Lessons from a widow: The real value of money

Last year, one of my friends lost her husband. After decades of marriage, they said their final goodbyes. Since I work in a mortuary, I often witness some of the worst days of people's lives. And that day was no different. My friend's husband, the father of her children, was gone. No matter what anyone said or did, nothing could change that unfortunate truth. She was sad, but she had embraced the inevitable. My friend had loved her husband for over fifty years, but she was beginning to accept the fact that he would never come home.

Lessons From My Grieving Friend

“One day, you'll sit where I sit.” She spoke to me in a shaky voice. And although her words were cryptic, I knew exactly what she meant. She meant that one day I would lose the people I love most. I listened intently to what she was saying.

“One day, you'll sit where I sit and you won't believe how the time flew by.” I knew she was right. I had already begun to notice the quickened pace of life that older folks are always talking about. After all, I have witnessed it firsthand with my own children. It seems like they were just babies a moment ago. In a few months, my oldest daughter will be four.

“One day, you'll look back and have only memories to cherish and hold onto.” I continued to listen to my friend as she spoke. I could tell that she had a message to convey to me that day, and I wanted to take it all in. “I would give anything to have my husband back for just one day. I would trade every dollar I have, my home, and everything I own.” She moved uncomfortably around in her seat, knowing that her wishes would go unanswered. What she truly wanted was impossible. Death is final, and there was nothing she could do to change the fact that he was gone.

“Be careful with your time, young lady. It's precious.” I will remember the words she spoke for the rest of my life.

“One day you'll look back and realize that it's the only thing you really ever had.”

To this day, I have never heard anything truer in my life. Time is so precious. It is everything. We all have a limited amount of it… and once it's gone, there is absolutely nothing we can do to get more. And to make matters worse, none of us knows how much time we have left.

My Job in a Mortuary

Working in a mortuary has taught me so many things. I have learned that life can change — or end — in an instant. I have learned that a twist of fate can alter the entire course of someone's life. I have learned that life isn't always fair, and many people die far before their time. There are no easy answers, and the families left behind are often never the same again.

Working in a mortuary has also changed me in more ways than I can express. The unique perspective I've gained has made me more conscious about how I spend my time and much more careful with how I spend the money I earn. I have come to realize that money truly is time, whether I choose to like that arrangement or not.

Money Can Buy Time

The fact that we are all going to die is certainly depressing, but we do have choices while we're still here. We can still buy time. Being frugal with the money we earn can mean retiring decades earlier. It can mean turning down overtime and enjoying time with family and friends instead. It can mean not having to take a second job or being able to work part-time. Having money can also allow you to hire people to do the things you don't want to spend time doing yourself. Being frugal can be the path toward freedom and independence and away from struggle and discontent.

I like my job, but I realize now that every dollar I earn is a moment that I will never get back. Every hour I spend working is time away from the things and people I love. I cannot change this fact, but I can choose to be very frugal with the money that I earn. And at this point in my life, each dollar I earn is literally paid for with moments away from my children. Therefore, I am determined to make those dollars count. I pick pennies up off the street. I sell stuff I don't want. I make the most of all that we have, and I always try to remember what that money really means.

So What Now?

I am only in my thirties, and I hope to have many decades ahead of me. But nobody knows for sure. If I'm lucky, I'll get to make years of priceless memories with my family and friends. I hope to turn dollars into fortunes by saving and investing all that I can. I want to use my frugal lifestyle to buy time… and I want to enjoy every second of it.

I will never forget the conversation I had with my friend. I will always remember the lesson she taught me. Her words were a precious gift. I know that now, and I am more serious than ever about getting the most out of life that I can.

My friend was right. One day I just may sit where she sits. One day, many years from now, I might be longing for the years I am living right now. When that day comes, I'm sure I will want to trade everything I have for one more day, one more moment, or one more hug. I don't want to have any regrets. I hope to look back and know that I made the most out of every second I had.

Our Time is Invaluable

Life is a precious gift, and it's moving faster now than ever before. I'm still young, but I'm determined to make the most out of my money and my time. And I am going to enjoy the moments with my family, knowing that one day the memories will be all that's left. Money comes and goes, but time is priceless. I will always treasure the lesson I learned from my friend. “Be careful with your time, young lady. It's precious.”

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Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
7 years ago

I too am only in my 30s and have noticed how quickly time flies. This is why I work so hard at trying to live a balanced life. I want to retire as early as possible so that I can spend as much time with loved ones. But I also realize that it is no guarantee that I will be around in 30-40 years so I make time today to be with loved ones because you never know when they or you will go.

