How To Spend Your Way to Being Rich
Day 3 in the retirement school, who’s ready
I’ll be up front about this one: this is the make or break point in the series.
The thing is, it’s really not about income. You can make minimum wage and live in whatever your personal luxury is if you’re smart. Meanwhile there’s thousands — more — “rich” people who are way beyond extended into debt and at the brink of collapse at any second if they don’t maintain very precise amounts of high income to keep it all afloat one more day.
“It’s not your salary that makes you rich, it’s your spending habits.”
— Charles A. Jaffe
Kanye is $53mm in debt. This is why:
I am debt free. This is why:
My car was bought for $11k (Canadian). That’s like 50 bucks American.
Then I crashed it and put another $7k into fixing it, but that was just an unfortunate coincidence. Life happens, right?
And I love it every day. That was the car I loved since like, grade 6. Was out driving yesterday and grinned just as wide as the day I bought it.
The moral is, and the whole thrust of the article is:
Spending, no matter what currency (money, time, energy, attention) is a function of priorities. If you don’t know what your priorities are, you will always make sub-optimal spending choices.
So, unlike maybe a lot of articles, I can’t and won’t tell you this is good or that thing is bad. It’s not like a diet where we can say eggs are objectively good or bad and you should eat more or less of them. Spending is up to you to decide.
A BREAKDOWN OF MY OWN PRIORITIES
“Spend money on what you love and nothing else.”
There’s two halves of this: things I will always spend on (my priorities) and things I will always refuse to spend on (unless otherwise obligated).
THINGS I APPRECIATE IN LIFE
Pizza. (judging by all the receipts I have for it. Good food in general)
Health. (this one I crumble a bit at, but it’ll be good in the long term)
Solitude. (recently trying the roommate thing — before I was paying a premium to live alone and I was okay with that cost)
Mobility. (namely my car and my bikes. Good shoes. Camping gear. I want to get into motorcycling at some point etc.)
Cameras. (my biggest equity after my car is in camera gear, haha)
Computer gear. (to a lesser extent: I’m hardly on the bleeding edge of this. My monitors are from 2007, my laptop is from 2011. They’re fine)
Being debt free. (I generally hate to bring this up because it feels braggy in that ‘I don’t even have a TV’ guy way. But, the fact is, I do deeply prioritize the freedom that comes with it. I paid some 35% of my take-home pay to my debt every month for years until it was finally gone, and now I intend to never take on substantial debt again in my life — that’s just a priority of mine.)
And then all the little stuff that’s generally inexpensive under those things.
THINGS I DO NOT SPEND MONEY ON
Alcohol. (I don’t drink. I used to drink a little but so infrequently that the little bit I did drink made me feel disproportionately garbage, so I stopped 100%. Also, this is like, the most expense per benefit I can think of: a $9 pint for me isn’t that much more enjoyable than sparkling water or whatever. I’d much rather get a $9 burger or appetizer or something if given the choice. $9 on Steam will get you a lot of enjoyment.)
Anything for prestige’s sake. (I do buy ‘fancy’ things sometimes if they’re genuinely worth the money in quality — I will stand by every Lululemon sweater I own because they’re indestructible and worth it for me. But prestige itself is basically useless. Insert that Fight Club quote and yadda yadda.)
First day releases. (it’ll be the same game in a few months. There’s no reason to spend $80 on a game that’ll be $15 in the Summer Sale. Likewise with phones, computers, basically everything. You pay a premium to be early and those things tend to get better over time with patches anyway.)
Food. (to a degree. I ought to write a whole post about optimizing food per price but long story short, stores often write price per weight beside the actual price tag and you can see veggies are like, 1/8 the price of meats. Meat-heavy diets are super expensive, so naturally I tend to be leaner on that stuff.)
Cable. (as a millennial you probably don’t have cable just like you’ve never signed up for a land line (a what?) because Netflix is $9 and you probably Putlocker stream whatever isn’t on there anyway. Spending hundreds per month for a few crappy ad-ridden channels just does not appeal to me.)
Phone bills. (I pay $39 a month for unlimited everything and 600MB of data which is more than enough because I’m within wifi like, almost all of the time. The only real exception is in the mountains, but I’m often outside of cell reception completely so it doesn’t matter anyway)
Interest. (my student loans were 6% and 8.5% respectively, so I paid them down aggressively and ended up saving a ton in interest payments. Always pay off credit cards in full. We’ll talk more about this in the post on debt.)
Bank fees. (TD Canada Trust was charging $14 a month just to keep some money in there. Screw that! Switched to Tangerine which has no fees at all, never looked back. Now I have $14 more a month. That’s sweet pizza money!)
HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR PRIORITIES
The trickiest part of cutting spending is thinking you need something.
Unfortunately, you can’t really verify if you actually need it or objectively don’t but are afraid or otherwise hesitant to give it up.
I’d recommend two things: 1. cutting the obvious stuff and then basking in the glow of how good it feels and 2. trying a trial period where you temporarily stop buying or pretending that thing doesn’t exist and just see how your life reflects after a month or two of it being gone. For me, I tend to forget that I even had it in the first place, and so it’s a clear winner to cut altogether.
But in the bigger strokes, this whole process gets really existential.
Who are you? Who do you want to be?
This is lifestyle design.
We’re cutting stuff and re-routing that resource (time, money, energy, attention) to the things (priorities) you actually want and love.
This means you’re also giving up more traditional stuff. The stuff you buy and do and say to impress other people, or to fit in. The status quo life is really inefficient. If you want to be rich, you have to be better than that lifestyle.
One question I asked a lot of my friends who come to me for advice is rephrasing whatever they’re saying as an inequality statement like this:
“If you had to choose, would you eat cheap food and travel a lot or not really travel that much but get to eat at all the restaurants you love?”
And you might all answer differently based on your priorities.
But it’s a format you can rephrase any decision in and get an answer out of.
You can do anything you want, but not everything you want.
If we tie this all up, it comes back to the retirement thing.
“If you had to choose, would you rather retire when you’re 38 and do whatever you pleased for the rest of your life or would you rather party every weekend and spend hundreds on alcohol you won’t remember?”
Because I know what I’d choose.
And it’s not to be preachy — if you genuinely choose the party life, all power to you! Go do that. You’ll enjoy it more now because you know it’s your choice.
My main point is to get people aware that the options exist, because just doing something that’s the default isn’t helping you achieve your real goals.
And maybe your goal isn’t retiring. You could say ‘partying vs Gucci’ or ‘sports cars vs travelling’ or ‘cable vs unlimited books’ or ‘fancy car payments vs paying down debt’— virtually any decision that involves relatively equal amounts of money can be pitted against each other.
Time too. You can work out for an hour if you want that hot beach bod or you can read for an hour if you want that hot brain. You can do an hour of work in exchange for $X money or an hour of volunteering for X amount of satisfaction and love. Or an hour of Netflix for X amount of relaxation. Or an hour of Honey Boo Boo for X amount of self-lobotomy.
Most life choices, in fact. I faced this huge dilemma last year where the question was just ‘do I want a stable but boring job or a flexible but uncertain job’ over and over until one day my boss made the decision for me and now I’m doing the entrepreneur + freelancer thing and it’s been great. Turns out, I should have made that decision years ago. But, fear. We’ll loop around to that in my entrepreneur-based posts after this financial series.
Understand you have the power to make these choices.
Understand that some choices are hard, but in the end you should do what you want and not what other people want.
Understand that all spending of time, money, attention and energy is a function of priorities and in order to get anywhere you need to have a game plan that has a goal focused enough that you can push in one unified direction. That’s how winning is done!
I’ll see you tomorrow.