When an expensive mistake is the nudge you need to be free // Early retirement, financial freedom and financial independence // OurNextLife.compost-retirement process

When An Expensive Mistake Is Really the Nudge You Need To Be Free

If you’re hoping for any deep thoughts on the true meaning of freedom or that kind of thing, you’d probably like having a heads up that today we’re talking about something super frivolous: hair.

But, also maybe how hair can teach us about the true meaning of freedom. Or something.

Actually, maybe this post has more to do with freedom than any post I’ve ever written!

You decide.

But first, some back story.

Waaaaay back in our initial early retirement planning, Mark and I made a list of some of the things we wanted to do in our mythical, future next life.

When an expensive mistake is the nudge you need to be free // Early retirement, financial freedom and financial independence // OurNextLife.com

And some of those things we’re already starting on! Some, not so much.


But notice what is in the very top position:


Being able to have weird hair felt like peak freedom to us. (“Freedom” in the small sense, not in the big sense, as this post illustrates.) In our careers as consultants to clients, we always had to convey a level of professionalism that goes beyond what a lot of jobs require, in that we had to – to put it crudely – look worth the money clients were spending. (No one ever said that to us, but you understand these things.)

So when my hair stylist in LA suggested several years ago that I try a “sexy mullet,” that was an immediate hard pass, for a bunch of reasons. (Let’s be honest.) Anything beyond a few highlights was not on the table, and the idea of having total control over our hairstyles felt to Mark and me like an important symbol that our retirement would be real.

And then a few years passed, we pulled the plug and leave our careers, and a few months in, we’d still done nothing on the hair front. As of two days ago, we looked pretty much like our profile picture, except that my hair got a lot longer because I hadn’t paid to get it cut.


I’d thought about it plenty. But there was always some reason why it wasn’t yet the right time. “I’m talking at Google next month and should probably look respectable.” “FinCon is coming up, and I’m speaking at that, too.” Etc. Etc. Etc.

And then a marvelous thing happened: I screwed something up.

Here’s how that expensive mistake ended up being exactly the nudge I need to grab a hold of the freedom I’d always dreamed of.

When an expensive mistake is the nudge you need to be free // Early retirement, financial freedom and financial independence // OurNextLife.com

As I suspect many of my frugal friends are, I’m an aficionado of drugstore hair color. Though I’ve stuck to tamer colors in recent years, I’ve made the rounds through every product, and did all the more daring stuff back in college and high school.

And I’d done some boxed color a few months ago, to go redder, and while that was fun, I wasn’t totally feeling that look and decided to change it again.

Well, turns out I should have done more homework, because instead of going lighter all over as I’d intended, I ended up keeping the red but lightening the two inches of roots at the top of my head. Because, as every stylist apparently knows, and which I didn’t know yesterday, red doesn’t budge.

I happened to have a hair cut scheduled for the next day, so I went in with my tail between my legs, asking for forgiveness and also help, not wanting my hair to grow out with red at the bottom, a dark blonde horizontal stripe and brunette (and gray) roots.

When an expensive mistake is the nudge you need to be free // Early retirement, financial freedom and financial independence // OurNextLife.com

See. You can be smart at some things and dumb at others. This week I was dumb at hair.

My stylist Melissa and I talked about the options, and there weren’t any good ones unless I wanted to go reeeeeaaaallllllly dark, which I did not. I finally accepted that the answer was what I’d feared: bleach. It would be imperfect bleach, too, because if we lightened my roots more, then that would look even lighter than the other hair, and I’d still have the weird horizontal stripe problem. So it was to be bleach with roots and some color on top to camouflage it for a while.

I thought about it for a moment, took a breath and said, “Let’s do it.”

And that, friends, is how I ended up dropping a bunch of unplanned money at the salon, but also how I accidentally forced myself to do what I’d always wanted but was scared to do when it came down to it.

The rest of the day went something like this:


When an expensive mistake is the nudge you need to be free // Early retirement, financial freedom and financial independence // OurNextLife.com



And now I look like this!



Fun fact: that pink is not real hair color, it’s color depositing shampoo that will wash out completely. We live in the future, y’all. That also means I’ll probably be purple next week.


The Moral of the Story (It’s Not Really About Hair)

I won’t keep this particular look forever, but I feel strangely thankful that the bandaid has now officially been ripped off, for good I hope. There’s no undoing bleached hair, and I’m now pot committed to doing the kinds of things I’d always planned to do with my hair.

And, of course, it’s making me think about everything else I’ve always dreamed of doing but am not actually taking action on, either because I’m letting other things get in the way, or because I’m just straight up scared. We like to put people in one column in the other and call them either brave or weak, not some of both, and while I may have been brave in leaving my career and embarking on a different kind of life, that doesn’t mean I’m equally brave in all things, or at least not right away.

