My Priorities Were Not What I Thought They Were

“Don_t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I_ll tell you what they are.”-3

It’s time to end Unconbentional.

After two years of posting 4x a month, and one year of posting 2x a month, I’ve said all there is to say. Anything I post now will just be some variation of “don’t buy stuff, invest in index funds, work hard, staying active in retirement will make you richer and happier, et cetera”. There are few places I can go from here that aren’t covered better on another blog. That’s not to say I’m giving up on my journey; I invite you to follow me on Twitter where I’ll provide continuous updates. For now though, it’s time to wrap this blog up with a neat little bow. Expect two more posts, including an update from The Other Ben, and how far he’s come on his FI goals.

*****

I’ve improved my financial health, but not as much as I thought. My income hasn’t changed significantly, and though I now have heaps of knowledge and theory about saving money, my discipline has been poor. For instance, I once got my monthly alcohol expenses down to $408.94 (which is still an insane number). Last month, it shot back up to more than $900! James Frick is right. I can write about my goals, but am I taking appropriate steps of action? Probably not.

Using last month’s numbers, I still spend $2,733.23/month. (The month before was more, but there was a job loss there, so I’m trying to work with a more stable number.) Back in January 2016, I was spending $3,363.26, so there’s been an 18% improvement! I’m happy to say I’m now putting aside $250/month straight into index funds, and also attacking debt as best I can. The plan now looks roughly like this: I started with about $20,000 invested on my 30th birthday, and I’m adding $250/month forever. With 35 years to grow at 7% before I “retire” at 65, I’m looking at $650,000+ and I’ll still have my 99-year leasehold with over 30 years left on it. Am I maxing out my RSP? No. Am I even maxing out my TFSA? No. But I’ve got a plan, and I still intend on working in some capacity forever. I’m trying my damnedest to make my financial future my priority. (James Frick would say otherwise. $900 on booze, and only $250 on investments? No bueno.) This is why personal finance can be so hard for people. I’ve written 75,000 words about what we should all do financially, but my bad habits have held strong. I have a drinking problem. I’m not as frugal as I think I am. And you know what? I’ll suffer for it.

All things considered, life is good though. I eat and drink what I want, and my housing is stable. That’s pretty okay, and I’m lucky to have that. I hope now to increase my income by allotting more time to my photography business and less time to this blog. Instead of talking about money, I’ll be spending more time earning it. And with that, it’s time for me to sign off. It’s been a great run, and there are two posts left. For some real inspiration, make sure to read our penultimate post. The Other Ben is still a personal finance wizard. Listen to him, not me.

I hope I’ve helped.

Advertisements

If You Treasure It, Measure It

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 12.54.50 AM

The beginning of a new year is always an exciting time for me, but it’s not partying and blackout drinking I’m looking forward to. I already know exactly where I’m gonna be when midnight strikes, and it won’t be anywhere near a club. I’ll be at home – and I’m stoked about that – standing on my Fitbit scale while I make a full photo backup of everything pre-2018. Earlier in the day, I’ll have mathed out my debt reduction targets, and set goals for my index funds and bathroom renovations. It’s almost like having New Year’s resolutions, but everything’s trackable instead of a vague “I should go to the gym more.” In a way, I’m approaching this like an entrepreneur more. Every good business should have targets, goals, and quotas. Doing the same for personal goals only makes sense.

With renovations on the horizon, attacking my debt isn’t happening as quickly as I’d like this year, so I’m setting a realistic target of $1,000/month. I expect the bathroom renovations to earn me money in the future though, so it’s not “lost money”. It’s an investment towards future rent income. For my health, I’ve already hit my weight goal, but I’d like to bring my body fat percentage (BF%) down to 24. Right now, I’m sitting at 24.2 — down from January’s BF% of 27.8 — so I’m already almost there! 2017 was pretty good to me! It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t decided to measure EVERYTHING.

