“Adult” gap years: Tips to mentally — and financially — prepare

There are many reasons why you might want to take a break after college — or even later in your career — and multiple ways to make your gap year possible.

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Ever wanted to take a year off and explore the world, delve into your passion, or just enjoy some free time? Taking a gap year — a period of time when you take a break to pursue personal pursuits — between college graduation and your first job is an increasingly popular option.

And though gap years are typically popular between high school and college, if you’ve already graduated college, that doesn’t mean it’s too late. It’s also possible to take a gap year as an adult, and these tips can help you prepare — mentally and financially.

Get motivated to save

Finding a purpose for your gap year before you actually take it can help motivate you to save as much as you need to. Audrey Moss, a graphic designer in Montana, needed space to regroup. “I wanted to think through my major and my life plan and just get away from the stress,” she says of her program at Johns Hopkins University.

While you may find additional purpose once you’re in your gap year — Moss ended up in France volunteering for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms at a farm in Brittany — having that gap year goal in mind can make it easier to set a savings goal and motivate yourself to hit it.

Do the financial prep work

Depending on how you spend your gap year, you could be going for a long period of time without a paycheck. That can put some limitations on your money, so saving aggressively beforehand is critical.

For a trip to Argentina, Elizabeth Shutty, who currently heads up sales and marketing at a financial firm and has taken multiple gap years, saved $5,000 by working as a barista and as a waitress. “Make a priority of having money,” she advises. Even if you don’t have plans for a gap year now, saving provides you the ability to exercise flexibility and choice later in life.

Think about prepaying some known bills to prevent stressing over them later — like rent and your cell phone.

Decide if it’s the right time

Today, Joshua Crum is a credit expert. But five years ago, he stopped working as a home computer repair service provider to take a year off.

“The market died out from under me,” explains Crum of the reason he took the break, adding that the going rate for his work slipped below minimum wage.

A gap year may not be a great option if you’re in the middle of working your way up the ladder in a company that has great future opportunities in a career you’re interested in. But if you’re feeling burned out or in need of a major change, it might be time for a gap year.

Live frugally when possible

You may have to change your lifestyle in order to get the experience you want in your gap year. Shutty made her money last by staying at hostels and on friends’ couches and by using cheap overnight buses for transport.

Crum and Moss relied on family and friends, too — either staying with them for part of the time or accepting help they were willing to offer in the form of meals out, paying for gas, or providing small side jobs to help earn some extra cash.

A gap year may give you the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream or simply press the reset button on your life — and with the right planning, even as an adult it may not be too late to take one.