Planning for Leisure - Before Retirement

Planning for Leisure - Before Retirement

February 01, 2019

Would you be interested in…

Enhancing your professional and vocational resume?

Exploring a career change?

Dedicating some extended time to a special project?

Establishing a better work-life balance?

Enjoying some once-in-a-lifetime experiences – before age or declining health make those experiences impossible?

Intrigued? Maybe you should plan for a sabbatical. Or, at the very least, explore ways to increase the leisure time in your life.

The Sabbatical

A sabbatical is an extended break from your regular work, typically for a few months to a year. While a sabbatical may include travel, it is not necessarily a vacation. Rather, a sabbatical is “purposeful leisure”; a time to broaden your knowledge, try new things, or reflect on the direction and priorities of your life, without the pressures of deadlines or long-term commitments.

Sabbaticals have a long history in academia. Professors leave their teaching positions for one or two semesters to focus on research, study at another institution, or complete a thesis, then return to the faculty. While far less common among other employers, “the practice is now making its way into company benefits packages, from retail stores to tech startups to international manufacturing corporations,” according to Dana Sitar, editor of a personal finance website (

What do you do on a sabbatical? The possibilities are endless. You might burnish your credentials or enhance your economic value in the marketplace with advanced education. You could do volunteer work with a charitable organization. Maybe there’s a seasonal job opportunity that allows you to live overseas. Some foundations offer sabbatical grants to recipients who do research or write papers.

Whatever the activity, a sabbatical is intended to inject a healthy dose of leisure in your life, not only to rest but to live at a slower pace, to fully experience new things and contemplate different paths. Sabbaticals can be life-changing.

Reviving the Old Definition of Leisure

Today, “leisure” is often defined as a vacation, or a few days off to catch up on sleep. These are temporary breaks from working, whose primary purpose is to get us ready to go back to work. Josef Pieper, a mid-20th-century philosopher, lamented this culture of “total work,” in which everything, including leisure, exists to increase our capacity to work:

The “break” is there for the sake of work. It is supposed to provide “new strength” for “new work,” as the word “refreshment” indicates: one is refreshed for work through being refreshed from work. (emphasis added).

Historically, this was not the definition of leisure. Leisure was the free time to pursue other interests and contemplate life. Leisure was not considered an indulgence, but an essential component to a balanced life. In his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Pang writes,  

“The ancient Greeks saw rest as a great gift, as the pinnacle of civilized life. The Roman Stoics argued that you cannot have a good life without good work. Indeed, virtually every ancient society recognized that both work and rest were necessary for a good life: one provided the means to live, the other gave meaning to life.”

Agreeing with ancient wisdom, Pang asserts that a leisurely life is often a more productive one. Multiple studies have shown that excessive work schedules rarely result in a corresponding increase in productivity or creativity. Anecdotally, Pang finds that some of the most productive and innovative individuals from history actually “did not work that much. Their lives were filled with leisure, activity and rest.”

Planning for a Sabbatical

Is your life filled with “leisure, activity and rest?” Probably not. Would life be better if you improve your ratio of leisure, activity and rest? If so, maybe you ought to plan for a sabbatical. And “plan” is the keyword.

For employers who offer sabbaticals, there is usually a guarantee of a job upon your return (although not necessarily the same one). In some instances (such as the pursuit of an advanced degree or participation in an industry-related project), a sabbatical may actually be employer-sponsored; you will continue to receive some or all of your salary and benefits. In other cases, a sabbatical may require piecing together a new mix of compensation and benefits, with the biggest issues revolving around how to obtain or keep health insurance, or continue retirement saving.

But whatever the particulars, a sabbatical will most likely require personal funding. And most likely these funds won’t come from qualified retirement accounts; before age 59½, the early-withdrawal penalties are too steep. Planning for a sabbatical means planning to save in other places.

Saving for a Leisurely Present

The ideas embodied in a sabbatical have broad implications for our relationship with work, money and retirement planning. A sabbatical emphasizes the value of leisure in the present or the near future, instead of postponing it until after we stop working. If we want to live more leisurely today, it probably requires a reexamination of our saving strategies.

The bulk of mainstream commentary on personal finance focuses on retirement saving, with a few toss-off comments on reducing credit card debt and maintaining a small emergency fund. The costs of a two-week vacation can be paid from cash flow or spread out on a credit card for a few months after. But you can’t expect to cash flow a sabbatical. Paying for a sabbatical is more like making the down payment on your first home; it’s a bigger savings project that might take a few years to achieve.

A sabbatical isn’t the only avenue for adding healthy leisure to your life. A vacation home, a boat, or a recreational activity can provide similar benefits. But truly enjoying these options is only possible if you save for them; borrowing for leisure often adds financial stress, and is counter-productive.

If you pay attention to marketing messages in the financial services industry, you’ll note that some ads touch on planning for a leisurely present. It’s the father who realizes a swimming pool will reshape family life or the couple that takes their daughter on a life-changing tropical adventure. The cynical might see this as one more ploy to collect customers and deposits, but perhaps there’s more to it.

There’s something lacking in a financial philosophy that postpones leisure until retirement. Yes, delayed gratification is necessary. But if we wait until 65, 70, or 75 before having extended periods of leisure, we may be too old to enjoy it. And it’s not just a problem of being too old. Some studies show that after years of working – and never learning how to live leisurely – many find they are poorly equipped to enjoy retirement.

Some might argue that saving for a leisurely present can jeopardize saving for a secure future. But remember Pang’s statement: a leisurely life is often more productive as well. Savings that fund a sabbatical may be the catalyst for a lifetime of greater productivity.

If you have mastered the basics of saving, maybe it’s time to allocate some of it to a sabbatical or other life-changing leisure pursuit. 

Lifetime Financial Growth, LLC is an Agency of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), New York, NY. Securities products and advisory services offered through Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS), member FINRA, SIPC. OSJ: 244 Blvd of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (412) 391-6700. PAS is an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian. This firm is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS.

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