Dr. Jimmy Turner has noticed that some people tend to think of things in terms of absolutes. You must do this or that. There is no in-between.
The lack of a nuanced approach to matters has never been more apparent to me than it has been in the midst of this pandemic. “We can’t keep the economy shut down until there’s a vaccine!” No, we can’t, and almost no one is arguing that we should.
“Stay out of our county until the pandemic is over!” Well, that’s not exactly feasible, either. The approach we need is somewhere in between. We can’t revert to our 2019 ways instantly, and we won’t enforce a total lockdown for years on end, either.
Balanced approaches that consider both the epidemiologic and economic impact of our policies and behaviors will be implemented. Adjustments will be made as we learn more about the virus and potential treatments while we watch what happens as different places open up in different ways at varying times.
That “one extreme or the other” attitude is also used as an excuse not to save and invest for the future #yolo. As The Physician Philosopher will tell you, one does not have to choose between living for today and saving for tomorrow. A balanced approach is in order.
Live Now or Save For Later: The Now or Later Fallacy
I was on the phone with someone the other day when money came up (as it naturally does in many of my conversations). I was discussing some of the reasons people struggle to save money. When I discussed the importance of saving while young, I could tell they disagreed, and their words reflected that when they said,
“I just want to be able to enjoy life now while I am young and healthy, and able to do it. That’s what keeps me from saving more money. Do you know what I mean?”
To him, saving enough for his future and enjoying today were mutually exclusive. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most people probably fall into this “now or later” fallacy. Falling on either side of the spectrum can cause work-life imbalance and burnout.
Let’s sort this all out.
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The Fallacy of Living for the Moment
The post I link to more than any other on this site is the Three Kinder Questions post. These three questions, which were created by George Kinder, guide you through the big picture view of your life. The questions help you determine what is most important to you.
I often link to these three questions as the place to start your financial planning. Like driving to a beach vacation, working towards a retirement savings goal is hard to do if you have no idea what your final destination looks like. It is the same for any other financial goal, like whether to use a 529 for your kid’s college education or your employer’s 457 plan for your retirement.
You can’t answer those questions without knowing your big financial goals first.
However, in my conversation mentioned above, it occurred to me that these Kinder questions would be helpful for a different reason. They help us realize what is important. That way, we don’t waste time or money on things that we think are important – which fail the Kinder test – and prevent us from saving as much as we should for our future.
Knowing the Future
The problem with failing to save for tomorrow – because we are living for the moment now – is that our wants and desires change with age. In fact, we as people change with age. Do you think you’ll want the things in your future any less than the things you want right now?
My 20 year old self – who wanted to go to sporting events more than anything else – could not have understood how much he would want to spend every second with his kids when they got older. I don’t want to miss a single tee-ball game, recital, or after-school activity. This desire is one of the major reasons for my Hell Yes Policy.
The truth is that you can live for the moment. Yet, if you spend too much to do that living, it can cost you your future. More importantly, it can cost you the freedom to do what you want later on in life.
In essence, when you are living so large right now that you cannot save, you are choosing your current days over your later days. I’m not sure how many people would take that trade at age 50, 60, or 70. I’m sure I wouldn’t.
The Fallacy of Saving As Much as Possible
Admittedly, the person who saves too much in America is a rare phenomenon. Despite this fact, it is important to mention that the pendulum swings both ways in this conversation.
I know some people who are so frugal that it hurts. Their saving habits prevent happiness and cause unnecessary marital stress. In fact, this was the reason that I wrote my post on the 30% wealth accumulation rate.
It is possible to be so bent on saving money that we don’t let the purse strings loose enough to enjoy today. If I am being honest, I have a tendency to fall into this group myself.
Somewhere in the middle of living it large now and saving so much that it hurts is a balance.
Striking a Balance
The idea that you cannot both save for tomorrow and enjoy today is what we call a “false-dichotomy” in philosophy. It is the fallacy of “either or” where someone makes you feel like you must choose between one of two things as if they are mutually exclusive.
However, that’s not the case when it comes for living for today and saving for tomorrow. If we curb our spending with the Big 5, we can often do both.
