Mini-retirements are all the rage within certain circles. After reading quite a few posts on this topic, my husband and I decided to pursue this seemingly untouchable dream. During that time we discovered just how enjoyable not going to work is, but before we left we had to plan like crazy. We want to share with you some mini-retirement know-how for ESL teachers before you take that first step on the plane to your desired destination.
One of the most important things you need to do before taking a hiatus from work is to save a bundle of money. First, you will need to make a list of all of your recurring bills. Next, assuming you know the location of your mini-retirement (m.r.) destination, you need to decide on how much money you will allot yourself each day, week, or month. Finally, you must figure out how much money is needed on your return home. Meaning, how much money do you need saved aside to live while you are working towards your first paycheck back in the office.
Depending on how long your planned mini-retirement is, the savings you put aside beforehand will be your financial lifeline while you are out having the time of your life. Our mini-retirement lasted for about 2.5 months, so, financially, we took it from there.
Let’s say you start slow and go away for two months. Here are some example breakdowns of what you should be saving towards for bills back home. Tweak them how you see fit.
2 x months
- Rent (ex. $750 x 2 = $1500) (You might want to save even an extra month of rent for your return to stay ahead)
- Utilities (water, gas, garbage, etc.) (ex. $85 x 2 = $170)
- Phone (Our provider allows us to change our plan twice a month. So, we only paid $5 instead of $25 for a less complicated plan and we could still use free wi-fi while abroad) (ex. $5 (plus any taxes) x 2 = $10)
- Insurance (health, home, car, etc.) (ex. $130 x 2 = $260)
- Netflix (we kept our Netflix account open because we used it while in Korea, but if you are going to a country that does not support it, perhaps you should close the account. You can always open it back up again when you get back) (ex. $8 x 2 =$16)
Notice how we did not include any debt payments. We didn’t have any debt when we took our m.r. We strongly recommend NOT having any debt before trying this, but if you insist, at least try to have only mortgage debt. Any other debt and you are asking for trouble. If you are in debt and want to be free of it, read my post to get started before even considering a mini-retirement.
Now, you must create a budget for expenses while on your m.r. Again, we are looking at a conservative two months. Take the following breakdown and make it yours.
- Visas (Does the country you are going to require a paid tourist visa? We went to Thailand this summer and had to apply for a visa in advance. The fee for each visa was $30 single-entry.)
- Flights (This is where travel hacking can come into play. Although it takes planning waaaay ahead if you are working with specific dates.)
- Accommodation (Deciding on what kind of place you want to stay in makes a huge difference in how much you plan to save. Apartment? House? House-sitting? House-swapping? Bed and Breakfast? Airbnb? Hostel? Hotel? Couchsurfing?)
- Food (We had a mixed bag when it came to eating. At times we ate in where we stayed to save money. Other times, the food was so cheap – Thailand – that we were able to eat out for every meal and still have money left over for the day. Ask around online or from friends in the location to see what is reasonable for eating in and out.)
- Transportation while on ground (Check out bus, train, rental car, tram, subway, tuk tuk, or whatever other kinds of transportation you may have to use while on ground location. It may be cheap as chips or cost an arm and a leg…speaking of legs, walking never hurts the ol’ pocketbook…)
- Entertainment (Again, make sure you save enough to sightsee, take a class, party, and/or any other past-time you choose to do. You don’t want to be halfway through your m.r. and realize you have no spending money left.)
Setting a weekly budget was one way for us to keep on track financially. We paid for whatever we needed either with a credit card (that gives us points for hotel stays) or cash. My husband tells me that, basically, I take the ‘fun’ out of fun money because I always crack the whip and do not allow for many dalliances (i.e. taking $5 or more than we should every pay day). I say to that ‘if you slide by five, then what’s next? $10? 20? where does it end?’
For this matter, I allotted us a weekly budget. I took into account that we were on vacation of sorts. We picked two countries, Korea and Japan, that have high costs for many things but only stayed for short amounts of time. Fine. What gave us the ability to spend more than we normally would on a weekly basis was the six weeks that we spent in Thailand. It is so cheap!
We actually had to try pretty hard to spend our weekly budget.By picking a country with cheaper accommodation, transportation, food, massages, and tons of free sightseeing we had it made.
Travel hacking played a huge role in our plans. By signing up for a couple of credit cards, meeting the minimum spend, and booking the flights through United Airlines, we scored two, free round-trip tickets to Asia from Chicago. We did end up paying for a round-trip ticket from Seoul, Korea to Bangkok, Thailand and also a round-trip ticket from Manhattan, Kansas to Chicago. We made sure to fly during the middle of the week because tickets are cheaper then. Here is a simple version of our flight itinerary:
Manhattan, KS to Chicago
Chicago to Seoul, Korea (free)
Seoul to Bangkok, Thailand
Seoul to Tokyo, Japan (free) * 4 day layover at no extra charge through United
Japan to Chicago (free)
Chicago to Manhattan
When I write ‘free’, I mean the plane ticket itself was free. We did have to pay taxes on the ticket though, but that didn’t come to more than $500. Considering these tickets would have cost at least $4000, we thought we would splurge on the taxes!
Even though we are on a 9-month contract at the university where we work, we are lucky enough to have our health insurance cover us for the entire year. Although we ended up not using it when Stephen had to go to the hospital in Thailand. Turns out the pollution in Korea and Thailand in the big cities is pretty much terrible. What am I saying? Of course I know it’s terrible, but take the good with the bad. So much so that Stephen started getting headaches.
Anyway, we ended up paying considerably less for three trips to the hospital for Stephen and an ultrasound for me than we would have, with insurance, back in the States.
Not having insurance through your current work place while traveling could turn into a big issue depending on what country you’re in, etc. It’s worth looking into purchasing travel insurance in the case that something does happen you have your butt covered.
Coming back home was inevitable. Living for 2.5 months in exotic locations gave us a great high…on life. But all good things come to an end and if I’m honest, we did miss our own bed at times.
What made us happy when we returned was the fact that we had set aside money to live on for over a month. Never underestimate the power of savings! It always eases tension, stress, and quite possibly bouts of panic.
Our special little savings covered us, so we had nothing to worry about.
Returning to work
The only real headache was the amount of time it took to get our first paycheck after going back to work. We had to wait almost 6 weeks. As mentioned above, we didn’t need the money to live on, we just wanted to get back into saving money. As you know, the power of time is what makes your money grow. If you don’t have the money to invest, then you are not able to use time to your advantage.
I suppose we could have gotten a side hustle job, but I was 8ish months pregnant, we were sprucing up our new (old) house, and quite frankly were too exhausted to do any additional work. Under different circumstances we might have done so.
Question: After it was all said and done, we asked ourselves if not working for 2.5 months, traveling to three countries in Asia and loafing around, albeit soaking in the local culture in every aspect, was worth it?
Answer: Are you kidding?! Undoubtedly, undeniably, YES!
Question: Would you ever do it again?
Answer: We are already looking into Spain…
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