What I learned from the book DIE WITH ZERO

Rule 1 Optimize your life

I love the part that mentioned Death wakes people up, and the closer it gets, the more awake and awake we become. When the end is near, we suddenly start thinking, “What the hell am I doing? Why did I wait this long?” Until then, we go through life on autopilot mode as if we have all the time in the world. Our time in this world is finite, we just don’t know how long it is. What is the best way to spend our life energy before we leave this world?

I have a high school friend who fought 2 years of battle with cancer and left us for heaven in May 2022. I am not afraid of death. I know where I will go after my time on this earth. His death is a constant reminder that life is fragile. We won’t know what will happen to us the very next moment. The constant stress at work can mutate some cells into cancerous ones. We just won’t know or have control.

We can squander or lose our money but it can always be earned back. However, we cannot earn back our time once it is lost. The first lesson I learned is to optimize your life. To get the most out of your time and money, timing matters. To increase your lifetime fulfillment, we need to have each experience at the right age. Planning how you spend your time and money to achieve the biggest peaks you can with the resources you have is how you can maximize your life. This is how you take charge of your life.

I have trouble understanding one part. He was initially very thrifty until his boss scolded him and explained,” Your earning power is going to happen! Do you think you’ll only make 18 thousand a year for the rest of your life?” Thereafter, he explained the term consumption smoothing. Our incomes might vary from one month or one year to another but that does not mean spending should reflect those variations. We need to transfer money from years of abundance into leaner years. He was starving his younger self to give to his future wealthier self. Is not this what we learn as delayed gratification to save money? In short, our income should increase with age and hit a plateau at 40-45 years old. We should spend when we are younger and have the energy. This conflicts with what I am brought up but just bear with me on this.

The entire blog I have laid out is about frugality, living simply, and achieving financial freedom or work optionality earlier. Here is advocating about acquiring experiences and sometimes it does not cost a lot of money and some are even free while some cost money. Those are defined as money well spent rather than spending on things. Material things get us excited fast but euphoria dies fast. experience pays a memory dividend.

Life is the sum of experiences.

Wealthy people fear that they will run out of money before they die. For most, the fear of running out of money is more than fear. If you have little or no discretionary income, you have limited choice in how to spend your money, it is survival. You won’t have the luxury to strive for the optimal balance between work and play. People in poverty are already doing all they can to get the most out of their money. The teachings in the book are meant for those sacrificing future experiences that did not know they wanted to have and those still working on something they don’t like to earn money for an experience that never going to have. Step 1 is to start thinking about the life experiences you will like to have, and the number of times you like to have them.

Rule No. 2 Invest in Experiences Early.

During my graduation trips, I traveled to Taiwan for a week and back to Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi covering Sapa as well. Those memory dividends are with me today. I have seen Vietnam in 2007. Every work trip back to Vietnam helps me to witness how fast the country has developed since 2007. Life is the sum of your experiences. Everything adds up to who you are. At the end of the journey, it is the experiences that will determine how full your life is. I enjoyed the overnight bus rides when traveling across Vietnam when I was 25 years old but I don’t I can do it now in my 40. My stiff back or neck will break. That’s why you need to start early, like investment, always good to start as early as possible. Get rich in experiences and memories.

In our investment portfolio, we talk about investment which is about generating future income. Or you can define it as the sum of future cash flow. When you talk about real estate, you want to sell your house for a profit in the future or earn passive income every month when your tenant pays the rent. It is the same as investing in memory dividend. Experiences yield dividends. I love Google Photos when they remind me of a memory. Your memory dividends add up. Some memories bring enjoyment through reflection than the original experience. Memory dividends can compound and grow.

Rule No. 3 Aim to die with zero

To enjoy life instead of just surviving, you need to stop going through it aimlessly. You need to steer your life the way you want it to go. The author shared a story of his billionaire friend John, he set himself a goal of making $15 million and he will call it a day. He was great at natural gas trading, he did not quit when he amassed $15 million, and he grew the $15 million to $100 million, eventually to $4 billion. John retired a few years too late. He will never get back the years he spent on making money. He made too much money that it is hard to get rid of his fortune fast enough. He worked past the point of the optimal utility of money.

John failed to make a calculated choice between work and family. He was working because he formed a habit of working. This has become an addictive habit, and habits are difficult to break. Once you are in habit of working for money to live, the thrill of making money exceeds the thrill of actually living. If you die with $1 million left, means $1 million of experiences you didn’t have. If you died with $130,000 and your hourly rate is $20 an hour, you get 6500 hours. With 50 hours workweek, that’s like two and a half years of working for free. People who have high annual salaries are tempted to keep on working and earning, they are wasting their life energy.

When you hear someone who loves their job, they will pay to continue working in it. This is fabulous. They should still spend a percentage of time on experience that does not involve working for money. Money equals the number of hours of your life, which you can exchange for what will help you live the best life. Even if work is your life, chances are you won’t enjoy doing it 24/7. When you are in your forties, fifties, or your sixties, you might want to spend a lower percentage of your week working than in your twenties and thirties.

What about leaving for the kids? Yes, we can leave money to the people we care about. They would be better off getting your wealth earlier rather than later. Why wait until you are dead? Once you give to others, the money becomes their money, not yours. Nobody wants to live their final years in poverty, this book is not advocating “there’s no need to save for the future” but people who save too much for too late in their lives deprive themselves now of a future self that may never live that long to enjoy the money. Spending drops with age, this decline occurred despite a rise in healthcare expenses because other expenses dropped. If you expect steady expenditures from the day you retire till you die, you might over-save and under-spend. I explained this part to my parents that they should give a portion of their wealth to us children when we can create the most impact on them. It is very difficult for the older generation to let go of their wealth.

Some may argue over unforeseen expenses of old age, such as medical expenses. The actual expenses are hard to predict. That’s why we need insurance, to protect against whatever calamity might strike.

Rule No. 4 Use all available tools to help you die with zero

We cannot predict the exact date does not mean we can’t get close. You can use this tool which shows your probabilities of dying at different ages. One other helpful tool is the Living to 100 calculator. Annuities are designed to protect you against the risk of outliving your savings. We gave up years of our life while healthy to buy a few extra weeks of life when we are sick and immobile. To spend a huge portion of your wealth during the last few weeks of life makes no sense as well. The key is not to live today like your last but to balance living in the present with planning for the future. If we fail to acknowledge our death date, we act as if we live forever. If you are really prudent and the fear of running out of money is constantly haunting you, it is time to consider annuities.

Rule No. 5 Give money to your children or to charity when it has the most impact

The later you give your money to your children, the person’s ability to extract real enjoyment declines with age. 60 is worse than 50, and 50 is worse than 40. You need a certain minimum mental and physical state to enjoy them. The peak utility of money occurs at age 30. By age 50, the utility of money declined considerably. Either you have a lot less enjoyment out of the same dollar than when you were a healthy 30-year-old. For the same reason, as your adult children age, every dollar you give them goes less far, and at some point, money becomes almost useless to them.

You are creating memories of time with your children. Your children want to form memories of you. Both sets of memories yield memory dividend. How do you want your kids to remember you? What sort of experience do you want them to have with you? Time with you is important, memories your kids have of you have lasting effects. Where you and your children are in your lives matters. Your child will never stay at six or seven or a child. The opportunities that will disappear should cause you to reevaluate how much money you should be willing to give up to have those experiences. Once you have enough money to take care of your family’s basic needs, by going to work to earn more money, you are depleting your children’s inheritance because you are spending less time with them.

Rule No. 6 Don’t live your life on autopilot

Thank about your current health. What life experiences can you have now that you might not be able to have later? Think of one way you can invest your time or money to improve your health and improve your future experiences. Learn how to improve your eating habits to improve your health. Do more physical activities that you enjoy that will improve your enjoyment of future experiences. If your ability to enjoy experiences is more constrained by time than by money or health, think of one or two ways you can more money now to free up more of your time.

Rule No. 7 Think of your life as distinct seasons

We die many deaths in the course of our lives. The teenager in you dies. The college student in you dies. The single unattached dies. We all keep moving forward, progressing from one stage or phase of our lives to the next. The problem of confronting overly delayed gratification and resulting regret does not occur just once, at the end of one’s life. It can occur at every period of your every period during your life.

The saddest is when the realization does not hit until you are facing your own mortality. There is no room to change anything. We have time to make changes and adjustments. We can learn from others’ deathbed regrets. We need to be true to ourselves, not what others expect of us. It is a regret not to pursue your dreams while you can as you only have this lifetime.

Time buckets are a simple tool for discovering what you want your life to look like. Draw a timeline of your life from now to the grave, and divide it into intervals of five or ten years. Each interval from age 30 to 40 is a time bucket. Then think about what key experiences, activities, or events you want to have during your lifetime. Write all of your dreams in your life down. Your list will be your own unique expression of who you are, your life experiences are what make you who you are. This is to envision what you want your life to be and set aside the distraction from money. Using the time buckets will help you to realize that some experiences are better done at a certain age. This is different from a bucket list, by dividing goals into time buckets, you are taking a more proactive approach to your life. You are looking ahead to several coming decades of your life and planning out all the activities, events, and experiences.

Rule No. 8 Know when to stop growing your wealth

We are taught to delay gratification and save for the future. This is what FIRE is all about. Delaying gratification is helpful to a certain point. If you are grinding every day, you may risk waking one day to realize you have delayed too much. It may mean no gratification at all. This is what I learned that balancing your spending on the present with your saving for the future is important. The optimal balance changes from year to year.

Net worth is total assets less total debt. The median net worth rises with age. A person’s net worth is not the same throughout their life. When you are starting out, you are simply spending the money that you are earning. At that early stage of your life, you are not increasing your net worth as you are paying your student loan, you have a negative net worth. As you chip away, your income increases faster than spending, and your net worth starts to grow positively. If you stay employed, your net worth keeps rising. You should find that one special point in your life when your net worth is the highest it will ever be. This is called the peak. Your objective is to maximize your lifetime fulfillment to convert life energy to experience points. If your net worth keeps climbing from your sixties to your seventies and beyond, there is no way you will die with zero. This means you have unspent money and experience points not acquired.

How much do you need to survive, a rough answer = cost to live one year x years left to live x 0.7

Let’s say you have met your survival threshold, you need to think of a specific date. The net worth number should not be the only main goal. Let’s say your number is $2 million, you can justify working longer and you will justify an even high quality of life if you save up $2.5 million. With the same logic, you can provide an even high quality of life by saving $3 million. So where does it end? That’s the problem with a numerical target. To keep up with this moving target, you keep working on autopilot and end up postponing the best experiences of your life.

To enjoy experiences need a combination of money, free time, and health. For every additional day you spend working, you sacrifice an amount of free time, and your health gradually declines. If you wait five years, your health declines by five years. In sum, the years you spend earning that extra $500,000 do not make up for the number of experience points you lost by working for more money instead of enjoying those five years. Beyond the minimum financial survival amount, do not think in terms of a dollar amount, think of your net worth peak as a date instead. For most people, the optimal net worth peak occurs at the ages of 45 and 60. You ought to start spending your wealth down much earlier than what is recommended.

Our culture’s focus on work is like a seductive drug. The focus on work and money becomes single-minded and automatic that you forget what you were chasing in the first place. The poison becomes the medicine.

Rule 9 Take your biggest risks when you have little to lose

Identify opportunities that you are not taking that have a low risk for you. Always remember that you are better at taking more chances when you are younger than when you are older. Look at the fears that are holding you back, rational or irrational. Don’t let irritational fears get in the way of your dreams. Realize that at every moment you have a choice. The choices you make reflect your priorities. Be sure you make those choices deliberately.


I think we have reached the minimum survival number, we need to decide on a date. Recently I asked my kid what sort of memory he has with me. He told me,” You work hard for me so that I have money.” I pursued,” Any other memories?” He said no. I think I need to rethink my priorities.

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