Why should I work hard to earn and save money for my future self, when I’m facing an uncertain future?
Seriously, why should I? When we don’t know if the future is guaranteed. As I’m writing this, we are simultaneously going through wars, pandemics, and heading towards self-inflicted climate disaster.
If things will go to heck anyway, why don’t I just focus on enjoying myself now? Spend all my money now?
Please excuse me, I’m not usually this negative. I’m actually a natural optimist.
But still, it gets to you, you know. All these things that affect you but are outside your control – it affects you, and I’m tired of pretending it doesn’t. Why is it that all that I can or should do is ‘ignore the noise’ and continue work as usual?
(This feeling is so weird. I first noticed – and made a Reel about it – in July 2021. It never really went away)
So, back to the original question. Why should I work hard to earn and save money for my future self, when I’m facing an uncertain future?
This has been the subject of countless thought articles, and I guess it’s my time to dwell on it. Let’s start with the chirpy fact that…
Money doesn’t matter when you’re dead
No matter how much money one has, it doesn’t matter when you’re dead. You can’t take it with you.
I don’t know about you, but I frequently hear stories of people who waited too long, until they ran out of time to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
I’m sure you have heard stories of people who worked non-stop to build their nest egg, but got sick and passed away, sometimes just days after their awaited retirement. The future they hoped for never arrived.
As someone who believes and practices delayed gratification, this scares the shit out of me.
The pandemic reminds you of death every day
I know I’m not alone in saying the pandemic reminds me of death every day. Perhaps this is the reason why some people YOLO-d and bought themselves things to enjoy NOW rather than later.
This isn’t a hypothesis. It can be considered a fact.
..psychologist Sheldon Solomon, who has spent three decades researching how fear of mortality motivates an extraordinary amount of our everyday behavior, even if we don’t consciously think about death that often:
Literally hundreds of experiments have shown that when people are reminded of their mortality-such as by being interviewed in front of a funeral parlor or having the word “death” flash on a computer screen so fast that they cannot see it-they respond by behaving in ways that bolster faith in their cultural worldviews and fortify their self-esteem.
For example, after being reminded of death, materialistic people become more interested in owning high-status luxury items like fancy cars and watches..’
– from the book Carpe Diem: Seizing the Day in a Distracted World
And it’s not just luxury cars. Sales of other luxury items went up too during the pandemic. In an article about the pandemic and the booming luxury industry, one person is quoted as saying,
“You know what, for me and my family… This period showed us that it is not clear whether we will live tomorrow or not. So if you have a chance, I think you have the right to spend some according to your wishes.”’
And… I get this person. I really do. No matter how much I am an advocate for financial literacy (it is STILL important!), I also want to acknowledge this very real and very human feeling of wanting to savour the now while you still have it.
For now, the rational side is still winning
Listen. I’m still rational. I’m not going to spend ALL my money now, that’s too risky. And happily, I’ve never been (that) materialistic to begin with, so luxury items never really appealed to me.
Note: This is less to do with my ability to be ‘above’ their marketing gimmicks, and more to do with my confidence level.
But just because I don’t buy (much) material items doesn’t mean I don’t splurge. Of course I do.
I splurge on food. I splurge on loved ones. I splurge on travel
(traveling as a hobby is a luxury because not everyone can afford the cost nor the time off, yet it is considered acceptable spending because it is ‘experiential’). And whenever possible, I splurge responsibly.
And allow me to pat myself on the back here because I also NEVER take loans for splurges. Not credit card. Not BNPL (evil in my eyes). Loans are ONLY for necessities, full stop.
Viewing death positively
Unfortunately I’ve forgotten where I read it from, but I read something that changed my world-view: not every culture around the world view death negatively. Some cultures view it as a celebration.
I can’t overstate how much this really changed my life. I’m so used to seeing death as huge loss (and it is), but it is also just like ‘traveling’ to the next phase of life, the afterlife, where everyone will meet again. So the loss is just… temporary.
(Even if you don’t believe in the afterlife, you can go with the ‘we are all made of stardust’ approach. Given enough time, we’ll simply be transformed into another form of carbon-based entity)
Plus, there is also the whole ‘make it count’ approach. In the same way we don’t appreciate food if we don’t feel hunger – if there is no death, how would we appreciate life?
A reminder to myself to plan ahead… but enjoy the journey
Somehow, in the personal finance world, there is this narrative that we have to get rich first BEFORE we can enjoy life, when in fact we can attempt to do both at the same time. I can save for the future AND treat myself.
(And as I mentioned in my How to Buy Happiness: 5 Science-Backed Principles to Know TODAY article, a treat is only a treat when it is far between, not daily)
Don’t get me wrong. I still feel the doom and gloom. But it’s up to me to channel it into a healthy way, because YOLO spending my last cent isn’t the answer. At the same time, I’ll continue to be optimistic for the future, and cling on to that hope that humanity is able to save itself.
Thanks for reading. I wrote this primarily for myself. For the longest time I didn’t know how to put these feelings into words and finally I did, and it’s been cathartic for me.
It is my hope that this rambling of mine can help you make sense of your emotions as well, as a fellow human being. At the very least, we can all agree how absurd to live at this moment in history, where everything is chaos yet we’re expected to continue ‘business as usual’.