Live Like You Were Dying

by Trent on 30 March 2010

This post by Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar originally appeared at his site on 13 December 2006. The article has been revised for Success Daily.

Many of us have imagined what we’d do with our lives if we had just one year to live. Most of these fantasies involve quitting a job, spending time with loved ones, and traveling around the world.

What’s keeping you from doing this right now? Debt? Responsibilities? Don’t know? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

I sat down recently and considered what I’d do if I knew I had only one year to live. I’d spend it at home, playing with my son, and writing that novel that’s burned inside me for years. I’d write long letters to everyone I ever loved, telling them what they’ve meant to me. I’d take my wife on long walks on cool evenings and kiss her under the starlight.

So, what’s keeping me from doing this?

I want to own a house for my family to live in. I want to have food on the table and to keep that house when I own it. Everything else? Well, it’s all just a balm, isn’t it? Buying new Stuff just keeps me from my dream.

So I made an agreement with myself. In twelve years, I’ll spend a year living like I was dying. By then I’ll have paid off my house, built up at least two years of living expenses, and own every vehicle we have.

The only rules I have in place are that I will not give up my evenings for my son, and I’ll continue to write, because it’s a passion that fuels much of my life.

I invite you to sit down and consider what you would do if you only had a year to live:

  • Would you stay at home with your children?
  • Would you travel around the world?
  • Would you sit out on your front porch and read John Updike novels?
  • Would you go fishing down at the lake every morning and eat fresh fish for dinner every evening?

Then, figure what it would actually cost for you to do this. Assume you’ve paid off everything, but that you’ll need an emergency fund for repairs and insurance. How much would your monthly budget be?

Now you have a goal. What can you do to reach this goal? If you saved 20% of your income each year in an investment with a 10% return, how long would it take for you to reach the point where that investment’s 10% return would produce enough money for you to live like you were dying?

For me, it’s going to take twelve more years. In twelve years, I’ll be 43 years old, and I can live like I was dying for the rest of my life. I might not have that Lexus now, but I’ll have 22 years at the prime of my life to spend with my children and grandchildren, to write the novel that’s inside of me, and to sit on my front porch and watch the sun rise.

Feel free to work until you’re 65; I’d rather live like I was dying.

(And yes, apologies to Tim McGraw for the title of this post.)

J.D.’s note: For more on this notion, check out George Kinder’s three questions about life planning.

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