The “Util” and How It Can Help You Save

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As a personal finance blogger who’s never set foot in an economics classroom, I’m pretty oblivious when it comes to the more academic side of spending. All I see are the spending habits of people around me, ranging from the soon-to-be early retirees to the people who still love shiny stuff. One night, our new roommate “M” was telling me about a new car he intended to buy, and he dropped a term I’d never heard of before.

“I’d drive it lots and get lots of satisfaction out of it, so it’s totally worth it for the utils,” he said.

“The yoo-what?”

“The utils!”

Confused, I plunked myself down in front of Google, typing in “yutil” like an idiot.

“Uh, ‘util’. Like ‘utility’, dude.”

I figured it out eventually. After some struggling, it led me to this:

“The util has no concrete numerical value like an inch or a centimeter. Instead, it’s an arbitrary and subjective – yet convenient – way to assign value to consumer choices and to measure the consumer utility of one choice against another.”

Still confused, I read further.

“Here’s an example. Assume you to the supermarket with $100 to spend, along with a phantom 100 utils – representing 100% of the happiness you expect to garner from all the purchases you make. Two-thirds of your money is spent on necessities – bread, milk, produce and other food staples. Although 67% of the money budgeted for purchases is spent on necessities, the number of utils assigned to those purchases – arbitrarily and subjectively – may only be 40. The remaining 33% of your money is spent on chocolate, ice cream, frozen pizza, soda pop and other unnecessary items. But the utils assigned to these purchases total 60.”

I finally understood.

“Hunh, I should probably mention this on my blog,” I said.

“Do it.”

So here we are.

*****

I once tried to justify my PlayStation habit, and it went pretty terribly. At “$7.50/man-hour” for entertainment that included paying for my roommates’ playtime, it was the worst investment I’d ever made. It was bad enough I was investing in screen time; I was blowing thousands on something that didn’t add concrete value to my life. This was – and I realize this now – an awful investment to buy a shitty amount of utils. I know this because it wasn’t even making me particularly happy. I was paying for bragging rights.

Compare that to now. My main hobby now is cooking, and I’m getting quite good at it. For the price of one fancy restaurant entrée, I can whip up dinner for four, and learn cooking skills that will serve me for a lifetime. $30 spent at the grocery store results in a shitload of utils. It gives me pleasure and purpose, I get to entertain guests for a night, and I’m learning. But wait, here’s the real kicker…

Money invested is now my favourite source of utils.

Utils are about spending money to buy overall life satisfaction. Therefore, it’s worth thinking about every purchase in terms of how many utils it gives you. You buy a $20 sweater you know you’re gonna wear 100 times, and that’s 20¢ per wear. Pretty decent. You pay $200 for tickets to “The Book of Mormon” and you get two hours of entertainment that you can’t really access again. With my values, that’s a poor buy for utils. (It may be different for you if you love, lovelove musicals.) When I thought about this more, I realized “buying money” gave me more joy, security, freedom, peace of mind, value, and deep contentment than literally anything else. Pouring money into my TFSA every month is a delight. Investing it and watching it grow is far better. I used to buy video games to fill a virtual progress bar. Now, I choose better utils: I get them from money that will allow me to live the life I want, regardless of what happens in the future.

Investing money may not be your favourite source of utils though. All I ask is you think about the usage of the item you intend to buy. Will that impulse buy Pickle Rick hoodie be hilarious a year from now, or are you gonna wear it just 15 times? Is that beer you’re gonna chug in five minutes worth $9.26? How many utils is an iPhone compared to a flip phone? How many utils is junk food compared to a simple, well-balanced lunch? Will you use that meat smoker weekly, or will it live in your storage room? Will an $18,000 car really give you more utils than a $6,000 car?

We all measure satisfaction differently, but the efficiency with which we use things can be objective. For me, I “buy” money and investments I can use forever. Embrace the util, even if it is a nebulous concept. Anything that gets you thinking about how you spend is good.

