Affording Time Off

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'How Did You Do It?

Taking a year off is not rocket-science. It’s simple math.

Months Desired 'Off' x (Monthly Budget + 15% Unexpected Expenses) = Total Money Needed

That’s it! At least in dollars and cents.
But the implementation of this concept, a "mini-retirement", is rather difficult for most of us, not only financially, but mentally and socially as well.

By the time we realize how precious time and freedom are, life has happened. We have locked ourselves into the roles, routines and choices made over the years. Expectation, education and careers; family, children, pets, and parents, all require consideration and factor in to that monetary equation.

Things like mortgages, student loans, car payments and the costs of other toys suddenly weigh us down making it impractical, if not impossible and unwise, to consider time off. Never mind our social circles, friends and communities all of which  provide meaning, happiness, stability and a sense of belonging. These all can change with disruption of the routine.

Personally, it took me 18 years to figure out the logistics. This is not an easy process, especially when you have crushing debt and medical school loans. But, the day I graduated from residency and entered the productivity-driven rat race of healthcare, I knew that day would come.

I had no idea how or when it would all unfold, but I would be ready should the opportunity present itself.

And so I planned. 


Money & Debt

  • I opened and maximized retirement accounts.
  • I lived like a college student x 2-3 years after residency and below my means thereafter.
  • Tripled my loan payments and consolidated.
  • Added auto-debit to all loans to reduce the interest rate.
  • Added extra principal payment to all loans.
  • Spent money on time with friends and travel, but reduced all other spending.
  • Hired a fiduciary financial advisor and invested any money I had left.
  • Used salary raises to expedite this process.
  • Mind you, I live a good life—I do not skimp on things important to me, ie dining with friends, family, travel, education and charity.

Kids

  • This one is trickier the older they are, especially if the decision is long-term or moving away. 
  • Uprooting children can cause a whole new set of problems despite good intentions.
  • I say this because I was one of those kids and the moving was hard at times; but, I thank my parents everyday for leaving Georgia and moving to Europe.
  • We post-poned our sabbatical until our kids were adults.

Healthcare

  • Is simply not optional, especially with a pre-existing condition.
  • COBRA is not ideal, nor is it cheap
  • COBRA only allows up to 18 months of ongoing coverage once you leave your job.
  • COBRA will add at least $1000-1500+ to your monthly budget.
  • If you plan to move out-of-state, make sure the health insurance you have allows for coverage elsewhere. Switching from an HMO to a PPO may be a smart move. The devil is in the details...so, plan in advance and consult your HR Dept and insurance company.
  • If you are young and healthy, other options exist and are much more affordable.

Job Security, Future Employment & Worst Case Scenarios:

  • Worst-Case Scenario:
    • As a doctor, I would have to go back to private practice.
    • I might not have the perfect job, but I would have a job.
    • Conclusion: low risk of future unemployment.
    • Best-Case Scenario:
    • A full year of getting to learn, explore and do what I wanted to that might lead to...
    • Finding a different way of practicing medicine and serving my patients.
    • Discovering a different career path altogether.

Affordability

  • A year off was not feasible without selling our condo.
  • A side hustle x 10-15 hrs / month was needed for COBRA
  • Savings were available, but earmarked for travel and fun.

Timing

  • My spouse and I were “empty-nesters”.
  • Our parents were healthy.
  • We were healthy.
  • The real estate market in Chicago was ideal for SELLING

Sacrifices? Benefits?

  • Saving and living below our means x years to have time off, financial stability and little debt.
  • Downsizing and selling our condo
  • Leaving Chicago and friends. 
  • Moving out of state..not ideal, but...
    • Allowed time with family
    • Provided pet care during travel
    • Provided low rent and utilities
    • Cheaper cost of living
    • Proximity to an International Airport within 20 minutes
  • Overall, the necessary sacrifices were far less than the potential benefits in my mind. 

Taking time off will require some careful consideration and honest assessment of the hurdles, real or imagined, that you may encounter, especially if you are looking at a year or longer. It might seem overwhelming, but with thoughtful planning, the logistics can be broken down into manageable, and achievable, goals.

In fact, you may opt not to take time off, but it will be nice knowing you can.