Mini-Retirement Mastered: Chris and Jaime

I’m so excited to share Chris and Jaime’s mini-retirement story with you! I’ve followed their story online and offline, and we have become good friends over the last year. There are SO many great nuggets in here, and their story echoes so much of our experience as well since starting this mini-retirement two years ago.

mini-retirement to build blog

 

What was life like before your mini-retirement?

 

I’d say we looked a lot like the standard suburban family. We had three kids, two cars, and a house full of stuff. I worked a standard 9-to-5 job at a big company, and Jaime stayed home with the kids.

Financially, we had been making contributions to our retirement accounts and had been good about avoiding debt, but we also didn’t feel like we were working toward anything meaningful. We were fairly stuck in a consumerist mindset and often found ourselves pulling from our savings to cover the latest credit card bill.

We had a fairly good life, but we wanted more. Not more stuff – more out of our days and hours.

Travel on a mini-retirement with kids

 

What inspired you to do this NOW instead of waiting until your fully retired?

 

I’d always had a dream of working from home – being able to spend more time with our kids. Even just working a disciplined 40 hours per week, we found that there just wasn’t that much time. On weekdays, I would see the kids off to school, and by the time I got home it was time for dinner, bath, and bedtime.

Every parent will tell you that your kids grow up too fast, and we’ve seen it firsthand. Our original thought was to work toward financial independence. As we did the math though, we realized that we would finally get the free time we were looking for too late – once our oldest was ready to head off to college.

We didn’t want to wait to focus on what was important to us – time together as a family – so we started considering our options.

mini-retirement with kids

 

How long did you plan and prepare for this before taking the leap? Did you have any financial benchmarks you wanted to hit before your time away? 

 

When we had talked about me shifting to part-time, taking time off, or retiring early, we had built a pretty big list of prerequisites. We wanted to have finished paying off our mortgage (the last of our debt), completed our final remodeling projects in our house, have finished our trips to all 50 states in the US, and others.

In the end, the list of prerequisites was too big and too tough. If we needed to satisfy that list, we wouldn’t have gotten there until it was too late.

We were conservative to a fault.

As we read other people’s stories online, though, we started to see that we had a lot more control over our living situation and finances than we had realized. If we could reduce our spending, our dependence on a high income would drop and we could make our dreams a reality.

We worked to reduce our spending and put that money toward prepaying our mortgage and finishing our remodeling projects faster. We experimented with different ways of living (single car, using only a portion of our house, living with less stuff) and found strength and confidence in our ability to make big changes.

In February 2017, we decided to sell our house and move into an apartment while we tried to figure out our next situation. Once we figured out how much money we’d have left over after selling, we realized that we had built a pretty nice nest egg. The equity in our house was like a secret savings account that we suddenly had access to.

And that savings account was big enough for us to do something big.

We listed our house for sale in May and had an accepted offer within a few days. That accepted offer was the turning point.

A couple days later, we made the decision to talk to my boss about ending my employment and plan out our mini-retirement.

The time from that decision to when we actually started the mini-retirement was a really short six weeks!

travel while kids are young

 

What was the planning, preparing process like? What was the response from friends and family? How did you handle that?

 

The biggest part of planning was understanding what our spending would look like before we made the leap so we could feel comfortable that our finances weren’t going to be an issue.

We’d been tracking our spending to the penny for the last two years using an app I developed called Thrifty, so thankfully we were able to pretty quickly put that data together to build a spending plan. We decided on what was important to keep in our budget (like our family road trip and date nights) and reduced elsewhere where we could.

Over the last several years, we’ve experimented with a lot of “different” ways of living, which has helped us to toughen our skin when it came to comments from others about our lifestyle choices. Minimizing our belongings, going down to one car, and living in half of our house all helped us build confidence in who we are and what we want.

Through these experiments, our friends and family have come to expect the unexpected from us. In addition, because the sentiment of this was time with family and pursuing entrepreneurial passions (both of which are common values in our circles), we got supportive comments.

