I'm 24, currently have no family debt or anyone depending on me financially and I'm making the very loose assumption that it's going to stay that way, meaning no kids or elderly parents who need more than their savings. Just for this thought experiment.

I have a Master's in computer engineering, I know my stuff with software dev and AI / data science and I want to find out what's a sustainable way to work overall as little as possible from this point on until I die. That is regardless of what country I'd have to move to, or the exact scenario, I have no preferences there. Any approach in the line of "do X for this long and save up and you'll probably have enough money to do Y in Z years and be in a sort of better position" is also welcome.

My idea of a "reasonable living standard" is pretty much being able to afford rent and groceries, insurance for medical expenses, unforeseen disasters etc, and arbitrary purchases in the realm of ~2-3 cars in my lifetime, a new phone every 4-5 years and so on.

This just an attempt to get a feel for what possibilities I have getting into the world, but maybe if I allow certain degrees of freedom somebody might have a few ideas to share with me, so any advice on the topic is very welcome. Thanks for any insight you could give me.

  • 1
    The only way to work as little as possible is to get other people to work for you and give you some of their money.
    – user253751
    Feb 23, 2021 at 9:43
  • 1
    Don't focus on minimal work. For success, you should do the best work possible and earn the most money now, and then you can afford to earn less money later... Also spend the least. In today's economy, groceries are much much cheaper than rent.
    – user253751
    Feb 23, 2021 at 9:44
  • 2
    You can do this better than we can. Estimate a budget (income and expenses) for every year for the rest of your life. Use a spreadsheet, assume a cost of living increase (I used 3%/yr). For years where your situation doesn't change, the next year can be calculated from the current year, etc. At some ages, your situation will change (e.g. start collecting Social Security from Government). For expenses that occur less than once per year, put aside some each year, e.g. maybe $3k each year for a car every 10 years. Adjust your plan until it works
    – Mattman944
    Feb 23, 2021 at 10:16
  • Easy. Move somewhere with a low cost of living. Do consulting on Upwork or some other freelancing site. With your tech background you should be able to charge at least $100/hour. Working 20-40 hours/month should be enough to pay the bills. The big danger is that your skills become obsolete in the future.
    – minou
    Feb 23, 2021 at 12:50
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    One note, it's inconceivable someone with no experience can make even $20 an hour doing freelance programming. There's nothing more "dime a dozen" than inexperienced programmers. Certainly with 5-10 years rock solid experience (ie the ability to reel off household name after household name of past projects) then freelancing is possible. (Master's and other degrees mean nothing / very little. It's a bit like a pop singer trying to get work because they have "a degree in singing".)
    – Fattie
    Feb 23, 2021 at 13:18

3 Answers 3

  1. There's the idea of living somewhere very cheap.
  • Note that many folks are incredibly out of date on "where" it's cheap to live. Yesterday's third-world PT-Paradises are now as expensive as Shanghai or Aspen.

  • Very importantly, as soon as you can, strongly suggest go live in one of those places - perhaps for a few months - as a trial. Of every 100 folks who read about "cheap offshore living!" and go try it, 99 realize that it's a hellhole and, in reality, they want to live in Denver or Lyon.

  1. There's the idea of having your own product that throws off cash.
  • It has to be a success, a cashflow success

  • They don't last forever. Expect to need a new hit every 10-15 yrs. It's unfortunately extremely common that a person has a cashflow hit, but then it tails off and they have nothing except the realization that their assumption that they could do it again was incorrect.

  1. Plain old work.
  • The second para of the question suggests ordinary old remote freelancing with something like programming. One issue is you need a LOT of high-end experience to be able to confidently and easily get projects like that, so expect a 10 year "building up" era.

  • One issue is that retirement is really, really expensive. Let's say in the abstract that you get in a groove, with a lower-cost living approach, where you're 30 yrs and you need only work 20 hours a week. Terrific. But. If you want to stop working at 60, you will indeed have to work the "other" 20 hours a week, and save every penny of that until 60 and then live off that. Alternately, you can stick with the 20 hours a week, until you are 90 and die.

  • "If you want to stop working at 60, you will indeed have to work the 'other' 20 hours a week, and save every penny of that until 60 and then live off that." This assumes that investments have zero real return. In reality, you don't need to save anywhere close to 50% of income over a 30-year career to fund a 30-year retirement, due to investment growth.
    – nanoman
    Feb 24, 2021 at 0:33

Really, the only practical* way to live comfortably while working as little as possible is to find something which a) you enjoy doing, and b) people will pay you money to do. Doing programming worked for me: I've been doing it for a good many years, and offhand I'd say that only about 30% of the time I spent actually seemed like work. (And much of that was meetings &c.) So figure out what you enjoy doing that someone might pay you to do, and then get good at it.

*I'm leaving out things like winning the lottery, inheriting money, or becoming someone's boy toy or sugar baby.


To work "as little as possible" you should seek to be a consultant in an area of your expertise that pays you the most per hour. To choose correctly, consider all of your hours spent seeking and administering the consulting work, not only your billable hours.

In choosing a country of residence, you could rely on first-world entitlements for low-income people or rely on low costs in a developing country. Your country of residence may affect your consulting business, as well.

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