Minimizing the Impact of a Sabbatical on Your FIRE Date

Would you delay your FIRE date to take an extended break from work? What if you could minimize the impact of a sabbatical on your eventual FIRE date?

Today’s guest author, who blogs at Physician Sabbatical, is about to do just that. Having read my work on the finances of a sabbatical, she reached out with an idea to show how the financial impact of a sabbatical can be minimized.

We’re all about family travel and amazing experiences, even if it means remaining gainfully employed a while longer than you might otherwise need to be. Your kids are only young once, and if you wait for the perfect time to make such a move, that time will likely never come.

Read on to learn how to mitigate the financial setbacks resulting from a sabbatical.

 

 

 

Let’s just say it upfront: what I’m doing is pretty dumb.

If I want to FIRE, taking 5 months off work to travel the world is not going to help me with my FIRE goal.

I’ve wanted to FIRE for several years, or really mostly I’ve wanted to be FI. I’m a mid-career anesthesiologist in private practice in a small town in the mountains. I enjoy being a physician and especially love caring for people in our town, where I have many repeat customers and often take care of people I know. I want the flexibility of being able to decrease my clinical practice in the future if I want to, and that’s my main impetus for wanting to be FI.

I’m generally a very budget-conscious person. I am intimately familiar with my grocery store’s coupon app. I drive a 9-year old Accord that doesn’t fit all my family members. I consider the fact that I wear a huge coat most of the year a huge advantage since it means I don’t have to shop for clothes that no one will ever see anyway.

Yet here I am, throwing away thousands of dollars in possible income by going on sabbatical.

My husband and I and our four kids between the ages of 6 and 11 are taking five months to go to six countries on three continents. Our primary goal is Spanish-language learning for the kids, but also to spend time together as a family while our kids are young and explore the world together.

 

I won’t be working while we’re gone, and the kids will be in language lessons in the Galapagos for a month and in a school with regular Spanish kids for three months. It’s been a dream of mine for years, and I’m excited we’re able to make it happen. We leave in late summer 2022.

PoF did a great post on the impact of sabbaticals on FI, in which he followed Dr. C at 11 years into her career (not far from where I am, incidentally) and concluded that by taking a year off on sabbatical, she was essentially adding 20-23.5 months to her retirement date.

Honestly, two years sounds like a long time to Dr. C. She wants to take a sabbatical but isn’t quite up for delaying her retirement quite that much. Let’s play with some of PoF’s assumptions by using a sabbatical calculator to see if we can get those 2 years down at all.

 

Assumption for sabbatical year Original Dr. C Hustling Dr. C
Length of sabbatical One year Six months
Expenses Same as normal year Decreased
Funding of sabbatical expenses Draws down taxable account Makes money before and during sabbatical
Retirement contributions Zero retirement contributions Funds part of retirement

 

By challenging and changing the assumptions, she realizes she can control the impact on her sabbatical by changing the length, making money before/during, and decreasing her expenses.

 

Assumption #1: Length of sabbatical

Let’s say Dr. C decides to go on sabbatical for 6 months rather than a full year.

She thinks that will give her some additional financial flexibility, and she has some ailing family members she doesn’t feel comfortable leaving for an entire year.

 

Assumption #2: Expenses are the same

Dr. C decides to go to Colombia for her sabbatical. She stays in a very nice apartment in central Medellin for $2000/month, eats most of her meals at her apartment, and focuses on some of the many free activities in Medellin. She and her family spend about $4500/month there.

Her expenses have decreased by over $8000/month simply by choosing an inexpensive destination. She also could have gone to Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, or many other locations for similar costs. Instead of drawing $80,000 from her accounts, she will only need $27,000.

A major part of keeping her expenses down is that she decreases her “home” expenses. She chooses to rent out her house while she’s away and makes $5000/month, and she saves $20,000 by not taking her two usual luxury vacations that year.

