Are You Paying For Bragging Rights?

NO ONE EDIT

Looking back on my 20s, I wish I hadn’t cared about oneupmanship. I wish I hadn’t spent thousands on PlayStation media so I’d have a higher trophy count than my friends. I wish I hadn’t bought and drank so many terrible beers just to boost my numbers on Untappd. I wish I cared less about what people thought of me, and actually started working on me. For most of my life, I’d been paying for bragging rights. Maybe you have too.

Companies thrive on this sort of thing, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. Almost every luxury good is a sort of stab at oneupmanship. The newer car, the shinier gadget, the cooler features, and the status symbols of the world all conspire to take money out of our wallets. On one level, it might be keeping up with the Joneses (which we already know is bad), but if we’re being completely honest, sometimes we buy things to grasp at better social standing or to make others jealous. I’m guilty as charged. I used to buy $300 shoes, $900 dinners for my friends, and $250 bottles of wine – always in misguided attempts to seem better than I was. Now, I struggle with debt… and it’s all my fault.

Things are better now. Since starting this blog, the only status symbol I care about is my net worth. My shoes are now $20. My dinners are now meatloaf and beans. Bottles of wine only show up when I get them free from work. I just organized a bachelor party and ixnayed the limo for a cab. The PlayStations got sold off or gifted. I often take the bus. Somehow, in spite of all this voluntary deprivation, I’m happier for it! A weird thing happens when you become frugal: Where I once was only able to afford one pair of shoes, I could now afford 15. The more frugal you are, the more wealthy you feel because you suddenly have so much buying power! It’s a weird paradox, but it’s one worth believing in. Don’t ever spend money to impress people. People don’t give a shit anyways.

If you’re gonna spend money on oneupmanship, one-up yourself. Invest in your goals. Build up a bigger nest egg than you ever thought possible. Learn new skills. Better yourself, but not so you can compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, even when you’re on top. Can you imagine how stressful that is? Always striving to maintain a false sense of superiority through spending money? FUCK. THAT.

No one’s better than anybody else. If you truly believe a $30,000 watch or a shiny car is the only thing making you a better person, we’ve gotta have a talk. Even if a glowing beacon above your head broadcast “I SPENT $30,000 ON A WATCH” 24/7, that’s not a great message to send. You don’t seem rich and impressive. You seem desperate.

Stop bragging. Start saving.

Get rich.

Advertisements

If You Treasure It, Measure It

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 12.54.50 AM

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!

*****

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!

Featured Blog: Debts To Riches

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 3.52.35 PM

A few months ago, I decided to connect with my local mustachian community in Vancouver, BC. The plan was simple and appropriately frugal: Get to a nearby lake, hike, and meet personal finance nerds. That was it. No fancy drinks at a bar, and no unnecessary spending. Since I certainly don’t save >50% of my income like these guys, I was out of my depth. They all brought food from home. I had bottled water. Some of them were already retired. I never intend to retire. Some were almost millionaires. I still have debt! It was quite the shakeup. And yet, I knew I needed to meet them to reorganize my life. Though I’ve been writing about personal finance for two years now, I’m actually quite lazy and complacent, and I often have trouble following my own advice. Then, on this trip, I met Veronika.

Her story scared the crap out of me at the time. Her tuition and past living expenses resulted in a rewarding job, but she graduated in May 2015 with a staggering $130,455 in debt. Remember how $22,535 in debt led me to make a bunch of bullshit justifications about it? This news damn near killed me! And yet, Veronika didn’t seem too bothered. Quietly confident, she seemed as calm and relaxed as our retired new friends. HOW?!?

Well, I just blazed through her entire blog Debts To Riches, and I’ve gotta hand it to her. She’s executing her debt repayment plan with such laserlike efficiency, her debt-free and financial independence targets are boldly laid out in her intro: “DF: 2019 | FI: 2031”. If this doesn’t seem possible to you, I think it’s time you read her blog! It’s more than possible. She’s doing it.

Debts To Riches is peppered with money insights I haven’t seen anywhere else. She believes that “psychology > math” when it comes to saving, and this led her to write the most actionable personal finance articles I’ve read. Math is great, but what about maintaining motivation? If that doesn’t interest you, the numbers should. She started with $130,455 in debt just two years ago! As I write this now in November 2017, she’s crushed that down to $93,400 – a $37,000+ difference! Debt-free by 2019? Financial independence by 2031? I believe it. If you want insightful, eloquently written personal finance advice for real humans and not savings robots, look no further. Stop reading this.

Read Debts To Riches now.

Snowflake Your Debt

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-6-15-04-pm

I read a LOT of articles on personal finance and personal development, but for those of you who don’t, I thought I’d share “snowflaking” with you since it ties so well into what this blog is all about. All this time, I’ve been trying to tell you just one less, or get a roommate, or optimize your lifestyle, but without a clear goal in mind! Well, since roughly 75% of Canadians are still in debt, here’s the goal: Get to Zero, ASAP.

I’m in debt too, and snowflaking that away has been one of my main priorities. Simply put, snowflaking is what personal finance nerds call it when you make small, one-time payments towards your debt to kill it off. Came in under budget on your groceries by $20? Snowflake it in! Made $300 selling old crap at your garage sale? Sprinkle that on your highest-interest credit card! Decided you didn’t need a $5 latte today before work? That goes in too! Obviously, none of this works if you’re still accumulating massive amounts of debt, but here’s a strategy for that as well.