Will you use your new purchase enough? Will it make you happier than the money itself? Does it retain value? All this brings us back to the util. It helps you make better choices.

What thing, in your life, gives you the most utils? Tell us in the comments, and share us on Facebook.

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My Five Streams of Income

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According to this, “65% of self-made millionaires had three streams of income” and “29% of self-made millionaires had five or more”. Meanwhile, this article starts breaking down “7 different income streams”, but some of their recommendations are things most of us should be doing anyway, like investing. Other ones are downright odd. Do you consider your spouse’s salary as a stream of your income? I don’t. I don’t think you should either.

For this article, I’m laying out the five streams of income I actually count. If you count my index funds or the fact I’m technically a SOCAN-recognized composer who’s only earned pennies in royalties, I have more. I’m mainly counting my side hustles that actually put money in the bank though. This is how I make my money.

My main gig is I’m a wedding photographer. My smallest package is $990 (two hours) and my largest package is $4,995 (twelve hours). My secondary gig is as a liquor store clerk, making a paltry $13.50/hour. I could choose a more lucrative job, but this is pure fun for me. I could spend all day talking about wine, and I’d actually be less happy making $20/hour doing something I didn’t care about. My third gig is as a landlord. In March, I’ll be looking after two renters/roommates, and you should know this is actually more work than I thought. For now, any rent money I make is going back into renovating the property. Both bathrooms need to be redone, but this is an investment for the future. A beautiful bathroom will enable me to charge more for rent once my friends move on. My fourth gig is I write for pay now, and make $0.15/word on assignments. This is currently super fun for me! I can do this anywhere I want, and if I had an idle gig where I’m just needed as a warm body — think security guard or exam invigilator — I could be earning twice the pay for the same hours! In just one week of November, I was able to bill a startup $225 for three short blog posts. I’m looking at developing this as one of my main sources of income in the next few months. My last gig is a questionable one, but it technically counts as investing. This one deserves its own paragraph.

Early in November, I started dabbling with cryptocurrency. I now own small slices of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and IOTA. In just six weeks of casual trading, I’ve put in $800 and I’m somehow $500 ahead. Before you drop everything and throw your life savings into Bitcoin though, you need to understand the technology and the risks. This is why I consider my cryptocurrency investing a “gig”. I read this and this in the past month, and I stay up-to-date on trends. It’s a job. I don’t advise you getting into cryptocurrency blindly. Everyone thinks they can time the market, and people have lost their life savings believing that. I’m fully aware I could lose my entire investment at any time. If you try this, proceed with extreme caution. I know friends of friends who have lost $10,000. Know the risks. This, as a hobby, is my fifth and final gig.

You’ve heard of “fuck you money” (FU$), but I love the idea of my multiple “fuck you jobs”. Liquor store lays me off? That’s fine. I can replace a whole month of clerk income with a single wedding shoot. Roommates moving out? A little extra writing, and I’ll still make my strata payments on time. When new roommates move in, rent will actually go up because of the shiny bathrooms! If I lose my entire crypto investment? My index funds are still making profit, and I’m sure I can come up with something to make up the loss, like renting out my camera gear. I truly believe YOU CAN ALWAYS MAKE A BUCK. With full-time employment becoming less and less stable, diversifying your streams of income is just as important as diversifying your investments. It’s just the smart thing to do!

Remember: “65% of self-made millionaires had three streams of income”.

How’d you like to be part of that statistic?

Investing With As Little As $1/Day

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Let’s do this in two minutes.

Here’s some quick math to help you with your investing goals. No bullshit, no preamble. Share this with your friends to show them how easy retirement and investing can be. At 29, I’m better prepared than some 50-year-olds I know. Here’s how.

The math here assumes you’re 30 and will invest small amounts steadily until 65. That’s 35 years of growth. I invest aggressively in index funds, and I’ve been averaging around 7% annually. Let’s see what investing tiny amounts every day can do from 30-65 at 7% growth.

