Welcome to Unconbentional!

UNCONBENTIONALFINAL

Hello.

If you’ve found your way here, you must be someone who cares about personal finance, self-development, minimalism, and frugality. You might even be someone from the FIRE movement, looking to achieve financial independence and early retirement. If you’ve read many FIRE blogs, you should know that we’re a little weirder; unconventional, even. For instance, one of my beliefs is that people shouldn’t fully retire at all, but don’t let that dissuade you from reading us. In the three years I’ve written for Unconbentional, I’ve filled this blog with insights on money, work, happiness, goal setting, and purpose.

We might not be everyone’s cup o’ tea, but Unconbentional is the story of two Bens. There’s me, the low-earner who never intends to retire, and The Other Ben, a massively successful software engineer who will achieve FI at 33. The best way to read Unconbentional is to start at the beginning, and click through one post at a time. Though I’ve occasionally changed my viewpoints (like on this controversial article), I’ve decided to preserve the blog as a whole. Everything now is the same as when I wrote it, even if it makes me look bad. My early posts were rough, but I believe that reading this whole blog’s 77,419 words will make you more savvy with your money, and smarter about how you spend it.

We kept this up for three years, but we don’t post anymore. I hope you find value in what we’ve written here! We welcome comments – we actually read them – and if you’d like to contact us live, my Twitter remains active.

If you’d like a quick taste of Unconbentional, read this and this. If those two articles jive with your sensibilities, you’re gonna have a great time here. Thanks for visiting!

We hope to add value to your life. This blog has added value to mine.

Happy reading.

All the best,
The Bens

Advertisements

The Other Ben and FIRE, or One Final Note About Income

Do not wait; the time will never be 'just right.' Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.

“What’s your FIRE number?” I asked.

“$600k CAD. And yeah, it’s based on my spending when I was in Vancouver. $24k CAD.”

We both knew Unconbentional was wrapping up, so Ben and I were having one last chat on Facebook Messenger. I couldn’t help but feel dwarfed by his success, but I was also happy a peer had made it as far as he did. In his updates, he told me he’d switched companies and was now working in One World Trade. He sent pictures. The view was spectacular.

I think he caught the tone of my recent posts though. I certainly didn’t feel very successful, though I was apparently okay at setting goals and making progress. That was better than nothing, I posited. Ben typed back.

“Mostly I’m just saying, don’t be too hard on yourself or too impressed by me, since I don’t feel like I’m being very disciplined. But also, it shouldn’t be about discipline very much anyway; mostly it’s figuring out what you actually value.”

He sent numbers. His spending was up, but he was saving 55% of his income to reach FI. Moving to NYC for a better job helped him double his monthly savings, but I was surprised to see he was spending more than me after converting USD to CAD. He wasn’t “thrifty”. Meanwhile, I was saving a comparatively paltry $250/month, but I’m not making six figures a year.

“A huge part is earning a lot,” he said. “You have much lower expenses, but like… having a high salary really makes it easier. I think I’m still on track for my goal by 33.”

We said our goodbyes and I signed off. I wouldn’t see him in person again for at least a few months, but it was nice knowing I could always get him in a chat box.

Ben will reach FI at 33. I’ll never retire, but I’ve learned that’s okay. We were on different paths. And yet, for three brief years, we were able to meet in the middle. We had the blog. It made us better friends, and I’ll be forever grateful. To YOU though, thanks for joining us on this ride. Coming up with new ideas to blog about made us better people and more financially savvy. We wouldn’t have done it without you. I hope I’ve helped.

But wait! One final thing needs to be said, and this might be the most important piece of advice yet if you’re pursuing FIRE. Read on, and goodbye.

*****

Income matters a lot. The best thing you can do to guarantee financial success is to earn as much as possible. I know that sounds super obvious, but consider BC’s average hourly wage for 2018 is $26.76. Now, look around. I know Ben, but I also know people working for minimum wage. My liquor store job pays me $14/hour, and I’m only able to make that work with other sources of income. I should aggressively seek a raise or find something better paying! Your wage is your responsibility! In a world where dropshipping or blogging can make enough for a person to thrive, the Internet has given us a level playing field and you should use it! Here’s 50 jobs over $50,000 without a degree. Guess what: Ben doesn’t have a degree either. He learned everything he knew from the Internet.

Think of the Internet as your ever-present personal employer; one that works for you around the clock as an endless source of money as long as you do your part. Use it to look for a better job. Do what I do and find clients for your side hustle. (I sell wedding photography packages up to $4,995/day.) Network with productive, frugal, financially savvy people. Learn how to boost your income!

It’s possible to get there by saving – read this on how to live in Vancouver on $18,451 for 2 – but you’ll always kick more ass as a higher earner. Ben gave me permission to publish his 2018 spending: $44,278.98 USD, and that’s for one person in NYC! The people in the link above, Steph and Cel, can live for 3 years together on Ben’s 2018 spending, and Ben’s still banking 55%! (FYI, a large portion of Ben’s recent spending has been for travel. $7,607, to be exact.)

