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.

Your Entertainment Budget Should Be Less Than $1/Day

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The average American household spends $2,482/year on Entertainment and consists of 2.5 people. We can then reasonably estimate the average North American spends about $1,000/year on Entertainment by themselves. This is less than optimal. I’m about to show you how to get by on $1/day and be more entertained than ever. If you’re 30, your savings from this could amount to $93,925.05 extra in your retirement account by the time you’re 65. (Ask me for the math on our Facebook and I’ll happily show you.) Ready? Let’s kill your Entertainment bill.

First up, no more cable TV. TV subscribers are dwindling, and that seems to be driving prices up: “The average TV subscriber’s monthly bill ticked up from $65.25 in 2014 to $66.08 in 2015.” It’s just getting worse. Meanwhile, Netflix humbly asks for only $8-$12/month depending on your package and offers you immediate commercial-free access to “3 years, 202 days, 12 hours and 14 minutes” of Entertainment. Now, I get that you’re never gonna marathon Paw Patrol, but that’s fucking unreal. If you sleep for 8 hours and work for 8 hours on weekdays AND watch every waking minute you’re free including weekends, you’re looking at 8.3 YEARS of Entertainment for, like, $8/month. Meanwhile, I’ve spent hundreds building my paid iTunes library, but Spotify memberships range from full-of-ads “Free” to $10/month, and they both offer 30 MILLION SONGS. If each of those songs is just three minutes long, that’s 171 YEARS OF MUSIC! IF YOU STARTED LISTENING IN 1846, YOU’D BE DONE NOW. I really don’t understand how paying for individual songs is still a thing. Streaming services are obviously the future. (I like to think most of you know this already.)

Netflix and Spotify together? Even if you paid the individual maximum, that’s $22/month, or $264/year. Wanna get even spendier? Burn your money with a PlayStation Now membership for $100/year and stream 500+ PS3 and PS4 games. That adds up to $364/year, or just under $1/day. It’s almost like I planned it.

If reading’s more your jam, use your local library. You’re already paying for it in taxes, so use it. It warms my little nerd heart to know millennials are using their local libraries more than any other generation. Keep it up.

What I don’t advocate though is piracy. If you’re stealing something, you don’t deserve it. I place a lot of value on art – especially movies – so don’t do it.

Finally, MAKE your own entertainment! Some of you roll things like dining out into your Entertainment budgets, but cooking at home is better. While you’re at it, learn to draw, or play the guitar, or pick up a camera and take pictures of every stray cat in the neighbourhood. I know too many people who can tell me every plot point of Breaking Bad, but when I ask them for the last time they went swimming in the ocean or hiking up a mountain, they draw a blank!

The point is $1/day on Entertainment is already first-world luxury at its finest. Your ancestors didn’t have screens and they did a lot more than just stare into a fire. Realistically, with libraries and nature, your Entertainment budget could actually be ZERO, but $1/day for everything I described above seems like a fair trade. Just don’t spend an ABSOLUTELY INSANE $1,000/year on Entertainment like everyone else. This family can buy one person’s groceries for half a year on that.

How To Get Your Kid Set For Retirement

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I’ll just cut to the chase: When your kid is born, put $12,400 in an investment generating 7% interest, and they’ll be a millionaire by 65. I know that sounds crazy, and I’m making a LOT of assumptions, but you can find all the justifications for my logic in this post here. Again, this is presented as data ONLY. Listen up, new parents. It’s time to make your kids millionaires.

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All of these equal $1M:
0 – $12,400 x 65 years of 7% growth
1 – $13,200 x 64 years of 7% growth
2 – $14,100 x 63 years of 7% growth
3 – $15,100 x 62 years of 7% growth
4 – $16,200 x 61 years of 7% growth
5 – $17,300 x 60 years of 7% growth
6 – $18,500 x 59 years of 7% growth
7 – $19,800 x 58 years of 7% growth
8 – $21,200 x 57 years of 7% growth
9 – $22,700 x 56 years of 7% growth
10 – $24,300 x 55 years of 7% growth
11 – $25,900 x 54 years of 7% growth
12 – $27,800 x 53 years of 7% growth
13 – $29,700 x 52 years of 7% growth
14 – $31,800 x 51 years of 7% growth
15 – $34,000 x 50 years of 7% growth
16 – $36,400 x 49 years of 7% growth
17 – $38,900 x 48 years of 7% growth
18 – $41,600 x 47 years of 7% growth

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By this logic, you should actually reconsider sending your kids to university! The average four-year university undergraduate degree costs $84,000! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT CAN DO FOR A 23-YEAR-OLD? Invested at 7% interest – (I know some of you are still skeptical, so here’s further justification from someone far smarter than me) – THEY’D HAVE OVER $500,000 IN THE BANK BY 50. Wait 10 years more AND THEY’RE MILLIONAIRES. Here, crunch some numbers and get back to me. What’s especially wild is these are essentially set-and-forget investments: NO FURTHER CONTRIBUTIONS NEEDED! How are NO new parents doing this? It’s goddamn insane! Index funds, FTW!