But the hair change is inspiring me to be better. Not just for the sake of being better, but for me. For the dreams I’ve already put off long enough. After all, you can’t really go quietly through life when you have FREAKING BRIGHT PINK HAIR. ;-)

What Nudge Do You Need?

Most of us are putting something off that we could do today, often including those big dreams or the small dreams that carry lots of symbolic weight. What is that for you? What is the nudge you need? How could you give yourself that nudge? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Psst! We’re off to Coachella (#Beychella!), so no post on Monday. Back at you next Wednesday, and I commit to responding to all outstanding comments by then!

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56 replies »

  1. Have to say I love the hair. I’ve always wanted to do something creative and colorful myself, but working in corporate environments my whole career I can’t. It’s daring enough to have the red hair I do! Enjoy having fun with the newly found hair freedom!

  2. What fun…! Have to say, though, that after it took 2+ years to grow out my colour, the natural will see me out… grey as it it! Looking forward to seeing your hair evolve.

    • Mt retirement freedom was to stop coloring my hair. I’m no longer a slave to covering black roots with blonde hair!!! Now greyish, but I will happily live with it.

  3. I love the unicorn hair!! My hair is super dark and curly so I’m not up to the maintenance (and amount of conditioner) that dyeing fun colors would require, but I love it on other people. What color are you thinking of doing next?

  4. LOVE the pink! and congrats for letting the rockstar side of you show on the outside ;)

    Also, people shouldn’t be so quick to hate on the mullet. Confession: I once had the “Modern sexy mullet” as I was convinced by a hair stylist in college who had allegedly also been Celine Dion’s stylist (long story lol) and while it got mixed reviews, it was honestly very freeing. It made me feel more edgy and less like the boring girl from the suburbs I was afraid I’d be if i never pushed myself outside my comfort zone. It also only lasted 3 months before I switched it up again.

    Hope you have the best time with this new bit of freedom!

  5. Awesome hair! And a great blog today – you inspire me – thank you. Have fun with the new look.

  6. My girlfriend is on a sabbatical with her family RVing and the US with her family of 5. She recently got rainbow hair and traded her minivan in for a jeep.

  7. You look amazing! I love the color and cut, and this fun, unexpected post. I bet Mark LOVES your new look, too ;) And so when do we see a new ‘do on Mark?

  8. It looks great! The color is one thing, but losing the length too is a double leap! I hacked off long highlighted locks for a pixie a few years back and it was an incredible feeling. Ended up never getting highlights again ($$$$avings!), but grew it back out because I missed a pony tail so much (because lets be honest, the ponytail is the ultimate lazy-girl hair style).

  9. I have done pink… blue… purple… rainbow and am still in my “professional” career! I tried going silver/grey but its more of a silvery blue colour! I found the key was just pre-warning my bosses that it was happening. They laughed and thought I was kidding till I showed up the next day with bright colour in my hair. Enjoy all the fun colours!

  10. Funky!

    I think you’ll look good in a mullet. Look up hockey players in the 90’s… they had some awesome mullets.

    • If you want to see some awesome hockey flow, just google “Minnesota hockey hair 2018”. The videos are totally worth it!

  11. I love everything about this blog post!!! Yes, that would be three exclamation marks. I went completely bald after chemo treatment and suddenly hair was not so important. I missed my eyelashes more than the hair on my head (they have an important job). Kudos to you for having fun!

  12. “Sexy Mullet” – two words one rarely hears together! :) Off to the races! Will be fun to see the future updates (and FYI, store bought colors on bleached hair can go VERY sideways- I wound up with leaf green hair once) so be sure to ask your stylist before you do more!

  13. Ooh it looks fantastic! I didn’t know that about the red not budging, but that totally explains why my hair is still so red. I dyed it an auburn color (non-permanent! Gotta love those drugstore boxes) for about 8 months last year and then decided to go back to my natural brown and put some non-permanent brown dye on top of it. The red is definitely still showing through! These days I’m cheap so letting my hair grow out anyway, but I like being able to throw it back into a bun or ponytail because I am lazy. I got a pretty short pixie back in college, but short cuts are hard when you have super thin, fine, very straight hair with no body, so I let it grow out after that. I do have dreams of someday finding a short cut that actually works for my hair though!

  14. Fun hair. Completely understand wanting the change… even if it’s temporary. I have my professional hair and clean shaven face… and then I have my outdoorsy vacation hair and beard. BOTH are the real me… I just need to let the world see both sides of me from time to time.

