If you are not happy now with what you’ve got, you won’t be happy later if you get more.” – Michael Masterson

Just One Thing: You’re Not a Pharaoh. Don’t Act Like One

Several years ago, The New Yorker published a cartoon of a man on his deathbed saying, “I wish I’d bought more crap.”

That says it, don’t you think?

The pharaohs apparently believed they could take it all with them. So they did. But when their bodies were found years later – as desiccated, linen-wrapped bones – their treasures were gone. Plundered.

That’s the thing about Mother Time. She’s a Socialist. Sooner or later, she’s going to put your hard-earned things into the hands of others. Whether you like it or not.

You can write a will. You can spend a small fortune on an estate plan that will ensure, for some amount of time, what will happen with your “things.”

But even the best legal work can be thwarted by legal work that comes later, when you are no longer around.

The problem is people. As the late, great Joe Gondolfo, life insurance salesman extraordinaire, used to say from the podium: “People change when people die.”

* You leave all your money to rebuild the local library, where you volunteered during your retirement. A year after you are gone, there is a change in the board. The new board decides to sell the library and invest the proceeds in a technology school. “Books are passé,” the board president says.

* You have three rare coin collections, each worth $150,000. You leave one to each of your children. By the time you go, one is worth $300,000, another is still worth $150,000, and the third has depreciated by 300%. Your kids are unhappy with the situation. They secretly blame you.

Your financial life can and should be divided into two parts:

Part 1. Earning money to acquire things you need, and

Part 2. Deciding what to do with those things when you no longer need them.

Most people put off Part 2 as long as they possibly can, until death is knocking at the door. Many never face up to Part 2. They go to their graves owning everything – the house, the valuables, and the money.

This is not a good idea. I’m assuming you know that, so I won’t belabor the point here.

My view is this: Once you have bought all the things you need to live comfortably, additional buying will be counterproductive. You will be spending money on things you don’t need for the very ephemeral dose of dopamine it will give you. But buying them won’t give you half the pleasure it once did… when you needed them.

Moreover, these “things” will start to accumulate – in your basement and attic and closets. You may even rent storage units to hold onto them.

And then what? You die and Mother Time distributes them as she sees fit. Your wishes no longer matter. And she’s a Socialist.

There is only one thing you can do about this. No, two:

  1. Stop accumulating things you don’t need.
  2. Start giving away the accumulated things you don’t need now.

So before you buy anything else, ask yourself these questions:

* Am I going to actually use this thing?

* How much pleasure or satisfaction will it give me?

* Is there something else I can do with the money that would give me greater pleasure?

If, after answering these questions, you decide to buy the thing in question, ask yourself this: Who should I leave it to after I’ve stopped using it?

Then don’t wait till you die to give that thing away. Give it away the moment you stop using it.