Die with Zero

by Bill Perkins

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: April 24, 2024
Die with Zero
Die with Zero

Maximize life fulfillment and wealth with the 'Die with Zero' philosophy. Discover strategies for optimal spending, experience-driven happiness, and time bucket planning. A must-read for anyone seeking to live their best life.

What are the big ideas?

Maximize Lifetime Fulfillment: Spend Based on Life Energy

The book encourages readers to think of money as 'life energy' and to spend wisely based on this concept, ensuring that each dollar spent contributes to maximal life fulfillment and experiences over accumulating material wealth.

Optimal Consumption Smoothing

Introduces a strategic approach for balancing spending across one's lifespan, advocating for an even distribution of consumption that allows for a rich life experience both in youth and old age, avoiding traditional pitfalls of over-saving or over-spending in any one period.

Die with Zero: Optimal Wealth Use

Advocates for a planned approach to spend all accumulated wealth by the end of life, emphasizing the inefficiency of dying with unused money which represents wasted life energy.

Invest in Experiences, Not Possessions

Prioritizes spending on life experiences over possessions, highlighting the greater happiness and 'memory dividends' that experiences provide compared to material goods.

Time Bucket Planning

Introduces a unique method of life planning that involves dividing life into 'time buckets' each with specific goals and experiences, encouraging proactive life experience planning rather than reactive 'bucket list' ticking.

Be Bold, Not Foolish

Differentiates between taking calculated, bold risks that have high potential rewards, and foolish risks with high downsides, particularly emphasizing the importance of this in youth when recovery from setbacks is easier.

Want to read ebooks, websites, and other text 3X faster?

From a SwiftRead user:
Feels like I just discovered the equivalent of fire but for reading text. WOW, WOW, WOW. A must have for me, forever.

Maximize Lifetime Fulfillment: Spend Based on Life Energy

Maximize Your Lifetime Fulfillment by Spending Your 'Life Energy' Wisely

Your time and money are your most precious resources - your 'life energy'. Rather than mindlessly accumulating wealth, focus on converting this life energy into meaningful experiences and fulfillment.

Treat each dollar as an investment in your happiness and well-being, not just a number to grow. Ask yourself - what experiences and memories will this money create that will truly enrich my life? Prioritize spending on the things that bring you joy and satisfaction, rather than mindless consumption.

Timing is key. Certain experiences are best enjoyed at certain ages. Don't deprive yourself of adventures and travel in your prime years, thinking you'll do it later when you have more money. You may not have the health or opportunity then. Seize the moments that matter most now.

Ultimately, aim to 'die with zero' - spend your resources on living fully rather than hoarding wealth you can't enjoy. This doesn't mean reckless spending, but thoughtful allocation of your precious life energy towards maximum fulfillment, not just maximum savings.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of maximizing lifetime fulfillment by spending based on life energy:

  • The author's friend Jason borrowed money from a loan shark to take a 3-month backpacking trip to Europe in his early 20s, even though it meant missing out on job opportunities. When he returned, his income was the same as the author's, but he was "infinitely richer" from the experiences and memories.

  • The author contrasts this with people who keep working long hours to save more money for retirement, instead of enjoying the wealth they've already accrued. He says this is "wasting their resources and putting off living life fully now."

  • The author explains that the timing of experiences matters - taking a young child to Italy may not be as meaningful as doing so later in life. He says "to get the most out of your time and money, timing matters" in order to "maximize your fulfillment from experiences."

  • The author criticizes billionaires who keep accumulating wealth instead of spending it on meaningful experiences and causes. He says "Life is not a game of Space Invaders—you don't get points for all the money you rack up in the game—but many people treat it as though it were."

  • The author encourages readers to be deliberate about how they spend their "life energy" on experiences, rather than just going on "autopilot" and accumulating more wealth than they can enjoy.

Optimal Consumption Smoothing

Optimal Consumption Smoothing involves strategically balancing your spending and saving throughout your life to maximize fulfillment. The goal is to avoid the common pitfalls of over-saving in youth and over-spending in old age. Instead, you should aim for an even distribution of consumption that allows you to enjoy rich experiences both now and in the future.

