The Key to Making a Living Doing What You Love is This Blog Post

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Are you a creative? Are you an entrepreneur? Do you want to wake up every morning and head to work happy because you know you’re working ONLY on what you love and living off it? Wake up. It’s not possible. Here’s why: If you want to make a living doing what you love, you need to work on something really boring and shitty – personal finance.

First, a story…

I’m a photographer. I started in 2007 and with family help, I was able to attend photography school and buy gear that didn’t outright suck. I shot my first wedding for $60 because I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. I got into concert photography and sold images for nationwide use. My largest payday doing that was $50. I became very good at my job, but money wasn’t coming in. Every year, I’d be a few thousand more in the hole. When I hit $26,000 in debt, I thought about giving up. Photography didn’t pay, I thought. I loved it, but I needed a Real Job.

I started a Real Job in 2010 for $10.50/hour. I was happy to take it. I’d stock shelves five days a week and on weekends, I’d shoot nightclubs for $160/night. I would shoot for six hours, then edit for two hours the next day, so $20/hour. I thought I’d made it, but then I moved out and realized I still wasn’t making enough. That was how it started.

I got fired in 2013 from the Real Job. I realized then and there that photography was my only way out, so I got into weddings and started caring where my money was going. Wait, HOW MUCH was I spending on booze? How many dollars were going out and how many dollars were coming in? Was I screwing my financial future?

I think by now, you know the answer was Yes.

I’m still terrible at personal finance, but November 2015 was the first time in years I “lived within my means”. I started tracking every nickel that came in or out. I’d spend all day shooting a wedding, then come home and start counting my receipts. I’d edit for ten hours a day, but still dutifully open an Excel spreadsheet at the end of the night and add up pennies. My Job became more than just my passion for photographing people. My Job now required me to master personal finance just so I’d have a can of Chef Boyardee to eat.

It complicates matters even more if you don’t understand how money works. Oh, you think you’ll be able to Retire someday by regularly putting money into a 2% GIC? Nope. That doesn’t keep up with inflation. Your money can’t grow. Got a credit card hitting you for 19.99% interest and owe $10,000 on it? You’re literally throwing away $166.58/month without making a dent in your debt. If, instead of throwing that cash away, you were able to invest it intelligently, that’s $2,138.89 in Free Money per year. PER FREAKIN’ YEAR! Run the goddamn numbers. I know you don’t like looking at the little minus sign next to your bank balance, but you MUST do it. Otherwise, you’ll be a wage slave forever. This is Your Way Out.

Read a personal finance book. If you want something easy to breeze through, even “Personal Finance in Your 20s for Dummies” by Eric Tyson ain’t too bad. Ignore sensational stuff like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” or “The 4-Hour Workweek” for now. That’s about the philosophy of money, and if you’re reading this blog right now, you’re not ready for that yet. You need the basics first.

Starting now, work towards your Dream Job. Open up Excel and learn how to use it. No excuses, do it right fucking now. Figure out how much crap you need to cut out of your life so the money you make doing what you love is more than your living expenses. Live on less. Simplify. If you have to, work more. Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll learn to live off your Dream Job.

Do the thing. You can do it. I believe in you.

You Have A Drinking Problem

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I have a confession to make: I like craft beer, and that makes me stupid. Let me explain.

That’s not to say craft beer itself is stupid. I fully appreciate the care and craftsmanship craft brewers put into a well-balanced ale, but if you’re reading this, I’m gonna assume you’re working towards financial independence (hereafter referred to as “FI”). Craft beer is insanely expensive in BC. Look at this beer list. Let’s assume you have a basic understanding of how numbers work and avoid the $8.25 pint, but still like the idea of a “bold yet balanced Imperial white IPA hopped with Magnum, Centennial, and Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand” because you have a beard. That’s $7. Not the most expensive thing on the menu, but not the cheapest. Let’s roll with that.

Alcohol in BC comes with a sneaky liquor tax of 15%. Holy shit, we’re already at $8.05. And guess what, you’re not a jerk, so you tip your server 15% too. Suddenly, your 20-ounce pint is a whopping $9.26! WHAT IN THE LITERAL FUCK? Can I remind you that the base ingredients are about a buck? I don’t know about you, but it takes me about 15 minutes to down a pint. I’m paying $0.62/minute, which is like me paying my beer a wage of $37.20/hour to be in me. If that doesn’t make your head spin, you need to go back to school and learn math. Liking craft beer is stupid.

Don’t drink beer? You still have a drinking problem if you’ve ever bought a $5 latte or a $2.50 bottle of pop. The problem gets exponentially worse if this is a regular occurrence. After applying some Mustachian math, we find that even buying a single $5 latte every week over 10 years costs you $3,760! Your $9.26 beer? An absolutely stupid $6,963.52! Do the math. I’ll wait. And if you’re the type to buy a $9.26 beer every fucking day… I can’t even. Go away.

Here’s a new set of rules to live by:

1) You are NEVER allowed to buy any sort of beverage that costs more than 33% of the food you’re eating it with. Sitting down for an extravagant $15 meal? Your drink budget is $5. Live with it.

2) The next time you’re thirsty, DRINK WATER. This can be a fun mind game after a while. See how long you can keep this up before you indulge in the luxury of a goddamn Montrachet or something.

3) STOP drinking at restaurants and bars. You know that MGD your server just brought to the table? It’s less than $2 if you buy it at the liquor store and drink it at home like an unstupid human being. At a bar, you’re paying 4x more. Don’t be an idiot. We have lots of those already.