You can go as nuts with this as you’d like. I love this Debts To Riches post about gamifying your goals. Strangely, as I’ve stopped playing video games, I’ve identified what made them so appealing to me. They gave me trackable feedback that I was making progress towards an achievement! That’s the only thing that made them addictive as fuck! Now, realizing I wanted REAL WORLD ACHIEVEMENTS instead of just another PlayStation trophy helped me hang up my controllers for good. The only RPG I play now is as Ben, hoping to achieve even half the greatness of The Other Ben.

If you value something, measure it. This applies to personal relationships as well. Want to spend more time with your kid? Literally track your time for a month or two, and figure out if you can do more. You might find raising your kid is passing you by faster than you’d like. Want to improve your mental health and reduce your stress levels? Track it. Here’s a page full of ideas. Want to read more? At the end of every reading session, track how many pages you’ve read. It’s intensely motivating when you get near a major milestone. Imagine you’re at 47,000 pages in December. You’re gonna want 50,000!

This is easiest to do with money for obvious reasons. It’s the start of a new year, and there’s no better time to start than now. Figure out where you want to make the most improvements, and come up with a way to track it all. Do it NOW. On January 1, you’ll be entering the new year with a clear idea of what you want. What gets measured gets treasured.

Here’s to you kicking ass in 2018, and see you in the new year!

*****

For 2018, we’re going down to two posts a month. For now, I’m focussing on paid writing work, and looking to make our blogging schedule more flexible to take on new opportunities.

Stay up to date about us on Twitter!

I’ve Fallen In Love With Work Again

22489876_10159602181400691_3405005820224731041_n

Well, it’s winter. I’m almost done my wedding photography obligations, and as usual, there are no bookings in December. From here on in, I can just coast into 2018 with entire weeks off if I wanted. It’d be my reward for a job well done after an entire summer spent scrambling for more clients, new marketing materials, and the perfect shot. Yep, it’s time to lay low, and do nothing…

The only problem is I can’t sit still.

In fact, I’ve never been more motivated to ride this wave of productivity straight to the bank. Here’s what I’ve got going on.

*****

I’m almost 30, and reading Debts To Riches last month inspired me to crush my debt and increase my net worth in a huge way. In November, I took on extra shifts at my side job, knowing that every $1 I invested would eventually be 10x more. I cranked out three 500-word articles for a startup in my spare time, and made a quick $225. I sold off old hard drives that were gathering dust, and made a few hundred there too! My tiny RSP then ballooned to a solid $20,000+, and I’ve also set the stage for future productivity! I’m finally redoing my photography website, and it should be live by the start of 2018! It’s been go-go-go!

Though I could relax with some cheap entertainment after all this, I found that riding my wave of motivation was actually more fun. With 30 just around the corner, I wanted to start off as the best 30-year-old I could be. I even reexamined my fitness goals, and did a replay of January. Through healthier eating, intermittent fasting, increased exercise, and temperature manipulation, I finally brought myself to a healthy BMI for 5’ 8”: 162 pounds! It’s not just money-making work I’m doing; I’m also putting a lot of work into myself.

For me, this never would’ve happened if I didn’t surround myself with people and messages that encourage self-improvement. I spend more time with personal finance nerds now, and less time with people who naysay or joke about being shitty. This was perhaps the best decision of my adult life. I don’t say this lightly, but being a literal millionaire is within reach now! (On our Facebook, I’ll happily show you the math.) All it took was being around people willing to become the best versions of themselves they could be.

If you make self-improvement a hobby, you’ll be fucking unstoppable. You can always make a buck. You can always burn a calorie. You can always learn a new skill.

What do you want: more screen time, or a better you?

See you at the top!

Fitness Ben vs. Fatness Ben, or How to Lose 10 Pounds in a Month

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-5-22-14-pm

It’s a sunny day in Steveston as I write this, home of Once Upon A Time and the Power Rangers, and I’m treating myself to a cold pint of rye porter. A month has passed since I wrote ‘Financial Planning for Your Life Expectancy’ and the week following that was kind of a scary one! I mean, I was staring my mortality in the face! All of a sudden, 77 seemed like too young to die. In that post, I knew I had my finances sorted, but what could I do to live an even longer life and actually get the chance to spend the money I’d been saving? I decided to double down on my health. Here’s how that went.

First, a story: I was kinda fat. Not like “my shorts could double as a parachute” fat, but fat enough. When my friends wanted to take me on a hike, I had to ask them how “bennable” it was. Would I have to scramble up a mountain? Was the trail longer than 5 kilometres? A lot of the time, I’d simply stay home. I was content in my shittiness. It wasn’t until the neon sign appeared in my mind, flashing “YOU WILL DIE AT 77”, that I knew I needed to get my shit together. A month later, I’m happy to announce I have my poop in a group. It all started with this article.

Losing 10 pounds in a month was my new challenge. Not just the weight loss, but also the healthy habits that come with maintaining a proper weight. While everyone else was watching the ball drop and smooching strangers, I was standing on my Fitbit Aria™ noting down my weight – 182.4 pounds. I knew what I needed to do. It was radical.

Beer intake got under control for the first time in my life. I knew every bottle I opened would set me back almost a day of weight loss progress. I started walking everywhere, sometimes reaching 30,000 steps a day. I loosely adopted Tim Ferriss’ slow-carb diet (SCD) and started cooking my own food aggressively. I started experimenting with intermittent fasting (IF), though I don’t recommend that for reasons like this. I read up on basal metabolic rates (BMR) and even went so far as to deliberately put myself in cold environments to increase calorie burn. On January 30, at 3:51 PM, I stood on my Aria, nervous because I only had one day left to meet my goal… I damn near cried. I’d done it. I was 169.6 pounds.

You can do it too.

*****

This should be obvious, but there’s a huge caveat as you read this: I AM NOT A FUCKING DOCTOR. This is only what worked for –ME– to lose 12.8 pounds in under a month. Be careful, and if you’re not feeling well, DON’T CONTINUE TAKING THIS ADVICE. You have been warned. I don’t want anyone in the hospital because of this. Sound good? Okay, let’s move on.

_____

HERE ARE SOME SOLID STEPS TO LOSE 10 POUNDS IN A MONTH:

* Cook your own food as often as you can, and treat bread, pasta, potatoes and rice as though they come with a warning.
* Greens and eggs are your friends. My typical breakfast is now a spinach omelette, but in case cholesterol is a concern, offset that with lentils for dinner. They seem to reduce LDL, or “bad cholesterol”. Here’s a great recipe I used. Here’s a more indulgent one.
* Walk 15,000-20,000 steps a day. It’ll burn roughly 3,500 calories after you factor in BMR, equal to roughly a pound of fat gone. Use a Fitbit to keep track if it helps motivate you.
* If you have unhealthy eating habits, DON’T actually use a full cheat day once a week. It’s one thing to allow yourself a little bit of fried chicken on a Saturday/Faturday. It’s entirely different to mainline Twinkies for 24 hours.
* Feel guilty when you’re sitting down. Unless it’s for work, you should be moving. Now that you know you can ALWAYS burn a calorie (like you can ALWAYS make a buck), turn your Netflix marathon into preparing for an actual marathon. You don’t need to actually run one; just get fit enough that it becomes a possibility someday!
* Get knowledgeable on fitness and food: I recommend “The 4-Hour Body” on audiobook as you walk, and “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” for a quick read. Both books offer contradicting advice. Find a balance that works best for you.

