Answers from Taking a Gap Year

learning as we go

Our Gap year provided answers to our list of questions, answers to questions we didn’t even think about asking and more questions. If you have considered taking some time off or retiring early you might have had a few of these questions. Here is what the year off has taught us so far.

I wrote about being ok not knowing all the answers, dealing with risk and fear of failure in Part 1. Here is what we have learned so far.

Questions we knew we had before our Gap Year

Will we be able to find work after this?

What will our spending look like if we aren’t working?

Will Mr. Mt miss the 9-5? Enjoying being home so much?

Do we like traveling with 5 little kids?

Do we have enough income for our expenses?

Could we homeschool our kids short or long term enabling us to travel longer?

Will we be bored?

What will people think about this? Will we care?

Questions we started asking during our Gap Year

Will I be ok not funding our IRA?

How will I feel about pulling money out of our retirement accounts?

Will I want to go back to work?

Do we want more income?

Is there a downside to having freedom and flexibility?

See we had questions! In the last year we have been better able to tease out some of the answers. Here is where we have landed thus far.

Will we be able to find work after our year off?

This was the number 1 question we had. How do we find work after our gap year? We worried. We planned. We hedged our bets. You know what? I totally forgot about it. I forgot to add this question to the first draft. I forgot to add it after the first round of edits. The question just fell off our radar. Mr. Mt created a plan for staying top of mind and securing employment after our year off. It paid off and he was offered a few jobs (all better than his last), and kind of felt like he was constantly being recruited. Which is odd, beings that almost never happened while he was still working. There were a number of things we did to help facilitate this, but I am still a little surprised by the result.

What will our spending look like if we aren’t working?

It’s actually been a lot lower than I expected. I didn’t carefully track our spending before Mr. Mt quit. This year, however, we have carefully logged every expense. I really wish we had started this sooner! Every month the numbers continue to surprise me. I had estimated $3500 with flex room up to $4000. Even with our giving we are averaging $2800. That is a big freaking gap. But now we know. This is super important info as we think about what our next season holds.

Would Mr. Mt miss the 9-5? Enjoying being home so much?

When we started our gap year, I was leaning towards him really missing his work. He loves the work so much. He is incredibly talented at what he does. But I was wrong. He doesn’t miss the 9-5 at all. He has been offered a number of jobs during this last year. There was almost no temptation to jump back into work early. He does some volunteering in the social services field still, and might expand that.

He has thrived being home. He kind of likes being a stay at home dad. But he has also balanced his time with taking on a lot of projects. He also doing a semester of college right now (again, just testing things out.) So he is out of the house about 20-30 hours a week.

Do we like traveling with 5 little kids?

This is a legit question. I mean, really, 5 little kids and a dog in a pop up camper? It was a coin toss. Total disaster or really awesome. I had no idea. So we took a 6 week trip and found out that we all really loved it. But don’t think for a minute that I had any confidence in that outcome.

Do we have enough income for our expenses?

The next post in this series will deal with all the numbers. But the short answer is yes, for right now, but maybe not really. It’s complicated. Probably 800-1000 words complicated. We wrote about being Work Optional.  Our passive income covers 100% of our fixed expenses plus some. We get to be very choosy about the work we do. No more doing work we hate, or dreading Monday morning. We have a lot of flexibility but I am not sure we aren’t out of the game forever.

Could we homeschool our kids short or long term so we could travel longer?

This is something we thought about a lot during our road trip. 4 out of the 5 kids are in school. Before I had kids I was 90% sure I would homeschool future children. Emphasis on before. We took a second look at the idea this summer for the purpose of travel. What if we wanted to travel for 6 months? What if we wanted to take a road trip for a full year? Could we swing homeschool for a few months or a year? We landed on a solid, Maybe. For the right reason, in the right season, and the right length of time.  A year ago I would have said, “No, not ever, for any reason.” Now, I can wrap my mind around a situation where we might and it would be a good thing for everyone.

Will we be bored?

