Why a spending sabbatical could be your best indulgence

By David Geller   |   June 27, 2017

spending sabbatical

Are you exhausted? Working grueling hours but not loving it? Spending more but enjoying life less? Eager to try something new, but worried about making your monthly nut (or hitting your massive retirement goal)?

Here’s a radical idea. Treat yourself to a “spending sabbatical.”

Why, you might ask? After all, you work hard, often under challenging circumstances. Haven’t you earned the right to splurge and have fun?

Of course you have. But here’s what you may not realize: Your spending habits can complicate your efforts to create more meaning and joy in your life.

A spending sabbatical may sound like torture or a pointless exercise. But it’s not. It’s an opportunity to make more thoughtful, deliberate choices about how YOU want to spend YOUR money.

If you have the gumption to give it a go, it’s an experiment that just might change everything for you and your family. Creating a little financial breathing room gives you the freedom to think about what you REALLY want and choose what’s truly meaningful.

By the end of the sabbatical, you could discover that you can be happy spending less. Instead of feeling deprived, you may feel empowered and relieved. That burdensome monthly nut you felt powerless to change … well, you just may prove that you CAN change it. That’s liberating.

Best of all, a spending sabbatical just might give you something you didn’t think you’d have again: hope. And maybe you could hop off the crazy train and do something else.


Here’s a list to get you thinking—no doubt you’ll come up with more:

  • Buy less stuff. Wait to upgrade your car, golf clubs, wardrobe, and toys. Put off the new boat, summer home, or other major purchase until your sabbatical ends.
  • Trim your entertainment budget. Dine out less often and try less expensive restaurants; be selective with that wine list. And instead of buying VIP tickets to the hot events, invite friends over for a cookout.
  • Seek out new travel experiences. Choose less expensive destinations, hotels, and flights. Consider staying with the old college friends you’ve longed to see.
  • Cut the household staff. Have your housekeeper, gardener, and other “employees” come less often.
  • Reduce all those monthly subscription costs. Switch to a less expensive cable package and stop paying for anything you’re not using – Sirius, gym memberships, golf privileges, plane share. If you find you’re not getting up to the mountain house anymore, maybe it’s time to let that go, too.
  • Make spending less a family mission. Invite your kids to pitch in, too – have them mow the lawn or tackle a house project.


A spending sabbatical takes commitment, and your trial is likely to go through fits, starts, and phases.

  1. You’re going to miss some things you really enjoy. You may even feel loss or grief. Don’t worry—that feeling is temporary. New habits take practice and time.
  2. You’ll realize you don’t miss many of the things you gave up. You’ll also discover there are some things you really don’t want to do without, and that’s OK.
  3. You may experience an aha moment. “Maybe I don’t need all this stuff—maybe my family and I CAN be happy with less.” That’s when things get really exciting.
  4. You discover you have CHOICES! Where you once felt stuck, you’ll suddenly see new possibilities and maybe even feel giddy. You can consider jobs or business opportunities that you’d love to do, but pay less. Imagine the joy of discovering that you really DO have alternatives:

Wow, I really can afford to take a year off! And when I come back I don’t have to keep working as an attorney, grinding out 2,400+ billable hours a year or keep up the crushing pace of working full-time. I could start my own business! Become a teacher or work for a nonprofit! Or write a book! Or open a B&B or antique store!


When we make different choices, the changes ripple across all areas of our lives.

TIME. If you do choose to leave your high-pressure, 60-hour/week job for a less stressful 40-hour job, you’ll have more time, a luxury you likely haven’t enjoyed for a long time:

  • I’m taking better care of my health. I sleep 8 hours a night and still have time to work out!
  • My spouse and I have reconnected now that I’m home before dark. And I’m more present when we’re together because I’m not obsessing over work.
  • I have time to be with my kids, visit my parents, and go out with friends.
  • With less work stress, I feel healthier and happier. I’m enjoying work and proud to be modeling a balanced life for my children.
  • I have time for the things I want to do: drawing, painting, even art classes.

RELATIONSHIPS. Guess what else? Because you’re able to spend more time with family and friends, you also might improve your relationships. And once you have a life outside of work, you might even become more FUN. After all, you’ll be less stressed and have something to talk about besides work!

A year from now, you could see someone who’s still stuck in a high-pressure job and say, “Oh, you poor sap! I used to be one of you!”


Throughout your life, you’ve dreamed wistfully about doing other things. But you pushed those ideas aside because you couldn’t earn enough doing them. You’ve spent years working long hours at a job that leaves you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted, and monthly spending needs that leave you feeling hopeless and stuck.

Spend less and enjoy your life more. That’s a radical concept, one our money-centric culture doesn’t cultivate. But it doesn’t have to be just a pipedream. A spending sabbatical might just help you realize that you really CAN afford to pursue your dreams.

David Geller

About the Author

CEO David Geller co-founded the firm in 1991 and led the creation of Behavioral Wealth Management. Recognized on numerous prestigious "top financial advisor" lists, David is an in-demand speaker for professional groups and JOYN workshops. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post.

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