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?

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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.

It Was Made For You

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“The making and authorized distribution of this film supported over 15,000 jobs and involved hundreds of thousands of work hours.”

That’s the message at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse. The fact it’s anti-piracy is clear, but that’s not why I snapped to attention. What got me was I’d essentially seen this movie for free on Netflix, even though I should’ve paid hundreds more! Gimme a sec. I’ll explain.

Now, you obviously know a blockbuster movie takes millions of dollars to make. Not just that, but the combined experience of 15,000 creative men and women is nothing to shake a stick at. Many of them have been in the film industry for decades. Let’s average it out to 10 years of experience per person. (I think that’s fair because even -I- have 10 years of film experience.) Well, we’re already looking at 150,000 combined YEARS of experience to produce this movie I basically saw for free! X-Men: Apocalypse is 144 minutes long, so each minute I spent checking out the blue chick or cheering on the disabled psychic took 1,000+ YEARS OF WORK AND COMBINED LEARNING to make it as awesome as it was! It gets better. X-Men: Apocalypse had a budget of $178M USD. That’s $238,039,400 in Canadian dollars, so EVERY MINUTE of that movie cost $1,653,051! WHAT?!? Even if I’d seen it in theatres for $15, I think reaping the benefits of 150,000 years of work and $238M was a fair trade. So what if other people are watching it too? Other eyeballs on the screen don’t diminish YOUR experience with the movie. With your $15, you’re effectively hiring a stellar cast and crew, plus a production company, to personally show you people in funny suits punching each other! That’s goddamn hilarious! They did all that – FOR YOU.

Now, obviously, they didn’t do it for you exclusively. We know that. In order to appreciate life more fully though, pretend they did. Not to get into solipsist philosophy, but what difference does it make? You’re lucky enough to appreciate a $238M product for $15 in a theatre, or BASICALLY FREE at home, and it was all for your enjoyment! Now, apply this same line of thinking to every product you use. Your toothpaste took years of research. Your clothes went through a series of skilled workers. The food you eat in a month potentially came from hundreds of plants and animals. And yet, IT’S ALL AFFORDABLE ON ONE PERSON’S WAGES?!? If this doesn’t blow your mind, I can’t help you. You’re indirectly hiring thousands of people every day for only about $100. That’s bonkers.

Obviously, don’t spend more. Instead, recognize how lucky you are and SPEND EVEN LESS. If you just hired 15,000 people to tell you the story of a human magnet, you can proooooobably put the new Mass Effect game back on the shelf. While you’re at it, recognize the environmental impact you have on the world and eat one less animal maybe. You’re already hoovering up plants for pennies, and you didn’t even grow them. The iPhone you’re reading this on? 40 years of constant engineering from a staff of thousands. You don’t need to upgrade as soon as a new one comes out. You already have a personal oracle in your pocket that borders on sorcery.

Be fucking happy with what you’ve got. You’re already getting way more than you pay for. Pretend everything you use was made FOR YOU and appreciate where it all came from. Someone else may have the same product, but that doesn’t diminish your experience with what YOU own. In fact, it even adds value! This way, you get to talk about the same TV show with your friends!

From now on, look at each new purchase with this perspective. I hope it’ll give you a feeling of constant abundance. While you’re at it, maybe stop pirating movies. I used to work in film and TV too, y’know.