I Think It’s Time We Split Up

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My friends and I fully embraced #microtravel this weekend, and just got back from an anniversary dinner in Nanaimo, BC. I could’ve theoretically gone alone, but my need to financially optimize things brought me to two conclusions: 1) “The more the merrier”, and 2) in order to avoid paying the entire cost of my trip, it made sense to split the bill with as many people as possible. Obviously, schlepping off some of the financial burden on friends is a morally questionable position, but allow me to elaborate. For me, financial optimization isn’t just about keeping more money in my pocket. It’s also about finding a win-win situation for everyone. Here’s our story.

In order to get to Nanaimo, we had to take a ferry. Our ferry ticket there was $106.65 for my car and three people. I’d brought my roommate who happens to enjoy my Nanaimo friends’ company, and one other friend who was attending the party already, though she would’ve gone on foot. They appreciated the direct ride to Nanaimo though, so the two of them ponied up the cost of our first ticket in full. Immediate savings to me: $74.70 for me and my car. When we got there, we all had a great time at dinner, and my roommate and I stayed for two nights in a $10/night room. He didn’t need a private room of his own, so savings to him: $20. Then, because our dinner was so huge, my Nanaimo friends decided to share the wealth, and we were treated to a second dinner with all the leftovers! Two great homemade meals instead of eating out: ~$40 in savings between us. And since my roommate appreciated the impromptu vacation, he took me out for a night of beers: $20! I paid for the ferry ride back. It seemed only fair. Through our entire 3-day vacation, we all included each other as much as possible to save everyone money. Everyone felt taken care of, we all made great memories, and a trip that would’ve cost me $250 alone became half that. Friends are awesome already, but when you have a bunch of them all working towards a common goal, you can all literally profit! Here’s another example.

I had a friend paying $115/month for a 3GB phone plan. Obviously, that’s terrible, so I started asking other friends what their plans were. Answers included $70 with fewer bells and whistles, all the way up to $150! My situation was super weird because I’d complained a lot at Rogers – I’m currently sitting on a 17GB plan – so I let my family join my Share Everything plan to save them some money. Months later, there was still no way I was blowing through that much data, so I signed my friends up too. Now, I have six people on my plan and their monthly cost to cover their lines is only ~$50/person! It turns out 17GB split across six people is just about perfect. Because I had an overabundance (of data, in this case) and split it across five other people, everyone benefitted. You’ll often find splitting one big thing across multiple people is more cost-effective than everyone paying for an individual portion, so why aren’t more people doing this?!?

We already do this by taking on roommates. We already do this with group rates at events. We already do this every time we order a huge plate of nachos for the table. Why don’t we do this for everything?!?

Look for the win-win situation. Bring extra friends to split the cost of a hotel room when you’re going somewhere anyway. They might dig a spontaneous vacation. (I do this for business trips all the time.) Order the 60-piece sushi combo and get everyone to chip in. You’ll all get more variety, and everyone’s meal will be, like, $8. On a road trip, don’t be afraid to ask for gas money. We’re all in this together. I once drove five people home after a party, and they all kept trying to hand me cash because none of them had to blow $20 on a taxi. Share your WiFi with your neighbour and split the bill. Split the cost of an amazing router if you have to, but you live right next to each other. Take advantage of that! Let’s just share everything and split the cost.

If we all did this, we’d all be richer and happier. Go frugal with friends. It just might save the world.

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I’ve Got Saving Money Down To A Tea

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Over the past few months, I’ve been making seriously big changes to my diet; not for health, but for my pocketbook. I accidentally got healthy in the process, but this isn’t about that. This is about my ongoing quest to reduce my annual food and drink costs by thousands.

Last October, I spent $1,314.54 on food and alcohol. Obviously, that’s ridic, so I tried to tone it down. By April 2017, I’d brought that down to $1,048.57 – $518.02 on food, $530.55 on alcohol. The fact I still spent more on alcohol than food was fucking bonkers though. I knew I could do better. I had to. Fast forward to now, and I’m tackling the booze budget. I think I can still have the good life AND spend only $300/month on drinks. Reluctantly, I started with evaluating why the fuck I drank so much in the first place. It wasn’t pretty.

