I’m going to start throwing Dad jokes at you. The way this works is you read the question below and leave a comment with your guess. Then hover over the circle to see the answer.
If you haven’t called your various providers (cell/insurance) lately and harangued them into lowering your bills, you are probably in position to save hundreds of dollars by doing so.
This morning it took me 1 hour and 8 minutes over 3 phone calls to save $293.94. Below I outline the methods used to get my home/auto insurance and phone bill lowered.
Tires and Phones Save $
My car insurance just renewed with a $1089 annual premium.
I called TD Meloche Monnex and reminded them that I’m a loyal client with no claims and home insurance with them, then asked what they could do for me.
Turns out I qualified for a discount for using winter tires, and was instantly credited 5% for agreeing to participate in their TD MyAdvantage program. This involves downloading an app which tracks my driving behaviour. The app runs in the background and automatically detects driving patterns using GPS and the accelerometer in my phone. I only stand to gain because poor driving won’t increase my premium. However, perfect driving can lower my premium by up to 25% annually (~$250). Both Lia and I need to install the app (since we’re both insured under our policy) for maximum discounts.
All told, this 13 minute phone call resulted in an improved plan (now including 1 at-fault accident forgiven), an instant decrease in premiums by $59 and a potential 20% discount for excellent driving being tracked on the TD MyAdvantage app.
“Times are Tough” at the Client Retention Dept
Every 6 months I call my mobile provider (Wind/Freedom) and immediately ask to be forwarded to the client retention department because I’m thinking of cancelling my cell service.
The line I keep repeating all the way to client retention: “Times are tough, my wife and I simply can’t afford to be paying this much on our phone bills.” I also have a quick peek at other providers to see if there are super cheap signup promos happening. If there are, I’ll refer to these during my call with client retention, just to make them see I’m not fucking around.
Lia and I were paying $84.33/month for our two plans. Freedom agreed to help me out by temporarily reducing my bill to $62.84 for 6 months. That’s $128.94 saved (I’ve done this twice now so it’s $257.88 for the year)
Typical time on the phone is 30 minutes per call, which I make every 6 months. It’s in my calendar.
Home Insurance with TD Meloche Monnex
Lia and I were paying $623/year for home insurance. A 25 minute phone call revealed that I was eligible for a 15% loyalty discount. I also lowered my premiums by asking to increase my deductible from $1000 to $2000.
Once the mortgage is paid, we need to tell TD so our insurance drops by an additional 20% – 30%.
There’s also a Security System Discount of $21/year which we don’t qualify for, but you may.
Total call time = 25 mins
Money saved = $106/year
Go Get Some
Do some calling around and get better rates. To inspire yourself and others, please share your successes in the comments at the bottom.
For more ways to pay far less and earn way more, be sure to check out my Holy Shit Moment wherein Ramit Sethi talks about eating chicken wings like an immigrant.
Audible is like Gollum. It treats its best audiobooks like precious secrets and seems to take serious efforts to hide these books from public view. I suppose this plays into some larger picture of Audible’s need to market newer, shittier books harder than older, better ones. That’s probably how money is made. But as someone who doesn’t finish an audiobook unless it’s fucking awesome, the fact that fantastic books are so tricky to find is a massive pain in the ol’ woody wood pecker.
So after a bit of dicking around with Audible’s search options I found a way to uncover the all time best books on Audible:
This is one of those posts that gets weird before it gets useful. By the end of it, I hope to share with you one of the most life-altering realizations/techniques which has made me a tangibly happier man.
To start, we need to talk about psychology for a hot second. Specifically, we’ll look at 2 innate mental reflexes that must be tweaked in order to make us permanently happier. The first reflex up for modification is our hedonic adaptation. The second is our ability to visualize the future.
To be clear, this post isn’t about big, laborious or dramatic shifts in thinking. There is very little effort required here. We don’t need to go off into the mountains and meditate on mushrooms in a cave in order to make these changes to our brains. We are not monks, this is not Nirvana. We are monkeys, and this is merely a bigger stick to shove into a juicier mound of termites. I want you to think of these 2 mental techniques as being more like simple realizations, doorways into a different (and much happier) way of thinking. Simple is good. Simple can be profound. So let’s grab us a stick and get some motherfucking termites!
Hedonic Adaptation is one of the great human advantages. We have this shit wired right into our core programming. Hedonic Adaptation is what allowed our ancestors to adapt to the absolute shittiest living conditions, make nature our bitch, and ultimately take over the fucking planet using only fire and stabby objects.
