What I Learned About Money from My Parents

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My dad once paid $10,000 to advertise in a Chinese newspaper. I still admire him for that. He risked everything to run his own business as a driving instructor, but in the end, I don’t think he ever made that money back. Most of my family considers him a failure, but I don’t. He actually believed in something. To me, he was an inspiration.

My dad wasn’t a very good businessperson. Assuming he spent exactly $10,000 on advertising, and using his old rate of $30/hour, he should’ve done the math and realized it’d take him over 333 hours just to break even on his ads. Generating that many leads turned out to be impossible. He also somehow forgot to factor in gas and overhead. The business was destined to implode. In a family where his siblings earn far more, tensions arose. My grandparents eventually covered his ad costs, but resented him for it. He kept trying, but his health gave out. He eventually stopped working.

One night in 2014, he was admitted to Royal Columbian Hospital with chest pains. I rushed to the hospital and found him. He was very much alive, and was sitting up in bed telling dad jokes to our pastor. Apparently, he’d called him too. I don’t think any of us understood the seriousness of the situation that night. I figured he’d be home soon, and everything would be back to normal. We stayed up, told bad jokes, and just laughed. He was eventually admitted to the high acuity unit. I visited him there the next few days, and found him happy. He’d sing to the nurses and read the Garfield comics I brought for him. He didn’t seem like he had many regrets. Eventually, his aorta ruptured. I wasn’t there. From the last time I saw him alive, I remember two things: He was grinning like an idiot, and I told him I loved him.

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Ironically, my mom puts together advertising materials. She works for a marketing company, and as far as I know, spends most of her time feeding paper into a machine. She believes in a steady job, and not taking risks. I don’t think she’s ever made more than $15/hour. To her, what I’m doing is ludicrous. I’m going down the same destructive path as my dad by owning a business. After all, she’s seen what happened to him. If only he’d had a steady job, right? A steady job brings security, and security is all that matters.

I can’t even fault her for thinking this way. She’s right: I’d probably make more with a full-time job as a retail manager. Would I be happy though? Fuck, no! That’s not me. Like my dad, I need to pursue something that I build on my own. The last thing I want is a job like hers, feeding paper into a machine for peanuts while I make someone else rich. She doesn’t take any risks with money or investments either, so index funds are scary and $15/hour sounds just fine. She can’t understand I’d rather make $400/hour doing what I love on a not-so-frequent basis, and she’d rather see me in a Target or Burger King grinding out full-time hours like her. She’s seen my dad’s business fail, and she doesn’t believe in me. It’s depressing as fuck.

I was able to learn something though. I’d now seen both extremes. My dad risked everything. My mom risks nothing. Well, obviously, the answer that made sense lay in the middle. I could do both.

*****

With my photography business, I’m crazy. I’m all in, all the time. I risk my money, time and sanity to capture the perfect shot, and try to wow my clients always. I give everything. I also work at a liquor store. I really don’t need it to pay my bills, but the added security is nice. Want numbers? In June, photography brought in $3,262. I didn’t even shoot a wedding that month. The side job brought in $1,518. Not bad for added security, right?

My dad taught me to chase my dreams and take risks. It’s paid off. My mom taught me a little bit of grinding at a day job might not be so bad after all, even if I fundamentally believe Smart Work always trumps Hard Work. I figure one hand washes the other, since the more security I have, the more risks I can take. I think I’ve found a good middle ground!

Ultimately, I’ll have to forge my own path. I may not be stoked about it, but I’m still equal parts my dad and my mom. What do you think? Have I struck a perfect balance, or is a normal life and a normal job the way to go? Tell us in the comments, and don’t forget to share.

The Other Ben, or How to Retire at 33

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Ben is the most successful person I know. I’m actually embarrassed to be writing today’s post, mainly because I know I’ll never be as awesome as he is. Through sheer determination and innate frugality, he’s now on track to Retire For Good at 33. He’s 27 now, so he’ll be done in six years. SIX FUCKING YEARS. Here’s how he did it.

Those who have been with us since the beginning know there are two Bens: the dumb one – that’s me – and the smart one, Other Ben. Where I rack up Debt buying shiny things and drinking, Other Ben quietly drops thousands into his RRSP every month and doesn’t even blog about it like a tool.

He’s the kind of Ben I want to be when I grow up.

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Ben grew up in the woods, and never went to school. The year was 1999. He was living in a solar-powered house two hours out of Ottawa, and had no TV. City life was a foreign concept to him. At 11, he learned how to read, and how to code. With basic internet and online tutorials, he started learning HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and Flash. Within a few years, he mastered them, and started working on his own projects. He coded a chat system by 16. He became the webmaster for a local food co-op and started making $20/hour. He made Mac builds for The Battle for Wesnoth. He ported Frogatto & Friends to iOS. At 23, he moved to Vancouver. That’s when I met him.

Ben had many interests, but two stood out. The obvious one was software development. The second, quieter one was financial independence. He wanted absolute freedom from the rat race, and looked forward to a day when his investments generated enough passive income for him to Retire For Good and pursue whatever other project he wanted. He soon found work, and started making double what I do. He stayed there for four years.

*****

I messaged Ben last night. He’s in Brooklyn now, resting up before the first day at his new job. He’d just finished three months at Recurse, and I was asking him details for this post.

“What online resources did you use to learn code?” I asked.

