When I first started the Slow FI interview series back in April, I asked readers what kinds of slow FI stories they were most interested in learning about.
One thing that came up, again and again, was mini-retirements.
A mini-retirement is when someone takes time off from work, somewhere between a few months to a few years, to pursue something they are passionate about.
In the United States, taking a gap year or a mini-retirement is a very radical idea. It’s just not something people traditionally do.
When I previously heard stories about people taking time off of work to travel the world, I thought that it wasn’t really a possibility for normal people. I had a job after all, and I don’t get more than 3-4 weeks of vacation time each year.
I had a misconception that only people in certain types of professions could do this. While I still believe that is somewhat true, the options are broader than I previously thought.
Several months ago, I read a post by M from Radical FIRE about how she had negotiated to take a 4-month mini-retirement with her employer. Yes, she is taking unpaid leave, but her employer will allow her to return to her job after the trip! She doesn’t have to worry about finding a new job when she returns.
I found this story to be very interesting and thought it could benefit our readers!
It’s been fun to learn more about M in the process of doing this interview. I’ve been reading her blog for a while now, but I had no idea that she is only 25 years old! I didn’t learn about FI until my early 30s.
M’s story is really inspiring. She is not only pursuing financial independence at a young age, but she is also focused on living her best life along the journey.
Let’s just say that M is not your typical 25-year-old!
Let’s jump into the interview.
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
Hi friends! I’m M from the blog Radical FIRE. I’m a Dutchie (from the Netherlands) who is a financial consultant by day and Financial Independence and Retire Early (FIRE) enthusiast by night.
With my blog, I want to empower people to believe that financial independence and/or retire early is possible for them. In this period of my life, I am focused on my career.
I save more than half my income and am an avid traveler. Personally, I would love to hit financial independence before I’m 35 years old. I have 10 years to work towards my goal!
2. What deliberate decision did you make to slow down and improve your life? Why did you make this decision?
I have decided to slow down my path to financial independence by taking several mini-retirements.
I am the kind of person who wants to do it all. I want to excel at everything and have fun while doing it. If I don’t consciously slow myself down, I won’t stop. While I’m in the midst of the busyness, I don’t notice that I’m doing too much.
When I finally notice it, it’s too late.
During my time as a student, I was involved in a lot – too much actually. I was studying full-time and working 20 hours per week to finance my studies. In my “free” time, I was involved in the local Red Cross, helped out at my student association, and saw multiple friends daily.
I didn’t notice that I was doing too much until I was stopped in my tracks. I didn’t leave my room for 2 weeks straight to binge-watch Netflix. I couldn’t do anything else. My body was too tired. This level of fatigue wasn’t fun, and I want to prevent it from happening again.
When I finally finished my master’s degree, I decided to take some time off. I didn’t want to start working right away since I was still feeling the stress of my master’s thesis. I took a mini-retirement to travel around South America. In 4 months, I visited Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
My favorite experience during my trip came when I visited Peru. I hitchhiked to the border of Ecuador, and a great Colombian woman took me from Ecuador to the Peruvian Jungle. We ended up traveling together for an entire month in Peru (fun fact: I just came back from visiting her in Colombia again).
It’s amazing how much you can learn about yourself when you step away from the busyness of life.
During my first mini-retirement, I learned to be comfortable with who I am and start making decisions based on what I want.
When you travel alone, you don’t need to take anyone else into consideration. You actually need to decide what you want, otherwise, you won’t get anywhere. This forced me to make decisions continuously. It was something new to get used to.
When I got comfortable with making my own decisions, I realized that I was previously driven by a lack of confidence. Because I had previously tried to please everyone, I didn’t really know what I wanted.
After returning home, I decided to take another four months off before going back to work. I felt free, happy, and like I had enough time to do what I wanted!
After 8 months off, it was time to go back to work.
When I went back to work, I went all-in again. I started working long hours, completing big projects, and taking over a lot of work from my manager.
In some ways, this was great, because I was promoted and received a 20% pay raise after only 9 months on the job.
More responsibilities also come with more deadlines and higher expectations. This level of responsibility again gave me a burning desire to leave it all behind and travel.
I decided to hit the brakes again before the brakes were hit for me. This time, I’m taking a four-month mini-retirement with my partner. We will have four months of relaxing, traveling, and fun.
