Die with Zero

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DIE WITH ZERO

Bill Perkins

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

July 28, 2020

240 Pages


Well, this book blew my mind.

In a nutshell, author Bill Perkins argues that we think about saving and retirement all wrong. Many of us, myself included, dutifully save our pennies, squirreling away every extra cent so that we can have enough in retirement to go on a couple vacations and then pay for our inevitable health problems as we age. But we’ve got our priorities reversed. We forget that health is a commodity, too, and we don’t have it forever.

We live in a culture that overemphasizes hard work and delayed gratification. (Did your insides clinch up like a fist when you first read that? Yeah, mine, too.) But what about experience? What about spending time and creating memories with the people you love? Life is a balance between money, health, and time. When we’re young, we have good health and lots of time, but less money. As we get older, we usually have more money, but also more constraints on our time and health.

So there’s a sweet spot, an optimization point, where you have money and time, as well as enough good health to enjoy it. (For most of us, this will occur when we’re 30 to 60 years old.) We should capitalize on this time, not squander it to work more than we need to. Of course, most of us still have to work—we need an emergency fund and the right amount saved for retirement. But the trick is to work just enough to pay for what we need and for the experiences we want to have…but not a minute more. (Don’t worry, he helps you figure out how to find your peak optimization point.) Whatever money you don’t spend at the end of your life is waste. It means you worked that extra time but never got to enjoy the fruits of your labor. How depressing.

Our culture’s focus on work is like a seductive drug. It takes all of your yearning for discovery and wonder and experience, promising to give you the means (money) to get all those things—but the focus on the work and the money becomes so single-minded and automatic that you forget what you were yearning for in the first place.

Bill Perkins

I’m sure you’ll have the same objections to some of these arguments as I did. What about the kids’ inheritance? What about end-of-life donations to charity? What if I love my job and don’t want to quit? He has answers for these objections and more. The one I found most compelling: why let death determine how and when you spend your money? Why not be intentional with your money while you’re alive? Consider giving your son $20,000 when he’s 30-years old and needs help with a downpayment for a house, rather than wait until you die (when he’s 60) and he no longer really needs the money. Again, it’s about optimization.

The most life-changing concept in this book, though, concerns time buckets. Instead of having a bucket list, where you list things you want to accomplish before you die, be more specific and intentional. Divide your life into five-year increments (20-25, 25-30, 30-35, etc.), and decide what you want to accomplish and when, keeping in mind the levels of health, money, and time you need to accomplish each item. For example, I’d like to visit Niagara Falls at some point. I’d also like to see the tulip farms in Holland, earn a paycheck again, throw myself a big birthday party, see the redwoods, run a real 5K (not a DIY 5K, like I did during covid), visit the Louvre, leave a server a $100 tip, learn self-defense, and hold one of my grandchildren. Each of these things requires different levels of money, health, and time. Maybe I can visit Niagara Falls this summer since it’s closer and cheaper (40-45), but I’d rather take a trip to Holland when my kids are older and we have more money in the bank (45-50). I’d want to learn self-defense when I’m healthy enough to do it easily (40-45), and it probably goes without saying that I’m not looking to be a grandmother anytime soon (55-60 please, kids!). But I love this concept of being more intentional with your life, your time, and the experiences you want to share with the people you love.

So yeah, I enjoyed this book. It really made me rethink the way I want to live my life. It also helped me feel less guilty about spending money to experience, you know, fun. I know not everyone is a curmudgeonly scrooge, but I can be, for sure… Five stars all day.

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