What Getting Fired Can Teach You About FIRE

A fired you isa lot like aFIRE'd you.

I got fired in 2013. There’s not much to say about it – it was the result of a work-inappropriate tweet – but I’ve made my peace with it because I learned so much. In a way, I was granted an accelerated look at what life would be like if I were retired. If you have your doubts, click that link. Two years of barely needing to work changed my outlook on wealth and retirement, and I was only 25 at the time. Even then, I knew FIRE wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. If your FIRE number is your only goal, financial independence won’t make you happy. Only finding common ground between your values and priorities will. (Sorry for the hokeyness, but it’s true.)

Anyway, it’s 2018 now, and I found myself out of a job again. I wasn’t fired, but being pressured to leave due to an interpersonal conflict is almost worse. I’ve already lined up my next step, but there were a few weeks where I felt listless and unmotivated. After all, putting three years of hard work into a place meant more to me than money! It’s okay though; these things happen. In the end, it even turned into a great learning opportunity!

At first, I’d honestly settled back into my old ways. I ate out to numb the boredom, drank more, and racked up a dumb amount of screen time. This didn’t last long before I started feeling like crap. Suddenly, I remembered I’d written articles about quantifying happiness in one’s pursuits and purchases. It turned out I was just completely lacking in purpose. With no professional obligations for the time being (which was like being retired), I had nothing to do!

In one way, this was horrible. It meant I’d mismanaged my priorities to the point that I didn’t have any, but it also gave me the chance to tackle these problems before achieving FI. (For my numbers and strategy, read this and this. There’s a chance some level of FI could come sooner than I think.) I suddenly saw my retirement, and I didn’t like it. I needed purpose. It turns out I actually need work, at least for now. It’s a value of mine to be productive, so I had to prioritize it. This taught me I might never need full-on FIRE though! Maybe barista FIRE was the target now! More importantly, this also taught me I needed other, better goals. These are all good things to know before becoming financially independent. I’m just a workaholic. What can I do to become more?

I’m sure we’ve all, at some point, been less employed than we would’ve liked. I’m glad I got fired once or twice because it helped me learn how I act when I’m suddenly regifted an extra eight hours every day. If you found this post through recently getting fired, here’s my challenge to you: Note down how you feel, what your new motivations are, what you now prioritize, and how fast you start itching to work in some capacity again. After the honeymoon phase of FI when you travel the world for months or buy guinea pig armour just because you can, you often find that an FI’d you is still… you. A fired you is a lot like a FIRE’d you. What do you want when you don’t have to work? Some of us are too busy to find out. Answer that question honestly, and getting fired might be the best thing to ever happen to your retirement.

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Stop Stacking Luxuries

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Having worked in the retail world a while now, I’ve been run through every sales talk about add-ons and upselling there is. I’ve seen the numbers too. I can’t divulge mine, but consider that your popcorn and drinks “represent some 40 percent of theaters’ profits”, and adding a $9.26 beer to your $15 meal just bumped it up 62%. For those reasons alone, I’m super cautious about stacking my luxuries. I’ll show you what I mean.

I never buy popcorn. I went out for a nacho night with friends recently, split the bill and didn’t order any drinks, and my bill was somehow less than $4. At home, I even try not to snack during a Netflix movie. When buying clothes, I don’t accessorize. When I cook, I garnish as cheaply as I can — (none of my friends appreciate saffron anyway). And you know what? I ended up appreciating each individual luxury more. Here’s why.

When I bought popcorn, I’d annihilate most of it during the previews and endure a 2-hour movie trying to tongue the hard bits out of my teeth. The soda would destroy my fitness goals, and make me have to pee right before the climax of “Don’t Breathe”. The fact I paid for that inconvenience was especially questionable. Why would I pay for something that made me enjoy a luxury — the movie — less? This even happens when I crack a beer during Netflix. At my worst, I wouldn’t even remember how the movie ended a day after. Would I even enjoy the beer? Not really. I was distracted by the movie. With every luxury you stack, each individual luxury is diminished.

There are exceptions, of course. Some people argue wine complements great food, and I don’t disagree. I’ve just always had trouble tasting the finer notes of a 1999 Barolo while my mouth was full with a $25 Keg steak. A great accessory can complete an outfit. It can also cost $9,750 when your Indochino suit was only $579. When you try to cap off a basic luxury with something that makes it ‘more special’, that’s a green light to a salesperson that reads, “This person is here to be stupid with their money.” Your core goods are always cheaper, and upgrading them first is the only thing that makes sense. Even then, you can usually live without an upgrade. I’d rather watch four months of Netflix than spring for popcorn-and-a-movie for two. Heck, I won’t even make popcorn at home. Can you imagine crunching your way through “A Quiet Place”?

