How to Spend Money Wisely on Fulfilling Life Experiences

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Die With Zero" by Bill Perkins. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Want to learn how to spend money wisely? Why is it important to spend money on experiences rather than things?

In Die With Zero, Bill Perkins teaches you how to spend money wisely to get the most out of your life experiences and relationships with others. He challenges the idea of saving every penny for retirement and instead advocates for spending your money on what matters most.

Read on to learn how to spend your money wisely, according to Perkins’s tips.

Spend Money Wisely: Balancing Saving & Enjoying Life Experiences

The idea that you can’t possibly fit all the life experiences you’d like to have into retirement is central to Bill Perkins’s argument in his book Die With Zero. The book’s premise is that your goal should be to die with zero dollars in your bank account because you’ve used all your money to lead the fullest possible life. Your physical abilities, risk tolerance, and energy levels tend to decline as you age, making certain experiences time-sensitive. Therefore, you should do the things that interest you—and spend money wisely on them—when you’re most physically able to.

For example, say you’ve always dreamed of becoming an accomplished outdoor rock climber. Chances are you’ll perform better and enjoy yourself more if you take up rock climbing earlier in life. You’re likely to be physically stronger, better able to recover from injuries, and more accepting of the inevitable discomfort that comes with the sport before you reach an advanced age. Therefore, to spend your time and money wisely, it makes little sense to wait until retirement to take up the sport when you could have started much earlier in life. 

(Shortform note: Perkins writes that you won’t be able to derive the most enjoyment from certain activities at retirement age, and this idea could form the foundation for a case for the four-day workweek. Four-day workweeks, which are increasingly being tested and implemented, give employees more time to enjoy meaningful non-work activities during their career years rather than waiting until retirement. Four-day workweeks also lead to greater productivity, employee morale, and improved workplace culture, making them a win-win for both employees and employers.)

The Time-Sensitive Nature of Life Experiences

The time-sensitive nature of many experiences is why Perkins urges you not to fall into a pattern of saving every cent and thinking you’ll get to enjoy your money when you retire. To spend your money wisely and combat this tendency to save, Perkins suggests writing down the experiences you want to have and the corresponding time in your life when it makes the most sense to have them. For example, you probably should take up skydiving in your 30s or 40s rather than waiting until 70, but you can play chess through retirement. 

Along with the book, Perkins has developed an app called the Time Buckets Toolkit App, which can be accessed on the book’s website. This app helps you organize your desired experiences into “buckets,” or time periods, so you can time when you should invest in them. 

(Shortform note: If you want to follow Perkins’s advice on how to spend your money wisely but aren’t sure of the experiences you still want to have in your lifetime, perhaps you don’t yet have a strong sense of purpose. In The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin Sharma argues that a purpose serves as a guiding light, directing you toward certain experiences and away from others. When you know what your purpose is—whether it be to raise a happy family or write an award-winning book—it will be much easier to pinpoint what experiences you want to have and when it’s best to have them.)

Do the Right Thing at the Right Time

Just as your ability to get the most out of specific experiences can decrease with age, so can the richness of the experiences you share with friends and family. Therefore, Perkins’s next tip on how to spend your money wisely is to create experiences for and with others at the right time. For example, while kids can certainly enjoy a trip to Disney at any age, parents might choose to take them to the park when they’re younger to maximize the “magic” of the experience. 

Don’t Miss Your Last Chance

To give you the motivational push you might need to commit to the experiences you want to have, Perkins writes that there will be a “last chance” for everything in life. Your real last chance is, of course, the day you die, but there will be plenty of “last chances” along the way. For example, there will be a last time to take growing kids trick-or-treating, a last time your knees can handle a mountain summit, a last time you feel like sitting on an airplane for 14 hours to see a new continent, and so on. Therefore, you must not let “last chances” pass you by. 

A More Constructive Way to View Time

The notion of a “last chance” is a product of a linear view of time. In this linear view, time is seen as moving inexorably forward and having a beginning and an end. A linear view of time is, of course, the most common and reflective of our actual life experience—we can’t go back in time, for instance. However, this view also can lead to unconstructive regrets, perhaps around not sharing experiences with loved ones at the right time, as Perkins counsels you to do. 

Therefore, it might be healthier to view time as a spiral: Time continues to move forward, but the same opportunities and challenges re-arise cyclically. This gives you the chance to meet those challenges and opportunities differently. So, for instance, you might regret not sharing more meaningful experiences with your daughter when she was growing up. By viewing time as a spiral, you can recognize a new opportunity to engage with your progeny by having more experiences with your grandchild. While it’s still wise to consider “last chances” for certain activities, once you’ve missed a last chance, it might be healthier to think that the opportunity for that activity will eventually “spiral back” to you. 
How to Spend Money Wisely on Fulfilling Life Experiences

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Bill Perkins's "Die With Zero" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Die With Zero summary:

  • Why your goal in life should be to die with zero dollars in your bank account
  • Why you should use your money to the fullest, instead of saving it all
  • How to maximize enriching experiences throughout your life

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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