3 things you should do before you take a mini-retirement

Are you considering taking an extended break from work? One that will last three months or more?

It could be to travel, to figure out your life’s purpose, to de-stress—or perhaps you want to start your own business.

I call that kind of extended break a mini-retirement. If you’ve been working for a while, I encourage you to take one. In fact, I encourage most people to take mini-retirements throughout their careers!

If you are considering a mini-retirement, what can you do to prepare for it?

Frankly, there’s a lot you can do. But there are three things I recommend you start with.

And the best part? Even if you decide not to take a mini-retirement, you’ll end up better off after you do these things.

1. Get clear on why you’d want to take a mini-retirement. The more precisely you can identify why you’d want to take a mini-retirement, the better prepared you’ll be. Getting super clear on the reason might also teach you about something you could add to your life today.

For example, if you want to take a mini-retirement to travel the world, that’s a clue that having new experiences and meeting new people is important to you.

In that case, could you make regular travel a part of your lifestyle? You could become a remote worker and travel indefinitely. That lifestyle won’t suit everybody, but the point is: if you want to take a mini-retirement to do something, that something must be important to you. And if it’s important to you, why not try to make it a regular or even a permanent part of your life?

When you get that clarity on the purpose of your mini-retirement, you might get clarity on what you want out of your life today, too.

2. Build up savings. A key part of a mini-retirement is that you should assume you will not make any money from it. It’s not out of the question that you’ll make money, especially if you’re taking a mini-retirement to try working for yourself. But you should assume that you won’t.

That means you’ll need savings for your mini-retirement. How much you’ll need depends on what you plan to do. A good starting point is to set aside savings of at least the number of months you plan to take off multiplied by your average monthly expenses as they are today.

If you’re considering taking six months off, for example, set aside savings of at least six times your monthly expenses.

Now, if you don’t know what your monthly expenses are today, put your mini-retirement plans on hold for a bit while you learn to budget. Try You Need a Budget or set up a simple spreadsheet. Just get an idea of how much you spend each month and whether you’d like to change that. And when you’ve done that, come back to preparing for a mini-retirement.

Your expenses would be different during a mini-retirement, so your current budget would only provide a rough estimate of how much you’d need to save up. But a rough estimate is much better than nothing.

For example, during a mini-retirement, you wouldn’t commute to and from work, so you’d save money on transportation. If you plan to travel, though, your transportation expenses would go up substantially. Whatever the case, estimate conservatively.

A word of caution, too: don’t use your emergency fund for a mini-retirement. If you don’t already have an emergency fund, create one first and only then start saving for a mini-retirement.

When you have a budget, an emergency fund, and savings for your mini-retirement, you should have a good chunk of cash in the bank.

If you end up not taking the mini-retirement, you could invest these savings to build wealth and head towards financial independence. Or you could use it to buy a yacht. It’s up to you. But I recommend the former.

Either way, you won’t regret having saved the money.

3. Practice managing your own time. The most difficult thing about taking a mini-retirement, in my experience, is managing your time.

If you work for someone else, your work hours are probably determined for you. Those 40 hours a week plus the time you spend getting to and from work are a huge chunk of your weekly schedule. You might have to plan your work during those hours, but not your personal life.

When you work full time, 8–9 hours of each weekday go into work and commuting. And for another eight hours or so (hopefully) you’ll be sleeping. That leaves 7–8 hours for you to figure out what to do with.

But when you take a mini-retirement, you will lose much of the structure. Suddenly you’ll have 16 hours a day to fill in.

You might still have some obligations (for example, taking your children to school), but you’ll have fewer of them—and handling that is harder than you think.

It took me the better part of a year to learn to schedule my days in a way that I like and that’s productive. I did learn a ton about myself in the process, which is actually one reason why I encourage anyone who works full time to take a mini-retirement sooner or later.

But if you don’t have a year, or you want to put your mini-retirement to good use faster, I encourage you to practice managing your time in advance.

How can you do this? I suggest working from home one or two days a week, if your job allows it. In some jobs that’s literally impossible, such as if you operate machinery in a factory. In others, it’s merely impractical, for example if you’re a corporate trainer and you prefer to work on-site.

But if you are a desk worker, working from home one or two days a week is simply a matter of convincing your employer. For an introduction on working remotely, check out Jason Lengstorf’s remote worker checklist, which lists the skills that you’ll need to do it well.

When you work from home, you’ll have to get stuff done, but you will face different decisions than when you’re at the office. For instance, should you do a grocery run in the middle of the day? It could be convenient and a nice break from work, but you can also spend so much time on chores and errands that you don’t end up getting any work done.

Or what if a friend or family member, who knows you’re at home, asks to visit? Will you have the discipline to say no, or to accept but to reschedule your work for a different time?

Working from home, you can practice the skill of managing your own time, in alignment with your own goals. And that will contribute to making your eventual mini-retirement a success.

What if your job really doesn’t allow you to work from home? Then I suggest simply working four days a week as opposed to five. The downside is that you’ll save a bit less towards your mini-retirement, although the difference may not be as big as you think.

But you’ll get practice managing your own time on your day off. In fact, you’ll probably get more practice compared to working from home, since your day will be less structured when you don’t work at all.

Now that I think about it: why not both? Work from home and work less.

As a bonus, working from home and working less will help you get a taste of whether you’ll actually enjoy doing the thing you plan to do during your mini-retirement.

Start planning!

In short, mini-retirements are fantastic, but to get the most out of them, it helps to prepare. Getting clear on why you’d want to take a mini-retirement, building the savings to pay for one, and practicing managing your own time are the most important things you can do to prepare.

I’d say building the savings is essential (unless you already have enough savings), while defining the why and practicing managing your own time are “only” incredibly valuable to do in advance.

Finally, I’d love to hear whether you are considering a mini-retirement. If so, have you started preparing for one? If not, why not?

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Posted by Peter

Here, Peter writes about whatever has caught his interest recently. Maybe he'll narrow down this blog's scope someday.

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