Featured Blog: Debts To Riches

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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.

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Working Forever Might Not Be So Bad

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Taken from a previous post:

FIRE [Financially Independent, Retired Early] 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.)”

You can read the rest of that post here, though my description of FIRE isn’t as accurate as it could’ve been. For one, since this is such a huge topic, I didn’t exactly account for inflation. The truth is if you’re 30 now, you want to aim for $1M by 65 if you want to Retire For Good (RFG). This is because $1M in 35 years only amounts to $500,000 of today’s spending power, or $20,000/year in returns based on the 4% rule. This also assumes you can live off $20,000/year. Some people can’t. From this point forward, please note I’ll be using a tilde (~) to denote future value, and no tilde to denote today’s value. Here’s a post to help you math out your saving goals now, based on ~$1M/$500K/$20K. Read those links, and the math should all make sense.

In any case, I now advocate working in some capacity forever. Here’s some of the reasoning as to why, but this little bit of math should convince you that working forever might just be the way to go. (Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds.)

If $20,000/year is the goal, it’s very possible that someone at 65 could make that without too much effort at all. Remember, that’s only $1,667/month. In Canada now, what you can receive from Old Age Security ranges from $526-$874. Let’s aim for the low figure of $526, and subtract that from $1,667. (OAS is considered taxable income, so keep that in mind. Also, not everyone qualifies, so read this.) You’re now left with $1,141. Let’s also assume you have some savings. Let’s say you missed ~$1M by a wide margin and only landed at ~$400,000, or $200,000 of today’s value. Going by the 4% rule which spits out $667/month, that takes you down to $474. Now, I don’t know about you, but making $474/month, even in old age, seems entirely manageable to me. When retirees somehow watch 6.2 hours of TV a day now, making $474 per month working is a better use of time and will help you retain your health. This would only mean 31.6 hours per month at $15/hour. If that sounds bleak, it shouldn’t. At $20/hour, that number’s 23.7, or only 3% of your month! That’s only if you’ve completely messed up your retirement savings! If you’ve saved ~$1M, you’re done! You can coast! But if you’re like the rest of us and see yourself only reaching ~$400,000, you should understand you can work after 65 in a way that will actually be flexible, easy, and good for you, and you’ll still be perfectly fine!

Obviously, planning for old age can be kinda scary. There’s always the possibility poor health makes it impossible for you to work. This is why you should aim for ~$1M.

Society teaches us retirement is black-and-white. It’s not. Loads of retirees continue working to supplement their income. If you save properly now, you won’t have to work at 65, but you’ll probably want to anyway. I know I will. And even if you fuck up and don’t save ~$1M in this lifetime, a little bit of work after 65 can go a long way.

6.2 hours of TV time a day is 186 hours per month. Can you use <24 hours to plan yourself a more secure retirement, or are we crazy?

Let us know on Facebook. We’ll put any feedback in a future article.

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.

*****

• $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

*****

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?

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.

Luxury Food is a Scam

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Every year, the Vancouver Rowing Club hosts an event they call Champagne & Caviar. It’s NOT really Champagne and caviar. We’ve gone a couple of times now, and it’s basically all-you-can-drink prosecco, other miscellaneous sparkling wines, and a lot of tobiko. Technically speaking, there’s no actual sturgeon caviar, and only about 10% real Champagne. However, with tickets priced at a very reasonable <$30, NO ONE CARES. Why? Everyone there knows it’s “close enough” and just as good! There’s no need to pay more! Let me explain.

Marketers are mostly responsible for why common things cost so much. They’re why industrial diamonds are cheap (and are literally known as bort), but an engagement ring can be $36,537. They’re why a fancy lobster dinner can cost $60 or more, even though lobsters used to be prison food. They’re why a Rolex can be $31,625 when there’s literally no reason for anyone to wear watches anymore. It turns out people like Veblen goods, and like to pay more to feel rich! It’s the most glorious scam ever orchestrated in the name of capitalism, and it’s working! Luckily, we see it for what it is. Usually.

Well, as someone who fell for luxury goods and luxury foods for years, I believe we should savour the cheap shit. I have yet to taste a $500 Champagne that gave me more satisfaction than 25 bottles of decent $20 cava. Yet, to the average consumer, everyone claims to love Champagne, all without even knowing why, how it’s made, its history, or even where it comes from! I think that’s fucking insane. I mean, doesn’t that sound a bit like pursuing someone else’s idea of value, and not our own?

Admittedly, I fell for this again just a few nights ago. Being a food nerd, I was excited to visit a restaurant that served jamón ibérico de belotta because I’d never had it before. On paper, it sounded amazing. Iberian ham from free-range pigs fattened on acorns, roaming dehesas their whole lives… I don’t know how, but they somehow made ham — the most common thing ever — into something almost romantic. I fell for it hard. As I watched them carve 60g off a jamonera centerpiece, I couldn’t wait for these wafer-thin slices of top-shelf charcuterie to blow my mind. Surely, this would make run-of-the-mill prosciutto seem like Purina! Schinkenspeck might as well be Spam! I chuckled at my culinary superiority, lifted the first slice to my mouth, and took a bite. Any second now, this would be the best thing I’d ever eaten… Yep, any second now… I swallowed. Huh. Um.

