The Sabbatical – A Mini-Retirement

For long time readers, you probably recall that Mrs. Root of Good is still working even though I retired over a year and a half ago.  Maybe you’re wondering how we’re able to jump on a plane and head to Mexico for seven weeks if she’s still working full time?

The answer is a three month paid sabbatical.

Last year, Mrs. Root of Good negotiated an extra five weeks of paid vacation time which let us go on a long term vacation to Canada.  Those five weeks were a compromise that allowed her an extended period of paid time off last summer with the understanding that she could take her full official sabbatical this summer.  Her employer has made it really hard to resign by offering these perks of additional long term paid leave (on top of four weeks annual vacation time) and treating her very nicely at raise and bonus time.

 

The Sabbatical Terms

At the investment bank where Mrs. Root of Good works, they have a formal policy on sabbatical leave that allows an employee with good annual performance scores to take three months of paid leave every five years.

The pay is as follows:

  • 100% pay for the first month,
  • 80% pay for the second month,
  • 60% pay for the third month.

Average those percentages out across the three months and it works out to 80% of regular pay for what is basically a three month vacation.  There’s no requirement to better yourself in any way or learn or do anything at all.  It’s three months of “you time” that you can spend however you want.

The company continues to offer full benefits like our $70 per month family health insurance coverage.  They also allow the 401k and HSA contributions to continue so we are able to keep our taxable income very low.

Mrs. Root of Good promised her manager that she would return to work in August once her sabbatical is over.  She did not specify how long she would continue to work after returning, in part because she doesn’t know how long she’ll continue to work.

 

Why Doesn’t Everyone Take a Sabbatical?

Once Mrs. Root of Good decided to take the sabbatical she began asking coworkers about it.  Most were dumbfounded that anyone would take it.  During her search for someone with experience taking a sabbatical at her employer, she only uncovered one person that had actually taken the sabbatical.

Some employees were afraid to take a sabbatical because they thought it would reflect poorly on them at their next annual review and they might be on the chopping block in the next round of layoffs.  Overworked employees fear the same thing and often don’t take all of their allotted vacation time each year.

Mrs. Root of Good is in a unique situation of not needing a paycheck at all.  In financial terms, a layoff with a severance package would be the absolute best thing to happen to her at this point.  She’s not chasing raises, bonuses, or promotions since her short to intermediate term goal is to quit working altogether.

In contrast, the majority of workers are just a few paychecks away from destitution and only a select few can afford to not care about advancement potential or continued employment.  From our post-FI world view, it’s hard to understand why everyone doesn’t take a paid three month vacation.

But from the perspective of someone who’s emergency fund is $0, I guess it makes perfect sense to act like you are a hard worker and don’t want to take three months off.  At some point along the path to financial independence, your investments can provide multiple years of living expenses if you do find yourself out of a job.  Those with no savings don’t have the same luxury.

Seriously.  Who wouldn't take a sabbatical?  Do they love their office cube that much?

Seriously. Who wouldn’t take a sabbatical? Do they love their office cube that much? (Totally sweet 15 year old Hondas in our driveway to the left)

 

 

The First Two Weeks Of Mrs. RoG’s Sabbatical

Almost two weeks into her sabbatical, Mrs. RoG is genuinely enjoying the time off.

On the second day of her sabbatical, Mrs. RoG said “I feel so unproductive” as we enjoyed a quiet lunch on the back deck.  That feeling eventually goes away, although it is a challenge to relax after being constantly busy with eight or more hours of work per day on top of commuting and parenting.

She reports the work anxiety is still present.  In the evenings, she’ll start thinking it’s time to get ready for bed so she can get up early for work the next day.  Then she realizes she can relax because weekday mornings start out with a leisurely walk to school to drop the kids off instead of a 30+ minute commute on an eight lane freeway.  Sunday evenings are especially wonderful because the weekend is now extended for another five days each week (when the next weekend begins!).

So far we have spent a ton of time together outdoors.  On a few days, we walked five or six miles to run various errands.  We attended or volunteered for about a half dozen different events at the kids’ school in the last two weeks.  In between events at the school, we sneaked over to the neighborhood park and read books in the middle of nature.  Just because.

We found a patch of four leaf clovers in the park.  This is how we stay lucky.

We found a patch of four leaf clovers in the park. This is how we stay lucky.

We walked to the nearly deserted grocery store in the middle of the day on a Tuesday.  No lines, quick service, no one bumping into you in the aisles.

Mrs. RoG managed to take a few afternoon siestas.  “Research for our upcoming trip to Mexico”, she says.

An afternoon trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew her license turned into a two hour wait.  No big deal, since she doesn’t have to be anywhere at any particular time.

We capped off this past weekend by attending a birthday party then zipping across town to a Mr. Money Mustache meet up at Duke University’s Duke Gardens.

Those are the fun parts of the sabbatical so far.

chilling-by-the-lake-with-pizza

Lakefront takeout pizza for lunch with Mexico trip planning for dessert. In the middle of the workweek with photographer Mrs. RoG.

