You Work For Yourself, or How To Fire Your Boss

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Depending on who you talk to, I’m either a half-retired entrepreneur or a lowly wage slave. You can read about my five sources of income and decide for yourself. Whatever you think of me though — and whether or not you think of yourself as an entrepreneur — doesn’t matter today. All you need to know is, starting today, you work for YOU. You no longer answer to a boss or clients you don’t want to. You’re now in charge of everything. Your only goal now is building the career life you’ve always wanted. Here’s how.

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I get it: It’s easy to feel trapped by a job. Remember “K”? He’s now welding long hours with a nasty 1-hour commute every day. Even at one of my workplaces, management changes are happening, and it hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows. I started looking at other opportunities for the both of us. In just minutes on Craigslist, I’d found backup options. I found “K” a welding opportunity in the same city, and it had the potential to reduce his commute time by 75%! I found a job almost identical to mine on the other side of town where there’s considerably less traffic, potentially saving me time and gas! In the end, we decided to stay at our current jobs, but feeling trapped was no longer an issue. We weren’t, and we came to realize we were never really trapped in the first place. There were always options, mere minutes away and at our fingertips. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like I can “fire” any job I don’t like and “hire” any job I want. If that doesn’t sound freeing or realistic to you, here’s a practical way you can get closer to making this a reality.

Losing income between jobs is a real problem. This is why virtually every personal finance writer suggests creating an emergency fund. A simple three months of income stocked away is all you need to become a boss. It automatically increases your “hiring” and “firing” abilities, and gives you more time to find the work situation you really want. You’re no longer taking the first thing that comes along so you can put KD on the table. You have the freedom to flip through job descriptions — I think of them as résumés — and “hire” what’s right for you! Build an emergency fund that covers three months of income. If you feel like you can’t climb the job ladder, there’s your first rung.

Pull this off properly and your whole worldview might change. You might realize your “boss” isn’t really the boss of you at all. They’re just a coworker. The tasks in front of you aren’t mandatory. It’s a gig you’re doing, and you get to choose if it’s worth it. Feel stuck? You’re not. You have THE ENTIRE GODDAMN INTERNET to help you find a new job to hire. Don’t like your job? FIRE IT.

I’ve always told freelancers they should make every job decision based on passion, profit, and prestige. Whatever you’re doing, do it for at least two. Start thinking of yourself as a freelancer, and think of your bank account as your business. Job hopping is the new normal anyway, so in a way, we’re all freelancers.

The truth is you’ve been your own boss all along. Are you ready to work for yourself?

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Pride Was Making Me Poor

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When people ask me what I do for a living, I don’t even hesitate. “I’m a wedding photographer,” I tell them. “I’ve been doing it for 10 years!” Lately, the next question has been weirder: “So you do it full-time?”

That’s usually where my brain stalls.

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The truth is, no, I don’t do it full-time. I haven’t done it full-time since 2015, but how do I explain to people I was only shooting “30 days a year” and making ends meet, but decided to take on “three days a week” working at a liquor store too? A quick bit of napkin math then reveals an unglamorous truth: I actually work as a liquor store clerk 5x more than I do as a photographer! Though being solely a wedding photographer was enough for me to get by, I realized that a boost in income from working a regular job too allowed me to save more, attack my debt, and get out of the house more. By the numbers alone though, I’m more a liquor store clerk than I am a photographer! WHY WAS I LYING TO PEOPLE?

Well, there are two answers to that: 1) It’s a matter of marketability. In order to get more wedding bookings, I needed to present myself as a wedding photographer first. Presenting myself as a liquor store clerk isn’t gonna get me more liquor store bookings, ya dig? 2) I had a lot of pride associated with being a wedding photographer. Entrepreneurship was sexy, wage labour was not.

I was actually turning down shifts because in my mind, I was a wedding photographer first. It wasn’t until I decided to help my coworkers out during the holidays that I realized how much I was saying no to. In 2017, because there were times I’d rather be sitting at home just content with being a wedding photographer, one of my lowest liquor store paycheques was $389.14 for two weeks. My most recent paystub just arrived: If I pushed my limits a bit, two weeks could net me $1,048.01! My pride cost me over $1,300 a month.

Someone coined a word for this a while back: “egotrage”, what Mr. Groovy calls “The strategy of advancing your financial position by doing something that is ‘beneath’ your socioeconomic status.” In that article, he talks about how his ego kept him from attaining wealth at an early age. “A man of my stature–I did have an illustrious journalism degree from Long Island University, after all–didn’t wash cars.” (Sound like anyone you know?)

