Can I Afford to Take a Year Off of Work? Should I?

I never thought I would want to be a stay-at-home-mom…. and I don’t really want to be a stay at home mom… but I do want flexibility to work on my own time and not feel guilty if I want to take a half day or day to drive my kids to the beach to just hang out… or to volunteer in my kid’s preschool… or take my sponge-brain 3 year old to a museum to learn something new.

While I loosely thought about taking some time off when my oldest son turns 4 year old… that time is fast approaching and I’ve made no such plans. It turns out 3 is actually a pretty important time to be there for him. There will be plenty of years when he is locked into a school schedule and we can’t do anything during the week anyway. It is hitting me hard how the next year-and-a-half is the last year I can spend quality weekday time with my son.

I’ve also had a bit of a wake up call about how life short is with all of my health issues this year.  It doesn’t matter if they were benign — I felt horrible for a good chunk of the past 12 months. While I feel a bit better these days, I realize that my health is at best stable but fleeting. And while if I quit my job I won’t exactly be able to travel the country without worrying about money, I can maybe spend a bit more time with my extended family for a short while, or even just with my close family… just cleaning up the house and cooking healthy food and going out for walks with the moms that go for hikes with their kids during the day.

I couldn’t do that forever. I’d be bored out of my mind. But… 6-12 months seems like a good amount of time to detach from work and really be present with my kids who are growing crazy fast.

Is this sabbatical dream realistic? Is it FIRE/career sabotage? Am I out of my mudderfudden mind?

Maybe?

I’ve saved a lot of money during the last four years at this job. It’s pretty crazy how much I’ve been able to save. It might not be as much as some of my colleagues who have stock thrown at them each year in lavish refreshes but my initial grant was solid and here I am four years later, two kids later, and a good chunk of family net worth growth that was largely from RSU (and some from general stock market growth of investments.) From 600k or so to $2M, give or take. That’s huge. That’s… worth pausing and reflecting on what’s next at least, right?

Sure I still owe $1.2M on my mortgage and the house needs a lot of work. I still want to do IVF for my 3rd (and final) kid and that’s going to be $$$$. We can bring out expenses down a bit but if I’m not working I’ll want to spend money on things to do. I’m not sure how much I can get our expenses down realistically.

My thought, as of today, is that I work next year at my current company through the end of July then I quit… with nothing lined up. What everyone says not to do.

That’s 10 months from now. In those 10 months we can save an extra $114k or so after expenses. Most of that will go to retirement accounts. The rest can be saved for the remainder of the year and my time off. I can (and would) try to build a number of freelance projects at that time to ensure we don’t have to dip into our savings to cover the year beyond anything earned in the next 10 months.

If I do that then it looks like we can still close out 2022 with ~$2.6M in net worth, or something a lot less than that if the stock market crashes or more if it soars. In any case, the 6-12 months off don’t seem like they would totally destroy us financially, at least on their own. The issue is what happens when I need to return to the workforce to get a job. We cannot live on my husband’s income alone. If I can’t pick up freelance work then things could get ugly. I’m also used to being the primary earner. I like the freedom to never have my spending questioned (beyond when I buy things that clutter the house.)  It would definitely be a big change for me, but maybe not a bad one. Who knows, perhaps the freelancing route could prove lucrative enough if I focus on it.

I have a few key concerns in doing this:

  • Not being able to find a job when I need to go back to full time work. Serious concern.
  • Healthcare costs overall — how to afford healthcare without having it through work for my family — is COBRA an option? How much will that cost if we actually need to use it?
  • Giving up disability insurance through work — is that a really dumb idea?
  • What if my husband loses his job when I’m out of work? We’ll be ok for a while but it would be pretty crappy.
  • Will my husband go back on his openness to have a third child (via IVF) if I’m not working and making a substantial income? Should I just hold out until I have a third child (or don’t) before taking time off?
  • What if I’m not working but I’m still not capable of having the energy to be a good mom and instead just end up depressed and waste the time off?
  • What if I spend too much on things to do because I’m bored and end up cutting into savings more than I expect?
  • If I can continue to WFH and get my projects organized — my current job pays well and enables me to get a good paycheck and still be home with my kids (but not with the flexibility to do whatever I want when I want with them.)

