Learn Your Net Profit Per Hour, or You Make Less Than You Think You Do

If you_re like us and really only make $10_hour sometimes, that iPhone costs you 100 hours, or two-and-a-half weeks in the office.-2

I’m very fortunate to have built an unconventional wedding photography business. I also work a day job at a liquor store. Having run my own business for 11 years though, I’ve learned to see my regular work life as a business too. In both, there were tons of expenses that chipped away at my bottom line. The same is true for where and how you work, regardless of what job you have. Think you make your hourly wage per hour, and that’s all there is? Think again. Here’s why you make less than you think you do.

Through mostly luck, my wedding photography is a dream job. I now charge $2,995 for a typical 8-hour wedding. When I add on the extra time I put in for prep, delivery, client meetings, driving time, accounting and so on, I’m looking at about a 20-hour investment per client. I have a great second shooter, and I pay a very efficient editor to handle 90% of the post-production. Typically, the editor takes $400, my second shooter takes $400, and there’s $200 or so that goes into other expenses, like batteries, gas, or buying drinks for clients. I walk away from each wedding with about $2,000. I’ve been operating this way for years. It took a $15,000 photography diploma and $30,000 in gear to get to this point, but that’s another story. Right now, my photography business is – in my mind – very effective at turning time into cash. My net profit per hour is $100 on the books, and a little less after accounting for taxes. Read this: “Many times it’s a ‘slap in the face’ when you calculate this number for the first time. We calculated it in a Courage to be Profitable class last week, and the highest net profit per hour was $3.60. The lowest was less than $1.” What gives?

Well, those were conventional businesses with considerable overhead, taking up space 24 hours a day. I have none of that. Those business students figured out their businesses’ profitability for the first time. You should figure out your profitability too. Here are some numbers from my day job, for easy comparison. In theory, I make $14/hour at the liquor store. In reality, I don’t.

Taxes are obvious, so let’s factor that in. Every day I go to work, I burn gas. Plugging some numbers into this gas calculator meant every day I go to work and back, I lose $2. Okay, not a big deal. What about car maintenance? What about making sure I had the right clothes and shoes for work? I spent $55 on work-appropriate shoes earlier this month. What about all the times I eat out because of work? I get $8 dinners instead of frugally eating in twice a week. Getting even crazier, what about my unbilled hours? Let’s add my commuting time too. Suddenly, my true net profit per hour was closer to $10/hour, and I’m probably forgetting something. This guy ran his numbers from his “$20 an hour” job too, and found it was now “less than $10 an hour”. Read his story.

People sometimes calculate purchases by comparing it directly with their hourly wage. “Oh, I make $20/hour, so this $1,000 iPhone is worth 50 hours of my time.” Nope! If you’re like us and really only make $10/hour sometimes, that new iPhone costs you 100 hours, or two-and-a-half weeks in the office. That $9.26 beer you just bought? Yeah, that’s about an hour. Couldn’t resist seeing “Venom” in theatres with your date and springing for popcorn too? That’s three hours. A new, low-end 4K TV? That’s a 40-hour workweek. After figuring out your net profit per hour, being frugal is the only course of action that makes sense.

Never forget to include the cost of doing business.

A final note: I have $21,000 buzzing away in investments right now with a rough return of 7%, or $1,470/year. Isn’t that kinda like adding 147 hours of day job work to my bottom line? People work, what, 2,000 hours a year? Hunh.

Will you work harder, or let your money work for you?

*****

For an extreme sport, you could copy those business students and calculate your net profit per hour based on 24 hours instead of just when you work. If you do this, please share. We’re very curious.

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Are You Paying For Bragging Rights?

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Looking back on my 20s, I wish I hadn’t cared about oneupmanship. I wish I hadn’t spent thousands on PlayStation media so I’d have a higher trophy count than my friends. I wish I hadn’t bought and drank so many terrible beers just to boost my numbers on Untappd. I wish I cared less about what people thought of me, and actually started working on me. For most of my life, I’d been paying for bragging rights. Maybe you have too.

Companies thrive on this sort of thing, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. Almost every luxury good is a sort of stab at oneupmanship. The newer car, the shinier gadget, the cooler features, and the status symbols of the world all conspire to take money out of our wallets. On one level, it might be keeping up with the Joneses (which we already know is bad), but if we’re being completely honest, sometimes we buy things to grasp at better social standing or to make others jealous. I’m guilty as charged. I used to buy $300 shoes, $900 dinners for my friends, and $250 bottles of wine – always in misguided attempts to seem better than I was. Now, I struggle with debt… and it’s all my fault.

