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.

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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.

Bitching and Wining

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I used to spend thousands on fine wine. My photography was going great so I was bringing in lots, but I somehow got it into my head I wanted to be a sommelier as well. Long story short: Goodbye, money! I can’t even say it was worth it.

Before I even had a clue what I was doing, I was adding to my microcellar. I own a small wine fridge perfectly calibrated for cellar aging, and it currently holds mid-range Bordeaux. Highlights include a 2005 Château Montrose and a 2011 Château Palmer. I know what I’m doing now, but I bought my first $100+ bottle when I was only 20. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING. I was a “label drinker”. To this day, I sometimes still am. In fact, I’d say 99% of wine drinkers are. It’s damn near impossible to have such a vast working knowledge of wine that you know exactly what you’re buying each time. For me though, that’s the fun.

I actually went to school for this. I hold ISG Level 1 and WSET Level 1, and I hope to achieve WSET Level 3 and French Wine Scholar someday. I’ve also done some pretty extensive tasting outside my courses, and know enough random crap to talk a big game. I can get seriously revved up about Loire Valley whites, and I’m also pretty passionate about my hatred of BC Cab/Merlot. I’m an intermediate wine drinker now, and if I can offer only one piece of advice to a novice wine drinker, it’s this: UNLESS YOU HAVE WINE EDUCATION, DO *NOT* SPEND MONEY ON HIGH-END WINE.

I’ve bought a lot of high-end bottles in my life. Most of them were old and improperly stored. My $250 bottle of 1979 Spring Mountain? I bought that from a very reputable store, but either its extreme age or improper cellaring made it flat and lifeless. I once cracked a 1983 Recioto at a dinner party. Same thing. My $150 glass of 1962 Amarone back in January was overwhelmingly meh as well. Hell, I’d take a 2014 Nota Bene any day. It’s not even the fault of the winemakers! When an ancient bottle isn’t in the possession of someone who knows how to take care of it, THE WINE BASICALLY DIES. Also, virtually no one takes care of wine properly. Try keeping a bottle at 55° F for 10+ years with no fluctuations. Then, consider humidity, vibration, light, and security. If a reputable liquor store can’t handle it consistently, HOW CAN YOU WITHOUT A MAJOR INVESTMENT?!?

Then, there’s the argument that most people can’t tell what they’re drinking anyway. I could pour Barefoot into an empty bottle of Osoyoos Larose and most of my friends wouldn’t notice a difference. Remember my rant about Veblen goods? Nowhere is that more apparent than in the wine world! Half the time, you’re buying the label! How good the wine is is subjective, and it’s a waste to pay extra HUNDREDS for a slightly different flavour profile!

The best wine I’ve ever had was memorable because of other things going on. I once cracked a top-notch bottle of 1999 Barolo at my grandfather’s 80th birthday. I remember savouring that bottle for hours. My roommate and I opened an Amarone at his 23rd, and I remember that clearly because the wine was just awesome enough to blow his mind. Wine only serves to complement an experience. You all remember that scene in Sideways when Miles drinks his 1961 Cheval Blanc alone, right? Without a great experience to add to, a great wine became forgettable! It’s like putting gold leaf on a turd. Not worth it!

If you’ve ever been tempted by high-end wine, there are better things to spend your money on. 100% of the time, I could’ve found an objectively better “cheap” wine if I’d just put in the effort to look. All it takes is doing some research and picking the best bottle of $20 Rioja or Argentinian Malbec you can find. Trust me, you wouldn’t notice a difference. That’s for wine scholars to agonize over. YOU can take the extra $100 you WOULD’VE spent and either up your meal’s food game, or put it to good use via snowflaking or investing. MOST OF YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS BUYING HIGH-END WINE.

I drank out of a free 3L box of Pinot Gris in a parking lot this week. Still more memorable than that 1979 Spring Mountain. For now, I’m saving my money and making no more purchases for the microcellar. Hell, I’m even thinking about selling off my bottles. Seriously, the fact I used to drink and collect rare wine shouldn’t impress you, but disgust you. I was a sucker, and I paid lots for the privilege. I’ve had positive high-end wine experiences TWICE in my life, and I study it.