    From a FIRE standpoint, I’ve been cutting my own hair since college. Now 25+ years later, I cut my 3 sons’ hair (two oldest now already cut their own), my wife’s, my dad’s, my father-in-law’s, my uncle’s, from time to time my sister’s, and most memorable… when I gave my mom a buzz cut when she was going through chemo… now a 13 year survivor. Love doing the math on how much this has saved my family.

    You mentioned hiking the Pacific Crest Trail… or maybe just the 221 mile John Muir portion of it. We’re Ohioans… but we love the national parks of the west. That’s on our bucket list as well. If you haven’t seen this video on YouTube, it’s TOTALLY worth watching… 40 minutes… amazing footage… always positive… beautiful message… if this doesn’t get you motivated, not sure what would… “Only the Essential: Pacific Crest Trail Documentary”.

  15. I’m just like you. I retired the old-fashioned way from my 15 year job in real estate. The first thing I wanted to do was put a pink or purple stripe in my hair. Sort of a symbol of my freedom. Well it’s a year and a half later and I haven’t done it yet, but I have discovered my true style after having to wear business clothes for so long. I was also going to make some clothes and I did make two skirts so I’m proud of that. Keep working at your list, Tanja, and I love your pink hair!

  16. I’m so grateful to have stumbled upon your post and site! I am 2 weeks into adjusting my life to the effects of a very expensive mistake, and have found I am now free to do something that I have been back-burnering for way too long. A skiing injury led to surgery that will be followed by many months of activity restrictions. So instead of being out hiking the PCT I am now using the down time to learn how to blog. It is liberating to have the luxury of time to finally sit and focus on my writing. By the way, my dream job is retirement.

  17. The way you talked the mistake up… I was expecting something more drastic haha. I should try and dig up a photo of my disaster blonde hair from back in the day (but let’s be honest, there may not be any photo evidence of that day). I hear you on work requiring good looking hair though. I played competitive softball through high school as well, so I didn’t do the crazy hair back then (gotta look good for colleges!) and I totally regret it. This would totally be on the top of my list as well :)

  18. I’m salt and pepper for life here, but still have all my hair. May consider the retirement mohawk,

    To your “What is the nudge you need?” question: my company has been kind enough to help out here. As of January 1st, I’ve gone from supporting four local customers to supporting 20+ customers across four time zones. Given corresponding work/life balance impacts, I have moved up my end of full time work. Last day is now July 31st.

  19. i used to use manic panic, vampire red. it was a great look for the sweater vest crowd at the r+d center in the 90’s. now go and stream milo goes to college by the descendants. rock on, where’s mark’s mohawk?

  20. I thought you were going to tell us a DIY plumbing nightmare! 😂 I love your new look!! Super fun 😎

  21. That looks awesome!!! I’m partial to hues of pink/red/purple :) I’m low maintenance and lazy so sticking with my virgin black hair but will live vicariously through you :)

  22. Since I discovered your blog just recently and been reading earlier posts, I came across that to-do-post-retirement list a couple of weeks ago. And, I did wonder whether you’d get around to that first item any time soon… Thanks for sharing!

  23. I’m all for cool hair but definitely nay on the mullet :D

    I remember working in a customer facing job where some of my coworkers were impulsive and one of them got an amazing array of pinks in her hair one day without warning the boss. They had a really tense and bristly meeting where she had to pay another couple hundred dollars on top of the $250 she’d already paid for those colors, to go back to natural hues. I still don’t understand the fuss – it wasn’t a conservative workplace!

    There are a couple things I’ve been putting off for several reasons, maybe this year is the year for at least one of them :)

  24. Holy crap, I love that! What is color depositing shampoo??

    (Googles quickly)

    Wait a gosh darn second! Does this mean I could have some fun hair color during a long vacation? Say, 2 weeks in Orlando in September/October?

    Back to you – your hair looks awesome, and yes, this is exactly what freedom with a lower case f looks like! I’m so happy you are having fun and checking off your to do list!

  25. I too learned the hard way that hair is one thing you pay someone to do. After trying to grow out a particularly terrible hair cut done by my boyfriend, I learned my lesson! Luckily, I have found a frugal way to do it – get it cut by hairdressing students (I’m dead serious, they do an amazing job and charge like $17 – and I have A LOT OF HAIR THATS SUPER LONG).

    Great post as always – ps: you are rocking the new hair girl!

  26. I did something hair related last July. I had been letting my hair grow for almost 9 months and my hair grows pretty fast. It was really hot and humid (typically summer weather where I live) and I just couldn’t deal with ponytails or putting my hair up anymore. I went to a salon and asked the stylist to cut off 6-7 inches on the length. The stylist asked me three separate times if I was sure that I wanted to make such a drastic change. She didn’t want me to freak out afterwards. I confirmed each time that I was sure I wanted my hair cut short. It felt wonderful to have all that hair cut off. I also received lots of double looks at work (which is 85% male). To the guys who asked about my new, shorter haircut – I told them that it is only hair and it grows back if I didn’t like it. But, having less hair to wash and condition, saved me time and $$ too. I had gotten my hair cut really, really short in high school and I hadn’t thought about that in years until I was in that salon last July getting my hair cut drastically again. I need to try new things like this more often to keep life interesting!