Ha! Oh dear, I think I just choked on my coffee. But yes, that was a small concern. In reality, we have another problem. Neither of us are working and we still have too much on our plate. We actually are talking about hiring a housekeeper. Life is just full. Like sometimes too full. There are so many good things, and we keep scooping them up.

What will people think about us taking a Gap Year? Will we care?

I went into this knowing it would be a little weird. That some people won’t know what to make of it. Holy crap. Apparently if you have 5 kids, everyone, and I mean everyone will think it’s weird. Or they will have strange questions but not feel comfortable asking. When Mr. Mt send out his resignation letter letting people know he was taking a year off, his coworkers thought he had secretly been promoted. His bosses thought he had found a better job. Basically they thought the whole “taking a year off” was a cover story!

Do I care? Oh boy, you betcha, I do! I wish I could say that I don’t care at all. But that is a flat out lie. I care. I care a LOT! I want to tell people that we have these exciting or at least normal jobs. Or I want to have this great elevator pitch about passive income, creating space for your biggest dreams and the magic of compound interest. But I don’t. I mumble something about taking some time off. Then worry that the person thinks Mr. Mt was laid off, or we can’t find work because we are lame losers.

I thought this would be a 2 on the scale of gap year problems. Honestly, it feels more like a 6. In the first post I talk about minimizing risks, this one blindsided me. I might start making something up. We won the lottery? I received a big inheritance from a great uncle? Ugh. 85% of people are like, “That is so cool, I would love to do something like that.” But that other 15% look at me and I see the wheels spinning. It’s a mix of doubt or pity. It makes me want to pull out our Net Worth summary, our passive income chart, and months of expenses and do a tell all. I really wish I didn’t care. But apparently I do care, a lot. It’s embarrassing, and stupid. Maybe I need to read another Brene Brown book, or two. I never promised you would like all the answers I found out.


Care-a-lot, I Care-a-lot (clap/clap, clap/clap)

Questions we didn’t even think to ask

Will I be ok NOT funding our IRA?

Um, no. Not at all. This didn’t even cross my mind. We are taking a year off; we won’t invest. End of story. Nope. Not the end. It’s become a habit that is very uncomfortable to break.

How will I feel about pulling money out of our retirement accounts?

As we looked at options for the future, I have considered starting to pull the 4%. Um, yeah I really hate that idea. I quickly learned that while it’s a nice backup plan. It can’t be THE plan. It gives me the heebee geebees. Our rental income, on the other hand, I will spend that all day long and never look back. But actually cashing out stocks makes me feel slightly ill.

Will I want to go back to work?

I left work about 1 ½ years before Mr. Mt sent in his resignation. And never looked back. Actually, every time I drove by my old place of work, by heart was filled with joy and gratitude because I wasn’t working there. Like every single time. Ok, it still happens.

But then we took this year off, and something shifted. It was something unexpected. After we were both home, and had some flexibility I started thinking about my professional growth. Not just on little projects, or hobbies. But like a real career. I saw ways I could add value. I saw the problems I could solve. It’s evolving. But I am catching a vision that is exciting. Where I might have a career that I am not only good at but passionate about. So I am doing more side projects. I am testing the water with my toes. I have no bold declarations, but I am searching to find the answers to questions by trying.

Do we want more income?

This never crossed my mind. After we had enough to meet our monthly expenses, we are out! But that shifted a bit this year. There are other big projects and adventures we want to take on. There are bigger ways we want to give. I have also thought about our future income more. How will we be able to help our kids as they move into adulthood? It’s not something I talk about a lot, but one of our kids has special needs, and there are situations we need to consider. Expensive situations.

So I don’t think we are finished on the income side. I had planned on Mr. Mt going back to work, if only part time. Now I am thinking something bigger, and maybe me instead of him. This was a huge surprise for me, but something to keep talking about.

Is there a downside to having freedom and flexibility?

Don’t you hate it when lottery winners complain? Yeah, poor you. Now you have 50 million dollars and SO many problems. Whatever.

Don’t hate me, but this might sound a bit like that.

We really wanted more freedom, more choices, more flexibility. We saved, invested, created passive income and keep expenses low to do that. And it’s amazing for about 1000 reasons.