Things are better now. Since starting this blog, the only status symbol I care about is my net worth. My shoes are now $20. My dinners are now meatloaf and beans. Bottles of wine only show up when I get them free from work. I just organized a bachelor party and ixnayed the limo for a cab. The PlayStations got sold off or gifted. I often take the bus. Somehow, in spite of all this voluntary deprivation, I’m happier for it! A weird thing happens when you become frugal: Where I once was only able to afford one pair of shoes, I could now afford 15. The more frugal you are, the more wealthy you feel because you suddenly have so much buying power! It’s a weird paradox, but it’s one worth believing in. Don’t ever spend money to impress people. People don’t give a shit anyways.

If you’re gonna spend money on oneupmanship, one-up yourself. Invest in your goals. Build up a bigger nest egg than you ever thought possible. Learn new skills. Better yourself, but not so you can compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, even when you’re on top. Can you imagine how stressful that is? Always striving to maintain a false sense of superiority through spending money? FUCK. THAT.

No one’s better than anybody else. If you truly believe a $30,000 watch or a shiny car is the only thing making you a better person, we’ve gotta have a talk. Even if a glowing beacon above your head broadcast “I SPENT $30,000 ON A WATCH” 24/7, that’s not a great message to send. You don’t seem rich and impressive. You seem desperate.

Stop bragging. Start saving.

Get rich.

Accept No Substitutes

Master your wants and you_ll be left with more of what you need.

“Oh, fuck. I really want octopus ceviche.”

Normally, I’d never crave restaurant food like this, but I didn’t have as much free time anymore. It was a rare “day off” from the day job, and dangerously, I was looking to treat myself. As an amateur foodie, this ticked all the boxes. It was a restaurant I’d never been to before, I’d probably learn what it took to make octopus ceviche at home, and it’d give me a break from my home office. Win-win, right? Heck, I might even be able to write a blog post there! I checked the price online. It was $10. Damn. (I’d recently adopted a rule that any purchase over $10 should be reexamined for alternatives.) The drink I was eyeing too — Boulevard’s “kentucky cold toddy” — would set me back another $7 plus tax and tip. Together, I was looking at blowing over $20 on a whim. That might have been fine for Old Ben, but not anymore. I decided to find a substitute.

Even though I was craving octopus ceviche hard, I knew the responsible thing to do was save money. Instead, I settled on a happy hour in the same neighbourhood where a beer was only $4.75. I’m drinking it now as I write this. Here’s the weird thing: My initial, super strong craving for octopus ceviche is now… gone? It’s almost as though any food or drink in front of me was enough. I didn’t need $20 in seafood and bougie cocktails; a $5 beer was extravagant enough.

You’ve probably seen that nutrition meme that says, “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry. You’re just bored.” I kinda believe that. I used to be terrible with splurging on food. If I wanted sushi, I’d just get it — no matter how much it was. Now, even though I still get those cravings, I’m far better at finding the affordable alternative. The $5 Subway 6” tuna was often just as satisfying as the $15 chirashi don! I challenge you to master your cravings. You’ll save money doing it, and reach a mystical level of financial zen. By becoming okay with getting not-exactly-what-you-want, you’ll be able to save for the big goals. Your cravings can basically always be satisfied with something that costs less!

Master your wants and you’ll be left with more of what you need. I know my $20 cravings can disappear with a $5 substitute. Do you?

Pride Was Making Me Poor

my pride cost me

When people ask me what I do for a living, I don’t even hesitate. “I’m a wedding photographer,” I tell them. “I’ve been doing it for 10 years!” Lately, the next question has been weirder: “So you do it full-time?”

That’s usually where my brain stalls.

*****

The truth is, no, I don’t do it full-time. I haven’t done it full-time since 2015, but how do I explain to people I was only shooting “30 days a year” and making ends meet, but decided to take on “three days a week” working at a liquor store too? A quick bit of napkin math then reveals an unglamorous truth: I actually work as a liquor store clerk 5x more than I do as a photographer! Though being solely a wedding photographer was enough for me to get by, I realized that a boost in income from working a regular job too allowed me to save more, attack my debt, and get out of the house more. By the numbers alone though, I’m more a liquor store clerk than I am a photographer! WHY WAS I LYING TO PEOPLE?

