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.

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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!

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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?

Ben Beats Me to Mexico, or How to Travel for No Extra Money At All

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I was so fucking jealous.

With all that’s been going on, my trip to Mexico got sidelined. I suppose I still had the funds to go solo, but going without my friends wouldn’t have been the same. One got a new place and understandably couldn’t blow a few hundred on travel, and my roommate had to work. C’est la vie. These things happen.

Ben got to Mexico though. I’m scrolling through all the food pictures he’s been sending me. Tortas; empanadas; tacos; at least three things so cheesy, I can’t even identify them; enough salsa to drown a man; and various other antojitos… and I think at that point, he was only halfway through his trip. For a food nerd like me, it was painful. I asked him how he did it, and what it cost.

“Where are you staying?”

“With a friend who’s from here, at his parents’ place, with what will be like 11 other people, but right now it’s just 2 others.”

He sent a picture of himself standing next to a giant “CDMX”: Ciudad de Mexico.

I asked him how cheap things were.

“What would be a half hour walk, we’re taking an uber, for $0.50 each.”

He then sent a picture of a bottle of rum and its price tag for 120 pesos. Holy shit, it was $6 USD. The same bottle in Canada would be $30 or more.

“Estimated cost in USD of the entire trip?” I asked.

“Probably $800 max.”

For 12 days in Mexico, this was starting to make sense. Ben was taking advantage of geographic arbitrage. Using his hard-earned US money in Mexico meant his dollars could go further.

“We’ve been generally having two meals a day though, and so it’s around $14.”

That’s less than I spend in a day just at home. Could it be possible to actually SAVE money while travelling the world? Well, lots of people do it already.

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The math works out. If you take what I spent in January – $2,250.95 – and average it out for only 12 days of spending, you’re looking at $871.34. Ben’s spending roughly the same amount for 12 days in Mexico. I decided to do more digging. I found this article on living overseas. I found this infographic on places where the cost of living is significantly lower than in the US. Living in Taghazout, Morocco is only $881/month? WHAT?!? (The surfing and fishing are great, I hear.) Suddenly, I felt a wave of abundance again. Travel seemed ALWAYS financially possible, as long as I paid attention to a few numbers and avoided overpriced tourist destinations.

This was very exciting to me for a variety of reasons. Suddenly, the $725,479 I thought I needed to retire COULD be way less! Did you know a “couple can live comfortably on less than US$1,500 per month” in Belize? If you’re willing to move and have a sense of adventure, you really can save money and travel the world AT THE SAME TIME. If you own property too, you can REALLY make bank, renting a suite out for Vancouver prices while living in Turkey and meeting ALL your needs for $676/month.

This is DOABLE. This isn’t a fantasy for the super rich anymore. If you can find a job that allows you to work remotely, you can make North American cash and live somewhere where meals are $1. Have you always wanted to travel? Consider this post the kick in the ass you needed to do it.

Oh, look. I have over 35,000 Avion points again. Check out this post to help make your travel points go farther.

What I Spend In a Month (Apparently)

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In our previous spending breakdown, “Why I Am A Fraud: A Story of Booze and Strippers”, I listed off all the dumb crap I spent money on in January 2016. It was a mess. $138.03 on entertainment was okay, but $229 on cabs? $651.08 on food? $1,120.27 ON ALCOHOL?!? Clearly, my spending needed a serious intervention. It took all the way until now to strip away my more harmful spending habits, but I’m still no saint. Reluctantly, here’s October 2016.

It turns out I eat a lot. My food spending was nearly identical to January, coming in at $651.96. I ate out less, but I splurge on ingredients when I cook, even when I’m feeding other people. One home-cooked meal cost me $72.63! Pan-seared cod puttanesca for five was EXPENSIVE. I was able to put a cap on entertainment though. I paid $10 cover to get into a shitty bar, and I bought two books and a single lotto ticket. Total for entertainment: $31.29. Travel costs were far less too. $174, and that covered driving, transit, and cabs. My bills are high though. I pay $89.49 to get online, and between my mother and I, our phone bill – which I pay – came to $299.74 because she was roaming in China. As usual, no rent costs for me after my roommate pays his share, and aside from debt payments and Netflix, all that’s left is… ALCOHOL. Any guesses? I’ll wait.

Ready?

Alcohol for October 2016 came to…

$662.58, ROUGHLY 59% WHAT I SPENT ON BOOZE IN JANUARY! I CUT MY ALCOHOL INTAKE BY OVER A THIRD!

Obviously, $662.58 is still bonkers. $21.37 a day for booze is crazy to a normal person. My aim is to have alcohol down to $500/month. Maybe then, I can finally start whittling down my debt.

In total, I went through $2,803 in October. $633.62 of that went toward housing, but was reimbursed by my roommate paying his rent. $100 came back to me from my mom because she felt bad about her roaming charges. Factoring all that in, I spent just over $2,000 on my own. I’m not happy with that number yet. I want to get down to $1,500/month.

I made $3,105 in October from all my sources of income. I sold some stuff, worked my liquor store job, and actually didn’t take any money for myself out of my photo business. I came out ahead this month! That’s how it should be EVERY month!

Anyway, here’s hoping I don’t backslide. I’m pumped my alcohol spending is so far down though.

Comments? Questions? Ask me on Facebook.

Tiny Goals = Big Changes

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September 22 marks the first day of Autumn 2016, so I’m starting a personal development project I’m dubbing Project Ben. I was originally going to start on September 1, but my breakup derailed any progress I was hoping to make. Now that the emotional fallout has settled, here are my goals going forward. Feel free to make additional suggestions in the comments.

*   Cook more, making at least one meal every Tuesday with my roommate
*   Do basic upper body exercises every two days and track my progress
*   Aim for 10 alcohol-free days per month
*   Track my personal finances down to the penny
*   Write four posts for Unconbentional every month
*   Put $200 plus my raise into investments each month

I know these don’t seem like particularly extravagant goals, but the end results should be mind-boggling just by establishing a few small habits.

In a year’s time, I will have cooked 52 more meals, increased my upper body strength, reduced my alcohol consumption by at least a third, kept mindful and responsible about my finances, posted 48 more Unconbentional articles, and put roughly $3,600+ towards my retirement – which should make for $40,000+ if I allow it to grow until I’m 65. Not bad for one year, right?

What goals do you have this year? Can a few minor adjustments change your life for the better, forever?

I wonder what The Other Ben’s goals are. Come bug us on Facebook and maybe he’ll tell us.