What I didn’t realize was that once you have freedom and choice.

Well, you have a lot of choices to make.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad we have choices. But I now have to figure all these out. We aren’t stuck in one job we hate. There are 10 jobs we could do. We aren’t stuck in one town, state or country. We could move almost anywhere. We aren’t limited to one weekend activity. There are dozens within reach.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. Because it’s exactly what we wanted. But sometimes I want to buy a magic 8 ball to help me out. Being stuck kind of streamlines the decision making process.

In part 1, I talked about venturing out, even when you have questions. “We don’t start because we have all the answers. We start because we have things we want to learn.”

I feel like we learned so many things in this last year.

Things we never could have learned if we didn’t test the water.

And our trajectory is forever changed because we are changed.  We now we have new questions and we will set out to find those answers.


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28 thoughts on “Answers from Taking a Gap Year

  1. Many of these are questions that I have been pondering myself. Although for me, maxing out my IRA is a non-starter, lol.

    I can especially relate to this quote:

    “What I didn’t realize was that once you have freedom and choice.

    Well, you have a lot of choices to make.”

    It’s entirely a first world problem, but the struggle is real.

    • Part of me didn’t want to include that one. But it’s something that has caught me off guard. Honestly, I think I felt stuck for so long, or at least limited. Especially when Mr. Mt was in the Army. The Army decided where we would live, when we would move, where we were going next, who he worked with, ect. It’s a transition to have to make so many choices. And now that we have even more to make, it can be a bit overwhelming. It’s totally the best kind of first world problem. But I don’t see a lot of other people writing about it, so I figured I better add it. Even at the risk of sounding like a whiny lottery winner. =)

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Ms. Montana! It’s interesting how people react to your choice to take a year off. I can see how that would be incredibly bothersome. I admit, I would be tempted to explain to people exactly how I made it happen (spreadsheets and all), but that’s probably not the best approach either.

    • I knew going in that it would be a little weird, but I thought that would level off. I think a lot of it has to do with the issue of work being identity and worth. Like if a man isn’t working an important job, he is somehow less. Some has to do with the weirdness of money topics. Everyone brings their own issues to the table, and a unique situation can cause those “big feelings” to seep out. Some of it I’m sure is a tiny bit of jealousy. Kind of a “well, it must be nice being you!” snideness. “The rest of us have to actually work for a living.” It’s only a small percent of people. And I hate that I let it bother me. It’s like having 50 nice comments on your blog, then that one rude one. 90% of your attention goes to 2% of the comments.

  3. Nice write-up and interesting to see your perspective. One of the main reasons I don’t plan to retire soon is like you I want to be nomadic. However the thought of homeschooling my two boys makes work sound attractive. I love them both but I couldn’t do it. Still the flexibility after hitting the number is nice. If I ever do get laid off I do for see a gap year. I don’t see it happening though.

    • We wanted to think about homeschooling while we were in the throes of our road trip, to get a more honest picture of what it would actually look like. That way we know if we are limited to school breaks or if we could pull the kids out of school for Jan-May and be able to fill that gap ourselves. We did a lot of “mock” homeschooling on the trip. It actually went great. There were tons of fun history-nature-science options as we traveled town to town. We probably went to a new kids museum every week. They had to read in the car and at bedtime. We did some math workbooks. If I knew I had Jan-Aug to cover Jan-May school material, and the trip was going to be amazing, we would do it now. The biggest trouble I had was trying to carve out work time while traveling. That would take some work to figure out.

      • We homeschooled both kids until they were in 3rd grade. At that point they transitioned into a great, public Montessori school. I LOVED the flexibility of traveling during the school year. One of the hardest parts of them going to school was having an official “schedule”.