If I’d known at 18 what I know now, I would’ve skipped post-secondary entirely. One of the richest and most successful people I know didn’t have any formal schooling AT ALL. Another friend is an artist and is set to retire with $800,000+. It turns out financial success isn’t all that linked to skills or intelligence at all. All you need is (a little) Money and (a lot of) Time!

If you completely ignored my post about not having kids, don’t ignore this one. Making a new millionaire from scratch costs $12,400 and your kids will be grateful forever. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the best damn deal I’ve ever heard.

Wishing you and your kids riches,
Unconbentional

I Want You To Half-Retire (HR)

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I worked this week. Well, kinda. Yesterday, I drove a few towns over and dropped off a wedding photo delivery I’d shot two months ago. Between lazy shifts at my liquor store and prodding at Lightroom edits for the past few weeks, I’ve been averaging 20 hours a week for a few months now. It’s enough to get by. Considering that a week has 168 hours, working 20 hours is only 12% of that. Not a bad trade, I figure.

Anyway, I know a lot of you work 40 hours a week, and that’s certainly smart. Everything you invest now is worth 10x more, so I can see why you’d want to put in your hours and aim for an early retirement. I mean, what’s better than never having to work again? Well, as I found out, the closer I got to No Work, the worse my mental health was. When I was working just 30 days a year, I was definitely less than sane. What eventually happened was the idea of Half-Retirement, or HR. Statistics Canada “examined data for more than 265,000 workers over 28 years” and “shows that of those Canadians who exited a long-term job at age 55 to 59, 60% were re-employed in some capacity within 10 years”. Based on that, it looks like Retirement is as ill-defined as ever. Even when shown Early Retirement, most people chose Half-Retirement instead! What gives?

Well, I’ve theorized that people need to actively work on something in order to feel truly fulfilled – progress equals happiness, after all – but after some basic digging, it turns out research backs me up. In the Netherlands, over “half of Dutch workers are on part-time hours” and they consistently rank as “one of the world’s happiest countries”. Meanwhile, this article suggests “people who keep working after age 65 tend to be much happier than their peers who are retired”. This was particularly interesting to me because full-on Retirement no longer seemed like what to aim for. The goalposts had been moved. If Half-Retirement was what made people happiest, WHAT’S STOPPING US FROM DOING THAT RIGHT NOW?!? All we need is basic frugality.

I certainly feel content with a light workload, and I’m confident my decision to not frontload all my moneymaking towards my youthful years is a good one. While I’m young and dumb, I want most of my weekdays off, and I’m honestly not just fucking around with them. I’m taking time to learn skills and meet people who will benefit me for years to come. This past month, I’ve taken time to hike with FI nerds, I’ve started work on a new garden, and I’ve expanded my writing opportunities by applying for an ACTUAL writing job that I can’t even tell you about yet! It’s all stuff I couldn’t accomplish if I were working a 40-hour 9-to-5, but here I am, financially stable (though admittedly, debt is an issue) and happy as can be.

I’d also argue if you take the time for self-care early on and use an HR mentality, your health won’t degrade as much and working part-time in retirement age would be more rejuvenating than torturous. Why not half-retire now by being frugal, AND EXPERIENCE THE SAME LEVEL OF FREEDOM AS SOMEONE WHO’S 65?

Consider that Tim Ferriss wrote “The 4-Hour Workweek” after presumably mastering a 4-hour workweek. He then wrote “The 4-Hour Body”, “The 4-Hour Chef” and “Tools of Titans”. IF A 4-HOUR WORKWEEK IS THE IDEAL AMOUNT OF WORK FOR A PERSON TO DO, WHY IS HE VOLUNTARILY TAKING ON A LARGER WORKLOAD? I humbly suggest a workload of anywhere from 20 hours (working for someone else) to 40 hours (working on your own projects). Maybe fulfillment isn’t just chasing Happiness. Maybe fulfillment has something to do with Usefulness.

If HR is the goal, WE CAN ACHIEVE THAT NOW WITH FRUGALITY. Then, we can coast our entire lives on a lifestyle that even retirees find preferable to full Retirement! As someone who’s lived it, it’s fucking wonderful.

Imagine this: Most of the week, I wake up without an alarm. I poke around in the kitchen and decide what I want to make for dinner. I make sure the gardens are okay, leisurely edit some photos and maybe blog a bit while having a beer, then shop for ingredients. Making dinner is a joy. If I’m feeling particularly adventurous, I ride my trike to the brewery and pick up a growler. I go to bed whenever I feel like after some screen time. If I work in the morning, I set an alarm. Even then, it’s usually just 8 hours at the liquor store for a day, or an 8-hour wedding. It’s good to know I’m needed somewhere. I can honestly say coasting like this forever is what I want. I will never tire of this. It’s goddamn magic.

If this all sounds too good to be true, it’s not. If rent is too high, live with someone. If you’re short on cash, you can always make a buck. If paying for gas is killing your budget, live closer to what you need. If you spend too much on events, don’t pay for them. If you drink too much, use smaller glasses. And so on, and so on. You can live HR now, and it’s better than full-on Retirement. It’s just frugality and part-time work!

