Now in Indigo Stores

Great news! Loonie to Toonie is now available in Indigo/Chapters stores in the Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa, and Greater Vancouver!  

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Couch Money

When I was a kid, my parents regularly threw house parties. My dad was a natural entertainer, always equipped with his guitar, electric keyboard, bongos, a healthy supply of drinking songs, and outrageous stories from his wild past. These weekend parties would go on until three or four in the morning.

At our parties, whenever things started to wind down, my younger brothers and I routinely helped to clean up so that our folks so could keep entertaining the guests who stuck around. ‘Clean-up’ typically involved putting away glasses and leftover food, collecting garbage, and doing dishes. When unmonitored, we fished out of ashtrays any cigarettes that were still burning and we smoked the rest to the filter. We used to pour unfinished whiskey and scotch into half-finished beer bottles to create wicked cocktails and dare each other to take sips. When our mixes became undrinkable, we poured in the cigarette ashes and switched out our dad’s beer while he was mid-song or mid-story. Suppressing giggles, we eagerly waited for him to pick up the wrong bottle and take a swig. That always got our dad’s attention, and it was usually bedtime for us after that.

As fun as our parties were, the day after was our favourite part. We’d sit on the couch while watching TV with our little arms jammed down the sides of the cushions to fish for money. Our dad’s drinking buddies never failed us with their loose pockets full of change. We always took off to the store with our found coins to buy candy. I fondly recall these hilarious times, and I realize that I regard money differently based on how I got it. I have a different emotional connection to found money, prize money, given money, earned money, and invested money–I believe it’s this way for everyone.

My loving, liberal, supportive parents were financially stressed people. Not because they didn’t earn much, but because they had a complicated relationship with money–one I never got close to understanding. I believe each person’s relationship with money varies from healthy, neutral, stressful, troubled, to toxic. This relationship isn’t entirely based on the numbers in your account. When I started earning my own money, I realized–with some unexpected guidance–that money management could be simple and uncomplicated.


Fun at my first job! Me (left), my boss, Joelle (middle), and my co-worker, Akiko (right)

I remember how at my first full-time job, getting paid was like finding couch money. As soon as the money was in my account, I ran to the store and bought candy (hey, I was still in my teens) and other frivolous things. After months of working I still had no savings and I actually thought this was normal because that’s how I grew up. My caring boss at work noticed my spending habits and urged me to think about saving up for university and retirement. As I resisted with excuses, she insisted with simple solutions. From that point, my attitude toward my earned money shifted and it became a regular practice for me to divide my pay to cover my bills, future goals, and having fun.

Life has gotten much more expensive since I was young and starting out. Even if you’re already sensible with your money and have some stashed away, you need more money than ever in order to pay for university, buy a house, and save for retirement. The focus is now turning to investing because the good habits and the simple solutions we used to rely on just won’t cut it alone. Despite these mounting financial pressures, I still experience a thrill very similar to finding couch money, but an even better and more satisfying one: it’s when I see the growing returns of the hard-earned money I’d set aside and invested. I only hope it’s a similar experience for anyone who invests.


Investors Need Goals & Goals Need Plans

About four years ago, my friend Monica posted on FB a quote by Antione de Saint-Exupéry:

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

This quote has guided me since. I had many wishes that never came true because I did nothing about them. Some I actually followed through with because I came up with a plan: I determined what steps I needed to take, the possible costs involved, the amount of time needed, and whom to seek advice and support from. I didn’t always end up with exactly what I was initially going for, but because I always got something out of shooting for the stars, I found I enjoyed taking chances on new opportunities.

Yes, you need money to invest, but not as much as you might think in order to start. Another thing: Money isn’t the only thing you need for investing. Successfully managing your money involves the following actions:

  • Setting goals
  • Seeking professional advice
  • Making a plan
  • Regularly setting money aside for your goals 
  • Educating yourself
  • Staying on track 

This seems like a lot of steps but it doesn’t have to be a very in-depth process. The most important step is to set your goals. You need to know what you want and why you want it. Of course, everyone wants to invest to simply have more money for all the things we want in life. However, having specific goals helps you focus your intent and direct your money. Without goals, it’s very easy to go off track and neglect your efforts–you’ll remain in a state of wishing for longer than you want.

Over the years, my man and I have put together a decent home gym with a library of workout DVDs which I follow (or else for an entire hour, I’ll end up curling 1s while walking zoned out on the treadmill). I have a lot of Jillian Michaels workout DVDs because her tough-love yelling motivates me while I whimper and sweat it out. She shares my disdain for hauling ass to the gym (though my gym is just downstairs), but she works out not just for the numerous benefits of exercise, but in order to live a long healthy life. Regularly, she loosely quotes Nietzsche: “If you have a WHY, you can tolerate any HOW!!!”

