How I Buy (Almost) Anything For 50-75% Off

How I Buy (Almost) Anything For 50-75% Off

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.

What? Gross

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?”

“Uh…”

“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…

$32.

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…

And scroll…

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?

Professional Drivers and Your Finances

Professional Drivers and Your Finances

After spending most of the long weekend in the bustling metropolis of Calgary, I’ve come to realize something.

Most of y’all are terrible drivers.

Not you, of course. Just like with sex, you are the best of the best. Dudes from far away come just to see a glimpse of your driving ability. Hollywood is constantly on the phone, begging you to show up and drive in whatever Fast and Furious movie they’re currently making. I think they’re up to number 26.

All of your friends, though, suck. They constantly do unsafe things like switch lanes every 40 seconds, follow too closely, go way too fast for driving conditions, pass on solid lines, and about a billion other sins. We’ve all seen those dash cam videos on Reddit.

I’m the first to admit I’m not a perfect driver, especially when I’m in the city and I don’t really know where I’m going. But unlike the 90% of us who self-identify as being better than average, I’m 100% certain I am in the top 50% of drivers. Why? Because I’ve taken a defensive driving course.

Seriously, that will change your life. I know it changed mine.

Professional vs. amateur drivers

There’s a quote on value investing that really applies to defensive driving, too.

“Value investing is like an inoculation. It either takes right away or it doesn’t.” — Warren Buffett

Most of us learn the basics of defensive driving when we’re teenagers, and then promptly forget them until we hit 82 and probably shouldn’t be driving anymore.

When I sold chips for a living, we were ushered into the office one day to take a defensive driving course. It turns out that because fleet insurance was so expensive, the company just went with the bare minimum and paid for damages out of pocket. And it turned out to be cheaper.

If a company is paying out of pocket for any collisions, you can bet your ass it’s in their best interest to educate their drivers on at least the basics of defensive driving.

Defensive driving is a pretty simple concept. If a driver follows a few simple ground rules, they can eliminate most instances that cause accidents. These rules are:

  • Leave a minimum of two seconds following time between you and the car ahead
  • Minimize lane changes. Pick a lane and stay in it.
  • Accelerate smoothly and avoid braking. Coast up to traffic lights instead of going up to the light and hitting the brakes
  • Look into the future (focus on what will happen, not what is happening)
  • Look around rather than just staring forward
  • Make eye contact with other drivers, pedestrians, etc.

How many of you are following these rules? I bet very few do — except those who are professional drivers. They’re much more likely to do so. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, so it must be true.

How this relates to your finances

I guarantee most of you either just skimmed that last section, or read it and immediately ignored it. “I drive just fine, Judgey McJudgerson. We don’t need no wussy rules on how to drive like a wuss. Stop driving like a wuss.”

And yet, just about every Fortune 500 company that employs professional drivers have invested in some sort of driver training. The Smith System is the most popular, and there are countless imitators.

The overall point is a relatively simple one. If you keep doing things the same, you’ll get the same results. It doesn’t matter if the scenario is driving or if it’s your money.

According to the world of personal finance, there’s really only one way to get ahead. The road map looks something like this. Create a budget. Set up an emergency fund. Take excess savings and channel it into a portfolio of ETFs. And then increase your income through a side hustle.

These are all great pieces of advice. But they’ve been repeated often enough that they’re all but useless to anyone who isn’t a beginner.

Take investing as an example. I think people who take all of their cash and put it into Canadian or U.S. broad-market ETFs are going to be regretting the decision a few years from now. North American stocks are quite expensive. I’ve been telling y’all to check out alternative investments for months now, recommending everything from private businesses to buying mobile homes.

My private mortgage business is a great example. Despite housing bears calling the private loan market in Canada words like “toxic” and “dangerous”, I continue to make loans to people that make sense. These loans are covered by equity even if the housing market falls by 20-30%.

I’ve created a lucrative business with equity-like returns by venturing into part of the market where few others dare tread. And I did so intelligently, regularly rejecting loans that don’t come with my required margin of safety.

Wrapping it up

This isn’t to say you should rush out and get into the private lending business, because chances are there are already 14 lenders already in your market and you don’t really know squat about the business. But I bet there is a business you know pretty well.

