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.

*****

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.

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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?

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

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“[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…

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.