_____

A FEW WARNINGS AS YOU DO THIS:

* You’ll lose weight drastically when you start eating better, and it’ll shoot back up in 5-8 days when you get insanely thirsty. This is water weight. Don’t let it throw you off your goals.
* If you experiment with IF, which totally works but isn’t recommended, you –WILL– feel occasionally dizzy. Don’t drive while doing IF.
* The more accustomed you get to walking long distances, the more you’ll start to experience akathisia when you’re forced to sit still for too long. That’s normal. Try not to let it fuck with you too much.
* Have some goddamn fun as you do this! Seriously, drink the occasional beer. If you deny yourself the simple pleasures in life, you’ll inevitably backslide in huge ways. Don’t let your weight loss program get in the way of your happiness. This is important!

*****

My goal now is to simply maintain 170 pounds and a good baseline of physical activity. Remember the life expectancy calculator I used? Here’s what I get with my new stats: M, 28, 5’ 8”, 170 pounds, normal blood pressure, quit smoking, 3-5 drinks a day, active? 84 – A SEVEN-YEAR LIFE EXPECTANCY INCREASE! THAT’S EVEN ASSUMING I DRINK LIKE THIS FOREVER! You can make a change like this in a month too! If you could increase your life expectancy by SEVEN YEARS IN A MONTH, wouldn’t you do it?

Fatness Ben is dead. Fitness Ben beat the crap out of him because Fatness Ben was a wuss.

Ask me anything on Facebook.

My Secret to Hyperproductivity

16237745_10158213798030691_920140300_n

A few days ago, I had all of the following done by 12 noon:
– took 15,000 steps
– listened to 90 minutes of “The 48 Laws of Power” on audiobook
– wrote ‘Why Eating Out Makes Me Sad’
– read Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” cover to cover
– grabbed office supplies for my photography business
– and most importantly: even had two beers at the pub!

At no point did I feel rushed or stressed, and I’m happy to say mornings like this are a regular occurrence for me now. I exercise, expand my personal knowledge, do a bit of work, and even take time to relax… All before some people take their lunch break.

Sure, Ben, you’re probably thinking. You can do all that before 12 noon because you’re an entitled douchebag without a day job. Try working for 8 hours a day like the rest of us.

Uh, well, I do. By midnight that day, I was up to 28,000 steps with a 7-hour liquor store shift behind me. Even then, no rush and no stress. I felt more productive than ever, and it was all due to a simple idea I like to call “compound tasking”. Here’s how it works.

Compound tasking and multitasking are completely different beasts. The first distinction is that compound tasking comes into play when you have both a professional goal and a personal goal, and want to work on both at the same time. Multitasking tends to be all about work. Examples of multitasking include Elon Musk’s version of productivity – “he sends emails while scanning invoices, holds meetings and takes care of business on his phone at the same time, and even texts with his children on his lap”. (One could argue he’s also spending time with his family in the last example, but let’s come back to that in a bit. There’s only one hard no-no about compound tasking, and we’ll talk about that at the end.) On the other hand, compound tasking looks more like this – I get my exercise by walking 5 kilometres to the office supply shop while answering business texts on my phone, and I listen to mind-expanding audiobooks at the same time. My work obligations are taken care of, I’m looking after my health, and I’m actively learning… ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

I try to adopt compound tasking in all my activities. Even my shifts at the liquor store involve it, and I deliberately chose that side job with compound tasking in mind. For one, it expands my knowledge of beer, wine and spirits, which is a hobby of mine. On top of that, it provides me great exercise as I unload the weekly orders. It also gives me just enough downtime to actually stop and think about things. The job isn’t very mentally taxing, and I often formulate new business ideas and write post drafts as I work, usually while pacing the store to burn calories. And SOMEHOW, I’m getting paid for it all just by being present and stocking the occasional shelf! Compound tasking even reinvigorates me as I work because I’m working on a personal goal at the same time. I volunteer for the most physically active tasks to get more in shape, and end up looking super productive in the process! You can do this too!

