Why I Left the Highest-Paying Job of My Life

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Before I found wedding photography, I’d gone to film school for two years. Even now, my diploma for Motion Picture Production hangs in my office, quietly mocking me when I could’ve used my tuition money far more effectively. Sure, some bragging rights came out of it – I directed my first short at 17 and have a meagre IMDb page which is kinda cool – but for the most part, I’m done with the film industry, even though I could’ve gotten rich off it. This is the story of why I left a $100,000/year job.

I’m theoretically qualified to be an on-set electrician. As far back as 2006, I was already lamping indies and rubbing elbows with the likes of Chloë Sevigny. I eventually landed permittee status with IATSE 891, got put on even bigger productions, and now I can’t even remember them all. I know I worked on “Fringe” and “The 100”, but the rest is a blur. I didn’t actually like my job. Before we get into why though, here’s a look at the pay. Film electricians currently make $29.73/hour. We get paid that for the first 8 hours a day, then it’s time-and-a-half for the next 4 hours. A typical electrician day is 12 hours. Per day, we can expect to make $416.22. Do five days a week and that’s $2,081.10. Get on a show call, do four weeks, and that’s $8,324.40/month. Do that for a year, and you’re just under $100,000! For the right person, this is a goddamn dream! You’re probably asking WHY THE FUCK AREN’T YOU DOING THIS. Well, it’s because I seriously can’t be bothered. Here’s why.

1) Though I’m theoretically qualified, I suck at this job. I’m not great at lifting heavy things, mentally keeping track of hundreds of feet of cabling isn’t a strong point of mine, and 12-hour days are VERY draining for me. By the end of even one day, I’m mental mush. Five days in a row, and I shouldn’t even be driving home from set. 2) 60 hours a week FOR A FRICKIN’ YEAR?!? Pass. I live on 20 hours a week now. Those 20 hours support my lifestyle well, and I’m living HEAL with no problems. 3) Most of the job is manual labour. I’d be working under the gaffer, who in turn takes his direction from the DP. Though “lighting a film set” sounds cool, I’m really just plugging in lights where they tell me to, then I sit around in silence while they film. When they ask me to unplug the light, I unplug the light and haul it back to the truck. Continue forever. Like, FOREVER. On-set lighting is NOT creative work. 4) “Mental illness is rife” in the entertainment industry. 5) We’re literally talking about a line of work where someone can die ON SET and production will just resume normally two days later. Or how about the time someone else was killed and “no one from the show” even attended the funeral? THIS IS JUST IN BC. This kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME.

There are more reasons, but I think I’ve said enough. $416.22 isn’t enough for 12 hours of backbreaking labour and dangerous working conditions when I already bill $400/hour for wedding photography. It’s just not worth it. Realistically, I’m aware I could do this “just for a little bit”, but I don’t even want to dip my toe in the water. I’ve been in film work since 2005, and I’ve seen enough to know I won’t take film as a serious moneymaker ever again. Even $100,000/year isn’t worth the stress, the punishing hours, the lack of creativity, the boredom, and so on, and so on. It just sucks. And I’ll take “poorer but happier” any day. Allow me to leave you with a story.

*****

Since I used to work in film, I can spot film people a mile away. This time, the giveaway was the “2AD” hastily scrawled on his walkie. I knew he was a show’s 2nd Assistant Director. He brought his bottles to the counter, and I started ringing him through. It was 2012 or 2013, and I was just a cashier that night. Even then, I knew film work wasn’t for me anymore.

“Hey, I used to be film industry too!” I said. “What show are you on?”

“Ah, I can’t exactly tell you that,” he said.

“Oh, sorry. I understand. NDAs and all.” I bagged his bottles, and handed it to him.

“Thanks.”

I smiled. “You’re welcome. Hey, I got out of film work a few years ago because it was kinda stressing me out. How’re you finding it?”

He looked over his shoulder, then looked back at me sadly. “Uhh, just between you and me…” he said, “It’s kinda killing my marriage.”

He grabbed his bag and left.