The key is to transfer money from years of abundance into leaner years. This "consumption smoothing" prevents your spending from fluctuating wildly with your income. Even if your earnings vary greatly over time, your spending should remain relatively stable.

For example, when you're young and earning less, you may need to save more to fund future experiences. But as your income grows, you can shift to spending more on the present without neglecting the future. This balanced approach ensures you make the most of your life energy at every age.

Ultimately, optimal consumption smoothing is about deliberately allocating your resources to maximize your lifetime fulfillment. It's not about mindlessly saving or spending, but making thoughtful choices that align with your values and priorities.

Here are key examples from the context that support the strategic approach of optimal consumption smoothing across one's lifespan:

  • The author describes planning a memorable 45th birthday celebration on the Caribbean island of St. Barts, bringing together family and friends from all stages of his life. This demonstrates the value of spending on meaningful experiences in one's prime years, rather than deferring all spending to retirement.

  • The author critiques simple financial rules like the "50-30-20" rule, arguing that the optimal balance of spending and saving should shift over one's lifetime. For example, young workers may be better off borrowing and spending more, rather than saving 20% of their income, since their future earnings potential is high.

  • The author discusses the "real golden years" - the period in one's 40s and 50s when health and wealth are often optimized. He argues this is the time to focus on spending on experiences, rather than over-saving for a distant retirement.

  • The author cautions against the "challenge of decumulation" - the difficulty of transitioning from a savings mindset to actively spending down one's wealth in retirement. He suggests people often save too much for a retirement they may not fully enjoy due to declining health.

  • The author emphasizes the need to balance health, time, and money across one's lifespan, noting that these factors rarely align perfectly at any given age. The goal is to optimize experiences when health and wealth are both relatively high, rather than deferring all spending to old age.

Die with Zero: Optimal Wealth Use

Die with Zero is a philosophy that encourages people to intentionally spend down their accumulated wealth by the end of their lives. The core idea is that leaving behind unused money represents a waste of life energy - resources that could have been used to maximize fulfillment and enjoyment during one's lifetime.

The rationale is straightforward. Money has no value after death, so the optimal approach is to convert your savings into experiences and memories that enrich your life while you are still alive and able to enjoy them. Waiting until the end to spend your wealth means depriving yourself of opportunities and pleasures in the prime of your life.

This approach challenges the common tendency to over-save for the distant future, often at the expense of living fully in the present. It argues that a more balanced, thoughtful allocation of resources - spending more when you are younger and healthier, and less as you age - can lead to greater overall lifetime fulfillment. The goal is to die with zero, having converted your wealth into a lifetime of meaningful experiences, rather than leaving behind unspent assets.

The Die with Zero philosophy is not about reckless spending or depriving your heirs. Rather, it encourages a deliberate, optimized plan for using your resources to live your best life, while also providing for loved ones and causes you care about during your lifetime. By aligning your spending with your changing abilities and interests over time, you can maximize the value and impact of your wealth.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of dying with zero as an optimal approach to wealth use:

  • The author explains that "dying with zero is not only about money: It's also about time. Start thinking more about how you use your limited time, your life energy, and you'll be well on your way to living the fullest life you possibly can."

  • The author argues against leaving inheritances for children, stating "If you're really putting your kids first, as you claim you are, don't wait until you're dead to show your generosity. (I like to say that dead people can't give money away—they can't do anything.)"

  • The author cites economist Franco Modigliani's "Life-Cycle Hypothesis" which posits that "wealth will decline to zero by the date of death" in order to maximize utility from money over one's lifetime.

  • The author notes that people often "save too much for too late in their lives" and "continue to save well past that optimal point" where they could be enjoying their wealth, resulting in "their hard-earned money outliv[ing] them."

  • The author emphasizes that "just because we can't predict the exact date [of death] doesn't mean we can't get close" by using life expectancy calculators to plan spending down wealth before the end of life.