AMW
AMW
7 years ago

Very well said!

Dawn Martin
Dawn Martin
7 years ago

Beautiful post…and I’m bawling!

Phoebe
Phoebe
7 years ago

Funny, I just wrote about this in a blog post yesterday and came to very similar conclusions. Ultimately I want time to enjoy my family and early retirement is my best shot at that.

Somber topic, but good to consider before it’s too late.

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
7 years ago

Thanks for this, Holly. So often it seems like being frugal is equated with being cheap and miserly, but you managed to hit the nail on the head with this one – that my frugality feels like I’m buying time to spend with those I care about doing the things I care most deeply about.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago

Thank you.

Once I started equating the money I earn with time away from my children, everything changed. Each thing I buy that I don’t need is a wasted moment….and I will never get that moment back. That is the ultimate reason to be frugal, in my opinion. You’re right…it isn’t about being “cheap.” It’s about extracting as much value as possible from the hours we spend working.

Ms. W
Ms. W
7 years ago

Incredibly touching and well-written. It really changes the way you look at money, and how you choose to use it. Thank you for writing this!

Joe O'Keefe
Joe O'Keefe
7 years ago

Great post. Great perspective. Thanks for sharing and the reminder for all of us to take time to appreciate the important people in our lives.

Rohit @ The Money Mail
Rohit @ The Money Mail
7 years ago

We all trade time for money, in some way or the othher.

My Financial Independence Journey
My Financial Independence Journey
7 years ago

The early retirement community focuses quite a bit on valuing time over money. I certainly don’t blame them. I’ve worked several jobs in the past where I was basically just burning away days of my life for low pay, abuse, and no recognition. Working at a job you hate really drives home the “time is money” reality.

Sheryl
Sheryl
7 years ago

Any tough job or hourly job is a daily reminder of the time/money equation. I’m having a bit of burnout at work right these last few weeks and every time I’m at work the thing that keeps me going is that working now gets me towards certain goals of financial freedom.

chubblywubbly
chubblywubbly
7 years ago

Great article. Money cannot buy happiness because if that was the case then why do the rich abuse drugs as well as the poor?

I retired at age 28 from a job that was against everything I believed in even though it payed well. I was lucky that my husband completely supported my decision. We decided that while money was important it was not a top priority for us and we valued quality of life more.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
7 years ago

“We can still buy time.” No, you can’t buy time. You can spend time earning money, but you can’t use that money to buy it back again. You can decide to spend less time earning money, but that time will be spent on something else. You can’t save it. And not all time is equal. Time spent when you retire may or may not have as much value as the time spent when you are young. The time spent with your adult children is not the same as time spent with them as children. Time spent with your parents when… Read more »

Ely
Ely
7 years ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

I am not sure you read the article.

Being frugal *now* means working less *now*. Picking up pennies, selling things you don’t want, not buying random junk, all these things free up money *now* that allow you to spend time with family instead of taking extra hours or second jobs or other things you need when you spend too much.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
7 years ago
Reply to  Ely

“I am not sure you read the article.” I am not sure you read the whole article or what I wrote. Its always a good idea to not buy junk and to sell stuff you don’t want and/or don’t use. The hard questions are the things you do want, that aren’t junk and that do improve your life. BTW, picking up pennies at 1 per second will yield $36 in an hour. You are essentially spending time to get money. I am not sure picking up pennies is worth the time, given there is no other reward. The real solution… Read more »

Melissa
Melissa
7 years ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

I wouldn’t say I hate my job. It pays an acceptable amount and I feel accomplished when I do well. I’m not exactly racing to retirement.I’m not with my kids while I’m working but hopefully they can learn by my role to constribute to society and do well. I also form relationships with people that I work with. This post sounds like its from somebody that really hates their job.

Anne
Anne
7 years ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

Ross, I totally agree with you. People who claim they are working really hard now to retire early are fine if that is what they want. But it’s so true that those hours with your children can not be bought back and won’t be the same when they are grown. I worked as few hours as I could get away with when my children were in the home. We lived on a blue collar salary but had everything we needed and a ton of what we wanted. We have a lot more money now but I sure do miss those… Read more »

Edward
Edward
7 years ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

Umm… I think the very point of the article was that every dollar saved now is a dollar she doesn’t have to work for at the end. …You know? Like, if through being frugal Holly is able to retire 10-15 years earlier than the average person, she has indeed bought herself lotsa good free time to spend with loved ones.

It’s “free time” being discussed, not actual “seconds on your death clock time”.