I’m a reluctant exerciser. However, as of the last decade, it’s become my standard practice to workout two to four times a week. Arthritis runs in my family, so I’m motivated to exercise and eat healthily to reduce its severity in case I ever get it. Without this reason, I’d succumb to laziness and eating chips (my fave!) all day.

On a personal level, I tend to draw a lot of comparisons between exercising and investing. When I put in the time to exercise, I’m investing in my current well-being and in my future health. Today’s pain-in-the-butt efforts lead to short-term and long-term benefits. Investing is another form of exercise. You part with some of your money today to make it grow in the meantime, so you that can use it for a bigger goal in the future. When you invest, you’re making a statement with your money — you’re saying that your goals and life in the future are important to you.  

Set your sights on your goals and get focussed. Want that house. Give your kids a good education so they can build great careers for themselves. Enjoy a well-deserved vacation. Have a comfortable, rocking retirement. Know what you want out of your life and realize why it’s all worth it.

After you decide on your goals, get help from experts and don’t be afraid to ask them all kinds of questions. They’re there to help you create a plan to tackle your goals. Your plan is there to support your ambitions and to guide you. Make your plan realistic so that you can actually work with it and still live a balanced life. Work your goals into your budget. Dividing your income into bills, your goals, and leisure will be a no-brainer after a while. Picking up a book with investment tips and following your favourite financial blog will be a fun and interesting pursuit, even a passion. As you check-in on your investments from time to time, watching them grow will inspire you to do even more for your long-term plans. This will all become part of your standard practice. And hopefully, you’re exercising regularly too. Health is a form of wealth after all!



Me at a Jillian Michaels talk in 2013




Reading Price Charts

XICAt first glance, it looks like the outline of a mountain range, but it’s a price history chart of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) which is an investment fund that trades in the stock market. There are many different styles of charting with a variety of analytical tools and measurements that you can apply to these charts to help predict the price direction. You can look at the price chart of any investment be it a stock, ETF, mutual fund, etc. There is no sure way of predicting price movement, but I find it useful to examine previous and current trends before buying any stocks. Today, I just want to go over what I see when I look at this chart because I’m interested in how the Canadian stock market is performing.

This ETF is the iShares S&P TSX Composite Capped Index Fund. This ETF trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) under the ticker symbol XIC. It currently has shares of 235 of the largest TSX stocks. Looking at the price history of this particular ETF will give you a good idea of how the Canadian stock market is trending. There is a number of other similar market ETFs, but I like to look at this one. So what do I make of this?

Let’s look at the chart below. I drew some trendlines on the chart to mark the trend directions.

XIC with TLsA: Since early May last year, the market has been on a decline until the end of the year. There were big drops in August and September, followed by a bit of recovery in October. Despite these efforts to go up in the fall, the market maintained its downtrend from spring until the end of 2015.

B: This pessimism in the market was punctuated by a rapid sell-off in late December to mid-January. Has the selling come to an end? I would need some confirmation first before I buy any new stocks.

C: Since mid-January, the market has been recovering. It was only interrupted by a sharper drop in mid-February, but never quite hit the same price lows that we saw in January. This is often a positive sign confirming a turnaround and a good time to buy stocks, which I did myself. The market has been trending upwards since. It’s now the end of April. Will the market continue to go up from here?

Let’s look at this chart a different way. Below, you can see that I removed the trendlines and I drew a horizontal line to look for areas where the market might find difficulty moving through.

XIC with Line

I can see that in October last year, there was a lot of trading around the $22.00 area. I drew a line from there to where we are today. Interestingly, we are currently trading in the same price range.

For investors who bought shares in January and February, this may be a price range that they targeted their investments to go. They might decide to sell some of their shares here or hold on and wait for the trading to occur above $22.15 before they buy more. Will we go up from here?

There’s a popular saying, “Sell in May and go away.” This refers to a lessening of equities investing as we enter summer and this goes until the end of October. It is also worth considering that on June 23, there is a referendum among UK citizens that will determine whether or not the UK will remain an EU member. I think that whether or not the ‘Brexit’ will happen, the results will impact the overall market which could send it much higher or much lower.

My Own Trading

Since February, I had been systematically selling half the shares of the stocks in my portfolio that had doubled in value. I will keep a watchful eye on my stocks to see if they’re prone to a May sell-off or possible market shifts in late June. I’ll either stay in these stocks going forward or sell the rest of my shares depending on their performances.

