Mini-Retirement Mastered: Mike and Margee!

I’m so excited to introduce you all to Mike and Margee! Mike had been a reader of this blog for a while and we finally met up in Montana last summer! Here’s how they stepped away from their jobs and are using the equity from their home sale to help fund the next two years of world travel!

Mike had emailed a few times before I received this email last summer:

Mike: “I love reading your blog!  I have shared an abbreviated version of our situation with you a few weeks back (months maybe) and I’m excited to share an update.  We have embarked on our career break/sabbatical!…. I’m wondering about the possibility of swinging back down through your neck of Montana?”

To which I replied: “Ahhh! This is amazing!!! I want to write a long reply and ask 100 questions, but I’m heading out of the house. So for now: YES! Please come visit.”

And they did! They actually stayed at our place and we had such an awesome time getting to know them and hearing their story! I’m excited for you all to get to meet them too!

What was life like before your mini-retirement?

I can’t lie, life was pretty good.  Our family of five has been very fortunate with great jobs, a comfortable lifestyle with a great house, and even a 2nd home/investment condo in a ski town.  The only complaint was a nagging sense that life had become too routine and there was never enough time to cobble together more than one short trip to an exotic location every year or two.  

We had worked our way into good positions in our respective careers but knew that success at work wasn’t what motivated either of us.  We had a long-suppressed desire to explore the world, experience other cultures, and learn to speak a second language.  We both felt that we could never be truly happy until we chased that dream.  

We had acted responsibly and followed the traditional path for 20 years and been rewarded well for our choices, but we weren’t feeling fulfilled.

What inspired you to do this NOW instead of wait until you could fully retire?

The burning desire to chuck the responsible course of action and just pursue a dream became ever more persistent as the dreaded mid-life existential crises took hold of me.  

Sure, being responsible had led to a comfortable, predictable life, but my bones were screaming out for the adventure that I had never truly embraced.  As I hit my forties, I really started to recognize my mortality and the reality that I may not always have the options that I do today.  

Life and health are certainly not guaranteed and if you really want to do something you shouldn’t put it off too long. My wife and I also wanted to give a unique travel experience to our children and we already missed the chance with our older two kids.  We knew our window of opportunity was finite with our soon-to-be 10-year-old and that factored heavily into our decision.  

We strongly considered taking advantage of our well-paying jobs to save more and just retire early in a few more years, but in the end, we just realized that life is too short to make every decision based solely on the best financial moves.  We have enough saved up to travel for a while, realize our dreams, and then settle back down again and return to work for a few more years.

How long did you plan and prepare for this before taking the leap?

We’ve always done a good job of saving for our eventual retirements because, in my mind, I had always envisioned that saving consistently would provide more options in the future.

About four or five years ago, the explosion of early retirement blogs coincided with missing out on a job promotion. A more concrete plan started to take hold.  We started saving more and more aggressively and sharpened the focus on our goals.  

Within the last two years we wavered between a gap experience and waiting for the financial security of early retirement.  Our saving level had increased to well over 50% of our gross income and our monthly expenses were trimmed to the bare necessities.  

With this savings rate and low cost of living, we could have held out for three or four more years and been able to retire completely, but we were too invested in the idea of a year or two of travel to wait it out.  

The timing of our mini-retirement was actually still in doubt up until the last minute as it hinged on the successful sale of our house.  Expecting a down market and difficulty with the house sale we were prepared to hold off for another year, but were surprised with a full price offer in under two weeks and our course of action was set.  

Did you have any financial benchmarks you wanted to hit before your time away? (Certain amount of cash, frequent flyer miles, house paid off, % of expenses covered by passive income, safe withdrawal rate, consumer debt paid off?)

We are probably in the minority here, but we didn’t have an absolute must reach goal to make this happen. We spent a lot of time with spreadsheets to map out what we thought we could do.  Two years?  Three?  How much would we have to make when we work again?  How many years would it take to really never need to work again? Too many!  

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

For us, the planning process was definitely an evolutionary process.  