At this moment, we’re three weeks into our trip. We spent our first 10 days in Curaçao with my in-laws, to celebrate their 40-year wedding anniversary. After that, we visited my Colombian friend (who I met in the middle of nowhere jungle in Peru) in Bogota, Colombia for about a week.
Now we’re in Panama. From here, we’ll go up to Mexico by bus. We expect to go from Panama through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and, finally, Mexico. Before flying home, we’ll make our last stop in Orlando, Florida. I am a huge Disney fan and Harry Potter nerd, so I can’t wait!
3. How has this decision to take mini-retirements impacted your quality of life?
Having a few months to fully do what I want and destress is invaluable to me!
When I started working, I thought I had to work until the end of time. In the Netherlands, we don’t get social security until the age of 71 (yes, really!).
That was so depressing to me.
Everything changed when I discovered Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE). When I found out that I could retire in about 11 years if I had a good career and saved the majority of my income, I was beyond happy. Instead of working for 47 more years, I only had to work 11. This was incredible.
Even after this realization, I still felt like 11 years was too long to put what I really wanted to do on hold. I don’t hate my job, but there are so many things that I want to do with my life!
I was also falling back into my old habits. I was pushing myself to succeed once again. Once I achieved the promotion and felt the resultant stress that came along with it, I began to long for another break. Two-week holidays were not cutting it for me.
When I had the idea to take another mini-retirement, I was able to negotiate it with my employer. Once this was done, I instantly relaxed.
Because I knew I’d be leaving for a few months and have the opportunity to relax and do what I want during that time, it gave me a lot of peace of mind. It was something exciting to work towards.
4. How did mini-retirements impact your financial goals or timelines?
Your timeline to reach full financial independence is determined by your savings rate. This year, my goal was to reach a 60% savings rate. This savings rate would set me up to achieve full financial independence by the age of 35.
After deciding on the mini-retirement, I realized it was okay to not hit the 60% savings rate, but I still wanted to keep it as high as possible.
I was fortunate to have received a 20% salary increase. Most of that increase went directly into savings. I have been able to decrease my expenses as well.
My current year-to-date savings rate is 79%, so I have a buffer. Given that I will have much less income for the next 4 months and my expenses will be variable, I expect this year’s savings rate to be between 45-65%.
One thing I’ve learned is that taking time to do what I really want to do won’t derail my long term goals. Taking the time empowers me to continue to follow my dreams and it motivates me to reach my goals.
5. What enabled you to take mini-retirements (i.e. what financial or social context helped)?
The main thing that drove my ability to make this decision is saving a large portion of my income. Because I discovered financial independence early in my career, I have enough saved after 1.5 years of working to take time off to travel for a few months.
While this isn’t the amount I would call f-you money, it’s enough for me right now.
Financial context aside, timing also played a part in this decision. My partner just graduated from college. Because he saw me have the time of my life in South America, he also wanted to travel after graduation.
Initially, he asked me to join him for a month. Later, when I learned that he would rather travel with someone (rather than solo), I proposed joining him for the full trip.
I am very fortunate that my employer is allowing me to return to work after my 4-month mini-retirement. Had they not allowed me to, I would have quit and gone anyways.
I had already booked my tickets. Luckily, I was able to convince my manager that allowing me to return would only benefit the company.
Finally, this decision was made easier because I don’t own a house. In my current situation, I can let my landlord know I’m leaving with one month’s notice. That’s it. No questions asked.
I’m happy to be in the luxurious position to make these kinds of decisions!
6. Were there things in your life you adapted to make it work better so you could continue to work toward your goals?
I’ve always been one who loves numbers (surprise). One of the reasons why I’ve started my blog is to keep me accountable for my journey to financial independence.
When I tallied all of my expenses for January 2019, I realized that I had just saved over 60% of my income. I hadn’t even thought that would be possible.
When I knew I could save 60% of my income, I decided to make that my goal for the year. I became much more mindful of my spending. I’ve been trying to spend money only on things I love and that truly bring me joy.
It was important for me to have enough money for my mini-retirement and have it not derail my long term goals.
Because I was extra motivated, I was able to save almost 80% of my income while I was working this year. This meant that I was able to save over $1,500 per month.
Because I knew I’d only spend about $1,000 per month (or $4,000 total) during the mini-retirement, I was able to save that amount quickly.
During my mini-retirement, I will have a negative savings rate. This is because I will be spending money, but I won’t be earning more money. Overall, I should still have a good savings rate for the full year that is close to my original goal.
