The unexpected news… death of a coworker

The other day, I received a work email that shocked me and made me tear up – a coworker of mine passed away unexpectedly. I didn’t know this coworker very well but I had worked with her throughout the past six years. Whenever I talked to her, she always had a bright smile on her face.  

While death is inevitable for all of us, what made me quite upset was how young this coworker was. She was in her early 30s and had a bright future ahead of her. 

After talking to a few coworkers, I found out the death was unrelated to COVID-19, but there were no further details. It was terrible news and I am sure that those who worked closely with her took this unexpected passing pretty hard. 

As a parent of two young kids, I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it would be to have to say goodbye to your kids forever, especially when it was unexpected. I can’t imagine what her family is going through with this terrible news, and I sent them my condolences. 

I have experienced knowing some people who have passed away in the last few years and I have written some posts on the thoughts I had. If you haven’t read them in the past, I hope you take the time to read them.

Finding the right balance

The passing of this coworker made me ponder if the financial independence journey is the right path. Are we simply saving too much money and not spending enough money to enjoy the present moment? 

If you asked me that question 10 years ago when we had just started our financial independence journey, I’d answer it with a definite YES. 

When we started our FI journey, I was very much focused on saving money and saving more money so that we could get to the “FI finish line” faster. But overtime, I realized we needed to enjoy the present moment as well. 

Afterall, the FI finish line isn’t all that important if you aren’t around to enjoy it. Perhaps it’s a cliche, but it really is about the journey, not the destination!

I am fortunate that Mrs. T keeps me grounded and reminds me that there are more important things than the amount in our bank accounts or our net worth. It’s about spending money on things that we value in life.

Although I shoot portraits and weddings on the side, Mrs. T and I felt we needed to hire someone else to take pictures of our family. So we recently hired a photographer for a family portrait session. It cost $350, but we thought that money was worth every penny. 

tawcan_Mrs_T
Me & Mrs. T from the family portrait session (Yup I had a hairstyle change thanks to COVID).

We loved many of the photos from the session and Mrs. T printed out some of our favourite pictures on canvases so we could hang them at home. She ordered six canvases that cost around $400.

For the old me from ten years ago, I would have told you that $750 was too much money to spend. But the new me now would say it was money well spent. We spent that money to create precious memories.

On this financial independence journey, it is important to find the right balance between saving for the future and spending to enjoy the present moment. What’s the right balance? That’s a very personal answer. 

But if I had to summarize this in a few words, I’d tell you to… 

Spend money that brings you joy.

It is OK to spend money now. Don’t be like Ebenezer Scrooge or Scrooge McDuck. 

The irony of life 

We all exchange our time for money. We then use money to purchase things we need and want in life. Yet when we need time the most, we find we cannot buy time with our money. 

Isn’t this ironic? 

Rather than use money to purchase things we want in life. Focus on using money to purchase things we need and things that bring joy to us. Focus on investing money for a better future. 

More importantly, use the time you have on your hands. Don’t keep telling yourself the most dangerous phrase: “We’ll do it next time.” 

Teaching kids about money

I’ll end this short post with this lesson from a book called “The Know-Nonsense Guide to Money: An Awesomely Fun Guide to the World of Finance” that Mrs. T and the kids borrowed from the library… 

Spending – Buying Memories

A memory is an experience you can enjoy forever. Unlike an object, it never breaks, goes out of style, or loses value.

Replica dinosaur eggs. Underwater hammocks. Sequined scuba gear. Titanium shoelaces. There are so many things you can buy. But buy enough of those things, and you’ll soon find you aren’t any better off than you were before.

You can’t really buy happiness, but if you want to try, the best way to spend your money is on memories, not things. It could be as simple as having a picnic with friends or as high-minded as taking a class on origami. Either way, you’ll never forget the experience. Low on cash? Try eating dinner in complete darkness or hunting for rainbows after a storm. Happy spenders choose new experiences over things, which is nonsense you know you’ll want to remember!

Please find time to spend with those you love. Use money to buy memories. And spend money that brings you joy! 

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37 thoughts on “The unexpected news… death of a coworker”

  1. Thanks for another great post and reminder! This helped removed some doubts on some big steps I’m planning to take in the near future.

    tt101

    Reply
  2. Sorry to hear about the sudden passing of your coworker. We had a similar situation in the office and it was really hard to acknowledge and move on. I completely agree with you that money should be spent on things that make you happy, even when you try to save enough for FIRE. We cut back on lifestyle inflation, but we still go out an enjoy life. I think it’s worth it to cut back and save for 10 to 15 years to reach FIRE, but then imagine retiring and setting yourself free 20 years before the retirement age. It’s ok to work hard and hustle before 40 but after 40 this is when you truly start to appreciate life and enjoy being around with the family and friends. Stay safe!

