Live for the moment but keep an eye on the horizon

Live for the moment but keep an eye on the horizon
30 July 2013

“Balance” seems to be the modern-day holy grail. Whether it’s balancing work and play, getting the right nutrients into our system while not forgoing the odd pleasure or working out how much to save for our tomorrows, while living a great life today.

Many people I come across struggle with this issue of balancing spend and save. These are the sorts of things that tend to come up: “Why save when I could die tomorrow and not enjoy the fruits of my labour?” Or: “I don’t know when I will die, and so I have no idea how much I should save.” The upshot is that many people don’t save.

All this planning and working things out is daunting, there’s no question about that, plus it can force us to face emotional life issues not least our mortality. This inevitably means that many of us would rather ignore addressing the problem and what it means... or at best believe that we must confront it, and will sort it out, but keep putting it off – indefinitely.

Is this wise?

True, no one knows how long their life will be, but if you’re reading this, chances are that you are going to live beyond retirement age. The Society of Actuaries finds that 81.27 per cent of men and women live from birth to beyond retirement in western countries. Asia isn’t far behind with an increasing percentage living into their 80s.
Another truism: You can’t take your money with you, and yes, there’s a lot to be said for living in the present – but shouldn’t it really be about enjoying the present while living for today and tomorrow?

Maybe what we need to do more of is define what words mean.

So, let’s try this: what comes to mind when you hear: “You should enjoy today and live for the moment”? My guess is that most people would equate this with spending money, not having a care in the world, and definitely not bothering with saving for the future. But how about this as a definition: Enjoying the moment is about being happy with what you have, and not hankering after more stuff, or what you don’t have. And so, enjoying today and living for the moment means being present in your today, appreciating what you do, who and what you have in life, acknowledging it, feeling it and living it. Sounds a bit hippy dippy doesn’t it? Try it. It works wonders.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to be and achieve more. It simply is about finding that balance – of being, feeling, living what we are and have now, while working towards the rest of life, however short or long, and establishing a secure future.

Wealth is more than money

And what about the word “wealth”? Most of us conjure up mental images of money and material possessions when we hear that word. But how about thinking, and believing, that wealth equals experiences and time with loved ones, or, just time.

Time I believe is the measure of wealth. For me, true wealth is the ability to choose how to spend our precious, finite time. It could be deciding to read a story to a child or get on a plane to see a dear friend who’s got health issues or who is simply celebrating something important.

But if you cannot afford to take time off for these things, or don’t have the available cash to buy a plane ticket, because you choose to live by the enjoy today maxim, these are not options.

Another crucial thing to think about is the definition of living or feeling alive. What is it that really makes you feel alive? Are you doing any of it today? In the near future? Or are you putting things off until, say, you retire? Or until you have just a little bit more money, wealth, or stuff?

These days we are having to rethink what retirement actually means. 

For my part, I would hope that I’d be fit to work in some capacity till I die. I’d rather earn less now, but work longer into the future, to be able to spend my current time on the important things to me. I’d still be saving for the future throughout. If I overindulge in spending time on non-earning things that enrich me personally, then I would need to adjust the way I live my future – ie, spend less, but wisely.

And so, back to the issue of balancing saving versus spending: it turns out that money might not add years (or healthy years) onto your life, but it can buy you time to spend the life you have without regrets.

Remember, true wealth comes from relationships and shared experiences, not dollars and possessions.

But guess what? Without that healthy bank balance, you won’t have the freedom to choose how you spend your time, and life.

This article first appeared in The National. You may also find these articles of interest:

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