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.

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

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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.

Luxury Food is a Scam

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Every year, the Vancouver Rowing Club hosts an event they call Champagne & Caviar. It’s NOT really Champagne and caviar. We’ve gone a couple of times now, and it’s basically all-you-can-drink prosecco, other miscellaneous sparkling wines, and a lot of tobiko. Technically speaking, there’s no actual sturgeon caviar, and only about 10% real Champagne. However, with tickets priced at a very reasonable <$30, NO ONE CARES. Why? Everyone there knows it’s “close enough” and just as good! There’s no need to pay more! Let me explain.

Marketers are mostly responsible for why common things cost so much. They’re why industrial diamonds are cheap (and are literally known as bort), but an engagement ring can be $36,537. They’re why a fancy lobster dinner can cost $60 or more, even though lobsters used to be prison food. They’re why a Rolex can be $31,625 when there’s literally no reason for anyone to wear watches anymore. It turns out people like Veblen goods, and like to pay more to feel rich! It’s the most glorious scam ever orchestrated in the name of capitalism, and it’s working! Luckily, we see it for what it is. Usually.

Well, as someone who fell for luxury goods and luxury foods for years, I believe we should savour the cheap shit. I have yet to taste a $500 Champagne that gave me more satisfaction than 25 bottles of decent $20 cava. Yet, to the average consumer, everyone claims to love Champagne, all without even knowing why, how it’s made, its history, or even where it comes from! I think that’s fucking insane. I mean, doesn’t that sound a bit like pursuing someone else’s idea of value, and not our own?

Admittedly, I fell for this again just a few nights ago. Being a food nerd, I was excited to visit a restaurant that served jamón ibérico de belotta because I’d never had it before. On paper, it sounded amazing. Iberian ham from free-range pigs fattened on acorns, roaming dehesas their whole lives… I don’t know how, but they somehow made ham — the most common thing ever — into something almost romantic. I fell for it hard. As I watched them carve 60g off a jamonera centerpiece, I couldn’t wait for these wafer-thin slices of top-shelf charcuterie to blow my mind. Surely, this would make run-of-the-mill prosciutto seem like Purina! Schinkenspeck might as well be Spam! I chuckled at my culinary superiority, lifted the first slice to my mouth, and took a bite. Any second now, this would be the best thing I’d ever eaten… Yep, any second now… I swallowed. Huh. Um.

That was it?

This happens all the time. I touched on this in “Bitching and Wining”, but there’s so little difference between cheap food and expensive food, there’s really no reason to EVER pay more than $20 for a meal. Wanna try sturgeon caviar? Not for $125/10g, you don’t. Try ikura for $20/113g. I think I actually prefer it. Truffles for $275/oz? Literally everyone I know prefers fake-as-fuck truffle oil. I’ve never understood the appeal of real truffles. Every time I’ve had them, they’ve either overpowered my food or added a dirt-like component. Maybe rare cognac is your thing. Louis XIII cognac is $3,300/bottle. As someone who’s had it twice, meh. It’s not even that rare. Right now, in the Richmond suburbs I live in, I know of at least two bottles within walking distance. You’re paying to seem rich! It’s all just marketing!

I’ve had “the good stuff”. It’s a rip-off. It’s one of the reasons I’m in debt. Expensive food only tastes better because we take the time to taste it. I’m not saying you should live off 7-Eleven beef teriyaki anytime soon, but I’ll leave you with this: For some reason, 7-Eleven beef teriyaki was a better food experience to me than dining at Lasserre.

It turns out once you see through all the bullshit, food is food. No matter how rich you get – as Bill Gates once said – “it’s the same hamburger”. I’d rather pay $5 for it instead of $500.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

What I Learned About Money From A Vancouver Cabbie

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“Hey, I need to get to No. 3 and Williams.”

“There’s a flat fee of $24,” he said.

I closed the door. “Um, okay.” We drove off. It was 1am.

Jesus, that was high. Any other cab would’ve brought me there for $15. Then again, I was hopping a ride from YVR, so there must’ve been a premium I wasn’t aware of. I’d just spent my evening having drinks in an airport bar with my friend during her layover, and it was now past SkyTrain hours. I didn’t really have a choice. I’d just take the hit, I thought. Nights like this didn’t happen often.