Go to Google and look up the average salary in your area right now. Now, match it. Exceed it if you want. We’re playing for keeps. If you’re there already, go ahead and push a little further. A lot of us are too comfortable where we are because we’re afraid of change. I’m here to tell you if you’re reading this, you have Internet access and thus, all the tools required to substantially increase your income and savings rate.

If you’re finding it difficult to save, don’t relax. Not yet. I’m following up on wedding leads and asking the right people about furthering my liquor career, and it’s my “day off”.

Don’t get comfortable. Keep climbing. Work harder if it’s healthy for you to do so. Increase your income. You can control how much you save, but Ben lives a big life and banks cash like a champ. Do you want to be him… or never retire like me?

In three years of Ben vs. Ben, there’s been a clear winner.

Thank you for reading Unconbentional.

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.

Let’s Talk About “Barista FIRE”

Coffee is love

“It’s a concept that can be coined Barista FIRE – not quite FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early), but perhaps just a step below it. At Barista FIRE, your lifestyle is almost funded, and all you need to do is to make a few extra thousand dollars every year in order to survive. You can do that pretty much by doing anything, even just working as a barista a few days a week. For people like me, Barista FIRE might be just as good as regular FIRE.”

Barista FIRE draws a lot of flak, and I can understand why. For one, being a barista isn’t the easiest job in the world. With some comparing it to being a line cook, the term itself sounds privileged and disconnected, especially when people sustain their whole lifestyles “working as a barista a few days a week”. Nevertheless, the term has persisted, so let’s talk about it. Barista FIRE is much more reachable than most people realize. Some might even say I’m there already, working part-time at a liquor store and shooting $2,995 weddings on the side. For some background, here’s the breakdown on my current net worth (including the debt). Can someone be Barista FIRE and still have debt? You decide. As a concept, it’s a bit muddy to begin with, so feel free to embrace the malleability of the idea and move goalposts as you please. I certainly have.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you spend $2,000/month, a reasonable amount for pretty comfortable living. Minimum wage in BC is currently $12.65. Three 8-hour shifts a week brings you to $303.60, or $1,214.40/month. The current tax rate in BC for your first $39,676 is 5.06%, so you’re down $61.45/month for $1,152.95. Your investments need to generate $847.05/month to qualify for Barista FIRE, or $10,164.60/year. Assuming you make 7% reliably off US index funds, you’d only need $145,208.58 to achieve that! This is a reasonable assumption of what a Barista FIRE number should look like, and it’s much more attainable than a FIRE number. “A quick bit of math you can do to figure out your FIRE number is to take your annual expenses and multiply by 25.” If you spend $24,000/year for example, your FIRE number is $600,000. At 4.1x less than this FIRE number, our Barista FIRE number has already earned you the freedom to do whatever job you want! I’ve mentioned before that working forever might not be so bad – I hate the idea of someday signing off on work altogether, and just sitting back to consume, consume, consume – so this was like striking gold to me. Barista FIRE was a new milestone, and it was comparatively easy to reach. Naturally, this is all napkin math, but the results are hopeful. With my 99-year leasehold rented to two roommates, I’m currently generating $1,300/month. My day job, a fun liquor store position that keeps me active, pays me $100+/day. If I brought my expenses down to $2,000/month, that might mean I only need to work seven days a month. It’s all a work in progress, but in my mind, I’m nearly at Barista FIRE. For me, I don’t think I can comfortably call myself FIRE-anything while I still have debt, but once that’s gone, all bets are off. With $22,000+ invested in index funds too, I know I’ll be working-for-health, not-money soon. A future post will talk about that too.

Retirement can be boring, so you’re probably gonna want to do something. You too can retire from the grind and work your dream job. Teach piano, run photography workshops, become a freelance proofreader, start an underground dining operation, or walk dogs. Work out your own Barista FIRE number like so: 1) Figure out your monthly expenses. 2) Work out how much you’d earn working your dream job; e.g. $800 from teaching two $100 art lessons every week for four weeks. 3) Subtract item #2 from item #1. 4) The result is how much your investments need to earn monthly for Barista FIRE. Multiply by 12 for an annual figure, if that’s easier. This is now a clear milestone of when you can retire from a job that sucks, and retire to whatever job you want.

Can you do it? Your dream job awaits.

What Getting Fired Can Teach You About FIRE

A fired you isa lot like aFIRE'd you.

I got fired in 2013. There’s not much to say about it – it was the result of a work-inappropriate tweet – but I’ve made my peace with it because I learned so much. In a way, I was granted an accelerated look at what life would be like if I were retired. If you have your doubts, click that link. Two years of barely needing to work changed my outlook on wealth and retirement, and I was only 25 at the time. Even then, I knew FIRE wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. If your FIRE number is your only goal, financial independence won’t make you happy. Only finding common ground between your values and priorities will. (Sorry for the hokeyness, but it’s true.)