Tyler Kataszewski
Tyler Kataszewski
7 years ago

You can’t buy time. Your friend offered everything she had and nobody was selling. You can simply choose how to spend the time you’ve been given, but once it’s spent, you can’t buy it back.

Toni
Toni
7 years ago

Any conclusion you can come to that makes you value your time, money, and children is a good thing! Having been a stay-at-home mom and a working mom, however, I’ve found that quantity time is not always quality time. I had a difficult time staying home with my kids. The days dragged by, I was restless, and I was underappreciated for my efforts by my (now ex-) husband. I found working part-time to be a good balance to make me appreciate both the time spent with my kids and the money earned from hard work away from my kids. Now… Read more »

jxm
jxm
7 years ago

Wow! The topics of the blogs I frequent are really singing to me this week! I’m young, 27, very young by life standards and yet I’m feeling this way. I moved away from home a couple of years ago and ever since then I’ve felt guilty about working and being away from my family. I’ve made concious efforts to make meaningful memories with my family especially with my father. We had a strange relationship early in my life, but it has evolved into a respectful one now that I am an adult. We went out for brunch on President’s Day… Read more »

Marilynn
Marilynn
7 years ago

Holly, this article is SO POWERFUL! Thank you for writing it in a way that really brings home the value of one’s time AND the value of one’s money. I have printed off this article and plan to read parts of it to the Personal Finance class I will teach this summer at the university. Again, thank you!

Pauline
Pauline
7 years ago

unlike money we have a finite amount of time. I used to always think about would I rather be in the office or earning less and having more time, I chose the later, life is too short.

Malcom
Malcom
7 years ago

Great article.

There is a book about this topic called

Your Money or Your Life
by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

I highly recommend it.

Chuckie
Chuckie
7 years ago

This is the same reason why I decided to drop pursuit of an advanced degree I did not care to get. This is why I happily pluck away at a “boring corporate job” with a predictable 45 hour week. This is why I moved from a high cost of living area to a lower cost of living area.

Holly calls it being frugal. I call it being keenly aware that money is not my most precious resource, time is.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago

Very powerful article but I don’t get the same conclusions. One is the issue that time spent working is time spent away from family–that’s not true in all cases. I’ve chosen to work in a family business instead of going away to an office. One could say not everyone has that choice, but we all choose. Two, Holly does tremendously valuable work helping people cope with their grief in their darkest moments. What she does isn’t trivial or pointless, and it’s hard for me to see it as time simply wasted chasing after money. It isn’t. Three, if what she… Read more »

BC
BC
7 years ago
Reply to  Holly Johnson

Just saw this after posting below. Yes, that’s a hard work arrangement with two little ones. I work predictable hours from home and still have additional flexibility. I get why you feel that work is stealing from your kids. Not sure how much longer you plan to be working but if it’s another 5-10 years I would consider changing to a different job.

Babs
Babs
7 years ago
Reply to  Holly Johnson

Having kids is very hard! And from the sounds of this and past posts you work very hard. It is difficult to find balance with all the demands of domestic/commercial/self-care needs.
I guess the only thing I can say is that it is good that you are paying attention and thinking about these things.
Good Luck!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Hi again Holly,

I couldn’t presume to know all factors that go into your decision, but it seems to me, you’re suffering for not being able to spend enough time with your kids right now.

If that’s the case, then wouldn’t you want to slow down at work NOW, maybe go part-time, and get back to work full-time once the kids are older/more independent, even if that delays your retirement?

I’m only asking because it seems to me you’re trading the present for the future– but as your article makes clear, who knows about the future?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  Holly Johnson

I get what you’re saying, but I don’t get that working harder now will buy you more time in the future– I especially don’t get that from the widow’s story.

If anything, I get that the future is not guaranteed to anyone, and ultimately, the only time we have at our disposal is the now, and we have to make the best of it– even at work.

I’m with you in that good money management gives you more freedom and more options, but it doesn’t follow (to me, anyway) that reasonable/balanced time spent at work has to be a blight.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  Holly Johnson

Ha ha, but Holly, you said this:

“Working in a mortuary is extremely taxing. We give up weekends, holidays, evenings.”

If it’s extremely taxing maybe you could use a moderate break or even a sabbatical now, even if that means delaying retirement is what I’m saying. But I’m not saying you have to do it! I’m just saying that it comes to mind.