Do you stack your luxuries? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments.

What’s Your Net Worth Anyway? (August 2018)

$163,155

I’m fortunate. With a 99-year leasehold valued at $170,000 and a small inheritance I received in 2014 that I’d thrown into index funds, my assets put me well ahead of recommended net worth milestones at 30. Naturally, it’s not as simple as that because I’m also no financial wizard – I’d only stopped accumulating consumer debt recently, and I still have moments of weakness. As it stands, here are the real (and embarrassing) numbers: I owe $13,661 on credit cards and $16,569 to family. I’m $30,230 in debt, and I’m not making fast progress on it. I’m hoping to do a series of net worth posts so you can all keep me accountable. Right now, I need help.

The assets add up nicely. The $170,000 home plus my $22,877 RSP bring me to $192,877. I have $500 exactly in chequing, and my wallet contains… let’s see here… $8, change, and a coupon for free pizza. Here are the milestones I’m working towards.

First, I want my assets to total $200,000. Then, I want my net worth to total $200,000 through debt elimination. I know I keep pushing this back, but my goal is a “debt-free 33”, and I need a good money tribe to keep me moving forward. If you’re on an FI journey too, I’d appreciate the encouragement.

My net worth is $163,155 at 30.

Where are you?

Are You Paying For Bragging Rights?

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Looking back on my 20s, I wish I hadn’t cared about oneupmanship. I wish I hadn’t spent thousands on PlayStation media so I’d have a higher trophy count than my friends. I wish I hadn’t bought and drank so many terrible beers just to boost my numbers on Untappd. I wish I cared less about what people thought of me, and actually started working on me. For most of my life, I’d been paying for bragging rights. Maybe you have too.

Companies thrive on this sort of thing, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. Almost every luxury good is a sort of stab at oneupmanship. The newer car, the shinier gadget, the cooler features, and the status symbols of the world all conspire to take money out of our wallets. On one level, it might be keeping up with the Joneses (which we already know is bad), but if we’re being completely honest, sometimes we buy things to grasp at better social standing or to make others jealous. I’m guilty as charged. I used to buy $300 shoes, $900 dinners for my friends, and $250 bottles of wine – always in misguided attempts to seem better than I was. Now, I struggle with debt… and it’s all my fault.

Things are better now. Since starting this blog, the only status symbol I care about is my net worth. My shoes are now $20. My dinners are now meatloaf and beans. Bottles of wine only show up when I get them free from work. I just organized a bachelor party and ixnayed the limo for a cab. The PlayStations got sold off or gifted. I often take the bus. Somehow, in spite of all this voluntary deprivation, I’m happier for it! A weird thing happens when you become frugal: Where I once was only able to afford one pair of shoes, I could now afford 15. The more frugal you are, the more wealthy you feel because you suddenly have so much buying power! It’s a weird paradox, but it’s one worth believing in. Don’t ever spend money to impress people. People don’t give a shit anyways.

If you’re gonna spend money on oneupmanship, one-up yourself. Invest in your goals. Build up a bigger nest egg than you ever thought possible. Learn new skills. Better yourself, but not so you can compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, even when you’re on top. Can you imagine how stressful that is? Always striving to maintain a false sense of superiority through spending money? FUCK. THAT.

No one’s better than anybody else. If you truly believe a $30,000 watch or a shiny car is the only thing making you a better person, we’ve gotta have a talk. Even if a glowing beacon above your head broadcast “I SPENT $30,000 ON A WATCH” 24/7, that’s not a great message to send. You don’t seem rich and impressive. You seem desperate.

Stop bragging. Start saving.

Get rich.

Your Tribe Matters

You can_t succeed if the people around you are satisfied with mediocrity.

“You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.”
– Jim Rohn

If I were to narrow down the five people I spend the most time with, it’d be my roommates “D” and “K”, our artist friend “A”, and probably my coworkers from my day job. Ever since I’ve known them, they’ve indirectly propelled me towards greater success. This is why.

“D” is industrious, hardworking, and frugal as hell. If something broken can be fixed, he’ll do it, even if it looks like a wad of duct tape and glue after. If it’s functional, that’s enough for him. At 27, he has no debt, and a future career path very similar to Ben’s. He’s currently my closest friend.

