I'm battling burnout with a year off work - here's how we're budgeting for it

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by Robin

Last year burned me right down to ashes. The years before that didn't help much either. I felt emotionally drained and more than a little broken. And I'll admit it - midlife crisis' are for real:

  • Being a dedicated employee with at-times emotionally difficult work is an energy drain.
  • Being a try-so-hard parent takes an energy level that chronic insomnia doesn't allow. 
  • But, being the caregiver of an ageing and failing parent takes more effort and emotional strength than the other two combined.  Especially since that parent is the most difficult and challenging relationship I've ever had.
  • Add to this the death of loved ones - and the effort and grief that came before and after these losses.

If there ever was a recipe for burnout that was it - seasoned with a little bit of bad timing, trips to the hospital, jury duty, moving my mother to a home and selling her property.

But after my nuclear spring, many of my challenges have resolved - and most in the best ways possible.  I was left with a very different looking and feeling life.  A life with more hope.

The focus of my personal life and work had shifted: I wasn't managing the difficult, sad, frustrating, hurtful, important details of quite so many people and projects.  There was more room in my calendar, and in my brain, for myself.

I now had space and time for me - and also for my husband and children.  They had been patiently waiting in the wings while I focused on my exhausting performance for so many others.

But what did we want now?  What did I want now?

When the heavy stuff was shifted from my shoulders - something didn't feel right.  I didn't remember how to choose things for my happiness.  I'd been in survival mode for so very long.  I was waiting for the next crisis - that blissfully wasn't coming.  I could take some of the newly vacated brain space and give it to me.

The more time I had to listen to myself the more I knew I needed a change.

Absorbing two audiobooks on my commute led me to hear two essential things missing in my life: self-compassion and creativity.

As I was having these long and kind conversations with my soul some creative opportunities started joining in:
  • The first was an idea for a novel that wouldn't leave me alone.  
  • The second was meeting with companies that wanted to work with us here on the blog.

I am fortunate to have a job (for over 18 years!) at a workplace that was open to accommodating my request for a one-year leave to focus my time in new ways.  I hope I'll return to work there with renewed energy.

But this year off work - while therapeutic -  does not come free - or even cheaply.  This will mean a drastic cut in our income.  At the very least we don't want this year to put us back into debt. 

We are going to need to cinch our belts even tighter and get even better at living frugally - plus earn some money in different ways.  That's what the rest of this post is about - how we're paying for my year off work!

So, here's how we are affording my year of creativity and self-compassion:

1. We have paid off our debts.

After years of focused frugal living, we have paid off all our student loans, car loans and all our consumer debt - except for our mortgage.  We're intentionally comfortable with the mortgage (- and we'll share more about that later).

One of the best reasons to kill off your debt is exactly this: freedom.  Sure, not paying interest is important, but what's better is that without debt bossing you around you can make decisions based on what you want - not based on past purchases haunting you.

2. We started with our Spending Plan.

We've professed our love of Spending Plans before!  So much better than budgets.

Before I approached my work (or even Ed) with my year-off idea, I spent a lot of time with our Spending Plan spreadsheet.  I needed to figure out if this was even a possibility.

There are a lot of spending categories that got fattened up after our debts were paid.  They needed slimming.  I sliced and diced our spending plan in lots of ways.  I'll outline them below.

3. We have a frugal healthy food plan.

After our mortgage, our food budget is the next biggest budget line.  It's likely true for you too.

First, we're going to need to eat out less often.  Dinners out and takeout meals crept into our spending after we axed our debt.  For many people, the eating away from home thing is part of what's killing their bottom line.  We will still eat out on occasion and when we do we'll use these restaurant money saving strategies.

Next, we will have a renewed focus on eating well at home on a budget.  We've shared lots of tips on this over the years, and these posts outline the exact strategy we will follow:

4. We will find even more Affordable Entertainment.

  • We will use the library more.  We can get books, magazines, audiobooks and more for free.  Over the years, after we paid off our debt, we got a bit lazy in this area and instead of waiting for our library hold to come up, we'd just purchase it online.
  • Keep our old computers going.  We like to buy refurbished tech and then keep it speedy ourselves.  Here's more on that.

5. We will do more ourselves again.

  • No more housekeeper.  When life was especially Cuckoo for Cocoapuffs we hired a housekeeper to take some of the pressure off twice a month.  It's a great gift to give yourself when time is stretched.  However, this year, time will be what we have most of - so no need to pay for housekeeping.
  • I am planning new series of housework hacks as I streamline these hateful tasks: Good Enough Housekeeping.  Stay tuned for more!

6. Even more careful utility use.

  • We will more often make the eco and thrifty choice to line dry our laundry (there are even more reasons to do this too!)

7. We will Make do.

  • Home hair colour.  I'm a hair salon drop out.  I tried for a few months but the cost and the time it took just never felt worth it.  I'm going to pay 90% less and do my colour at home by using these tips.

8. We will cut back on transportation costs.

  • Ed walks to work and I'll be working at home.  We've been a one-car family for many years - this is a huge money saver - we estimate $7200 a year! (When my mom stopped driving a couple years ago she gave us her old car - which doesn't start consistently to say the least.  We rarely use it.  If it was worth anything we'd sell it.  But keeping it doesn't cost us much, so we do for those busy times when we both need to take kids somewhere or life blows up.)

9.  We will make more gifts

10.  We will save on clothing purchases

11. We will bring in new sources of income.

  • We're going to try to earn more money with this side business of ours:
    • We will invest more time in blogging here for you all.  You can expect more frequent posting from the trenches of living well on a tight budget.  I have three zillion ideas of what to share!
    • We will keep our content free for you to read, of course.  We are part of a great ad network that is quite frankly making my year-off work possible.  (If you're a blogger, I can't recommend Mediavine enough.  They are professional and supportive and pay better than any network we've been a part of before.)
    • We plan to work more with companies to bring you projects and ideas.  Working with brands is a great way to earn some extra income blogging.  Be assured: we will put you our readers first when deciding who to work with; we won't start shilling crappy products or anything like that.  Our partnerships will continue to be authentic.  

12.  Protect Important Spending: What we're NOT cutting.

  • Our kids both take music lessons.  This is an expensive monthly cost - but way too important to cut!  
  • We're still going to do some travel - adventures as a family are really important to us - we will figure out how to travel better on a budget - and share more frugal travel tips here!
  • Pets. These little bundles of fur and love are darn expensive.  We recently adopted a new kitty into our family.  Indiana (our dog) and Sabine (our cat) will still get the quality food and care we've always given them.  Though they may need to get jobs ;)
  • We've still got our 3-season weekend place, you might remember our Mobile Home Makeover project.  The cost of this seems pretty decadent in light of this drastic pay-cut year, but we're in it deep.  We can't sell it just because of this year off.  And just as importantly, we savour our time as a family there.  We love the escape from busyness and technology it gives us.  We love the sound of the river and the connection with nature.  We'll continue to work on the place, and share it here, with a view to selling it for a profit when the kids no longer love it like they do.

Are you burned out, too?  Could something like this work for you? Maybe frugal living could afford you part-time work?

I'd love to hear from you and answer any questions if you've got them - just leave them in the comments below!


  1. This is so inspiring! You are going to have an amazing year. You've planned ahead which I imagine takes a lot of the stress out of it all. Enjoy!

    1. Thank you, Sarah! It’s been pretty wonderful so far. But, dang, self discipline to do these great things is so hard. 😊


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