My Best Investment

Back to school

I always get nostalgic this time of year.

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, I was a fretting teenager about to finish high school. While all the other girls were obsessing over prom and what college they were going to, my own world was crashing around me. My boyfriend dumped me two weeks before prom, leaving me dateless. That was also the year my father became chronically ill and was ordered to go on medical leave. There would be no college fund to support me. I was admitted to the university I had set my sights on, but I had no idea how I was going to afford it.

Humiliated and defeated, I opted to lowball my expectations on everything. I wouldn’t go to prom and I wouldn’t go to university. I had some great excuses to stop caring, so I leaned into them. My friends became my fairy godmothers. One took it upon herself to find me a date—she managed to set me up with a model/actor (or actor/model?). My other friend made me copy and study her year’s worth of notes for my Biology 12 exam, the most demanding subject I had to study for that year. Because of my friends’ clutch support, I was motivated to keep going.

With Starbucks’ chocolate covered coffee beans to keep me jacked, I crammed like a champ. I aced everything that counted and I finished with honours. My grad date, whom everyone ogled that night, turned out to be a seasoned partier. Instead of binge-drinking at a house party with the other grads after prom, my friends and I followed our dates to a rave in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside where we danced until four in the morning. I took a cab home with my bestie as the sun was rising. I finished high school feeling like a rock star.

My next problem was going to be going to university. I got a job, but I couldn’t qualify for a student loan because the tax year prior to my dad’s medical leave stated he made a lot. The financial issue was moot as I didn’t even know what I was going to study, even if I could afford school. With no money and no clear ambition, it made no sense for me to go to study at all. I decided to take a gap year.

I continued to work. Without any goals to anchor me, I spent my money faster than it came in. I was living the Gen X dream buying beer, candy, and cigarettes, watching movies all day, wondering about the future. I’ve told this story many times before, and it’s because it was critical to everything I’ve ever done thereafter. My boss saw how much money I was quickly wasting after each payday. She gave me a talking to and told me how to start saving and investing. Her persuasive sisterly coercion got me going to the bank and getting started. Then after saving for a while, things changed. With money in the bank, I saw school as a possibility. Determined to go to law school, I reapplied to university.

I finished my bachelor’s in record time (thanks, Starbucks coffee beans!). By the end of it, though, I decided not to go to law school. With good financial habits and the benefit of going to university when it was still affordable, I graduated with no student debts. I traveled the world and lived overseas for a few years but came back to Canada. Even though my studies in humanities was never directly applicable to any line of work I sought, having a degree gave me better job options.

After ten years of drifting, I was still by definition a slacker, but at least I had savings. I brainstormed many possibilities on where I was headed next. I found I was most curious about opening a business. This led to my part-time studies in business school and eventually, further studies and pursuits in investing and the stock market.

Today, I am once again a student. I am deeply curious about how the stock market works on the inside. I know what it is to be a trader/investor, but what happens behind the curtain is what I really want to know next. I am currently enrolled with the Canadian Securities Institute, working towards my Certificate in Equity Trading & Sales. I don’t know exactly where studying this will take me; whether I trade for others or still just myself, I will always be a trader, only a more educated one.

Whether you achieve your career peak and hit your financial goals, learning should never stop. You can take courses or just read books that will help you develop in parts of your life that you feel need focus. In the long run, being dedicated to your personal and professional development really is the best investment.

Money Talks

Recently, I did a presentation at the Toronto Public Library on investment basics. I had no idea how it would turn out, but I ran through my head a number of best and worst-case scenarios. It was better than I could’ve ever imagined.

I’d never seen a more diverse audience in age, background, and investment interests. Each person was comfortable enough to engage or ask questions – great questions, I might add. To all those who attended, I’d like to offer my deepest gratitude for your participation. This was the conversation I’ve been dying to have with people. This is the type of conversation more Canadians need to have with each other.

Today I’m going to share with you the questions that I can remember. I’ll add parts of my original answers, but I want to answer the questions more fully. These are in no particular order.


How long does it take for you to do your investment research each week?

Now, it’s a few hours a week, anywhere from two to six hours. But I also apply up to 20,000 hours of previous learning and experience. I hope that I can help others enough so that you don’t have to take as long as I did to learn how to invest.

