If You Have to Pay for It, You’re Doing It Wrong

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What’s fun for you? Is it travel? Maybe it’s fine food or wine. What about entertainment? Maybe you love going to concerts. Maybe you want to meet celebrities. Maybe you love playing with the latest gadgets, or driving nice cars. What would you do more of if you had unlimited resources? Got a mental picture? Good. Now, what if I told you you could have all that for free? It might seem like a pipe dream, but it’s entirely possible once you start doing just one thing: choosing your Career not based on pay, but your passions.

If you’re reading this blog, I’m gonna guess you make okay money and aren’t looking to be a wasteful spender for the long haul. Hopefully, that’ll translate to more money saved. Let’s say you sock away $5,000 in disposable income. You’ve already maxed out your RRSP and TFSA, and this is cash you can have some fun with. You’ve been busting ass at work and it’s time to let loose, so you book your trip to Santorini and stay for two weeks. Flight and accommodations eat up $2,500 and $1,000 goes into food at ritzy restaurants. You take a few day trips, ride a few donkeys, and rent an ATV to zip around the island. You find their brewery and drink the best IPA in Greece. You even hit all the clubs along the water. It’s great. Before you know it, you’re $5,000 poorer, but with once-in-a-lifetime memories. I think that’s a fair trade.

Well, I went to Santorini in 2012. It was free.

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I’ve been an arts nerd all my life, and never really gave a shit about money. Being a doctor or a lawyer never interested me. Those were office jobs, and I detested office jobs. I wanted to explore the world, go to concerts, and drink expensive wine. I would’ve taken “starving artist” over “fat guy in a red BMW” any day, and since I knew that early on, I started taking steps to build a life I could be proud of.

In 2008, shortly after I became a photographer, I got into shooting conferences. The jobs were small at first, but they were always out-of-town. I was 20 when I visited Victoria, BC and shot ICCA 2008 with my colleague, Jon. A year later, I was in San Francisco for WCLC 2009. I stayed in the Westin St. Francis on Union Square, a $350/night hotel. I even had a per diem for meals. Eventually, more travel opportunities came up. I got into weddings. I saw Toronto. I saw China. In 2012, I was in Santorini for a week to shoot my friend’s wedding. I saw it all, free.

Back home, I started a music blog. I would go to shows and write reviews. I’d give them the best damn concert photography they’d seen in Vancouver. Soon, I was given access to the artists. I met Bat For Lashes and Lykke Li. I interviewed Alexisonfire. I photographed R.E.M. and The Pretenders. I even made money selling my shots.

Meanwhile, I also got geeky about beer, wine and whisky. My side jobs in liquor stores gave me access again. Whisky festivals, brewery invites, wine courses; all paid for by someone else.

I’d done it. I turned everything that would’ve cost me money into something Free. Work was no longer a grind to get to the thing I wanted to do, it WAS the thing I wanted to do. All it took was reframing Work as something other than “work”. It was just another awesome part of my awesome life because I chose to have a non-shitty job!

You can do it too.

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Follow your passion.

You’ll probably be a little poorer if you take my advice, and I know that. I know most of you can’t just abandon your $75,000 annual salaries and become Hollywood screenwriters, but wearing a pair of golden handcuffs is still wearing handcuffs. Do you want to count down the days until your next vacation, or do you want to be on vacation all the time? Do you want to spend $5,000 for a fleeting moment of happiness, or do you want to make $5,000 every time you leave the country on some exotic job? Do you want to be the fat guy in the red BMW, or do you want to be the starving artist who got so good at his job, he eats like a king for free?

Money can buy experiences. How you live your life can render money irrelevant though, and the moment you don’t need to worry about money anymore is the moment you become truly Free. That’s what we all want, right? Give me a call when your life and experiences are FREE.

In the meantime, I’m gonna get packing. I’ve got another trip to San Francisco lined up.

It’s honestly too bad I’m paying for this one like a sucker.

How to Reduce Your Taxes

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2015 was the first time I insured my photo equipment. It was also the year I tallied up how much camera gear I own and what it was worth: $35,807.20! It’s worth considerably less now due to depreciation, but that wasn’t what surprised me. What blew my mind was how much I paid in GST and PST. At 5% GST and 7% PST in British Columbia, I paid an additional $4,296.86 in sales tax! Holy hell!

