Should You Start an I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think Fund?

This past Friday I came upon an article in Yahoo Finance about one of my favorite bloggers, the Mad Fientist. The article, in a very ham-fisted way, tried to explain how the Mad Fientist (aka, Brandon) achieved financial independence at age 34. And because the article failed to address much of the math and logic behind financial independence, many commenters were understandably hostile to Brandon’s story.

“This is a B S article,” wrote Earl. “No info at all about his previous job and income. Where did he invest to keep up with inflation. What does his wife contribute. Does he have cars etc. And how could he possibly afford hea[l]th insurance and or drugs if needed.”

“Cost of property tax and healthcare will prevent you from retiring,” wrote James. “You are meant to be a slave till you die.”

“Yep another retired blogger who gets compensated for ads on his website,” wrote Dick. “On top of that his wife is working and they keep there [sic] finances mostly separate. So mostly separate means she supports him. What a bunch of garbage.”

Not all commenters, of course, were hostile to Brandon’s story. Some exacted high praise upon his accomplishments. Others, though, while conceding the veracity of Brandon’s story, were turned off by the extreme frugality they assumed he practiced.

Rcon, for instance, wrote the following:

“My grandmother lived in a 500-sq ft shack. Wouldn’t use, or let anyone in her house, use more than five sheets of toilet paper. She never went anywhere; never did anything. When she died, her kids squabbled over the $400,000 that she left in the bank. She was a miserable #$%$ her entire life, but she loved her zeroes.”

Dan M averred that he’s “sick and tired of these articles about these 20 and 30 year old idiots who ‘retired’ because the[y] lived like bums for 10 years and never had kids.”

And, finally, a commenter—named Brandon as well—had this to say:

“If ‘Brandon’ would have died at 33, he would have looked like the biggest idiot on the planet.”

The I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think Fund

The commenters who jumped all over Brandon and accused him of being a fraud are wrong. But given how poorly the article explained Brandon’s story and the concept of financial independence, the vitriol is understandable.

The commenters who suggested that financial independence isn’t worth the sacrifice of “extreme” frugality are also wrong. Brandon and his wife haven’t spent the past ten years dumpster diving for food and living in a van by the river. Their modest lifestyle only looks “extreme” because we’ve been conditioned to equate adequate with deprivation. Driving a twelve year old Corolla and living in an 1100-square-foot home with all the standard utilities and appliances, for instance, is not the stuff of abject poverty. If you want to see real squalor, check out a Brazilian favela or a South African shanty town.

The commenters who brought up the fickleness of death, however, do have a point.

Most of us are going to live into our 80s or 90s. But some of us won’t. My very good friend’s brother passed away this year at 57. Mrs. Groovy’s cousin died suddenly of a heart attack a few weeks ago. He was 53. The quarterback on my high school football team and my roommate in college died twelve years ago after a long struggle with cancer. He was 43.

So having a tragically short life is within the realm of possibility.

My point here is not to be morose. But nature or fate could conspire against you. Wouldn’t it make sense then to hedge your bets a little and be occasionally wanton with your hard-earned money?

I think the answer to this is a resounding “yes.” And if you agree with me, you need to start an I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think fund. Here’s how it would work.

1. Get a big jar.

2. Fill it with spare change and dollars.

3. Once it’s filled, empty its contents and spend every last penny on something completely frivolous. Go buy a 55-inch flat screen TV, have dinner at a fancy restaurant, blow it all on a weekend at a luxury resort—anything that makes your heart go pitter-patter.

4. Start the process of filling the jar with spare change and dollars again.

That’s it. The I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think fund strikes me as a fitting compromise between your desire to save for tomorrow and your desire to “live” for today. The trick is to get a jar that’s big enough to hold a sizable amount of spare change and requires at least two years to fill. The jar pictured below is twenty-inches high and takes Mrs. Groovy and me about three years to fill. On average, our I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think fund nets us about a thousand dollars.

moneyjar

Final Thoughts

The I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think fund is not without its downside. Counting and depositing the dollars is easy enough. Counting and depositing the coins is beyond dreary, and it’s something Mrs. Groovy and I refuse to do. To get around this logistical roadblock, we use the Coinstar machine at the local Food Lion. But this presents its own drawbacks as well. Walking into Food Lion with a large jar of change is embarrassing as hell. And Coinstar clips you for about ten percent of your tally.

Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. What do you think? Is my I-May-Die-Sooner-Than-I-Think fund a fun and painless way to turbo-charge your happiness on your way to financial independence? Or is it a glorified piggy bank that fails miserably to address the risk of an early death? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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50 Comments

  1. That’s a shame Brandon and other early retirement bloggers before him get some much negative feedback when their stories go mainstream. While he may regret his lifestyle if he were to die in his early 30s, he is going to absolutely love his lifestyle if he lives to 80 or 90 (50-60 years of retirement!)… So how about that

    • Mr. Groovy

      Exactly, GS! The negative feedback is largely due to ignorance. Not only is Brandon (and other FIRE luminaries) setting the stage for a very enjoyable old age, he’s having a rather enjoyable time right now. Let’s see…happily married…works on his terms…has all the niceties of modern life…travels the world…sounds pretty groovy to me.

  2. The comments are brutal whenever one of these stories goes on a major publication. ThinkSaveRetire and Millennial Money Man got some nasty ones as well recently. People mock or attack what they don’t understand.

    I am with ya on having a small fund to blow money on without remorse – occasionally we get the opportunity to do extra work and they actually pay in gift cards. We get a mini shopping spree without the guilt.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Sweet! Here’s one for you AE. My company often buys the staff lunch out of gratitude for the great work the staff does. But many staffers work remotely, like yours truly. To accommodate the offsite staffers, my company sends out $15 gift cards. When I get them, I just throw them in a basket in our kitchen. I took stock the other day and I now have 6 such cards. Texas Roadhouse here we come!

  3. Me and my husband were just talking about this yesterday. The question we ask ourselves is, “If I were to die tomorrow, would I regret this decision of not doing this if it was my last day on earth?” If we would regret it, we do it. If not, we try to avoid it. Thanks for sharing. I think we will designate our piggy bank to I may die sooner than I think fund.

    • Mr. Groovy

      What a great philosophy. “Would I regret this decision of not doing this if it was my last day on earth?” If we would all ask ourselves this simple question on a routine basis, we would surely make better decisions. Thanks for stopping by, WWD. I love it!

  4. That’s a great idea with the extra money fund. We use an “allowance” fund to get around this. Granted, over the years it’s gotten more and more stuff put into the “covered by the allowance fund, but the concept is simple. If it only benefits you, put it on allowance.

    This way, if I want to save up and buy a banjo for $2k, then I don’t have to plead and cajole, and figure out how to convince Mrs. SSC that it’s really, really worth it. I just have to save up for it.

    Then there are no questions, issues or even talk about what we spend that $$ on.

    I like the idea of a bigger fund though, that we could maybe use for something frivolous for the whole family. Time to find a big jar around the house!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Here’s one for you. In the 80s, a good friend of my was a bartender. He got a 5-gallon water bottle and filled it up with only quarters from his tip money. I don’t know how many years it took him to do it, but when he was finished, he had over $7K in it. Needless to say, that $7K paid for a number of trips to Vegas. Now that’s an “allowance fund.” Thanks for stopping by, Mr. SSC. Glad to see that you and the misses are living a life without regrets.

  5. Having lost my sister last week at age 56, waiting on things is not a good idea. Always best to live an intentional life. Having a fund or building in a little “fun” money into your budget is a good way to spend.

    Having met Brandon last year at FinCon he is not suffering at all. He travels, drinks great beers, and is general happy. The mainstream reading an article on early retirement just can’t wrap their heads around that concept and only their only reaction is to lash out.

