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.

Your Entertainment Budget Should Be Less Than $1/Day

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The average American household spends $2,482/year on Entertainment and consists of 2.5 people. We can then reasonably estimate the average North American spends about $1,000/year on Entertainment by themselves. This is less than optimal. I’m about to show you how to get by on $1/day and be more entertained than ever. If you’re 30, your savings from this could amount to $93,925.05 extra in your retirement account by the time you’re 65. (Ask me for the math on our Facebook and I’ll happily show you.) Ready? Let’s kill your Entertainment bill.

First up, no more cable TV. TV subscribers are dwindling, and that seems to be driving prices up: “The average TV subscriber’s monthly bill ticked up from $65.25 in 2014 to $66.08 in 2015.” It’s just getting worse. Meanwhile, Netflix humbly asks for only $8-$12/month depending on your package and offers you immediate commercial-free access to “3 years, 202 days, 12 hours and 14 minutes” of Entertainment. Now, I get that you’re never gonna marathon Paw Patrol, but that’s fucking unreal. If you sleep for 8 hours and work for 8 hours on weekdays AND watch every waking minute you’re free including weekends, you’re looking at 8.3 YEARS of Entertainment for, like, $8/month. Meanwhile, I’ve spent hundreds building my paid iTunes library, but Spotify memberships range from full-of-ads “Free” to $10/month, and they both offer 30 MILLION SONGS. If each of those songs is just three minutes long, that’s 171 YEARS OF MUSIC! IF YOU STARTED LISTENING IN 1846, YOU’D BE DONE NOW. I really don’t understand how paying for individual songs is still a thing. Streaming services are obviously the future. (I like to think most of you know this already.)

Netflix and Spotify together? Even if you paid the individual maximum, that’s $22/month, or $264/year. Wanna get even spendier? Burn your money with a PlayStation Now membership for $100/year and stream 500+ PS3 and PS4 games. That adds up to $364/year, or just under $1/day. It’s almost like I planned it.

If reading’s more your jam, use your local library. You’re already paying for it in taxes, so use it. It warms my little nerd heart to know millennials are using their local libraries more than any other generation. Keep it up.

What I don’t advocate though is piracy. If you’re stealing something, you don’t deserve it. I place a lot of value on art – especially movies – so don’t do it.

Finally, MAKE your own entertainment! Some of you roll things like dining out into your Entertainment budgets, but cooking at home is better. While you’re at it, learn to draw, or play the guitar, or pick up a camera and take pictures of every stray cat in the neighbourhood. I know too many people who can tell me every plot point of Breaking Bad, but when I ask them for the last time they went swimming in the ocean or hiking up a mountain, they draw a blank!

The point is $1/day on Entertainment is already first-world luxury at its finest. Your ancestors didn’t have screens and they did a lot more than just stare into a fire. Realistically, with libraries and nature, your Entertainment budget could actually be ZERO, but $1/day for everything I described above seems like a fair trade. Just don’t spend an ABSOLUTELY INSANE $1,000/year on Entertainment like everyone else. This family can buy one person’s groceries for half a year on that.

If You “Can’t Adult”, Stop Spending Like One

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Way back in 2000, I had an allowance of $5/day in early high school. I was supposed to buy lunch with it, but most of the time, I’d blow it all on a cup of overpriced coffee. Still, having no real savings to speak of and having no way to go into debt, I just kind of floated along in financial limbo. I only saw as far as my next cup of coffee, and The Bank of Mom & Dad ensured that would happen. My needs were looked after, and it’s not like I needed TWO cups of coffee in a day, so everything was good. For those few sweet years in high school, I didn’t need to worry about money. And you know what? I might want to return to that system as soon as next month.

