Author Topic: Case Study: low income  (Read 3245 times)

elementz_m

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Case Study: low income
« on: November 01, 2017, 04:47:28 PM »
Hey guys. I'm 27, partner is 26, and we've recently become free of all interest-accruing debts. Apologies for the massively-long post, I understand if you can't be bothered with reading all of it. There's a summary at the bottom for lazy folk.

From what I can see, FIRE seems to boil down to two basic tenets:
1. Maximise income
2. Minimise spending

I think I'm halfway there, our spending is lower than most, but I've a sneaking suspicion you'll be able to point out some areas in which we can save. All figures are monthly, income slightly under-estimated due to reasons.

Total post-tax income:
Me - 1487
SO - 1185
Total - 2672
Actual income on a very good month is 3800, on a very bad month is 2140

Joint Spending:
Rent: 560
Home Internet: 19.95 - cheapest I could find
Gas and Electric: 48.62 - a little under the average, 12 month contract
House Tax: 92.67 - set by our local council
Water: 23.75 - set by our local council
Home Contents Insurance: 7.05 - requirement of the rent, cheapest available
Food: 260 - we spend 40 per week on groceries, and save 20 per week towards eating out and alcohol
Other: 20 - average for things breaking/being replaced
Total: 1,032.04

Personal Spending - Me:
Car: 83.33 - I don't have a loan, this is saving towards my next car.
Car Tax/Maintenance/Insurance: 116.67
Diesel: 86.67
Mobile/Cell Phone: 14
Professional Subscriptions: 6.33
Christmas/Birthday: 41.67
Emergency Fund: 58.33 - mainly to cover days off work sick, this grows around 300/year on average
Hair: 10
Clothing: 20
Spotify:10
Tools/Shop materials: 50 - not work-related
Other spending money: 130
Total: 617

Personal Spending - SO:
Professional Memberships/CPD: 64.50
Travel to work: 104.80 - buses/trains
Christmas/Birthday: 41.67
Phone: 30
Other spending money, including hair/clothing: 173.33
Total: 414.30

Total income minus total expenditure:
608.66 (around 750 with tax optimisation)
Current Savings Rate:
23% (25% with aforementioned tax savings)

We also have a soft budget of 700 annually for holidays, so actual savings rate is around 20.5%

We don't watch television, although SO has a shared netflix subscription at 3.50 monthly.
We don't pay monthly for anything which attracts interest, such as car insurance or mobile phones (SO is still in a loan agreement for her phone, which runs out this month - this decision was made before we met, mistake won't be made again).

About our work:
  • I work in an office 10 miles/20 minutes away by car. I take 10 weeks off work each year, but apart from that it's full time (40 hours/week).
  • SO works two days per week, 45 minutes in the opposite direction. She usually has 10-13 weeks off work each year.
  • Take-home for a full time minimum wage job here is 1102 monthly. Our spending is below this, so we're not tied to what we do, but we generally enjoy our work.

About our leisure time:
  • We're both big readers, so evenings in are spent with books, or sometimes a film on Netflix.
  • We enjoy walking, and live in a lovely area partly for this reason.
  • SO has an art hobby/sometimes side-job, which generally pays for itself
  • I have a fantastic workshop where I spend a couple of evenings a week

About our house:
  • We live within walking distance of all local amenities, including the train station. Weekly shop is done on foot
  • Small town, fairly rural for England
  • Location was chosen for lowest total weekly travel time
  • House itself is two-bedroom terrace with a small garden and outbuildlings


Good changes we are making:
1. I will be cycling to work (8 miles, 45 minutes), and we will be cycling for leisure as well. This will save 65 monthly in diesel, but I'm giving us a Little-MM esque pay rise/incentive for this. Actual savings 22
2. SO's mobile phone plan is dropping from 30 monthly to 20 monthly, saving 10
3. I'm considering going professional with my workshop in order for it to pay its own way in the world. This amounts to doing paid work for one hour each month, but it won't be for a few months, as I don't have the confidence to ask people to pay actual money yet. Eventual savings 50

Bad changes we want to make:
1. We'd like to spend more on holidays, so we could have a really nice summer holiday abroad each year. Total savings -110
2. SO would like to have her nails done professionally each month. Total savings -30

Things I'm proud of:
1. Our total spending is under minimum wage, and if we walked to work at minimum wage jobs our savings would increase by 100 monthly, although our leisure time would decrease drastically.
2. Our holidays are currently rather frugal - this week, we're off to stay with family for 5 days. In return for free accommodation, we're spending a day running errands in my car (they don't have one) and will be cooking them some fantastic food whilst we are there. Total cost for 5 days away is around 50 in increased food spending.
3. We save throughout the year for Christmas and birthday presents, and we don't have any hits to our savings rate in December as a result
4. Our town is one of the best in the country for local small businesses, and we support them as much as we can - this doesn't cost anything, because every time we go shopping it might cost 5 more but we don't need to pay diesel or parking to get to the city.
5. We're fantastic cooks. All meals are made by us at home, with the exception of one meal out and one takeaway each month. Lunches are the previous day's dinner, boxed up the night before and microwaved at work.

