0️⃣ Die With Zero: Net Fulfillment Over Net Worth

published5 months ago
9 min read

Hi all👋! For decades, I tried to optimize and save money to build my net worth, believing it was the right way to achieve success. That was until I interviewed Bill Perkins (🎧 Ep 91) and read his fantastic book Die with Zero. Bill is a long-time hedge fund manager who challenged traditional financial advice by suggesting to maximize your net fulfillment instead of your net worth. After reading his book and talking with Bill, my view on money changed a lot.

Do I still think about net worth? Sure, but I’ve gone back multiple times to listen to the episode and review my book notes to remind myself to focus on the right things.

Today’s posts are the key lessons I learned from Bill:

  • What does ‘die with zero’ mean
  • Why the utility of money declines over time
  • Why time bucketing is more effective than bucket lists
  • Why you might consider banking memory dividends
  • Why health is a forcing function

Please share this with a friend, colleague, or family member that would find this valuable.

🙏🏼 Thank you!

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💰 Are you optimizing for money?

Here’s a test: Would you switch positions with Warren Buffet right now?

He’s 92, with billions of dollars.

Bill Perkins asked this same question to a bunch of 20-year-olds.

They all said no.

I bet you’d say no too.

Which means you’re optimizing for something other than money. Let’s dive a bit deeper into what you’re solving for.

😄 What does “Die With Zero” mean?

The Die With Zero philosophy emphasizes spending one's savings on enriching experiences to ultimately reach a balance of zero rather than working to build and die with wealth.

If you look at money as the means to enjoy life to the fullest, then the remaining balances in your account are wasted opportunities. It does not mean you should spend every paycheck immediately. It’s to be more thoughtful and forward-looking with your life planning and calming the fear that you’ll run out of money in retirement. It also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t leave money to your children or charity, it just suggested you might get more fulfillment making those gifts when you’re still alive and can see some of the impact.

As you read this, you may find yourself aligning more with net fulfillment over net worth (or maybe you already do). But it goes against the work culture in many countries. We have been conditioned to want more money, success, and status, making it easier to sacrifice for a higher-paying job.

Culture evolves slowly. And because it’s slow, it’s easy to backslide to autopilot mode of solving for net worth.

Net fulfillment demands a different approach to life. It requires you to:

  • Think deeply about what you want out of your life
  • Consider how your money and career decisions enable that life
  • Take risks and execute against the grain of culture and in line with the life you want to live

📉 Money has a declining utility

I don’t want to say money has less use to us as we age, but it does in many ways. When your physical and mental abilities decrease, your ability to enjoy specific experiences also decreases.

It means some of the experiences you were hoping to do when you are older won’t happen. The utility of money declines over time, whether for travel, leisure activities, or even life milestones.

Here’s what I learned from this:

  • Prioritize taking certain trips now over later. For example, if I had waited until I retired to see all of what Japan has to offer, I would not have nearly had the same experiences.
  • Do certain leisure activities now while I’m healthy. At some point, it will be the last time I ever snowboard. I hope not for a long time, but my body will eventually prevent me from enjoying it.
  • Celebrate significant milestones earlier than they occur. Bill celebrated his 50th birthday party when he was 45 because he knew he would get more out of it by doing it earlier.

Bill taught me to think about “what” experiences fit in my life and then determine “when” those experiences should happen.

🧠 Memory Dividends

You want to spend your wealth, health, and time to get the maximum fulfillment.

When you save money, that money is attached to some future experience.

And when you engage in that experience, it brings you joy. But you also get the joy when you recall that experience. That original experience is paying you memory dividends every time you relive it.

This is why you should consider experiences earlier because the experience plus the memory dividends add to the net fulfillment equation.

If you want proof of the power of memory dividends, rewatch your wedding video or the photo memory albums your iPhone or Facebook sends you. There is a sense of joy at the moment that you relive the experiences of the past and experience those memory dividends.

⌛ Time Bucketing

There are bucket lists, and then there are time buckets.

  • Bucket lists are the sum of experiences you want to do before you die
  • Time buckets are the windows for when you want those experiences in the future

Small but important difference.

Rather than just creating a list of things you want to do before you die, consider bucketing them on a timeline based on when they’re best suited to happen.

Here are a few examples:

  • Backpacking around the world and sleeping on people’s couches is probably better suited for your 20s when you have a lifestyle with lesser responsibilities.
  • Taking one trip to Las Vegas in your 30s instead of a few smaller trips to Atlantic City in your 20s might be the better choice since you’re more mature and can handle the ups and downs better.
  • Playing golf at Pebble Beach for a work retreat might be better in your 40s and 50s because you can afford the upgrades and go all out on the experience.

As you age, you may shift into a different bucket with experiences better suited for that season of life.

🗓️ Advanced Planning

I asked Bill, “How far in advance should you bucket your experiences?”

The answer depends on age and how far you can see into the future.

  • When you’re young, you can break your life down into smaller periods, like 5 years.
  • With age, your visibility into the future may become less clear, so you may need to increase the increments to 10 years or more.

