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

Your Tribe Matters

You can_t succeed if the people around you are satisfied with mediocrity.

“You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.”
– Jim Rohn

If I were to narrow down the five people I spend the most time with, it’d be my roommates “D” and “K”, our artist friend “A”, and probably my coworkers from my day job. Ever since I’ve known them, they’ve indirectly propelled me towards greater success. This is why.

“D” is industrious, hardworking, and frugal as hell. If something broken can be fixed, he’ll do it, even if it looks like a wad of duct tape and glue after. If it’s functional, that’s enough for him. At 27, he has no debt, and a future career path very similar to Ben’s. He’s currently my closest friend.

“K” isn’t frugal, but he’s fit. He eats lean, has a 21.8 BMI – he’ll enjoy greater longevity – and he’d always rather be in a park. Thanks to him (and my coworkers who always push me), I’m now averaging 15,000 steps each day and burning 3,000 calories. Almost by accident, I’ve already lucked into ‘fit’ and ‘frugal’ just by the people who’ve moved in. It gets better.

“A” is massively frugal. She makes ethical eating choices and with that, she’s able to save on a completely different level than we do. Here are the numbers I’m able to divulge, but long story short, she’s set for retirement already. We pay attention to quantifiable happiness, seek out even more friends for our “money tribe”, and encourage each other on personal goals. She’s my main connection to Mustachianism, and she’s one of my most rewarding friendships. We’ve even hired her to make art pieces in our apartment.

As for my coworkers, they kick my ass. That’s all that needs to be said about that.

This is my tribe.

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You can pick and choose your tribe more than you know. If personal development is a key goal, one of the methods I used was the DRM. This sounds callous, but I evaluated some relationships recently, and started prioritizing only the ones that were healthy for me. (See: the “oxygen mask rule”.) Anything that ranked low on ‘pleasure’ and ‘purpose’ – how Paul Dolan quantifies happiness – got pushed aside. This, I feel, gave me room to grow.

I turned 30 recently, and I’m more protective of my emotional health than ever before. Consciously surrounding myself with positive influences has been a game changer for me because I used to booze heavily, and have low self-esteem. Now that I’ve removed people who were a bad fit, I attack my goals like I won’t get another chance!

This is why people find mentors. This is why people pay through the nose for life coaches. This is why people buy self-help books. On the other hand, if you know positive influences already, it only makes sense to make them part of your tribe. For one, it’s free! On top of that, building positive relationships is always a worthwhile effort.

Time is finite, and as a resource that can’t be reobtained, you should be obstinate about who you give it to. That having been said, you should also be a valuable tribe member for others! I hope now to build a tribe of likeminded, frugal, self-optimizers.

I think I’m off to a good start.

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At this current moment, frugality is what I’m trying to cultivate. I find I’m distancing myself from spendier activities, and – this is important – saying flat out ‘no’ to things I won’t enjoy. (This is strange, but in my mind, things I won’t enjoy equates to work, and do I really want to be paid nothing for my time?) Someone once told me, “If you’re not improving or enjoying yourself, you’re just wasting your fucking time.” I believe that.

Surround yourself with people with similar goals. Be friends with people better than you in the ways you want to improve. Deprioritize people holding you back. Be a beacon for others wanting to learn more from your strengths. Build your tribe.

You can’t succeed if the people around you are satisfied with mediocrity.

If this made sense to you, I’m sure you’ll find success in no time. Choose better relationships, and you’ll be better too.

Bens, Booze & Budgets: Part One

If I didn't get my drinking under control,

This is an ongoing series tackling my struggles with alcoholism, and how I strive to do better. We’ll be looking at the financial impact, my overall health, how it’ll affect my longevity, and my happiness along the way. It’s a serious issue, and I don’t intend to take it lightly. Reader discretion is advised.

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My vacations are rarely actual vacations. This time, it involved visiting event planners in Kamloops and Chase to promote my wedding photography. We had a blast, and on our way back, we stopped in to see “Ben and Barbara” for another hike. That’s when “Ben”, a 60-odd tenured academic, took me aside.

I forget the exact words, but his tone was serious. He was very concerned with my drinking. At this point, he’d seen me consume upwards of six beers in a casual night at home. He’d lost friends in their 40s to hard drinking, and he’d never even seen them drunk. I was, what, 29? If I didn’t get my drinking under control, I might only have 10-15 years left. Taken aback by his frankness, I stammered something noncommittal, and headed back to my car. Even now, I’m thinking about it. “You have to reach old age,” he said. Admittedly, I never imagined I wouldn’t.

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The Lancet is a medical journal with roots dating back to 1823. Starting as a simple pamphlet in the 19th century, it’s now an online powerhouse of medical studies covering countless aspects of human health. Mere weeks ago, they published a risk analysis on 599,912 drinkers and came to some conclusions, summarized here: Fortunately, they found that people who drink about 6.5 drinks a week or less are mostly okay. But those who drink 6.5 to 12.5 drinks a week have a six-month lower life expectancy at age 40, while those who have 12.5 to 22 drinks a week have one to two years lower life expectancy, and people who drink more than that have four to five years lower life expectancy.”