The average person throwing money at an ETF is like a mediocre driver. Even the bottom 10% of drivers still regularly get from point A to point B without incident. As long as the average ETF investor has a high enough savings rate, they’ll do just fine too. But is it really an ideal result? Wouldn’t you rather get higher returns by thinking a little outside of the box?

Professional drivers drive different than most of us. They look at the road differently. It’s time to bring a similar attitude to our investments. Many people look at investing as a savings problem. Just throw more money at it, and the problem goes away.

But you can’t look at it like that. Savings rates will only do so much. It’s up to you to figure out how to maximize those savings rates.

Is The Latte Factor Really Making People Poor?

Is The Latte Factor Really Making People Poor?

Let’s talk a little bit about the latte factor, a phrase coined actually trademarked(!) by David Bach in one of six books that really just say the same thing over and over again.

You’ve seen this tweet before, but screw it. I’m including it again.

It goes something like this. If a young lady were to cut out her daily $4 fancy coffee and invest that cash for 40 years instead, she’d end up with a metric assload of money. According to my compound interest calculator, $4 per day invested at a 10% return over four decades works out to a nest egg of $776,882.16. That’s probably enough for a pretty comfortable middle class retirement assuming inflation stays reasonable.

The whole point isn’t anti-coffee, much to my chagrin. How do you people drink that stuff, anyway?The point i  little costs have a way of adding up and becoming a big deal. Cutting out just a few of these costs and channeling the cash into savings will have a positive impact.

This is a valuable message for many personal finance newbies, and maybe even a nice reminder for the rest of us. Last week when I argued that cable is pretty cheap entertainment all things considered, regular reader Ricardo reminded me in the comments that $2 or $3 per day for cable still adds up. And he’s right. You will be richer if you don’t have cable, don’t go for coffee, or whatever.

So while I agree with the overall message, I’d argue the latte factor itself is kinda dumb. Here’s why.

Making more is far better

I’ve never really been a big fan of micro frugality, even though my wife can attest just how painful it is for me to spend money sometimes. Y’all should have seen how stained my hat got before I bought a new one.

Don’t you know how to wash things?

DON’T YOU KNOW HOW TO SHUT UP?

I’d much rather find a way to make more money. A lot of times this involves working longer or harder, but most of the time it involves getting some sort of passive income. I invest a lot in private mortgages, dividend paying stocks, real estate, and other passive pursuits.

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Say I’m just starting on my financial journey and I’ve managed to save an extra $10,000. If I invest that at 8%, I’ve generated an additional $800 per year in income. That works out to $2.19 per day or… about the cost of a latte.

It’s like the latte factor but in reverse.

This gets all the more powerful the more you have saved up. $100,000 at 8% works out to an extra $8,000 per year. Or, to put it in latte factor terms, an extra $21.92 per day.

Let’s look at it another way. Say you work really hard and get yourself a 5% raise each year for a decade. You start out making $40,000. After ten years you’re up to just over $65,000. Even after taxes, you’re generating huge amounts of extra cash that can be invested. It’s a lot easier to save money if you make more of it.

Focus on big wins

I’ve said this so many times I feel like I’m repeating myself, but whatevs. Maybe you kids will figure it out this way.

Small things have a way of adding up. But it’s the big things that matter.

I know normally smart people who willingly sign up for crazy-long commutes, have houses with way too much space in them, or who don’t bother to ever shop around for some of their big annual expenses. These folks could easily put thousands of dollars in their pockets by moving close enough to work to walk or cutting their family down from two vehicles to one.

In the two vehicles post, I figured it would cost us an extra $3,000 per year if we had two vehicles. To use the latte factor math, that works out to about $8.25 per day. By making one big decision, I was able to make a bigger impact than making a number of small decisions. Do that a few times and you’re really making progress.