“K” isn’t frugal, but he’s fit. He eats lean, has a 21.8 BMI – he’ll enjoy greater longevity – and he’d always rather be in a park. Thanks to him (and my coworkers who always push me), I’m now averaging 15,000 steps each day and burning 3,000 calories. Almost by accident, I’ve already lucked into ‘fit’ and ‘frugal’ just by the people who’ve moved in. It gets better.

“A” is massively frugal. She makes ethical eating choices and with that, she’s able to save on a completely different level than we do. Here are the numbers I’m able to divulge, but long story short, she’s set for retirement already. We pay attention to quantifiable happiness, seek out even more friends for our “money tribe”, and encourage each other on personal goals. She’s my main connection to Mustachianism, and she’s one of my most rewarding friendships. We’ve even hired her to make art pieces in our apartment.

As for my coworkers, they kick my ass. That’s all that needs to be said about that.

This is my tribe.

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You can pick and choose your tribe more than you know. If personal development is a key goal, one of the methods I used was the DRM. This sounds callous, but I evaluated some relationships recently, and started prioritizing only the ones that were healthy for me. (See: the “oxygen mask rule”.) Anything that ranked low on ‘pleasure’ and ‘purpose’ – how Paul Dolan quantifies happiness – got pushed aside. This, I feel, gave me room to grow.

I turned 30 recently, and I’m more protective of my emotional health than ever before. Consciously surrounding myself with positive influences has been a game changer for me because I used to booze heavily, and have low self-esteem. Now that I’ve removed people who were a bad fit, I attack my goals like I won’t get another chance!

This is why people find mentors. This is why people pay through the nose for life coaches. This is why people buy self-help books. On the other hand, if you know positive influences already, it only makes sense to make them part of your tribe. For one, it’s free! On top of that, building positive relationships is always a worthwhile effort.

Time is finite, and as a resource that can’t be reobtained, you should be obstinate about who you give it to. That having been said, you should also be a valuable tribe member for others! I hope now to build a tribe of likeminded, frugal, self-optimizers.

I think I’m off to a good start.

*****

At this current moment, frugality is what I’m trying to cultivate. I find I’m distancing myself from spendier activities, and – this is important – saying flat out ‘no’ to things I won’t enjoy. (This is strange, but in my mind, things I won’t enjoy equates to work, and do I really want to be paid nothing for my time?) Someone once told me, “If you’re not improving or enjoying yourself, you’re just wasting your fucking time.” I believe that.

Surround yourself with people with similar goals. Be friends with people better than you in the ways you want to improve. Deprioritize people holding you back. Be a beacon for others wanting to learn more from your strengths. Build your tribe.

You can’t succeed if the people around you are satisfied with mediocrity.

If this made sense to you, I’m sure you’ll find success in no time. Choose better relationships, and you’ll be better too.

Use It Or Lose It, or How To Save The World With The Crap In Your Storage Room

If every American dove into their storage room and unearthed $100, can you imagine what that $33 billion could do?

The US is home to 327 million Americans, and a staggering $33 billion in unused tech just sitting around. That means every US citizen essentially has a $100 doorstop somewhere in their home. Statistically speaking, if you’re young and male like me, that number’s bound to be much higher. I easily have thousands in tech either unused or underutilized, and I came to the realization that value could do a lot of good in the world, and for my pocketbook. Never being one to sit still on such epiphanies, I began a slow and steady purge. This is the story of how raiding my storage room helped make the world a better place.

Looking at my power bill meant my PlayStations had to go. I sold off my PS4s and conjured up nearly $700 out of past excess. I then looked up my city’s community Facebook page and essentially posted, “Free PS3s to the right person!” I ended up saving a kid’s birthday party – he wanted a video game party, and his PS3 had died a week before – and I also gave one to a small family. At this point, I was also sitting on some unused games. This took care of itself as someone broke into my car and stole them. I also discovered almost 10 external hard drives. In my early days as a photographer, 1TB and 1.5TB hard drives were as big as you could get them. Now that I’ve upgraded to 8TB hard drives, this was like mining for diamonds in my garage. I sold them all for cheap, and made about $500. I made money, and my friends saved money. These are the win-win situations I live for. There’s even two TVs I barely use, and I’m already thinking of ways to unload them! Then, there’s my heaps of camera gear! I’m not ready to give away $3,000 cameras yet, but I do lend my gear to anyone who asks nicely. As long as I’m not using it, what’s mine is yours. A local photographer who’s a friend-of-a-friend wanted to borrow a lens last weekend. No problem! In fact, years ago, I even donated a fleet of film cameras to hobbyists. One made its way to a photography school, and some are now toys in the hands of creative professionals. I even let my roommate borrow my car when I’m not using it! As soon as I let go of the idea of ownership, my unused crap started enriching people’s lives, my bank account, and the world at large!

