56 Comments

  1. Janet

    Work optional means that I have choices. I can focus on my priorities, one of which might still be work. I can enjoy my free time and not continuously worry about my next paycheck.

  2. I started reading Work Optional this week and you’re absolutely right – it just feels so necessary. I’ve never considered myself a FIRE person, but I’m starting to wonder if it makes the perfect bridge between minimalism and my finances. (P.S. I don’t need to be in the draw).

    • It does, it does! I think more of us are of the mindset than the name might allow at first.

      Case in point? My mom retired in her 40s with a FULL PENSION. She still tells me FIRE isn’t a thing (and she did it!).

  3. Hi Penny,
    I’m commenting yet again today! I know you are quite a bit younger than I am (I’m 56!) and I so wish had had your insight when I was younger. I thought the be all and end all for my life was to be a stay at home mom. I didn’t really ever plan past that. My life wound up changing in many ways, and after teaching for a few years I wound up back in the corporate world where I started after college. I also teach riding lessons to children which is my passion. It surprises me so much that I really love the routine of going to work everyday, and although most days all I want to do is “go home” at the end of the day, I am thankful and passionate about all I do. I have said that I will always work, and I think that at the end of the day the most important thing in life is purpose and satisfaction. But that said, to erase the nagging worry of how to meet my living expenses (I’m on my own, and have been for almost 20 years, and my kids are in their 20’s), as well as be able to cover emergencies, and maybe be able to say yes to a trip or something extra (painting my house for example), is my goal as far as financial independence. And, as Dave Ramsey says, to be able to give. I am 10 years behind where I think I should be, but that’s okay. I’ve learned a lot along the way, I just wish I had put it all together earlier as you are doing now. And the feeling that “work” is optional to me just comes back to the idea that life is about choices.

  4. Marie

    After working so hard to obtain a “perfect” masters degree in a field I’ve then struggled to work in both financially and with respect to my mental well-being (social work), the idea of choosing a new path that provides better balance paired with a purpose is my next goal. I’m just not quite sure where that path is, but I am finally ready to move past what I thought I would do and start looking for something new. My dream is not to retire early but to work part-time at something I enjoy and where I am respected, to have the ability to exercise consistently and to be available for my kids after school. I would like to read this book at some point (hopefully my library gets on board with it!) and see what advice and direction it provides.

    • Oh, Marie. Thank *you* for the work that you’ve already done. I can’t even imagine.

      I do very much hope that you find a pathway that’s better suited for your life, your family, and your mental health. Major kudos to you for realizing the need to start anew. Keep me posted!

  5. (Don’t add me to the giveaway, you know I already have my copy!)

    I love that you are also so vocal about loving your job – oftentimes I feel like I’m alone in wanting to keep doing my job even if I were to suddenly become financially independent today. And hey, I’m a ways off from that six figure salary yet too 😉

    • I mean, we’re coming down to the wire with a grading period ending and I kind of want to rip my hair out right now.

      BUT I do love my job. I really do. There are hiccups and moments of hurt, but when I’m not doing my job, I miss it. So yeah, I’m happy to keep saying that. It’s important for people to realize they can make their passion their careers and not worry so much about the pay!

  6. I’ve started her book over the weekend (thanks, library!), and oh my yes! This is exactly what I’m figuring out about personal finance blogging–it’s become so seemingly narrowed in on “FIRE” stuff because that’s what grabs the headlines and seems exciting to people who hate their lives. Tanja is so inspiring and encouraging. Math matters, sure. But getting your finances in order so that you can live the life you want NOW (not torture yourself for some distant future greatness) is at the core of my favorite blogs. Including yours. Rock on!

  7. I love that you are so vocal about already crafting a life you love. Looking at FIRE as more options and not necessarily an escape from everything seems like a much healthier approach than cramming it all and absconding into uncharted territory. We need your voice!

