Money and Convenience Are Basically The Same Thing

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Hot pot is glorious. Somewhere, deep in my childhood memories, I have vague recollections of bubbling broth, delicately rolled sheets of meat, odd dipping sauces, and questionable food safety, and it somehow became one of my favourite ways to enjoy a meal. Looking now to recreate it – which I did this past weekend with spectacular results – I’d found myself standing in the veggie aisle of an Asian supermarket. In small packages, there were cremini, enoki, shiitake, and white button mushrooms, but there was also a “hot pot mix”, cleverly portioned out to be exactly what I needed. In a moment of weakness, I ignored the $8.98 price tag and put them in my basket. Given a choice between “I could buy the individual packages and get more mushrooms for the same price” and being a bad chef, I became a bad chef. I chose convenience over money. After all, like everyone else, I may as well pay for convenience… right?

This got me thinking though. When you get right down to it, that’s all we ever pay for. You buy a car to avoid walking multiple kilometres to work every day. You buy a computer to avoid doing all your scheduling, task managing, and socializing via pen and paper. You buy meat so you don’t have to raise chickens or gut a deer. Perhaps, if all you want is to live a wealthier life, it may be as easy as letting in some inconvenience!

I know this is certainly true for me. I eat takeout and $8.98 mushrooms more than I care to admit, and I still haven’t ventured into brewing my own beer. We’ve also talked about not owning things if you can help it, but I still have so much crap, I have to give/throw stuff away regularly. Suddenly, I wanted to know what an inconvenient lifestyle looked like, based on my daily expenses.

Wake up.
Brew my own coffee.
Make myself a sandwich for work.
Bike to work.
Drink tap water.
Eat the sandwich on my break.
Bike home.
Make a quick dinner.
Drink a homebrew.
Read articles online.
Go to bed.

This is, of course, regular daily living for countless people and the joie de vivre of many a Mustachian. I decided to go ahead and define my barriers to success.

I would need to buy a coffeemaker.
I would need to make more time for grocery shopping.
I would need to buy another trike (because the last one was stolen).
I would need to purchase equipment for homebrewing, and I don’t have a passion for it.

That’s it! At this point, I found it genuinely weird I’d have to buy things to make my life more inconvenient on my terms, but as it’s such a simple fix, it may be worth investigating. The coffeemaker, for instance, could be a great investment. Coffee currently costs $0.55 at the local 7-Eleven, but coffee at home is more like $0.08. It seems pretty insignificant, but a year of coffee at home instead of 7-Eleven java saves me $171.55, enough for many coffeemakers! Now, I just wish I liked homebrewing…

The obvious takeaway is introducing inconvenience means more money in our pockets. Getting back on a trike would save me from $60 tanks every month for an extra $720/year. Add car maintenance – my last bill was $715 – then add the coffee, and I just pulled $1,500+ out of my ass by slightly inconveniencing myself!

Try doing a similar exercise to the one above, and ask yourself, “How inconvenient can I make my life?” It shouldn’t be too scary at all. Determine your barriers to success, and figure out how much money you’d save. I’m not telling you to dumpster dive or use toilet paper stolen from library bathrooms, but think about it this way: With virtually every consumable, you can either choose to walk away with Money or Convenience.

How rich do you want to be?

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Pleasure-Purpose-Purchase, or Should I Buy This?

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“[H]appiness is experiences of pleasure and purpose over time.”
– Paul Dolan

Now that we know happiness can be quantified in numbers – (Read this first.) – I suddenly realized this was a massive breakthrough. In our last post, we applied a pleasure and purpose metric to activities to figure out how happy they were making us, but we missed the obvious: What if we applied the same pleasure and purpose metric to purchases? We’re a personal finance blog after all. It’d be stupid to not talk about money.

Anyway, I adopted this scoring system for any purchase over $10 I was considering. The first number is the pleasure I can expect from my purchase rated from 1-10, the second number is its anticipated purposefulness from 1-10, and the third bit is whether or not I bought it. Score anything you’ve recently wanted to buy accordingly! Recent pleasure-purpose-purchase scores for me have been stuff like:

Allergy medication: 4-9-Y
4-pack of rare beer: 7-5-Y
New Fitbit wristband: 6-2-N
All-you-can-eat sushi dinner: 7-4-Y
New audiobook: 6-3-N

In order for me to say yes to a purchase, my pleasure and purpose scores must add up to at least 10 out of 20. Otherwise, I put it back on the shelf. (For you, your score may be different. You might have something be 2-4-Y after mentally justifying it, and you might even set your purchase threshold at 8 out of 20 or lower.) Even now, this is stopping me from making purchases that won’t make me significantly happier. Look at what else I’ve been saying no to:

New 4K 55” TV: 6-2-N ($400)
Profoto A1 camera flash: 3-6-N ($1,000)
6-pack of craft beer I’ve tried before: 5-3-N ($15)
Food mill: 5-4-N ($45)

These are all things I want, but after scoring them all, I realized the money was better saved and invested. Besides, I already had a 50” TV and old flashes, which is why I ranked purpose relatively low. Let’s say I would’ve bought all that stuff this month were it not for the P-P-P score. I would’ve spent $1,460. Invested using the 10X rule, that’d be $14,600 by retirement in one month alone!

Can applying this scoring system to your discretionary spending save you tens of thousands of dollars? I think it will. Think about this and score your next few purchases, then comment below with your findings.

In the meantime, I’m gonna have some of that 7-5-Y beer. Mmm, unnecessary luxury…

Why Coworkers Don’t Talk About Their Salaries (and Why We Should)

if financial success and work is a game,

The gender wage gap is a thing. Bitches Get Riches illustrated this best when they said “This is not open to discussion” and made every word a separate link to census data and economics journals. Anyway, know it’s true, even in my past workplaces. I’m now paid $2 more per hour than my previous (female) assistant manager. Guess what: I’m not the assistant manager. Obviously, something’s going a little fucky here. That’s why I’m trying to do something about it.

Paraphrasing from a now buried tweet I once saw, “Men shouldn’t consider themselves allies unless they disclose their salary to female coworkers. This is the only way we can achieve wage equality.” I agree, and I’ve been extremely open to anyone who’s asked. I also kinda think everyone should disclose their salary to one another, for a couple of reasons. First though, let’s weigh the cons.

The main problem I hear is it might put a target on your back. Sometimes, people will think it’s unfair you’re getting paid more than them. (Spoiler alert: Sometimes, they’re right.) I’ve had coworkers go out of their way to try and sink me, but the end result of this was I actually got much better at my job. With management seeing me go above and beyond in my work, the naysayers have mostly slinked away. Besides, any misguided attempts at revenge would be a race to the bottom. Being a good dude and trying to boost them up instead is a race to the top. With this mindset, that target no longer seems so bad. It just seems like part of the game. Let’s come back to this in a second.

The other obvious problem is this results in coworkers making a snap judgment about workplace hierarchy. I don’t really think I “outrank” anyone, by the way. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all the same cubicle. We’ve already established wages aren’t objectively fair (and most of them are far too low across the board anyway), so let people think what they want, but try to boost them up too. This is actually one of the best things you can do to increase your own salary. If I’m a manager with three employees, and they’re paid $30/$30/$23, when Employee #3 asks for a raise, giving them $27 is almost a “Why the fuck not?” Here’s the sweet part: If you’ve got a great connection with your coworkers, and you’ve all been open about your salaries, Employee #3 can knowledgeably ask for more! This even makes your boss look good. Managing a team of highly paid professionals looks great on paper. Managing an unmotivated clusterfuck of minimum wage underlings? Not so hot.

Your workplace is just a game, and everyone’s in it to win. Done right, there are no losers. Your “boss” is a coworker. That’s it. They want success too. Stop comparing the extra money and focus on yourself. “How can make $3 more per hour,” not “Debbie’s a bitch for being richer.” Besides, if you’re here, you’re on your way to wealth already, partly because you’re smart enough to talk about money openly. If financial success and work is a game, you should know the rules and how other people are playing itBurying your head in the sand helps no one. Bringing down your workplace helps no one. You know what does help? Community over competition. It’s not even a competition! Go to work, boost up your team, and be open about how much you make. Any temporary feelings of inadequacy might suck now – “Ben makes HOW much?!?” – but knowledge is always good. After all, if someone is doing the same job as you, but makes $40,000 more per year, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Wouldn’t you want to look into that opportunity too? Just resist the urge to bring them down. Race to the top, y’all. Let’s all get rich together, and embrace the workplace. If you’re still working, you might as well love it.

We Use 66% Less Electricity Than Our Neighbours

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Over the past few months, we’ve gotten pretty good about optimizing our finances, but our obsessively geeky need to optimize everything eventually led us to the website of BC Hydro. For those of you not in BC, BC Hydro is our main electricity distributor, serving about 1.8 million customers across the province. Since I moved into my place seven years ago, I’ve been paying bills from them every two months. They keep the lights on for us, but I never turn on too many. That’s why I suspect we’re one of the most energy-efficient households in our area. Pull up your own numbers and play along. It’s kinda fun being able to see your stats. Here’s ours.

