God, you people are all cheap bastards. Every last one of you. Y’all make me sick.
Sorry, I was talking to the teens that have camped in my backyard. Do you guys have any ideas of how to get rid of them? I’ve tried nothing and I’m all outta ideas!
Many nearly-financially independent folks who JUST CAN’T TAKE WORKING FOR THE MAN ANYMORE, DAMMIT do themselves a little geographic arbitrage, moving from an expensive city (like Toronto or Vancouver) to somewhere like Thailand. Or Mexico. Or Costa Rica. As long as it’s warm, cheap, and filled with many beautiful ladies, you’ll find a good supply of retirees of all ages regularly soiling their Depends. Yes, I am implying a 30-something retiree wears Depends. Are you really retired if you don’t?
But a lot of people don’t want the aggravation of moving to a whole new country. You have to deal with a long and annoying immigration process. Simple stuff like going to the grocery store is suddenly more difficult. Hell, even navigating streets that are all labeled in some weird language is a pain in the ass.
So let’s look at geographic arbitrage another way and see just how inexpensive you can live without leaving the country. Just where is the cheapest place to live in Canada, anyway?
According to my crack research squad (four parrots who only know swear words and a dead kitten), the cheapest cities are located in the eastern part of the country, primarily eastern Quebec and New Brunswick. Ah, New Brunswick. We meet again.
Like Shawinigan, Quebec. The small city in eastern Quebec has approximately 50,000 people and is a short two hour drive from Montreal. It boasts industry like an Alcan aluminum plant and a pulp and paper plant. Unfortunately, the city has been slowly shrinking since the 1950s.
But we don’t care about that. All we care about is cheap living, baby! And Swawinigan delivers, with average rent for a two-bedroom apartment hovering at just $476. I did a little Googling and it’s hella easy to get into a half-decent place for less than $500 per month.
Seriously, Quebec. You guys need to list your real estate like the rest of us. If it has three bedrooms, just call it a g.d. three bedroom place. This isn’t hard.
Other places in Quebec are pretty damn cheap, too. In St. Georges the average two-bedroom place will set you back a mere $515 per month. Victoriaville’s average is $525 per month. Trois-Rivieres (more like manage-a-trois AMIRITE, GUYS?!?) offers an average price of $587 for a two-bedroom apartment. And so oh. These small cities are hella cheap.
Okay, but what about a real city with public transport and whatnot? The cheapest of the six largest metro areas in Canada is Montreal, but the average two-bedroom place is going to cost you north of $1,000 in Canada’s most European city (sorry, Guelph, but Montreal just edged you there).
Without a doubt the cheapest place to live in Canada will end up being some obscure small town nobody has heard of. I don’t doubt you can get your own place for less than $300 per month in some little bullshit place on the prairie that shouldn’t even exist. $300 in Toronto doesn’t even get you a shitty parking spot in Scarborough.
Here’s an 848 square foot house located in Hanna, Alberta, for the low price of $49,000. If you took out a standard 25-year mortgage to buy the place your mortgage payment would be approximately $200 per month. It’s a 15 minute walk from a grocery store (but only five minutes to a liquor store!), and it’s super close to the hospital and arena if you’d like to get a little part-time work action to further stretch your retirement dollars.
But we can get cheaper! Here’s a three-bedroom house in Heisler, Alberta, a place I assure you actually exists, for the low price of $29,900. That includes the lot and everything. Sure, it’s not a great place — the 70s called and want their wall paneling back — but do you really care if you get a whole g.d. house for the price of a car?
Yes, it’s in the literal middle of nowhere. It’s 45 minutes by car to the town of Stettler or the city of Camrose. The nearest grocery store or hospital is like 20 minutes away. But we have Amazon Prime and Walmart.ca. These websites will ship all the necessities of life right to your door. And for free, too! Assuming you hit the $39 minimum, that is.
Think about how little you’d spend if you lived in Heisler. You’d have no mortgage payment since only the poors can’t scrounge up 30 grand. I know you’re not poor because the FU servers automatically punt such people. Utilities would be $500/month, max. Property taxes would be $75 per month; house insurance would probably be around the same. (Remember, house insurance is optional when you don’t have a mortgage.) Even including a weekly trip to Camrose to keep you sane (they have strippers) I think you could still live for $1,500 per month for everything. Easy. You could even be cheap and get it down to $1,000.
