Bitching and Wining

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I used to spend thousands on fine wine. My photography was going great so I was bringing in lots, but I somehow got it into my head I wanted to be a sommelier as well. Long story short: Goodbye, money! I can’t even say it was worth it.

Before I even had a clue what I was doing, I was adding to my microcellar. I own a small wine fridge perfectly calibrated for cellar aging, and it currently holds mid-range Bordeaux. Highlights include a 2005 Château Montrose and a 2011 Château Palmer. I know what I’m doing now, but I bought my first $100+ bottle when I was only 20. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING. I was a “label drinker”. To this day, I sometimes still am. In fact, I’d say 99% of wine drinkers are. It’s damn near impossible to have such a vast working knowledge of wine that you know exactly what you’re buying each time. For me though, that’s the fun.

I actually went to school for this. I hold ISG Level 1 and WSET Level 1, and I hope to achieve WSET Level 3 and French Wine Scholar someday. I’ve also done some pretty extensive tasting outside my courses, and know enough random crap to talk a big game. I can get seriously revved up about Loire Valley whites, and I’m also pretty passionate about my hatred of BC Cab/Merlot. I’m an intermediate wine drinker now, and if I can offer only one piece of advice to a novice wine drinker, it’s this: UNLESS YOU HAVE WINE EDUCATION, DO *NOT* SPEND MONEY ON HIGH-END WINE.

I’ve bought a lot of high-end bottles in my life. Most of them were old and improperly stored. My $250 bottle of 1979 Spring Mountain? I bought that from a very reputable store, but either its extreme age or improper cellaring made it flat and lifeless. I once cracked a 1983 Recioto at a dinner party. Same thing. My $150 glass of 1962 Amarone back in January was overwhelmingly meh as well. Hell, I’d take a 2014 Nota Bene any day. It’s not even the fault of the winemakers! When an ancient bottle isn’t in the possession of someone who knows how to take care of it, THE WINE BASICALLY DIES. Also, virtually no one takes care of wine properly. Try keeping a bottle at 55° F for 10+ years with no fluctuations. Then, consider humidity, vibration, light, and security. If a reputable liquor store can’t handle it consistently, HOW CAN YOU WITHOUT A MAJOR INVESTMENT?!?

Then, there’s the argument that most people can’t tell what they’re drinking anyway. I could pour Barefoot into an empty bottle of Osoyoos Larose and most of my friends wouldn’t notice a difference. Remember my rant about Veblen goods? Nowhere is that more apparent than in the wine world! Half the time, you’re buying the label! How good the wine is is subjective, and it’s a waste to pay extra HUNDREDS for a slightly different flavour profile!

The best wine I’ve ever had was memorable because of other things going on. I once cracked a top-notch bottle of 1999 Barolo at my grandfather’s 80th birthday. I remember savouring that bottle for hours. My roommate and I opened an Amarone at his 23rd, and I remember that clearly because the wine was just awesome enough to blow his mind. Wine only serves to complement an experience. You all remember that scene in Sideways when Miles drinks his 1961 Cheval Blanc alone, right? Without a great experience to add to, a great wine became forgettable! It’s like putting gold leaf on a turd. Not worth it!

If you’ve ever been tempted by high-end wine, there are better things to spend your money on. 100% of the time, I could’ve found an objectively better “cheap” wine if I’d just put in the effort to look. All it takes is doing some research and picking the best bottle of $20 Rioja or Argentinian Malbec you can find. Trust me, you wouldn’t notice a difference. That’s for wine scholars to agonize over. YOU can take the extra $100 you WOULD’VE spent and either up your meal’s food game, or put it to good use via snowflaking or investing. MOST OF YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS BUYING HIGH-END WINE.

I drank out of a free 3L box of Pinot Gris in a parking lot this week. Still more memorable than that 1979 Spring Mountain. For now, I’m saving my money and making no more purchases for the microcellar. Hell, I’m even thinking about selling off my bottles. Seriously, the fact I used to drink and collect rare wine shouldn’t impress you, but disgust you. I was a sucker, and I paid lots for the privilege. I’ve had positive high-end wine experiences TWICE in my life, and I study it.

