Financing the Gap
By Jonah Cedar
Life is an interesting ride huh? You never know the kind of impact that one decision will have on your life. When I graduated from high school four years ago, I was faced with enrolling in a private university that would have landed me in six figures worth of debt, with no hope of climbing out. I felt anxious all of the time, because I saw the rest of my life as a constant struggle to stay afloat and for what? A degree that I had no idea what I wanted to do with anyway? So I made a decision two weeks before I was set to move into my dorm at uni that I was going to take a gap year. At the time, I had no idea that my year would turn into almost 3. I had no idea that I would land a job at a university that would allow me to pay for my first experience abroad. I had no idea that I would secure the financial stability that would allow me to move out of my parents house and hold my own in the “real world”. I had no idea that I would land a job earning $1,000 a week and be able to not only pay for domestic and international travel, but also my first full year of college.
I saw my gap year as a way to escape the drudgery of formal education. I took the leap so I could breathe and figure out how to make something of myself. 2020 has been a whirlwind of a year to say the least, and Coronavirus is showing no signs of slowing down. With many of our prospects for going back to a normal school setting dwindling for this year, the gap year has gotten a lot more attention from graduating high school and even college seniors. This is great! But many of them are wondering the same question that most students wonder when considering the gap year option: how do I pay for it? My initial answer to that question is that it’s the wrong question to ask.
When I was on my gap time, I referred to myself as a trust-fund kid. I don’t have an actual trust fund, but I labeled myself this way because i trusted that the money I needed was going to be there and it always was, and not because somebody was giving it to me. It was always there, because I didn’t design my life around the amount of money I was earning. Instead, I built how I was earning money around what I wanted out of my life. So I asked myself, what does my rich life look like? What kind of person do I want to be at the end of my gap time, and what do I need to do to achieve that? That being said, I would like to share with you how I funded my two and a half year gap experience.
Track 01: “I’m a workin man, no time to talk.”
The main way I funded my gap time was working. I know this isn’t the most attractive answer, and is mostly the reason why my gap year stretched to two and a half. I worked really hard. The average number of hours I worked a week was 60, and that was often split into all 7 days of the week and I enjoyed every minute of it. This is because I approached every job I had with intention. Before I even started applying for jobs, I asked myself a few questions first. The first was, what is my idea of a rich life? I asked myself this question because I didn’t want to just apply to any job and let whatever the wage was dictate how I was going to live. I wanted complete control over how I lived.
For me at the time, my idea of a rich life was being able to sustain myself without any parental help, and say yes to adventure when it came my way. The next question I would ask is what are my values? This was to make sure that the company I was working for was worth all of the time I was putting into it and if I believed in the mission, I would do a better job and would think beyond just being there to work. The third question I would ask is what are my skills? This made it quicker for me to land a job if I was applying for one that directly correlates with my skill set. I worked at a university, a chipotle, and as a delivery driver for a local food delivery company.
The university job was great because I always had something different to do everyday, and had the whole university as my office. I was a mover and on the event staff and made $10 plus overtime pay. Working at Chipotle is kind of awesome. I worked there because I wasn’t taking a pay cut from my last job, I got free and discounted Chipotle, the food is actually food, and they treat their employees really well. Did I mention the free chipotle? But the best job I had that I highly recommend was being a delivery driver. I designed my own schedule, didn’t have a boss, made buckets of cash, and got to know all of the restaurant workers in town which equated to free food. Plus, I got to drive around all day and listen to podcasts and music. The point is, working is the most efficient way to make money for your gap time. Not only that, but working makes actually going on your trips or going out with friends feel that much more satisfying, because you accomplished it on your own.
Track 02: Everybody’s Something
Another way I paid for my gap time was scholarships. What is important for me to note here, is that scholarships never paid for the bulk of my experience. They for sure can, but I also know, as I’m sure you do as well, that good scholarships can be challenging to get because you’re not the only one applying for it. So I mainly used them as a way to close a gap and buy me more time to make the money another way. However, because many students tend to have the same mindset as me and not apply, there are actually plenty of scholarships that are available and need someone to be awarded to! You can find a whole host of gap year scholarships no matter what your circumstance at GoOverseas, Gap Year Association, and Omprakash. One thing to note as well, is that colleges and universities have a lot of scholarship money to give to students and not enough students utilizing them.
