Rachel Birenbaum, a 19-year-old student at the University of Guelph, has been saving her money for “big things” since the age of 10. And while in the past it’s been a laptop or a trip to Montreal with friends, Rachel now realizes that if she wanted to see the world and travel for a year, she could. “I’ve worked three summer jobs through high school and walked the neighbor’s dog,” says Rachel. “I’m not much of a spender and I only spend on big things that I care about.” And for Rachel, that could mean a gap year.
The gap year—taking a year off school to work, travel or volunteer—has been common in Europe for decades, where it began in Britain in the 1960s before spreading to Canada and elsewhere. And while traveling the world at 17 or 18 years of age likely isn’t feasible for a lot of young people, doing so during university—or after obtaining their degree— is feasible. Here are 10 tips for saving up:
Start saving young. Parents’ help is crucial at this stage. Even if it’s just birthday and Christmas money, start an account and help your child watch it grow. “This is an education in itself,” says Certified Financial Planner, founder of Viviplan.com and Rachel’s mother, Rona Birenbaum. “At age 10 or 12 you don’t know if your kids will want a gap year but helping them save in general will allow them to have flexibility and options later on.”
Get family support. Involve grandparents. They’re always looking for ways that are meaningful to give. “The grandchild will be able to talk about that gap year for years and the grandparents will feel good about being a part of it,” says Birenbaum.
Draw up a plan. “Sit down and outline a plan as much in advance as possible from the gap year,” says certified financial plannerVickie Campbell with Ryan Lamontagne Inc. in Ottawa. “Cost out expenses for the things or travel you’d like to do. The more detail you have, the less likely there will be surprises.”
Sell some stuff: Books, old video games, bikes you might not need—selling these items on sites like kijiji.ca can add much-needed cash to your savings.
Work part-time and set aside a set amount every paycheque. Then don’t touch that money. It can be as little as $10 per paycheque, but over several years, it can add up to thousands for your Gap year. Ask your parents if they’ll match every dollar you save—or give you 50 cents per dollar saved—to help you build up your money faster.
Sign up for your employer’s ESPP: Several companies, including Star Bucks, Best Buy and Lowes, let students—even those who just work part-time—participate in the Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESSP). Find out if your employer offers one. Students can buy company shares monthly in small increments. Anywhere between 1% and 10% of gross part-time earnings from each paycheque is the norm.
Explore gap year coaching. For those who take a gap year right after university, consider using a gap year coaching website such as mygapyear.ca. These companies help focus on what you’d like to get out of your gap year. Work experience? Learn a new language? Simply see the world? Then, they help you plan for it. You could find yourself living in the jungle, working on a ranch or learning Spanish in a small town in central America—options you may not know about or even considered.
Seek out student scholarships and loans. These are available to all students wanting to study abroad or simply fund a trip abroad. There are websites providing student expo events, tips on how to find and win scholarships, and more.
Consider volunteering: If you have a money shortfall, consider volunteering abroad for part of your trip. “This can make more things possible and you’ll be able to live more cheaply while traveling,” says Birenbaum. From wildlife to marine conservation to women empowerment projects, sites like Gap Year Volunteering will open your eyes with all the possibilities.
Work while traveling. Teaching English abroad is a common way for some students to earn a bit of extra money while travelling. “Or, take a job in another country that you are interested in visiting,” suggests Campbell. “This may be an opportunity to be immersed in the culture and get a feel for the country.”
Finally. Since money experts suggest you don’t go into debt to finance a gap year, always be ready to modify your plan if needed. For instance, If you only managed to save $8,000 say but really needed $10,000 for a 10-month trip across Asia, consider a shorter trip in only two countries. Your gap year experience will be just as interesting, and more affordable too.
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