Pleasure-Purpose-Purchase, or Should I Buy This?

7-4-Y

“[H]appiness is experiences of pleasure and purpose over time.”
– Paul Dolan

Now that we know happiness can be quantified in numbers – (Read this first.) – I suddenly realized this was a massive breakthrough. In our last post, we applied a pleasure and purpose metric to activities to figure out how happy they were making us, but we missed the obvious: What if we applied the same pleasure and purpose metric to purchases? We’re a personal finance blog after all. It’d be stupid to not talk about money.

Anyway, I adopted this scoring system for any purchase over $10 I was considering. The first number is the pleasure I can expect from my purchase rated from 1-10, the second number is its anticipated purposefulness from 1-10, and the third bit is whether or not I bought it. Score anything you’ve recently wanted to buy accordingly! Recent pleasure-purpose-purchase scores for me have been stuff like:

Allergy medication: 4-9-Y
4-pack of rare beer: 7-5-Y
New Fitbit wristband: 6-2-N
All-you-can-eat sushi dinner: 7-4-Y
New audiobook: 6-3-N

In order for me to say yes to a purchase, my pleasure and purpose scores must add up to at least 10 out of 20. Otherwise, I put it back on the shelf. (For you, your score may be different. You might have something be 2-4-Y after mentally justifying it, and you might even set your purchase threshold at 8 out of 20 or lower.) Even now, this is stopping me from making purchases that won’t make me significantly happier. Look at what else I’ve been saying no to:

New 4K 55” TV: 6-2-N ($400)
Profoto A1 camera flash: 3-6-N ($1,000)
6-pack of craft beer I’ve tried before: 5-3-N ($15)
Food mill: 5-4-N ($45)

These are all things I want, but after scoring them all, I realized the money was better saved and invested. Besides, I already had a 50” TV and old flashes, which is why I ranked purpose relatively low. Let’s say I would’ve bought all that stuff this month were it not for the P-P-P score. I would’ve spent $1,460. Invested using the 10X rule, that’d be $14,600 by retirement in one month alone!

Can applying this scoring system to your discretionary spending save you tens of thousands of dollars? I think it will. Think about this and score your next few purchases, then comment below with your findings.

In the meantime, I’m gonna have some of that 7-5-Y beer. Mmm, unnecessary luxury…

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What Happens When You Quantify Happiness?

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Paul Dolan’s “Happiness by Design” became so important to me in the past month that I now own multiple copies for reference purposes. The audiobook is for commutes. The paper copy helps me gather quotes for articles, like on this blog. Though this is probably excessive, I think anyone looking to improve their life should read this book. As someone who was quite happy already, I didn’t think I could game my way into being even happier. Somehow, this book did it. Pick it up from your local library!

Here’s an all-too-quick summary you can take a look at right now. If you’re pressed for time, simply click here and save the image. This is a DRM worksheet – it means ‘Day Reconstruction Method’ – and we’ll be referring back to this later. This will allow you to quantify and prioritize your happiness as easily as you do your budget. Here’s why I use it daily.

*****

Two weeks ago, I was on vacation. For five days, I was in Seattle with friends and I was destroying my budget. It turns out $300 USD, unmonitored, just kind of goes up in smoke if I focus only on “having a good time”. Sometime around Day 3, I started questioning what I was doing. Why was I somehow miserable on vacation? I’d worked seven days straight to have five days off in a row, so I should be enjoying myself, right? Why was focusing on pleasure for once giving me so much anxiety? Without a clear answer, I spent the rest of my trip in a listless limbo, and found myself excited to go back to work. On my first day back, I was energized to be productive again, but not because I was relaxed. I was relieved. The vacation was actually a bad experience for me. What gives?

In his book, Dolan says, “To be truly happy, then, you need to feel both pleasure and purpose.” You need both, and ideally, a balance. He talks about a “pleasure-purpose principle­”. If you focus too much on either side and neglect the other, you end up unfulfilled. For me, two days of pursuing only pleasure and neglecting purpose was enough to make me go wonky, but now I know. If I’d only had the DRM worksheet, I could’ve saved myself a lot of grief.