    • Mr. Groovy

      I’m so sorry. As I mentioned in my post, a very close friend of mine lost his brother earlier this year. He was 57. It’s very sobering. We all just assume that all of our friends and loved-ones we’ll make it to a ripe old age. But sadly, life isn’t so accommodating. You really summed it up well. Live intentionally. Build a little “fun” money into your budget. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Brian. And sorry once again for your loss. So sad.

  6. Those comment sections show the anger and frustration of people that feel like wage slaves. These people desperately want out, but many have succumbed to the false idea that it’s not possible, so they lash out at anyone bearing good tidings. Sad.

    Play money is important. We have a similar jar in our home that we fill up throughout the year and that money is used on our annual summer vacation. Before I switched to an online bank, my old credit union had a coinstar-type machine that members could use for free. Nice!!

    More recently we’ve gone digital with our savings. I now use the Acorns app to invest my spare change. The money in that account will be used for anything outside of our normal budget; probably for gift buying. We’ve stashed about $575 in 6 months or so (on top of our regular old pocket change)

    • Mr. Groovy

      When Mrs. Groovy and I were back in New York, our bank had a coinstar-like machine as well. I miss not having to pay a “convenience tax” every time we cash in our money jar. The Acorns app sounds very interesting. I’ll have to check it out. But there’s something about a jar being filled. I know it’s old school, but I get a kick out of it. I feel like a little kid when we get home from shopping and I get to put the change in the jar. Thanks for stopping by, Ty. Always glad to hear from another afecionado of “play money.”

  7. What a great idea! This is something I’m definitely going to do. I already throw spare change into a jar but normally just deposit the money into my bank account (since I use their coin machine for free) but I like the idea of using it frivolously instead.

    I actually have a post coming out next week regarding all the crazy comments people post on blogs and articles. I find them completely fascinating, especially those from haters!

    • Mr. Groovy

      This is killing me. Everyone has a free coin machine except me. What an outrage! In all seriousness, though, I’m glad to hear you’re into money jars. It’s such a pain-free way of building up some “fun money.” And thank you for sharing your fascination with haters. I’m fascinated with haters too. In fact, there are times when I skip the article and go straight to the comments. The haters bring such joy to my life.

      • You know, most banks will count your change for free – however, they just may have certain days and times that they will do it. Our bank in LA would count your change for free, but only on Mon. and Wed. 12-4 or something odd. But, they were fine if you brought your money in and left it until they got to counting it and then they would jsut deposit the $$ in your account.

        It’s worth asking at your local bank because they may have something similar set up and then you can skip the convenience fee.

        • Mr. Groovy

          Really? Did not know that. I’ll have to inquire at Bank of America. If not, there are always credit unions. So one way or another, we’ll slay that dastardly change-counting fee. Thanks for the tip, Mr. SSC. Appreciate it.

  8. Agreed – there is quite a lot of information missing from that article.

    LOL about living in a van down by the river 😀

    I think this special fund is a great idea, for you and others in your situation. However, we’re going to continue putting everything towards debt right now. In doing so, we’re buying more peace of mind, reaching a point where we know that debt has lost it’s control over us. But the structure of our long-term plans is definitely compatible with the line of thinking that you never know how long you have. Yes, we’re working very hard for the next couple of years, but then we’re going to cut back and devote more time to living life – in comparison to working for the next ten years or so to achieve complete financial independence. Ten years is a long time to put life on hold. We feel more comfortable only risking about five years (or less) on a more-meaningful future. We are only 34 years old right now . . . hoping for plenty of time to go on adventures.

    • Mr. Groovy

      You do have plenty of time to go on adventures. Mrs. Groovy and I didn’t become debt-free until our mid-40s. And that was only possible because we sold our condo at the height of an epic housing bubble. But you’ll be debt-free in your mid-30s. Awesome! So the “special fund” can wait a couple of years. And it’s not like you need tons of money to have fun. After all, how much does card night with friends cost? How much does Netflix and a bottle of wine cost? Always a pleasure hearing from you, Harmony. Keep stepping on the neck of that debt monster.