That day, I resolved to never let financial success get in the way of My Life. Even now, I understand success comes at a cost.

How high a price are YOU willing to pay?

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Space Is Your Greatest Asset

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Everywhere you look now, space is at a premium. Parking a car in Vancouver for three hours can set you back $21. Fifty square feet of storage in Toronto can cost you $193/month. According to Rentseeker, my 3-bedroom in Richmond would rent for $1,644! Somehow, we’ve all just accepted that space is expensive, even though the price for renting that space is often flat-out stupid! What if we decided to end the madness? What if, instead of being gouged for square footage, we found a way to make our existing space work for us instead of the other way around? Well, listed below are a few ways you can cash in. You don’t need to live in a mansion either. I’m just a regular guy who recognized an opportunity. You might realize there’s been a cash cow in your backyard all along.

First, the obvious: Get roommates. You don’t have to live alone. I’ve done the math, and by March 2018, I’ll be back to “no rent and no bills” because of what I make from them. I’m sacrificing my home office to make it work, but not really. I’m just moving my office to my currently underutilized living room. To get even more advanced, consider getting into Airbnb if you have a spare room! Here’s an article about it. For the nitty-gritty, here’s another! If that all sounds too stressful, rent to friends because you can still make extra cash in unique circumstances. We still “put people up in our storage closet for about $300/month”, and my friends all know they can come to me if things ever get weird, like if they suddenly get evicted or a relationship splits up. This was my first step. If you’re willing to bring other people into your space, you can profit immensely.

In another example, this book describes how its author uses an MRP (Multi-unit Residential Property) to live rent-free. He even advocates going as extreme as buying a fourplex, renting out three units, and living in only one! In 1999 though, he bought his first duplex and started paying into it. The property was $109,000 in Calexico, CA and his monthly payment was around $900. He lived in one apartment and rented the other for $800/month. That $800 plus his $100 “rent” went straight into home equity! I suspect he’s doing quite well now. This is common and basic optimization of real estate. You probably know a bunch of people doing something similar right now.

I also discovered you don’t need a full room or apartment available to make money. When my dad died, I sold my van, took over his car, and now my parents’ two-car garage in New Westminster has one space open. (I live a few towns over in Richmond.) Remember how expensive storage can be? Well, I know someone desperately in need of storage space. Instead of gouging them though, I’m letting them use that space for $50/month. It’s slightly less convenient for everyone because I’d have to accompany them whenever they need access, but they’d save (and I’d earn) hundreds! It’s win-win because I get to profit, they get to save, and I’ve effectively done a favour for them! It’s great!

Live near an event space? Here in Vancouver, near our local fairgrounds, residents open up their driveways for people to park. Last I checked, the fair itself charges $20 for parking, so let’s say we charge $15/car. Well, if you have a property width of 14.5 metres and a large enough backyard, YOU CAN PARK FIVE VEHICLES LEGALLY. $75/day for a month? That’s over $2,000! Everyone should be doing something like this! You can even monetize a small patch of dirt on the sunny side of your building! I’d gladly pay $50 for a garden space during the summer if I didn’t already have one. We all have access to space that’s “ours”, so let’s use it!

These are just a few examples, but every bit of space in your home should have a job. Let it make money for you. I’m a few thousand richer every year because I abide by that. Can you do the same and live rent-free? Tell us in the comments.

Can’t Handle FIRE? Try To HEAL!

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It’s 6 in the morning and I’m on a SkyTrain headed into Vancouver. From the looks of it, I’m the only one not on his way to work. The suit next to me is reading Bloomberg articles on his phone, and half the passengers are nodding off. I can’t imagine most of them want to be here. I’m listening to Taylor Swift on my iPhone and enjoying the ride because I have nowhere I need to be. My only goal for today was to write this, and I can do it from anywhere! This is the story of how I found freedom and lifelong happiness at 29. Hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll be on your way too.

