12 Month Sabbatical – Update on my Microfinance Adventure

Best advice I ever got was an old friend of mine, a black friend, who said you have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all. That’s the only advice you can give anybody. And it’s not advice, it’s an observation.

– James Baldwin quote on Brain Pickings

It’s Actually Happening! Update on my Microfinance Volunteer Adventure

James Baldwin’s observation applies perfectly to the next chapter in my life. As I alluded to in my previous post on Microfinance ($2/day) and on the one announcing my career change (aligning your spending) I am making major changes in my life. Part of my inspiration for this definitely comes from Mo, a good friend who moved to Turkey to become an English teacher and who now lives in Japan. She has documented her travels over at Travels of Mo. The other part of my inspiration is listening to my inner curiosity more closely.

How I Found Costa Rica and Agreed to It

I’m planning on quitting my job and potentially being unemployed for a 12 month sabbatical. I lined up a microfinance institution (MFI) volunteer opportunity in Costa Rica through NGOAbroad and am scheduled to start in October, five months from now. When I first found this opportunity it felt too good to be true. Costa Rica is expat heaven, a tourist destination, and has a great medical system. For a moment I wondered whether I would actually have anything to contribute because the country is doing much better than others in South America.

When anything sounds too good to be true it’s prudent to be a bit skeptical. I have a friend who has volunteered abroad before and she agreed to review the offer with me. I’ll be volunteering with a MFI that focuses on women and that will also help me find housing. My friend said that the program’s placement fee and monthly cost was in line with what she had experienced. With this positive backing I decided to take the plunge and sign up for the program.

The executive director of the organization founded it 25 years ago and they have hosted several international volunteers in the past. From my discussion with her a lot of my time will be spent on business development rather than personal finance. The placement agency asked that on my arrival I focus on learning what the agency and borrowers need; afterward I will be able to determine what portion of my time can be used for the CFP experience requirement.

Initially I had wanted to maximize the amount of time that would fulfill the CFP requirement, however, realistically such an opportunity may not be possible. At the end of the day microfinance is not the same as personal finance. I will work to see where there is an overlap between what the agency needs and the CFP’s expectations. Regardless, I will be happy with the experience regardless of whether it fulfills the CFP Board’s requirements. I am very excited to be of service to people who make ends meet with so little. Moreover, I am definitely going the way my blood boils as James Baldwin advises.

12 Month Sabbatical and Dream of 1099

A couple of weeks ago I met with a friend and outlined my dream. She looked worried about my plan to not earn an income for such a long time. Once I said “the worst thing that could happen is that I don’t go” she gave me a broad smile. After volunteering in Costa Rica I’ll be back in April ’18 and will get to prepare for the rigorous CFP exam in July ’18. If I pass the exam then I’ll get to start looking for my first job in financial planning.

My mom has graciously agreed to have me move in with her while I prepare for the exam and look for a job. It’s hard to believe that at the age of 30 after over a decade of being independent I’m planning to move back home. A quick search online says that a lot of millennials like myself get to go through this. I am beyond grateful that my mom is willing and able to support me emotionally and financially during this transition. In fact both of my parents are my biggest cheerleaders when it comes to this. They both immigrated to the US and as entrepreneurs they only go the way their blood boils.

I plan to take my time in between jobs to prepare for and pass the CFP exam and to attend several professional conferences. In fact my budgeted expenses next year mostly consist of flights, conferences, and scholarships I hope to get. To finance the conferences I plan to work as a virtual paraplanner and earn 1099 income that can be offset by professional conference expenses. An added benefit is that as a contractor I could write off health insurance premiums. This last bit of coordination will be vetted out with my mom’s business tax return preparer.

