last updated November 13, 2018
Imagine what life would be like if you
eliminated everyday financial stress;
stopped pinching pennies to save for vacations that are always too short;
replaced work exhaustion with energizing creativity;
finally took the extended family trip you’ve been dreaming about;
slowed down for personal and professional rejuvenation.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not!
You can navigate the road to success to enjoy the mini-retirement you deserve without being a millionaire or having an ivy league degree.
All you have to do is think a little bit differently than past generations about personal finances, and you can start building your freedom with what you already have today.
Table of Contents
WHY WE GAVE UP ON TRADITIONAL RETIREMENT (AND EARLY RETIREMENT TOO)
While working traditional jobs over the past decade, we were lulled into the typical American lifestyle: work more, spend more, and constantly strive for the next big thing. It didn’t take long for all of our time and money to be spoken for (sometimes multiple times over). After cancer struck both sides of our families, we were struck by the fact that tomorrow is not a given.
Looking for ways to make the most out of life, we discovered the financial independence retire early (FIRE) community and quickly shifted toward frugal living to join the movement. But, we aren’t engineers, developers or other high-income professionals; and our career paths had been carved by prioritizing mission over money. Even if we saved 50% of our income and took on side hustles, we were looking at another 10+ years of full-time work. It wasn’t long before constant penny pinching and attempts at a fully optimized life led to burnout.
We didn’t want to give up our dream of greater fulfillment. So, we hunkered down and crafted reliable, alternative goals and a financial freedom plan that gave us the opportunity to retire now—by balancing periods of (full-time) work with rejuvenating mini-retirements. Maintaining an affordable lifestyle with passive income from investments and purpose-driven work has made mini-retirements our version of early retirement that’s achievable now.
Surely, quitting our jobs to take time off work introduces a different gravity to account for present and future finances. But, having skin in the game is forcing us to learn how to take calculated risks and make sure our withdrawal rates safely sustain periods with zero or variable income while still supporting our future goals in life.
We’re allocating more time and resources to nurturing happiness and positively impacting the people and places around us. And, we’re journaling about it to keep ourselves honest and hold ourselves accountable. With hard work, and a bit of luck, we’ll hopefully inspire a few like-minded friends (old and new) to sabbaticalize their retirement plan and do more of what makes them richer in life too. We’re glad you’re here to join us!
Part 1: Avoiding Money Mistakes That Steal Your Financial Freedom.
Realize how traditional retirement planning leads you astray.
Overcome the fear causing money stress and hoplessness.
Adopt an easy budget approach to spending and saving.
Volunteer. Read more. Travel full-time in an RV. Start a hobby business. Golf every day. Finally stop caring about a paycheck. There’s a 99% chance you’ve mentioned one of these activities (or something similar) as part of the phrase, “When I retire, I’ll…”
Retirement is a (glorified) period that offers the financial freedom to slow down by no longer needing to work for income. But, when it comes to achieving financial freedom there is a mold cast by generations of traditional retirees and financial advisors alike that drives our quest for saving more before we pursue our dreams. What is holding us back from living the lives we want today?
For anyone who has tried to escape the 9 to 5 or retire before 65, it becomes obvious that the intention-action gap is real. Even when setting out with the right attitude and well-laid plans, the comfortable rhythm of daily routine overpowers bold ambitions. It’s a difficult leap to get from what you want to what you actually undertake. Most people have aspirations that remain eternally on a bucket list; it happens to the best of us.
Psychologists and behavioral economists have conducted endless scientific studies to propose ways to reduce the discrepancy between planned and pursued. But this isn’t academics! It’s time to stop dreaming and really start doing.
The first step to financial freedom is becoming strong by knowing what makes you weak. There are three critical money mistakes that are often behind the scenes secretly crushing your dreams of greater freedom and a balanced life—so it pays to acquaint yourself with these!
ONE BIG FAT RETIREMENT GOAL
When it comes to saving money, most people only have a few financial goals in life: pay off school debt, support a happy family, and retirement. Even if we put aside some extra cash to make other big purchases along the way, it’s rarely tied to an actual financial freedom plan with goals that enrich our lives. So, the typical personal finance strategy involves (over)investing time to make enough money for today and fund sweeping financial goals that lack meaningful clarity.
Life as a 30-something and beyond mid-career becomes overwhelmed by climbing the corporate ladder, pressures of keeping up with the Joneses, and saving for the future. No wonder studies show that personal finances and jobs are leading causes of anxiety! The toll money-making takes on our emotional and mental health can also be seen in the strong inverse correlation between stress and feeling happy in life—both of which tend to hit their respective highs and lows around our middle-aged years. But, financial and work-related stress are interrelated problems that can be alleviated (or even eliminated), starting with setting better goals!
How many people do you know who retire at 65 feeling like they’re ready to take on the world? To the contrary, most people hit that “magic” net worth number feeling exhausted. Then, after a much needed period of doing nothing, they start to say things like, “I should have done this sooner.” The truth is that happy retirement is a fairytale too many of us believe in, and retirement as an end is the antagonist to a happy personal financial freedom story.
OVER-COMPLICATING SIMPLE MATH
One powerful defense against financial anxiety is having a sense of control over your money. Yet, when it comes to budget tracking, the tendency is to fill up on the figures that lack nutritional value and skip the superfoods of financial freedom fitness.
The (only) value of personal financial data is in understanding the numbers and behaviors that have an appreciable impact on quality of life. Just like the tv talking heads that shout about the daily ups and downs of the stock market can lead to emotionally driven poor investment decisions, budget data overload can lead to the death of your decision making willpower. Even the best personal finance software won’t help if you’re focused on the wrong details and overwhelmed by small choices.
