Life is Short: Loosen the Reins on Spending?

We say it all the time: Life it short, make sure you enjoy today, you might not have a tomorrow, live like you were dying, make memories while you can, etc. Usually we throw these philosophical statements out as justifications for spending on something that we really can’t afford. Maybe we want a vacation to an expensive destination but the money really isn’t there. Well, we say, the kids are only young once and we could die tomorrow so what the heck. Pack the bags and let’s go. Deep down we don’t really believe that we may die tomorrow, but it seems as good a reason as any to justify the purchase.

This is not a responsible approach if your basic needs aren’t being met and you have no money to cover unforeseen events (and most of us would cop to that, if pressed-we know better). But sometimes, perhaps, there is a grain of truth in such statements and we ought to take a moment and examine our spending and saving to see if we might not be going too far overboard, denying ourselves things we can afford and will enjoy in the name of long term security when, in fact, we may not have a “long term.”

I got a wake up call this past weekend. While out mowing the lawn I walked over a nest of Yellow Jackets. Yes, there was pain but there was something else, as well. An allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock that caused my breathing to stop and me to pass out. I was lucky. I was only out for a few seconds and then was able to get to the hospital for thorough care. I’ve been stung before and never had a problem but, as the ER doctor told me, our bodies change and I am now allergic. This was my warning. The next time I’m stung it could kill me. So now I have to carry an emergency injection with me and try very hard to avoid being stung at all.

Once the doctors got the pain and allergic reaction under control and I could think clearly, I thought about how close I’d come to dying. If the reaction had been worse, if my husband hadn’t known to shove Benadryl down my throat to arrest the reaction, if the ambulance hadn’t come when it did… I could be dead. Intellectually I’ve always known that life is too short. I, like most people, have known people who died young and unexpectedly. But having it be your own death that is imminent is a real wake up call.

You always think that if you’re going to die young it’s going to be from some awful disease or maybe a car accident. Awful, but understandable and not totally unforeseen (at least not around here where people routinely drive like maniacs). But Yellow Jackets? Tiny insects? That brings it home how random life can be and how small the line is between life and death.

So now that I have this knowledge, what am I going to do about it? Besides living each day to the fullest (more so than I ever did), I’m taking some financial steps. The immediate things come first. I’m making sure that my will is up to date. I don’t want to die and leave my heirs with a big mess to clean up. I’m rechecking my life insurance policy and making sure I have adequate coverage. I’ll be replenishing the emergency fund because some of my treatment will not be covered by insurance, so that will put a ding in the fund. Not a huge ding, but the money needs to be replaced in case this, or something else, ever happens again.

Once those immediate things are taken care of, I’m seriously thinking about loosening the reins on my spending a little bit. I’m not talking about going on some kind of “Bucket List” journey around the world, although that would be fun. And I’m not talking about blowing all my money or refusing to save for the future. I have to assume that I will have a future. I expect to live a long time so I’d better be prepared for that. But I am talking about not denying myself as often as I do now.

I’m naturally fiscally conservative and it’s a good thing I am. If I were not, I wouldn’t have had the money to pay for my treatment and I would now be facing debt. So a spending spree isn’t in my nature. I’d never be comfortable with that level of extravagance. But there are times when I say, “Well, we won’t take that trip because it’s expensive, so we’ll go somewhere else.” Or, “We won’t eat at that restaurant because it’s pricey, let’s eat over there.” But yet we have the money to do those things without any impact on our savings or future plans. I’m just in the habit of saying, “No” to things that might be fun because they are more expensive than I’m comfortable with. ?

But after lying on a gurney in a hospital for a night and thinking about the things I wished I’d done in my life, the trips I didn’t take, etc., I have a new attitude. If it is something I really want to do and it would add something to my life, and I can afford it without taking funds from other things, then I ought to go ahead and do it. I now know for certain that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed and that life can be too short. I’ve always considered myself fairly well balanced fiscally, but this experience has made me realize that I might be erring on the side of denying myself too often.

That’s not to say that this is carte blanche for me to do and have everything I’ve ever wanted. It’s not. I’ll still have to make careful choices. I know I won’t be able to take every trip I desire or do everything I want to do. I just don’t have enough money for that and, unless I win the lottery, I probably never will. In order to continue to save for the future and meet my needs and obligations, I’ll still have to be careful with my money. I’ll have to choose between that trip to Alaska or the trip to Europe. At least this year. I’ll still shop for deals to bring the price down because I don’t want to waste money, no matter whether my life is short or long. But I am resolving to do better at making those choices, instead of just ruling everything out because its price tag is a little higher than I’d like.

There’s a balance, and I’m vowing to get better at achieving that balance. It’s good to be fiscally conservative. It’s good to have money in the bank and to know that your future is taken care of. But it’s also good to appreciate today and to enjoy what your life has to offer, even if it’s sometimes more expensive than you’d like. As long as you aren’t jeopardizing your future or your present by indulging, and you can truly afford your indulgences, there’s something to be said for doing the things you want to do while you still have time. Just don’t justify extravagance in the face of fiscal irresponsibility with the “life is short excuse.” Whether life is short or long, basic needs come first, followed by preparation for the long future I hope you have. Once those are secure, find the balance between enjoying life today and preparing for the future. I know I’ll be working on that.

