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

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.

Learn Your Net Profit Per Hour, or You Make Less Than You Think You Do

If you_re like us and really only make $10_hour sometimes, that iPhone costs you 100 hours, or two-and-a-half weeks in the office.-2

I’m very fortunate to have built an unconventional wedding photography business. I also work a day job at a liquor store. Having run my own business for 11 years though, I’ve learned to see my regular work life as a business too. In both, there were tons of expenses that chipped away at my bottom line. The same is true for where and how you work, regardless of what job you have. Think you make your hourly wage per hour, and that’s all there is? Think again. Here’s why you make less than you think you do.

Through mostly luck, my wedding photography is a dream job. I now charge $2,995 for a typical 8-hour wedding. When I add on the extra time I put in for prep, delivery, client meetings, driving time, accounting and so on, I’m looking at about a 20-hour investment per client. I have a great second shooter, and I pay a very efficient editor to handle 90% of the post-production. Typically, the editor takes $400, my second shooter takes $400, and there’s $200 or so that goes into other expenses, like batteries, gas, or buying drinks for clients. I walk away from each wedding with about $2,000. I’ve been operating this way for years. It took a $15,000 photography diploma and $30,000 in gear to get to this point, but that’s another story. Right now, my photography business is – in my mind – very effective at turning time into cash. My net profit per hour is $100 on the books, and a little less after accounting for taxes. Read this: “Many times it’s a ‘slap in the face’ when you calculate this number for the first time. We calculated it in a Courage to be Profitable class last week, and the highest net profit per hour was $3.60. The lowest was less than $1.” What gives?

Well, those were conventional businesses with considerable overhead, taking up space 24 hours a day. I have none of that. Those business students figured out their businesses’ profitability for the first time. You should figure out your profitability too. Here are some numbers from my day job, for easy comparison. In theory, I make $14/hour at the liquor store. In reality, I don’t.

Taxes are obvious, so let’s factor that in. Every day I go to work, I burn gas. Plugging some numbers into this gas calculator meant every day I go to work and back, I lose $2. Okay, not a big deal. What about car maintenance? What about making sure I had the right clothes and shoes for work? I spent $55 on work-appropriate shoes earlier this month. What about all the times I eat out because of work? I get $8 dinners instead of frugally eating in twice a week. Getting even crazier, what about my unbilled hours? Let’s add my commuting time too. Suddenly, my true net profit per hour was closer to $10/hour, and I’m probably forgetting something. This guy ran his numbers from his “$20 an hour” job too, and found it was now “less than $10 an hour”. Read his story.

People sometimes calculate purchases by comparing it directly with their hourly wage. “Oh, I make $20/hour, so this $1,000 iPhone is worth 50 hours of my time.” Nope! If you’re like us and really only make $10/hour sometimes, that new iPhone costs you 100 hours, or two-and-a-half weeks in the office. That $9.26 beer you just bought? Yeah, that’s about an hour. Couldn’t resist seeing “Venom” in theatres with your date and springing for popcorn too? That’s three hours. A new, low-end 4K TV? That’s a 40-hour workweek. After figuring out your net profit per hour, being frugal is the only course of action that makes sense.

Never forget to include the cost of doing business.

A final note: I have $21,000 buzzing away in investments right now with a rough return of 7%, or $1,470/year. Isn’t that kinda like adding 147 hours of day job work to my bottom line? People work, what, 2,000 hours a year? Hunh.

Will you work harder, or let your money work for you?

*****

For an extreme sport, you could copy those business students and calculate your net profit per hour based on 24 hours instead of just when you work. If you do this, please share. We’re very curious.

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.

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

if financial success and work is a game,

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.

You Work For Yourself, or How To Fire Your Boss

FINALFINAL

Depending on who you talk to, I’m either a half-retired entrepreneur or a lowly wage slave. You can read about my five sources of income and decide for yourself. Whatever you think of me though — and whether or not you think of yourself as an entrepreneur — doesn’t matter today. All you need to know is, starting today, you work for YOU. You no longer answer to a boss or clients you don’t want to. You’re now in charge of everything. Your only goal now is building the career life you’ve always wanted. Here’s how.

*****

I get it: It’s easy to feel trapped by a job. Remember “K”? He’s now welding long hours with a nasty 1-hour commute every day. Even at one of my workplaces, management changes are happening, and it hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows. I started looking at other opportunities for the both of us. In just minutes on Craigslist, I’d found backup options. I found “K” a welding opportunity in the same city, and it had the potential to reduce his commute time by 75%! I found a job almost identical to mine on the other side of town where there’s considerably less traffic, potentially saving me time and gas! In the end, we decided to stay at our current jobs, but feeling trapped was no longer an issue. We weren’t, and we came to realize we were never really trapped in the first place. There were always options, mere minutes away and at our fingertips. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like I can “fire” any job I don’t like and “hire” any job I want. If that doesn’t sound freeing or realistic to you, here’s a practical way you can get closer to making this a reality.

Losing income between jobs is a real problem. This is why virtually every personal finance writer suggests creating an emergency fund. A simple three months of income stocked away is all you need to become a boss. It automatically increases your “hiring” and “firing” abilities, and gives you more time to find the work situation you really want. You’re no longer taking the first thing that comes along so you can put KD on the table. You have the freedom to flip through job descriptions — I think of them as résumés — and “hire” what’s right for you! Build an emergency fund that covers three months of income. If you feel like you can’t climb the job ladder, there’s your first rung.

Pull this off properly and your whole worldview might change. You might realize your “boss” isn’t really the boss of you at all. They’re just a coworker. The tasks in front of you aren’t mandatory. It’s a gig you’re doing, and you get to choose if it’s worth it. Feel stuck? You’re not. You have THE ENTIRE GODDAMN INTERNET to help you find a new job to hire. Don’t like your job? FIRE IT.

I’ve always told freelancers they should make every job decision based on passion, profit, and prestige. Whatever you’re doing, do it for at least two. Start thinking of yourself as a freelancer, and think of your bank account as your business. Job hopping is the new normal anyway, so in a way, we’re all freelancers.

The truth is you’ve been your own boss all along. Are you ready to work for yourself?