3 Ways to Financially Afford Taking a Sabbatical With Your Partner
My husband and I took a sabbatical from our careers. Together.
Prajakta Kharkar Nigam
Early on in our professional life, my husband Shashank Nigam and I made some key decisions to build financial freedom from scratch. You are financially free when you can choose to live comfortably for a period of time without making a continuous income.
And it was this freedom that allowed my husband and me to take a year of unpaid leave from our careers in 2019.But guess what? It is never too late to build financial freedom that allows you to set off on a journey of a lifetime with your partner — it all starts by creating assets that pay.Curious how we did it?
We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.— Confucius.
In February 2019, my husband and I took tandem sabbaticals to curate educational experiences worldwide for our daughters. We call it (f)unschooling through travelling.The whole process was curiosity-led. We curated experiences related to the things that they were already curious about.
That took us from Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean to Bali and back, over both the oceans.Looking back on that year and a half, we are amazed at how life-altering it turned out to be. We have come to believe that each one of us should take a sabbatical.
But the real insight is that a sabbatical, instead of being a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, should be the norm every few years.But the question lingers, for such a life-changing journey, how did we afford it? And that too taking it not one spouse at a time but in tandem?
Did we break the bank?
Not really.Many people think that such a nomadic lifestyle for a family of four would come with a large price tag. It would be the most expensive aspect of our sabbatical. After all, travelling and living abroad is not cheap.And yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The most expensive part of such an extensive journey is not the money you actually spend, but the money you forgo earning. The opportunity cost of taking time off work is huge.
For professionals with promising careers, leaving both the salaries on the table simultaneously is the most challenging decision to make.And yet, it is one of the best decisions we made. Here are three ways in which we made it work, and you can too.
#1 Rent your house out but don’t sell it.
We sat on this decision for the longest time. Renting out our lovely home in Toronto was the most difficult thing to imagine, emotionally. We had bought a charming place, just a couple of years before.
Done it up to our taste. In fact, I had my kitchen painted in the exact shade of the Ladurée green. The contractors had been given a Ladurée bag I had carefully saved for this purpose.
And now, going away for a year, we still had to pay the monthly mortgage payments. The only other option was to do away with the mortgage payments altogether by selling the house. We decided to rent it out. It was a lot of hard work.
Just packing up our belongings, sorting, selling and storing them while handling two toddlers in the same space was exhausting.Renting it out instead of selling it, allowed us to keep our home and have the benefit of appreciating prices in the future.
If we came back from the sabbatical and decided to pursue careers that are inspiring but do not pay well, this asset would be our family’s fallback plan.Having a large, reliable asset is an excellent source of peace of mind.
#2 Don’t wait for when you will have enough money saved up.
Many couples and families who contemplate sabbaticals get stuck at the question —
How much do I need to have in the bank before I can cast off the sails?
This question comes from thinking that elaborate journeys are meant for retirement, post 65 years of age. Once you’ve made all the money you can. This is industrial-age thinking.
We think differently. That is not how life will work in this generation or next. Beyond a primary emergency fund (usually 6 months of expenses in cash or credit), there is no need to have a large sum of money in the bank before taking time off from work.
At best, that sum of money is only a psychological safety net. Because any money just sitting in your bank account loses value with inflation every year.
or example, your $1000 cash in the bank this year will only buy you things worth $999 next year if the rate of inflation is 2%. And no, the interest rate, in most progressive economies are too low to cover inflation.
So instead of waiting for that sum to accumulate over the years, work out your cash outflows per month. And then find ways to remove some or replace them.
In our journey, moving to Asia for a large part of the sabbatical cut down our expenses by half, while preserving or sometimes enhancing our quality of life.
Many digital nomads do this kind of expense-arbitrage regularly. However, our experience proves that this is possible even for families with young kids keen on superior quality food and accommodation.
There are plenty of family-friendly and expat-friendly locations in Europe, Asia and South America where extended stays are both enriching and cheaper.
#3 Put in place alternate income streams.
Put in place alternate income streams that are either completely passive or require a minimal time investment.
For my husband and I, this included making some well-thought out investments in the financial markets and taking on a few, well-compensated speaking engagements.
In the run-up to the sabbaticals, we started utilising some of the Canadian tax-sheltered investment accounts to the fullest. My husband has also built a career as a sought-after speaker. These speaking engagements were easy to accept because they did not need new keynotes to be prepared from scratch.
Speaking often led to sales of books previously written, allowing us to benefit from book royalties.In fact, not every sabbatical involves travelling, which would make it even easier to create alternate income streams.
Some families we met on our journey were pursuing other types of income streams such as digital work that can be done remotely, offering English lessons in rural regions, dropshipping and trading.
So think what you can offer that can be built before you start?
Is there an e-book you could publish and promote? Is there a class you can offer through a platform such as Outschool or Study.com? As the world moves towards remote working, opportunities to replace an existing income, you’ve forgone will only increase.
You can only reap the full benefits of a sabbatical if you completely switch off from your current professional life.
One piece of warning here. It may be tempting to work out a reduced-hour or part-time arrangement in your current jobs. However, that goes against the whole point of taking a sabbatical. You can only reap the full benefits of a sabbatical if you completely switch off from your current professional life.
These three methods will make your sabbatical decision financially feasible and less daunting. However, even if you followed none of these and treated the sabbatical as an expenditure (or an investment in your future self), it is still more than worth it.
A sabbatical turbocharges your mind, refreshes your intellect and nourishes your mental well-being in ways that you cannot imagine before experiencing it.
It gives the necessary rejuvenation to your nearly depleted attention span in a world full of distractions.
When you return to work, you might end up not returning to your previous career at all but an entirely new kind of work. The sabbatical will have equipped you enough to come up with spectacularly new insights strategies and creative concepts.
These are useful in any career, whether creative or technical. And will possibly help you boost your earning potential tremendously in the long run. So leap and take some time off from your own life. It will change the way you live the rest of it.
Prajakta Kharkar Nigam
An economist turned writer, Prajakta looks at life as a series of experiments and observes it through the unique lens of being the mother of two young girls. She loves traveling, coaching, and exploring how our intel and consciousness work. Based in Whistler, she is writing a book about unschooling.