On a flight from Phoenix to Philadelphia, following a tumultuous period of time within which I had experienced a death of a close member of my family and have been contemplating further the activities I choose for spending my valuable time, I had the chance to read.
Reading always helps me recenter my perspective, and I’m glad I chose the upcoming book, Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way, written by Tanja Hester.
Tanja is the creator of Our Next Life, the Plutus Award-winning blog sitting squarely in the “Financial Independence/Retire Early” genre (only if forced to categorize), where she shares her and her husband’s stories about being financially independent while providing solid tips and guidance for those who are looking for paths towards their own next lives.
This FIRE “movement” has been a fascinating event to observe and study as it permeates every corner of financial and non-financial media online. There is a cyclical nature to trends that garner the most attention online, and those who plan for the next step in the cycle tend to do well.
At the peak of the last recession, those who had been talking and writing about saving money, earning more income, and being smart about finances found their audience.
As the economy improved and at least a certain subset of America thrived financially, those who had been presenting eloquent and motivating information about lifestyle, wealth, and early retirement had (and are currently having) their moment in the zeitgeist sun.
And the sun is shining its light into the darkest corners of the genre. Financial media luminary and author Suze Orman “famously” smacked down the idea of retiring with anything less than $5 million in the bank, the community clapped back, and Suze retreated and admitted misunderstanding the concept of early retirement.
Now you could say the mainstream media have a fetish with the FIRE community.
There are, however, valid criticisms of how the concept of financial independence is communicated.
Early proponents (early online proponents) of the motivational portion of the concept of retiring early seemed to forget, ignore, or downplay the role of privilege baked in, like the pot in a brownie to the perpetually stoned.
Have we all ready forgotten that retirement, early or otherwise, is itself a privilege, living in a world where historically 99.99% of all human inhabitants who lived until adulthood worked, whether through forced labor, “voluntarily,” or just because there was no system for leisure, until they died?
This was my criticism of the concept of extreme early retirement as the idea was growing in popularity online: grown adult men making six figures with secure employment — or dabbling with online businesses not making money while forgetting that their wives were still working to pay the household bills and to support their hobby — trying to convince their audience that (a) anyone can do what they’ve done (just follow these steps!) and (b) there was no deep support system behind the curtain. That “I’m frugal because I choose to be,” is somehow the same as, or even more morally admirable than, “I’m frugal because I have literally no other option.”
So I’m glad to see that Work Optional takes a very different approach to the concept of financial independence. There are no promises of guaranteed freedom. There is no religion-like prescription of adherence to certain rules about spending money, hoarding rewards points, investing in real estate, or reciting a daily affirmation mantra, though a variety of examples pave the way for helping a reader brainstorm.
(Those I’ve critiqued two paragraphs above will deny their intentions and insist they are just sharing what they’ve learned from their path from their perspective — that readers are free to take what’s relevant and ignore the rest. They aren’t wrong.)
Instead of FIRE dogma, there’s a plan to get the reader from where she is to where she might have some better control of the options in her life. To that end, Work Optional is full of so many questions — excellent questions — that the reader must answer for herself.
This ? is ? a ? good ? thing. ?
The author hits all the points I deem to be important when discussing big ideas about money — your mission, what you want your freedom for, what you want to do with your time, why even bother accumulating money and giving yourself freedom, for example.
As a relatively young, financially independent, healthy, multi-passionate person, I know I continue to think about this every day. I ask, I re-ask, I answer, I re-answer, I re-evaluate my answer, and in general, I continue moving on doing those things that are important to me and that I like to do.
In addition to the big-picture questions, and despite placing a distance between the author’s perspective and some of the more popular early retirement tropes, the book contains the solid financial underpinnings necessary for achieving, handling, and maintaining financial independence.
The pursuit towards an aggressive “retirement” goal relies upon a good understanding of health care, taxes, inflation, expenses, and self-evaluation, as well as knowing how to make the best choices with your overall goals in mind.
Here’s the thing: I’m financially independent, and a lot of colleagues and friends have offered their opinions about what I should be doing with my time, what kind of cars I should be buying and driving, and how much I should be stressing myself over achieving additional things with my life. And I’m a target for this type of advice because I often don’t hold back my doubts. I do find the value in, and value the privilege, of having the freedom to pursue activities that I love (even though they often make me want to blow it up, start again).
If you want to explore a different path towards retirement instead of working until age 65 and collecting benefits and possibly 401(k) distributions, and have the freedom to choose whether to “work” and how much, pick up Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way, out in paperback, digital edition, and audio (read by the author) in February 2019 but available for pre-order today.
Can’t wait? You can experience Tanja Hester’s writing at Our Next Life and hear her as co-host (with Kara Perez) of The Fairer Cents Podcast (which just premiered its third season). Our Next Life took home the 8th Annual Plutus Award for Best Financial Independence/FIRE Blog and the 9th Annual Plutus Award for Blog of the Year, and The Fairer Cents was a finalist for the 9th Annual Plutus Award for Best Multi-Author Blog or Co-Hosted Podcast.