I Think It’s Time We Split Up

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My friends and I fully embraced #microtravel this weekend, and just got back from an anniversary dinner in Nanaimo, BC. I could’ve theoretically gone alone, but my need to financially optimize things brought me to two conclusions: 1) “The more the merrier”, and 2) in order to avoid paying the entire cost of my trip, it made sense to split the bill with as many people as possible. Obviously, schlepping off some of the financial burden on friends is a morally questionable position, but allow me to elaborate. For me, financial optimization isn’t just about keeping more money in my pocket. It’s also about finding a win-win situation for everyone. Here’s our story.

In order to get to Nanaimo, we had to take a ferry. Our ferry ticket there was $106.65 for my car and three people. I’d brought my roommate who happens to enjoy my Nanaimo friends’ company, and one other friend who was attending the party already, though she would’ve gone on foot. They appreciated the direct ride to Nanaimo though, so the two of them ponied up the cost of our first ticket in full. Immediate savings to me: $74.70 for me and my car. When we got there, we all had a great time at dinner, and my roommate and I stayed for two nights in a $10/night room. He didn’t need a private room of his own, so savings to him: $20. Then, because our dinner was so huge, my Nanaimo friends decided to share the wealth, and we were treated to a second dinner with all the leftovers! Two great homemade meals instead of eating out: ~$40 in savings between us. And since my roommate appreciated the impromptu vacation, he took me out for a night of beers: $20! I paid for the ferry ride back. It seemed only fair. Through our entire 3-day vacation, we all included each other as much as possible to save everyone money. Everyone felt taken care of, we all made great memories, and a trip that would’ve cost me $250 alone became half that. Friends are awesome already, but when you have a bunch of them all working towards a common goal, you can all literally profit! Here’s another example.

I had a friend paying $115/month for a 3GB phone plan. Obviously, that’s terrible, so I started asking other friends what their plans were. Answers included $70 with fewer bells and whistles, all the way up to $150! My situation was super weird because I’d complained a lot at Rogers – I’m currently sitting on a 17GB plan – so I let my family join my Share Everything plan to save them some money. Months later, there was still no way I was blowing through that much data, so I signed my friends up too. Now, I have six people on my plan and their monthly cost to cover their lines is only ~$50/person! It turns out 17GB split across six people is just about perfect. Because I had an overabundance (of data, in this case) and split it across five other people, everyone benefitted. You’ll often find splitting one big thing across multiple people is more cost-effective than everyone paying for an individual portion, so why aren’t more people doing this?!?

We already do this by taking on roommates. We already do this with group rates at events. We already do this every time we order a huge plate of nachos for the table. Why don’t we do this for everything?!?

Look for the win-win situation. Bring extra friends to split the cost of a hotel room when you’re going somewhere anyway. They might dig a spontaneous vacation. (I do this for business trips all the time.) Order the 60-piece sushi combo and get everyone to chip in. You’ll all get more variety, and everyone’s meal will be, like, $8. On a road trip, don’t be afraid to ask for gas money. We’re all in this together. I once drove five people home after a party, and they all kept trying to hand me cash because none of them had to blow $20 on a taxi. Share your WiFi with your neighbour and split the bill. Split the cost of an amazing router if you have to, but you live right next to each other. Take advantage of that! Let’s just share everything and split the cost.

If we all did this, we’d all be richer and happier. Go frugal with friends. It just might save the world.

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Screen Time Is Ruining Your Retirement

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*ring*

“Snffxughphlbtfuck…”

*ring*

I opened one eye. I’d slept diagonally again. Jesus, what time was it? What day was it?

*rrrrrrrrring* 

“Ugh… Hello?”

“Hello? Ben?”

I sat up groggily. “Oh, hey, Grandma. What’s up?”

“I don’t know what’s happened. The TV won’t work. I don’t know how to fix it. Can you come fix it for me?” She sounded sad and helpless. I guess when you’re retired, watching TV is a pretty big deal.

I looked at the clock. I was hoping for a leisurely office day, but so much for that. Sudden errands tend to derail hours of productivity for me.

“Sure, Grandma. I’ll be over at 2.” I hung up, and rubbed my eyes.

Man, fuck TV.

*****

It turned out to be a simple fix. Unplug the cable box, wait ten seconds, plug it back in. Too bad it took me almost an hour to figure out. Asking my Chinese grandma what settings she usually had her TV on turned into a linguistic nightmare.

As I drove home, it kinda bothered me how reliant she was on her TV. I mean, I know how bad TV can be for people, but especially seniors. Only three weeks ago, I posted on Facebook, “It’s happening again. Free time is turning into screen time, and I’d honestly rather be working.” Did you know the average American watches over five hours of television a day? And that the “average retiree spends 43.5 hours per week” (or 6.2 hours a day) watching it? This is especially troubling for us because, if you’re reading this blog, early retirement is something you’ve been thinking about. I don’t want to retire just to watch 6.2 hours of TV a day! Do you? I’ve lived it. It sucks.

But then, I realized there was an amazing opportunity here. If, in retirement, the average person could change their 6.2-hour TV habit into something more productive – maybe even something crazy like work – they could find themselves with more health and money! Read this. Choosing to continue work in a quality vocation is obviously better than binge-watching “Friends” for the sixth time, so why not just work? Work is good, as long as it’s quality work. (Think more “entrepreneurship”, less “being a cashier”. Loads of successful entrepreneurs are actually in their 50s or 60s.)