I think I just like blowing money. On the cheap end, I guzzle bad beer without even thinking about it. On the high end, I internally justify things like my latest Mâcon-Lugny purchase by saying I like the artistry of good wine. Both situations brought me to the same conclusion: I like to feel rich, even when I’m not. This was a problem.

So what felt luxurious, but was still cheap? Soda? Juice? Coffee? Water? I booted soda and juice right away because I know the problems excess sugar can cause. Coffee was out because I don’t even like the taste. It’s utilitarian to me, and the sweet ones had the same sugar problem. Water was, well… water. It was useful, but I didn’t see the appeal. And that’s when my friend “A” popped in with a line that would save me tens of thousands in a lifetime: “Ooo! In summer we make cold brew tea, it’s really good! You just put a tea bag in a jug of water in the fridge and let it sit for a few hours (or overnight). Cold refreshing tea and it’s only a few cents per glass”.

Sold.

Just a few hours later, I’d hunted down my nearest Bulk Barn and found Earl Grey teabags for cheap. 40 teabags for <$3. I assumed at the time that’d account for 40 large jugs. Upon experimentation though, each 2L jug requires two teabags, meaning each teabag produces 1L. The math couldn’t be neater.

Basically, every time I drink a pint of tea (<4¢) instead of a pint of beer ($2+), I’m saving at least $1.96! Could the savings really be that simple? Could I really be adding $1.96 to my bottom line every time I drank tea? Maybe not exactly, but it was a step in the right direction! Believing in that $1.96 would motivate me to choose tea more often, and I’d see savings instantly!

Well, it’s now September 28, and I’ve had this experiment going for four solid weeks. Alcohol expenses so far? ONLY $408.94! That’s a noticeable improvement! Tea is helping me save ~$100/month! That’s ~$1,200/year! That’s ~$12,000 over 10 years! AHHHHH! WHY WASN’T I DOING THIS BEFORE?!?

A final note: tea’s goddamn delightful. I bought a small water bottle and carry teabags out with me now. Almost any establishment is willing to refill your water or give you ice, so it’s like free tea wherever you go. Hot or cold, it’s a great choice. Embrace tea and cut out more expensive drinks.

Anything more than 5¢/glass is too steep.

Can’t Handle FIRE? Try To HEAL!

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It’s 6 in the morning and I’m on a SkyTrain headed into Vancouver. From the looks of it, I’m the only one not on his way to work. The suit next to me is reading Bloomberg articles on his phone, and half the passengers are nodding off. I can’t imagine most of them want to be here. I’m listening to Taylor Swift on my iPhone and enjoying the ride because I have nowhere I need to be. My only goal for today was to write this, and I can do it from anywhere! This is the story of how I found freedom and lifelong happiness at 29. Hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll be on your way too.

If you haven’t heard of FIRE before, it’s an acronym in personal finance writing that stands for Financially Independent, Retired Early. The Physician on FIRE guy? Not actually on fire. He’s just a family man who achieved financial independence at 39. You see “FIRE” kicked around a lot on the MMM forums too, and it’s a goal of many. It turns out most people don’t actually want to work for a living! I mean, given the choice between lounging by a pool in Guadalajara and a lifetime of office drudgery, most of us would be marching out on our bosses and guzzling Corona in no time! Well, I’m here to tell you things aren’t actually that simple. You might not actually want FIRE! To understand why, let’s take a closer look at its definition.

