About Tanja (& Mark)

Hiya! We’re Tanja Hester, the author of this blog and the book Work Optional, and Mark Bunge, the accomplice, and we retired at the end of 2017 at the ages of 38 and 41. Welcome to our home on the internet.

Tanja and Mark from Our Next Life celebrating 10 years of marriage as early retirees

Celebrating our 10-year anniversary in 2018, our first as retirees


What Is Our Next Life?

I’ve been blogging here since early 2015, so more than six years now, chronicling our journey to early retirement and our evolution beyond that. This is a place where no one will judge you for not being a perfect frugal master — in fact, we used to be the worst spenders of them all. Instead, this is a place where we can all seek out balance together, finding the best way to plan for the awesomely kick-ass future of our dreams while wringing every drop out of today.

Where we can talk about the financial side of early retirement, but not only that. Our Next Life goes deep into the feelings and philosophy, too, encouraging our community together to think differently and go beyond even the early retirement community’s unconventional conventional wisdom.


Tanja Hester, the Author

Tanja Hester, author of Work Optional and Wallet Activism

Tanja (pronounced like “Tonya”) is the author of this blog and the award-winning book Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way, and was dubbed the “matriarch of the women’s FIRE movement” by the New York Times. In addition, she’s a longtime political communications strategist (the pre-retirement career), a community and environmental activist, an insatiable reader and audiophile, an obsessive searcher for the best gluten-free beers and baked goods, a one-time mathlete, and a former yoga and spinning teacher. To learn more about Tanja, including her public speaking, visit TanjaHester.com.



Mark Bunge, the Accomplice


Mark is a longtime pollster, a practical jokester (those even kinda rhyme!), an anti-elitist in all things but coffee, a world-class volleyball player in his mind (if only he had grown to be 6’6″!), president of the local avalanche center, and a perpetually late sleeper unless it’s a powder day.



What We’re All About

We believe in using our financial independence as a force for good, and that the entire community of people working toward financial independence can change the world for the better. We believe generosity and service are essential components of a good life, and that it’s far better to use your money to create the world you want to be a part of instead of optimizing every dollar.

We’re massive fans of the outdoors, and get out there as much as we can — alpine and backcountry skiing in the winter, and hiking, backpacking, cycling, mountain biking, climbing, paddling, and a million other activities when the weather’s warmer. That love of the outdoors is why we moved from Los Angeles to North Lake Tahoe, California, in 2011.


We believe you don’t have to be a financial pro to be smart about your money, or even to do something audacious like quit working for life while still young. And we certainly don’t believe you have to give up everything fun or live like a monk to do it either!


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Thanks for reading. We can’t wait to get to know you!

Fine print:

Everything on this blog is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for obtaining professional financial advice. Nothing contained here implies a consulting or coaching relationship. Please consult a licensed financial or legal professional for advice on your own situation. 

All photos are original and copyrighted by Our Next Life unless clearly noted. All rights reserved.

Linking encouraged with brief excerpts only, but posting photos and/or full content is never allowed without express written permission.

Copyright 2015 – 2021 Tanja Hester / Our Next Life. All rights reserved.

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88 replies »

  1. Hey there,

    Welcome in the blogging world!
    Very interesting incentive you got there: slow travel and enjoy every place you stay! I must stay this way of living is tempting me too!

    What amaze me the most is the <3y timeframe you set yourself. Is it because you plan to have very very low expenses later on? Or because you've got a huge stash already?

    Cheers from Switzerand!

  2. Hi there mysterious ER prospectors

    Welcome to the world of understanding that the American “work ethic” is ridiculous. Way too many people are defined by their work. While I never found a career that satisfied me in any way I figured out early enough that understanding the nuances of budgeting and working in the financial services industry was an excellent chance to end a life of mundane clerical work at an age when it’s still worth retiring early for. Granted, being married to someone who earns almost double what I did certainly didn’t hurt and having benefits better than most also helped but the plan can be accomplished by almost anyone with diligent planning

    It sounds like you already know the basics but all it takes is a few simple things that many Americans are not willing to sacrifice. Live below your means, max out and dollar cost average into your retirement plans, prepay your mortgage if you have one, use itemized deductions to lower your taxable income enough to get refunds large enough to max out a ROTH IRA in addition to maxing the company retirement tax sheltered plans (you should be able to bring your income low enough after deductions if you don’t make mire than 250k combined). Skip eating out and learn to cook healthy spending the extra cash on a gym membership which will make your life healthy enough to enjoy being retired