Taxes are great for a lot of things, and I’m glad to live in Canada where healthcare is free, roads are paved, and anyone can have a high school education. That being said, while I was building my photo business, $4,296.86 left my bank account, providing no direct benefit to me, and that could’ve been easily preventable! I could’ve borrowed equipment, bought used gear, or gotten by on cheaper gear. If sales tax weren’t a thing here, that $4,000+ could’ve bought me another Canon 1D X used!

Sales tax is particularly insidious because once you get used to it, you don’t even think about it anymore. Even BC’s 10% liquor tax is simply accepted on top of the already crazy 5% GST. See that 24-pack of Budweiser advertised for $32.99? It’s actually $37.94 plus $2.40 for the bottle deposit: $40.34! HOW IS SOMETHING WITH AN INVISIBLE 18% MARKUP DEEMED ACCEPTABLE BY ANYONE? You know how 18% automatic gratuities are annoying at restaurants when you have a large party? Every time you buy ANYTHING and have to pay sales tax, you’re forced to “tip” your government. I’m not saying that’s bad; I’m saying it’s something you should at least think about. Aren’t you already paying enough in income tax? You should be doing everything in your power to not pay more!

This March, I spent $696.48 on Alcohol (which is an improvement). $605.63 of that was stuff I was actually able to drink, and $90.85 was sales tax. I could buy a lot of beer for $90.85. Heck, I could BREW a lot of beer. What I hate to admit about this is Alcohol is an entirely unnecessary expense. In buying $605.63 of unnecessary beer, I threw away $90.85 for the luxury! It’s just gone, providing me no benefit! HOW IS THIS OKAY? And what about the four tickets to San Francisco I just bought for me and my friends? The base fare was $595.36 USD, the federal tax was $44.64 USD, and then there’s a bunch of shit like “passenger facility tax” when I don’t even know what that is! Total damage: $752.80 USD, or $1,034.28 CAD. Only $817.97 CAD went towards the flight. The rest is bullshit I have to pay because I had the gall to actually buy something with my money. WHAT ELSE AM I SUPPOSED TO USE MONEY FOR?

From now on, tax is not “invisible” to you. When I bought my $6,000 camera and received a bill for $6,720, I should’ve been outraged. Sales tax is a ripoff. Look for ways to avoid sales tax legally. Buy things used. Borrow things, since you don’t own anything anyway. Avoid luxury items. The more expensive something is, the more money goes up in smoke for no good reason. Live frugally, and save your money. You literally get robbed with every in-store transaction.

You Don’t Own Anything

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You’ve probably figured out by now the main way to Get Rich is to Stop Buying Shit. Many of us, myself included, purchase stuff because we want the convenience of services on demand. Think about it: If you OWN something, it’s able to perform a service for you at any time. You’re not really buying the Thing, you’re buying Convenience. You don’t really want “a blender”, you want blended drinks at the touch of a button. You could easily go over to a friend’s place and use their blender, but you don’t. You buy the blender because you don’t want to go next door and bug your buddy. You now OWN the blender. Go, you. Have a kale shake.

BUT WAIT! What if I told you you don’t own the blender at all? Remember, you’re buying Convenience, not the Thing. What if I told you the only time your investment is paying off is when you’re actively using it? Deep down, you know it’s true. The rest of the time, the Thing just takes up space and gets in the way. Let’s crunch some numbers.

I’m a massive PlayStation dork. I’ve already mentioned my $5,000 video game habit, and here’s my half-assed attempt to justify it. My roommate and I play together on two screens in our living room. With games like Minecraft and Diablo III, we’ve logged about 200 hours playing together, so 400 man-hours. I’ve also played roughly 400 hours on my own, so we’re looking at 800 man-hours of entertainment. If you look at that from a rental perspective, I’ve “rented” access to PlayStation media at $6.25/man-hour so far. Not great, and probably worse after we account for electricity usage. I’m gonna use good ol’ Ballpark Math and put the total at $7.50/man-hour. This is, so far, a Bad Investment, and if I hadn’t paid $5,000 up front, I certainly wouldn’t rent entertainment today for $7.50/hour. Every man-hour cost me as much as a movie ticket, which could’ve been entertainment for TWO hours. Yikes. This is especially bad because I have access to free entertainment. I could go to the library and read a book instead of chasing PlayStation trophies. Based on this example alone, I’m a huge dumbass!