The one phrase we heard over and over again was “That sounds great…if you can make it work financially.” Years ago, I could have seen us saying the same thing to someone else; excited for their opportunity but feeling like it wasn’t possible for us. Whenever I hear this, I try to help explain that we’re not special – we just made some big trade-offs.

 

What did you do with this time? How did life change? How did your plans change as you went along? What did you learn along the way?

 

Because the focus of our mini-retirement is on family time and working on a business, our life has a lot of similarities to our life before.

We still live in the same city, we still have to get the kids up for school in the morning, we go to the same church every Sunday, and we still make the same dinners.

What’s changed the most though is our pace of life. We’re able to walk the kids to and from school (at least when everyone gets up on time) and enjoy it as a 15-minute stroll. We’re able to use the kids’ days off as an excuse to go hiking altogether.

In addition, this has given Jaime and I an opportunity to see each others’ worlds. The first two months of mini-retirement coincided with summer break, so I got to be a true stay-at-home parent for the first time. I had always known being a stay-at-home parent could be challenging at times, but now I’ve experienced it firsthand and have an even greater appreciation for those who do it.

out door adventures on a mini-retirement

 

What was the most terrifying part of the whole process?

 

We’ve planned this mini-retirement to last through the end of the summer in 2018 but we’re both hopeful that we’ll be able to create enough income between now and then to keep it going. That said, we’re far from that point right now and know there are no guarantees.

We had wanted to do something like this so badly that our biggest fear is losing it. While that can be motivating, it can also be really dangerous. When we were just getting started with the mini-retirement, I had a really tough transition.

I’d built my identity around 13 years of biweekly paychecks and suddenly wasn’t bringing anything in. Even though our finances were solid for the duration of the mini-retirement (and we had a good buffer), I was already stressing about how to get income to make this mini-retirement continue.

It’s taken introspection, prayer, and a really supportive and amazing wife to help me de-stress,  have faith in our path and focus on soaking up as much as I can of this time now.

 

Did you create some income opportunities before you started? Did you get part-time work with an old employer? Did you secure future work before you left?

 

I loved the people, products, and mission of the company I had worked for and have certainly not ruled out going back at the end of our mini-retirement. I left on good terms with my manager and peers and have stayed in touch with many of them.

We went into our mini-retirement with no side-income, but do have plans for getting some income through Keep Thrifty via the money tracking app we’ve developed and are looking into coaching and courses as well.

Since the start of the mini-retirement, I’ve had more opportunities come up for new jobs than I could have imagined. Many have been tempting and I’m keeping in mind for the future, but we’re committed to seeing this through for the full year and then going from there.

 

What do you imagine life will look like after you are done?

We purchased a plot of land in our town and plan to build a small house in the next two years. We’ll continue to travel as a family and focus on intentional, quality time together.

As much of our life now is similar to before the mini-retirement, much will be similar after, but we have a lot of lessons we’ll carry with us.

We’ve already learned a ton about ourselves – about what brings us joy and what stresses us out. We’ve been able to stretch and grow in new ways. In many ways, the mini-retirement is a chance for us to re-center our life around our values and then ensure we don’t lose that on the transition back to 9-5.

 

What was your total budget for your mini-retirement?

Our total mini-retirement budget is just a hair over $60,000. Depending on who we talk to, everyone seems to think this is either really high or really low 🙂

 

Any tips or tricks you learned along the way that would be super helpful for anyone considering this?

Open your mind to different ways of living. By all means, selling your house to live off the equity isn’t incredibly common, but it’s an option that’s available to a large number of people.

Build your confidence with small experiments before taking big leaps. With our experiments in minimalism, we learned that we’re more adaptable than we gave ourselves credit for. Most things are reversible and the worst case isn’t usually all that bad.

Don’t second-guess yourself. If it’s something you really want, it’s going to be worth it.

 

Were you on the same page as your partner? How did you compromise?

 

We didn’t always dream together. Earlier in our marriage, our focus was more on our individual goals. But once we figured out how to dream together as a couple, pursuing more time together as a family was something we quickly could agree on.

Having regular discussions about our goals and values have been critical in us getting here.

In general, I’m more conservative, and Jaime’s more of a just do it kind of person. She had a general sense we could do this, but it took me digging into the numbers before I could feel comfortable.