In particular, my university has a scholarship program specifically for internships. So there are a few instances where I have put together a PowerPoint presentation, went to the university, and convinced them to pay for me to take a semester off and travel somewhere. A PowerPoint showcasing what you are going to do and how excited you are to do it can go a long way with your school. When someone sees how excited and passionate you are, it rubs off on them and makes them believe in your story as much as you do.
Track 03: Heart is a drum
Another way I was able to raise money for trips was by literally asking people for money. I’m from a small town, so I also had the advantage of word of mouth. Once one person heard about what I was doing and liked it, they would tell others who were kind enough to donate money to me. How I pulled this off was I made a presentation outlining what I was doing, why I was doing it, when I was planning on doing it, and make some baked goods and show it to someone and ask them for a sponsorship. I didn’t do this very many times, but I had one person who was kind enough to donate over $500 to me for experiences. I paid it forward with more baked goods, and by visiting them and sharing stories and pictures. You would be surprised by how many people recognize that the choice you make to take a gap year and explore your interests and the world is a once in a lifetime experience that many people wish they would have had when they look back on their life. Because of this, they are often happy to help in any way that they can.
Track 04: After School Club
The final way I made money for my gap time was fundraising. Fundraising is not always a popular option and trust me, I get it. Trying to sell meat and cheese is not my forte either. But stories are, and there are effective and fun ways to share your story and raise money for your gap time too. One fundraiser I attempted that I really liked was a shoe drive fundraiser.
Now I actually did this fundraiser to raise money for the American Brain Tumor Association, but I feel it could be a successful fundraiser no matter what the circumstance. Everybody has an extra pair of shoes in their house and the idea is, they give them to you! You give them to a third party company who cleans them up and sends them to people in need and you get money for them! The only tricky part of this, is that you have to collect a lot of shoes to make big bucks so be ready to run a legit campaign! Another fun way to fundraise money is to have a game night with all of your friends or a themed dinner based on where you’re going (even if within the US), and charge an entry fee for it. You could also do a zoom version of this with Covid going on, and design a chat room where your friends can ask you a bunch of stupid questions for a few bucks. If you just graduated high school, you can also ask people to give you money towards whatever you plan to do for your gap time instead of any gifts.
Another way to fundraise that you may not consider fundraising in the traditional sense is to get a travel credit card. We may not be able to travel much now, but when we can again, a travel credit card will be worth having. Whether you plan to take out money for college or not, building credit is essential to being financially literate. Having a credit history is required for getting a lease on an apartment or car, improving insurance rates, and even getting a job in some cases. Also, you will spend money for things anyway like groceries and gas so why not leverage your dollar spent by getting a travel card? To put this into perspective, I was able to fly round-trip from Chicago to San Jose, Costa Rica for $130 using flyer points from my credit card.
Track 05: Capable
Nothing about raising money for my gap time was easy and not everything worked as well as I hoped it would. I didn’t foresee working 12 hours a day 7 days a week to be able to pay my bills and have enough left to enjoy my time. I didn’t foresee being someone who would ever get a scholarship to do anything. To put it lightly, I ain’t no scholar. I didn’t foresee coming up with a plan to make a powerpoint presentation and nearly having a heart attack as I mustered up the courage to ask someone for money. I especially didn’t foresee loading hundreds upon hundreds of used shoes into a truck that would then be shipped across the country. Life is an interesting ride huh?
But I also didn’t foresee how one choice I had made would lead to other choices that would bring down the amount of debt I graduate college with, work with some of the most inspiring people literally in the world, travel to ten countries and most of the continental U.S., and be financially literate for the rest of my life. That’s the funny thing about choices. You never know where you might end up. But some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was the more you know, the less you fear. We live in a world full of fear and uncertainty at the moment. There is a lot of change, that will equate to a lot of choices. In the words of my fellow Hoosier Mark Cuban, “Wherever there is change, and wherever there is uncertainty, there is opportunity.” The opportunity of a gap time for you, is to separate yourself from the 78% of Americans who currently live paycheck to paycheck and from the 70% who find themselves in debt. Paying for your gap time can be a daunting task. But you are capable. I know that because I was capable. Learning how to finance your gap time will lead to knowing how to use money as a tool to augment your life rather than letting money be the driver. Let your gap time be the first lesson in this lifelong journey, not something that prevents the journey from starting.