Michael van Asselt had been working as a New York City investment banker for nearly ten years when he realized he didn’t want to spend the next ten the same way.
“The money was great, but my happiness levels were dipping to all-time lows and trying to make up for that with one or two vacations a year was just not cutting it,” says van Asselt, who was earning a mid-six figure salary and living in a condo with his girlfriend, Jennifer, in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
“I went to sleep and woke up unhappy,” he says. “We lived for the weekends, which were just always over way too fast. I was nearing my ten year work anniversary and thinking to myself, ‘How did ten years of my life just fly by?'”
“Working in New York is in no way about quality of life,” he continues. “It’s about trying to make more money than the next guy.”
After a trip to visit a friend in San Diego, van Asselt and Jennifer decided that the California city provided just the change of scenery they needed. Having made “more money than I ever thought I would” for the past few years, he had been able to save, and he and Jennifer bolstered their cash reserves by selling their condo.
Preparing to quit his job without another position lined up, van Asselt remembers, was stressful. “Everything was a theory or plan on paper, but once I said, ‘This is my two weeks,’ then everything became very real very quickly. We sold our condo, started getting rid of most of our possessions, and started boxing everything up. Eventually the day came and we drove West. ”
Jennifer was able to keep her job at a PR firm, working part-time from San Diego, and after nearly seven months of decompressing and job hunting, van Asselt found a new gig as a financial analyst for an alternative lending platform, earning about 35% of his previous salary.
“I haven’t regretted the decision once,” he says. ‘There are days when I think about all the money I gave up and how nice it would be to live the life I’m living now, but also have that salary — but the reality is, right now that combination doesn’t exist and if I were to pick one over the other, I would pick my life here now with a much lower salary than the life I had with a higher salary.”
Van Asselt, who now lives a mile from the beach, surfs three or four times a week, is home to eat dinner at a reasonable hour every night with his girlfriend and two dogs, and says his cost of living is similar to what it was in New York. Mostly, he sees the difference in how much money he’s able to save — in New York, earning a higher salary, he was able to put aside much more.
“I would say that the cushion you build for yourself to absorb any time of unemployment is probably what brought me the most relief when making the move,” he says. “Being able to look at my savings throughout the years and say, ‘Absolute worst case scenario, we’re both unemployed, we could survive for two and a half years or whatever that number is.”
He advises people considering a similar leap to “do whatever it takes to get yourself situated in less time than it would take to burn through all your savings.”
And as far as working up the nerve to move on, he adds, “It’s a lot easier than you would think.”
Author: Libby Kane
Libby Kane is the personal finance editor at Business Insider. Before joining the team in March 2014, she was the associate editor at LearnVest, covering personal and behavioral finance.