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Die with Zero - by Bill Perkins

Main takeaways: It’s like applying Your Money or Your Life on spending: just like you earn money by spending your finite life energy, you spend money to increase it, or a better word used in this book: life experience.

At first I was skeptical about accumulating more life experiences. It could be misunderstood as trying as many things as possible (e.g. I want to go to every place), which is unrealistic because of the finitude of life. And it can seem selfish to increase your own experience. But it doesn’t have to be this way. An example from the book: if you enjoy watching ted talks on YouTube and you have the means, you can pay to go (and invite others) to the ted global conference. I don’t agree that it’s about optimizing for memory, for we can only live in each present moment, but thinking about how to spend money on having a better experience in each moment (especially with others) can be worthwhile.

Another interesting point is about planning activities according to your age. While I don’t agree that “there are certain things you should do at your age,” it does ring true that “30 is not new 20” (a TED talk). I think the difference is you should decide what to do according to your own needs, rather than from what others or society expect of you. It’s often not easy to tell the difference though.

Another key point from the book may help: avoid auto-piloting. Saving every penny is just as bad as spending all of them — you’re not deciding based on specific cases, but just resort to a blanket rule. This aligns with Karl Popper’s idea that theories are to solve specific problems, and we should make clear of the boundary of our solutions.

Notes #

Optimize Your Life

Death wakes people up. The closer, the more awake and aware. Until then we live as if we had all the time in the world. [As people I met in Istanbul said, people live as if they’ll never die.]

The author treats this as an optimization problem: how to maximize fulfillment while minimizing waste. [I don’t agree with this completely, as this approach created stress and tunnel vision for me, but this could be useful as one of the tools in the toolbox.]

Several guiding principles to solve the optimization problem:

  1. Maximize your positive life experiences
  2. Start investing in experiences early
  3. Aim to die with zero
  4. Use all available tools to help you die with zero (e.g. life expectancy estates, annuities…)
  5. Give money to your children or to charity when it has the most impact
  6. Don’t live your life on autopilot
  7. Think of your life as distinct seasons
  8. Know when to stop growing your wealth
  9. Take your biggest risks when you have little to lose

What should worry us is not the fear of squandering our money, but squandering our lives by letting opportunities pass us. [Interestingly if you’re worried about spending too much, you don’t need to worry lol — it’s a self-balancing act]

To maximize your overall fulfillment, it’s important to have each experience at the right age.

We shouldn’t let what we have determine what experience we have. An idea is consumption smoothing: our spending shouldn’t reflect the variations of our incomes. Example: by saving a lot when you start your career, you’re starving your younger self to give to your future wealthier self. While you can’t predict the magnitude of your future earnings, you can be confident in the direction of it. Example: you don’t know if you could earn millions, but you’ll know you’ll make more than 18k a year.

Our perception of work-life balance is shaped by where we’re. The author says the island of St. Barts is one of his favorite places on earth and every shop closes for two hours so everyone can hang out with friends and enjoy a nice long lunch.

The author is a big believer in the value of experiences. While experiences don’t have to cost a lot, some are free, but worthwhile experiences do usually cost some money — the unforgettable trip, the concert tickets, the pursuit of an entrepreneurial dream or a new hobby — sometimes they cost a lot of money. “To me, that is money well worth spending.”

“Your life is the sum of your experiences.” [To me it’s more than that. And also the experience of others, but maybe included as part of my experience in reciprocal sense.]

Start actively thinking about what meaningful and memorable experiences you want to have.