Now obviously, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t prepare for a complete retirement. You should still prepare for FIRE (or at the very least, HEAL). All I’m saying is retirement tends to go only three ways: 1) You create a retirement in which you thrive, do all the things you’ve ever wanted to do, and are never bored, 2) you create a retirement that seems fun at first, only to settle into a purposeless existence where you’re bored, or 3) you go back to work. What if I told you #3 isn’t actually a bad thing, and can help cancel out the ennui of everyone who feels stuck at #2? Almost all the people I know thriving in retirement are still working in some way! The retired industrial design teacher I know found funding to write a book. The retired professor of psychology I know is wrapping up a year editing a psychology journal. Another retiree I know is building a house and continuing to add to his net worth! What I’m finding more and more as I get to know successful retirees is work is good for retirement. It opens up opportunities for personal enjoyment and enriches lives, but TV doesn’t. STOP WATCHING TV IN RETIREMENT.

Working past traditional retirement age keeps your brain sharp and “may even help stave off dementia”. Also, any decrease in sedentary activities like watching TV is a good thing. If you spent even 16 hours a week doing an entry-level job you enjoy – like what I do now for $13.50/hour – the ballpark math of it is you’d add ~$10,000 to your annual retirement income just to stay mentally and physically active through work. I think it’s a no-brainer. Sell the TV, and get a job doing whatever the heck you want! By this point, you’re financially stable enough that you’re retired, so even that ~$10,000 is secondary! And you’re most likely so experienced in your field, you could earn way more! You’re just looking after your physical health and mental wellbeing, and getting richer because of it!

The bottom line is if you’re retired and have a TV, that TV could be robbing you of the longevity and prosperity you’d gain from casual work. Even at 29, I see that happening to me now, so I’ve cut weekly TV time down to 4 hours. I’m choosing to work more, and invest more energy into my business. From now on, Netflix and PlayStation have no power over me. I sincerely doubt I’ll be 65 and wanting to play The Last of Us: Part XLIII.

Whaddaya think, TV-watching retirees? Is it time to go back to work?

The 100-Mile Tourist

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You’ve probably heard of the 100-mile diet. I’m a globavore so I don’t follow it, but I admire what they’re hoping to accomplish: healthful eating, smaller environmental footprint, and increased awareness of your local community. These are all good things, and I encourage anyone to try a 100-mile diet for at least a month. You’d be surprised what foods are near you! (In BC, absolutely brilliant Salt Spring Island lamb, the world’s best spot prawns, and amazing white wine are all close. Be jealous.) This isn’t about that though. This is about why you should “travel local” as much as possible. In 830 words, here’s why I’m a 100-mile tourist.

I’ve been all over Europe, Asia, and North America, so I’m very lucky. I’ve shot a wedding in Santorini, kissed a girl in Paris, set foot on Mount Fuji, puked in a bar in Newcastle, fished in China, visited Ground Zero, read “Hamlet” in Bruges, played music in Grande Prairie, and contemplated seeing a sex show in Amsterdam. There’s probably more, but that’s all that comes to mind for the time being. I’ve travelled, and I’m grateful for that. Recently though, I spent a weekend in Kamloops – technically 162 miles away – and started weighing the pros and cons of travelling local vs. travelling global. What I found was, outside of bragging rights, I was actually having an equal amount of fun in my own backyard! The best part? AT NO POINT DID IT STRAIN MY FINANCES. For people looking to save money while seeing more of the world, start with the places close to you. It can be equally as adventurous, and it’s more likely you’ll be able to bring your friends with you as well. What you discover is even MORE valuable because you know it’s accessible at any time! And because it’s cheaper, you can go more often! It’s win-win!

Instead of one big vacation every few years, I now travel locally once every few weeks. Within 100 miles of me, I’ve formed great memories with friends. 89 miles northwest of Vancouver lies a retiree community called Courtenay, BC. I still remember visiting the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort, and walking down to the water with my friend “S” in the middle of the night. Looking out across the water with no light pollution around, the sky was filled with stars more vibrant than I’d ever seen. The ocean was pure black, the night was quiet, and we were alone. As I dipped my feet into the water, it felt like we were on the edge of the world. Even now, I look back on that as my fondest memory. You don’t need to go far to experience the best the world has to offer.

Or what about Pemberton, 75 miles north? Hiking around Nairn Falls, the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in, and the restaurant that served me life-changing pesto? Brilliant. It’s my happy place, and I can go there anytime. And then there’s Whidbey Island, 94 miles south. I went with “L” and caught a private Amanda Palmer concert there, shredding away on my ukulele despite knowing only two chords. Of course, I have even more stories within 100 miles of Vancouver, and that’s kind of the beauty of it: Every time I made the decision to travel local, my experiences didn’t diminish. My microtravel made it so I could travel more and form even more memories using up less time and money! It seems crazy to me that people fly halfway across the world without even knowing what’s just across the border. It’s equally nuts that people can blow $1,000+ on a single two-day trip when they can have five $200 microtrips! I’m not saying world travel is bad necessarily. I just believe if you’re looking for bang-for-buck, microtravel might be something you’d want to consider.

There’s less pressure to see all the sights and pack your itinerary full too. Most of my memories of Europe are marred by fatigue, and though I’ve technically visited some of the greatest cathedrals in the world, I was bleary-eyed for most of them. Microtravel means no jetlag, and less guilt for sleeping in. I’ve had vacations in the past that were more stressful than my day-to-day life because we were always rushing around. Remember how I said I’ve been to Mount Fuji? The truth is I was only there for 20 minutes before we all had to pile back onto the bus. My 100-mile tourism has always been more relaxed. For someone like me, microtravel met my needs in both leisure and frugality. Maybe it’s just right for you too.

In 10 days, I’ll be spending the weekend in Nanaimo in a private room for $10/night. 38 miles west, and it’s just a short ferry ride away.

What’s near you?