I’d like to also add that many of my decisions result from bouncing ideas off my partner. He has put in the time and discipline to learn as well. We have the advantage of combined knowledge and experience. I share a lot of these very ideas in my blog.

As much as I’d like to spend more time doing research and trading more actively, I would become more prone to micro-managing my trades. I’ve done a lot better with a more passive and hands-off approach.

How did you get a 70% return last year?

2015 was a terrible year for the Canadian market. The loonie and the Canadian economy were weak. We patiently waited for the market to stop going down. This happened around late February 2016. We looked for stocks that we knew traded actively and had suffered huge drops in share price. It was a very good time to get into the market. These opportunities don’t come very often.

We bought shares in TECK.B.TO, ECA.TO, BBD.B.TO when they were really cheap, and then in April, bought some APH.V (now APH.TO). We bought a few other stocks, but these few alone did very well after just a few months. We kept selling shares incrementally each time the stocks surged in order to secure profits (called ‘selling into the strength’), but they kept going up. We could’ve done much better had we just kept the shares in and moved up our stops (selling prices). It became a decision between banking on certain profits and waiting to see what will happen. We did a bit of both and we still have shares in all those stocks.

I don’t anticipate as big a return this year, unless the market has a major correction, soon after which there’ll be many more big buying opportunities (a bad and selfish thing to wish and wait for, I know, but…). My US portfolio, though, has been my big winner this year because I had the same idea with US tech stocks last summer.

One of the things I always say is that investors are always looking for new opportunities.

What ETF should I buy?

Many financial institutions create ETFs. Some are:

  • BMO
  • Horizons
  • Vanguard
  • iShares
  • Claymore

When doing your research, consider your investment objective – dividend income, market index performance, sector selection (like banking), fixed income, etc. Also consider the MER, share price, distributions, and frequency of distribution payments, to name a few things. You can look up this information on the ETF info sheet. For me, I only select among ETFs with higher trade volume.

Market ETFs can swing a lot in price because of the demand of traders in the market. So the ETF might be worth more (or less) than its actual value (NAV). Would it make sense to put some money in a market index ETF and some in an index mutual fund (which will be less prone to price swings)?

If you want to invest in the market, consider an ETF or an index fund – or both. The major distinction between these is the MER as it’s a lot higher for mutual funds than it is for ETFs; however, it can be more affordable to buy units in an index fund than it would be to buy shares in an ETF.

An actively traded market ETF can experience more volatility than the actual index it’s based on. Its price will vary based on the demands of buyers in the market. If buyers drive the price up, it’s possible for the ETF to be worth more than the net asset value (NAV) of its assets, so you’re paying a premium in share price. If investors are fearful, heavy selling can drive its price down below its NAV, so it’ll be trading at a discount. For index funds, the NAV is what it is after the market closes. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t notice a big difference between similar index funds, be it an ETF or a mutual fund. (If you do, the mutual fund will likely be underperforming because of the MER.)

What’s most important is that you’re 1) comfortable in what you’re investing in, and 2) you’re not paying too much in fees.

What do you think of mortgage-backed securities?

These have had a bad reputation as these were hugely responsible for the 2008 recession, but mainly because they were deregulated. They’re just bundles of mortgage loans that pay investors interest.

If you’re after real estate income, the REIT (real estate income trust) is great because it can pay investors their share of the distributions which will come from a mix of rent, mortgage interest, capital gains, as well as return of capital. You can also get real estate ETFs. Because of the mixed forms of investment income that come from these, they’re best held in registered accounts. Also, keep in mind the MER. I own a couple of these to add diversification to my portfolio. Other than the value of real estate happening in my own backyard, I don’t really follow the real estate market as much as I should.

What brokerages do you use?

I have opened accounts in the past with Disnat Direct and Questrade. I now have accounts with Virtual Brokers and Interactive Brokers. I’ve been with the last two for years.

What do you pay in commissions per trade?

With Virtual Brokers, I pay 1 penny per share. It’s less if the stock price is under $1. With Interactive Brokers, it’s 1 penny per share, but a minimum of $1 per trade. So if I buy 125 shares, I pay $1.25 plus any market data fees.

