Chris Bone, 40, from Lancashire, took the bold step of quitting a job with a six-figure salary to work for less than a tenth of what he used to earn – and he’s never been happier.
“I spent 15 years in banking, earning six-figure sums but four years ago, I gave it all up and now live on less than minimum wage.
I’ve gone from never having to worry about money to making my own honey and having lodgers to pay my mortgage, but I couldn’t be more content and fulfilled.
Having studied business finance at Durham University, I started my career at Bank of Scotland, before moving to Clydesdale Bank, where I founded a new business funding loss-making technology companies.
Seven years later, I was made the youngest ever director of the bank, age 29, and was earning £90,000. I enjoyed the money, chasing success and climbing the corporate ladder, even though there were periods where it would get really intense. When I was working on a deal, I’d do 12-hour plus days as well as weekends.
Work and life were pretty unbalanced, but money was no object. I put large sums into pensions, and could splash out whenever I wanted on expensive holidays to places such as Tanzania where I hiked up Mount Kilimanjaro, followed by a beach break in Zanzibar.
Maybe it was an ego thing but I fell into that trap of mindlessly chasing a high-flying career and, in 2016, aged 37, took a new role for a venture capital firm in London. I was building a new business while also under the day-to-day pressure of delivering deals. There was a lot of stress and the expectations were very high, but I felt rewarded for my work – by then, I was earning £120,000 a year.
I lived in London’s wealthiest neighbourhood, Mayfair, where I paid ridiculous rent of over £2000 a month just for a room in a shared house. I had a nice lifestyle, living in a posh area, and there were plenty of smart restaurants like Sexy Fish and Novikov as well as the Ferrari and Bentley garage. It was interesting to walk through Piccadilly on the way to and from work, but it had no soul and no community.
I remember going on a date not long after I moved in and the person insisted on going to a nearby restaurant, Nobu, a favourite with celebrities, and expected me to pay for everything, like I was some sort of oligarch. It didn’t sit well with me.
The firm would take me away on exotic trips to luxury estates and manor houses and our Christmas party was at the top of the iconic Gherkin building. I can’t bring myself to admit how much was spent on my welcome lunch in a certain French restaurant because it’s sickening. The bill was in the thousands.
I don’t come from wealth and my parents were both working-class – my work expenses could be life-changing for people. I felt embarrassed and the excess made me uncomfortable. Looking back, that day was a lightbulb moment.
In my heart, I knew that I didn’t want to continue this life, and, after a year, I started putting plans in place to leave London, saving for a deposit on a house in the north-west where I grew up.
In 2019, I bought a large three-bedroomed house in Lancashire, close to my family and the Lake District and, for six months, I continued my career in London during the week. But it just wasn't working. I didn't want to be on a late-night train on a Friday night and then back on another one early on Monday, so I quit.
My family and friends knew I had been building up to this for a few years, but they’re used to me making my mind up on something and just doing it. Plus, I don't have a partner or any ties, so when I decide to do something, I can just do it. It still felt like a huge leap of faith, though.
I worried a lot about closing the door on my career and about what other people would think, that I’d be judged by old colleagues, who may have assumed I’d left because I couldn't handle it.
Some of my senior bosses didn’t understand my decision and told me I was making a mistake – asking, ‘What the hell was I doing?’ and ‘Why would I want to live in the north of England?’
I worried, too, about the risk of failure and having to go back, cap in hand to my old bosses who would say, ‘I told you that was a silly idea.’ It also bothered me that I was giving up the status and not gaining another, just becoming a nobody and disappearing into oblivion. And for a while, I think there was a bit of a void.
It was nice to be home again and to be free of the corporate life, but I didn’t really have a plan. I was fortunate that I had £60,000 left in savings and spent the next nine months doing up the house. Then it was finished, the money was gone, and I thought, ‘OK, s***, what now?’
I rented two of my bedrooms out to lodgers to cover the mortgage and bills, which meant I only had to pay for food and petrol costs for myself. I'm a massive fan of lodgers. It’s good to have company and I make sure I rent to people who have things in common with me, are of a similar age, and that they are respectful, clean and tidy.
I attempted to start up an adventure company pre-pandemic, learning how to run my own business. But when Covid hit, I ended up working for minimum wage.
I did shifts in the local pub for less than £10 an hour and took a job in Tesco, starting at 3am sorting out online shopping orders. That was quite a change for me compared to my old career. I also worked as a delivery driver and did labouring for a stonemason, repointing houses in Kirkby Lonsdale.
Once the world opened up again, I started designing expeditions for small groups and now have a company called Adventure Solos providing experience and multi-activity weekends for solo people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They’ve often been through a life change like a relationship breakdown and they're finding their feet and rediscovering themselves.
It’s taken since 2019 to build up the business and I only pay myself £9,000 a year. I haven’t been on a foreign holiday for five years and I’ve had to stop my pension payments. I probably work more than I ever have, but at least it’s all on my own terms. I have so much more freedom.
One afternoon a week, I visit my mum, hang out with my nieces and have a family dinner. They wouldn't know me the way they do if I was still doing my old job. Sure, I’d have more money and a lower mortgage, but I would have missed out on the family growing up.
I’ve had time to learn new skills too – there was a ruin in the garden of my house and I’ve rebuilt it and put on a slate roof, which is a dying art. I keep hens that lay eggs in the garden and, last year, I started beekeeping and even have my own honey.
I now have a new identity and status and I know what my values are – they’re community, healthy living and being outdoors in nature. This life makes me so much happier than I ever was when I was living in Mayfair earning £120,000 a year.”
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