Hedonic Adaptation, put simply, is our ability to get used to anything. It brings our happiness levels back up after something horrible happens to us, like death in the tribe or getting our genitals mutilated by barbed wire whilst attempting to escape over the fence at summer band camp. On the other hand, Hedonic Adaptation also automatically lowers our happiness back to our normal levels after something insanely awesome happens in our lives, like finding a legit lightsaber amongst the wreckage of a UFO crash site or inheriting a sizeable troupe of (highly obedient) samurai chimpanzees. If left alone, our Hedonic Adaptation will reliably return our happiness levels to normal no matter what happens in our lives.
So how can we fuck with our hardwired Hedonic Adaptation? To start, take a coat hanger and unbend it so it’s nice and straight. Then take that twisty part that’s like a cork-screw and, with great care, guide it up your left nostril until you feel some pain. Next, find a power outlet and…
If I want to consciously override my Hedonic Adaptation, I need to have a look at my desires/appetites. If I have a shoe fetish (which clearly I do), a big part of my fetish is fantasizing about new shoes. I get a major jolt of pleasure when I buy the latest Prada Stilettos, black, because they make my calves look sexy and I can wear them with anything. But the moment those beauties belong to me, they begin losing their appeal. Hedonic Adaptation is already eating away at how happy they make me. In no time, I’m swiping through celebrity Instagram accounts hunting for my next shoe fix.
This is the common pursuit of happiness we all grow up with. Everyone we know does this to some degree, some more egregiously than others. There is this treadmill approach to happiness through creating external jolts of pleasure, as illustrated by the highly scientific and technical chart below:
You can see how the black line (a person’s happiness) is like an excited heartbeat, spiking when something good happens (like buying a brand new hot tub), then fading a little below the average happiness level as the person Hedonically Adapts, compounded by a healthy dose of buyer’s remorse upon reviewing his credit card statement. Once the hot tub no longer gives adequate pleasure, the person makes another indulgence in order to spike happiness levels again.
So apart from not ever buying hot tubs, how do we set up our happiness such that it resembles the chart below?
Here we have a nice, gradual increase in average happiness over time, with a smoother rise and fall in our high and low levels. External events still affect us, of course, but our inherent happiness is far less reliant upon our ability to repeatedly indulge our various novel appetites.
The answer is drugs, so many drugs.
And a little golden nugget of awesomeness blatantly stolen from A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy called “Negative Visualization”.
First let’s look at Positive Visualization, because that’s going to be much more familiar to us.
Positive Visualization gets shit done. We picture the job we want and we go out there and get it. We picture the person we want to marry and we don’t stop searching until we find her. We picture a big, greasy hamburger and we drive to McD’s and crush one in the parking lot with the A/C blasting into our sweaty, desperate faces.
Positive Visualization is one of the most powerful techniques humans are innately capable of. It gives us the power to create the future we’ve imagined. With our minds, we shape god damn reality as we see fit.
That all sounds awesome! So why bother with Negative Visualization? That sounds like it sucks! Why would I think about un-eating a hamburger? Why would I picture myself without a job? Why would I picture my wife leaving me for Ellen Degeneres? I imagine all of this because, however counterintuitive it might seem, picturing my situation as worse than it currently is makes me happier by making me realize what I already have. It shifts my desire away from things I don’t have, to things I do have. And while I’m visualizing not having these things, my built-in Hedonic Adaptation reflex starts adjusting to the shittier reality (if even just a little bit). Then when I come out of visualizing not having these things, I’m suddenly very grateful for having them!
Positive Visualization helps us get what we want by creating present dissatisfaction. Negative Visualization helps us want what we already have by thinking about being without it, creating present satisfaction.
OK! I Get it! Just Get to the Gummy Bears Already!
I have an almost-2-year-old daughter, Isla. Positive visualization with Isla includes seeing her, in my mind, on her first day of school, taking her to her first beach volleyball tourney, and beating her first ex-boyfriend to death with a sock full of gummy bears just so the next kid in line knows I’m not fucking around.
While these fantasies make me smile and look forward to the future, they preclude my full enjoyment of the present moment with my little lady. I believe happiness derived from the present moment always trumps happiness derived from looking forward to some future moment, or happiness derived from memories. If some kid breaks Isla’s heart, it’s way more enjoyable to actually beat said kid into unconsciousness with a sock full of gummy bears than it is to merely fantasize about it. Don’t worry – I wouldn’t actually beat a kid to death with a sock full of random gummies. I’d make sure to eat all the red ones first.
Negative visualization, by contrast, is much more morbid. Negative visualization with Isla is picturing that she’s mortal (which she is) and that one day I will hug her for the last time (which I will). Even just writing that chokes me up. But it also makes me more loving and appreciative of the sound of her little voice as, while I write this, she sings the Paw Patrol theme song:
“Da da do, da da do, da da da da da DA DOOO!”
Realizing that my time with Isla is finite motivates me to actively and immediately increase the quality of my time with her. The more often I’m able to remind myself of our limited time together, the better that time will be, and overall the happier we both will be.