    • Sometimes I wonder if I developed this outlook because it’s the only option available to me (other than going back to school/starting a new career path). But I think I’m just one of the lucky ones. I’ve known I wanted to be a teacher since I was in middle school. Not everyone gets to make their passion their career from the start 🙂

  8. I’m afraid work just won’t be optional for me period. I’m getting too late a start on saving for retirement, so I’m going to have to keep working right up until 70 (if not later). But my job isn’t bad and my boss is great. So I don’t mind too much. Besides, I’m honestly not sure what I’d do all day. I guess my blog would get a lot more attention?

  9. Emily

    This is a refreshing perspective when it seems like the FIRE community is obsessed with giving up working. I enjoy working and can’t imagine not working, but I certainly would enjoy some added flexibility! I currently work full-time and have a part-time work from home gig as well. I don’t necessarily need to work two jobs but sure do enjoy the extra income that the second one brings and it pays really well for the time I put into. I’d love get to a point where I’m comfortable cutting my hours back at my full-time job or giving up the second one.

    • I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of this shift in perspective happened when I became a mom. Before, almost all of my identity came from being a teacher, so I didn’t feel like I needed or wanted flexibility. Now, though, I want more options! And like you said, it’s nice to know that if I can’t continue to work or if I have to scale back, I won’t have to panic about the financial piece!

  10. I love the fact that almost all educators I’ve talked to in the personal finance space are pursuing some version of financial independence or work optional, but not on the “get out as fast as possible” train. It reminds me that even with all the challenges of our work, education is full of people passionate about helping kids and each other.

    Hopefully, being more intentional with our finances help us stay in a little longer. Or, to get out before burnout makes us bad for kids.

    Thanks for being a great example!

  11. Erin

    This is the kind of financial life I’m aiming for! We love the work we’re doing, but we know one day it won’t be possible and want to be prepared so we don’t have to work just to pay bills. Earn money doing what we love and saving for the day we can’t.

  12. I’m still trying to figure out what a “work optional” life might be like for me. Maybe sticking with my “work less” schedule so I can spend more time with kids and family? Getting the chance to stay in science but also volunteering more? Definitely a topic I need to think more about! I always love hearing your perspective on these issues!

  13. Thank you for this thoughtful reflection about teaching and making a difference while creating healthy options. To me, work optional means integrating a long term love of life into each and every day while working hard at activities that benefit others. Like Angela at Tread Lightly Retire Early said, I think it’s healthy and exciting to hear about your love of work (and love of giving). I’m off to read now about where you would be if you were rich:)

    • 😀 Thanks, friend! I’m so glad that we connected. I think there are so many of us educators out there who think similar things and could absolutely smash this money stuff if we put our heads together!

  14. I can’t wait to read this book! I have semi-retired, going from a stressful business career to a part-time job with an area education agency that supports our local schools. It will take me longer to reach full FI, but I am so much happier now!

  15. Kate

    This post spoke to me! I also love my job and my work family. My husband loves owning the business that he owns. But I’ve still been drawn to the FIRE community. Because of my lack of desire to escape my current career though, I have never jumped on the FIRE train, I’ve just read a lot about it. I think your post and this book might be a push in the right direction that I’ve needed without the pressure to leave my job.

  16. Huh looks like my last comment didn’t go through. I’m afraid work isn’t optional for me. Getting too late a start on retirement for that, but I don’t mind too much because my job isn’t bad (if not great) and my boss rocks. Besides, I go a little crazy on weekends with nothing to do, so I can’t imagine a whole life of days without any kind of work. You can only blog so much each day, after all!

  17. Beth D

    I especially love the choice of breaks from the same old routine. Living frugally, obtaining the highest level of education possible, continuing to learn new skills all your life, all contribute to a work optional life.

    • This has been a game-changer for me! As a teacher, it’s helped me re-conceptualize my summers, too. I do spend *most* of my time off planning ahead, but I am also trying to carve out dedicated time to just take a break. It’s been nice to use ideas like “work optional” to reframe the options I already have!

  18. Work Optional is being free from the fear: I can survive, should I choose to, without an 8-5 job and benefits. A lot of our choices revolve around work nowadays—where we live, who we socialize with, when and if and how we start our families. There is always a hustle, always a question of security. I’d love to live without that fear.

