I started thinking about this again after reading Our Next Life’s post on how this year’s market madness is affecting their early retirement planning goals. It’s certainly a thought I’ve had before; my employment is now secure for at least the next few years and I suspect it’ll be fine beyond that, but you never know. Many people have written about their layers of backup plans for financial shortfalls caused by layoffs, freelance ups and downs, or market issues during early retirement with no full-time income stream. I share some of those common plans: specifically, I agree it’s a good idea to develop one or four freelance income streams, even quite small ones, so that if things go south with your main income in a big way there’s at least SOMETHING coming in.
But what if it were a bigger issue? What if for some unforeseen reason I couldn’t get full-time work I wanted and therefore couldn’t afford to maintain my current exalted standard of living?
What I’d do is take a volunteer position that included room and board. The idea is a little bit like the Peace Corps, but for people who aren’t 22. (Come to think of it, the Peace Corps may accept older applicants, I have no idea.) I’ve known a number of people who’ve done this, and I’ve flirted with the idea before although never committed to it. Currently, I volunteer on a part-time basis with a community like this in my town. The community owns two houses where full-time volunteers live and eat (they get a tiny stipend of $100 a month and assistance with Obamacare too). During the day, they undertake a variety of projects ranging from a food pantry to mentoring kids to taking homeless people to the hospital and helping them manage their interactions with parole officers, service providers, doctors, etc. They also help manage the part-time volunteers like me who show up a few hours a week to cook, sort donations, and other things. Current age range is concentrated in the mid-late 20s, but there are also married and single people in their late 30s who live in the houses, along with a couple in their fifties.
So that’s what I’d do if I needed a safe haven for a year or two. Work like this can be hard both physically and emotionally, but it does tend to provide the people who do it with emotionally and practically valuable relationships, and it tends to offer a lot of time to consider next steps and even to pursue them. Beats my previous unemployment strategy of hanging around in my apartment being depressed!
Heck, though, you don’t need to be destitute to consider full-time volunteering. I’m curious, if there are early retirement people reading this, are you interested in things like volunteering (whether full-time or part-time)? What are you drawn towards? Or do you think you won’t know that until you get a full six months of sleep in first? 🙂