I had trouble finding Unconbentional’s core message before, but this is it: HR is better than Retirement, and you can have this now. Build your wealth and optimize your situation until you can live on part-time work. Give yourself the gift of free time, especially while you’re still young enough to make some memories. Work isn’t a bad thing. You need it to live a fulfilling life. What you want is work-life balance. Don’t blindly sacrifice your youth chasing a day when you no longer have to work, but also don’t be a dumbass with your money. HR is the goal now. You can make this work, and you’ll be miles ahead of the modern workforce. You. Yes, you. You can do it.

I believe in you.

Am I nuts? Tell me on Facebook.

The 5 Love Languages, and How Knowing Them Can Save You Money

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This is gonna be the sappiest post I’ve ever made, so buckle up. There ain’t no brakes on the love train. I’m gonna show you how to improve your relationships AND save a boatload of money. You don’t even need to read this book! Since I’m a huge fan of book summaries, let’s see if I can knock this out in 700 words. It’s time to make YOU sexy and rich.

Listen, unbridled generosity sucks. In this article, I discouraged people from spending money on their loved ones when there are so many free ways to show you care. “Be generous with your time,” I said. Well, love is a tricky thing, and I was foolish to oversimplify. The fact is: EVERYONE EXPRESSES AND ACCEPTS LOVE IN DIFFERENT WAYS. In Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages”, he outlines the five main ways people show and accept love: quality time, devotion, physical touch, words of affirmation, and gift giving. Take a wild guess which one’s my least favourite.

Anyway, how I express love – in the past, gift giving – wasn’t necessarily how my friends or partners RECEIVED love. In my mind, because I’m such a cheap bastard, a gift that cost me MONEY was a big fucking deal. I once bought a $500+ smartphone for a partner, for instance. To her, my gift wasn’t valuable because that wasn’t a form of affection that spoke to her. Needless to say, that relationship ended quickly.

This doesn’t just apply to romance either. After some reflection, I realized I also don’t give a shit about gifts, and in many cases, took my family’s generosity for granted. They put me through my post-secondary, for example, and I really didn’t VALUE that at the time (though I do now). My mom also performs unexpected acts of service for me to show her devotion, but these usually end up inconveniencing me in annoying ways, like that time she decided I needed a tune-up and I was like, “Uh, where the fuck is my car?”

Whether you’re trying to save money or not, it’s important in any relationship to figure out what forms of generosity really speak to your loved ones. Expensive gifts or events are almost never the solution. One of the worst offenders to come to mind is going out for a movie together. “Hey, let’s go spend quality time together by staring at a screen and not talking for two hours! This is how people form close bonds!” Ridiculous, right? There is, however, a caveat in all this… I mean, what if your partner ACTUALLY accepts love in the form of gifts? Like, what if, in all sincerity, that’s what you have to do to keep them around?

Well, decide if that’s worth it for you. No lies, this’ll probably fuck with your FI plans, but life’s about more than money. If necessary, communicate that giving gifts isn’t how YOU show love, and hope they understand. It’s rare to find relationships where your “love languages” align, but now that you’re aware of that, you can: a) stop blindly throwing money at things and events in the hopes that someone will like you, and b) start communicating in a way that will make your relationships stronger!

Figure out your “love languages”. Learn how you each GIVE and RECEIVE affection in a way that’s meaningful. Do your best to keep money completely irrelevant. This won’t make you rich overnight, but it’ll help.

In my monthly spending breakdowns, I used to have a line item for gifts, but I don’t anymore. My relationships are better than ever. As always, keep more money in your pocket and use it on what REALLY matters. Besides, if you have to constantly buy out your loved ones, you’ve got bigger things to worry about. Here’s to a richer and happier you.

The Tiny Glass Movement

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Clearly, something wasn’t working. A recent look at my monthly drinking expenditures still had me blowing $530.55 on Alcohol. Sure, telling myself “just one less” and “you buy some things twice” worked to bring my spending down from a staggering $1,120.27, but I’m not calling this a victory until I average only $300-$350/month on booze. That’s why we’re embracing The Tiny Glass Movement.

The University of Cambridge conducted a rather duh study and “found that larger wine glasses encouraged you to drink more”. That’s why, for all of July, I’ll only consume beer out of 230ml glasses. (We’re using IKEA MUSTIG glasses.) Accounting for foam, each glass should only be 200ml, so each 2L growler we buy will make up 10 drinks. This also does double duty because it means I can’t buy drinks in a pub this month. I have to use my tiny glass. I expect this will give me the added boost I need to stop being such an alky. I hope to snowflake whatever I save directly into my debt.

To stay up to date on this experiment, follow along on our Facebook. I won’t be posting a follow-up article here, but our Facebook page will have all our numbers from June (our control month) and July (our experiment month). In fact, you should probably give that page a Like now. The site you’re on now is more for ideas, but our Facebook is for our results and discussion. I hope to see you there.