Why Wait? How Three Couples Funded ‘Mini-Retirements’ in Their 30s
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"We also doubled down on traditional retirement savings early on in our careers, so we don’t feel like taking short-term breaks now will hurt our long-term stability."

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“Faced with even the slightest possibility that you might not be around for traditional retirement has a way of altering your mindset.”

Mark, 34, and Amanda Tew, 36, an accountant and part-time college instructor in St. Joseph, Mich.

“Throughout our marriage, Amanda and I have wanted to live in Central America. We’re both fluent in Spanish and have lived in Latin American countries in the past; we wanted our kids to experience the same. So a few years ago, we started thinking more practically about taking the leap—considering our savings, career ambitions and kids’ school—and decided spring 2017 was our goal. Sure enough, in May 2017, we were headed to Nicaragua.

It took us two years to save $30,000 for a year off. (We have other savings—an emergency fund, $75,000 in traditional retirement accounts and $50,000 for a home down payment—but we’re trying not to touch it.) We got there thanks to frugal habits like not upgrading furniture, driving old cars and living in a two-bedroom apartment with three kids. I also took on extra consulting jobs, and Amanda manages a violin studio and teaches at a local college.

Along the way, we dealt with some unexpected obstacles. In October 2016, I found out I had thyroid cancer. Fortunately, thyroid cancer is generally treatable, especially in young people, but this was a big wake-up call. Faced with even the slightest possibility that you might not even be around for traditional retirement has a way of altering your mindset. Even though medical treatments posed additional costs and logistical complications for our mini-retirement, our resolve to have this family experience strengthened.

Now that we are in Nicaragua, we watch our budget and track expenses closely. Between four kids (we have a new baby) and unexpected events—like splurging on an excellent bilingual private school when they were unable to register in a public bilingual school—we do sometimes go over budget. Fortunately, I am bringing in some cash from virtual CPA work to cover the difference. And I feel confident about my professional future. Before leaving my job, I was able to get some solid experiencing leading a team, which gave me a huge boost of confidence about finding good employment opportunities in the future.”

Their advice for others: “Once you are financially and physically prepared for a mini-retirement—or any big expense for that matter—let go of the fear. We love Jeff Bezos’ regret minimization philosophy: Minimize the number of regrets you’ll have when looking back on your life. Leave the beaten path and live the way you decide.”


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