Don’t delay gratification too long

Mom in Alaska. She landed this honking rainbow on her first cast. Getting her off the river after that was almost impossible.

Mom in Alaska. She landed this honking rainbow on her first cast. Getting her off the river after that was almost impossible.

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 82.

Except that she died twenty years ago of colon cancer. She loved life and she should have had more of it.

I write about this for two reasons. First, to enlist you in my effort to get everybody screened. Colonoscopies aren’t fun, but they can save your life. Catch it early, and colon cancer is a non-issue. Procrastinate, and it can kill you. The AMA recommends you get your first colonoscopy at 50, or 40 if you have a family history of the disease. You’re not off the hook if you’re younger: start bugging your parents, your aunts and uncles, your older siblings to schedule their screenings. A little nagging can save a life.

The second is to remind you to do the things you love, go the places you want to go, take the chances you’re afraid to take. Don’t put this stuff off indefinitely. Although plenty of people are live-for-today grasshoppers, I suspect more than a few of you are careful ants, focused diligently on the future.

I once heard from a man who wanted to take his 11-year-old on a trip to Europe. But he also felt he should start paying down his mortgage, as he was on track with his retirement savings and that seemed to be the next logical goal. Go, I told him, while she still wants to spend time with you. She’ll be off on her own soon enough, and the mortgage will still be there for you to tackle.

Delayed gratification is good and necessary if you want a sound financial foundation–and if you want to retire someday. But also don’t forget that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Think about what you would regret not doing, not saying, not being if today were your last day. It may not be, probably won’t be, but your life will be richer for living as if it might.


  1. Ro in San Diego says

    My husband will now admit his stubbornness almost killed him. He very nearly died of colon cancer 1/9/2011. After what seemed like a lifetime he’s cancer free and going back to the doc with some regularity. Since his life expectancy is still a question mark I’ve redoubled my efforts to ensure we hit all of the places on his bucket list quickly. Alaska in May, France in August, etc., etc. Life after cancer is a different story. Lots of question marks.

    • lizweston says

      Way to go, Ro. There was a billboard campaign in LA that said “This year thousands of men will die from stubbornness.” The fine print at the bottom directed people to where they could learn what preventative tests they need. Obviously, it’s not just guys, but I’m very glad yours is cancer free. Enjoy those trips.

  2. Thanks for sharing Liz. So sorry to hear about your Mom though. My mom was diagnosed with late stage Ovarian cancer but was extremely lucky and has been in remission now for over 5 years. Sometimes we get tunnel vision with our money but it definitely pays to take a step back and look at the big picture. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Liz in Boston says

    I now have the same attitude. I am a very determined saver, a worry-wort, you might call me. In November a good friend died from complications of Cervical Cancer at age 33. I had already shifted my budget to cut back on buying “things” to allow myself “experiences”. Her death made me realize that I can’t save everything for a retirement 35 years from now I may never get to enjoy. I am now putting aside $500/month for retirement and $300/month for travel, my passion. And I just got back from a trip to Turkey with my boyfriend, paid for before I left.

    • lizweston says

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Liz. Chances are very good we’ll get to retirement age, which is why saving is so important, but it’s also important to live life along the way.

  4. I’m so sorry for your mom’s way-too-early passing, Liz. I’ve taken your advice in my own life after sustaining a severe traumatic brain injury in a fall about five years ago (I got the miracle and had a near-complete recovery). I received a (too-small, but that’s another story) settlement from that injury. Instead of hoarding it toward a future that I now realize is never guaranteed, I used the money to do something I’d always wanted to do – I paid for two separate trips – tours in the UK (England and Scotland). My financial situation is such that I may never get to go back; I’m employed, paying my bills, but I don’t make enough to ever save that kind of money again. But I did it, and I will never regret it!