I’m A Generosity Addict and That’s Not Okay

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I can’t remember which I bought first for her: the PS3 or the PS2.

This was years ago with our friend J. She was an avid gamer, and I was still riding the high of a successful wedding season, so I was feeling generous. I was like an Asian Oprah. (“YOU GET A PLAYSTATION, YOU GET A PLAYSTATION, YOU GET A PLAYSTATION!”) Seriously, I think I’ve gifted six or seven PlayStation consoles to my friends now. I seem to go apeshit every Christmas and it always seems like a good idea at the time, so I do it every year. Well, J dated one of my other friends and we lost her in the breakup. We haven’t seen her in months now, and that investment in our friendship is gone. In the end, the gifts I bought her were just Stuff, and therein lies the problem.

Say it with me: STUFF. IS. MEANINGLESS.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you already know that, but my generosity addiction didn’t end there. It extended into my dating life too! I once blew $200 on a first date with someone I didn’t even know! WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH ME? Was I compensating? Probably. WHY DO I ASSOCIATE LITERALLY SACRIFICING MONEY WITH SHOWING AFFECTION OR FRIENDSHIP TO PEOPLE? Well, I’m not opening that door here, but I know some of you reading this know exactly what I’m talking about. Do you buy too many toys for your kid, thinking more action figures directly translate into showing them love? Have you ever bought an expensive concert ticket for a date when you know they’re not even a fan? Do you break the bank for your extended family when, deep down, you know all they really want is to spend more time with you? STOP SUBSTITUTING STUFF FOR ACTUAL LOVE.

For those of you who don’t obsessively read self-development articles, here’s a goddamn truth bomb: People accept love in different ways, and 9 times out of 10, buying them Stuff is the absolute worst way to go about it.

If you’re the type to be overly generous in a way that costs you money, seriously reevaluate how you give to the people you love. Stuff is meaningless. Be generous with your time instead, and spend that time with your friends, family, and romantic partners. Save your money.

They’ll remember the time you watched their favourite movie with them. No one remembers who bought the fucking TV.

Tiny Goals = Big Changes

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September 22 marks the first day of Autumn 2016, so I’m starting a personal development project I’m dubbing Project Ben. I was originally going to start on September 1, but my breakup derailed any progress I was hoping to make. Now that the emotional fallout has settled, here are my goals going forward. Feel free to make additional suggestions in the comments.

*   Cook more, making at least one meal every Tuesday with my roommate
*   Do basic upper body exercises every two days and track my progress
*   Aim for 10 alcohol-free days per month
*   Track my personal finances down to the penny
*   Write four posts for Unconbentional every month
*   Put $200 plus my raise into investments each month

I know these don’t seem like particularly extravagant goals, but the end results should be mind-boggling just by establishing a few small habits.

In a year’s time, I will have cooked 52 more meals, increased my upper body strength, reduced my alcohol consumption by at least a third, kept mindful and responsible about my finances, posted 48 more Unconbentional articles, and put roughly $3,600+ towards my retirement – which should make for $40,000+ if I allow it to grow until I’m 65. Not bad for one year, right?

What goals do you have this year? Can a few minor adjustments change your life for the better, forever?

I wonder what The Other Ben’s goals are. Come bug us on Facebook and maybe he’ll tell us.

Income vs. Outcome

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Impulse spending used to be a huge problem for me. How else could I explain all the weird crap I own? Why do I have pink Docs? Why did I spend $60 on a “Dreamy Trudeau” sweater? WHY DO I HAVE SIX PLAYSTATIONS?!? I’m slowly learning though. With most of these purchases, I didn’t consider the true Outcome of owning them. By the end of this post, I’ll get you thinking about your Income vs. Outcome too.

I’m lousy with impulse spending because my photography job has largely destroyed any intelligent relationship I had with money. When I landed a photography booking, it’d usually mean at least $2,000 in the bank, so a $400 PS4 wasn’t a big deal. I started a day job again in the past year though, so my relationship with money became healthier. Instead of using my $2,000/day metric for making purchases, I think of my $13.50/hour at the liquor store. (And that’s really more like $12/hour since I bank my raise.) Now, I always consider my Income and the expected Outcome of my purchases. I’ll give you an example. I may be going a little overboard with quantifying unquantifiables, but bear with me.