I’ll just admit it: I was afraid. I was afraid that working 40 hours a week doing wage labour would somehow negate everything I’d built as an entrepreneur. In reality, I’m adding to it. The extra income will allow me to buy that Profoto A1 with less financial strain on my business. My seniority at the store will allow me to increase my flexibility with time off, letting me take on new photo opportunities. Simply getting out of the house will improve my mental health and allow me to form new connections with people. It was all an obvious win, but my pride was holding me back! Well, it’s time to let that go. From now on, I’m no longer allowing “wedding photographer” to be my defining attribute to the detriment of everything else.

On the other hand, I have no idea how to introduce myself at parties now. Thoughts?

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“So, what do you do for a living?”

“Uh, I’ve got, like, five jobs. Can we please talk about something else?”

If You Treasure It, Measure It

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The beginning of a new year is always an exciting time for me, but it’s not partying and blackout drinking I’m looking forward to. I already know exactly where I’m gonna be when midnight strikes, and it won’t be anywhere near a club. I’ll be at home – and I’m stoked about that – standing on my Fitbit scale while I make a full photo backup of everything pre-2018. Earlier in the day, I’ll have mathed out my debt reduction targets, and set goals for my index funds and bathroom renovations. It’s almost like having New Year’s resolutions, but everything’s trackable instead of a vague “I should go to the gym more.” In a way, I’m approaching this like an entrepreneur more. Every good business should have targets, goals, and quotas. Doing the same for personal goals only makes sense.

With renovations on the horizon, attacking my debt isn’t happening as quickly as I’d like this year, so I’m setting a realistic target of $1,000/month. I expect the bathroom renovations to earn me money in the future though, so it’s not “lost money”. It’s an investment towards future rent income. For my health, I’ve already hit my weight goal, but I’d like to bring my body fat percentage (BF%) down to 24. Right now, I’m sitting at 24.2 — down from January’s BF% of 27.8 — so I’m already almost there! 2017 was pretty good to me! It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t decided to measure EVERYTHING.

You can go as nuts with this as you’d like. I love this Debts To Riches post about gamifying your goals. Strangely, as I’ve stopped playing video games, I’ve identified what made them so appealing to me. They gave me trackable feedback that I was making progress towards an achievement! That’s the only thing that made them addictive as fuck! Now, realizing I wanted REAL WORLD ACHIEVEMENTS instead of just another PlayStation trophy helped me hang up my controllers for good. The only RPG I play now is as Ben, hoping to achieve even half the greatness of The Other Ben.

If you value something, measure it. This applies to personal relationships as well. Want to spend more time with your kid? Literally track your time for a month or two, and figure out if you can do more. You might find raising your kid is passing you by faster than you’d like. Want to improve your mental health and reduce your stress levels? Track it. Here’s a page full of ideas. Want to read more? At the end of every reading session, track how many pages you’ve read. It’s intensely motivating when you get near a major milestone. Imagine you’re at 47,000 pages in December. You’re gonna want 50,000!

This is easiest to do with money for obvious reasons. It’s the start of a new year, and there’s no better time to start than now. Figure out where you want to make the most improvements, and come up with a way to track it all. Do it NOW. On January 1, you’ll be entering the new year with a clear idea of what you want. What gets measured gets treasured.

Here’s to you kicking ass in 2018, and see you in the new year!

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For 2018, we’re going down to two posts a month. For now, I’m focussing on paid writing work, and looking to make our blogging schedule more flexible to take on new opportunities.

Stay up to date about us on Twitter!

My Five Streams of Income

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According to this, “65% of self-made millionaires had three streams of income” and “29% of self-made millionaires had five or more”. Meanwhile, this article starts breaking down “7 different income streams”, but some of their recommendations are things most of us should be doing anyway, like investing. Other ones are downright odd. Do you consider your spouse’s salary as a stream of your income? I don’t. I don’t think you should either.

For this article, I’m laying out the five streams of income I actually count. If you count my index funds or the fact I’m technically a SOCAN-recognized composer who’s only earned pennies in royalties, I have more. I’m mainly counting my side hustles that actually put money in the bank though. This is how I make my money.

My main gig is I’m a wedding photographer. My smallest package is $990 (two hours) and my largest package is $4,995 (twelve hours). My secondary gig is as a liquor store clerk, making a paltry $13.50/hour. I could choose a more lucrative job, but this is pure fun for me. I could spend all day talking about wine, and I’d actually be less happy making $20/hour doing something I didn’t care about. My third gig is as a landlord. In March, I’ll be looking after two renters/roommates, and you should know this is actually more work than I thought. For now, any rent money I make is going back into renovating the property. Both bathrooms need to be redone, but this is an investment for the future. A beautiful bathroom will enable me to charge more for rent once my friends move on. My fourth gig is I write for pay now, and make $0.15/word on assignments. This is currently super fun for me! I can do this anywhere I want, and if I had an idle gig where I’m just needed as a warm body — think security guard or exam invigilator — I could be earning twice the pay for the same hours! In just one week of November, I was able to bill a startup $225 for three short blog posts. I’m looking at developing this as one of my main sources of income in the next few months. My last gig is a questionable one, but it technically counts as investing. This one deserves its own paragraph.