If you haven’t heard of FIRE before, it’s an acronym in personal finance writing that stands for Financially Independent, Retired Early. The Physician on FIRE guy? Not actually on fire. He’s just a family man who achieved financial independence at 39. You see “FIRE” kicked around a lot on the MMM forums too, and it’s a goal of many. It turns out most people don’t actually want to work for a living! I mean, given the choice between lounging by a pool in Guadalajara and a lifetime of office drudgery, most of us would be marching out on our bosses and guzzling Corona in no time! Well, I’m here to tell you things aren’t actually that simple. You might not actually want FIRE! To understand why, let’s take a closer look at its definition.

FIRE is generally defined as the stage a person reaches when the return on their investments is enough to cover their living expenses. A quick bit of math you can do to figure out your FIRE number is to take your annual expenses and multiply by 25. (If you spend $25,000/year for example, your FIRE number is $625,000. Start saving.) The reason for this is 4% interest is a generally accepted estimate of how much you can reliably make off the average portfolio. It’s somewhere between too-safe 2% GICs and somewhat-risky 7% index funds, and 4% just kinda became the default number. At any rate, I have no reason to dispute its logic. 4% certainly makes sense to people far smarter than I. However, FIRE is no longer a goal of mine. Part of the reason is the numbers are outside my grasp — I’ve done the math and I have no delusions about my ability to save — but I’ve also grown up a bit and experienced a different view of retirement. I now know what it’s like to barely work at all, and what I’ve found is it actually totally sucks! I needed to create value in the world to feel fulfilled, and sometimes, people were willing to pay me to create that value! Why wouldn’t I take the money? So what if someone might define that as “work”? Retirement sounds great on paper, but do you never want to work for anything ever again and just lie back and consume? Fuck, no!

With this in mind, I started optimizing my lifestyle. I needed freedom whenever I wanted, some work to feel useful, autonomy in my professional life, and enough money to have fun. FIRE wasn’t the solution because many FIRE followers try to frontload all their earning towards their early years working brutal hours, then they putter around not knowing what to do with themselves as soon as they retire! The Mad Fientist retired at 34, spent months travelling, then “realized it wasn’t making him happy”. Mr. Money Mustache basically went back to work doing construction and managing rental houses. If FIRE is so great, why are so many success stories plagued with ennui or employment akathisia? Well, it’s because full-on, work-hard-now-to-never-work-again FIRE is just too extreme. Fundamentally unbalanced, it takes too much effort in early life and too little effort in later life. In theory, it’s a great goal to work towards, but maybe there’s a better solution that can give you the good life now. I call it “HEAL”.

HEAL stands for Half Employed, Adjusted Living. It’s my way of describing a balanced lifestyle that involves half or less of a typical 40-hour workload, and adjusting your lifestyle to afford that freedom. You can achieve HEAL in a variety of ways, even if you’re young. For example, you can bump your income up so you only work 20 hours a week and spend the same as before, or you can go frugal so you can live off 20 hours of regular pay. For most, going frugal is easiest. Part-time work and frugality are key to HEAL. Some people even bump up their income and go frugal, and those people have it made. Though they might even achieve FIRE, they know “no work” isn’t the goal. What you want is the freedom to only work when you feel like it.

Here’s my situation: The last time I calculated my monthly spending, I arrived at $1,948.18. I’m bringing on a second roommate in a month or two, and the rent I charge him will cover my entire Bills category, eliminating at least $447.29. This puts me at just over $1,500 I’d need to cover in income. Working 20 hours a week at my low-pay liquor store job would net me about $1,100, and the remaining $400 could easily be covered by any photography booking! In fact, since I bill $400/hour to shoot weddings, even a single 8-hour booking covers me for 8 months! (The photography work is spotty, so I’m hesitant to provide monthly numbers. It fluctuates from $0 with no bookings to months like April 2016 when I somehow earned $6,353.41 without even shooting a wedding.) Naturally, any excess income from photography goes straight into paying off my debt, and once that’s taken care of, I’ll be trying to max out my TFSA! I’ve got this whole “HEAL” thing down! I’m “Half Employed” and my “Adjusted Living” made ~20 hours a week work for me!

