Work Optional by Tanja Hester: A book review

The Vines, yes both of us, recently read Work Optional by Tanja Hester of Our Next Life. We frequently read ONL and often link to it here. We also listen to the Fairer Cents, the podcast Tanja cohosts with Kara Perez. Suffice it to say, we are fans! We share several similarities with Tanja and Mark, in particular, the desire for a non penny pinching approach to early retirement. We discovered ONL in mid-2017, as Tanja and Mark made their final leap into early retirement. It was Tanja’s prolific blogging and their well-researched, transparent method to achieving financial independence that firmly put us in the “we can do this!” camp. Being avid readers of ONL, we weren’t sure if Work Optional would offer much additional insight, but we can confidently report that it does. As we’ll discuss in more detail, Work Optional appeals to a broader audience than ONL. The blog feels like a snapshot glimpse into Tanja’s thoughts–almost as if you were having coffee with her today. By contrast, the book is a much deeper dive into bigger concepts, not necessarily specifically related to Tanja and Mark at all.

Despite the accurate synopsis on the book jacket, we expected more “memoir” and less “how-to manual.” But Work Optional is a nice mix of the two. As we are well on the way towards our own financial independence and work optional life, we weren’t sure if this book would provide much in the way of useful information. Overall, we appreciated how it confirmed some of our plans and pushed us to improve in other areas.

For those who already read ONL, Work Optional goes into much greater detail about envisioning your own next chapter. We’ve already done that to a large extent, but Tanja’s structured exercises and worksheets help crystallize that vision. It’s nice to continually refine our dreams and that’s what sustains us during the most stressful times in our careers.

We also appreciated the discussion of the two-phase retirement approach. We thought of our retirement this way, but Tanja’s resources and guidance on how to calculate the “magic numbers” was helpful. We liked the conversation about winding up our careers and “taking the leap”. That’s something relatively unique to Work Optional, that no other early retirement resource discusses in such detail. It’s also worth noting that Tanja wrote Work Optional very close in time to her departure from her career. We liked that this is nearly a real time account, rather that something written in hindsight.  

Tanja’s writing style is engaging and both of us enjoyed the book. It’s the first full-length book Mr. Vine has read in quite some time, so that’s high praise for Work Optional. This book is required reading for any couple hoping to retire together (at early or traditional ages). The Vines are more or less on the same page, but as Tanja says, money is so personal that we naturally approach finances somewhat differently. Because we both read Work Optional, we now have more talking points for our future vision and will improve our communication about the numbers. The first recommendation we’re implementing from the book is a monthly face to face money date.

We are often guilty of focusing on the numbers, the math, the budgeting of it all. No doubt that is critical. But making sure our heads are in the right place and we’re mentally prepared to take this great leap together is equally important. Work Optional reminds us not to neglect the mental work. We first talked about this here. But as our exit date starts to appear on the horizon, that mental work becomes ever more necessary.

We think Work Optional is an excellent read for anyone interested in more financial security than what is touted in the mainstream personal finance space. Tanja offers smart, but easy to understand, and not at all preachy advice on how to use finances to life a more purposeful life.

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