How to take a sabbatical and still pay your bills

Taking a sabbatical is an extended leave of absence to pursue your passions and reduce stress. Learn how it works and how to cover expenses without an income.

Lee Huffman
January 31, 2024
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Time off from work gives people a chance to relax, catch up on projects around the house, and spend time with friends and family. However, the average American worker gets just 11 paid vacation days per year. While this number is an average, your actual vacation days may vary based on your company, title, and how long you've worked there. One way to get more time off to rest and recharge is by taking a sabbatical, which is an extended leave of absence. Learn more about taking an extended break, how to talk to your employer, and how to afford a sabbatical.

What is a work sabbatical?

A work sabbatical is when you take an extended period of time away from work. Taking a career break differs from other types of time off, and not every company offers sabbaticals to employees. Sabbaticals are generally much longer than a vacation or taking time off due to a cold or flu. Sabbatical leave may be paid or unpaid, and it can last for weeks, months, or even more than a year.

Traditionally, sabbaticals were common in academia. But they've become increasingly popular across all industries today. An extended period off from your career allows you to dedicate time toward goals outside of work and return feeling more motivated and productive. Recharging your mental batteries, taking care of a loved one, writing a book, pursuing a degree, or raising a child are all examples of what you can do when taking a sabbatical from work.

The benefits of taking a sabbatical

Taking a sabbatical offers numerous benefits in addition to the break from your day-to-day grind. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits you may enjoy during a sabbatical leave.

Personal growth and self-discovery

Many people start working right after graduation, so they have never had the time to really learn about themselves. Plus, many people’s needs and desires change as they reach different milestones in life. By taking an extended period off of work, you’ll have time for self-discovery and personal growth. This self-reflection could lead to new directions in life, closer bonds with family and friends, or a renewed sense of worth.

Recharging and reducing burnout

In today’s workplace, many people are doing the jobs of multiple employees and working longer hours than they’d like. While most workers can handle a few extra hours at work, doing this continuously can lead to burnout. Not only can this affect your mental health, but it can also lead to temporary or permanent physical problems.

By taking a sabbatical, you can rest and recharge while spending time on yourself and with family and friends without worrying about work deadlines, meetings, and other responsibilities.

Pursuing passion projects

Long hours at work and responsibilities at home often leave no time to pursue your passions. Taking a sabbatical from work offers an extended opportunity for focusing on your passion projects. Instead of heading into the office each day, you can write a book, volunteer at your favorite charity, donate time at your kid’s school, or start your own business.

These passion projects may be a temporary focus or something more substantial. For example, time spent during your sabbatical could lead to a new career or establish a business that is self-sustaining when you return to work.

Strengthening relationships

Friends and family often get neglected in the pursuit of a career and financial stability. During a sabbatical leave, you can work on those relationships and give them the time and focus they deserve. Spending more time with family may help to build stronger bonds and create memories that can last a lifetime. Sabbatical leave can also enable you to support spouses, children, and other family members who are facing tough periods in their lives.

Gaining new skills and experiences

During your sabbatical, you can work on new skills and experience to move your career forward (or in a different direction). Many workers would like to receive a promotion or apply for a new job, but they don’t have the degrees, certifications, or experience necessary to qualify. Taking an extended leave from work enables you to earn the skills and education required to get your next job.


The drawbacks and considerations

While sabbaticals offer numerous benefits, there are downsides as well that you need to know about. Taking a sabbatical without considering these factors could leave you unprepared to maximize this time off from work.

Financial implications

When you take a sabbatical, the time off may be paid or unpaid, depending on the company you work for. How will you handle monthly bills without a paycheck? Additionally, you may not be making retirement plan contributions or receiving employer matching during this time off. Consider how these financial planning factors may affect your monthly finances, debt payoff strategy, and retirement goals before taking a sabbatical.

Career impact

Even if there aren’t any financial impacts, your career could suffer. Some bosses may perceive that you’re not dedicated to your job or hold the time off against you during the annual review process. This could lead to missing out on promotions and high-profile projects.

Reentry challenges

When you return from your sabbatical, stepping back into your role may be challenging. In some cases, the company may have replaced your position with someone else. You may still have a job upon your return, but it may be in a new role. The new role could be in a different department or with changing responsibilities.