I trade stocks in the short-term to make quicker profits. Sometimes this is a good plan, other times it means missing out on enjoying bigger profits because I got out too soon. I realize that shorter-term stock traders like me are considered by some as market parasites, that we’re only there to profit from smaller price movements and our money adds no real value to a good company’s stock. This sentiment does not hurt my feelings–this girl’s gotta eat!

True investing differs from just trading: it means being invested for the long haul–you buy shares of a company you respect, receive dividend payments, and you watch its value rise over the years. I do have a few of these too–for these stocks, regardless of what happens from May, I’m all in and for a long time. I may even buy more shares of these stocks in the future if I see good opportunities in the market and in these stocks’ performances.

There are also critics who think that analyzing price charts is just as effective as using tea leaves to make predictions. I don’t totally disagree with this opinion as I simply can’t predict anything with absolute certainty (neither can anyone else, as certain as they may feel).

Analyzing trends in the stock markets and in sectors is simply a way for me to anticipate direction. When the markets are going up, investors are optimistic; when the markets are heading down, investors are pessimistic. I don’t have a crystal ball that will tell me for sure whether things will go as I predict, or if some world event will occur to really rock the markets. I simply rely on my plans on when to buy and when to sell, I read the price charts to find these signals, and I consider what is going on in the economy and in the world that could affect a change in investor sentiment.







Your Special 4/20 Newsletter: Medicinal Stocks

v2 420A friend’s mother once asked me and my man what would be a good cannabis company to invest in as she wanted to buy stocks of that sort. This question caught us off guard–it was almost as if this sweet retiree was asking us where she could get good weed. She clarified that she wanted to invest in a company that was mainly in the business of medicinal cannabis. Oh medicinal! But of course. Her interest came about after Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana use. T
his is actually a question I get asked a lot as more people anticipate widespread legalization. I’m sure many other stock investors are asked about cannabis companies frequently, or at least from time to time (right?). For any new and exciting industry, who doesn’t want to profit from getting in early? With all the talk of legalization in Canada, the stigma of marijuana’s medicinal and recreational use will fade, or at least its reputation will be less shady. If and when this happens, you’re better off having seized such opportunities sooner than after the industry has boomed and the stocks have become more expensive.

The research we conducted for ‘Ma’ was actually difficult because many of these cannabis companies looked similar to one another. Many of them were a bunch of small businesses that came together to form a larger company; many outlined plans to dominate all corners of the cannabis market from production and retail to medicinal research and pharmaceutical use; most were quite new in the stock market; the stock prices were cheap and in similar price ranges; and they all promised expansive growth–in both the corporate and hydroponic sense. There is typically more speculation with younger companies; what’s interesting is that many of these cannabis companies are in a newer and developing industry that is slowly gaining acceptance and becoming incrementally less illegal.

As one who looks at a lot of stocks, I am always suspicious of hype and headlines. This is because I often find that by the time the news gets announced, it’s too late–the best buying opportunity has passed. Before I buy any stock, I like to look for clues first within the sector and the economy. Is the hype over? Is there an important upcoming meeting or announcement by the government that will affect this sector? Is the sector more stable and less volatile than the overall stock market? Or is the sector overheated and likely going to experience a bit of a sell-off? Will a company be announcing its quarterly earnings soon? I consider these things in addition to checking out a company’s fundamentals that point to a solid foundation, such as healthy financial data, plans for future expansion, and developments in products and services. Then I check if a company’s stock price has stabilized and I try to anticipate what might be a good price to get shares at in the near future. 

There are many cannabis companies in Canada. I took a look at some companies that trade on the TSX Venture Exchange (the stock exchange for newer and smaller Canadian companies):

Canopy Growth Corporation | Ticker symbol CGC.V | Price per share at today’s open: $2.60

Aphria Incorporated | APH.V | $1.56

OrganiGram | OGI.V | $1.10

Mettrum Health | MT. V | $1.66

Emerald Health Botanicals | EMH.V | $ 0.17 

I’ve got my eye on a couple of these companies. I won’t buy too many shares, I don’t want to risk much, but like Ma, I don’t want to miss out either. I’m willing to risk a bit of money to hopefully enjoy significant gains later. Before the end of the trading day today, on this celebrated date of 4/20, I will probably buy my shares of legalized cannabis. 

What 507 Days of No Shopping Can Do

For so long I got by with a minimal wardrobe consisting of basics, all of which could fit into a box. Everything I bought involved a minimum of two-weeks’ meditation where I considered an item’s durability, versatility, and impact on my budget. I can sew, so anything that got a hole or a tear was tended to with some mending, gentle handwashing, and TLC. Life in my 20s was eventful, full of travel and soul-searching adventure–I didn’t need or want a lot of physical baggage to weigh me down or distract me.

