Life Is Short. So Why Not Buy What You Want?

Life is short. Do not forget about the most important things in our life, living for other people and doing good for them.

-Marcus Aurelius

Life is short. I was reminded of that yesterday when I heard the news that yet another friend’s sister entered Hospice. I’ll spare you the details, because it’s a heart wrenching story. They all are.

Life Is

It wasn’t that long ago that I hugged my friend Pam, both of us sobbing, as we absorbed the news that her sister had three days to live.

Life is short. Eff it. Buy the car, I hear people say. Sometimes death feels like it’s all around, especially with the advent of social media. I’ve watched more distant friends, their spouses and children, suffer cancer, car accidents, the loss of babies. I’ve watched the intimate details of people I was sort-of close to once upon a time live unimaginable, heart-wrenching things. It’s gotten so bad at times that I’ve had to step away from social media and shut it all out. The worst part of so much heartache is that it reminds you that it could happen to you, that you or one of your people could get sick, get in an accident. Reminds you that you, too, are vencible, as Junior ThreeYear likes to say (“That should be a word, right, Mom?”).

If we don’t ever know how long we’ve got on this beautiful planet, why even bother saving for the future? Thinking about the future? Sacrificing now for a better tomorrow?

Here’s why. Because the car doesn’t bring you happiness.

It’s precisely because life is short that we should adopt the self-discipline of saving and investing. The less we need to live on, the more we have in the bank, the more freedom we have. The more choices we have.

And choices bring us happiness. Freedom to choose brings us happiness.

There’s nothing quite like death or the threat of it to bring our priorities into stark relief.

What Really Matters

I sat with my friend Ana the other day as she shared her troubles with me. “I’m so depressed,” she told me, “this winter has been so hard.” She’s lonely, because winter is a time of isolation in New England. If you work full time, and don’t participate in winter sports, you can find yourself isolated all winter long–six or seven endless months–with no one to talk to. People are inside a lot, and there’s not a culture of pot lucks or Supper Clubs in this area.

Ana lost her mother several months ago, and she realized that she’s been missing the most important thing, her family, this winter. They’re far away in Colombia and she and her immediate family are here. She wants nothing more than to be able to be with them now. She wants the freedom of choice.

It’s easy to justify our temporal urges with YOLO or FOMO. And in some cases, taking the trip or traveling the world for a year after college are good decisions. But if those decisions by our present selves mean that our future selves are going to suffer, “Let’s just put the honeymoon to Tahiti on the credit card because, YOLO!” or ,”I’m going to buy the Lamborghini. Life is short! Who cares that I’ll have to work two extra years into retirement to pay for it?”ย  then we’re allowing the emotions of the moment to interfere with our long-term planning.

Put it on the credit card!!

Cognitive Bias

Oftentimes, these decisions can be the affect heuristic at work. A heuristic is a mental shortcut we use to make judgements or decisions more quickly. Most of the time, this allows us to use less mental energy to make pretty good decisions. But sometimes, it leads people to cognitive biases that can significantly impair their ability to make rational decisions.

For example, we estimate the probability of something happening or being true based on its availability in our brain–the availability heuristic. “What’s the most common American last name that begins with L,” you might ask someone, and they’d be convinced it’s Lane because that’s the first name they think of (it’s actually Lewis). People think the probability of being eaten by a shark is high, because shark attacks are highly publicized and easily recalled by the brain, but in actuality, our likelihood of being eaten by a shark is infinitesimally small–much smaller than the likelihood of us falling out of a plane, in fact, or something else equally ridiculous.

The affect heuristic is our tendency to judge benefits or risks based on our feelings in the moment. It’s why you might suddenly decide to marry the man you met last week if he tells you he’s been drafted into the army, regardless of how well you like him. You hear your friend has cancer, and you decide, “That’s it. I’m buying the car.” The emotions of the moment are so great (good or bad) that you overestimate the benefit of getting married or underestimate the risk of making a large purchase on credit.

It’s About One Thing

The older I get, and the more experiences I live through, the more I realize that it’s all about people. Without a doubt, the best decisions I’ve made involve trading short-term and fleeting happiness over buying a thing (a car, a bigger house) for giving myself more time and experiences with the people I love.