Invest in Experiences, Not Possessions

Invest in experiences, not possessions. Experiences provide greater long-term fulfillment and happiness than material goods. When you spend money on an experience, you not only enjoy it in the moment, but also gain memory dividends - the ongoing joy and enrichment you receive from recalling and sharing that experience over time. These memory dividends can compound, sometimes even exceeding the initial enjoyment of the experience itself.

In contrast, material possessions often lose their luster quickly and provide only fleeting satisfaction. Investing in experiences, whether travel, learning a new skill, or quality time with loved ones, creates a lifetime of cherished memories that continue to enrich your life. Start building these valuable experiences early, as the earlier you begin, the more time you have to accrue the compounding memory dividends.

Rather than focusing solely on financial returns, shift your mindset to prioritize the return on experience. Experiences have the power to truly change your life, even later in life, in ways that financial investments often cannot. Embrace the opportunity to live a richer, more fulfilling life by investing in the experiences that matter most to you.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight to invest in experiences, not possessions:

  • The author advises his friend Paulie to focus on the experiences he would gain from buying a vacation property in Central America, rather than just the financial return on investment. The author says "Forget the money...and let's just talk about what you're going to get out of it. You're my age...So how much are you going to use this property to invest in your own personal experiences—how often do you plan to stay there, and what will you do when you're there? If you're going to go there many times and you're going to have wonderful vacations and bond with your kids and have irreplaceable moments with your family and friends, well, that sounds like the greatest deal on planet Earth to me!"

  • The author explains the concept of "memory dividends" - the ongoing enjoyment and fulfillment we get from recalling and reliving our experiences, which can sometimes exceed the original experience itself. He says "When you have an experience, you get that current, in-the-moment enjoyment, but you also form memories that you get to relive later...Every time you remember the original experience, you get an additional experience from mentally and emotionally reliving the original experience."

  • The author provides the example of a "best vacation" - noting how much time is spent showing photos, reminiscing, and sharing the memories of that trip, which are the "memory dividends" that compound over time and can outweigh the original experience.

  • The author contrasts investing in experiences versus investing in possessions, stating that "Unlike material possessions, which seem exciting at the beginning but then often depreciate quickly, experiences actually gain in value over time: They pay what I call a memory dividend."

Time Bucket Planning

Time Bucket Planning is a proactive approach to life planning that divides your life into distinct time periods or "buckets." The goal is to intentionally map out the experiences and activities you want to pursue during each stage of your life, rather than reactively creating a "bucket list" of things to do before you die.

Here's how it works: First, create a timeline of your life and divide it into 5-10 year intervals. These are your time buckets. Next, make a list of all the experiences, adventures, and milestones you want to achieve - everything from hiking the Himalayas to attending the Sundance Film Festival.

Then, assign each desired experience to the specific time bucket when you'd ideally want to have that experience, based on factors like your health, free time, and life circumstances. This allows you to proactively plan your life, rather than letting time slip away.

The key benefit of Time Bucket Planning is that it helps you be intentional about how you spend your finite time and energy. By mapping out your life's experiences in advance, you can ensure you don't miss out on the things that are truly important to you. It's a powerful tool for living life to the fullest.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of time bucket planning:

  • The author suggests "drawing a timeline of your life from now to the grave, then dividing it into intervals of five or ten years. Each of those intervals—say, from age 30 to 40, or from 70 to 75—is a time bucket."

  • The author recommends "thinking about what key experiences—activities or events—you definitely want to have during your lifetime" and then "dropping each of your hoped-for pursuits into the specific buckets, based on when you'd ideally have each experience."

  • For example, the author states "if you want to go skiing 50 times in your life, during which decades or five-year buckets would you like to have those ski days?"

  • The author notes that "some of these bucketing decisions will be easier than others" but that "you probably already have a decent idea of some of the wonderful experiences you'd like to enjoy in your lifetime."

  • The author contrasts this proactive time bucket planning approach with a "bucket list" which is "a much more reactive effort in a sudden race against time."