We’ve used these differences to be a stronger couple though – we use my conservative and Jaime’s spontaneous nature to complement each other. She encourages us to dream big, push forward, and make it happen. I make sure we’ve got our ducks in a row to make our dreams a reality. Once we get on the same page,  there’s no stopping us 🙂

Chris and Jaime are the creative goofballs behind Keep Thrifty, where they hope to inspire people to define their own freedom and arm them with the tools to make it a reality. Whether it’s an inspirational blog post, an honest YouTube video about Chris’s less-than-stellar ability to shop for kids clothes, or an app that helps you truly understand where your money is going, Keep Thrifty probably has something for you 🙂

 

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21 thoughts on “Mini-Retirement Mastered: Chris and Jaime

  1. Thanks so much for sharing our story Jillian. We love what you’re doing to help people get on the path toward mini-retirements. It’s been a life-changing experience for us and I know it can be for your readers as well!

    • It’s amazing what happens when we create margin. It’s like clearing out a gardening patch. So many amazing things can end up growing if we clear the space, give it a little care and plant a few seeds. It’s has been life-changing for us as well. The seeds we put into the soil look nothing like all the things that have grown up. =)

  2. Awesome story! I always find it interesting when people talk about how more opportunities open up after leaving work than they’d ever expect. 🙂 Nice to have something to fall back on even if you aren’t planning on pursuing anything yet.

    • That was our experience as well. I think there are a lot of good reasons it happens. One is that people know you’re available. You’ve signed up this new adventure and maybe you would be interested in this other adventure. It’s something I talk about in the course, how to plant and nourish those seeds before you leave, when you leave and after your gone.

    • I expected to maybe have one but so far I’ve had 4 come up and we’re not even halfway through. I agree with Jillian – I think a lot of it has to do with people suddenly realizing you’re available. I always used to have former co-workers asking if I knew anyone who was a good fit for a job at their company, but I didn’t know many people that were between jobs.

      Taking this year means I have a whole year of being “between jobs”!

  3. Great story. Our biggest fear is the healthcare component and the cost of coverage. What did you find in that arena? We have thought about a mini-retirement for travel in less than two years, but my husband is miserable now in his job, so we need to make a change. I have calmed a lot of his money fears (I manage all the finances), but being from a country with public healthcare, the the way the healthcare system works in this country, scares him…well, both of us, quite frankly. Maybe I should price it out first to see what it would even cost us for private health insurance. I shudder to think though.

    • Maybe Chris can speak to the option they went with? But in my course, I talk about the six options for healthcare. There really are a lot of options. It takes some time to figure out what the cost would be and which one is the best fit. When people build their custom plan and timeframe, a few research hours are added to the calander. =) And I really encourage people to pick the best option, and take notes on two back up options. Price them all out and budget for it. It might be more than you pay now, maybe not. Most people who go through the course, find that after a few hours of research, most things seem less scary and more like the logistical problems they really are. One thing if for sure, life is really short to be miserable, especially when there are other options. In the last 2 months, 3 people from the orginial course have either found new jobs or renegoatied thier old job to give more flexibility. Once they did the first week mentoring questions, they knew what changes they wanted to make and could see which job options were actually a great fit. =)

    • Great question – I know this is a common concern. Based on the terms of my departure from my job, I was able to continue health benefits there for another 6 months (which will take me to the end of this year). For 2018 we had planned to use the Healthcare.gov marketplace.

      COBRA would have been crazy expensive – our worst case scenario of the options we looked at – but we built our budget such that we could pay for insurance using COBRA if we had to.

      We applied for the marketplace on November 1st and got the letter yesterday that we were approved for our state-run plan with zero premiums (because we have zero income). We weren’t anticipating this – we had figured we’d be on a partly-subsidized marketplace plan at a cost about 2x what we were paying when we were employed.

  4. Two of my favorite families joined together here. I love this post!

    It takes boldness to live outside of “the norm” and you made the right choice for your family, Chris. Even without kids I can empathize about had you stayed on the perpetual 9 to 5 track you’d lose precious time with your family.

