FIRE Principles Let Me Vacation On Unemployment

Hiker resting on a rock with Makapu'u Point lighthouse and the ocean in the background

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I’m on unemployment right now, but, we’re going to Hawaii for 3 weeks.  Thanks FIRE principles!

You read that right.  I’m on unemployed, but I’m taking a vacation.  I feel a bit crazy doing this, but, sometimes you take a serious look at the big picture and decide, it’s ok to do something that feels crazy.  Thanks to FIRE principles, I’m realizing that maybe I should call this a sabbatical until the right job comes up!

First things first:

  1.  My unemployment hasn’t actually started coming through yet, as there is a waiting period and review period and so on.  Also, in my state, the system is bogged down and apparently taking easily 8 weeks to process claims.
  2. I am not eligible to collect unemployment benefits while on vacation.  When I make a claim, I have to report that I was “home” and ready to work any day work could be offered for at least 4 days of the week.  Taking a big trip and also collecting your unemployment benefits would be fraud.  I’m honest… often to a fault.

Sometimes you just have to spend a little

I’ve been saving money like crazy since I got my first real job as a pharmacist.  Of course, we’ve fallen victim at times to the hedonic treadmill, and certain things about our standards of living have went up.  But, overall, we keep things pretty dang frugal and save a lot of money.  Aside from ultimate financial independence (FI), what am I saving for if I can’t enjoy it sometimes?

This isn’t a “treat yo’ self” situation; for many reasons this is a really practical time to take a big vacation.
Read to the end to see where we have and haven’t been spending our money over the last few years.

Here’s why it’s the right time for a trip

  • I have the “free” flights to use
  • I may not have any useable vacation for at least a year at a new job…and if I do, it may not be very much.
  • I may never in my traditional working career have the ability to take 4 weeks off
  • I want to take advantage when the timing works out and my family is healthy

I was already planning for us to go to Hawaii for a week or two in the spring.  I had just signed up for an airline rewards card that got me a free companion flight and a good sign up mileage bonus… right before I became basically unemployed.

I earned that companion fare and enough miles to pay for the whole family to go to Hawaii for under $450.  That’s hard to argue with.

Of course, ticket prices are probably going to be that reasonable even if I wait until spring (or later).  But, if I get a new job, I may not have vacation time for a good while.

At my last job, I was maxed out at 3 weeks vacation.  That was all I would ever get.  This was something I wasn’t exactly happy with.  It’s one of the reasons that I knew I wouldn’t be at that job forever.  I was striving for some kind of FIRE because I wanted more flexibility for my family to take time off and travel.

I don’t know what the vacation situation will be at any new job I take on.  At the last job, I was at least able to negotiate having 3 weeks vacation after the first year.  If I had followed their accrual schedule, I wouldn’t have had 3 weeks vacation until I had been there 5 years!  With the job market for pharmacists getting so tight, there isn’t really much room to negotiate a better vacation package at this point (another reason why, if I do end up back in a pharmacist specific job, I’m hoping it’s hospital, or, at least not retail).

So from a realistic standpoint, I may never be able to take this much time off until I’m not working regular jobs anymore.

I may sound a little morbid here…

But, I’m a little more aware, perhaps, than some of the need to go ahead and do things once in a while, when most of the factors lineup.  Sometimes I should do what’s right for my family, if maybe not right for the bank account.

Given that my husband is significantly older than me, I really try to consider balancing smart choices now with the fact that my husband will not be as fit and vigorous at a much earlier point that me.  It affects how I plan our finances and how I’m thinking about this upcoming vacation.

In a recent post by Chief Mom Officer, she talks about how her husband almost died and mentions a bunch of other sad situations that have come up regarding health with people she knows.

She goes on to talk about how the FIRE principles and huge savings rate helped her family through that hardship.

I’m going to take a slightly different angle:

FIRE principles allow me the flexibility to take vacation, even when I don’t have a job.

So, I’m going to do what feels best for my family in the immediate, though, I may kick myself if I really can’t find a job in the longer run.

All those high savings rate years and frugal habits mean that I’ve saved more than enough to feel “comfortable” spending a pretty significant amount on a vacation, even if I’m out of work with no immediately foreseeable prospects.

I put comfortable in quotes, because I’m really not comfortable with it, it’s actually quite difficult for me to not watch my networth tick up every month, and, perhaps even decline.

I surely hope that in a year I can develop new skills, “side hustle” and find enough ways to make money that we at least can cover our living expenses.  I may have to come to terms with lack of work in my area and re-assess my identity as a high earner.  I know I could kick ass even at a low paying job, and, really, $15 an hour at full time would probably cover our bills if we had to go that route.

