Mini-retirement defined: With traditional retirement, you save the good stuff for that 20-year period at the end of life. The idea of mini-retirements takes some of that 20-year period (say 5 years), breaks it up into 1-3 month chunks and spreads it out over your working years. A mini-retirement is longer than a vacation, but shorter than retirement. It may involve part-time work, depending on the length of time away.
I recently received this email:
I’m not usually one to write a note like this out of the blue, but I somehow feel compelled the day after my wife and I booked one-way tickets halfway around the world. I just wanted to say a simple thank you for being inspiring to me for the past few years …And now we’re only a couple months away. I started reading your site after the newspaper had your column about mini-retirements. Since then we have talked about trying something like it. Now, both age 51, we are taking leaves of absence for 8 months and moving into rural New Zealand. I have secured a job there with less time commitment (and less income) than my current job, and my wife has a work visa so she will have the ability to find something once we arrive if she is inclined. This is a bigger chunk of time than the mini-retirement you wrote about. But we are both lucky enough to have employers who have agreed to allow for a longer leave and hold a spot for us — though we decided it would be worth it even if we came back and had to look for work. I don’t want to make this a long story, so…just to say–I know you put a lot of time and heart into your writing. Please know that you have fans out here who appreciate your insights. You are inspiring us to learn and grow, and to be intentional. Kia Ora!
As you might imagine, I responded right away. First, I just wanted to thank him for the kind email. Seriously, my heart grew three sizes that day. Second, I wanted to ask him if I could interview him for Intentional Retirement. My articles about mini-retirements are some of the most popular at the site, but even so, I think many people still dismiss the idea of mini-retirements as “fun to think about, but that would never work for me.” We can all learn something from someone who had all the same excuses we have, but made it work anyway. Pay particular attention to the answers to question 8 below. As someone who has helped people plan for and live in retirement for more than 20 years, I can tell you that the answers to that question are full of lessons, takeaways and insights (both financial and non-financial).
Just a quick note. In the Q&A that follows, I edited portions of the answers for length and also removed the names and other identifying information because the person wishes to remain anonymous.
1. Tell me a little about the mini-retirement you have planned.
My wife and I will be taking 8 months off our current full-time jobs to move to New Zealand where we will live and work in a small community. I will work there as a general practice physician, and my wife plans to work part-time remotely with her current employer. I will say I’m having a little trouble with using the term “mini-retirement” for this endeavor. Maybe there’s not an official definition of the term, but I think of mini-retirement as period of time without working at all. That said, when we read your pieces on mini-retirement that came out a few years ago, it helped nudge this dream into a plan for us. As far as terminology, maybe “trial semi-retirement” fits better since we will both be employed, and afterward, we plan to return to our current full-time jobs.
2. What prompted the trip? Why not just wait until retirement?
At 51 we are both still healthy and active. We want to do this while we can still enjoy many of the outdoor activities that New Zealand offers. We are empty-nesters and our kids are getting settled into their lives, but no grandkids yet. It may be harder to do this in a few years when we may have even more family ties to keep us closer. Our kids are young and active too, so it is also a great opportunity to bring them along for a visit in the middle of our stay to share the experience with us before they have families of their own.
3. Were you and your spouse on the same page from the beginning or did it take some convincing?
We were totally on the same page because we really enjoy travelling together and learning about the world away from home. When we go to a new place, we like to get outside the tourist areas. We try to immerse ourselves in the local culture as much as possible, though opportunity is limited during the traditional one-week vacation time. This is our chance to go for a longer period of time and immerse into the culture.
As a physician, I see a lot of advertisements about practices that need some extra temporary help. We have talked for a long time about the possibility of trying some of these locum tenens positions. These are short-term positions usually because a doctor is temporarily absent, or it may be after someone retires and the practice is searching for a replacement. The most challenging part for us was finding the time to go that would work for both of our careers while also making sure it worked with our family’s life.
4. How did your employer respond when you talked with them about it?
I can’t imagine any employer is very happy about an employee asking for 8 months off, but both our employers have been gracious about this. When we decided to set this plan in motion, we both felt it was the right time. If our employers were not able to hold our positions until we returned, we would deal with the job search when we returned to the U.S. Fortunately, both employers feel we are valuable enough to hold our positions for us. There will obviously be some changes since our duties have to be covered while we are away. We know we will come home to find the job we return to is different from the job we left. Looking through an objective lens, the duties we are both doing now are different from what we were doing 1-2 years ago as things naturally evolve. Ultimately, we knew this would be an adjustment with some potential regrets, but a greater regret might be not going. Neither one of us wanted to say later in life, “I wish we would have taken off on that adventure.”
