Welcome to Unconbentional!

UNCONBENTIONALFINAL

Hello.

If you’ve found your way here, you must be someone who cares about personal finance, self-development, minimalism, and frugality. You might even be someone from the FIRE movement, looking to achieve financial independence and early retirement. If you’ve read many FIRE blogs, you should know that we’re a little weirder; unconventional, even. For instance, one of my beliefs is that people shouldn’t fully retire at all, but don’t let that dissuade you from reading us. In the three years I’ve written for Unconbentional, I’ve filled this blog with insights on money, work, happiness, goal setting, and purpose.

We might not be everyone’s cup o’ tea, but Unconbentional is the story of two Bens. There’s me, the low-earner who never intends to retire, and The Other Ben, a massively successful software engineer who will achieve FI at 33. The best way to read Unconbentional is to start at the beginning, and click through one post at a time. Though I’ve occasionally changed my viewpoints (like on this controversial article), I’ve decided to preserve the blog as a whole. Everything now is the same as when I wrote it, even if it makes me look bad. My early posts were rough, but I believe that reading this whole blog’s 77,419 words will make you more savvy with your money, and smarter about how you spend it.

We kept this up for three years, but we don’t post anymore. I hope you find value in what we’ve written here! We welcome comments – we actually read them – and if you’d like to contact us live, my Twitter remains active.

If you’d like a quick taste of Unconbentional, read this and this. If those two articles jive with your sensibilities, you’re gonna have a great time here. Thanks for visiting!

We hope to add value to your life. This blog has added value to mine.

Happy reading.

All the best,
The Bens

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The Other Ben and FIRE, or One Final Note About Income

Do not wait; the time will never be 'just right.' Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.

“What’s your FIRE number?” I asked.

“$600k CAD. And yeah, it’s based on my spending when I was in Vancouver. $24k CAD.”

We both knew Unconbentional was wrapping up, so Ben and I were having one last chat on Facebook Messenger. I couldn’t help but feel dwarfed by his success, but I was also happy a peer had made it as far as he did. In his updates, he told me he’d switched companies and was now working in One World Trade. He sent pictures. The view was spectacular.

I think he caught the tone of my recent posts though. I certainly didn’t feel very successful, though I was apparently okay at setting goals and making progress. That was better than nothing, I posited. Ben typed back.

“Mostly I’m just saying, don’t be too hard on yourself or too impressed by me, since I don’t feel like I’m being very disciplined. But also, it shouldn’t be about discipline very much anyway; mostly it’s figuring out what you actually value.”

He sent numbers. His spending was up, but he was saving 55% of his income to reach FI. Moving to NYC for a better job helped him double his monthly savings, but I was surprised to see he was spending more than me after converting USD to CAD. He wasn’t “thrifty”. Meanwhile, I was saving a comparatively paltry $250/month, but I’m not making six figures a year.

“A huge part is earning a lot,” he said. “You have much lower expenses, but like… having a high salary really makes it easier. I think I’m still on track for my goal by 33.”

We said our goodbyes and I signed off. I wouldn’t see him in person again for at least a few months, but it was nice knowing I could always get him in a chat box.

Ben will reach FI at 33. I’ll never retire, but I’ve learned that’s okay. We were on different paths. And yet, for three brief years, we were able to meet in the middle. We had the blog. It made us better friends, and I’ll be forever grateful. To YOU though, thanks for joining us on this ride. Coming up with new ideas to blog about made us better people and more financially savvy. We wouldn’t have done it without you. I hope I’ve helped.

But wait! One final thing needs to be said, and this might be the most important piece of advice yet if you’re pursuing FIRE. Read on, and goodbye.

*****

Income matters a lot. The best thing you can do to guarantee financial success is to earn as much as possible. I know that sounds super obvious, but consider BC’s average hourly wage for 2018 is $26.76. Now, look around. I know Ben, but I also know people working for minimum wage. My liquor store job pays me $14/hour, and I’m only able to make that work with other sources of income. I should aggressively seek a raise or find something better paying! Your wage is your responsibility! In a world where dropshipping or blogging can make enough for a person to thrive, the Internet has given us a level playing field and you should use it! Here’s 50 jobs over $50,000 without a degree. Guess what: Ben doesn’t have a degree either. He learned everything he knew from the Internet.