Chronic stress is exactly the feeling we are trying to escape. So, ditch the daily budget and systematize getting the big stuff right (mortgage, car, etc); and it’s no big deal if some of the little things get lost along the way.
Once you know the few numbers you’re trying to hit and the formulas that will get you there, your dreams of enjoying greater freedom and flexibility to pursue greater purpose will become attainable goals.
TREATING MONEY AS THE GOAL
“If I had more money I would…” is the phrase most commonly muttered by friends and family alike. It’s also a key driver for feeling like we don’t have enough. When having more money is the ultimate goal, satisfaction from what we can afford gets pushed to the wayside.
The challenge we face is differentiating the impact of money on enabling fulfillment versus the the feeling that we always need more of it. Constantly running after the next dollar leads to sustained stress and is a drain on our time and energy. It’s no wonder so many of us experience the Sunday night blues.
If we replace money with well-defined goals, we can quantify how much we really need to make them possible. We can understand how much time we are trading for achieving those goals, and make intentional decisions on the required trade-offs. Refocusing to view money as a financial freedom tool for how you spend your time instead of the goal enables greater attention to what keeps you motivate and feeling fulfilled.
Part 2: Redefining Your Goals To Achieve Freedom Now.
Better approach to retirement planning
Taking extended time off work is a realistic goal now
You have a clear pathway to starting your mini-retirement
Traditional retirement planning was created for previous generations whose options were bound by a mostly manual labor-driven economy. We’re fortunate today that we can benefit from technological advancements, yet we’re still marching along to the beat of the old retirement drum rather than high stepping to capitalize on new freedoms.
With a few minor tweaks to your personal financial freedom goals, you can create exponentially more flexibility and fulfillment for yourself and your family. Syncing savings with short-term and intermediate financial freedom goals helps make the most of your money today, while still being able to enjoy life after 65 too.
This approach can help you beat keeping up with the joneses syndrome, stress less about finances, and boost savings—when it comes to getting rich in life, it pays to be a goal-digger!
A quick trip back to the industrial age takes us to the origin of modern American retirement. Work during this era was largely about trading physical capital for a paycheck. As life expectancy was increasing, but health still limiting, governments and corporations were increasingly urging that later years be spent off the clock.
The point is that the resources we use today to help us calculate how much we need to retire, manage our expenses and live off our savings are based on a model that’s outdated! Retirement planning is not timeless like Nonna’s secret family recipe for lasagna.
The economy of the 21st century is very different from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The industrial revolution has given way to the information and knowledge revolutions. Most assembly line jobs are being filled by robots while human workers are increasingly disengaged. And sixty is considered the new forty.
Even though we are wealthier today than ever before, misguided financial goals make it nearly impossible to find the peace of mind about our money and fulfillment in life that we deserve. So what’s a young knowledge worker to do?
Here’s the secret: time is our most precious resource. Time is the only variable that cannot be earned back. Yet the value of our years is completely neglected in most retirement plans!
Retirement has been defined by employer-established motives for too long. We are no longer climbing career ladders, we are advancing along different paths and have the power to rejuvenate and reinvent ourselves along the way. This brief walk down memory lane is a wake-up call that the time to learn from and improve on the past is now.
We don’t have to wait to enjoy retirement—and we shouldn’t. So, start by updating the way you evaluate success: swap out corporate promotions to prioritize personal development goals and cut that big fat retirement with bite-sized mini-retirements.
Mini-retirements give us a chance to migrate between (mind-numbing) routine and experiences that spark personal growth. The new retirement can be defined and spent on what we want to do at different stages in our lives—whether that’s taking a break to travel for adventure and the creative boost of living abroad, having more time to grow that side-hustle into a sustainable business that transitions to a new career, or simply spending more time at home with family and friends.
Now that we’ve classified retirement as a recurring theme, the stage is set to start building a financial freedom plan that supports varying periods of work that fulfill your version of freedom.
START PLANNING FOR A MINI-RETIREMENT
Everyone has goals, big and small. Any planning you do for the future can be considered a goal. Even if your goals haven’t been formalized in writing (yet), there are likely things you hope to achieve during particular periods in life.
You may be focused on losing 15 pounds before summer swimsuit season. Or you’re an aspiring author putting pen to paper to write a book by next year. Maybe the appeal of being your own boss is motivating you to start your own business. The goals themselves will differ based on your unique interests. Setting goals keeps us moving forward in our individual work and personal lives, and are proven to add meaning to your life that makes you happier.
Psychological studies have tested goal-setting theory and show that we are more motivated by relevant and tangible activities rather than abstract numbers. Yet the majority of people have a retirement plan that’s broad and based on an ideology formulated by someone else. When the freedom to retire relies on working 30+ years to become a millionaire and live happily ever after, the success of your financial freedom plan is contingent on maintaining willpower for the long-term.
Ask any successful person about accomplishing goals in life and she will tell you the key is reducing the information overload that leads us to lose site of a clear pathway to achieve our objectives. Because it’s too easy to quit when the finish line feels too far away. So why is the accepted work-life norm to postpone meaningful fulfillment to a point that it feels exhausting and extraneous?!?
The downfall for traditional retirement plans today is that they always seem beyond grasp and are not aptly aligned with current realities of job security, healthy aging and the inevitable curveballs that life throws at you. You’ll have more success saving for retirement when there’s a clear purpose for the wealth that you’re building, and you can take the time to enjoy it along the way.
Although you probably won’t hear about it in the mainstream financial planning media, there is a better way to approach retirement that enables a more fulfilling and meaningful life today. Mini-retirements can be used to break up the decades-long grind of work (and the stress that goes with it) with periods of purposeful personal growth and rejuvenation.
Allocating resources to planned mini-retirements from your regular work routine makes retirement more achievable and rewarding today, while minimizing the interference of health and other longer-term uncertainties that are outside of your control. And it’s up to you to decide what goals to focus on during your mini-retirements, which should make them strong motivating factors to save more and stress-less.