BC Hydro has a thing they call Team Power Smart. You click a button and they start tracking your kWh usage for the next 365 days. Reduce your energy consumption by 10% from the previous year, and you get a $50 credit on your bill! Obviously, $50 is peanuts, but the seed had been planted. With raw data in front of me and graphs to show my progress, my goal now wasn’t just 10%. Now the question was, How low could I go? From November 2016 to November 2017, I somehow blew through 4,600+ kWh. To qualify for my credit, my goal from November 2017 to November 2018 is 4,191 kWh, but my stretch goal is actually 3,000 kWh. I crunched some numbers, and we seem to use 10.08 kWh per day on average, or 302.4 kWh per month. I briefly lamented not being on track for my stretch goal, but then I looked up average electricity usage in BC. “Households in BC Hydro’s service area average just over 900 kWh per month”! We’re literally 3x more efficient! This only strengthened my resolve. If BC Hydro was giving me $50, I might as well use it for good. Time for some online shopping.

A few nights ago, I came home to a package waiting for me: the Kill A Watt P4460 I’d been eyeing for months. The order total was $45.84, but I knew this’d save me more in the long run. With the ability to plug it into just about anything and immediately see a cost forecast by week, month, or year, it’s giving me the data I need to be smarter about energy consumption. I no longer use a PS4 as my main streaming device, and now use an Apple TV I got through a barter. According to this, a PS4 “consumes 89 watts per hour when streaming video”, “35 to 40 times more power consumption” than an Apple TV. Because I was an idiot just a few years ago, I once had five PlayStations all humming away in my living room. Now: one Apple TV. I haven’t noticed any decrease in life satisfaction. In fact, I think I’m happier.

Our light bulbs are almost all CFL now too. Technically, LEDs use less electricity, and buying them kinda makes sense, but not really. Computers also go to sleep more often, and I’m even reading about energy-efficient cooking (except that barely even matters).

Annnnnd… that’s kinda it. There’s pretty much nowhere else we can be more efficient. I limit screen time anyway, so instead of a 50” HDTV running all the time, I listen to audiobooks on my iPhone. (Current binge: “Happiness by Design” by Paul Dolan.) Also, I went back in my BC Hydro history, found the oldest bill I had, and I’m apparently paying 18% less per bill now. See why I’m a data geek? Saving hundreds now means thousands later. We’ll most likely revisit our energy consumption this November and see how we did on our challenge. In the meantime, I’ll try not to seem like such a weirdo typing on his keyboard in the dark.

If you’ve got weird energy-saving tips, let us know in the comments. How do you think we’re doing? Is 10 kWh/day a lot for three people? Let’s get competitive and save some money.

PS: We pay a base cost of $0.18990/day, and $0.08580/kWh. What’s your rate?

Are You Worth Your Wage?

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Okay, don’t close this window yet. There’s a point to all of this. I know many people have adversarial relationships with their employers, but this will help shed some light on how they see you as an employee, which will ultimately make your working relationship better. This will most likely lead to raises, promotions, happy working conditions, and more control over how you work. Worst-case scenario: You lose three minutes, and decide you deserve a better job. That’s valuable to know too.

First off, most employees have no idea how much they actually cost their employer. In this fantastic article about salary negotiation, Patrick McKenzie writes, “[G]et into the habit of seeing employees like employers see them: in terms of fully-loaded costs.  To hire someone you need to pay for their salary, true, but you also have taxes, a benefits package, employer contributions to retirement, healthcare, that free soda your HR department loves mentioning in the job ads, and what have you.” Depending on a variety of factors, for many jobs, “a reasonable guesstimate is between 150% and 200% of their salary.” You cost more than what you see on your paycheck. When I say it like that, it seems obvious, but it’s a significant jump. Your $20/hour is more like $30/hour. This is just a quick aside, but keep it in mind if you didn’t know this already. Let’s get to the meat of this article.

Let’s say you have a below-average job. It’s not too stressful, and you spend one of your eight hours a day just Facebook-ing. Regardless of how you spend your time, every three minutes, someone from accounting walks by your desk, taps you on the shoulder, and hands you $1. “Thank you,” you say in this absurdist scenario. “See you in three minutes. I’m gonna watch a cat video now.” Here’s the thing: From an employer’s point of view, this is exactly what’s happening. If you make $20/hour, by the numbers, this isn’t an absurdist scenario at all. It’s just math! Now, I get that you can’t be directly productive every minute you’re at your workplace, but I started asking myself, “Am I worth what I’m being paid? Even at my (now-)$16/hour job, am I actually making my employer $1 every 3m45s? Not only that, but am I making them profit that will also cover the cost of keeping the lights on and the store open? Is it notably better than the 7% they’d be earning in an index fund instead?”

