FIRE/ Frugality

Optionality Is The New Black (Book) And Other Musings

November 21, 2020

Ready to take a deep dive into Optionality? The new book by Richard Meadows is an intense look at creating options in life for all the right reasons. Get our thoughts on the concept of optionality, the book and a quick interview with Richard Meadows himself.

Optionality book on e-reader with cup of tea.

Optionality…gives you room to breathe. It’s the power to say no and not rush into things or to refuse to do anything that conflicts with your values.

Richard Meadows, Optionality

I only came across Rich’s blog The Deep Dish fairly recently when our friends over at Modern FImily shot across his article “Make Frugality Great Again”. Being the avid frugal beings we are, we were keen to read his take on things.

Once I saw mentions of nihilism, ancient Rome and acting dead, I knew this guy had something a little more interesting to say than your average ‘pinch your pennies’ write up (do have a read if you get the chance). I enjoy Rich’s unique writing style – it’s blunt, full of information and detailed thoughts with some dry humour on the side.

Needless to say, when I saw his book Optionality was coming out, I was very keen to read it. Putting our hands up to help with his launch, we were gifted an advance copy to help get the word out and share our thoughts on it. I was more than happy to oblige.

After chewing through the book over the last couple of weeks, I have to say it’s been a while since I’ve had so many screenshots and notes scribbled down from a read this good. Rich has some ripper quotes, a few of which I’ll share throughout this post, and some great ideas on creating options in four main areas of your life – knowledge, health, finance and social.

His thought-out and easy to apply ideas were enjoyable to read, explore further and reflect upon. In particular, keep a look out for the different barbell methods he mentions throughout the book, applied to different areas. It was a concept I hadn’t come across before, and adapted from Nassim Taleb, where he originally mentioned having your investments in 90% safe stocks (aka index funds etc) and 10% in small but very risky bets. The same method can then also be applied to other areas in your life – a favourite of mine from the book is when it’s applied to stuff – “Buy the very best-in-class for a small set of items, but the cheapest possible version of everything else, and avoid the middle ground.“. Rich then goes on to give this fabulous quote:

The mindless accumulation of vast mountains of stuff is unforgivably dumb. Mindful curation of meaningful possessions can be a great source of joy.

Richard Meadows, Optionality

This is how we usually make purchases. Anything used frequently, or that holds huge value in our lives, we don’t spare a cent. Other things however, which are maybe essential but don’t need to be the latest or best thing, we’ll dig for any opportunities to get them free, cheap or borrowed.

Optionality was a fantastic read, not just because of the new insights, but also in the areas which challenged my ideas. While I disagreed with a few of Richard’s opinions, I enjoyed the banter I had going on in my head between my thoughts and perceptions and his.

One in particular was in the health category, and the 80/20 diet. The idea is to eat 80% of the same thing, and 20% trying new dishes. That way, you’re reducing your ‘choice’ load, so you can spend it doing more important things, and know that the majority of your food is sorted, healthy and quick because you don’t have to think.

Being an avid foodie (and thanks Rich for putting the clause in there at the end for foodies 😉), the thought of eating the same thing 80% of the time got my ego well riled up. I made a note of this in my journal, and then realised I was actually being a little hypocritical when I did some calcs of my own. Laura and I eat almost the same thing for breakfast and lunch everyday while working, to reduce choice overload. Then, we usually try new dishes out for dinner, for our food blog or on the weekend in our leisure time. This actually works out to a 66/33 diet… which is looking pretty close to Rich’s original idea. So turns out I didn’t disagree as much as I thought!

How Optionality Fortuitously Helped My 15 Year Old Self Build My Future

Sarah holding a camera to her face.

Optionality is defined as the right but not the obligation to take action. This combined with the want to make changes in your life, can build some very solid foundations for your future while leaving your options open. 

Rich mentions, given that we become almost completely different people in each chapter of our lives, it’s good to always have a choice waiting for not who you are now, but who’ll be in the future.

If you’d asked me what being 30 would look like to 15 year old me, I’d have a very different tale for you. I’d expect myself to be working up the corporate ladder as a graphic designer, hopefully getting all the way to the top to become a creative director. I’d have two kids and a husband and be cranking the 9-5. That’s just what you do isn’t it?

How could 15 year old me guess what I actually did? 

I did get the graphic design degree. I even worked in corporate as a graphic designer for 4 years doing 8-5. I had boyfriends, then ended up marrying my best friend and wife, Laura. We quit our jobs, sold everything and travelled the world for a year. Arriving back, we started two businesses – a food blog and a graphic & web design agency – which we’ve been running for the last 6 years. We’ve got no kids, but we do have one very sassy cavoodle. 

That is a very different picture from the one I’d painted over a decade ago. What I did do throughout that time though, is have options. My knowledge options started with my uni degree in design, arming me with skills applicable to many creative areas. From there I built upon the design foundation, adding more layers such as teaching myself photography and web design. These skills have since been applied to many areas and helped to build income, opportunities and options.

