What is "Work Optional"?

Since the concept of “retirement” became popular in the 1920s, people have been sprinting toward the proverbial finish line. They imagine turning in their badge, celebrating with their colleagues over a retirement cake in the break room, and never returning to the office again in order to embrace a life of leisure. 

In the 1920s, leading industries where people worked long, grinding hours doing jobs they didn’t necessarily enjoy were offering some kind of retirement support - a pension, or otherwise. However, in modern America, many people are fortunate enough to thoroughly enjoy their work and the people they work with. The concept of retirement, or walking away from a life of purpose, feels a little bit like a deflating balloon. This is a far cry from the vision of beaches, golfing, and sleeping in that people idolized for generations. 

Enter: the concept of “work optional.” 

This new way of viewing retirement doesn’t prioritize or glorify walking away from work you love. Instead, it prioritizes financial freedom. In other words, if you save to be “work optional” you have the option to retire - or the opportunity to do anything else that interests you. That might mean beaches and golf, staying with your job but not “needing” the paycheck, or pursuing another professional opportunity altogether. 

Setting Goals

If you’re interested in pursuing a work-optional lifestyle, start by setting some goals. Imagine that retirement isn’t the finish line. What would you want to do if you didn’t have to work? If the answer is to keep working - that’s fantastic! You have just successfully set a goal to achieve financial freedom for you and your family, even though you will keep working after you reach that goal. Maybe when you continue to bring in an income that you don’t rely on you can achieve other lifelong goals such as setting up college accounts for grandchildren, renovating your home, or donating to causes you’re passionate about.

However, if you feel like you wouldn’t necessarily continue at your current job, but don’t want to retire, now is a good time to do some introspection. A few ideas to get you started are:

If I didn’t have to continue working to live a lifestyle I’m happy with, I would…

  1. Relocate.
  2. Work part-time.
  3. Transition to a consulting role in my industry.
  4. Pursue an “encore” career in a field I love (think: teaching a writing class for adults, working as a high school sports coach, or working at the local garden center you love). 
  5. Going back to school because you *want* to, not because it will further your career.
  6. Volunteering full or part-time.

How to Achieve “Work Optional”

Once you’ve set your goals, you can reverse engineer a financial roadmap to get you there. If you are planning to work, even if it’s not for the same salary you currently bring home, your savings goals might look different than someone who wants to volunteer full-time. Either way, you can estimate how much cash flow you would need each year to support your lifestyle, and whether it would come from continued employment or savings. 

Reframing Your (Financial) Plan

Don’t be afraid to reframe the concept of retirement. If you’re interested in pursuing a work-optional financial and lifestyle goal, reach out. We are here to support you and help you to create a customized plan that moves you toward your goals. 

Wood Smith Advisors, a woman-owned Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), is a fee-only financial services firm that partners with its clients to simplify their financial lives. We focus on women, entrepreneurs, and individuals with complex financial situations, providing objective and competent advice, education and services to help them develop and build their businesses and reach their financial goals. We can be reached by clicking here.

"Finance Made Simple" blog posts are intended for educational purposes and not for specific advice. Each person’s situation is different. Consult your financial advisor for advice relating to topics discussed.

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