Throw Your Shit Away

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Can you live with only 100 things? What about dressing yourself with only 33 items for 3 months? Minimalism is in, and experiments like The 100 Thing Challenge and Project 333 are popping up on lifestyle blogs everywhere. These challenges are a bit too extreme for little ol’ stuff-loving me, but I made a few notes and started taking back my space. I now throw out a minimum of one thing a day.

Since my girlfriend moved in, we’ve needed to make more room. There are now three people living in our 1,000 square feet, and just to fit us all comfortably, a lot of shit had to go. In the past month, we’ve thrown out old pillows, workout equipment, countless DVDs, unplayed PS4 games, posters, dishes, multiple boxes of unnecessary documents, and right now, we’re boxing up old glassware we’ll give to a friend. I look in my office closet now, and I see SPACE. I haven’t seen that much space since I moved in! A new addiction was born.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I say 1,000 square feet? A realization dawned on me: With all our crap everywhere, we really had about 700 square feet. I made it my mission to reclaim my home, one box and one square foot at a time. I’ve mentioned before you really just rent everything you own. Stuff is only useful when you’re using it, right? Well, why not have someone else store it for you? I didn’t just haul my DVD collection to the dump. I donated everything to my local library. There, it helps enrich my community, and I can take out my old DVDs anytime I want! The PS4 games got traded in at EB and earned me $50 in store credit. Let’s face it: I’m gonna nerd out and get “No Man’s Sky” on Day 1.

There’s an entire industry preying on people overly attached to their shit. You can tell things are bad when companies like Public Storage don’t even put prices on their website. That’s literally the ONLY reason people are on their site! It also turns out 100 square feet of storage can cost more than $150/month! Why would you have SO MUCH SHIT, you need to pay ADDITIONAL RENT just to store it, unused?

There’s also a problem in having so much shit, you need to hire movers and trucks every time you change residences. I’ve done it, and got billed about $800. That was before this blog started. Now, I insist on doing everything without a moving company. Moving my girlfriend in was easy and only required the help of a friend. We owe him dinner. That’s it.

Having too much shit can even limit your moneymaking opportunities! My mom lives alone in the 5-bedroom townhouse my brother and I grew up in, and is limited in her ability to rent rooms to people because our family crap is everywhere. We’ve even been talking about her moving to the 1-bedroom in Surrey her sister owns so she can rent out the ENTIRE townhouse for $2,000+ per month! What’s stopping her? Our piles and piles of useless shit!

My challenge to you is to throw away one thing a day for at least a month, and not immediately fill the space up again with newer, shinier crap. You’ll actually be objectively richer if you have less stuff! Counterintuitive, I know. THROW OUT ONE THING A DAY FOR A MONTH. You’ll thank me, seriously.

Anything you haven’t worn in six months can go. Any piece of entertainment you haven’t looked at in a year can go. Anything you own a better version of can go.

Hell, with everything you’re tossing out, you might even be able to make a few bucks

Happiness is $100/Day

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You’ve probably heard a $75,000 salary is what you need to be Happy. That’s incorrect. $75,000 is what you need to be Happy if you’re silly and spendy. Here’s evidence of someone Happy at $36,000. Hell, here’s evidence of an Entire Family living on $25,330. For the purposes of today’s article though, I’m pinning Happiness at $36,500, or $100/day. Think of each day of Happiness as one unit of Happiness, and each unit is $100.

In an effort to keep myself honest, I have a confession to make: My jobs make me less than $36,500/year. I have other methods of income, and I get a lot of stuff for free, but the cash reality of my situation is I’m very average. To many, I’d be considered poor. My counterargument is I work way less and am arguably happier, and I’m staying afloat, so I’m just fine. Consider this evidence of another person happy on < $36,500. I don’t even feel as though I’m making sacrifices. I eat at restaurants nearly every day, currently have 30 litres of beer in my fridge, see the latest movies, and I travel enough that I can’t even remember all the places I’ve been. I can’t even think of anything else I’d want! I don’t want anything shiny, and a huge house would just mean more shit to clean. Any more travel would be exhausting because I’m a homebody, AND I’VE ALREADY BEEN TO TEN COUNTRIES! The last thing I want is unbridled consumerism. This article makes me sick. Andy has a Lamborghini Huracán and moans about not being able to fit his backpack and textbooks in it. After a certain level of spendiness, you apparently become an idiot!

