Welcoming Scott from I Dream Of Fire! He’s got an awesome intro of his own below:

Ok, so I’m taking a one year mini-retirement. I have no idea what’s going to happen over the next twelve months. I’ll be pulling myself outside of my comfort zone, trying to break out of the boxes I’ve put myself in over the years. I’ll be reading, volunteering, and contemplating. Along the way, I hope to find work that is personally meaningful and makes me excited to wake up each morning.

Leading Up To This Moment

Walking on the beach

I’ve been employed since I was eleven years old. I’m 38 years old and for the first time unemployed (minus a small stint my senior year of college).

  • Age 11: I worked with my grandpa at a flea market
  • Age 16: I worked in a music store
  • College: I was an editor in the student newspaper
  • Career One: Worked for daily newspapers in South Carolina, then Utah.
  • Career Two: I took an internal communications role in IT at the University of Utah and was later promoted to the administrative leadership team.

I never thought my career would turn toward mini-retirement. When I left the newspaper, I needed to figure out what to do with my 401(k). That research led me to the personal finance community.

My wife and I have always been frugal, spending less than we earn, but we didn’t have a strategy or understanding behind it. The more I learned about money management, the more I realized the goal wasn’t to have more money. The goal was to have more time and resources to do the things that mattered to me and my family.

I used to think work was a way to get money. That money was meant to be used to buy stuff. The stuff I bought was then supposed to add up to make the life I wanted. Then I realized I had it all backwards. I first need to ask, What is the life I want? Then I could ask, How can I support that life?

Over the past several years that’s been the root question turning over in my head. I don’t have a clear answer yet. I have ideas, but I’m not sure if they’re true. They’re hypotheses. That’s what this mini-retirement is about: testing my happiness hypotheses.

Making Mini-Retirement A Reality

Jumping into the ocean

When I realized the work I was doing wasn’t personally meaningful, my wife and I started talking. I felt stuck in a rut and was not sure how to get out. She kept telling me to just quit my job, but it took a long time for me to accept that as a legitimate option. With my wife’s support, I thought more about this option, and I felt like it could lead me to a better place.

We had been saving up for a possible rental property purchase down the road but didn’t have concrete plans for buying at this point. That opportunity fund became my mini-retirement fund – an opportunity of a different kind.

In order to figure out my mini-retirement budget, I looked back at my custom finance spreadsheet where I track my expenses. Life is crazy right now with two boys in college (one has a scholarship, the other we pay for) and our daughter in all-day private kindergarten. The past three years have been expensive, with our household spending last year being $100,000, which I wrote about here.

Settling Into Mini-Retirement

Man walking on edge of pool - appearing as though he's walking on the water

I officially started my mini-retirement on my 38th birthday, April 20. I’m fairly conservative and don’t like to take risks, so quitting a perfectly fine job just to “figure things out” is a stretch for me. But I think that’s what I need – a real shake-up where I’m not fully sure how it’s going to go.

Since leaving the 9-5, I’ve found myself busy. I’m getting things done around the house, running errands, and writing. We also went on a cruise two weeks after I quit. I thought I would have way more time to sit around and read, but I’ve only gotten through about 160 pages in three weeks.

I feel guilty being “unproductive.” I start every day with a checklist of stuff I want to work on. At some point I need to recognize the incredible gift that this time off gives me and really savor it instead of working through it.

People from all corners have been really supportive, some telling me about their own amazing mini-retirements! My wife, of course, is the ultimate supporter here. She’s still working and covering our health insurance while I take the opportunity to figure out the life I want.

Before Jumping Into Mini-Retirement

Desk with laptop, notepad, ruler, coffee mug, and pen

It’s funny, I had a lot of coworkers – some with whom I barely spoke – come up to me when they found out what I was doing and tell me how they wish they could do the same. I’m not going to discount the fact that my wife and I both make good money, which makes it much easier to pull together the financial means to make this happen, but this is doable for a lot of people. Here are four things I recommend doing before taking the leap:

Ask Yourself: What is the Life I Want?

  • I have a free exercise for those who join my mailing list, called Find Your Financial Values. It helps people narrow down what’s really important.

Track Your Spending

  • If you aren’t tracking your spending, start now. Sign up for Thrifty, Mint or Personal Capital – and figure out what your spending looks like over time. I never could have figured out how much I would need if I didn’t know how much I spent. I’ve got years of monthly spending in my spreadsheet, giving me confidence to pick a number to meet our spending over the mini-retirement with some cushion.

Increase Your Gap

  • The gap between what you earn and what you spend is where your timeline comes from. The bigger the gap, the faster you can fill your opportunity fund and the longer you can stretch it. Pay off as much debt as you can, and lower your required monthly expenses as much as possible.

Don’t Go Into This Blind

  • Read up on blogs and books and listen to podcasts about people who have done this. Know what you’re getting into. It’s so much less scary when you realize a lot of regular people have figured out how to take a mini-retirement and have come out better on the other side.

Looking Towards The Future

Sunrise over the ocean

I have a really strong memory from when I was 10 or 11 years old. It was early into summer vacation. I woke up in bed with a light breeze carrying the scent of freshly mowed grass through the open window.

It was sunny, and when my eyes opened I felt totally rested and excited for the day ahead – and I had absolutely nothing to do. The day was full of opportunity. It’s about as close as I have come to remembering a feeling of true freedom – the feeling I want as I move forward in the mini-retirement. If I can wake up to another day like that, I’ll know I’m on the right track.

Thank you to Scott for sharing his freedom story. We wish him an awesome mini-retirement and can’t wait to see what the end of the year brings!

Do you have a freedom story you would like to share? We would love to hear from you! Submit your story here!