Retirement experts talk about three phases; GO-GO, SLOW-GO and NO-GO. If that applied to buying a campervan, for example, then GO-GO would be setting off for a year on the road, SLOW-GO would be taking the campervan out occasionally, and NO-GO would be forgetting that it’s rusting at the back of the garden.
In his book, Die with Zero, Bill Perkins is not addressing those who must keep working. Rather, he is urging those intent on amassing wealth beyond their own lifetime needs, to live now, or embrace GO-GO, and have fun. Go earlier if (and when) you possibly can. Life energy is a limited resource, and it will decline. The NO-GO phase could arrive sooner than you thought and then there will be no trekking to Nepal. Walking up to the shops for the paper, will be an endurance test.
A critic might say that this book simply unites two old adages, ‘you can’t take it with you’ and ‘seize the day,’ but I found it more thought provoking than that. It is directed at the fear of outliving our money, which in many cases, is irrational. We are free to make life choices, but it is madness, according to Perkins, to endlessly put off the genuine enjoyment of hard-earned money and wind up in NO GO, when it’s too late to enjoy it.
I have seen employees do this, staying in jobs that probably ceased to be enjoyable long ago, when I know that financially, they could have pulled the plug and gone fishing. Some have thought it clever to accumulate annual leave. I sincerely hope this delayed gratification is not out of any sense of loyalty or devotion. I would like to tell them how quickly they will be forgotten. Even the founders of the company are usually forgotten. Check for the portraits gathering dust in the storage cupboard.
The ‘putting off’ of life experiences, the ones that pay rich memory dividends, can happen to over achievers with vast amounts of money. Take Barbara Streisand, who recently wrote in her new memoir; I want to live life. I haven’t had much fun in my life, and I want to have more fun.
What about the kids and their inheritance? The Dying with Zero philosophy is to pass on ringfenced amounts now, while it can be of some use, because as any economist will tell you, the utility or usefulness of money decreases over time. Fifty thousand dollars is far more useful to a thirty-year-old than it is to most sixty-year-olds. (In the US, the average age at which people inherit any sum of money, is 60).
Another common reason for staying too long on the treadmill, is to finance top notch health care at the very end. They give up years of their life while healthy and vibrant, writes Perkins, to buy a few extra weeks of life when they are sick and immobile. If that’s not irrational, what is!
If only we knew our use by date. We all have one. There are various on-line calculators that give us a clue about our Health Adjusted Life Expectancy, or the last age range to hit a round of golf. We will not get healthier and stronger. The graphs go in the other direction, but many of us dare not face this reality. We are too hard wired to think about surviving.
I thought about dying with zero quite a lot this year. I took a few trips where I encountered fellow travellers on the precipice of the NO GO phase of retirement. They struggled to get on and off boats and trains and buses. Their knees and hips would not oblige. It is moving to see people trying to do these things at all, but it is sobering to think that they put this off for so long, that it did not look like fun.
It’s a simple and elegant philosophy. If you have worked enough and saved enough to follow your dreams, then pay attention to that word; enough. And the words I’m now writing on a sticky note are – Go! Go!