Welcome back to My Early Retirement Journey. I have a lot on my mind at the moment, and this post has been brewing for a while. The initial draft was started earlier in the summer, but the idea of taking time off from work is documented in my personal journal as early as March 2017 (1.5 years after I started working). I bet it was even earlier but I keep paper journals as well and those are not as searchable. I am just beating around the bush because although I have been thinking about leaving the workforce for a long time, announcing it publicly even to a small forum of readers makes it seem indelible somehow even though I am only really accountable to myself. My thoughts are scattered both figuratively and literally all over the place. To try to organize them in a meaningful way, I am going back to elementary school expository writing structure. In this post, I shall identify the who, what, when, where, why, how of my decision to take a sabbatical in the year 2020. I reserve the right to update and change this post over time.
Me, this single-on-purpose girl, and me alone (oh, and my bff God, of course). I recently posited for the first time in public whether I wanted to take a sabbatical in five years or FIRE for good in ten years. Given the recent series of events to include the mild but regular downward shift in my personal health and wellness and the added responsibility of managing the affairs of an elderly parent, a sabbatical seems imperative… sometimes. I want to include my hesitation here because on some days I am strongly convinced a sabbatical is the next best move, and other days I think I can just stick it out like everyone else. The latter occurs when my back and shoulder do not hurt as much; or it is the weekend; or I have not spoken to Aunty MERJ in a couple of days. I feel selfish even typing this, but I just want to get away. This desire to escape from the stagnancy that is my current life is not a new or temporary feeling; the recent events I described are not a nidus but more an impetus of this desire.
The whole reason I started this blog was to document my journey out of the workforce and into financial independence. I am simply redefining the parameters at this point. So, while I shall certainly not be financially independent by 2020, my plan (God-willing) is to save enough money to be financially-able for a while. Five years to be exact.
Until this moment, I was vacillating between leaving the workforce (on my own terms) in two years and sticking it out a little longer to properly reach financial independence and retire early. But I am about 51% sure now. So here is my declaration of intent. I intend to leave the workforce on my own terms: Labor Day 2020, Monday, Sep 7, 2020. That will be five years from when I first started working at my current job in my chosen profession in medical communications for a pharmaceutical company.
I knew this was the job I wanted when I was still in professional school (or graduate school to some), and I was so happy when I finally got it, thanks to a fellow classmate who referred me. The work itself was exactly what I thought it would be – structured and rote. Just as I thought I wanted my life to be. I was wrong. It turns out I would rather be inspired by my surroundings. I am not growing as a person or professionally.
The workplace dynamics while not unexpected is not completely ideal. I do not really like any of the people I work with, but I do not suppose that is all that unusual. In general, my motto is I do not go to work to make friends, I go to work to make money. I am not one of those people who is proud to say I have been working since age 12 or age 16 or the like, nor am I one of those people who believes if you love what you do, it won’t feel like work. If that were true, it would just be called love. There would not be a separate word for it.
You can call it frame of mind or work ethic. You can call it whatever you want; I do not have it. These different facets of the workforce may have played a role somewhat in where I am now, but my health has played the biggest role. I have never been sick so many days in any time frame or paid so much for healthcare. Given the last nine to twelve months of my health history, I do not seem to be getting better health wise. It is perfectly acceptable for parents to take time away from the workforce to nurture their family. Similarly, I am taking time off to nurture myself.
Physically, I have carpal tunnel in my right wrist aggravated by eight hours a day of computer work; poor gut health; persistent mild to moderate neck, shoulder, back, leg, tailbone, leg, side pain. Additionally, my incision wound from my surgery in March 2018 still has not healed. It weeps like my soul. My mental health seems to be on the decline as well. I have intermittent trouble focusing and recalling event details. I used to be really smart and clever and sharp. Those seem like different words to mean the same thing, but not to me.
On the wellness front, I would love to be part of a community again, do good works, and be part of a church. I want to work on my spiritual growth and seek joy.
Overall, what I hope to accomplish with this sabbatical is to heal within and without.