  27. OMG. LOVE IT. I’ve thought about blue. Real blue… cobalt blue. Even bought a non-permanent color to do a (under the hair) streak and then backed out. I need to re-think it again…you’ve inspired me.

    There’s a group of Mid-lifers who are posting about getting out of the comfort zone… you’re not to that age yet, but this out-of-comfort-zone message is coming at me from so many ways…I think I need to start heading it. If not in hair color, than in some other things I keep putting off.

  28. I *love* the pink hair – I’ve not had interestingly coloured hair since uni. For similar reasons to everyone else, working in the city it really isn’t the thing – the dress code is very conservative.

    I was more thinking of stopping dying the greys when I FIRE………..but maybe I should have cool purple streaks instead? I think that could be epic………..

  29. The color looks nice and all but I’m all about that cut. Love the slight asymmetry and the waves are so cute.

    I’d say that quitting my job gave me a nudge to be more aggressive with getting a new job in the field I want. All of a sudden, life without income gave me a swift kick in the butt. Thankfully I had saved money in the background so I could afford to experiment and spend time figuring out what I wanted to do.

  30. I love the hair! I have been dyeing my hair fun colors for the last couple years (in spite of corporate job) but it did take a mistake and misunderstanding before I added bleach to the mix and can do brighter, more vibrant colors. I am also currently pink haired!

  31. I love the pink! Can’t wait to see the purple update and Mark’s… green? blue? neon red? I have a friend who works in tech in Portland who has a legit mohawk that she sometimes colors.

    I lost all my hair when I had chemo treatments about 10 years ago, which was pretty traumatic. Since then, I’ve had the attitude of “it’s just hair, it will grow back”. When it did grow back in, I went with a pixie. Then one summer a few years later I decided to go blonde. I had to do the walk of shame to the drugstore to get a 2nd box – turns out very dark hair has to be processed twice to get anything other than Tweety bird yellow! So I was a platinum blonde for the summer. I hate maintenance, though and I didn’t want to pay to have it done, so when the roots got too long I went back to brown.

  32. Love the hair! This is something I want to do at some point once I hit FIRE. Right now my work dress code and super conservative nature won’t allow it, but I’ve been digging the lavender hair color I’ve been seeing a lot recently.

    I love that finish Proust is on your list. I read one volume a year for 7 years starting in college and finished it before I hit 30. June was always my “month of Proust.” I was thinking of rereading it the same way throughout my 30s, but I better get on that soon if it’s gonna take another 7 years to re-read!

  33. Awesome look! Coming from one of the few professions where we still wear ties, it is proof of retirement from the corporate world when you you can do something like that. Deserves to be at the top of the list. Not sure those of us closer to 60 than 40 can pull that off comfortably. Thinking about “buy a bong and not keep it a secret” as the top of our list now that legalized recreational weed has come to our state.

  34. This is absolutely the freedom I seek! When I had long hair, I was a redhead thanks to the help of chemistry. It’s been since 2011 that I haven’t colored my hair, because it is not practical with a pixie and I want unnatural colors. Even with running my own business, I am controlled somewhat by the “professionalism” standards in my field and city.

    I am intrigued by the idea that it can now take week to set in to the real color!

    Freedom to look how you want is the thing I’ve loved most about adulthood (and coming out).

  35. That’s a great list and will be fun to progress through. Traveling through Asia is on our list too. We have Japan knocked off and would love to go back very soon.

  36. Awesome hair! I did a sequence of purple, then neon red, then aqua a few years back and it was so fun (though a little high maintenance!).

    As far as an expensive mistake becoming a nudge, let me tell you about expensive mistakes! I switched jobs a year ago in hopes of greater happiness in the workplace and more professional advancement and fulfillment. Took a slight pay cut and a complete loss on the EOY bonus but hey short-term loss for long-term gain, right? In fact, I hate this job even more than the last. I only wish my expensive mistake was as expensive as yours. But yeah, it was the nudge I needed to recognize I am FI and I’m outta here next year.

  37. Wow, you are inspiring me to bite the bullet and go silver white NOW… all the way! I FI/RE’d early last year after years of corporate exec life. I’ve always wanted to have a very short silver white hair (from my dark Asian hair). Am back to my research on a hair colorist to work with – am currently living in OC (SoCal) and NYC. Am scared to do it wrong myself and end up with blue or green hair.