  • The author explains that time buckets allow you to "plan your life" whereas a bucket list is "typically a single accounting of all the things you hope to do before you 'kick the bucket.'"

Key terms:

  • Time buckets: Dividing your life into 5-10 year intervals to plan specific experiences and activities
  • Bucket list: A reactive list of things to do before you die, rather than a proactive life plan

The time bucket planning approach encourages the reader to thoughtfully consider and allocate their desired life experiences across the different phases of their life, rather than waiting until the end to hastily try to complete a "bucket list."

Be Bold, Not Foolish

When faced with opportunities, be bold and take calculated risks. The potential upside of success is often much greater than the downside of failure, especially when you're young. Seize these asymmetric opportunities - the downside may be low, but the upside can be immense.

However, don't confuse bold with foolish. As you get older, some risks become more foolish than bold. Your physical abilities and recovery time diminish, making the downside of failure more severe. Carefully weigh the risk-reward balance before taking big risks later in life.

The key is to be bold when you're young. You have more time to recover from setbacks and can afford to take bigger chances. Avoid letting irrational fears hold you back from pursuing your dreams. Understand the realistic worst-case scenarios and you'll often find the downside is not as bad as you imagine.

Make deliberate choices about how to spend your time and energy. Don't let autopilot lead you down a path of accumulating wealth without enjoying it. Aim to "die with zero" - use your resources to live fully in the present rather than hoarding for an uncertain future.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of being bold, not foolish:

  • The context discusses the concept of "asymmetric risk" - when the potential upside of success is much greater than the potential downside of failure. In these situations, it makes sense to be bold and take the opportunity, as the downside is low but the upside is high.

  • The context contrasts being bold when young versus when older. When young, the downside of failure is lower, as you have more time to recover and "reload." As you get older, the same risks become more "foolish than bold" as the downside increases, such as the example of jumping off a roof being risky for a 50-year-old versus when the narrator was a kid.

  • The context provides the example of the narrator getting fired from a junior trading job at 23. While scary at the time, the long-term impact was low, as he was able to easily correct course and find another job. The narrator states this was a good bet because he had little to lose and plenty of time to recover when young.

  • The context advises identifying opportunities with little risk and taking more chances when younger, rather than letting irrational fears hold you back. It emphasizes that the worst-case scenario is often not as bad as you think, especially with safety nets in place.

In summary, the key is to be bold and take calculated risks when young, as the potential upside is high and the downside is relatively low, compared to being more cautious and avoiding "foolish" risks when older.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "Die with Zero" that resonated with readers.

I hope my message has at least jarred you into rethinking the standard and conventional approaches to living one’s life—get a good job, work hard through endless hours, and then retire in your sixties or seventies and live out your days in your so-called golden years. But I still ask you: Why wait until your health and life energy have begun to wane? Rather than just focusing on saving up for a big pot full of money that you will most likely not be able to spend in your lifetime, live your life to the fullest now: Chase memorable life experiences, give money to your kids when they can best use it, donate money to charity while you’re still alive. That’s the way to live life. Remember: In the end, the business of life is the acquisition of memories. So what are you waiting for?

The traditional approach to life, which involves working hard and saving for retirement, can be limiting. Instead of waiting until old age to enjoy life, one should focus on living fully in the present. This means prioritizing meaningful experiences, sharing wealth with loved ones, and giving back to society while still active. By doing so, one can accumulate rich memories that make life truly fulfilling.

we all have at least the potential to make more money in the future, we can never go back and recapture time that is now gone. So it makes no sense to let opportunities pass us by for fear of squandering our money. Squandering our lives should be a much greater worry.

It's more important to prioritize making the most of our time than accumulating wealth. Once time is lost, it can never be regained, whereas earning potential can always be replenished. Fear of wasting money should not hold us back from seizing opportunities that enrich our lives. Instead, we should focus on making the most of our limited time on earth.

