Have you ever wanted to take some time off work? Perhaps you were exhausted and wanted a break from the fast pace of daily life. Or maybe it was time you were craving, time to read, travel, write, exercise, learn Italian.
To many people, a professional gap year might sound great but feel impossible. Especially if you are a salaried employee, i.e. being paid by a company in exchange for hours worked. A year without income? Impossible! you might say. And I will just add here that there are many less drastic ways to take time off from work, such as taking a two-month leave of absence or taking a language class one evening a week.
Still, for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that I’m a teacher and therefore need to commit to an entire school year, I’m taking a professional gap year. Let me show you how I’ve done it, and suggest some ways you might be closer to taking time off than you think.
First, let me paint for you the “impossible” picture that was my reality. Before beginning my self-declared sabbatical, I was earning a monthly salary from an employer who also provided housing and paid for my kids’ schooling. As a foreigner in Turkey, my employer also took care of my residence and work permits, which spared me and my husband having to navigate that bureaucratic labyrinth on our own. My entire family was connected to my job with a pair of golden handcuffs. To make things even more difficult, I loved my job! Thought I’d just throw that in there. So many reasons to stay put! Why shake up a good thing?
So the first thing we did was move. We left Istanbul, where we had been living because of my job, and returned to the much much smaller Mediterranean city where my husband is from. Everything here from housing to the cost of groceries is less.
In short, we simplified. In Istanbul, where I’d been working full time, we employed a helper full-time to stay home with our youngest. Down south, I am more connected with my children, my kitchen and my home. I do more things myself, which is not only part of what I wanted time for, but also saves money. I cut back on other expenses, as well, reprioritizing. I am not indulging in manicures, for example, or buying new clothes for work.
And I should add that I don’t feel at all deprived! It’s just that our quieter country life doesn’t have me wanting those same city luxuries. Whereas I used to treat myself to an hour at a café, I now go out less, having instead made a nice ritual out of coffee at home. It helps, too, that all three boys are now at school, and I can enjoy the silence of the house during the day.
I also became more aware of my alternative streams of income. A few years ago I sold a car I didn’t need and put the money towards buying a small apartment; now I have a tenant who provides me with a small amount of rent each month. I also occasionally receive commission from a former employer, and can put a bit more effort into sending more clients their way while I’m not working full time. I also devote a few hours a week to a social marketing company I believe in wholeheartedly.
This year, we are relying more heavily on my husband’s income, and I am contributing far less to the family budget. This is an agreement we came up with, sweetened by the fact that my husband is able to work more efficiently now that he isn’t commuting to be with us in Istanbul.
Finally, I have earmarked a portion of my savings to fund this year. It is an amount I am comfortable spending, seeing it as an investment in myself and my family. There is still a comfortable cushion left.
If nothing else, my gap year isn’t going to last forever. Eventually, I will work again, either returning to teaching, or else having pivoted into something new. Letting go of fears surrounding never earning again, running out of money, etc. and trusting that there will be money from new sources in the future, is empowering and reassuring. One mantra I often use is, do the next right thing.
So, to sum up, here are a few things you could consider. This is hardly an exhaustive list, and there are some great financial books out there to get you thinking more along these lines.
#1 Move (to a less expensive location)
Our move made sense for us because we returned to my husband’s hometown, where the cost of living is much lower than in Istanbul. But for you, this could mean moving to a different neighbourhood; it could mean moving to a different city, state, province, country … Be creative! I’ve known people who rent out their own home and downsize, or even take an overseas posting for a year or two, where housing is provided. Leverage your assets!
#2 Outsource less and find new (free!) ways to feel abundant
When I was working full time I had help at home, both for the kids as well as for the cooking and cleaning. Now, our youngest is in pre-school during the day and I take care of the household chores.
#3 Alternative Streams of (Passive) Income
Rental properties, affiliate marketing, network (social) marketing, residuals for past creations … If you plan ahead, you can really benefit from these types of mostly passive income.
#4 Accept help aka rely on others for a change
#5 Spend some of your savings or other investments
What else are they for, anyway? A family vacation? Retirement? I’m not saying spend all your savings or your retirement money, but I do think that reexamining savings is always a good idea.
Would you like to take time off work, maybe even a professional gap year? Why?
Which of these financial options seems doable for you? Do you have other strategies (I’m sure you do!) that I or others might find useful?
Originally published at cecilepopp.com on October 10, 2017.
Also published at medium.com on November 6, 2017.