Mini Retirement 2016

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Time for the Warckens to move away from employment and onto their next adventure(s) (and for everyone to ask how the hell we can afford to do it). Greg’s dad told us we’re like a military family, only without the military.

Gregory and I are like two peas in a pod. I’m so very grateful I’m married to someone who shares my goals and dreams. He is funny and fun and happy and positive and fit and handsome and I’m crazy about him. And not only because he shares my love for travel and unemployment, but because he’s willing to do what it takes to make our dream life a reality. The man never spends an unnecessary dime, he always brings me his receipts so I can keep track of our expenses (except for gas, he texts me the amount so we don’t waste paper on the optional receipt), he is the king of leftovers, he sacrifices his right arm to plasma twice a week so we don’t have to budget for entertainment money, he works overtime every chance he gets while I’m working or sleeping,  he is patient with and tolerant of my miles- and points- earning shenanigans, and always makes sure he is using the right credit card at the right time. In short, he’s my dream man.

We are so fortunate we get to live the life we dream of, and pleased as punch that it’s because of the way we live that we’re able to maintain the way we live. We work for the sole purpose of not having to, only now instead of retirement age. Our two main financial goals are to never have to depend on anyone else to support us, and to never worry about money. We have worked and budgeted and saved, and have always set the important money aside first, before we take the rest to play.

People who don’t really know us think we’re poor or that we suffer somehow because of how we scrimp and save, but I can assure you, Greg and I hurt for nothing, and there’s nothing we need that we don’t have. We need food and water and shelter and clothing. We want to travel. We want to hike. We’re happy to work, but we’re happier to be unemployed. We Warckens are a practical people and thankfully both really, really good at deciphering between our wants and needs, and living accordingly. If there’s something we really want that the other person doesn’t see as a need, then that comes out of our allowance. I would never expect Greg to pay for my mascara, and Greg would never… who am I kidding- Greg never spends any money.

I just finished my very first travel nursing assignment. Last spring when we quit our jobs I told Gregory I would never nurse again. My first nursing job was amazing and I loved it, my second nursing job made me want to bash my own head in with a frying pan. I struggled for months and months and by the end I was crying every day I went to work. I was tired of short staffing, long hours, long stretches, unit matrices, and especially the noncompliant, demanding, entitled ingrates who love to fill America’s hospital beds. I love helping those who help, or are unable to help themselves, but I care very little (read: not at all) for people who have the time and resources to take care of themselves and expect someone else to. I was very disgruntled and very over nursing. It was Gregory who convinced me to peel the slimy layers of my old job away and give it another try. He reminded me the whole reason I went to nursing school was so I could travel nurse. He reminded me that not all my nursing experiences were terrible and not all hospitals are created equal and that I would never know about travel nursing if I didn’t give it a try. Aside from driving to Montana to “see about a girl”, it was the best decision Greg ever made, forcing me to go back to work. Against my will. Kicking and screaming.

We chose to take my first assignment in Tulsa so we could be around my family for a few months, live in the camper all winter, and so I could work in a familiar hospital (I was a pharmacy tech there years ago) with hopefully some familiar people. You know, something nice and cushy for my first attempt. Obviously I survived, thrived even, and aside from the day before I started when I cried inconsolably for 12 hours straight because I was afraid I’d have forgotten all my skills, my drips, my medical terms, and that people wouldn’t like me, I never cried a single day at work (except over an Ellen video my very last night- thanks, Marge). If you’ve ever worked with me, you know that’s a big deal. I think I have found my calling in travel nursing-  I only had to make a 13 wk commitment, as opposed to two years or worse, the rest of my life. I wasn’t asked to be on any committees, I never had to attend a staff meeting. I didn’t have to worry about everything that was wrong with the unit- short staffing, short supplies, no windows or toilets in any of the rooms (well, one room in sixteen had a window) (human waste is carried across the unit and dumped into a community sink). What do I care?

I was there to fill a void, to hold pressure over a wound until the unit could reach hemostasis. Oh, and every week I was making slightly more than I made at my last job every two weeks. And that’s after maxing out my IRA contribution that my travel company matched 50%. No matter what directors of nursing like to say, increased pay does increase nursing satisfaction and improve unit morale. There wasn’t one thing this travel nursing gig threw at me that I didn’t take with a happy, positive attitude. Well, except for frustrating patients, but that’s to be expected. If you’ve ever thought about being a travel nurse, you should just take the plunge. It’s a 13 week commitment. If you don’t like it, you go back to a staff position, no harm done (good luck giving that money up). If you do like it, then you just made in three months what you’d usually make in six, and you can pay off some debt or sock it away or take a vacation or even the whole summer off to spend time with your kids. If you’d like more information I can give you my recruiter’s info. If you let me refer you for an assignment I’ll give you half of my referral bonus. What do you have to lose?