When you think about it that way, simply employing you is a goddamn risk. If the position is a mutually beneficial fit though, you’ll be earning them boatloads of money using a passionately developed set of skills, and they’ll be paying you well to develop those skills until you’re making boatloads of money too! Remember how we talked about going “above and beyond in work and business”? I’ve been using real-time pay calculators as a motivational tool at my day job. When I see it tick up $10 and I know I’ve actually done nothing, I don’t particularly feel good about myself. It’s a gentle nudge towards productivity, and I’m thankful for that. I always strive to do more now, and I’m certain it shows.

This is even more insane with my wedding photography. To a client who’s paying me ~$400/hour to shoot, I’m getting paid $1 every nine seconds. Am I creating art worth $1 every nine seconds? I damn well better be to charge my rate. Knowing this helps me kick ass at my job!

Think about how you make money for your company. Would you hire you, or are you being a leech? Would you be more productive doing something better? Are you worth $X every X minutes? If you’re not, it may be time to find a better fit.

As both an employee and an employer, I’ve seen it from both sides. Are you worth your wage?

What Would You Do With A Million Dollars?

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It’s not about the money. It’s never been about the money. This is why.

If you’ve been with us since the beginning, you’ve already read 99 posts from us about frugality, optimizing our career lives, setting up side hustles, losing 10+ pounds effortlessly, house hacking, and how to set ourselves up for retirement. It’s been over two years, and I’d like to thank you all for accompanying me on this crazy ride towards being the healthiest and wealthiest humans we can possibly be. This post is our 100th post on Unconbentional, so for once, let’s dream a bit and remember why we’re doing what we’re doing. There’s a point to all of this, so stick around for some not-quite-obvious advice. If you want to live like a millionaire now, this is how.

We’ve all thought about it. With unlimited money, how would our lives be different? Almost a year ago, I challenged you to define your ideal day and — spoiler alert! — pursue exactly those goals and pastimes for the rest of your life. Some of us realized that happiness was within our grasp all along. Some of us realized we weren’t quite there yet, but that was okay too. What I discovered was I needed to set aside my “When I reach ________, then I’ll be able to ________!” mentality. Heck, I didn’t even wait until I had $500,000 in the bank to pull off a mini-retirement, and I learned a lot from it! I still have ambitious dreams though, and I’d like to share them with you now. Here’s a quick rundown of why I want to be a millionaire.

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My main hobby now is cooking. If I were a millionaire, I could cook every day for my friends. Heck, I might even pay someone to do my cleanup! (I wouldn’t though, because I know there’s value in doing what you hate.) Every night, I could roll out something ambitious and crazy like stuffed pig’s trotters or rigatoni con la pajata, and I could be creative and well-fed all the time, surrounded by friends at the dinner table. That’s Dream #1 and every day, I get closer. Sure, I might still be on French onion soup, but we all start somewhere.

Dream #2 is helping my friend “D” start a brewery. I’m more a drinker than a brewer, so I’d mostly look to finance it instead of actually working there. He’s been a loyal friend for over a decade, and if I were a millionaire, my dream would be to make his dream come true. For me, friends > money, every time.

Meanwhile, unrelated to food and drink, I’ve got a whole pack of friends who love cars, fixing them up, and drifting like maniacs. Basically, if a car’s going forwards or backwards, it’s boring. Driving sideways is their jam. (I think they’ve just seen too many Ken Block videos.) Dream #3 is going in with them to buy a cheap piece of land in the boonies, and owning just enough to put in a bit of dirt track. Those car nuts can go sideways forfuckingever. Again, happy friends make me happy.

The fourth and final dream is a pretty common one: World travel. I’d love to see Mexico, Spain, Argentina, and Australia. A loose goal I set myself is seeing 20 foreign countries by end-of-life. Dream #4 will be a lifelong pursuit, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s why I want $1M.

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The money doesn’t actually matter though. It’s just a tool to buy the dreams you really want. $1M in the bank doesn’t do anything except generate some profit from investments. Done properly, you can Retire For Good this way, but if you’re a loyal Unconbentional reader, you might realize full-on retirement might not be the world’s greatest goal either. Instead, for once, I urge you not to think about your dollars too much.

