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How a 'Mini Retirement' Sabbatical Can Be Good for the Soul-and Your Career

·5 min read

Lauren Weisenthal and her husband Brian were in their late 30s doing what Lauren calls the "traditional career thing." Lauren was a program manager at Etsy, and Brian was co-owner of a software development company. Together, they found themselves facing a crossroads a few years ago when Brian started feeling burned out, work-wise. That's when the couple realized they wanted to pursue other passions; this quickly turned into a sailing hobby that allowed them to explore the Hudson River. But they found they wanted more-more time off, more freedom, more of their shared hobby, and less work. For them, retiring early would have been the dream.

But for the most part, people who retire in their 30s or 40s-usually those involved in the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement-get there because they've super-hustled and managed to become millionaires. Lauren and Brian, on the other hand, were "not rich," Lauren explains. Because of this, they knew they couldn't stop working forever." So, as a dream realized but also as a compromise, they decided to take two years off to have an adventure.

Lauren refers to it as their "mini retirement"-aka sabbatical-something that wasn't quite a forever retirement, but would provide them a much-needed break and reset. And, she figured, it may even enliven the careers they would eventually return to.

The two began their adventure by sailing a refurbished sailboat from New York City to the Caribbean. They settled in San Juan for a bit, until Hurricane Maria came along; finally, they relocated to Rockland, Maine and purchased a waterfront restaurant. Eventually, pandemic forced them to close that restaurant, but by then, their years spent adventuring had already given them a fresh perspective on life and their careers. Now, they've both made career pivots in heading back to work; Lauren works for a software company, and Brian is a coder.

Lauren explains that she defined their mini-retirement sabbatical as "a finite period of time during which you immerse yourself in something totally new, that hopefully you are passionate and excited about." If you, too, are young but feeling disillusioned in your career, taking a year or two off to paint or go surfing around the world likely sounds appealing; that said, it does require some financial moxie.

"If you are in the financial position to take time off for reflection, I say go for it," Lauren says. "Having the ability to take a gap year or two is a privilege that not everyone has. And I can say firsthand: It can be life-changing."

It certainly was for Lauren and her husband. Lauren explains that upending their lives in such a major way gave them the space to evaluate what they wanted to do upon reentry into the working world: They no longer wanted to do work that ties them down geographically. Now their newfound tech careers mean they can practice geographic arbitrage; they "have the freedom to move and travel while maintaining our income," Lauren explains.

If you wish you could retire early, but it's not financially feasible for you, read on to discover the savings hacks that helped this couple make their mini-retirement dream happen.

Start with a dose of reality.

Although it is a fantasy of many to take a year or two off from work to travel the world, it's important to stay rooted in reality if you want to test drive a mini-retirement via taking a sabbatical.

From her own experience, Lauren recommends getting a "realistic understanding of what your plan will cost, and what you can expect to get for your money." Read sabbatical blogs, ask questions in relevant Facebook groups, and contact other people who are living the way you want to during your mini-retirement.

Figure out what you're willing to live without.

Unless you're independently wealthy, for most of us, taking a sabbatical in your mid-30s requires some serious scrimping around lifestyle choices.

"Understand your non-negotiable limits when it comes to amenities and lifestyle," Lauren says. "In our case, living a 'glamorous' boat life with things like daily showers, laundry on board, eating out a lot, air conditioning, and staying in marinas would have shortened our trip by a year-or more. We were comfortable with giving up a lot of comfort to extend our adventure. But, that's not for everyone."

Live like a minimalist.

Lauren and her husband had to get rid of 90 percent of their belongings before departing for their sabbatical. But living with less, of course, amounts to spending less, and you won't need to rent a storage unit for the many months you'll be gone.

Track your spending.

Before their trip, Lauren admits that she didn't track spending or stick to a monthly budget. The couple's mini-retirement forced her to really look at their finances and spending, something that she says has made her life better after returning.

"Prior to leaving, I didn't think enough about how we spend our money, but now I am very tuned into our spending and finances," Lauren shares, saying that she and her husband are back in the growing and investing phase of their careers-that is, currently planning for their future full-on retirement.

Get serious about savings.

Saving is naturally a non-negotiable if you want to embark on a mini-retirement-and that means ensuring you have enough still saved when you return, too.

"Have enough saved for after the adventure," Lauren urges. "We knew that we'd need something to get us going again on the other side."

Set a "stopping amount."

Although it may dampen the fanciful feel of jetting off for a couple work-free years, Lauren stresses that it's key to set a "stopping amount," budget-wise.

"We didn't set a timeframe for our adventure, but we did set a threshold for how low we were willing to allow our bank account to sink," she explains. "We agreed that once we hit that number, it was time to return to work."

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