This should help us to clarify a few things:
Work-life balance is achievable if you plan for it
money is not actually the goal, but a tool to help us to achieve freedom to pursue greater meaning
goals are flexible and can be designed to fit within our financial capacity
The bottom line is that with proper mini-retirement goal-setting, you will boost your likelihood of achieving your personal ambitions, big and small. Setting mini-retirement goals lays the foundation for shaping your ideal lifestyle that incorporates more meaningful activities and time for rejuvenation. And if you do it well, you will have well defined action steps that will get you there.
Need a prompt to get started? Download our FREE mini-retirement goal setting overview.
GETTING ON THE SAME PAGE AS YOUR PARTNER
Syncing goals and money with a partner can be fun, difficult, and sometimes stressful. It’s no secret that money is cited as the number one source of stress in relationships. Views on managing money and your future lifestyle can be pretty different sometimes. Redefining your goals to include mini-retirements brings a lot of those differences (and tough conversations) to the surface.
After the initial enthusiasm of dreaming up your mini-retirement vision, doubts and worries may start to creep in. If you’re like most people, finances are a centerpiece of those challenges.“How could we ever afford to do that?” “We couldn’t afford risking a solid paycheck.”
Sometimes there is fear that if you work hard on creating a lifestyle, you’re locked into that choice. Being able to take a mini-retirement is not an overnight thing for most families. It may be a simple few months of planning an extended trip, or a multi-year process that begins with assessing (and reassessing) your current lifestyle.
The point is, when you invest time in defining your future, instead of letting societal norms do it for you, you can pivot into new opportunities and build a life you love together. The financial freedom analysis and systems discussed later in this guide, will help you to assess the real costs of your plans, simplify your lives, and redirect your resources towards shared dreams.
CASE STUDY: FINANCIAL TRADEOFF OF TAKING A MINI-RETIREMENT
Mention taking extended time away from work and the first thing you’ll hear is excuses for why it could never be afforded. That’s what we heard from almost everyone that we talked to about our plans. But what does incorporating mini-retirements into your financial freedom plan really cost?
Here’s an example of the back-of-the-envelope analysis we did to understand how it would impact our family. Our goals-based plan is to take a 1 year (likely unpaid) mini-retirement for every 5 years of work.
A few starting assumptions to get us started:
Earn $100k per year and save half of it (for simplicity sake, we are ignoring taxes and tax advantaged savings)
5% inflation-adjusted growth of investments
4% investment safe withdrawal rate
Spending stays constant at $50k annual during mini-retirement years
First, if we were to work straight through (ie no mini-retirements), with earnings and spending staying constant, we would end up with $1.25M after just over 16 years. Using the 4% safe withdrawal rule, this would afford us $50K of spending annually ($1,250,000 * .04 = $50K) in perpetuity, and a nice early retirement.
But taking time off from work would significantly impact that early retirement trajectory, right? Let’s look at the impact of taking an unpaid gap year after every 5 full years of work- starting in year 6, then another in year 12, and another in year 18.
At the end of Year 5, our net worth is $283,189. We take year 6 off, continuing to spend the same amount as we did while working — $50K. We also earn 5% from our current investments — a little over $14K. At the end of year 6, our net worth is now $247,348. We go back to work, earn the same salary, and continue to save half of what we make. Rinse and repeat in years 12 and 18.
At the end of year 21, our family will have $1.34M — nicely padding the $1.25M required to fund full financial freedom.
So what’s the impact? In this simplified example, our family’s mini-retirement plan will require 21 years to achieve financial freedom, as opposed to the 16 years in the work straight through scenario. That’s 5 additional years, but keep in mind that 3 of those years are entirely work free. That’s time to rejuvenate, pursue our personal interests, and maybe even build a business of our own. Seems like a good trade-off to me, but you be the judge.
Part 3: The Financial Formula For Achieving Your Mini-Retirement Dreams Today.
Understand how much money you need to take extended time off work
Spend less time and effort on personal accounting with greater financial success
Know how long you can afford mini-retirement, and prepare for comfortable transitions (in+back)
Stepping off the traditional retirement path and hiking into a sustainable mini-retirement is a journey that’s often held back by money worries: how can I possibly afford to quit my job? How will I pay the bills?
These are legitimate concerns that should not be overlooked. But, it’s too easy to dismiss the possibility of greater freedom without actually doing the math. Crunching the right numbers will help reduce financial anxiety with tangible dollar figures allocated to making your mini-retirement goals a relevant savings target.
The financial freedom formula outlined here is what we use and has proven effective in successfully preparing to take a mini-retirement.
With a vision for a fulfilling mini-retirement in place, the first reality check that will propel you from daydream to doing is calculating how much you need to put in a (liquid) “start-up” fund.
For example, if long-term travel or volunteering abroad is part of your plans, estimate the expense of just what you need to get you there: do you have to buy plane tickets or are you road-tripping in a vehicle you already own? Will you be lounging on a beach in minimal wardrobe or do you need to invest in hiking poles and a good pair of trail shoes? Will you be in a place where you’re covered by your current healthcare or do you need to supplement with global insurance?
Word of caution here: this is a point where our dreams can quickly become too dreamy. Social media especially have a way of influencing us into believing that everything should be epic. And human nature can lead us to over-prepare when we don’t really know what to expect.
Maintain a running list of gear, gadgets and resources you think you need. Most purchases can wait until after sufficient experience confirms the advantages are worth the expense. But, if an item has been on the list for at least 3 weeks, and research indicates it’s a valuable investment to begin your mini-retirement, then include it as part of your estimated startup cost.
