What is a Sabbatical? And How to Prepare for your Time Away from Work

August 11, 2021

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Do you ever think about taking time away from work to focus on personal or professional goals? Maybe you've been working hard for years and are dreaming of taking some time off to relax. Have you ever considered taking a sabbatical?

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is when you take an extended break from work. For employees, it's usually for a specific period agreed upon with an employer. People take extended leaves from work for various reasons, whether to pursue personal or professional interests.

This is a popular option for people in the FIRE Movement as it helps people reduce burnout in their careers. It also helps you discover a bit more about yourself and your dreams for the future.

A few years ago, I decided to take a 3-month unpaid sabbatical from work. I needed time to be more present for a sick family member, and my work didn't provide enough flexibility to accomplish that. It was at a point where I wanted to do something different professionally, but I didn't want to rush into the next opportunity just to get away from my current job.

I decided to take a sabbatical, and almost two years later, I'm glad I took that step. It has given me the clarity to redesign my life and use my gifts and talents in a more fulfilling way.

How long is a typical sabbatical?

Sabbaticals usually last anywhere from 2-12 months on average. The length of your sabbatical depends on your employer's policy and your personal plans.

To determine how much time you are eligible to take for your sabbatical, you should review your company's policy and get in touch with Human Resources to ensure that you have the up-to-date information available.

How do I talk to my employer about a sabbatical?

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

In recent years, work sabbaticals have become more popular.

According to a 2017 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly 17% of employers in the United States offer sabbaticals. Whether through specific employee benefits or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an increasing number of employers provide the opportunity to their employees to take time away from work.  

Researching your company's practices regarding sabbaticals will prepare you to have a productive discussion with your employer. The employee benefits section of the company website and the employees' handbook are a great place to start. Once you understand your company's guidelines, you want to gather as much data as possible to support the benefits of work sabbaticals. 

If you are interested in a sabbatical to improve your academic or professional qualifications or to explore other interests, it could lead to better job opportunities or professional advancements such as promotions.

When meeting with your manager, communicating the objective and length of the sabbatical, highlighting its benefits, and reinforcing your commitment to the company will help make a case for an extended leave. Creating a one-pager summarizing those points can help your manager better process the request.

Yoursabbatical is a resource that can help you with that task. Consider offering assistance to figure out resources for coverage of your work during your sabbatical. In my case, I was proactive in identifying people to cover my responsibilities and training them to be ready by the time my sabbatical began. 

How do I prepare financially for a sabbatical?

If you continue to receive a full salary, knowing that your sabbatical pay will cover your regular expenses will help make planning easier. However, if you plan to take unpaid leave or receive a partial salary during your leave, more financial preparation will be necessary.

The first step to financially prepare for a sabbatical is to take a close look at your expected expenses.

Housing expenses

During your sabbatical, do you plan to keep your current housing arrangements? Will you have to continue to pay for your rent or mortgage? If you're currently renting, is it possible to schedule your sabbatical at the end of your current rental agreement?

If you own a home, are you considering renting out your home or having a house swap agreement during your sabbatical?

For most people, rent or mortgage payment is the biggest fixed expense. If you can reduce or get rid of that expense during your sabbatical, it will lower your financial obligations and give you more flexibility in terms of where you can take your sabbatical.

If you plan to relocate temporarily for your sabbatical, researching rental costs in the area you are interested in will help you better prepare financially.

Related Article: Life After the Mortgage is Paid Off

Healthcare costs

How will you cover your medical expenses during your sabbatical? Will your company take care of most of your healthcare costs? Or should you look into getting your coverage during that period?

If you are paid during your work sabbatical, you should ensure that your employer will continue to deduct health insurance costs from your paycheck. If it's an unpaid sabbatical, you might be able to have health insurance coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), which requires employers to allow former employees to maintain their health insurance.

This is an option to look into, but your premiums will significantly increase as your employer will no longer subsidize the insurance. If you are married, being added to your spouse's health insurance might be your best option.

Another avenue to explore is buying your own health insurance. Healthcare.gov offers many healthcare plans and a variety of coverage levels. It probably won't compete with healthcare coverage through your employer at a similar cost, but you should have options that would ensure major healthcare expenses are covered during your sabbatical.

Other Living Expenses

To prepare financially for a sabbatical, you need to have a clear vision for your sabbatical. You should have a good handle on the cost of living in the area you will be staying. To achieve that, assessing the cost of food, transportation, utilities, other necessities, travel, entertainment, and any activity you want to include during your sabbatical is necessary.

Budgeting

Once you have an idea of the cost of living, you can create a budget for your sabbatical to evaluate the total cost. That information can help you decide if you want to opt for a couple of months or if you can afford to take a year-long sabbatical.

