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Life Is Short: Toxic Financial Attitudes

This article was written by in Frugality. 14 comments.

There’s a good reason I can’t get into extreme savings for retirement. When desperate financial times call for desperate financial measures, there is a good incentive to cut all unnecessary spending and eliminate bad debt. Many people even wait until they hit rock bottom before reforming their approach to their finances, because the effects of bad money management aren’t always clear until they’re completely unavoidable.

After one extreme — complete lack of reasoning and complete lack of understanding consequences — there is a tendency to hit the other extreme. An obsessive spender is just as likely to become an obsessive saver. A little obsession might be good. When I realized I wasn’t saving for my future, I began tracking every cent of income and expense, and it helped me learn where I could cut back my spending and improve my income. It’s an important part of moving your life in the right direction, and I still recommend this to anyone who hasn’t seriously considered their money management skills, particularly those who aren’t left with much net income at the end of the month, if any.

There’s a danger in taking saving too far. Money is more than a number, and you are more than just your net worth. The only point in growing your bank account balances is to use that money for something at some point. Money has no intrinsic meaning; its purpose is only what you can do with it. Although it’s a problem not many will face, it is possible to save too much money.

The government encourage saving decades in advance for retirement by providing tax incentives. It’s a good way to decrease the burden on employers, who at one time offered pensions to assist their employees when they could no longer work. Pensions have all but disappeared in the private sector, replaced by 401(k) plans and IRAs. Preparing for retirement in advance is healthy financial planning, but you still have to consider there is a chance, though remote, that you won’t survive until the end of the saving-for-retirement phase of your life.

It’s a morbid thought, of course, and I wish all Consumerism Commentary readers a long, healthy life. An insurance company may use actuarial tables to determine the chances of any individual living a certain number of additional years, but it’s just an estimation. When we plan for the future we have to assume that the money we invest or save while looking at a time horizon decades in the future will be there when we need it, but we also have to assume that we’ll be there to use it. That’s a lot of assumptions, and putting money away that could be used today is a certain type of risk.

Having a will helps a saver feel comfortable with the fact that if his money outlives him, it will at least see a chance to be used, either by relatives who might save it or by a non-profit organization who can use the funds to move its mission forward. For those who have the means, however, having not completed everything on a “bucket list” could be a regret. Life is almost always shorter than we want it to be, and with many fulfilling activities, many of which require money, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to wait until retirement to do everything.

It’s not a good idea, though, to take this “life is short” mantra and use it as an excuse to spend money with wanton abandon. This is a toxic financial attitude, even though it could be considered the opposite of putting your financial concerns off until the future, another toxic attitude.

While I fully agree that everyone should seize the day in as many opportunities as possible, this approach should be balanced with enough consideration for the future. I don’t think that balance can ever be perfect, though. All anyone can do is make an educated guess, and aim for an approach to finances with which one is comfortable. One that provides a chance for thriving when income from work is no longer a factor while taking advantage of opportunities today for enjoying life.

The good news is that we can enjoy life today while saving for the future. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, although when you’re living paycheck to paycheck or worse, the smart decision is to focus on getting out of that situation and beginning to build wealth as the primary and only priority. Once you are building wealth, you are in a better position to have that flexibility. The frugal approach to life assists with this goal. You can find ways to enjoy life on a budget while keeping the automatic investing plan in full force.

Although I save for retirement to cover myself in the likely event I’ll eventually want to stop working in exchange for money — likely well before I reach the government-suggested age of retirement — I want to make the most of my time today. That doesn’t always require money, but sometimes it does.

  • I see people putting up with terrible bosses and jobs they don’t like. Life is too short to waste your time in situations that aren’t ideal, or at least moving in that direction. It’s a myth that we need to just accept what we have and be happy when we’re treated poorly at work. When the economy is bad, people are brainwashed into thinking they should be lucky to have any job. Get out and find something better.
  • Unhappy marriages and personal relationships are similar to bad working situations. Life is too short to spend your life with someone who doesn’t make you happy or to force yourself to spend time with people who don’t share your values. There are seven billion people in the world.
  • Why waste your time watching television when life is so short? Well, while reading a novel might better flex your neurons, seeking entertainment is a part of enjoying life today, so don’t be too quickly to accept the productivity refrain that mindless entertainment is a waste of time. There may be better ways to be entertained, but life is not worth living if you have to be productive every waking minute of every day — especially if that “productivity” is for the benefit of someone else.

Recognize that life is short and that we might lose our chance to enjoy life if we wait around for retirement or financial independence to start living. We can’t use the fact that life is short as an excuse that prevents good decision-making, which takes the idea to the extreme to the detriment of important goals like saving for the future.

How do you balance the need to plan for your financial future and to achieve financial independence with the need to make use of what you have and enjoy life today? How do you make the most of what is a relatively short life without sacrificing your future? How do you prevent “life is short” from becoming a toxic financial attitude that takes away your ability to save?


Updated July 17, 2015 and originally published June 30, 2015.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

This is one of my biggest challenges. I say “life is short” a ton, especially when I’m out with my friends. But every month, I put money into my retirement savings and emergency fund. I’m also debt free. (Need to learn more about investing before I put money into such endeavors.)