Look, a lot of you reading this don’t really have to optimize your finances. If you’re here, chances are you’re already much better at saving than the average slack-jawed yokel. You already watch the little things and probably most of the big things too, on your way to a 15% or 30% or even 50% savings rate. If you’re saving a third of your income, who cares if you have a latte. Double fist those bad boys for all I care. Raising your savings rate from 33% to 35% is going to do nothing but get you slightly richer in the long run. Whoop-de-do.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to cut some of the little things from your life–provided you’re sure these things bring you no value. But ultimately what bugs me about the latte factor is the limitation it implies. Cutting expenses is good. Increasing income is better. Much better.

The Canadian Guide To Streaming NFL Games

WHO’S READY FOR SOME FOOTBAW?!?!?!?!?!

I could take it or leave it personally. I like football and I even contemplated joining one of those fantasy teams just to get the opportunity to tell people about it. Because if there’s one thing people care about, it’s the performance of your imaginary football players.

If you’re a casual fan like me, you’re probably not going to spend much to make sure you have access to all the games. But at the same time, you probably want the option to watch every now and again, mostly because you’re a millennial who hates actual contact with human beings. ENJOY YOUR SCREEN, JERK.

I’m here to help and hopefully amuse a little too. Please laugh with me and not at me.

Here’s your guide to streaming NFL games, 2016 edition.

Twitter/Yahoo

For whatever reason, Twitter signed a deal for streaming NFL games this season. It’ll offer 10 different Thursday night games for the low, low price of exactly zero dollars. Some of the games are actually good!

Here’s a list:

  • Sept. 15: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
  • Sept. 22: Houston Texans at New England Patriots
  • Oct. 6: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
  • Oct. 13: Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
  • Oct. 20: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
  • Nov. 17: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
  • Dec. 1: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
  • Dec. 8: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
  • Dec. 15: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
  • Dec. 22: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles

Twitter reportedly paid just $10 million for the rights to stream all 10 of these games, versus the $45 million or so per game CBS paid for the rights for broadcast TV. I’m guessing the NFL just did this to gain a little publicity, and we’re cool with that.

The downside to this arrangement is, of course, you’re stuck watching NFL games on your laptop or phone. Why even have a 60 inch TV?

Yahoo live-streamed a game from London last year, but it doesn’t look like the website will do it again, choosing to show NHL games instead.

NFL Game Pass

For the low, low price of US330 (or four payments of $99.99 for those of you either cash-strapped or bad at math), you can buy a NFL Game Pass, which gives you the option to watch any NFL game.

The NFL Game Pass app works through Apple TV, Roku, smart TVs, and both Playstation 3 and Playstation 4. There is the possibility that Sunday night and Monday night games will be blacked out because TSN pays the NFL a lot of money for those games. I couldn’t find a definitive answer to this question online.

 

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Cable subscribers

Nelson, if I was a cable subscriber, I’d just watch it on TV. What a dummy.

Here’s what you do. First, you suck up to somebody who has cable or satellite, and get their password. They’ll have to set up some sort of online access first, but that’s easy and most probably already have it. You then use the password to log into the TSN website to watch live TV when football is on. Boom.

That solves the getting access to the game issue, but it doesn’t solve the watching the game on a crummy laptop issue. You’d then use a Chromecast to watch the game on your 60 incher. What, you don’t have a 60 inch? Wuss.

Why does he keep talking about 60 inches? Is he obsessed with his penis or something?

Illegal methods

GASP BETTER HIDE THE CHILDREN AND COVER THEIR EARS TOO.

Some people have a problem with unauthorized streaming, others think the NFL brings it upon itself by charging more than $300 for streaming the games. Do whatever you want, I’m not here to pass judgement. That’s for tomorrow’s post, called Seriously, How Do You Live With Yourself?

Here’s what you do.

First, you go on the Reddit and search for NFL streams. Such a subreddit exists, but people also post streams in other places too. Next, find the game you’re looking for. This won’t be hard. You’ll have a smorgasbord of feeds to choose from.

My, uh, friend has had the most success with the Youtube streams. These tend to be fast and somewhat reliable. There are plenty of other options available, but I find they tend to be burdened with too many annoying pop-up ads.

Any other ideas on streaming NFL games? Comment away, yo. 

How I Save Money Watching Sports

How I Save Money Watching Sports

Sports!

Sports!

Sports!

Sports!