Things I'm concerned about:
1. Big purchases are currently coming out of savings - this includes mobile phones (22 monthly average) and furniture (8 monthly average).
2. We're set to retire in our mid-60s, assuming no help from the government - not sure if I'm actually concerned about this, or if my FIRE reading is just a bit out of hand.
3. We want to be even more lavish than we currently are, with changes amounting to 140 in extra spending each month.

Things I'm embarrassed about but I don't know if I should be:
1. We both essentially work part-time, far less than some of our friends, and save more money than them.
2. On a related note, if we worked full time at our current rate of pay, our savings rate would be around 50% - are we mad to not be doing this?
3. We take more holidays than anyone I know, including some old retired people.
4. I have a 50 per month addiction/hobby of knocking together bits of wood and mending the neighbour's appliances
5. The owner of our favourite restaurant knows us by name
6. I have a bit of a preoccupation with my haircut, and I know I pay too much. My justification is that I had real issues around it as a younger person, but I know that at this point it's just a bad habit. I swear, I can change. Maybe next year?
7. SO has a 20/month bubble tea habit - I think this is Korean? It's basically frogspawn in a mug. Either way, it comes out of her monthly personal spending budget, so I don't mind.
8. I don't know if our lightbulbs are energy-efficient.

So please, have at me. Should we be working more? Should we be spending less? Can we afford an extra 1300 annually on holidays?

ASSETS EDIT: Our current assets are negligible, after going on a debt-killing spree recently (the original aim being, if we're holding money in joint accounts, we don't really want any liabilities). Roughly 3,000 in an emergency fund, a small pension pot, and "shares" in community projects which are unlikely to pay any dividend this decade.

[TL;DR]:
  • 20% savings rate
  • total spend is less than two full-time minimum wage jobs
  • on target to retire in mid-60s
  • currently holidaying (or at least not working) 10 weeks per year
  • we want to take more holidays abroad
  • should we be working more?
« Last Edit: November 02, 2017, 07:42:39 AM by elementz_m »

GettingClose

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2017, 04:53:34 PM »
Run the numbers - what if you both worked more for the next five years, contributing the max possible to retirement savings, then let that amount compound for 25-30 years?  It might well be worth making a big push now.  As someone 20 years older than you, your good years don't end at 35, especially if your pleasures are reading books and walking around lovely countryside :-)

elementz_m

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2017, 05:20:15 PM »
Run the numbers - what if you both worked more for the next five years, contributing the max possible to retirement savings, then let that amount compound for 25-30 years?  It might well be worth making a big push now.  As someone 20 years older than you, your good years don't end at 35, especially if your pleasures are reading books and walking around lovely countryside :-)

Assuming a 4% return above inflation, 5 years of working full time would pay for half of our retirement (at 67). It does sound nice, when you put it like that.

As an alternative, we're toying with the idea of optimising our current weekly leisure time. If I switched to paid work in the workshop, and SO did a bit of social media/marketing for me, we'd jump to 40% savings rate without giving up any of our free time or holidays. This would mean retiring at 52. My only concern is that my fun hobby would turn into a chore, so we could just trial it for one day a month to begin with? Unfortunately, my speciality is in very niche products, so it wouldn't be possible to turn this into the 25,000/month job it looks like.

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2017, 02:08:12 AM »
Hi and welcome.

You are doing fine financially, so any changes would be about optimisation.

How secure is your work? Are you and SO both freelancers/ self employed? How many months' expenses do you have saved at the moment? What is the longevity of your work (e.g. if you were in the typewriter repair business, your work may not be sustainable until you reach regular retirement age; if it is modelling or heavy lifting, your body may not keep up until you reach retirement age). You mention being recently interest-bearing-debt free, is this where your previous saving were going? Does your SO have an emergency fund?

You mention holidays, have you looked into travelling on the off season, or a working holiday? It depends what you are looking to do, but there are options to have holidays that involve travel and pay for themselves.

The car costs seem high. Is it an expensive car or did you have high maintenance costs? Do you anticipate that you will always need a car, or would you be open to getting rid of it.

