The Midas Gambit

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I care what people think. You wouldn’t notice, but I actually agonize over meeting new people. I’ll replay conversations in my head for days. Did I make a good first impression? Did they laugh at my jokes? Are we friends now? I know this line of thinking is shallow and insecure, but I can’t help it. Whether you do the same or not, there’s an uncomfortable truth in how people view you – social status and new friends can unlock new opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t have. That’s why I always aim big in social situations. After reading this, you will too.

*****

You’re at a dinner party. It’s a potluck and everyone’s cooking in the kitchen. Before showing up, you were given a choice on what to bring. Should you make something wild, or just be lazy about it? Sure, there’s an art to perfect mashed potatoes, but there are people to impress. You go to Granville Island instead and source ingredients for an authentic Louisiana gumbo chock-full of andouille, shrimp and fresh okra. Go, you.

“Holy shit, what are you making?”

“An authentic Louisiana gumbo chock-full of andouille, shrimp, and fresh okra,” you say.

“Wow, that looks delicious! I can’t wait to try it!”

Bam, immediate bonus points. Meanwhile, Safeway Joe mashes his potatoes in the background and no one cares. He serves a purpose though. We NEED mashed potatoes. He probably even does a pretty good job at it.

*****

I have a confession to make: I’ve never made mashed potatoes. Literally never. Part of the reason is I grew up in an Asian family, but the real reason is “The Midas Gambit” – I always do the coolest and most advanced thing I can instead of basic tasks. That way, even though I’m secretly a derp, it looks like everything I touch turns to gold. When I cook in my free time, I’m not making sandwiches or boiling pasta. I’m cooking the craziest and most involved dish I can so I learn how to do it.

One of the first things I ever made was wild game gyoza. Elk, bison and venison. Shiitake mushrooms and onion for texture. Pan-fried and topped with grated ginger, and served with a rice vinegar dipping sauce. I had no idea what I was doing, but it came out great. It’s surprisingly difficult to fuck up food. Other dishes I can do with minimal thought are root beer glazed ham, chicken coconut curry, spicy eggplant, ratatouille and perfectly-grilled ribeyes, but I still look up the proper rice-to-water ratio because I’m actually a culinary idiot. To the outside world though, I’m the guy whose dinner parties are out of this world. It’s the Midas Gambit in action. We don’t have infinite time. We might as well do awesome things with the time we have.

The Midas Gambit doesn’t just apply to food. And once you step back a bit, it’s not even about impressing people. It’s REALLY about being the greatest goddamn person you can be. When you start making it a goal to do The Impressive Thing always, you’ll find you eventually reach a level of advanced competence your peers don’t have.

While most of my photo classmates were dicking around with Holgas, I learned everything I could about building a photography business. I registered my business at 19 and now pull a living wage. Meanwhile, 90% of those classmates remain hobbyists. Many of them aren’t even photographers anymore. While most of my friends drank PBR, I was learning how to taste whisky from Jim Murray and earning industry certifications that still make me money today. I now get invited to whisky events where cracking a 32-year-old Port Ellen is no big deal. While my musically talented friends only showcased their ability on karaoke nights, I registered myself with SOCAN and joined a band to tour other provinces as a drummer. I’m not even a good drummer! I just did it because I could!

Do you see what I’m getting at? In all these examples, I chose not to stay at “my level”. Why would I register a photography company when I didn’t even have clients? Why would I attend a Jim Murray seminar when I was only vaguely aware of Glenlivet? Why would I tour as a drummer when I can’t even drum on Rock Band? I’ll tell you why: Because that’s how you get ahead in life.

The Midas Gambit only has one rule: Given a choice between two courses of action, ALWAYS DO THE MORE IMPRESSIVE THING. That’s an oversimplification, and there are obvious exceptions – electrical work or handling firearms, for instance – but the message is clear. Avoid basic tasks. There will always be someone to mash the potatoes, and you’ll get further in life if you pick up the power drill and let someone else take the screwdriver. Do the complicated thing always. You’ll often find you end up learning the basics anyway just to make the complicated thing work. Choose to put yourself miles ahead of the competition. If you make this a mantra, I guarantee you’ll soon impress everyone you know. Heck, you might even impress yourself.

Okay, seriously: What’s the proper rice-to-water ratio?

Here’s $210 of Free Groceries!

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Yep, just free goddamn groceries. There’s a catch, of course. You need to collect Air Miles and shop at Safeway, and you need to hack the American Express Air Miles Platinum credit card first. More details below.