 

Home expenses

 

Sabbatical Income

 

Assumption #3: She’ll have to sell some of her post-tax accounts

Dr. C is a hustler and is able to find some telehealth work while she’s abroad that pays $2000/month without being too onerous. She also picks up some extra evening and weekend shifts before she leaves to make some extra cash.

She now has $12,000 from work while she’s abroad and $8000 from her extra call, for a total of $20,000. She no longer has a deficit that she needs to make up by using any of the money in her taxable account. It can keep growing as she enjoys getting to know her new neighborhood and her kids learn Spanish with a beautiful accent.

 

Income During Sabbatical

 

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Assumption #4: She won’t be able to invest in retirement that year

With a shorter sabbatical she’s eligible to make her usual retirement contributions, though her employer match decreases.

With some extra shifts and trimming her pre-sabbatical vacation budget, Dr. C has about $30,000 to invest in retirement that year. If she invests in a pre-tax account, her effective tax rate will decrease from 30% to 26%.

 

Sabbatical Year Income

 

Effect of her sabbatical on FIRE

And how far behind will she be compared to if she hadn’t gone on sabbatical? She’ll still be able to retire with $4 million after 28 years working as a physician, just a little later in the year. Her time to retirement will be increased by just 3.5 months.

Dr. C could have changed any of the variables above to increase or decrease the time to retirement. She could have taken only 3 months as a sabbatical, worked full time while she was abroad, and chosen an even less expensive location.

Most importantly, she’s in control of all these aspects of her sabbatical.

So while Dr. C is arguably making a dumb financial decision, she knows that money is just one piece of the puzzle of life. Hopefully she (and I) will return to practice energized and engaged, and enjoy the experience so much that working longer is more enjoyable. Our careers will be a little longer, but our lives will be richer with experiences.

 



 

11 thoughts on “Minimizing the Impact of a Sabbatical on Your FIRE Date”

  1. I am aware that market timing is often frowned upon, but if you are at all flexible, I would wait until the next bull market before leaving. That way, you’re not investing in the market and perhaps paying higher costs, and you’re less likely to miss out on deals while on vacation.

    Reply
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  3. Hmm this post got me thinking. We never had kids so I never took FMLA or maternity leave. Our practice managed with other providers OOO after childbirth. Why wouldn’t they they be able to manage if I were out of the office for a few months?
    I am going to give this some serious thought!

    Reply
  4. At some point the value to your family, the memories you’re creating are priceless. (Even if this post can calculate it out.)
    Mom & I did a trip to the UK a few years ago, and we had a family trip with my aunt, uncle, cousin, mom & sister to Alaska…and made memories & had unique but shared wonderful experiences. There’s still a night in Alaska when I miss heard my sister say something that we laugh about. Worth the cost of the trip 100%!

    Reply
  5. great plan man and enjoy!!!! this is why you are we learn all this finance stuff, so you can do things like prolonged travel with family. almost like a mini-retirement!

    I know we always hate timing the market, but if you are at all flexible, I would wait until the next bull market to leave. that way you’re not investing in the market and potentially higher prices and less of a chance on missing discounts while on sabbatical. Framed this way while you are away you might enjoy that sabbatical even more knowing you are not buying stocks at higher and potentially overvalued prices!

    Reply
    • In an ideal world – yes, sabbaticals only during bull markets! Totally agree. This sabbatical took about 8 months of preparation to find someone to cover for me, figure out a plan for the kids’ schooling, etc, so timing the market wasn’t possible.

      But I think it’s very possible to continue to contribute to retirement accounts while on sabbatical if you’re a proponent of dollar cost averaging rather than lump sum.

      Reply
  6. I just took a 3 month sabbatical and my net worth continued to increase while not working. I plan on taking another sabbatical next year!

    Reply
    • That’s great- I love the idea of serial sabbaticals! So glad you made that happen, and I’m hopeful that sabbaticals will become more of a norm in the physician culture, especially as the focus on burnout and work/life balance increases.

      Reply

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