We drove in silence for a while. I rolled the window down, and watched the streetlights roll past. My Booker’s bourbon was kicking in. If I weren’t a little buzzed, I never would’ve agreed to $24. I mean, fuck… $24 for a $15 ride? That’s infuriating! Who did this guy think he was? I spoke up.

“Why is this ride $24?” I asked.

“Here’s the map. Flat fee.” He handed it to me. Right on the border of a $20 zone and a $24 zone was No. 3 and Williams. Naturally, he decided to charge me for the more expensive option. I tried to be the nice guy.

“Oh, can you drop me off at No. 3 and Francis instead then?” I said. “I can walk.”

His entire demeanour changed immediately. I could tell he regretted showing me the map. He took it from me and squirrelled it away. I didn’t think it was that big a deal, but for him, it was. Like I’d somehow cheated him out of extra money.

“Sorry,” I said. “Um… how’s your night going?”

“I need longer fares,” he said angrily. “Now, I’m only giving a $20 ride.”

If I recall correctly, this was around the time I stopped giving a fuck. I mean, WHAT?!? You’re already overcharging me for a ride, and you’re getting pissed off that I’m following YOUR rules and you’re not even PRETENDING to give good service anymore? Fuck right off. This was a difference of FOUR DOLLARS, the price of a single bougie coffee. Like, I understand this taxi company isn’t your brand so you don’t have to see the consequences of your shitty service, but how bad is your money situation that $4 is the difference between you being a nard and being a happy human being? I was right pissed. This guy could get bent.

He dropped me off at No. 3 and Francis, and I put it on my card. He drove off. 10 minutes from home, I started to walk.

The anger dissipated quickly. It was a cool night, and I realized I needed the air. I remembered that my dad used to be a cabbie too, and in a 12-hour shift, all those $4 increments would add up. Maybe if 20 people did that, he’d be out $80. I gave my head a shake. I was one guy, not 20. I’d “cost him” $4. That was it. Four blocks away now.

He’d reacted so angrily to me following his rules though. Maybe it was the expectation? Like, he expected $24, but he’d only gotten $20? That must be frustrating. But then I thought, “When is $4, one time, so crucial to a person’s happiness that their entire demeanour changes? How poorly off do you need to be?”

Suddenly, I had nothing but sympathy. Three blocks away, I felt sorry for him. I didn’t know his situation. He could have kids that counted on him. It doesn’t excuse his behaviour, but it at least made it understandable.

Two blocks away, I suddenly realized that I was getting bent out of shape over $4. Not even $4, but $4 I didn’t even have to pay. For a piercing moment, I understood how fortunate I was, and put aside my anger. I’m choosing not to name the cab driver. I’m choosing not to name the cab company. I’m just letting it be.

In fact, after all this, I should be thanking him. He reminded me how privileged I was, and he deepened my resolve for financial independence. I want to have $4 not matter. I want to have $400 not matter. I want to have $4,000 not matter.

One block from home, I forgave him, and realized wealth wasn’t so much a number but a state of mind. Wealth is what happens when your life is so good, other people can’t even affect it by being intentionally shitty.

I unlocked the door to my condo and turned the lights on. Fuck $4.

Looking back on it now, I should’ve given him a tip.

So You Want to Be a Millionaire…

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No 18-year-old has $41,600, but that’s pretty much the only thing standing between a high school grad and them becoming a millionaire in their lifetime. Yep, through the magic of compound interest, that’s all it takes to get to seven digits. Here’s how much money you’ll need to become a millionaire by retirement depending on your age. This data assumes you’ll retire at 65 and have your money invested in something that generates 7% interest. (You can find my justification for that number here and here.) It also assumes that: 1) You make no further contributions toward your nest egg, and 2) you make no withdrawals until you’re 65. This is presented as data ONLY. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