I love your article by the way– I do! I just take away something different from the widow’s story. Of course– we’re all different! 🙂

KSR
KSR
7 years ago
Reply to  Holly Johnson

This exchange between the two of you…was fun. Holly, I am so you!!! It’s about the bottom line, meeting goals, and reaching that climax of finally allowing yourself to let go. Nerdo–this is why I adore you. You are such an Ideologue, of sort—I love that(!) and so wish I could be–I’m jealous. I’m really in understanding with the both of you. I “admire” Holly–because I identify and KNOW that she will push hard for her goals to be in the “achieved” column come hell or high water—and soon! But, I love that Nerdo lives in the moment and is… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Holly Johnson

Ha,ha!

Believe me, when someone gives me advice to quit my job I find it very tempting! But that just isn’t me. I’m a workaholic through and through. It’s just who I am.

elenagraziela
elenagraziela
7 years ago

Excellent perspective. To take this a step further, it’s a reminder to plan for the inevitable — do the final planning to care for the loved ones you leave behind. I was widowed last July when my healthy, strong husband passed away very suddenly. Being relatively young (in our 40s) without children, we had not done any final planning apart from buying life insurance. I too would give everything for one more anything with my husband, and I know he would hate what I am going through with probate in California. Make the choices you want to make to be… Read more »

Carla
Carla
7 years ago
Reply to  elenagraziela

I’m so sorry for your loss, elenagraziela.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
7 years ago

Exhibit A:
“I would give anything to have my husband back for just one day. I would trade every dollar I have, my home, and everything I own.” … knowing that her wishes would go unanswered. What she truly wanted was impossible.

Exhibit B:
“We can still buy time.”

I don’t really know how articles with gigantic glaring contradictions like this make it through editing.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
7 years ago
Reply to  Holly Johnson

Well, you can apply money to trade one sort of work for another, and that’s really what this is about. You are given a finite amount of time, and you get to choose where to spend it. Having money gives you more time-spending options, but acquiring money takes away time spending options. Working fewer hours so that you can spend your time at home creating craigslist ads to sell things and more time arranging and showing things for sale is sort of a tradeoff. You can spend your time on either, but either way it’s spent. The same with anything… Read more »

BC
BC
7 years ago

Love this post! Hits on a ton of our own family values, particularly around how being conscious of how fragile and short life is can be life-affirming and help one make decisions on a daily basis that we’re not going to regret later. This statement really hit home for me though: “…each dollar I earn is literally paid for with moments away from my children.” Because I think that this is a dilemma that a lot of working moms face. I used to love working but then I had a child and ever since guilt has followed me everywhere. I… Read more »

Kelly@Financial-Lessons
7 years ago

Great post. What it all really comes down to is living in the moment and appreciation of what we have. Its a life-long (and often un-) learned lesson but its one we all have to acknowledge. Being frugal and having enough money to not over-work and miss important times is a great thing to strive for.

BD
BD
7 years ago

Eesh, death isn’t the end all of everything. Just because someone dies doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. Death is simply a transition. *You* still exist once your body dies. I have friends who’ve died, and I know I’ll get to see them again. A couple years or decades of waiting to see them again is just a drop in the bucket of eternity.

Nick @ ayoungpro.com
Nick @ ayoungpro.com
7 years ago

Great post, it really puts things in perspective.

William Cowie
William Cowie
7 years ago

Buying time… what a great perspective. Thanks, Holly!

Tricia Kolsto
Tricia Kolsto
7 years ago

What a truly powerful post. Thank you for writing this.

Hugs,
Trish

SAHMama
SAHMama
7 years ago

I traded money for time when I quit my job as an epidemiologist a year and a half ago. I was earning more than half of our family’s income, but I was also miserable. Now we’ve had a third child and as it turns out, working would cost me more than I’d earn. My husband has more opportunity for advancement in his field than I had. I now do ghostwriting for a few clients in my “spare” time when I’m not wiping little tushies or baking cookies or taking a kid to school or kissing booboos or cleaning toilets or… Read more »

Cat
Cat
7 years ago

I agree that money can buy time. Having that free time to make moments and remember them with important people in your life…

Ivan
Ivan
7 years ago

Holly, Wow, what a powerful concept! Money is indeed important, but only to a certain point. To someone who has lost a loved one, no amount of money will fully console their loss. At the same time, it’s true that each dollar we earn is done so by trading bits of our life away. But we don’t have to choose one over the other. If we spend our time wisely now, we can free up the time we would have traded for money later. For example, you can invest the time now to start your own business instead of simply… Read more »

Matt Becker
Matt Becker
7 years ago

Great column. I love the message. Thank you.