Well, there are two answers to that: 1) It’s a matter of marketability. In order to get more wedding bookings, I needed to present myself as a wedding photographer first. Presenting myself as a liquor store clerk isn’t gonna get me more liquor store bookings, ya dig? 2) I had a lot of pride associated with being a wedding photographer. Entrepreneurship was sexy, wage labour was not.

I was actually turning down shifts because in my mind, I was a wedding photographer first. It wasn’t until I decided to help my coworkers out during the holidays that I realized how much I was saying no to. In 2017, because there were times I’d rather be sitting at home just content with being a wedding photographer, one of my lowest liquor store paycheques was $389.14 for two weeks. My most recent paystub just arrived: If I pushed my limits a bit, two weeks could net me $1,048.01! My pride cost me over $1,300 a month.

Someone coined a word for this a while back: “egotrage”, what Mr. Groovy calls “The strategy of advancing your financial position by doing something that is ‘beneath’ your socioeconomic status.” In that article, he talks about how his ego kept him from attaining wealth at an early age. “A man of my stature–I did have an illustrious journalism degree from Long Island University, after all–didn’t wash cars.” (Sound like anyone you know?)

I’ll just admit it: I was afraid. I was afraid that working 40 hours a week doing wage labour would somehow negate everything I’d built as an entrepreneur. In reality, I’m adding to it. The extra income will allow me to buy that Profoto A1 with less financial strain on my business. My seniority at the store will allow me to increase my flexibility with time off, letting me take on new photo opportunities. Simply getting out of the house will improve my mental health and allow me to form new connections with people. It was all an obvious win, but my pride was holding me back! Well, it’s time to let that go. From now on, I’m no longer allowing “wedding photographer” to be my defining attribute to the detriment of everything else.

On the other hand, I have no idea how to introduce myself at parties now. Thoughts?

*****

“So, what do you do for a living?”

“Uh, I’ve got, like, five jobs. Can we please talk about something else?”

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.

You Buy Some Things Twice

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A few days ago, we talked about how I cut my drinking down by half, and one idea that helped with that is so goddamn simple, I’m sure it’ll help you as much as it helped me. Speaking in basic terms, all I had to do was imagine that everything I used up needed to be bought a second time. That’s it!

I can hear the collective “uhhh…” already, so let me explain. Let’s use beer for this example because it’s both a consumable, and not something super perishable (like, say, a sandwich). Cool? Okay, let’s talk about beer. For non-drinkers, follow along anyway. I’m trying to make a larger point.

Before you have a 6-pack of beer available to drink, you’ve presumably paid for it at your local beer store. Let’s say it was $12. You take it home, it sits in your fridge for a while, and because it’s so readily accessible, you guzzle beer whenever you feel like until you run out. The old me would’ve crushed that 6-pack in a night, one $2 can after another, without a second thought. I would basically destroy $12 worth of value in an evening because I already had it in my home. Is this sounding familiar yet? FOR MOST OF US, AS SOON AS WE’VE BOUGHT SOMETHING AND HAVE IT IN OUR POSSESSION, WE FORGET ABOUT ITS MONETARY VALUE. For most of us, we’ve “already paid”! I’m here to tell you there are some things you buy twice: You buy it once when you pay for it, and you “#rebuy” it when you use it up because you’re using up its value. Just flip that mental switch, and it’ll help you become more frugal overnight. I like to think it’s already saved me hundreds.

When I took that $12 6-pack home, it was still worth $12. Every time I thought to myself, “I want a beer,” I rephrased that to, “Do I want a $2 beer right NOW?” Most of the time, when I reconsidered the VALUE of that beer and that I was mentally rebuying it, it gave me that little extra bit of willpower to put it back. This doesn’t work with everything – sandwiches are still super perishable – but I’ve had success with it when I’ve considered beer, snacks, and even entertainment. “Do I want to watch this $5 movie NOW, or can I get more VALUE out of it if I watch it with friends?” That kind of thing.

Beer was where it was most effective for me. I knew every $2 can I drank would just need to be replaced with another $2 can later, ad infinitum. Every can in my fridge I could say “no” or “later” to would SAVE me $2 in the future. See what I mean?

