Can you afford a middle-aged gap year?

OPINION: It is natural to look back with regret: what I could have done, what I should have done, what might have been.

In fact, this is a suckers’ game. There are always things, had you done them, that would have made a major difference.

You can beat yourself up as much as you like about these “failures” but we all know that hindsight comes with 20/20 vision.

Worrying about what you might have done is a waste of space: I am not going to devote this column detailing my regrets.

Except for one: I wish I had taken a year off when I was in my 50s. Now in my 60s and looking back, the idea of a complete year off at a younger age has a powerful attraction.

Of course, a mid-life gap year is not easy: stopping everything will be an upheaval.

If we are looking for an excuse to maintain the status quo, there can be any number of “why nots” (family, the career, money, etc).

Whether you are ready for your gap year, or are much younger and thinking of setting it as a goal, now seems a good time to do some thinking. This is the time to look back on the past year and start to think of the future one.

Of course, na gap year certainly has some financial implications. I think that there are two important things to plan for.

First, the mortgage and all other debt should be repaid. A gap year with a debt time-bomb ticking away is unlikely to be much fun.

Second, the big risk of a gap year is being able to pick things up when you get back.

If you take this gap year at age 55, you may have another 15 years or more of working life, and good work may not be easy to come by.

Professionals should find this easier (professionals have a name for a gap year: a sabbatical). However, those who own businesses or are getting on with their careers will find it harder and more disruptive.

Your 50s should be your gravy years (incomes rise and costs fall) and to interrupt that period is a big call. A year out will cost.

Nevertheless, I’ve known a good few people who have taken middle-age gap years. Of those people, I have never met anyone (not one!) who regretted the time off.

I have met people who have found it hard to get back into good work but, regardless, people commonly say it was the best year of their lives.

If you can possibly manage it, this is something where there is probably a cost but where you get great value.

Martin Hawes is the Chair of the Summer KiwiSaver Investment Committee. He is an Authorised Financial Adviser and a disclosure statement is available on request and free of charge, or can be found at www.martinhawes.com.

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