Summing up the trip as a whole gives me some clues as to why I wasn’t happy. My main activities included “drinking with friends”, “attending panels at a convention”, “eating at restaurants”, “hiking”, etc.

Drinking with friends – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 5]
Attending panels – [Pleasure: 4, Purpose: 3]
Eating at restaurants – [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 4]
Hiking – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]
THE WHOLE VACATION – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]

In this case, though my activities were mostly midrange in pleasure, they were entirely lacking in purpose, especially because I was spending significant amounts of money doing things I could’ve done with a staycation. Now, let’s look at a typical workday for me.

Commuting – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]
Working at the liquor store – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 9]
Having good food and drink at home – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 5]
Watching some TV – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 4]
Going for a walk – [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 6]
THE WHOLE WORKDAY – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 7]

This isn’t an exact science, but if you’re evaluating your own pleasure and purpose honestly, your DRM will allow you to design your own happiness. Notice your daily visits with Mom are a bit like [Pleasure: 4, Purpose: 3], but playing with your kid is like [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 10]? Well, you have data now, so make a choice. Do you find TV-watching to be like [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 2], but reading a great novel to be [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 8]? Make a choice!

The point is to think objectively about what makes you happy. Broken down into just pleasure and purpose, this is as simple as it gets.

I somehow learned I love and enjoy my day-to-day life more than vacations. I can’t imagine anything happier than that! Can the DRM help you hack happiness? I challenge you to find out.

Think of it as [Pleasure: 3, Purpose: 10]?

Bens, Booze & Budgets: Part One

If I didn't get my drinking under control,

This is an ongoing series tackling my struggles with alcoholism, and how I strive to do better. We’ll be looking at the financial impact, my overall health, how it’ll affect my longevity, and my happiness along the way. It’s a serious issue, and I don’t intend to take it lightly. Reader discretion is advised.

*****

My vacations are rarely actual vacations. This time, it involved visiting event planners in Kamloops and Chase to promote my wedding photography. We had a blast, and on our way back, we stopped in to see “Ben and Barbara” for another hike. That’s when “Ben”, a 60-odd tenured academic, took me aside.

I forget the exact words, but his tone was serious. He was very concerned with my drinking. At this point, he’d seen me consume upwards of six beers in a casual night at home. He’d lost friends in their 40s to hard drinking, and he’d never even seen them drunk. I was, what, 29? If I didn’t get my drinking under control, I might only have 10-15 years left. Taken aback by his frankness, I stammered something noncommittal, and headed back to my car. Even now, I’m thinking about it. “You have to reach old age,” he said. Admittedly, I never imagined I wouldn’t.

*****

The Lancet is a medical journal with roots dating back to 1823. Starting as a simple pamphlet in the 19th century, it’s now an online powerhouse of medical studies covering countless aspects of human health. Mere weeks ago, they published a risk analysis on 599,912 drinkers and came to some conclusions, summarized here: Fortunately, they found that people who drink about 6.5 drinks a week or less are mostly okay. But those who drink 6.5 to 12.5 drinks a week have a six-month lower life expectancy at age 40, while those who have 12.5 to 22 drinks a week have one to two years lower life expectancy, and people who drink more than that have four to five years lower life expectancy.”

This was, obviously, not great news for someone who frequently writes about longevity.

I’d spent years trying to convince myself my drinking wasn’t a problem, but the other day, on my way to work, I needed to stop at a bottle depot. It was a sunny day, and I found parking right out front. This was super convenient, I thought to myself. I mean, I had numerous garbage bags full of beer cans. As I stood there organizing my past benders into sticky blue trays, “Ben” crept into my thoughts again. As each tray filled, I found I looked forward to my bottle return less. Each tray I filled looked like a few hours shaved off the end of my life. 10¢, 10¢, 10¢… 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes…

$32.50 was the total return. Literally hundreds of beer cans. I realized then that I needed help.

