What I’d Do If I Ran Into Financial Trouble

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? 🙂

8 thoughts on “What I’d Do If I Ran Into Financial Trouble

  1. I didn’t even realize there were volunteer positions that provided room and board.

    We’re not going for early retirement, so the market’s behavior doesn’t worry us. But if I somehow lost my job — despite being the only person on the day shift — I guess I’d have to freelance for blogs. I’d hate it and be stressed out all the time (deadlines and I aren’t good friends) but at least I’d be able to support us more or less.

  2. I’ve never heard of this before, but it’s a great concept. It seems like everyone wins.

  3. I know for sure that adults of any age can be in the Peace Corps as long as their health is adequate.

    When I was 19, I actually did a volunteering program that was a bit like what you’re describing. (Randomly enough, it was in Jerusalem, but that’s another story.) In terms of quality of life, it was pretty great. I worked as a housekeeper in exchange for room and board, which basically meant that I worked hard all day and took breaks for delicious meals cooked by somebody else. The “room” part entailed sharing a large apartment with four other women, which was cool because it gave me sort of a built-in community. If I recall, though, I was given no stipend or spending money whatsoever…I must have brought cash with me; I can’t remember. I think it would be harder to do this as an adult, but still definitely possible.

  4. We have seriously considered volunteering full-time if/when we reach FI. We’d also like to travel, but could combine the two. I’m not sure how we’ll actually feel about it when we get there. There is something motivating about being paid for work. But we definitely plan to volunteer a lot, even if it isn’t full time. We feel that there is just too much need in this work to ignore if you have the resources to help.

  5. Kara says:

    That’s a great idea! I know when I was desperately underemployed, the biggest challenge was waking up each day and knowing I had nothing ahead of me. Even if it was unpaid work, I think working with people and for a greater purpose would be an amazing experience. It would give you motivation and it would fill in that resume gap quite nicely.

  6. Definitely ask me again after my six month nap is over. 🙂 We think about volunteering a ton, but have concluded that we don’t want to do just the basic stuff that any 16-year-old kid could do. We want to help coach nonprofits to run their operations or communications or board relations better, or do more substantive tasks (serve on boards, take on major projects, etc.) that would make us feel more impactful, and less like cogs. I like your back-up plan idea — that’s basically what my arrangement was when I was a camp counselor — room and board and $100 a week, though no health insurance. And that counted as a job! 🙂 But doing something full-time like that would let you have a bigger impact than the type of volunteering that most people who work full-time have time for — and that would certainly do more to nourish your soul than the many other back-up plan options you could undertake.

    Sorry to hear that you’re in an anxious time (re: the post before this one!), but glad you’re going to up your travel saving again, given the things that keep popping up.

  7. Renee says:

    I retired early almost three years ago. Right now my blog seems to be my volunteer work, although I hope that will change someday Also, I help out at my church’s food pantry. I love making up bags of groceries for people who really need the help. In order to bring in extra money, I do side jobs related to my former profession. I try to keep in touch with former colleagues who often tell me about part-time or temporary work opportunities.

  8. Jamescletus says:

    The goal is to fully fund your retirement but honestly I would happy pick up a few shifts somewhere to fund the extras. For example, I could work for a while at some retail job to earn the extra cash to fund an extra few months of travel. Maybe 3 months of work, 3 months of travel, rinse and repeat.

    Volunteer options that include room and board are also very appealing. Peace Corps accept almost any age as long as you are healthy but it is my understanding it can take a while before you are actually deployed after you sign up. Either way there are plenty of options for volunteering that include room and board. I have done a little research about working abroad on farms and/or teaching English. There are many viable options out there if you are reasonably healthy and have a taste for adventure.

    I am very far from retirement but I have worked very hard to be debt free and to fully fund my emergency fund. I can tell you that because of this my mentality has changed. I no longer see financial downfalls, including employment issues, as that scary. Sure they will be stressful but I could weather the storm in numerous ways. I have learned I really don’t NEED that much to survive and that is very freeing in so many ways.

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