A year ago, I was wrapping up my last day of work, shaking hands and enjoying sugary goodness with co-workers, kind of freaking out over having my name and picture on CNN and being unmasked as the guy behind I Dream of FIRE. I was starting my mini-retirement.
I honestly had no idea what this year would bring. I knew what I wanted: Space, opportunity, growth, purpose, clarity. I wrote down a lot of ideas, lists, hopes, fears before and after that day.
Mostly, I allowed myself the freedom to experience without expectation. I could create the environment for space, opportunity and growth, but I couldn’t force purpose or clarity. I had tried that already. Walking away from a steady paycheck wasn’t something I did because I didn’t want to work. I did it to find the work I want to do, that I feel connected to by mission, not just money.
My seven-month recap shares a lot of the major things I did during my time off.
The plan was to take up to a year off, with the understanding that I would make it shorter if I found a career path that was in line with what I was seeking. I ended the mini-retirement in January to begin building a financial coaching business.
Here’s my advice for anyone considering taking their own mini-retirement.
Plan a reasonable budget and pad your savings
First and foremost, you shouldn’t do this on a whim. I used my long-standing projection budget to look at a variety of angles and scenarios to make sure I wasn’t going to add extreme financial distress to the mix.
My savings fund for this little adventure was an account intended to eventually be a down payment on a rental property. Since career burnout isn’t an actual emergency in my book, I never considered (and haven’t touched) my emergency fund as an option. I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to spend, and I knew I didn’t want to get a year out and be totally broke.
Granted, my wife has continued working this time and brings home plenty of money, and we get health insurance through her employer. So my budget was strictly for the household and personal expenses I am responsible for in our spending, not everything. Even if my money runs out, there will be food on the table and a roof over our heads; we’ve planned our finances all along that we could survive on one salary if necessary.
Don’t overschedule yourself
There’s a sense that we should fill every waking moment with something “productive” instead of “wasting time.” It’s something I still struggle with balancing, because being productive isn’t the same as just doing something, and wasting time isn’t the same as procrastinating.
I tried to have a few things on my to-do list every day to give me some checkpoints for feeling useful, but I didn’t slam a bunch of things on the calendar just to fill up my day. I’m glad for that. It allowed for decompression, reading, getting outside.
Other mini-retirees I spoke with said they felt it was very important not to fill your day lest you miss out on the opportunity for spontaneity. They were right.
Travel more than you could have while employed
We went on a lot of trips. I couldn’t have done it all if I were still working because I would have run out of vacation days. It feels good to know that I didn’t squander that opportunity. Those trips are some of my fondest memories from the past year.
I highly recommend having a travel hacking plan in place to help keep costs down here. I have now booked 18 flights using travel rewards and spent $407 in total, saving $6,227 vs. if I had paid cash for all those flights. There’s simply no way we could have gone all the places we have without travel hacking.
I’ve gone on a cruise (and plan to repeat that very soon), spent a week in Michigan, celebrated my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday in Nashville, enjoyed a weeklong all-inclusive resort stay, summitted a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado, attended my second FinCon in Orlando, and spent Christmas in Florida with my parents. I’ll be going to St. Louis in June for The Dad Edge Alliance Summit, where Millennial Money’s Grant Sabatier will be the keynote speaker. My family also did several smaller weekend trips.
I took my daughter to parks and swimming pools. We went geocaching. We went to the aquarium a few times. We went to carnivals. We had fun. I spent time reading outside, walking in nature, and screwing around. I regret nothing.
One positive change I made was to quit playing games on my iPad. I found that I was spending entirely too much time doing that early on, and while I thought it was relaxing, it wasn’t the kind of relaxing that felt refreshing. It was mindless in a bad way. Social media consumption is in the same vein; it seems like you’re just chilling, but in reality you’re just filling an action void with something that isn’t helpful.
Have a list of books to check out from the library
I still haven’t read all of the ones I put on my list, but I read a bunch of them, and they helped give put some context around my time off and reframe the way I was thinking about some things.
These include “Man’s Search for Meaning,” “Outwitting the Devil,” “Unfu*k Yourself,” “The Passion Test,” “The Element,” “When,” “Never Split The Difference,” and “Act Like A Success, Think Like A Success.”
Considering I read very few books in the past decade, this felt really good for me. I used to read all the time, then got away from it when I spend my days reading news stories at the paper for a paycheck. Finding pleasure in reading again was a highlight of this break.
Remember your goals
I always had it in my mind that I was looking for clues or opportunities that might point me in the direction of my ultimate goal: finding work that excited me.
I didn’t want to get used to not having expectations. I would write down thoughts, talk with people, seek out things that might reveal something helpful. Eventually it all started to come together. Even though there were pieces along the way, it took time for them to combine in the right way in my head. I was OK with that.
I think by not forcing it, I arrived where I needed to be at the right time and in the right frame of mind. There’s no nagging “If I had only …” feeling, like I had moved too quickly or not allowed myself enough freedom.
If you think a mini-retirement is something you want to do, really consider what you want to get out of it. Just like a regular retirement, you want to having something you’re running to, not just running from. I was running to a place where I could gather my thoughts, change my daily experience, and find my higher purpose.
Your intention may be different, but whatever it is you can put yourself in the places and mindset to get there. Take it from me, it can make all the difference.