Both of these accounts were opened as margin accounts – trading on margin means you need to open with and maintain a minimum amount of cash in the account which allows you  3 times the buying power. So if you open with $25,000, your buying power is $75,000. To attract active traders, the commission fees are very low.

I also have TFSA and RRSP accounts with Virtual Brokers (VB). Thanks to my trading partner’s slick skills in negotiation, we managed to have the same awesome rates extend from the margin account to our registered accounts. Often with registered accounts, you get charged a quarterly administrative fee. With VB, they do charge $25 plus HST unless your account has a minimum of $5000 in it.

I am an active FOREX trader. How should I be doing my taxes every year?

With an accountant. I did our taxes the first couple of years we started day trading. I had the advice of a friend who’s an accountant. She gave me samples on how to calculate the adjusted cost base of securities and their exchange rates, etc. It was actually a really good exercise in learning about taxation for the self-employed and how to factor in fees and expenses; on the other hand, it was a total headache. After that, we started using an accountant who magically does it all in a few days.

What is your take on robo-advisors?

They’re great if you don’t know what stocks or ETFs to buy, or when to sell them. They take away from you the inconvenience of guessing and researching and they make those decisions for you. I’d just be cautious about the frequency that the portfolio is rebalanced and focus on the ones that meet your criteria and charge the lowest fees. As you get more comfortable and savvy with reading the market, you should compare how your portfolio is performing against it, and decide then if you might be better off investing in an ETF.

What is your advice for women and their investment choices, especially as they age?

Women have developed a reputation for being great long-term investors because we typically make conservative, less risky decisions. I feel that the financial markets have shifted so that being conservative could work against us in the long-term. Those traditionally conservative decisions, like owning a lot of GICs and low-risk mutual funds, could leave us with less money than what we actually need to have, especially as we live longer and longer. We should be thinking about how our portfolios need to keep generating income as we age. In my opinion, we should consider dedicating more of our portfolio to more medium-risk choices, like blue chip funds or stocks that pay us a dividend.

I know I have a pretty aggressive approach when it comes to making money, but I’m careful with most of my money and more risky with a smaller amount of it (or maybe that’s just what I tell myself and it’s more like half and half). A big part of my own early retirement plan is to live off of dividends, although I still want to make money on capital gains if I have to sell my shares to rebalance my portfolio.

What are good websites that could tell me more about Canadian securities?

I drew a blank – thank you to the audience members for their helpful input. Motley Fool Canada and Retire Happy were mentioned. I also think that Canadian Couch Potato and My Own Advisor are excellent.

You must have a really diverse portfolio?

Yes. It not only keeps things interesting, it spreads and reduces the risk factors within my portfolio. A lot of my trade decisions come from looking at the sector or industry first. That’s why the economy is a big part of my book. I have stocks and ETFs across many different sectors.

I risk very little for each stock, so I’m not worried if it turns out to be a dud (a rare occurrence). After a while, if I like a stock enough, I’ll buy more shares if there’s a new entry (called scaling in).

How do you research fundamentals?

I said I cared about two things: the price I got in at and dividends. I’ll admit, it was a shortcut answer. I don’t pay as much attention as I should to the fundamentals, mainly because I learned about stocks from traders who studied price charts and used only technical analysis. When it comes down to it, even if a company’s fundamentals look good, if the stock price has gone too far up or isn’t trading well, I just won’t enter.

I use technical analysis for all my decisions, and I apply very general guidelines when considering a company’s fundamentals. One day, I’d like to take the time to figure out how to use both forms of analysis to become an even better investor. For now, I rely on good charts that indicate signs that a trend is about to start; I look at the sector the stock is in; and I compare the stock to other stocks in its sector. Then I cross my fingers hoping that the rest of the market catches on and buys the stock up.


We all have different ideas on what we want to do with our money. There are so many different ways to apply strategies, even between people who have similar takes on risk and opportunity. What I think we all need to have is a general basis of knowledge and from there, we each can branch out and find our own approach to investing.

Thank you, TPL! I had a wonderful evening.

My Book, One Year Later

Happy Anniversary!

It was just a year ago that I got my book from the distributor in the mail. There were a lot of things running through my mind as to what my next moves were going to be to promote Loonie to Toonie. When I first started writing my book, I was just more set on writing it really well and getting it done. I figured the rest would take care of itself once it was published.