Something else that is helpful is that I automate my savings. Because the money transfers automatically, it keeps me from spending money on things I don’t value. I also transferred the $4,000 for my mini-retirement into a separate account.
Beyond the numbers, I learned to let go of my deprivation mindset around money. I used to think that money was a scarce and finite resource. It seemed like a one-way street. Once I spent it, I might never get it back again. I now know that this is not the case.
Changing my money mindset has helped me to continue to work towards my goals. I say affirmations to attract wealth and abundance daily, in order to make sure at least some part of my day is focused on me believing in myself.
If I hadn’t worked on changing my money mindset, I would likely have given up on my goals already. Changing my beliefs about money has allowed me to be less stressed about spending money on a mini-retirement.
7. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
I believe that everyone could consider downshifting. So many people work in high-stress environments, and it takes a toll on our lives.
I’d encourage you to ask yourself: What do I actually want? What is possible for me?
There are many forms of downshifting. Taking a mini-retirement is just one of them. You don’t necessarily need to go radical and take a four-month mini-retirement in order to downshift. You could take a month to do something you love. Even a few weeks could be sufficient if you spend it recharging your battery.
If you aren’t interested in travel, you could find another job with more days off. You could work fewer hours per week or find a job that is less stressful. The options are endless!
We should all try to continuously improve our lives.
The first thing to do is to ensure you can cover your basics financially without going into debt. After you’ve covered the basics and are able to save some money each month, you can shift your focus to things that will make your life happier and better.
8. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder this decision to take mini-retirements?
My pursuit of financial independence helped me to make this decision. Because of my pursuit of FI, I built up an emergency fund with 8 months of living expenses. Since I’m sure I wouldn’t be unemployed for 8 months straight, this financial buffer empowered me to make this decision.
One thing that I’ve learned because of my pursuit of FI is that I only want to spend money on things that matter. Many things are purely functional to me, like houses or cars. For these types of things, I can focus on spending the least amount of money on something that works. I love to explore the world and go on adventures, so my money is well-spent on travel.
While having money is important, I will not trade my happiness for more money. I’ve learned that we each need to find the right balance between income and happiness for ourselves.
9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
My dad passed away when I was six years old at the age of 39. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that life is short.
You never know what it will bring. This reminds me daily to make the most out of my life.
Appreciate the things you have now. At the same time, try to make the most of what is yet to come.
You are important enough to pursue what makes you happiest, even if it’s only for a short amount of time. You deserve to truly enjoy what you are doing.
If you want to have time for yourself, go for it! Don’t wait until the perfect moment. You can take a moment and make it perfect.
Taking a mini-retirement is only one way to make the most out of your life.
What a great story! Thanks for sharing it and some of your trip photos with us!
There are so many things that resonate with me from this interview.
I had a similar experience when first learning about financial independence. It was super exciting to realize that I could reach financial independence in about 10 years.
At the same time, 10 years felt like a LONG time. I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, and I certainly wasn’t making the most out of my life.
Being miserable for 10 years until I could have complete freedom wasn’t going to work for me. I needed to make some big changes immediately. For me, the biggest change so far was deciding to work part-time. I’ve also focused on pursuing passion projects and having more free time.
I also identify with M’s feelings of burnout. She articulated it in this way, “When I finally notice it, it’s too late.” She doesn’t ever want to get into that same place again.
I’m impressed by M’s ability to better understand her limits this time around. She was able to heed the warning signs of burnout after her recent promotion and take action in a way that dramatically improved her life.
I also love how M encourages us to ask one of the most important questions of all: “What do I actually want?”
When I first learned about financial independence, I realized that I hadn’t even thought about that question in years. At the time, I didn’t think what I wanted would actually possible, so thinking about it just made me feel depressed.
After learning about financial independence and being exposed to the unconventional lives of people pursuing FI, I now believe that “What do I actually want?” is one of the most important questions we can ask.
This interview is a great reminder that we don’t need to wait until reaching full financial independence to do things we want to do. Things are more possible than we realize. Since M asked her employer about returning to work after her mini-retirement, it allowed her to make this decision with less stress.
When we don’t ask what we actually want our lives to look like, we end up living a life according to the expectations of others. It’s no surprise when this doesn’t make us happy.
In order to make the most out of our lives, we must answer this question for ourselves.
If you’d like to continue following M’s story, you can find her in the following places: