I retired years ago without even realising it

Zach Holz says his journey towards financial independence allows him to turn down work he does not want to do

Clearing his student debts was the first step towards achieving financial freedom. Getty Images
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For international teachers, now is what I call tutoring season. The first pupil assignments are being marked and parents are starting to panic. New pupils are struggling to adjust to new schools and new teachers and they need a little extra help on the side. Or perhaps the students have become lazy and inattentive and their parents simply don't know how to rectify the situation.

These parents often turn to other teachers in their child's school, or those they have previous relationships with, to request private tuition. This can be a remarkably remunerative situation for teachers. One friend more than doubles his salary by tutoring for a family.  I know, I used to do it myself several years ago in another country.

Being debt-free and having a few bucks in the bank allowed me to stop a part of my life I really did not enjoy.

This year I've been approached by three families to tutor their children. While taking them up on the work would be financially rewarding, I turned them down flat.  I didn't even consider it. This might seem strange to some; after all who turns down $50-$70 per hour of work? I do, because I'm already retired.

I tutored for three years when I lived in Bahrain a few years ago. It helped me pay off my student loans, buy a tonne of photography gear and travel the globe. But I didn't enjoy tutoring. I mainly tutored a teenage boy who wanted to do literally anything other than his homework.  His family was wealthy and he didn't see the value in his own education, because he knew he would never need to earn anything in his life.

As soon as I paid off my last student loan, I retired from tutoring. Sure, I kept my other side hustles of a photography business and playing in an orchestra, and I kept my day job as well, but the tutoring was a vast and regular amount of money (at least to a teacher). My time was simply worth more than the hassle of tutoring once I was debt-free.

With financial independence, people often consider the movement as a yes or no proposition. You either are or aren't set for life, never needing to work again, as your investment income covers your expenses or you hit the 4 per cent rule. This perspective overlooks the serious and life-changing benefits that other milestones bring. In this case, being debt-free and having a few bucks in the bank allowed me to stop a part of my life I really did not enjoy.

The more assets you have and the less debt you owe, the more you can employ the strategic "no" and the enthusiastic "yes".  Since I dug myself out of the student loan hole through tutoring and frugal living, I knew I could only say yes to things I really wanted to do.  Everything else got the strategic "no" and not another second of my mental energy. I doubt I would have had the time or space to start writing if I'd still been pulling 15-16 hour days with tutoring. I also doubt I'd be able to play in bands or do corporate head shots for photography. My life would be so much more unpleasantly complicated.

That's why when people get themselves into debt through bad financial decisions, it hurts me to watch their struggle. I have seen the remarkable and life-changing power of progressing along the journey to financial independence. For people who have never experienced that, they don't realise what they're giving up. Wouldn't you like to only do the parts of your job you enjoy? Wouldn't you like to tell unwanted "obligations" in your life to go away? I bet your answer to both those questions is yes because I know how much joy it brings me.

That's why when the three families approached me this year and tried to ply me with money, all I said was, "sorry, I'm retired".

Dubai schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher