Ben Beats Me to Mexico, or How to Travel for No Extra Money At All

16805470_10154857986425853_1840708050_o

I was so fucking jealous.

With all that’s been going on, my trip to Mexico got sidelined. I suppose I still had the funds to go solo, but going without my friends wouldn’t have been the same. One got a new place and understandably couldn’t blow a few hundred on travel, and my roommate had to work. C’est la vie. These things happen.

Ben got to Mexico though. I’m scrolling through all the food pictures he’s been sending me. Tortas; empanadas; tacos; at least three things so cheesy, I can’t even identify them; enough salsa to drown a man; and various other antojitos… and I think at that point, he was only halfway through his trip. For a food nerd like me, it was painful. I asked him how he did it, and what it cost.

“Where are you staying?”

“With a friend who’s from here, at his parents’ place, with what will be like 11 other people, but right now it’s just 2 others.”

He sent a picture of himself standing next to a giant “CDMX”: Ciudad de Mexico.

I asked him how cheap things were.

“What would be a half hour walk, we’re taking an uber, for $0.50 each.”

He then sent a picture of a bottle of rum and its price tag for 120 pesos. Holy shit, it was $6 USD. The same bottle in Canada would be $30 or more.

“Estimated cost in USD of the entire trip?” I asked.

“Probably $800 max.”

For 12 days in Mexico, this was starting to make sense. Ben was taking advantage of geographic arbitrage. Using his hard-earned US money in Mexico meant his dollars could go further.

“We’ve been generally having two meals a day though, and so it’s around $14.”

That’s less than I spend in a day just at home. Could it be possible to actually SAVE money while travelling the world? Well, lots of people do it already.

*****

The math works out. If you take what I spent in January – $2,250.95 – and average it out for only 12 days of spending, you’re looking at $871.34. Ben’s spending roughly the same amount for 12 days in Mexico. I decided to do more digging. I found this article on living overseas. I found this infographic on places where the cost of living is significantly lower than in the US. Living in Taghazout, Morocco is only $881/month? WHAT?!? (The surfing and fishing are great, I hear.) Suddenly, I felt a wave of abundance again. Travel seemed ALWAYS financially possible, as long as I paid attention to a few numbers and avoided overpriced tourist destinations.

This was very exciting to me for a variety of reasons. Suddenly, the $725,479 I thought I needed to retire COULD be way less! Did you know a “couple can live comfortably on less than US$1,500 per month” in Belize? If you’re willing to move and have a sense of adventure, you really can save money and travel the world AT THE SAME TIME. If you own property too, you can REALLY make bank, renting a suite out for Vancouver prices while living in Turkey and meeting ALL your needs for $676/month.

This is DOABLE. This isn’t a fantasy for the super rich anymore. If you can find a job that allows you to work remotely, you can make North American cash and live somewhere where meals are $1. Have you always wanted to travel? Consider this post the kick in the ass you needed to do it.

Oh, look. I have over 35,000 Avion points again. Check out this post to help make your travel points go farther.

It’s Your Duty to Educate Your Family About Money

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-2-01-53-am

Money is an insanely sensitive topic, especially when it comes to family. Even now, I don’t let my mom in on my finances. There are things I can justify on my Visa bill that she’d lose her mind over, like the $15 PS4 game I’ll spend 60 hours on. To me, I’m spending $0.25 for each hour of entertainment but to her, I’m throwing money into a pit. I guess we’re both right, depending on what values you grew up with. That’s why most families don’t talk about money. It’s polarizing.

To be fair, my mom raised me to be frugal, but since I was a rebellious teenager, I grew up to be the opposite, eventually plunking my sorry ass into deep debt not once, but twice. These days though, I worry –I– may need to step up to the plate and offer some guidance with the family finances. It hasn’t been a pleasant conversation.

My brother has money. When our dad passed away, life insurance kicked in and made sure he was okay. Mom took control of his finances because he’d never read a personal finance book in his life, and he assumed she knew what she was doing. He was wrong. She locked down a chunk of his money into 1.x% bonds. That doesn’t even keep up with Canadian inflation and is about as dumb as stashing cash in a mattress. Since then, I’ve explained index funds to my brother and why investing in equity is preferable at his age due to the compound gains. This conversation would be impossible with my mother, but I’m trying. She doesn’t take ANY financial risks at all, and suffers for it. Due to stubbornness alone, she’ll most likely stay poor. She also doesn’t believe he needs a credit card, even though he’s 23. Don’t get me started. It’s been infuriating.

Now, this is a HUGE problem for our family. One day, we’ll need to take care of Mom, and our only asset will be the family home, which will hit the market around $550,000 if we ever get around to renovating it. If, in her old age, shit gets squirrelly, that money won’t last long. We may need to sell the house. Potential solutions involve investing NOW with what money we have. Without divulging too many numbers, if my brother invests properly now, he’s looking at $500,000+ by the time he’s 65. Even without the house, he’ll be okay. I will be too, thanks to my 99-year leasehold, BUT HE NEEDS TO INVEST PROPERLY. None of this 1.x% bond crap our mother recommends. We’re also trying to convince her to take in a student because at the moment, she lives in a 4-bedroom townhome alone, which is just about the most wasteful thing I’m currently aware of. Let’s say she has a renter for just one room in the house at $600/month. That’s $7,200/year, and if she invests it all properly, she’ll have $100,000 more in the bank by the time she’s 65. WHY ISN’T SHE DOING THIS? Well, her values don’t allow it. Unless I can change her mind, her belief that family homes are for family only WILL KEEP HER POOR FOREVER. This is terrible because if she’s poor, my brother and I will have to pick up the slack. We’ll have to work harder and longer to take care of the family. Don’t get me wrong; taking care of my mom is a burden I’m happy to bear. I JUST WANT TO TAKE CARE OF HER NOW THROUGH FINANCIAL EDUCATION INSTEAD OF WAITING FOR THE DEBT SHITSTORM TO HIT US WHEN SHE’S 80.

It’s one thing to be financially secure on your own. It’s equally important to make sure your loved ones are financially secure. If your finances are directly affected by someone, GET THEM ON BOARD WITH PERSONAL FINANCE. This blog is a good start. Make sure they understand saving, investment, credit, interest, and retirement. Trust me on this. And if you don’t? Well, you’re gonna be stuck paying for it. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Read a Book* in 10 Minutes

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-1-14-34-am

If you found your way here, I assume you have a thirst for knowledge. I also assume you have a desire for efficiency, seeing as how most of this blog’s posts clock in at around 700 words and offer quick, simple solutions to problems. Well, this one’s a quickie, but the links contained here will keep you busy for hours as you read entire books* in 10 minutes flat. This isn’t about speed reading (though here’s how to do that), and it really only applies to nonfiction, but it’s time you explored the world of book summaries. It’s already saved me 15 hours this week.

The beauty of most self-development books is you can distil their information down to a few actionable points. The rest is anecdotal or fluff. This makes self-development books perfect fodder for summarization. In listening to “The 48 Laws of Power” on audiobook – an appallingly Machiavellian tome I don’t recommend anyone actually read – I realized each point of advice was easily summed up in a single sentence, or “law”. The rest of the book was just cherry-picked examples from history meant to illustrate the principle in question. After suffering through numerous hours of Robert Greene praising demagogues and conmen, I decided to opt out of finishing the full-length, 23-hour audiobook… buuuuut I was still curious about the remaining laws. I eventually found this, confirming what I already knew. I didn’t need to finish the book. I wouldn’t have taken the advice anyway.

Yet, this was a learning experience. Impressed with how quickly I breezed through the main points of a 496-page book, I started looking for book summaries online. I found Deconstructing Excellence and its summaries of books like “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I found Actionable Books and its summaries of business nonfiction like “The Art of Authenticity”. I found Derek Sivers and his notes on titles like “The E Myth” and “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. Suddenly, I had a free online library at my disposal, and I could digest any piece of it in just 10 minutes! I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Obviously, you wouldn’t be getting the full experience of reading the real book. My advice is to actually take some time to think about each book summary. If something really captivates you, consider taking it out of the library and reading it long-form. Hell, it might save you the cost of a movie ticket! I know the links here have already saved me countless hours and dollars.

What can book summaries do for you?

Fitness Ben vs. Fatness Ben, or How to Lose 10 Pounds in a Month

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-5-22-14-pm

It’s a sunny day in Steveston as I write this, home of Once Upon A Time and the Power Rangers, and I’m treating myself to a cold pint of rye porter. A month has passed since I wrote ‘Financial Planning for Your Life Expectancy’ and the week following that was kind of a scary one! I mean, I was staring my mortality in the face! All of a sudden, 77 seemed like too young to die. In that post, I knew I had my finances sorted, but what could I do to live an even longer life and actually get the chance to spend the money I’d been saving? I decided to double down on my health. Here’s how that went.

First, a story: I was kinda fat. Not like “my shorts could double as a parachute” fat, but fat enough. When my friends wanted to take me on a hike, I had to ask them how “bennable” it was. Would I have to scramble up a mountain? Was the trail longer than 5 kilometres? A lot of the time, I’d simply stay home. I was content in my shittiness. It wasn’t until the neon sign appeared in my mind, flashing “YOU WILL DIE AT 77”, that I knew I needed to get my shit together. A month later, I’m happy to announce I have my poop in a group. It all started with this article.

Losing 10 pounds in a month was my new challenge. Not just the weight loss, but also the healthy habits that come with maintaining a proper weight. While everyone else was watching the ball drop and smooching strangers, I was standing on my Fitbit Aria™ noting down my weight – 182.4 pounds. I knew what I needed to do. It was radical.

Beer intake got under control for the first time in my life. I knew every bottle I opened would set me back almost a day of weight loss progress. I started walking everywhere, sometimes reaching 30,000 steps a day. I loosely adopted Tim Ferriss’ slow-carb diet (SCD) and started cooking my own food aggressively. I started experimenting with intermittent fasting (IF), though I don’t recommend that for reasons like this. I read up on basal metabolic rates (BMR) and even went so far as to deliberately put myself in cold environments to increase calorie burn. On January 30, at 3:51 PM, I stood on my Aria, nervous because I only had one day left to meet my goal… I damn near cried. I’d done it. I was 169.6 pounds.

You can do it too.

*****

This should be obvious, but there’s a huge caveat as you read this: I AM NOT A FUCKING DOCTOR. This is only what worked for –ME– to lose 12.8 pounds in under a month. Be careful, and if you’re not feeling well, DON’T CONTINUE TAKING THIS ADVICE. You have been warned. I don’t want anyone in the hospital because of this. Sound good? Okay, let’s move on.

_____

HERE ARE SOME SOLID STEPS TO LOSE 10 POUNDS IN A MONTH:

* Cook your own food as often as you can, and treat bread, pasta, potatoes and rice as though they come with a warning.
* Greens and eggs are your friends. My typical breakfast is now a spinach omelette, but in case cholesterol is a concern, offset that with lentils for dinner. They seem to reduce LDL, or “bad cholesterol”. Here’s a great recipe I used. Here’s a more indulgent one.
* Walk 15,000-20,000 steps a day. It’ll burn roughly 3,500 calories after you factor in BMR, equal to roughly a pound of fat gone. Use a Fitbit to keep track if it helps motivate you.
* If you have unhealthy eating habits, DON’T actually use a full cheat day once a week. It’s one thing to allow yourself a little bit of fried chicken on a Saturday/Faturday. It’s entirely different to mainline Twinkies for 24 hours.
* Feel guilty when you’re sitting down. Unless it’s for work, you should be moving. Now that you know you can ALWAYS burn a calorie (like you can ALWAYS make a buck), turn your Netflix marathon into preparing for an actual marathon. You don’t need to actually run one; just get fit enough that it becomes a possibility someday!
* Get knowledgeable on fitness and food: I recommend “The 4-Hour Body” on audiobook as you walk, and “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” for a quick read. Both books offer contradicting advice. Find a balance that works best for you.

_____

A FEW WARNINGS AS YOU DO THIS:

* You’ll lose weight drastically when you start eating better, and it’ll shoot back up in 5-8 days when you get insanely thirsty. This is water weight. Don’t let it throw you off your goals.
* If you experiment with IF, which totally works but isn’t recommended, you –WILL– feel occasionally dizzy. Don’t drive while doing IF.
* The more accustomed you get to walking long distances, the more you’ll start to experience akathisia when you’re forced to sit still for too long. That’s normal. Try not to let it fuck with you too much.
* Have some goddamn fun as you do this! Seriously, drink the occasional beer. If you deny yourself the simple pleasures in life, you’ll inevitably backslide in huge ways. Don’t let your weight loss program get in the way of your happiness. This is important!

*****

My goal now is to simply maintain 170 pounds and a good baseline of physical activity. Remember the life expectancy calculator I used? Here’s what I get with my new stats: M, 28, 5’ 8”, 170 pounds, normal blood pressure, quit smoking, 3-5 drinks a day, active? 84 – A SEVEN-YEAR LIFE EXPECTANCY INCREASE! THAT’S EVEN ASSUMING I DRINK LIKE THIS FOREVER! You can make a change like this in a month too! If you could increase your life expectancy by SEVEN YEARS IN A MONTH, wouldn’t you do it?

Fatness Ben is dead. Fitness Ben beat the crap out of him because Fatness Ben was a wuss.

Ask me anything on Facebook.