So I guess I don’t really connect my finances to how I live my life. Don’t get me wrong, I live within my means. I don’t lead to separate lives or have multiple personalities, but I manage to have fun within my means and save for the days I won’t work. Saving money gives me the peace of mind to say “life is short; live it up.”

-Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

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avatar 2 Anonymous

Life is short, that’s why we have to trick ourselves into saving sometimes.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

Very interesting piece. I’ve written about YOLO (you only live once) many times. I think the problem with most folks that I encounter is that they apply YOLO to negative circumstances and not for opportunities to grow.

For example, YOLO is used prior to getting wasted or when waking up with a massive hangover. I get it. I’ve had many hangovers in my life and I don’t regret the nights I won’t remember with the people I won’t forget.

However, nobody applies YOLO when talking about career growth. I was chatting with a buddy who has no issues with getting wasted on a work night. He dismisses his hangovers as YOLO. Yet, when it comes to career risks, crappy jobs and annoying bosses are just accepted.

I also really liked the point about not being productive every single minute. That’s true. Tv isn’t the ideal way to spend your time, but it beings FORCING yourself to be productive when your mind wants to be off. You don’t want to burn out.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Extreme anything (dieting, coupons & saving) is something you cannot keep up! I max out my 403B, IRA and Roth IRA, but I still take the time to enjoy life. I still travel overseas (every other year) and manage to go out often. It helps that I only have a (small) mortgage that will be paid off in less than 5 years. A few months ago, I decided to buy a car and financed it with a 1.99% loan. The rate was too low to reject it. I am paying it off in less than 4 years.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

Dear Flexo, I get your blog through Google reader. There was an ad in your blog today for “$1000 Christmas cash!!” I don’t know, some payday loan type company… much control do you HAVE over ads appearing on your blog? This is not good……

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avatar 6 Luke Landes

No control. I’ll forward it to the appropriate people who handle the advertising.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Presently, I already have a financial map that would help me reach my goal of saving up for my retirement and having enough passive incomes to sustain my expenses. Though I try to budget my money and not spend within my means, I also try to enjoy what life has to offer and usually go on a vacation or do a bit of shopping with my family. Whenever I buy something, I always double-check my expenses to make sure that I spend within my budget and to also avoid going overboard.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

“Life is short” can have different consequences for different folks. Using the attitude early in life to avoid a disciplined savings plan can prove very bad for your financial situation if “life” turns out to be not all that short after all. There will, however, come a time when adopting the “life-is-short” attitude can free you from the chains of disciplined savings and add to the enjoyment and broadness of your life. Kind of happened to me last August when I got that red, white, and blue Medicare card in the mail. I’m hoping life proves long enough for me to enjoy the cruises I’ve scheduled for February and June – you know – the stuff you did all that saving for.

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avatar 9 Ceecee

Sometimes automating your retirement savings can help. Then the money that is left, what actually goes into your regular bank account, is fair game for costs of living and extras. You tend to forget that you are saving when you never actually get the money in your regular account. I think that some of the money “gurus” on TV make us focus too much on retirement savings, at the expense of living today. There’s a balance somewhere, and we each must find it.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

I totally agree, life is short and we need to make the best of it. We can’t wait until our ship sails in, until we start to enjoy it. This concept of enjoying every day and feeling like I truly need to do so is one that I have learned to embrace, instead of nose to the grindstone work and delayed gratification. Frankly, it’s more fulfilling to have balance and to embrace each day as a gift.

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avatar 11 javi

I like to balance my life by budgeting extravagant expenses and saving for later. I have financial goals I want to meet. Many choose to live and spend for now and never save for later in life. Only then they regret now saving more earlier.

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avatar 12 Anonymous

I agree with you. Just like with so many things, the success lies in balance. A balanced approach to savings vs. enjoying life is what it is all about, in my opinion. And everything in moderation.

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avatar 13 Anonymous

I believe one of the great struggles with saving is deciding how much to save. There is no clear idea as to how much you might need in the future. When I personally save, I save to reach a target sum of money. In turn, I still have a reasonable amount of spending money for each month. You’ll never be 100% sure that you’ll have a chance to eve spend that money, so enjoy spending, but also have a reserve.

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avatar 14 Anonymous

Though I save like mad, trying for early retirement at 54, you present some very valid points. One of my primary hobbies (and only real indulgence) is travel. I’ve met many seniors who waited until retirement at 65 to “see the world”. They were very disappointed when they got somewhere like the Greek Islands or Edinburgh and saw the size of the hills they’d have to climb each day. “I wish I’d done this when I was younger!,” was said many, many times. Most of old European towns are on steep hilltops–made for a very good, dry, defensive position back in the day.
That said, there’s the other crowd–kids with student loans travelling and adding even more debt to the pile. ….The complaining comes later; blaming the loan and not the travel.
I’ve consistently pretty much gone away for a week once or twice a year. Made sure it’s paid in full at the time of the trip. Get some of the bucket list done and scope out places for a later re-visit.
People become such radicals with things–it’s like it’s all or nothing. (e.g., “If I see Europe I want to be there for at least a month. …So, I guess it’ll have to wait until I retire.” )

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