This was, obviously, not great news for someone who frequently writes about longevity.

I’d spent years trying to convince myself my drinking wasn’t a problem, but the other day, on my way to work, I needed to stop at a bottle depot. It was a sunny day, and I found parking right out front. This was super convenient, I thought to myself. I mean, I had numerous garbage bags full of beer cans. As I stood there organizing my past benders into sticky blue trays, “Ben” crept into my thoughts again. As each tray filled, I found I looked forward to my bottle return less. Each tray I filled looked like a few hours shaved off the end of my life. 10¢, 10¢, 10¢… 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes…

$32.50 was the total return. Literally hundreds of beer cans. I realized then that I needed help.

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Here’s where the math comes in. Nothing motivates me more than raw data, so I drew a line in the sand. The article said, “those who have 12.5 to 22 drinks a week have one to two years lower life expectancy, and people who drink more than that have four to five years lower life expectancy.” Well, I knew I didn’t want to be in the latter category, so I set myself a ceiling of 22 drinks a week, or 3 drinks a day. This is still not in line with what constitutes “moderate drinking”, but I was just looking to game the data. For now, any drinking ceiling was better than none. I AM NOW COMMITTED TO NO MORE THAN 3 DRINKS A DAY. And somehow, knowing that was really goddamn liberating. I look in my fridge now, see 9 beers, and I know I have enough for 3+ days. Somehow, this constraint was weirdly welcome in my life. More savings, a longer lifespan, and easier estimation of how long my beer would last me? I think if I remember all the benefits, it’ll be far easier to not drink to excess!

But can I do it? I still don’t know. My optimism is tempered by having failed at things like this before. I suspect I’ll see an 80% success rate with a few “cheat days” along the way. Done well, this sudden new challenge might literally save my life. Done poorly, there might not be a logical reason I’m saving for the future.

As I write this, it’s been just under 24 hours since I finished my last beer. I bought a coffee, but I’m still tempted by the new rye IPA in my fridge. My wall clock is ticking, and the ticks sound louder than normal.

Holy shit, guys. This should not be this difficult.

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Stay tuned for Part Two.

Rich People Live Longer

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“The study divides Americans into five income groups and finds that each income group is healthier than the one below it and sicker than the one above it.” Full article here.

Well, no surprise there. I think it’s more correlation than causation, and this is likely to stir up a debate in the comments, but it’s not about the money. Rather, I’ve found the people who succeed financially tend to have healthier habits than people who make less. Tom Corley analyzed “Rich Habits and Poverty Habits” and it’s easy to see how wealthy habits are also healthy habits that lead to longevity. Take care of your money, and you’ll take care of yourself too! Don’t believe me? Read his article, and let’s go through the list. Buckle up.

#1 is “Live within your means.” I had trouble doing this, and many aspects of my life were suffering. I was drinking too much. I was eating so much, I was overweight. I spent heavily on sedentary entertainment. I put myself in debt, which added to my overall stress. “Live within your means” is such an obvious piece of advice, but what’s not obvious is how much damage you can do if you ignore it. I spent so much on gluttony and indulgence, my BF% was 28.6 at its highest. (The average for men is 18-24%, and I’m at 23.4% now.) Simply by overspending, I was overindulging. It was bad news. If I’d saved more wealth, I would’ve had better health. It doesn’t stop there.

#3 is “Read every day.” This alone is how I learned to accumulate wealth. If I’d never read “The 4-Hour Workweek”, Mr. Money Mustache, Marcus Arce’s “Half Retire”, or Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules”, I’d still be broke, unhealthy, and trapped in a 9-to-5. Constant education might actually be key to longevity. It keeps minds active — book lovers live longer, by the way — and it provides me with valuable information on how to live a better life through optimized personal finance, health, and happiness. If you’re reading this now, you’re on your way to a long and happy life. Read those books I linked to above, and you’ll be even wealthier and healthier. I promise.

#6 is “Network and volunteer regularly.” Here’s a TED talk linking social integration to longevity, but there are benefits from interacting with your community that can benefit you now and not just when you’re trying to eke past 100. Looking at my 10+ years of doing professional photography, my most profitable years were when I was volunteering on fashion creatives, meeting with colleagues for drinks, and handing business cards to anyone who made eye contact with me. The more of yourself you give, the more you tend to receive back. Having been reminded of this, I made a point of attending a networking event this week. My mental health and career outlook immediately improved, and a simple night of drinks might lead to a $3,000+ wedding booking. Hey, it’s happened before! Many times, in fact!

#7 is “Go above and beyond in work and business.” How this leads to longevity is slightly less direct. I posit that high achievers in the workplace are also serial optimizers who bring their skills home. They’re the same ones who know an exercise routine in the morning sets them up for productivity in the office. They’re the same ones who read to excel. They’re the same ones who eat homemade quinoa for lunch when Matt from accounting goes out for Burger King. Sorry, Matt, but I know who I’d bet on for longevity. Enjoy your extra pickles.

