Bench time: planned or panic?

Rainy DayContractor bench time is not quite like sport and the concept of being the super-sub. Nor is it the chance to rest your legs and take in the beautiful surroundings during a stroll around the park. It refers to the gap between contracts: that time when a contractor can often feel exposed, uncertain or undervalued.

Of course, there are versions of bench time that are both planned and well-earned. Some contractors have even arranged their working lives to blend in with time out. I know of a number of people who have broken the mould of saving for a mortgage, planning to retire early or feeding a family of five. For some people learning the lesson that life does not have to be the prescribed stereotype that 90% of people follow is the biggest release of all. They choose to follow their own path: and for many, that means freedom, travel and time off.

But there is a key to living that way. And it is the same key that takes away the fear of being between contracts. But before we discover the key, let’s look at different types of bench time.

Planned bench time
Someone once told me about an Italian ski instructor who spent their winters on the slopes below Mont Blanc and then ranched horses in Queensland, Australia for six months in the summer. Apparently, this man was in his seventies and had been living this lifestyle for over thirty years. I’ve met people who work every hour they possibly can through the winter so they can have three or four months off to travel and explore the world when the sun comes out to play.

One of the great advantages of being a contractor is, after all, the flexibility to choose when and where you work. Perhaps you want to spend as much time as possible with your kids and plan to have as many of the school holidays off as you can: maybe even the full six or seven weeks during the summer. Or it could be that you have a big adventure coming up and rather than a lifestyle choice, your bench time plans are for a one-off, trip of a lifetime extravaganza.

The end of a contract: panic?
The fear comes when you have been working so hard on your current contract that you simply haven’t had time to look for the next one. Or even that your current employer turns up one day and surprises you with the news that this is your last week. Often things happen that are beyond your control and your plans have nothing to do with it.

The key to managing bench time
It will come as no surprise that the answer to managing bench time lies in having a little pot of savings, or a rainy-day fund to hand. It really is as simple as that: although I do appreciate that saying (or writing) it is easier said than done.

Or is it?

Have you ever had one of those moments when you cancel a monthly subscription, perhaps a magazine or gym membership, and then work out how much it cost you per year? Let’s imagine you were paying £50 per month for something, and you suddenly realise that you could have been £600 better off after a year. The reality is, however, that you probably wouldn’t even know where that money had gone if it wasn’t going on the subscription.

So, with that idea in mind, go and work out what would be a good number for your bench time budget. What would you need to cover a few months off or fund a mini adventure? Then pick a appropriate monthly number and, before anything else goes out of your pay packet, put that into a separate savings account that you will forget about and not touch until the need (or planned escape) arises.

And that is how you become a super-sub.

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