Oh man you guys I LURVE me some sports. Baseball is probably my favorite, but I’ve been known to watch damn near everything. In the last two years, I’ve paid to watch basketball, hockey, soccer, baseball, volleyball, football, lacrosse, curling, and golf. I also missed a tennis match I wanted to go to but it didn’t quite work out.

Watching sports live is definitely one of my biggest entertainment expenses. Not only does the ticket cost money, but so do the snacks, any souvenirs, or, worst of all, parking. It costs $20 to park at many major venues. That’s a bigger load than the average blog post from Robert Kiyosaki.

Fortunately, there are cheaper ways. I go to so many games I can’t exactly tell you how much these tips will save you, but they’ll certainly save you something. That helps, right?

Right?!?!?!?!

Avoid the pro leagues

Up here in Canada and our four glorious weeks of summer, winter sports dominate. And nothing is a bigger deal than the NHL.

A few years ago, I watched my local(ish) NHL team, the Edmonton Oilers take on the New York Rangers. The guy I was with wanted to splurge, so we spend $160 each to sit four rows up from the ice.

Not only were those seats way too close–which meant I couldn’t see the whole ice and had to watch the game on the jumbotron–the game was an absolute snoozer. After paying for my share of gas, parking, and some popcorn at the game, I was out $200.

I told myself I’d never attend another NHL game, and I haven’t since.

Instead, I switched to junior hockey. Our local team costs $13 for a ticket, parking is free, and I can get popcorn and a drink and get change back from a $5 bill. Season tickets for 30 home games would set me back $300.

Sure, the skill isn’t as high as the NHL. But it’s still damn better than I can play. Kids are more passionate too, so their effort level is higher.

I’ve done this so many times. I watched Korean soccer and basketball. I watched the Women’s World Cup. I’ve watched minor league baseball. All of those tickets didn’t cost more than $20, and I enjoyed all of those games.

Use secondary markets

Stubhub might be the greatest invention in the history of the internet. Second to this here weblog, anyway.

Most people think of Stubhub as a way to get tickets for the big game that’s already sold out. Sure, you’ll pay out your nose to get there, but you can be at some historic game seven. Have fun paying $500 just to watch your team lose, sport.

I use it in a different way. Season ticket holders will use the service to sell the tickets they don’t want. I let supply and demand take over and choose the cheapest games to go see.

Let’s use the Calgary Flames as an example. Which early regular season game is the best value?

calgary flames

$57 to see the lead of CCR? TIME FOR A SIMPSONS JOKE:

Marge: Quick! Somebody perform CPR!
Homer: Uh, okay! I see a clear moon arisin’
Marge: That’s CCR!

 

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Anyhoo, it’s pretty clear the prices for the Buffalo or Carolina games are lower than any of the others. Probably because Flames fans don’t care about those teams, so season ticket holders are looking to sell them on the secondary market.

Another tip about buying tickets in the secondary market is people tend to get more desperate the closer it is to game time. Prices will be cheaper a couple days before the game compared to a month before.

Go to those games, save money. It’s easy.

Go by yourself

Do you think he’s going to make a no friends joke?

Probably.

God, he’s so immature and predictable.

Because I am less popular than Richard Dawkins at a pastor’s conference (HE’S STILL GOT IT!), I’ve gone to tons of sporting events by myself. It’s a good way to hide your crippling loneliness for a few hours.

The best deals are for single tickets. Hell, if you hang around the ticket window and look dejected enough, you might even score an unused ticket for free.

Unrelated rant

$3.50 to print my G.D. tickets at home, Ticketmaster? You people are worse than Hitler.

Avoid drinking

It costs what, $10 to get a beer at the stadium these days? That’s terrible. Either drink before the game (a terrible idea, really, for all sorts of reasons) or go out afterwards.

This is another advantage of going to a minor league game. The last AAA baseball game I went to had $2 beers. That’s much more civilized.

Work behind the scenes

Want a free way to watch sports? Volunteer for the team.

In exchange for free labor and not a whole lot of work, you’ll get into every home game for free. If you do this at a professional level, there probably won’t be much time left over to watch the game. But if your minor league team is like our junior hockey team, the four security guards actually do something about twice a year.

Any other tips on how to save money going to watch sports?