Saving for a sabbatical

After graduating for college, for some time, I could not understand how working for companies could be so tiresome, unproductive and generally boring. The days in my new cubicle seemed endless. I did not feel much motivation to climb the corporate ladder and I really wondered if something was wrong with me. While people around me seemed to be happy to put in the long hours, I could not get over the apparent pointlessness of what I was doing and the way we were expected to do it.

There must be a better way to spend my life…

I think that the work culture at most companies in North America has many issues. People are sometimes rewarded for staying long hours in the office and not for real work done. Anyone leaving before what is considered “too early” according to local standards will be judged, no matter how early they got there or how effective they have been during the day.

I eventually switched companies and things improved. I appreciated my job more. However, I was also dreaming of eventually taking a year off from work to travel but I had no real plan of what I wanted to do during that time and how I would achieve it. My main issue was that I had no clue on how to get motivated to save money, which at the time I had trouble doing. I was hearing of people taking long periods off work, I thought it was awesome and that I’d like to do the same thing but I was not taking any serious steps and it seemed like I would never do it.

Things changed drastically after the two following things happened:

1. I found what I wanted to do during a sabbatical – I was able to visualize my plan.
2. I had a very strong desire to do it.

Once I found what I wanted to do, I really, really wanted to do it as soon as possible. I took a hard look at my finances and made some drastic changes for which I will ever be grateful. I started reading a lot of blogs and articles online about personal finance, early retirement, frugality, living simply and wise-spending. My thinking about money radically changed from a thing that was meant to reward myself to something that could work for me. The saving machine was finally working, and it was working hard! Work also became easier, because finally, there was an end-date to it, rather than the impression that I would be stuck there forever.

A tool that helped me immensely is a daily tracker I built for myself in a spreadsheet. I put down my whole day-to-day financial situation. There was a line for each day so I could track when my pay would come in, when monthly payments were being taken out of my account and how much I could put into savings and when while still meeting my financial obligations. Whenever I made an expense that was out of budget, I would see my goal turn to red because I would not have this money when my sabbatical comes. Whenever I spent less than planned, the extra money would show as green. That way I was sure that I would have the planned amount once I hit the start date of my 10-month vacation.

I was updating my spreadsheet daily and balancing it with my bank accounts. It helped to keep me motivated as I would know as soon as I was out of track and be able to correct the situation. Now, two years after I finally left on my sabbatical, I still use this spreadsheet. I did not change much of my pre-sabbatical savings habits since I’m back, and I’m on track for another sabbatical period in the next years!

People that are naturally frugal or that love their job might not get the point of this article. But for the rest of us, here is my advice for anyone wanting to save for a sabbatical: Have a plan that deeply motivates you. Write it down. Put it up on all your walls if that’s your thing. You have to see it everywhere, to dream about it, to breathe it all day long. Not everyone needs to do the kind of obsessive-compulsive daily tracking I did, but find what works for you and do it!