So much has happened in the last year. After doing a lot of new things, I certainly learned a lot about myself. I figured out what I’m comfortable with and what I actually dread. I found myself leaning towards what I’m most passionate about, which is helping and educating people who are really excited about investing.

There are many components to writing and publishing a book. Would I do it again? Maybe. I dedicated a lot of hours figuring things out, so the next time around, it should be easier. I’ll share my journey and process, and hopefully, offer some insight to any budding authors out there.


The Writing Process: Ego vs. Audience

There is a huge amount of ego required to take on a huge project such as writing a book and seeing it to its completion. Your ego is what fuels your drive; this is not a bad thing – it’s actually necessary. Use it to feverishly brainstorm, explore your ideas, flesh out your concepts, and challenge what you’ve already come up with. At some point, your ego will have to step aside so that you can ask yourself objectively, “How can I write this better?”

To tighten up your work, you’ll have to consider your audience. Once you hook in your readers, what will it take for them to keep turning the pages? You need to find a way to consistently engage them. For me, this was a challenge because I prefer fiction. I’m a die-hard story-loving reader, and the last person you’d ever expect to be a stock trader. To write a book on finance was a complete departure from my personality. I realized that given my skills in stock picking and interest in writing, I had to somehow turn my non-fiction piece into my own art form.

I’d written long and short screenplays in the past, so I became more sensitive to voice, tone, and consistency. I absolutely love movies! However, because of my screenwriting experience, I can no longer watch them without breaking down theme, tone, voice, character, setting, pace, beats, cinematography, editing, soundtrack, etc. I tapped into this habit of analysis to get me out of my writing funk, which came and went after each writing attempt over the course of five years.

When I was beginning to write my book, all I could do was introduce each topic by talking about my own relationship with money and the experiences that turned things around for me. It was one self-centred page after the next. I feared that only some readers would appreciate my experiences while others would be thinking, “Okay, you too sucked at money management. Move on and tell me how I can make money.” There are a lot of great personal finance books out there, but many are inundated with anecdotes. If I wanted to write for the wider, more diverse audience of Canada, I needed to consider that not everyone will have the same cultural and generational references.

I felt I couldn’t do justice to the book I wanted to write, so I decided to quit. As a last-ditch effort, I re-wrote a stripped down version of my chapter on the economy. I liked its simplicity. Then I did the same thing for my section on money. I unexpectedly found the voice necessary to write for my intended audience: new investors who didn’t know where to start and didn’t have time to waste comparing financial lessons and life experiences.

The Writing Schedule

I was committed to writing and getting this book done ASAP. To free up my time, I re-focused my trade strategies on holding stocks for longer periods of time. This way, I wasn’t required to log on to the markets every day or watch them all day long.

I had my own office space for trading, but I felt I couldn’t write there. I created a special writing space in the corner of my bedroom. I arranged all my reference books so that they could be readily and easily accessed. I organized all my information and research into folders and I had a whole filing system going on. I became my own office assistant!

Given my drive to write and the number of hours I could dedicate outside my job of managing a neighbouring property, I figured I could write a chapter each week. I also had the huge hurdle of being self-conscious of writing something that the public will one day be reading. To get over it, I signed up for a free blog site on WordPress and I committed to blogging and publishing a chapter every Tuesday. I did this for a few months for the first half of the book. After that, I continued to write a chapter per week, only I didn’t blog them.

What I found good about blogging my work wasn’t just the regular schedule, but it also gave me a real sense of accountability for publishing information. The rush of putting out your work for your friends to see gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to have my blood, sweat, and tears made public and available to criticism. It exposed me to the vulnerability of being an author. It also made me realize the accountability that comes with misinformation. It would take me one to two days to blitz-write a chapter and the next five days fact-checking against the clock until blog day. I vigilantly challenged every sentence’s construction, every idea I thought was true, as well as the proper usage of financial terms (the semantics are often very different from regular English).

