Updated on 02.20.07

Live Like You Were Dying

Trent Hamm

So many of us have imagined what we would 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 concretely considered what I would 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 of 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 be able to have food on the table and to keep that house when I own it. Everything else? Well, a nice sweater is just a balm, isn’t it? Buying a new one keeps me from this dream.

So I made an agreement with myself. In fifteen years, I will spend a year living like I was dying. This means by then I will 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 is 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 a healthy backup 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 was fifteen years. In fifteen years, I’ll be forty three 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 twenty two years at the prime of my life to spend with my children and grandchildren, to write that novel that’s always been inside of me, and to sit on my front porch and watch the sun rise. Feel free to work until you’re sixty five; I’d rather live like I was dying.

Yes, apologies to Tim McGraw for the title of this post.

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  1. MudBug says:

    These are fine goals to have and you will probable attain them. But have you heath insurance? What will happen if you could not work for an extended period of time?
    Even with people who have heath insurance they get into dire straits because of no income.
    Sickness wipes out more family wealth then anything else. Be aware! Hope that doesn’t bum you out man but facts are facts.

  2. Hmmm, very interesting post. I like the timeline. Mudbug brings up an excellent point. I’m happy it doesn’t apply to me. My fiancee retires from the military at age 43 (13 years from now) and we’ll have health insurance.

    A difficulty to all this will be having enough money saved for raising children and a college fund for them. As we don’t have children yet, it’s a little difficult to plan that far ahead. For now, we can just plan to save all we can.

  3. Terry says:

    I earn minimum wage (with no fringes) and live paycheck to pathetic paycheck, so there’s not much I actually COULD do. Travel? Quit my crappy job? I don’t think so!

  4. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    The point is to set positive goals, not to think about negatives. If you go to work each day knowing that the work is doing more than just keeping your head above water, it adds a greater meaning to your life.

    As for the minimum wage situation, if you just sock away $5 a week into an ING savings account, in 20 years, the interest that is automatically earned will be the equivalent of forty hours of minimum wage work a week. Just one cheaper meal a week will do it. It’s all a matter of initiative.

  5. Terry says:

    It’s not as if my work is improving humanity or anything – I work in a convenience store enabling the 20% of lowlifes who come into the store. Enabling their alcoholism, their nicotine addiction, their prediliction, and their lottery losership. So even my work itself is depressing.

    My diet is already based on PBJ, mac and cheese and other pasta, and rice and beans.

  6. billy says:

    I work in a convenience store enabling the 20% of lowlifes who come into the store. Why?
    Enabling their alcoholism, their nicotine addiction, their prediliction, and their lottery losership. Not your problem
    So even my work itself is depressing. Get another job, and if you say you can’t, ask yourself why, and keep asking why till you get to the real problem. Look in the mirror when you do this.

  7. Beaner says:

    I would love to go back to that lifestyle. When I was single I did Europe for 8 months. It was the most fantastic plan I ever made for myself. I couldn’t afford a house, I was tired of working to pay rent. I saved and went off to work a different job in London, England and then travelled. I can’t say the travel bug is done for me but I came home with a bigger picture and learned a lot about me.

    I have now planted some roots in a small town and found the man of my dreams. We bought a house and are getting married in May, 2007.

    If you don’t live for you who do you live for. Or What? Work?

    Remember no matter how low you are now, you can only go up from here. Keep climbing. You are the only one driving your life. So if your not happy with it make a change.


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