There were some struggles between us in regards to the ever-shifting plan and more than a few “why are we saving and sacrificing so much if this is never going to come to fruition?” moments.  I would strongly encourage coming up with a specific plan as early as possible rather than waver back and forth among several options as we did.  

Once we wrote down our plan, put dates on it, and started truly envisioning what we were going to do, we were both able to be on the same page at the same time.  This reduced a lot of the friction and uncertainty.  I can’t say doubts were erased completely though; we still had moments where one or both of us wondered if we would really take the leap when the appointed time arrived.  

However, it helped to interject some certainty and a clear picture of the reward to be gained in exchange for reversing our lifestyle inflation.  We dribbled out details of our plan slowly with friends and family in the last two years and I think that helped hold us accountable to each other.  When one person seemed to be experiencing a moment of doubt, these public declarations insured a greater level of mutual commitment.  I think many friends and family thought we were just dreaming and not really planning to follow through. However, as time progressed and we continued to share more details with family and close friends, they started to take us more seriously. We have always been the responsible ones in our respective families, but also the most adventurous.  

So many people are drawn to step away from the treadmill for at least a little while but fear is a strong motivator.  We heard many people tell us how lucky we are and that they could never do something so dramatic. But to that I say “baloney.”  If you prioritize something you can make it happen.  Yes, we have the usual fears such as how long our savings will last, and what types of jobs we will be able to get when the time comes. But life is meant to be lived; complacency is no way to pass your finite time.

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?

We quit our jobs in June of this year and plan to travel for at least 2 and possibly 3 years.

We started with a camping trip to Banff to take advantage of the celebration for the country’s 150th-year celebration and free entry to national parks then we were off to Guatemala in September and November.

As I type this we are about four months removed from our old life and have just completed two months of Spanish language training in Guatemala – a long-held dream to achieve fluency in Spanish. Unfortunately, two months doesn’t quite do it!

We added a trip to Nicaragua to visit some friends who have retired there and then we are going to Mexico during December so that our college-aged kids can easily join us for some family time at the beach.

Then in the spring, we are going to Europe because our daughter will be studying in Madrid for a semester.  After that, we aren’t sure yet, but that may be the start of our South America journey.

Before all is done, we would like to also visit a friend in Australia and maybe visit New Zealand.  We definitely want to include some time in SE Asia while we are on that side of the world too.  It’s not a RTW trip per se; it’s more opportunistic and spur of the moment decision making.  We do like settling down for a month or more at a time in one place to keep costs down and get a better feel for a place than a quick run through.

I think the biggest lesson that I have learned is that no matter how enlightened we think we are it is far too easy to get comfortable with our perspective and fail at pushing against the boundaries of our own minds.   

To be honest, we came here because the cost to take Spanish classes is much less than other places and we felt we could build a good base in Spanish for our travels while also being careful with our savings.  But we have to acknowledge that low cost to us translates into low wages for the teachers and maintains status quo in a community where poverty is the way of life for a substantial portion of its inhabitants. Now we will be leaving soon having gained so much more appreciation for this country and the plight of its people than just as a place on a map.  

What was the most terrifying part of the whole process?

After we accepted the offer on our house and the ambiguity of when our mini-retirement would begin was suddenly erased, there was a period of panic that took hold of me.  

For over a week, I awoke every morning in a panic with the phrase “what have we done?” playing over and over in my head.  Apparently, all of my worries are amplified at first light.  I wish I could say that we were confident in every phase of this journey, but that would be disingenuous.  

One of our primary concerns is that we did not reach what we would consider financial independence before we quit our jobs and this means we will have to look for jobs again one day.  We just left excellent jobs and it may be difficult to find equivalent replacements.  How will potential employers view our time away from work?  Will it be more difficult than someone at an earlier point in their career?

Our 10-year-old son has some reservations about traveling, and we worried quite a bit that he would be miserable and generate a lot of negative energy along the way.  He resisted the idea of learning a new language and is the pickiest eater that I know, both of which could be major hurdles to having a positive experience.  There were and are plenty of things to worry about, but so far, we have had an amazing experience and the reward has been worth the risks.  The doubts will remain, but we choose not to let them taint our experience.  We are confident that everything will end up okay even if the end result might be different than we envisioned or hoped for.