Getting Professional Assistance

I didn’t have the time nor the experience to figure out how to publish my book. I personally knew a lot of smart, creative people who wrote books, pitched publishers, and then…waited for their rejections. For me, my traditional publishing options were even fewer because I was writing non-fiction with a focus on personal finance. I’d be approaching publishers who already published books for celebrity financial planners and famous business tycoons. I also feared that a publisher wouldn’t dedicate much marketing efforts for an unknown author. I couldn’t risk any of those things. I knew what I wanted to be done for my book and I was the only person I could trust to do it. Plus, I wanted to keep all of my royalties. Self-publishing was the only way.

I looked around and found Tellwell Talent, based out of Victoria. Their website alone was so informative as it broke down the process of publishing on your own. On top of that, you got to keep all of your royalties. A lot of other self-publishing services take a cut of your royalties. You pay for Tellwell’s extensive services (ISBN, cover design, interior layout, editing, marketing and publicity consultation, distributing, etc.). Once you publish, you keep the money your book makes from sales after your distributor takes its cut for printing your book.

I was set up with a project manager (Hi, Erin!), who was the go-between me and the designer and editor. They were all so helpful and informative throughout the whole process. I’m sure I was no cakewalk to deal with either! While I was still writing my book, I worked with the designer for my cover until I was ready to give my draft for editing.

I often wondered if other authors felt the same way, but there were times when I felt utterly alone as I was writing. I had a lot of support from loved ones along the way, but I felt alone in that no one really knew what I going through. Once I signed with Tellwell, I felt I had a team behind me and it made a world of a difference as I completed my book.

Getting Published – Finally!

Once I finished the book and signed off on everything, it was a matter of getting set up with the different distributors. I knew I wanted to have a print version of my book, as well as the eBook. You can have one or the other, but I wanted both. For the eBook, I published through Smashwords (who distributes your eBook title to a bunch of other eBook retailers), Amazon Kindle, and Kobo.

For my printed book, it would’ve been a bit more complicated if I distributed through both Amazon Publishing and IngramSpark. Amazon Publishing would have to give you a separate ISBN along with different loyalty agreements with you while taking a bigger POD (print-on-demand) cut. The main upside was that Amazon Publishing would’ve promoted my book through Amazon. I went with IngramSpark because with them, I was able to affordably print my book in the glossy cover with the weird dimensions that I wanted. (I’m not a Type A, but I really was when it came to my book’s format.)

Ingram could also distribute to most major retailers all over the world. This means if a retailer agrees to place your title in its bookstore, they could order easily through your book distributor. Most retailers have accounts with Ingram, so I felt like I picked the right one. With Ingram, I could still sell my book through Amazon as a retailer, just like anyone who has a product, so it made more sense for me to just have to market one book in print with one ISBN. Thankfully, Tellwell set it all up with the distributors and I (mostly) didn’t have to deal with the headache of all that.

The Most Difficult Part: Marketing My Book

I feel like this warrants a whole book to describe what I went through. This is where an author’s love for his/her book gets tested. I consulted extensively with Sandy, Tellwell’s ebullient marketing consultant. I couldn’t have had a nicer, more encouraging person shake me up with the biggest wake-up call ever. She didn’t just tell me what I had to do – she gave me a real sense of how competitive the book market actually is.

Under Sandy’s guidance, I created a very ambitious marketing plan; I learned later, it would’ve actually required two of me to execute everything. JP was so supportive of what I had to do and he was cool with letting me sidestep our life plans so that I could dedicate myself to getting my book out there.

Even though I’ve long since used up all of Tellwell’s publishing services that I paid for, we’re still in touch. We still email each other with questions or things we discovered that could help each other. I admire a business model that is always evolving. They’ve got a great blog going that informs new authors and features some of their own published authors (scroll down the blog and check me out!).

Your Author’s Platform

Not everyone will want to blog or maintain their own website. I found that if there’s one thing I love doing – out of all the things I’ve done to promote my book – it’s blogging. Blogging might not make sense for all authors or their books, but it’s probably the best way to engage with other readers and to work on your writing. I’ve been very lucky as I was approached by Investor’s Digest of Canada to publish columns for them. It’s a great process for me to be able to step away from blogging sometimes and write to a different audience of investors and industry professionals.

There is no shortage to the discussions surrounding personal finance and investing. I just love writing about money and exploring the different themes that are related to money. I realized that my commitment to the topic of finance goes beyond my book. If you’re a fiction author and into fiction, then you might want to blog about other books or movies in your genre.