Let’s say you owe $6,000 on a 20% credit card and $4,000 on a 15% credit card. Go to your bank and negotiate the lowest interest you can on a credit line or card, then transfer all your debt to that account! (I’m at 7.69%, which isn’t great, but here’s another low-interest debt strategy you may not have thought of.) With your previous numbers, you’d be paying $1,800/year and making no dent in your debt, but now that you’ve negotiated a better interest on your credit line, you’re probably closer to 9%, HALVING your debt payments to $900/year. That’s just an example, but they’re realistic numbers. You might even be able to do better! Another snowflaking opportunity? Hell, yeah! Whatever your numbers, the sum of your debt is now a very clear Debt Number to attack. You’re no longer allowed to rack up a balance on any of your credit cards, and you are now 100% devoted to snowflaking the fuck out of your credit line until that number is Zero! Simple, right?

Every $100 you knock off your Debt Number is a cause for celebration. I still think of each $100 as a Happiness Unit, and you should game this as much as possible. Every time you save or earn a small slice of cash, snowflake it immediately towards your debt. It may be easier to place it into a savings account first, then transfer it all into your debt at the end of the month if you think that’d be better. This can be a great psychological motivator as well! Try and beat your high score every month!

Think of every snowflake as a small win. Do this often enough that it becomes automatic. Squirrel away your money before you get tempted to spend it. Let’s create a goddamn blizzard.

A Story of Great Interest

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 12.18.49 AM

I owe a stupid amount of money. We’ve talked about this before and things are even more grim now, as I still appear to be spending more than I’m earning. There are a few reasons for this – namely that I keep my business finances entirely separate from my personal finances, and though I’m busier than ever, not a lot of money from my business makes it into my personal chequing account since I reinvest it in advertising. For instance, I’m currently producing my own video ad and that’s running up quite the tab. C’est la vie.

The point is I’m $22,000 in the hole because I’m the Dumb Ben, but this turned into a great opportunity to research interest rates and get debt savvy. I’d also like to point out my $22,000-in-debt is a little different than $22,000-in-debt for someone who still has Rent. I pay something in the neighbourhood of $100 per month as “rent” on my Debt. I’m pretty okay with that, but obviously, if you’re still paying Vancouverite prices on Rent, $22,000-in-debt is a bit of an emergency. Get on that. As an aside, I know I’m a bit of a financial shitshow. For one, if I don’t have Rent, why am I so poor with money management that I have Debt? I’m a mess. Anyway.

There’s always room for improvement in managing your interest rates. I’m sure many of you reading this carry some sort of balance on a 19.99% credit card. This is a huge no-no. Every $1,000 you have to pay interest on costs you $200/year with no added benefit. There are credit lines for a reason, and as you’ll soon see, even other credit cards can help you manage your Debt.

According to my bank, I owe $7,023.58. There’s $5,000 on a 9.68% credit line, $35.75 on a 7.69% RBC RateAdvantage Visa, and $1,987.83 on a 19.99% Visa Infinite Avion. Obviously, I’ll be moving my Avion debt to my super awesome RateAdvantage – get this! – and I’ll be popping into my bank this week to see if I can do the same for my credit line. If that all goes according to plan, my monthly interest payments are $45. Not bad at all for owing $7,000. Still carrying most of your Debt on a 19.99% credit card? Apply for a credit line. Ask about their low interest credit cards and avoid the ones with high annual fees. You could find something as low as my 7.69% RateAdvantage Visa. You won’t know unless you try. (Annual fee: $39.)

So what about the other debt? I also owe $15,511.47 at 5% interest, which hits me for $64.63 every month. Where’d I get such an awesome interest rate, you ask? I’ll tell you: my brother. Somehow, at 22, he has more money than I do. He’s got $50,000 in investments, but they’re silly investments so I’m trying to help him out. Instead of the 1.x% bond he’s currently investing in, which doesn’t even keep up with Canada’s 2% inflation, I offered him 5% with the condition that I pay it all off by July 22, 2018 – my 30th birthday. If I’m short and desperate, I’ll pull from my RRSP. I have $13,000+ in there, and I know that’s not a lot, but I never plan to Retire. I think I’m covered.

In managing your Debt, you have more resources than you realize. There are credit lines, low interest credit cards, even family members who’d love to help you out. The best part about utilizing people like your parents or siblings is it keeps your money in the family. Just make sure you actually pay people back. Done carelessly, this is the kind of shit that can tear a family apart. Not everyone is as awesome as my brother.

Total monthly damage for borrowing $22,535.05: $109.64. I’m not proud of that number, but let’s see what it would be if I were a total idiot borrowing at 19.99%: monthly payments of $375.40. I save $3,189.12/year just by doing a little research and shuffling some debt around creatively.

Is $109.64/month worth it to borrow that amount? I’m actually a Yes on this. Borrowing that money allowed me to buy the Canon 1D X I run my business on. Borrowing that money allowed me to strengthen my relationships and make new ones. Borrowing that money allowed me to have a shitload of fun. There’s no doubt I’ll pay it back before I turn 30 either. I just need to put $800+ toward it every month and now that I know it’s a goal, I’ll do my best not to backslide.

I really picked a shitty time to start this blog though, eh? Sure, let’s talk about saving money during my three slowest and spendiest months of the year! Jesus Christ.

WHY ARE YOU EVEN TAKING ADVICE FROM ME.

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

12075058_10101274423454218_2383038162684223101_n

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

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 8.16.52 PM

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.