In 2018, Mark had an accident and almost died. He decided to change his life the next day. He re-evaluated his priorities and gave up his race to FIRE. Instead, he made the decision to semi-retire and focus on his health and happiness.
Mark found the perfect work-life balance by starting his own business and working part-time in his former full-time job. Job sharing allows him to work just two out of every eight weeks(and still earn 50% of his full-time salary!). Below he shares the ins and outs of his new semi-retired life.
There are two elements to Mark’s story that I find really inspiring. Firstly, I am impressed by how he decided to make big changes and prioritise happiness in his life. Secondly, it is really interesting to see what practical steps he took to create more work-life balance.
We recently discussed some of the practical elements of semi-retirement (like finding part-time work) in our Semi-Retirement and FIRE Facebook group (Mark is a member of the group as well). It seems that many aspiring semi-retirees wonder how to best navigate these aspects of slowing down and working less. Mark’s story provides two examples of methods we can use to downshift and enjoy life and work more: running a part-time business and job sharing (either in an existing or new role).
Let’s get into the interview!
Hi Mark, please tell us a little about yourself!
I’m 54 years old and live in Geraldton, Western Australia. My family came to Australia from the UK in 2011. We moved straight to Geraldton, having never been to Australia before in our lives… I had a job opportunity in Geraldton and we decided to leave everything we knew for a family adventure.
I’ve been married to my wife Maria since 1995, she’s my best friend and soul mate. I can honestly say that after 26 years we’ve never been happier. We have two boys who are 22 and 20. We thought we had got rid of them but the eldest has moved back in for a bit as his rental recently got sold from under him. Our 20-year-old is currently living in Melbourne and studying cybersecurity at university.
My main hobbies are fitness and health. The one thing money can’t buy is your health and wellbeing. We train at F45 together five times a week. I almost died two and a half years ago, hence my realisation I needed to re-focus my life. I realised that money in the bank doesn’t buy happiness and that as long as you have enough to pay the bills, enjoyment comes from many other things.
I have worked for Fortescue Metals as a FIFO (fly in, fly out) train driver in Port Hedland since early 2014. Until recently this was a two week on / two weeks off role. However, the poor flight connections from Geraldton to Port Hedland meant that in effect I was working a 16 day on / 12 day off roster, allowing for the travel days on either side in my own time. [This has changed now that Mark is semi-retired, more on that in the questions below]
Maria has two part-time jobs earning around $10k a year in total. She works as a receptionist at a dentist on Saturdays. She also coaches at our local F45 fitness studio on a casual basis. She decided to study for her Cert 3 and 4 in fitness a couple of years ago so she could do something she loves. Maria also does a lot of work for a cat shelter on a voluntary basis, coordinating adoptions and looking after the social media promotion for the shelter. We also foster cats and usually have kittens running around the house until they find homes.
When did you first discover FIRE and what motivated you to pursue Financial Independence?
I have to confess that I didn’t find FIRE. FIRE found me. Maria and I had always in the past been spenders, we had nice cars, the latest gadgets, lots of clothes… You know – classic consumers.
I am not sure how it happened exactly, but I heard about minimalism and we started our journey towards a simpler life. Soon after we found minimalism, FIRE popped up as a subject somewhere. I’m a big numbers man and LOVE spreadsheets. The more I started to listen and read about FIRE the more the concept intrigued me.
Unfortunately, the numbers never worked for me at my age at the start of my 50s… The FIRE bloggers and others in the FIRE community all seemed to be 20 years younger than me and without grey hair. I then realised that although chasing my FIRE number would take me until I’m well into my 60s, semi-retirement might be a better option.
Shortly afterwards my life changed forever.
When and why did you decide to go down the semi-retirement path?
The day after my accident. I fell off a roof at home and broke four ribs, punctured my lung and even had some internal injuries. I realised the next day that due to a stroke of luck I had survived. I could have so easily died or ended up paralysed had I landed differently.
That day my life changed. My whole outlook on life and what I wanted to do with it (and with whom) changed.
I had recently discovered semi-retirement as an option but had not taken any steps towards it. On that day I decided that I would semi-retire by the time I’m 55 instead of chasing my FIRE number into my 60s. My accident was in November 2018 and I set a goal to semi-retire in around three years.
You recently started an exciting part-time business. Tell us about it!
Confession time: I LOVE soft serve ice cream. My family and I always drove around looking for the ice cream van when we heard the bells. Last year in August an ad popped up in Maria’s Facebook feed: “Casual drivers wanted for ice cream vans weekends and school holidays”. Maria tagged me as a joke and wrote “If you did this you’d always know where the van was for an ice cream!”.