If there was one thing I wish I’d done before writing my book, it would’ve been establishing my platform first on loonietotoonie.com. I couldn’t have foreseen the importance of this, but it would’ve been helpful to have been established this way first. I say this because as you pitch media, bookstores, and libraries, they need a place to check you out. If you already have a website with subscribers and your own following on social media, it’s easier for them to say yes to an interview or to carry your book.

Retailers

You should know where you want to see your book sold. “Everywhere” is the obvious answer. However, you’re not a publishing house with a long-standing reputation and established connections to the various retailers out there. Before you pitch anyone to carry your book, you should create your own Marketing and Publicity Plan for your book. Your strategy should outline what you’re going to do to generate buzz, win over readers, the selling points for you and your book, and your book’s information. You can find some good template examples of other authors’ marketing and publicity plans if you do a search on Google Images.

I used Word to create mine and I sent its PDF to a discount printer to print a bunch of glossy copies. I also designed a bookmark to print as well. If you have a good colour printer that will print well on glossy paper and cardboard, use that instead. Otherwise, print this stuff out in bulk.

One of the most recommended and realistic routes to getting your book in bookstores is to consign them. I didn’t do this because there are very few bookstores where I live in the countryside of Southern Ontario. It would be challenging for me to check in regularly to see how my sales are going or to supply new books. Most of my book sales are from online purchases and at Indigo bookstores in BC and Ontario.

If you want to know what is expected of you when you pitch a bookstore, visit Barnes and Nobles because they have excellent guidelines that will help you professionally approach your pitches. Some retailers are more explicit with what they expect of you than others. Once you have your Marketing and Publicity Plan, you can submit that or work off that to give bookstores what they’re looking for.

Libraries

I submitted my book to my library to carry as a title. After it was accepted, I asked the librarian on what I should do to get it out there. She recommended a few librarian distribution sites located in Ontario. I contacted these places and they agreed to list my book and its information.

I did for libraries what I did for bookstores. I made a list of 100 Canadian cities and contacted most of their major university and college bookstores (because my book is educational) and their city and regional libraries. Some libraries require very specific formats for title submissions, while others don’t. So check each library’s website to find their key contact people. Some libraries have title submission forms that you simply fill out online. For libraries without online forms, I did title submissions by email or letter mail (get stamp rolls from Costco to save on postage!) directed to their key contacts.

If you want to have a good idea of what kind of information you should provide when requesting a library to carry your book, then visit Toronto Public Library’s web page that explains their process well. If you do this, you’ll have ready at your fingertips what you’ll need for most other libraries’ title submission requirements.

TPL was actually one of the first libraries to accept my book and they bought 11 copies. They also contacted me and asked me to do a presentation as part of their Personal Finance Program Series this summer! I’m super excited. People are already signing up months in advance, so if you’re going to be in the Toronto area on June 20th, book your spot now!

Other Marketing Moves

There is no end to the different ways to get people to hear about you. I’ve done radio and podcast interviews, had book giveaway contests, applied for book awards, did book signings, created podcasts and videos. I also tried out many strategies on social media.

After a year of marketing, I’m still plugging away at all this. The difference is, I’m now able to focus my energies using strategies that I most enjoy doing. Some things (like book signings) just made me flat out uncomfortable. Other authors will have a different experience. You might surprise yourself, but you won’t know until you try out different things.


Going Forward

Towards the end of last year, I stopped seeing myself as an author and more of a financial educator. (I think I missed my calling as a teacher out of fear of ending up with a student like me.) This shift was very subconscious. My stocks were doing very well, a lot better than my book sales! Rather than worry about boosting sales to make a career as an author, I just started to focus on what I was able to get done with the time that I actually had. I was getting nowhere worrying about what little time I had to do every little thing.

The best way for me to approach this was to prioritize doing the most important things first. I found that regardless of the things I set out to do, I ended up only doing the things I really wanted to do, which is to write and invest. I’m now showing readers who are ready to make money a lot more advanced stuff with stocks. I’m revealing my very own strategies that have made me money. I think it’s just a matter of time before most investors turn to stocks and ETFs, so I’m more than happy to be positioned early on where I am with a number of teaching tools readily available to anyone who wants to learn.