    I only discovered blogging last year and it was mostly to take up all my house husband time after being laid off but writing is actually the only thing that comes easy to me and that I enjoy so I’m glad I started it. Diane doesn’t hate her job as much as I did but the commute is another story

    We admire your intentions and assure you it’s satisfying once you achieve what many others think is not possible net me know if I can offer any advice on anything

    Rob and Diane

    • We are totally on the same page, and we’re doing everything you mentioned except the Roth IRA (or any IRA), because of the income cap. (We know — nice problem to have.) We’ll have our house paid off before we quit in 2017, and only bought it in 2011, so we think we’re doing pretty well there! And we are socking away funds into Vanguard twice a month — we are the poster children of dollar cost averaging. :-) All the other lifestyle stuff we’re in total agreement with you on — minimal eating out, very few purchases, keeping travel cheap, living way below our means. So far so good, but we definitely will take all the moral support we can get. Thanks for your offer of advice — I’m sure we’ll take you up on it! Cheers.

  3. Congratulations on your journey! And thank you for following The Old Money Book. You guys seem like you’ve really got it together with a plan and goals. I’m really impressed with the fact that you admitted to making mistakes early on. Everybody does, but it’s only made you smarter and made your success sweeter, I’m sure. All the best, looking forward to your continued success! – Byron

  4. It’s wonderful to hear of your plans and quest. My wife and I are in a similar situation, with similar goals. As you mentioned, it’s not typical to have a partner who shares life and financial goals – definitely makes the journey easier! I look forward to reading more.

  5. Sounds like an exciting journey, great site and looking forward to reading more about your thoughts on all things early retirement

  6. hi there.. thanks for checking out our blog.. you guys got a much earlier start on the early retirement idea than we did.. we just took the plunge, and we are 55 and 50.. my older brother thinks it is an irresponsible decision. but I have spent my whole life being responsible and following the typical path to success.. time to find a new path :)

    this is a gamble for sure.. but so far, much of our experience has been confirming.. no looking back now! best of luck with your plan and especially with the years after you get to say ” thanks, but i think i will get off of the merry go round now ” :) jt

  7. Awesome blog! My husband and I have very similar goals. I love your blog because you’re definitely farther along than we are (closer to achieving ER) but close enough that it helps me see where we could be if we stay on the right path. Thanks!

    • Thanks! If there’s anything we’ve learned in all of this, it’s that you can make your goals happen quickly if you really focus. So maybe you’re closer than you think! ;-)

  8. Just Dance WII? I knew we were friends for a reason! And no mention of Clueless? I’m gravely disappointed! Keep on keepin’ on you guys – you are the very definition of Rockstars!

    • Haha — YESSSSS! I love the Wii dancing… well, all dancing really. Just hope I don’t look like Elaine from Seinfeld, but don’t really care one way or the other. :-) And I’ll consider a movie rundown in our next update. ;-) Thanks as always for being such a great and supportive friend!

  9. Really glad to have discovered your blog. Sounds like our interests are very similar 😊 Wow kudos to you guys for almost reaching FI in your late 30s. We have a very long road ahead of us, but we are working towards it on a regular basis.

    I should tell me wife about those gluten free beers. I wonder if they are available outside those cities
    Stay in touch

    • Thanks, R2R! Cool to meet someone on the FI path with similar interests! And I haven’t seen those beers outside of Oregon and Washington, but I’m not an expert! :-)

  10. Having dogs but not kids is one way to reach financial independence early, that’s for sure!

    In the new “gig” economy, early retirement seems like a great plan for people prudent enough to be able to achieve it. If you think strategically about how and where to live, and find ways to live frugally, it might be possible to live longer and happier lives if you’re freed from the constraints of full-time employment.

    I now wish we had retired early earlier. In one of the most remote towns in the lower 48, far away from high-pressure jobs in the highest-pressure city, I think we’re happier than ever.

    I’ll enjoy following not only your blog, but also those of your followers!

    • Haha, yeah, no question it’s easier to get to FI with no kids! How great that you guys found a life that makes you happy, away from the big city. We made the big move too, so can relate — just not to the early retirement part yet. :-)

  11. We’ve enjoyed following your blog for a while now, in fact yours is one that has inspired us to make our own FIRE plan, and even to start our own blog! Thanks so much for sharing your journey.

    • You completely made our day! :-D That’s pretty much the best thing you could tell us, that we helped inspire you to create your own plan — and to start blogging about it! Congrats for putting your plan out there in the world!

  12. This blog is amazing! I am finding such inspiration from people like you and making our own plans for freedom (have started my own blog to document our journey now that we know we are on one ;)). We have a long way to go but reading blogs like these is keeping me focused!