Let me explain.
I am a believer in the backwards budget. The purpose of this is to make sure we are achieving our financial goals first. Some call this “paying yourself first” or “automatic savings”. Either way, the point is to take care of business first.
After we have done that, we are left with a certain amount of money. And, I believe, that you should spend that money however your heart desires. Though, I hope you understand how to spend money in ways that will make you happy.
All of this is kind of like doing homework as a kid. In my household, you couldn’t go out and play until your homework was finished. This work first, play second attitude works in finances, too.
And it will allow you to live in the moment now while you also save for your moments later.
I am a firm believer in balance. Please, don’t save so much now that you cannot enjoy today. I also don’t encourage you to live it up so much right now that you cannot save for tomorrow.
Learn to find the balance in moderation. You might realize that despite the saying, you can in fact have your cake and eat it, too, when it comes to living today and saving enough for tomorrow.
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What do you think? Do you have a hard time striking this balance? Are you able to live some today while you save enough for your financial independence?
9 thoughts on “Live Now or Save For Later: The Now or Later Fallacy”
That exactly what we did with a 20-30 % savings rate over most of my career. We only saved 50-60% late in my career when the corporation started throwing money at me. We lived more frugally than most but still spent all we wanted. Now in retirement we’ve got much more than we need, had we saved and invested more it would be useless extra money to us now. I wouldn’t change a thing. But I also loved my job and had no desire to retire very early. Great post.
Greetings from a fellow Baptist FIRE’er?,
I find this is often a topic of conversation that comes up when I talk about FI. It’s an assumption people often make that because my savings rate is so high then that means I must be suffering or robbing myself of enjoying the “now”. I believe its a matter of what you’re comfortable with and perspective. I grew up poor, then become a poor college student then poor grad student etc. I have never exposed myself to lifestyle inflation. I imagine if I had a taste of luxury homes, cars, whole foods, food delivery, fancy meals etc I would view my life now as a deprivation. The hobbies that bring me happiness are quite cheap, I find budget traveling to be part of the adventure and I don’t value anything I’ve listed above especially not as much as I value my time. I rather continue simple living and in a few years have the freedom to eliminate work almost completely but continue to live in the same way.
I have seen the the YOLO mental condition sweep the world.
I am not going to talk directly about religion, but for some reason the words I will use are associated with it.
When people loose Faith and Hope they see everything for the self and the now.
I saw this first when I was in the Military in extremely high risk job where it wasn’t unusual for friends to die even in peacetime. Then it was magnified when we went to war.
To have any desire to save, you must first believe there is a future for you. If you have no faith and hope for the future and you think the world is ending there is no logical reason to save.
We as a people must remind people the world will continue and there is hope and to place their faith things will get better.
Just a Infantry Guys 2 cents
Love this! Great things to think about. Thanks for sharing.
One of the biggest benefits that I experience today is safety and security, knowing I’ve saved for tomorrow. There were times when I was in a constant state of stress because of money because I was borrowing to live today with no regard for tomorrow. It is a balance but taking the long term view has benefits that you feel in a very real way today.
Thank you! This was really helpful to me and just when we needed it!
Very balanced piece.
I think FIRE can get a bad rep sometimes for the lack of balance. For every 1 person who is approaching it with balance, I do think there are those that have a 100-long list of things you cannot do as it is a waste of money.
I think we all know of people who saved a lot and were struck horribly ill when it came round to spending it. Morbid but perspective!
Great discussion on this topic. I personally went through the mental wrench of the false-dichotomy described above when I first woke up to the reality of my finances. I saved so much that it hurt both my current happiness and that of my family (on the bright side, it helped us get out of student loan debt way more quickly). But it was a real wake up call that I needed to find a good balance that allowed us to do both but to focus on accomplishing my goals first and foremost. Thanks for the post.
When I first discovered the concept of financial independence I definitely took things too far. There was no balance and I was just living for tomorrow.
I guess the excitement of reaching FI was just too big. It definitely hurt as I was doing some crazy things but these days are over.
Now I pretty much have a good balance.