Buying and receiving secondhand objects isn’t just about saving money either. It’s also about saving the environment. This Swedish study puts some numbers to it – 12.5M tonnes of CO₂ saved per year?!? – but what’s even more staggering is how small their sample size was. They only looked at five “major marketplaces” in Europe. Craigslist is saving heaps too! All I know is raiding my storage closet did good for the world. Even getting those games stolen out of my car meant that poor dude didn’t steal from someone else. What $100 doorstops do you have in your closet?

*****

While writing an early draft of this article, I found out the 50mm f/1.8 I was essentially using as a camera body cap finally made its way to Windsor, ON. I hadn’t used it in months, and it’s now gone to an enthusiastic amateur. I’m pretty ruthless now with what stays and what goes.

If something has a use, I make sure it’s used, even if it’s not by me. If something no longer benefits me, but will benefit someone else simply by being in a different place, I consider that a net win.

If every American dove into their storage room and unearthed $100, can you imagine what that $33 billion could do?

Money and Convenience Are Basically The Same Thing

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Hot pot is glorious. Somewhere, deep in my childhood memories, I have vague recollections of bubbling broth, delicately rolled sheets of meat, odd dipping sauces, and questionable food safety, and it somehow became one of my favourite ways to enjoy a meal. Looking now to recreate it – which I did this past weekend with spectacular results – I’d found myself standing in the veggie aisle of an Asian supermarket. In small packages, there were cremini, enoki, shiitake, and white button mushrooms, but there was also a “hot pot mix”, cleverly portioned out to be exactly what I needed. In a moment of weakness, I ignored the $8.98 price tag and put them in my basket. Given a choice between “I could buy the individual packages and get more mushrooms for the same price” and being a bad chef, I became a bad chef. I chose convenience over money. After all, like everyone else, I may as well pay for convenience… right?

This got me thinking though. When you get right down to it, that’s all we ever pay for. You buy a car to avoid walking multiple kilometres to work every day. You buy a computer to avoid doing all your scheduling, task managing, and socializing via pen and paper. You buy meat so you don’t have to raise chickens or gut a deer. Perhaps, if all you want is to live a wealthier life, it may be as easy as letting in some inconvenience!

I know this is certainly true for me. I eat takeout and $8.98 mushrooms more than I care to admit, and I still haven’t ventured into brewing my own beer. We’ve also talked about not owning things if you can help it, but I still have so much crap, I have to give/throw stuff away regularly. Suddenly, I wanted to know what an inconvenient lifestyle looked like, based on my daily expenses.

Wake up.
Brew my own coffee.
Make myself a sandwich for work.
Bike to work.
Drink tap water.
Eat the sandwich on my break.
Bike home.
Make a quick dinner.
Drink a homebrew.
Read articles online.
Go to bed.

This is, of course, regular daily living for countless people and the joie de vivre of many a Mustachian. I decided to go ahead and define my barriers to success.

I would need to buy a coffeemaker.
I would need to make more time for grocery shopping.
I would need to buy another trike (because the last one was stolen).
I would need to purchase equipment for homebrewing, and I don’t have a passion for it.

That’s it! At this point, I found it genuinely weird I’d have to buy things to make my life more inconvenient on my terms, but as it’s such a simple fix, it may be worth investigating. The coffeemaker, for instance, could be a great investment. Coffee currently costs $0.55 at the local 7-Eleven, but coffee at home is more like $0.08. It seems pretty insignificant, but a year of coffee at home instead of 7-Eleven java saves me $171.55, enough for many coffeemakers! Now, I just wish I liked homebrewing…

The obvious takeaway is introducing inconvenience means more money in our pockets. Getting back on a trike would save me from $60 tanks every month for an extra $720/year. Add car maintenance – my last bill was $715 – then add the coffee, and I just pulled $1,500+ out of my ass by slightly inconveniencing myself!

Try doing a similar exercise to the one above, and ask yourself, “How inconvenient can I make my life?” It shouldn’t be too scary at all. Determine your barriers to success, and figure out how much money you’d save. I’m not telling you to dumpster dive or use toilet paper stolen from library bathrooms, but think about it this way: With virtually every consumable, you can either choose to walk away with Money or Convenience.

How rich do you want to be?