Want more? I saved the best for last. $27,000 gets you this fixed up two-bedroom bungalow in Prelate, Saskatchewan, a village of 126 people located 12 km east of Leader. Leader has all the amenities an early retiree needs, like a couple grocery stores (gotta comparison shop, yo), at least one gas station, and a hospital. Prelate is also home to the Islamic Academy of Saskatchewan, which is home to approximately 100 male students looking to learn the ways of Allah. No, rural Saskatchewan isn’t an odd place for such a thing. Why would you even bring that up?
It’s time to end this
The cheapest place to live in Canada is undoubtedly some tiny village in the middle of nowhere, which comes with its own set of problems. But we don’t care about that, at least for this blog post. All we care about today is getting your cost of living down to virtually zero.
It turns out it’s possible to live on a third-world income without even leaving Canada. And let me tell you from experience, these villages are tight-knit groups. They take care of each other. Will you get the same thing in Bangkok? I doubt it.
Us here at Financial Uproar (me and 14,000 bed bugs I just can’t kill) are big fans of eating at home. I’ve gone from barely being able to make toast to being a halfway skilled amateur cook. It turns out following recipes isn’t hard. Some moron before you did all the work. You get to follow his lead and take credit!
What a country.
Look at some of the stuff I’ve made:
As long as my wife pretends to like it that’s good enough for me.
But sometimes you don’t have the extra half hour needed to throw together a home cooked meal. You might be pressed for time. Or you might need to eat out because you’re far from home. Or maybe you’re just feeling lazy tonight and just want someone to cook for you. Hey, we’re not here to judge.
Uh, I’m actually very much here to judge. And you won’t let me leave.
Don’t worry about Italics Man. I’mma going to smother him with a pillow sometime soon.
Let me help you with convenience eating. Here are some ways to get the best value for your money.
Oh, frozen pizza. I used to live off that stuff. I even did a blog post outlining the best frozen pizzas out there.
Frozen pizza is pretty much the epitome of convenience eating. It’s delicious, terrible for you, and you don’t even need to put on pants if you’ve got one hanging out in the freezer.
These days I pretty much stick to the thin crust Delissio. I’ll buy either the 4 meat or the deluxe one for myself, while the wife prefers Canadian. These are purchased at the local Wal-Mart for approximately $3 each when on sale, which is almost always.
Honestly, you can’t really go wrong with frozen pizza. Just make sure you cook it long enough (you want the cheese to be golden brown, not white) and you’re in business. Even if you’re a gluttonous pig like me you’re still getting a simple dinner for less than $4 a person.
You can cook ramen the really lazy way or the mostly lazy way.
The really lazy way is the preparation instructions on the package. Everyone knows how to do that, so I won’t elaborate.
The mostly lazy way is to boil your ramen and use it as a base for a stir fry. My wife makes one that’s just ramen, green onions, soy sauce, and some leftover meat of our choice. It takes about 10 minutes and you’re eating. It’s really good, too.
Mac and Cheese
You can find the store brand mac and cheese for about $0.50 a box, which makes it some of the cheapest foods in the grocery store on a per calorie basis. It’s pretty damn delicious, too.
Don’t fall for the fancy Kraft Dinner plot. The regular stuff is overpriced as it is. The fancy shapes are an even bigger ripoff. $2 for different shapes? NICE TRY, BUFFETT.
If you’re interested in getting the best value for your buck when convenience eating, a great place to start is your local Chinese buffet.
It’s a shame most of the meat ends up being coated with batter and sauce, but whatever. That stuff is still damn tasty. Us Albertans get to enjoy ginger beef as well, a local variation of Chinese food that hasn’t really caught on anywhere else in the country. Suckers. More ginger beef for Nelly.
It’s an even better value if you go for lunch. I’ve been known to eat enough for lunch at the local Chinese food place I’m not interested in supper. Not bad for $12.99.
Remember what you can make at home
One skill every man should have is the ability to grill a nice steak. It’s actually pretty damn easy. Just make sure you have a good cut of meat, a hot grill, and enough Montreal Steak Spice to clog your grandfather’s arteries once and for all. It takes 3-4 minutes a side to have a nice medium-rare steak, assuming a one inch thickness.
I can cook a steak at home that’s pretty much as good as going out to a restaurant, for about a third to a quarter of the cost depending on how good the meat sale was. So why would I ever order such a thing when I go out?
A good restaurant pizza is amazing. Nachos are time consuming to make at home. I can’t make a decent calzone either. These are the things you order at a restaurant. Not the things you already make well on your own.
I like fast food because you don’t have to tip 20% on top of an already overpriced meal. It’s kinda the same at buffets, actually.
Here are some random observations about getting good value out of fast food.
