Book Report: Die With Zero by Bill Perkins

Within the last year I reached the first FIRE goal we ever set for ourselves which was a big $1,000,000 in assets. While I haven’t kept a blog for an especially long time I have kept lots of personal writing about my FIRE goals along the way, my reasoning at the time and some justification so that when I reviewed these goals in the future there was some context to them.

That said the first FIRE goal I ever set was a million dollars. My goal was actually a little more detailed than that.


$600,000 in liquid assets
$200,000 in real estate
$200,000 in tax sheltered retirement accounts
Age goal: 40
Notes: This should produce $40,000 in reliable lifetime income adjusted for inflation. As of today I can live safely on $32,000 which should give enough of a buffer to be safe for the extended time of no work and be conservative in down markets.
– Written by the 25 year old version of FIREDad

Now that I’m above this number by about 10% I look back on this goal and think that the 25 year old me was an idiot. Of course he wasn’t married, didn’t have any children and lived in a super awesome condo without a car. Like so many of those that are reaching Financial Independence the goal posts moved and they moved hard. I’m not going to lie that this set off alarm bells in my head of the fear of becoming a 50, 55, 60, 65 year old who worked his life away. The only difference between us and a regular American would be that in old age we would have A LOT to show for our efforts.
Make no mistake, the $1.1 million in assets we have today does not feel like nearly enough; especially when every additional year of working creates such a huge future benefit, but when does that stop? When does enough become too much and instead you watch your life energy be depleted for numbers on a spreadsheet?

I found the answer to my problem on the r/FatFire subreddit. That place is a total shitshow and it can be hard to sort through the humble brags and bullshit to find real content, but when a great thread comes up it is worth the effort. The post is one of many but it was essentially my exact scenario except all the numbers were 5x larger. The OP was in a scenario where they had over $5 million in assets and it didn’t feel safe to them. In fact, each additional year of work OP was able to put in rather than drawing on assets would increase the portfolio by 25%! This post scared the shit out of me, because without serious focus and intentional choices I would be that person in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years. In that thread a very high NW poster recommended reading the book “Die With Zero” by Bill Perkins. Many other respected contributers also felt it was what the OP needed. I reserved the book at our library right away.

Die with Zero: Getting All You Can From Your Money and Your Life — Members  Choice Credit Union

The overarching theme of the book is crystal clear: You are wasting life energy on earning rather than living. Now if you are thinking “wait a minute, isn’t that the exact premise of ‘Your Money or Your Life”. Why dear reader, you are correct! I would suggest that Die With Zero is the high net worth version of YMYL.

There were significant points that Bill makes in this book that are logical and if you are remotely involved in the FIRE community you will agree with. There are others that I am sure are controversial. The compelling case the book makes is that you should, above all else, maximize your life experiences. Nearly all life experiences are unique based on your age meaning that experiencing The Grand Canyon for example is a totally different experience running rim-to-rim on your 20s as it is to taking your kids in your late 30s.

Bill highlights and places very high value on the “memory dividend” that compounds in the rest of your life as a result of these experiences. This is a fantastic way for those that are results driven to justify having fun with their money. I found the discussion on memory dividend to be the most useful content in the entire book.

There are a few fundamental flaws with some of Bill’s writing where I found myself disagreeing. The first is the black and white approach he has to his premise. It makes sense, the book is called DIE WITH ZERO so it makes sense that he drives home the point of that goal, but I felt too much was focused on that goal specifically. The real value in his message is a shift in thinking to realize that leaving behind millions is not always a good thing, unless it’s done with an intentional purpose that is wasted life energy. That shift in thinking is the true value in Bill’s message and it is one that a very specific group needs to hear.

If you are nearing the end of your FIRE journey, are buried in a career you hate, or are just working too many hours and watching life go by then I would highly recommend Die With Zero from Bill Perkins.

Here are the takeaways from Die With Zero that I have used in my own life:

  • Make a plan to maximize your life experiences. Use specific goals and use money intentionally to reach those goals
  • Give money to your children intentionally rather than on your death. I have started outlines of plans of when and how our children will receive any money we want them to have
  • We have created a multi year plan to maximize the life experiences, starting with an increase in experiences in 2021, with subtle increases in life experiences as our son reaches the age we most want to show him experiences.
  • Worked on adjusting my FI/RE numbers from a perspective of having significantly less at age 75+ than originally intended.

Die With Zero – Bill Perkins – 4.8/5

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