    I also love how you made your home equity work for you. Not many people can do that — for most it’s a liability, not an asset. I look forward to seeing what you do with your land!

    I’ll bet you can find many opportunities to augment your blog income. If you ever want to brain storm let me know.

    Jillian, thanks for sharing Chris and Jaime’s story!

    • Thanks Mrs. G! I may take you up on that. Jaime and I are trying to strike the right balance right now between getting some blog income and keeping our schedule open to enjoy our time. We’ve teetered back and forth between the extremes the last few months but are hopefully settling in to a better state right now!

  5. Great story Chris & Jaime, as someone who just went part-time and is on a partial retirement I’m always interested in hearing the stories of others who are trying similar things. My hope is that this break from the relentless 40+ hr. a week march will let me detox, refresh, and have more clarity about the next stage of my life. Hopefully it will do the same for you!

    • Well said – that’s one of our big goals – to use this time to re-center ourselves and assess what we want the next 60 years to look like. We’ve got a lot of life left and this is a great time to pause, reflect, and dream for the future!

  6. I almost didn’t recognize this guy without the hat! :p

    Great story, mini-retirement is a great idea, something my wife and I have been discussing and planning.

  7. When I retired slightly early I already had more than enough invested to never need to earn another dollar and be more than fine. But what I’ve found is work keeps finding me. I have five side gigs that result in an embarrassing amount of money for someone who doesn’t need any and I only sought out two of them. The other three found me along with 9 to 5 job offers that come in every couple of months that I have no interest in even though they generally pay way more than my old corporate job did. I don’t have a website and I don’t advertise but old industry contacts call me with consulting opportunities anyway. I know you’ll have more available and great paying opportunities than you’ll even want and you’ll have to learn to say no or you’ll be working harder than you need to!

  8. Even though we’ve met and talked in person, I always learn so much from these interviews! One thing that jumped out to me was how once your “big goals” were clear – the decision to take the mini-retirement made so much sense. I know you’ve said this has been life changing and I look forward to reading more about it. I can see a book coming from this too. I hope you’re taking good notes (in addition to your blog posts and videos!)

    • Absolutely – the change was quick – a lot quicker than I would have suspected!

      Jaime’s been working on writing a book about our road trips, since they’ve been a huge part of our journey as a couple and a family. I could definitely see a mini-retirement one in the mix as well!

  9. I love seeing your story being shared in new places Chris. What I find most inspiring is your (and Jaime’s) ability to push your fear aside and take the plunge. Try not to worry too much about connecting the dots, rather focus your energies on what you love to do, and things will come together.

    Psalm 119:105. : )

    • Thanks MMM! I’ve got Jaime to thank for the courage 🙂

      Thanks for the passage as well. I may add that one to my “in case of doubt” list!

  10. Having a mini-retirement is such a brilliant idea. Taking a break makes us realize what we really want and what’s really important. Saving enough money to have a mini-retirement will help us learn how to build business credit. Keep Thrifty is a really smart app idea to help build a community of smart savers.

  11. I love to read about other people making the leap and enjoying mini-retirements, especially families! I think taking periodic breaks is essential for creating meaningful and happy lives. Otherwise, it seems like it is too easy to fall into autopilot and allow lifestyle inflation to creep in (and keep us in our current lifestyle).

    As a graduate student I had set the goal of taking a 6 month to 1 year sabbatical from work every 7-10 years because I was afraid I would take the path of least resistance and fall victim to the allure of larger paychecks and cushy benefits. However, I have to admit that the health insurance aspect of leaving my job for a full year makes me nervous these days, especially because we rely on my employer for our benefits.

    So I changed tactics and decided to take a 4 month sabbatical from work that would allow me to keep all of my benefits (my employer is pretty great and allows us to accrue comp time as well as take extended leaves). I had reached a point where my role at work was changing and I have appreciated the time and space to honestly evaluate where I want to be going with my life and work. It’s hard to do that when we’re stuck in the 9-to-5 routine. So I’ve been enjoying using my time off to explore many of the things that I had been saving for “when I had time” in the future.

    Thanks for sharing your story!