Can you do double duty on your goals and attack personal accomplishments during your workday? Harvard Business Review suggests that “walking meetings support cognitive engagement, or focus, on the job”, but maybe you just want more Fitbit steps like I do. Look into them. Maybe you’re a security guard and most of your job involves just staying in one place. Can you listen to an audiobook or podcast instead of just throwing on Top 40? Trust me, the Adele lyrics never change. What if you’ve got a side hustle in addition to your day job? Write down ideas for your 10-to-2 while you work your 9-to-5!

Ever wonder why achieving a personal goal seems so hard? IT’S BECAUSE YOU PRIORITIZE THEM LESS THAN YOUR GODDAMN DAY JOB. STOP THAT.

A final note: Don’t attempt compound tasking with your friends and family. They’re not “a task that needs to be done”, they’re people. Spend time with them fully, and engage them with undivided attention. If you follow my advice on compound tasking, you’re gonna end up with more time anyway. Don’t forget to use it wisely.

Why Eating Out Makes Me Sad

15326460_10157966025560691_4130141601681846063_n

Mr. Money Mustache said it best: Look at me, I am renting this huge venue and paying an army of servants to prepare food for me!

Yep, that’s how I feel now. When I enter a restaurant, it all feels like the worst kind of transaction. From the moment I open the door, I’m spending money on literally every encounter. It really skeeves me out. You know that feeling you get at strip clubs? Kinda like that.

“Welcome to W____ S­____! Table for two?”

Welp, someone’s paying that hostess, I think to myself. It’s me. I’m paying her wages just by dining out like an idiot.

“How’s your day going?” she says.

“Fine, thanks.”

Ugh. All that trouble for a canned response.

I’m led to my table and handed a menu of oversalted pasta and old meat in white bread. Yum.

*****

There was a time when I loved eating out. Lost in the idea I deserved luxury at every turn, I had no problem spending hundreds on a Michelin-star meal. Now that I’ve had that experience – ugh. – I decided to learn how to cook so I wouldn’t fall into that trap again. Now, I see making meals at home as an immense privilege! You mean I get to use FRESH ingredients, LEARN an art form with a huge potential to save me more MONEY, AND I get the added benefits of INCREASED HEALTH and SEX APPEAL? (Okay, maybe that last one’s just me, but everyone loves a good cook, so…) Then, there’s the benefit of making things EXACTLY how I like them without having to explain to some 16-year-old I’m indirectly paying that, no, I don’t want your pancakes because your pancakes are shit. There’s really zero loss to cooking at home. My roommates and I eat like kings. I mean, look. This is from our last two months.

WEEK 11 – Tuna tataki, spicy eggplant and “takeout” noodles
WEEK 12 – Scallop ceviche, tuna tataki, Atlantic razor clams
WEEK 13 – Sticky chicken, asparagus, and rice
WEEK 14 – Century egg congee
WEEK 15 – Rosemary steak and bacon lentil salad
WEEK 16 – Butter clams and crusty bread
WEEK 17 – Spinach omelette
WEEK 18 – Coriander-rubbed duck breast, bacon lentil salad, and smoked salmon crostini

Cooking, for us, is now a cakewalk as we perfect our recipes and learn new skills. Not only that, but it’s HUGELY enjoyable. Sipping brandy as the aromas of duck fat and orange zest fill the kitchen? Easily a peak experience. Nailing the perfect crust on a lamb persillade and then sinking your teeth into the most decadent rare meat you’ve ever had? Goddamn orgasmic. Mastering the comfort foods of your childhood and knowing you can have a soul-warming congee whenever you want? Bliss.

Resolving to cook one ambitious meal a week has done wonders for me, and I highly recommend you make that a goal for yourself as well. You get to find out where your food comes from, and you develop a healthy respect for the nutrients you’re putting in your body. Ever wonder why people who adult well have so many dinner parties? You get to make an entire evening out of simple ingredients that – if you’re doing it right – only cost $8-$10 a person! I used to get absolutely fucking obliterated at bars for $150/night, only to go home sad and alone. Dinner parties are the obvious win! AND: Instead of hiring a culinary slave horde for two hours every time I’m feeling peckish, I’m using all that money ON MYSELF. I’m investing in my health, my life skills, and my enjoyment. What an easy freakin’ choice.