When you face asymmetric risk, it makes total sense to be bold, to grab the opportunity at hand. At the extreme, when the downside is very low (or nonexistent, as in the “nothing to lose” case) and the upside is really high, it’s actually riskier not to make the bold move. The downside of not even taking a chance is emotional: potentially a lifetime of regret and wondering What if? The upside of taking a chance always includes emotional benefits—even if things don’t work out. There’s a great sense of pride at having pursued an important goal wholeheartedly. If you’ve given something your all, you’ll get a lot of positive memories out of the experience no matter what happens.

When faced with opportunities that have a high potential upside and low downside, it's wise to take bold action. Not taking a chance can lead to lifelong regret and "what ifs," whereas trying wholeheartedly brings emotional benefits, such as pride and positive memories, regardless of the outcome. In essence, it's often riskier not to seize an opportunity than to give it a shot.

Comprehension Questions

0 / 26

How well do you understand the key insights in "Die with Zero"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What is the significance of treating money as an investment in happiness rather than just a number to grow?
2. Why is it important to consider the timing of experiences in relation to spending money?
3. What does the concept of 'dying with zero' suggest about the approach to spending and saving?
4. How does prioritizing money spending on joy-bringing activities differ from mindless consumption?
5. What is the main goal of balancing spending and saving throughout your life?
6. How does consumption smoothing benefit your financial stability when your income varies?
7. Why might young people opt to borrow and spend instead of following traditional saving rules?
8. What challenge does decumulation represent in retirement, and how might it impact financial planning?
9. Why is it important to balance health, time, and money throughout one's life rather than just in old age?
10. What does the philosophy of dying with zero encourage people to do with their accumulated wealth during their lifetime?
11. Why is it considered wasteful to leave behind unused money according to this philosophy?
12. What does 'dying with zero' argue against in terms of common financial behaviors?
13. How does 'dying with zero' impact the way you provide for heirs or support causes?
14. How can aligning spending with changing abilities and interests maximize wealth impact?
15. What tends to provide greater long-term fulfillment, material possessions or experiences?
16. What are 'memory dividends' and how do they benefit individuals?
17. Why might experiences increase in value over time?
18. How does focusing on the 'return on experience' differ from focusing on financial returns?
19. What is the purpose of dividing your life into time buckets?
20. How does time bucket planning differ from a 'bucket list'?
21. What considerations might influence the assignment of an experience to a particular time bucket?
22. Can you explain how to initiate time bucket planning for one's life?
23. What is the main reason to take calculated risks when you're young?
24. How should one's approach to taking risks change as they age?
25. What is meant by 'asymmetric risk,' and why is it important?
26. What rationale supports taking more chances when younger rather than older?

Action Questions

0 / 14

"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "Die with Zero". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you evaluate your current spending to ensure it aligns with your true desires and fulfills you meaningfully?
2. What experiences have you postponed that you could start planning for today to enhance your life's enjoyment and fulfillment?
3. How can you diversify your investments in happiness to ensure a balanced and fulfilling daily life?
4. What practical steps can you take to adjust your budget to enable more meaningful expenditures, given the unpredictability of tomorrow?
5. How can you share your experiences and the joy they brought you with others to inspire them to also prioritize fulfillment in their spending?
6. Reflect on how your lifestyle changes over the next three months can directly contribute to your overall happiness and personal growth.
7. How can you adjust your current financial habits to ensure a more stable and fulfilling consumption throughout your life stages?
8. What adjustments can you make to your spending patterns now to better prepare for significant life events or retirement later?
9. What strategies could you adopt today to start making the most of your resources, ensuring that you have minimal regrets about missed opportunities?
10. What recent experiences have you invested in that brought significant joy, and how can you enhance or seek similar experiences in the future?
11. How can you apply the concept of time buckets to prioritize and plan significant life experiences over the next decade?
12. What steps can you take to ensure that your time bucket planning aligns with your personal values and long-term goals?
13. How might you organize and track your progress in fulfilling the experiences set in your time buckets?
14. What is one new venture or challenge you could try this month to leverage the concept of asymmetric risk?