    Reply
    • I’m sorry to hear your loss too. It’s especially hard given that we aren’t in the office and the rest of co-workers can’t comfort each other.

      Reply
  3. Hi Bob. Sorry to hear about your coworker. This post is a valuable reflection to help FI seekers to strength our right decisions and reassess the ones we have opportunity for improvements. Thanks!

    Reply
  4. Couldn’t agree more. You are a very smart/wise man, I only came to the “balance” realization few years ago (50 yr young). My traditional Chinese parents have always tell me to save, save, save so much that i was willing to stay at a high paying job that I was absolutely miserable at for 16 years. I am way happier now even though I am only making less than half of what I was making. point is…it is an experience that costs money, it does loose value or depreciate just like you said. Good on you.
    Simon

    Reply
  5. This is a great reminder Bob. Sorry to hear about your coworker. It’s always sad to receive news about the passing of someone you know, especially unexpectedly. It sounds like your family is hitting a nice balance between spending and saving. Family photos are important so it’s definitely well worth the money. 🙂 We have to appreciate what we have before time forces us to appreciate what we once had.

    Reply
  6. Hi Bob. Sorry to hear your news.

    I agree with your thoughts on balancing savings with enjoying life.

    But an untimely death also reminds me to consider that I may to reach FIRE sooner, lest I never reach it at all.

    Reply
  7. Don’t forget, even if you make it to FI finish line, you could be too old to enjoy it. Are you really going to hike a mountain or go into the rainforest at 65?

    Reply
  8. Love the photo of you and Mrs. T! Thanks for your post, Bob. It was an important reminder to savor and enjoy the present moment, build memories and to spend money on what gives you joy. Your post also helped me (a senior) to make a financial decision that I had been “sitting on the fence ” about. All the best to you, Mrs. T, your children and your pets!

    Reply
  9. You have to enjoy the journey. Otherwise, the finish line wouldn’t be worth it. IMO.
    I’m at a similar place in life. Now, I don’t mind spending money occasionally.
    Sorry to hear about your coworker. I had several coworkers passed away and it made me want to retire ASAP. Life is short. You never know what’s going to happen next.

    Reply
  10. One of my biggest fears in life is getting a stroke. One of my friend’s friend’s wife died because she unexpectedly died of a stroke in her sleep in her 30’s. There was literally nothing that anyone could have done to save her so it was inevitable.

    It just makes you appreciate your health even more.

    Reply
  11. I’m sorry to hear about your coworker. We get memos like that at work, often of people that worked for the company for many years and the passed away shortly after retiring. It’s always sad to hear of someone’s passing but especially sad and shocking when the person is so young.

    You bring up a great point about spending on things that bring you joy. There’s often a lot of emphasis on spending less in general (which can be good) but more important is spending less on the things that don’t matter or don’t bring you enjoy. In other words, it’s okay to spend if it’s on things that make you happy.

    Reply
  12. Sorry to hear that shocking and saddening news. COVID has a lot to do with it recently, but there have been so many sudden deaths among people both old and young. Constant reminders not to let goals become barriers to living in the present.

    Reply
  13. I saw a coworker get carried away on a stretcher once. That was a horrible experience.

    Personally it made me question the continual need for “more” that drives many people.

    Sorry to hear about your coworker Tawcan!

    Reply
  14. Hi Bob,

    I sorry to hear about your co-worker.

    Thank you for all your hard work writing articles for your blog.

    You help me a better investor.

    All the best

    Reply
  15. So sorry to hear about your coworker. It is a hard experience and sadly it happens way too often to young people in offices and elsewhere.

    Thank you for sharing all of your wisdom on top of sharing much-appreciated investment information. You have the right approach to life and it’s great that you take the time on your blog to teach that mantra to enjoy life.

    Great example of that with your family photos. All the best.

    Reply
  16. Sorry to hear about your co-worker. We’ve had unexpected losses over the years as well and it’s always a reminder that life is too short. Those of us in the FI community are hard-wired to save and it’s a good reminder that we should spend some of that hard-earned money. As a friend of mine said, are you going to be buried with your cash when you die?

    Reply
  17. I also experienced the death of a co-worker many years ago. He was only in his twenties, and had taken his own life. It was tragic, and made me realize how precious and short our lives can be.

    It’s always good to have reminders of our limited time on this Earth, so thanks for sharing this important post. I hope you and all your colleagues who knew this coworker will weather this storm. Such a sad situation. 🙁

    Reply
  18. I work in healthcare and you see crazy situations of relatively young people getting a new diagnosis of cancer or stroke or a heart issue. In fact, one of our supervisors was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and within 4 weeks he passed. What we’re seeing now is a lot of people admitted for drug and alcohol issues. People turning to the “sauce” in these interesting times. Makes you wonder about all this hard work, savings, worrying and the poof.

    Reply

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