After hearing about this book a few times, I finally borrowed the ebook from library last week. It is an easy read and I was able to complete the book within a few days. Maybe because I am also trained as an engineer, I can relate quite well to most of his view points. Of course, coming from a different cultural background, there are also pointers that don’t sit well with me.

Shared this with a group of friends through WhatsApp and the first response was that this is not practical for the men on the street. My friend is not wrong as there are people who struggled in our society and they are doing all they can to survive. However, to be fair to the author, he is clear of his target audience. He did not write the book for this group. In his words,

“Some people’s fear are irrational: They have plenty of resources, so if they plan right, they won’t need to worry about running out of money. Those are the people I’m writing for – people who are saving too much for their own good.”

What resonated with me?

Life is a sum of experiences

Some big questions in our life must be “What is life?”, “Who am I?”, “Why we exist?”

These are questions which we will probably not have an exact answer even when we are on our deathbed. Without delving deeper, I personally subscribed to the view that my life is basically my experiences during my short stay in this universe. These experiences include the memories I chose to create and relationships I chose to build. Not all the choices are made consciously and I believe some of the most beautiful memories were created unconsciously.

So if life is about experiences, then the fictitious money should be utilised such that I can get the most of my life.

Living the phases of our life

From top left, clockwise: View outside our stay at Voss, Norway, Cinque Terre at northwest coast of Italy, Annapurna Base Camp at Nepal, Pyramid at Egypt

We go through different phases in our life. What we like to do and what we believe also changes as we progress through our life. So while it is important to build up our nest egg, it is equally if not more important to live the phases in our life. Some things can never be experienced at a later time. While I probably did it instinctively back then, I am so glad that I have done the following:

  • Went to Scandinavia after my university on a shoestring budget.
  • Breaking my bond to change my line of work.
  • Spent down my savings immediately after that to visit Italy.
  • Joined colleagues to go Nepal to trek up Annapurna Base Camp even though I was totally unfit.
  • Went to Egypt with wife before the arrival of our elder child.
  • Forgo promotion to start a new venture in another department.
  • Spending more time with my children by going on part time scheme.

While I have more resources now than then, I can never do most of the above now! I would probably have even more money if I have not done any of the above. But no, I would not exchange those experiences!

Insurance and annuities to ensure not hitting zero before dying

The biggest concern that most of us have is running out of money before dying. Healthcare cost will continue to rise as we age. So we are fortunate in Singapore that we have MediShield and CPFLife. Yes, it is scary that the premium continues to rise and FRS continues to increase. And I do wonder at times that with the current trajectory, how sustainable are these schemes? But for the current moment, they are definitely a good safety net.

Spending or giving money when it matters most to them

One interesting point that was highlighted in the book is the idea of bequest. The author questions why do we only give the money to our children and/or charity when we passed away? Given the longevity of our life, it meant that the money will only be passed to our children in their late 50s or even 60s. And they will have less utility of the inheritance, given that their physical health would be declining too.

The idea is similar to “living funeral” mentioned in Tuesdays with Morrie.

“What a waste; all those people saying all those wonderful things, and Irv never got to hear any of it. Morrie had a better idea. He made some calls. He chose a date. And on a cold Sunday afternoon, he was joined in his home by a small group of friends and family for a “living funeral.” Each of them spoke and paid tribute to my old professor. Some cried. Some laughed.

So why wait until I pass away? Why not give my children the money intended for them when they have better use of the money in their 30s and 40s? And not worry about bequest after that.

What do not sit as well?

Putting a number to experiences

As much as I am a number person, trying to quantify experiences as “life energy” and optimising it just don’t sit well with me. As mentioned earlier, some of my beautiful memories were created unconsciously, so I still like to have some serendipity in my life.

No margin of safety

To plan to die with zero means not having any margin of safety. This is not quite an engineer’s thinking. We can never foresee everything, so it is always good to have a margin of 10% to 30% in the plan. It increases cost but it improves reliability.

Focus on getting good experiences only

While I do agree that about exchanging money for good experiences, I also think that our life should not be filled with them only. It does seem logical to pay to get our household chore done so that we can free up our time. However, personally I believe that we should clean up on our own no matter how much resources we have. There must be mundane experiences in our life, so that we don’t get swollen headed and think that we are better off than those with less resources.

Physical health only

The author highlighted the balance of health, time and money during the various time of our life. However, the focus on health is only physical health. Little is spoken on mental health which I think deserved to be included as it involves our emotional, psychological and social well-being. And that affects the decision that we made, especially when it comes to dying with zero.

All in all, I enjoyed the book as it resonated with what I am thinking and how I have been living my life. If what I have written interested or intrigued you, you can borrow the ebook on our library and read it on-line.