Stick to $20 bottles when you’re feeling fancy. The high-end wine world is just rich people patting themselves on the back and paying for labels. Think of it as Asshole Tax. I paid it because I was an Asshole.

Sorry, winemakers. Am I wrong though?

Don’t Count On An Inheritance

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This summer, I visited Kamloops, BC and went on a hike with “Ben and Barbara”. We didn’t start out talking about personal finance, but when I bought a used copy of “Your Money or Your Life” at a local bookstore, we ended up in a deep conversation about cash, happy living, and planning for end-of-life care. It was the most enlightening conversation I’d had all year.

We were driving back to their place from Salmon Arm when I started talking about my retirement plan. Foolishly, I expected a small inheritance from my family someday. After all, we had a townhome in the family I estimated to be worth $450,000. My brother might decide to start a family there, but I reasoned I could at least rent out the basement to a student for $800/month. My brother and his family could take the top two floors and live just fine. Obviously, I wouldn’t move in because I don’t have rent in Richmond anyway, so I’d just hang out at my current place and pocket the rent. Easy peasy. We drove on, and I took in the scenery. Then, she dropped the bomb.

“Have you considered end-of-life care for your mother?” Barbara asked.

“No,” I admitted.

“Well, you should. End-of-life care can get expensive, especially when it comes to memory care. There may be money in your family, but it’s your mother’s money first. You may need to liquidate the home to pay for that. Don’t count on an inheritance.”

Her words hit me like a freight train. She was right. It was only days ago I was talking with a coworker about HER mother’s end-of-life care. We were considering using Nurse Next Door, so I’d researched the cost. Estimates were between $550/month for basic care to $4,000/month for “vital care”. Senior housing was even worse, with assisted living in BC at an average of $2,747/month, and memory care at $5,720/month! If your mom has Alzheimer’s, expect to pay $68,640/year while she’s living in a home. My family’s $450,000 townhome suddenly becomes 6.5 years of memory care in a retirement facility! Well… fuck.

Listen, I know you care about your parents. I do too. I’m not writing this to scare you, but I want to prepare you for the reality of end-of-life care. If you thought you were getting an inheritance, you probably aren’t. Your parents’ money is theirs first. Instead, prepare for your own financial future by investing appropriately, and not spending all your money buying shiny shit. The wealth your parents built up is for them to use, not you. Also, did you know average life expectancy in Canada is now 80-84? Let’s not mince words: If you were counting on an inheritance and you’re not already ridiculously rich, YOU’RE FUCKED. Start saving. Prepare, not just for your future, but also your parents’. Invest wisely, and maybe you’ll come out okay. You have been warned.

Sorry to ruin your day. Here’s a picture of a cute cat.

Livin’ la Vida Local

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Any place you go to regularly should be within walking distance of your home. Otherwise, you’re being wasteful. Too harsh? Read on. I might just convince you to move.

Remember when I told you all about my home? As awesome as it is already, I forgot to tell you about its OTHER awesome benefit. IT’S CLOSE TO LITERALLY FUCKING EVERYTHING. I’m not kidding! Within a block, here’s the list of everything I’ve got: a Safeway, a Shoppers, a produce store, a pizza joint, an Italian restaurant, two places to get your hair cut, a post office, a neighbourhood pub, an RBC (my bank), a TD (my roommate’s bank), a liquor store, a bakery, a Subway, an AWESOME sushi restaurant, a phở place, a walk-in clinic, numerous dentists, a gas station, and a 7-Eleven. Did I miss anything? Probably! I live next to an urban oasis. If I want beef teriyaki at 4 in the morning, I can make it happen. It’s a goddamn paradise.

The only thing that isn’t close is the liquor store I work at part-time, and even then, it’s 6 KM away and on a bus route. I drive there, but it only costs me $1.20 there and back since my 2008 Corolla sips fuel. It’s actually cheaper than taking the bus since I live so close! Did you know the average Canadian commute costs $7,540/year? That’s the equivalent of 6,283 there-and-back commutes for me! WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU ALL COMMUTING SO MUCH?!?