 

Not Working Doesn’t Mean All The Problems Go Away

The same afternoon Mrs. RoG left work for her three month sabbatical, her father was riding in the back of an ambulance to the hospital and about to undergo emergency surgery.  He’s still recovering in the hospital at this point.  Mrs. RoG has the free time to visit him without worrying about her work schedule.  This helps remove some of the stress of having a loved one in the hospital.

Mrs. RoG also came down with a bad cold on her last day of work (which eventually struck the whole Root of Good family!).  Talk about really crappy timing.  But at least she could lay around the house and not worry about missing work.

 

The Sabbatical As A Test Run For Early Retirement

This sabbatical is a great opportunity for Mrs. RoG to try on early retirement for three months and see how well it fits.

It’s also a good time to see how our lifestyle is different with both of us at home all day instead of just me.  Other than fighting over what show to watch on TV, we haven’t really experienced any negatives of both us being home at the same time.  The chores mostly get done the same way (with Mrs. RoG washing dishes more often).  Both of us tend to get up, get the kids ready, then walk them to school.

After I first retired, we talked about transitioning to a one car household to keep our auto costs low.  Since Mrs. RoG went on sabbatical we haven’t used both cars at the same time.   But we’ll see what happens in the next three weeks before we leave for Mexico.

Training for the Mexico trip: backpacking the 1.8 miles to Grandma's house.

Training for the Mexico trip: backpacking the 1.8 miles to Grandma’s house.

 

Feeling Fortunate

Overall, the sabbatical experience has been great.  We are very lucky that the paychecks will continue without Mrs. RoG going to work for the next three months.  That time will be filled with sevens weeks of international travel and about six weeks of relaxing at home.  And I might teach Mrs. RoG how to swim.

 

 

 

If you had the choice, would you take a sabbatical?  What would be your biggest concern?

 

 

 

33 comments

  • Thanks for the article. It’s a great read and a worthwhile reminder of the value of prioritizing and keeping things that need to be first… FIRST. I like the fact that you’re not wasting your life, that you’re not angry at those who choose a different path than you have, and that you’re teaching your children healthy values. In the end, it’s all about choices and your blog speaks so clearly to that. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Angelina! There’s a lot to be said for thinking about where you want to end up and planning life a little bit to help you hit those goals. And just because you choose one path, that does not make anyone else’s choices less valid for them (and their choices rarely affect your life anyway!).

  • I would definitely take a sabbatical. Your post interested me so I went onto our employee portal to search about our sabbatical program. We can take 3-6 month sabbaticals for career development and volunteerism only, and the pay is less than 50% of normal gross 🙁 Maybe in my next job they’ll be more lenient like Mrs. ROG’s employer! But I can definitely see them hold someone back from a promotion for taking one, another negative of office politics.

    • I was just about to go do the same thing! (I.e. lookup my company’s policies on sabbaticals.)

      I’m curious to hear how Mrs. RoG’s view of early retirement changes by the time this huge lump of vacation is over. Every account I’ve ever read where someone test drives ER only seems to result in sharpening their focus on escape 🙂

      • I’ve heard of a few people that took many months off or a year off and decided they got bored and didn’t really mind work. Work gave them structure and social interaction and the feeling of accomplishment.

        I get it – until Monday morning that is. They’re up early and off to the commute then a long day at the office and I’m getting up late, meandering down the sidewalk to drop my kids off at school and then enjoying the rest of the day in some laid back fashion.

    • “Career Development” – ha ha. Could you persuade them that your next career will be early retirement and therefore lounging around the house and sunning on the beach is a valid way to develop that new career? 🙂

  • Thx fort sharing this. It makes me think about my rights as a father to taken some months of for the kids. Either full time or one day a week.

    Articles like this are a good reminder to not forget about this while balancing corporate jobs and the fire journey.

    Enjoy your time together

  • Vawt @ Early Retirement Ahead

    This makes me wish we had the sabbatical option! Though there are some protections around personal leaves in California, without your company having a a policy around it it is ricky to attempt.

    As my retirement fund grows, I find the stress of work related issues decreasing. Just a few more years…

    • I’ve never worked anywhere with a sabbatical policy so I know what you mean. The best I could have done was take off 3-4 weeks straight and use up all my vacation for the year. Otherwise, I would be all over a 3 month sabbatical!

  • Does maternity leave count as a Sabbatical? If so, my sabbatical is what got me thinking about becoming a stay at home mom even while my husband is in school. We’ll of course see if I actually follow through on my stated goals.

    • It’s a long break, so I guess it counts! Mrs. RoG has taken two paid maternity leaves (for the 2nd and 3rd kid), but those are generally more hectic than the typical sabbatical because 0 to 3 month olds are way more work than older kids (in our experience anyway).

  • Everyone should be able to take a sabbatical. It gives you time to think and reflect on your future. If you’re happy with your work, you’ll be back.
    I took 2 sabbaticals when I was with Intel. We got 8 weeks after 7 years.
    We went backpacking in Europe for the first one and we stayed home to take care of the new born baby with the second. It was really good to get away for a while.
    Of course, I didn’t want to go back after the second one and quit about a year after.
    Have fun guys!

