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.
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 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.
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.
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?