Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish

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If you’ve been following Unconbentional for a while now, you know I love introducing minor changes to your spending so you have money to invest. I’ve talked about saving amounts as small as $2/day cycling or 26¢/coffee just so you can keep adding to your bottom line. What I haven’t told you up ‘til now is that most of this is useless if you’re still an idiot about large “one-time” expenditures. Obviously, that’s common sense for a lot of you, but maybe it’s not because if I’m reading this right, the average Canadian is still blowing $40,100 on their new vehicles! As if that wasn’t enough, the current trend is fuel-guzzling SUVs over a regular “fuel-efficient” car! Don’t even get me started on rent. Some people I currently know spend as much as $1,500/month on living expenses when a little thinking-outside-the-box could turn that into $300! Here’s some quick math, if only to make you reconsider your next major purchase. I firmly believe that ANY purchase over $100 should be: a) something that SAVES you money, b) something that EARNS you money, or c) an EXTREMELY special occasion. (“Friday night” doesn’t count.) I know you know this already, but it’s hard to argue with numbers. Here we go.

A $40,100 vehicle represents the money you’d save on gas alone from about 55 years of cycling 15 KM a day instead of driving, or 301,125 KM. The circumference of Earth at the equator is 40,030 KM, so that $40,100 SUV you just bought is equivalent to what you’d save by circumnavigating the globe 7.5 times by bike. If we’re talking about saving 26¢/coffee by buying one size down every time, we’re talking about 154,230 cups of coffee you’d need to do that with, or 422.5 years of one cup a day. By a single dumb decision – buying a new vehicle LIKE SO MANY CANADIANS ARE DOING – you’ve potentially nuked 154,230 tiny good decisions, OR just shat all over the savings from multiple lifetimes of cycling. Remember, shiny things are stupid. Beware the one-time expenditure.

This is only one example, but my point is you can’t pat yourself on the back for tiny good decisions anymore. You need to do the math on big purchases, and really think about how long it took you to get there based on your frugal decisions. The other day, I was hosting a dinner party and spent $101.46 on two lobsters. I’d have to choose a Subway 6” sandwich over a much tastier sushi lunch 20 times to make up for that, and it kinda hurt to fork over that money. Sure, I’d mentally congratulated myself every time I bought a cheap sandwich, but I destroyed the benefit of ordering 20 of those in one night! You just don’t win as long as you keep making major purchases. If you’re frugal six days out of the week and go hog wild every Friday, YOU’RE NOT ACTUALLY FRUGAL! That puts you in the same boat as everybody else!

Don’t be penny-wise, pound-foolish. Saving nickels and dimes really don’t add up to much. Don’t let one or two big-ticket items set you back years of penny pinching. If you’re not careful, it takes only a day or some asshole car salesman to ruin your financial future. Watch out.

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Roommate #2.5, or Why “K” Plans to Live in His Van

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If you’re willing to look at renting from a weirder angle, you could save about $1,200/month like “K”. This is how.

FYI: This is about more than van-living. Read on.

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First, my situation: My place has housed three people before, but since we’re now back down to two, we’ve readopted a revolving door policy for friends to come and go as they please. When we do this, we generally have one- or two-month arrangements and put people up in our storage closet for about $300/month. Since our guests only sleep in there and are free to use the rest of our apartment anytime, this is actually a lot nicer than it sounds. We have multiple TVs, a fully stocked kitchen, 1.5 bathrooms, and even an office! As proof of concept, we actually have a guest with us next month – “J”. She’s looking for a more permanent space with her boyfriend, but until she finds the perfect place, she doesn’t want to sign another lease. We make a little bit of rent money, and she has the flexibility to keep looking. Everybody wins!

Our friend “K” is gonna win hard in a few months too. Unfortunately, his current situation is a real money pit. In his own words: im paying 1375 plus hydro and internet which bring it to 1500. my plan is to sell my jeep for 14000 and get a 2007 Mercedes sprinter for the same amount roughly. i figure it will cost about 1000 to convert it into a living space, since it will just be a bed, side table and closet cause i dont need to have a kitchen or toilet. [More on this in a second.] ive lived in a honda crv(which was fucking terrible) then a jeep cherokee which was a bit better. then [“R”] and i lived in a mini van that we built a bed frame in and put a double matress with curtains and a battery system to power fans and our laptops without using the vans battery. also we had a solar panel on the roof to charge the electric system”.