“I started learning from people on IRC,” Ben said. “IRC was an interesting place, because often people were pretty rude and almost intentionally unhelpful when answering questions… But I hung out in the #web channel for a long time, and just sort of gradually absorbed knowledge…”

His new job makes him $100,000+ per year. His education was free.

*****

Ben’s not alone. I mentioned before he’s never had formal schooling. He hasn’t even been homeschooled. This isn’t really a surprise to me since I’ve always believed that modern academia is outdated in the internet age. Why bother memorizing history or doing equations longhand when you can bring anything up at the touch of a button? Mr. Money Mustache even posted an article recently where he mocked “fancy education” and simply suggested “Knowing how to Use a Goddamned Computer”. Ben figured this shit out early. I have diplomas worth tens of thousands and I’m just… me. Ben’s kicking my ass.

Formal education is the pits. In the internet age, you can learn anything for free. According to this article released by the Canadian Federation of Students, those “requiring a Canada Student Loan now graduate with an average debt of over $28,000”. Holy fuck, that’s more than I owe and I basically just partied for five years. Can you imagine what the damage would be if I were going to school too? “42% of Canadians under 30 years old still live in their parent’s home”. I got out and own my 99-year leasehold, and I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree. “In 2014, youth un- and under-employment among Canadian youth was 27.7%”. Well, that’s depressing. I have 2.5 jobs. What are these kids doing with their fancy degrees?

Being a self-starter will ALWAYS trump formal education. Ben is proof of that. Even I’m proof of that. The simple desire to get out there, make money, and be happy is NOT tied to academia. Ben will retire at 33. I take time off whenever I want. We both have a six-figure net worth, and neither of us have a degree.

Want success? Get out there and learn without paying someone to force you.

You’ll be a millionaire in no time.

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EDIT: The original version of this post was edited to hide personal details. Ben has also spoken up, and would like to clarify his goal is financial independence at 33, not necessarily retirement.

The Bens Conquer North America!

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Ben and I started this blog with the best of intentions, but month after month, we’re proving to be better examples of what NOT to do instead of being the personal finance wizards we like people to think we are. Since you’re already aware of my Questionable Spending Habits, maybe it’s time to update you on The Other Ben – pictured above – who recently moved to NYC to participate in a three-month programming retreat…

Ben is one of the smartest people I know. He’s so close to a six-figure salary, I freak out and flip tables every time I think about it. Before his move, he was averaging an estimated monthly expenditure of $1,750, or $21,000 a year. When you take a step back and remember how much he makes on average, it’s mind-blowing how fast he’ll reach Retirement. He’s 27 and had he stayed on course, he would’ve reached his Retirement Number of $525,000 by 38 like he planned. (Many of us in the personal finance community use The 4% Rule when mathing our Retirement Numbers.) Well, Ben quit his job recently to go to New York, so his current salary is actually $0.

This won’t set him back though. If anything, the things he’ll learn and the people he’ll meet at his programming retreat will help him reach his six-figure salary even sooner. In the long run, as long as Ben returns to his high-earning and thrifty ways, he’ll still be able to Retire by 40.

February was a spending disaster for Ben. He made it very clear I could only post these numbers if I made it obvious this wasn’t his usual spending. He’s renting in the US and Canada while he moves, and paying phone bills in both countries. Total expenses for February: $3,387.28. His Rent for both places was $1,650 of that. Food came to $750.20 as he explored his new neighbourhood. Honestly, I would’ve done the same. One surprise I noticed was he didn’t have an Alcohol category. Could he really have spent ONLY $750 on food AND booze? Holy shit. What kind of monster does that? I’m too embarrassed to even mention my Alcohol spending. It’s more than $750 and that’s all you need to know.

An interesting thing to note is Ben’s spending in February was almost exactly what I spent in January. The main difference is what he spent in Rent, I spent on Alcohol. At this point, I’m full on acknowledging I have a Drinking Problem, and March is already looking better. I’m keeping myself busy by taking on more photo clients, and my Alcohol consumption is way down. If you can believe it, we’re now seven days in, and my Alcohol spending is literally at $0. There’s hope for me yet.

What questions do you have about our spending? Any tips? What else would you like us to track? Let us know in the comments.

Meet the Bens

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This is a story of two Bens.

One Ben is financially responsible. At 27, he’s well on his way to a six-figure salary. He’s frugal, works hard, and saves 55% of his income. He’s on track to retiring at 38. His money will be invested in index funds and is expected to return 7% each year on average. Ben will live off only withdrawing 4% each year, which is more than enough to cover his thrifty living. He has no car, and rents. In just over 10 years, he’ll never need to work a day in his life again.

Other Ben is a financial idiot and comes from a life of privilege. At 27 also, he’s financially lucky, but if he doesn’t smarten up, he’ll run into financial difficulties down the road. His main asset is a 99-year leasehold on a 1,000-square-foot property outside Vancouver, BC. At the moment, he does not intend to leave. He has debt. Though he has financial assets, his net worth not including the leasehold is negative $5,000. He’s primarily self-employed, but also has a second job. Retirement at any age is not likely.

This is a story of two Bens. I am one of those Bens. We’re avid readers of Tim Ferriss, Gary Vaynerchuk, Mr. Money Mustache and many more. This is a blog about earning financial stability. This is a blog about building a lifestyle you can be proud of. This is a blog about happiness.

Welcome to Unconbentional.