A One Year Mini-Retirement

Our Biggest Experiment Yet

A One Year Mini-Retirement

Last year, we set an audacious goal to become debt-free by 2020 by aggressively prepaying our mortgage. Changing paths a bit, we accomplished our goal this month by selling our house and moving into an apartment. While this has been a huge change, it’s just a piece of our even bigger life change - I parted ways with my employer at the end of June. I’m officially unemployed.

Years ago, I would have had six or seven panic attacks at the thought of losing my steady paycheck - especially since I’ve been our family’s only source of income. Thanks to the financial discipline we’ve developed though, I recognize that this isn’t a crisis; it’s an incredible opportunity.

Rather than scrambling to find my next steady 9-5 paycheck, I’m going to take the next year off of work as a mini-retirement.

As I shared my plan with friends and co-workers, most looked at me like I was crazy. This look was then followed by a recurring statement “I mean, if you can make that work financially, that sounds amazing.”

These responses were often said with an “I wish I could do the same” sentiment. Years ago I was in their shoes - I couldn’t have imagined ever doing something like this. The thing I hope to impart through sharing our journey is that just about anyone can do this with the right focus. For us, it took developing three major things:

  1. Financial discipline
  2. Courage to prioritize our dreams over social norms
  3. Faith in God and in ourselves

Financial Discipline

I was first introduced to Financial Independence (FI) by Mr. Money Mustache in 2012. We were excited at the thought of not owing anyone anything and eventually getting to the point that I wouldn’t need to work to support our lifestyle. As an intermediate goal, we had been targeting debt freedom.

We cultivated a sense of financial discipline - remembering that our bigger life goals were more important than the temporary high of consumerist purchases. We automated our savings and we stopped shopping at stores that always seem to have a receipt of $100 or more (*cough TARGET cough*). We focused on our needs over our wants - remembering that what we really wanted was bigger and better than some kitschy serving platter.

With what we saved, we aggressively paid down our mortgage. We pretended raises and promotions didn’t happen, redirecting our income increases to paying off our debt. This year, we took on the big challenge of trying to go a whole year buying nothing new.

The outcome is predictable and awesome: we saw our debt come down, our investment account balances go up. We were on our way.

But it’s a long game - financial independence. With all of our progress, we were on track to be financially independent by my 48th birthday - another thirteen years. Retiring seventeen years early is a wonderful gift, but knowing you have thirteen to go feels like you’re in the second mile of a marathon.

So, I did what I frequently do - I made a spreadsheet. That spreadsheet calculated the date that I’d be “Retirement Free” - the date at which I could stop saving for retirement because my account was big enough that compound interest would take care of the rest until I turned 65. Thus, the “Retirement Freedom” calculator was born.

I filled out the numbers in the calculator, factored my pension in, and discovered something amazing.

We were already there.

Even though full financial independence was over a decade away, I felt a huge burden off my shoulders. We didn’t need to worry about our finances beyond age 65 - all we needed to do was focus on covering our expenses for the next 30 years.

Adding to this, we had planned to sell our house and downsize in the pursuit of smaller living (more on that in a minute). While the goal was living smaller, this also had a huge impact on our financial picture - cashing out the equity in our home gave us access to a significant portion of our net worth.

With retirement freedom checked off and a reasonable amount of cash due to arrive in our bank account, our finances were in good shape to do something different.

Courage To Prioritize Our Dreams Over Social Norms

Years ago, I read The Four-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, not knowing what to expect. It had a catchy, albeit scammy-sounding title. Little did I know, this book would change how I viewed life. The biggest lesson for me was the power of opting to ignore social norms in the pursuit of your ideal life.

If you want to live a normal life, do what everyone else around you is doing. But who wants to live a “normal” life? Shouldn’t we want something better?

If we want to live extraordinary lives, we need the courage to do not-so-ordinary things (Tweet this )

Through our past, we’d spent so much time and money on things that weren’t true to our values and dreams. These were the things that the world around us said we needed to be happy. We found that they weren’t very good at providing that happiness because they hadn’t come from our dreams and values - they had come from ads, envy, and following the herd.

