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This page will get you started on some of the content here at Our Next Life that’s most relevant to you. If you want to learn more about Tanja Hester (the author of the blog) and Mark Bunge (the behind-the-scenes money accomplice), check out About Tanja (& Mark), or read up on the Early Retirement Financial Plan that let us make our career exit when I (Tanja) was 38 and Mark was 41. For all the information and caveats you deserve to have as a reader, check out my Transparency Policy

Our Next Life is a place where I’ve sparked thought and discussion since 2015, when we were deep into our savings journey toward early retirement, and that often means looking hard at the numbers and money, but then delving deeply into the aspects of early retirement that aren’t strictly financial — what we dream about in retirement, how we define ourselves post-career, how we’re healthier (but not magically cured) after ditching the job stress (and what we do for health care!), what we actually miss about work, the new anxiety that could arise when there’s no steady paycheck coming in — the stickier issues that sometimes get overlooked while plotting out retirement income or savings rates.

Our Next Life includes hundreds of posts, so below are shortcuts to some of the best posts by category, along with other places ONL has been featured. Enjoy!

Our Overall Financial Approach

We committed several years ago to quitting at the end of 2017, whether or not we reached the magic number we had in mind. Fortunately, we blew through that number, and we retired at our stretch goal! We’re both allergic to budgets, but had great success with a pay-yourself-first strategy that we elevated to an art form — that is, we’re super good at hiding money from ourselves before we can think to spend it, a great tactic if you’re like us and struggle to save regularly. And we’ve done a lot of thinking about how we can be flexible once we do retire, fitting our lifestyle to whatever funds we’ll have available to us.

Transitioning to Retirement

I write a lot about what it means day-to-day, and for our sense of self, now that we no longer have careers that define us. We definitely had careers that you could call “high powered” — consulting for powerful people, fancy titles, lots of travel, more pay than we required. While that came with a lot of stress that we eagerly left behind, I also wondered if we’d feel an unanticipated void when we quit.

Writing My Book, Work Optional

Writing this blog (and retiring early, of course) are what allowed me to write my first book, Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way, which was released in February 2019 from Hachette Books. I’ve shared some of the behind-the-scenes process here.

Health Care for Early Retirees

Something we’re suuuuper focused on is staying healthy and living long, active lives. That means ensuring we always have access to high-quality health care that doesn’t destroy our budget. Unfortunately, that’s not a given in our current atmosphere of political health care uncertainty, but I’ve stayed on top of the twists and turns in the health care debate, and have covered it extensively.

A Two-Phased Retirement Approach

While a lot of folks recommend using your tax-advantaged savings well before reaching traditional retirement age, I advocate thinking of early retirement as an entirely different financial phase, one which you might choose to live more cheaply to keep more money in place for later. Here’s more about our approach and why we feel so strongly about it.

Financial Independence Blog Community

We’re huge fans of the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) blog community, and feel lucky to be a part of it. Sometimes that means writing about blogging, building community or fighting back against those who don’t believe that what so many of us are doing is truly possible. And sometimes it means calling out our community when we’re not collectively being completely transparent with readers.

Surviving Work En Route to Early Retirement

Though early retirement is the starting line, not the goal post, it still takes most of us many years to be able to walk away from traditional work. We thought a lot about how to get through those working years.

What We Dream About for Retirement

Like most aspiring retirees, we spent a lot of time during our planning and saving years reflecting on what we wanted our lives to be like after we ditched the careers, what we think of as “our next life” (a next life that we’re now living). We imagined a lot of time to travel, get outdoors in our mountain town, and discover what our true life’s purpose is — and all of that has proven to be true!

Questioning Social Norms

I love thinking not just about early retirement, but social norms in general. Obviously retiring early is a big diversion from “normal,” so for those of us who are already accustomed to thinking differently, why stop there?


And sometimes I just like to tell a good story about things that have shaped our lives, or experiences that are too powerful not to share.

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57 replies »

  1. Hi, i love the transparency. Great job! I’m very excited to see you progress in your journey and your insight. I wanted to let you know that I shared you blog post about minimizing home expenses to reach FI sooner on my facebook page:)

  2. Hello ONL, I can’t quickly find a place to email you or message you privately or on a general page, so I thought I’d post here. If there is a place to message you/your blog site privately and you’d prefer that, please let me know.

    I have 2 main questions I wanted to share. First, I am curious about whether the two of you rely on a “higher power” to help you make decisions. I know your decisions about retiring early (and really your life plans overall) are well thought out and “felt” out–meaning that I think they have an emotional basis as well, and it seems a sort of “secular” definition of spirit or inner guide, well, guides you. I’m curious about how you define your spirituality and whether there is an entity outside of yourselves that you rely on for support.

    You know what, I think I’m going to just go with that question for now . . . I’d hate to overshadow something I see as so important with something else. I may share the other question in the future. Thank you!

