Time is more valuable than money

It's a GRS tradition! Each year on Halloween, I publish a story about planning for death. Usually these are general articles about estate planning. This year's story is personal.

When my best friend died in 2009, one of my biggest regrets was that I hadn't made time to travel with him.

Sparky had previously asked me to join him on trips to Burning Man (in 1996) and southeast Asia (in 1998) and Mexico (in 2003). I'd declined each invitation, in part because I was deep in debt but also because I thought there'd be plenty of time to do that sort of thing in the future.

Turns out, there wasn't plenty of time to do that sort of thing in the future.

After Sparky died, I resolved to make the most of opportunities like this. Being in a better financial position helped. Having ample savings gives me the flexibility to join friends on short adventures or to explore the U.S. by RV for fifteen months without money worries. (Yes, I realize that's a fortunate position to be in.)

Here's an example. In 2012, my cousin Duane asked me to join him for a three-week trip to Turkey. Remembering my vow after Sparky's death (and remembering the power of yes), I agreed. That trip to Turkey is one of the highlights of my life so far. I'm glad I did it. It was worth every penny.

The Best Laid Plans

Early in 2017, Duane contacted me. “This fall will be the five-year anniversary of our trip to Turkey,” he said. “Want to have another big adventure?”

“Sure!” I said. So, we started planning.

We bought books, watched videos, and browsed websites. We invited Kim to join us. Over the course of several months, our plans crystalized. We'd fly to Paris, rent a car, then spend three or four weeks driving around France and Spain and Portugal, enjoying festivals, experiencing the grape harvest, and exploring ruins. (Duane loves ruins!)

Europe 2017 Planning Map

In June of last year, I sent Duane an email. “I'm going to buy plane tickets tomorrow. Do you want me to buy yours?”

“Hold up,” he responded. “We need to talk.” He called me on the phone.

“What's going on?” I asked.

“Well, J.D., it's like this,” he said. “I have cancer. I've been having problems with my throat for a few months, but I thought that was because of indigestion or something. It's not indigestion. I have throat cancer.”

Long-time GRS readers know about the curse afflicting the men of my family. We die young because of cancer. My father died of cancer ten days before his fiftieth birthday. Duane's father died of cancer at age 51. Duane's brother died of cancer at 47. Now Duane was telling me that he had cancer at age 53. (Is there any wonder I fear I'll die of cancer in the next few years?)

“Holy shit,” I said. “Are you serious?”

“Yes,” Duane said. “And the prognosis isn't good. I need to start chemo as soon as possible, which means I won't be able to do this trip. You and Kim should go without me.”

We did not go without him. We discussed doing so, but felt like it wouldn't be the same. (Instead, Kim and I took the money we would have used to see France, Spain, and Portugal, and used it to remodel our new house.)

Fortunately, Duane's treatment seemed to work. His cancer went into remission. Although things were scary there for a while, his health began to improve.

Things Come Undone

Two months ago, at the end of August, Duane invited me to join him for a mid-week trip to the Oregon coast.

“Can I bring the dog with me?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said.

Nick and Tally, Riding in the Car

On a sunny Wednesday, we piled into my Mini Cooper and drove the ninety minutes to Seaside, Oregon. There, we walked on the beach, bought saltwater taffy, and ate clam chowder for lunch. We talked about a variety of nerdy things.

You see, Duane is a nerd just like me.

  • Like me, he loves his videogames. (In fact, he likes videogames more than I do.)
  • He's an avid player of Magic: The Gathering.
  • He used to collect semi-official Canadian airmail stamps.
  • For 20+ years, he's collected ancient coins. (By which I mean coins from before the birth of Christ.) His desk at the box factory used to be covered with uncleaned coins that he was soaking to remove centuries of dirt and grime.

Duane is also a money nerd. In fact, were it not for Duane, it's unlikely that I would be a money nerd.

In 1992, Duane was the person who introduced me to mutual funds. He convinced me to set up an automatic investment plan into some Invesco funds. I contributed $50 per month to five different funds, for a total of $250 per month. That lasted for four months until I cashed out to buy a new computer.

Duane introduced me to a variety of money books, most notably The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias. He taught me a ton of other lessons about life and money, some of which I've shared here at Get Rich Slowly over the years. (The Duane story I most often mention includes this lesson: “It's not bad to want things…It's not want that's the problem, but the habit of constantly satisfying wants.”)

During our walk on the beach, Duane gave me the news that I'd been dreading. “My cancer is back,” he said. “I've been doing immunotherapy.”

“What's immunotherapy?” I asked.

“Well, it's an attempt to stimulate the body's immune system to fight the cancer. With chemotherapy, the drugs are fight the cancer. Immunotherapy is a newer treatment and its effects less well known. It's not as harsh as chemotherapy, but it's also not usually as effective.”