I hope more than anything that I can help people reach their financial goals. I still think it’s important that new investors read my book so they’re not left behind, so I still do a lot of marketing to put my book out there. If you already have my book and want to know where my head is at any given time, just read my blog.

Book Giveaway!

giveaway

I’m giving away FIVE FREE PAPERBACK COPIES of my book, Loonie to Toonie ! I will hold a draw at the end of the month and the lucky winners will receive their very own signed copy!

To enter, CONTACT me and tell me about your biggest financial goal(s) and what you’d like to learn most about investing!

New to Investing? Everyone Was at Some Point

Everyone who invests had to start somewhere.

Folks who have invested for much longer than a new investor started at a time when investing looked a lot more different. I’ll tell you about my investment journey that began over 20 years ago. I’ll also give some tips intended to give you things to think about as you read on.

The Mid-90s vs. Now: GICs and Term Deposits

20+ years ago, I opened an RRSP and my first investments were term deposits and GICs. These did all right as I was only interested in saving part of my pay cheques and not spending the money. This was at a time when interest rates were better. They were paying me 4.5% to 5%. It made sense for me to start out this way.

Now, putting your money in these is mainly just to lock it up. Interest rates are very low and these only offer a better rate with longer investment terms. It’s safe from you when you have spending urges, but not safe from inflation. If the inflation rate is 1.13% and your investment is paying you at 1.20%, then you’re not getting much of a return. If inflation rises to 1.5% during the term of your investment, you’ll find out the meaning of “inflation risk” the hard way!


If you’re new and nervous about investing and like the guaranteed aspect of GICs, you could get a variable rate GIC if current interest rates are low. You could also get an escalating rate GIC, particularly if you wanted to keep the money invested for a while, like up to five years. If you’ve always wanted to get into the stock market but was nervous, you could get a market-linked GIC. If the market goes up, you can make more money too (although there’s usually up to a maximum amount that you can get). If the market goes down, you get your principal back and you don’t lose any money, just time.

Because the returns aren’t that great with these cash investments, investing in an RRSP at least allows you to claim your contribution and get back more on your tax return.


The Early 2000s vs. Me: Mutual Funds

As my savings grew, I moved onto mutual funds. I had:

  • a Canadian bond fund
  • a Canadian index fund
  • a monthly income fund
  • a Canadian blue chip equity fund
  • a balanced growth fund
  • and a dividend growth fund.

These did all right, but I felt my portfolio should be doing better. I was regularly putting money into my RRSP – these additions seemed to mask the actual mediocre performance of my mutual funds. Little did I realize it was the high MER fees that were negatively affecting my returns.

When I asked an advisor about rebalancing the funds so that they could perform better, he told me I shouldn’t because he’s seen people doing much worse than my portfolio. Wow! That didn’t help me or encourage me. He just said he wouldn’t change anything – besides, I’d lose money from all the load fees I’d have to pay if I did move things around.

I was so frustrated because my online account made ‘switching mutual funds’ look commission-free and as easy as clicking a button. I didn’t know the difference between one fund from another. That’s why I went to the bank to ask for help. Advisors are supposed to be more helpful and if not, at least informative, right? So, I went to another branch and saw another advisor who was even more useless and uninterested in my concerns. It was so different from my experience when I had a big chunk of savings that I didn’t know what to do with. I had received such great service then. After I made the investments, it seemed no one wanted to assist me. 

I was much more angry with myself because I didn’t even know how to have the conversation that I wanted to have when I met with these advisors. I lacked the knowledge and vocabulary to know how to drive the conversation to get what I really wanted. I couldn’t tell you what a bond was. I didn’t know what “equity” meant. Is it an advisor’s job to teach me? Or was it more advantageous for them if I knew nothing? I don’t mean to rag on mutual funds and advisors. My ignorance was something I became frustrated with. Sometimes growth just ain’t pretty.


I actually think mutual funds are great for new investors who don’t have much in savings yetIt’s great to be able to buy shares or units in a fund and co-own assets (wait–does that explain the essence of the term “mutual”?) that you wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. As you grow your money, you’ll be able to afford to buy the actual assets directly. Until then, take advantage of automatic deposit options to enjoy the compounding effects of regular investing.

