On a recent visit to the local library I picked up a random book from the non-fiction display table, Die with Zero by Bill Perkins (affiliate link.) Interesting title.

Within this book Mr. Perkins presents a life philosophy and a set of 9 rules to “get all you can from your money and your life.” At the heart of things is the idea to spend every penny you have, to die with absolutely no money remaining.

I think the ideas are worth a perusal by anybody considering retirement (early or otherwise) – worst case it will challenge some core assumptions. Best case – new thinking will enable leaving the work force years early.

Die With Zero

The idea to die with zero isn’t new. In the movie Oceans 12, Saul Bloom calmly states, “I want my last check to bounce.”

There is something a little romantic (morbid?) about spending your last dollar with your final breath. I’m a big fan of utilizing every dollar we have or will have before “skidding broadside into the grave.”

Perhaps that is why this book caught my eye.

The overarching approach to life and money management in Die with Zero is roughly as follows:

You are going to die.
But before you do, you will decline – certainly physically, but perhaps mentally. Do the things you want to do before your body rejects your ambitions. Summer in Paris is more fun at 45 than 85.

Die with zero
Every excess dollar at death is wasted time – time spent working for more that was (in hindsight) completely unnecessary. You should have retired earlier – or – spent more money creating memories. Or both.

Invest in (quality) memories
Memories pay dividends every time you think back or tell a story. Shared memories with friends and family multiply the return. Memories at age 20 pay greater dividends than memories at age 60 due to the time factor.

We retire on our memories
Reflecting on our past is the most common activity for the elderly. If you have only memories of the office, retirement may be boring and empty. Invest in memories for the long term.

I think there is a lot of benefit to this view on life.

Early retirement enthusiasts often err on the side of (extreme) caution, saving too much, spending too little, waiting too long…

But the odds are in our favor that we will die with a great deal of money. Compound interest is an incredible thing.

Better to spend some of that sweet sweet moola on good times in the here and now.

Which leads to some of the general criticisms of this life approach discussed in the book:

Won’t somebody think of the children?!
Money planned for inheritance doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to your kids.  Instead of giving a random amount of money to them on a random date (when you die) give them money now – for college, home down payment, wedding, car, etc… As a bonus, since we are still alive we get to share the experience and benefits with our children (“creating memories.”)

What about end of life care?
We may need critical care at the end of life – in that situation, one of two things happens: the government pays for it (insurance) or you die. It’s not possible to save for a bill of that magnitude, so why waste years of the best time of your life toiling away just so you can spend all that money to extend pain and suffering for a few days at the end. Many good years are worth much more than a few bad days.

Living too long
It would be scary to outlive the life expectancy tables and run out of money when there is still an abundance of vitality remaining. Sure, that would be bad. That is what annuities and reverse mortgages are for if you happen to be really into bicycles, barbells, and salads (and have incredible genes.)

My thoughts

We humans tend to like things with which we are familiar and in agreement – as a relatively young retiree who spends more than is necessary, I enjoyed seeing another approach to “getting all you can from your money and your life.”

Early retirees tend to be a conservative bunch – the more conservative you are, the more this book may benefit you.

Take a moment and find peace with your own mortality. Quit working earlier. Spend more. Sounds good!

All that said, there are a few areas where I think Mr. Perkins’ recommendations are sub-par.

The author recommends spending all of your income (and then some, maybe) when you are early in your working life, because “you will make so much more later.” This is “worth it” because the memories of backpacking around Europe at age 20 (or whatever) will create a lifetime of memories.

Thing is – you can create happy / positive memories in many ways that don’t involve getting the clap in a hostel in Istanbul and actually cost much less

For example, we took a very aggressive approach to saving early on. We treated it like a game and many of our best memories were birthed as a result – For example, is it true that our honeymoon cost $0? Yes it is. Did we also have a second free honeymoon in Hawaii? Yes, that is also true. Great memories at a great price.

And while Die with Zero is a nice catchphrase, and I’m fully on board with people working less and spending more, I think it is a terrible goal.

Why? Because the difference between dying with zero and dying with millions of dollars is extremely small. Using the prototypical example of spending $40k/year on a $1 million portfolio (i.e. the 4% rule scenario) – in some historical cases spending $39,600 per year results in runaway portfolio growth but spending $40k means no money after 30 years. In what universe are we unable to create great memories by spending 1% less?

Or… live really well for a time whilst spending a little less. Then, when the compound interest curve goes to the moon, spend more. Just because you accept that you are going to die in 30, 50, 80 years doesn’t mean that we can’t pause to do a little math.

Wait just a smidge. Spend a teeny bit less. Then go big.


The book Die with Zero by Bill Perkins (affiliate link) is a good read and worth the time investment. It’s probably available at your local library.

Taking a moment to reflect on our own mortality is always a good idea. Using that perspective to guide our saving and spending is also good – Every dollar we have at death represents wasted time is a powerful idea.

Dying with zero is a goal much like “I want to be a better person.” We get some benefit just for trying. Many can benefit from the idea to save less / spend more.

However, since the annual spending limit difference between Die with Zero and Die with Millions is often small, I think it better to let compound interest have just a bit of a longer leash… thus increasing the odds that we can have it all.

I have added Die with Zero to my recommending reading list.

Do you plan to Die with Zero?

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