Remember to be realistic about what you really want and how much you really need. Knowing that you have (just) enough to kick-off your lifestyle helps keep you focused on the most important goal: the joy of accomplishing the goals that you set out to achieve.
Taking the leap to a mini-retirement can be nerve-wracking. Heck, eliminating income at any age is a source of anxiety, even when the numbers show we are well prepared. A great way to alleviate these concerns is to give yourself a cash cushion that will be there to keep you comfortable you when you’re ready to “repatriate”.
So ask yourself, “how much time do I need to re-establish steady cash flow after a mini-retirement?” A general rule of thumb is that it can take 3 to 6 months to find a new position, if you’re aiming for full-time employment.
Rather than having to return home desperate for income—and living in a van down by the river—you’ll have savings available to cover your living expenses during your job search period so you can ease back into a “normal” routine. Plus, any repatriation funds that are not spent can be a bonus you pay to your future self by allocating them to make your next mini-retirement possible even sooner!
MONTHLY BURN RATE
The term burn rate is typically used in the context of corporate accounting to refer to the amount of money a company is losing on a monthly basis. But, this is also one of the few data points that is actually worth your time and effort to track in individual and family finances. Especially as part of a financial freedom plan that budgets for mini-retirements, it’s critical to understand how much cash you “burn through” on a monthly basis.
A positive burn rate means that you are making more money than you are spending. Your personal burn rate while working full-time should (hopefully) be positive—if not, your first financial freedom goal should be to change that (then come back to this guide).
Now, unless you are already making money through passive income, your earnings during a career break will likely fall significantly or zero-out while expenses continue to exist. That shouldn’t be a show-stopper, though! Thus, mini-retirements are periods you’ve planned and prepared for a negative burn rate.
The key is to understand your available non-work income that can cover your cost of living. So, use an expense tracking spreadsheet or money management app to aggregate:
passive income sources such as real estate rental, taxable investments, etc;
all expenses that come out of your wallet, bank account, credit cards, and pre-tax paycheck, etc.;
any debts like student loans, mortgage, etc. that must continue to be paid.
Try to use at least one year’s worth of earning and expense data, and omit any outliers. Then calculate your average monthly mini-retirement burn rate by subtracting annual expenses from annual passive income and dividing by 12.
Maintaining a sustainable burn rate for the period of your mini-retirement is the metric that determines how long you can enjoy workless freedom. Don’t sweat whether your calculation is precise to the penny at this point. In a lot of cases, budget categories will shift during a mini-retirement while overall lifestyle costs remain comparable.
Start by planning for a period of time you can comfortably sustain your current monthly living expenses. And, we’ll talk later (in bonus section 5) about some useful money hacks to make your mini-retirement budget more stressless and more affordable.
Your monthly burn rate is also a good figure to use to double-check your repatriation fund estimate. For example, 6x your monthly burn rate gives you a 6-month runway when you return.
CASH RUNWAY ANALYSIS
Drum roll please! Time for the big unveil. And we’re willing to bet you’ll be surprised by the cumulative result! Now put all of these figures together to capture a remarkable drone shot of your financial freedom needs:
|Available Mini-Retirement Funds=||Savings - Start-up Costs - Repatriation Fund|
|Months Mini-Retirement is Sustainable=||Available Mini-Retirement Funds / Monthly Mini-Retirement Burn Rate|
CASE STUDY: PUTING THE MINI-RETIREMENT FINANCIAL FREEDOM FORMULA INTO ACTION
When we first committed to change our own lives back in 2014, we envisioned our freedom on the open roads. An Airstream would be our charming toaster on wheels that would serve up slices of the good ‘ol days. Or maybe we’d prefer urban camping in a stealth mode Sprinter van. Oh the possibilities!
As we were downsizing to move into our mobile tiny home, we eventually realized we were still lusting over material possessions to buy our way to freedom. Our alternative dream homes were smaller, but not necessarily less expensive. So we shifted gears to focus on a more affordable mini-retirement style. And, it was a cool mid-November day when we finally moved 1,596 meters (5,237 feet) closer to the sun.
After three years dedicated to gradual lifestyle adjustments, including downsizing and deliberate financial management, we landed on a mountain-side in the Bajio. We invested in a few items of travel gear, packed only what we already owned that fit in our one bag (each), reduced our cost of living, immersed in a different culture, started learning spanish, and capitalized on currency exchange rates to work less and experience more. It’s amazing how far a little scrappiness can take you!
This table shows what real-life numbers could look like when plugged in to the financial freedom formula for mini-retirement planning.
|Total Available Savings For Mini-Retirement||$62,000|
|Start-Up Costs||$5,0000||e.g. gear, plane flights, global insurance, etc|
|Repatriation Fund||$21,0000||covers 6 months of living expenses for when return home|
|Remaining Mini-Retirement Savings||$36,000|
|Monthly Expenses||$3,5000||ongoing debt payments + general living costs|
|Monthly Passive Income||$500||dividends from taxable investment accounts|
|Monthly Mini-Retirement Burn Rate||$3,000|
|Months Mini-Retirement is Sustainable||12.0|
And voila! You now have the knowledge that is power to follow-through on your goal-based savings plan to make your workless freedom dreams come true. See how easily you put your dream mini-retirement within reach?
Part 4: Ease Money Anxieties.
Get more bang for your buck by focusing on the spending that has the biggest impact on your financial wellbeing
Improve budgeting by aligning spending and saving to personal values and goals
Automate cash management to stress less and save more.
A cold hard truth in life is that almost all of us worry about money. Having control of your cash can make the difference between stressed out and stress(ing) less. And, even though financial anxiety is a big problem, relief can be found in small change—literally.
Focusing too much on the dollars and cents is a leading source of money stress. Overthinking and micromanaging your finances actually perpetuates the problem by increasing the risk of making bad money choices. Low-stress money management that builds wealth and helps you achieve your personal goals is a pillar of wellbeing.
