Retired at 38 With An Award Winning Blog & Published Book

Tell our readers a little about yourself, your blog, and your early retirement.

Hi there! I'm Tanja Hester, author of the book Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way and the blog Our Next Life, as well as co-host of The Fairer Cents podcast. I retired a little over a year ago at the end of 2017 at the age of 38 from a career in political consulting and journalism, and now enjoy a more adventurous and creative life in Lake Tahoe, California.


Tell me about the early days. How did you get started?

I was born on a blustery night in the frozen tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin… just kidding. (Not kidding about being born there, just about the story starting there.) My husband Mark and I were mid-career, making decent incomes in Los Angeles, but feeling the health and lifestyle impacts of our stressful careers. And we realized we couldn't do that forever and still expect to stay healthy and happy into our later years. So we started by just saving more, to give ourselves options, and eventually realized we could retire early, and that motivated us to save like crazy. I started the blog at the start of 2015 to chronicle our journey, and three years later, we unmasked ourselves, left those careers and embarked on this next life of ours.

What roadblocks did you hit along the way? Any mistakes we can learn from?

We didn't hit any financial roadblocks (mostly thanks to dumb luck with excellent market timing), but that doesn't mean there weren't any roadblocks at all. The emotional side of the journey is just as big a deal, and we fell into the trap of trying to get to early retirement as fast as possible, and made ourselves unhappy in the process. Based on that experience, my advice is three-fold: use all your vacation time while you're saving (you need breaks!), don't let yourself complain about having to work (my post on this), and make sure you're still spending money on things that bring you true happiness while you're accumulating your early retirement nest egg. You want to arrive at your goal feeling happy and excited for the next phase, not burned out and miserable.

What advice do you have for people getting started?

Track your spending, every penny of it. If you have wiggle room in your budget, there's a good chance you have mindless dollars going out that you don't realize you're spending. Seeing it all totaled up gives many of us a useful wake-up call to reprioritize where our money is going. After that, if you can focus on containing lifestyle inflation while increasing your income, you're in a strong position to achieve some form of work-optional life.

What's the biggest misconception about FIRE?

That it's about not working. It's about separating your life's decision-making process from money. Most of us who get to early retirement feel drawn to work, but it's on our own passion projects, not on someone else's priorities.

What books, tools, resources do you recommend to others?

I worked hard to make Work Optional a comprehensive resource on the financial and life-planning aspects of early retirement, focusing on not trying to scrimp every dollar. So of course I'd recommend that! 😉

What's next for you?

The book comes out February 12, 2019, and after that, who knows! I'll be at several financial independence events this year, including at least two Cents Positive retreats for women. We'll certainly keep traveling like we did in our first year. And I'd love to write another book or ten, which is what's motivating me to promote _Work Optional. It's an amazing thing not to have to worry about whether I make any money from the book, but publishing is still a business, so if I want to write more, I need to sell copies of this one. 😉

I've never tried to sell anything on the blog before (or even hosted ads – still don't), so it's an interesting challenge and I'm learning a ton. Just as I learned a ton while writing the book and while recording the audiobook. So the entire book process has been one of continual learning, and I'm sure that will continue for the foreseeable future!