“How is it working for you?” I asked.

“It's too soon to tell,” Duane said. “But so far I'm hopeful, and so are the doctors.”

Nick and Tally at the Beach

I wanted to ask what his prognosis was, but was afraid to ask. I thought maybe he'd volunteer the info. He didn't. Finally, several hours later as we were driving home, I got up the courage to ask.

“What do the doctors have to tell you about your current situation?” I asked. For some reason, whenever I talk about Duane's cancer, I call it his “situation”.

“Honestly, it's not good,” he said. “At the end of June, they told me I probably had three to six months left to live.”

“Holy shit,” I said as I did the math in my head.

“Yeah. It doesn't look like I have much time left,” Duane said.

The Farewell Tour

“So, I've been thinking,” Duane said as we reached the outskirts of Portland. “I'd really like to go to Europe this winter. I want to see the Christmas markets in Vienna and Prague. Assuming I make it to December, of course. Do you want to come with me?”

“Of course,” I said. “You let me know when and where, and I'll make it happen.”

I was thinking of all of the times Paul had asked me to do things with him and all of the times I'd said no. I didn't have the money then, and I didn't have the perspective of age. Now I have both.

Later that evening, I talked to Kim about Duane's situation. “Duane is one of my best friends,” I said. “He's being pragmatic about his situation and so am I, but that doesn't mean I'm not torn up about it. I want to spend as much time with him as I can before he dies.”

“I totally support that,” Kim said. “You do what you have to do, and we'll figure it out.”

Last week, Duane and I met for lunch. He's now at the end of his fourth month of “borrowed time”. Honestly, he looks and sounds great. But I can tell that The End is weighing heavy on his mind. “Do you still want to make the trip to Europe?” I asked.

“Absolutely!” he said. “My brother and his wife plan to join us. And their daughter and her husband. There'll be six of us.”

Over the past week, we've been sorting out details.

  • I booked a moderately expensive round-trip flight to Berlin. (Moderately expensive because I'm being fussy. I only want one layover. I want the flights to be short as possible. I have a limited set of dates on which I'll fly.)
  • Duane and his niece picked the cities we'll visit: Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. She made a list of potential AirBNB rentals. Yesterday, I booked lodging for the six of us.
  • After everyone else has flown home, Duane and I will fart around Germany without any real direction or plans — just like we did in Turkey.

There's a part of me that wonders if Duane will be healthy enough to travel in five weeks. (I let him proof this post. When he did, he expressed the same concern.) Again, he looks great now, and he's continued to defy the odds over the past eighteen months. (He recently ran the numbers for me based on the survival rate for various stages of his cancer. I can't remember the exact figure, but he's already lived longer than something like 98% of people in his situation.) But I worry what might happen before the trip.

When my own father was diagnosed with cancer in 1989, he was given six months to live. He lived another six years. It's my deepest hope that Duane too will fight that long, but I'm also trying to be realistic about his situation. I think he is too. In many ways, this trip to Europe is a sort of farewell tour.

Our Europe Accommodations

Time Is More Valuable Than Money

When all is said and done, this trip will cost each of us several thousand dollars. Under normal circumstances, that's a lot of money. In this case, it seems like peanuts.

My friend Grant Sabatier has a book coming out in early February. It's called Financial Freedom. I read it last weekend so that I could provide a blurb. (It's good! You should check it out when it's available.)

“If some ninety-year-old rich dude offered you $100 million to trade places with him, would you do it?” Grant writes at the start of the second chapter. “Of course not. Why? Because time is more valuable than money.”

You can always make more money…but you can't make more time.

This is not permission to spend lavishly on anything and everything just because you might get hit by a truck tomorrow. It is, however, an invitation to consider what's important to you and to focus on that. It's encouragement to get clear on your personal mission statement and to build your life around it.

Over the past few months, Duane has made a superhuman effort to spend time with his family and friends. This time together is important to him. More than that, I think that he knows it's important to us, the ones he'll leave behind. We love him. We don't want him to die — but we cannot control that. All we can control is the time we spend with him today. All we can do is build more memories.

Here's another anecdote I like.

Duane and I went shopping after our lunch date last week. We stopped at the Icebreaker store to look at expensive wool shirts for our trip to Europe.

“I have a curious relationship with money now,” Duane told me as he held up a $130 shirt. “I can't take it with me, so what does it matter if I spend it? If I want a $130 shirt, I'm going to buy a $130 shirt — even if I only get to wear it once or twice.”

Duane did not buy that $130 shirt. Duane is a frugal fellow. I don't think he could buy a $130 shirt even if he tried!