Additionally, the people in your department may have changed while you were away. Some may have left the company, got promoted, or moved to a different location. This could affect the work dynamic and impact how you’re received when you return.

Maintaining professional networks

While you’re away from work, you’re also away from colleagues at the company and people you know within the industry. Your professional network plays an important role in your success in your job and the future of your career. Set aside time during your sabbatical to reach out to key colleagues, mentors, and business associates to maintain those relationships.

Planning and logistics

Creating a written plan for taking a sabbatical from work is key to success. This plan reduces your stress and can reassure your manager that you’ve thought it through. Be open to their feedback and make changes to your plan to address their concerns. Provide explicit instructions so your co-workers can properly complete your normal responsibilities while you’re away. Consider including steps for how you’ll re-enter your position upon your return.

How to plan a sabbatical

If you want to take a sabbatical from work, follow these steps to plan your extended leave.

  1. Review your company’s policy on sabbaticals. Learn the process for requesting a sabbatical and how you can qualify. This information may be on your company intranet, in Human Resources documents, or in the employee handbook. Wait to speak with your manager until you’re fully prepared to have the conversation.
  2. Evaluate your finances. Take a realistic look at your finances to determine your monthly expenses, debt payments, and other obligations. Identify expenses that you can eliminate or reduce to cut your monthly expenses.
  3. Build an emergency fund. If you don’t already have an emergency fund, start saving now to have additional money in case unexpected expenses pop up.
  4. Compare insurance policies. When taking a sabbatical from work, you may not be eligible to keep your existing employee benefits and insurance coverage. Price out alternative insurance options to protect your health and finances in case you get sick, injured, or disabled. If you can keep your coverage, you may have to cover the entire premium without the subsidy from your employer.
  5. Determine your goals and objectives. What are you looking to accomplish during the sabbatical? What does success look like to you?
  6. Discuss leave options with your manager. Now that you’re ready financially and mentally, talk with your manager about taking a sabbatical from work and what that looks like for everyone involved.
  7. Make arrangements to cover work responsibilities. Prepare a list of regular responsibilities and in-depth guides for people taking over your duties. This will reduce the impact of your extended leave and make it easier to return to the team.
  8. Create an itinerary. Having an itinerary as part of your sabbatical plan can keep you on track for reaching your goals and ensure that time doesn’t slip by too quickly.

How to afford a sabbatical

Even though you’re not working, that doesn’t mean that your normal bills stop. Housing, utilities, debt payments, and other monthly obligations must still be made whether your sabbatical is paid or unpaid. How to cover these expenses varies based on your financial situation, but here are some ways to get money while taking a sabbatical.

  • Plann and saving ahead. Build up savings to cover your monthly expenses during the sabbatical. Consider a high-yield savings account or laddered CDs that mature at various stages during your time away from work. Have an emergency that can cover unexpected expenses or monthly bills if your calculations are off.
  • Work part-time or freelance. Many people work part-time or freelance to earn extra money during their sabbatical. Just because you left one workplace, that doesn’t mean that you can’t work a few hours somewhere else during your time off.
  • Explore grants and fellowships. Depending on why you’re taking a leave of absence, you may qualify for a grant or fellowship. This money is not a loan and does not have to be repaid.
  • Establish passive income streams. Having income sources that don’t require much effort is an excellent option for covering expenses while taking a sabbatical from work. Rental properties, dividend stocks, and selling digital products allows you to scale up an income without a traditional 40-hour work week.
  • Leverage home equity. If your home’s value is more than your mortgage, you may be able to tap your home’s equity to fund your sabbatical. Getting a cash-out refinance, home equity loan, or HELOC often requires regular income and ongoing payments. Consider a Home Equity Investment, which doesn’t require monthly payments, proof of income, or perfect credit.

Final thoughts

If vacations aren’t providing enough time off from work to recharge your batteries, pursue your passions, or take care of your family, consider taking a sabbatical. A sabbatical is an extended leave from work which may be paid or unpaid. Talking with an expert about financial planning can help you understand your current money situation and how taking a sabbatical affects your finances today and in the future. In some cases, you may need to tap into savings or your home’s equity to afford the sabbatical. Using a Home Equity Investment can provide the money you need without monthly payments or proof of income.

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