You Only Live Once, So Don’t Blow It

you only live once

A woman that I know casually from church recently lost her husband. He died after a long illness at the young age of forty-two. Any way you look at it, it’s a tragedy. However, there is one bright spot. The husband had a large life insurance policy in place and, since the couple was frugal during their marriage, the wife is not left with a ton of debt to pay off. Once everything is settled, she’ll end up well prepared financially for the future and, with careful planning, may not need to work unless she chooses to.

She recently returned to Sunday school and in the midst of the condolences and well wishes, some insensitive lout says, “I guess when you take your trips now, you’ll have to take them in memory of Keith,” in reference to the fact that the couple had always planned to take lots of great trips when they retired. They were always full of plans for how they would travel and the things they would do when they retired and had plenty of free time. They talked incessantly about the places they wanted to see.

While the woman sort of dodged the comment made by Mr. Insensitive, another jerk says, “This is why I always say, ‘You only live once so you’d better make today count. I’m doing what I want to do today before I die.'” This time, the woman spoke up. “Yes, and if we’d traveled and done all those things we wanted to do, I’d be broke right now.” She went on to say how they had deliberately chosen to limit their travels and other indulgences so that they could build a strong future. They wanted to make certain that their immediate future would be secure while they also plowed money into their retirement and “future fun” accounts. To that end, they lived frugally and kept their indulgences small — things like camping trips, vacations to visit family, etc. The big stuff would wait.

Of course, no one could know that things wouldn’t turn out like they planned. Now those trips will never happen. This is where conventional thought says that you should live for today because you’re not guaranteed a tomorrow. You should take those trips and do all the things you want to do today and damn the financial consequences because you don’t want to die with a lot of regrets. This woman, however, missed out on her trips with her husband but still has no regrets. Why? Is she just odd?

A couple of weeks after the Sunday school incident, I saw the woman at a charity event. I sort of attempted to apologize for the insensitive people in the class saying that they just didn’t know what to say. She said that it was okay, she wasn’t upset. She said that she understood why they would think they way they did. Most people think, she said, that the things you don’t do leave you with regrets. For her and her husband that wasn’t the case. They had no regrets and the things they didn’t do ended up giving them peace, instead.

She shared this with me: Not long after her husband was diagnosed, she commented how sorry she was that they’d missed out on their plans and how she wished that maybe they’d gone ahead and done some of the things that they talked about. The husband said that he didn’t wish that. He was glad that they’d been careful with their money and that they had enough saved for her to live comfortably. He was glad they hadn’t traveled when they couldn’t really afford it, because with his diagnosis he’d be regretting every trip and expenditure, not looking back on them with fondness. Knowing that his wife would be taken care of and comfortable gave him more peace than any trip or travel memory ever could. He went to his grave at peace, knowing that his wife would be okay, at least financially.

The point of this sad story is that this belief that you have to do what you want to do now, because you only live once even if you can’t afford it, is often wrong. Doing that can lead to great memories but if the worst happens, it can also saddle you with a boatload of regrets. Those memories can become sour when you start thinking, “If we just had that $5,000 from that cruise, we could pay the mortgage.” There is a fine line to walk between enjoying your life and living in such a way that if the worst should happen, those left behind won’t be left with a lot of souvenirs and memories but no resources.

Whenever I hear someone trot out the “I could die tomorrow,” excuse for overspending, I’m going to remember this story. It’s not a question of, “Will I die tomorrow so should I go ahead and blow this money?” but, “If I die tomorrow will my loved ones be all right financially, or will my overspending leave them vulnerable?” Having fun is fine and certainly needs to be part of everyone’s life. However, fun (expensive fun, that is, there’s plenty of free fun) needs to come after other things are in place such as security for your loved ones. Otherwise the regrets won’t be about the things you didn’t do, but the things you did.

(Photo courtesy of doeth)

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8 Responses to You Only Live Once, So Don’t Blow It

  1. Alexandria says:

    So True!! For the most part, people who pass so young are whoafully unprepared with life insurance and wills and the like. That is a truly bright spot for this woman.