Yup, he’s planning on living in a van. But wait! It’s actually WAY better than it sounds! Why? HE GETS TO USE OUR PLACE AS A HOMEBASE TOO! And he’s not sleeping in our storage closet, meaning I can still have short-term guests! WTF, RIGHT?!?

I should probably back up and explain. When “K’s” lease is up at his $1,375/month apartment (that costs him $1,500 after bills), we have an arrangement set up. He will, essentially, become our Roommate #2.5. His plan involves sleeping in his van, but he’ll also be living with us, using our kitchen, bathroom, and office space during the day. He’ll be paying ~$300/month, and in return, he’ll have access to all our amenities, like Internet, running water, and an actual goddamn mailing address. He won’t have any real bills! On paper, he lives here. In reality, the van is home, and because of that, he has the flexibility to take his home wherever he might need to go, whether it’s a job site or a vacation destination! Also, THIS FREES UP ~$1,200/MONTH OF HIS MONEY! Over just one year, HE SAVES ~$14,400 AND I MAKE ~$3,600! Again, everybody wins! It’s like a sort of “friend economy”. Instead of paying strangers for their services or housing, pay FRIENDS for what THEY can provide. Money and favours keep circulating amongst the people you care about, and everyone becomes richer because of it! Friend Economy 101!

Obviously, this really only works for young, single people like “K”. You can’t raise a family in a van. It’s hard to argue with the savings for people who can make this work though! In Vancouver, where a 1-bedroom goes for $1,900, having access to an apartment’s amenities while sleeping in your own space for ~$300 is a steal! Of course, finding opportunities like this isn’t gonna be a walk in the park. This is just one isolated example of a millennial living unconventionally, and saving shitloads because of it.

When possible, use and rely on your friends. “K” found cheap housing. “J” found a temporary place to stay until she lines up the perfect home. I found extra rent money. It’s actually ridiculous things like this don’t happen more often. If we all functioned better as a real community, maybe we’d all be a few thousand richer.

That’s the kind of world I want to live in. I’d sleep in a van too if it meant being able to invest an extra $1,200/month. Would you?

You Buy Some Things Twice

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A few days ago, we talked about how I cut my drinking down by half, and one idea that helped with that is so goddamn simple, I’m sure it’ll help you as much as it helped me. Speaking in basic terms, all I had to do was imagine that everything I used up needed to be bought a second time. That’s it!

I can hear the collective “uhhh…” already, so let me explain. Let’s use beer for this example because it’s both a consumable, and not something super perishable (like, say, a sandwich). Cool? Okay, let’s talk about beer. For non-drinkers, follow along anyway. I’m trying to make a larger point.

Before you have a 6-pack of beer available to drink, you’ve presumably paid for it at your local beer store. Let’s say it was $12. You take it home, it sits in your fridge for a while, and because it’s so readily accessible, you guzzle beer whenever you feel like until you run out. The old me would’ve crushed that 6-pack in a night, one $2 can after another, without a second thought. I would basically destroy $12 worth of value in an evening because I already had it in my home. Is this sounding familiar yet? FOR MOST OF US, AS SOON AS WE’VE BOUGHT SOMETHING AND HAVE IT IN OUR POSSESSION, WE FORGET ABOUT ITS MONETARY VALUE. For most of us, we’ve “already paid”! I’m here to tell you there are some things you buy twice: You buy it once when you pay for it, and you “#rebuy” it when you use it up because you’re using up its value. Just flip that mental switch, and it’ll help you become more frugal overnight. I like to think it’s already saved me hundreds.

When I took that $12 6-pack home, it was still worth $12. Every time I thought to myself, “I want a beer,” I rephrased that to, “Do I want a $2 beer right NOW?” Most of the time, when I reconsidered the VALUE of that beer and that I was mentally rebuying it, it gave me that little extra bit of willpower to put it back. This doesn’t work with everything – sandwiches are still super perishable – but I’ve had success with it when I’ve considered beer, snacks, and even entertainment. “Do I want to watch this $5 movie NOW, or can I get more VALUE out of it if I watch it with friends?” That kind of thing.