Human minds adapt easily to any situation. Get used to living on less and you’ll be happy living on less. I’ve turned it into a game. Since I work only 30 hours a week (but don’t need to), I have plenty of time to brainstorm ways to save money. That’s one of the reasons this blog exists! On the flip side, get used to spending like a maniac and no amount of Hugo Boss tees or Gucci bags will be enough to satisfy you. Once you raise the bar for what makes you Happy, you’ll be miserable the moment you have to eat at Olive Garden instead of Le Crocodile. Is that any way to live?

Now you know that $36,500 is your Happiness Number, here’s what you should do if you make more: INVEST. Occasional splurging is fine, but don’t make a habit of it. Your goal is now to reach your Retirement Number, which is your Annual Expenses times 25. Once you reach that, you should be able to reliably make 5% each year from your investments, and withdraw 4% to finance your lifestyle. Your nest egg keeps growing, and you’ll have enough to live on FOREVER. After that, you’ll learn that Happiness isn’t tied to Money after $100/day. You’ll realize Happiness is actually more like “Money + Time + Freedom”. Come to think of it, that may be why I’m super stoked about life, even as a poor kid. Most of my work hours are optional, which translates to Time and Freedom whenever I want. Huh.

A final note: You can keep “investing” after you reach your Retirement Number. Invest in nonmaterial things that bring you joy. Donate to a charity you care about, put money back into your community, give young entrepreneurs a leg up. You don’t need a Lamborghini Huracán, and let’s face it, you wouldn’t know how to drive it anyway. Andy certainly doesn’t. He can’t even figure out what to do with his laundry.

What do you think? Can YOU get by on $100/day?

If You Have to Pay for It, You’re Doing It Wrong

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What’s fun for you? Is it travel? Maybe it’s fine food or wine. What about entertainment? Maybe you love going to concerts. Maybe you want to meet celebrities. Maybe you love playing with the latest gadgets, or driving nice cars. What would you do more of if you had unlimited resources? Got a mental picture? Good. Now, what if I told you you could have all that for free? It might seem like a pipe dream, but it’s entirely possible once you start doing just one thing: choosing your Career not based on pay, but your passions.

If you’re reading this blog, I’m gonna guess you make okay money and aren’t looking to be a wasteful spender for the long haul. Hopefully, that’ll translate to more money saved. Let’s say you sock away $5,000 in disposable income. You’ve already maxed out your RRSP and TFSA, and this is cash you can have some fun with. You’ve been busting ass at work and it’s time to let loose, so you book your trip to Santorini and stay for two weeks. Flight and accommodations eat up $2,500 and $1,000 goes into food at ritzy restaurants. You take a few day trips, ride a few donkeys, and rent an ATV to zip around the island. You find their brewery and drink the best IPA in Greece. You even hit all the clubs along the water. It’s great. Before you know it, you’re $5,000 poorer, but with once-in-a-lifetime memories. I think that’s a fair trade.

Well, I went to Santorini in 2012. It was free.

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I’ve been an arts nerd all my life, and never really gave a shit about money. Being a doctor or a lawyer never interested me. Those were office jobs, and I detested office jobs. I wanted to explore the world, go to concerts, and drink expensive wine. I would’ve taken “starving artist” over “fat guy in a red BMW” any day, and since I knew that early on, I started taking steps to build a life I could be proud of.

In 2008, shortly after I became a photographer, I got into shooting conferences. The jobs were small at first, but they were always out-of-town. I was 20 when I visited Victoria, BC and shot ICCA 2008 with my colleague, Jon. A year later, I was in San Francisco for WCLC 2009. I stayed in the Westin St. Francis on Union Square, a $350/night hotel. I even had a per diem for meals. Eventually, more travel opportunities came up. I got into weddings. I saw Toronto. I saw China. In 2012, I was in Santorini for a week to shoot my friend’s wedding. I saw it all, free.

Back home, I started a music blog. I would go to shows and write reviews. I’d give them the best damn concert photography they’d seen in Vancouver. Soon, I was given access to the artists. I met Bat For Lashes and Lykke Li. I interviewed Alexisonfire. I photographed R.E.M. and The Pretenders. I even made money selling my shots.

