial privilege that living on one stable income was not just possible but financially comfortable for us to take that leap.
We have a lot of financial privilege that living on one stable income was not just possible but financially comfortable for us to take that leap.
Once we decided I was quitting, I applied to graduate school and got accepted. We planned everything months in advance, down to the day that I would give notice. During this time, Kestryl and I had regular and open conversations including concrete plans and budget reviews, crunching numbers and figuring out the financial details for our family so that I could commit myself fully to freelance writing and going to graduate school. Any money I brought in would be added to savings or be extra spending money to put towards vacations but not needed to cover our bills.
I also am not in any way suggesting that everyone should rely on their partner financially. I grew up in a family where my mother stayed with a physically abusive partner in large part for financial reasons. I think that self-sufficiency can feel empowering, and it did for me for many years as I was building my career, but what felt even more empowering was following my dreams. For objectively looking at a situation, knowing and fully accepting that my personal worth is not in any way tied to if I am making money.
At the same time, my worth in my relationship was not tied to how big my salary was. My partner and I have been together for almost 16 years. We have moved cross country together twice, own a home together and parent a large family of dogs and cats. Our relationship is long term and stable. Knowing this was foundational in taking this plunge, in trusting that quitting my job was the right thing to do. I trusted that this was what was best not only for me, but also for our family and that Kestryl would not resent me for not bringing in the kind of money that I once did.
think that self-sufficiency can feel empowering, and it did for me for many years as I was building my career, but what felt even more empowering was following my dreams.
When I quit my job, I had multiple books in print from small publishers, and I had a growing freelance income, but was not making anywhere near what I had made at my day job. All the writing I did happened on my subway commutes to and from work, and when I could sneak away for a lunch break. Over the last two years, I have focused on the writing hustle. I have spent my days writing and pitching and never been happier. My first year full-time freelancing, my writing income was above the federal poverty line.
This past year, I doubled my income compared to my first year freelancing full time. My writing business still isn’t paying our mortgage, but it isn’t unsubstantial and has been helpful for continuing to build out our savings for the future and fun things like vacations. Although we lost my consistent salary, we gained something far more important ― my happiness ― which translated into a lot less stress in our home life and for our entire family. Never once in the last two years have Kestryl and I regretted our decision for me to quit my job. Similarly, much to my relief, we have not yet had a single fight about money or finances. Instead, we have continued to openly communicate about our finances, the day to day and the big picture of our goals and plans for the future.
Although we lost my consistent salary, we gained something far more important — my happiness — which translated into a lot less stress in our home life and for our entire family.
This week marks two years since I left my job and next week, I will be graduating from my MFA program. My writing business is doing better than ever. Through this journey of leaving my job, I learned that for me, I could also make the empowered choice to take financial risks to prioritize joy and to trust that my partner would pick up the monetary responsibility for our family. Now, I have time and energy to engage with my partner and our family instead of coming home physically and emotionally worn out.
The biggest thing I’ve learned in this process is that making less money if I’m happier and emotionally healthier is the best financial decision we ever made, and ultimately brought my partner and I even closer together. Quitting my job and prioritizing a working life in the arts has completely shifted my relationship to money. I had stayed in a toxic job mostly for the “good” paycheck, and now having freed myself of that situation, I know that money doesn’t make a bad job worth it.
Whether personal or professional money, abuse and fear of the unknown can go hand in hand. For me the abuse came from my job where I stayed only for the money. But now that I am no longer living in fear of what it would mean to not earn a lot of money; I understand that love and trust can be transformative. I wake up every day thrilled and energized to do work that I am passionate about.
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