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13 Responses to Life is Short: Loosen the Reins on Spending?

  1. Monkey Mama says:

    My parents grew up very poor and always had a TIGHT rein on the money. Didn’t help they moved from rural Kansas to somewhere with an insanely high cost of living. They did quite well, but they didn’t feel they had much to enjoy.

    But when I was about 10, my aunt died very suddenly. Aenurysm. She was the healthiest of everyone, and very young, and she just dropped dead one day.

    My parents totally changed their tune so I was lucky to grow up with a fair amount of balance, through most of my childhood. We splurged a lot more after I was 10, for sure. I can think my aunt – she really changed the way we view life.

    As an adult I think we have a good balance and I realize most people really don’t. I realize it was a blessing to be raised in that matter – to put savings and security first, but I never got the whole deprivation thing. I think we have a lot more material things than most of the frugal crowd (that we enjoy) but also a lot more financial security than most of our peers. Win-win. You can have it both ways. 😀

    BTW, glad you are okay – how scary!

  2. M E 2 says:

    I think it is a double-edged sword.

    How often do we hear of people who scrimped and saved all their adult lives, never took a vacation, never ate out, never went to the theater, etc. All this was so that once they had retired, they could become a globe-trotting, world traveler. And within 6 months to 1 year of retirement, they passed away. What a waste!

    As with anything / all things . . . it is not about deprivation but moderation.

  3. Joan says:

    How often do I hear that, M E 2? Never. I’ve never known anyone who lived in complete self-denial during their working years with plans to spend it all when they retired. So I have never known an ascetic who retired and then within 6 months died, leaving their money unspent.

    If you are a middle class USAmerican, chances are the message of this blog does not apply to you. Most still need the topic of this website, “savings advice.”

  4. ThriftoRama says:

    You have to have balance. My In-laws did nothing but scrimp and save. No vacations no nothing. Retirement was their only goal. hey both got cancer and almost died 5 years before retirement. And now that they ARE retired, they are wishing they had done more.

  5. SaveForHouse says:

    Like this article a lot, very well written. I personally see splurging once in a while as a motivator to save more diligently. Even though I’m working hard to save for my first house, I decided to buy a sports car that set me back a bit. Why? I use my car every single day and enjoy it a ton! Adding to my daily personal enjoyment is worth it. Also, it has motivated me to work and save even harder. It has set me back from my overall savings goal, but you have to splurge on yourself once in a while. A strategy that has worked for me also is “save up $x” and when I reach that goal I’ll buy myself something special.

  6. AJ says:

    One of my very good friends, several years before retirement, all he talked about was retiring. The last several years of his life were working towards retirement. On the day of his retirement party, the last day of his working life, he had a major heart attack and passed away. Still to this day I think of him. He missed out because he was saving everything for retirement. I have a slogan – “save for a rainy day but don’t miss all the sunny ones.” Essentially, enjoy the now as well as prepare for the latter.

  7. xinecho says:

    I love this article very much, thank you,

  8. Robin says:

    I’ve been having similar thoughts myself lately. I realize that while I am good about not spending money on unnecessary “things”, I need to be a little more willing to spend money on experiences/trips, etc that help me grow in my connections with family and friends.

    And Joan, I work for hospice, and I see what ME2 is referring to all the time. It is very sad. However, I also see people who become ill, and lose everything they have because they didn’t have sufficient savings. And now they and their family’s losses are multiplied, at the most difficult time of their lives. We just have to try to enjoy every day, focus on spending our hard earned dollars on what counts most, and prepare for whatever may come our way.

    I really appreciated this article!

  9. Ana G. R. says:

    Great article. I’m teary eyed. Life is beautiful, you just proved it.

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  12. Gail says:

    Three weeks after marrying my hubby I came down with a virus which turn on my arthritis to full boil and became disabled. All our plans for what we wanted to, how much money would be coming in, etc. went down the tubes. Plans and goals had to be reset (once we knew I was going to live as it wasn’t a sure thing then). I still enjoy life, but it isn’t what had been planned for. I’m just glad that I was financially prudent and still am. But I have learned to literally take time to smell the roses!

  13. Oasdg says:

    First off-thank goodness you’re okay. It can be really scary when you have a sudden onset allergy like that!

    Secondly, I have very mixed feelings about this. I’ve noticed that most of the time when I hear people saying that they can’t take it with them, or things along those lines, they’re not preparing for other things. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of family losses this year, one of whom was a very young single mother. And none of them had planned for their passing. It’s been a very emotionally hard time for all of us, but with the sheer number of losses this year, it’s also been extremely difficult financial time for the family(ies).

    Although, I also agree that you should be able to enjoy the income you have, I also feel like people shouldn’t use it as an excuse to not plan for the future of their loved ones.

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