At the end of July, I put my out of office on.
See you in September, it read. For any emergencies, don’t call or email me. Ask someone else.
Six weeks of freedom to do what I want – a bit of writing, a bit of editing, swimming in rivers and lakes, puttering down to Penzance, dillying in Dartmouth and dallying in Durham. I’m happy to report there’s been a bit of all the above – albeit accompanied by my first ocular migraine, a lot of sleep, plenty of Dungeons and Dragons and a long-overdue visit to the Blood Donation Centre.
The time off is exactly what the doctor ordered (my therapist is very pleased). After nearly four years in my job, eighteen months of which involved pandemic panic, I took extensive time away from the rat race. Time that I used to recentre myself – to take a deeper look at my values, my goals, my next steps.
It wasn’t exactly a career break in the truest sense, but it was certainly a deliberate step away to recharge and reassess.
There were also a number of factors that fed into my decision to take time off from work, not least that it’s a perk of my workplace. Perhaps some of them sound familiar to you? I’ve turned thirty. I want to work on my book. I need a rest. In the wake of the pandemic, I want to spend some time away from my desk. Etcetera.
“People have career breaks for different reasons,” career coach Hannah Salton explained to Glamour Magazine. “If you have a persistent desire for one (rather than a bad day at work) it might be time to think seriously about a career break. Consider too that you may just be in need of a holiday.”
However, it’s fair to say that the last few weeks have certainly made me aware of both the benefits and challenges of taking extended time off. Life is more expensive when you’re unemployed – particularly if you’ve got a limited time and want to ‘make the most of it’ in terms of things like travel or experiences.
Plus, whilst my sabbatical was paid leave, I can see how longer breaks on a reduced salary or no salary could become budgeting nightmares without careful planning.
If taking time away appeals to you for whatever reason, we’ve pulled together some ideas about how to save according to the kind of break you’re taking. Because there are obviously different kinds of career breaks – some of which might be more or less risky, or more or less expensive, than others.
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The Paid Sabbatical
The simplest definition of a sabbatical is that it’s an extended period of time off work that is mutually agreed with your employer above and beyond your holiday allowance.
Sabbaticals started out as an academic thing. Harvard started offering them to professors in the late-1800s as extended paid leave, primarily so that they could spend time coming up with new ideas and renewed energy. Corporations then picked up the habit – actually McDonald’s was the first in 1977 – and today around 16% of companies offer sabbaticals.
In the UK, the vast majority of sabbaticals aren’t paid. However, a number of companies do offer sabbatical leave as a reward for working there for a length of time. In this case, the sabbatical may well be paid – either at your usual salary rate or at a percentage of your salary for a number of months, often depending on how long you’re away for.
In Ben Reeves’ Sabbatical Guide, he does note that whilst the length can range from a month to several years, anything over three months is sometimes treated as a ‘break in service’. This essentially means that when you come back, your benefits will reset – ie. you may not be entitled to the same amount of leave, pension contributions and so on. It’s definitely something to raise with your employer as they may have a career break policy.
If your sabbatical is paid or mostly paid, then the main piece of financial advice is to budget and plan. It’s very easy to spend money unconsciously when you’re travelling, eating out etc, so it’s worth putting together a budget that allows you to enjoy your time off without sending you into the red.
Consider making a week by week chart or putting money into a separate pot for different activities. Personally, I’ve broken my savings for my sabbatical into things like food, events, day trips and holidays – this is to cover my coffee shop days as well as trips out of town and gallivanting up and down the country.
Much of my planning was also done several months in advance, so I’ve been contributing to those saving pots regularly so that it doesn’t feel like I’m on a strict budget and have a lot of flexibility for spur of the moment spending too.
- Budget for your break
- Plan what you want to do – it will help with your budgeting
- Start saving a few months before your break to make sure you have enough money in your pot
A Conscious Career Break
Whether you were simply ready to quit your job for some time off or you were made redundant and have decided to turn this into an opportunity for some self-care, taking a career break just because you can certainly has its benefits.
For one, it’s time off with absolutely no obligations to come back to; and for two, it opens up the chance for you to consider alternative income streams as well.
Of course, whether you intend to take a few weeks or months then start a job hunt, or use the time out to consistently put out your feelers is up to you. But if part of the plan is to consciously take time out, then you’ll want to do some planning ahead of time – and possibly make some lifestyle changes during as well.