That was it?

This happens all the time. I touched on this in “Bitching and Wining”, but there’s so little difference between cheap food and expensive food, there’s really no reason to EVER pay more than $20 for a meal. Wanna try sturgeon caviar? Not for $125/10g, you don’t. Try ikura for $20/113g. I think I actually prefer it. Truffles for $275/oz? Literally everyone I know prefers fake-as-fuck truffle oil. I’ve never understood the appeal of real truffles. Every time I’ve had them, they’ve either overpowered my food or added a dirt-like component. Maybe rare cognac is your thing. Louis XIII cognac is $3,300/bottle. As someone who’s had it twice, meh. It’s not even that rare. Right now, in the Richmond suburbs I live in, I know of at least two bottles within walking distance. You’re paying to seem rich! It’s all just marketing!

I’ve had “the good stuff”. It’s a rip-off. It’s one of the reasons I’m in debt. Expensive food only tastes better because we take the time to taste it. I’m not saying you should live off 7-Eleven beef teriyaki anytime soon, but I’ll leave you with this: For some reason, 7-Eleven beef teriyaki was a better food experience to me than dining at Lasserre.

It turns out once you see through all the bullshit, food is food. No matter how rich you get – as Bill Gates once said – “it’s the same hamburger”. I’d rather pay $5 for it instead of $500.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Space Is Your Greatest Asset

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Everywhere you look now, space is at a premium. Parking a car in Vancouver for three hours can set you back $21. Fifty square feet of storage in Toronto can cost you $193/month. According to Rentseeker, my 3-bedroom in Richmond would rent for $1,644! Somehow, we’ve all just accepted that space is expensive, even though the price for renting that space is often flat-out stupid! What if we decided to end the madness? What if, instead of being gouged for square footage, we found a way to make our existing space work for us instead of the other way around? Well, listed below are a few ways you can cash in. You don’t need to live in a mansion either. I’m just a regular guy who recognized an opportunity. You might realize there’s been a cash cow in your backyard all along.

First, the obvious: Get roommates. You don’t have to live alone. I’ve done the math, and by March 2018, I’ll be back to “no rent and no bills” because of what I make from them. I’m sacrificing my home office to make it work, but not really. I’m just moving my office to my currently underutilized living room. To get even more advanced, consider getting into Airbnb if you have a spare room! Here’s an article about it. For the nitty-gritty, here’s another! If that all sounds too stressful, rent to friends because you can still make extra cash in unique circumstances. We still “put people up in our storage closet for about $300/month”, and my friends all know they can come to me if things ever get weird, like if they suddenly get evicted or a relationship splits up. This was my first step. If you’re willing to bring other people into your space, you can profit immensely.

In another example, this book describes how its author uses an MRP (Multi-unit Residential Property) to live rent-free. He even advocates going as extreme as buying a fourplex, renting out three units, and living in only one! In 1999 though, he bought his first duplex and started paying into it. The property was $109,000 in Calexico, CA and his monthly payment was around $900. He lived in one apartment and rented the other for $800/month. That $800 plus his $100 “rent” went straight into home equity! I suspect he’s doing quite well now. This is common and basic optimization of real estate. You probably know a bunch of people doing something similar right now.

I also discovered you don’t need a full room or apartment available to make money. When my dad died, I sold my van, took over his car, and now my parents’ two-car garage in New Westminster has one space open. (I live a few towns over in Richmond.) Remember how expensive storage can be? Well, I know someone desperately in need of storage space. Instead of gouging them though, I’m letting them use that space for $50/month. It’s slightly less convenient for everyone because I’d have to accompany them whenever they need access, but they’d save (and I’d earn) hundreds! It’s win-win because I get to profit, they get to save, and I’ve effectively done a favour for them! It’s great!

Live near an event space? Here in Vancouver, near our local fairgrounds, residents open up their driveways for people to park. Last I checked, the fair itself charges $20 for parking, so let’s say we charge $15/car. Well, if you have a property width of 14.5 metres and a large enough backyard, YOU CAN PARK FIVE VEHICLES LEGALLY. $75/day for a month? That’s over $2,000! Everyone should be doing something like this! You can even monetize a small patch of dirt on the sunny side of your building! I’d gladly pay $50 for a garden space during the summer if I didn’t already have one. We all have access to space that’s “ours”, so let’s use it!

These are just a few examples, but every bit of space in your home should have a job. Let it make money for you. I’m a few thousand richer every year because I abide by that. Can you do the same and live rent-free? Tell us in the comments.

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?