        • The schedule is the biggest drag when it comes to travel. Our kids go to an amazing public school. And I think the school would be very supportive of us taking a big family trip that would require a few months of homeschooling. I think we could swing a few months. At least I don’t think I could screw it up too bad in a few months of traveling. 😉

  4. One of the reasons we love home schooling (never planned on doing it before kids but decided to when oldest daughter was about 3 and have been doing it ever since) is b/c the schedule works around our life, however we want it. Unlike traditional schooling, you can easily get home schooling work done in 3-4 hours if you plan well. It’ll be interesting to see if you decide to in the future and how you like it. This was a great post for me. We’ve been thinking lots about the gap year idea and wondering what it would be like if we decide to do it. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • This is part 2 of 4, so I hope it give you an inside peek into the process. I had a hard time finding a real examples before we took the jump. And it’s not like you can ask your friends how their gap year went. =) As to the homeschooling, we do a bit of it in the summer to keep everyone fresh. About an hour a day. So I have some feel for what it might be like. We tried a little bit this summer on our trip just to get an idea of how it would actually look to teach 4 little kids in a pop up camper. 😉 For now, the summer travel will work. But it’s something we want to keep testing, in case we want to do a bigger trip in the future.

  5. I love your reflections on this. It’s so cool that you’ve done this gap year.

    I totally agree about the difficulties of too many decisions and too much freedom. I have a work-from-home job and it means I can live anywhere I want to. But while I know I want to move away from where I live now, the sheer number of options is making it so hard to pick where I really want to go.

    It’s definitely interesting how work is equated with so much. One of the first questions people will ask you is what you do, meaning, what is your job. This lets them classify you. It’s much less often that people ask what you’re passionate about, or what your hobbies are or your values or any number of other things that are really the things that make up who you are as a person.

    I’ve done quite bit of research into the RV lifestyle and I know there are groups out there online with others who home-school on the road-a.k.a. ‘road-schooling’. (I remember reading an article about it in an RV magazine.) I’m sure your kids would learn so much about the world if you took them on an extended trip- things that they wouldn’t learn in school.

    • We have slowly had to commit to our choices just so we won’t constantly evaluate every choice. If everything is up for change, it’s hard to make progress. So we are picking a few areas of focus for 2017, and the rest we just need to leave the same. Part of that means not looking at property or houses to buy. There are only a few transitions we can focus on in any given year. I really like the idea of having a theme or focus for the year and creating most of my goals around that area.

      • “I really like the idea of having a theme or focus for the year and creating most of my goals around that area.”

        I like this. And it’s one of those ideas that I’ve heard a few times lately which starts to make me think it’s something I need to pay attention to. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my 2017 goals, and it seems like I’m leaning towards a couple of really big ones.

        It’s definitely easier to make progress on a couple of areas at a time than a whole bunch all at once.

        • We are focusing on 2 1/2 things for 2017. Everything else we are putting a “pause” on. All energy and focus is going to be poured into those two things, and they are shaping our entire calendar. By doing it this way I think we will actually gain a lot of traction.

  6. My wife has kicked around the idea of home schooling. Right now our son is one so we have a bit more time to think about it. But I remember that I got super bored in school and we thought with some flexibility that we could tailor our son’s learning to more of his interests and what we think might give him some lasting life skills, ie more financial education, learning 2nd and 3rd languages. Being in the DC area there are ample museums that we thought could make for awesome field trips. Thanks for sharing your thought process!!!

    • I think there are lots of upsides to the idea. And if we did it while we travel it would be a bit of an extended school field trip. We were able to see so many national parks and museums on our 6 week trip. We spent a lot of time in Yellowstone talking about the geothermal science. It was neat to see how excited they were to learn about all of it. We lived in Germany when our now 9 year old was 0-4. I worked really hard to teach him German while we were there. It’s stuck a little bit. =)

  7. I think it makes a heck of a lot of sense that having more choices is more complicated a problem than you anticipated, especially with a military background. In the military so much of your life choices are dictated or regimented in some way, and even for folks just transitioning back into civilian life I know it can be a challenge to figure out how to sensibly take on decision making. Having a gushing geyser of choice isn’t any less challenging than having no choices at all, to my mind. The goal seems to be to have a decision making matrix that helps you eliminate 80% of them, the 80% that would be undesireable for your lives, without expending the same brainpower as you do to pick from the remaining 20%. It’s a working theory anyway. 🙂

    Now that you mention it, while I never considered homeschooling I remember that my mom homeschooled us every summer when public summer school wasn’t an option. I still don’t think I could manage it personally but it’s awesome to have it be one possible way of keeping your travels up.

