Friday, February 3, 2012

Mini-Retirements for Families: Could Semi-retirement be better?

[Still no internet, but I'm at my parent's house because the calls to Telkom take so incredibly long that they eat up all my cell phone money- yesterday R100 on hold to Telkom- so it gives me a chance to show you a picture of Noah =)]
Noah the Lion
In 2011, we traveled with our one year old for about two and a half months and eventually landed up in South Africa. During the first half of the year, while we were still living in Boston, we took trips to South Africa, Korea, and Mexico, as well as a local trip to Myrtle Beach. Apart from using a lot of fossil fuel, Eug and I thought a lot about the concept of mini-retirement and travel in the context of family.

We'd long thought that mini-retirements were the holy grail of awesome things to do. While I still think mini-retirements and travel are wonderful, our travel experience makes me tend towards a sustained decade of semi-retirement, particularly when our babies need us most. Here's why:

1) Being "minimalists" with a one year old and a pregnant member of the family still leaves you with too much stuff to comfortably carry about for anything more than about 1km. We could have traveled with somewhat less if we weren't taking pretty much everything we owned. So it's doable, but the key to making a mini-retirement affordable is not renting or having a vacant house anywhere.

3) Traveling isn't super relaxing with a one-year-old. Our most relaxing trip was when Noah was 13 months old and we went on a very short trip to Cancun, Mexico (after being refused entry to the UK), because we were able to swim for hours every day. I'd really advocate slow, swimming-friendly travel for people with little children (this is where elimination communication is very useful, because poop was never a concern). Myrtle Beach was also very nice, also because my mom-in-law watched Noah and we had extra support. The highlights of our trip on the Melody were the four swims we were able to take in Cadiz, Tenerife, Dakar, and Walvis Bay (Dakar was the most gentle and unexpected)- I wish there had been more opportunities. Even though it isn't super-relaxing, you can still travel with a one year old. Having children is not the end of travel!

5) Taking care of a baby is a full-time job. So it doesn't make sense to plan to take a mini-retirement where you work full time on your creative endeavors, unless you're NOT traveling or your spouse is NOT doing anything else.

6) We came to believe that part-time work for both spouses, and staying in one place, works better for us when Noah is so small. After about two months in South Africa, we're still not settled (we don't have internet, for example) and we're still spending more than we'd like. My take on this is that staying in one place long term (or being able to afford a furnished apartment or hotel hehe) is a good idea, as I think it'll be a while before we're able to spend a day now and then on the beach, or spend a day doing nothing. In the interim, we're learning to live on less, and gradually fixing up our house to be a welcoming place. Every day we have at least two meals together, and Noah is getting tons of time with both of us, both miracles I sometimes take for granted in what still feels like busy-ness.

You could also try to make money on your child's good looks
A decade of semi-retirement seems a bit obnoxious- who gets to do that?! I recognize that this only works if you have at least one partner with potentially location independent income, that it depends on education and the state of the market and unemployment and so many other factors. And it's extremely difficult to do in the U.S., where health insurance is so difficult to afford outside of employment. These limitations aside.... Eug and I each earned between 40 and $50 000 in the U.S.; the key to being able to work less was the two years we spent keeping our expenses low and working full-time before we had children. In those two years, we were able to pay off over $50,000 in student loan debt, and save enough for about 40% of the cost of our little house. We were then able to pay off the remaining 60% in the two years that followed.

Eug stopped work about 2 years before I did, which meant, essentially, a drop to one income for a time while he built up his business as a graphic designer. By having flexibility in one parent's schedule, and some flexibility in my schedule, we saved a lot of money on daycare and give Noah the benefit of one-on-one love from a parent. It also meant I was reliable at work, when a lot of women can't be, which in turn gave me the flexibility to work from very early in the morning until 2 or 3pm and to pump throughout the first year.

Two years later, when I stopped full-time work, I was able to get two alternate streams of income, which makes us at least partially location independent. Doing a PhD at this point in my life wasn't super strategic, but it's worked out very well: Noah and Tiny Blob will be close together in age, so being effective in full-time work would have not have been feasible, but getting a PhD just might be.


Angie said...

Well the pictures of beautiful Mr Noah show that whatever the agonizing you are clearly doing the right thing! Being at home with him and Tiny Blob will reap its own rewards later...

Lia said...

Evviva Noah the Lion! I can't be as wise as Angie, but the way you think about time, family, work is a good suggestion for many of us (me, time-stripped as always). Ciao vi vogliamo molto bene.

Concrete Gardener said...

Thanks Lia and Angie. Love you both.