- Two words: McDonald’s Value Menu
- Pizza Hut offers an $8 large pizza of the day on its app
- The meatball sub is the best value at Subway, although even it’s getting a little pricey
- Those Dairy Queen $6 meal deals that come with the sundae? That’s the good shit right there
- Pretty much anything at Taco Bell
- 7-11 hot dogs are underrated, especially if they still do that 2/$5 deal
Okay, let’s wrap this up
You have two options when it comes to convenience eating. You can go for quality and eat out at fancy places that will cost you $50 after you have a couple of drinks. Or you can do it on the cheap.
I prefer the second option.
Just remember to eat good most of the time. Or don’t. See if I care. Warren Buffett has eaten like trash for 89 years now and look where it’s gotten him.
It all started when I had a breakfast problem.
It went something like this. Every morning, I’d eat Vector, the most delicious cereal in the land. Kellogg’s has marketed it as fancy nutritional meal replacement, and I took the bait hook, line, and sinker. Sure, it was mostly carbs, but at least it had some protein to go with the other 17 useless nutrients it lists on the side of the box.
Niacin? NICE TRY, BIG PHARMA. You just made that up.
For the most part, Vector was great. It was fast, delicious, and since I bought it in bulk at Costco, pretty cheap too. Including milk, a bowl would cost well under a dollar.
The only problem was it wouldn’t fill me up the whole morning. I get up usually around 6:30, with the intent to eat breakfast at around 6:45 and be in the shower by 7. This allows me to get to work right around 7:30, which I think is the sweet spot. By 10, I was hungry enough to crack out my lunch early.
That wasn’t really doing it for me, so I decided to try something new. Whenever I’m out of milk, my back-up breakfast of choice has always been a breakfast sandwich. Oh man, I love those things. Every now and again my wife would make them at home and it would be fantastic.
So I decided to batch cook a bunch of my own breakfast sandwiches and freeze them. It didn’t go as well as planned.
Preparing for this was relatively easy. First stop, Costco, where I bought the following items:
- Five dozen eggs
- Four packs of bacon
- Two packs of english muffins, 48 in total
The total cost of the eggs was $13.79 and the bacon was $17.99. The english muffins set me back $10.98.
But remember, I didn’t use all of my ingredients. I only used half of the bacon and 48 of the eggs. Thus, my cost was as follows:
- Eggs (80% of $13.79) = $11.03
- Bacon (50% of $17.99) = $9.00
- English muffins = $10.98
- Total = $31.06
- Per sandwich cost = 64.7 cents
That’s probably a little cheaper on a per unit cost basis than Vector, which is probably closer to 70 or 80 cents per breakfast. Keep in mind I’m not including the cost of the aluminum foil to wrap the sandwiches because I already had it on hand, but I’d estimate that cost only being a nickel or so per sandwich. Not much.
Now let’s talk about the cooking process. I thought about it beforehand and came up with that I thought was a pretty efficient method. I’d cook the eggs in the oven inside of cupcake (muffin?) tins. I’d then spread out the bacon on cookie sheets. While they were cooking, I’d start cutting the english muffins apart.
It wasn’t a bad strategy, but it did produce a few unintended outcomes. It was hard to scramble the eggs once they ended up inside the muffin tins. The eggs didn’t stick to the pan at all, but the bacon did. And I only had 24 muffin tins, which slowed up the process.
Here are some pictures, because if Reddit has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t batch cook without a bunch of pictures:
Note the time I started on the first picture, which was 6:40 pm. I stacked a pyramid of breakfast sandwiches in front of the clock so you can’t see when I finished, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. It took two hours to prepare and wrap 48 breakfast sandwiches.
The whole point of this batch cooking exercise was to have a hot, delicious breakfast with only a minimal amount of work.
It did not deliver. Hoo boy. Not even close.
The first day I decided to heat up my sandwich in the microwave. It took 1:30 per side to heat everything up to a satisfactory internal temperature. Except the bun was soggier than the average Vancouver afternoon. And the thing was so damn hot I had to let it rest for a couple minutes before eating it.
After a little experimentation, I’ve figured out how to reheat each sandwich so they’re decent. First I microwave the whole thing for a minute thirty. Then I separate the egg and microwave it alone for another minute thirty. I put the rest of the sandwich in the toaster oven for a toasting cycle that takes longer than three minutes.
Total time prep: five minutes. Ugh. I can practically make a sandwich from scratch in five minutes.
I still have like forty of these things left. Anyone want to come over for breakfast?