*****

Here’s where the math comes in. Nothing motivates me more than raw data, so I drew a line in the sand. The article said, “those who have 12.5 to 22 drinks a week have one to two years lower life expectancy, and people who drink more than that have four to five years lower life expectancy.” Well, I knew I didn’t want to be in the latter category, so I set myself a ceiling of 22 drinks a week, or 3 drinks a day. This is still not in line with what constitutes “moderate drinking”, but I was just looking to game the data. For now, any drinking ceiling was better than none. I AM NOW COMMITTED TO NO MORE THAN 3 DRINKS A DAY. And somehow, knowing that was really goddamn liberating. I look in my fridge now, see 9 beers, and I know I have enough for 3+ days. Somehow, this constraint was weirdly welcome in my life. More savings, a longer lifespan, and easier estimation of how long my beer would last me? I think if I remember all the benefits, it’ll be far easier to not drink to excess!

But can I do it? I still don’t know. My optimism is tempered by having failed at things like this before. I suspect I’ll see an 80% success rate with a few “cheat days” along the way. Done well, this sudden new challenge might literally save my life. Done poorly, there might not be a logical reason I’m saving for the future.

As I write this, it’s been just under 24 hours since I finished my last beer. I bought a coffee, but I’m still tempted by the new rye IPA in my fridge. My wall clock is ticking, and the ticks sound louder than normal.

Holy shit, guys. This should not be this difficult.

*****

Stay tuned for Part Two.

Why Coworkers Don’t Talk About Their Salaries (and Why We Should)

if financial success and work is a game,

The gender wage gap is a thing. Bitches Get Riches illustrated this best when they said “This is not open to discussion” and made every word a separate link to census data and economics journals. Anyway, know it’s true, even in my past workplaces. I’m now paid $2 more per hour than my previous (female) assistant manager. Guess what: I’m not the assistant manager. Obviously, something’s going a little fucky here. That’s why I’m trying to do something about it.

Paraphrasing from a now buried tweet I once saw, “Men shouldn’t consider themselves allies unless they disclose their salary to female coworkers. This is the only way we can achieve wage equality.” I agree, and I’ve been extremely open to anyone who’s asked. I also kinda think everyone should disclose their salary to one another, for a couple of reasons. First though, let’s weigh the cons.

The main problem I hear is it might put a target on your back. Sometimes, people will think it’s unfair you’re getting paid more than them. (Spoiler alert: Sometimes, they’re right.) I’ve had coworkers go out of their way to try and sink me, but the end result of this was I actually got much better at my job. With management seeing me go above and beyond in my work, the naysayers have mostly slinked away. Besides, any misguided attempts at revenge would be a race to the bottom. Being a good dude and trying to boost them up instead is a race to the top. With this mindset, that target no longer seems so bad. It just seems like part of the game. Let’s come back to this in a second.

The other obvious problem is this results in coworkers making a snap judgment about workplace hierarchy. I don’t really think I “outrank” anyone, by the way. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all the same cubicle. We’ve already established wages aren’t objectively fair (and most of them are far too low across the board anyway), so let people think what they want, but try to boost them up too. This is actually one of the best things you can do to increase your own salary. If I’m a manager with three employees, and they’re paid $30/$30/$23, when Employee #3 asks for a raise, giving them $27 is almost a “Why the fuck not?” Here’s the sweet part: If you’ve got a great connection with your coworkers, and you’ve all been open about your salaries, Employee #3 can knowledgeably ask for more! This even makes your boss look good. Managing a team of highly paid professionals looks great on paper. Managing an unmotivated clusterfuck of minimum wage underlings? Not so hot.

Your workplace is just a game, and everyone’s in it to win. Done right, there are no losers. Your “boss” is a coworker. That’s it. They want success too. Stop comparing the extra money and focus on yourself. “How can make $3 more per hour,” not “Debbie’s a bitch for being richer.” Besides, if you’re here, you’re on your way to wealth already, partly because you’re smart enough to talk about money openly. If financial success and work is a game, you should know the rules and how other people are playing itBurying your head in the sand helps no one. Bringing down your workplace helps no one. You know what does help? Community over competition. It’s not even a competition! Go to work, boost up your team, and be open about how much you make. Any temporary feelings of inadequacy might suck now – “Ben makes HOW much?!?” – but knowledge is always good. After all, if someone is doing the same job as you, but makes $40,000 more per year, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Wouldn’t you want to look into that opportunity too? Just resist the urge to bring them down. Race to the top, y’all. Let’s all get rich together, and embrace the workplace. If you’re still working, you might as well love it.

