Tanja Hester had her dream career. But the job consumed her life. It required thousands of miles of travel and countless all-nighters.
Hester's new book, "Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way," details how she and her husband Mark set themselves up to leave their all-consuming jobs and advises readers on how they can too. We asked Hester why her story can help others seeking an early retirement.
What's so bad about work anyway?
"There was a lot about work I loved," Hester said. "I worked for a great company with smart people."
But the pace became unsustainable.
"We're expected to work 50, 60, 70-hour weeks like it's no big thing and somehow keep that up for 40 years," Hester said.
The long hours took a toll on Hester's health. In addition, Hester's father has a genetic disability that forced him to retire early. Because of the risk of inheriting the condition, Hester knew she might not have been able to wait until retirement age to live the life she wanted.
How do you get started if you want to retire early?
"The first step is figuring out what you want your life to look like instead," Hester said.
That doesn't just mean what your life would look like minus work.
"The right way to plan for it is to go the other direction," Hester said. "What do I want to do instead? What do I want my legacy to be? How do I want to fill my days?"
Knowing the answer can give you the drive to save for what could be many years.
"Saving for saving's sake is crazy boring and unmotivating, but if you know what you're aiming for it's so much easier to find that motivation."
What does it mean to be financially independent?
"It means you can make decisions in your life without money having to be a major factor," Hester said.
It means taking on projects that are meaningful, without worrying how much they pay, she said. Like her book.
"I hope that people buy it," Hester said. "I hope that it's helpful. But if they don't, it's OK. I'm not reliant on book income to survive or pay the bills."
What money tasks do you have after retiring early?
"Making sure you have good health insurance is number one," Hester said.
Property insurance is also important, whether you live in a house, RV or apartment in retirement, she said. Early retirees typically have higher net worth, which could make them a target for lawsuits, so they should also have umbrella insurance. This provides extra liability coverage on top of a homeowners or auto insurance policy, Hester said. (Policygenius can help you compare prices for homeowners insurance.)
The typical purpose of life insurance is to replace your income for your dependents if you die. There's no need to do that if you've retired early, particularly if you've saved enough, Hester said. But you may want to buy a policy to cover other expenses, like your kids' college tuition.
You also have to manage your cash flow. For many of us, our employers take care of this by handing out checks periodically, but that changes when you have one pot of money to live on for the rest of your life.
"You have to figure out, are we OK transferring money once a quarter? Once a month?" she said.
What makes this book different from other personal finance books?
"Most of the other books assume that on some level we're not human," Hester said. "That we're capable of enormous willpower or extreme frugality. I wanted to write a book that recognizes human nature — recognizes how hard it is to keep saving money over time if you're relying on your willpower to do so."
Hester also acknowledges that not everyone can make enough to retire completely, so she provides ways for people to achieve partial retirement or a take an extended break from their career.
"I just wanted to create something that was more inclusive," she said.
Why should we listen to you?
"I wonder that sometimes," Hester said. "It is in my nature to do a lot of homework. The information presented in the book is not just my opinion. It's deeply researched."
This book costs $17.99. Why should anyone spend their money on it?
"Work Optional" costs the same as a Frisco Pet Bed on Chewy, we pointed out to Hester. What makes the book a better buy?
"Pets don't really need beds," Hester said. "Pets are happy sitting on your rolled-up T-shirt."
The book is about more than figuring out how to save for retirement, she said.
"It's really about mapping out your whole life," Hester said. "If that's not worth $18, I don't know what is."
"Work Optional" goes on sale Feb. 12.
Want more money tips? Subscribe to our newsletter.
Image: Philip Blackowl