I shouldn’t bash batch cooking that much. This was my first attempt at it, and the breakfast sandwiches are pretty good once I figured out how to prepare them right. It also didn’t really help my problem of getting hungry at 10, but I think that’s just a byproduct of when I’m eating breakfast.
I batch cook all the time, usually on Sunday nights I’ll prepare enough food so I have leftovers for lunch. I’ll continue doing that. But when it comes to breakfast, I’m switching back to cereal as soon as I can convince my wife frozen breakfast sandwiches are the bomb diggity.
We also haven’t touched on what I think is the most important variable — my time. By the time I’m done, this batch cooking experiment will cost me between three and four hours of my time. Even at just $10 per hour, the conclusion is obvious. Sorry kids, but batch cooking just isn’t doing it for me. Not unless I can just make more of whatever food I was going to make in the first place.
When somebody first starts to pay attention to their finances (which usually happens after they get into a large amount of debt), the default solution is always to cut back on spending.
There are a number of reasons why. It’s easier than making fun of my many shortcomings. Most people who aren’t the Early Retirement Extreme guy have plenty of excess fat to cut from their budgets. And it really feels like you’re sacrificing when you go without Starbucks or whatever your budget cut of choice is. That feeling is important to people, believe it or not. Go ahead, don’t believe it. See if I care.
This goes fine for a few months, then everyone gets the same realization. Frugality sucks. It sucks balls.
I’ve never been a big fan of frugality advice. Life advice that recommends people cut out things doesn’t usually work. Diets suck, which is why I’m going to eat a big bowl of trifle after I hit the gym tonight. Cutting the cord is all the rage, but the fact is I’d much rather have BNN and all the sports channels available to watch whenever I want. It sucks too.
Frugality sucks the most
It’s the whole reason why 99.92% of all budgets fail.
Money has a way of permeating into every aspect of our lives. We exchange it for fun things like buying Nelson his most treasured material item, a coffee mug with a kitten on it. Go ahead, mock me. I’LL FIGHT ANYONE I DON’T EVEN CARE. You can also use it to buy not so fun things, like new socks or your electric bill.
There aren’t many ways you can cut down on essentials short of sitting in the dark, goddammit it. IF THAT BILL GETS ANY HIGHER I SWEAR TO GOD AGNES, I’LL DO IT.
So we cut back on fun things. Meals out get substantially cut or eliminated. So do take-out coffees and new clothes and a million other things we like. It gets to the point where everything the least bit entertaining is eliminated.
Oh yeah. That sounds like a great way to live. And then we wonder why these things have a higher failure rate than Lamar Odom going to rehab (NOT THE LEAST BIT TOPICAL).
But at the same time, there needs to be a place for frugality in everyone’s lives. I don’t care how rich you are, you’ll eventually go broke if you insist on making it rain hundos at the club. Frugality sucks, but being broke sucks more. So we compromise. We only get coffee or do for dinner sometimes. Vacations are a treat, not a full-time lifestyle choice. We help out one World Vision kid rather than promising a whole third-grade class we’ll put them through college.
The secret to mastering frugality
Even though frugality sucks, it still needs a place in everyone’s life. At least until they start earning unlimited amounts of money.
I believe the difference between people who can successfully stay frugal even after they start amassing serious wealth is low expectations. They’ve trained themselves to get happiness over little things.
I’m like that. I like nothing more than hanging out with like-minded friends, watching a game or just talking about our lives. Other people might like hiking or reading or video games or some other hobby that doesn’t cost much. Cocaine and high-class hookers aren’t high on their list of priorities.
This comes naturally to many people. Many others will struggle with it for their entire lives.
The solution: making more money
It doesn’t matter if you’re naturally frugal or not. Making more money will help whether you’re cheap as balls or you’re a real spender.
Ultimately, personal finance comes down to two factors: income and expenses. Everything else is just noise.
If you can increase income, the expenses don’t really matter that much. And thanks to passive income, it’s really not that hard to convert savings into more dollars. Both can be going up, as long as one rises faster than the others it’s all good.
This is why I’ve never really sweated lifestyle inflation. It’s only natural to increase your standard of living if you’re making more money. What’s the point of hustling if you’re not going to get anything from it? As long as you don’t add $300 in monthly expenses when you make $200 extra, it’s all good.
We all need some sort of frugality in our lives. But there’s no reason to go nuts with it. Extreme frugality sucks, I don’t care who you are. Nobody is having fun washing Ziploc bags to use again.
Which is why 90% of my efforts are spent trying to earn more money, ideally passively. It’s a lot easier to scale up investing than it is frugality. Why spend time trying to save $10 when the same amount of time can be spent making $100?
