I read Die With Zero by Bill Perkins on September 2, 2022

I read this book just after being introduced to Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps, which for their obvious flaws, have helped many people climb out of debt. Die With Zero is written for people who already know that they should live below their means and save for retirement—an audience that does not overlap with Ramsey’s. Bill Perkins writes to people who are likely to oversave for retirement, and asks readers to consider a different way of looking at money.

Instead of maximizing your life for the largest retirement savings account, Perkins suggests living a life where life enjoyment is optimized. He doesn’t suggest spending lavishly, but he does put an emphasis on using your money intentionally. Money is only useful for what it can buy and because it’s so easy to delay present enjoyment for a greater reward later, it’s possible to miss out on enjoyment in the process. Money is only worth what it can buy you. It’s worthless on its own.

The Die With Zero mindset considers investment in human capital and unquantifiable returns in addition to typical investments. A trip to Europe is a great example. Timing is critical. You could do this trip while in your 20’s with little savings, or wait until your 30’s when you have a little more in the bank. Sure, saving aggressively when you’re young is important. Compound interest rewards you well. But waiting too long to take the trip to Europe, might leave you feeling too old to stay in a hostel or you could now have kids that make taking a month-long trip away from them feel foolish. And this doesn’t even consider the impact of a changed worldview from the trip. You can’t put a number that. Moreover, who’s to say you’ll even benefit from the difference in savings by delaying the trip. You might be unable to use the money you saved so diligently because you are physically incapable of doing some of the things you always dreamed of doing.

This book helped me reevaluate the way I look at spending and saving. Dying with no money in the bank is an impossible task because no one knows when they will die, but Perkins says you can try to get close. Dying with no money in the bank seems selfish at first because it sounds like you are leaving no inheritance and give nothing to charity. Perkins just means that he doesn’t want to die with money in the bank that doesn’t have a purpose. He intentionally sets aside money to be donated and for his kids.

Perkins also wants to give most of his kids’ inheritance to them while he is alive. He could put an amount aside now and let compound interest do its magic, but the longer he waits to give his kids their inheritance, the less utility of the money. Less money given to a 25-year-old can have a much bigger impact than more given to a 50-year-old. Most people already own a home at age 50 and they probably already have everything they need, but at age 25, someone might be looking to put a downpayment on a house for the first time. Perkins wants to use his inheritance where the value of the money given is greater than its face value, like in this situation. Receiving money would greatly accelerate the process of saving for a downpayment.

Personally, trying to die with no money in the bank when I die is far too extreme for me, but the thought experiments in this book have changed the way I see money forever.

I fully recommend this book. Please read it.