I’ve Got Saving Money Down To A Tea

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Over the past few months, I’ve been making seriously big changes to my diet; not for health, but for my pocketbook. I accidentally got healthy in the process, but this isn’t about that. This is about my ongoing quest to reduce my annual food and drink costs by thousands.

Last October, I spent $1,314.54 on food and alcohol. Obviously, that’s ridic, so I tried to tone it down. By April 2017, I’d brought that down to $1,048.57 – $518.02 on food, $530.55 on alcohol. The fact I still spent more on alcohol than food was fucking bonkers though. I knew I could do better. I had to. Fast forward to now, and I’m tackling the booze budget. I think I can still have the good life AND spend only $300/month on drinks. Reluctantly, I started with evaluating why the fuck I drank so much in the first place. It wasn’t pretty.

I think I just like blowing money. On the cheap end, I guzzle bad beer without even thinking about it. On the high end, I internally justify things like my latest Mâcon-Lugny purchase by saying I like the artistry of good wine. Both situations brought me to the same conclusion: I like to feel rich, even when I’m not. This was a problem.

So what felt luxurious, but was still cheap? Soda? Juice? Coffee? Water? I booted soda and juice right away because I know the problems excess sugar can cause. Coffee was out because I don’t even like the taste. It’s utilitarian to me, and the sweet ones had the same sugar problem. Water was, well… water. It was useful, but I didn’t see the appeal. And that’s when my friend “A” popped in with a line that would save me tens of thousands in a lifetime: “Ooo! In summer we make cold brew tea, it’s really good! You just put a tea bag in a jug of water in the fridge and let it sit for a few hours (or overnight). Cold refreshing tea and it’s only a few cents per glass”.

Sold.

Just a few hours later, I’d hunted down my nearest Bulk Barn and found Earl Grey teabags for cheap. 40 teabags for <$3. I assumed at the time that’d account for 40 large jugs. Upon experimentation though, each 2L jug requires two teabags, meaning each teabag produces 1L. The math couldn’t be neater.

Basically, every time I drink a pint of tea (<4¢) instead of a pint of beer ($2+), I’m saving at least $1.96! Could the savings really be that simple? Could I really be adding $1.96 to my bottom line every time I drank tea? Maybe not exactly, but it was a step in the right direction! Believing in that $1.96 would motivate me to choose tea more often, and I’d see savings instantly!

Well, it’s now September 28, and I’ve had this experiment going for four solid weeks. Alcohol expenses so far? ONLY $408.94! That’s a noticeable improvement! Tea is helping me save ~$100/month! That’s ~$1,200/year! That’s ~$12,000 over 10 years! AHHHHH! WHY WASN’T I DOING THIS BEFORE?!?

A final note: tea’s goddamn delightful. I bought a small water bottle and carry teabags out with me now. Almost any establishment is willing to refill your water or give you ice, so it’s like free tea wherever you go. Hot or cold, it’s a great choice. Embrace tea and cut out more expensive drinks.

Anything more than 5¢/glass is too steep.

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A Year of (Learning) Cooking

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Last September, I set myself a series of goals. Though I had a few setbacks, the actual math of those goals didn’t really matter. What mattered was the progress I made along the way.

I changed my plan to leanness instead of bulking up and I’m now 15 pounds lighter, mostly thanks to making weight loss a project back in January. That was a victory for me! I also cut alcohol consumption by a LOT, and a future post will lay out my numbers. Stay tuned. I maintained four Unconbentional posts per month too, but fell short on my investing goals. Finally, I succeeded in keeping track of an entire year’s finances, down to the penny. It’s been a great year!

But wait! The most success I had with a goal was learning how to cook! Though I didn’t cook every week, I averaged one new meal a week over the past 52. Not every meal turned out the way I wanted, but check it out! We made all these, and learned lots along the way!