The majority of financial freedom fitness comes from getting a few weighty decisions right. Then automate the rest! Adopting these healthy personal financial freedom habits for saving, spending and investing will help you gain control of your money quickly and reduce unneeded anxiety in the process.
STRESS LESS, SAVE MORE
The Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, is a great guide to optimize personal finances. The fundamental premise is that 20% of actions lead to 80% of the outcomes. In the case of personal accounting, that means you achieve the greatest results by focusing on the 20% of lifestyle choices that make-up 80% of total spending.
Most families’ expenses predominantly come from housing, transportation, food, taxes, and healthcare. So, now, think about this for a moment: by just focusing on these “big 5” categories, you could be spending a fraction of the amount of time on managing your budget and actually boost your savings rate!?!
Easy to use personal finance apps like mint or personal capital can help proactively manage spending on your big 5 expenses without a lot of hassle. But, unfortunately, financial software apps come with the ability to connect virtually every type of money-related account you can imagine and view your finances dozens of different ways. The point is to reduce effort and anxiety! So, avoid data overload by setting up the software for efficient, stressless budget management:
Only connect your checking and credit card accounts.
Limit analytics to your top spending categories.
Automate tagging so transactions are categorized correctly and consistently (without you even logging in).
Schedule time to review trends periodically to maintain healthy spending over the long-run.
This small investment of effort helps nudge us to spend on “things” that bring us greater fulfillment today without losing sight of how the purchases we make impact our timeline to total financial freedom.
And, if you’re ready to take spend more with less stress, you can use the same tool we use to align our 80/20 budget with our spending goals.
AUTOMATE CASH FLOW TO SAVE FOR YOUR MINI-RETIREMENT
Reconfiguring your lifestyle and financial freedom plan to include mini-retirements introduces a few different challenges that require adapting cash flow management and your money mindset. But, automation will help you negotiate these these maneuvers masterfully to achieve a savings rate that makes mini-retirements possible while mini-mizing stress.
In the seminal personal finance book, I Will Teach You to Be Rich (IWT), Ramit Sethi outlines how to automate day-to-day financial tasks. Once the automated accounting system is in place, your money is routed where it needs to go without any effort by you. All of your investments, bills, savings and general spending funds (etc.) are being taken care of while you are busy enjoying the activities that matter most to you!
Automation is a best practice in any healthy financial freedom fitness routine; and it’s critical to saving for mini-retirements. You have a clear vision and motivation for your dream mini-retirement and the financial freedom calculations that will get you there, so now get out of your own way. Combining the 80/20 budget with automatic cash flow reduces the psychological interference of day-to-day financial decision-making so you can focus on achieving your personal goals minus the money anxiety.
CASE STUDY: CASH FLOW MANAGEMENT FOR EXPEDITED SAVINGS
This diagram illustrates exactly how we automate our finances to consistently save 50% of our income and maximize tax advantaged options without daily stress.
Automated monthly deposits into our checking and savings accounts put money straight into our start-up and repatriation funds before we even think about spending on something else.
GLOBAL HEALTH INSURANCE
Mention health insurance to anyone in the US and eyes glaze over and fire shoots from their nostrils. Research consistently shows that health care and its evil twin, health insurance, is one of the top concerns for US citizens. It’s also one of the largest expenses in a typical family’s budget. A mini-retirement can bring those worries to the surface, as employer provided health insurance may no longer be an option and sticker shock sets in.
Unless you’re comfortable with unpredictable and unlimited financial risk (you shouldn’t be), health insurance is a mandatory part of life. There are hundreds of plan options available that are a real pain to weed through. But, here are the main health insurance types for families taking a mini-retirement:
COBRA- a federal law requiring employers to make the same group health insurance policy available to past employees for 18 months after an employee leaves a company. If you have good coverage and want to keep it, this is an option to do so. But, it’s worthwhile to check on pricing early because you’ll likely be surprised by how much it will cost you without an employer subsidy.
Affordable Care Act- domestic marketplace for health insurance that is either offered by State or Federal government through an exchange. Normally, you can only sign-up for ACA plans at certain times of the year, but leaving your job (and your employer provided health insurance coverage) counts as a “qualifying event” so you can enroll at that time regardless of when it is during the year. ACA insurance premiums are based on family size and income (keep in mind that W-2, 1099, stock sale gains, and dividends are all counted as income).
If you are going to be within the US during your mini-retirement, your low income for the year may make ACA a great option. There are a number of resources available to help sort through the different plans. One additional note is that there are very few nationwide coverage plans left on the exchanges. So, if you plan to be moving around the US a lot, it may be worth looking at alternative options.
Travel Medical Insurance- typically provides limited coverage only while outside of the US. This option is viewed by most US travelers as supplemental insurance since it usually does not cover pre-existing conditions, ongoing expenses within the US, and a host of other items. Most conclude that a travel health insurance policy does not offer the necessary protection from financial risk to be your only policy. You could layer a travel medical insurance plan on top of a domestic policy to provide necessary short-term coverage .
International + Domestic Insurance- bundled US and international health insurance plan. If you’re like a lot of people taking time off work for a mini-retirement, a mix of time in the US and international travel may be on your agenda. There are a handful of domestic insurers and brokers that provide combined domestic and international insurance options. The benefit is that you receive comprehensive coverage and can clearly assess potential financial liability and care coverage in a single package. You also only have to work with a single agency for benefit questions and claims.
Reviewing health insurance contract plan options requires some real fortitude. Boiling it down to the most important elements, these are the coverage technicalities to take into consideration:
Plan type- choosing a PPO, HMO, international, or other type of plan determines the extent of coverage you get within a network of designated providers. Note that coverage networks are getting smaller, but all plans under the ACA must cover emergency care even if out of state and/or out of network (though this does not apply to international coverage).