Meanwhile, I also got geeky about beer, wine and whisky. My side jobs in liquor stores gave me access again. Whisky festivals, brewery invites, wine courses; all paid for by someone else.

I’d done it. I turned everything that would’ve cost me money into something Free. Work was no longer a grind to get to the thing I wanted to do, it WAS the thing I wanted to do. All it took was reframing Work as something other than “work”. It was just another awesome part of my awesome life because I chose to have a non-shitty job!

You can do it too.

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Follow your passion.

You’ll probably be a little poorer if you take my advice, and I know that. I know most of you can’t just abandon your $75,000 annual salaries and become Hollywood screenwriters, but wearing a pair of golden handcuffs is still wearing handcuffs. Do you want to count down the days until your next vacation, or do you want to be on vacation all the time? Do you want to spend $5,000 for a fleeting moment of happiness, or do you want to make $5,000 every time you leave the country on some exotic job? Do you want to be the fat guy in the red BMW, or do you want to be the starving artist who got so good at his job, he eats like a king for free?

Money can buy experiences. How you live your life can render money irrelevant though, and the moment you don’t need to worry about money anymore is the moment you become truly Free. That’s what we all want, right? Give me a call when your life and experiences are FREE.

In the meantime, I’m gonna get packing. I’ve got another trip to San Francisco lined up.

It’s honestly too bad I’m paying for this one like a sucker.

What I Learned Working a “Regular Job”

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As some of you know, I have a Regular Job in retail now. Living the Retired life wasn’t working for me, so I’m not ashamed to say I spend three days a week bumming around a liquor store for $13/hour. The hilarious irony is $13/hour only covers my Drinking Expenses, but let’s get back to the point: Working in retail again has been a very enlightening experience.

As is customary in retail, I greet everyone by asking how their day is going. “Hi, how are you?” As people get off work, I’d hear the same thing over and over again. “Good, I’m done now.” I can’t believe how shitty an answer that is. WTF.

“I’m done now”? REALLY? Do people simply stop functioning the moment they don’t have Work? (I mean, I kinda did, but let’s forget that for a moment.) How about “I’m done working at my fantastic job now, and I’m going home to have a great night with my loving wife and kids”? I’m sure that’s what SOME of them mean, but you should hear their tone. Their “I’m done now” sounds like “Oh, thank God I’m away from my shitty job for another 16 hours”. Suddenly, I remembered there are people out there who hate their jobs. I wonder what that feels like.

Somewhere in all this, I remembered I was standing behind a counter, bagging a customer’s wine while they got to go home and relax. I looked at the clock. Yep, I was “stuck here” until 11:15 PM. I then realized I didn’t feel the need to be “done”. This was fine. I remembered I was here voluntarily. I know some finance bloggers kick around the idea of Fuck You Money, but this was a little different. I had no intention of burning the place down and telling my Boss to go fuck himself because I respected him as a business owner. He put trust in me, and as a Decent Human Being, I was going to do a good job whether I had Fuck You Money or not. I found myself grinning like an idiot. “Have a great day! See you again soon!”

I’m always grinning like an idiot at Work, whether it’s the store or my photography career. It’s really not as simple as an Attitude Shift because I know some people really are in shitty situations. I get that. The reactions I get in retail are astounding though. I’ve had coworkers who only ever frown. Customers assume they’re the manager. I’m as happy as a pig in shit. Customers assume I own the place. This isn’t an isolated occurrence. In all things you do, if you’re actually happy, you end up looking like the Boss. It’ll get you further than you can imagine.

On the other hand, I know a guy who works at Safeway. Let’s call him Joe because that’s his actual fucking name. He HATES his job. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile once. He makes that Safeway feel like a Sartre play, and he doesn’t hide it. He rolls his eyes, sighs loudly, moves like molasses. DO NOT be like Joe.

A weird thing happens when you have some security in life. Since this is a finance blog, we can narrow it down to Financial Security, which is different from Financial Independence. Other Ben is approaching FI quite fast – he’s still on track to Retire For Good at 38 – but I have Financial Security and that’s good enough for me. I love what I do, my bills are covered, and I have enough Money to get a little silly from time to time. Without FS, you end up like Joe. You spend every day waiting to be “done”. That’s like waking up every morning and simply waiting for the icy grip of death. Don’t live like that.