WEEK 1 – Miso chicken udon with Brussels sprouts
WEEK 2 – “Company” meatloaf and spinach salad
WEEK 3 – Cider-brined pork chops with perogies, peas and corn
WEEK 4 – Pan-seared cod puttanesca, buttered orzo and spinach
WEEK 5 – Dongpo-style braised pork belly, bok choy and rice
WEEK 6 – Roast rack of lamb persillade, garlic asparagus and buttered orzo
WEEK 7 – Ratatouille, lemon basil orzo and bok choy
WEEK 8 – Rotisserie-style roast chicken and quinoa tabbouleh
WEEK 9 – Cantonese lobster, Dongpo pork, bok choy and rice
WEEK 10 – Lobster linguine and arugula salad
WEEK 11 – Tuna tataki, spicy eggplant and “takeout” noodles
WEEK 12 – Scallop ceviche, tuna tataki, Atlantic razor clams
WEEK 13 – Sticky chicken, asparagus, and rice
WEEK 14 – Century egg congee
WEEK 15 – Rosemary steak and bacon lentil salad
WEEK 16 – Butter clams and crusty bread
WEEK 17 – Spinach omelette
WEEK 18 – Coriander-rubbed duck breast, bacon lentil salad, and smoked salmon crostini
WEEK 19 – Spinach and leek soup, mushroom risotto
WEEK 20 – Mixed mushrooms with chives, zucchini noodles with mint pesto, and roasted onions
WEEK 21 – Bacon wrapped blue cheese stuffed chicken, and lemon garlic green beans
WEEK 22 – Lamb shank, quinoa, and garlic asparagus
WEEK 23 – Pork roast with celery and carrots
WEEK 24 – Charcuterie board, roasted bone marrow with parsley salad, and rare steak with chimichurri
WEEK 25 – Slow-cooked pork loin with a brandy au jus, and steamed broccoli
WEEK 26 – Slow-cooked pork tenderloin with a brandy au jus, simple Moroccan couscous, and mixed vegetables
WEEK 27 – Ostrich steak, apricot couscous, and garlic asparagus
WEEK 28 – Pulled pork on buns, mac and cheese
WEEK 29 – Sweet potato and mushroom cannelloni with endive and butter beans
WEEK 30 – Beef shakshouka, garlic yogurt and toasted bread
WEEK 31 – Dongpo pork, ginger shallot mussels, Chinese vegetables, and rice
WEEK 32 – Beef and broccoli, rice
WEEK 33 – Simple chicken drumsticks with peppers, rice
WEEK 34 – Pulled pork tacos
WEEK 35 – Baked caramelized chicken drumsticks, broccoli, rice
WEEK 36 – Spaghetti carbonara
WEEK 37 – Lobster thermidor
WEEK 38 – Chinese-style steamed whole fish
WEEK 39 – Baked Atlantic salmon with citrus and fennel bulb
WEEK 40 – Baked sockeye salmon with dill, parsley and shallot herb paste
WEEK 41 – Roasted chicken drumsticks in cranberry juice
WEEK 42 – Lemon chicken drumsticks with asparagus and roasted potatoes
WEEK 43 – Pakistani kima
WEEK 44 – Kangkung belacan and white rice
WEEK 45 – Fiesta scrambled eggs
WEEK 46 – Baked salmon with brown sugar glaze
WEEK 47 – Roast beef
WEEK 48 – “15-Minute” roasted chicken and veggies
WEEK 49 – Sausage and shrimp gumbo
WEEK 50 – Vegan mapo tofu
WEEK 51 – Garlic sesame gai lan
WEEK 52 – Garlic snow pea leaves and rice

A year ago, I was still screwing up rice. Now, I sometimes go to restaurants and end up thinking, “Wow, I could’ve done better.” I NEVER CONSIDERED THAT WOULD BE A POSSIBILITY SOMEDAY. I JUST ALWAYS ASSUMED RESTAURANT-LEVEL COOKING WAS SOMETHING I’D NEVER ACHIEVE.

