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Life is a Joke, Then it is Over

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A thought experiment: Why do you want money? What drives you to attain financial independence? Why is retirement such a powerful draw? Think about these questions before you read on. I want you to really understand why you do the things you do when it comes to money. Think about what money does for you.

Readers here already understand they don’t want the headline. Money, in and of itself, is worthless. It is paper with inked pictures of deceased individuals. So what. But money also symbolizes something. Money is how we trade value when we are not bartering. Because money is a store of value until needed, we can do things with money impossible with barter. Money can earn a profit. I guess you could barter for seeds. Then you could create some of the characteristics of money if you farm. Still, money is a tool, nothing more.


Having money, lots of money, does not make you happy. Money gives you choice. By building wealth you can open opportunities unavailable to you before. It takes money to invest to build passive income for an independent lifestyle. With money you can open your dream business, travel, spend more time with family.

So much focus is on accumulating money, saving, investing, retiring. What you really want is something totally different. I always dreamed of owning my own business and except for one year of my adult life I have. A certain level of wealth is necessary to reach personal goals. But even these goals do not come from money.

Happy LifeThe next logical question is: Why do you want to retire? Travel? Spend more time with family? The end game is a feeling. If you carry the questions far enough you will come to answers that really matter. Having money gives me freedom to travel and spend time with family. Traveling and family time make you feel good. Make you happy.

Every action we take is to avoid pain or gain pleasure: real or imagined. You overspend because you think the things you are buying will make you happy. By questioning all purchases you will find most expenditures only provide illusory happiness. The new car is not new for long and the cost of maintaining the car hurts.

Research shows we gain more lasting pleasure from experiences rather than things. A family vacation is a fond memory; the flat screen TV is not. My family trip to Costa Rica with my parents is filled with great memories we still talk about around the card table. Our discussion on the TV is usually filled with derision, if it is discussed at all.

The Greatest Feeling in the World

People love to laugh. It is a universal feeling. There is no culture I am aware of where jokes and good-natured fun are not a part of daily life. Some cultures smile more than others, but all people enjoy a good laugh, even the sour-pusses.

I am asked to speak multiple times per year. Since I am not a big fan of travelling, I limit the number of engagements to a handful each year and most are relatively close to home. Slowly, I am opening myself to more gigs. When I speak to one group, people in the audience take the experience home with them. Organizations they belong to now ask me to speak for their group. Goodwill Industries has asked me to speak every year for many years now. Last year they wanted me twice so I could discuss two topics.

Anyone who knows me knows I do not take life seriously. I have a grab bag of one-liners I use to illustrate life lessons.

Keith’s Rule # 15: Life is a joke and then it is over.

Rule 15 illustrates my personal worldview. When I am at home or in a crowd I always share stories. My favorite stories have a twist with a humorous slant. Stories should teach a lesson while still having fun. There is so much to laugh at. When I speak I include a lot of one-liner asides. I take a serious topics (frequently taxes since I am an accountant) and get people to laugh at the craziness of the make believe world of tax law. There is no real world connection to your taxes. Your taxable income has no relation to your real world cash flow. (Okay, smart ass in the back row. There is a relationship, a damn poor one.) Taxes are make-believe, like the boogie man.

Turn it into a Skit

Anything happening in my vicinity is fair game. The gym is a fertile playground. People do crazy things at the gym while I am serious about my workout. I will not share my well-developed skit on the gym here. If you catch me in public, just fire me up and watch the sparks fly. Yikes! You need to do the same thing. Turn events that irritate and annoy you into a big joke. Stress melts away when you do. Okay, you talked me into it.

Yes, I went to the gym this morning to lift some stuff. I try to avoid the early morning as the geriatric crowd is in control. But Mrs. Accountant wanted to go to Zumba, so I went with her. Let us start with the locker room.

  • You do not need to use the locker on top of mine when you can space it out a little. I DON’T want to touch you, even a brief glace, when you are naked!
  • Wear clothes! I know you think you are a perfect specimen for a 94 year old, but for the love of god, cover up. Do not stand in the middle of the locker room talking to another dead guy, I mean old guy. Nobody likes walking around you. We do not care about your story about mole removal. I know you are proud of the family jewels, but please, do not force the rest of us to see them. We are not as excited about it as you are.
  • Close the shower curtain. Really, people. The curtain is there for a reason. There have been a few instances where I experienced snow blindness from accidentally catching sight of your alabaster cheeks.

On to the gym floor.

  • Wear a shirt guys. Sure you have a rock’in hot bod for someone 72. But the gym rules say you need to wear a shirt. Your sweat on the equipment is disgusting.
  • Wear a real shirt. To circumvent gym rules a few geriatrics have decided to wear shirts with no sleeves, full of holes and baggy. Christ people, your nipples look like age spots; cover them up.
  • Don’t jump on a machine in front of me and just sit there talking. When you see me using a machine it does not mean you take the first chance to slip into the seat and discuss your flatulence problem with Carl for two hours. Other people would like to use the machine, too.
  • As long as we are talking about hogging a machine, workout if you are on the gym floor. The equipment is not a random place to sit. I see you enter the gym. You do zero exercise, talk with every old lady in the place (you Casanova), and occupy as many pieces of equipment as you possibly can.

Thank god, they all need to get home by noon for a nap.

See how much fun that was. A situation which has caused a fair number of people to disappear, never to be seen again, is turned into a good laugh. I can lift 40, maybe 50 pounds more when people drive me insane at the gym. As my temperature rises I focus on all the hilarious material I am gathering, lowering stress, until it is much more manageable.

The Outcome

My favorite comedian, George Carlin, was fond of saying you need to stop feeling vested in the outcome. All the money in the world will not bring happiness if you are vested in the outcome of the next election. You will be upset, mad, or angry non-stop as long as your happiness is predicated upon someone else’s action or inaction. I laugh about the gym, but in reality, if some old guy pulls one of the above mentioned stunts I change my workout to a machine or bench available. My body is always happy with a mix-up in the routine. And yes, I laugh when I see some old guy standing around naked, thinking he is god’s gift to the Nutcracker Suite. Idiots are always the most fun anyway.

Money is important. Anyone who tells you different will lie to you about a lot of other things too. I still argue it is not money that you want. You do not want the big investment account, fancy car, or vacation. My guess is you want the feelings and experiences these things provide. A well-stocked portfolio of index funds gives you the feeling of freedom and safety; cars, homes, and other stuff pretend to give you value when they are mostly wasting assets or require more spending to maintain; travel allows you to learn and experience while creating fond memories you can share a lifetime.

I am not against stuff. The less stuff you have the better, but I am not against a few material distractions. Creating memories (even if I hate travelling) is important. Memories bring meaning to life. Drama Queens can set aside the annoying whining and replace it with something fun and entertaining most people enjoy listening to.

My dream of owning my business is now filled. It has been filled for 30 years. Early retirement people say I held on too long. A business owner client of mine once gave me this advice on why you should sell your business in 15 years regardless: if you can’t make enough money in 15 year in your business to retire, you never will. He is right. Most of us hang on too long because we love what we do.

Money has not been an issue for me for two decades. If I had a zero net worth outside my business I could still retire comfortably selling my business. The rent on the building alone would cover most of my personal expenses. As important as questioning our spending is, it is equally as important to question our retention of stuff, including home and business. I will cover how I am handling the transition of my business in a future post.

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