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.
If you kids are anything like me, you’re pretty much unappealing in every way.
You’re also complete cheap asses. It’s okay to admit it. When it comes to things I don’t care about, I will always choose the cheapest option. I carry around my laptop in a free backpack with Lays emblazoned on it because it was a free gift when I worked for that particular chip company. That backpack has been places, man. It has stories that would make the hair on the back of your neck stand STRAIGHT UP.
I can think of a million other examples. I buy dollar store Kleenex, because my nose can’t tell the difference. I haven’t bought a pen in years; I’m still using ones stolen from a nameless hotel three years ago. The scrap paper on my desk is the backside of documents I discarded months ago. Hell, even my post-its were free, a gift from the Egg Farmers of Alberta. Thanks, chicken lovers.
My cell phone is the same. As long as the thing rings when somebody calls me and connects when I want to EVISCERATE y’all on the Twitter, I’m good. Whatever cell phone plan lets me do that in the cheapest way is a-okay with me.
Previous cell phone plan
Right around a year ago I made the switch from iPhone to Android after I noticed my old iPhone 4s would need a little boost in the middle of the day to ensure it wouldn’t run out of juice.
It’s not like I was constantly on it, cruising Facebook or Instagram or whatever it is you kids do. I’d mostly just put it on my desk and work, periodically responding to stuff. It was just old and bloated with crapware over the years. I’m also 100% convinced Apple designs the software updates so old phones run slower than Don Cherry doing trigonometry.
So I got a new phone and a new plan with it. For $50 a month I got unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and one GB of data, a promo deal from Koodo.
There were a couple of issues with the transaction, however. The first was buying the phone outright, which confused the hell out of the guy at the kiosk in the Wal-Mart electronics department. It turns out nobody buys their phone outright anymore. He eventually figured it out and I got a $100 Wal-Mart gift card just for buying my phone there and going on a month-to-month contract.
A couple of weeks after I bought the phone, it messed up and I had to return it to said kiosk. They replaced it for me, and I’ve been using this new phone since without incident.
Enter Public Mobile
The whole reason why I bought my phone outright is because I wanted the freedom to jump to another carrier if they were offering a better deal. That finally happened last week.
I discovered Public Mobile is offering a terrific new plan to new users. For $120 every three months, I could get unlimited in province calling (receive calls from anywhere, dial out to anyone in the same province), unlimited global texting (DONG PICS FOR EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE), and 12GB of data. Twelve. I’ll finally be able to live my dream of watching the Blue Jays lose where ever I am.
Like any good millennial, I try to avoid talking to people on the phone. What an inefficient way to communicate. So the somewhat limited minutes weren’t a big concern. Every plan these days offers unlimited texts, so that wasn’t very exciting either. But the 12GB of data over three months sounded pretty fantastic.
In short, I was getting more than what I had, and for $10 per month cheaper. Not bad.
It gets better. Public Mobile is big on getting people to sign up for pre-authorized billing. So they offer a $2 per month discount if you give them your credit card information.
This decreased my monthly cost to $38 per month, a full 24% lower than I was paying before. THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, BITCHES.
(Promptly goes out and buys $12 worth of temporary tattoos) SHUT UP THESE ARE BASICALLY FREE.
Limited time only
Public Mobile is a little different from the average cell phone provider. You do most everything yourself.
The first step is you gotta order your own SIM card. When I did this months ago, it was free. It’s now $5.00. Don’t sweat it, you’ll quickly save much more money than that.
The next step is you gotta unlock your phone. This is easily done. Just Google “unlock (model)” and you’ll have a million guys selling you unlock codes for the price of a decent burger. Don’t pay your current carrier $35 to do it.
Once the sim card shows up, punch out the size you need and then head on over to the website to register it.
Next, you’ll have to pick your plan. The best deals are only available if you sign up for 90-day plans, rather than the 30-day plans which are the norm. And everything from Public Mobile is pre-paid, so you’ll have to shell out the cost of your plan up front. Still, it’s worth every penny.
There are a few steps after that, but they’re not hard. If you’ve every bought anything online, you can navigate the process. It was easy.
Remember, this deal is only good until November 20th. So don’t slack, slacker.
How does it work?
It’s been a couple of days since I made the switch, and I haven’t noticed any difference at all. Public Mobile and Telus use the same network because Telus bought it out back in 2014. Telus also owns Koodo. So there was no change in my performance.
One downfall is there’s no contracts with Public Mobile. You’ll have to buy a phone before you can do anything.
I’d sure recommend y’all buy your phones outright. Sure, it costs more day one, but you’ve got the ability to hop from one carrier to the other, whoring yourself out to the lowest rate.
The other big downfall is you have to do everything yourself, from unlocking the phone in the first place to ordering the sim card. You can’t just go to some mall kiosk and get this stuff done. It’s a total DYI solution. That’s probably okay for most of you–like I mentioned, it isn’t hard to do the process, even if you’re porting from Koodo, like I did, which makes things a little more tricky–but it’s still something to keep in mind.
Special Koodo note
If you’re coming over from Koodo (or Telus), don’t pay to get your phone unlocked. It’s the same network, so there’s no need. All you need to do is sign up for a new (temporary) phone number, and then fill out the form on the Public Mobile website requesting to port your number to the new carrier.
It literally takes two minutes if you give them your Koodo/Telus account number. It was super easy.
