4 Ways We Survived an Adult Gap Year

We are going to starve, live in a cardboard box, have to sell our vehicles and walk to work.  Those are all the fears that went through my mind before, during, and after I turned my two-week notice to my boss in August 2015 to change careers and take a 60% paycut.

This is my third article in my Adult Gap Year series where I recount our journey (so far) in leaving traditional employment to pursue self-employment with my wife.  And, I can tell you that we haven't missed a meal, have a roof over our heads, and have 3 vehicles in the driveway.

Previously, I wrote about our plan for saving for an adult gap year.  In this post, I want to tell you how we survived the gap year, where I essentially didn't work for an entire year.

Everybody's Circumstances Are Different

Before I dive into our journey further I do want to make a small disclaimer.  No two adult gap years are the same.  This is because we all have differing family, professional, housing, and financial circumstances.

For example, when I left my job our only child was 2-months old.  If I was two years later, I would have a 2-year old and another infant daughter.  We lived in a spare bedroom until our house was built.  It still would have been possible to squeeze us all into this room.  But, it would have been much harder if our children were teenagers.

This last paragraph primarily focus on living conditions, but, we all have our own mountains that we must climb to accomplish our life goals.  If you are not ready to climb that mountain, it probably isn't time to take on a gap year.

Survival Tip #1: Make A Budget

While I (& many other personal finance blogs) love to write about the having a household budget, this is an area I didn't take too seriously with my old job.  Yes, I could tell you how much I paid in monthly bills each month and the daily balance of my bank account, but I really didn't care how I spent my income because I had a 50% savings rate for several years.

Essentially I split my savings between investments and an emergency fund that would have allowed us to live work-free for three years if we didn't pull from it to cover half of our house building expenses.

As I waited for the opportune time to say “I QUIT!” (truthfully I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown), my wife & I sat down at the dinner table and outlined our projected expenses and income for life after the railroad.  During that year, and still today, we keep an eye on our spending categories to make sure going out to eat won't blow our $300 monthly grocery/food allowance (for example).

Whether you plan to take a gap year or not, everybody should be living within their means.

You may have to undergo some radical lifestyle deflation, and live like a college student (again).  But, living within your means and staying out of your debt are crucial to affording a gap year.

Survival Tip #2: Be Flexible

My wife & I originally embarked on our journey with the intent of me taking a full-time job in 4 months. My plan was to work part-time during the day and help build our house at night.  After that job opening was delayed, I had to revert to Plan B to make a sufficient income.  The best option for me was self-employment.

During this time, my wife wrote a book and also continued to rebuild her ballet & music lesson business (she shut the studio down as we moved away for my job).  I brushed up on my Spanish to teach Spanish I to the local homeschool & private school community, tutored, and took up freelance writing.

Teaching & writing for money are two things I never thought I would do. 

Bonus Tip: Here's some of the best side income ideas to supplement your current income or eventually fuel your own career transition.

Survival Tip #3: Know Your Goals

One thing every supervisor has told me & us supervisors told the employees is to make a plan or decision & stick with it.  In the real world, things don't miraculously change by sitting on your hands.

It can be real easy to quit pursuing a goal when times get challenging.  I would be lying to you if I said I don't have second doubts about leaving my job as an operations supervisor.  There were a series of events that happened at my old workplace after I left that gave us peace of mind to no longer be there, but, we were still uneasy of what our future path looked like.

Here are the two primary goals we had when I quit my job:

  1. Be home on a consistent basis with my family with a predictable work schedule, so my wife didn't have to be a “single mother.”
  2. Build a house for half the cost of buying a similar property.

If it wasn't for my wife having her dance studio & her previous client base, I would have needed to get a “real job” right away or stuck around at my previous job until my new job opened up.

If it wasn't for my wife's family and their background in the construction industry, we couldn't have built our house for “pennies on the dollar.”  I wasn't earning a lot of money during this year, but, I was banking up a lot of sweat equity that shaved years off of our mortgage payments.

How We Survived an Adult Gap Year
What Are Your Family, Financial, and Professional Goals?

Survival Tip #4: Trust in God

This is the most important tip.

Since undergoing this gap year transition, we have had many people tell us we were crazy and others that said they wish they could do the same.

We have also been blessed to befriend several missionary families in our life so far.  These are people that have risked their lives to live in hot, humid, & dangerous countries in Africa and Asia.  They view life in a completely different fashion than us regular American do.

While my only experience abroad was a college semester abroad in luxurious Western Europe and a honeymoon in Canada, our gap year has given us some parallels to their experiences of living on the mission field.

Our life experience is still a vacation compared to some of their experiences, but, giving up the relative security of a high disposable income to launch new business ideas has taught us that blessings come in small and large ways.

One lesson I can relate to that our friends have spoken about…Relying on yourself alone will only result in disappointment.  It can be frustrating when life doesn't go according to plan, but God has a master plan we cannot see.  Trusting in Him brings a sense of peace.  We need to make wise decisions and be listening to his advice.  If you have ever gone a path and felt resistance, this might have been a way He spoke to you.

4 Ways We Survived an Adult gap Year
We might have the wealth or power of ancient Kings and Queens, but, we have a better quality of life!!!

We haven't scaled as quickly as we initially expected, which means we have had to tamper down our financial goals, but, He has provided our basic needs.  Both of us have lost students and gained new ones to offset the losses.  All of us have been healthy.  And when it comes to large purchases, bargains have come up on Craigslist and elsewhere so we didn't have to strain our budget to buy building materials, replacing a family vehicle, and other life expenses.

My wife & I have tried to do better at celebrating these small blessings that have allowed us to keep pursuing our goals and not require me to get a “real job” again.

My wife & I haven't experienced extreme life, medical, or financial hardship.  But, as I've mentioned before, this year of transition was an eye-opening exercise in realizing we need to trust in God instead of ourselves (or others) to find work, eat, and pay the bills in ways neither of us ever did before.

Living in the Western world means we are spoiled beyond belief and don't believe or rely on a Higher Power like others around the world do.  You could even argue that people in impoverished Appalachia have a better quality of life than most people around the globe.  It's easy to rely on ourselves to make everything OK.

Closing Thoughts

While individual decisions do greatly dictate life (i.e. following a budget can allow you to become debt-free yet cheating on your spouse probably will result in divorce) I cannot stress relying on God for every aspect of life.

My career plans changed three times in college because doors were closed as I explored internships, attended job interviews, etc.  Maybe I gave up early a time or two and haven't lived to my full potential.

In a nutshell, manage the resources you have and follow your plans as wisely as possible.  Just remember to be open-minded towards change.  Life has a way of taking unexpected twists and turns that get us to the final destination in a way we expected.

If you want to catch-up (or reread) the other articles in the Adult Gap Year series, please click the following links below:

Article #1: Why I Took an Adult Gap Year

Article #2: How We Saved for an Adult Gap Year





Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.