Yes, thinking about the inevitability that both of us will die (and I fucking hope it’s me first) does invite a quick dose of heartache into my present moment, but the immediate payoff of being hyper-aware of my love for my little girl and the resulting (and overwhelming) joy of having the time with her that I do have, is well worth a quick look at the harsh reality of our inevitable separation.
I’m more a fan of a little preemptive sadness if it buys us a happier today. I’m less a fan of avoiding sad thoughts with the assumption that we’ll always have tomorrow.
So about 8 months ago I stupidly asked my buddy Tyler if he could teach me how to bake bread. I didn’t even know or care what kind of bread we’d be baking, so in many ways the suffering I later endured was completely Tyler’s fault.
Tyler bakes sourdough. The most challenging fucking bread in the world to master.
Why Sourdough is so Fucking Difficult to Bake
This isn’t baking a cake. There’s no middle-ground. Either your bread is world-class or it fucking sucks. And when it sucks and you’re just starting out, you just want to scream at the ceiling and rip all of the hair off your body because it took you DAYS to get that bread made.
You don’t get to use commercial yeast. No. You get those fuckers out of the motherfucking AIR and from the flour itself. And that takes a long god damn time to happen. Days in the summer, weeks in the winter. Then only hours when you’re a Bread God and have a little colony of yeast domesticated in a jar in your kitchen, ready to bake with when you god damn well feel like it.
For something with such simple ingredients (only flour and water, with some optional salt) – sourdough technique is next fucking level. If you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, you’re completely fucked. You stand exactly a 0% chance of getting it right. Luck can’t help you. You stand no chance. It’s that hard.
However, if you know someone who can teach you how to create sourdough bread, you’re marginally less fucked. I’m only saying marginally less fucked because during that first bake with a sourdough master, there’s going to be so much going on that you simply don’t have the ability to see – yet. The master has spent months developing a refined sense for each step of the process – from how “strong” the dough should feel after folding it, to how “alive” the dough seems after fermentation (all jiggly and full of air). The beginner only sees a ball of dough in a bowl.
The subtleties of fermentation are pretty much impossible to get a sense for by reading a blog or watching videos. Though you still have to spend many hours reading this blog if you want to stand a chance. Even with all that reading, you’ll likely have to fuck up dozens of god damn times before the table starts to turn in your favour.
Here’s a photo of a shitty loaf I baked:
Every time one of these came out of the oven, I was very sad.
There were so many more depressing loaves like these. These things had the texture of hockey pucks. I threw some of this “bread” to a squirrel during the winter and it jumped over it. I baked some for my relatives and they made fun of both me and the bread. I would have laughed at me too, the bread was fucking terrible.
Even near the end, when I was getting some success by using some angry-ass rye flour to power-punch my fermentation in the face, I still had to resort to using a pull saw to get through the bread:
It turns out that after months of fucking around and failing over and over and over and over and fucking over, I’d developed reasonably acceptable sourdough technique. Through repetition alone, I had gained a pretty obsessive understanding of the timing for fermentation and the development of strength, flavour, and how temperature retards or accelerates everything. I learned how to shape these shits with a drywall blade. It seemed like I was doing everything right.
But after half a year of failure, my bread still fucking sucked, and I was very sad. I had tried everything and nothing was working. Lia thought it was the flour that was causing the repeat failures. So I texted Tyler.
The TSN Turning Point
The next day I went down to the most reputable bakery in town and ordered 25kg of their no-fucking-around STRONG BAKER’S FLOUR.
And then I started dominating the absolute shit out of sourdough.
The bread was so soft and beautiful a normal bread knife couldn’t cut it without totally squishing it and ripping it apart. So I ordered the bread-equivalent of a god damn Japanese samurai sword.
And now I’m happy.
I wanted to give up so badly. And to tell you to truth, I did twice. In my head I’d quit. Fuck this, it’s way to fucking hard, I’m done.
But then I’d read something new like how you’re not supposed to cut into the bread until 1 full hour after you’ve removed it from the oven because it’s still baking and if you cut into it too early it will be all dense and shitty and the crust will be really thick and hard.
So I’d be like, “Well, I have to try that.”
And then through brute stubbornness, I stumbled into the solution, which was to switch up the god damn fucking shitty flour I was using.
And the final triumph felt amazing, made all the more blissful from all the struggling and failure.
Here’s how those beauties turned out:
Unkie Gomie and I broke a shovel transplanting a tree a few weeks ago, and I was going to throw the shovel out and buy a new one.
Then I changed my mind, manned up, and decided I’d fix it instead.