SavvyFinancialLatina
SavvyFinancialLatina
7 years ago

Beautiful post! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

Tiara
Tiara
7 years ago

I am planning to take a mid-life sabbatical to enjoy some extra family time with my partner, who is older and already retired, and my dogs, who are in the prime of their young lives. Having been frugal for many years, I can afford to do this now. Being frugal means giving yourself more options, even though sometimes it is hard to keep saying no to myself when I want to buy some shiny new thing. When that happens, I think of my family and how I would much rather have extra free time with them than buy X.

krantcents
krantcents
7 years ago

Funny how it is always old people who recognize that time goes by quickly. I am getting older to the point that I am one of them. My life is more than half over. I glad I enjoyed all of it and hopefully will live another 35 years with my true love (my wife). I try to make every day count.

Teinegurl
Teinegurl
7 years ago

Great article! Even though im young, i do think about this all the time. Prolly because i have a 5 year old and 6 year old. Right now i work part time and before i used to work nights and spend the day with them. I agree with a poster who said we have to spend time with them now and not once they get older then dont even want to spend time with their parents because they will be ready to do their own thing but for now mom can be the number one person in their life. I… Read more »

KC @ genxfinance
KC @ genxfinance
7 years ago

I like this quote from LORT, “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time given to us.” We are given our own time and we get to decide what to do with it. We know what is coming and thus we should prepare for it. Looks like you got a good plan there Holly.

Laura
Laura
7 years ago

I enjoyed both the original article and the insightful comments posted, particularly Tyler’s. In a piece of nice synchronicity, I’d taken a vacation day from work and went with DS (who is on school vacation) to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons at a local theater, shop for comics, and eat pizza. I’ll remind him of this as I make him help shovel snow (again) this weekend. 😀

Dona Collins
Dona Collins
7 years ago

I’m only in my 30’s and I struggle with the concept of time and death. I’ve always had an irrational fear of death (or of being unable to take care of myself). Right now I struggle with earning vs. debt. I want to be debt free so we can live a better life, but I’m wasting life by always working. Trying to find balance is incredibly difficult, but I keep trying. Thanks for the reminder.

Wally
Wally
7 years ago

Good message. I guess more than anything it emphasizes the need to have balance in life. While it’s important to put money away for the future and plan for a rainy day; you also need to treat yourself occasionally for hard work. I deal with quite a few widows in my line of work. There is nothing sadder to see than a couple who have worked hard all their lives to provide for retirement, only for one of them to be struck down by serious illness within the first few years of retiring. All those plans they’ve made together for… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
7 years ago

This all hit me much, much earlier. My closest friend, dearer to me than my biological family, died very young. She developed Hodgkins Disease at age 21, & died, after a few brief remissions, at age 26. She was a talented artist, just beginning to have her own gallery shows, a singer, a kind and beautiful and incredibly interesting person. I was fortunate enough to be with her at the end, & would have given anything to trade places; I loved her dearly and the world is a poorer place without her. Over 20 years later, I still think of… Read more »

bob jackson
bob jackson
7 years ago

Amen.

Dianne @ Skinny Seahorse
Dianne @ Skinny Seahorse
7 years ago

This article sums up perfectly why I decided to take a year off while I’m in my thirties. Time with my children and my husband who is a stay at a home dad is too precious. We saved and now are enjoying (most of the time ahem) each other’s company before the kids grow up and before we retire. I would love to see a family sabbatical become “culture” in the US.

Sandra at Thistle Cove Farm
Sandra at Thistle Cove Farm
7 years ago

Dave died in 11/11, after us being together 22 years. That was after his first wife died, after they were together 22 years. Dave tried to prepare me based on what he’d gone through with Cathy but the year we’d been “given” turned out to be far, far less. I wouldn’t give everything to have one more day with Dave. I wouldn’t dishonor his memory by making that wish. He worked hard, I worked hard; we worked hard together to build a life we could keep heads raised high and know we’d done the best we could with what God… Read more »

Claire
Claire
7 years ago

This is the best article I’ve read on GRS in a long time.

Claire
Claire
7 years ago

Perfectly stated Holly, thank you (even if you did make me cry). I tried to negotiate with my employer to work 20hrs/wk when my son was born almost 5 years ago…we eventually came to a compromise and agreed that I could drop to 30hrs/wk from 40. The way I see it, I am spending 10 more hours away from my children than I want to, so I recently put some of that money to use by hiring a cleaner…now I don’t have to waste half my weekend doing something else that takes me away from my kids, but also manage… Read more »

Rachel
Rachel
7 years ago

I could not have expressed these sentiments better myself. Sometimes it is difficult to balance the frugality half of the equation with the enjoy your time with some treats that cost money half. But time and having adequate money are surely the key ingredient to fulfilling dreams.

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