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.

Starbucks, Part Deux: Chasing the Red Dot
Beta Culture: Beyond Veterans Day
Musings on the Nature of Mind
Beta Culture: The Poison of Stories