Let’s take the $60 Trudeau sweater. I think it’s hilarious, but it’s still just an item of clothing. I wore it about 10 times in the past year. Every time I wore it, some stranger would make a remark about it and we’d banter on a bit, have a laugh, and go about our day. The sweater is also kind of a dated joke, so I expect that to happen less as time goes on. In three years, I’ll probably wear it 30 times. Since I’m calculating for $12/hour from the liquor store after banking my raise, the sweater is essentially costing me 5 Working Hours. Is wearing that sweater 30 times in three years worth 5 hours of stocking, mopping, and talking about wine? Well, I actually enjoy my day job, so I say yes. The answer would be vastly different if I hated that job, but the key thing to note is I’m comparing my Income to my purchase’s Outcome, and deciding whether it’s worth it or not. Even though the sweater ranks among my dumber purchases, I still think it was worth it!

What about a night of moderate drinking at the pub? I went out last night and blew $40 for four hours of drinking with friends. That’s about 3.3 Working Hours. Wait, 3.3 Working Hours for 4 Drinking Hours? That doesn’t seem worth it. Besides, I drink enough that alcohol isn’t the hilarious roller coaster it used to be, and it’s really just something to do while socializing. I could take the alcohol away and probably still have just as good a time! The Outcome wasn’t worth the Income I was putting into it! Well… fuck.

I encourage you to do this mental exercise every time you’re about to make an impulse purchase. Gonna buy a $500 Apple Watch? Is it worth how much you have to work for it? That’s for you to decide. Shelling out $60 for a fancy dinner? Is it worth 3 or 4 hours of Income? Is the Outcome – two hours of eating great food – worth it in your mind? Maybe you’re buying a BBQ. $400 of Income becomes an Outcome of countless summer days gathering with friends making perfect steak after perfect steak. Sounds good to me! Try to always consider your Income versus your expected Outcome with every major purchase. It’s the only intelligent way to spend money.

Hopefully, you’ll find yourself spending a lot less.

Your Free Shit Can Get You Even More Free Shit

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The breakup hit me hard.

It was August 31, and I was suddenly single again. To make matters worse, there was still so much to sort out. She’d have to change her address, and I had to cancel the flight we’d booked to Ottawa to meet her family. I was a fucking mess. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in days, and I was trying not to lose it on the phone with RBC Rewards. I felt like I was either going to cry or puke. Puke, probably. I felt too numb to cry. The automated recordings ended and an actual person picked up the phone.

“Hi, you’ve reached RBC Rewards. This is __________. How can I help you?”

“Uh, hi. My girlfriend and I broke up, and I need to cancel our flight to Ottawa.”

“Well, I can certainly help you with that, sir. I’ll just have to ask you some security questions…”

I was trying REALLY hard not to puke. It was sad that I was only cancelling my ticket. My ex was still going to see her family on Christmas because I couldn’t take that from her. That’d make me a monster. Splitting up the tickets felt so fucking final though. I had to snap back to reality.

“… So, as a non-refundable ticket, we can’t credit you back with the Avion points you used, but we CAN give you a WestJet credit for $818.”

“Uh, sure. That sounds good.”

Wait, what? That seemed like a pretty wicked deal. I’d only used 35,000 Avion points to pay for that ticket, but I also knew how far WestJet dollars could go. I hung up and decided to do some research.

For non-RBC users, a typical RBC Avion card gives you 1 Avion point for every $1 you spend. There’s an annual fee of $120 for the regular one, and a discounted annual fee of $50 for the business one. I hold both, so I pay $170/year. Both cards had a welcome bonus. My personal Avion gave me 15,000 points and my business Avion gave me 20,000. My flight to Ottawa and back was already “free”. Now, it’s worth $818 WestJet dollars? I clicked over to their website. Within minutes, I found what I was looking for: a flight to Cancun and back for less than $500.

Our friend K is a world traveller. Just the other night, he was telling us about Mérida and nearby Progreso, where his family owns a beach house. Drunkenly, we agreed and marked off our calendars. It was decided. We go to Mexico and explore Yucatán in March. Suddenly, for the first time in two weeks, I felt okay again. Everything was going to be fine!

Yeah, I know there are still gonna be taxes on my flight. I figure I’ll probably end up using $700 of my WestJet credit. Still, to get to Mexico on Avion points alone would’ve actually been 45,000 points! I got it for 35,000 points AND I got an extra $100+ in WestJet credit. I’ll most likely use it to help K pay for his ticket. I think of it as investing in a kickass tour guide.

Don’t just look at the simplest option in front of you. In money, banking and reward points, there are often ways to play the system to get more of what you want. What happened with WestJet was a happy accident. Imagine what you could get away with if you did some proper research!

Obviously, get what you can, but draw the line the moment your requests start to affect actual people. Don’t hassle customer service reps or be an asshole. They’re not paid enough to deal with our bullshit. Just find tiny loopholes, and keep more cash in your pocket. You could save thousands.

I guess I’m going to Mexico!