How did you lay the foundation to find new employment? Do you think you’ll go back to the same kind of work or try something new?

Our plan for re-entering the work force is for me to try and find something similar and for my wife to de-stress her life a little by returning to teaching after eight years as a school principal.  

We both left our former employers on good terms and were told we would be welcomed back.  However, as a stream ecologist, my field has relatively few positions in comparison to other more common types of work so I will have to be open to relocate where an open position exists.  

We will reevaluate whether it may make more sense to relocate closer to family or to a place that has a more appealing climate than our most recent home.  

In short, we have no concrete plans and are hoping our years of experience will help us land desirable positions in a desirable location.  We did not develop any passive income streams and neither of us is particularly entrepreneurial so we expect to fall back into regular full-time work when that time comes.  

We do rent out our second home, which is great and provides enough income to cover all of the bills and pay the mortgage, but I don’t consider it to be a passive income stream.  It is also possible that we might settle down in our second home after traveling or possibly even sell it to fund the purchase of a new home.  

What did you use for healthcare options?

We did take advantage of federal subsidies and signed up on the healthcare marketplace to make sure we had coverage during the time before we traveled internationally and to cover our college-aged kids.  This is a moving target and a source of anxiety for us.

What was your total budget for your mini-retirement?

We used $100 per day as a rough guideline for our family of three with the potential to use geographic arbitrage, spending more time in less expensive places, as needed.  This budget is also expected to fund visits from our kids a few times during our travels.    

If you read Michael’s and Ellen’s Mini-Retirement Mastered story, you’ll notice some similarities (travel, learning Spanish). But I love the differences! Michael and Ellen keep a 10 hour a week remote work job and their home as a home base + airBnB income. Where Mike and Margee sold their home, totally left their jobs and are using home equity. I have a few more stories in the works! There are so many ways to do this and so many outcomes. From taking the time to grow an online business, physical businesses, or even flip houses (we used 2 mini-retirements for rental home renovations and grew our net worth and passive income in the process!). 

For Conversation:

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14 thoughts on “Mini-Retirement Mastered: Mike and Margee!

    • I totally agree! It’s easier in the short run to just stay put and not worry about all the details it takes to pull something like this off. But it’s a bitter pill to swallow come the end of our life knowing how much we didn’t do because we didn’t want to deal with the hassle/risk/fear.

  1. What a great article! This was super relatable… especially the part about insurance being a moving target/source of anxiety.
    We don’t have any rentals, etc. for sources of passive income. I do see the practicality of “what do we do next?” when income/ jobs need to happen again. But the answer is the same as if you were fired, laid off, etc. – get another job! It may not be a dream job or pay as much as the last job, but like Mike and Margee – we’d be open to living closer to family or relocating.
    We are only on this earth for but a moment, and we need to think about what’s important, and what do we value (time with family, etc. )

    • They are in a good spot as well in that they don’t need to earn a TON of money. I think that is such an important factor. They lived really simply before this epic adventure and in a lot of ways, very simply while on it. You come to point where you realize the lifestyle matters a lot, and the income matters as much as it relates to your lifestyle.

    • I’m really excited to share your story as well! I think the more stories people hear, the more they will find the similarities that could work for them! And imagine what stepping away from the 9-5 would look like for them. =)

  2. So glad you invited us to visit on our way back down to Texas during the Canadian leg of our summer travels. It was fantastic hanging out with you and Adam and the kids! Your blog was a great source of inspiration leading up to our decision to make the leap and we are so glad we did. No regrets 5 months in. We’ve met so many wonderful people on the road, including several other traveling families already. I look forward to reading your other mini-retirement stories as well..

  3. Such an amazing adventure! Congrats to you Mike and Margee for taking time off to travel with your son. You will create so many wonderful memories for years to come. Enjoy.
    You’ve inspired me to “re”start my plans to travel with my kiddos before they get too much older. 🙂