Money at 30: “Work Optional” Book Review
Before I get too much into my overall thoughts, let’s me back up and discuss what I appreciate about Work Optional. Incidentally the first thing I love is the title. Speaking to the concerns about what “early retirement” actually is, Hester opts not to focus so much on that particularly terminology (although it’s obviously present — such as in the subtitle) but instead offers tips for achieving a lifestyle where you’re not financially obligated to work. Similarly, she looks at many different forms of a work optional lifestyle, including semi-early retirement or work sabbaticals.
Another deft touch is that, since she can only speak from her own experience, Hester includes a few anecdotes from others throughout the book, providing some alternative points of view. Along those same lines, the author is also quick to note that no two financial paths will be the same as what might work for one person might not be an option for another. For example, she points out that while downsizing or moving to a lower cost of living area can be a great way to save significant amounts of money, family, jobs obligations, and other such factors mean that such a plan isn’t possible for some. Acknowledging these realities openly means that the book manages to avoid feeling condescending, judgemental, or critical of what readers choose to prioritize — it merely presents ideas to consider.
Next, while it can be enjoyed cover to cover without interruption, Work Optional also does a great job of walking readers through various exercises. Early on Hester helps you envision what a work optional life would mean for you and determine what value such a proposition would offer. If you’re really ready to jump in, you’ll also gain the tools to calculate your “magic number” that can make early retirement (in whatever form of it you choose) possible. I also appreciated how each chapter ends with a checklist, quickly reviewing what we learned over the previous few pages. Plus the book has a supplemental website where worksheets and other resources will be available.
As much as I loved those elements of the book, my favorite aspect of Work Optional is that the advice and information that the author provides throughout is enormously helpful for anyone looking to improve their finances regardless of whether they’re whole-heartedly pursuing FIRE, early retirement, or a work optional lifestyle. To that point, while I’m not quite ready to chase early retirement myself, this book opened my eyes to many aspects of personal finance I hadn’t yet considered and motivated me to make changes. In fact, if you read my “Money at 33” yearly goals entry last week, you’ll know that I’m already planning to increase my passive income (or, as Hester calls it, “magic money”) through investing.
Fair warning: given the topic at hand, the book does include a lot of math. That said, while it can get a tad tedious at times, Hester manages to keep it all palatable for the most part. This goes doubly for the investment section of the book that offers easy-to-understand analysis of different options, noting the pros and cons of each along the way — something that certainly could have been a daunting read in the hands of other authors.
If there’s any critique I have of Work Optional it’s that the last section does feel somewhat anti-climactic. That’s simply because the ending few chapters look at how to prepare for and make the transition to early retirement after you hit your magic number. Obviously these are important topics to cover in a book such as this but it is a bit jarring to go from actionable advice and goals you can set now to talking about things you won’t likely deal with for several more years. However, if you do skip most of the last section, I do still recommend reviewing the final chapter where Hester drives home her message in an impactful way.
Quite honestly, if checking my credit score for the first time three years ago was my financial awakening, reading Work Optional has sparked my second. As much as I’ve talked about the concept of using money as a tool to prioritize your passions in the past, Hester managed to introduce me to several more ways to do that — perhaps even leading me toward a lifestyle even I didn’t think possible previously. Whether you’re curious about FIRE, want to map out a path to early retirement, or just want to learn how to become more financially secure, I highly recommend checking out Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way by Tanja Hester when it’s officially released on February 12th.
Also published on Medium.