Strive for Financial Security. FI is too scary, and the numbers are too big. For now, let’s define FS as a lifestyle where Work feels effortless and Money just rolls in. You’ll know you’ve reached that point when a paycheck arrives and it just seems like a pleasant surprise. For fuck’s sake, have a great time, all the time. You spend 8 hours at Work every day. When you consider that’s 50% of your waking hours, if you’re miserable, GET THE HELL OUT NOW. If you’re only doing it for the Money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

One last story: A woman came up to me tonight wanting to impress a few guests at a dinner party. Her guests were wine snobs and she wanted only the best, but she’d heard “good things” about a major winery here in BC. Knowing what I knew about the quality of THAT wine, I steered her to what I would pick: Burrowing Owl. Stubbornly, she bought one bottle of Burrowing Owl, but her second bottle was from the crappy winery. I thanked her and sent her on her way. She came back three hours later to return the second bottle. Her guests wouldn’t even drink the stuff. “How did you know? Did you take a course in wine?” I did. I looked at the clock and I had four more hours to go. I wasn’t “done” yet.

And I was still as happy as a pig in shit.

The Key to Making a Living Doing What You Love is This Blog Post

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Are you a creative? Are you an entrepreneur? Do you want to wake up every morning and head to work happy because you know you’re working ONLY on what you love and living off it? Wake up. It’s not possible. Here’s why: If you want to make a living doing what you love, you need to work on something really boring and shitty – personal finance.

First, a story…

I’m a photographer. I started in 2007 and with family help, I was able to attend photography school and buy gear that didn’t outright suck. I shot my first wedding for $60 because I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. I got into concert photography and sold images for nationwide use. My largest payday doing that was $50. I became very good at my job, but money wasn’t coming in. Every year, I’d be a few thousand more in the hole. When I hit $26,000 in debt, I thought about giving up. Photography didn’t pay, I thought. I loved it, but I needed a Real Job.

I started a Real Job in 2010 for $10.50/hour. I was happy to take it. I’d stock shelves five days a week and on weekends, I’d shoot nightclubs for $160/night. I would shoot for six hours, then edit for two hours the next day, so $20/hour. I thought I’d made it, but then I moved out and realized I still wasn’t making enough. That was how it started.

I got fired in 2013 from the Real Job. I realized then and there that photography was my only way out, so I got into weddings and started caring where my money was going. Wait, HOW MUCH was I spending on booze? How many dollars were going out and how many dollars were coming in? Was I screwing my financial future?

I think by now, you know the answer was Yes.

I’m still terrible at personal finance, but November 2015 was the first time in years I “lived within my means”. I started tracking every nickel that came in or out. I’d spend all day shooting a wedding, then come home and start counting my receipts. I’d edit for ten hours a day, but still dutifully open an Excel spreadsheet at the end of the night and add up pennies. My Job became more than just my passion for photographing people. My Job now required me to master personal finance just so I’d have a can of Chef Boyardee to eat.

It complicates matters even more if you don’t understand how money works. Oh, you think you’ll be able to Retire someday by regularly putting money into a 2% GIC? Nope. That doesn’t keep up with inflation. Your money can’t grow. Got a credit card hitting you for 19.99% interest and owe $10,000 on it? You’re literally throwing away $166.58/month without making a dent in your debt. If, instead of throwing that cash away, you were able to invest it intelligently, that’s $2,138.89 in Free Money per year. PER FREAKIN’ YEAR! Run the goddamn numbers. I know you don’t like looking at the little minus sign next to your bank balance, but you MUST do it. Otherwise, you’ll be a wage slave forever. This is Your Way Out.

Read a personal finance book. If you want something easy to breeze through, even “Personal Finance in Your 20s for Dummies” by Eric Tyson ain’t too bad. Ignore sensational stuff like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” or “The 4-Hour Workweek” for now. That’s about the philosophy of money, and if you’re reading this blog right now, you’re not ready for that yet. You need the basics first.

Starting now, work towards your Dream Job. Open up Excel and learn how to use it. No excuses, do it right fucking now. Figure out how much crap you need to cut out of your life so the money you make doing what you love is more than your living expenses. Live on less. Simplify. If you have to, work more. Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll learn to live off your Dream Job.

Do the thing. You can do it. I believe in you.