As we realized this, we dove into a deep journey of decluttering - not just our stuff but our mental models of the world. We had to clear out the opinions and expectations that came from outside so we could have clarity to see what was important to us on the inside.

We hit the reset button on our possessions and our view of the world.

We made big changes - we sold my wife’s engagement ring and wedding dress, we downsized to one car, and we sold or donated our unnecessary furniture, TV, and clothes.

Every step gave us a bigger sense of freedom as we decoupled from the artificial aspects of our lives. That freedom gave us the clarity to dig deeper into another unconventional concept from The Four-Hour Workweek - a mini-retirement.

Rather than waiting until you’re 65 to enjoy the fruits of your labor, wouldn’t it be better to enjoy those fruits along the way?

Always wanted to backpack across Europe? Want to sail around the world? Want to set up a workshop and become an expert carpenter?

Don’t wait until you’re retired to take these on. Figure out how much it will cost you to do it, save for it, and then do it. Life’s too short to wait.

As we contemplated our options, we went back to our financial compass for direction. This compass provides the guideposts for our life - the things we want to pursue no matter what:

  • Maximizing the time we can spend together and the quality of that time
  • Making time to pursue the work that brings us joy
  • Living a life that reflects God’s calling for us

We thought about these and pondered where we stood today and how our changing circumstances could enable us to live even more according to our values.

Our kids are young (6, 5, and 5) and I know from everyone I’ve talked to that they will grow up way too fast. These moments are precious and every opportunity to be a more present dad is one I want to capture. But a 9-5 means most weekdays slip by - our family focus is in the evenings and weekends.

I’ve been loving the opportunity to write articles and code, sharing our financial journey here and developing tools to help people manage their finances so they can chase their dreams. But this is a hobby, not a paying job.

I’ve loved the impact of my day job - creating life support devices for patients going through surgery or in the ICU. I’ve loved working with the amazingly talented and passionate people in that company. But circumstances at my job were changing and I was watching my passion fade.

The circumstances at my job were such that the timing felt right. I could feel God’s hand in this - connecting the dots for us to make a leap.

So we discussed our options and the one that stood out was something we’ve talked about for years: me being home - spending more time with my wife and kids and working on passion projects (like this site and Thrifty).

The opportunity to spend a year at home would be an amazing gift to all five of us.

But there’s a big difference between dreaming and doing. I’m not usually much of a risk-taker and this dream felt loaded with risk.

In order to get over my fears, I had to have faith - in myself and in God.

Faith in God and in Ourselves

When I look back at the challenges we’ve faced in our lives - health, depression, bad habits, insecurity - I could choose to see a life of stress and heartache. But God has turned every challenge we’ve faced into something that ultimately made our lives better, so we choose to see the positive.

The more we lean into Him, the better our lives get. Through it all, I’ve grown a sense that everything is going to be ok.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV Version)

We still need to work, we still need to save, but God frees us from the need to worry. God’s got our backs. Knowing we have His support, we’ve come to look at risk differently.

Most of my fear of taking risks comes from envisioning terrible, permanent consequences. But as we’ve used our courage to experiment with different ways of living, we’ve discovered that very little in life is permanent. As we experimented, we’d decide what we were trying to accomplish, how to know if we wanted to keep going, and how we could reverse the experiment if it turned out badly.

Most visibly, we’ve removed a majority of our material possessions from our lives. Beyond that, we’ve experimented with floor sleeping, owning just a single car for our family of 5 in the suburbs, and giving up modern “luxuries” (like microwaves and dishwashers).

Before each of these became long-term commitments, they existed as simple experiments. We always had an agreement that an experiment could fail and that would be ok. If we had gone without our microwave and found our life in complete disarray, we would have added it back. The same goes for our dishwasher, our second car, our beds, and all of our stuff.

By making these decisions experiments first, we had the bravery to try them out.

By trying them out, we found ourselves breaking boundaries we thought were impenetrable.

By breaking those boundaries, we gained faith in ourselves - in our ability to go beyond the normal to pursue an extraordinary life.