We Use 66% Less Electricity Than Our Neighbours

we seem to use

Over the past few months, we’ve gotten pretty good about optimizing our finances, but our obsessively geeky need to optimize everything eventually led us to the website of BC Hydro. For those of you not in BC, BC Hydro is our main electricity distributor, serving about 1.8 million customers across the province. Since I moved into my place seven years ago, I’ve been paying bills from them every two months. They keep the lights on for us, but I never turn on too many. That’s why I suspect we’re one of the most energy-efficient households in our area. Pull up your own numbers and play along. It’s kinda fun being able to see your stats. Here’s ours.

BC Hydro has a thing they call Team Power Smart. You click a button and they start tracking your kWh usage for the next 365 days. Reduce your energy consumption by 10% from the previous year, and you get a $50 credit on your bill! Obviously, $50 is peanuts, but the seed had been planted. With raw data in front of me and graphs to show my progress, my goal now wasn’t just 10%. Now the question was, How low could I go? From November 2016 to November 2017, I somehow blew through 4,600+ kWh. To qualify for my credit, my goal from November 2017 to November 2018 is 4,191 kWh, but my stretch goal is actually 3,000 kWh. I crunched some numbers, and we seem to use 10.08 kWh per day on average, or 302.4 kWh per month. I briefly lamented not being on track for my stretch goal, but then I looked up average electricity usage in BC. “Households in BC Hydro’s service area average just over 900 kWh per month”! We’re literally 3x more efficient! This only strengthened my resolve. If BC Hydro was giving me $50, I might as well use it for good. Time for some online shopping.

A few nights ago, I came home to a package waiting for me: the Kill A Watt P4460 I’d been eyeing for months. The order total was $45.84, but I knew this’d save me more in the long run. With the ability to plug it into just about anything and immediately see a cost forecast by week, month, or year, it’s giving me the data I need to be smarter about energy consumption. I no longer use a PS4 as my main streaming device, and now use an Apple TV I got through a barter. According to this, a PS4 “consumes 89 watts per hour when streaming video”, “35 to 40 times more power consumption” than an Apple TV. Because I was an idiot just a few years ago, I once had five PlayStations all humming away in my living room. Now: one Apple TV. I haven’t noticed any decrease in life satisfaction. In fact, I think I’m happier.

Our light bulbs are almost all CFL now too. Technically, LEDs use less electricity, and buying them kinda makes sense, but not really. Computers also go to sleep more often, and I’m even reading about energy-efficient cooking (except that barely even matters).

Annnnnd… that’s kinda it. There’s pretty much nowhere else we can be more efficient. I limit screen time anyway, so instead of a 50” HDTV running all the time, I listen to audiobooks on my iPhone. (Current binge: “Happiness by Design” by Paul Dolan.) Also, I went back in my BC Hydro history, found the oldest bill I had, and I’m apparently paying 18% less per bill now. See why I’m a data geek? Saving hundreds now means thousands later. We’ll most likely revisit our energy consumption this November and see how we did on our challenge. In the meantime, I’ll try not to seem like such a weirdo typing on his keyboard in the dark.

If you’ve got weird energy-saving tips, let us know in the comments. How do you think we’re doing? Is 10 kWh/day a lot for three people? Let’s get competitive and save some money.

PS: We pay a base cost of $0.18990/day, and $0.08580/kWh. What’s your rate?

Are You Worth Your Wage?

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Okay, don’t close this window yet. There’s a point to all of this. I know many people have adversarial relationships with their employers, but this will help shed some light on how they see you as an employee, which will ultimately make your working relationship better. This will most likely lead to raises, promotions, happy working conditions, and more control over how you work. Worst-case scenario: You lose three minutes, and decide you deserve a better job. That’s valuable to know too.

