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Don’t save all that retirement fun for the end – plan a mini-retirement!
For most folks, retirement usually means finally putting your feet up after a decades-long career at 65. Dreams of international travel and pursuit of hobbies get put off until our bodies have deteriorated by sitting for 40+ hours at a desk job each week. But who thought this was a good idea, and why the hell is this the status quo?
At the other end of the spectrum are the financial independence and early retirement (FIRE) converts, who hustle, save, and invest so they can retire early in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. In this scenario, retirement isn’t accomplished by reaching an arbitrary age set by the government. Instead it is reached by having a certain amount of passive income from investments that is enough to cover your annual needs.
But for those of us who don’t want to wait until we’re 65+, or are miles away from having enough in the bank to generate sufficient passive income, there is a viable alternative out there – the mini-retirement. A mini-retirement is a break from your career, usually with an assumption that you’ll be going back to work at some point.
As a modestly-paid employee in the non-profit sector, I’m unlikely reach retirement until I’m at least 60, even though I currently save at least 50% of my income each month. But I’m ok with that, because I don’t plan to wait until then to live out my passions or take time for travel. In fact, I’m about to embark on my third mini-retirement in 10 years.
I have found so much value in taking mini-retirements, and I believe that anyone can make them happen in their own lives if they plan and prepare for them in advance.
When should you take a mini-retirement?
Have you ever felt burned out, or restless and dissatisfied? Yep, me too. No matter how much I enjoy my career in international development, after a few years go by in a job, I usually start feeling worn down by routine. Motivation starts to dip, and before I know it, I start to feel resentful for having to spend 8+ hours a day going to the same office, and dealing with the same old issues.
I could stay in the job, tough it out and see if I can recover my motivation. But I know from past experience that when those feelings of disaffection with the job emerge, it’s time to plan for a mini-retirement. And I know that whenever I’m ready to return to work, I’ll be refreshed, motivated, re-energised and ready to kick ass in a new job.
Be intentional with your mini-retirement
Mini-retirements have so many benefits if you use them intentionally. By that I mean using the time for something more meaningful than just catching up on Netflix. I have certainly watched my fair share of TV during mini-retirements, but usually this fits around epic plans that I’ve made ahead of time.
If you decide to take 3-6 months away from work, know what you’re going to do with that time in advance. What hobbies or interests do you want to dedicate serious time to? Are there any personal projects that have been vying for your attention? Any skills you want to develop? Or any travel destinations that have been on your wish list? A mini-retirement is a perfect opportunity to dedicate time and focus to personal dreams and priorities that often get neglected or delayed because we’re so consumed by the daily grind of work.
My mini-retirement experiences
Here are some things that I have done during my past mini-retirements:
- Learned how to meditate and completed a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat
- Took a week-long sustainable living course on an organic farm
- Went to the Rainforest Music Festival
- Gained an appreciation of nature by spending three weeks hiking and snorkelling in Borneo
- Went on trips with close friends that we’d talked about for ages
- Started a blog about travel, politics and environmentalism (now dormant!)
- Headed up a project (remotely) for a Tanzanian NGO through the UN online volunteer scheme
- Explored East Asia for a month with my partner, stopping by UNHCR in Tokyo to give a presentation
In between all the above, I also had a lot time to think and reflect – spending quiet mornings in a coffee shop when everyone else was at work. This helped me figure out where I wanted to take my career, and gave me time to send out job applications and talk to people in my network about new opportunities.
Because I know that the skills, experiences, and connections I gain from a mini-retirement will help to open new windows of opportunity, I’m not afraid to walk away from a job. Both of my previous mini-retirements have ended with me finding fulfilling work that I have jumped into with renewed energy and focus. In the last case, it even resulted in a 100% salary increase!
How to plan a mini-retirement
You might be thinking, “No way can I do this! I have kids/pets/a mortgage/responsibilities!!”
I’ll admit that mini-retirements might not seem possible for everyone. For anyone who is living paycheck to paycheck, has massive debt weighing them down, or is supporting a family, taking a few months away from a guaranteed salary can appear scary and unimaginable.
But I do think with time and preparation, a lot of people can find a way to make a mini-retirement happen, and make sure that the mini-retirement actually serves to strengthen their future career and financial prospects.
Here are some steps you can take to make your mini-retirement a reality:
Get your financial house in order
Make sure you have an emergency fund which covers at least 6 months of living expenses. In addition to this, start saving towards a separate fund for your mini retirement. Figure out how much time you want to take off, and how much you will need to cover your basic living costs. On top of that, budget for fulfillment of those dreams and priorities you’ve been putting off (e.g. travel or taking classes). You might find you need less than you think.
When you know how much you need, start saving aggressively. It’s much easier to deny yourself daily treats and trinkets when you know that the savings will go towards something much more valuable.
If you want to give yourself even more security during your mini retirement, look into a side hustle that could generate income while you’re off work.
Make note of what you want to do
Three to six months might sound like a lot of time, but believe me, this goes by fast. If you have a long list of things you want to do, prioritize. You won’t be able to do everything. And if you don’t have a list, start making one! Unless you know what you want to do, there’s a danger of allowing the time drift away without making the most of your freedom.
Also keep in mind that some things you want to do might need proper scheduling. For example, the sustainable living course I had my heart set on only happens twice a year, and I had to fit other plans around that.
Just as importantly – make sure you leave time and space for reflection and life planning both before and during the retirement. Who knows, you might be inspired to explore a complete life or career change.
Continue to be an awesome employee and build relationships
Just because you’re making exit plans from your job doesn’t mean you should stop contributing as much value to your employer as you can. Carry on doing an awesome job – not only will that mean your employer might be more open to giving you time for a mini retirement, it will also make clients take notice (possible future employers). Continue to build relationships in your sector – both before and during your retirement.
Here’s a couple of real-life examples of how this works in your favour:
My sister and her partner quit their jobs to travel around Asia a few years ago. A month before they were due to head back to London, they both got emails from their previous companies asking if they would consider coming back to their old jobs! Their work had made them invaluable employees, even after a 6-month backpacking jaunt.
Before I left my previous job, I sent an email to all of my work contacts to say that I was taking time off, but would be seeking work in the region. One of the three job offers I received by the end of my mini-retirement was through one of those contacts.
Commit to a date
When you know how long it will take you to save for your mini-retirement, and you have ideas for what you want to do, set a date for pulling the trigger. You can save and plan all you want, but unless you actually tell your employer and others that you will be taking a career break, your mini-retirement dreams will remain just that – a dream.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning that mini-retirement now! Why wait for the prime of life to pass you by before you make time for yourself?
Have you taken a mini-retirement before? What would you do if you could start one tomorrow? Comment below!