One of the biggest excuses that I hear for spending money you don’t have is that you might die tomorrow. “What if I’m hit by a bus tomorrow and I didn’t go on that vacation, or have that car, or own that bag?” The thinking is that it would be a shame to die without having had certain experiences or possessions and so overspending is justified in the face of mortality.
But I’ll tell you this: When you’re facing the real end of your life and not just looking for an excuse to justify your spending, the last thing you’re going to want to do is spend money. Too much else becomes far more important than “stuff.” I’ve spent six years volunteering in a nursing home and a hospital and the most common thing people near the end of life wish for is more time with their family. The only money involved in that wish is perhaps some travel expenses. What else do those who are dying wish for? Here’s the top ten list from my own, unscientific observations over the years.
More time with family: Even sick children ask for this one. And it almost never appears in the context of “more time with family on a big vacation.” People just want to spend time together talking or playing a game. They just want to be together and to feel that closeness.
To mend a family relationship: Be it mending a relationship with an estranged child or sibling, or getting to know distant relatives better, the desire to fix what’s broken is strong.
To see another season: Whether it’s spring, Christmas, or one more snow, people have a strong desire to see their favorite time of year just one more time.
One more healthy day: While this one is almost impossible to grant even with all the money in the world, a lot of dying people just want one more day when they could run, jump, and play without pain.
To finish something Whether it’s a book series, a quilting project, or a woodworking project, the desire to complete something and leave nothing unfinished is strong.
To straighten up affairs: I’ve seen people go to all kinds of lengths to make sure they don’t leave a mess behind when they die. They frantically rush to get wills and papers together, to transfer assets and to make certain that those left behind will have no trouble sorting everything out.
To see someone or something one more time: Maybe they want to see a long lost friend or a grandchild who lives far away one more time, or see their childhood home. Just once more they want to look at the people and things that mattered to them.
To be at home: No one wants to die in a sterile hospital or nursing home. Many people just want to go home and be in a comfortable and familiar environment at the end.
To go outside: Along with going home, many people have a strong desire to be outside at the end. They want to watch the sun rise and set, to see the birds, to smell the grass or watch the leaves fall.
Sex: I know it sounds strange, but you’d be surprised how many people want to make love to their partners just once more. It’s not even about the act itself as much as it is about the connection, the closeness, and the caring involved. It’s about the knowledge that they love and are loved.
Now, I’m not opposed to “bucket lists” – lists of things you want to do before you die – because they are not generally the same as overspending in the name of death. As long as your bucket list serves as a set of goals to strive and save for, it can be a positive thing that gives you great experiences throughout your life. A bucket list can be motivating and rewarding as long as you’re not spending irresponsibly in the pursuit of completing your bucket list. But I am opposed to spending money you don’t have on trips, clothes, toys, electronics, etc. on the theory that you or your children might die tomorrow. It likely isn’t true and you’re simply looking for an excuse to justify your purchases.
If you really believed you were going to die tomorrow, would you want that purse or would you want more time with your family? If you really believed that your life was almost over, would you really want to trek around the world, or would you want to mend a relationship with an estranged brother or sister? If you knew you were going to die in two days, would you really want to blow all your money on a plasma TV, or would you want to make sure the money was passed to your grandchildren?
What matters at the end of a life is very rarely anything material. It makes me angry when people justify overspending in the name of mortality because very few of these people have ever come close to death or even really contemplated their own mortality. They just parrot the “death excuse” as a way to justify themselves. When you’ve spent time amongst the sick and dying and you’ve really looked at your own mortality, you’ll likely have a very different, simpler wish list. And there’s probably not a big screen TV or a cruise on it.