This involved doing a bunch of things I love doing, like cutting and carving:
And burning (to get the old handle out of the shovel blade):
And drilling and fitting and hammering (had to drill a narrow pilot hole to make sure the nail hit the pre-existing hole on the other side of the shovel collar):
And grinding and filing (so I didn’t have a nail sticking out, which looked awesome but would have posed a serious hand-stabbing problem):
Result: a badass fucking shovel that escaped the landfill and is ready for another decade of abuse! Same blade, same handle (6in shorter) + a nail to hold the blade in place. The nail was pulled out of the floor joists in my basement where the previous homeowner had been hanging tools (I hope).
Fixing this shovel was one of the funnest projects I’ve had in a long while. There’s something wrong with me because I don’t get an appetite for this type of work. I don’t know I miss it. Then I do it, and it’s like I’m a crack addict, totally focused and inspired. Fully in the zone. Hours melt away and I don’t notice. Then I’m finished and I feel like all is well with the world, and my life couldn’t get any better. Just from fixing a shovel.
I don’t get it. But I like it.
Thinking about that, I catch myself not appreciating the day for what it was. Recently I’ve caught onto Mustachianism and become infatuated with saving more aggressively for retirement (defined as the point I no longer have to work but for sure will keep working on certain things). This mindset is problematic in that it has me preoccupied thinking about the future more than ever before. This is good if it gets me to invest instead of wasting money on dumb things, it’s bad if it clouds my ability to see the moment I’m in. There’s a lingering fear that if I stop thinking about it, I’ll backslide into old habits and not change my behaviour at all.
Overall I’ve got it pretty good. I enjoy my work, mostly, and I’m already living how I’d like to be living. So why save for retirement at all? Why not just keep doing what I’m doing if it’s enjoyable?
The answer, for me, is about a core principle that I wrote as a note to myself late one night in Hawaii:
Always move toward greater freedom and happiness.
More net worth means more freedom. Debt is the opposite (unless it’s “asset” debt). The happiness part is in my head.
I think of saving for retirement as a very difficult challenge presenting a massive payoff. I played around with this compound interest calculator to figure out where my current rate of saving was going to land me in 14 years. I currently buy $200 of Mutual Funds every month. That puts me at $62,000 by the time I’m 45 years old. Not horrible but not retireable either. Further tinkering with the compound interest calculator indicates that Lia and I will need to sock closer to $20k annually if we’re to hit our retirement goals. It’s just doable on our current income, but we’ll have to be much more intentional about our spending than we’ve ever been before. Sushi once a month instead of once a week. Not buying a bunch of drinks at the bar on a random weeknight. Not buying expensive toys whenever I want.
The only question left is: Which do I value more? Being in a position to retire 20 years early or grabbing sushi/drinks/toys every time I get the urge? I really hope it’s the retirement option.
I’ve heard there’s a lot of power behind making goals public, and providing measurable evidence of one’s progress or lack thereof. And it’s probably true because I’m really second-guessing whether to proceed with this or not. In kicks the Neil Gaiman quote I really love:
The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.
Remembering that quote always makes me man up and take the risk.
So here it is, in black and white for everyone to see: our progress toward retirement. I’ll post an update quarterly, with actual figures. This holds me accountable to at least two other people, Kyle and Tyler, both of whom I know read these blog posts religiously.
And the numbers are…
Rainy Day Savings: $3,436
Our first priority is to save $20k in a savings account for “rainy day” situations/seriously slow times at Butter/etc. Once this $20k layer of fat is in place we’ll be able to invest in mutual funds with the confidence that we won’t need to sell them prematurely out of a sudden need for cash. For those of you interested in tracking our progress, “rainy day” money is what we’re currently trying to save up.
After that, you’ll be able to track the growth of our mutual fund holdings because they’ll be getting all spillover once the “rainy day” account hits $20k.
I’ll report back on this again in July!
I’m currently in love with Mr. Money Moustache. Thanks Daniel Gomez if you’re reading this. Anyone interested in retiring earlier than they ever thought possible and living really well should get their eyes all up in his shit. Here’s an excellent blog post by Mr. Money Moustache to get you started: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/02/22/getting-rich-from-zero-to-hero-in-one-blog-post/
Lia and I have just reworked our budget in order to divert much more of our cash into indexed mutual funds. Our goal is to live on 40% of what we earn and invest 60%. With this somewhat aggressive model in place we could be in a position to live off the dividends of our investments in 15 years. Now, our lifestyle is also much more frugal than most, but hey, we’re stoked about it! And yes, we did just spend 3 months in Hawaii blowing all of our savings… so maybe this is also a major subconscious backlash to that.
I’m listening to The Top 10 Distinctions Between Millionaires and the Middle Class and here’s an awesome formula for taking risks it presents:
When deciding whether or not to take a risk on something, consider these 3 questions:
- What’s the best thing that could happen?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
- What’s most likely to happen?
If you can handle the worst outcome, and the most likely outcome brings you closer to fulfilling your goals: do it.