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.