Stick to $20 bottles when you’re feeling fancy. The high-end wine world is just rich people patting themselves on the back and paying for labels. Think of it as Asshole Tax. I paid it because I was an Asshole.

Sorry, winemakers. Am I wrong though?

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Don’t Count On An Inheritance

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This summer, I visited Kamloops, BC and went on a hike with “Ben and Barbara”. We didn’t start out talking about personal finance, but when I bought a used copy of “Your Money or Your Life” at a local bookstore, we ended up in a deep conversation about cash, happy living, and planning for end-of-life care. It was the most enlightening conversation I’d had all year.

We were driving back to their place from Salmon Arm when I started talking about my retirement plan. Foolishly, I expected a small inheritance from my family someday. After all, we had a townhome in the family I estimated to be worth $450,000. My brother might decide to start a family there, but I reasoned I could at least rent out the basement to a student for $800/month. My brother and his family could take the top two floors and live just fine. Obviously, I wouldn’t move in because I don’t have rent in Richmond anyway, so I’d just hang out at my current place and pocket the rent. Easy peasy. We drove on, and I took in the scenery. Then, she dropped the bomb.

“Have you considered end-of-life care for your mother?” Barbara asked.

“No,” I admitted.

“Well, you should. End-of-life care can get expensive, especially when it comes to memory care. There may be money in your family, but it’s your mother’s money first. You may need to liquidate the home to pay for that. Don’t count on an inheritance.”

Her words hit me like a freight train. She was right. It was only days ago I was talking with a coworker about HER mother’s end-of-life care. We were considering using Nurse Next Door, so I’d researched the cost. Estimates were between $550/month for basic care to $4,000/month for “vital care”. Senior housing was even worse, with assisted living in BC at an average of $2,747/month, and memory care at $5,720/month! If your mom has Alzheimer’s, expect to pay $68,640/year while she’s living in a home. My family’s $450,000 townhome suddenly becomes 6.5 years of memory care in a retirement facility! Well… fuck.

Listen, I know you care about your parents. I do too. I’m not writing this to scare you, but I want to prepare you for the reality of end-of-life care. If you thought you were getting an inheritance, you probably aren’t. Your parents’ money is theirs first. Instead, prepare for your own financial future by investing appropriately, and not spending all your money buying shiny shit. The wealth your parents built up is for them to use, not you. Also, did you know average life expectancy in Canada is now 80-84? Let’s not mince words: If you were counting on an inheritance and you’re not already ridiculously rich, YOU’RE FUCKED. Start saving. Prepare, not just for your future, but also your parents’. Invest wisely, and maybe you’ll come out okay. You have been warned.

Sorry to ruin your day. Here’s a picture of a cute cat.

All My Failures Weren’t Failures At All

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It all started when I noticed the performers weren’t getting ID’d.

I was at a bar on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive and I was 18, desperate to drink with my 19-year-old friends. We were all out on the town to support my friend M as he did standup comedy. He wasn’t very good yet, but showbiz kids stick together. I ordered an appy and settled in.

Every night featured about seven performers. Pretty much all of them were terrible. They were the entertainment for the night though, so the bar treated them with respect. There were occasional free drinks, and I guess they gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed they were all 19+. I wanted in on that. I waved the emcee over.

“Hey, can I sign up for next week?”

“Uh, have you done this before?”

“No, but I’m pretty sure I can do what they’re doing.”

“Do you have any material?”

“No, not yet, but I’ll come up with something.”

After ten minutes of needling, he reluctantly gave me a slot. I’d invite my friends too, I thought to myself. They’ve been laughing at my dumb jokes for years. I walked home that night performing for an imaginary crowd. Surely, I was hilarious. This wasn’t even about the drinking anymore. When I was 18, I was about 80% hubris.

*****

I’ll spare you my jokes.

I was 18 at the time, and thought I was WAY funnier than I was. At best, my comedy stylings could be described as “bad”, and at worst, “probably somewhat racist against Koreans”. I was just another terrible performer. I got my drinks though, and I even went up four more times that summer and recycled the same shitty material for new crowds. Only once did I get great laughs. All the other times, I bombed hard. I gave it up, of course, but something started that summer. I learned the confidence I needed to go up in front of strangers and actually speak! Not just that, but FAILING my comedy show so many times made me realize the worst I could do was just piss people off for 10 minutes, and they’d forget all about me afterward. I was putting myself out there, and it was up to them whether they liked me or not. If they did, they’d pay attention – great! – and if they didn’t, they’d just ignore me, and that was fine. The end result was the same: I GOT MY DRINKS!