Armed with faith, courage, and financial discipline, we’re making a big leap. (Tweet this )

  • On June 30th, I left my job
  • On July 1st and 2nd, we moved into our apartment
  • On July 2nd and 3rd, we cleaned out our old house
  • On July 4th, we celebrated Independence Day with Family
  • On July 5th, we closed on the sale of our house, achieved debt freedom, and kicked off my mini-retirement

Mini-Retirement Goals

I’m a firm believer that fulfillment comes from aligning how well you spend your time and money in alignment with your values and dreams.

We’ve spent the last several years realigning our spending but with this mini-retirement, we’ll be taking on the bigger challenge - realigning our time in the same way.

I hope to use this year as a reset on my priorities - ensuring that I’m being a present father and husband, living more slowly and investing in personal growth and passion projects.

These all circle back to our financial compass:

  • Maximizing the time we can spend together and the quality of that time
  • Making time to pursue the work that brings us joy
  • Living a life that reflects God’s calling for us

So, here’s what I’ve got on the docket:

Quality Family Time

My wife and I plan to take our kids to and from school together every day. Our preference will be to walk whenever we’re able.

We’ve carved out our afternoons this summer as “family time” - whether it be hikes, playgrounds, games, building forts, coloring, reading, or dance parties.

My wife and I will be getting a lot more time together to invest in our relationship - both during the day when the kids are in school - and through date nights every other weekend.

And, of course, we’ll be road tripping again; this August we’ll be hitting the Northeast. Over 12 days we’ll hit 15 more states bringing our total with the kids to 46!

Passion Projects

I’ve been loving the creative outlets that this site and Thrifty have given me. I’ve really come to enjoy writing and am finally getting a chance to work out my coding muscles again :)

Over the next year, I’ll continue to write regularly here and may even start writing some guest posts for other sites.

Here at Keep Thrifty, the focus will become much more clear on helping people live a more Thrifty life (per my definition):

Thrifty
adjective \ˈthrif-tē\

  1. using money and other resources carefully toward one’s most important dreams and values

Minimalism, spreadsheets, frugality, and debt freedom all still have a home here, but they are going to be part of a bigger purpose - to help people pursue their most important dreams.

I’m especially excited to have more time to refine my vision for Thrifty in the same way. Expect to see new features, a clearer focus, and for the tool to finally exit “beta”. That means I may have a paid version of Thrifty coming in the future.

I’ll also be focusing more on coaching and other paid resources as well so I can hopefully keep this gig going longer than a year. Don’t worry though - I’m not changing my mentality toward ads or sponsored posts - I’m still passionate about providing a clutter-free reading experience :)

Investing in Faith

Finally, I’ll be doubling down on my faith. I want to ensure I’m having regular conversations with God, so I’m setting up systems to make sure I’m praying at least once a day (and hopefully more than that). This Fall, I’ll be looking into joining my church’s men’s group, which meets every Wednesday morning.

In addition, I’ll be continuing to grow my confidence and faith in myself through new experiments. You can be sure that I’ll share all the gory details here!

What the Future Holds

I feel so blessed to be in the situation where we can make this leap and am humbled by the support I’ve received from my wife, kids, friends, family, former co-workers, and fellow bloggers.

I don’t know what our life will look like a year from now, but I’m so excited for the promise this year holds and so happy we were able to get to this point.

We remind ourselves that if this year doesn’t turn out how we want, everything is reversible in some way. We could buy a second car. We could buy a microwave and use a dishwasher. We could fill our home with furniture and clothes. We could buy a house. I could go back to a 9-5 job.

Most of these I hope not to return to. My feelings on the others will become more clear as we get further into this year of mini-retirement - our biggest experiment yet.

It’ll be one heck of an adventure.

For the far-away future, this mini-retirement will delay in our eventual financial freedom date, but the trade-off is clearly worth it because we can only live these moments once.

What’s Your Leap?

One last thing:

We’re not special. My wife and I are ordinary people.

We just decided to try living in not-so-ordinary ways and that has led us to a pretty extraordinary life.

If we can do this, so can you (Tweet this )

I know you’ve got a big, audacious dream you’d love to pursue but there are things holding you back. You can get there with the right mentality and discipline.

What dreams would you love to pursue? Do you have a vision for your life that looks drastically different from your life today? What’s stopping you from getting there?