When Andrew shared in the Slow FI Enthusiasts Facebook Group that he was able to work less than full-time hours in his beekeeping business, I was instantly intrigued.
People don’t usually start businesses like this unless there’s something else going on – either it’s something they are passionate about or it gives them unique lifestyle benefits.
So, I asked Andrew to do a Slow FI interview about his experience. And, his story turned out to be WAY more interesting than I expected!
A whole lot of things eventually led him to own his beekeeping business, including periods of “road-schooling” their kids while he traveled for work and eventually “world-schooling” during an 8-month sabbatical.
After the sabbatical, Andrew came home with a new resolution. He didn’t want to miss out on any more time with his kids before they graduated from high school.
I don’t want to give away the full story, so let’s get into the interview!
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
We are in our mid-40s, and next year, we will have a freshman and a senior in college.
My first career was in Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) management. I worked in factories to make sure they were meeting the requirements of the EPA, OHSA, FDA, etc. My wife, K, was briefly a civil engineer. We have lived in 7 different cities in 4 states, and at times nowhere in particular. We currently live in a very LCOL area, in a college town in Mississippi.
2. What deliberate decisions have you made to design your life along the way to FI?
Over the years, we’ve made four big decisions that made the most impact on our quality of life.
The first decision was to relocate and drop down to a single-income household when our first child was six months old. Our income went from around $100K combined down to around $50K. But, it broke us out of the two-parents-working-plus-toddler stress zone. In addition to helping us reduce our stress, it allowed me to focus on growing my career by being willing to move around the country, which we did every two years or so.
The second significant life change came nine years later when we decided to homeschool our kids (or more precisely “road-school” them). At the time, they were in 2nd and 5th grade. I took a job that would allow me to spend a month at a time in different cities. We’d load up the minivan and drive between Memphis, Chicago, and central New York. We flew when it was Los Angeles’ turn in the rotation. During this time, we’d use each stop as a home base to explore the surrounding areas.
The kids blossomed through history classes at Plymouth Rock and Independence Hall. Art study took us to the Chicago Art Institute, the Corning Museum of Glass, and countless other museums. When the kids learned astronomy, we went to the Griffith Observatory. Our biology outings consisted of mountain hikes and tide pool explorations. The four of us have visited all 48 contiguous states.
Our road schooling journey lasted about two years. It was a great time, even though I was still putting in around 50 hours each week at work.
After thirteen years of steady work, I honestly became a bit jealous of K and the kids. They got to be together all day, every day, without me.
So, I decided to take a sabbatical.
I’d need to quit my job to take the time off, so we originally considered spending the year in a low-cost-of-living area to homeschool our kids.
Then we had a thought…
“If we were going to spend a year off, why not make the most of it?”
Instead of taking a year off in the rural US, we downsized to a 10×10 storage unit, parked our cars at a friend’s house, and used the budget to become “world-schoolers.”
We visited 12 countries in Europe and Asia over the next 8 months. It was an unforgettable tour filled with amazing shared experiences. We did the harrowing scramble up the wild Great Wall in China. We spent Christmas week at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. We feasted on museums (and, of course, French pastries) during a four-week stay in Paris. We hiked the Himalayas. Lastly, we soaked in the amazing colors, food, and festivities over Easter in Prague.
After this life-changing trip, I had one goal. I didn’t want to miss out on the kids’ final years at home. They wanted the high school experience, and we needed a place to land.
So, we returned to the town where we met (which also happened to be where my in-laws had retired a decade earlier). My in-laws had taken up beekeeping as a hobby and were selling honey at farmer’s markets and a few local stores. Since I was resolved to work from home (even if it meant very low pay), we bought the business for a small amount and started raising bees.
Over the last 6 years, we’ve built up our apiary to the point that it pays most of our bills! After downsizing before our international trip and buying a smaller home when we returned, our expenses are now less than $50,000/year!
I also supplement this income with about 10 weeks each year of consulting in my old field each winter. This works out because this is when the bees are buttoned-down, and there’s less work to do. I make sure to keep balance, though, so I usually work two weeks on, and one week off so I can come home, spend time with everyone, and help K catch up on the business if needed.
