The 30,000

Say someone gave you $30,000, in cash, and the deal was, you had to live on it as long as you could. You couldn’t do any other income-producing work in that time, you just had to live on the 30 grand.

You’d have to pay all your bills on it, provide for all your daily needs. You’d have no additional money coming in, and all your entertainment needs, your health needs, your travel and leisure needs, all would have to come out of that one chunk of money.

How long could you live on it?

To a 10-year-old, $30,000 might seem like all the money in the world, an amount that would last forever. You could go to all the movies in the world, it would seem, and have cotton candy and Ferris wheel rides for the rest of your life.

But any adult – even a college student – could tell you it’s not a lot. Groceries, gas, rent, car payments, trips to the dentist, clothes – plus tuition, if you were that college student – the occasional night out … it all adds up, or rather subtracts out, and one day not too far off, the $30K would be completely used up.

You might be free with the spending in the early days of the $30,000, but you’d wise up pretty fast and learn to be less spendthrifty as you went along. When you got toward the end of the money, you’d get progressively more miserly, until you were stretching each dollar as far as you could, using it as efficiently as humanly possible.

Having just come off a year without working while I was writing two books, I can tell you my own answer: On $30,000, I could make it just a little over a year.

I’d have to be careful not to go on any spending sprees, of course, or the time would be shortened. Careful not to get injured and incur medical bills. Hope there were no emergencies. And if the $30,000 cash were just sitting around, I’d have to take some care not to have it stolen, or lose it in a fire or whatever, because in any case like those, it could be gone in a day.

Okay, the point is made: $30,000 is not a lot of money. If all you had was thirty G’s to run your entire life, you wouldn’t have much time before it would be all spent.

Speaking of time, that’s really what I’m talking about. Specifically, your lifetime.

Because, strange as it may seem to think of it like this, what any of us is likely to get in life is about 30,000 days.

That’s it. That’s all. 30,000 days is just a little over 82 years. You get about 30,000 days in which to do EVERYTHING you might want to do in life, and then no more time to do anything, ever.

And you can’t even count on those 30,000 days. Sure you may have known plenty of people who’ve lived longer, and if you take care of yourself, you’ll probably get there, but the average lifespan (in the U.S.) is two years less for women, seven years less for men. Which means that though lots of us will get there, most of us WON’T.

If you go on a spending spree – drinking hard, using drugs, taking chances with your driving, accepting a dare from friends to dive off the high bridge or ride your motorcycle while standing on your head – you could easily use it up in less time. And all of us know people who have.

If you suffer an accident, you could be out of days in less time. Your store of days could be burned up in a fire, or lost in a car crash, or stolen from you in a war. You could erode them away by not eating right, and not getting any exercise.

But even if you get the entire 30 grand, it’s not a lot of time.

But it’s all you’re going to get.

30,000. If you’re lucky. And then no more, at all, ever.

If it was $30,000, and you wanted to stretch it out as long as possible, every dollar would be precious. You’d have to make careful decisions about how to spend each and every one. “How am I going to spend this dollar? And then this one? And then how about this one?”

If it’s 30,000 days …

30,000 days to get everything done. Every place you want to visit. Every person you want to meet. Every adventure you want to have. Everything you want to learn. Every project you want to complete. Every goal you have to accomplish. Everything. Everything you ever wanted to do, everything you ever thought about doing, and only 30,000 days – or less – in which to get it done.

… you’d have to make the same sort of careful decisions about how to spend each one.

Oh, well, if you believe in a glorious eternal afterlife, which means you think a mysteriously generous wealthy stranger – whom you’ve never met but who people tell you is out there – is going to walk up one day and hand you an additional $30,000, and then another $30,000 next year, and another $30,000 after that, forever, you don’t have to worry. You can spend and spend and spend, and the money bag will never run dry. Gosh, that would be great, huh? Santa Claus will show up with free bags of money, dropping a full one down the chimney every Christmas eve. Not.