Anyway, it’s 2018 now, and I found myself out of a job again. I wasn’t fired, but being pressured to leave due to an interpersonal conflict is almost worse. I’ve already lined up my next step, but there were a few weeks where I felt listless and unmotivated. After all, putting three years of hard work into a place meant more to me than money! It’s okay though; these things happen. In the end, it even turned into a great learning opportunity!

At first, I’d honestly settled back into my old ways. I ate out to numb the boredom, drank more, and racked up a dumb amount of screen time. This didn’t last long before I started feeling like crap. Suddenly, I remembered I’d written articles about quantifying happiness in one’s pursuits and purchases. It turned out I was just completely lacking in purpose. With no professional obligations for the time being (which was like being retired), I had nothing to do!

In one way, this was horrible. It meant I’d mismanaged my priorities to the point that I didn’t have any, but it also gave me the chance to tackle these problems before achieving FI. (For my numbers and strategy, read this and this. There’s a chance some level of FI could come sooner than I think.) I suddenly saw my retirement, and I didn’t like it. I needed purpose. It turns out I actually need work, at least for now. It’s a value of mine to be productive, so I had to prioritize it. This taught me I might never need full-on FIRE though! Maybe barista FIRE was the target now! More importantly, this also taught me I needed other, better goals. These are all good things to know before becoming financially independent. I’m just a workaholic. What can I do to become more?

I’m sure we’ve all, at some point, been less employed than we would’ve liked. I’m glad I got fired once or twice because it helped me learn how I act when I’m suddenly regifted an extra eight hours every day. If you found this post through recently getting fired, here’s my challenge to you: Note down how you feel, what your new motivations are, what you now prioritize, and how fast you start itching to work in some capacity again. After the honeymoon phase of FI when you travel the world for months or buy guinea pig armour just because you can, you often find that an FI’d you is still… you. A fired you is a lot like a FIRE’d you. What do you want when you don’t have to work? Some of us are too busy to find out. Answer that question honestly, and getting fired might be the best thing to ever happen to your retirement.

Let’s Start a HouseFIRE!

Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 2.01.53 PM

You already know about FIRE (Financial Independence, Retiring Early). Heck, you might even know about LeanFIRE and FatFIRE — retiring with the expectation of spending <$40,000/year or >$100,000/year, respectively. You probably even know about CoastFIRE! Well, allow me to add more fuel to the FIRE! This post is all about “HouseFIRE”, and why you should care.

So what is HouseFIRE? Simply defined, it’s the stage you reach when you can retire from work just by utilizing your available real estate for money. That link has loads of tips, but if you’re a Vancouverite, you might have to get more extreme. Since I wrote this post, Vancouver’s average rent for a 2-bedroom unit has ballooned to $3,130, and landing even 1,000 square feet for that is near impossible! If you want to attempt HouseFIRE, you’ll need actual space. For that to happen, high-cost-of-living areas won’t work great, but nearby neighbourhoods might. You may find yourself with lots of space for the same housing cost just one town over! Here’s how I do it.

My $170,000 99-year leasehold is paid off, and it’s mere minutes from Vancouver. I have it until 2087, and the total from strata fees and property taxes amounts to $650/month (which I know is high). It’s a 3-bedroom condo, but one bedroom is currently an office for my photography business. I have the master bedroom, and a roommate lives in the remaining room. His rent covers the $650 I mentioned. My plan now is to relocate my office to our underutilized living room, and I’m turning the old office back into a bedroom I can rent out. When that’s finalized in March, I’ll be collecting $600/month on both rooms for $1,200 total. My strata obligations will most likely be near $700 by then, but I’m still looking at $500+ in profit! If I could live like “A” did, I’d be HouseFIREd! (“A” was living on $700/month, and paying $200 for rent. $500 for her other expenses covered it all!)

There are even people in my family who could be HouseFIREd. Mom, for instance, lives alone in a 4-bedroom townhome. If she took the master room for herself and rented the other three rooms to students, that could mean $1,800/month! If they chip in for utilities, that reduces her expenses even more! I think $1,800/month is perfect to live on. That’s about in line with what I spend now!

This is a great strategy for empty nesters. Instead of downsizing, they can maintain the value in their appreciating property, and have a source of extra income. Instead of thinking about retirement in just dollars, consider HouseFIRE! Can you retire on square footage alone? I bet some of you already can. Do it.

Working Forever Might Not Be So Bad

23476585_10159712550895691_197161697_n

Taken from a previous post:

FIRE [Financially Independent, Retired Early] is generally defined as the stage a person reaches when the return on their investments is enough to cover their living expenses. A quick bit of math you can do to figure out your FIRE number is to take your annual expenses and multiply by 25. (If you spend $25,000/year for example, your FIRE number is $625,000. Start saving.)”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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