A bell went off in my head.
What scared me about retirement (and to a lesser extend also semi-retirement) was the boredom. At my age, there isn’t a great deal to do to fill your time in Geraldton if you don’t fish or play golf. I had seen my dad hate the boredom side of traditional retirement, having no reason to get up in the morning.
I rang the ice cream man. I went along with him and had a go pulling soft serve (not as easy as it looks!). I was working two weeks on / two weeks off as a FIFO (fly in, fly out) worker at the time. So I started working weekends driving the van when I was on my two weeks off. And you know what… BEST JOB EVER! Everyone is so happy to see you, laughing, excited… Who doesn’t like ice cream?? Maria was actually saying I was coming home a really happy man.
I had been working casually as an ice cream man for a few months when earlier this year the owner offered me the business. Maria and I had a long think about it. We had some equity in our house and some shares locked up from a bonus scheme at work. We decided to re-mortgage the house, sell the shares and buy the business. So now we own an ice cream van!
Having worked the window I knew the numbers and the ROI (return on investment) on our money would actually be way superior to any share investment or property investment we could ever make.
This also gave me the way out from working full-time at my 2 and 2 FIFO job and solved the boredom issue of retirement. I applied for a job share at work and finally got accepted a few weeks ago, so I’m officially now on a 50% job share and work two weeks on and six weeks off. The rest of the time I work when I want in the ice cream van and funnily enough now have someone working for me once in a while.
Would you mind telling us a bit about the financial side of the job-sharing arrangement, your ice cream business and your Semi-Retirement?
Fortescue have allowed me to go to a 50/50 job share role, so in effect, I will work two weeks on and six weeks off for half my full-time salary.
This is enough monthly to pay all my bills, allow me to salary sacrifice the full concessional amount into my super, contribute $3k into my wife’s super (for the $580 tax offset) and have a little left over. Apart from our mortgage we are debt-free and own our own car outright. We only run one car as it’s silly owning two cars. If I need to go anywhere and Maria has the car for her part-time jobs, I cycle. I love cycling, it keeps me fit and it saves so much money not having to own run and insure a second vehicle, and on the off occasion, I’ve needed a motorised vehicle I use my ice cream van.
The Ice cream business is really a “work when I like business”. A while back I read on a finance blog that I should think of extra income I earn as I would think about an investment. It is interesting to work backwards to figure out how much I would need to have in traditional investments to generate a similar income.
I estimate the ice cream business earns me around $700 a week for around 30 weeks of the year, so it tops up my income by $21,000 per year. Working backwards using the 4% rule I’d need around $525k in additional investments. This is not something I would be able to achieve in the short term, but I can earn $700 a week for 30 weeks on the side from my semi-retirement hustle. This is the reason I was able to apply for job share.
My job share gives me the security that I can pay the bills each month, the ice cream van makes me smile, pays for the extras and allows me to work when I want to during my time off. It’s also there as a family business for when my son comes home from University should he wish to earn some extra money, and also my eldest son should he find himself between jobs and seasons as he works on a cray boat and on a farm during grain season. When I’m in my 60s (or whenever I decide I want to fully retire in the future) I will sell the business, so I also have an exit strategy.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone on the way to FIRE who is considering semi-retirement?
Just set yourself a goal and a target and go for it. Mine was semi-retire by 55, I achieved it with four months to spare. Focus on how much you spend, not on how much you earn. And get your partner on board too!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Mark!
I am always fascinated by the stories of people who decide to make big changes in their lives. Often this happens after someone goes through a health scare or has an accident like in Mark’s case.
There is so much we can learn from these kinds of stories. When it comes to financial goals and FIRE, many of us have the attitude that it’s best to work and save as hard as we can until we reach our arbitrary target number. The problem with this approach is that we delay living our best life until we’ve reached our goal.
By focusing too much on the future we risk missing the present. That is one of the main reasons Mr. Flamingo and I chose to semi-retire and coast to FIRE instead of working full-time until we get there. The future is not guaranteed and none of us knows whether our lives might change for the worse tomorrow.
Mark decided he didn’t want to delay living his life to the fullest any longer. The result: He is now happier than ever before.
I hope this interview provided you with some food for thought.
What do you think about Mark’s story and his approach to semi-retirement? Have you considered organising a job share arrangement or start a business when you semi-retire?
P.S.: Check out Marks ice cream business on Facebook: Big Softy Ice Cream Vans Geraldton. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get to enjoy one of his soft serves next time you are in Geraldton!