Think of the Internet as your ever-present personal employer; one that works for you around the clock as an endless source of money as long as you do your part. Use it to look for a better job. Do what I do and find clients for your side hustle. (I sell wedding photography packages up to $4,995/day.) Network with productive, frugal, financially savvy people. Learn how to boost your income!

It’s possible to get there by saving – read this on how to live in Vancouver on $18,451 for 2 – but you’ll always kick more ass as a higher earner. Ben gave me permission to publish his 2018 spending: $44,278.98 USD, and that’s for one person in NYC! The people in the link above, Steph and Cel, can live for 3 years together on Ben’s 2018 spending, and Ben’s still banking 55%! (FYI, a large portion of Ben’s recent spending has been for travel. $7,607, to be exact.)

Go to Google and look up the average salary in your area right now. Now, match it. Exceed it if you want. We’re playing for keeps. If you’re there already, go ahead and push a little further. A lot of us are too comfortable where we are because we’re afraid of change. I’m here to tell you if you’re reading this, you have Internet access and thus, all the tools required to substantially increase your income and savings rate.

If you’re finding it difficult to save, don’t relax. Not yet. I’m following up on wedding leads and asking the right people about furthering my liquor career, and it’s my “day off”.

Don’t get comfortable. Keep climbing. Work harder if it’s healthy for you to do so. Increase your income. You can control how much you save, but Ben lives a big life and banks cash like a champ. Do you want to be him… or never retire like me?

In three years of Ben vs. Ben, there’s been a clear winner.

Thank you for reading Unconbentional.

My Priorities Were Not What I Thought They Were

“Don_t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I_ll tell you what they are.”-3

It’s time to end Unconbentional.

After two years of posting 4x a month, and one year of posting 2x a month, I’ve said all there is to say. Anything I post now will just be some variation of “don’t buy stuff, invest in index funds, work hard, staying active in retirement will make you richer and happier, et cetera”. There are few places I can go from here that aren’t covered better on another blog. That’s not to say I’m giving up on my journey; I invite you to follow me on Twitter where I’ll provide continuous updates. For now though, it’s time to wrap this blog up with a neat little bow. Expect two more posts, including an update from The Other Ben, and how far he’s come on his FI goals.

*****

I’ve improved my financial health, but not as much as I thought. My income hasn’t changed significantly, and though I now have heaps of knowledge and theory about saving money, my discipline has been poor. For instance, I once got my monthly alcohol expenses down to $408.94 (which is still an insane number). Last month, it shot back up to more than $900! James Frick is right. I can write about my goals, but am I taking appropriate steps of action? Probably not.

Using last month’s numbers, I still spend $2,733.23/month. (The month before was more, but there was a job loss there, so I’m trying to work with a more stable number.) Back in January 2016, I was spending $3,363.26, so there’s been an 18% improvement! I’m happy to say I’m now putting aside $250/month straight into index funds, and also attacking debt as best I can. The plan now looks roughly like this: I started with about $20,000 invested on my 30th birthday, and I’m adding $250/month forever. With 35 years to grow at 7% before I “retire” at 65, I’m looking at $650,000+ and I’ll still have my 99-year leasehold with over 30 years left on it. Am I maxing out my RSP? No. Am I even maxing out my TFSA? No. But I’ve got a plan, and I still intend on working in some capacity forever. I’m trying my damnedest to make my financial future my priority. (James Frick would say otherwise. $900 on booze, and only $250 on investments? No bueno.) This is why personal finance can be so hard for people. I’ve written 75,000 words about what we should all do financially, but my bad habits have held strong. I have a drinking problem. I’m not as frugal as I think I am. And you know what? I’ll suffer for it.

All things considered, life is good though. I eat and drink what I want, and my housing is stable. That’s pretty okay, and I’m lucky to have that. I hope now to increase my income by allotting more time to my photography business and less time to this blog. Instead of talking about money, I’ll be spending more time earning it. And with that, it’s time for me to sign off. It’s been a great run, and there are two posts left. For some real inspiration, make sure to read our penultimate post. The Other Ben is still a personal finance wizard. Listen to him, not me.