The internet is filled with information on how to save cash money on basically everything. Some of this info is actually useful! The rest was written by some hack like me.
With a minimal amount of Google skillz and the patience to wade through the results, you’ll be saving hundreds of cents in no time! Maybe even thousands of cents or if you’re buying something really big, tens of thousands of cents.
It sounds so much more impressive when I do it in cents.
Saving money on just about anything isn’t hard. The default solution for a business looking to drum up a little extra traffic is to just sell stuff cheaper than the competition. That’s retailing 101, baby. And that’s why it’s a crummy business.
One part of the retail industry that has largely escaped this phenomenon is gasoline. Gas prices are pretty much the same from station to station. There might be a couple of cents difference, but it’s not much.
The only real way to get discount gas is to get a Costco membership and buy gas there. I always make sure to fill up whenever I go to my local(ish) Costco, because I am apparently an android programmed to give Costco all of my money.
The lineups are always huge, but it’s worth it to save 10 cents a liter. I’ll badly sing along to the radio for 10 minutes to save $5.00. That works out to a pretty decent hourly wage.
But I only rarely fill up at Costco. Most of the time I’m paying retail price. I cushion the blow by using my beloved Superbucks to get 3.5 cents off per liter, which is pretty decent. I have to use the rewards at a Loblaw store, but that’s not a big deal.
Ahyhoo, let’s take a look at a different way to get discount gas, using Petro-Canada gift cards.
Gift card arbitrage
I just love the way gift card arbitrage sounds. It makes it like I’ve got some intelligent scheme going on, instead of my usual tomfoolery.
Gift card arbitrage is simple. You buy gift cards at a discount and then bank the profits. Like with merger arbitrage, the returns aren’t worth getting excited about. You’ll get 5% or so, but the certainty of the exercise more than makes up for it.
Let’s look at my real-life example.
On the eBay, I can buy $200 worth of Petro-Canada gift cards for $195. That’s a guaranteed return of 2.5%, which is about as well as you’ll do on a GIC. It’s somewhat interesting, but not too exciting.
The fine folks at Petro-Canada apparently agreed, so they threw in a sweetener. They included a discount gas card that gives you $0.05 off per liter for 500 liters.
Act fast kids, they’re almost gone.
Let’s crunch the numbers and see just how much discount gas you’ll get from this deal.
The numbers, bitches
My local Petro-Canada is selling gas for 91.9 cents per liter as I type this. We’ll use that as our price. I phoned over to confirm, and the guy got mad at me. He thought I was trolling him.
- The first $200 in gift cards gets you 230.15 liters at $0.869, including the discount. This costs $195
- You’ll pay $234.50 for the next 269.85 liters of gas at 0.869, including the discount. This is $234.50
- That works out to $429.50 for 500 liters worth of gas, which comes out to $0.859 per liter
All-in, you’ll save about six cents a liter. Or to put it another way, it’s a 7% return on the invested capital. You spend $429.50 to save $30, a discount of 7%.
But wait! There’s more!
Really? Quoting the Shamwow guy?
He’s dead now, italics guy.
No he isn’t.
Whatever. There’s no time to research that.
Petro-Canada also offers Petro-Points, their in-house rewards program. You get 5 points for every liter of fuel you buy PLUS 2,500 bonus points for signing up. After buying 500 liters of fuel, you’d be up to 5,000 Petro Points, which sounds pretty impressive.
So what does that get me? A trip to Disneyland? 14 new iPods? MY OWN ISLAND?
It doesn’t get you much of anything, actually. It costs 12,000 points to get a $10 gift card. The only thing worth getting for 5,000 points or less is spending 2,000 points on $1 off something inside the store. You’re looking at $2.50 in rewards for buying 500 liters of fuel there.
No, I didn’t forget a zero. It’s really that bad.
On its own, Petro Points would have me avoiding Petro-Canada with more gusto than your average neighborhood creep avoiding the elementary school. But after saving six cents a liter, getting a free pop or bag of chips is a nice bonus.
Should you do it?
Six cents a liter is a pretty serious gas discount. If I lived close to a Petro-Canada, I’d at least think about doing this.
Two things to keep in mind are the convenience factor and the price of gas at Petro-Canada versus the competition. If you’ve got to drive out of your way to get to a certain gas station, this isn’t worth it.
There’s also the price of gas at Petro-Canada. If it’s three cents a liter more expensive than your usual place, I’d probably just keep going there.
It’s next to impossible to save anything on gas. This is one of the few gas discount plans you can actually count on.