The personal spending and Christmas / birthday spending seems high if it is just the two of you. Do you have a lot of presents to buy?

Personally, I'd feel uncomfortable working part-time or taking 10 weeks off a year before I had security of knowing that my old age retirement was taken care of - it's okay for you to make a different choice. 

Testing the waters of making money out of your hobby a couple of days a month seems like a straight-forward thing to try. You don't have to commit to it forever, but you could view it as making it pay for itself, or even funding your holidays.

Forget about the bubble tea.

shelivesthedream

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2017, 02:15:45 AM »
Your spending looks pretty impressive to me!

On working more... I don't know what your jobs are, and therefore how easy it would be to ramp hours up and down, but bear in mind that "more" is not an all or nothing game and it's also not a never or forever game. You're doing very nicely on your spending at the moment but I (being, as I am, very future-oriented and risk-averse) would feel anxious not having much money in the bank compared to my income and would be willing to push for a while to make that happen. I didn't see if you listed your current assets anywhere, but you said you're recently debt-free. Does that mean your NW is 0? I am 27 and time is really on your side here. One hour's working today will be worth several hours at 65.

A few scenarios:
- Have an uber-frugal year where you both work as much as possible and spend as little as possible. You test how much working pains you, how little you can spend, and give a quick boost to your savings.
- Both take on an extra day's work a week and save half of it. More money for holidays and nails but also more savings.
- Sounds like you save a lot out of having free time - cooking and so on. What if one of you worked more and the other took on more chores?
- Is there a busy time at work? Could you get more hours then as a seasonal thing?

marty998

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2017, 03:50:25 AM »
You haven't mentioned your plans for children in the future (if that is a factor).

Since one of you will likely reduce working hours when that happens, it is an additional reason to maximise your earning power now.


dreams_and_discoveries

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2017, 05:19:48 AM »
So it sounds like you both sacrifice income now for lots of free time, which you put to good use. You are on track to retire at state pension age give or take. You are debating increasing your spending, and whether to work more to pay for it?

For what it's worth, my unsolicited option, travel can be an enriching experience and is generally well thought of round here. 


elementz_m

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2017, 07:38:42 AM »
Hi and welcome.

You are doing fine financially, so any changes would be about optimisation.

How secure is your work? Are you and SO both freelancers/ self employed? How many months' expenses do you have saved at the moment? What is the longevity of your work (e.g. if you were in the typewriter repair business, your work may not be sustainable until you reach regular retirement age; if it is modelling or heavy lifting, your body may not keep up until you reach retirement age). You mention being recently interest-bearing-debt free, is this where your previous saving were going? Does your SO have an emergency fund?

You mention holidays, have you looked into travelling on the off season, or a working holiday? It depends what you are looking to do, but there are options to have holidays that involve travel and pay for themselves.

The car costs seem high. Is it an expensive car or did you have high maintenance costs? Do you anticipate that you will always need a car, or would you be open to getting rid of it.

The personal spending and Christmas / birthday spending seems high if it is just the two of you. Do you have a lot of presents to buy?

Personally, I'd feel uncomfortable working part-time or taking 10 weeks off a year before I had security of knowing that my old age retirement was taken care of - it's okay for you to make a different choice. 

Testing the waters of making money out of your hobby a couple of days a month seems like a straight-forward thing to try. You don't have to commit to it forever, but you could view it as making it pay for itself, or even funding your holidays.

Forget about the bubble tea.

Some things to think about, definitely. Thanks for the reply.

I am employed handling the day-to-day running of a small business. The company is doing well, so I'm not too worried about job security. SO is a government-funded therapist for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, so funding can be a bit iffy, but she'll always be able to find work.

Current savings, which I'll edit into the original post, are negligible. Probably around 3,000 emergency fund, which we'll build up to nearer 10k before tying any money up. We've burnt through some savings as a result of medium-term sickness (I had to take a few months off work), and have also had to move house twice in the last 12 months. We also have a small pension fund each, and I own some shares in local community projects, which don't currently pay any dividends and won't in the immediate future.

I had a 900 repair bill for my car this year, so the averages have been thrown off by that. I have also only been driving for a few years, so insurance is rather expensive. I am more open to going carless than my SO is. We're currently comparing all car use to the cost of hiring one at 50/day or 150/week, and after a year we'll go with the cheaper option overall.

In re Christmas and birthdays, I'm one of eleven children, and I have ten nieces/nephews. SO is from a Catholic family, so also has an absurd extended family.

Our current thinking, after seeing the responses here, is that we'll set aside 50% of any side hustle, up to 2,500 (5,000 total profit) annually, and pour the rest into savings. This would pay for our holiday and manicures, as well as guaranteeing more money in savings.

elementz_m

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2017, 07:53:53 AM »
Your spending looks pretty impressive to me!