I hope I’ve helped.

I’ve Fallen In Love With Work Again

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Well, it’s winter. I’m almost done my wedding photography obligations, and as usual, there are no bookings in December. From here on in, I can just coast into 2018 with entire weeks off if I wanted. It’d be my reward for a job well done after an entire summer spent scrambling for more clients, new marketing materials, and the perfect shot. Yep, it’s time to lay low, and do nothing…

The only problem is I can’t sit still.

In fact, I’ve never been more motivated to ride this wave of productivity straight to the bank. Here’s what I’ve got going on.

*****

I’m almost 30, and reading Debts To Riches last month inspired me to crush my debt and increase my net worth in a huge way. In November, I took on extra shifts at my side job, knowing that every $1 I invested would eventually be 10x more. I cranked out three 500-word articles for a startup in my spare time, and made a quick $225. I sold off old hard drives that were gathering dust, and made a few hundred there too! My tiny RSP then ballooned to a solid $20,000+, and I’ve also set the stage for future productivity! I’m finally redoing my photography website, and it should be live by the start of 2018! It’s been go-go-go!

Though I could relax with some cheap entertainment after all this, I found that riding my wave of motivation was actually more fun. With 30 just around the corner, I wanted to start off as the best 30-year-old I could be. I even reexamined my fitness goals, and did a replay of January. Through healthier eating, intermittent fasting, increased exercise, and temperature manipulation, I finally brought myself to a healthy BMI for 5’ 8”: 162 pounds! It’s not just money-making work I’m doing; I’m also putting a lot of work into myself.

For me, this never would’ve happened if I didn’t surround myself with people and messages that encourage self-improvement. I spend more time with personal finance nerds now, and less time with people who naysay or joke about being shitty. This was perhaps the best decision of my adult life. I don’t say this lightly, but being a literal millionaire is within reach now! (On our Facebook, I’ll happily show you the math.) All it took was being around people willing to become the best versions of themselves they could be.

If you make self-improvement a hobby, you’ll be fucking unstoppable. You can always make a buck. You can always burn a calorie. You can always learn a new skill.

What do you want: more screen time, or a better you?

See you at the top!

It’s All About The Benjamins

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As this blog has grown in readership, our identities are out there more than ever before. People close to us know all about our “Rich Ben, Poor Ben” dynamic, and Unconbentional has popped up in our real lives in some seriously surprising ways. My roommate’s mom in Kamloops had a friend send her one of our articles. I started reading another personal finance blog, and found a link back to us. Our strong opinions on personal finance have both won and lost us friends. Whether we like it or not, Unconbentional is a part of our lives now. Well, it’s been a long time since we’ve done a “Rich Ben” update, so I shot Ben a line in NYC. He’s not as used to the infamy of running a blog like I am, so I can’t report hard numbers. In any case, I asked him what I could tell our readers.

Ben is “still aiming for [FI by] 33, still making ‘$100k+’.” He’s living bigger than the old Ben I knew, but at his salary, he can afford to. I asked him what he’s been up to.

In the 1.5 years since I moved here, my net worth has doubled.

“This year I traveled to Mexico, Vancouver, Poland, and England (and I plan to do a similar amount of travel next year, not sure where yet).

[…] As you would expect from the doubling, about half my net worth is CAD, and half USD at this point.”

FYI, the “$100k+” he’s making is in USD. Even if he’s only making $100,000 even, that’s currently $127,700 CAD. Holy crap. (In my early years freelancing, I’ve been below a tenth of that before. Ben’s killin’ it.)

“I did my best to calculate my savings rate, and it’s actually a lot better than I expected, unless I’m missing something: 63% for the past year (Nov ’16 through Oct ’17). And that’s excluding the money I got back from my taxes, because that’s probably just for this year.

[…] In fact, let me revise further to about 56%. I’ve only done some very rough math”.

As you know, savings rate is arguably the most important indicator for early retirement. I’m happy to report my savings rate for November is on track, and I’m at 30%.

Rich Ben will be FI in four years, and Poor Ben – me – is planning on working forever (for reasons like this and this). I’m still paying down debt, but my savings should get a massive boost in March 2018 as I take on another renter. I expect to save a minimum of $300/month (or $10/day) from now on.