FIRE is generally defined as the stage a person reaches when the return on their investments is enough to cover their living expenses. A quick bit of math you can do to figure out your FIRE number is to take your annual expenses and multiply by 25. (If you spend $25,000/year for example, your FIRE number is $625,000. Start saving.) The reason for this is 4% interest is a generally accepted estimate of how much you can reliably make off the average portfolio. It’s somewhere between too-safe 2% GICs and somewhat-risky 7% index funds, and 4% just kinda became the default number. At any rate, I have no reason to dispute its logic. 4% certainly makes sense to people far smarter than I. However, FIRE is no longer a goal of mine. Part of the reason is the numbers are outside my grasp — I’ve done the math and I have no delusions about my ability to save — but I’ve also grown up a bit and experienced a different view of retirement. I now know what it’s like to barely work at all, and what I’ve found is it actually totally sucks! I needed to create value in the world to feel fulfilled, and sometimes, people were willing to pay me to create that value! Why wouldn’t I take the money? So what if someone might define that as “work”? Retirement sounds great on paper, but do you never want to work for anything ever again and just lie back and consume? Fuck, no!

With this in mind, I started optimizing my lifestyle. I needed freedom whenever I wanted, some work to feel useful, autonomy in my professional life, and enough money to have fun. FIRE wasn’t the solution because many FIRE followers try to frontload all their earning towards their early years working brutal hours, then they putter around not knowing what to do with themselves as soon as they retire! The Mad Fientist retired at 34, spent months travelling, then “realized it wasn’t making him happy”. Mr. Money Mustache basically went back to work doing construction and managing rental houses. If FIRE is so great, why are so many success stories plagued with ennui or employment akathisia? Well, it’s because full-on, work-hard-now-to-never-work-again FIRE is just too extreme. Fundamentally unbalanced, it takes too much effort in early life and too little effort in later life. In theory, it’s a great goal to work towards, but maybe there’s a better solution that can give you the good life now. I call it “HEAL”.

HEAL stands for Half Employed, Adjusted Living. It’s my way of describing a balanced lifestyle that involves half or less of a typical 40-hour workload, and adjusting your lifestyle to afford that freedom. You can achieve HEAL in a variety of ways, even if you’re young. For example, you can bump your income up so you only work 20 hours a week and spend the same as before, or you can go frugal so you can live off 20 hours of regular pay. For most, going frugal is easiest. Part-time work and frugality are key to HEAL. Some people even bump up their income and go frugal, and those people have it made. Though they might even achieve FIRE, they know “no work” isn’t the goal. What you want is the freedom to only work when you feel like it.

Here’s my situation: The last time I calculated my monthly spending, I arrived at $1,948.18. I’m bringing on a second roommate in a month or two, and the rent I charge him will cover my entire Bills category, eliminating at least $447.29. This puts me at just over $1,500 I’d need to cover in income. Working 20 hours a week at my low-pay liquor store job would net me about $1,100, and the remaining $400 could easily be covered by any photography booking! In fact, since I bill $400/hour to shoot weddings, even a single 8-hour booking covers me for 8 months! (The photography work is spotty, so I’m hesitant to provide monthly numbers. It fluctuates from $0 with no bookings to months like April 2016 when I somehow earned $6,353.41 without even shooting a wedding.) Naturally, any excess income from photography goes straight into paying off my debt, and once that’s taken care of, I’ll be trying to max out my TFSA! I’ve got this whole “HEAL” thing down! I’m “Half Employed” and my “Adjusted Living” made ~20 hours a week work for me!

If HEAL sounds good to you, here’s some recommended reading. First off, if you’re still unconvinced that you might actually want to work for the rest of your life, check out our previous blog post, “I Want You To Half-Retire (HR)”. Finally, consider picking up the Marcus Arce book, “HALF RETIRE – How to Escape the Rat Race Without Waiting to Win the Lottery!” At a cursory glance, the math in it checks out. I’m using strategies from it already.

By realizing I wanted HEAL and not FIRE, I’ve freed up my younger adult years to do whatever I want while working just the right amount to be even happier. Click the links in this post and all over this blog, and read them. People need work, and yes, I do intend to work even when I no longer have to! If you think of Work as a dirty word, it’s because you need a better job!

At 29, I’ve found the lifestyle I intend to have forever, and I didn’t even have to worry too much about retirement. What the heck is stopping you?