Beer was where it was most effective for me. I knew every $2 can I drank would just need to be replaced with another $2 can later, ad infinitum. Every can in my fridge I could say “no” or “later” to would SAVE me $2 in the future. See what I mean?

There are some things you #rebuy. Just because it’s already in your home doesn’t mean it’s automatically free for consumption. A $2 can of beer is a $2 can of beer. Remember that, and you’ll save a shitload.

We Got a Garden!

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Pictured above are K and D. They’re essentially my partners in crime as I strive for better finances, increased life efficiency, and happier living. Over the past month, we lucked out hard and secured rental of a garden plot for only $50/year. It’s small, but it’s already WAY more room than we need. Will it save us more than $50 in a year? Probably not. I’m a garden noob, and I don’t think I’m gonna become The God of All Shallots overnight. Even these bloggers were only able to generate a yield of $47.96, and I know far less. What I’m hoping for here is a healthier hobby. Between gardening and video games, I know which is a better use of my time. Throw in the fact this garden is technically walking distance from our home – 4 kilometres? – and I’ve got a way to stay healthy, a way to potentially save money in the future, and a way to make my cooking habit infinitely more rewarding.

I’m taking it easy and concentrating on shallots this year, though I may enlist my garden-savvy friends to help me out with fresh herbs like cilantro and parsley. I won’t need much room for that, so K and D will be growing too! This is only the beginning of our garden project, but I’ll be offering updates as time goes on. In the meantime, got any tips? Tell us what you know on our Facebook.

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.

It’s Your Duty to Educate Your Family About Money

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Money is an insanely sensitive topic, especially when it comes to family. Even now, I don’t let my mom in on my finances. There are things I can justify on my Visa bill that she’d lose her mind over, like the $15 PS4 game I’ll spend 60 hours on. To me, I’m spending $0.25 for each hour of entertainment but to her, I’m throwing money into a pit. I guess we’re both right, depending on what values you grew up with. That’s why most families don’t talk about money. It’s polarizing.

To be fair, my mom raised me to be frugal, but since I was a rebellious teenager, I grew up to be the opposite, eventually plunking my sorry ass into deep debt not once, but twice. These days though, I worry –I– may need to step up to the plate and offer some guidance with the family finances. It hasn’t been a pleasant conversation.

My brother has money. When our dad passed away, life insurance kicked in and made sure he was okay. Mom took control of his finances because he’d never read a personal finance book in his life, and he assumed she knew what she was doing. He was wrong. She locked down a chunk of his money into 1.x% bonds. That doesn’t even keep up with Canadian inflation and is about as dumb as stashing cash in a mattress. Since then, I’ve explained index funds to my brother and why investing in equity is preferable at his age due to the compound gains. This conversation would be impossible with my mother, but I’m trying. She doesn’t take ANY financial risks at all, and suffers for it. Due to stubbornness alone, she’ll most likely stay poor. She also doesn’t believe he needs a credit card, even though he’s 23. Don’t get me started. It’s been infuriating.

Now, this is a HUGE problem for our family. One day, we’ll need to take care of Mom, and our only asset will be the family home, which will hit the market around $550,000 if we ever get around to renovating it. If, in her old age, shit gets squirrelly, that money won’t last long. We may need to sell the house. Potential solutions involve investing NOW with what money we have. Without divulging too many numbers, if my brother invests properly now, he’s looking at $500,000+ by the time he’s 65. Even without the house, he’ll be okay. I will be too, thanks to my 99-year leasehold, BUT HE NEEDS TO INVEST PROPERLY. None of this 1.x% bond crap our mother recommends. We’re also trying to convince her to take in a student because at the moment, she lives in a 4-bedroom townhome alone, which is just about the most wasteful thing I’m currently aware of. Let’s say she has a renter for just one room in the house at $600/month. That’s $7,200/year, and if she invests it all properly, she’ll have $100,000 more in the bank by the time she’s 65. WHY ISN’T SHE DOING THIS? Well, her values don’t allow it. Unless I can change her mind, her belief that family homes are for family only WILL KEEP HER POOR FOREVER. This is terrible because if she’s poor, my brother and I will have to pick up the slack. We’ll have to work harder and longer to take care of the family. Don’t get me wrong; taking care of my mom is a burden I’m happy to bear. I JUST WANT TO TAKE CARE OF HER NOW THROUGH FINANCIAL EDUCATION INSTEAD OF WAITING FOR THE DEBT SHITSTORM TO HIT US WHEN SHE’S 80.