Chapter Notes

Optimize Your Life

  • Maximize Positive Life Experiences: The central idea of the chapter is to maximize the number of positive life experiences you have before you die, rather than delaying gratification indefinitely or accumulating wealth without enjoying it.

  • Consumption Smoothing: The concept of "consumption smoothing" suggests that it's better to even out your spending over time, rather than saving aggressively when you're young and then spending lavishly later. This helps you enjoy more experiences throughout your life.

  • Life Energy and Time Valuation: The book "Your Money or Your Life" introduced the idea that money represents your "life energy" - the time you spend working to earn it. This reframes how you should think about spending money, as you're trading your limited time on earth.

  • Experiences vs. Possessions: Research shows that spending money on experiences tends to make people happier than spending on material possessions. Experiences also provide a "memory dividend" that grows over time.

  • Overcoming Fear of Running Out of Money: Many people, even the wealthy, have an irrational fear of running out of money. This book aims to overcome that fear and encourage people to spend more on positive experiences while they're able to enjoy them.

  • Optimization Problem: The author sees the challenge of allocating your life energy between work and experiences as an "optimization problem" that can be approached analytically, even if perfection is impossible.

  • Guiding Principles: The book will present a set of "rules" or guiding principles to help readers make wiser decisions about how to spend their time and money to maximize lifetime fulfillment.

Invest in Experiences

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Life is the sum of your experiences: Everything you do in life - your daily, weekly, monthly, annual, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences - adds up to who you are. You should put serious thought and effort into planning the kinds of experiences you want for yourself.

  • Experiences are an investment: Experiences are not just enjoyable in the moment, they also pay an ongoing "memory dividend" that you can continue to experience and share with others throughout your life. This memory dividend can sometimes be more valuable than the original experience itself.

  • Start investing in experiences early: The earlier you start investing in experiences, the more time you have to reap the memory dividends. Experiences in your 20s will have a longer "tail" of memory dividends compared to experiences later in life.

  • Experiences don't have to be expensive: When you're young and cash-poor, you can get a lot of enjoyment from free or low-cost experiences like exploring your local area, spending time with friends, and taking advantage of community events.

  • Make deliberate choices about experiences: As an adult, you have the freedom to choose many of your own experiences. Be aware of how you're spending your time and money, and make conscious decisions about the experiences you want to invest in, rather than just going through life on autopilot.

Why Die with Zero?

  • Aim to Die with Zero: The author argues that the rational and optimal approach is to aim to spend all your money before you die, rather than leaving behind unused wealth. This prevents the waste of life energy spent earning money that you never get to enjoy.

  • Autopilot and Inertia: People often fall into the trap of autopilot and inertia, continuing to save and accumulate wealth even after reaching a point where they could be enjoying that money. This leads to suboptimal use of their life energy.

  • The "Brewster's Millions" Problem: Some people, like the example of John Arnold, end up accumulating so much wealth that it becomes difficult to spend it all before they die, leading to unused resources and wasted life energy.

  • Hourly Rate and Wasted Life Energy: The author uses the example of Elizabeth to illustrate how leaving behind unused wealth represents hours of life energy that were spent earning that money unnecessarily.

  • The Life-Cycle Hypothesis: The author introduces the economic concept of the Life-Cycle Hypothesis, which suggests that the optimal approach is to spread one's wealth across their lifespan and die with zero.

  • Objections and Responses: The author addresses common objections to the idea of dying with zero, such as the desire to leave money for one's children or the fear of running out of money in old age.

  • Declining Spending in Retirement: Data shows that retirees tend to spend less over time, even as their wealth continues to grow, suggesting that people often save too much for their later years.

  • Precautionary Saving and Insurance: The author argues that excessive precautionary saving for uncertain future medical expenses is often unnecessary, and that long-term care insurance can be a more effective solution.

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

  • Life Expectancy Calculators: These tools can provide an estimate of your life expectancy based on factors like age, gender, health, and lifestyle. While not perfectly accurate, they can give you a better idea of when you might die, which is crucial for planning your finances.