RackAs I hit age 30, I went down a different path. Until this day, I’m not entirely sure of the forces that affected me subconsciously, but it was likely a combination of a toxic relationship, major family problems, a lack of ambition, no big goals to save for, greed, and pure vanity–I don’t know why exactly, but I started to shop for clothes at an addictive level. Filling up bags at thrift shops and sales racks was so fun and only put a small dent in my monthly savings; this practice was enough to fuel an insatiable habit that got increasingly worse. Getting compliments on my fashion choices validated my actions and provided me with the justification to keep going, and even attain more expensive pieces. I should also mention that my level of going out for food and drinks was in-step with this out-of-control shopping.

I think at some point everyone gets a wake-up call. My wake-up call was a more of a long, sobering conversation that lasted for a couple of years. There was no question that I had to make some fundamental changes in my life. Every day I woke up feeling this deep, internal groan; I reluctantly plodded along, knowing some much-needed introspection was in order. My wake-up call was also doled out in punishing stages, much like the ancient plagues but on a smaller scale and onto one person. I found myself suddenly single and, for the first time in my working life, in some debt. This new situation was later accompanied by a bed bug invasion, personal tragedies, and chronic back pain that forced me into medical leave. In this succession of messes, I had one thing going for me: my investments were all still in tact and my portfolio was doing well.

During this extensive transition, I started to think about what I really wanted to do for the next phase of my life. I knew that I wanted to be my own boss and I entertained the idea of having my own business. I had the great fortune of meeting an awesome guy, JP, who eventually became my forever man. He too shared an interest in becoming some kind of entrepreneur. Inspired by the new prospect of becoming bar owners, we took courses in business. With my new ambitions, I wanted people to take me seriously. Then I realized I had to take me seriously. I shopped less frequently, but I was still being ridiculous with my money. So I vowed to not shop for clothes, bags, or shoes–not even socks or undies–for a year. In my old life, I had lived simply on much less for so long, that I knew I could do it. My rules still allowed me to receive unsolicited clothing gifts, I just couldn’t buy anything for myself.

Here are some unexpected things that happened the year I didn’t shop:

  • I worked out at the gym more and healed my back
  • I further downsized my wardrobe and belongings
  • Friends who knew about my vow were inspired to downsize too. They gave me their unwanted clothes–next thing you know, we were all clothes-swapping with each other
  • More money in, much less money out
  • I managed to go down to working part-time so that I could focus on learning more about investing and trading stocks
  • At the end of the year, I decided to continue with my vow for another four and a half months (507 days in total) until alas, all my clothing essentials morphed into shapeless mesh
  • I quit my job and had a great semi-retirement party
  • Untethered by work and other obligations, my man and I started to think about moving eastward to a better time zone to trade stocks at a more decent hour

It has been six years since my shopping fast ended. Those urges to shop still come and go, but I can observe these impulses with distance and objectivity. I still have plenty of clothes, but what’s most important is that I’m very content living with what I have. I only get things as I need to or when I really want to, which is a couple of times a year. Now, when I’m in a store I think about how the business is run, how much foot traffic it gets, how they display, price, and merchandise, how well it’s managed, and how happy the employees are. And of course, I exercise my new habit: I check if the store’s company trades on the stock exchanges, and if so, I look up the ticker symbol, the stock price, and how it performs against other retailers in the same sector.


The Point of Earning Rewards Points



THE tambourine

My man JP and I went to NY state last weekend to watch the Cult play live AGAIN, for the second time in the same week. The band’s name is very fitting for fans like us who obsessively follow them. It was so worth it as the lead singer, Ian Astbury, tossed me his tambourine!

For this trip, we had two free nights at a hotel, paid for by gas points collected on our credit card. The whole trip, including the concert tickets, cost us very little. For years, I’ve joined points programs to get money off my purchases or money back; now it’s more of a joint effort between me and JP and it’s really paying off. This year so far, we received from reward points alone the following:

Rogers Bank Mastercard: $158 cash back, applied to our credit card balance

Cineplex Scene Membership: Seven free movies

CIBC Mastercard Petro-Canada Points: Three free nights in hotels 

PC Membership Points: $20 off our groceries

JP and I recently signed up for the PC Financial Mastercard to really up our game in getting more off our groceries than what our basic membership points card could get us. Of course, this is all worth doing if you pay off your balance each month. It’s also extremely useful and more effective to have a good tracking system. There are some really savvy consumers out there (like Mommy Points and The Points Guy) who really know how to maximize their purchases and rewards points usage and do amazing things like fly the world, stay at hotels, and eat in nice restaurants for free or for very little.

