Why I Don’t Save Money

By Rebecka O.

Six years, 3 months and 13 days ago my mother died and changed the way that I look at money. She had always been frugal and a constant saver. When she passed away, she had an estate worth more than $1.5 million which had been accumulated on the small wages of being a house maid over 60 years.

I was shocked when I heard the amount of the estate. I knew that my mom had enough money to meet her necessities, but didn’t think she had much more than that. My mother lived in a tiny 2 bedroom one bath house where I had grown up sharing a room through high school with my sister. It was cramped. Who could use the bathroom was always a daily battle. My mom constantly talked about how she would love to have more space if she could afford it, and $1.5 million was more than enough to buy a place with more space.

But far beyond the amount, it was what she hadn’t done with it that shocked me most. My mother had dreams. She often talked about how she would like to one day travel to Paris and Rome. She wanted to see a Broadway show and walk by Niagara Falls. Living near the east coast, she often said that she had seen the sun rise over the ocean many times, but that it would be fun to see it set over the ocean once. And she wanted to see a penguin in the wild. I don’t even remember why she wanted to do this, but she mentioned it on more than one occasion. She never pursued any of these dreams even though she had the money to do so.

To this day it still bothers me why she didn’t take some of that money and make her dreams come true. Had she been so frugal all those years that no matter how much she had in the bank, she didn’t feel like she had enough to spend a little on herself? Was she saving it with a misguided thought that the money would be better given to others rather than spent on herself? Why hadn’t she done all those things that she told us time and again that she wanted to do when she had the means to do them?

Until the death of my mother I had been frugal and a saver, too. I was debt free, had a nice amount socked away in retirement accounts and a fully funded emergency fund. I had foregone a lot of my own dreams in order to save money for the future when I would have the time and the money to pursue them.

My mother would have told me to save the $300,000 that I inherited from her for a rainy day. In the six years since she died, I have spent it all. I no longer have a large emergency fund. I am still debt free, but I have even raided some of the money in my retirement accounts. I have spent this money on making sure that I will fulfil my dreams before I die.

I do not regret spending the money. I do not regret not saving as much as the experts say that I should. What I do regret is that I was only able to learn this lesson through the death of my mother.

Do you have a story about saving money or earning money that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it.

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21 Responses to Why I Don’t Save Money

  1. Nothing in the world is as enlightening as the death of a loved one. A great life plan includes eliminating debt, keeping fixed expenses to a minimum so you don’t need a high income,buying durable goods that you Really need, and living your days, because the’re only a short number of thems.

  2. Broken Arrow says:

    Eh… this is a tough one.

    I am very, very sorry to hear about your mother.

    I think you are both right. When you have dreams and when you have amassed enough money to realize those dreams without slipping into a financial nightmare, it truly is a shame not live those dreams.

    However… I think the title of this article is rather provocative and misleading. I don’t think it means that we shouldn’t save money at all. Because even if we do become debt free, if we have no money saved for our future, then our dreams will still remain just that. Dreams we hope for, but still can’t have.

    When you think about it, I think your mother did a beautiful thing. She gave you a chance to realize some of your dreams early, whereas if she was as frugal as she was, it would not have been possible.

    I hope that many more will learn to save like your mother, but at the same time, I also hope that many more will learn to live as you have.

  3. Joan.of.the.Arch says:

    I don’t think your Mom was unreasonable to think that she might use and need $1.5 million after age 60. If she did take those trips she could happily go through quite a bit quite quickly. I mean, look how fast you yourself managed to go through $300k. Then she might to extra going to visit you (and other family). I know my Dad travelled and visited family much more after he retired. Then she might need later to pay for household help, perhaps for home care, perhaps for a myriad of chores that previously she had done for herself. Then, perhaps she was going to live to be 100+. She would have continued to have medical expenses, upkeep and repairs on her home, (new roof? new furnace? sidewalk & driveway repair? new AC? painting? tuckpointing?). utilities, taxes, perhaps car or local transportation expenses. Things not covered by Medicare like dental work, hearing aids, some special medical assistance goods, etc. And prices on those things were going to continue to rise over the 40 more years your Mom might have lived, but her income was probably not going to increase in accordance.