In the long, long summer of childhood, the frenetic, unplanned days of adolescence, the routine days of adulthood with our steady job and family routines, or the extended autumn of retirement, we either fail to notice or forget the limit on days.

But it’s there. 30,000.

Or — considering that you’re not a newborn — less. If you’re 27, it’s already down to 20,000. If you’re 55, it’s already only 10,000.


What were you planning on getting accomplished today?

What about tomorrow? The entire week? This month? This year?

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Carpe diem. Seize the day. Because though it won’t be your last (we hope), it will be ONE of them.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Beta Culture: Seeing The Brackets
Looking Past the Bright Sun of Crazy
The Book of Good Living: How to Avoid Being Killed By A Train
Beta Culture: A Third Approach to Gender Equality
  • WMDKitty

    Let’s see… I get by on 8,100 a year, plus food stamps. The government thinks that $675/mo is “enough” — never mind that a studio apartment in an apartment complex goes for $600/mo, minus utilities and other bills.

    Then again, if you’re elderly or disabled, you “don’t need” entertainment….

  • Cor (formerly evil)

    I spent the weekend sitting on the couch, waiting for someone who owes me $60 to show up and give me the $40 he promised. Never showed.

    I would have liked to have done something worthwhile, but my balance is $0.14 until Thursday morning and the tank is empty.

    This talk about seizing days and getting stuff done is profoundly demoralizing to those of us stuck in the epic shithole of poverty. If anything, it adds to the guilt of being poor.

    Sorry to be a bummer, but I’m really pissed at that deadbeat.

    • Hank Fox

      Re: “the epic shithole of poverty.”

      I can’t compare my experience with yours, but whoo-boy, epic shithole of poverty, I have been THERE. There was an incident some years back when I had nothing to eat but Texas fruitcake … for more than a week. I’d bought 3 of them for friends, as Christmas gifts, and I got so broke I had to eat them.

      And yuck — I can tell you there’s a balance point between hunger and hatred of fruitcake. You reach it on the second day, and you figure out how big a piece you need to eat to keep from feeling that you’re starving, and how simultaneously small a piece you think you can stomach without throwing up.

      But today I’m laughing to think of it. I haven’t had so much as a crumb of fruitcake in all the years since!

      I lived in what is probably a much different place than you, but even when I was broke, I was able to go on hikes, sightsee in my hometown, or just chill somewhere with a book. Also did a lot of sitting in the library writing, which I always enjoyed.

      It may not help, but do remember that most of this stuff eventually goes away, and leaves only memories. You’ll probably live to brag about it with friends: “I was so broke I had to …”

      • Cor (formerly evil)

        Thank you for your understanding. I apologize for using your blog to vent, but it was late and sometimes the pressure gets to be too much.

        It doesn’t help that I submitted my timesheet just before I commented; 60.25 hours at $10/hr in two weeks. Take home pay for an EMT in Sacramento: about $1000/mo.

        That sort of deal reaches into every corner of life. You cannot eat, but there are frogs, etc. And it spoils even the enjoyment of a day in the park. It spoils FTB, when Cuttlefish is trying to raise money for schoolkids and I can’t help. It spoils sleep with worry.

        The good news is that this is nothing new for me. I’ve had to struggle like this my whole adult life, and it’s taught me how tough I – we – really can be. FSM or no FSM. :)

  • Susannah

    $30,000? Four or five years. More if I move.

    I live now on about 15,000 a year. I think I’m rich. Until recently, it was just under $7,000, on a disability pension, with any earnings (about half-time) deducted from the total. At the end of that period, I had a housing subsidy, but not for the first decade, and I was paying off loans. Slowly.

    Think again, Hank. Ask a few people not in your income bracket; see what they say.

    Oh, and I’ve got about 7,000 days left, by your calculations. If I get that far. I’m not wasting any. I never did.

  • Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    Re: 30000 Days

    It throws things into perspective when you talk about it like that. A full third of my life was wasted pretending to be someone I’m not, and I’m still scared to absolutely be that person. I think I need to talk to a gender therapist sooner rather than later..