Let’s Check Back In With Our Artist Friend, or Why Inflation Sucks

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Those of you who have been following us for over a year might remember “A”, our mysterious artist friend who made only $700/month, but who also found a way to set herself up for a luxurious retirement in the future. When that article came out, some people were understandably pissed. It “isn’t applicable or attainable for everyone, and is really more based on fortune than hard work”, one reader said. Well, she’s not wrong. Living like we do isn’t attainable for anyone not willing to put in the work to optimize their lifestyle. And “hard work”? Please. Smart work is where it’s at, and being frugal is the result of a lot of that smart work.

“A” is still out there plugging away, and two things have happened since we last spoke with her: 1) She makes more now, and 2) some modest lifestyle inflation has crept in! Let’s take a look at her numbers.

A year later, her art is still her main source of income, but “A” is also knee-deep in side hustles. She now teaches art a few times a week, and professionally walks dogs on the side. Her monthly income is now $1,000. Rent is now $300, up from $200 last year. (She started making more, so felt it was only fair she contributed more to her household.) She eats well, though frugally. Her personal spending budget went up to $75 from last year’s $50. Her vacation fund is currently $100/month, and that all goes into planning future trips. As if that wasn’t enough, she also donates 10% of her income to charity – apparently, you don’t need to be a billionaire to pull a Jim Pattison – and somehow, through ALL THESE ADDED COSTS, she HASN’T tapped her $14,000 emergency fund, and she’s actually ADDED $5,000 to her savings and investments! With roughly $60,000 in the bank and her investments churning away at 7% return, she’s now on track to have $839,000+ by 65!

Now, for some people, this might all seem pretty extreme, but what if I told you a lot of math is actually working against her, and us as well? What if I told you WE SHOULD ALL BE SAVING LIKE THIS IF WE WANT TO RETIRE? Unfortunately, because inflation is a key concern for retirement, we should all be aiming for close to $1M in 30-40 years! (Here’s a post to help you with that.) Assuming an average of 2% inflation per year, “A’s” future $839,000 is worth only $387,000 of today’s buying power when she turns 65 in 2056! Because “A” is somewhat of a genius though, she’s accounted for this. Assuming even that she spends all $12,000 of her annual income to support her current lifestyle, her “$387,000” is enough for 65-year-old her to live on FOREVER as long as it’s invested in something generating just 3.1% interest, which could be a VERY real number for someone investing conservatively in old age! For “A”, the math checks out! For the rest of us, we need to save and be frugal AT LEAST as much as “A” is doing!

At 26, “A” has saved and invested enough that no further contributions are needed to support her lifestyle in old age. She could just blow all her work income until 2056, then sit back and relax. I want this for you too!

If you’re a millennial, you NEED to account for inflation in your retirement plan. Here’s a handy calculator. The reality is becoming a millionaire in our lifetimes is no longer an unattainable dream, but PRACTICALLY A REQUIREMENT to Retire For Good someday! How well prepared are you?

If you need help running your numbers, message us on our Facebook. We’re already helping followers plan for their future, and it’s a lot of fun for us! Seriously, we just want to help.

Is full-on retirement seeming unattainable now? It’s not the end of the world. In our next post, we break down MY plan for the future. I expect it to seriously annoy the naysayers.

I Want You To Half-Retire (HR)

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I worked this week. Well, kinda. Yesterday, I drove a few towns over and dropped off a wedding photo delivery I’d shot two months ago. Between lazy shifts at my liquor store and prodding at Lightroom edits for the past few weeks, I’ve been averaging 20 hours a week for a few months now. It’s enough to get by. Considering that a week has 168 hours, working 20 hours is only 12% of that. Not a bad trade, I figure.

Anyway, I know a lot of you work 40 hours a week, and that’s certainly smart. Everything you invest now is worth 10x more, so I can see why you’d want to put in your hours and aim for an early retirement. I mean, what’s better than never having to work again? Well, as I found out, the closer I got to No Work, the worse my mental health was. When I was working just 30 days a year, I was definitely less than sane. What eventually happened was the idea of Half-Retirement, or HR. Statistics Canada “examined data for more than 265,000 workers over 28 years” and “shows that of those Canadians who exited a long-term job at age 55 to 59, 60% were re-employed in some capacity within 10 years”. Based on that, it looks like Retirement is as ill-defined as ever. Even when shown Early Retirement, most people chose Half-Retirement instead! What gives?

