Stop Stacking Luxuries

finalmoney

Having worked in the retail world a while now, I’ve been run through every sales talk about add-ons and upselling there is. I’ve seen the numbers too. I can’t divulge mine, but consider that your popcorn and drinks “represent some 40 percent of theaters’ profits”, and adding a $9.26 beer to your $15 meal just bumped it up 62%. For those reasons alone, I’m super cautious about stacking my luxuries. I’ll show you what I mean.

I never buy popcorn. I went out for a nacho night with friends recently, split the bill and didn’t order any drinks, and my bill was somehow less than $4. At home, I even try not to snack during a Netflix movie. When buying clothes, I don’t accessorize. When I cook, I garnish as cheaply as I can — (none of my friends appreciate saffron anyway). And you know what? I ended up appreciating each individual luxury more. Here’s why.

When I bought popcorn, I’d annihilate most of it during the previews and endure a 2-hour movie trying to tongue the hard bits out of my teeth. The soda would destroy my fitness goals, and make me have to pee right before the climax of “Don’t Breathe”. The fact I paid for that inconvenience was especially questionable. Why would I pay for something that made me enjoy a luxury — the movie — less? This even happens when I crack a beer during Netflix. At my worst, I wouldn’t even remember how the movie ended a day after. Would I even enjoy the beer? Not really. I was distracted by the movie. With every luxury you stack, each individual luxury is diminished.

There are exceptions, of course. Some people argue wine complements great food, and I don’t disagree. I’ve just always had trouble tasting the finer notes of a 1999 Barolo while my mouth was full with a $25 Keg steak. A great accessory can complete an outfit. It can also cost $9,750 when your Indochino suit was only $579. When you try to cap off a basic luxury with something that makes it ‘more special’, that’s a green light to a salesperson that reads, “This person is here to be stupid with their money.” Your core goods are always cheaper, and upgrading them first is the only thing that makes sense. Even then, you can usually live without an upgrade. I’d rather watch four months of Netflix than spring for popcorn-and-a-movie for two. Heck, I won’t even make popcorn at home. Can you imagine crunching your way through “A Quiet Place”?

Do you stack your luxuries? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments.

Advertisements

Are You Paying For Bragging Rights?

NO ONE EDIT

Looking back on my 20s, I wish I hadn’t cared about oneupmanship. I wish I hadn’t spent thousands on PlayStation media so I’d have a higher trophy count than my friends. I wish I hadn’t bought and drank so many terrible beers just to boost my numbers on Untappd. I wish I cared less about what people thought of me, and actually started working on me. For most of my life, I’d been paying for bragging rights. Maybe you have too.

Companies thrive on this sort of thing, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. Almost every luxury good is a sort of stab at oneupmanship. The newer car, the shinier gadget, the cooler features, and the status symbols of the world all conspire to take money out of our wallets. On one level, it might be keeping up with the Joneses (which we already know is bad), but if we’re being completely honest, sometimes we buy things to grasp at better social standing or to make others jealous. I’m guilty as charged. I used to buy $300 shoes, $900 dinners for my friends, and $250 bottles of wine – always in misguided attempts to seem better than I was. Now, I struggle with debt… and it’s all my fault.

Things are better now. Since starting this blog, the only status symbol I care about is my net worth. My shoes are now $20. My dinners are now meatloaf and beans. Bottles of wine only show up when I get them free from work. I just organized a bachelor party and ixnayed the limo for a cab. The PlayStations got sold off or gifted. I often take the bus. Somehow, in spite of all this voluntary deprivation, I’m happier for it! A weird thing happens when you become frugal: Where I once was only able to afford one pair of shoes, I could now afford 15. The more frugal you are, the more wealthy you feel because you suddenly have so much buying power! It’s a weird paradox, but it’s one worth believing in. Don’t ever spend money to impress people. People don’t give a shit anyways.

If you’re gonna spend money on oneupmanship, one-up yourself. Invest in your goals. Build up a bigger nest egg than you ever thought possible. Learn new skills. Better yourself, but not so you can compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, even when you’re on top. Can you imagine how stressful that is? Always striving to maintain a false sense of superiority through spending money? FUCK. THAT.

No one’s better than anybody else. If you truly believe a $30,000 watch or a shiny car is the only thing making you a better person, we’ve gotta have a talk. Even if a glowing beacon above your head broadcast “I SPENT $30,000 ON A WATCH” 24/7, that’s not a great message to send. You don’t seem rich and impressive. You seem desperate.

Stop bragging. Start saving.

Get rich.

Use It Or Lose It, or How To Save The World With The Crap In Your Storage Room

If every American dove into their storage room and unearthed $100, can you imagine what that $33 billion could do?

The US is home to 327 million Americans, and a staggering $33 billion in unused tech just sitting around. That means every US citizen essentially has a $100 doorstop somewhere in their home. Statistically speaking, if you’re young and male like me, that number’s bound to be much higher. I easily have thousands in tech either unused or underutilized, and I came to the realization that value could do a lot of good in the world, and for my pocketbook. Never being one to sit still on such epiphanies, I began a slow and steady purge. This is the story of how raiding my storage room helped make the world a better place.

Looking at my power bill meant my PlayStations had to go. I sold off my PS4s and conjured up nearly $700 out of past excess. I then looked up my city’s community Facebook page and essentially posted, “Free PS3s to the right person!” I ended up saving a kid’s birthday party – he wanted a video game party, and his PS3 had died a week before – and I also gave one to a small family. At this point, I was also sitting on some unused games. This took care of itself as someone broke into my car and stole them. I also discovered almost 10 external hard drives. In my early days as a photographer, 1TB and 1.5TB hard drives were as big as you could get them. Now that I’ve upgraded to 8TB hard drives, this was like mining for diamonds in my garage. I sold them all for cheap, and made about $500. I made money, and my friends saved money. These are the win-win situations I live for. There’s even two TVs I barely use, and I’m already thinking of ways to unload them! Then, there’s my heaps of camera gear! I’m not ready to give away $3,000 cameras yet, but I do lend my gear to anyone who asks nicely. As long as I’m not using it, what’s mine is yours. A local photographer who’s a friend-of-a-friend wanted to borrow a lens last weekend. No problem! In fact, years ago, I even donated a fleet of film cameras to hobbyists. One made its way to a photography school, and some are now toys in the hands of creative professionals. I even let my roommate borrow my car when I’m not using it! As soon as I let go of the idea of ownership, my unused crap started enriching people’s lives, my bank account, and the world at large!

Buying and receiving secondhand objects isn’t just about saving money either. It’s also about saving the environment. This Swedish study puts some numbers to it – 12.5M tonnes of CO₂ saved per year?!? – but what’s even more staggering is how small their sample size was. They only looked at five “major marketplaces” in Europe. Craigslist is saving heaps too! All I know is raiding my storage closet did good for the world. Even getting those games stolen out of my car meant that poor dude didn’t steal from someone else. What $100 doorstops do you have in your closet?

*****

While writing an early draft of this article, I found out the 50mm f/1.8 I was essentially using as a camera body cap finally made its way to Windsor, ON. I hadn’t used it in months, and it’s now gone to an enthusiastic amateur. I’m pretty ruthless now with what stays and what goes.

If something has a use, I make sure it’s used, even if it’s not by me. If something no longer benefits me, but will benefit someone else simply by being in a different place, I consider that a net win.

If every American dove into their storage room and unearthed $100, can you imagine what that $33 billion could do?

Money and Convenience Are Basically The Same Thing

BLOGHEADERUNCONB

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?

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

7-4-Y

“[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

we seem to use

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?