And a few reasons why I think this makes sense…

  • My kids are only young once and this time is very important to me
  • I need to focus on my health and my kid’s health and I’d like to spend the time to cook healthy food, exercise, have friends, etc
  • I’m not in a good place at my job and I’m not sure what to do next, and this gives me an opportunity to step away from the workforce without jumping into something else to run from what I’m doing now.
  • This provides the opportunity for me to try to build a freelance career and see how that goes for a few months.
  • My husband makes $100k a year and I’ll make about $167k before I leave work the end of July, so I think it’s fair if I take the rest of the year off (TBD about the following year)
  • I’ve saved more than I ever thought I would by this point and I always said I want to take the year my son is 4 off. My youngest will be 1.5 which is a good time to spend with him as well.
  • I’m tired and mentally unwell. If I take a significant break I can probably go back into the workforce refreshed and better at my job.
  • If I can focus and use the time wisely I can take some online classes or read books to learn new skills so I can reenter the workforce in 2023.
  • I can use the opportunity of a lower-income year to sell some or all of my ESPP for low capital gains (since I have $350k in ESPP right now it would be good to start selling it off, and it’s best to do that in lower income years and I can use that to supplement my income.)
  • If I take 2024 off as well I can use that time to do some Roth rollovers before the government outlaws them esp if my income will be high again in the future (possible since I will remain in a HCOL area)

I haven’t run this by my husband yet. He’s currently stressed out about a work project he’s on this week and he said he doesn’t have time to hear about any of my plans. It certainly will be hard to convince him that I should be allowed to quit my job. I’m worried I will need to be perfect if I’m not working. I mean, right now I’m not exactly the best wife ever but I work hard and make good money and provide for the family so at the least I add value to our household. If I’m not working I need to step up a lot in other areas. I want to, but what if I can’t. It’s not like my mental health issues will disappear overnight. But maybe with the time I can catch up on sleep and try to be a better mom and partner. I don’t know. I feel like I’ve got 10 months in me at this job and I’m either jumping into a new company where I’ll feel like I need to stay at least 4 years (and my oldest son will be 8 and practically a preteen at the end of that!!!!!!!!!) OR I take the time now. And I figure it out as I go. I maybe will kill hopes of FIRE’ing but I don’t really want to retire early when my kids are headed off to college. That’s when I want to work because that’s when I’ll feel sad and lonely and want to distract myself. Now? I want the time to spend with my kids. I still want another kid. My husband may not support that if I stop working. But what I want him to understand is how I’ve saved up enough in 4 years that’s comparable to what many people can save in many years, in some cases their entire careers. I don’t think I deserve anything for this, but at the least it should allow consideration of this plan.

I’m still scared but this just feels right, at least right now.

I don’t have to make any decisions at the moment… can see how things play out the rest of this year and early next. Then I can make the call. If my husband agrees to this plan I can even look for where to cut spending more in the next 10 months. I know I can make this works. I just… am so scared. I don’t know how to stop pushing myself. But I need the break. To figure everything out. To be a mom. To heal my body and my mind. I want this. Not sure if that matters, but I know now it’s what I want.

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8 thoughts on “Can I Afford to Take a Year Off of Work? Should I?”

    1. But it HURTS to leave a $250k job. I don’t think I’ll see $250k again… ever. I could be wrong, but it’s not something that will come easy. So walking from it esp with nothing lined up is hard. That said, I agree I need to enjoy life more. My kids are only young once. I’m also living with my FIL for the foreseeable future and have my bed in the living room basically in the kitchen and my lifestyle isn’t that great at the moment so it’s like why the hell am I killing myself to have no privacy and not feel comfortable in my household? I might as well earn less and enjoy life more. That said if I’m not working I’m worried how I will keep costs down since I will want to do things all the time and that will require spending a bit. But maybe I can find enough freelance work to cover the basics without saving.