My approach is in the middle because we have 2 kids under 3. I know how quickly they grow, so breaking it down into small periods might be over-planning. Right now, I’m thinking of my time buckets as follows:

  • Younger kids
  • Older kids
  • Kids out of the house

⌛➡ 💵 Converting Time To Money

If you are worried about money, experience what it’s like to make money without a job.

I mean, actually, go and do it.

I signed up as a Lyft driver a few years ago to see what happened.

I learned two valuable lessons:

  1. It was rewarding to realize I could convert time to money at any moment
  2. It put a threshold on what my time was worth

Bill took a different approach. He went panhandling. He earned the equivalent of $54,000 per year with the bare minimum effort.

The point for me was knowing there is a downside was freeing. Losing my job no longer meant $0. With little effort, I could convert my time to money. But I’ve burned the boats to go all-in on All The Hacks, so no more Lyft for me.

💵 ➡⌛ Swapping Money For Time

While I proved (to myself), it’s easy to convert time to money; sometimes my optimizer brain makes it hard to spend money to save time. But it is one of the best ways to make decisions aligned with net fulfillment.

The trick is to think about what you buy or do as units of time.

Condense each hour to some value so you can make the tradeoff decision:

  • Is eating this cookie worth 1 hour on the treadmill?
  • Is buying that pair of jeans worth 2 hours of work?

This applies to the more challenging questions too:

  • Does accepting a job with lower pay but a four-day workweek give you more fulfillment time than the one with a higher income and five days a week?

I have made strides in this area recently. I hired an incredible executive assistant from Oceans to help support me with All The Hacks and our family with all kinds of other tasks (travel, coordinating service providers, grocery orders, etc.). It has been a total game-changer. I’ll share more on this in a future newsletter, but so far, I couldn’t recommend Oceans more highly if you’re looking for any help in work or life.

💪 Health as a Forcing Function

Health plays a significant role in the timing. How your body and mind deteriorate as you age can affect your enjoyment of certain activities.

Being healthier and living longer is one of the best ways to extend net fulfillment.

Bill invests heavily in health (time, research, and money).

80% of your opportunity is in low-hanging fruit

  • Eating healthy and reducing processed foods and sugar
  • Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke

The other 20%…

It’s a topic for another day, but we briefly discussed the importance of diagnostics because early detection improves the chances of survival and outcomes for many fatal diseases.

Here are the 3 examples:

  • Inside Tracker. They give individuals an idea of their optimal ranges based on their genetics and inner age. They’ve been a sponsor of they’ve for a long time.
  • Grail test. This test can detect cancer early, allowing for prompt treatment before it progresses. Individuals at high risk, such as those with a family history of cancer, can benefit from these tests. I haven’t done this yet, but with a friend recently having a cancer scare, I just emailed my doctor to do it.
  • Full-body MRI. It can detect diseases and conditions before symptoms appear. Individuals with a family history of certain conditions may find this technology particularly useful. I did mine test with Prenuvo, and while they’re not a sponsor/partner, they said they’d offer you all $300 off with the code ALLTHEHACKS (though it might take a day or two to get loaded into their system) and I’ll also try to update this link to forward to the discount as well.

👋 How I’ve Implemented Net Fulfillment

Many of you know my financial path has been influenced by the FI/RE movement (Financial Independence Retire Early). My approach to money was save, save, save. And while I am grateful for the cushion it’s provided, I’ve been thinking about how greater my net fulfillment meter would be if I spent more on experiences in our 20s/30s.

The idea of net fulfillment impacted me so much that I included it in my Top Learning of 2022. In that post, I listed 3 important changes I wanted to make.

Here’s an update on that progress:

Life Change #1: Amy and I need to start thinking about the experiences we want in our 30s, considering that our kids will never be this young again and that these are the last few years of our 30s.

Update: This year, we’ve prioritized shorter local trips that will be much more enjoyable with kids, hoping to take one trip without the kids in 2023.

Life Change #2: I’m going to be more intentional about taking more photos and videos as we experience life so we can “harvest the dividends” of our memories in the future.

Update: We’ve tried hard to take a few family photos (nothing fancy, just using a tripod), and they’ve turned out great. We also started using iOS shared albums which have really unlocked the sharing of photos between Amy and me (which is an instant 2x to the memory dividends 😊)

Life Change #3: It's time for me to start making decisions in life that maximize my fulfillment. During our recent trip to Europe, we didn't make the best use of miles or find any hotel deals, but we still went because we wanted to have the experience at this point in our lives.

Update: We hired an executive assistant to help with work/family projects, and we’ve been much pickier about travel. No more multi-layover trips like we did back in our 20s.

💭 Parting Thoughts

If you loved my conversation with Bill or read his book, please tell me about it. I’m interested to hear how you’ve implemented net fulfillment into your life.

If you found this post enjoyable, you’ll love my post on Overcome Your Fear, Processing Failure, and Why Having a Plan B Holds You Back. It’s all about how to stop hedging and start unlocking your full potential!



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Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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