'Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way' (book review)

work optional book cover
© Hachette Books

Tanja Hester, who retired at 38, can help you create a financial roadmap that makes your life your own.

If the idea of early retirement seems like a pipe dream, then you haven't yet read Tanja Hester's new book, Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way. In December 2017, at ages 38 and 41, Hester and her husband Mark walked away from their jet-setting, career-driven lifestyles and 'retired' to Lake Tahoe.

Their move was years in the making, the result of careful calculations and smart money management. The journey is recounted on Hester's award-winning blog, Our Next Life, of which I have been a fan for several years.

Work Optional is an extension of that blog, a detailed how-to manual for reorganizing one's life in such a way that leaving the workforce earlier than the traditional age of 65 is entirely manageable (an age that, by the way, was chosen arbitrarily).

Why would you want to retire early?

This book's message is not meant to be anti-work. "Work is a good and noble thing," Hester writes, "something nearly every person ever born has had to do in some form, whether or not they were formally employed." But the point of this work-optional lifestyle is to "reclaim your life from our nonstop work culture so that you decide what role work will play in your life, instead of society deciding for you." An irresistible proposition, is it not?

The first part of the book guides the reader through a brainstorming process – to envision an ideal work-optional life, in which your time is entirely your own. What would you do if you were retired, semi-retired, or enjoying a career intermission? How do you like spending your time? When do you feel most fulfilled? Who would you spend more time with? Having a defined vision for what you're working toward helps you to stay motivated and on track.

The second part focuses on financial planning. It deals with spending habits and pinpointing the places where money goes, while accelerating earnings through strategic career changes and side hustles. This section contains detailed lessons in investing and passive income generation, or, as Hester calls it, 'magic money.' The math is quite simple:

"If you can invest enough, eventually you have enough magic money or passive income spinning off of your invested assets that it covers all of your living costs, meaning you don't need to work anymore, or you can work much less."

Hester digs deep; she wants to equip the reader with all the information they need to create a solid financial roadmap with built-in contingency funds. There are formulas and tables for calculating your own 'early retirement magic number' and detailed discussions about housing, health care, savings priority sequences, safe withdrawal rates, stock market downturns, diversifying income sources, maintaining insurance, and more.

When it comes to accelerating savings, Hester urges people to trim large expenses, rather than focusing on small habits.

"I am not going to tell you to eat rice and beans for every meal, to buy only foods for which you have coupons, or to give up lattes if you truly savor them. You'll get more bang for your buck if you focus on the largest expenses first... The bulk of most people's income goes to two things: housing and transportation. So start there."

The final part of the book addresses the practicalities of being retired before most of your peers are. As exciting as it may seem, it can also be a lonely and frightening leap to make, which is why it's important to do it in tandem with a partner and/or to find a supportive community.

Work Optional will leave you feeling empowered. Hester has left no stone unturned in making your financial plan as bulletproof as possible. It's highly readable and inspiring, too, with anecdotes about others who have taken this unorthodox path. I appreciate that Hester's approach is not just about money, it's about life:

"This isn't about amassing wealth for wealth's sake or slapping labels on every choice we make, nor is it about spending the most frugally or hacking the most travel points. This is about living our dreams. Making the very most of our limited time here. Seizing an opportunity that most people through history have never dreamed of."

Learn more and order book at Our Next Life.

'Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way' (book review)
Tanja Hester, who retired at 38, can help you create a financial roadmap that makes your life your own.

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