Invest in Experiences

Jason knows he timed that European trip exactly right. “I wouldn’t enjoy sleeping in a youth hostel with 20 guys on a shitty bunk bed now, and I wouldn’t enjoy carrying a 60-pound backpack around on trains and through the streets.” … Despite the high-interest loan, he has the opposite of regret about the expense. “Whatever I paid, I feel it was a bargain because of the life experiences I gained,” he tells me. “You can’t take those away, and I would never have them erased for any amount of money.” What he gained from that trip, in other words, is priceless. [Hmm… I see the point, but I also wonder how much of those experiences are necessary? Maybe it’s not about looking back and regretting, but about designing the experience you enjoy now.]

you retire on your memories. When you’re too frail to do much of anything else, you can still look back on the life you’ve lived and experience immense pride, joy, and the bittersweet feeling of nostalgia. [Kind of against mindfulness but it’s natural to be like this]

Peak experiences will bring you many experience points. Small pleasures will get only a few points. … Experiences yield dividends because we humans have memory. [I’d hesitate to compare in this way. I think it’s more about being in the moment, that you’re more energized in the moment. But again maybe it’s more forward-looking.]

Once you start thinking about the memory dividend, you’ll realize it pays to invest early. [If not for memory but like for relationships the earlier you start, the more compounding you get.]

When thinking about real estate, it’s more than return on money, but also return on experience. “The whole point in earning money is to be able to spend it on the experiences that make your life what it is.” [One criteria to think about being reasonable vs rational (Morgan Housel)]

Why Die with Zero?

Even for people who enjoy work as play would be better off if they spend at least some of their time on experiences that don’t involve working for money. [Balance, or don’t be too extreme ([[Being less extreme to avoid future regrets]])]

If you’re still concerned and resisting the idea of dying with zero, identify where this psychological resistance comes from. (e.g. even if you love your job, you can consider spending money on activities that fit your work schedule.)

How to Spend Your Money (Without Actually Hitting Zero Before You Die)

Consider annuities — it’s more like insurance than investments, guarantee that you won’t run out of money if you live a long time.

Economists generally think that annuities are such a rational way to deal with longevity risk that many experts have long wondered why more people don’t buy annuities—a question economists call “the annuity puzzle.”

What About the Kids

The enemies of rational thinking: autopilot and fear.

It’s better to give your children money sooner than later (although not before they mature), because a person’s ability to extract enjoyment out of the gift declines with age.

Balance Your Life

Autopilot-save is just as bad as autopilot-spend. The key insight is to strike the balance between spending on the present (and only on what you value) and saving smartly for the future.

A point about aging: while it’s admirable to be “young at heart,” be mindful and aware of your physical limits, and how they are steadily encroaching upon you as you get older, whether you like it or not.

Your saving and spending rate should be specific to your situation, not blanket rule like 20 percent. It might be better to saving almost nothing in early twenties and ramp up saving rate as income rises. [Made me realize the things I’ve tried was not useless or waste of money. But also made me think if there’s anything I need to spend money on to increase my enjoyment of life at the moment.]

This is not to say you have to spend money to increase your enjoyment, as people’s favorite activities differ. Walking costs nothing if that’s what you like.

Consider the basic needs: health, free time, and money. The amount of each changes as you grow older. [I’m lucky enough to have reasonable amount of each now. It’s important to think about how to use them.]

The author suggests people at all ages should be spending more time and money on their health. One way is to do more of the physical activities that you already enjoy.

Start of Time-Bucket Your Life

We die many deaths in the course of our lives: The teenager in you dies, the college student in you dies, the single unattached you dies, the version of you that’s a parent of an infant dies, and so on.

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” — the number one regret of dying.

Research shows that being aware of finitude motivates you to make the most of the time you do have.

Time-bucket approach: assign activities you want to do in life to the age buckets (e.g. 25-30, 40-50, 46-50, 51-55, 75+ years old). This helps you realize some experiences are better done at certain ages.

Know Your Peak

Crack open your nest egg earlier to make the most of your hard-earned money.

Be Bold—Not Foolish

Spot asymmetric risk, where the upside is very high while the downside is low or nonexistent.


While it seems an impossible task of dying with zero, it’s a worthy goal in the sense that it will change your autopilot focus of earning and saving, and push you in the direction of living the best life you possibly can.