First off, most employees have no idea how much they actually cost their employer. In this fantastic article about salary negotiation, Patrick McKenzie writes, “[G]et into the habit of seeing employees like employers see them: in terms of fully-loaded costs.  To hire someone you need to pay for their salary, true, but you also have taxes, a benefits package, employer contributions to retirement, healthcare, that free soda your HR department loves mentioning in the job ads, and what have you.” Depending on a variety of factors, for many jobs, “a reasonable guesstimate is between 150% and 200% of their salary.” You cost more than what you see on your paycheck. When I say it like that, it seems obvious, but it’s a significant jump. Your $20/hour is more like $30/hour. This is just a quick aside, but keep it in mind if you didn’t know this already. Let’s get to the meat of this article.

Let’s say you have a below-average job. It’s not too stressful, and you spend one of your eight hours a day just Facebook-ing. Regardless of how you spend your time, every three minutes, someone from accounting walks by your desk, taps you on the shoulder, and hands you $1. “Thank you,” you say in this absurdist scenario. “See you in three minutes. I’m gonna watch a cat video now.” Here’s the thing: From an employer’s point of view, this is exactly what’s happening. If you make $20/hour, by the numbers, this isn’t an absurdist scenario at all. It’s just math! Now, I get that you can’t be directly productive every minute you’re at your workplace, but I started asking myself, “Am I worth what I’m being paid? Even at my (now-)$16/hour job, am I actually making my employer $1 every 3m45s? Not only that, but am I making them profit that will also cover the cost of keeping the lights on and the store open? Is it notably better than the 7% they’d be earning in an index fund instead?”

When you think about it that way, simply employing you is a goddamn risk. If the position is a mutually beneficial fit though, you’ll be earning them boatloads of money using a passionately developed set of skills, and they’ll be paying you well to develop those skills until you’re making boatloads of money too! Remember how we talked about going “above and beyond in work and business”? I’ve been using real-time pay calculators as a motivational tool at my day job. When I see it tick up $10 and I know I’ve actually done nothing, I don’t particularly feel good about myself. It’s a gentle nudge towards productivity, and I’m thankful for that. I always strive to do more now, and I’m certain it shows.

This is even more insane with my wedding photography. To a client who’s paying me ~$400/hour to shoot, I’m getting paid $1 every nine seconds. Am I creating art worth $1 every nine seconds? I damn well better be to charge my rate. Knowing this helps me kick ass at my job!

Think about how you make money for your company. Would you hire you, or are you being a leech? Would you be more productive doing something better? Are you worth $X every X minutes? If you’re not, it may be time to find a better fit.

As both an employee and an employer, I’ve seen it from both sides. Are you worth your wage?

Rich People Live Longer

final

“The study divides Americans into five income groups and finds that each income group is healthier than the one below it and sicker than the one above it.” Full article here.

Well, no surprise there. I think it’s more correlation than causation, and this is likely to stir up a debate in the comments, but it’s not about the money. Rather, I’ve found the people who succeed financially tend to have healthier habits than people who make less. Tom Corley analyzed “Rich Habits and Poverty Habits” and it’s easy to see how wealthy habits are also healthy habits that lead to longevity. Take care of your money, and you’ll take care of yourself too! Don’t believe me? Read his article, and let’s go through the list. Buckle up.

#1 is “Live within your means.” I had trouble doing this, and many aspects of my life were suffering. I was drinking too much. I was eating so much, I was overweight. I spent heavily on sedentary entertainment. I put myself in debt, which added to my overall stress. “Live within your means” is such an obvious piece of advice, but what’s not obvious is how much damage you can do if you ignore it. I spent so much on gluttony and indulgence, my BF% was 28.6 at its highest. (The average for men is 18-24%, and I’m at 23.4% now.) Simply by overspending, I was overindulging. It was bad news. If I’d saved more wealth, I would’ve had better health. It doesn’t stop there.

#3 is “Read every day.” This alone is how I learned to accumulate wealth. If I’d never read “The 4-Hour Workweek”, Mr. Money Mustache, Marcus Arce’s “Half Retire”, or Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules”, I’d still be broke, unhealthy, and trapped in a 9-to-5. Constant education might actually be key to longevity. It keeps minds active — book lovers live longer, by the way — and it provides me with valuable information on how to live a better life through optimized personal finance, health, and happiness. If you’re reading this now, you’re on your way to a long and happy life. Read those books I linked to above, and you’ll be even wealthier and healthier. I promise.