Okay kids, here’s the deal. I can get up to $5 per month off my cell phone bill if I recommend five of you. I’m not about to give out my phone number to the masses, but if you found this valuable and are switching, I’d appreciate it if you’d email me (financialuproar [at] gmail [dot] com and I can save a few bucks.
I’m currently sitting in my office, with Franz Ferdinand blaring from the stereo. Ron Swanson’s bobblehead guards the one corner of my desk, while the other part is guarded by Jamie and Adam from Mythbusters, along with a couple of extra Diet Pepsi bottles.
In case that first paragraph wasn’t depressing enough for you, allow me to continue. I’m currently shoeless, wearing socks, jeans, and a dress shirt from The Hudson Room, which is a brand sold by Hudson’s Bay.
Such a dress shirt normally sold for $59.99. I picked mine up for $12–a discount of 80%.
How did I do it? Magic? Thievery? Charming people into giving me a deal? Nah, especially the third one. I can barely charm more than two napkins out of the Subway attendant. WHY ARE YOU SO STINGY? THEY’RE JUST NAPKINS. EVIL BASTARD.
It’s simple. I buy my dress clothes second-hand.
It all started back in about 2009.
I used to have a very specific clothes buying strategy that consisted of me going to the hottest employee in a store and telling her to find me some cheap, not ugly dress shirts in my size. This worked pretty well, actually. Most of the time these ladies seemed glad to help.
I was then dragged into Value Village by my grandmother, who was looking for a new dress. Because shopping with your grandmother is worse than death, I made a mad dash to the men’s section. I browsed, really not expecting to find anything worth buying. After all, Value Village is full of reject clothes.
And there it was.
It was a brand new dress shirt, a good brand that has long slipped my memory. It still had the price tag on it. $70.
I could buy it for $10.
I examined it closely, determined to find the fatal flaw. After all, I’ve been investing long enough to know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There had to be something wrong with it.
I checked the stitching up and down the sides, looking for loose threads. I checked the armpits and the neck for that gross brown sweat stain that builds up over time. Each of the buttons was examined and reexamined.
As far as I could tell, there was nothing wrong with it. So I went to try it on.
It fit, so I decided to buy it, mostly as a science experiment. I wore it to work the next day (this was back when I was a mortgage broker/realtor), and just sort of hung around the office’s two women. I awaited their feedback with all together too much enthusiasm.
“Hey Nels. Is that a new shirt?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“It looks nice. Where’d you get it?”
“Seriously, where’d you get it? I want to buy one for my husband.”
“Well, I bought it at Value Village. It was $10.”
“Good choice. It looks like a $100 shirt.”
And that was all the encouragement I needed. I became a Value Village devotee.
There is one exception. I don’t buy my underwear there. That’s just gross.
Not just Value Village
Value Village isn’t the only place to buy second-hand stuff. The internet has made it much easier to to through other people’s junk.
20 years ago, going to yard sales was a morning-long affair, even in my small town. Dad would load up the kids in the car, cut out the list of sales from the local paper, and off we’d go.
I didn’t hate going to yard sales. I liked going browsing through the unique items, and I knew my chances of getting my parents to buy me something was much greater if it was 80% off retail.
Fortunately, yard sales really aren’t a thing anymore. You can accomplish the same thing on the internet in a fraction of the time using Facebook and Kijiji.
Here’s how you do it.
First, find your city’s buy and sell page, and its auction page. Trust me, they exist.
Now there’s two ways you can go about buying stuff on these pages. There’s the easy way when you’re looking for a specific item, and the hard way, which is browsing for deals. Feel free to use one or both, depending on your goals.
The easy way is to use the “search group” function. Type in what you’re looking for, and go to town. Use the same strategy on Kijiji, although be warned, there aren’t that many people who still use Kijiji. Facebook has taken over the market.
Case study: used washer
Used appliances are probably the most inefficient market I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing.
No buyer trusts someone selling a used washing machine. Why would the seller replace a perfectly good washing machine? Even if it does work, the average person doesn’t have the tools needed to transport it home, and most want that sweet, sweet one-year warranty that comes with buying new.
Because these barriers exist, you can make bank buying used appliances.
A friend sold his used washer a few months ago. There was nothing wrong with it; he just replaced it because he got a free front-loader from his parents, who decided to replace their whole set.
So he threw the old one on the Facebook bidding wars, with an opening bid of $50.
He didn’t get a bite, so he lowered the opening bid to $30. After a furious 24 hours of bidding, he got… wait for it…
Naturally, he was pissed. Sure, it was 10 years old, but the thing still worked. He never had an issue with it.
His story sealed it. When my washer dies, I’m buying a used one. If a new washer is $600, and I buy one for $50, I”m saving 92%.
The browsing method
The browsing method is the most similar to going to yard sales. At least you don’t have to put on pants to do so.
Basically, you go on Facebook and scroll…
Looking for stuff to buy. Some of this stuff might be things you need, but most of it will likely be stuff you can flip. Take advantage of markets you know well to make a little extra cash.
The big problem with the browsing method? It’s easy to get sucked into a Facebook wormhole, emerging 45 minutes later with disheveled clothes smelling vaguely of gin. Even if you already smell like gin, this isn’t a good use of your time.
And there you go
Embracing the second-hand market has saved me a lot of money over the years, even if the average person assumes I’m poor for buying my dress shirts at the thrift store. Go ahead. Make fun. I’m getting the same stuff as you, for 50%, 75%, even 95% off. Who’s laughing now?