    Re: $30000

    My apartment is $1200 a month. I eat about $400 of food a month. (whether it’s groceries or eating out – if I don’t eat out every day, it becomes cheaper – but if I do, it’s more expensive – so on average $400.) I pay about $100 or so on phone + Internet. Charities I spend $50 a month. I don’t own a car, so I’m good there. I have a cat, so I’d say about $100 on incidentals with him. Other things like subscriptions are about $50 as well. Altogether that’s $1900 a month, so say $2000 including other incidentals.

    About a year, then. Not too bad. Now I question, of course, how I am still deeply in debt although I get twice as much as that in salary…

  • Roxee

    Wow, I thought your blog post was inspirational, and then i read the comments!

    I hope one day that the too many members of our species no longer have to endure hunger just because of the family they were born into and the country in which they live.

    There are billions of us, and likely to be billions more, before we stop reproducing at pace. The planet is straining at the seams trying to produce what we all need and what many of us just want.

    Once we realise that the growth for profit model is going to kill us all if we don’t stop what we are doing maybe then we can all settle down and use only what the planet is able to give us and find a way to share it equitably with each other.

    If anyone yells socialism back at me I think I’ll scream!!

  • Chas, PE SE

    I find it ironic that you were trying to make a point about our lifetimes — yet almost everyone in the comments talked about the money, not the time, thereby missing the point.

    What am I doing? reading comments on blogs, rather than doing anything even remotely creative and/or useful.

    • Hank Fox

      Heh. I thought of that too. But I figured everybody was busy processing the time part of it. It’s a new idea for people, that there’s so little time, and maybe it takes a bit to wrap your head around it.

      Re: remotely creative/useful: Well, interacting with people is pretty productive, sometimes. And I get my best ideas from stuff I hear or read from others.

  • Sisu

    thank you. That was really inspiring and thought-provoking.

  • Sithrazer

    Roughly two years, if I changed absolutely nothing about the way I live currently. I make ~17k/year depending on certain factors. When no unexpected factors arise (car repairs, extra travel, etc) I can actually manage to save up some money along the way.

    I’m sure I could stretch it further, but by too much more and I doubt I’d be able to truly call it living. But that’s my opinion by my own standards.

    As for people focusing on the money rather than the time, I think that’s down to money being a poor analogy for time, despite the adage ‘time is money’. And, for many people, it takes an investment of money to start on something that will help them get the most out of life (not to mention an investment of time, ironically), and most people probably lack the means to do so. Obviously, that varies by just what a person’s interests are.

  • anthonyallen

    At 41, that gives me about 15,000.

    I have lived my live in fear of everything for most of that time, and will likely continue to do so. Every time something comes up that might be interested in, I shy away from it. Sometimes I will deliberately spend the money that I would need to do that thing so that I can make the excuse that I can’t afford it. I took a “safe” job that requires me to work overnight so that I don’t have to deal with people.

    I’m afraid. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written something here just to delete it without submitting. I’ve blown off meet-ups with fellow atheists and skeptics.

    I don’t know how not to be afraid, and I’m too afraid to ask for help.

    So I guess my 15k days are going to be a spectacular waste of time.

    • Roxy


      What WMDKitty said.

      I’m kind of like you, except I have gotten to a place where I tell myself I’ll go for a few minutes and if I don’t like it I’ll leave. I plan my excuse in advance, but I always stay.

      My strategy when I get there is to introduce myself, then ask the person about themself. People love to talk about themselves, and it’s nearly always interesting. If it’s not, “excuse me I need to freshen my drink” and do so, then find another seat and start over.

      Sorry if I’ve used that on anyone in this thread :(

  • WMDKitty



    You sound a lot like me. Have you considered the possibility that you may have an anxiety disorder? (I ask out of concern, not out of malice — I realize the question can be taken offensively.)

    I can’t force you to look into it, and I won’t push you, because pushing doesn’t help. I just ask you to consider it.

  • Pingback: Dealing With Fear: Side Note | Blue Collar Atheist()


    Great bars and pick up’s!

  • MSVS

    This is so depressing….

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