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• $1/day (or $365/year) = $53,988 at 65
• $2/day (or $730/year) = $107,976 at 65
• $5/day (or $1,825/year) = $269,942 at 65
• $10/day (or $3,650/year) = $539,884 at 65
• $20/day (or $7,300/year) = $1,079,768 at 65

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That’s bonkers, right? Every $1/day you put away can add $50,000+ to your retirement account? Time to bust out the ol’ piggy bank!

As for what to invest in, I can only tell you what my money’s in: the RBC U.S. Index Fund. (I also recommend TD U.S. Index Fund – e, which offers similar results, but with a lower MER.)

Depending on your goals, you might want to invest differently, so investigate options yourself and see if you can find better. All I know is I don’t worry about retirement anymore. With ~$20,000 in that index fund already and $10/day contributions, I’m anticipating ~$740,000 at 65.

Ready to do this? Calculate your numbers here, and comment with your findings below!

Not bad for a 2-minute read, huh?

How To Get Your Kid Set For Retirement

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I’ll just cut to the chase: When your kid is born, put $12,400 in an investment generating 7% interest, and they’ll be a millionaire by 65. I know that sounds crazy, and I’m making a LOT of assumptions, but you can find all the justifications for my logic in this post here. Again, this is presented as data ONLY. Listen up, new parents. It’s time to make your kids millionaires.

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All of these equal $1M:
0 – $12,400 x 65 years of 7% growth
1 – $13,200 x 64 years of 7% growth
2 – $14,100 x 63 years of 7% growth
3 – $15,100 x 62 years of 7% growth
4 – $16,200 x 61 years of 7% growth
5 – $17,300 x 60 years of 7% growth
6 – $18,500 x 59 years of 7% growth
7 – $19,800 x 58 years of 7% growth
8 – $21,200 x 57 years of 7% growth
9 – $22,700 x 56 years of 7% growth
10 – $24,300 x 55 years of 7% growth
11 – $25,900 x 54 years of 7% growth
12 – $27,800 x 53 years of 7% growth
13 – $29,700 x 52 years of 7% growth
14 – $31,800 x 51 years of 7% growth
15 – $34,000 x 50 years of 7% growth
16 – $36,400 x 49 years of 7% growth
17 – $38,900 x 48 years of 7% growth
18 – $41,600 x 47 years of 7% growth

*****

By this logic, you should actually reconsider sending your kids to university! The average four-year university undergraduate degree costs $84,000! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT CAN DO FOR A 23-YEAR-OLD? Invested at 7% interest – (I know some of you are still skeptical, so here’s further justification from someone far smarter than me) – THEY’D HAVE OVER $500,000 IN THE BANK BY 50. Wait 10 years more AND THEY’RE MILLIONAIRES. Here, crunch some numbers and get back to me. What’s especially wild is these are essentially set-and-forget investments: NO FURTHER CONTRIBUTIONS NEEDED! How are NO new parents doing this? It’s goddamn insane! Index funds, FTW!

If I’d known at 18 what I know now, I would’ve skipped post-secondary entirely. One of the richest and most successful people I know didn’t have any formal schooling AT ALL. Another friend is an artist and is set to retire with $800,000+. It turns out financial success isn’t all that linked to skills or intelligence at all. All you need is (a little) Money and (a lot of) Time!

If you completely ignored my post about not having kids, don’t ignore this one. Making a new millionaire from scratch costs $12,400 and your kids will be grateful forever. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the best damn deal I’ve ever heard.

Wishing you and your kids riches,
Unconbentional

So You Want to Be a Millionaire…

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No 18-year-old has $41,600, but that’s pretty much the only thing standing between a high school grad and them becoming a millionaire in their lifetime. Yep, through the magic of compound interest, that’s all it takes to get to seven digits. Here’s how much money you’ll need to become a millionaire by retirement depending on your age. This data assumes you’ll retire at 65 and have your money invested in something that generates 7% interest. (You can find my justification for that number here and here.) It also assumes that: 1) You make no further contributions toward your nest egg, and 2) you make no withdrawals until you’re 65. This is presented as data ONLY. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