On working more... I don't know what your jobs are, and therefore how easy it would be to ramp hours up and down, but bear in mind that "more" is not an all or nothing game and it's also not a never or forever game. You're doing very nicely on your spending at the moment but I (being, as I am, very future-oriented and risk-averse) would feel anxious not having much money in the bank compared to my income and would be willing to push for a while to make that happen. I didn't see if you listed your current assets anywhere, but you said you're recently debt-free. Does that mean your NW is 0? I am 27 and time is really on your side here. One hour's working today will be worth several hours at 65.

A few scenarios:
- Have an uber-frugal year where you both work as much as possible and spend as little as possible. You test how much working pains you, how little you can spend, and give a quick boost to your savings.
- Both take on an extra day's work a week and save half of it. More money for holidays and nails but also more savings.
- Sounds like you save a lot out of having free time - cooking and so on. What if one of you worked more and the other took on more chores?
- Is there a busy time at work? Could you get more hours then as a seasonal thing?

Thank you for the response. I really love the "never or forever" comment, think I'll be stealing that one. Net worth has been edited into the original post, it's currently a very small emergency fund of around 3,000. This is our priority, then investments to claw some money back from the tax man.

The consensus definitely seems to be that we should work at least a little more, since any savings will compound and pay off much more than they would later in life. We'll pay ourselves 50% up to around 2,500 annually, and save the rest.

Seasonal work, or paid holidays, are a distinct possibility - it's not something I'd considered before, but change is as good as a rest, so could work quite nicely.

elementz_m

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2017, 08:00:14 AM »
You haven't mentioned your plans for children in the future (if that is a factor).

Since one of you will likely reduce working hours when that happens, it is an additional reason to maximise your earning power now.

That's a fair point, and something we need to think a bit more about. Because my SO only works two days per week, I would probably drop down to four days at work and pay for childcare one day each week. Earnings would drop by maybe 15%, unless we had a weekend side-hustle going. I think we could just about afford a child, although it's not something which will happen in the next couple of years.

Everyone else seems to be recommending a touch more work now, to save much more time in middle age, so that's probably the way to go. We'll be sure to keep everyone updated either way.

elementz_m

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2017, 08:07:35 AM »
So it sounds like you both sacrifice income now for lots of free time, which you put to good use. You are on track to retire at state pension age give or take. You are debating increasing your spending, and whether to work more to pay for it?

For what it's worth, my unsolicited option, travel can be an enriching experience and is generally well thought of round here.

All opinions encouraged and duly considered. It looks like the general consensus is to work a touch more, so we'll do that, but will try to be creative and keep it fun. Working holidays or seasonal work could quite easily pay for themselves, and although they may be in touristy areas, we should have a couple of days to get off the beaten track and explore.

We're going to aim for at least 50% savings rate on anything over and above what we're currently doing, up to an additional 2,500 of annual spending. Anything else is pure retirement money. As mentioned elsewhere, we'll try one year of nose-to-the-grindstone working and saving, whilst avoiding drinking our earnings, and reassess next Christmas.

dreams_and_discoveries

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2017, 09:38:37 AM »
I'm seeing a case of the Mexican fisherman story here.... have you heard it?

Dusty Dog Ranch

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2017, 10:07:25 AM »
Just popping in to say thanks for the chuckle: "frogspawn in a mug". Exactly! Brilliant.

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #13 on: November 02, 2017, 10:33:13 AM »
I had a 900 repair bill for my car this year, so the averages have been thrown off by that. I have also only been driving for a few years, so insurance is rather expensive. I am more open to going carless than my SO is. We're currently comparing all car use to the cost of hiring one at 50/day or 150/week, and after a year we'll go with the cheaper option overall.

In re Christmas and birthdays, I'm one of eleven children, and I have ten nieces/nephews. SO is from a Catholic family, so also has an absurd extended family.

That makes sense with the car - I had an expensive car year a couple of years ago and it still throws out the averages (but the car has been fine ever since). Have you looked into adding a more experienced driver onto your insurance policy? Before you drop the car, check how much it will cost for you to rent a car. There is often a premium for inexperienced drivers (when I didn't realise this and tried to add a 'free' second driver for a couple of weeks it more than doubled the cost, even after removing the extra insurance).

I retract my comment about presents. I'm impressed that it is so restrained.

Hirondelle

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #14 on: November 02, 2017, 12:05:54 PM »
If your spouse is only working 2 days a week there's definitely space for some extra hours, though I agree you shouldn't go too far with that and run into the Mexican fisherman story as mentioned above.