    • That’s awesome! I just saw an old friend of mine taking a long sabbatical from Intel. She went to Buenos Aires for tango lessons for a month I think and did some hiking and other cool stuff. That’s a great perk, and sorely needed at a place like Intel where I imagine a lot of the work is being a tiny part of a big project. And what you do can’t be seen by the naked eye.

      I imagine Mrs. RoG will have the same experience as you after your 2nd sabbatical and won’t last more than a year. 🙂

  • Would have loved to have a sabbatical while in my working years, but being in sales (salary + commission) it would have been very difficult. Goals were on a yearly or six-month basis, and a sabbatical would not have alleviated any of those #s I was on the hook for. A salaried position would be much more amenable to such an arrangement.

    The comments around Mrs RoG and her feelings around the first days of her sabbatical are largely what people feel and go through when they ER. I guess we are all the same in many ways. Look forward to hearing about your Mexico trip; should be great fun.

    • That’s a good point about sales staff. Her company has some (Wall St traders) and they make mid to high six figures, with most of that being commission/bonuses based on sales volume. I guess they would get 80% of base pay if they took a sabbatical but that’s nothing compared to the performance based comp.

  • I had a sabbatical this last fall and it was fantastic. I fully admit that it took a bit of getting used too, but once i got into the swing of things I loved it. I can’t wait for my next one. Although I have to wait seven years until the next one.

    I hope she continues to love the experience.

  • Oh how I wish I could take a sabbatical. Instead, I was “forced” to leave a job with 6.5 weeks of vacation per year to one that only has 2.5 weeks. The result is a one week vacation and a few extended weekends. After a 20+ year career, that’s just not enough to decompress. And your spot-on about people who are so busy at work to even use their vacation. Glad that Mrs.
    RoG has options and uses them.

    • My consulting job only provided 15 days off per year including sick leave. Not much time to relax or decompress at all, especially if you have kids and have to take time off for medical/dental appointments, school events, etc.

  • Sounds like everything is coming along nicely for early retirement to begin. They’re giving an all expensive paid trial run. Can’t beat that!

  • That sabbatical deal is amazing! I would take it in a heartbeat if my employer offered it. That mentality of not taking vacation days is something I’ve never understood but, similar to you two, me being laid off wouldn’t be a big deal for us. It wouldn’t be ideal at this stage, but it certainly wouldn’t be a crises. Not living anywhere close to paycheck-to-paycheck is an incredible gift you give yourself, in my opinion. I’m so glad you two are enjoying this time together–and I’m jealous of all your walks!

    • I figured you would be up for a sabbatical! 🙂

      Today we not only walked ~3 miles (including a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood park along the creek) but also went swimming in the middle of the day with all the other 60+ year old retirees. It was gloriously awesome. 🙂

  • Great post! I love how once you approach life from greater and greater FI, you become extremely powerful. Many call this the power of “f you,” which I write a blog post about recently. Whatever you call it, I think that people can almost smell a difference in the pherimones we emit when we’re not scared of the boss, or anyone from a financial perspecitve really. Your wife, and you, are now extremely powerful. I’ve taken to calling this “radical personal finance,” but it should be radical at all!

  • Yes, please. Such a great test run for retirement. Is it recurring or just a one time deal?

    • Well, she took 5 weeks last year but that was unofficial. The real sabbatical is allowed once every five years. Maybe they will offer her another one next summer to entice her to stay on for another year. 🙂

  • I would have loved for my employers to offer a sabbatical. In fact, I suggested it many times. My bosses just looked at me like I was nuts and said it would never happen. My longest vacation in 35 years was 3 weeks. The rest of the time it was a week here or a week there. Congratulations to your wife’s employer for their forward thinking.

    • I’m a little surprised more employers don’t offer it to entice employees to stick around for a while. Most employees probably wouldn’t use it, so it would keep the cost on paper low. And since it costs 6 months to a year’s salary to replace an employee, it might save money over the long term.

  • I’m using maternity leave as a sort-of sabbatical right now. In my profession, vacations seem discouraged, let alone any type of extended time off. Fortunately, having a baby gives me an excuse to truly disconnect from my job for a few months. I’m taking advantage of this opportunity and enjoying time with my family by taking an extra month or two for my leave.

  • I took an 11-week sabbatical back in 2008, and I’m gearing up for a 15-week one next summer. I’m the pastor of a small-ish church, and our denomination encourages a sabbatical of at least one month every 7 years. Well, thanks to a grant from another group that pays for longer sabbaticals (and for people to fill in for me while I’m away), I’ve been able to take these longer ones.

    In 2008, I took a couple of shorter trips, plus my wife and I spent 6 weeks in Guatemala. It was wonderful! My wife was a teacher then and had more time off in the summer. Now she’s a school superintendent, so we’re taking a much shorter trip (2-3 weeks) to Europe, plus a couple of long holiday weekend trips (4-5 days) in the USA. The rest of my sabbatical will be of the stay-cation variety. We’re both really looking forward to it!

    • That 15 week sabbatical sounds wonderful! I wish I could have taken those periodically while working. Maybe I would have lasted a little longer in the work force. 🙂

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