  3. Found your other site about Sedona and then was referred to this site. What made you change your mind from Jan 2015 to move to Sedona to Nov 2015 to not?

    • Hi Brenda. We’re thrilled to have you reading here, but I think the site you want is Think Save Retire. Steve and Courtney who write that blog had originally planned to move to Sedona, and are now doing the full-time airstream RV travel gig. ;-)

  4. Hi, I am new to your page (love it, and am finding so many similarities between you guys and my husband and I – he actually flagged this site for me because we sound pretty similar!) … question, and maybe you do have it somewhere… but what is your financial goal for retirement? Is it the 4%/25 times your yearly expenses number? That is about what we’re aiming for but it’s always interesting to hear if other folks place a lot of stock in that. We’re aiming for a specific number and hope to retire in mid 2018, when I’ll be 38 and my husband will be 40. Thank you for any and all advice you can share!

  5. Hey there… I’ve been poking around and I was wondering – do you have anything on here that is a list of all your posts so that if someone were super motivated, he/she might be able to read things from oldest to newest post? Maybe it’s here and I can’t find it. I’m just sort an orderly person like that and don’t like to click around too randomly. thx.

    • Best option is to go to “archive” in the sidebar and go back to the earliest month (January 2015), and then click “next post” at the bottom of each as you finish. But there are currently 259 posts, so you’re talking about a veeeeerrrrry big undertaking. ;-)

      • ok… somehow I didn’t quite make it to that point after clicking around for several minutes. So, I read the MMM blog like that, like a book.
        It took me several weeks to get through the whole thing. And I don’t have to read all of them as I started reading your blog a little less than a year ago. Just curious to see where you came from to where you are now and if there are things I need to learn. I do like how you changed to capital punctuation, though. :) I have 9 days until the Warriors play in the NBA finals, and let’s just say this is cheap, mind-expanding (not mind numbing) entertainment between now and then and probably will take me several weeks more. And, no offense meant by this comment, if I get bored with a topic, I tend to skim or skip on to the next thing. I’m sure none of your content is boring, however.

      • Haha, no offense taken. ;-) You know it makes me super happy if this blog counts as entertainment!

      • Is it possible that you’ve changed your blog format so that the sidebar isn’t there any longer? It would be helpful if you just tossed together an index page so I could bookmark it. I too find it interested into read things in order.

      • If you are viewing on mobile, you may not see the sidebar. I am working on an archive page. Just too many things happening right now. ;-) but if you go to the reveal post from last week, it links to the very first post (“hiya”), and you can work forward from that one.

  6. Just finding you, just signed up and got here by reading your article on living in your vacation spot. We retired “early” at 55 in our paid off home that we had built as a vacation-like dream home. Friends often describe it that way 🤣 and for 25 years (14 in retirement) we have loved it.

    I also love your attitude and approach to things, and I really looking forward to reading more. There’s a lot I can learn.

    Thanks, Rich

    • Hi Rich! Don’t put early in quotes — 55 is definitely early, and you get major kudos for making that happen. How wonderful that you’ve had so many great years in your dream home in a location you love, and for a decade longer in retirement than most people get. High five! :-)

      • Thanks — 55 for us was 3 years early, but working environment had environment had become untenable for a couple of years. We knew we were skating the thin edge financially, but took the risk and with planning, luck and effort, have been fortunate.

        Looking forward to exploring your blog more… Rich

      • I’m sure that was a super tough decision! Congrats for prioritizing your overall well-being and being resourceful to make it work.

  7. Alright, I congratulate you, however, I am having trouble with your math, from what I read, you have been saving for the last 6 years. If you saved let’s say $150K/year with annualized return of 15% for 7 years, you’re at $1.66M with some possible tax liabilities in there. You’re 38 and 41, I haven’t seen an income plan from you guys, I’d be a little worried, I’d retract my resignation letter for a few more years.

    • Hi Christine — It’s worth reading more of our story before jumping to a conclusion like that! ;-) Rest assured we didn’t start from zero six years ago, and that’s just when we got focused on this goal. Appreciate your concern!

  8. I cannot help but notice that most subscribers are eager to retire and go out and play. Being great at your job is not remotely the same as being engaged in your job and deriving great satisfaction from doing it. If you hate your job, by all means bail as soon as financially feasible. If you love your job, retirement, especially early retirement, is not so straightforward. In my field, psychology, 70 is considered early retirement. Many colleagues work into their 80s. When we retire, income is not an issue. In fact, most of us can retire well before SSA retirement age with no change in standard of living and quality of life .

    BACKGROUND: I loved my work at the National Institutes of Health. Like most my previous jobs I helped to advance science, mentor and develop new scientific talent, and often have a direct impact on national policy. My coworkers were not only professional colleagues but also friends, as were many of my grantees. In contrast, my spouse, a software engineer, is 26 years my junior, and was not heavily career engaged. We had planned to retire at 62, but I got an offer to stay a bit longer to help run an amazing project. However, 3 years later, both our parents fell terminally ill on two continents. The commutes between DC, Florida, and Bulgaria made it clear that work was no longer workable. Thus, our eldercare responsibilities triggered what was still early retirement by SSA standards – 1 whole year. After a few years, our parents deceased, and we finally got in the groove for our retirement on two continents.