Start: Labor Day 2020, Monday, September 7, 2020
End: 2025 (tentative)
I do not know yet where I shall go. I currently live in North Carolina, and I think a proper fresh start would involve a big move. However my primary focus will be a place that is in my budget. Logistically, it would be easier to stay in the United States. Some affordable cities I have looked into include Lillington NC, Missoula MT, and Bloomington IN. Adventure is certainly built into trying out a brand new identity in a brand new country. Some affordable countries I have looked into include Chiang Mai Thailand, La Algarve region Portugal, Croatia, and Spain. The first roadblock for me with international destinations is obtaining a visa to stay longer than three months. Travel and adventure is not my priority so moving to a new place every few months would detract from my goal of finding calm and peace and a simpler life. Overall, my focus for a destination is one that is in my price range that will allow me to accomplish my sabbatical objective.
As I mentioned, I want to nurture myself back to whole again. I am achy all the time. I sleep but I am not well rested. It could be something as simple as my mattress. Or it could be mental stress manifesting as physical pain. It could be sitting in the same position eight hours a day. It could be my lack of social interaction. I do not know, but I am starting with eliminating my job. Even as I write this, it is not as cathartic as I thought it would be. I am mostly just scared now. What if leaving my job fixes nothing. I shared some of these same thoughts in my guest post on another blog.
…The wrench in the situation is I still do not know what exactly to do once I retire. In fact, once early retirement became a possibility, I found myself retreating a bit. I had gotten used to this idea that I would have to work for the rest of my life. It was my security blanket of sorts. I had gotten comfortable in my mediocrity and my pursuit of nothing. I got comfortable having work be a time-suck and energy-drain. Because if work was sucking all the life out of me, no one could blame me for holing up in my house every night and weekend, right?
…I mean who says just because I have time to do it that I am suddenly going to start eating more vegetables; exercising more; flossing twice a day; communing with nature on nature walks; be a service to my community; end world hunger; bring about world peace; find a church family; find my purpose; or experience life altering, past hurt-erasing joy?
Perhaps the question is not whether to FIRE in five years or ten years, but rather what if I do all this, and it does not work? What if after two or five or ten years, I am still just as aimless and discontented as I am now? I shall be out of options, then what? ~ My Early Retirement Journey on Scotch Street
I shall say this though – having this milestone makes the noise more bearable. On the other hand, maybe I am just getting pulled into a different kind of noise. Honestly, I do not know if this is the right decision, but it is a decision. And it is something to which I can look forward. Even if I fail, my life now is not that bad.
So how exactly will I be able to swing this financially. More than one person has pointed out that even my initial plan to FIRE is flawed because of my massive student debt. But my financial independence plan never included student loan debt elimination. So maybe that means I do not match that definition of financially independent. I am okay with it.
Here is what I have so far in my financial plan to pursue a sabbatical in 2020. Check out my Budget Struggles page for notes on this and other calculations along this journey.
The best thing I have taken away from the FIRE community is not just great tips and support on savings and investing but learning to get comfortable with the numbers. I may have doubts about what I may actually achieve during my sabbatical, but as for funding it – either I shall have the money to do it or I shall not. That need not be one of the unknowns.
Sabbatical 2020 Budget: $1,500/mon ($18,000/yr)
Duration of time: 5 years
Total needed: $90,000
But, and this is a big but, I need to save and have this money in my bank account and my brokerage account. I do not plan on taking money out of my 401k to fund this sabbatical, nor do I plan on stopping contributions to my 401k. I may do a Roth conversion ladder after the fact, but that is down the line.
Sept 2018 check-in. (accurate as of 30Aug2018)
Savings (currently earmarked as my Safety Net Fund): $22,628
Brokerage Account: $33,378
Difference (left to save): $90,000 – 56,000 = $34,000
Left to save: $34,000
By my calculations, I should be able to save this much in my savings and brokerage account by Sept 2020. My annual savings target is not going to change much from where it is now, I am just going to access it sooner.
As the time gets closer, the plan would be to max out my 401k and Roth IRA early in 2020 and funnel the rest to my savings (as opposed to brokerage account) so it is easier to access when I pull the trigger.
Maybe all you need is another job?
What if you lose your job before then?
I shall continue along the plan to raise my goal amount and sabbatical when I reach that amount.
What if you get to your goal amount before Labor Day 2020?
I don’t see how that could happen.
What if you fall in love and get married or pregos?
Don’t make me laugh.
What if your health declines further and you need routine doctor’s visits?
For this I have no answer. I would probably have to keep working to get health insurance. Alternatively, I would need to figure out how much health insurance would cost on the marketplace and sum that figure into my Sabbatical Budget. Furthermore, I am in the process of taking preliminary steps to at least maintain or better my current health. Check out my back to school life list for more info.