  9. Yes the comments section on FIRE bloggers are a lot of kicks and giggles. I think they’re jealous, mostly

    However the article made me depressed. Not out of jealousy but other things. I actually wanted to write a post about this!

    “But his journey to financial independence taught him a valuable lesson: Saving isn’t everything.”

    “When an audience member asked Brandon and this panelists to share what kept them motivated on the path to financial independence during an episode of his “Financial Independence Podcast,” he responded that instead of struggling to stick to his savings goals, he coped with putting away too much.”

    “”[I] went so hardcore that I made myself really unhappy during the process,” he says. “I just didn’t want to do anything that involved spending money. I just wanted to get there as soon as possible.””

    While Brandon advocates financial independence, he stresses that anyone striving for early retirement should avoid becoming so obsessed with it that they isolate themselves.

    By avoiding anything that involved spending money, Brandon ended up dodging his friends and depriving himself of even the little things that brought him joy.

    “One extra dollar in your bank account is not going to make you really happier,” he warns.

    I don’t want to achieve FIRE this way! Although I think the comments section mostly were negative nancy’s out of jealousy. You know most people don’t work in jobs they love.

    I totally hope he is doing better now and not avoiding friends!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. I love Brandon, but it’s safe to say he had some issues there for a while. But happily you realized a lot sooner than he did that even FIRE requires balance. Yes, FIRE is important, and something we all strive for. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of being a hermit and avoiding friends and family. Thanks for reminding us of the dangers of obsessiveness, Lila. We needed that.

  10. P.S. I do want to achieve FIRE and that’s a goal I want to work towards. I just would rather be friends with people of similar and shared values so I don’t have to avoid them =)

    • Mr. Groovy

      I’m with you, Lila. We are social animals, after all. Find friends who share your values and goals and you don’t have to sacrifice your quest for FIRE. The best of both worlds. Brilliant strategy.

  11. Although we have a few empty bottles lying In the cupboards (ahem…no idea where they came from ….), we don’t fill them with our dollars and change.

    However Mr. PIE whole-heartedly endorses the notion of Mr and Mrs. Groovy living a fun life in spite of those naysayers ( chickens of doom) who sit in their soiled underpants in the bowels of their parental home basement and fire off absolute drivel onto whatever message board they come across. Ok , enough of my terms of endearment towards that crew.

    Anyway, the point I will now get to is something that Brandon himself has written about, spoken about and actually lives his life by. It is to embrace “the now” at the same time as planning for the future. Yeah, two things to be held in our mind at the same time – something those chickens of doom could barely get to grips with. Excessive pursuit of frugality or over-spending each has its own problems.

    May your bottle continue to overflow and in the true Scottish style of best wishes….

    “Lang may yer lum reek”

    ( Translation = may you never be without fuel for your FIRE)

    Google it, it is true. No jokes.

    • Mr. Groovy

      “Lang may yer lum reek.” Holy crap! I think we’ve stumbled upon a motto for FIRE nation.

      What the heck is it with the denizens of Great Britain and their felicity with language? How do you guys write so well? Is it the Guinness? Is it the Macallan?

      Well, whatever it is, it certainly has afflicted you.

      “[L]iving a fun life in spite of those naysayers (chickens of doom) who sit in their soiled underpants in the bowels of their parental home basement and fire off absolute drivel onto whatever message board they come across,” is pure genius, my friend.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your wisdom and your tongue, Mr. PIE. Definitely the highlight of my day.

  12. Living frugally, for most of us, is not about hoarding or suffering. It’s about making choices to live according to our values and priorities.
    Having the financial security to walk away from a corrupt boss or sexual harassment is priceless. Being able to retire early and enjoy 50 years rather than 10 or 20 is huge.
    Any of us could have a stroke or get hit by a car tomorrow, but cutting all the crap out of our lives today makes us better off now and later.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Amen, sister! Frugality does not equal deprivation, at least not in America. There’s absolutely no drop off in the quality of your life in choosing a Corolla over a Lexus, at 32-inch flat screen over a 55-inch flat screen, or a weekend of camping over a weekend at a resort. And like you so eloquently put it, “Having the financial security to walk away from a corrupt boss or sexual harassment is priceless.” Thanks for stopping by, Julie. And thanks for your rousing defense of frugality, minimalism, and intentionality.