No, I’m not going back to making daily withdrawals from The Bank of Mom & Dad. That’d be crazy talk. I’m frickin’ 28. No, what I’m doing is a sort of mental budgeting. Roommate “D” hit upon the idea recently when he withdrew a stack of $20s and made sure to only use one a day. Over a month, that’s only $600. If he wanted something that was $40, he’d have to go a day without spending anything. What he didn’t use could be carried over to the next day, and so on and so on. It was kinda brilliant. Going back to that allowance system made it so he never overstretched his budget, and when he ran out of money, he’d just stop. I NEEDED TO DO THAT TOO.

Obviously, this is nothing revolutionary. I was just happy to add one more tool to the financial toolkit. “D” reckons if he sticks to his allowance for June, his expenses should only be about $1,200 total, rent and all! Since I’m still having trouble getting below $1,500, this tool might be a godsend! I’m actually kind of excited for it because this restriction will force me to find low-cost, high-fun activities for entertainment, and that’ll help me for the rest of my life!

Can’t adult? Try going back to having an allowance. I know a lot of you are financially responsible enough that you don’t need this advice, but I also know some of you needed to hear this. Start with $20s for now, one a day, or adjust to your personal situation as needed. Maybe managing your money like a kid again is what you need to become a successful adult.

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?

Thrifty Vegan vs. Spendy Omnivore

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This wasn’t even close. Obviously, I couldn’t have expected anything different seeing as how I was going up against our favourite artist “A”, but I didn’t realize how much work I needed to do until I saw her numbers. She can cover her three daily meals for the cost of my typical lunch! She doesn’t drink much either. Where I spent $1,340.83 this November on comestibles – $902.33 on food, $438.50 on alcohol – “A” averages $10/day if we don’t count eating out, and $12/day if we do. I guess this is normal spending? I have no idea because I have such a warped view of money. The rare occasions I make thousands in a day have largely destroyed any intelligent relationship I had with money. I need a fucking intervention.

“A” broke down her meals in way more detail than I expected. The following breakdowns are lifted directly from her email. Remember, she’s vegan, so she’s using things like almond milk instead of regular milk. Veggie burgers and beefless ground make appearances too. Here’s a typical breakfast:

Pancakes
     PancakeMix    $2.50/box  0.42
     Almond Milk 0.67
     Vegetable Oil  0.20
     Maple Syrup   $10?/1L 0.70
      Meal cost: $1.99

In case you’re wondering, I picked the most expensive of the three breakfasts she sent me. Cereal runs her $1.33/meal and oatmeal is $1.20/meal.

A typical lunch might be a veggie stirfry and rice:

Veggie StirFry and Rice
     Various veggies $0.75 (if you’re keen on saving money you can try to get the cheapest in-season ones and/or work in frozen veggies)
     Gardein Beefless Ground   $4.60bag/4   $1.15
     Garlic 0.20
     Olive or Vegetable Oil 0.10
     Soy Sauce 0.10
     Sriracha 0.10
     Rice   $20 for a big bag  (individual serving – 0.10??)
     Meal cost: $2.50

Dinner could be something like pasta:

Pasta
     Spaghetti   $10 / 4.2kg   49 suggested servings. probably 25 real servings     0.40
     Gardein Beefless Ground (1/3 pack) – $1.55
     Vegetable Oil  0.20
     Pasta Sauce 7.99 for 1.75Lx2   0.79
     Frozen veggies $10 for 2kg   0.75
     Garlic .10
     Meal cost: $3.79

Miscellaneous snack and drink costs bring the daily average from ~$8.28 to about $10/day. Also, as “A” wrote in her email to me:

I usually only eat out maybe twice a month, usually for a social event or date night so that tends to come out of my fun money budget not my grocery budget. A meal out might be $15-$30.

Factoring in everything above and even assuming she spends on the high end of her restaurant budget, “A” spends only $360/month on edibles. I’M FUCKING EMBARRASSED. I SPEND MORE THAN THAT PER MONTH ON ALCOHOL ALONE.