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All of these equal $1M:
18 – $41,600 x 47 years of 7% growth
19 – $44,500 x 46 years of 7% growth
20 – $47,700 x 45 years of 7% growth
21 – $51,000 x 44 years of 7% growth
22 – $54,600 x 43 years of 7% growth
23 – $58,400 x 42 years of 7% growth
24 – $62,500 x 41 years of 7% growth
25 – $66,800 x 40 years of 7% growth
26 – $71,500 x 39 years of 7% growth
27 – $76,500 x 38 years of 7% growth
28 – $81,900 x 37 years of 7% growth
29 – $87,600 x 36 years of 7% growth
30 – $93,700 x 35 years of 7% growth
31 – $100,300 x 34 years of 7% growth
32 – $107,300 x 33 years of 7% growth
33 – $114,800 x 32 years of 7% growth
34 – $122,800 x 31 years of 7% growth
35 – $131,400 x 30 years of 7% growth
36 – $140,600 x 29 years of 7% growth
37 – $150,500 x 28 years of 7% growth
38 – $161,000 x 27 years of 7% growth
39 – $172,200 x 26 years of 7% growth
40 – $184,300 x 25 years of 7% growth
41 – $197,200 x 24 years of 7% growth
42 – $211,000 x 23 years of 7% growth
43 – $225,800 x 22 years of 7% growth
44 – $241,600 x 21 years of 7% growth
45 – $258,500 x 20 years of 7% growth
46 – $276,600 x 19 years of 7% growth
47 – $295,900 x 18 years of 7% growth
48 – $316,600 x 17 years of 7% growth
49 – $338,800 x 16 years of 7% growth
50 – $362,500 x 15 years of 7% growth
51 – $387,900 x 14 years of 7% growth
52 – $415,000 x 13 years of 7% growth
53 – $444,100 x 12 years of 7% growth
54 – $475,100 x 11 years of 7% growth
55 – $508,400 x 10 years of 7% growth
56 – $544,000 x 9 years of 7% growth
57 – $582,100 x 8 years of 7% growth
58 – $622,800 x 7 years of 7% growth
59 – $666,400 x 6 years of 7% growth
60 – $713,000 x 5 years of 7% growth
61 – $762,900 x 4 years of 7% growth
62 – $816,300 x 3 years of 7% growth
63 – $873,500 x 2 years of 7% growth
64 – $934,600 x 1 year of 7% growth
65 – $1,000,000

*****

Well, how’d you do? Don’t worry if you fell short. Remember, THIS IS IF YOU MAKE NO FURTHER CONTRIBUTIONS. You could be 35 with only $80,000, and you’d still hit $1M if you put in $4,000 every year until you’re 65. Also, $1M IS AN ARBITRARY NUMBER. Here’s why I’ll never need a $1M net worth. For more proof that $1M is arbitrary, consider inflation. If I have $1M when I’m 65, that’s only a buying power of today’s $480,610!

Whaddaya think? Does this make you want to become a millionaire more or less? Does this seem doable now? Are you now dreaming of yachts and underwear models? Let us know.

It’s not that difficult becoming rich. That’s why rich people are everywhere!

It’s Your Duty to Educate Your Family About Money

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Money is an insanely sensitive topic, especially when it comes to family. Even now, I don’t let my mom in on my finances. There are things I can justify on my Visa bill that she’d lose her mind over, like the $15 PS4 game I’ll spend 60 hours on. To me, I’m spending $0.25 for each hour of entertainment but to her, I’m throwing money into a pit. I guess we’re both right, depending on what values you grew up with. That’s why most families don’t talk about money. It’s polarizing.

To be fair, my mom raised me to be frugal, but since I was a rebellious teenager, I grew up to be the opposite, eventually plunking my sorry ass into deep debt not once, but twice. These days though, I worry –I– may need to step up to the plate and offer some guidance with the family finances. It hasn’t been a pleasant conversation.

