The Banker’s anonymous website relayed a story, “A buddy in New York used to tell me that the right way to manage your money is to have just enough to cover your bills until the day you die, and then bounce the check to the funeral home. Man, that poor funeral director.” While it was a joke, there is a speck of wisdom in the humor. My recent burst of wisdom come from two women. I call it, “A Tale of Two Women.”

Money mattered so much in life that my first wife would often reiterate a quip from her mother, “Use it up, wear it out, make do, do without.” The quip irritates me just as much now as it did 35 years ago. Her thoughts were to save everything for retirement. If we took a trip, we stayed at the cheapest hotel and ate at the most inexpensive salad bar restaurant possible. There was little luxury, no need, for she lived by the motto, “Use it up, wear it out, make do, do without.” When whatever it was broke, you did without.

Upon her death at 70, her estate placed her condo up for sale. I was horrified by the pictures. One recliner chair, one small end table (purchased during our marriage), one small dining room table, one lamp, a dining room lamp, and a stereo set by which was tuned to National Public Radio. Nothing else. She retired at 66, acquired cancer at 69, and died at 70. That left three years of stable living. According to a family member, my ex’s assets totaled more than $400 thousand.

My ex-mother-in-law saved every dime she could, even to the point of refusing medical care. She even denied her children socks, clothing, and other needy items. For what? Why? She wanted to save every dollar possible. Five years ago, she retired. Five years ago, she sat down in front of the television and began watching Christian television, like eight to ten hours a day of Christian television. Several weeks ago, she had a stroke. Two weeks later, she passed away. Again, this woman accumulated a vast sum of money, but she died. The caveat is that she placed her money in different banks around the county and city. The only one who knows the location is her attorney. The problem is no one in the family knows who her attorney is. No one knows her real wealth, and no one may ever honestly know.

Each of these women had the best of intentions. By most standards, they died richer than many but poorer than many. Sure they had their wealth, but they were spiritually poor. Over 75% of those 44 years-old fear outliving their money. Therefore, it became impossible for my ex-wife and ex-mother-in-law to make intelligent decisions about their financial future when they became afraid of living in old age.

Andrew Carnegie wrote prolifically about wealth and what to do with it, famously writing that the “man who dies…rich, dies disgraced”. The idea is not to die being the richest man in the graveyard. Retirement should allow one some opportunity to enjoy the fruits of labor. You don’t need to be frugal to the point of extremity. You should be comfortable and in a place where you can spend a little extra to do the things you planned to do. Neither hoarding nor a vow of poverty provides no long-term benefit. For most of us, God would like many of us to enjoy many aspects of retirement. Don’t allow the fear of death to get in the way of life itself.

Final Thought (from Anthony De Mello)

An old man reached the outskirts of the village and settled under a tree for the night. A villager came running up to him and said, “The stone! The stone! Give me the precious stone!

What stone?” asked the old man.

Last night I had a dream that if I went to the outskirts of the village at dusk, an old man would give me a stone that would make me rich forever.

The old man rummaged in his sack and, pulling out a stone, he said, “The dream probably referenced this one. I found it in the forest yesterday. Here, it’s yours if you want it.

The man gazed at the stone in wonder. It was the largest diamond in the world – the size of a man’s head. All night he tossed about in bed. At the break of day he went back to the old man and said, “Give me the wealth that makes it possible for you to give this stone away.