But what about you? Let’s say you buy a book for $20. Already not the greatest investment because you can just borrow one from a library, but you like the way new books smell so you do it anyway. You finish it in four hours, so $5/hour. You put that book on your shelf like a reading trophy and never pick it up again. In this example, you’re basically renting the book for four hours at $5/hour, and then the book takes up residence in your life until you decide to get rid of it. So is it worth it? Some of you will say, “Yeah, at least I’m not as stupid as Ben and his bajillion PlayStations,” but what I’m HOPING you might say is, “Maybe this is a good argument to not buy things at all and look for low-cost, non-ownership options to meet my temporary needs.” Maybe a bit of inconvenience – in this case, hunting down a copy to borrow from a friend – is good! Maybe this is why you should take public transit instead of buying a car and save yourself shitloads of money! Maybe now, instead of thinking you “own” something, you’ll understand you’re really just renting shit, then storing it at your expense when you’re not using it!

The next time you buy something, I want you to repeat this: “I do not and will never ‘own’ this Thing. This is strictly a temporary Service I am purchasing. I can use it lots to maximize my Investment, but do I need it? Can something else provide this Service for free?”

The Wealthy are willing to overcome a bit of inconvenience on their road to riches. The question is: Are you?

Leave us a note in the comments.

My 99-Year Leasehold and Why It’s Fucking Awesome

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Here, read this.

Are you back? Good. Most people aren’t even aware of 99-year leaseholds. If this sounds right for you, like if you never intend to have kids, I may have just saved you a few hundred thousand. Buy me a beer sometime!

Anyway, I have an enviable Home for my age. I’m 27 and I have 71+ years of Rent paid off with my leasehold. That’s what 99-year leaseholds are: paying ≤99 years of Rent all in one go, and reaping the benefits of Home Ownership. Mine worked out to $170,000, or $199.53/month. I own my property and the right to live there until 2087. Technically, I don’t own the land underneath it, but I’ll be dead by 99 and really don’t care. I’ll never need a mortgage, and I’ll never need a freehold. I don’t plan on having kids. I guess I’m set! Even if I change my mind and sell the remaining years when I’m 65, there’ll still be 33+ years left on the lease! I estimate I’ll be able to get AT LEAST $120,000 for the remaining years. $50,000 to live somewhere for 38 years? That’s $109.65/month.

Wait, it gets crazier. My place is over 1,000 square feet and has two bedrooms. My girlfriend’s moving in on May 1, and with my current roommate staying, I’ll be collecting $950.43 from them in Rent. $633.62 of that gets eaten up by miscellaneous building maintenance fees, and the remaining $316.81 pays literally ALL MY BILLS. Electrics, Internet, Netflix, Rogers. Right now, I have zero Expenses aside from Food, Alcohol and Entertainment, and I was able to pull it off with my Rental Property.

A key thing to note about this is you don’t live forever. Take a moment and ask yourself why you REALLY want to own your place, freehold and all. Is it an investment? Is it for status? Are you hoping to pass it down? Now ask yourself: Is this worth extending your career OVER 33% MORE?

My Home is modest. It probably wouldn’t impress anyone. Secretly, that’s another reason it rocks. We’ve already talked about how Shiny Things Are Stupid, and that applies DOUBLY to a Home. Realistically, even if you were the friendliest gal in town and you loved showing off your place, you’d invite maybe 100 different people to it over a number of years. Is having an expensive Home – and in Vancouver, we’re talking at least $1M – worth briefly impressing 100 people? There’s always the argument that it’s not about THEM, it’s about YOU, but isn’t that even dumber? WHY WOULD YOU SPEND A 40+ YEAR CAREER MAKING $1M JUST SO YOU CAN MAKE COFFEE ON A GRANITE COUNTERTOP? FYI, poor people drink the same damn coffee. You’d be happier with more Time and Experiences, not heated toilet seats. Snap out of it.

The insane thing is I’m not even leveraging my Home to its full potential. I sometimes leave the country for weeks at a time and I’ve been told I should Airbnb my place out to make even more Money while I Travel. I COULD GET PAID TO TRAVEL. You can too! Read this.

Home Ownership isn’t black and white. 99-year leaseholds are the happy grey area where dreams are made. It seems silly to me that someone would spend their entire Life working towards a beautiful Home only to live there for 10 years before they croak. Wouldn’t it be better to have an average leasehold Home and shorten your Career voluntarily?

Additional perspective: You may “own” 2,500 square feet someday but outside, there are 197 million square MILES that you can explore. Guess what? Those 197 million square miles look the same to you as they do to Bill Gates.

Go outside. You must already be rich as fuck if you share 197 million square miles with Bill Effing Gates. Just remember, you owe me a beer.