Just cook. You’ll love it, I promise.

*****

“Hi, can I take your order?”

Oh, fuck you. I’m cooking at home.

All My Failures Weren’t Failures At All

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-10-48-50-pm

It all started when I noticed the performers weren’t getting ID’d.

I was at a bar on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive and I was 18, desperate to drink with my 19-year-old friends. We were all out on the town to support my friend M as he did standup comedy. He wasn’t very good yet, but showbiz kids stick together. I ordered an appy and settled in.

Every night featured about seven performers. Pretty much all of them were terrible. They were the entertainment for the night though, so the bar treated them with respect. There were occasional free drinks, and I guess they gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed they were all 19+. I wanted in on that. I waved the emcee over.

“Hey, can I sign up for next week?”

“Uh, have you done this before?”

“No, but I’m pretty sure I can do what they’re doing.”

“Do you have any material?”

“No, not yet, but I’ll come up with something.”

After ten minutes of needling, he reluctantly gave me a slot. I’d invite my friends too, I thought to myself. They’ve been laughing at my dumb jokes for years. I walked home that night performing for an imaginary crowd. Surely, I was hilarious. This wasn’t even about the drinking anymore. When I was 18, I was about 80% hubris.

*****

I’ll spare you my jokes.

I was 18 at the time, and thought I was WAY funnier than I was. At best, my comedy stylings could be described as “bad”, and at worst, “probably somewhat racist against Koreans”. I was just another terrible performer. I got my drinks though, and I even went up four more times that summer and recycled the same shitty material for new crowds. Only once did I get great laughs. All the other times, I bombed hard. I gave it up, of course, but something started that summer. I learned the confidence I needed to go up in front of strangers and actually speak! Not just that, but FAILING my comedy show so many times made me realize the worst I could do was just piss people off for 10 minutes, and they’d forget all about me afterward. I was putting myself out there, and it was up to them whether they liked me or not. If they did, they’d pay attention – great! – and if they didn’t, they’d just ignore me, and that was fine. The end result was the same: I GOT MY DRINKS!

Even better than that was suddenly losing my fear of public speaking. I’ve now been invited to photo clubs, high schools, and industry events like 20Summit to speak about entrepreneurship and photography. I accept whenever I can. Because my business sense is better than my comedy, I’ve yet to have a bad experience. My failure at comedy led to success as a public speaker!

This is only one example, but I’ve failed at stuff a LOT. I once tried screenwriting. That led to film school, and I don’t even work on film sets anymore. I once tried drumming for a band. Over a decade later, I still struggle with a proper paradiddle. I once tried community theatre. The group imploded after only two productions. I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I learned a fuckton. Nowadays, I don’t see all those as failures anymore. Rather, they’re all TEMPORARY SUCCESSES that inform my CURRENT GOALS.

Screenwriting taught me how to take a written idea and translate it visually. Drumming for a band taught me how to work and collaborate creatively in a group dynamic. Community theatre taught me how to market my art locally, and how to drum up business for something that people don’t even need. IT WAS ALL USEFUL.

There’s something I want you to take from all this: Try – and fail – often. Seriously. Fail all the fucking time. Fail so spectacularly that insurance companies get involved. Fail, then fail again, then fail again. Try everything you’ve ever wanted to do. Don’t give a shit if you fail. I can guarantee you you’ll learn SOMETHING from it, and it WILL inform your future success. You’re not even failing. You’re taking small, measurable steps toward your next success. The modern day master is a jack of all trades. Anything more complicated can be looked up on YouTube. Hell, I’m trying to be a personal finance blogger. Have you seen how much fucking debt I’m in?!?

What have you always been afraid of trying/failing? Tell us in the comments.