5. What were the toughest hurdles to overcome or logistics to work out?
One of our biggest challenges will be missing friends, family, and our pets. We talked about taking our dog to New Zealand. Unfortunately, the hoops to jump through for a dog to go were more onerous than for us humans to get work visas. Also, she would have to spend a long time in the plane cargo hold and quarantined after arrival. We decided that it would be too hard on her even though we would like to have her there.
We bought our kids airline tickets as their present for the holidays, so we’ll get to see them for a while at Christmas, and we also have some friends planning to visit. Also, communication is much easier now with social media and video chatting, so we’re hoping that helps us stay close electronically.
As far as work challenges, I feel a lot of guilt leaving for that long with the expectation of returning to my current position. In doing so, I am asking my co-workers to cover for me for such an extended time that I’ll never really be able to pay it back. My wife has already hired her replacement for a job she loves and knows that her position will be different when she returns. Those are the most difficult personal and career challenges.
6. How did you pick your destination(s)?
Years ago, we started discussing trying a locum tenens job as a “someday” thing to do in later years prior to retirement. Mostly we considered staying in the US, but noticed a few positions were available internationally. New Zealand is among the few countries that will accept a US medical license as means to obtain a permit to practice there. Rural New Zealand, like much of rural America, has a shortage of primary care doctors. The practice I will be joining has used temporary doctors for years, but all the while they continue to search for someone to take a permanent position. So, there is the sense that I’ll be helping fill a need in the community there, while also integrating as a local New Zealander more than a short vacation would allow.
7. Anything special you need to do or plan to do with your house while you’re gone?
Fortunately, we will have family who will live in our house in the US and take care of our pets. Their availability to house-sit for the year really helped us choose when to take this time away. Before we secured a house sitter, we were asking ourselves other questions such as, “Is it time to downsize and sell our house?” but “What if it doesn’t sell or sells too quickly?” We also considered renting it for a year and the uncertainties of a being a landlord from overseas.
8. What are two or three things that you hope to see come out of the trip? This could be something you learn, a particular experience, a relational outcome, or whatever.
Mostly, I hope this is an amazing life experience for us. I look forward to the chance to learn about a new country and really get to experience the culture. I hope to learn about the healthcare system and bring back a new perspective for myself. I hope to return refreshed and recharged with a new appreciation for my job, and maybe there will be some things to share and integrate within our office.
We hope to continue to grow as a couple. The good news is we really like spending time together! During this experience, like we also expect in retirement, we will spend even more concentrated time together. As we watch retiring couples, that seems to have its pros and cons. We’ll find out what it’s like to start fresh in a new place far away from home. We’ll learn if combining travel and work like this is something we might want to do again down the road or if it will be something we do only this once.
We will live in a more minimalistic way than we do at home where we have accumulated 30 years of stuff. We will each be taking only one piece of luggage plus a carry-on for an 8-month trip, so soon we’ll see what it is like to live without most of our possessions. We will also both take a significant pay cut for the time we are gone, so we will find out how we manage living within a lighter budget.
Financially, this is a giant step backward in terms of saving for our eventual retirement. Overall, we have prepared fairly well for the future. We’re not in the category with some of the early retirement enthusiasts out there, but we currently have saved about 20x expected annual spending with a goal of between 25-30x by age 60. Depending on how our perspective on expected annual spending changes after this experience, we may adjust the numbers or time frame a bit. But it’s all a work in progress. Regardless, we should get there if we continue to work full time and save as we have been.
To use some of the terminology from your writings, this is our version 1.0 of retirement for this decade. We are certainly not done with our years of employment, but this is one iteration of what we are doing in our 50’s to prepare for that time. For now, all we know for sure is that we choose to control this particular slice of our time and money in this way while we are healthy enough to enjoy it.
9. Any advice for others who are considering a mini-retirement.
Ask me that after we get back…
Hopefully, I’ll have an opportunity to check in again with them over the next 8 months and let you know how things are going. Meanwhile, if you’d like to read more about mini-retirements, here are a few articles from the one I took a while back:
- The case for mini-retirements
- Mini-retirements and work: A “How To” guide
- One month ago I left for a mini-retirement: Here’s what happened.