While six months’ salary in three months is great, Greg and I live like hobos no matter how much money we make. A girl at work told me “But you look so cute for being poor!” We’re not poor, we just live like we are so we can play like we’re rich. We had considered taking another 13-week assignment after mine was over because it’s easy money and we could effectively double our income, but we had to remind each other that we’re not on this Earth to work. So here we are:

I’m happily unemployed again, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a couple of weeks to enjoy the perfect weather and fix a few broken hearts, then I’m free until harvest next fall. Greg isn’t going to quit his job this time, but work the minimum amount of hours required to maintain flight benefits, and we’ll travel in between. Greg brings home the flight benefits, I bring home the bacon. It really is the life of our dreams, and it feels like we’re already retired.

So how do we afford to live comfortably making so little money? We budget. We budget we budget we budget. I say it all the time “If you don’t know where your money is going, you might as well be lighting it on fire.” Greg and I have been debt-free for a solid decade, so any money we make goes right into our savings accounts. Not to a bank or a car dealership or to student loans or to credit cards. Our money is our money, and we’ve got enough for everything we need with a little bit left over. I know people are curious because I get asked all the time, and I’m happy to share our budgets because I think seeing how other people save is terribly motivating. Our monthly budget includes:

  • $425 Rent
  • $350 Groceries
  • $200 Fuel, Oil Changes
  • $200 Health Insurance
  • $110 Life insurance
  • $95 Auto/Renter’s/Personal Property Insurance
  • $95 Phones
  • $75 Propane

That’s $1550/month we need to live. Round that up to $1600/month for a little cushion, and we’re up to $19,200/year. We’ve got enough money to live the rest of this year without working again, plus another year in an emergency fund, plus a travel savings account, plus retirement accounts and investments that we won’t touch until we (early) retire for good. Since we already have the money set aside for this year, any money we made this winter and will make the rest of the year is/was divided accordingly:

  • 50% Savings
  • 15% IRAs
  • 10% Investments
  • 10% Charity
  • 10% Travel
  • 5% Allowance

Our savings includes our annual budget and emergency fund. I take out of it what we need every month and let the rest sit and grow interest. We both have Roth IRAs, and divide the 15% between them, plus I’ve got that IRA through work that gives me a 50% match. Our investments are tied up in a life insurance battle right now, but I’m still setting the money aside for them and when the battle is won our plan is to invest the money in three Vanguard index funds. Low cost investing for dummies, so I’ve read. That will be for future income and/or future cars, fifth wheel, land and a small cabin. The charity money sits in our travel savings account earning interest until we find ways to spend it and this mission to Ethiopia took a big chunk of that. The hospital where I’m working is funded entirely by charity, and teams from all over the world come here to perform heart valve replacements, repairs, and valvuloplasties on the people of Ethiopia suffering from Rheumatic Heart Valve Disease. I asked a cardiologist here how much these patients would have to pay if they went for a valve replacement at a local private hospital. He told me there are no other facilities in the entire country that can perform them. A country of almost 100 million people and there are no options for valve replacements or even cardiac bypass. Isn’t that incredible?! He said some people might go to India or Egypt for surgery, or to western countries if they can afford it, but mostly people here just suffer and die. America hands out valves like candy (85 years old? Demented? Hip replacement a week ago? Why, you’re a prime candidate!), while there are 5,000 people on the waiting list here in Addis alone. It’s difficult to think about, so I try not to. I’m just happy to have the time and the resources to help those who really need it; which is truly a wonderful thing. Any extra money we come across- like from working overtime, staying under budget, or moving the camper from an RV park to the farm- will go straight into our travel fund. I believe in giving myself some real motivation for working overtime, and investing in index funds doesn’t sound a tenth as exciting as say… hiking in Peru or going to Iceland for the Northern Lights. I have no trouble slugging through an extra twelve hours a week if I know it’ll get me a roundtrip ticket to Lima or four nights in a cabin overlooking the Eyjafjörður.

We don’t have any get-rich-quick schemes, and we Warckens don’t believe in instant gratification. We’ve worked and saved for everything we have, and we take the time to play every chance we get. We have made our life ours.

I hope people find this motivating. I love trying to talk others into living the lives they dream of. I love making budgets for people and helping them find the extra money they didn’t know they had. I preach living debt-free, and following Dave Ramsey’s baby steps to get there. I believe getting to financial freedom means making financial sacrifices, and I think everyone should spend more time and less money. You only get one shot at life, don’t spend it doing things that make you sad. Find your motivation, get out of debt, and live free.

As for me and Gregory, we will continue to make hay while the sun shines, spend less, and travel more.


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