  4. Jen says:

    I think it’s a balancing act and following some pat advice is good like having no debt, putting away money for an emergency fund (sickness, illness, repair) having a retirement fund and having insurance!

    Aside from that, I understand the point of the author’s story — what good does 1.5 million do when you are dead? I think she wishes her mother spent more of that money on herself and enjoying life than on being so frugal.

    I might regret purchasing clothes or spending money on a dinner out, but I never regret EXPERIENCES. Seeing loved ones and spending TIME with them, traveling, and enriching my mind and body, are, to me, always worth it. You can still be frugal about it, but I think it’s money well spent.

    Taking care of ourselves is important. It surprises me how people will not go to regular physical check ups, have health insurance, or deny themselves membership to a health club because it costs, “too much.” We take better care of our cars than we do our own bodies.

  5. Scanner says:

    I do agree with the mantra to travel while you are young. . .get it out of your system and then just work and take care of your family as you get older.

    I want to see 3 places and then I am “done” – anything else is just extra or cake (cruises, Carribean, Disne). I plan to do this by age 50 and hopefully, I can marry it with work.

    That being said, beyond just “dreams and leisure” – there is a practical purpose to saving that the author is ignoring – that you actually may need the money for “necessities” rather than just items of leisure. You can’t nor shouldn’t expect young workers to totally fund your necessities in retirement (the structure of SSI).

    I’d ask you to reconsider your radical position and become more centrist in your philosophy on saving and not expect your children/taxpayors to support you.

  6. raghubilhana says:

    Your mother might have died without her dreams being fulfilled. But I bet you that she died peacefully knowing that she is leaving her kids a secure and sound financial backup. You can have any amount of materialistic dreams and these sort of dreams do not stop. If you have some dreams then I by all means would say, go ahead and fulfill them. But my theory is that you should not live your life chasing dreams and trying to fulfill them because if you did so, then there would not be a limit to the dreams.
    The way I see it is that your mother considered leaving a huge fortune to her children a bigger source of satisfaction to her, than visiting Rome or Paris or any other dream.

    I think you made a mistake to spend it all.

  7. Monkey Mama says:

    Balance is important. Balance has been learnt in our family through similar deaths. But there still have been plenty of rainy days to save for.

    & let’s face it – saving some dreams for the future makes life interesting. Doing it all “now” means little to look forward to.

    I actually don’t look at spending a $300k windfall as terribly “excessive,” but continuing to spend and raid your retirement and emergency fund, seems rather reckless, in my opinion. In my young life I have found it is far easier to follow my dreams with a little money in the bank. Then again, there is not a lot of happiness that money could buy me. The whole premise here is that one needs a lot of money to be happy and to purse their dreams. Not everyone needs that.

  8. Making decisions as an emotional response to the death of a loved one is rarely a good idea. I would put yours in that category. You should have spent some of your Mother’s bequest on counseling that would help you understand what your Mother did and how you should react to it. The way your are heading, your heirs will shake their heads in wonderment at your lack of financial discipline. Before you die, you may be having nightmares.

  9. NJDebbie says:

    I agree that one should enjoy life while you can, but I think you should have honored your mother’s sacrifices and saved some of your inheritance.

  10. Brenda Stinson says:

    Your Mother, the caring lady that she was had dreams that she spoke of, but it sounds as though her real dreams was to see her children have an easier life. The real dream was to leave the mney to her children. She would have liked to see her children have fun with the money she left then, but she would have also liked to see you save some of it for the future. In her memory, you should select an amount and start saving today and speak of how you enjoyed the things that your Mother made it so easy for you to have………..

  11. tripods says:

    I do agree that you should enjoy what money you can afford to spend. However, I do agree with the others that you should have save some inheritance money your mother saved her entire life.