It’s one thing to be financially secure on your own. It’s equally important to make sure your loved ones are financially secure. If your finances are directly affected by someone, GET THEM ON BOARD WITH PERSONAL FINANCE. This blog is a good start. Make sure they understand saving, investment, credit, interest, and retirement. Trust me on this. And if you don’t? Well, you’re gonna be stuck paying for it. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Why Eating Out Makes Me Sad

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Mr. Money Mustache said it best: Look at me, I am renting this huge venue and paying an army of servants to prepare food for me!

Yep, that’s how I feel now. When I enter a restaurant, it all feels like the worst kind of transaction. From the moment I open the door, I’m spending money on literally every encounter. It really skeeves me out. You know that feeling you get at strip clubs? Kinda like that.

“Welcome to W____ S­____! Table for two?”

Welp, someone’s paying that hostess, I think to myself. It’s me. I’m paying her wages just by dining out like an idiot.

“How’s your day going?” she says.

“Fine, thanks.”

Ugh. All that trouble for a canned response.

I’m led to my table and handed a menu of oversalted pasta and old meat in white bread. Yum.

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There was a time when I loved eating out. Lost in the idea I deserved luxury at every turn, I had no problem spending hundreds on a Michelin-star meal. Now that I’ve had that experience – ugh. – I decided to learn how to cook so I wouldn’t fall into that trap again. Now, I see making meals at home as an immense privilege! You mean I get to use FRESH ingredients, LEARN an art form with a huge potential to save me more MONEY, AND I get the added benefits of INCREASED HEALTH and SEX APPEAL? (Okay, maybe that last one’s just me, but everyone loves a good cook, so…) Then, there’s the benefit of making things EXACTLY how I like them without having to explain to some 16-year-old I’m indirectly paying that, no, I don’t want your pancakes because your pancakes are shit. There’s really zero loss to cooking at home. My roommates and I eat like kings. I mean, look. This is from our last two months.

WEEK 11 – Tuna tataki, spicy eggplant and “takeout” noodles
WEEK 12 – Scallop ceviche, tuna tataki, Atlantic razor clams
WEEK 13 – Sticky chicken, asparagus, and rice
WEEK 14 – Century egg congee
WEEK 15 – Rosemary steak and bacon lentil salad
WEEK 16 – Butter clams and crusty bread
WEEK 17 – Spinach omelette
WEEK 18 – Coriander-rubbed duck breast, bacon lentil salad, and smoked salmon crostini

Cooking, for us, is now a cakewalk as we perfect our recipes and learn new skills. Not only that, but it’s HUGELY enjoyable. Sipping brandy as the aromas of duck fat and orange zest fill the kitchen? Easily a peak experience. Nailing the perfect crust on a lamb persillade and then sinking your teeth into the most decadent rare meat you’ve ever had? Goddamn orgasmic. Mastering the comfort foods of your childhood and knowing you can have a soul-warming congee whenever you want? Bliss.

Resolving to cook one ambitious meal a week has done wonders for me, and I highly recommend you make that a goal for yourself as well. You get to find out where your food comes from, and you develop a healthy respect for the nutrients you’re putting in your body. Ever wonder why people who adult well have so many dinner parties? You get to make an entire evening out of simple ingredients that – if you’re doing it right – only cost $8-$10 a person! I used to get absolutely fucking obliterated at bars for $150/night, only to go home sad and alone. Dinner parties are the obvious win! AND: Instead of hiring a culinary slave horde for two hours every time I’m feeling peckish, I’m using all that money ON MYSELF. I’m investing in my health, my life skills, and my enjoyment. What an easy freakin’ choice.

Just cook. You’ll love it, I promise.

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“Hi, can I take your order?”

Oh, fuck you. I’m cooking at home.