Tanja Hester and her husband Mark Bunge achieved an incredibly economical goal: save enough money to retire early. Horses and Bunge left their jobs in 2017 (aged 38 and 41, respectively), and Hester has chronicled their experience on their blog Our Next Life.
Hester's New Book, Work Options: Penny-Pinching Way takes her blog a step further. This action package is designed to help everyone achieve a higher degree of financial independence and build a life where work becomes voluntary – and perhaps even follow Hester's example and retire early.
I got the chance to talk to Hester about her book, why the economic independence movement is for everyone, the two budget items that have the greatest impact on your savings and why you should keep your life insurance policy even if you retire early.
The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What inspired you to write Work optional? Why is this book important right now?
First of all, there are many who do not know that early retirement or financial independence is an option. I wanted to get this information to more people.
Secondly, I wanted to counter many misconceptions out there. These run a number of gamut; One is the misconception that you must be naturally economical and live this rather unfortunate existence to retire early. That was not how we did it. We did not give up a car and bike everywhere, we did not stop showering or stopping cleaning our house, we lived a fairly normal life while we still save and find some tricks to help us.
I also wanted to make more people feel welcome [in the financial independence community] as people who have debt or people who have children. There are so many misconceptions about who can do this, as if you have to be a high official or you have to be double income without children, but that is not the only one who can do it.
Finally, I wanted to counter the misconception that it is all or nothing. That you can either retire early or you can just as well spend all your money. I'm writing slowly about half-board and career interviews ̵
I loved your proposal to create a Money Mission Statement. How has that kind of thinking helped you when working for early retirement?
Early on, I discovered that if I didn't set some pretty strict rules, I'd go over budget or spend money I'd hoped to save. I developed the Money Mission Statement because I wanted to help people think about rules in a more positive way. Rules and limitations can feel very negative and restrictive, so I wanted to give readers a way to feel strong and powerful and inspired.
It was so meaningful to create a list of assignments that brings everything. What is your whole view of life that you are aiming for? It not only saves money for your own sake, which for most of us is not appealing. But creating an inspiring goal and then developing a set of guidelines to stay on the right track felt very powerful.
As for daylight, why do you suggest that you focus on the big things, like housing and transport, instead of the small things?
It's really just about getting the best value for money. There are a million small ways that you can save money – I had my extreme coupon phase and when I look back at it and see how much work I spend to save $ 100 or $ 200 a month, it was a great time for me to invested.
Homes and transports give you the most impact when it comes to saving money, for the least effort. If you can keep these costs, they will do more for your savings than anything else you do to save money. If you can find a rented apartment and stay there instead of moving up when your salary is moved, or if you can find a home and pay off instead of moving as everyone tells you to or drive a car forever, or Public transport if you live in a city where it is possible, these things will save so much money much faster than much else you can do.
Focus on just two things and figure out how to save up your savings so much better than trying to make a million small things to save a few dollars here and there.
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How does life insurance fit into an economic independence plan? You and your husband took out a term life insurance covering you until you are in the 50's, right?
Yes, and we do not interrupt these policies now when we are financially independent. Most life insurance policies are technically designed to replace your income. It can also be used to cover expenses when someone passes, why some parents take out life insurance on their children.
If you have a cheap life insurance, there is no need to cancel it. Even if you retire early and stop working, your work still has value. If Mark wasn't around to fix the roof or change the oil in the car, things I would have to pay for – or learn how to do it myself, but I wouldn't want to! It is worth having extra money to pay for the things he had done, and if I wasn't there there would be information that Mark might prefer not to do.
For people who have children, if one of the parents provides childcare, which has great value. Life insurance can cover the cost of that value.
The second reason we stick to our policy, except that it's pretty cheap, is it – this sounds a little sickly, but if something happened to Mark, I'd be pretty miserable. I would not want to think about what things cost. I would like some extra pillow for comfort. I may not have the time or mental energy to focus on saving money.
You should not assume it, just because you are financially independent and do not have to work anymore, there is no place for life insurance.  How do you stick to your financial independence plan over five or ten years?
I think the biggest thing is to remind you that by taking this step now, the work part of your life is much shorter than it is for most people. It helps you to be grateful for it and appreciates it in another way.
When we stare down a 40-year career, we do not often feel grateful for it. We don't appreciate that much, or we let the little things disturb us. Saying "I just need to do it in X years", even though it is a decade, helps you remember that you are working towards a particular goal, and you should appreciate it.
There were other strategies Mark and I used that helped a lot, like setting up a ban on work. It was amazing how transformative it was. It made a big difference in our thinking. When we knew we couldn't complain, our minds stopped going to the complaining place.
It also helps to get a support system, whether in real life or online or through financial independent meetings. It is especially useful if everyone around you is a freewheeling spender or just lives a very different lifestyle than you do. Knowing other people reminding you that you are not weird is very helpful. It shows you that this is a completely valid way of life.
Finally, make sure you still spend some money to enjoy life now. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow, so make sure you still love your life right now. As I write in the book, "Of the things you dream of doing, which of you could you do now?"
Nicole Dieker is a full-time freelance writer. Her work is regularly shown on Bankrate, Lifehacker, The Write Life and many other sites. She is the author of Frugal and The Beast: And Other Financial Fairies. This article is sponsored by the Haven Life Insurance Agency. The opinions are her own.
The Port Life Insurance Agency offers this only as pedagogical and the information provided is not written or intended as special legal advice. Haven Life Insurance Agency does not provide legal advice. People are encouraged to seek advice from their own legal adviser.
Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC17DTC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111 and offered exclusively by the Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. The number and features of policies and riders may vary by state and may not be available in all states. In New York, Haven Term DTC-NY is 1017. Our license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.