Book Review: Die with Zero by Bill Perkins

Book Review: Die with Zero by Bill Perkins

20 Dec

The book world is full of people with good intentions, trying to give you advice on how to live your life. Much of it is common sense, and a lot of the rest is not even worth reading. Die with Zero, though, is one title that is full of pearls of wisdom and an enjoyable read.

As well as being a high-stakes poker player, Bill Perkins is a massively successful energy trader who generated more than $1 billion for his fund over a five-year period.

He is a guy who set out with a lofty goal and achieved it, picking up a lot of insight into how life and money intersect and what we can do to make the most of everything. This book neatly packages tips on how we should utilise our wealth to needlessly avoid missing out.

What’s it All About?

The main crux of Perkins’ work is how to move onto creating memorable life experiences once retirement has been saved for. He also stresses the point that this should be taken care of as soon as possible to take full advantage of the energy of youth. There’s no point in arriving at old age with ambitious plans only to be hamstrung by the usual aches and pains that go with it.

The book takes the format of a list of nine rules to live by. Follow this advice and Perkins promises you that you will be well on the way to achieving the goal of trading your financial wealth for something much more valuable—precious memories.

#1 Maximise Your Positive Life Experiences

This has to sound desirable to everyone, right? Not many people wish to spend their life at work at the expense of doing something memorable.

This comes back to the oft-used advice of money not making you happy. Perkins recommends not delaying your plans until it’s too late. Life is not a rehearsal!

He also makes a great analogy about life not being like a game of Space Invaders: you don’t get any points for all the money you rack up in the game.

#2 Start Investing in Experiences Early

Perkins kicks off this chapter with a story of a former roommate who went backpacking in Europe at the expense of kicking off his career as young as possible, and even getting into debt to do so.

It wasn’t until the hedge fund manager finally got to Europe himself at the age of 30 that he realised it was already too late to be living the backpacker lifestyle, something he now sees as something that must be done early if done at all.

Our lives are the sum total of our experiences and the inherent difficulty of quantifying the value of them means that we often miss out on what could have the best choice.

#3 Aim to Die with Zero

This chapter is all about not getting stuck into the rut of only focusing on making money. Perkins tells a story of his friend John Arnold—later to become a billionaire—and how he failed to change direction once he was already extremely wealthy.

This tunnel vision led him to still be working crazy hours in a stressful environment once the enjoyment had long since dissipated.

Perkins takes what will be a controversial view for many, in that he thinks people actually often save too much money for their retirement with an irrational fear of running out of money.

#4 Use All Available Tools to Help You Die with Zero

Now the text takes a more technical turn with the focus looking at how we can actually calculate a variety of outcomes. For starters, none of us have any idea when we will die, exactly.

There are sources out there, including free life expectancy calculators on insurance websites, that will at least give you a starting point to be able to make more accurate plans to be able to die with zero.

#5 Give Money to Your Children or to Charity When it Has the Most Impact

One way to die with zero is just to give it to your kids. Not everybody’s idea of a retirement plan while they’re still kicking around, but it is something to consider if you were planning to leave a considerable sum in a will.

Perkins advises giving money away, whether to children or a charity, when it will have the most impact. He delves in deeper into how you can assess the timing yourself.

#6 Don’t Live Your Life on Autopilot

Rule number six is all about learning how not to autopilot your way through life. Let’s face it, the older we get the more limited our choices are to create memorable experiences—don’t risk letting time pass you by and miss out on any incredible opportunities.

Perkins writers about the balance between health, wealth, and free time to help perfect your timing.

#7 Think of Your Life as Distinct Seasons

This chapter tells what is a slightly morbid tale of a palliative care nurse and her experiences of what people had to say as they approached the end of their life.

The common theme throughout was the vast majority of people regretted not pursuing enough of their dreams and not spending so much time working and missing out on special days with friends and family.

#8 Know When to Stop Growing Your Wealth

For many, rule number eight is the key take away from the entire book—when to stop saving and when to start enjoying life to the full.

There is a ton of advice on how not to go past the point of no return and missing your peak wealth years. He gives a range of 45-60 for when most people should start decumulating.

#9 Take Your Biggest Risks When You Have Little to Lose

To end the book, Perkins writes on the timing of risks. Many decisions in life come with no guarantee and therefore have inherent risk attached. He explains how risking more when there is less to lose is a strategy that works over sometimes being too bold and other times just plain foolish.

One of the key takeaways is that youth often comes with an ability to take bigger risks while having many more years to put things right if all does not go to plan.

Final Thoughts

This is a fantastic book, full of great advice that puts together a lot of pieces that many of us know but never form into a harmonious life strategy.

The text also serves up an extensive motivational element for getting various parts of life working together to make the most of opportunities. Highly recommended.