Why It’s Possible For Me To Take A 6-Month Sabbatical

Exactly half a year has passed since my last day at work in my previous job. Back then, I wrote a post as a commemoration and it invited a flurry of comments. Besides the many encouragements and well wishes, I noted that there were a couple of ominous warnings in there as well.

Which was good because truthfully speaking, I don’t think it’s “possible” for most people to do what I did. You can call it unemployment/a transition/a sabbatical but the essence was that for half a year, I didn’t have to clock a 40 hour work week. That was the upside but the flip side was that I didn’t get to draw a monthly salary. Pretty much unimaginable for a married male at 28 who was also saddled with a housing loan. To some, what I did bordered on being irresponsible.

Imagine you had a son who managed to enroll into Harvard. And one day, he told you that he would like to drop out of the university to concentrate on his fledgling garage business. Most parents would deem such behaviour irresponsible but that’s what Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg did.

I am not saying I am anywhere near these aforementioned visionary leaders but I do believe that at the very least, I have little interest in adopting the life of Mr Average. Mr Average is one who would fume at concepts like “save 50% of your salary”, “semi-retire before 40” and “6-month sabbaticals” before proclaiming immediately that all these are IMPOSSIBLE.

But these concepts are what all this blog is about. And the fact that you’re reading this makes you quite different from Mr Average. So if you’re ever interested in taking an extended break from an intolerable daily grind, I can offer you some advice on what I feel are the key ingredients I had that allowed me to take the plunge. 

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1. Relatively low expenses

I added the word “relatively” since an average expenditure of $3,500-$4,000 for a young couple staying in their own place isn’t what I consider a bare minimum. In fact, I feel that our lifestyle is really pretty comfortable at this point. But nonetheless, this amount is still considerably much lower than what most of our peers are actually spending.

In fact, if I strip out the really ostentatious expenditures (expensive vacation & jewellery) which occurred in August, we would probably still have saved more than an average of about $1,000 a month! Yeah, just from Mrs 15HWW’s salary and my part-time income.

However, if you’re just starting out like both of us but owns a condo, a car and visits $50/pax restaurants more than once a week, even a month without a paycheck could unravel this house of cards, not to mention a 6-month sabbatical.

2. An understanding & supportive spouse

As mentioned earlier, there wasn’t much of a dent in our finances after this experiment of mine. And credit where it’s due, since the wife did most of the heavy lifting to make that happen.  🙂

I actually came across this article at Afford Anything (another good blog) a while back and was quite surprised that even in America, there’s still an issue when the woman out-earns the man in the household. If that’s the case there, I can only imagine some of the disdain I have created over here in this Asian city.

But Mrs 15HWW was unfazed that I was out of a job for six months and remained so even when she knew she would still be earning more than me (at least in the short term) even after I take on my new employment. It’s really quite amazing because I think she takes more pride in a husband who whistles to a different tune than even the husband himself at times.  😛

There’s little doubt that in making her my partner (or more like letting myself to be chosen by her?), I have secured for myself a true gem in life.  😀

3. Back-up plans

Even though I didn’t have anything lined up immediately half a year ago, rough plans were already taking place in my head then. And as reasonably expected, Plan A worked and by September this year, I had already secured this new job which appears to be much more aligned with my values.

Nonetheless, there was Plan B and then Plan C and even a Plan D which was to go into self-employment. These back-up plans gave me and Mrs 15HWW more confidence and re-assurances going forward.

4. Margin of safety

Low expenses is what I call a gift that doesn’t stop giving. Besides needing less moolah to tide by every month, spending much lesser than the income we made in the past ensured that we accumulated some savings that were invested.

Even though the investment income that we receive currently is still far short of the amount needed for both of us to semi-retire, an estimated $750 a month should help to cover our most basic and cherished of expenses. Moreover, it also provides an additional cushion for us to enjoy some simple luxuries if we chose to utilise it that way.

The investment income accrued slowly over 4 years provide a decent margin of safety in our personal finances.

5. A modicum of courage

Many people have contemplated what I have done but ultimately didn’t pull the trigger. For some, it’s for good and valid reasons too, especially when none of the 4 ingredients listed above are present.

But for most, even when the stars are aligned perfectly, they choose to stay on in their non-gratifying job. And they promise to themselves that all it takes is to trade another year of their life for more money before taking a break.

I know how tempting that sounds because yours truly thought hard about delaying the sabbatical for another year. After all I was still very young and at the very least, there would be higher savings and more investment income aka margin of safety one year later.

But the problem is that the above argument appears valid year after year and there’s even an acronym for this behaviour called the OMYS.