If HEAL sounds good to you, here’s some recommended reading. First off, if you’re still unconvinced that you might actually want to work for the rest of your life, check out our previous blog post, “I Want You To Half-Retire (HR)”. Finally, consider picking up the Marcus Arce book, “HALF RETIRE – How to Escape the Rat Race Without Waiting to Win the Lottery!” At a cursory glance, the math in it checks out. I’m using strategies from it already.

By realizing I wanted HEAL and not FIRE, I’ve freed up my younger adult years to do whatever I want while working just the right amount to be even happier. Click the links in this post and all over this blog, and read them. People need work, and yes, I do intend to work even when I no longer have to! If you think of Work as a dirty word, it’s because you need a better job!

At 29, I’ve found the lifestyle I intend to have forever, and I didn’t even have to worry too much about retirement. What the heck is stopping you?

Let’s Check Back In With Our Artist Friend, or Why Inflation Sucks

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Those of you who have been following us for over a year might remember “A”, our mysterious artist friend who made only $700/month, but who also found a way to set herself up for a luxurious retirement in the future. When that article came out, some people were understandably pissed. It “isn’t applicable or attainable for everyone, and is really more based on fortune than hard work”, one reader said. Well, she’s not wrong. Living like we do isn’t attainable for anyone not willing to put in the work to optimize their lifestyle. And “hard work”? Please. Smart work is where it’s at, and being frugal is the result of a lot of that smart work.

“A” is still out there plugging away, and two things have happened since we last spoke with her: 1) She makes more now, and 2) some modest lifestyle inflation has crept in! Let’s take a look at her numbers.

A year later, her art is still her main source of income, but “A” is also knee-deep in side hustles. She now teaches art a few times a week, and professionally walks dogs on the side. Her monthly income is now $1,000. Rent is now $300, up from $200 last year. (She started making more, so felt it was only fair she contributed more to her household.) She eats well, though frugally. Her personal spending budget went up to $75 from last year’s $50. Her vacation fund is currently $100/month, and that all goes into planning future trips. As if that wasn’t enough, she also donates 10% of her income to charity – apparently, you don’t need to be a billionaire to pull a Jim Pattison – and somehow, through ALL THESE ADDED COSTS, she HASN’T tapped her $14,000 emergency fund, and she’s actually ADDED $5,000 to her savings and investments! With roughly $60,000 in the bank and her investments churning away at 7% return, she’s now on track to have $839,000+ by 65!

Now, for some people, this might all seem pretty extreme, but what if I told you a lot of math is actually working against her, and us as well? What if I told you WE SHOULD ALL BE SAVING LIKE THIS IF WE WANT TO RETIRE? Unfortunately, because inflation is a key concern for retirement, we should all be aiming for close to $1M in 30-40 years! (Here’s a post to help you with that.) Assuming an average of 2% inflation per year, “A’s” future $839,000 is worth only $387,000 of today’s buying power when she turns 65 in 2056! Because “A” is somewhat of a genius though, she’s accounted for this. Assuming even that she spends all $12,000 of her annual income to support her current lifestyle, her “$387,000” is enough for 65-year-old her to live on FOREVER as long as it’s invested in something generating just 3.1% interest, which could be a VERY real number for someone investing conservatively in old age! For “A”, the math checks out! For the rest of us, we need to save and be frugal AT LEAST as much as “A” is doing!

At 26, “A” has saved and invested enough that no further contributions are needed to support her lifestyle in old age. She could just blow all her work income until 2056, then sit back and relax. I want this for you too!

If you’re a millennial, you NEED to account for inflation in your retirement plan. Here’s a handy calculator. The reality is becoming a millionaire in our lifetimes is no longer an unattainable dream, but PRACTICALLY A REQUIREMENT to Retire For Good someday! How well prepared are you?

If you need help running your numbers, message us on our Facebook. We’re already helping followers plan for their future, and it’s a lot of fun for us! Seriously, we just want to help.

Is full-on retirement seeming unattainable now? It’s not the end of the world. In our next post, we break down MY plan for the future. I expect it to seriously annoy the naysayers.