I gained a deeper appreciation for food, and picked up a life skill that’ll benefit me for the rest of my life! I think I’ll try this again, but starting in January. I’m gonna take a few months off and pump the brakes. It’s my reward for a job well done.

How are your goals going?

Luxury Food is a Scam

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Every year, the Vancouver Rowing Club hosts an event they call Champagne & Caviar. It’s NOT really Champagne and caviar. We’ve gone a couple of times now, and it’s basically all-you-can-drink prosecco, other miscellaneous sparkling wines, and a lot of tobiko. Technically speaking, there’s no actual sturgeon caviar, and only about 10% real Champagne. However, with tickets priced at a very reasonable <$30, NO ONE CARES. Why? Everyone there knows it’s “close enough” and just as good! There’s no need to pay more! Let me explain.

Marketers are mostly responsible for why common things cost so much. They’re why industrial diamonds are cheap (and are literally known as bort), but an engagement ring can be $36,537. They’re why a fancy lobster dinner can cost $60 or more, even though lobsters used to be prison food. They’re why a Rolex can be $31,625 when there’s literally no reason for anyone to wear watches anymore. It turns out people like Veblen goods, and like to pay more to feel rich! It’s the most glorious scam ever orchestrated in the name of capitalism, and it’s working! Luckily, we see it for what it is. Usually.

Well, as someone who fell for luxury goods and luxury foods for years, I believe we should savour the cheap shit. I have yet to taste a $500 Champagne that gave me more satisfaction than 25 bottles of decent $20 cava. Yet, to the average consumer, everyone claims to love Champagne, all without even knowing why, how it’s made, its history, or even where it comes from! I think that’s fucking insane. I mean, doesn’t that sound a bit like pursuing someone else’s idea of value, and not our own?

Admittedly, I fell for this again just a few nights ago. Being a food nerd, I was excited to visit a restaurant that served jamón ibérico de belotta because I’d never had it before. On paper, it sounded amazing. Iberian ham from free-range pigs fattened on acorns, roaming dehesas their whole lives… I don’t know how, but they somehow made ham — the most common thing ever — into something almost romantic. I fell for it hard. As I watched them carve 60g off a jamonera centerpiece, I couldn’t wait for these wafer-thin slices of top-shelf charcuterie to blow my mind. Surely, this would make run-of-the-mill prosciutto seem like Purina! Schinkenspeck might as well be Spam! I chuckled at my culinary superiority, lifted the first slice to my mouth, and took a bite. Any second now, this would be the best thing I’d ever eaten… Yep, any second now… I swallowed. Huh. Um.

That was it?

This happens all the time. I touched on this in “Bitching and Wining”, but there’s so little difference between cheap food and expensive food, there’s really no reason to EVER pay more than $20 for a meal. Wanna try sturgeon caviar? Not for $125/10g, you don’t. Try ikura for $20/113g. I think I actually prefer it. Truffles for $275/oz? Literally everyone I know prefers fake-as-fuck truffle oil. I’ve never understood the appeal of real truffles. Every time I’ve had them, they’ve either overpowered my food or added a dirt-like component. Maybe rare cognac is your thing. Louis XIII cognac is $3,300/bottle. As someone who’s had it twice, meh. It’s not even that rare. Right now, in the Richmond suburbs I live in, I know of at least two bottles within walking distance. You’re paying to seem rich! It’s all just marketing!

I’ve had “the good stuff”. It’s a rip-off. It’s one of the reasons I’m in debt. Expensive food only tastes better because we take the time to taste it. I’m not saying you should live off 7-Eleven beef teriyaki anytime soon, but I’ll leave you with this: For some reason, 7-Eleven beef teriyaki was a better food experience to me than dining at Lasserre.