Premium- amount paid (on a monthly or annual basis) to buy access to the coverage plan. This is the minimum amount you will pay for coverage.
Deductible- how much you have to pay before the health insurance starts covering costs. If you choose a qualified, high deductible health plan, you are eligible to contribute to a health savings account, which can be a great option for turbocharging tax-free retirement savings
Co-Insurance- how much (usually shown as a percentage) you have to pay once your deductible is paid
Co-Pay- how much you have to pay out of pocket for an office visit, test, or prescription
Out of pocket maximum- the most you would be on the hook to pay in any given plan year. This is the most important number to consider. Healthcare expenses are the number one reason for individuals filing for bankruptcy, likely because people lack an understanding (or fail to fully consider) the worst case scenario.
Lifetime maximum- how much in total the insurance will pay over the lifetime of the policy. Also important for worst case scenario considerations.
CASE STUDY: GLOBAL INSURANCE FOR GLOBAL CITIZENS
After we had sufficiently organized our finances, transitioned our work and downsized our material possessions, the freedom to relocate made all the places we had been thinking about going become real possibilities.
Setting up shop in a low cost of living area where we could enjoy a higher quality of life had already been on our minds. And the culture, cuisine and climate of Mexico was calling our names. Before we could go somewhere so exotic and dangerous, though, we needed to make sure we had insurance*!
*That was sarcasm, by the way.
At the time we were preparing to head South of the Border, Max had already been working as an independent product manager, but 99.9% of our healthcare costs were covered by the employer provided policy through my (Brittany’s) full-time job. As the company was amid acquisition, we were lucky to be able to transition to COBRA with six months subsidized. It simplified the decision process for the beginning of our location independent venture, and we added an affordable supplemental travel insurance for that time period.
But, as the half-year mark approached, we knew we had to re-open the can of worms that is global insurance shopping. The matter was further complicated by the fact that we had some business and personal commitments that would keep us on American soil for a few months. A brief but dizzying search of our options proved it was practical to pay out of pocket to extend COBRA until we’d be expatriating again. It was a hefty $1600, but it was more comprehensive than we’d get for the same price on the open exchange. And we strategically used that time to do complete rounds of doctor visits and dental check-ups.
Since our intention was to use our mini-retirement to connect with greater purpose as global citizens, international coverage was weighted more heavily in our decision. At the same time, we weren’t comfortable going with 0 domestic coverage. Especially because extended trips back to the US for work projects and to visit family were also part of the plan.
Naturally, like any economic and efficiency-minded individuals would do, we created a spreadsheet to compare our options. Again, since we wanted to be covered within the US and abroad, we looked at two main categories:
an ACA plan supplemented by travel health insurance
expat health insurance that included domestic coverage
Two other factors that we ruled out and added in:
Coinsurance - is one of the ways providers split the cost of paying for services. Deductibles and copays are forms of cost sharing too, except that coinsurance--which is usually set at a fixed percentage--applies even after the deductible is met. Since we knew we’d be looking a high deductible plans, we decided early on that coinsurance didn’t make sense , so we only looked at policies with 0% coinsurance.
Maternity - coverage was also a factor for us since we’re 30-somethings considering having children. But, we weren’t far enough along in our family planning to know where or when (or how*) it would happen. We did some research on what it would cost to pay out-of-pocket to give birth abroad, and took that into consideration.
*no, we don’t think a stork will bring our baby, though that would be cool.
Our final analysis tallied the monthly premium, deductible, copay and forecasted out-of-pocket expenses to calculate an estimated 6-month cost that helped standardize an otherwise jumbled comparison.
At the time we were making this decision, there were no global options that were accepted as qualifying coverage under the ACA so we had to account for the penalty for being uninsured (even though we had better insurance than most people going through the exchange). But, luckily that piece of the policy has been eliminated, so we won’t have to get into that cluster*@%!
Why IMGLOBAL is a Great Choice
Shopping for global insurance is one of those experiences that has a way of never feeling satisfying. The insurance business is based on risk aversion after all. But, ultimately, we are happy with what we got.
IMGlobal is our best health insurance choice for 3 main reasons:
US coverage is available for 6 months and contract with the UnitedHealthcare PPO network (which we had previously and were happy with)
Maternity is covered after 10 months* and the deductible is subsidized for care provided outside the US
(*of continuous coverage in the premium plan or higher)
High deductible options offer a good value for “catastrophic coverage” and a decent suite of services
Also, as a married couple, being just 2 people doesn’t qualify for a family plan “discount”, so we went with a less expensive option for Max and paid up for a premium plan that will cover maternity care for me (Brittany) if/when we get pregnant.
In total, we paid $5,300 for both of us for the year, but it gives us the comfort to pursue worldwide travel and access care in ANY state when we’re in the US.
If we had forgone the maternity coverage, the cost would have been $1,000 total. Considering the deductible, and the estimated costs of giving birth abroad, we would probably pay the majority out of pocket anyway. But, we feel it’s worth the investment to have the peace of mind if any complications arise.
As a healthy young couple, we are able to pay for routine, preventive care costs. Since I’m a borderline naturopath, this almost works out better. If, god forbid, we have a major accident or a more chronic condition develops, $15,000 is the most we’ll pay for related care. And we have that amount accounted for between our HSA and savings account.
In the end, we have comprehensive global insurance coverage that is a better value than what we get in the US alone—that’s more flexibility and more peace of mind at a more reasonable cost for us.
Part 5: Money Hacks to Achieve Mini-Retirement Dreams Sooner
Lower expenses while enhancing quality of life
Keep more of your money by paying less taxes
Leverage passive income to extend your mini-retirement
When you want to kick in to savings overdrive or need to come up with some extra cash to extend your mini-retirement, there are some money hacks that can pay off in spades.