More about...Retirement, Relationships, Travel

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dh
dh
2 years ago

Great post, JD. The Turkey video reminded me of the opening of one of the Pink Panther movies, wish I could recall which one.

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

P.S. what I love about this website is we all get to look up the ass of reality. I don’t mean to be crude, but that’s the only way I know how to describe it. We should all feel privileged.

Cindi
Cindi
2 years ago

I was aggravating today that I spent too much money yesterday that could affect my tomorrow. But who knows if I get a tomorrow?
After reading your post I’ve changed my mind.
I spent my money well.

Eileen
Eileen
2 years ago

JD, I’m a long time reader but first time commenter. This is a beautiful, compassionate post and gets to the heart for me about what successful management of money is. The ability to choose to spend the time with people you love or doing things that you love. I grew up in Lockerbie, in Scotland. Thirty years ago we experienced a terrible event in the bombing of Pan Am 103 which crashed on our village. I was 14, lost a close friend and another lost his entire family. As you can imagine my life was changed utterly and permanently in… Read more »

Petra
Petra
2 years ago

I’m sorry to read this, JD. Best of wishes to him and to all that love him.

One thing to ponder is whether a geneticist may be able to help find a fault in your DNA – that could explain all or most of the cancer diagnoses. It could also help to know who is likely to be affected (and who isn’t) – and then you can do more screenings for example. This knowledge could perhaps help when young family members want to have children.

Alena
Alena
2 years ago

Oh man, cancer sucks. I am sure you will have a great trip though!
Also, I live in northern Bavaria. Just let me know if you want any tips or need help while you’re here.

veronica
veronica
2 years ago

Such a bittersweet story. If it’s any consolation, at least your friend is able to value and appreciate each remaining moment. And to intentionally say goodbye to loved ones. My father died instantly, of a massive heart attack. There was no farewell.

If your travels take you to northern Spain, I’d be honoured to meet up with you and your friend.

Take care.

Dave @ Accidental FIRE
Dave @ Accidental FIRE
2 years ago

Wow, this is heavy but well written and a message that we all need to be reminded of. Best of luck to your cousin and I’m sure you two will have an amazing trip.

Janette
Janette
2 years ago

In the end it is not money, it is the people whom we love and love us.
His circle of love, traveling together. That would be my way of enjoying what I have left.
Know that German health care is excellent- so if it is needed, head there.

WantNotToWantNot
WantNotToWantNot
2 years ago

I’m so sorry to read about Duane’s condition, but glad to know that he is spending whatever time he has left doing what is most important to him—being with friends, family, and loved ones.

Thank you, J.D. for reminding us of what Horace wrote in his Odes, in 23BC:
CARPE DIEM.

Living every day and every hour as if it were our last one focuses the mind on what really matters.

Fay
Fay
2 years ago

Hi JD just from a religious perspective if you and Duane believe that it’s best to do as many good things ie charity while you are alive. If you guys are already doing that brilliant. We believe that the more good you do in this life will help when you go to Heaven (that is if you believe in that). I hope your friend gets better and enjoy the trip. The reason for this post is if you gave always done the same things maybe do different things and have 1 less trip to see the world just a thought… Read more »

Treo
Treo
2 years ago

Yes, I get exactly what you are saying, about 10 years ago my wife and I made the decision to do most of the things we wanted to do in life as soon as we could, rather than putting them off. We’ve been going for “experiences” rather than things ever since, we live frugally and travel the world instead whenever we can. It sounds like we’ll be in Europe about the same time you will be, November 11th through December 6th. If Duane and you want someone to take you to the Nuernberg Christmas Market, or show you other local… Read more »

brian @ singledadmoney
brian @ singledadmoney
2 years ago
Reply to  Treo

I too highly recommend Nuremberg while farting around in Germany. The Christmas market is amazing. Be sure to pay the extra euro for the commemorative mug while sipping warm Glühwein in the cold air of the open market. Also while in Nuremberg, get a sampler platter at the Bratwurst Röslein. You won’t be disappointed. Check out the Kaiserburg Nürnberg castle too. Man, y’all are going to be busy there!!!

Michael Clark
Michael Clark
2 years ago

Cancer sucks. Thanks for sharing about your friend Duane. My wife and I are working through the balance of saving for retirement in 17 years and having some fun now.

Joe
Joe
2 years ago

I’m sorry to hear about your cousin. Time is more valuable than money to me too. When we’re young, we think we have a lot of time, but that change as we age. Have a memorable time in Europe. Best wishes to Duane and his family.

FiddleFaddle
FiddleFaddle
2 years ago

Great post and a great reminder to find the right balance between time and money.

