We aren’t rolling around in extra cash in our spare time, but we are professionals with good jobs who have been responsible in paying off debt, saving for retirement, and living within our means. Still, we don’t have bundles of fun money laying around like Richie Rich. So, once we decided to take a year off from working to travel and reconnect with each other and the world around us, the big question was:
How in the world could we afford to do it?
We read articles that said anything from $25 a day to $3,000 a month would support a couple’s sabbatical and the travel that goes with it. Let me do that math for you. That’s a huge range of $9,125 to $36,000 a year.
The couple that budgeted $36k a year was living abroad in South America quite luxuriously in a house, on a beach, with a car, and enjoying a lifestyle not much different than they had at home (except for not working and being ecstatically happy all the time).
And the couple doing it for just over $9k a year was traveling around the world on the cheap, taking advantage of low-cost lodging and off the beaten path destinations, and utilizing every travel hack you can imagine from maximizing frequent flyer miles to living off the grid. Oh, and they too were beyond happy, by the way.
Our reality lay somewhere on the spectrum between freewheeling hipsters and ultra chic jetsetters. Okay, probably closer to freewheeling [wannabe] hipsters, but the kind who would be using an actual bathroom, not squatting in the woods (okay, at least one of us).
As we began to discuss how much we really needed to sock away for our “not quite roughing it all the time sabbatical,” the question we ended up asking ourselves was:
How much are we willing to sacrifice for our year of freedom?
We wanted our budget to cover six months of road trips, exploits, health insurance and living expenses in the United States and also two round trip tickets to Thailand and living and travel expenses abroad for six months. How much our sabbatical would be bohemian-style vs. creature comforts would depend largely on what we were willing give up to make it happen.
So, what are we giving up?
Essentially, our year of saving for sabbatical is preparing us to live on less while we are on sabbatical, and hopefully for when we return from sabbatical.
- Eating out
- New clothes
- Automatic deposits into savings
- Giving each other big gifts for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas
- Home projects (new paint, new rugs, new furniture)
- Daily Starbucks (flat white is my favorite)
- Blue Apron meal kit delivery (I used to do it weekly, now it’s more like once or twice a month)
- Wine club (sigh…)
- Cable TV (we’ve opted for Netlix only, and I’m already through 10 seasons of Murder She Wrote)
- Manicures and pedicures
Check out my post on a 5-week Minimalism Challenge that helped me get in the mindset of living with less.
Longer-term Sacrifices (we may not yet realize)
- Working longer before retirement, probably two or three years longer
- New cars (we sold one of our cars for the extra cash)
- Finishing the basement (something I have wanted to do for a long time, and we have put off indefinitely)
- Re-financing our home, which would have cost a big chunk of money and would have delayed our sabbatical start date by at least two months
- Access to family during a crisis, especially while we are out of the country
- Being home for the holidays
- Six months with our aging fur-babies, who will be nine years old when we are in Thailand (they’ll be staying with family)
- The security of our well-paying jobs that we love and which have great benefits
- A year of winter–that’s right, no snow for a year! Yippee!!
What are we NOT giving up?
- Our house: we have a home in Denver that we love and plan to return to after sabbatical, so we must save enough to pay the mortgage and bills. We plan to rent our home while we are in Thailand and expect to break even, but we are budgeting for the mortgage during this time just in case.
- Health insurance
- Happy hours and dinners with friends
- Cleaning service (Before we had one, cleaning chores were a source of tension in our marriage. It’s just not worth it.)
- Health & Happiness in general (personal training, acupuncture, other investments in our daily well-being)
More importantly, what are we gaining?
- FREEDOM and TIME
- Freedom from expectations
- Freedom to create our own adventure and live it
- Freedom from fear
- Time to reconnect with each other in new ways
- Time to strengthen and grow our commitment to each other
- Time with our fur babies (while we are traveling around the United States)
- Time to interact with the world around us in more meaningful ways
- Time and Freedom to reflect and grow and open new doors and windows to the future
- Greater health and happiness
The Bottom Line
We decided to aim high, figuring if we could save about 30% of our gross income and significantly cut back on our discretionary spending, we could take a year-long sabbatical full of the adventure and freedom we were seeking.
That meant diverting our retirement savings for the year leading up to sabbatical and suspending retirement savings while we are on sabbatical. We have both been saving aggressively for retirement as long as we have been working, so that gives us some flexibility.
This decision will likely delay our retirement by a few years, but that is a trade-off we are willing to make. Thanks to my husband who is a whiz with numbers and investing and compound interest and spreadsheets, we were able to make the math work. But we certainly could have sat down with a financial advisor to do it too.
For us, our sabbatical is just ‘taking a year of retirement early’. This perspective will allow us to more thoroughly enjoy it and to remember to do things we might not be able to do when we are 60…or 90.
Check out our vision board to learn more!