  12. Paula says:

    I personally feel that balance is the key. I grew up lower middle class. My father wasn’t one to spend any money unless it was on beer or tools. Even now, he has quite a savings stashed away and won’t spend a penny of it to enjoy himself. Yes, I understand his reasoning that he is retiring in a few years and wants all the money he can get saved now.

    But, I also have seen what happens when you don’t enjoy yourself while you are still able to. My mother’s father died at the age of 55, worked hard all of his life, and never got to enjoy it. My “nana” did though! She never worked much in her life and now is in a 55+ apartment complex. She is on her third relationship and HE doesn’t look like he is long for this world either.

    Having said all of the above, I do know what it is like to save money AND enjoy it, and I have my Gram to thank for that (my father’s mother). She and Grampy both worked hard all their lives, grew up during the depression era, but knew how to enjoy themselves. I was just thirteen years old when my grandfather died, but I remember Gram was always a saver and would take some money out and we would travel and have fun with it while she was alive. Sadly, she died in ’95 of Alzheimer’s, but I can honestly say that she enjoyed her life to the fullest and I carry many of her life lessons with me to this day.

  13. Pat Merritt says:

    I’ve thought about this post for quite a few days since it came on. First of all, its an excellent reminder that frugality is different from a tendency to horde. (I’m not saying your Mom was hording, but it seems like she didn’t know when it was safe to go for her dreams). One of the reasons I was frugal before was to take care of my husband, and to survive on one income, because the hubby didn’t work. Now I’m divorced, after a pretty nasty betrayal, and I’m being frugal for me. I’m being frugal to have some control in my life. I have dreams I want to fulfill, and frugality gives me the opportunity to do just that. Because I am frugal I was able to spend two lovely weeks with my family for the first time in 10 years. It did me a world of good.

    One of the wild things I did on vacation was to purchase a piece of art. It was only $185, but it was so breathtakingly beautiful, that I cry just remembering it. I want my life to be filled with beauty, and having that on my wall will make me smile every morning. To someone else this was a waste a money. But in my small universe, it was empowering and enriching.

    You see, frugality is not just saving for retirement, or a nebulous future that may not come. Its also getting the things that you really want now. Its a decision making mechanism that lets you decide what is important to you and to set out and get the things that really matter. For some of us, it may be staying at home with our kids, it may be surviving as a single person on a limited income, and it may be the goal of an early retirement with sufficient funding to meet some unrealized dreams. It doesn’t mean we don’t go for short term goals, or live only hoping for a future that may be cut short by an accident or heart attack.

    I’m glad you have gone for meeting dreams. That is glorious and good. And I’m glad you used the money from your mom to meet some of those dreams.

    Just don’t forget future dreams too. Try to take care of yourself in all ways and with balance.

    Thank you for your share. It touched me.

  14. Peter Luke says:

    First of all, my condolences to you.

    I think it’s all about priorities. Your mom must have felt that she was more comforted with the thought of having a large sum put away. I know lots of people who prefer this line of thought.

    As what the others commented, it’s a matter of striking a balance between saving and living a full life.

    It all boils down to what we value the most.

  15. I absolutely agree with this post, and I think it’s what most of the readers of this site really need to hear.

    What matters the most in this world is the relationships we form, not the wealth we amass. We come into this world with nothing, and we will leave it with nothing — except for the relationships we’ve formed.

    I just don’t buy the argument some set for that ‘she might have needed that 1.5 million’. She could have made most of her dreams come true off of the interest. The problem there is she was more committed to leaving the largest possible estate than to fulfilling any of her own dreams.

    I see this problem in my own parents. They are more worried about leaving an inheritance than they are about buying a plane ticket to come see me. Last time they were here, I told them that I simply want to enjoy them while they’re alive, rather than have any of their stinky money when they’re dead. They owe us children nothing! My wishes are for them to spend their money LIVING! All of it. I want to be able to take their last 40k, bury them, and smile because they truly LIVED their life.

