Finding A Balance Between FIRE & Dying With Zero

Before I begin this post, I would like to highlight everything I share in this post is my personal opinion and perspective, and it may not be applicable to everyone, nor agreeable by everyone.  Thank you for reading.

"Dying with Zero" is a book that challenges conventional wisdom about financial planning and retirement.  Written by Bill Perkins, a hedge fund manager and entrepreneur, the book presents a radical approach to money management and living life to the fullest.

The central premise of "Dying with Zero" is that traditional retirement planning, which focuses on accumulating wealth throughout one's working life and then gradually spending it during retirement, is flawed.  Perkins argues that this approach often leads to a life of scrimping and saving, deferring dreams and experiences until old age when health and vitality may no longer be guaranteed.  Instead, Perkins advocates for a "Zero-ness" approach, where individuals consciously spend down their wealth throughout their lives, enjoying experiences and pursuing passions as they go.  The goal is to reach "Zero-ness" or near-zero net worth by the end of life, having extracted maximum value from one's resources.  

If you have not read the book before, it delves into several key concepts and strategies to achieve this Zero-ness mindset:

1)     Time Wealth 

Perkins emphasizes the importance of valuing time over money.  He argues that time is the ultimate non-renewable resource and encourages readers to prioritize experiences and relationships that bring joy and fulfillment.

2)     Bucket List Living

Instead of waiting for retirement to pursue dreams and adventures, Perkins suggests creating a "Bucket List" and actively ticking off items throughout life.  This could include travel, learning new skills, or pursuing creative endeavors.

3)     Dynamic Spending

The traditional model of retirement planning involves a steady withdrawal rate from savings.  In contrast, Perkins proposes a dynamic spending approach, where individuals adjust their spending based on life stages, health, and opportunities.

4)     Investing in Experiences

While financial investments are important, Perkins argues that investing in experiences can yield greater long-term happiness and satisfaction.  This could involve spending on travel, education, or philanthropy.

5)     Legacy and Impact

"Dying with Zero" challenges the notion of leaving a large inheritance as the primary legacy.  Instead, Perkins encourages readers to consider the impact they can make during their lifetime, whether through charitable giving, mentorship, or creative contributions.  

Overall, "Dying with Zero" offers a provocative and thought-provoking perspective on wealth, time, and living a fulfilling life. It's a call to reevaluate priorities, embrace experiences, and approach money not as an end in itself but as a means to create meaningful moments and lasting impact.

On the flip side, the central premise of Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) is to achieve financial freedom at a relatively young age by saving and investing aggressively, thereby allowing individuals to retire early and pursue their desired lifestyles.  The FIRE movement emphasizes frugality, smart financial planning, and strategic investing to build up a nest egg that can sustain one's expenses for the rest of their life without relying on traditional employment income.

Here are the key principles and components of the FIRE movement:

1)     Financial Independence

FIRE focuses on achieving financial independence, which means having enough passive income or investment returns to cover all living expenses.  This is often expressed as reaching a specific savings target, such as 25 times one's annual expenses (the 4% rule),which is based on the idea that withdrawing 4% annually from a diversified investment portfolio should sustainably support retirement, or, in my personal opinion, an annual dividend to annual expenses ratio of 1.5, which I have shared in an earlier post.

2)     Early Retirement

The goal of FIRE is to retire early, typically well before the traditional retirement age of 65.  Some FIRE adherents aim to retire in their 30s or 40s, while others target their 50s.  Early retirement allows individuals to have more time to pursue personal interests, travel, spend time with family, or engage in meaningful work without financial pressure.

3)     Frugality and Minimalism

FIRE advocates often prioritize frugality and minimalism to maximize savings rates.  This includes living below one's means, avoiding unnecessary expenses, and focusing on what truly brings value and happiness.  By reducing expenses, individuals can save a larger portion of their income and accelerate their path to financial independence.

4)     High Savings Rate

A key aspect of FIRE is maintaining a high savings rate, often in the range of 50% or more of one's income.  This involves budgeting, cutting unnecessary expenses, and finding ways to increase income through side hustles or additional streams of revenue.

5)     Strategic Investing

FIRE followers typically invest their savings in a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, real estate, and other assets to generate passive income and long-term growth.  The goal is to build a portfolio that can sustainably support retirement withdrawals while also accounting for inflation and market fluctuations.

6)     Lifestyle Design

FIRE is not just about financial goals but also about designing a fulfilling lifestyle.  This may involve redefining success beyond traditional career achievements, prioritizing health and well-being, and finding fulfillment in non-material pursuits.

Overall, the central premise of FIRE is to gain control over one's finances, achieve early financial independence through disciplined saving and investing, and ultimately have the freedom to live life on one's own terms without being tied to a traditional 9-to-5 job.


If I may summarize, "Die with Zero" involves one to earn and spend as life progresses, creating memories along the way while leaving no monetary or assets-legacy behind (basically, I would think it is the traditional way that the older generation practices, work till 65 or even 70, and spend whatever is necessary along the way, with the main difference lying with monetary legacy, which is a common Asian thinking).  FIRE on the other hand, involves one to earn and save aggressively in the early years of working life in the 20s and 30s, so one can start retiring in their 30s, 40s or 50s while they are still active, so they can spend the remaining years doing what they like and want.  

However, we will never know when something unfortunate may happen (I am sorry if this sound pessimistic or a taboo to others).  Not that I recommend one to be a worrier, but I think one may have to seek a balance, so that if any unfortunate event does happen in an unexpected time, one can say that they have no regrets.  I am single, and have no children, and the only person I am worried about if anything happens to me is my mum.  

I lost my dad in late 2010s to illness.  Though years have passed, I am still feeling bouts of regrets when I look back to the times when my dad is still around.  Due to busy schedule with work, I am not able to spend much time with my parents (just for context, I am staying and working in Singapore while my parents are staying with my brother and sister-in-law back in Malaysia), but thankfully after my dad retired, we managed to go on a few family trips together to Sydney, Chiang Mai, and Royal Caribbean Cruise to spend some quality time together.  Of course, quality time does not equate to overseas trip, instead, a nice meal together as a family can also be regarded as one.  I suppose when our parents aged, quality family time becomes more important to them.

After my dad passed, I decided that I want to practice FIRE, so that I can shorten the time I need to work in Singapore and return to Malaysia earliest possible to take care and accompany my mum.  However, life has its way to send some signals along the way.  Long story short, if I strive to hit FIRE by 45, I will need to work and save aggressively for the next few years and that means holidays beyond ASEAN countries will not be possible.  This is because I am self-employed, so long trips, besides the higher cost, would also mean a lost of income for a longer duration.  However, my mum has slogged her life taking care of my paternal grandparents, and her current wish is to travel to different places to see and experience the different world out there, which she was not able to do in her younger days.  It is important for these things to be done now while she is still active and mobile.  Japan, South Korea and China are some of the countries that my mum wants to visit (but it involves lots of walking, so it is imperative to visit soonest possible), but I was hesitant due to the cost (and opportunity cost) involved.  This year, I decided to change my plan by saving less, and spending more to create memories that will last.  In addition, this year will be a good time to visit Japan due to the superb exchange rate of SGD 1 : > JPY 110.  Hoping that this upcoming trip for just the two of us will be one that will create great memories for us.

Moving forward, I think I will place more emphasis on spending more time with my mum.  To achieve that, Barista FIRE is the best option for me personally, as it is a good method for me to balance time with my mum, while continuing to grow my investment (albeit at a slower pace) and hence continue to protect my future retirement income.  At the same time, I will continue to remain active with the less demanding working hours that I can opt to have.  Will continue to document my balancing act when more milestone boxes are ticked.  Barista FIRE, here I come...!


  1. Yeah, I think you made the right choice to spend quality time with your mum. In addition, imo single will be easier to make this choice as compared if you have family with kids. Curious, what make you change from full time to self-employed as full time tutor after you graduate and working in engineering role?

    1. Hi Kk,
      I made the change because all along I am not interested in engineering. I was kinda made to study the course because my dad thinks that what I wanted was a little too general. Fast forward to graduation and working life, I really don't like it so I made the change. Well I could pursue what I wanted but I do not see myself picking up books to study again, so I just continued the self-employed path till today. It is not earning big bucks, but I am ok I suppose.

    2. You have a investment portfolio of 600k, that's big enough and I am sure majority of them should come from your savings and the tutor industry is promising in SG given of parents look for academic excellence for their kids.

      Yeah, agreed with you that what we study and what we wanted is quite different.

    3. Hi Kk,
      Thanks for reading. Hopefully I am able to continue with tutoring in Barista FIRE times, because I am starting to feel the drain and sometimes out of touch with the new generation. However I will try to continue as long as I can, till the day I am so done, lol, then probably FIRE will come.


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