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.

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Why I Am A Fraud: A Story of Booze and Strippers

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You probably shouldn’t listen to me. By the time you finish reading this, you’ll come to understand I really don’t know much about personal finance, and should be the last person dispensing advice. I mean, I can’t even follow my OWN damn advice. I’m a fraud. Here’s a completely candid look into The Shit I Spend Money On.

Even my least costly expenses are pretty high. In January, I spent $138.03 on Entertainment. There was a movie date, I bought a video game, and I also got tickets to see Basia Bulat this month. There’s also the matter of my Debt. I owe $15,400 at 5% and $4,300 at 9.68%, so $99.47 just disappears out of my account once a month. I also somehow blew $229 on cabs. I still haven’t figured out if that’s more expensive than maintaining my car. I imagine filling up the tank a few times would cost me about $229 anyway and this way, I can drink freely. Drinking’s a big part of my life, in case you hadn’t heard.

Oh, I should probably mention Alcohol. Are you ready for this? Here’s the final figure for January: $1,120.27 on booze. I’m not fucking kidding you. If I keep drinking at this pace, I’ll have blown $13,443.24 by the end of the year! For some stupid goddamn reason, I spent an average of $36.14 on liquor for EVERY DAY of January. I probably need an intervention.

Food came in at $651.08. I ate out a lot, and I know I can save more in this category. $21/day on Food is pretty nuts. I also rolled Coffee into this category. I was once a Starbucks Whore™, but I made sure to buy a coffeemaker, so that’s a step in the right direction.

My craziest expense was a $158.48 dinner date. I figure it was worth it, because she’s my girlfriend now. Funniest expense? $10 to see strippers. That was one hell of a bachelor party. I also made the wise financial decision to NOT get a $50 lap dance. Not today, nerdy Polish girl who looks vaguely like Taylor Swift. I know the only thing you want in my pants is my money, and you’re not getting it.

Total damage: $3,363.26. Total earnings (during January, so a slow month): $2,394.21. Keep in mind this is money I’m barely working for. This money just kind of happens to me with my lazy shifts at the liquor store. I also had two wedding consultations in January that would’ve resulted in $5,000+ had I landed both jobs. Had I simply been luckier, my earnings would’ve been $8,000, which could explain why I blew $1,120.27 on goddamn alcohol. Smart Ben reckons he can eat for three months on that amount!

Maybe I’ll learn. I most likely won’t though. I took my girlfriend out last night and racked up a bill of $456.73. Yes, I’m crazy, but so was the 1962 Amarone we drank.

I’m really not frugal. You shouldn’t listen to me. It’s honestly a wonder I’m not homeless.

Check out the entire January 2016 breakdown here.

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.

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.