At some point in time, we just need to take a leap of faith and summon a modicum of courage to pursue the life and freedom we deserve.

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15 thoughts on “Why It’s Possible For Me To Take A 6-Month Sabbatical

  1. cheekykoon

    My Friend, what you are doing is not a leap of faith but careful planning and considerations, factoring different planning scenarios to make sure you don’t fall face planted in the process. Sometimes, we do have a little gambling that we do with our life but at this stage of planning, you, certainly is not doing anything that is reckless. Good luck ahead!

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi cheekykoon,

      Thanks for the kind words. =)

      Even with all the planning, there is still “a fear of the unknown” which probably requires “a leap of faith”.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi SMOL,

      I think I am one who prefers a one-time sharp pain (as long as it doesn’t kill or permanently damage me) rather than a constant irritating pain. Yeah, I will rub salt onto my ulcers. =p

      And thanks for your well wishes!

  2. LP

    Hi 15hww,

    Haha, I have a forced sabbatical of much longer period of 1 yr (back in 2013)…it’s forced by circumstances and I have to work at half my usual pace. My usual pace is about 30 hrs per week, so I would think that I fit your definition of 15 hrs per week quite nicely 🙂

    Anyway, during that period, I started really relaxing, going around to different singapore touristy places with my wife – it’s a period of time that I will never forget. But always at the back of my mind is how I’m gng to restart my career. At that point, I’ve nearly about 6+ students with me, which is hardly near break even point for me. For me, the hardest part about taking a sabbatical is whether you can continue moving forward where you left off. But nevertheless, I relaxed and try to push that nagging self defeatist thought away.

    In 2014 this year, things turned around and I worked like I’ve never worked before. I did about 46+ hours, something I’ve never done before because I thought I couldn’t do it. Without that sabbatical year, I wouldn’t hve done it. I approached my work with new vigour, new ideas, new implementations and most importantly, a new attitude. All these are part of my reflections when I had too much time to think in 2013.

    Till now, I’m very glad I’ve that year off to do some serious reflections. And I’m very sure you’ll do too. It’s funny. I’m doing the same work, but after a long break, doing the same work is different. I must have evolved during that time. Like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, it’s about metamorphosing into something more beautiful.

    And enlightened.

    I wish you all the best in your new career!

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi LP,

      Thanks for the comprehensive sharing!

      After resting for half a year, I have to admit I share some of your sentiments. I am also raring to go with a super optimistic attitude!

      Don’t know whether to wish you even better business for the upcoming year (much more than 46 hours a week a tad unhealthy?) but let’s just say that I hope “you get what you want”. =)

  3. B

    hI 15hww

    Thanks for sharing your experience in taking the leap from a relatively safe environment to unemployment to an unknown boundary. I think you planned well, which is the reason why you can keep the sabbatical at 6 months and still going strong as a household.

    I wish you the best on your new journey and employment in 2015 and hope to hear more experience from your new role.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi B,

      No problem, let’s catch up again soon! I think I still owe you a treat.

      I think your time for a sabbatical or even a semi-retirement will come soon. =)

  4. Mrs 15HWW

    Thank you Mr 15HWW! I’m glad you find a gem in me 🙂

    Before any of u show this article to your spouse and have them cursing me for “spoiling market”, let me just say its not all a rosy picture.

    It’s an awkward situation at the beginning and u will have friends who either feel sorry for u or angry on behalf of u. Maybe we can leave that for a blog entry another day.

    At the end of the day, Mr 15hww is unemployed because it is a choice we both had made, not due to the lack of it. And i think in our current society, to be able to have the option of making a choice is really SOMETHING. (As much as u can deny, we often make many decisions because we have no choice).

    So, we did it! And I’m real proud of us!

  5. Alvin

    i am proud of u!

    It is tough to be a contrarian and to stand against societal views. But u did it with grace 🙂

    Everyone likes to think they are different but few people actually do it.

    6 months have passed at a blink of an eye. It felt like yesterday that u said u quit your job.

    All the best in your new endeavors. Keep the story coming. Keep your adventure going!

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Alvin,

      Thanks for your kind words and encouragement!

      You and your team are contrarians too and I am happy for you that the business is building good momentum!

      Good luck for your second year. =)

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi RetailTrader,

      Sometimes, it’s not about waiting until one has achieved financial independence or even semi financial independence before living the “ideal” life. Who knows, for some it’s finding a more palatable job that just pays slightly less?

      Good luck with your journey!

  6. pib

    I think mrs 15hww is the best gem in your life. I wish that i found myself someone like that in my life! (Or rather someone like that found me) lol