Before we get started, you should know Air Miles has never been a great rewards program. It’s free, I guess, but it’s still shit. Using Safeway as an example, you only get 1 reward mile for every $20 you spend. The only way people accumulate a meaningful miles total at all is by hunting for items that give you “bonus miles”, which I don’t recommend you do. To make matters worse, it takes 7,500 miles just to fly to Europe. Earning miles the usual way means you’d have to spend $150,000 just for that flight. Air Miles are dumb, and you should know that going in. Don’t even get me started on how miles are gonna start expiring soon. Seriously.

The Air Miles program’s only saving grace is you can now log in and change your miles type from Dream Miles to Cash Miles. Instead of earning towards a flight you’ll likely never take, you can now trade 95 Cash Miles for $10 off your Safeway grocery bill. This is where it gets juicy.

First off, you CANNOT turn existing Dream Miles into Cash Miles. This is super sneaky, especially when Dream Miles is the default setting. What you need to do is log into the Air Miles website, click on “Get Miles”, then click “Set your preference”. Slide the bar over until it reads “100% AIR MILES Cash”, then click “Set my preference”. It’ll take a day or two to switch your account over, but you’re done now. You’re now earning Cash Miles.

Still want that $210 in free groceries? You’ll need to sign up for that American Express. Here’s the link again. As you can see, there’s no annual fee for the first year and it’s $65/year after that. That’s okay, we won’t be paying. You’ll also notice you get 2,000 reward miles as long as you charge $500 to the card within the first three months of membership. See where I’m going with this? Sign up, link your Air Miles account to it after you’ve switched over to Cash Miles, collect your 2,000 Cash Miles which equals $210 of Safeway groceries, and cancel the card before you have to pay an annual fee. Easy peasy. (A word of caution: This may slightly impact your credit score.)

The crazy thing is there’s actually loads of free shit out there just like this. Here’s an even better article about credit card hacking from MMM. I juggle credit card rewards all the time and just saved up enough Avion points for a flight to Spain. Cost: $170 in annual fees.

Credit cards can be great if you know how to use them. As long as you keep up with your bills, you’re golden. And apparently, if you know how to hack them, they can be a nonstop fountain of free shit.

One final note: In researching for this article, this is only how I think this deal works. I spent an hour on the phone with them checking my facts, but there’s always the element of human error. Read the fine print before signing anything, and please don’t sue me if something goes wrong. Let us know how it goes in the comments.

Editor’s note: Ben did not receive any payment for recommending these products.

What I Learned Working a “Regular Job”

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As some of you know, I have a Regular Job in retail now. Living the Retired life wasn’t working for me, so I’m not ashamed to say I spend three days a week bumming around a liquor store for $13/hour. The hilarious irony is $13/hour only covers my Drinking Expenses, but let’s get back to the point: Working in retail again has been a very enlightening experience.

As is customary in retail, I greet everyone by asking how their day is going. “Hi, how are you?” As people get off work, I’d hear the same thing over and over again. “Good, I’m done now.” I can’t believe how shitty an answer that is. WTF.

“I’m done now”? REALLY? Do people simply stop functioning the moment they don’t have Work? (I mean, I kinda did, but let’s forget that for a moment.) How about “I’m done working at my fantastic job now, and I’m going home to have a great night with my loving wife and kids”? I’m sure that’s what SOME of them mean, but you should hear their tone. Their “I’m done now” sounds like “Oh, thank God I’m away from my shitty job for another 16 hours”. Suddenly, I remembered there are people out there who hate their jobs. I wonder what that feels like.

Somewhere in all this, I remembered I was standing behind a counter, bagging a customer’s wine while they got to go home and relax. I looked at the clock. Yep, I was “stuck here” until 11:15 PM. I then realized I didn’t feel the need to be “done”. This was fine. I remembered I was here voluntarily. I know some finance bloggers kick around the idea of Fuck You Money, but this was a little different. I had no intention of burning the place down and telling my Boss to go fuck himself because I respected him as a business owner. He put trust in me, and as a Decent Human Being, I was going to do a good job whether I had Fuck You Money or not. I found myself grinning like an idiot. “Have a great day! See you again soon!”

I’m always grinning like an idiot at Work, whether it’s the store or my photography career. It’s really not as simple as an Attitude Shift because I know some people really are in shitty situations. I get that. The reactions I get in retail are astounding though. I’ve had coworkers who only ever frown. Customers assume they’re the manager. I’m as happy as a pig in shit. Customers assume I own the place. This isn’t an isolated occurrence. In all things you do, if you’re actually happy, you end up looking like the Boss. It’ll get you further than you can imagine.