Knowing that every $1 I’m able to invest now will mean $10 by 65, I’m doubling down on work as well. For this reason, I’m scaling Unconbentional down to 2 posts a month for 2018. (It used to be four.)

This is also due to the fact I’m a paid copywriter now! A startup recently hired me to write on topics like real estate and credit, and I’m receiving $0.15/word! I’m disappointed to scale back on Unconbentional, but I’m confident this will bring up the overall quality of our posts instead of rehashing the same old crap. In a way, I’m still writing four posts a month. It’s just that two of them are for that startup now, and I’m pretty stoked to finally get paid for my time.

Anyway, that’s us! What are your goals for 2018?

A Year of (Learning) Cooking

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Last September, I set myself a series of goals. Though I had a few setbacks, the actual math of those goals didn’t really matter. What mattered was the progress I made along the way.

I changed my plan to leanness instead of bulking up and I’m now 15 pounds lighter, mostly thanks to making weight loss a project back in January. That was a victory for me! I also cut alcohol consumption by a LOT, and a future post will lay out my numbers. Stay tuned. I maintained four Unconbentional posts per month too, but fell short on my investing goals. Finally, I succeeded in keeping track of an entire year’s finances, down to the penny. It’s been a great year!

But wait! The most success I had with a goal was learning how to cook! Though I didn’t cook every week, I averaged one new meal a week over the past 52. Not every meal turned out the way I wanted, but check it out! We made all these, and learned lots along the way!

WEEK 1 – Miso chicken udon with Brussels sprouts
WEEK 2 – “Company” meatloaf and spinach salad
WEEK 3 – Cider-brined pork chops with perogies, peas and corn
WEEK 4 – Pan-seared cod puttanesca, buttered orzo and spinach
WEEK 5 – Dongpo-style braised pork belly, bok choy and rice
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
WEEK 11 – Tuna tataki, spicy eggplant and “takeout” noodles
WEEK 12 – Scallop ceviche, tuna tataki, Atlantic razor clams
WEEK 13 – Sticky chicken, asparagus, and rice
WEEK 14 – Century egg congee
WEEK 15 – Rosemary steak and bacon lentil salad
WEEK 16 – Butter clams and crusty bread
WEEK 17 – Spinach omelette
WEEK 18 – Coriander-rubbed duck breast, bacon lentil salad, and smoked salmon crostini
WEEK 19 – Spinach and leek soup, mushroom risotto
WEEK 20 – Mixed mushrooms with chives, zucchini noodles with mint pesto, and roasted onions
WEEK 21 – Bacon wrapped blue cheese stuffed chicken, and lemon garlic green beans
WEEK 22 – Lamb shank, quinoa, and garlic asparagus
WEEK 23 – Pork roast with celery and carrots
WEEK 24 – Charcuterie board, roasted bone marrow with parsley salad, and rare steak with chimichurri
WEEK 25 – Slow-cooked pork loin with a brandy au jus, and steamed broccoli
WEEK 26 – Slow-cooked pork tenderloin with a brandy au jus, simple Moroccan couscous, and mixed vegetables
WEEK 27 – Ostrich steak, apricot couscous, and garlic asparagus
WEEK 28 – Pulled pork on buns, mac and cheese
WEEK 29 – Sweet potato and mushroom cannelloni with endive and butter beans
WEEK 30 – Beef shakshouka, garlic yogurt and toasted bread
WEEK 31 – Dongpo pork, ginger shallot mussels, Chinese vegetables, and rice
WEEK 32 – Beef and broccoli, rice
WEEK 33 – Simple chicken drumsticks with peppers, rice
WEEK 34 – Pulled pork tacos
WEEK 35 – Baked caramelized chicken drumsticks, broccoli, rice
WEEK 36 – Spaghetti carbonara
WEEK 37 – Lobster thermidor
WEEK 38 – Chinese-style steamed whole fish
WEEK 39 – Baked Atlantic salmon with citrus and fennel bulb
WEEK 40 – Baked sockeye salmon with dill, parsley and shallot herb paste
WEEK 41 – Roasted chicken drumsticks in cranberry juice
WEEK 42 – Lemon chicken drumsticks with asparagus and roasted potatoes
WEEK 43 – Pakistani kima
WEEK 44 – Kangkung belacan and white rice
WEEK 45 – Fiesta scrambled eggs
WEEK 46 – Baked salmon with brown sugar glaze
WEEK 47 – Roast beef
WEEK 48 – “15-Minute” roasted chicken and veggies
WEEK 49 – Sausage and shrimp gumbo
WEEK 50 – Vegan mapo tofu
WEEK 51 – Garlic sesame gai lan
WEEK 52 – Garlic snow pea leaves and rice