Paying off our debt meant I didn’t have to get a full-time job and could continue to be a stay-at-home-mom for my kids. It meant Mr. ThreeYear didn’t come home stressed and worried at night, and could be present for the boys.

Not buying a nicer car meant that we had more money in savings, and therefore more peace of mind. Buying less house than we could afford with a fifteen year mortgage has given us more equity built up, more security, more peace.

It took us a while to get our priorities straight, and we still struggle. But the absolute best decisions we make about money involve ones that give us more opportunity to be together, to do things as a family.

It’s why we’ve realized that our three year experiment is so important. It will give us the freedom to travel as an immediate family, but it will also give us the opportunity to be closer to our larger families. We’ll have the freedom and flexibility to choose where we live, instead of having to live where a job takes us.

Further Reading:

As a younger woman, I bought a BMW X5 (it was used, but still). I bought it so my un-born son would have a safe place to ride. I bought it because it was a reliable car. I also bought it because it was a BMW! Life is short. Why not? And I bought it on credit. That emotional decision I made about buying that car caused me a lot of grief down the road, including being stuck on the side of the road with said son when it broke down on me.

I feel exactly the same driving my Honda Accord with Bubble Guppies stickers on the side. My kids are equally safe. It is a paid-for car, and it’s never broken down on me. Maybe one day down the road we’ll buy another BMW. But it won’t be an emotional decision for the wrong reasons. I won’t give up future freedom with the people I love so that I can look cooler, richer, or sportier. Because the people I love don’t care about that stuff. They just care about being with me.

Life is short. It’s too short to trade a minute of unnecessary time working to pay off something that in the end, won’t bring you more than fleeting happiness. It’s too short to waste one dollar on crap that you’ll dump in a box for Goodwill in ten years.

So if you feel yourself saying, “life is short” anytime soon, take a minute. Pause and think about your motivations. Are you buying something that’s going to give you more time with the people you love, or less? More freedom, or more debt to pay back?

Because life is short.



Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

39 thoughts on “Life Is Short. So Why Not Buy What You Want?”

  1. Life is about maximizing the entire path. Not just today but also not just tomorrow. Too many people focus on one or the other. They also, as you pointed out, fail to see what really makes them happy. Remove the waste and keep the happiness.

  2. There are lots of ways to justify with lots of things. So do justification with your own wants. Waiting for the right time to do something, means one will continue to wait for a perfect moment. Just do it! Which moment you will take your decision, would be the perfect moment.

  3. This is beautiful, Laurie! I can’t believe I missed it the first time around (and I’m glad Rockstar put it up for me to catch today ๐Ÿ™‚ ) Despite my best efforts, I find myself in the emotional spending more than I’d like to admit. It is one of the constant struggles… always assessing and reassessing my motivations for decisions. Thank you for the reminder to focus on what is important!

    1. Whoa… I didn’t know Rockstar put it up. That’s cool! ๐Ÿ™‚ You know, I’m so with you there, Mrs. AR. Those constant struggles life gives us… wish we could just skip them, but I have a feeling they’re those things we have to learn and relearn!

  4. Great post Laurie. Everyone will die, we just donโ€™t know when. I would rather play the percentages game and manage my finances based on the odds that I will live a long life. If I donโ€™t live a long life, at least I was able to enjoy some financial freedom while I was alive. It is so true that more material possessions do not bring happiness. Buying more stuff just pushes you further away from financial freedom.

    1. Me, too, Dave! I think when you can finally make the mental leap that more stuff doesn’t equal happiness, you’ve just won yourself a good measure of financial freedom right there! Unfortunately it’s taken me a long time to figure that out! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Great perspective! Too often we look at this decision as a now vs future without analyzing if the purchase in the now will even bring us true joy. I’ve heard it said that we should look at purchases as curation. We only buy the things that truly bring our lives joy!

    1. I love the idea of purchases as curation. It’s such a great term to describe how to acquire things that matter! Since I’ve cut down on the amount of stuff I have, I’ve definitely started to purchase that way, and it makes me soooo much happier than when I bought as many things as possible on sale!

  6. Great article! Iโ€™m all about living frugal but I also believe in need being in a โ€œstate of want.โ€ If youโ€™ve always wanted that Rolex, life is too short, go buy it!
    Same goes with a nice car, etc.