On the other hand, I know a guy who works at Safeway. Let’s call him Joe because that’s his actual fucking name. He HATES his job. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile once. He makes that Safeway feel like a Sartre play, and he doesn’t hide it. He rolls his eyes, sighs loudly, moves like molasses. DO NOT be like Joe.

A weird thing happens when you have some security in life. Since this is a finance blog, we can narrow it down to Financial Security, which is different from Financial Independence. Other Ben is approaching FI quite fast – he’s still on track to Retire For Good at 38 – but I have Financial Security and that’s good enough for me. I love what I do, my bills are covered, and I have enough Money to get a little silly from time to time. Without FS, you end up like Joe. You spend every day waiting to be “done”. That’s like waking up every morning and simply waiting for the icy grip of death. Don’t live like that.

Strive for Financial Security. FI is too scary, and the numbers are too big. For now, let’s define FS as a lifestyle where Work feels effortless and Money just rolls in. You’ll know you’ve reached that point when a paycheck arrives and it just seems like a pleasant surprise. For fuck’s sake, have a great time, all the time. You spend 8 hours at Work every day. When you consider that’s 50% of your waking hours, if you’re miserable, GET THE HELL OUT NOW. If you’re only doing it for the Money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

One last story: A woman came up to me tonight wanting to impress a few guests at a dinner party. Her guests were wine snobs and she wanted only the best, but she’d heard “good things” about a major winery here in BC. Knowing what I knew about the quality of THAT wine, I steered her to what I would pick: Burrowing Owl. Stubbornly, she bought one bottle of Burrowing Owl, but her second bottle was from the crappy winery. I thanked her and sent her on her way. She came back three hours later to return the second bottle. Her guests wouldn’t even drink the stuff. “How did you know? Did you take a course in wine?” I did. I looked at the clock and I had four more hours to go. I wasn’t “done” yet.

And I was still as happy as a pig in shit.

Why I Am A Fraud: A Story of Booze and Strippers

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You probably shouldn’t listen to me. By the time you finish reading this, you’ll come to understand I really don’t know much about personal finance, and should be the last person dispensing advice. I mean, I can’t even follow my OWN damn advice. I’m a fraud. Here’s a completely candid look into The Shit I Spend Money On.

Even my least costly expenses are pretty high. In January, I spent $138.03 on Entertainment. There was a movie date, I bought a video game, and I also got tickets to see Basia Bulat this month. There’s also the matter of my Debt. I owe $15,400 at 5% and $4,300 at 9.68%, so $99.47 just disappears out of my account once a month. I also somehow blew $229 on cabs. I still haven’t figured out if that’s more expensive than maintaining my car. I imagine filling up the tank a few times would cost me about $229 anyway and this way, I can drink freely. Drinking’s a big part of my life, in case you hadn’t heard.

Oh, I should probably mention Alcohol. Are you ready for this? Here’s the final figure for January: $1,120.27 on booze. I’m not fucking kidding you. If I keep drinking at this pace, I’ll have blown $13,443.24 by the end of the year! For some stupid goddamn reason, I spent an average of $36.14 on liquor for EVERY DAY of January. I probably need an intervention.

Food came in at $651.08. I ate out a lot, and I know I can save more in this category. $21/day on Food is pretty nuts. I also rolled Coffee into this category. I was once a Starbucks Whore™, but I made sure to buy a coffeemaker, so that’s a step in the right direction.

My craziest expense was a $158.48 dinner date. I figure it was worth it, because she’s my girlfriend now. Funniest expense? $10 to see strippers. That was one hell of a bachelor party. I also made the wise financial decision to NOT get a $50 lap dance. Not today, nerdy Polish girl who looks vaguely like Taylor Swift. I know the only thing you want in my pants is my money, and you’re not getting it.

Total damage: $3,363.26. Total earnings (during January, so a slow month): $2,394.21. Keep in mind this is money I’m barely working for. This money just kind of happens to me with my lazy shifts at the liquor store. I also had two wedding consultations in January that would’ve resulted in $5,000+ had I landed both jobs. Had I simply been luckier, my earnings would’ve been $8,000, which could explain why I blew $1,120.27 on goddamn alcohol. Smart Ben reckons he can eat for three months on that amount!

Maybe I’ll learn. I most likely won’t though. I took my girlfriend out last night and racked up a bill of $456.73. Yes, I’m crazy, but so was the 1962 Amarone we drank.

I’m really not frugal. You shouldn’t listen to me. It’s honestly a wonder I’m not homeless.

Check out the entire January 2016 breakdown here.