May I ask why you guys work relatively few hours? Is this a concious choice to enjoy life more or is it because there's no more hours on your jobs available?

For working/volunteering holidays; check out websites like workaway and the facebook page 'Volunteering & paid work - NOMADS'. Both have some great opportunities all over the world.

elementz_m

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #15 on: November 03, 2017, 02:26:49 AM »
I'm seeing a case of the Mexican fisherman story here.... have you heard it?

I'm vaguely familiar with the story, just Googled it for a refresher. It basically points out that if you have the perfect job and perfect life, you don't need FI to enjoy it.

For most people, though, I think that won't apply. In terms of the story, if the Mexican is injured and can't catch fish, or his wife gets sick and he stays at home to look after her, money gets tight. FI is always going to be preferable, even if it's only as insurance.

elementz_m

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #16 on: November 03, 2017, 02:33:19 AM »

That makes sense with the car - I had an expensive car year a couple of years ago and it still throws out the averages (but the car has been fine ever since). Have you looked into adding a more experienced driver onto your insurance policy? Before you drop the car, check how much it will cost for you to rent a car. There is often a premium for inexperienced drivers (when I didn't realise this and tried to add a 'free' second driver for a couple of weeks it more than doubled the cost, even after removing the extra insurance).

This car has been the worst ever, I'm scrapping it in February when the MOT runs out. Don't buy a 12 year old Alfa, no matter how tempting the price.

The car hire price is what I've been charged locally, but thanks for the heads-up. I never pay for extra insurance if I have the cash available.

elementz_m

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #17 on: November 03, 2017, 02:40:39 AM »
If your spouse is only working 2 days a week there's definitely space for some extra hours, though I agree you shouldn't go too far with that and run into the Mexican fisherman story as mentioned above.

May I ask why you guys work relatively few hours? Is this a concious choice to enjoy life more or is it because there's no more hours on your jobs available?

For working/volunteering holidays; check out websites like workaway and the facebook page 'Volunteering & paid work - NOMADS'. Both have some great opportunities all over the world.

Thanks for the links, we'll definitely have a look into those.

I take a lot of holidays mainly just because I enjoy it and can afford to. My SO' s job can be very emotionally draining, as a therapist for some very vulnerable people, and we don't think she could handle full time at the moment. We have floated the idea of some different work on her off-days, maybe in a library or art shop. Her holidays are partially dictated by term times, but not always.

Hirondelle

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #18 on: November 03, 2017, 12:38:50 PM »
If your spouse is only working 2 days a week there's definitely space for some extra hours, though I agree you shouldn't go too far with that and run into the Mexican fisherman story as mentioned above.

May I ask why you guys work relatively few hours? Is this a concious choice to enjoy life more or is it because there's no more hours on your jobs available?

For working/volunteering holidays; check out websites like workaway and the facebook page 'Volunteering & paid work - NOMADS'. Both have some great opportunities all over the world.

Thanks for the links, we'll definitely have a look into those.

I take a lot of holidays mainly just because I enjoy it and can afford to. My SO' s job can be very emotionally draining, as a therapist for some very vulnerable people, and we don't think she could handle full time at the moment. We have floated the idea of some different work on her off-days, maybe in a library or art shop. Her holidays are partially dictated by term times, but not always.

That totally makes sense. If a job allows you to take that many holidays, I'd take them too! I also understand that that job is emotionally draining and too much to do fulltime. Another part time job or side hustle (even if it's just 1 day/week) could in that case be very usefull to boost the savings rate a bit so that'd sound like the best scenario to me :)

KungfuRabbit

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #19 on: November 03, 2017, 04:42:13 PM »
Omg I LOVE bubble tea. Worth the budget for sure.

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: Case Study: low income
« Reply #20 on: November 04, 2017, 12:13:49 AM »
That totally makes sense. If a job allows you to take that many holidays, I'd take them too! I also understand that that job is emotionally draining and too much to do fulltime. Another part time job or side hustle (even if it's just 1 day/week) could in that case be very usefull to boost the savings rate a bit so that'd sound like the best scenario to me :)

**Not a medic, people are different, YMMV**

When I had a somewhat emotionally draining job, I had a second job packing and unpacking boxes. It was mind-numbing, semi-physical work; but it was also restorative, it would let me process my thoughts without becoming caught up in them. A side-hustle or second job could be a positive thing for your SO, but she'll know better what works for her.

Having said that, it's possible that if I had the same job today, it would be on a zero hours contract in a windowless warehouse wearing a GPS tracker. That would not be so delightful.