Regardless of how much money they have, many successful and financially responsible people spend a lot of their time figuring out how to accumulate more money with the ultimate goal of accumulating as much as they possibly can over the course of their lifetime.

Most traditional financial advice sings from the same hymn sheet—if you can spend a few decades maximizing your income, living well beneath your means, saving aggressively and investing cautiously, eventually, sometime in your “golden years,” you can retire as a multimillionaire (likely with only a vague idea of what to do with all of your free time) and ultimately, hopefully later rather than sooner, you can die rich.

In Die With Zero, Bill Perkins challenges this paradigm in a number of provocative ways, offering compelling counterpoints to traditional doctrines about wealth, which, he argues, should be viewed merely as a means to an end (a life well lived) rather than an end unto itself. 

And although everyone can probably benefit from reading this book, it has the most to offer to people who have achieved or will achieve substantial financial success. This is because while they have (or will have) the resources to have many rich life experiences, they will also often postpone or forgo many opportunities to enrich their life because they’re “too busy” further enriching themselves or are too averse to spending money that could otherwise be used to get richer.

My Top 10 Takeaways from Die With Zero by Bill Perkins


“Start actively thinking about the life experiences you’d like to have, and the number of times you’d like to have them. The experiences can be large or small, free or costly, charitable or hedonistic. But think about what you really want out of this life in terms of meaningful and memorable experiences.”


“. . . making the most of your money in the course of your life requires that, as another economist put it, “wealth will decline to zero by the date of death.” In other words, if you know when you will die, you must die with zero—because if you don’t, you are not getting maximum enjoyment (utility) from your money. And what about the very real possibility that you don’t know when you’ll die? Modigliani has a simple answer to that: To be safe but still avoid needlessly leaving money behind, just think of the maximum age to which anyone can live. So a rational person, in Modigliani’s view, will spread their wealth across all the years up to the oldest age to which they might live.”


“. . . there is a sweet spot in everyone’s lifetime during which they can most enjoy the fruits of their wealth. The problem is that people continue to save well past that optimal point.”


“. . . you should be focusing on maximizing your life enjoyment rather than on maximizing your wealth. Those are two very different goals. Money is just a means to an end: Having money helps you to achieve the more important goal of enjoying your life. But trying to maximize money actually gets in the way of achieving the more important goal.”


“The purpose of money is to have experiences, and one of those experiences for your kids is time with you. Therefore, if you are earning money but not having experiences with your kids, you are actually depriving your kids. And yourself.”


“Your ability to enjoy many experiences in life depends on your health—but money plays a part, too, because a lot of activities cost money. So you’d better spend the money when you still have the health.”


“. . . the real golden years—the period of maximum potential enjoyment because we have the most health and wealth—mostly come before the traditional retirement age of 65. And those real golden years are the years during which we should be doing most of our spending, not delaying gratification.”


“If you have children, think about your own version of the Heffalump movie: What one experience do you want to have more of with them in the next year or two, before that phase of their life and your life is over?”


“Because of this eventual finality of all of life’s passing phases, you can delay some experiences for only so long before the window of opportunity on these experiences shuts forever.”


“You should find that one special point in your life when your net worth is the highest it will ever be. I call that point your net worth peak, or just ‘your peak.’ Why should there ever be a peak—why can’t your net worth just keep going up? First, remember that, from my perspective, your overarching goal is to maximize your lifetime fulfillment—to convert your life energy to as many experience points as you can. Doing that requires figuring out the optimal allocation of your money and free time to the right ages, given the inevitability of declining health and eventual death.”