Even my corporate job opened up options. It taught me how to apply what I’d learnt at University in the ‘real world’ – from dealing with suppliers to effective communication skills and keeping my emails always sorted to inbox zero. My manager would joke she hired me because I was a diamond in the rough, fresh out of school, and ready to be crafted. I have to agree, the skills I honed during those years in my corporate job have been invaluable since. 

The single most powerful way to open up your options in life is to a) have more money and b) require less of it in the first place.

Richard Meadows, Optionality

Then there were my finance options. Growing up in a frugal family, I was taught to save from a young age and continued this throughout my years at uni and working in corporate. It was the combination of smart planning and savings from both Laura and I, that gave us the option to quit our jobs and travel for 12 months. It was the savings we brought back home with us after our trip that gave us the option to start two businesses from scratch – with the safety net of money to fill in any gaps. (Luckily enough, we didn’t end up needing to ‘dip’ into our reserves after all.)

Optionality is such a hugely powerful tool. One that allows you to take the path less travelled and enjoy the journey with every step. It opens up opportunities you never thought possible and experiences your past self wouldn’t fathom. It’s because of the certain uncertainty in our future, we need all the options we can get. Optionality makes the impossible possible. We just don’t know it yet, but I’m excited for what’s to come.

Quick Thoughts with Author Richard Meadows

Author Richard Meadows with dog.

1. What optionality path led you to create this book? Was it one thing or a series of options?

My thinking going into this project was that there really was no ‘bad’ outcome. Even if the book bombed in terms of sales, I would still have learned a lot, picked up some new skills, and found the process intrinsically satisfying. These are my favourite kinds of options to pursue—they open up the possibility of spectacular success, but still offer some kind of guaranteed modest return even if you don’t hit the big one.

2. What’s one option you’ve created in your life which you feel has given you the most time or the biggest reward?

The single best thing I ever did was saving $100,000 by age 25, and getting that initial buffer of optionality at an early stage in life. I wasn’t sure what to actually do with it, and most of my early ideas turned out to be misguided, but the practices it taught me and the space it gave me to pursue new ideas changed the entire course of my life. That first early experiment was responsible for almost everything else that followed, which is why I’m still a big fan of frugality.

3. Which of your favourite frugal tips have helped you along the way? (And haven’t left you acting dead!)

I’ve abandoned most of the penny-pinching stuff, as well as residual feelings of guilt about owning nice stuff, but I am still very intentional in refusing to own anything if I can possible get away with it, and thinking of every new possession as a costly obligation (even if it’s free or gifted to me!).

My favourite strategies to this day are tracking net worth, and my expenses as a proportion of income. I feel like these are more holistic practices that automatically take into account any of the lower-level money-saving tips. But when I was saving hard, I did the classic frugal stuff like living with people to save accommodation costs, trying to walk or cycle everywhere, and bulk-buying/preparing food, all of which I still think are solid ideas.

4. You mention Nassim Taleb a lot throughout Optionality. What works of his would you recommend for those wanting to further their reading?

This is a tricky one, because some people find that Nassim Taleb is not so pleasant to read. To be blunt, he’s kind of a dick. I think Antifragile is his masterpiece, and probably has the least overlap with the ideas covered in my bookBut it’s also his most rambling and belligerent work.

You might be better off starting with Fooled by Randomnesswhich is the first in his series, better edited, and somewhat less acerbic. Then, once you’ve got his measure and decided whether or not you like his style, you can move on to The Black Swan, Antifragileand Skin in the Game.

5. What advice would you have for someone at the beginning of their journey, just starting to create optionality in their life? (aside from reading your book of course 😉)

I’ve tried to squeeze all that advice into the book—my hopes were to lay out a clear path that anyone including a smart teenager could follow—but the single biggest thing I want to emphasise is to keep learning and reading as broadly as possible: books, blogs, podcasts, meeting new people, challenging your ideas, sustained creative destruction. You don’t know what you don’t know, so you have to explore without preconceived notions of what will turn out to be interesting, and without settling into any one ideology or attitude.

6. For those who are new to your blog, The Deep Dish, what’s the first blog post they should read?

I suggest starting with ‘How to Save $100,000 By Age 25‘ (the first post I ever wrote, and the experiment I mentioned above). That should give you a taste for whether you like my writing. I’ve also put together a list of my best posts in various categories, so you can browse and see if something takes your fancy.

7. Finally, where can we find your book?

It’s available now on AmazonGoogle Play, and iBooks. It’s steeply discounted during the launch period only (50% off), so if you’re interested, I recommend grabbing a copy before it reverts to the full list price.

7.1 For the frugals, will Optionality be available at local libraries?

In the fullness of time, yes! I don’t have a timeline on this yet, so it might take a year or two. Being able to borrow books for free was hugely powerful to me when I was young and poor, so in the meantime, if anyone is struggling with money, they can email me directly and let me know about their situation, and I’ll send them a free copy.


Thanks Richard, for the opportunity to read and review your book, and for taking the time to do an interview with us.

If you’ve read Optionality, we’d love to know your thoughts below in the comments. There’s so much more we could talk about, so feel free to send us an email and chat!

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Court @ Modern FImily
    November 21, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    Looking forward to getting our hands on this someday. Sounds like a very interesting read 🙂

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