Retiring isn't always all it's cracked up to be. It's still pretty awesome though. Pros & Cons of the mini-retirement experiment.
Some time in 2015, I decided I would try retiring, and that 2016 will be the year of my mini-retirement.
Back in the day (and still more or less true to this day), retirement was what you got at the end of a very long career, typically when you are in your 50s or 60s. That’s when you finally have the time (and if you’ve done it right, the money as well) to do all the things you’ve been wanting to do, go to places you’ve always wanted to go, or devote time to areas in your life you’ve thus far neglected because of your career.
Nowadays, however, people no longer wait around for old age to experience what retirement is like. Gap years, sabbaticals and career breaks are becoming more common and acceptable. Author Tim Ferris even coined a term for it - “mini retirement” - and argues that instead of postponing retirement to the near end of your life (loosely speaking, as nobody really knows when one’s life will end), you should break it into smaller chunks and distribute it throughout the duration of your time on this planet.
So instead of waiting until you’re 55 for the big payout (assuming you actually manage to reach that ripe age, with all your limbs and organs intact and functioning decently), you should start on your bucket list now, while you still have youth, energy and the stupidity to bravely try new things on your side.
That made a lot of sense to me. So I decided to give it a try.
Making It Happen
I didn’t wake up one day and ‘retired’ just like that. A lot of planning and execution took place to position all the right things in the right places, and some took years to complete.
The most obvious issue when trying to retire is your finances. Retiring means not working, and not working means no income, so you either need to have substantial savings, or a source of alternative passive income, or both. You also need to be able to reasonably predict the amount of money you require to survive for a period of time, say a year, and then discipline yourself to stick with that budget for that duration.
In my case, I decided on the kind of lifestyle I wanted, and calculated how much money I would need to live it. Then I set up various systems to automatically save money, grow the money, manage the money...etc, and let the systems run in the background while I continued working and earning income for years, until I got to the point where I no longer needed to.
Altogether, it took me a little under a decade to get to the point where I could look at my excel sheets, and say: “Hey, I think I’m ready!” (and yes, if you're doing the math, I did plan this since I was in my late teens). I was finally able to ‘retire’ because of the following:
My lifestyle is fairly simple, inexpensive, and low-maintenance (if you ignore all the traveling I do, but I have a separate, dedicated piggy bank for that)
I have no debts that force me to keep working just to pay them off
I have no dependents who rely on me for food, shelter or diapers
I have been saving more than a third of my income ever since I started working back in college, and have a decent amount saved up
What I saved, I then invested, and I now earn dividends from them
Because I am a geek, I have been tracking my daily spending for almost a decade, and am able to tell you how much I paid for a haircut in 2010 and list down all the things I bought in February 2012, no joke. Because of this habit, I can predict with accuracy the amount of money I will need to be able to take off an entire year from work
Of course, this could all change in a blink of an eye - a sudden change in my lifestyle that increases my living costs, unexpected ballooning of inflation rates, a sudden market crash and a drop in my investment portfolio will all send me back into the working world, but for the time being, the numbers work out just fine.
In case this experiment flops and all else fails, I also prepared an Emergency Escape Plan: job offers lined up, as well as a list of people who will take my broke ass into their homes and feed me if necessary.
The Retirement Experience
Though I say 2016 was my mini-retirement year, in truth, it actually started in mid-2015, when I stopped working to travel the world and hit all 7 continents. But I only came home and settled into a ‘normal’ lifestyle in the beginning of 2016, so for all intents and purposes, my mini-retirement clock started then.
And it has been amazing. But also scary.
Like anything else in life, there are the pros and the cons. Here are some that I experienced in the past year or so:
Pro: Time! Freedom! I’mma take back my life!
As you can probably imagine, it’s really nice not having to go to work. I could wake up when I wanted, go anywhere I wanted anytime I wanted at a moment’s notice, and say ‘yes’ to a lot of things I otherwise wouldn’t have time for. A sudden impromptu trip to a waterfall in the middle of a Wednesday? Sure! Join some friends in Thailand for two weeks so we could stay in bed and watch Korean dramas together? On my way!
I no longer had to endure heavy traffic every day or big crowds on weekends, and my schedule was not crammed with endless meetings that I never liked attending anyway. I wasn’t obligated to spend 8 hours or more sitting at my desk, I had full control and discretion over how I spend my time, and there was no one telling me to be places I didn’t want to be at or to do things I didn’t want to be doing.
Con: But also too much time?
I did not anticipate this at all, but removing work from my life left a gaping emptiness that I actually struggled with. Being a workaholic, suddenly not having work can be a shock to the system, even though it is voluntary. I did have personal projects, tasks and trips planned to occupy me during my retired days, but I didn't quite realise just how much time would be freed up!
All the hours I spent preparing to go to work, commuting to and from work, and to and from one meeting to another meeting… all the time I spent on presentations and excel sheets on the computer… I no longer needed to do them, and I suddenly had all these hours in a day that I didn’t know what to do with!
Removing myself from the workplace also meant removing myself from structure. Before, my daily schedule was set by other people wanting to meet with me or who were setting deadlines for me. Entire weeks and months of my time were scheduled in advance, and all I had to do was follow it and make sure I showed up at the right place and delivered results at the right time.
Now, however, I had a completely blank slate, with no one directing me on how to use it. Like a baby newly weaned from its mother, the sudden independence took some adjusting.
Pro: Every day is a fun day!
Freed from the constraints of a work schedule and the need for a paycheque, it was time to cram my days with lots and lots of fun stuff that I used to only daydream about! Not being a fan of monotony and routine, I made sure that every day was different from the ones before - new places, new people, new things, new activities.
I did whatever tickled my fancy, and explored whatever caught my interest - architecture, family his