As I promised myself, I got to be present with my family throughout their time in high school. We attended almost every extracurricular activity.
3. How have these decisions impacted your quality of life?
The transition from (more than) full-time work to sabbatical and self-employment (at my own pace) has been a huge stress relief.
When K quit her job, she was still working at home for sure, but now she got to do stuff on her schedule. We no longer needed to rush around between 5-10 PM every day trying to get things done.
Roadschooling gave K and the kids new scenery and learning opportunities. This broke up the monotony of being based in just one town. And, it gave me an exciting field trip to look forward to every weekend.
Our world-schooling sabbatical was everything we hoped it would be. We bonded on the road (or on 15-hour train rides). And, we solved problems together, everything from logistics to math and medical.
Now that we’ve transitioned to self-employment, I’ll tell you what a typical day looks like. We get out of bed and the kids get to school. Then, I work with the bees from 8-noon. Our bees are not at our home. They are in farmer’s fields throughout the surrounding counties. I try to peek into each hive every two weeks or so. Including drive time, I usually service about 30 hives before lunch each day. Over a two-week period, I can inspect up to 300 hives, which is about all we want to handle.
Meanwhile, K makes deliveries three mornings per week. The other two mornings she spends bottling and labeling the honey.
We meet at home for lunch and a nap. Then, we work around the house in the afternoons. We are flexible with whatever needs to happen to ensure we can make all of our kids’ activities. We love it. I joke that the bees don’t even have my contact info, so they can’t call or email me if they have a problem.
Now with our second kiddo headed to college, things will change a bit. I will probably increase my consulting by a few more weeks in the winter, and K will be able to come to where I am working more often without a kid at home (she usually visits for a week each place I go, including my last gig in Mexico). I expect we will flex our work schedules even more, and pile on some more off-season budget travel and visits to the kids in Nashville and Providence. I might even resurrect the travel blog.
4. In your opinion, what things in your life contribute most to your happiness and contentment?
Happiness, to me, is being free from distractions (caused by yourself or others) that cause stress. It’s definitely influenced by both internal and external factors. We work a combined 50 hours per week, so about 25 hours each. This provides us with plenty of time to spend time together as a family, knowing that a high-pressure boss won’t be calling to interrupt.
I don’t think that you need to spend a lot of money to be content. In fact, the time we spend together is usually very inexpensive. It doesn’t cost much to take a hike or bike ride, attend a high school soccer game, or watch a movie together. We also still travel a lot. Because we have so much flexibility, we can take extra days or weeks as we want, like to make stops along the drive from Mississippi to Rhode Island when our son moves in and out of his dorm.
5. How did the decision to transition fully to your own business impact your financial goals or timelines?
There is no doubt that this decision set us back. It took time to grow from a hobby into a full-time gig. And, to be honest, we never planned for the business to be very big. We are targeting subsistence wages – enough to cover all bills including needs and reasonable wants, but not enough to generate extra savings.
We are happy with this tradeoff. We have more free time now in exchange for a longer waiting period for our initial savings to grow, and we can work more later as well. Before the sabbatical, we were making a combined $110K. Now, we make $45-50K each year. That definitely slows things down financially.
6. What enabled you to reduce your income?
First of all, we know we are blessed, privileged, and just plain lucky to be able to live this way. We have an income tap that we can open or close with my consulting that others may never have. We also found a business niche and are able to fill it. We did work hard to get here, but the stars aligned for us in a lot of ways.
Without question, the biggest enabler to chasing our dreams was financial stability due to living below our means. When we went to one income, we reset our spending. As my income grew, we allowed lifestyle inflation to chew up the first new $10k or so. At that point, we found real contentment at around $60,000.
As my income increased beyond that, so did our savings rate. At the time I walked away from full-time W2 work, we were saving around 40% of my gross pay. That cushion, knowing we had F-You Money and had reached Coast FI, allowed us to deliberately cripple our income in the interest of available free time.
7. Were there things in your life you adapted so you could continue to work toward your goals?
It’s all about adaptation. Housing, cars, jobs, entertainment, travel, retirement plans – all had to be adjusted or modified along the way. One of my Dad-isms is “You have to have a goal. The goal can change as often as you want, but never stop working towards it.” Our goal was to have successful careers. Then, it shifted to K being able to stay home. Then, it was saving money for early retirement. Then, better work/life balance. It will probably shift toward early retirement again when the kids graduate from college.
8. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder your decisions to design your life?
It was instrumental. I found Mr. Money Mustache, Early Retirement Extreme, and Your Money or Your Life back in 2012. I recognized that we had found contentment in our spending and were headed for early retirement without really knowing it.
I learned about the math and the path, and our goal became to retire in our early 50s. I think knowing exactly where we stood contributed to my burnout. It’s funny. At the time, I knew I didn’t have to work so hard anymore and could cut back, so it was a lot harder to continue working full-time.
Now though, the same facts let me excel in short bursts because I know I can work super hard and walk away in a few months. So instead of continuing to push, I quit for the world trip in 2015. Then, I picked up the part-time work when we got back in 2016 while we started our little buzz, I mean, biz.
Without the pursuit of FI, I wouldn’t have had the confidence or the nest egg to take the leap. As it stands, we are coasting while our nest egg grows. The coast period was originally going to be around 15 years. We spent $45,000 on our trip. What was the impact of that decision? It moved our target date back 2 years. I am sure it was 1000% worth it.
9. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
Life is full of phases. Some when you’re physically fit; some when you aren’t. Some when your kids are at home; some after they’ve moved out. Some when you need to make extra money; some when you don’t. Some are full of drama; some have pretty low stress.
If you’re in a phase where you think you’re missing out on something important to you, reevaluate your goals. It might be time for a change.
10. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
Minimizing expenses can solve a myriad of problems. Downsizing until you find what you really need to be happy is a great exercise. Don’t suffer to save, but most people probably don’t need as many costly things as they think they do.
Besides that, my answer to the previous question is probably my best advice. Embrace whatever phase of life you are currently in and make the most of it.
Thank you so much, Andrew, for sharing your story with us!
There are so many things I want to dig into from the interview. The first is how much taking a sabbatical changed Andrew’s perspective. While things did seem to gradually change over time for Andrew and his family, it seemed like the 8-month “world-schooling” sabbatical provided him with a whole new perspective. He came home with the conviction that he didn’t want to miss out on a single moment in his kids’ lives before they went to college.
Sometimes, it can be hard to get in touch with what’s most important to us (and see what other possibilities exist) when we are bogged down by work. This is why taking a sabbatical or a career break can be so revolutionary. My entire life changed when I took a 6-month career break in 2016.
Andrew’s certainly isn’t the first Slow FI interview sharing this sentiment. If you want to read other Slow FI interviews about sabbaticals or career breaks, you can check out these interviews:
- Discovering Your Ideal Life Through Full-Time Travel With Wanderlust Wendy
- Coast to FI through Semi-Retirement with Michelle (Frugality and Freedom)
- Why Take a Mini-Retirement with Marjolein (Radical FIRE)
- Take a Sabbatical to Test your Future Plans with Mel (Modest Millionaires)
- Taking a Break from Work can Provide You with a Whole New Perspective with Diania (EconoMe Conference)
- Taking an Adult Gap Year with Josh Overmyer
- Taking a Summer Off from Work with Kamran Ayub
I also love that Andrew and his wife built a business doing something they enjoyed that also provides them with tremendous flexibility. A big part of why they were able to do this was because they had F-You Money (emergency savings) and had reached Coast FI (the point at which you no longer need to save for traditional retirement). In order to retire comfortably at a traditional age, all they needed to do was cover their actual costs of living.
The beekeeping business now covers the majority of their expenses, and Andrew can take on contract work for a few weeks each year to fill in the gaps.
Lastly, I love Andrew’s perspective on goals and adaptability. I love his “dad-ism” that you always want to have a goal that you are working toward, but you can change that goal as often as you want. What you want might change. The season of life you are in might change. With it, your goals might change. Building financial freedom allows us to embrace these changes.
If you’d like to continue following Andrew’s journey, you can find him in the following places:
- The blog that documented their world-schooling adventures: www.4laffs.com
- Honey Business: Mardis Honey Farm
- In the Slow FI Enthusiasts Facebook group!