My brother has money. When our dad passed away, life insurance kicked in and made sure he was okay. Mom took control of his finances because he’d never read a personal finance book in his life, and he assumed she knew what she was doing. He was wrong. She locked down a chunk of his money into 1.x% bonds. That doesn’t even keep up with Canadian inflation and is about as dumb as stashing cash in a mattress. Since then, I’ve explained index funds to my brother and why investing in equity is preferable at his age due to the compound gains. This conversation would be impossible with my mother, but I’m trying. She doesn’t take ANY financial risks at all, and suffers for it. Due to stubbornness alone, she’ll most likely stay poor. She also doesn’t believe he needs a credit card, even though he’s 23. Don’t get me started. It’s been infuriating.

Now, this is a HUGE problem for our family. One day, we’ll need to take care of Mom, and our only asset will be the family home, which will hit the market around $550,000 if we ever get around to renovating it. If, in her old age, shit gets squirrelly, that money won’t last long. We may need to sell the house. Potential solutions involve investing NOW with what money we have. Without divulging too many numbers, if my brother invests properly now, he’s looking at $500,000+ by the time he’s 65. Even without the house, he’ll be okay. I will be too, thanks to my 99-year leasehold, BUT HE NEEDS TO INVEST PROPERLY. None of this 1.x% bond crap our mother recommends. We’re also trying to convince her to take in a student because at the moment, she lives in a 4-bedroom townhome alone, which is just about the most wasteful thing I’m currently aware of. Let’s say she has a renter for just one room in the house at $600/month. That’s $7,200/year, and if she invests it all properly, she’ll have $100,000 more in the bank by the time she’s 65. WHY ISN’T SHE DOING THIS? Well, her values don’t allow it. Unless I can change her mind, her belief that family homes are for family only WILL KEEP HER POOR FOREVER. This is terrible because if she’s poor, my brother and I will have to pick up the slack. We’ll have to work harder and longer to take care of the family. Don’t get me wrong; taking care of my mom is a burden I’m happy to bear. I JUST WANT TO TAKE CARE OF HER NOW THROUGH FINANCIAL EDUCATION INSTEAD OF WAITING FOR THE DEBT SHITSTORM TO HIT US WHEN SHE’S 80.

It’s one thing to be financially secure on your own. It’s equally important to make sure your loved ones are financially secure. If your finances are directly affected by someone, GET THEM ON BOARD WITH PERSONAL FINANCE. This blog is a good start. Make sure they understand saving, investment, credit, interest, and retirement. Trust me on this. And if you don’t? Well, you’re gonna be stuck paying for it. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Bank Your Raise

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The liquor store doesn’t pay me much. $13/hour is only $26,000/year full-time. Luckily, that gig isn’t my main source of income. No one ever needs a wedding photographer on a Monday though, so I figured I may as well make some extra money on my weekdays.

I got a small $1 raise three months into that job. Starting on September 1, I’ll be banking that raise. I started that job at $12/hour and lived just fine, so I’m dumping that extra $1/hour into my investments. You can bank your raise too. It’s easy: Just compare how much you currently make per hour to what you started at, then multiply the difference by the hours on your paystubs. Throw that into investments ASAP. Here’s some math on how much you’ll save.

On my last paystub, I worked roughly 47 hours over two weeks. If I bank my raise, that’s $47. I get about 25 pay periods per year. That’s setting aside an extra $1,175/year, and that’s at the low end! What if you’ve had a full-time job for years and your raises add up to more like $5? That’s investing $10,000/year into your future! If you have a $50,000 income, that’s about what you’d need to max out your RRSP! If you make banking your raise automatic, and literally use just that step alone, your retirement will become automatic too! Even my paltry $47 per pay period adds up to $43,475 by 65 – AND THAT’S IF I DON’T INVEST IT. Invested the way I normally do, I’m looking at $200,000 JUST BY BANKING MY $1 RAISE.

As usual, run your own numbers. I’m just here to remind you financial security is easy. This is such a simple way to compartmentalize your savings, and mentally set aside money.

You lived perfectly fine when you started your job. Anything extra is just icing on the cake.