Bill Perkin’s Die With Zero was an instant download after I came across it through an r/fatFire post. The FIRE community evangelizes the benefits of frugality, extreme saving and investing most of your salary. There’s no arguing that these are the right things to pursue when you’re young and trying to get out of debt.

Bill, on the other hand, believes the “business of life is an acquisition of memories”. Delaying gratification up until retirement is often a fool’ errand since our health and interests are bound to wane with the passage of time. He emphasizes procuring experiences and acquiring memory dividends which are bound to compound over time. As an example, in the early chapters of the book, he mentions how his debt-ridden 23 yr old roommate decided to quit his job and travel to Western Europe gathering unique memories which he most likely will not have had if he had waited until he had retired.

Themes

The central theme of the book is around prioritizing spending money while you’re alive rather than leaving $500K in inheritance after death. Even if you’ve the right intentions for the money (kids future, charity), it’s always better to take action when you can.

Chase memorable experiences, give money to your kids when they can best use it, donate to charity while you’re still alive. That’s the way to live life.

One of the biggest counters to the book is the fact that most people hoard money because they’re afraid of dying in poverty. Bill references this mentioning that depriving your current self just to care about a future older self isn’t the way to go. He advises using income annuities, reverse mortgages, long-term care insurance in order to prepare for the no-income post retirement years. Depending on your age and health, income annuities can be foregone and replaced through a mix of retirement investments and dividend income. To calculate your survival threshold (or how much you might end up requiring post-retirement), Bill suggests using this formula:

Survival Threshold = 0.7 * Annual Expenses * Years Left to Live (can be calculated using a longetivity calculator)

The books also brings up an interesting facet of spending over the course of an Average Joe’s life. Most people’s spending can be categorized into three patterns:

  • Go-go years: Observed between the ages of 20-30
  • Slow-go years: Observed between the ages of 40-65
  • No-go years: 75 and later ages

Even in retirement, your spending is going to vary a lot. People spend a lot more money at the start of the retirement than at the end.

Opinion

In order to live a good, fulfilling life, we need a balance of money, health and free leisure time. Personally for me, spending most of my healthy years working and acquiring fat stacks of cash for a future older self who might end up spending very little of that wealth is a legitimate worry. I know I’ll enjoy sky-diving more when I’m 25 rather than when I’m 65 and the book really drives this point home. It also lays down a solid framework of “time-bucketing” your experiences i.e. prioritizing more outgoing activities when you’re young. I’ve also internally known the concept of cherishing memories but the concept of “memory dividend” will stick with me forever.

As with most books in the genre, it could have been a lot more concise, but it does provide a provocative and new theory about how you can maximize and live a more fulfilling life. It has definitely prompted to think more deeply about prioritizing things that make me happy.