      1. A $250K job is exactly what I left at age 34 in 2012. It hurt for several months, then didn’t. I was so much happier.

        And the severance! It was awesome and took care of me for years after. I’d try and negotiate one.

        Sam

        1. I know you have a whole bunch of info on how to negotiate a severance. I don’t know if that would be possible in my company. I guess I can look into it but I was thinking of just quitting with nothing. If I I really wanted to I could get fired. I’ve already been on a PIP and then the following year received a 2/5 on my performance review (that was last year) so I don’t think it would be too hard for them to kick me out and then I could get unemployment. But I don’t want to go through that I’d rather just quit.

  1. True but wouldn’t it be worse to be fired? I’d like to be able to freelance and if I am on unemployment I can’t freelance anyway. I can still get COBRA (which will be $$$ but same if I quit or am fired.) I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll just stay in this job for the next 10 years or until they fire me whichever comes first.

  2. Please consider taking time off. You’ve basically won the lottery and doubled/tripled your income for multiple years. It is obvious that the current situation, especially at work is taking it’s toll on your happiness. You can’t get the time, happiness, freedom, time to focus on yourself and family time back. You can find another job and a way to make income again, especially when the kids are in school. You can focus more towards work when your kids are busy with school. You are many many years ahead and can always be flexible and change your living and expense situation in a future year. This also means that you wouldn’t necessarily have to make $250k again. You could make less and have more free time and less stress.
    The third child is a difficult decision. It could make it more difficult for you to prioritize yourself and your family time if you quit your job, as pregnancy and the early months of a new born are extremely difficult, even with no job. As your work likely pays you time off and healthcare expenses during pregnancy, a third kid might make more sense to do while still working a job.

    1. Thanks. It’s good to hear all of this (you always provide wise and rational advice.) I know I’ve won the lottery and it’s bizarre to compare my financial situation to that but that’s basically what happened. I mean, I’ve been playing the lottery for years in startups with ISOs that were worth nothing so it took some RSUs to grow in value so much plus growth of my tech-heavy portfolio that pushed me into this wealth bracket.

      The third kid is definitely something we will try for but isn’t a sure thing. I figure I’ll know in the next 5 years if I’m having a third kid or not and that can help us figure out what makes sense for me working or not. The issue is that these are the years I want to step back to spend time with my kids.

      That said — as much as I write about work making me miserable — I do enjoy working. It gives me a sense of purpose. When I was on maternity leave I just wasted so much time. I don’t do well with no structure. So I like to work, just not to have work own my life. This is why freelancing seems maybe like a good idea? I don’t know. What would I do if I didn’t have a job even if I could afford it? All the things I want to do cost a lot of money other than hiking and going to parks but how much hiking and going to parks could I do? Travel, enrolling the kids in classes, going to shows, making art, trying new foods and stuffs, all cost $$$$. I would have to cut back a lot and I’m not sure how much my quality of life would improve not working. I might get overwhelmed spending so much time with the kids, even if I want to spend a lot of time with them, it helps to have work as an excuse to step away for “me” time. So I don’t know. It’s definitely worth considering. We still need the health insurance so hard to step away entirely.

      Part of me wishes my husband would look at our situation and say let’s move somewhere MCOL and really focus on enjoying the rest of our lives OR stepping up and getting a FT job with health insurance… either would do. Instead of saying we have to stay here and he won’t earn more or get a job with health insurance and it’s just up to me to figure it out. I’d like to get $5M net worth because then I’m really fat fire at $200k a year which feels better if I have to cover health insurance for my family and everything else that could go wrong. Plus I worry about neither of us having disability insurance and only carrying life insurance on myself (he has refused to get life insurance so…)

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