#11 is “Avoid toxic people.” Corley writes, “[Y]ou need to evaluate each of your relationships and determine if they are a Rich Relationship (with someone who can help you up) or a Poverty Relationship (with someone holding you back). Start spending more and more time on your Rich Relationships and less on your Poverty Relationships. Rich Relationships can help you find a better job, refer new business to you or open doors of opportunity.” I fully agree. My stress levels were lowest when I started spending less time with my naysaying family, and more time with disproportionately successful friends. The Other Ben has been a godsend to me. If it weren’t for him, I’d most likely have fallen into the same trap my mother fell into — believing low-end wage labour was the only method of wealth accumulation. That feeling of being stuck? No bueno for stress levels, and as we all know, stress kills.

#16 is my favourite: “Know your main purpose.” Here’s a talk about ikigai and the centenarians who believe in it. I reevaluated my purpose in life recently, and realized I just want to take care of my friends. Someone who doesn’t know their main purpose might just work themselves into the ground — literally, I might add; see: karōshi — or they might have a bunch of money and spend it in a way that doesn’t bring lasting contentedness. (The Ferrari-crashing, money-flashing fuerdai are just one example.) In my case, knowing my purpose allows me to say no to things that don’t serve my goals. I don’t need a big house, so I’m not working towards one. I don’t need fine wine every night, so I stopped buying them months ago. What I do want is better friendships, and the wealth and time to help cultivate them. I also want meaningful work, and I’ve found that in wedding photography and slinging beer. My goals, purpose, and steps to achieve them are all in alignment! Though I’m certainly not the highest earner in my circles, I feel like my healthy habits will lead me to wealth in the long run.

Finally, an obvious note: Having enough cash to take care of basic health is something everyone deserves. For many, it’s not as simple as changing a few habits. That’s why I urge you to be a “Rich Relationship” for somebody. I recently helped my roommate “D” land a dream job, and I’m equally happy to connect as many compatible working relationships as possible. If you’d like help with anything, ping us on Facebook.

Let’s all get rich together and live outrageously long lives to enjoy it.

*****

After writing this article, I consulted “A” for additional commentary. This was some of what she said.

“It’s a lot easier to avoid toxic people if you have money and are not reliant on said toxic people. People are more likely to value reading if they had parents that were educated and valued education & learning & reading. Poor people don’t necessarily have the time to volunteer, it’s hard to think about your purpose if you’re depressed and in survival mode, social exclusion can make networking hard, etc. So these habits you’re writing about are hard to start or maintain if you’re not already in a semi-well off position.”

She also noted, “By writing about this though, the implication of the article is that you think that wealth doesn’t have an important effect”.

Admittedly, there were points I’d failed to consider. I decided to preserve the original article anyway — it may prove valuable as I learn more about privilege and poverty — and I invite you to chat with me in the comments about it.

What do you think? Let’s dive in.

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!

How Your Ideal Day Can Make You Happy… Forever

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Remember my obsession with book summaries? I breeze through multiple books a week now. That’s how I found this summary of Joe Sweeney’s “Moving the Needle”. The book itself seems to be typical self-development fare, but one piece of actionable advice stuck. I’ve been thinking about it all week. Soon, you will too.

Early in the book, Sweeney calls on us to embrace personal clarity. I know that’s classic self-help bullshit, but hear me out. First, get quiet. Turn your music off, put the phone away, and picture your ideal day. This isn’t my idea. This is in the book. Think about what activities you’d include in your day. Is your family in there? Is work involved, or is your ideal day work-free? What about your leisure activities? Does your ideal day involve reading? Netflix? Eating at a nice restaurant? Write that shit down NOW. No excuses. This is literally an exercise that will improve the rest of your life. Write down every detail; morning, noon, night. When you’re ready, meet me back here. These words aren’t going anywhere. Don’t scroll ahead. Go and write. See ya in five.

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What you wrote down is what you live for. It’s why you work so hard. It’s what you strive for, and it’s what you should do with your free time for the rest of your life.

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Fuck, I struggled with that realization. My list was surprisingly close to A Normal Life. I actually included work in my ideal day. I believed my ideal day should involve making a little money. I also included cooking. In my ideal day, I saw myself shopping for ingredients and whipping up a shared meal with friends. I saw myself drinking a few bottles of craft beer, and surprisingly, NOT some hoity-toity $400 wine. Oh, and here’s the good part: Wait until you see what WASN’T included.

I did NOT include any PlayStation or TV time. I did NOT include anything with a romantic partner. I did NOT include spending money on new gadgets or toys. I did NOT include expensive travel to exotic locations. What the fuck, right? Aren’t those the kinds of experiences we work and strive for? Am I just thinking small?

Or did I just finally figure out what I actually need to be happy?

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Obviously, needs change and so do the things that bring us joy. I recommend this clarity exercise at least once every few months.

For now, I’m making direct changes in my life based on my results. I’ve realized my video game habit is just a way to kill time and the Time:Happiness ratio isn’t worth the investment. I’ve also stopped pursuing Romance for now. I may also continue donating my Travel opportunities to people who need them. I’ve given away two flights in the past year, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out yet. And somehow, knowing all this makes me feel… lighter.

Heck, it’s almost like figuring out what you truly want in life makes it all easier.

Imagine that.