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I can’t believe that we’re already six months into our one-year mini-retirement! It feels like just yesterday that I was packing up my belongings at work and at home as we flipped our life upside down to try something crazy.
This mini-retirement has been an opportunity for me to practice real retirement and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity. I’ve learned some important lessons that will help me down the road when I finally leave the workforce permanently.
No matter where you are in your retirement journey (and whether that’s going to be traditional retirement, early retirement, or a mini-retirement), keep these in mind to help you make the most of your time:
1. Don’t retire from something - retire to something
Imagine yourself on the first day of your real retirement. You’ve been looking forward to getting your time back and now it’s finally yours.
This is going to be awesome right?
Ok, so now what?
It’s common to get really focused on what you won’t have to do in retirement - like commuting and workplace politics.
But if your only goal in retirement is to “not have to work”, you’ll probably find yourself unsatisfied and even bored when you finally get there.
It’s really important to create a vision for your retirement so you know what you’re retiring to.
When we planned out our mini-retirement, I knew that I had features I wanted to add to the Thrifty app, a huge list of articles to write, and thoughts on a Keep Thrifty site redesign.
In addition, I wanted to spend more time with Jaime - coffee dates and daytime hikes, and with our girls - walking them to school and volunteering in the classroom.
If I found myself with extra time, I thought I might take an online coding class or two, spend more time exercising, get back to reading fiction books, and get more involved in our church.
As a result of planning ahead, I haven’t had a bored moment in the last 6 months (other than when I was waiting on hold this morning with our health insurance provider).
Looking forward, I’ve easily got enough things I’d like to do to keep me busy for years.
So, make sure to develop a vision for what you want in retirement before you get there.
2. When preparing, focus as much on your head as on your finances
If someone asked you when you’d be ready to retire, you might pull up a spreadsheet with projections on the growth of your investment accounts.
Understanding when you’ll be financially ready for retirement is great, but do you know when you’ll be mentally ready?
You might say “right now” - after all, wouldn’t it be great to stop working today?
But there’s a lot more to the mental transition than just wanting to stop working. We spend so much of our lives working before retirement that the shift can be a difficult adjustment.
Whether you know it or not, you identify yourself as a bread-winner, a hard worker, or by your job title. When you retire, those all go away and you have to know what’s left to fill the void in your identity.
When I was working, I got bi-weekly validation of my contributions through my paychecks. I had the benefit of feeling like I was a part of something bigger. When people asked “what I do”, I had an easy answer - Engineering Manager.
Since starting the mini-retirement, I’ve found myself struggling with whether or not what I’m working on is valuable. If people aren’t paying, is it actually worth something?
But in the last six months, I’ve had the chance to redefine my identity. I’m not an Engineering Manager - I’m a writer, a coder, a husband and father, and a Christian.
Understanding who I am outside of my job has been one of my toughest and most valuable lessons from this mini-retirement.
Looking back, I know I spent a disproportionate amount of time in the last several years focused on the dollars over time on understanding myself.
The good news is that I’m getting a chance to learn this lesson now - that I’m not defined by a job title or a paycheck - so that I’ll be in much better shape when “real retirement” comes.
3. Extra time is good; extra time with structure is great
Remember that list of things I said I wanted to accomplish in mini-retirement?
I’ve had a lot more time to work on them, but for the first several months of my mini-retirement, I was way out of balance.
I’ve had wild swings from week to week.
One week I’ll get a ton of fun work done - but sacrifice time with Jaime and the girls. The next week I’ll spend wonderful moments with my family - but suffer from an itch to exercise my creative muscles.
Now that we’re six months in, I’ve started to develop more of a rhythm of what my days and weeks look like and the balance is much better.
Every morning, Jaime and I have coffee together after we drop the kids off at school. We spend an hour of quality time chatting, playing cards, or planning a vacation.
After this, it’s work time until the kids come home from school. After they are home, the laptops are closed 99% of the time until they go to bed. Those hours are precious and we want to protect them.
We’ve also scheduled when we volunteer in the kids’ classrooms to make sure we’re fitting this in - it’s important but easy to let slip.
By defining clear boundaries and structure, we’ve been able to turn the blessing of free time in retirement from something good to something great. I feel like I’m now using my time to get bits of everything I had hoped for.
As you look toward retirement, consider what your schedule might look like to make sure you’re investing your time in all of the things that are important to you.
What to do before you retire
Taking a mini-retirement is a great “practice session” for real retirement. We’ve learned some important lessons that will help us when we’re ready to finally retire for good.
As you work toward your own retirement, take these lessons to heart.
- Build a vision for what you want your retirement to be
- Create a loose schedule that allows you to make the most of your time
- Ensure you’ve developed a solid identity outside of your day job
If you can get all those checked off before retirement, I’m sure you’ll have a great one!
What non-money things are you looking at as you approach retirement? Do you have a clear vision, identity, and plan for how to spend your time?