  • Longevity Risk vs. Mortality Risk: Longevity risk is the possibility of living longer than expected, while mortality risk is the risk of dying earlier than expected. Both need to be considered when planning to die with zero.

  • Annuities: Annuities are financial products that provide a guaranteed monthly income for life, helping to mitigate longevity risk. They are essentially the opposite of life insurance, which protects against mortality risk.

  • Annuities vs. Self-Insuring: Buying an annuity allows you to pool your risk with others, whereas self-insuring by leaving a large financial cushion means you are essentially being your own insurance agent, which is less efficient.

  • Risk Tolerance: Your personal risk tolerance will determine how much of a cushion you need to save for in case you live longer than expected. The more risk you're willing to take, the less you'll need to save.

  • Financial Adviser Considerations: When working with a financial adviser, make sure they understand your goal of maximizing your life enjoyment, not just maximizing your wealth. Communicate this clearly so they can help you create the appropriate plan.

  • Spending Down Your Savings: In addition to avoiding running out of money, you also need to plan for how to actively spend down your savings to avoid leaving behind a pile of unused assets. This is the "decumulation" phase of your finances.

  • Irrational Behavior Around Death: People often avoid thinking about and planning for their own death, leading to irrational decisions like spending huge sums to prolong life for just a few more weeks. Confronting this reality can help you make better choices.

  • Using a "Final Countdown" App: Apps that count down the estimated time until your death can help make the reality of your mortality more tangible, which can motivate you to live more intentionally and make the most of your limited time.

What About the Kids?

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Timing is crucial when giving money to your children or to charity. The optimal time to give money to your children is when they are between the ages of 26 and 35, as this is when they can extract the most enjoyment and utility from the money. Waiting until after they are 60 years old results in the money having much less impact. Similarly, giving money to charity as soon as possible allows it to be put to use immediately and have the greatest impact.

  • Inheritances are often suboptimal. Leaving money to your children in the form of an inheritance after you die is problematic, as the money often arrives too late to have maximum impact on their lives. Inheritances are also subject to "the three Rs" - random amounts, random timing, and random recipients (due to uncertainty around who will be alive when you die).

  • Be intentional and deliberate when giving money to your children. Don't commingle intentional gifts with unintentional bequests (leftover savings). Decide how much you want to give your children and give it to them directly, rather than waiting until you die. This allows you to maximize the impact of the money.

  • Your real legacy to your children is the experiences and memories you create with them, not just money. Spending quality time with your children and creating positive memories is just as important, if not more so, than leaving them a financial inheritance. Consider the trade-offs between working more to earn money versus spending time with your children.

  • Charity should receive your money as soon as possible. There is no optimal time to wait when it comes to giving to charitable causes, as the sooner they receive the money, the sooner they can put it to use and have a positive impact. Delaying charitable giving until after you die is inefficient and deprives those in need of assistance now.

Balance Your Life

  • Declining Health and Enjoyment: As people age, their physical health declines, which gradually constrains their ability to enjoy life experiences, regardless of their wealth. This decline in the "utility of money" over time means that it's optimal to spend more money on experiences when you're younger and healthier.

  • Balancing Health, Money, and Time: Fulfillment requires a balance of health, free time, and money. At different life stages, people have varying amounts of these three resources, so the optimal balance of spending and saving shifts over time. Young people should prioritize health and experiences over saving, while older adults should focus more on preserving their health.

  • Personal Interest Rate: The older you get, the more someone would have to pay you to delay an experience, as your "personal interest rate" rises with age. This concept can help you decide whether to spend money now or save it for later experiences.

  • "Would You Rather?" Analysis: When faced with a choice between an experience now or saving for a similar (or better) experience later, ask yourself "Would I rather have one experience now, or two experiences x years from now?" This can help you determine the optimal timing for spending.

  • Outsourcing Undesirable Tasks: Spending money to outsource time-consuming chores and tasks can free up your limited time for more enjoyable experiences, especially as you have more disposable income in your middle years.