There are no get rich quick schemes or simply massaging the numbers to make this alternative retirement plan work. Taking regular mini-retirements is an unconventional lifestyle that balances calculated saving and planned periods of reduced income (when you’re not working) to achieve greater freedom in choosing how you spend your time.
These popular and proven strategies help save money and cover your monthly burn rate so you can work less and experience more.
Geoarbitrage is a powerful tool to get more bang for your buck in quality of life and achieve retirement earlier. Short for geographic arbitrage, it refers to the life hack that takes advantage of different costs of living and currency values between countries. The concept has been popularized by Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich) and other travelers and entrepreneurs who have based themselves abroad.
While geoarbitrage is often touted in lists of personal finance tips, it’s really a tactic in lifestyle design that can rejuvenate your passion for work or provide greater opportunity to explore a career change. Basing yourself in a “geoarbitrage location” means deliberately choosing somewhere that is less expensive AND aligns with your interests and values.
Finding the best places for geoarbitrage is a process of personal financial freedom goals and choice in lifestyle preference. Start by figuring out where you can boost your purchasing power- consider places where you can leverage beneficial currency exchange rates and/or capitalize on lower cost of living. Finally, narrow down and prioritize your geoarbitrage location list based on those cities, villages, cabins in the woods, remote islands (etc.) that offer you a rich quality of life at a fraction of the cost.
Adopting domestic and international geoarbitrage at different phases of your life will help you take a rejuvenating mini-retirement sooner, live without active income for longer, and enjoy experiences that you otherwise might not have been able to afford.
CASE STUDY: GEOARBITRAGE LIVIN’
When beginning our own mini-retirement, the value of the US Dollar to the Mexican Peso was near its multi-decade peak; we saw the opportunity for an extra geoarbitrage boost. Before taking the plunge, it was comforting to gain a greater sense of how the lower costs would make paying for our day-to-day living expenses feasible without washing away all of our savings.
Visions of a luxurious month of stressless zen on white sand beaches and turquoise water shores went from unaffordable to easily achievable. And 6-weeks of learning Spanish in a UNESCO heritage colonial Mexican town became the perfect way to start our first mini-retirement.
Online geoarbitrage calculators are helpful tools for an initial gauge of the numbers. While there are a myriad to choose from, they aren’t personalized to your spending patterns or lifestyle. After dozens of trips to different geoarbitrage locations, we’ve translated our worldwide travel planning and cheap living experiences into a functional, dynamic geoarbitrage analysis tool that builds on our 80/20 budget to satisfy our wanderlust in a practical way—you can download it for FREE here! —>
Taking a pay cut is an inevitable part of enjoying extended time off work. But, there are some tax benefits to reduced income. These three key “tax-tics” are based on distilling the best tax advice and honing it through experience to establish a reliable method that maximizes legal tax avoidance so you can enjoy your career break for longer.
Tactic 1: Hold On To Your Standard Deduction
Based on the latest (2018) tax rules, the first $24,000 of a married couple’s (joint-filing) income is tax-free through a standard deduction. That means, for the first $24k you earn in the year, there is no monetary benefit to diverting income to your tax advantaged accounts (unless you are receiving an employer match). Instead, keep that chunk of change in a checking or savings account so it’s accessible for day-to-day expenses.
Tactic 2: Earn Tax-Free Profits
When the stocks that you own gain value because the selling price exceeds the purchase price, you pay tax on that profit that you earn. Long-term capital gains, however, are only taxed when you exceed a certain annual income. Hold your stock purchases for at least 12-months so that increases in value qualify as long-term gains. Then, by earning less than $77,200 income in the tax-year (as of 2018 rules for joint filers), you can collect tax-free profits on them*.
Tactic 3: Live Off Dividends
Harvesting dividends from taxable investment accounts is another (often overlooked) source of tax-free money during mini-retirement. Similar to long-term capital gains, if you make less than $77,200 annually, you do not owe taxes* on earnings distributed through dividends. One catch to be aware of here is to make sure dividends are qualified if you earn more than $24k in the year.
Tactic 4: Access Tax-Free Retirement Savings Sooner
During very low to zero income mini-retirement years, the Roth IRA conversion ladder is a secret weapon for tax-free access to 401k funds—even if you aren’t technically of the age to avoid the early withdrawal penalty. Any dollars converted to a Roth are considered income, but remember, you can earn up to $24,000 a year (in 2018) without paying tax.
*Note that most states still tax investment income, so check the regulations for your state of residence. Or, if you are really serious about tax minimization, move to a no-income-tax state. During years when you are earning above the threshold and have the financial flexibility, it’s better to hang on to your gains for those low-income periods.
CASE STUDY: MAXIMIZING TAX-FREE CASH FLOW (LEGALLY)
Alright then. That’s a lot of technical tactics summarized very quickly. So, let’s look at our real-life example to help make it more clear. Here is what this personal financial freedom model looked like for us when we went on mini-retirement after working part of the year:
|Annual Expenses||Paid Work||Long-Term Capital Gains||Qualified Dividends|
|$50,000||$40,000||+ $16,000||+ $10,000|
Based on these figures, over the course of a year, we allocate money to maximize tax-free income and maintain our cash flow to pay for everyday expenses:
|1. Keep Standard Deduction for Spending||Put the first $24,000 of tax-free work related income directly into checking account.|
|2. Distribute Pre-Tax Earnings||Divert the remaining $16,000 of pre-tax work income into tax advantaged HSAs and 401Ks.|
|3. Harvest Tax-Free Investment Income||Harvest $16,000 of long-term capital gains from taxable investment account and transfer it to checking account for spending.|
|Transfer $10,000 from qualified dividends—divided and distributed over 4 quarters—into checking account for spending.|
All of this works together to make $50,000 available for current expenses, $16k saved for future retirement goals, and $0 paid in income taxes!