  16. gaelicwench says:

    I got traveling out of my blood when I was younger and while in and married to the military. So, it was all pretty much by default.

    Now that I have the bug out of my system to a certain extent, I can focus on other dreams I would love to see come to fruition. They’re more along the lines of goals, actually. And with those goals come the need for money. So, I need to keep saving until I have enough to do this.

    In the meantime, I will not cut cable service. I enjoy being home after working hard and being on my feet for hours at a time. That is how I veg out. I do watch more educational shows than anything else. I have cut cell phone cost by 90%. Internet, tv and phone is bundled. I am saving $55.00 a month as a result. Things like this can add up to a tidy sum after a while.

    We all have our own individual ways to do what’s necessary to live frugally. So, what works for one person isn’t necessarily going to work for me. Lastly, I am working on being a hyper-miler to save gas. So far, so good.

    Nothing wrong with being frugal, but by all means, make use of what you saved before you pass away. You only live once, as goes the old cliche.

  17. Gail says:

    Sounds like you are mad at your mom for denying you a more financially fruitful life (mentioning fighting for bathroom time, small cramped rooms) and then dieing and leaving all this money behind. That was her choice just like you are making a choice to spend now. Just remember as you are digging into your retirement funds to finance your dreams now, you don’t have another mother to die and leave you money to bail you out of debt.

    I’m glad I had a chance to experience some of my life dreams, but not as many as I hoped for before illness set up camp in my body. Would I have saved the money instead if I knew my working life would have been cut short? Maybe. Maybe I would have done lots of things differently, but it is too late to go back and change the past. Forgive your mom, thank her for the gift she left you and move on.

  18. Susan says:

    This is interesting and at first glance, maybe a little sad, but then it occurred to me that perhaps your mother enjoyed living frugally. And even though she had dreams, maybe the dream was more fun than the reality. In other words, maybe the journey of working hard to save so that she could leave it to her children was more rewarding than trips or remodeling her little home. Frugality becomes a way of life and I’ll bet it thrilled your mother to no end to be able to save like that and pass it on to her children. And I do think that she would love to know that you are enjoying it now.

  19. baselle says:

    First – my condolences and my thoughts are with you.

    Second – isn’t there a middle ground here? Your mother saved, and saved and saved, while you spent and spent and spent all at once. Each of you were “all in” in your decision. Why not the strategy of spending a bit and cross off a couple dreams off the bat, save most to replenish and go for round 2…then rinse and repeat?

  20. Elizabeth says:

    I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. However, I think not saving is foolish. You never know what the future will hold, God forbid something catastrophic happens with your health or home, more likely than not you will need some savings at some point in the future. I know I won’t be able to survive on a monthly basis with just Social Security when I retire. I want to be able to take a trip too…but I live frugally and don’t need to do a $10K trip or something equally extravagant. There is a happy medium. Living simply is my goal in life. I don’t need a big fancy house or new car.

    I just don’t think I could blow through $300K in 6 years knowing it took my parents ten times as long to save it. But we all live with our choices. I hope you don’t find yourself in a position where you need money for anything significant someday or you may regret the spending spree. Best of luck.

  21. Balance says:

    Thanks for this story. My parents were (are are) extremely frugal. As kids we always went without luxuries in the interest of saving. And I will be honest….I resented it. In their early 60s, they are now comfortably retired, and still frugal.

    Now, in my more middle years, I find myself debt free with a nice income and a nice savings cushion, butt reluctant to spend money on things that genuinely matter to me, like travel.

    As I dithered about a (low-cost) trip to Rome, my mother told me this: “I regret not spending money on things like that when I was young and working. Then, I thought it was more important to save. Now, I’m too afraid to spend my principal because I can’t replace it, and I have other obligations. Just go and stop being afraid like I was.

    I went. And will continue to make those types of choices now. You can always work longer, but you can’t get back your life.

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