    • Hi Elliot. We are not planning to have kids. Certainly it would change a great deal about our plan, but we haven’t thought that through in-depth since kids have never been on our radar. :-)

  13. Hi there!

    Just stumbled upon your guys’ blog. Best of luck in your FIRE goals. When you do hit the finish line I’d be interested to learn more about your ‘previous’ careers. Telecommuting, you lucky ducks.

    Looking forward to reading more!

  14. Well done on your next life! Great news that you’ve paid off the mortgage. We took early retirement, bought a yacht, renovated it, and sailed from England to Greece! Wouldn’t have it any other way! Just do it!

  15. Hi Our Next Life Team,

    My name is Anuj Agarwal. I’m Founder of Feedspot.

    I would like to personally congratulate you as your blog Our Next Life has been selected by our panelist as one of the Top 100 Retirement Blogs on the web.


    I personally give you a high-five and want to thank you for your contribution to this world. This is the most comprehensive list of Top 100 Retirement Blogs on the internet and I’m honored to have you as part of this!

    Also, you have the honor of displaying the badge on your blog.


  16. Just found your blog. I’m a fellow early-retiree-turned-professional-bucket-lister, but you really had me at the shared love of Mexican food. I’m gonna fit in her just fine ;)

  17. Early Retirement Extreme and Jacob started all this years ago–creds? Perhaps I missed your …footnotes. Just curious–no mention? Or perhaps you did (if so apologies–but not on blogroll and readers might find helpful)– as you “borrow” quite a bit from)…surely, all things considered.

    • Well before Jacob and early retirement extreme, there was Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robyn and Joe Dominguez, which you will note is featured prominently on our blogroll. ;-)

  18. Tahoe huh!?! Can’t believe I havent seen your blog before! It’s great to know there are other FIRE weirdos nearby. Believe it or not I may have run into you at Castle Peak last year Mark. It may have been some of the other Avalanche gurus but it was two of you (and you look pretty similar to what I remember) and you told my buddy and I all about the avalanche resources you provide. We have been using it ever since. Anyways whether or not it was you thanks for the awesome resources keeping us safe in the mountains and I can’t wait to read more of your blog! I hope you do some local meetups. I have been dying to do an MMM one (it would be cool to be surrounded by like minded people and feel normal for once) but Longmont is kinda a long drive for us Northern California folk. Anyways congrats on the big reveal and hope to see you around this season. Keep up the great work!

    • Hi Brett! That probably wasn’t Mark, but some of the other board members. (Because all guys in Tahoe look alike, right?) ;-) But that’s excellent you’re using the Avi Center resources! And I’ll definitely keep you posted about local meetups once we’re able to catch our breath! :-D

  19. We also celebrated our 10 year anniversary during our first year of retirement – how cool is that! I love what you are doing and look forward to following your journey!!

  20. Thank you for sharing your life with the rest of us. You and many other FIRE advocates are becoming role models and inspiring many Americans to become debt-free.

  21. Just found you. Love reading about your experiences and insights and thanks for putting yourselves out there for the rest of us. My wife and I hit our mark last fall but still have to unwind ourselves from work and selling a local retail business, should be done spring of 2020, both aged 50. Sounds like Lake Tahoe is perfect for your lifestyles, we have lived in Reno for decades. I look forward to introducing my wife to your writings and I will continue to pull every nugget I can from here. Thanks again!!

  22. I saw your book at the Barnes and Noble in Torrance. It looks great and that is now I found your blog. I retired in 2018 at the age of 55. I have places in Torrance and Big Bear(which reminds me of your Lake Tahoe location). I look forward to reading your materials to confirm I am on the right path and discover your new ideas and suggestions.

  23. It’s awesome knowing both of you. I like Mark’s idea about anti-elitist. I also love the idea of living a life of a normal human, not some money making human machine.

  24. Hello,

    My name is Nasir Khan and I work for Futuristic Artists – an online advertising company.

    After going through your Amazing website ournextlife.com I found it a perfect fit for our ongoing (as well as for upcoming) campaign (s)

    I would like to know if it is possible to get guest/sponsored posts published on your site?

    Please let me know if you’re interested, as I am looking to form a long-term relationship with you. I am able to pay an administrative fee.

    Let me know your kind thoughts!

    Humblest Regards,

    Nasir Khan
    Digital Marketing Consultant
    Email: writetome.nasirkhan@gmail.com

  25. Great to meet you tanja and Mark, and a friendly hello from the land down under! (australia)

    I enjoy writing about FIRE and have a passion for personal finance too

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