Well, I’ve theorized that people need to actively work on something in order to feel truly fulfilled – progress equals happiness, after all – but after some basic digging, it turns out research backs me up. In the Netherlands, over “half of Dutch workers are on part-time hours” and they consistently rank as “one of the world’s happiest countries”. Meanwhile, this article suggests “people who keep working after age 65 tend to be much happier than their peers who are retired”. This was particularly interesting to me because full-on Retirement no longer seemed like what to aim for. The goalposts had been moved. If Half-Retirement was what made people happiest, WHAT’S STOPPING US FROM DOING THAT RIGHT NOW?!? All we need is basic frugality.

I certainly feel content with a light workload, and I’m confident my decision to not frontload all my moneymaking towards my youthful years is a good one. While I’m young and dumb, I want most of my weekdays off, and I’m honestly not just fucking around with them. I’m taking time to learn skills and meet people who will benefit me for years to come. This past month, I’ve taken time to hike with FI nerds, I’ve started work on a new garden, and I’ve expanded my writing opportunities by applying for an ACTUAL writing job that I can’t even tell you about yet! It’s all stuff I couldn’t accomplish if I were working a 40-hour 9-to-5, but here I am, financially stable (though admittedly, debt is an issue) and happy as can be.

I’d also argue if you take the time for self-care early on and use an HR mentality, your health won’t degrade as much and working part-time in retirement age would be more rejuvenating than torturous. Why not half-retire now by being frugal, AND EXPERIENCE THE SAME LEVEL OF FREEDOM AS SOMEONE WHO’S 65?

Consider that Tim Ferriss wrote “The 4-Hour Workweek” after presumably mastering a 4-hour workweek. He then wrote “The 4-Hour Body”, “The 4-Hour Chef” and “Tools of Titans”. IF A 4-HOUR WORKWEEK IS THE IDEAL AMOUNT OF WORK FOR A PERSON TO DO, WHY IS HE VOLUNTARILY TAKING ON A LARGER WORKLOAD? I humbly suggest a workload of anywhere from 20 hours (working for someone else) to 40 hours (working on your own projects). Maybe fulfillment isn’t just chasing Happiness. Maybe fulfillment has something to do with Usefulness.

If HR is the goal, WE CAN ACHIEVE THAT NOW WITH FRUGALITY. Then, we can coast our entire lives on a lifestyle that even retirees find preferable to full Retirement! As someone who’s lived it, it’s fucking wonderful.

Imagine this: Most of the week, I wake up without an alarm. I poke around in the kitchen and decide what I want to make for dinner. I make sure the gardens are okay, leisurely edit some photos and maybe blog a bit while having a beer, then shop for ingredients. Making dinner is a joy. If I’m feeling particularly adventurous, I ride my trike to the brewery and pick up a growler. I go to bed whenever I feel like after some screen time. If I work in the morning, I set an alarm. Even then, it’s usually just 8 hours at the liquor store for a day, or an 8-hour wedding. It’s good to know I’m needed somewhere. I can honestly say coasting like this forever is what I want. I will never tire of this. It’s goddamn magic.

If this all sounds too good to be true, it’s not. If rent is too high, live with someone. If you’re short on cash, you can always make a buck. If paying for gas is killing your budget, live closer to what you need. If you spend too much on events, don’t pay for them. If you drink too much, use smaller glasses. And so on, and so on. You can live HR now, and it’s better than full-on Retirement. It’s just frugality and part-time work!

I had trouble finding Unconbentional’s core message before, but this is it: HR is better than Retirement, and you can have this now. Build your wealth and optimize your situation until you can live on part-time work. Give yourself the gift of free time, especially while you’re still young enough to make some memories. Work isn’t a bad thing. You need it to live a fulfilling life. What you want is work-life balance. Don’t blindly sacrifice your youth chasing a day when you no longer have to work, but also don’t be a dumbass with your money. HR is the goal now. You can make this work, and you’ll be miles ahead of the modern workforce. You. Yes, you. You can do it.