    Thanks for doing such an extensive write-up, it’s so interesting to hear. I hope you get more comfortable with telling people maybe the basic truth that you took a gap year. It’s such a cool thing, we need more of this, not less! I wonder how uniquely American it is to think it’s weird. It’s routine for students not in the US to take a gap year, why not adults who plan well? Also if you ever feel comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear about Mr’s plan to stay top of mind. I’ve been feeling a bit stale professionally and could do with some career talk!

    • As part of taking this year off, we wanted to be more open to new directions. We really wanted to see what might catch. But 2017 will be different. We are in the process of planning our goals right now. We are picking 2 areas to focus on, and putting a pause on most everything else that doesn’t support those two areas. Our own home renovations being own of them. It doesn’t matter if siding goes on sale or we find a deal on used fencing. 2017 is not the year of our personal home reno. (We have to do 1-2 projects on our rentals.) So 2016 was be open to the good things that might flow into our lives. But 2017 is run like crazy towards our 2 goals and put all effort and focus there.

      Maybe we can chat offline about some career things. =) I though about adding more here, but the post was already over 2000 words and it really needs a good amount of space.

  8. I get the part about caring what other people think. That made my list of Top 5 Reasons I continue to work past FI.

    One tip for the 401(k) for anyone considering a gap year. If you time your gap year to encompass one school year, that is, summer to summer, you will have a half year’s salary earned in each of those calendar years, and you should be able to at least partially fund that 401(k).


    • I think when we go back to work, all will be right in the world again. Then people will think that it was really neat. But I think if we would have “retired” it would have always been a little weird, especially because we have never been high earners. (We have averaged about $40k-$70 combined income with benefits.)

  9. While listening to a podcast recently, we came to the same conclusion: freedom means more choices. The path to debt freedom is (mostly) straightforward. But what’s next? Debt freedom means a surplus, which we are so fortunate to have, but we have some decisions to make. Looking forward to hearing more about this experience!

    • We will be intentionally limiting our choices for 2017. This year we really tried to keep an open mind. For instance, we we traveling on vacation to visit some friends and we stopped for an hour in this really cute town in Northern Idaho called Wallace. The kids were playing in this little park area and a guy walks out of his house and say, “Isn’t it nice around here? Do you want to move here? The house next to me is going to auction in a few weeks. Starting price $60k.” And we were like, hum….maybe? So we spend the rest of the afternoon contemplating buying a fixer upper in Wallace. That kind of stuff was fun for the year, but also a bit overwhelming. =)

  10. Fantastic post!
    Although my year off wasn’t fully intentional, I did have a lot of these same questions. I wondered about getting a job with a gap on my resume. But similar to Mr. MT, I found it easier to get work since leaving. It’s like the resume gap actually makes you stand out if the time was used to build skills.
    Also, I love the concept for this post how you provide perspective on the year off. I’ve kind of been writing creatively about it, but this provides a lot more insight. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • We planned our year off about 6 months before Mr. Mt put in his notice. It was hard to find people online honestly wrestling with the questions. Now I have no idea what other people’s questions would be, or what kind of answers they will come with if they take a year off. But I figured I could laying all mine out there and something might resonate. At least, like I tried to explain in part 1, people will know it’s ok to have questions, and not have everything perfectly figured out. There are somethings you have to learn as you go.

  11. I’m not ready to leave my current job yet, but a year long sabbatical would be awesome! I’m coming up on 20 years with my current employer and that anniversary does make me question if it’s time to take a break so that I can explore some other options.

    Thanks for sharing the questions you and your husband considered before ‘testing the waters’.

    • That sounds awesome. That is a long stretch at one place. They might even offer you a more formal sabbatical. Mr. Mt had to quit his job to get the time off, but I would love to see more employers have a plan in place that encourages employees to take 6 months to a year long break. I have grand schemes in my head on how it could work and be a huge benefit to companies, but I am also an eternal optimist.