  7. I didn’t know what YOLO was, but when I looked it up, I found there is a thing called JOMO. The JOY of missing out, a twist when you make time for peaceful relaxation in life. I so much appreciate your post. It’s something I’ll think about as I sort out what purchases really matter and vast majority that don’t. And congratulations on this Rockstar content!

    1. Ha! I had to look up YOLO when I first saw it too. I love the idea of JOMO! I definitely feel JOMO when it comes to clothes and cars!! Thank you very much! It’s so cool to be featured!

  8. A few years ago we were going through a tough time as a family. My wife and I lost all 4 of our parents to heath issues over a few short years and it was an incredibly stressful time. In the midst of that suffering we made some financial decisions that may not have been the best. Looking back I realize we were spending money to escape the realities of what we were going through and “reward” ourselves for holding everything together through it all. We were definitely in the mindset of “we won’t live forever so we might as well enjoy it while it lasts” and that got us into some debt that we’re now working to get out of. Thanks for the excellent and thoughtful post.

    1. Mike, I’m so sorry to hear that. I can’t imagine how terrible that time must have been. I’m glad you were able to come to the realization that you were spending for the wrong reasons–I think we’ve all been there. Here’s to getting rid of that debt quickly!

  9. Hi, great post. I agree that the relationships we build and foster with those around us are more important than anything else. I do have a passion for fast, exotic cars. Do they make me happy? Yes, they do. Are they the be all and end all of leading a fully charmed life, of course not. There is joy all around us and I feel it’s dependent on our frame of reference.
    A friend of mine is a funeral director and he tells me that in almost all cases the stories he hears from his customers (?) is that the dying always talk about the experiences they had, or those they missed out on, not necessarily about material possessions. Do I want to leave this world without driving a Ferrari or a Lamborghini? No, I don’t. It’s not the car but what the experience means to me.
    We’ve been blessed with being born in a great country that affords us so many opportunities that don’t exist for others. My children have won the lottery of life as well. We’ve traveled to so many countries and have meet so many wonderful people and experienced many things. Have we spent more than we should? Yep, you bet. Do we regret it at all? No way. Even the bad experiences taught us lessons, and in retrospect, what we think is a bad situation is really a first world problem. If you have the means and itโ€™s important to you then I say do it. Whatโ€™s the worse that could happen? Can’t wait to see you achieve your goals.

    1. Thanks Enzo! Your honesty about what you want is great to hear. It’s not my value to drive a speedy car, but I love to travel. And I’m willing to spend way more money than someone else might be to do that. Sounds like you’re living your values, too. Traveling and owning premium cars are important to you, but sounds like you put them just after having wonderful experiences with your family. We’ve all made money mistakes, for sure. I think the error for people lies in buying something without being cognizant of why you’re doing it, or thinking that you’re filling the hole that your emotions create inside you with random material items without being aware of what you’re really sacrificing to purchase them. Good luck to you, too! I see a fast Italian auto in your future! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. my wife lost her job last year. i ran into a friend of hers from the art community who asked me “is she just going to stay home and focus on art without a full time job now?” my response: “it depends on how much stuff she feels like she must purchase.” we could do the one income thing as we’ve been for almost a year. i haven’t minded and we almost have enough saved/ invested. now it’s just her deciding if it’s worth it just to have the usual “stuff” that was easier to have before.

    1. What a great story, Freddy. I hope your wife will make the same realizations you have, so she can dedicate herself to her art (which it sounds like she loves!).

  11. Such great perspective! Mr. COD and I have talked about this very topic quite a bit. We have a friend whose father died suddenly, just before his retirement was to begin. That friend uses this to justify spending a lot of money NOW, to enjoy life NOW, because you never know how much time you have. While that is true, we look at it a different way: we want to live frugally in order to semi-retire much earlier. We still aren’t depriving ourselves in the present; we just think about maximizing spending to make ourselves happy. It’s interesting how the same events (early death, illness) can cause such different reactions in people.

    1. That is a very good point, Mrs. COD. For some people, it inspires a crazy spend streak, and for others, perhaps even more restraint as we reevaluate the true priorities.

      Like you, the hardest thing I have to explain to people is that we don’t feel deprived in the present. Learning to live with less doesn’t cause us feelings of deprivation or want. Controlling our expenses and building our net worth actually brings us more contentment and fulfillment. And of course, freedom of choice.

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