One of the best things to do before taking a career break is obviously to save and save hard. Ideally, you want to know that your everyday expenses are covered before you take unpaid leave – so accounting for things like rent, a mortgage, food and bills, is essential.
Setting up a direct debit each month so you know that you’re putting aside a consistent amount each month can be a great first step towards covering those things, or at least giving you a runway from which to play from.
Budgeting will also help you with knowing how much you want to have saved and how much you preferably want to have in accessible funds by the time you’re on leave. If you do an audit ahead of time, you can see exactly how much your day-to-day costs are, and you can also consider ways to cut down on non-necessities (ie. additional subscriptions or city gym memberships that you may not be using if you’re out of town or travelling).
This will also highlight things like your pension and national insurance – both of which can take a hit if you’re not working for a significant amount of time.
You may decide to try and maintain those contributions whilst you’re away, or look for ways to contribute more to them in advance so that you know you’re not impacting your retirement income in the future.
Some people may prefer to dip into an emergency fund for their career break – that is of course up to you if it feels right – but this may not be preferable right away if you don’t know how long you’re not earning. On the other hand, if you have a side hustle that brings in some income, you may decide that whilst you’re not going to maintain a nine-to-five, you will continue with your passion project. Having alternative income streams is certainly a benefit, especially if your bank account needs a boost so you can stay free for longer.
- Save, save and save to cover any everyday expenses like rent/mortage, bills, food for when you’re away.
- Do an audit ahead of time to help you plan and budget.
- Don’t use your emergency fund for your break. You don’t know when you’ll need it.
The Dream Travel Trip
Travel breaks naturally come with a unique set of challenges. And of the many reasons people decide not to travel as part of a break, the financial barrier is right up at the top of the list. From flights to hotels, eating out to entry fees, things add up when you travel. But there are plenty of ways to make a manageable strategy for your dream globe-trotting career break.
First things first, as ever, assess your obligations and consider what budget you need to set for ‘home’. Ask yourself, do you intend to move out of rented accommodations to save money, or perhaps to rent out your home while you’re away for some extra cash?
What about things like bills or your pension etc – will you cancel contributions and subscriptions or do you need to find ways to cover costs? These kinds of questions can help you work out your true budget, ie. how much you need to save for home so you can then focus on the ‘away’.
In terms of planning for a long trip – certain things can help spread costs, like buying flights in advance, booking accommodation in certain key areas ahead of time, paying for annual travel insurance before you go and so on.
When I backpacked from San Francisco to New York, there was a lot of flexibility in how to go from A to B, but I also knew I had flights home that I had to catch on a certain day, and certain hotels that I had booked on certain nights to keep me moving on schedule. It also helped with budgeting as so much was covered already.
Saving in advance is obviously great – you may even choose to put money into different pots for different places you want to visit – but another big consideration is forex rates.
Whilst some banks and credit cards do offer great currency exchange rates (you can check out some recommendations on Money Saving Expert), some will charge more to take out cash at an ATM or have hidden fees that you’ll want to avoid.
It’s worth paying attention to when rates are best and taking cash out at home in advance if you’re able to, this way you know you’ll have a reliable conversion rate and access to cash if you need it.
Ultimately, travel breaks are almost always unique to you as the traveller, but you can very much prepare for the challenges and logistics in advance.
- Consider your ‘home’ budget – what will you still need to spend money on while you’re away? – and plan accordingly.
- For your travels – think about the things you can buy in advance that would save you money in the long run. (ie: accommodation, plane tickets, etc.)
- Don’t forget about forex rates – taking money out in advance can save you a lot of money on fees.
The Bottom Line
For any kind of career break, there are considerations around money. But taking that time out really shouldn’t be the kind of upending of your career that perhaps it might have been in the past. Sabbaticals and extended leave are increasingly common – especially in the wake of the pandemic.
“Whilst enjoying your sabbatical, set small goals for yourself to keep connected within your industry, whether that be light networking on LinkedIn or updating your CV,” she says. “[But] don’t forget to invest in yourself during this break. Take time to do things you wouldn’t usually do. Consider re-training or taking a short course to upskill so that when the time comes to interview, you can talk about what you learned during your career break.”
In other words, with a little careful planning, you can protect your wealth, revitalise your work, and boost your wellbeing too. All through one little career break.
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