  13. Yeah, I think giving yourself some “Lets Just Blow it” money is healthy, even if you are concentrating on saving/building for the future. It doesn’t have to be a lot to be impactful, but having the freedom to be occasionally frivolous (everything in moderation, including moderation) is as much a part of Financial independence as anything else.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Couldn’t agree more, Emily. I love that line, “It doesn’t have to be a lot to be impactful…” It’s so true. A big Saturday night for Mrs. Groovy and me is going to the Dairy Queen for Blizzards. It’s pathetic, I know. But that makes up happy and it only costs $6. Talk about impactful.

  14. I think the concept of fun money, whether it’s saved up in a jar or built into your budget, is important. There are things we spend money on that we could cut back, but we’ve decided they are things that make us happy. If we get into an emergency situation, they’ll be the first to go. But in the meantime, we can afford a few indulgences while still saving in other areas.

    • Agreed. If you’re reaching your saving goals, and you can afford some fun money, you would be foolish not to budget for fun. Like you said, Gary, if things go south, fun money can be easily removed from the budget.

  15. Groovy article, per usual! Life is all about balance, in my view. Live some for today, save some for tomorrow. Don’t go extreme on either end of the spectrum. I’m going to FIRE in <2 years at Age 55, yet we've taken a nice vacation every year while our daughter was growing up (gotta love frequent flyer miles!!). We'll never regret the memories, and we'll still retire "early enough". Balance.

    • “Life is all about balance.” My sentiments exactly, Fritz. Couldn’t have said it better. And it’s funny, our retirement trajectory has matched yours to a tee. We’re about to FIRE very soon, and setting aside the money for this has never stopped us from taking a nice vacation every year. We just decided that buying the car and house we could “afford” wasn’t as important as buying a sizable share of fun (vacations, home improvements, Dairy Queen, etc.) and freedom (Roths, 401(k), 403(b), etc.) every year.

  16. Rob

    What a timely blog. I am52, have been saving for retirement since my first real job in my 20s and really looking forward to doing what I want do on my time. Freedom!!
    Going to help my 87 year old mom downsize this weekend and splurged $48 on my flight to get free drinks and an extra couple inches of leg room. Livin the dream every day but not losing sight of the future. Will toast you on my 6 AM flight home on Sunday morning. Keep on keepin it real.

    • Mr. Groovy

      I love it, Rob. Tell me your time zone. If it’s feasible, Mrs. Groovy and I will have a 6 AM toast with you. After all, it’s the least we could for a fellow freedom-lover who’s living the dream. Great job, my friend. Hope the downsize goes well.

  17. Ahhh! I finally got to see your huge spare dollars and change jar! It is quite large…I can imagine carrying that through the store to the Coinstar machine may get a few sideways glances.

    To us, frugality is a lifestyle, and we don’t feel deprived in the least. There is a balance, for sure, and it looks different for everyone. We try to make saving and spending decisions based on our values, always keeping in mind life may be shorter than we think.

    In fact, we had this discussion last night – my husband has always wanted a boat. We know it’s money we could invest, but are choosing to make an intentional spending choice here and plan to buy the boat (a used boat we will pay cash for). It’s not a flippant YOLO moment, but something we’ve carefully considered. Because life may be shorter than we think.

    • Mr. Groovy

      That jar is 55 pounds of fun right now. Lugging it in to Food Lion will be quite a chore. But we keep the sideways glances low by going early in the morning. Fewer shoppers then.

      I commend you on your frugal lifestyle. It’s what Mrs. Groovy and I strive for as well. And we too don’t feel deprived.

