Saving for Tomorrow vs. Living for Today

One of the hardest experiences of moving toward middle age is that I have to watch my parents enter old age. Those two people have been the absolute rocks in my life for as long as I can remember. I remember them clearly at the most active and vibrant times in their lives, when they seemed infinitely strong and their energy seemed infinitely boundless. Now they’re growing old together and while they still get around and still travel and still do a lot of things, they don’t get around as fast as they once did and, eventually, they won’t be around any more. Words can’t describe how much I’ll miss them when they’re gone.

I know quite well that the same thing will eventually happen with my own children. They’ll reach middle age and they’ll look at Sarah and myself and think similar thoughts to themselves. They’ll remember Sarah and I running around in the park with them and playing soccer with them and going to taekwondo with them and having seemingly endless energy to work all day and make meals and clean the house and spend time with them and all of the stuff we do now and that I remember my parents once doing. And, inevitably, we will have lost a step, as humans do.

And they’ll wonder, as I sometimes wonder about my own parents and frankly about myself, whether or not I should be living life to the absolute fullest today instead of saving for tomorrow.

There are so many things I could do in my life right now if I simply stopped saving for the future. We could go on some downright amazing trips. We could spend our entire summers abroad until the kids are out of school. We could live in an utterly amazing house, much larger and nicer than the one we live in now. There are so many amazing, wonderful things that we could do today if we weren’t saving for tomorrow.

Let’s say that I did decide to go that route. What would I really gain out of it?

I’d gain some wonderful memories of experiences with my family. I’d have a little bit bigger house to live in with a bigger yard. I’d probably be able to check some things off of my “bucket list.”

Here’s the thing, though. I already have a ton of wonderful shared memories with my kids and my wife and my parents. I already have a plenty big house to live in. I already have checked a bunch of stuff off of my bucket list.

Sarah and I have a little “bucket list” of places on Earth that we someday want to visit together, flung all across the globe. The truth of it, though, is that those trips would just serve as a backdrop for her smile; it really doesn’t matter too much to me where we are as long as we’re there together. Why not spend a week or two on a road trip together for a few hundred bucks rather than a trip halfway across the world for thousands? Maybe we’ll go on a big trip once in a while, but the magic of any trip is the people you’re with and the serendipitous things that happen. I’ve been on countless trips in my life and the most unforgettable vacation I’ve ever had in my life was a camping road trip to Yellowstone. Why? It was the people I was with and the serendipitous moments. The “once in a lifetime” moments can happen anywhere as long as you’re with people you care about.

I live in a perfectly nice house. Sure, it could have nicer furnishings. Sure, it could be bigger. But what exactly would I do with a bigger home office? Would that suddenly make me have better ideas? Of course not. Would that make even a whit of difference to how I actually pass my days? Not really, except I’d probably have to spend more time on property maintenance.

The whole “save for tomorrow or live for today” dichotomy just seems silly to me. I live for today every single day of my life, and I save for tomorrow pretty hard, too.

I live for today every time I put down some relatively unimportant task and instead go to the park with my kids and toss a frisbee around with them.

I live for today every time I sit down with one of my kids and really listen to what they’re saying.

I live for today every time I get lost in my work or lost in a great book.

I don’t need a flashy trip to live for today. I don’t need a huge house to live for today. I don’t need to do something dangerous to live for today. I have a ton of things in my life right now that are well worth living for today.

That’s the secret.

I live for today when I get lost in someone else’s eyes or in their story.

I live for today when I get so engaged in a task that I lose all track of time and place.

I live for today when I create something.

I live for today when I feel love or when I give love without strings attached.

I live for today when someone’s creative work takes my breath away.

None of those things require you to spend tons of money or to walk away from your responsibilities or to destroy your future.

But, still, why save for tomorrow?

I save for tomorrow so that the stress stays away. I don’t want to have to worry about money for any reason.

I save for tomorrow so that when I’m the age my parents are at right now I don’t have to worry about where the money is coming from.

I save for tomorrow so that if God forbid something happens to me tomorrow, my children and my wife are well taken care of and never have to really worry about much of anything.

To put it simply, I save for tomorrow so I can live for today with almost no worry.

Do you want to live for today? Here are a few things you should try.

Tell someone you love them, out of the blue, right now. Send someone a text, or just turn to them and say it.

Write a note in your own handwriting to someone who really had a positive impact on your life, thanking them for that impact.

Do something to get your blood pumping in your veins and get yourself just a little out of breath, then see how it feels.

Eat your favorite snack, but do it slowly and enjoy each little flavor.

Watch the sun go down on the horizon and marvel at each color change.

Take a big task on your plate, turn off all distractions, and just get lost in the work, focusing on it and doing it well.

Take a long shower and scrub every inch of your body.

Watch something that makes you laugh.

Read something that makes you think.

Hear something that makes you cry.

You’ll have a pretty amazing day if you do all of those things.

Save for tomorrow, and you’ll be doing it with low stress and preserve your ability to do those things for the rest of your days.

Save for tomorrow? Live for today? I’d say do both.

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Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.