  • Preventive Health Investment: Investing in your health through diet, exercise, and other preventive measures can have a compounding positive effect on your ability to enjoy experiences throughout your life, as small health improvements avoid negative compounding of health issues.

  • Customized Savings and Spending Plan: The "Die with Zero" app can help you determine the optimal, personalized balance of spending and saving over your lifetime to maximize your overall fulfillment, based on your individual circumstances.

Start to Time-Bucket Your Life

  • Recognizing the Finite Nature of Life Stages: The chapter emphasizes that we experience many "mini-deaths" throughout our lives as we transition from one life stage to the next (e.g., from being a teenager to a college student, from being a parent of an infant to a parent of teenagers). These transitions often happen without clear end points, making it easy to take them for granted.

  • Avoiding Regret through Intentional Living: The chapter highlights common deathbed regrets, such as not living true to oneself and working too hard at the expense of relationships and experiences. It suggests that being aware of the finite nature of life stages can motivate us to make the most of our time and pursue the experiences we truly value.

  • Introducing Time Buckets: The chapter introduces the concept of "time buckets" - dividing your life into distinct time periods (e.g., 5-10 year intervals) and intentionally planning the experiences you want to have in each stage, without initially considering financial constraints. This proactive approach is contrasted with the more reactive "bucket list" approach.

  • Recognizing the Optimal Timing of Experiences: As you fill out your time buckets, you may notice that certain experiences are better suited to particular life stages, often skewing towards your younger, healthier years. This can help you prioritize and plan accordingly.

  • Balancing Dreams and Financial Realities: The chapter acknowledges that while the time-buckets exercise initially focuses on your dreams and desired experiences without considering money, financial concerns are ultimately important to address. The next chapter will explore how to align your financial resources with your life experiences.

Know Your Peak

  • Net Worth Peak: Your net worth should reach a peak sometime between the ages of 45 and 60, after which you should start spending down your savings to maximize your lifetime fulfillment. This peak is determined by your biological age and health, not just a specific dollar amount.

  • Survival Threshold: Before considering your net worth peak, you should first ensure you have enough savings to cover your basic cost of living for the rest of your life, which can be calculated as 70% of your annual cost of living multiplied by your expected remaining years. This is your "survival threshold".

  • Declining Utility of Money: As you age, your ability to enjoy experiences declines due to declining health, even if your wealth continues to grow. Therefore, it's important to spend more on experiences in your middle years (45-60) rather than delaying gratification until retirement.

  • Spending Down: Once you've reached your net worth peak, you should start actively spending down your savings to enjoy more experiences, rather than continuing to accumulate wealth. This "decumulation" phase can be psychologically challenging, but is necessary to avoid dying with unspent money.

  • Re-Bucket Your Life: It's important to periodically re-evaluate your time buckets and interests as you approach your net worth peak, to ensure you are spending your time and money on the experiences that will bring you the most fulfillment in your later years.

Be Bold—Not Foolish

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Asymmetric Risk: When the potential upside of success is much greater than the potential downside of failure, it makes sense to be bold and take the opportunity. This is because the downside is low, while the upside is high.

  • Being Bold When Young: When you're young, you have more time to recover from failures, and the potential upside of bold moves is greater. As you get older, the balance of risk and reward changes, and some risks become more foolish than bold.

  • Quantifying Fears: When considering a bold move, such as moving to a new city, quantify your fears (e.g., cost of visiting friends/family) to understand the true tradeoffs and whether the potential benefits outweigh the costs.

  • Inaction Has Risks: Avoiding bold moves to maintain a sense of security also carries risks, as you may miss out on experiences and personal growth that could have made your life more fulfilling.

  • Distinguishing Fear from Risk Tolerance: Recognize the difference between a low risk tolerance (a personal preference) and irrational fears that blow the potential downside out of proportion. Challenge irrational fears by considering your actual safety nets.

  • Prioritize Experiences Over Security: When making choices, be sure to consider your priorities. Prioritizing security over experiences can lead to a less fulfilling life, even if it feels safer in the moment.


What do you think of "Die with Zero"? Share your thoughts with the community below.