Not long ago I told the heart-warming story of an ordinary couple who never earned more than $70,000 between them (before tax) yet who, by living beneath their means and investing the difference, had managed to retire, aged 62 and 60, with $3 million in savings.
“OK, they are retiring with $3 million,” writes Kathi Derevan, “NOW will they give themselves permission to ENJOY some of the fruits of their labor??? Is there such a thing as saving TOO MUCH money for the future?”
To be honest, I’ve never met anyone who rued having saved too much, though such people must exist. But sure: memories are as important as dreams. The more money you spend today, I suppose the more you’re building memories (“Remember that fantastic new BMW we had, back when we could afford one?”) at the expense of dreams (“Someday, we’ll just kick back, financially secure, and really enjoy the last 30 years of our lives.”).
Ah, the memories. “Wasn’t it wonderful never weatherstripping or insulating to lower the electric bill? Those were truly blissful days.”
OK, maybe I’ve stacked the deck with those examples. I’m sure Kathi is not suggesting people waste money by failing to weatherstrip.
But how about this one, as a compromise example. Does it strike a good balance? “Remember that trek through France? We only really splurged on hotels two nights, but the best night of all was actually the one camping out along the river and killing a couple of bottles of wine under the full moon with that big loaf of bread.”
OK, I’m not sure you can still do that. I was 16 at the time. There may be “no camping signs” throughout Europe now, and it may actually have been a river in Poland, not France. I don’t remember. My point is: It’s a balance. And if you do it with a sense of humor and a sense of gamesmanship, you can live beneath your means, saving for the future, and still enjoy it. Indeed, one thing savers enjoy most — without being miserly — is their sense of security and control. Driving a car you own outright may be more enjoyable than driving a fancier one on which you have to struggle to make the payments. (Every time my car is stolen — four times now — Charles, who has a different philosophy about money, cheers. Yes!, he thinks. Andy will finally get a new one! But then the police find it, I stitch up the top, and thank my stars it wasn’t an expensive new car they had stolen.) This is not the first time I’ve proposed a bumper sticker that would read: “Sure. But it’s PAID FOR.”
Easier to joke about this, I know, when you’re lucky enough to be considered not poor for driving a wreck, merely eccentric. If I couldn’t afford a BMW, I might not be so comfortable in my Frankenstein convertible.
My father said something wise that Kathi reminds me of: Life is not a business. So, sure, people should enjoy the fruits of their labor. But the sense I had — just an intuition, really, from the tone of the message that gave rise to this exchange — was that Mr. & Mrs. Retiree, aged 62 and 60, had enjoyed their pre-retirement lives. But frugally.