Even better than that was suddenly losing my fear of public speaking. I’ve now been invited to photo clubs, high schools, and industry events like 20Summit to speak about entrepreneurship and photography. I accept whenever I can. Because my business sense is better than my comedy, I’ve yet to have a bad experience. My failure at comedy led to success as a public speaker!

This is only one example, but I’ve failed at stuff a LOT. I once tried screenwriting. That led to film school, and I don’t even work on film sets anymore. I once tried drumming for a band. Over a decade later, I still struggle with a proper paradiddle. I once tried community theatre. The group imploded after only two productions. I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I learned a fuckton. Nowadays, I don’t see all those as failures anymore. Rather, they’re all TEMPORARY SUCCESSES that inform my CURRENT GOALS.

Screenwriting taught me how to take a written idea and translate it visually. Drumming for a band taught me how to work and collaborate creatively in a group dynamic. Community theatre taught me how to market my art locally, and how to drum up business for something that people don’t even need. IT WAS ALL USEFUL.

There’s something I want you to take from all this: Try – and fail – often. Seriously. Fail all the fucking time. Fail so spectacularly that insurance companies get involved. Fail, then fail again, then fail again. Try everything you’ve ever wanted to do. Don’t give a shit if you fail. I can guarantee you you’ll learn SOMETHING from it, and it WILL inform your future success. You’re not even failing. You’re taking small, measurable steps toward your next success. The modern day master is a jack of all trades. Anything more complicated can be looked up on YouTube. Hell, I’m trying to be a personal finance blogger. Have you seen how much fucking debt I’m in?!?

What have you always been afraid of trying/failing? Tell us in the comments.

What I Spend In a Month (Apparently)

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In our previous spending breakdown, “Why I Am A Fraud: A Story of Booze and Strippers”, I listed off all the dumb crap I spent money on in January 2016. It was a mess. $138.03 on entertainment was okay, but $229 on cabs? $651.08 on food? $1,120.27 ON ALCOHOL?!? Clearly, my spending needed a serious intervention. It took all the way until now to strip away my more harmful spending habits, but I’m still no saint. Reluctantly, here’s October 2016.

It turns out I eat a lot. My food spending was nearly identical to January, coming in at $651.96. I ate out less, but I splurge on ingredients when I cook, even when I’m feeding other people. One home-cooked meal cost me $72.63! Pan-seared cod puttanesca for five was EXPENSIVE. I was able to put a cap on entertainment though. I paid $10 cover to get into a shitty bar, and I bought two books and a single lotto ticket. Total for entertainment: $31.29. Travel costs were far less too. $174, and that covered driving, transit, and cabs. My bills are high though. I pay $89.49 to get online, and between my mother and I, our phone bill – which I pay – came to $299.74 because she was roaming in China. As usual, no rent costs for me after my roommate pays his share, and aside from debt payments and Netflix, all that’s left is… ALCOHOL. Any guesses? I’ll wait.

Ready?

Alcohol for October 2016 came to…

$662.58, ROUGHLY 59% WHAT I SPENT ON BOOZE IN JANUARY! I CUT MY ALCOHOL INTAKE BY OVER A THIRD!

Obviously, $662.58 is still bonkers. $21.37 a day for booze is crazy to a normal person. My aim is to have alcohol down to $500/month. Maybe then, I can finally start whittling down my debt.

In total, I went through $2,803 in October. $633.62 of that went toward housing, but was reimbursed by my roommate paying his rent. $100 came back to me from my mom because she felt bad about her roaming charges. Factoring all that in, I spent just over $2,000 on my own. I’m not happy with that number yet. I want to get down to $1,500/month.

I made $3,105 in October from all my sources of income. I sold some stuff, worked my liquor store job, and actually didn’t take any money for myself out of my photo business. I came out ahead this month! That’s how it should be EVERY month!

Anyway, here’s hoping I don’t backslide. I’m pumped my alcohol spending is so far down though.

Comments? Questions? Ask me on Facebook.