We’re a two-person household. Between the two of us, there are multiple bank accounts, investment accounts, trading accounts, credit cards, and reward memberships. I won’t pretend that I’m on top of keeping track of it all since in the last year, I’d become more focused on writing and marketing my book. We have to pool our efforts. I’m quite lazy with tracking all our rewards points, but thankfully, JP is a whiz when it comes to price comparison on everything we buy and how much our points accumulate. I’m the one who ensures all the bills get paid on time and that we’re within our budget range.

me at upstate

Me at Upstate Concert Hall

A few years ago, we made it our goal to reduce our monthly expenses to as little as possible, and we did. Last year, we made it our goal to become more aware of how to get rewarded for what we actually spend. This has not only made life cheaper, it’s made it more fun!


The Trend: To Spend and Lend

This week I had the honour of meeting my MP, Kim Rudd. She is a fascinating woman; you could write an entire book about her inspiring tenacity alone. She’s a true community leader, a successful entrepreneur, and a genuine, cool lady. She had been told about my book, Loonie to Toonie, and wanted me to meet with her in person to talk about it.

While in that meeting, I received some great tips on how to promote the book. I also got to participate in an open discussion of the challenges many Canadians face from not having their finances under control. This is a big problem that stretches across all the generations. The main question that came up was: Why don’t we all know more about money? There were many answers to that question. The solutions are simple, but not easy. My book is my own way of seeking an answer to that question, but it’s only one solution. I have no control over what people take away from my book. I can only hope to empower people with knowledge. But is that enough to transform a culture from spending to investing?

Imagine going to the mall and there was a store that sold all sorts of investments. Whatever you bought, you left the store with more money. How popular would that store be? I think we would all go to that store first before spending our money anywhere else. We would know all the features to investments like we would for the latest smartphone or pair of Jimmy Choo shoes.

The reality is, investing doesn’t offer the same instant feedback we get when we actually purchase an item. There’s a wait time for the payoff which sometimes take years. This means that we don’t have many chances to make corrections if an investment doesn’t work out. In general, the longer we have to wait for something, the more antsy and uncertain we feel about it. Then add to the length of time the element of risk, which is the uncertainty of the investment’s outcome. If an investment doesn’t work out like you expected it to, you can’t refund it or get all your money back. Thankfully investing doesn’t have to look like a scary game of risk, thanks to the strategy of diversification, which is having different financial assets of various risk levels. Similar to having a closet of clothes for different occasions, your savings should be comprised of different kinds of investments for various stages and goals of your life. 

So how do we enhance our relationship with money? Divide your pay cheque up like this: bills, food, future goals, then the rest for fun. This way, you take care of your basic necessities now, your needs for the future, and you can still enjoy some instant gratification for your hard-earned money.

If you haven’t done so yet, go to your bank and just ask to speak with a financial advisor about what you can do about your future goals. Advisors are always friendly, helpful, informative, and they’re there to make the processes easy for you. Whenever I go to the bank, I look for reasons to chat with the advisors. Sometimes I’ll ask a question and suddenly there’s a bunch of us standing around the reception area chatting and sharing ideas. They always tell me of the different options available and they give me new things to consider. I recognize that I’m not shy to talk about financial stuff, but that comes with being empowered with knowledge, even if it’s just some knowledge. No matter how much or how little you know, these advisors are always there to help.

This week, the global markets finished in neutral / positive territory, still above the losses that began in January. On Wednesday, the “Feds” (the FOMC – Federal Open Market Committee – of the U.S. Federal Reserve who make decisions that affect their economy and markets) announced that they don’t expect to be increasing their interest rates as they previously thought they would. Lower lending rates encourage borrowing and spending to stimulate the economy. This makes the stock market go up because people anticipate further growth in business. This reaction could be temporary. If the oil sector’s recent rebound is short-lived, another plunge in oil could still take us all down. I’m not saying this will happen, it’s just something to keep in mind. All the major global economies are doing many things to boost and stimulate their economies–this could also mean these economies are on the weak side and need to experience actual growth. 

Does my cautious sentiment mean not to invest? No. Whether the stock market is strong, the economy is weakening, or if we’re in a recession, there are always investment opportunities. This is why I try to be aware of my other options so that I can strike when the time is right. At the moment, I’m still waiting for a chance to get into the metals (see last week’s write-up on precious metals). I’m also thinking of getting a bond fund that’ll pay me interest for the very, very long term.