    HAPPILYEVERAFTER: We are now 6 years into retirement. We travel a lot because we both have good friends all over Europe from as far north as Norway and as far south as Turkey. We spent Spring 2018 at our house in Bulgaria because last summer was climate change on steroids. While in Europe, we celebrated my spouse’s birthday with dinner at a Michelin-rated restaurant in Monte Carlo, then we drove down the coast for the Cannes film festival. We celebrated my birthday with friends in Barcelona. We also attended parties and events in Dusseldorf and Villingen DE, Zurs in the Austrian Alps, Palma De Majorca, Sofia, and London. We also visited a few Black Sea resorts before returning stateside in mid-June to our house on A1A along the central Florida coast. I spend much of my day reading, corresponding, and writing. I have a book coming out this Christmas. My life is less structured than when working but I still find daily life very rewarding. My younger spouse spends the day with video games, jogging on the beach, swimming in our lap pool, dabbling in photography, writing software to help study astronomy. Evenings, when not socializing with local neighbors, we watch a movie or TV serial together, catch up on the news, do social media, and retire to bed. Not far from Orlando, we periodically do amusement parks, take in theater and show performances, and visit friends and relatives.

    FOOD FOR THOUGHT: We unarguably have an idyllic retirement. I find retirement fulfilling whereas my 44-year-old spouse seems aimless at times. So we are working on that. It is clearly not a matter of lacking engaging in amusing activities. I think the contrast is a matter of missing out on rewarding activities that derive from working. My 44-year career started with Navy flight school, then a couple combat tours, grad school, and teaching in a med school. Reactivated by Navy, I provided direct support to admirals and surgeon generals, did two White House details, ran a lab for the FAA, then moved on to the NIH. I could not have done much of that had I retired early. One does not work in high-level jobs without our earning one’s spurs. Like building wealth, that takes time.

    So, our experience suggests that if one plans to retire early, financial independence is merely necessary. It is not sufficient for a fulfilling rest of your life. I think that planning how you will build a rewarding life in retirement is far more important than planning how you will build the financial wealth to enable it.

    • Congrats on living a pretty fabulous retirement. Quite a few posts on this page speak directly to what you’re talking about: living with purpose, staying connected to the world, planning for what you’ll do in the absence of work, etc.

  9. Hey Tanja and Mark,

    Congratulations on receiving the Plutus Award Blog of the Year! What an achievement. Thank you for archiving all of the top/useful posts. You think I would have found this page sooner as it is labeled “Start Here.” Haha. This will bring some structure to my reading.

  10. I am responding to your post about Roth IRAs. Approximately 24% of my retirement assets are in Roth IRAs and about 72% of my retirement assets are in tax-deferred accounts. My initial thinking was that if one of us died,the tax rate would move from joint to single and would be much higher. Another reason that I put money into Roth IRAs was because there is no RMD. And finally I feared that I would have too much tax deferred income putting me in a much higher tax bracket. I admire your ability to retire early. Because of many mistakes early in my career, I was broke at the age of 46. I only recently was able to afford to retire at the age of 68. It is never too late. By the way, my superpower is saving, not investing!

  11. Congrats on your winning Blog of the year, you have a great site! I enjoy reading it, I can tell you put your hearts and souls into it, along with a lot of research, you deserve it!

  12. Hello! Many thanks for the candid sharing of your journey – my husband and I are just starting out and I personally have much to sort out. IN the meantime, I would love to buy your book but I am severely dyslexic, any chance there will be an audio version?
    With gratitude,

  13. Tanja, thanks for all your work on this blog. I stumbled onto it from an article in Yahoo Finance about a year and a half ago. That was the first time I bumped into FIRE, although I had unwittingly been on a FIRE plan since about a month or so after starting my career. Once I discovered your blog, I became consumed with the topic. I read most of your blog as well as the blogs of some of your friends like MMM and Mad Fientist. It has been great to find so many like-minded people. Reading your thoughts has really helped me make sense of all the thoughts I have had rolling around in my head. In the spirit of your article, “How Blogging Has Sped Up Our Progress to Financial Independence,” I started writing down my own thoughts on financial independence, and apprehension about pulling the trigger on early retirement. These were ideas that I wished I had been able to discuss with friends and coworkers, but of course those topics can cause a lot of social discomfort, especially for those that are setting themselves up for real pain in retirement by not planning ahead. I have to say, financial independence is one of the best, most satisfying aspects of my life. I think everyone should have financial independence, and my experience achieving it as an average guy raising three kids on an average salary is proof that pretty much anyone CAN do it.

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