Kate
Kate
2 years ago

I’m so sorry to hear about Duane. I recently lost a dear friend very unexpectedly. Here’s what our pastor said at his funeral:

If you have something to say to someone — say it now.
If you have a bad habit to break, or a good habit to begin — start now.
If there’s something you want to do — get busy now.
For we don’t know the day or the hour, and time is short.

Canstill
Canstill
2 years ago

Hi JD,

I hope that Duane’s health condition improves way beyond whatever the doctors might have said.

I live in Munich. If you plan to visit the city and need any information or help, let me know.

Sheila
Sheila
2 years ago

This post comes at an opportune time for me. I’ve been trying to decide whether I want to brave the trip to Portland in early December to see some friends visiting from Virginia. Driving over mountains and through the Gorge can be, well, difficult in the winter, so I didn’t really want to do it. We’re getting older and who knows when we might see each other again so the trip is on.

Hoping the immunotherapy works for Duane, and that the two of you have more trips ahead of you.

Beau
Beau
2 years ago

I’m sorry to hear about Duane! I lost my dad less than a month ago to cancer. He would have been 56 yesterday! We thought he had months and he only had days. Cancer sucks and definitely enjoy as much time as you can with family and friends! Our best wishes are with Duane, his family and friends!

Emily
Emily
2 years ago

Really sorry to hear about Duane. A great reminder that time spent with loved ones is never time wasted.

My dad died of throat cancer when I was 20, my mum of a different form of cancer when I was 23, and everyone in my dad’s side of the family has also had some form of cancer. Like you, I don’t expect to live to a ripe old age without having a run in with the disease at some point.

I agree with you. Time is more valuable than money. No amount of money will bring back time.

James
James
2 years ago

Thank you for sharing this. It’s such a great reminder of what’s important.

RandomJane
RandomJane
2 years ago

I’m sorry your friend is not doing well. My grandmother died of cancer when I was 16. That was rough but taught me a valuable lesson. She always wanted to travel when she retired and instead got cancer and died right after she retired. I’ve always been a saver and it’s hard for me to part with money, but I promised myself I wouldn’t wait until retirement to travel. I might not ever get there. When I turned 40 I decided to keep that promise to myself. Now I set aside money all year into a travel fund. When the… Read more »

Paula
Paula
2 years ago

I’m sorry to hear about your friend Duane. I agree that time is more important than money. My maternal grandfather died a few years before he had planned to retire and I always thought how sad that he never got to enjoy his retirement with my grandmother (she lived about thirty years more and survived two other partners). I know other relatives who retired younger but don’t do anything but stay home because they are too concerned about having enough money and making it last. I want to have a healthy balance of retiring when I am financially able to,… Read more »

Mystery Money Man
Mystery Money Man
2 years ago

I’m very sorry to hear about Duane, J.D. Thank you for sharing what I’m sure was a difficult post to write.

The message of time > money is one we all need to be reminded of.

JoAnn Cherrington
JoAnn Cherrington
2 years ago

Thank you for sharing your personal, heartfelt story; my heart goes out to you and Duane’s family. Reinforcing a basic value “Time is More Valuable than Money” is priceless. My husband and I have a blended family of 4 kids all in their twenties. Your story is a must read for them at this point in their lives. It will help them truly understand the lyrics…”I want to live like there’s no tomorrow, I want to love like I’m on borrowed time”. We all know life is too short, we just don’t realize it until it is half over. You… Read more »

Peter Payne
Peter Payne
2 years ago

Incredibly powerful post, JD, thanks for making it. I’ll be sending postive thoughts to all of you!

I do take one fun/insane trip per year, sometimes two, because I never know what’s around the corner. My kids are used to me bundling them into a plane and flying off somewhere with them too, since they’re only kids for a short time and I never wanted to miss going to fun places with them. So any parent should be doubly heedful of the “time is more valuable than money” idea.

Jennifer
Jennifer
2 years ago

Lovely post, and I’m sorry about your friend. I hope the trip is as amazing as it sounds. We have been trying to balance money and time since before we had kids, although the kids give it urgency. We’re not having our peak earning time right now (mostly by choice), but we still want to take our kids on a few more adventures before they start living independent of us (DS is 17!). So, we’ll be in England next spring (Brexit!). We can make a bit more money to feather the retirement funds more over the next several years, but… Read more »

John V.
John V.
2 years ago

I’m so very sorry to hear about your friend’s travails. But you are a good friend in trying to make his life better. Please ask him to read the book of John in the Christian bible before he goes on much further? I had a similar experience back in 2000 that changed my life. My boss at the time “Tommy” had scrimped & saved for decades… never bought a new car (wisely?), never bought nice clothes, never traveled, and he and his wife lived in a small 2 bedroom house. But every day at work, we’d hear him joking about… Read more »

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