      I must say, though, that I shuddered when you mentioned a boat. The last boat owner in my family was my uncle and he named his boat, “M T Wallet.” But when I read you were buying it used and for cash, my heart stopped racing and a wave of serenity washed over my soul.

      Thanks for stopping by, Amanda. It’s always great hearing from someone who has mastered the art of being frugal and living richly.

  18. Coins go into a jar in our home. It usually goes to Coinstar – it is a lifesaver when it comes to getting rid of your coins. However, I don’t like the 10% haircut.

    Do you have a better idea to get cash back on coins rather than sit and count?

    –Michael

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. That 10% haircut is rough. Mrs. Groovy has done some research and the only banks that have free coin machines in our area are credit unions. But here’s the rub. You got to be a member. To become a member, in turn, you got to work for the government, be a close relative of someone who works for the government, or you must do a certain number of volunteer hours for the municipality or the state. We won’t become members via the government angle, but we are willing to volunteer. I keep posted on how things work out, Michael. Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

  19. It’s always disappointing when people try to tear down people instead of cheering for people reaching their financial goals.

    I love the idea of your “fund.” It gives you something to “work” towards while feeling completely guilt free. Love it!!!!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. The penchant people have to tear down is so sad, And counterproductive. Why do we do it?

      And I love the point you make about the fund being a great way to spend without evoking the pangs of guilt. Now, intellectually I know it’s not, but all that spare change feels like “found” money. It really is a great way to treat yourself every couple of years or so.

      Thanks for stopping by, MSM. I appreciate your insights.

  20. Lisa Gonzales

    I had a scare when 3 years ago at 45. I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer and before I found out how far along it was and what stage it was in, I did a lot of thinking about what I wished I had done. Mostly, I would have been sad to miss the last books in the few series I read and also that I didn’t see all the places that I had on my list – WDW, Scotland, Ireland, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, etc. I was VERY lucky that it turned out to be Stage 1C and chemo & surgery got all the cancer. I vowed that I would travel more and not wait so my I May Die Sooner Than I Think fund is my vacation fund so I can visit all those places now. I budget for that monthly and throw all extra money at it I can a month. Probably a little larger than you had in mind, but I don’t want to have those regrets again!

    I’m glad I found your blog!

    • Mr. Groovy

      What an inspiring story! I’m so glad they caught it at an early stage. So, yes, by all means, keep feeding that vacation fund. I’d gladly sacrifice a large home and a bunch of new cars in exchange for trips to Scotland, Ireland, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. “For all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, it might have been.” Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Lisa. You really made my day.

  21. Great topic … Man… I guess the nutshell lesson is to have no regrets. If you could take a two week trip to Hawaii in the middle of a 10 year prison sentence, at a cost of adding one full year, would you? In reality, there’s a lot of ways to make that fun money on the side without relying on couch cushion money, and still keep you on the path to FIRE.

    • Mr. Groovy

      “I guess the nutshell lesson is to have no regrets.” Exactly. What a great way to sum things up. And I totally agree with you about “ways to make that fun money on the side without relying on couch cushion money.” If we just devoted as much time as we do to fantasy football or the latest intrigue on the Housewives to figuring out how live richly for less, we could easily remain on the path to FIRE and still enjoy life. It’s not that hard if you start thinking about it. Thanks for stopping by, AC. You packed a lot of wisdom in one small comment.

  22. We have many of those, albeit the names are more positive 😉

    we have travel budget: it pays for this years ski holiday.
    We als have fun money to buy things guilt free. It is that same money that we save up for kids free weekends. You need those…!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Nice! It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you put a little thought into something. And fun/guilt free spending is a perfect example. I love the kids-free-weekends fund. I’m sure that fund is a godsend to many parents. Thanks for sharing, AT. Awesome contribution, as always.

  23. I’m a big fan of balancing saving for the future with having an excellent life now. Some sacrifices make sense, but not if they suck all your joy and are choices. A little frivolity does a lot of good.

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