Thursday, March 29, 2007

Taking a year off: how are we able to afford it?

When talking to people about my plan to take a year off, some of them exhibited inklings of curiosity about how we were able to afford it. Someone even asked if I had a "sugar-daddy" who was bankrolling the whole endeavor. (After hearing that, I've taken to calling my spouse "Sugar-Daddy" and I laugh and he just rolls his eyes.) In a nutshell, here's why we were able to financially prepare for it. I'm definitely not saying that this works for everyone, I'm just describing our own situation.
  1. We are both fortunate enough to have had well-paying jobs for the past several years.
  2. We don't have kids.
  3. We paid off our debts (student loans, car loans, no credit card or mortgage debt though).
  4. We both have low-maintenance, money-saving financial personalities, and the things we enjoy doing for fun are not that expensive.

Again, it's not a magic formula, nor is it a model that everyone can or should emulate, it's just an explanation of our own situation. I think that the combination of the four factors is significant - if any one were missing, that might blow the deal.

Consequently, we got to a point where we can get by comfortably from a cash flow perspective on either one of our incomes, especially if it's just for a limited time period, e.g. one year. (So I guess I do have a sugar-daddy! But I hope to be my spouse's "sugar-mommy" in the future when he takes a year off to do his own thing.) And, we were able to build up enough of a savings cushion to stay afloat for more than a year even if both of us lost our jobs. After making that assessment of our financial picture, I felt comfortable with leaving the working world temporarily to pursue some other interests.

About #4, our lifestyle is low-key compared to some people that we know, but not everyone. We rent a 2-BR apartment and drive 10-year-old economy cars. For fun, we like to hike, ride our bikes, attend concerts, read, learn new things, sing and play music, stargaze, go out to eat, do volunteer work, and spend time with friends and family. We can do many of these things with little to no cash outlay, especially since we're not equipment junkies with respect to our hobbies. (Probably the restaurants and concerts account for most of the cost, plus we pay dues for the performing arts and astronomy organizations.) Now there are lots of other ways to blow discretionary income in this valley, but the spouse and I don't get too excited about most of them!

Also, I know some people in the area who live significantly more streamlined lifestyles than we do, essentially for the same reason: to maximize the flexibility of how they can spend their current or future time, so they can use it for pursuits (paid or unpaid) that are worthwhile to them - without having to win the lottery!

About #2, I can see how having a family makes it tough to cut loose. I've talked to people who wanted to do something similar, but haven't figured out to swing it financially while raising children. Although I'm pretty impressed with how some of them come up with creative financial arrangements to have a one-income family and still provide their kids with lots of opportunities and/or a stay-at-home parent to spend time with them.


Anonymous said...

Hi the Mander! Kudos to you and your Sugar Daddy! Take it from me, it is TOUGH to live on a single income, but it is very doable with a supportive spouse.
Hang tough and let your soul grow like a weed during your year! (ok, well, not untamed like a weed, but perhaps like our white jasmine vines!)

Boris said...

When I took unpaid leave at Ariba, a bunch of people gave me bewildered looks, stunned that I can go for a whole three months without a paycheck. There were also those who assumed that I must have gotten rich off Ariba stock, to be able to do such a thing. I wish. I missed the get-rich cutoff by like 6 months. My personal favorite... "I bet you'll get bored and start writing code while you're on vacation." Uh huh.

You don't have to be a multi-millionaire to work less than 50 weeks out of the year. All you need to do is plan ahead, avoid an extravagant lifestyle and have interests outside engineering.

So happy to hear you're able to pull it off!