The best time to spend money may be now

How the new "Die with Zero" book is making me rethink time, and financial independence.

written by oz chen

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Half of 2023 is over. That was fast.

I recently went to Lightning in a Bottle 2023 – my favorite festival I’ve been attending since 2017.

There, I experienced two “firsts”

  1. Going to a festival as a couple: it was great to see the festival through my girlfriend’s point of view.
  2. Renting an RV to glamp in

Compared to the typical experience of tent camping and covered in dust…I felt like I “cheated” with RV camping.
There was AC and running water (though we did need to refill…) and a fridge to keep our food from spoiling.
Things that seem basic, but make a huge difference in a hot, dry environment.

It felt too comfortable.

This is the first time my girlfriend has been to a camping festival, so I joked: “Don’t get used to this.”

But that statement revealed a dark side to my neuroticism.

One of my biggest fears is lifestyle inflation.
Expenses skyrocketing and ending up in debt.
The primal fear is lack of control.

The story I tell myself: If you mess this up, then all your efforts towards financial independence would have been in vain.

Yeah, heavy.

(One of the most transformative things I do with clients is challenging their existing beliefs about money. Always easier to spot things in others than ourselves, no?)

Then I read a new book.

Enter: Die With Zero

Die With Zero has been reshaping how I think about spending.

It boils down to this concept: time value of money.

No, it’s not your boring Econ professor talking about compound interest.

It’s the reality that money is worth differently, at different times of your life.

This implies that there are optimal times to spend money.

If you value things that are dependent on health – which is just about everything – then prioritize those things when you still have your health.

#1: What you want to do may cost less than you think…if you get creative

If you want to travel but feel like it’s too expensive—try anyway. Some of my best experiences have been when I barely had a dollar to my name and I just had to rough it in hostels and catch random buses in a third world country. (Ask me in person about the time I almost got stranded in Nicaragua).

#2: The money you have now is worth more than the same money later, in terms of experience.

Let’s say a trip costs $1000. But you’re in good health and are full of energy. You can more thoroughly get the benefit of that entire $1000.

But wait too long, and that same $1000 trip costs way more when you’re older. Instead of going to 6 locations you can only do 3, limited by your mobility. You have to fly business class in order to arrive in your destination not a wreck.

I’ll never forget going to Macchu Picchu when I was 28. On the hike up, I chatted with a senior in his late 60s. He asked if this was my first time and I said yes. Paraphrasing what he said… “Son, good for you. I also went when I was in my 20s. The same trip is much harder for me now…it’s good you’re doing this young.”

Back to my neuroticism.

On one hand, my RV camping trip illustrates point #2. I’m older now, and with 5 LIBs under my belt, I wanted this one to be more comfortable. And so I paid more for it.

On the other hand, the time value of money concept makes me feel a lot better about spending on experiences.

I’m immensely grateful for my health, and recent health scares have really made me appreciate basic things like mobility. I’m not going to have this body forever. I don’t know what my health will look like in 5 years, let alone 20.

Personally, for me, this lights a fire in me to explore:

  • Saying “yes” more liberally to travel.
  • Doubling down on creative / business ideas while I have the energy (and interest!)
  • Recultivating physical hobbies. Lately I’ve really enjoyed getting back into running. I’m looking into pickleball (just like everyone else)
  • Burning Man…I’ve thought about going for ages. It’s not going to get easier as I age, so I really want to reprioritize this.

This hits home for me because my mom is in her 60s and 1) says she wants to travel but 2) never prioritizes travel.

A lifetime being frugal and saving left little space for the skill of spending.

And then out of the blue, my sent my siblings and I a rare invitation: a relative is getting married in Taiwan, let’s visit the motherland.

Initially I hesitated, thinking about my vacation days. Then I snapped out of it.

“Wait, when am I going to have this opportunity again?”

The last time we traveled internationally was pre-Covid. Now I’m committed to going to Taiwan with her and feel good about the decision.

But this is not yolo either. There’s also a “risk” that one outlives their savings.

This is about being intentional. I’ll leave you with the thought:

  • “What experiences are worth more NOW than they are later?”
  • “What experiences do I want to prioritize while I have my health?”

I also thought about the type of hobbies that’ll age well.
Board games. Hiking. Meditation. And damn, has it been a while since I’ve done latin dance. Seeing such a wide age range in Latin dance, I’ll consider putting dance back on the rotation.

By the way…have you noticed that the older people get, they more they get into religion? This is supported by Pew Research. Now I wonder if this is also just a function of health – there are less “active” things seniors do, but they have more free time. Religion offers a potential trifecta: community, spirituality, and easy on health.

liked this article? tell your mom, tell your kids


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