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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 🙂