I still think about the man I picked up after he had been dead in his bathtub for five days. Not only because it was the first case I had seen where the deceased was not recognizable as human, but because of the hundreds of questions I would still have about him years later.
He had dropped off the radar due to mental illness and I never found out if any family was located, since I was just the medical examiner’s transport service and not the funeral director. He was 92 years old, so had very likely outlived most of his family and friends. Had he ever been married? Did he have children? I’ll never know.
He died with over a million dollars in a checking account and several buckets in his closet overflowing with change. He kept stacks of notebooks where he logged every dollar he spent for the last 50 years. He had a very large house with nothing in it other than the bathtub, a mattress, his buckets of coins, and dirty sheets stapled over the windows. His death was only noticed because the neighbors realized the crazy old man next door hadn’t been screaming the way he usually did. Have you ever called the police because your neighbors were too quiet?
What are some useful things you can do with money?
1. Buy stuff
2. Pass it along to your family members so they can buy stuff
3. Brag about it
Less useful things include hiding it all in a closet and in a non-interest-bearing checking account and never ever touching it, not even to buy cheap furniture.
I’ve been to a lot of hoarder homes; newspaper hoarders and trash hoarders and cat hoarders. This man was a cash hoarder. I vowed I would never end up like him; dying all alone with a huge amount of money that will go to no one. So far I’ve been very successful. Ten years later, I still do not have a million dollars.
I don’t worry too much about what I’ll leave to my kids when I go. I chose their grandparents wisely and they aren’t going to have a lot to worry about when it comes to money. Of course I’ll leave them the usual assets; life insurance and some things they can sell off, but what I really want to leave them with are memories.
I want them to remember their mother as someone who spent time with them and showed up at all their school things, not as someone who was always at work and too busy for them. My kids will be just fine without a million dollars. They won’t be fine with a distant mother who doesn’t want to be bothered.
I grew up poor, but I had no idea I was poor. I never felt like I lacked anything. I wasn’t jealous of other kids’ homes and clothes and toys. Later I would grow up to meet people who had grown up wealthy, and they describe their childhoods as being empty and sad. Their parents couldn’t do anything with them because they were too busy earning money. They were raised by nannies and rarely saw their parents. They spoke of deliberately trashing their expensive possessions in hopes that it would make their parents notice them. Instead, the possessions were simply replaced. One man told me about receiving a large inheritance from his father who died, and he promptly blew the money because he didn’t want it around. He never wanted the money. He wanted a father.
You cannot get rich working 40 hours a week. You cannot spend much time with your children working 80+ hours a week. Pick one.
By all means, excel in your profession. Save money. But remember that the whole point of money is that it can be traded for things and experiences that enrich your life. Instead of giving a child, say, $1000…why not do something interesting with them that will cost about $1000? Take a trip that will provide a lifetime of good memories long after the money is gone.
Maybe you have no children and a huge pile of money. Why do you have a huge pile of money? If you say it’s for “an emergency” I’d really like to hear what a million-dollar emergency consists of. Maybe you’ve willed your huge pile of money to a particular charity. Why not just give it to the charity now?
When you are dying, most likely you will not think about your bank balance or your car or how you were richer than other people. You will think about people; people who meant the most to you. Maybe it’s a child. Maybe a sibling, or a spouse or even a good friend. Do not let their memories of you be “I never really saw him; he was always at the office.”