#6 is “Network and volunteer regularly.” Here’s a TED talk linking social integration to longevity, but there are benefits from interacting with your community that can benefit you now and not just when you’re trying to eke past 100. Looking at my 10+ years of doing professional photography, my most profitable years were when I was volunteering on fashion creatives, meeting with colleagues for drinks, and handing business cards to anyone who made eye contact with me. The more of yourself you give, the more you tend to receive back. Having been reminded of this, I made a point of attending a networking event this week. My mental health and career outlook immediately improved, and a simple night of drinks might lead to a $3,000+ wedding booking. Hey, it’s happened before! Many times, in fact!

#7 is “Go above and beyond in work and business.” How this leads to longevity is slightly less direct. I posit that high achievers in the workplace are also serial optimizers who bring their skills home. They’re the same ones who know an exercise routine in the morning sets them up for productivity in the office. They’re the same ones who read to excel. They’re the same ones who eat homemade quinoa for lunch when Matt from accounting goes out for Burger King. Sorry, Matt, but I know who I’d bet on for longevity. Enjoy your extra pickles.

#11 is “Avoid toxic people.” Corley writes, “[Y]ou need to evaluate each of your relationships and determine if they are a Rich Relationship (with someone who can help you up) or a Poverty Relationship (with someone holding you back). Start spending more and more time on your Rich Relationships and less on your Poverty Relationships. Rich Relationships can help you find a better job, refer new business to you or open doors of opportunity.” I fully agree. My stress levels were lowest when I started spending less time with my naysaying family, and more time with disproportionately successful friends. The Other Ben has been a godsend to me. If it weren’t for him, I’d most likely have fallen into the same trap my mother fell into — believing low-end wage labour was the only method of wealth accumulation. That feeling of being stuck? No bueno for stress levels, and as we all know, stress kills.

#16 is my favourite: “Know your main purpose.” Here’s a talk about ikigai and the centenarians who believe in it. I reevaluated my purpose in life recently, and realized I just want to take care of my friends. Someone who doesn’t know their main purpose might just work themselves into the ground — literally, I might add; see: karōshi — or they might have a bunch of money and spend it in a way that doesn’t bring lasting contentedness. (The Ferrari-crashing, money-flashing fuerdai are just one example.) In my case, knowing my purpose allows me to say no to things that don’t serve my goals. I don’t need a big house, so I’m not working towards one. I don’t need fine wine every night, so I stopped buying them months ago. What I do want is better friendships, and the wealth and time to help cultivate them. I also want meaningful work, and I’ve found that in wedding photography and slinging beer. My goals, purpose, and steps to achieve them are all in alignment! Though I’m certainly not the highest earner in my circles, I feel like my healthy habits will lead me to wealth in the long run.

Finally, an obvious note: Having enough cash to take care of basic health is something everyone deserves. For many, it’s not as simple as changing a few habits. That’s why I urge you to be a “Rich Relationship” for somebody. I recently helped my roommate “D” land a dream job, and I’m equally happy to connect as many compatible working relationships as possible. If you’d like help with anything, ping us on Facebook.

Let’s all get rich together and live outrageously long lives to enjoy it.

*****

After writing this article, I consulted “A” for additional commentary. This was some of what she said.

“It’s a lot easier to avoid toxic people if you have money and are not reliant on said toxic people. People are more likely to value reading if they had parents that were educated and valued education & learning & reading. Poor people don’t necessarily have the time to volunteer, it’s hard to think about your purpose if you’re depressed and in survival mode, social exclusion can make networking hard, etc. So these habits you’re writing about are hard to start or maintain if you’re not already in a semi-well off position.”

She also noted, “By writing about this though, the implication of the article is that you think that wealth doesn’t have an important effect”.

Admittedly, there were points I’d failed to consider. I decided to preserve the original article anyway — it may prove valuable as I learn more about privilege and poverty — and I invite you to chat with me in the comments about it.

What do you think? Let’s dive in.