Instead of using only money as a metric of success, I’ve started quantifying the completion progress on my dreams. Since I’m an efficiency kook, I started looking for ways to increase my progress with as little money as possible. I quickly realized “When I reach ________, then I’ll be able to ________!” was just an excuse to delay working on goals. Supremely motivated people like you or I know we can start whenever. Here are examples.

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Dream #1 (40%)I cook once a week already, and I’ve gone up to four large meals in a week before. That week almost became a problem! With both my roommates working all the time, they can’t commit to at-home dinners seven days a week anyway. The last beef bourguignon I made even led to some food waste because we ate through it slower than we thought we would. Can you imagine if I cooked every day? I think I just need more friends to feed!

Dream #2 (10%) — Not much I can do about this one yet. I need to take care of my own money before I drop tens of thousands on a brewery. However, “D” became the assistant brewer at a 2,500-square-foot brewery recently, so maybe I can just visit him and strut around pretending I own the place.

Dream #3 (0%) — I mean, I’m researching lots to buy, but this ain’t happening soon.

Dream #4 (50%) — With a little advance planning, I can almost always leave on a weeklong trip. With contacts in Mexico and Australia, my vacations there could be cheaper than I thought. I’ve also already visited 10 countries; France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Greece, Denmark, UK, US, China, and Japan! Getting to 20 in this lifetime should be a cinch!

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I’m not saving to reach $1M. Not really. I’m actually saving to max out on my dreams. Here’s the thing: Without even spending all that much, you can work on your dreams every day. That’s what I want you to know. No more “when ________, then ________”! You’re not saving money; it’s more like dream fuel. The best part is real dreams are rarely tied to money. If your dream is to own a house someday, you might think you need $3M — (I live by Vancouver, okay?) — but with a little digging, you could also find a €19,000 property in Sicily! Money’s not the goal because your dreams are! Sometimes, a little bit of knowledge or even reading a blog post can fulfill an entire goal for you!

Gary Vaynerchuk once said, “People are chasing cash, not happiness. When you chase money, you’re going to lose. You’re just going to. Even if you get the money, you’re not going to be happy.”

This might be a personal finance blog, but it’s not about the cash. It never was. Find out why you do the grind. Work on your dreams now, every day. Look beyond the bank account, and remember why you want those numbers healthily high. Imagine what you’d do with a million dollars, and start doing that thing now.

It turns out I just want to cook for my friends. What dreams are you delaying for no reason?

Accept No Substitutes

Master your wants and you_ll be left with more of what you need.

“Oh, fuck. I really want octopus ceviche.”

Normally, I’d never crave restaurant food like this, but I didn’t have as much free time anymore. It was a rare “day off” from the day job, and dangerously, I was looking to treat myself. As an amateur foodie, this ticked all the boxes. It was a restaurant I’d never been to before, I’d probably learn what it took to make octopus ceviche at home, and it’d give me a break from my home office. Win-win, right? Heck, I might even be able to write a blog post there! I checked the price online. It was $10. Damn. (I’d recently adopted a rule that any purchase over $10 should be reexamined for alternatives.) The drink I was eyeing too — Boulevard’s “kentucky cold toddy” — would set me back another $7 plus tax and tip. Together, I was looking at blowing over $20 on a whim. That might have been fine for Old Ben, but not anymore. I decided to find a substitute.

Even though I was craving octopus ceviche hard, I knew the responsible thing to do was save money. Instead, I settled on a happy hour in the same neighbourhood where a beer was only $4.75. I’m drinking it now as I write this. Here’s the weird thing: My initial, super strong craving for octopus ceviche is now… gone? It’s almost as though any food or drink in front of me was enough. I didn’t need $20 in seafood and bougie cocktails; a $5 beer was extravagant enough.

You’ve probably seen that nutrition meme that says, “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry. You’re just bored.” I kinda believe that. I used to be terrible with splurging on food. If I wanted sushi, I’d just get it — no matter how much it was. Now, even though I still get those cravings, I’m far better at finding the affordable alternative. The $5 Subway 6” tuna was often just as satisfying as the $15 chirashi don! I challenge you to master your cravings. You’ll save money doing it, and reach a mystical level of financial zen. By becoming okay with getting not-exactly-what-you-want, you’ll be able to save for the big goals. Your cravings can basically always be satisfied with something that costs less!

Master your wants and you’ll be left with more of what you need. I know my $20 cravings can disappear with a $5 substitute. Do you?