There are some things you #rebuy. Just because it’s already in your home doesn’t mean it’s automatically free for consumption. A $2 can of beer is a $2 can of beer. Remember that, and you’ll save a shitload.

Thrifty Vegan vs. Spendy Omnivore

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This wasn’t even close. Obviously, I couldn’t have expected anything different seeing as how I was going up against our favourite artist “A”, but I didn’t realize how much work I needed to do until I saw her numbers. She can cover her three daily meals for the cost of my typical lunch! She doesn’t drink much either. Where I spent $1,340.83 this November on comestibles – $902.33 on food, $438.50 on alcohol – “A” averages $10/day if we don’t count eating out, and $12/day if we do. I guess this is normal spending? I have no idea because I have such a warped view of money. The rare occasions I make thousands in a day have largely destroyed any intelligent relationship I had with money. I need a fucking intervention.

“A” broke down her meals in way more detail than I expected. The following breakdowns are lifted directly from her email. Remember, she’s vegan, so she’s using things like almond milk instead of regular milk. Veggie burgers and beefless ground make appearances too. Here’s a typical breakfast:

Pancakes
     PancakeMix    $2.50/box  0.42
     Almond Milk 0.67
     Vegetable Oil  0.20
     Maple Syrup   $10?/1L 0.70
      Meal cost: $1.99

In case you’re wondering, I picked the most expensive of the three breakfasts she sent me. Cereal runs her $1.33/meal and oatmeal is $1.20/meal.

A typical lunch might be a veggie stirfry and rice:

Veggie StirFry and Rice
     Various veggies $0.75 (if you’re keen on saving money you can try to get the cheapest in-season ones and/or work in frozen veggies)
     Gardein Beefless Ground   $4.60bag/4   $1.15
     Garlic 0.20
     Olive or Vegetable Oil 0.10
     Soy Sauce 0.10
     Sriracha 0.10
     Rice   $20 for a big bag  (individual serving – 0.10??)
     Meal cost: $2.50

Dinner could be something like pasta:

Pasta
     Spaghetti   $10 / 4.2kg   49 suggested servings. probably 25 real servings     0.40
     Gardein Beefless Ground (1/3 pack) – $1.55
     Vegetable Oil  0.20
     Pasta Sauce 7.99 for 1.75Lx2   0.79
     Frozen veggies $10 for 2kg   0.75
     Garlic .10
     Meal cost: $3.79

Miscellaneous snack and drink costs bring the daily average from ~$8.28 to about $10/day. Also, as “A” wrote in her email to me:

I usually only eat out maybe twice a month, usually for a social event or date night so that tends to come out of my fun money budget not my grocery budget. A meal out might be $15-$30.

Factoring in everything above and even assuming she spends on the high end of her restaurant budget, “A” spends only $360/month on edibles. I’M FUCKING EMBARRASSED. I SPEND MORE THAN THAT PER MONTH ON ALCOHOL ALONE.

My food costs are insane too. Even my “most frugal” meals tend to be things like ham sandwiches from Subway for $7, or phở for $10. Then, there’s my cooking habit where I make ambitious meals once a week. Take a look at the shit I’ve been doing lately:

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

I BOUGHT THREE FUCKING LOBSTERS LAST MONTH. No wonder I’m in so much debt

In November, I spent $30.08/day on food alone. Including alcohol, that’s $44.69/day. I sincerely hope you’re nowhere near that. I’m definitely backsliding into full-blown idiocy.

In the end, as embarrassing as this exercise was, I’m glad I put in the work to add it all up. If I adopted all the same eating habits as “A” and ate for $32.69 less per day, I could save $980.70/month, or $11,768.40/year! Wanna see something truly scary? If I invested that every year from now until I turn 65 and got 7% annually like I usually do, I’D HAVE $2,018,998.71 IN MY BANK ACCOUNT. I’m literally fucking lightheaded right now. Less lobster, more millions. I’m eating myself out of a decent retirement.

The absolutely crazy thing is a lot of you reading this are eating for less per day than even “A”. $12/day is pretty luxurious, and here I am eating like a goddamn emperor. I can’t even justify what I’ve been doing lately. I’m floored right now because I hadn’t even added this up until I started researching this article.

I’m seriously fucking embarrassed, guys. Learn from my mistakes. Make me feel even worse by telling us YOUR food costs on Facebook.