You can use a budget app to create a budget, manage your money, and stay on track during your sabbatical.

Setting Money aside

Now that you have enough information to estimate how much your sabbatical will cost, you can start saving for the sabbatical expenses. This helps to ensure you have an adequate emergency fund to cover unexpected costs.

Taking a close look at your monthly expenses can help you identify areas to cut. This could be housing, subscriptions, dining out, or entertainment. Earning extra income at work or through a side hustle can help you reach your savings goal faster too.

To avoid accessing those funds for unnecessary reasons, consider two separate accounts for sabbatical savings and for your emergency fund. Saving for a 6–12-month emergency fund will give you peace of mind. If you decide you can't return to work, you have options.

Life Insurance

If you have dependents or assets, you want to ensure that your life insurance will not lapse during your sabbatical. The best time to shop for life insurance is when you already have coverage. If you have life insurance through your employer, now is a great time to research options outside your company.

If your sabbatical is unpaid, you will lose your life insurance coverage once your sabbatical begins. That is unless you elect to pay higher premiums through COBRA. Being proactive now to ensure coverage outside of your place of unemployment will help you secure more reasonable premiums.

Check out our list of the 5 term life insurance providers that make the process easy.

What Can I do on my Sabbatical?

A sabbatical gives you the time to:

  • Learn new skills
  • Travel around the world
  • Volunteer
  • Spend time with loved ones
  • Explore new interests (whether personal or professional)
  • Do anything that interests you

It's the opportunity to reset the clock and do what you choose to focus on. You define what you want your sabbatical to look like and what you want to gain from it. Whether it's a break from your current life or the ability to start on a new path, it's up to you.

Outside of my own sabbatical story, here are a couple more that Andy featured on his podcast:

Okeoma Moronu-Schreiner

Okeoma felt strongly that she wanted her kids to enjoy some of the experiences that she had growing up. Experiences like traveling the world, attending an international school, and being exposed to different cultures.

Through conversations with her employer, Okeoma was able to start a sabbatical. While on her sabbatical, she happened across an opportunity to join a company that does more humanitarian work. This called to her heart and her desire to broaden her children's horizons.

Now, her family lives in Costa Rica with a lower cost of living and she's able to support a cause she believes in. 

Here's the full interview with Okeoma Moronu-Schreiner

Michelle & Jacob Wade

Jacob and his family were going through medical difficulties and were also doing some house shopping at the same time. It was too much, and one day Jacob got overwhelmed and had a breakdown. He realized he was overwhelmed with life and needed change.

When Michelle and Jacob realized that there was a chance they could change their lifestyles, there was no turning back. Before, they used to fantasize about going on an RV trip. But now, they were going to make it happen.

Jacob did the numbers and had to make a decision to rent or sell the house. After some thinking, they decided to sell the house and everything they owned, so they could take a long trip in an RV. 

It turned into a year-long adventure and they eventually settled in a lower cost of living area that gave them more time to do work they love and be with family.

Here's the full Interview with Michelle & Jacob Wade.

Final Thoughts on What is a Sabbatical

Proper planning is necessary if you are interested in taking a sabbatical, whether for personal or professional reasons.

It's essential to reflect on what you want to gain from this experience, your vision of a successful sabbatical, and how you can use the experience to enhance your resume. Having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish during your extended leave from work is an essential first step.

Doing the proper research before talking to your employer about your plans can help you get your sabbatical approved. Assessing expenses and setting enough money aside so you’re financially prepared will help you make the most of the experience.


What do you think of taking a sabbatical? Is this something you've done or want to do?

Please let us know in the comments below.


Anne-Lyse Wealth

Anne-Lyse Wealth is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), a freelance personal finance writer, author, and podcaster. She is the founder of Dream of Legacy, and host of "The Dreamers Podcast." Her mission is to educate and empower others to build wealth with purpose.

3 Comments

  • Anne-Lyse, I love this post and topic! I chose to take a sabbatical in the form of a child-rearing leave, in order to take care of my children, one of whom was diagnosed with a significant disability. It was a non-paid one year sabbatical that I extended to 3 years then ultimately parted ways.

    During that time with my family, I not only became passionate again about life again, but I realized that my career had stalled. It just wasn’t the right salary/ performance structure for my life and personality. So I started a side hustle during the early morning hours (5-7am) that aligns to my inner fire. So that sabbatical literally revitalized my soul.

    Reply
      • Thanks Andy! You are one of my inspirations! I was a high school math teacher and now I’ve started an online business to help other young families with household finance. You are like a guru to me :).

        Reply

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