Early in November, I started dabbling with cryptocurrency. I now own small slices of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and IOTA. In just six weeks of casual trading, I’ve put in $800 and I’m somehow $500 ahead. Before you drop everything and throw your life savings into Bitcoin though, you need to understand the technology and the risks. This is why I consider my cryptocurrency investing a “gig”. I read this and this in the past month, and I stay up-to-date on trends. It’s a job. I don’t advise you getting into cryptocurrency blindly. Everyone thinks they can time the market, and people have lost their life savings believing that. I’m fully aware I could lose my entire investment at any time. If you try this, proceed with extreme caution. I know friends of friends who have lost $10,000. Know the risks. This, as a hobby, is my fifth and final gig.

You’ve heard of “fuck you money” (FU$), but I love the idea of my multiple “fuck you jobs”. Liquor store lays me off? That’s fine. I can replace a whole month of clerk income with a single wedding shoot. Roommates moving out? A little extra writing, and I’ll still make my strata payments on time. When new roommates move in, rent will actually go up because of the shiny bathrooms! If I lose my entire crypto investment? My index funds are still making profit, and I’m sure I can come up with something to make up the loss, like renting out my camera gear. I truly believe YOU CAN ALWAYS MAKE A BUCK. With full-time employment becoming less and less stable, diversifying your streams of income is just as important as diversifying your investments. It’s just the smart thing to do!

Remember: “65% of self-made millionaires had three streams of income”.

How’d you like to be part of that statistic?

Losing Weight Is Saving Me Money

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A year ago, I went toe-to-toe with our artist friend “A” on food spending. I did not do well. Where I spent “$1,340.83 [in] November on comestibles – $902.33 on food, $438.50 on alcohol”, “A” spent “only $360/month”. I’m still not nearly as badass as her. I’m still not vegan, and I still spend most of my money on what I eat and drink. Here’s a quick breakdown of October 2017.

I ate out a stupid amount. After wrapping up my cooking-at-home experiment, I thought I should treat myself. Obviously, this was a bad move. I even paid for some friends’ meals, and ended up with a food total of $760.17. I was fucking stupid. It wasn’t even luxury food! I toned down on booze though — thanks to this, this, and this — and ended up with an alcohol total of only $311.90. (To see how far I’ve come, check out January 2016’s total of “$1,120.27”!) Total food and drink cost for October 2017? $1,072.07. This, I consider my most recent baseline. I was eating and drinking as much as I wanted, and no diet or even a modicum of restraint was applied here.

In November, I knew I wanted to make a change. I wanted to be the best 30-year-old I could be, and that meant getting down to 163 pounds. Intermittent fasting and other dietary measures made a reappearance, so my sushi lunches and Subway sandwiches got swapped out for frozen chicken, conveniently-packaged-yet-still-affordable spinach and kale, and boatloads of beans. Alcohol crept up (and so did the discovery of an amazingly expensive izakaya) but I managed to only blow $531.84 on food, or $17.73/day. Alcohol came in at $401.50, or $13.38/day. Total for both: $933.34.

These numbers weren’t the extreme improvement I was expecting, but saving $138.73/month with better health is still a victory! I successfully hit my weight goal, and virtually every meal I eat now involves half a plate of greens. Also, we’re currently 11 days into December, and I’m watching my food expenses like a hawk. Though I expect our Christmas dinner to break the bank, I’m only at $85.78, or $7.79/day for food. That’s the way it should be. Only improvements from here on out!

As a final note, I realized beef was killing my budget. A particularly ambitious brisket set me back $50.06 at one point, and though it was good for multiple meals, it’s hard to justify when 3kg of frozen chicken also good for multiple meals was only $10. Also weird: I don’t miss beef! Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but a steak hasn’t wowed me in years. Smoked beef ribs will always hold a special place in my heart, but I don’t intend to buy a $3,999 smoker ever. It’s also worth noting “beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water” than pork, chicken, dairy or eggs, and that drain on resources is reflected in the price. Even if environmental reasons don’t convince you, the price should. 1kg of prime rib is $30.66. 1kg of chicken is $7.41.

In short, being mindful about what I eat actually saves me money! My health, the environment, and my wallet all benefit. At this point, it’s only logical to eat less, eat more greens, eat less beef, and bank the savings. My $138.73/month in savings is $1,664.76/year. If I keep this up until I’m 65, that’s almost $60,000! An extra sixty-grand to live longer and make the world a better place? That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Got beef? Let’s take it to Facebook.

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!

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?