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All of these equal $1M:
18 – $41,600 x 47 years of 7% growth
19 – $44,500 x 46 years of 7% growth
20 – $47,700 x 45 years of 7% growth
21 – $51,000 x 44 years of 7% growth
22 – $54,600 x 43 years of 7% growth
23 – $58,400 x 42 years of 7% growth
24 – $62,500 x 41 years of 7% growth
25 – $66,800 x 40 years of 7% growth
26 – $71,500 x 39 years of 7% growth
27 – $76,500 x 38 years of 7% growth
28 – $81,900 x 37 years of 7% growth
29 – $87,600 x 36 years of 7% growth
30 – $93,700 x 35 years of 7% growth
31 – $100,300 x 34 years of 7% growth
32 – $107,300 x 33 years of 7% growth
33 – $114,800 x 32 years of 7% growth
34 – $122,800 x 31 years of 7% growth
35 – $131,400 x 30 years of 7% growth
36 – $140,600 x 29 years of 7% growth
37 – $150,500 x 28 years of 7% growth
38 – $161,000 x 27 years of 7% growth
39 – $172,200 x 26 years of 7% growth
40 – $184,300 x 25 years of 7% growth
41 – $197,200 x 24 years of 7% growth
42 – $211,000 x 23 years of 7% growth
43 – $225,800 x 22 years of 7% growth
44 – $241,600 x 21 years of 7% growth
45 – $258,500 x 20 years of 7% growth
46 – $276,600 x 19 years of 7% growth
47 – $295,900 x 18 years of 7% growth
48 – $316,600 x 17 years of 7% growth
49 – $338,800 x 16 years of 7% growth
50 – $362,500 x 15 years of 7% growth
51 – $387,900 x 14 years of 7% growth
52 – $415,000 x 13 years of 7% growth
53 – $444,100 x 12 years of 7% growth
54 – $475,100 x 11 years of 7% growth
55 – $508,400 x 10 years of 7% growth
56 – $544,000 x 9 years of 7% growth
57 – $582,100 x 8 years of 7% growth
58 – $622,800 x 7 years of 7% growth
59 – $666,400 x 6 years of 7% growth
60 – $713,000 x 5 years of 7% growth
61 – $762,900 x 4 years of 7% growth
62 – $816,300 x 3 years of 7% growth
63 – $873,500 x 2 years of 7% growth
64 – $934,600 x 1 year of 7% growth
65 – $1,000,000

*****

Well, how’d you do? Don’t worry if you fell short. Remember, THIS IS IF YOU MAKE NO FURTHER CONTRIBUTIONS. You could be 35 with only $80,000, and you’d still hit $1M if you put in $4,000 every year until you’re 65. Also, $1M IS AN ARBITRARY NUMBER. Here’s why I’ll never need a $1M net worth. For more proof that $1M is arbitrary, consider inflation. If I have $1M when I’m 65, that’s only a buying power of today’s $480,610!

Whaddaya think? Does this make you want to become a millionaire more or less? Does this seem doable now? Are you now dreaming of yachts and underwear models? Let us know.

It’s not that difficult becoming rich. That’s why rich people are everywhere!

It Was Made For You

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“The making and authorized distribution of this film supported over 15,000 jobs and involved hundreds of thousands of work hours.”

That’s the message at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse. The fact it’s anti-piracy is clear, but that’s not why I snapped to attention. What got me was I’d essentially seen this movie for free on Netflix, even though I should’ve paid hundreds more! Gimme a sec. I’ll explain.

Now, you obviously know a blockbuster movie takes millions of dollars to make. Not just that, but the combined experience of 15,000 creative men and women is nothing to shake a stick at. Many of them have been in the film industry for decades. Let’s average it out to 10 years of experience per person. (I think that’s fair because even -I- have 10 years of film experience.) Well, we’re already looking at 150,000 combined YEARS of experience to produce this movie I basically saw for free! X-Men: Apocalypse is 144 minutes long, so each minute I spent checking out the blue chick or cheering on the disabled psychic took 1,000+ YEARS OF WORK AND COMBINED LEARNING to make it as awesome as it was! It gets better. X-Men: Apocalypse had a budget of $178M USD. That’s $238,039,400 in Canadian dollars, so EVERY MINUTE of that movie cost $1,653,051! WHAT?!? Even if I’d seen it in theatres for $15, I think reaping the benefits of 150,000 years of work and $238M was a fair trade. So what if other people are watching it too? Other eyeballs on the screen don’t diminish YOUR experience with the movie. With your $15, you’re effectively hiring a stellar cast and crew, plus a production company, to personally show you people in funny suits punching each other! That’s goddamn hilarious! They did all that – FOR YOU.

