What Would You Do With A Million Dollars?

FINAL

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?

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If You Treasure It, Measure It

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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!

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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

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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.

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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!

Career Burnout and What To Do About It (Pt. 2)

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For the first post in this series, click here.

“A” wrote in: It was about 3 years into my second job in the engineering world so 8 year’s total. I was having trouble focusing, I was easily irritated, I wasn’t taking care of myself like I should have been (food and exercise wise). I ended up having appendicitis for over 1 year (yes crazy I know) and that only impacted my health more. It got to the point my bosses where being super understanding and letting me work when I could because they didn’t want to lose me. But I would delay deadlines, feel sicker then I actually was and make excuses not to go. I just wasnt happy and it was hurting everyone. When I finally was allowed to switch (a pay decrease of nearly half and, I now work in retail) my life improved drastically. I’m 100% happier, life is going well, I’m not looking for drama and my relationship is the best it’s ever been. My health is getting my better and I’ve lost weight!” (Editor’s note: This isn’t our artist friend, “A”. Totally different people.)

I heard lots of responses like this one. “A” here was bogged down with “Drafting, data entry and project management” and just wasn’t feeling it anymore. She didn’t include numbers, but we figure she was making decent money. If working retail gives her roughly half what she used to make and she was eight years into an engineering career, let’s pin that around $50,000. Let’s also assume she makes and lives off $25,000 now. First off, good on her for keeping expenses down enough for a career shift. Even assuming she spends everything she makes, she’s on par with how much I spend in a year. (I spend roughly $20,000/year now, but I don’t have rent. She does.) If she’s managing to save money too, she’s kicking my ass! Second, it’s awesome that she knew when to walk away. Here’s why.

This article suggests a “stressful workplace could take 33 years off your life expectancy”, but if you read the article, they’re sensationalizing a little bit. For our purposes, let’s say half that – 16.5 years. Average life expectancy in Canada is 81.24 years, so what happens when we take 16.5 years off that? Uh, it looks like people subject to a stressful workplace drop dead just before their 65th birthday. So much for that RRSP! Clearly, workplace stress will not only kill you, but it’ll also make your financial goals moot. After all, you want a long and prosperous life, right? Anyway, “A” decided to look after her health and mental wellbeing, and her life has improved dramatically. I maintain that no matter what field you choose initially, there will come a day when you may want a change. For that to become even a remote possibility, you’ll want to start saving ASAP.

This is what happens when you’re frugal and/or have savings to fall back on: increased life flexibility, and keys to the golden handcuffs.

“A” escaped.

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Everyone is going to be different, but I quit shooting weddings 2 years ago (after 15+ years) and no longer take paid photography work. I could not be happier.”

“J” used to shoot weddings with me. It’s been years since we’ve done one together, but we’ve had some wild adventures. Because of photography, we’ve ended up in car accidents, kink dungeons, and more than a few situations I can’t talk about on a PG blog. I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for the world. That’s why I was sad when he announced he was quitting wedding photography. I thought, “Why give up?”

I was wrong, of course. He wasn’t giving up. In talking with entrepreneurs who have “burned out”, sometimes the dream jobs we craft for ourselves aren’t much different than the trappings of a day job. The only difference is we “own” our jobs, but they’re still jobs. I think of my photography career as my day job, for example. And just like any other work situation, sometimes you need to step away when your career isn’t in alignment with what you want anymore. Even I’m sometimes tempted to leave photography because regular pay at a regular job is FAR EASIER than running your own business. Entrepreneurs are a weird bunch. For every success story that lasts for decades, there are some who didn’t quite attain their ideal, yet soldier on anyway. Sometimes, we build our own prisons.

The romantic notion of creating our own work based on our passions is a great story. I love shooting weddings, but I don’t publicize the bout of depression I dealt with last year and how it set me so far back in my projects, I gave partial refunds to my customers out of my own pocket. People don’t see the months we go without work at the beginning of our careers, living off ramen and unhealthy amounts of alcohol. And yet, us entrepreneurs are proud motherfuckers great at self-promotion, shouting “LOOK AT WHAT WE BUILT”, believing that creating our own work is somehow better than what Safeway Joe does for a living. For some of us, clinging to a business we created, whether or not it meets our goals, is the only thing we know how to do, and that’s how we ACTUALLY burn out.

Some jobs are objectively better than others, but there’s a myth that self-employment is better than regular employment as long as you can pay the bills. It’s not. I say find employment wherever you feel most fulfilled and, if possible, take money out of the equation by living on less and saving as much as you can using the advice on this blog. It’s quite possible that avoiding burnout is as simple as changing gears every few years and going back to our passions only when it feels right.

You don’t “work for someone”. You work for you. Seriously, just save some cash and do whatever the fuck it is you want to do, even if that means being a barista. Climb the corporate ladder, or don’t. Start your own business, or don’t. Retire early, or don’t. As long as you do what’s right for you, you won’t burn out.

The only imperative is you save enough money to afford your own freedom.

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Continue the discussion on Facebook. I heard from dozens of people on career burnout, so give us a like and chat with us there.

My Secret to Hyperproductivity

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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.