My food costs are insane too. Even my “most frugal” meals tend to be things like ham sandwiches from Subway for $7, or phở for $10. Then, there’s my cooking habit where I make ambitious meals once a week. Take a look at the shit I’ve been doing lately:

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

I BOUGHT THREE FUCKING LOBSTERS LAST MONTH. No wonder I’m in so much debt

In November, I spent $30.08/day on food alone. Including alcohol, that’s $44.69/day. I sincerely hope you’re nowhere near that. I’m definitely backsliding into full-blown idiocy.

In the end, as embarrassing as this exercise was, I’m glad I put in the work to add it all up. If I adopted all the same eating habits as “A” and ate for $32.69 less per day, I could save $980.70/month, or $11,768.40/year! Wanna see something truly scary? If I invested that every year from now until I turn 65 and got 7% annually like I usually do, I’D HAVE $2,018,998.71 IN MY BANK ACCOUNT. I’m literally fucking lightheaded right now. Less lobster, more millions. I’m eating myself out of a decent retirement.

The absolutely crazy thing is a lot of you reading this are eating for less per day than even “A”. $12/day is pretty luxurious, and here I am eating like a goddamn emperor. I can’t even justify what I’ve been doing lately. I’m floored right now because I hadn’t even added this up until I started researching this article.

I’m seriously fucking embarrassed, guys. Learn from my mistakes. Make me feel even worse by telling us YOUR food costs on Facebook.

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.

My Artist Friend, or How to Become a Millionaire While Making $700/Month

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My artist friend “A” has got it made. At only 25, she’s already invested enough in index funds to achieve $800,000+ at 65 with no further contributions. How, you ask? Here’s how someone earning less than $10,000/year will become a Millionaire in her lifetime.

“A” isn’t rich, but she’s Smart As Fuck. Her family was able to put away some money for her education, but she also did plenty of working and saving on her own. She ended up getting shitloads of scholarships though, so within a year of finishing school, she found herself sitting on $50,000! Well, fuck, I guess that money’s going into index funds! A longtime Mr. Money Mustache devotee, “A” figured index funds were the best place for her money, and at her age, IT IS. With the 7% return I talk about so much, her current $53,896 becomes $807,063 in 40 years! To make matters even more mindboggling, SHE EVEN HAS AN EMERGENCY FUND OF $14,000. We’re not even done yet, because SHE’S SO FRUGAL, THIS WOULD LAST HER 20 MONTHS. Not possible? Here’s her living sitch.

Income is a terrible indicator of success. “A” makes $700/month as a freelance artist. Over a year, that’s $8,400. Her monthly rent is only $200. That’s because she lives with three other people. She’s been with her boyfriend for over five years, and even if something terrible happens, she’s open to moving back in with family. She can live comfortably on $700/month. She spends $80 on groceries, about $45 on entertainment, and puts aside $40 for potential emergencies. Her phone costs $25, about $25 goes into dental, and stuff like clothing is practically negligible because she shops at thrift stores. She breaks even every month. WHAT ARE YOU AND I DOING WRONG.

“A” may be frugal, but she’s not living a small life. She’s already been to five countries including Japan and China, she’s done a road trip across the US, and she’s also seen several Canadian provinces. She also – like me – works at her dream job, so it really doesn’t feel like work at all. She’s practically retired already! What would YOU call it if you could do whatever the hell you wanted and just happened to make $700/month?

“A” also knows she can do better. In my interview with her, she talked about getting to $15,000/year reliably and aiming for $375,000 as her FI goal. If, right now, she puts aside just $100/month for her index funds, she’ll hit that number in 25 years! Mr. Money Mustache once said, “If You’re Not Getting Rich in your 20s, You’re Doing it Wrong”. Your twenties are the MOST IMPORTANT TIME TO SAVE because the compound interest gains are unreal. Being a Millionaire is within your reach.

“A” makes less than $10,000/year. What’s your excuse?

Ask us anything on Facebook.