The best part about choosing a great neighbourhood is having an expanded radius of comfort. If you live in the suburbs, your radius of comfort is likely limited to your own home. Every time you need something, you have to leave your bubble. Whoops, forgot the mustard! See you all in half an hour! Choosing to live near places you need is entirely different. With a Safeway across the street, my “fuck, I forgot the mustard” moments are minor inconveniences instead of an ordeal. Also, the pub across the street is practically an extension of my living room! Don’t feel like entertaining 20 people because they might trash my place while drunk? Take ‘em to the pub! It’s insane how much my new place has simplified my life. I don’t even know how much I’m saving by living here instead of deep in the suburbs like I used to, but I’m sure it numbers in the thousands each year. Live close to the places you use. Drive less. Move if you have to.

You’ll have to find a balance though. It’s likely rent will be higher in convenient areas, so you’ll have to do some math to see if it’s worth it. Then again, my ex-girlfriend used to live here for $316.81, so it’s possible to get the best of both worlds. You just have to do your homework. Also, choose jobs that are close to you. Each mile you live from work costs you $795 in commuting expenses per year.

Where do you go most often? Can you live closer? Tell us on our Facebook.

Income vs. Outcome

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Impulse spending used to be a huge problem for me. How else could I explain all the weird crap I own? Why do I have pink Docs? Why did I spend $60 on a “Dreamy Trudeau” sweater? WHY DO I HAVE SIX PLAYSTATIONS?!? I’m slowly learning though. With most of these purchases, I didn’t consider the true Outcome of owning them. By the end of this post, I’ll get you thinking about your Income vs. Outcome too.

I’m lousy with impulse spending because my photography job has largely destroyed any intelligent relationship I had with money. When I landed a photography booking, it’d usually mean at least $2,000 in the bank, so a $400 PS4 wasn’t a big deal. I started a day job again in the past year though, so my relationship with money became healthier. Instead of using my $2,000/day metric for making purchases, I think of my $13.50/hour at the liquor store. (And that’s really more like $12/hour since I bank my raise.) Now, I always consider my Income and the expected Outcome of my purchases. I’ll give you an example. I may be going a little overboard with quantifying unquantifiables, but bear with me.

Let’s take the $60 Trudeau sweater. I think it’s hilarious, but it’s still just an item of clothing. I wore it about 10 times in the past year. Every time I wore it, some stranger would make a remark about it and we’d banter on a bit, have a laugh, and go about our day. The sweater is also kind of a dated joke, so I expect that to happen less as time goes on. In three years, I’ll probably wear it 30 times. Since I’m calculating for $12/hour from the liquor store after banking my raise, the sweater is essentially costing me 5 Working Hours. Is wearing that sweater 30 times in three years worth 5 hours of stocking, mopping, and talking about wine? Well, I actually enjoy my day job, so I say yes. The answer would be vastly different if I hated that job, but the key thing to note is I’m comparing my Income to my purchase’s Outcome, and deciding whether it’s worth it or not. Even though the sweater ranks among my dumber purchases, I still think it was worth it!

What about a night of moderate drinking at the pub? I went out last night and blew $40 for four hours of drinking with friends. That’s about 3.3 Working Hours. Wait, 3.3 Working Hours for 4 Drinking Hours? That doesn’t seem worth it. Besides, I drink enough that alcohol isn’t the hilarious roller coaster it used to be, and it’s really just something to do while socializing. I could take the alcohol away and probably still have just as good a time! The Outcome wasn’t worth the Income I was putting into it! Well… fuck.

I encourage you to do this mental exercise every time you’re about to make an impulse purchase. Gonna buy a $500 Apple Watch? Is it worth how much you have to work for it? That’s for you to decide. Shelling out $60 for a fancy dinner? Is it worth 3 or 4 hours of Income? Is the Outcome – two hours of eating great food – worth it in your mind? Maybe you’re buying a BBQ. $400 of Income becomes an Outcome of countless summer days gathering with friends making perfect steak after perfect steak. Sounds good to me! Try to always consider your Income versus your expected Outcome with every major purchase. It’s the only intelligent way to spend money.

Hopefully, you’ll find yourself spending a lot less.