Plus, since we’re working less and nearly all of our financial chores are systematized, that means more than 50% of our year is freed-up to enjoy a fulfilling mini-retirement! This diagram illustrates exactly what our automated cash management system looks like during mini-retirement periods.
During our first mini-retirement year, we didn’t take advantage of the tax-free 401k to Roth IRA conversion because our incomes were too high—life’s tough sometimes. But, since we’re set to sustain our mini-retirement for 18 months, we’ll be able to convert almost $24,000 tax-free in the next year—life is good.
STOCK MARKET INVESTMENT AS A SOURCE OF PASSIVE INCOME
Running out of money is one of the biggest fears when it comes to taking a mini-retirement. But, if you have cash flowing into your spending and savings account while you’re enjoying doing what you want during your retirements, then financial anxiety is liquidated.
Investment income is an essential source of retirement funds that allays concerns about a paycheck or having to trade your time for money. Since you already have a good understanding of your burn rate, you can use that knowledge again to calculate a return on investment that has the earning potential to offset your monthly expenses.
Aligning your investment strategy with your burn rate provides smart financial freedom goals that are efficiently achieved with the help of passive income.
As a simple example in the context of real life, the table below illustrates how someone who spends an average of $2,500 per month would need a 20% return on investment (ROI) to fund a month of a mini-retirement.
|Montlhy Burn Rate||Amount Invested||Securities Sale Event||Capital Gain Profit*||ROI = profit / investment cost||Time Added to Mini-Retirement|
Maintaining a 20% ROI (like the example above) may seem daunting. Double digit returns are indeed an exceptionally positive outcome that often takes multiple years to achieve. But, the more principal you invest, the less return you need to cover your burn rate.
To gain a clearer sense of this impact on residual income, consider the same burn rate supplemented with $100,000 in principal invested instead of $10,000:
|Monthly Burn Rate||Amount Invested||Securities Sale Event||Capital Gain Profit*||ROI = profit / investment cost||Time Added to Mini-Retirement|
So, in this case, you would need a 2.43% return on investment for each additional month of mini-retirement. That makes mini-retirements more sustainable and total financial freedom achievable a lot sooner!
While building investment principal takes some deliberate savings effort, it pays off as your investable capital becomes a source for funding your work-life balanced lifestyle.
ENGINEERING YOUR LAYOFF
There are lots of resources that talk about how get the perfect job and increase your salary- both great goals. Most people don’t realize that employers are often happy to pay their employees to leave too. With a little forward thinking, you could receive severance of cash, health insurance, unemployment compensation, and more, smoothing your pathway to a rejuvenating mini-retirement. For a mid-level valued employee, severance can easily amount to $50k or more.
Unless you’re one of the lucky few whose employer has a sabbatical program, your mini-retirement will likely require that you part ways with your current job. If you quit, you’ll usually get nothing more than a going away party. Your employer’s not obligated to offer you anything and the state deems that you quit your job because you didn’t need the money, so you can’t receive unemployment benefits either.
The reality is, nobody likes seeing good employees go – not HR, not your manager or company owners. The cost alone to replace an employee can be tens of thousand of dollars (plus intangibles), and the situation is made that much more difficult if a company can’t count on employees to help with the transition. You can use this to your advantage, and take some of the stress off your company’s shoulders at the same time.
In order to successfully negotiate your layoff, you need to understand what’s at stake for the company. And, by knowing what you want before leaving your job to take a mini-retirement, you’ll give yourself the upper hand in negotiating the appropriate severance with management. Learn the ins and outs of engineering your layoff to profitably quit your job, and create a financial freedom tailwind for you and your family as you transition to pursuing your mini-retirement dreams.
If you plan to travel during your mini-retirement and aren’t travel hacking, then you’re missing out on free money. Taking advantage of credit card travel hacking can help you to save thousands of dollars on flights, hotels, car rentals and more.
There’s one caveat -- travel hacking is only worthwhile if you don’t have challenges with debt and can pay off your credit cards in full every month. Carrying a balance on your credit cards just to receive bonus rewards is a losing proposition.
Credit card bonuses range from cash back, to points that can be applied to various purchases travel and non-travel related purchases, to airline frequent flier miles. If you sign-up for the right card, or groups of cards, you can easily build enough rewards to take your family on trips to almost anywhere in the world. Even better if you currently travel for work and have an opportunity to collect miles from reimbursable travel.
Chase Sapphire cards have offered some of the best rewards programs over the past few years. Offers are constantly changing, and you’ll have to spend a little effort analyzing the details about requirements to receive the rewards in order to make sure it matches up with your spending and lifestyle. Or, there some great services that sort through all of the fine print for you, and can help to expedite your rewards accumulation in time for your mini-retirement.
Executing and Accountability - Your Next Steps
You now have an updated perspective on work/life balance and a framework to start rewriting your financial freedom goals to include your first mini-retirement. The old bloated budget you’ve been following has its days numbered because you’re ready to build a personalized system of spending more intentionally and saving more automatically. The creative boost of taking a career break is already flowing into kung fu cash flow ideas. Your financial anxiety and mini-retirement skepticism are being replaced by greater interest in life. And this is just the beginning!
But, taking the road less traveled can be even more challenging if you feel like you’re traveling totally alone. The comfort of a listening ear, the encouragement of someone whose been there before, and the inspiration of exchanging ideas are all as important to financial freedom success as they are to other goals in life.
If you need additional support or want to celebrate gains—big or small—reach out and let us know! We are happy to provide a little nudge, give (digital) high fives, or help individuals and couples build more fulfilling and interesting lives.
Anything worth waiting for is worth doing now!