A year ago, I was still screwing up rice. Now, I sometimes go to restaurants and end up thinking, “Wow, I could’ve done better.” I NEVER CONSIDERED THAT WOULD BE A POSSIBILITY SOMEDAY. I JUST ALWAYS ASSUMED RESTAURANT-LEVEL COOKING WAS SOMETHING I’D NEVER ACHIEVE.

I gained a deeper appreciation for food, and picked up a life skill that’ll benefit me for the rest of my life! I think I’ll try this again, but starting in January. I’m gonna take a few months off and pump the brakes. It’s my reward for a job well done.

How are your goals going?

This Blog Cut My Monthly Spending by 42%

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Since I started writing Unconbentional in January 2016, I’ve had very open money conversations with friends. Every step of it has been a learning experience. As I did research for articles, I was often forced to run my own numbers and a lot of the time, they weren’t pretty. In some cases, the results called for immediate action. This post was a huge red flag. Even though I knew these weren’t healthy spending habits, spending $3,363.26/month was normal to me! Luckily, this blog saved my life. This is what I spent in April 2017.

Entertainment was a big deal to me back in 01/16, but I still thought I had control over it. $138.03 was reasonable, right? Unless it’s travel, NOPE. In 04/17, I spent only $33.54 on Entertainment that wasn’t Spotify or Netflix. (I don’t know why, but I tend to lump Spotify and Netflix into my Bills category. I consider them essentials.) In that $33.54 were two main purchases, and this is where it got interesting: I bought a $19.99 video game that I didn’t end up liking, and I bought a bunch of supplies to try CREATING a card game for $13.55. I spent half an hour on the video game, tops. Trying to create the card game took HOURS, and was a great night spent with geeky friends. In this case, the unconventional form of Entertainment clearly won out. Instead of consuming, try creating! It’s often the cheaper option, and far more rewarding!

Personal and credit card Debt cost me $161.55, and that’s the big red flag I’m dealing with now. I also included a Home category this time, which I didn’t have in 01/16. I spent $99.23 on stuff like cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc. Travel came to $158. That’s gas, and one super costly cab ride from a bar. Missing a bus really shouldn’t cost $46, but I guess cabbies need to eat too. Meanwhile, Bills are as expensive as ever, and I no longer have a girlfriend covering the cost. On top of that, I pay for Mom’s cell phone and use a stupid amount of data. My total for Bills came to $447.29. That’s phone, Internet, electricity, Spotify, Netflix, and a weird banking thing or two. That can’t be normal for two people living here, can it? What do you pay?

Finally, we’re at Food and Alcohol, and you know what? I’m fucking PROUD at how far I’ve come. I’ve started drinking less and eating healthier, AND I’ve made cooking at home the default option. Food costs came to $518.02 last month, and I think most of that was groceries. It’s not “A’s” $80/month, but we can’t all be as awesome as her. As for Alcohol, I’m way down too! For 01/16, it was $1,120.27! 04/17? Only $530.55, over 50% less!

I’ve still got a LOT of work to do – it’s stupid, for instance, that I still spend more on Alcohol than Food – but the total damage for April 2017 was a mere $1,948.18, DOWN FROM $3,363.26! That’s 42% less I’m spending EVERY MONTH.

I have no doubt starting this blog saved my life. Current goals involve trying to get down to $1,500/month. I’ll provide updates as I get closer, but hopefully, this will inspire you to see what cuts you can make in YOUR monthly spending.

For those of you who are new here, this is why I didn’t include Rent. (Yeah, I know I’m super fortunate.)

What do YOU spend in a month? What can I learn from YOU?