Now, obviously, they didn’t do it for you exclusively. We know that. In order to appreciate life more fully though, pretend they did. Not to get into solipsist philosophy, but what difference does it make? You’re lucky enough to appreciate a $238M product for $15 in a theatre, or BASICALLY FREE at home, and it was all for your enjoyment! Now, apply this same line of thinking to every product you use. Your toothpaste took years of research. Your clothes went through a series of skilled workers. The food you eat in a month potentially came from hundreds of plants and animals. And yet, IT’S ALL AFFORDABLE ON ONE PERSON’S WAGES?!? If this doesn’t blow your mind, I can’t help you. You’re indirectly hiring thousands of people every day for only about $100. That’s bonkers.

Obviously, don’t spend more. Instead, recognize how lucky you are and SPEND EVEN LESS. If you just hired 15,000 people to tell you the story of a human magnet, you can proooooobably put the new Mass Effect game back on the shelf. While you’re at it, recognize the environmental impact you have on the world and eat one less animal maybe. You’re already hoovering up plants for pennies, and you didn’t even grow them. The iPhone you’re reading this on? 40 years of constant engineering from a staff of thousands. You don’t need to upgrade as soon as a new one comes out. You already have a personal oracle in your pocket that borders on sorcery.

Be fucking happy with what you’ve got. You’re already getting way more than you pay for. Pretend everything you use was made FOR YOU and appreciate where it all came from. Someone else may have the same product, but that doesn’t diminish your experience with what YOU own. In fact, it even adds value! This way, you get to talk about the same TV show with your friends!

From now on, look at each new purchase with this perspective. I hope it’ll give you a feeling of constant abundance. While you’re at it, maybe stop pirating movies. I used to work in film and TV too, y’know.

You’re Closer To The 1% Than You Think

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You know it’s true. The vast majority of you reading this are fortunate as fuck. Before you all jump down my throat, I’m not directing this post at people living below the poverty line. I’m aware people are struggling in Canada and the US. This isn’t about them. I’m directing this at people making an average salary in Canada and still think of “The 1%” as some sort of financial demon keeping them from their goals. What if I told you, on a global scale, you ARE The 1%? Before you read any further, see how you stack up on GlobalRichList.com.

The average Canadian income is about $49,000/year. By salary, this puts the average Canadian in THE WORLD’S WEALTHIEST 0.65%! FYI, it only takes $42,000/year to be in the Top 1%. Why the fuck is everyone complaining? You might be envious of your neighbour pulling in $70,000/year, but don’t act like you’re a victim of a broken system. The truth is You Are Rich. You ARE the broken system. You don’t really want more money. You just want to be richer than your peers.

If we’re measuring Net Worth and not Annual Income, that gets trickier. It takes $770,000 USD to be in the Top 1%. Are we really angry at these people though? These people are just your home-owning neighbours who’ve worked hard to pay off their mortgage. This is Normal Wealth in North America!

When I first put forth the idea of writing this post, people got mad at me. “You’re ignoring people who live in Real Poverty,” they said. “Not everyone is as fortunate as you!” You know what? They’re right! I’m talking out of my ass. Richsplaining, if you will. Here’s what I’m going to do about that.

If YOU are in The 1% on a global scale – that’s everyone who makes over $42,000/year in Canada – go donate 0.1% of your Income to a charity of your choice. This should run you less than $100/year, and I recommend donating to a charity that supports the LEAST wealthy countries of the world. Africa’s not doing so great, for instance. Put some money there. Maybe you’d rather support a local cause that you and your friends can see some benefit from. Fund a community garden or donate actual money to a food bank instead of schlepping off your cans of 8-year-old Chef Boyardee. Just do SOMETHING. Whatever you demanded of “The 1%” before, YOU DO NOW. Us middle-income earners are juuuuust wealthy enough to make the world a better place at minimal loss to our own goals, and we’re juuuuust socially conscious and numerous enough to have some connection to the people we’re helping. Don’t call on “The 1%” to fix the world. They’re already doing that. If you want social change, it starts with YOU.

On a global scale, you’re incredibly wealthy. Start acting like it.

Tell us who you’re donating to in the comments.