    • I feel this in my bones! As someone who got RIFed twice (“your job is recession proof, Penny” 😏), I think I’ll keep a kind of fear with me for all of my career.

  19. (Don’t enter me in the giveaway!)

    I came around to the idea of FI in a different way but my early thoughts about it were so similar to yours – I couldn’t see a me that didn’t want to work. As circumstances changed, I realized that not only could I see a me that didn’t work formally, like I do now, I could see a me that could be doing useful and fulfilling work that isn’t based entirely on how much the job paid. That’s the real freedom I seek – to be able to choose work based on what I want to be doing and not solely on practicality as I’ve been doing since I was 17. And if I need to work less for my health, I want to be able to afford that choice as well.

  20. I’m a teacher too and I love the actual teaching part of my job.
    But I’m quite a bit older than you and I’m getting tired of so many hours a week being taken over by the job.
    When I hit my number I’ll probably go part-time for a year, then quit.
    The good thing about teaching is that you can still do CRT (emergency teaching) and pick up around $300/day – one day a week would pay for groceries and a few bills no worries!
    I’d probably do that for a year or two after I pull the pin.

    • Library is an option too! I requested copies at two different branches. I try to always do this for authors I want to support.

      Good luck in the raffle!

  21. Linda

    I appreciate your perspective on the FIRE movement. To me, FI is all about having options and flexibility. It’s nice to know that if your goals or your work conditions change, that you’re not locked into a pre-set path.

    • It’s true! My very best friend at work decided to work elsewhere. The heartbreak of that (we’re still close but it’s not the same!) made me realize just because I like the variables now doesn’t mean I always will.

    • Of course! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I thought maybe it would be Tanja’s blog distilled into a book (I would still gladly buy that!), but I found it energizing in a different way!

  22. Kate

    I like my job. And I like feeling useful to society, and knowledgeable about a particular subject matter. So I don’t plan to quit working anytime soon. But I love love love knowing that I have money in the bank so that if my world gets turned upside down, I will be okay for a while. And eventually, I’ll get to the point where I’ll be okay forever, no matter what happens, even if I keep working.

  23. Caroline

    Love all these comments, I too consume a lot of FIRE podcasts & blogs but am not gung-ho about the early retirement aspect. I know a lot of folks have talked about choices, but for us a key choice of “work optional” (or just FI, sans-RE) is the choice of giving our skills to areas that we value more in society. My husband and I both make good salaries and like our industries well enough, but if money were no object I would probably be trading or donating my time and professional skills to a nonprofit and he would probably be working in a minimum wage service job at a local game or comic store. We have these goals in the back of our minds–BaristaFI in other parlance–that if we could get our retirement and family savings sorted out in our current roles then we could move to subsistence-paying jobs that hit our values and not worry about adding to the nest egg. I haven’t read her book yet but I listen to her podcast (The Fairer Cents), and love Tanja’s approach and sensitivity to all the corners of the FIRE or FIRE-adjacent community.

    • Her podcast is so fiery and awesome, isn’t it? I love how she really tries to invite people into the conversation whether it’s her blog, her podcast, or her book!

  24. I’m right with you. I enjoy teaching and don’t know if I would give it up if I had the opportunity. That’s why Work Optional is a perfect title. It’s not necessarily Financial Independence Retire Early, but Financial Independence Freedom Early. FIFE! I think I have a new acronym!

  25. Work optional means to me working at your own terms. Working for financial reasons isn’t the top priority but working for what you love and do is. Doing something that is enjoyable for you makes your day much more pleasant and satisfied.
    I really love your display on how you love teaching so much. Your love for your co-workers, the students and being a teacher is what many want out of their careers, a great work culture!!

  26. Michelle

    I really appreciate both your and Tanja’s perspectives on FIRE. I don’t see either my husband or I wanting to fully retire before the traditional retirement age, but being financially secure means less stress and more options. Loving our jobs feels like the best freedom and luxury we could have.

  27. Tre

    Work optional means that I can walk away from a bad work environment and find an opportunity that allows me to make a difference in my community. It means that Mr Tre can work in an inner city school even though they barely pay above minimum wage.

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