Why deathbed regrets are not about making more money

Understanding that money is nothing more than a tool can help you to design a life you will be happy to look back on

Having a financial purpose means knowing what money needs to do for you and understanding its role in your life. Getty Images
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It is common to think that money is a goal, but this is likely to result in regret. In reality, money is a tool.

I doubt anybody in the final stage of their life wished they had spent more time with their money. Instead, they tend to regret not being true to themselves, working too hard, losing touch with their friends, not expressing themselves, or putting off their happiness.

Every day we wake up, we have one day less left to live. Everybody knows this.

Yet most people do not live their lives with this in mind. Instead, people tend to live their lives as if they will live for ever, believing that there will always be more time to do the things that are meaningful to them.

Money is not a goal. It has no value in and of itself. It is a means to an end.

That's why, when people look back on their lives from their deathbeds, they never regret not spending more time with their money or ruining more relationships to get more money.

“You can't take it with you,” as they say, and there is no value in being the person who died with the most money.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients during the last few weeks of their lives, routinely asked them about any regrets they had or what they would do differently.

She spoke of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people would gain at the end of their lives and the common themes that surface again and again during these conversations.

Eventually, she wrote a book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, and, according to her research, the most common regret shared by people nearing death was: “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Actor Christopher Walken once said that if you knew how quickly people forget the dead, you would stop living to impress people.

What would you do with your life if you didn't need to impress anyone?

Rather than being a goal, money is a tool. Like other tools, it makes sense to know how to use it. It makes sense to tend and care for it. It also makes sense to understand what it's for. And much like any other tool, it can be used for good — and evil.

Separating the idea that money is not a goal and is, instead, a tool can help you to break away from the endless pursuit of more. It helps you to understand how much is enough.

You can also then start to ask yourself what you need to use this tool for.

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You can define your financial purpose, which describes the role money plays in your life.

Your financial purpose can become the lens through which you view your money decisions to make sure you're using it in a way that is consistent with your purpose, most important values and life aspirations.

Having a financial purpose means knowing what money needs to do for you. It helps you to understand money's role in your life.

Consider drafting a simple financial purpose statement. When you do this, try to articulate your purpose in a way that will bring you and those you love the most happiness.

Having financial purpose allows you to live your life and be happy. Understanding the role money plays in your life helps you to view money as a tool, so that you can use it to design a life that you would be happy to look back on.

After all, you'll want to look back without regret and say you lived a happy life.

Sam Instone is co-chief executive of wealth management company AES

Updated: May 27, 2022, 8:03 AM