Pre-Sabbatical Stage

Dreaming of my upcoming sabbatical is all well and good, but that’s still a few months ahead. For now I get to focus on being a good employee at work, enjoying my current city, and being with friends and loved ones. In the next five months I get to:

  • Update professional contacts – There are a lot of people who have guided me along this journey [Update in June]
  • Get Sentri – Once I’m back from Costa Rica I’ll be living in Mexico with my mom and commuting to either San Diego or Calexico [Finalize in June]
  • Health Insurance – I need daily medication due to a thyroidectomy back in 2012. This means I can’t go without health insurance while abroad or once I’m back in the US. As a dual citizen with Mexico I may be able to get my meds through their socialized medical system [Finalize in August]
  • Find more scholarships to apply to [first deadline is Sept]
  • Change/cancel automatic money transfers – I’ll be cancelling my charitable giving and IRA contributions. I’m sure other changes will need to be made. [Finalize in Sept]
  • Sell my 12’’ long hair – This will raise funds (about $200), plus my curls would not do well in Costa Rica’s humidity [Sept]
  • Suspend car insurance – My brother has mentioned wanting to borrow my car while I’m gone, so maybe my insurance will be transferred for the time. I’m such a finance nerd that I’m actually looking forward to calling Geico and getting their recommendation on this [Sept]
  • Money questions – Figure out how to get cash while in Costa Rica and the best credit cards to use abroad. One of the best websites I have found on this issue is Money Matters for Globetrotters by Hui Chen, CFP® [Sept]
  • Get travel gear – I’ve started an Amazon shopping list for this. Feel free to sponsor anything on the list and to add more recommendations [Sept]
  • Get Costa Rica shots – There’s a whole website dedicated to what type of shots I’ll need. Plus I also need to wash my clothes in permethrin and wear 3M Ultrathon to prevent bringing back the Zika virus with me [Sept]
  • Pause my gym membership [Oct]
  • Consider employment options – Research being a contractor and potential jobs I’ll target once I return for 1099 work or for regular employment. [no deadline, continue throughout]
  • Is there anything else I missed? I’d love your input on this list in the comments section

From Financial Insecurity to Financial Independence

I’m in a completely different place than when I started my money journey in 2011. I’ve gone from stressing out about saving for my parent’s retirement to now literally planning to spend every cent in my bank account (other than retirement accounts). It’s very corny to say this, but a turning point came from reading Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week last December 2016. The book left me wondering how I could spend time traveling like my good friend Mo.

The book also reminded me that as a college student I had dreamed of joining the Peace Corps, but fear of financial insecurity had me stay for a well-paid job with Merrill Lynch. At the time I figured that it would be easier to find a job if I had paid experience rather than life experience on my resume. Ironically, I’m grateful that I did decide to stay with Merrill Lynch because my time with them gave me unemployment benefits. When I graduated from college I had debt and no clear job prospects; but at least I also had a respectable corporate job on my resume. Now I get to face that fear of financial insecurity again and walk away from a much higher income.

Walking towards this dream is the riskiest thing I’ve ever done and I know that regardless of the outcome I will be the better for it. In the long run my calling is to be a financial planner that aids people in healing their relationship with money. As Edith Wharton says, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” The brighter my light shines, the more I will be able to be of service.

6 thoughts on “12 Month Sabbatical – Update on my Microfinance Adventure”

  1. I love the post. You have an excellent writing style and I love the organization! I need to get on this organization and money planning.

    1. Thank you Sam!! That means a lot, especially since you’re a teacher. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to research for you.

  2. Fabulous post Diana! I am so proud of you. Truly, the only way to live our lives is to go where our blood boils. You are WAY more organized going into your sabbatical than I was upon leaving the US!

    My big things were money things, like selling my car, taking out a small loan to aid with initial relocation costs, and making sure I had everything ready to go in terms of visas and whatnot. After living in San Francisco for 4 years, my partner and I had accumulated a lot of stuff, so figuring out what to do with that stuff, ie what to get rid of, what to store, and where to store it, was a big task.

    While being abroad and traveling, my favorite financial institutions have been Charles Schwab for my brokerage, savings and checking accounts and CapitalOne for my credit card. Also, depending on how easy or difficult it is to get cash in Costa Rica, you may want to think about opening an account there. This way you would avoid ATM fees and depending on where you are ATMs that accept your American card may not be as prevalent as local ATMs/banks.

    Hope this helps!

    1. That definitely helps, thank you! I won’t need to get rid of my stuff since I’m only planning to be gone for 6 months. My mom has graciously agreed to store everything, and really I don’t have much since I’m now renting a room rather than a whole apartment.

      Thanks Mo!!

  3. You are such an inspiration!!! So brave. I wish you all the best on this journey and it definitely sounds like you have given it a lot of thought!

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