I believe in you.

Am I nuts? Tell me on Facebook.

The Tiny Glass Movement

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Clearly, something wasn’t working. A recent look at my monthly drinking expenditures still had me blowing $530.55 on Alcohol. Sure, telling myself “just one less” and “you buy some things twice” worked to bring my spending down from a staggering $1,120.27, but I’m not calling this a victory until I average only $300-$350/month on booze. That’s why we’re embracing The Tiny Glass Movement.

The University of Cambridge conducted a rather duh study and “found that larger wine glasses encouraged you to drink more”. That’s why, for all of July, I’ll only consume beer out of 230ml glasses. (We’re using IKEA MUSTIG glasses.) Accounting for foam, each glass should only be 200ml, so each 2L growler we buy will make up 10 drinks. This also does double duty because it means I can’t buy drinks in a pub this month. I have to use my tiny glass. I expect this will give me the added boost I need to stop being such an alky. I hope to snowflake whatever I save directly into my debt.

To stay up to date on this experiment, follow along on our Facebook. I won’t be posting a follow-up article here, but our Facebook page will have all our numbers from June (our control month) and July (our experiment month). In fact, you should probably give that page a Like now. The site you’re on now is more for ideas, but our Facebook is for our results and discussion. I hope to see you there.

Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish

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If you’ve been following Unconbentional for a while now, you know I love introducing minor changes to your spending so you have money to invest. I’ve talked about saving amounts as small as $2/day cycling or 26¢/coffee just so you can keep adding to your bottom line. What I haven’t told you up ‘til now is that most of this is useless if you’re still an idiot about large “one-time” expenditures. Obviously, that’s common sense for a lot of you, but maybe it’s not because if I’m reading this right, the average Canadian is still blowing $40,100 on their new vehicles! As if that wasn’t enough, the current trend is fuel-guzzling SUVs over a regular “fuel-efficient” car! Don’t even get me started on rent. Some people I currently know spend as much as $1,500/month on living expenses when a little thinking-outside-the-box could turn that into $300! Here’s some quick math, if only to make you reconsider your next major purchase. I firmly believe that ANY purchase over $100 should be: a) something that SAVES you money, b) something that EARNS you money, or c) an EXTREMELY special occasion. (“Friday night” doesn’t count.) I know you know this already, but it’s hard to argue with numbers. Here we go.

A $40,100 vehicle represents the money you’d save on gas alone from about 55 years of cycling 15 KM a day instead of driving, or 301,125 KM. The circumference of Earth at the equator is 40,030 KM, so that $40,100 SUV you just bought is equivalent to what you’d save by circumnavigating the globe 7.5 times by bike. If we’re talking about saving 26¢/coffee by buying one size down every time, we’re talking about 154,230 cups of coffee you’d need to do that with, or 422.5 years of one cup a day. By a single dumb decision – buying a new vehicle LIKE SO MANY CANADIANS ARE DOING – you’ve potentially nuked 154,230 tiny good decisions, OR just shat all over the savings from multiple lifetimes of cycling. Remember, shiny things are stupid. Beware the one-time expenditure.

This is only one example, but my point is you can’t pat yourself on the back for tiny good decisions anymore. You need to do the math on big purchases, and really think about how long it took you to get there based on your frugal decisions. The other day, I was hosting a dinner party and spent $101.46 on two lobsters. I’d have to choose a Subway 6” sandwich over a much tastier sushi lunch 20 times to make up for that, and it kinda hurt to fork over that money. Sure, I’d mentally congratulated myself every time I bought a cheap sandwich, but I destroyed the benefit of ordering 20 of those in one night! You just don’t win as long as you keep making major purchases. If you’re frugal six days out of the week and go hog wild every Friday, YOU’RE NOT ACTUALLY FRUGAL! That puts you in the same boat as everybody else!

Don’t be penny-wise, pound-foolish. Saving nickels and dimes really don’t add up to much. Don’t let one or two big-ticket items set you back years of penny pinching. If you’re not careful, it takes only a day or some asshole car salesman to ruin your financial future. Watch out.