    I can add another layer to this story. My spouse was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2009. There was a time we weren’t sure what the outcome would be (turns out was treatable and he is 99% now and should be for a long time). When you experience a diagnosis like that you seriously evaluate your life. Always being fiscally conservative, we had already achieved our important dreams (having a family was paramount to my spouse, we had bought our dream home very young and stuff like that). But, of course, those were *our* priorities and so the other things did not matter. So I Said, “should we cash out some of our life savings and do something we never got a chance to do? Like go to Egypt?” We clearly had the means to pay cash for a trip like that whether he made it or not. My spouse’s reply? “What would I care about that? I only want to spend every minute I have left with my family. Here. At home with my family.”

    Today I absolutely cringe when people say that some big vacation will make their life whole or “is worth going into debt over because you only live once.” Because I think it’s generally accepted that if it’s a non-material splurge that it means more. & all I can think of is how little anything of the sort really means at the end.

    On the flip side, we had talked very seriously about holding off having kids many years to pay off our house first. *That* would have been our biggest regret ever. I kept thinking what if this all had happened when we had a newborn, if I was pregnant, or if we were still childless? That would have been my spouse’s #1 big regret, but he knew himself well enough not to take that risk. I was *so* thankful to face this challenge with older children and that my dh had devoted his life to raising them for the prior 7 years or so (true to his heart, not what society thought he should be doing: working full-time). It can certainly go both ways – I do know people who passed young who never truly *lived.* Just to say you can over-save and put off everything that is important. A little middle ground is good. But *spending money* is not what living is about. 😉

  2. Julie says:

    Great article. I love your perspective. Like most, we had less money to travel when our kids were younger, and more now. The funny thing is that some of our families’ fondest vacation memories are from the cheapest trips we took. We traveled the country (been to all 50 states) in our 25 foot trailer. Many nights we would pull into a Walmart and sleep for free…then get up in the AM and let the kids go into the store and pick some donuts, cereal, or some other item for breakfast. Sometimes we would even splurge on a video or game, telling the kids that we could afford it since we traveled so inexpensively. I can actually remember nights where my kids would say, “Do we get to sleep at a Walmart tonight?”

    Any time spent together with family can be memorable. How much you spend is irrelevant. As you stated, many people seem to think it is acceptable to spend money they don’t have on an experience, yet will criticize going into debt for “stuff.”

  3. This is one of those “food for thoought” articles that I so appreciate. Thank you for sharing your experience. Much can be learned from it and the responses.

  4. John | Married (with Debt) says:

    This was such a great story; very uplifting. It reinforces that doing the right thing is always the right thing, no matter what others think.

  5. CarolH says:

    Good article which should provide food for thought for savers and spenders alike. The choice shouldn’t have to be all or nothing…

    When our friends took a trip every year on winter break, they were financing them and paying them off after the fact. When our family took a trip every 3 or 4 years, it was always saved for in advance. And, all of the spending we did on travel was always done after we “paid ourselves” for our retirement first.

    As previous posters have said, travel doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive either.

  6. Living With Debt says:

    Food for thought, I am a saver but every once in a while my other half says what are you saving for, you can’t take it with you. I think you have to balance your spending and saving you don’t want any regrets do you?

  7. Nancy says:

    I used to work with a woman who had the philosophy, “Spend and enjoy life because I’ll die before I can pay off my credit cards”.
    She lived in a run down little house but ate in restaurants every day, bought whatever she wanted, drove a nice car, and was very self indulgent. She didn’t plan for the future, just lived for the moment. She became very obese and was not a happy person, but it just didn’t dawn on her that living for the moment wasn’t working for her. What she thought would make her happy clearly didn’t.

  8. Gail says:

    I’m glad that while I was young my dad was a Greyhound bus driver and we got free passes to go visit relatives across the country every few years. We were as poor as church mice but at least we got to travel. I went to college in Canada and got to take a trip to Colombia during college. So I feel that I got to travel and see lots of not only our country, but other countries as well. Now that illness makes traveling very difficult, I’m glad that I have those experiences to remember. I did want to go to Australia, but it won’t be my dying regret. We try to handle our money well and when possible we get to splurge on little wants. When you aren’t fulfilling ‘wants’ constantly, they mean so much more and don’t break the bank. Because I got sick within three weeks of our getting married and my life changed forever, I would ask hubby if he any regrets. Now when he can give me flowers or a little gift or note, it is always signed “no regrets” and that is what a good marriage is all about.

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