I say all this because… we’re not moving folks.  Don’t even bother suggesting it.

Where have we spent more over time?

FOOD is a big one.

We buy much higher quality food and very little packaged stuff compared to 10 or even 5 years ago.  That means we’re also healthier in our food choices.  Health is wealth, so, though more money is going out for food, when you look at the big picture, it’s still a frugal choice to spend more on high quality fresh foods.

Plus, I’ve got a kid now.  NO- this isn’t about how we spend more because the kid eats more, so far, we’ve been only minimally impacted by this with a toddler.  Our parenting philosophy is to feed them what we eat.  It reduces our spending, and keeps all of us healthier.  We, as parents, eat better because we are more thoughtful, perhaps, about what we’re willing to feed our child.  We eat almost no added sugar.  Our treats are fruit, dried fruit, the occasional egg custard.  It reduces the spending because we aren’t falling into the trap of special foods, packaged and marketed to kids at higher price points and lacking in relative nutrition.  I’ll make my own toddler foods, thank you.

HOME IMPROVEMENT is our biggest money sink.

Last year for example (among many other small projects):

  • We got a new roof on the house.
  • Rebuilt our front (rotten) deck and built a year round greenhouse style enclosure to keep us warmer, protected from wind, and keep our firewood dry.  It’s like an enclosed deck/porch now except a door-size always-open entry.
  • Built a new large back deck to put our (husband assembled) wood fired hot tub on.

Where DON’T we spend?

A whole heck of a lot of things.  We (used to) eat out maybe twice a month?  We do very little travel (the only thing last year was a trip home for a week, by car, staying at friends house, to visit family.  We stayed at a hotel on the drive down and the drive back.  I’d hardly call it a vacation.  Aside from that, our last trip was to India a few years back (read more about how I had some frugal fun on that trip here).

I figure the amount of money we have spent on home improvement for example and working toward creating a life we don’t need to escape from offsets the costs of what we would spend on entertainment outside the home, travel, dining and so on.

It really is a trade off, but, the thing about spending on making our home a better place is, eventually, we get finished with the bigger projects and it’s starts to just be cheaper maintenance activities.  I think we are starting to get there now.  We replaced a roof on a large outbuilding this year and my husband is working on my ceramics studio.  That should cover us on big projects… until I can convince my husband to look into building our guest studio/homeschool studio eventually.

Summary:

It’s HARD to look at our life as significantly lower income when I’m used to making 6 figures.  But the reality is, with my goals of eventual pseudo-early retirement, or FIRE of some sorts, a reduced income was obviously part of the equation.

I was hoping to be closer to financial independence before we I started living like an early retiree (my husband is already retired)…

Because of FIRE principles, I get to adjust my outlook!  I don’t have to think of myself as unemployed.  I have plenty of savings.  I’m on sabbatical until I find the right job!  And I’ll have fun learning new things and meeting some new people to hustle up a little extra spending money along the way!

 

4 comments

  1. I definitely think life experience isn’t worth the monetary sacrifices. If you have an opportunity to do something that is memorable and unforgettable, then it’s silly to sit it out over a few dollars.

    The baseline salary thing, I totally get. I’m waiting around purely to see if my previous contacts have work so that I don’t have to take a hit on pay. If it comes to it, obviously I will and the FIRE principles will all still apply!

    1. It’s hard to think of spending money when I don’t have money coming in. But realistically, that is kind of the whole game you play in retirement right? There are going to be up years and down years. So, I consider this a learning experience! The first month or so I kind of panicked as was applying for a bunch of jobs.. most didn’t even respond, probably because I’m overqualified! I’ve decided to try not to stress it until I’m down to my last two months of unemployment and hope that the right thing comes up in the meantime, or, maybe I could learn to generate some ongoing independent income streams! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I’m in Hawaii right now! So worth it, take the vacation- YOLO seriously and it’s not like you are staying at a 5 star hotel for $500 a night anyway 🙂 $450 on flights for your whole family is an excellent deal!

    The weather has been great except for today it rained on and off and tonight it downpoured.

    Are you going to Oahu?

    1. We’re going to the big island. Hitting 3 areas for about a week each. Should let us check out a lot of stuff! I’m hoping the weather holds out, but we come from PNW so a little rain shouldn’t bother us.

      I think the fact that a lot of expenses are paid a couple months ahead (half of the Airbnb, flights) helps pad the blow of big charges a bit.

      Thanks for stopping by! Have a great time on your trip.

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