Again, I’m a lucky sonofabitch. A pint of Lousy Lager at the bar across the street from me is only $5 after tax and tip. Even then, every time I slam one of those back, I understand I’m being ridiculous and spendy. Unless you’ve already hit FI, you really shouldn’t be spending more than $5/day on drinks.

Remember: water is free and comes out of taps here. You have no idea how lucky you already are.

What I Learned by Retiring for 2 Years

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Realizing I didn’t need a day job anymore was pretty freaking cool. I figured this out in 2014.

2014 was a year of both awesomeness and shittiness. I lost my dad that year. I also inherited the money I needed to get out of my substantial debt – $25,000 at the time. Since I’m the Dumb Ben though, I wasted no time at racking up more debt. I owe $19,000 now. More on that later. I was also able to get my place sorted out. I’m now the owner of a 99-year leasehold property in Richmond, BC. For those of you unfamiliar with leaseholds, I basically own the property, just not the land underneath it. I have 72 years left before I get booted out. I’ll be homeless at 99. More on that later too.

The remaining 72 years are all paid off. It was $170,000. The strata fees and property taxes are 100% covered by the rent I charge my roommate. I’m super lucky, and as I type this, I can already hear the lynch mob forming. At 27, I don’t have rent.

That’s not to say I do nothing. I have a successful wedding photography business, and charge up to $4,400 for my packages. I hardly count it as Work though. I love every part of what I do, and outsource the stuff I don’t like, like editing. On my last $4,400 wedding, I outsourced virtually everything except the actual photography. Time investment: 1½ days. The lynch mob is banging on my door now.

So with my photo “work”, food was covered too, and then some. Now what? For me, the answer was Retire. Sure, I’m cheating a little bit, but I was “working” around 30 days a year, and was frugal enough that I could live off that. I don’t care what you say. I was fucking Retired.

No lies, it was great at first. I could get up at 4 PM, slam two beers, play Minecraft until 9, then hit the pub. I got to see my friends and family whenever I wanted. I’d go on adventures, disappearing into the US for weeks at a time. I even made it to the UK for my friend’s wedding, and made some great memories there. And then… I just sat on my ass a lot.

Like, A LOT. What I didn’t know was the first 40 hours of Minecraft are pretty fun. The next 200 hours are significantly less so. I started gaining weight. I developed a drinking problem. My mental health started to suffer. Getting together with my friends got more challenging, since they had work and families, and I just kind of had… nothing. My life, without Work, suddenly had zero Meaning. I was suddenly a depressed slob who couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a shower. Since I only ever worked at weddings, and was always too focused on taking pictures instead of interacting with people, I’d often go weeks without an actual conversation. I mean, it’s no wonder so many people die right after retiring. Read this. Without a purpose in life, even if that purpose is as silly as earning money, why go on?

I realize this sounds like the privileged whining of a 1%-er, and in many ways, you’re right. I have what a lot of people want. I thought I wanted this too. I want you to reconsider Retirement though. What would you REALLY do if money were simply not an issue? What would you do with your life if you had an extra 8 hours every day? If you’re the type of person who’s so hard-working that you can Retire early, what makes you think suddenly having NOTHING to do will make you feel good?

After two years of mild existential terror, I figured it out. Retirement wasn’t about doing nothing. It was about finding out what had Meaning to me. Meaningful employment is important, even if it doesn’t earn a bunch of money. I currently sell wine to people for $13/hour when I’m not shooting weddings. I don’t need the money, but it gets me out of the house. I don’t drink as much now. I shower more often. I have real conversations with people. I get to talk about fine beer, wine and spirits, which is a passion of mine. And to top it all off, the money I make goes into getting me out of debt, and profitable investments for the future. I had Meaning again. I was choosing to Work. Even though I’d “made it”, I needed Work to feel whole.

Rethink Retirement. You can Retire and work on something you love, and if it happens to make enough money for you to live on, guess what? You’re Retired! Get a job that doesn’t feel like Work. Get a job that gives you more Time. Get a job that has Meaning. I know it’s not as simple as all that, but make it a goal. All of this is better than the fantasy of never having to work again. Trust me, you’d probably hate it.

Oh, hey. That lynch mob is ringing the doorbell. I should probably let them in.

Meet the Bens

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This is a story of two Bens.

One Ben is financially responsible. At 27, he’s well on his way to a six-figure salary. He’s frugal, works hard, and saves 55% of his income. He’s on track to retiring at 38. His money will be invested in index funds and is expected to return 7% each year on average. Ben will live off only withdrawing 4% each year, which is more than enough to cover his thrifty living. He has no car, and rents. In just over 10 years, he’ll never need to work a day in his life again.

Other Ben is a financial idiot and comes from a life of privilege. At 27 also, he’s financially lucky, but if he doesn’t smarten up, he’ll run into financial difficulties down the road. His main asset is a 99-year leasehold on a 1,000-square-foot property outside Vancouver, BC. At the moment, he does not intend to leave. He has debt. Though he has financial assets, his net worth not including the leasehold is negative $5,000. He’s primarily self-employed, but also has a second job. Retirement at any age is not likely.

This is a story of two Bens. I am one of those Bens. We’re avid readers of Tim Ferriss, Gary Vaynerchuk, Mr. Money Mustache and many more. This is a blog about earning financial stability. This is a blog about building a lifestyle you can be proud of. This is a blog about happiness.

Welcome to Unconbentional.