Everywhere you look, people are writing about ways to cut “unnecessary” expenses from their lives. People are constantly looking for new and inventive ways to save and hoard every penny they can. Saving for retirement, and the future in general seems to be an obsession. Maybe it’s the effects of several economic failures in the US over the last decade. Perhaps it’s the financial media’s focus on the fact that the US has an abysmal savings rate as a whole. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with funding your private pension and keeping an eye toward the future, there seems to be a big part of the picture being ignored, perhaps tragically so: today.
So much of the focus in personal finance journalism tends to be on the future but no one seems to be talking about living in the here and now. There are several reasons why this intense and narrow focus on obsessive saving and future planning needs to be addressed:
Tomorrow is not guaranteed
This is perhaps the most obvious reason. We see and hear about it every day: peoples’ lives being cut short either due to the malice of others, bad luck with health issues, natural disasters, or whatever other circumstances happen to be the cause. Benjamin Franklin famously coined the phrase:
The only certainties in life are death and taxes”
This may be a very dark and morbid view, but it cannot be more accurate and should not be ignored. You can stash as much money away as you would like. You can deprive yourself of anything you wish in the name of saving. You can avoid spending money on anything that you don’t consider to be a need as much as you want. The simple truth of the matter is that there is no guarantee the day you designate for being able to start spending that money will ever come.
Besides, what is the point of making money if you aren’t able to enjoy at least some of those spoils while you are still alive and able to?
Speaking of which…
You can’t take it with you
As far as I know, none of us are Egyptian Pharaohs, meaning that none of us will be buried with our treasures and worldly possessions to take with us to the afterlife (if you even believe in that). You simply cannot spend any of the money you stockpiled when you are dead. Having decades worth of maxed out retirement accounts, savings accounts overflowing with cash, brokerage accounts flush with investments that will support your lifestyle for many years to come, income producing investments that will continue to supply you with positive cash flows for as long as you will possible need are all great if you can take advantage of them. You need to be alive for any of that to matter.
Sure, you can leave your wealth to future generations or choose to be philanthropic with it, but if that wasn’t the original plan, then all of that effort and dedication to scrimping and saving will go to waste.
And while we’re on the subject of wasted efforts…
You aren’t indestructible or immortal
Physical limitation impact your future plans. It’s great to have grand plans, and the discipline to follow through on those plans. The bad part is that many times things do not go according to plan. The reason is simple: life gets in the way. How many people do you know who, as they enter the latter stages in life regret not doing some things while they were younger? This happens quite often as so many people do not take life into account when planning for the future. They talk about working hard during their prime years in order to travel or spend their golden years doing the things they enjoy with no financial worries. While they are working hard, sacrificing certain amenities and cutting every corner possible time is taking its toll on their bodies, and life is wearing on them.
Health is a very important consideration when it comes to seeing those dreams and plans come to fruition. There are many things that simply cannot be done at an advanced age from a physical standpoint. There is simply no denying that fact. What do you do when you are ready to retire but your body won’t let you accomplish or enjoy any of the things you put off until this time? Will you look back and wonder “what if”?
This doesn’t meant that you shouldn’t stop thinking about the future or stop looking for ways to save on the things you enjoy. While there is nothing wrong with saving, a balance needs to be found. One of my personal quotes is “live for today while keeping an eye on the future”. I think that it would be wise for others to do so as well. Life is meant to be lived, and by allowing it to pass you by for the sake of saving for the ideal future which may never come can lead to huge regrets.
How do you achieve the balance between living in the moment and planning for the future? Do you consider yourself to be obsessed with the future? Have you lost sight of the importance of living for today?
This article was featured in Carnival of Personal Finance #363 – Never Forget