It turns out once you see through all the bullshit, food is food. No matter how rich you get – as Bill Gates once said – “it’s the same hamburger”. I’d rather pay $5 for it instead of $500.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

What I Learned About Money From A Vancouver Cabbie

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“Hey, I need to get to No. 3 and Williams.”

“There’s a flat fee of $24,” he said.

I closed the door. “Um, okay.” We drove off. It was 1am.

Jesus, that was high. Any other cab would’ve brought me there for $15. Then again, I was hopping a ride from YVR, so there must’ve been a premium I wasn’t aware of. I’d just spent my evening having drinks in an airport bar with my friend during her layover, and it was now past SkyTrain hours. I didn’t really have a choice. I’d just take the hit, I thought. Nights like this didn’t happen often.

We drove in silence for a while. I rolled the window down, and watched the streetlights roll past. My Booker’s bourbon was kicking in. If I weren’t a little buzzed, I never would’ve agreed to $24. I mean, fuck… $24 for a $15 ride? That’s infuriating! Who did this guy think he was? I spoke up.

“Why is this ride $24?” I asked.

“Here’s the map. Flat fee.” He handed it to me. Right on the border of a $20 zone and a $24 zone was No. 3 and Williams. Naturally, he decided to charge me for the more expensive option. I tried to be the nice guy.

“Oh, can you drop me off at No. 3 and Francis instead then?” I said. “I can walk.”

His entire demeanour changed immediately. I could tell he regretted showing me the map. He took it from me and squirrelled it away. I didn’t think it was that big a deal, but for him, it was. Like I’d somehow cheated him out of extra money.

“Sorry,” I said. “Um… how’s your night going?”

“I need longer fares,” he said angrily. “Now, I’m only giving a $20 ride.”

If I recall correctly, this was around the time I stopped giving a fuck. I mean, WHAT?!? You’re already overcharging me for a ride, and you’re getting pissed off that I’m following YOUR rules and you’re not even PRETENDING to give good service anymore? Fuck right off. This was a difference of FOUR DOLLARS, the price of a single bougie coffee. Like, I understand this taxi company isn’t your brand so you don’t have to see the consequences of your shitty service, but how bad is your money situation that $4 is the difference between you being a nard and being a happy human being? I was right pissed. This guy could get bent.

He dropped me off at No. 3 and Francis, and I put it on my card. He drove off. 10 minutes from home, I started to walk.

The anger dissipated quickly. It was a cool night, and I realized I needed the air. I remembered that my dad used to be a cabbie too, and in a 12-hour shift, all those $4 increments would add up. Maybe if 20 people did that, he’d be out $80. I gave my head a shake. I was one guy, not 20. I’d “cost him” $4. That was it. Four blocks away now.

He’d reacted so angrily to me following his rules though. Maybe it was the expectation? Like, he expected $24, but he’d only gotten $20? That must be frustrating. But then I thought, “When is $4, one time, so crucial to a person’s happiness that their entire demeanour changes? How poorly off do you need to be?”

Suddenly, I had nothing but sympathy. Three blocks away, I felt sorry for him. I didn’t know his situation. He could have kids that counted on him. It doesn’t excuse his behaviour, but it at least made it understandable.

Two blocks away, I suddenly realized that I was getting bent out of shape over $4. Not even $4, but $4 I didn’t even have to pay. For a piercing moment, I understood how fortunate I was, and put aside my anger. I’m choosing not to name the cab driver. I’m choosing not to name the cab company. I’m just letting it be.

In fact, after all this, I should be thanking him. He reminded me how privileged I was, and he deepened my resolve for financial independence. I want to have $4 not matter. I want to have $400 not matter. I want to have $4,000 not matter.

One block from home, I forgave him, and realized wealth wasn’t so much a number but a state of mind. Wealth is what happens when your life is so good, other people can’t even affect it by being intentionally shitty.

I unlocked the door to my condo and turned the lights on. Fuck $4.

Looking back on it now, I should’ve given him a tip.