Mutual funds are so easy to get at your bank. The advisors can help you find the right balance of funds based on your risk tolerance. Just be sure to ask about the fees! Only opt to pay lower fees, but preferably go with the no-load fee options. If you’re deciding between two similar funds, choose the one with lower MER fees. I think mutual funds are best in the RRSP, not just because of the bigger tax return you could get for claiming contributions, but also because if some of your funds have US stocks, the dividends aren’t taxed in your RRSP.


The Late 2000s to Now: In Love with Stocks

I was frustrated enough to cash out my mutual funds and say sayonara to my bank. I parked my money in a discount brokerage and took the free stock trading program that came with opening an account. I took business and financial courses, including the Canadian Securities Course, to become more educated about money. I badly wanted to know what the financial industry knew and how the world of money worked.

The more I learned the more stoked I got about investing, particularly in stocks. While I’m still working on where I want to be financially, I now see my long-term financial goals happening a lot sooner thanks to stocks. And I’m still educating myself and trying to learn.


If you’re new or too busy to know what stocks to buy, get an index ETF for the Canadian and US markets. If you want a bit of diversification, get a sector or international ETF. If you want income, get a fixed-income or dividend ETF.

If you’re new but ready for more than just ETF investing, you can pick blue chip stocks that pay a nice dividend. As your financial knowledge increases, you can build a nice diverse portfolio with a suitable balance of cyclical and non-cyclical stocks.

If you have a US ETF or stock, invest it in an RRSP so the dividends aren’t subject to withholding tax. If your financial goal is more short-term and you’ll want the money in a few years, invest in the TFSA so you can withdraw the money without getting taxed. You can invest your money between both the RRSP and TFSA according to your different goals and needs. If you run out of contribution room, then hold your Canadian equities in a non-registered account to benefit from the favourable taxation on capital gains and dividends.


The 2010s: Educating Others

Once people knew that I was really getting into the markets, the inquiries starting pouring in. I didn’t feel that what I knew was applicable to my friends’ various situations, though. As much as I believe everyone should own even just some stocks, stocks aren’t ideal or applicable to everyone and for every situation.

I began to ask at my bank (not the one I ditched) questions on behalf of my friends. The advisors were so friendly and receptive. Sometimes they’d sit down with me if they felt the questions were more involved. Other times, we’d all be just talking about investment options. I was always impressed with what they knew, how willing they were to answer questions – even if I wasn’t going to invest my own money – and how much more focused they were on the client relationship aspect.

I’m not sure if the great random service I was getting at any given branch was the bank itself, if it was because I knew what I was talking about which led to better, more informed conversations, or simply because financial advisors now are supposed to be more focused on building relationships with clients for their VARIOUS needs, rather than just selling them investment products.

I actually wrote my book for my friends. I wanted the information to be easy enough to access and understand so that even if they had a general concept of how investments worked, they could seek and get incredible assistance from the pros. My book is meant to help liaise between the client and the financial industry and ultimately help investors navigate their available options.

I still get questions from my friends, mainly the ones who haven’t read my book yet! That’s okay. As my confidence over my own investments grows, so does their willingness to learn from me about how their money can make them money.

Some More on Sectors

Rack

My closet, the retail sector.

How I Stumbled Upon Sectors

With investing, I try to think in terms of the big picture. I find it useful to be aware of the moving parts within this picture. When I started to learn about stocks, I was clueless. I couldn’t read a financial column. My partner was reading the Wall Street Journal and he had to translate everything for me. At that point, I only understood how a stock worked and what a brokerage account was, but that was it. I had taken courses in business, accounting, and investing, but so much of it went over my head. I just had a lot of different information floating about and not enough experience to apply this information as a novice trader.

I decided to take the Canadian Securities Course to get a better idea about the financial industry, investments, how they work, what professionals do, and what investors need to know. It was great because I could go at my own pace and get more into the stuff on equities. I honestly can’t say studying for the exam was loads of fun, but I was happy enough to pass. I loved that I ended up with a better idea about the workings of the financial world and Canada’s economy.

The more I learned about investments, markets, and the economy, the more fascinating money was to me. I became more aware of the psychological component with money, spending, saving, and investing. There is nothing static about the markets, the spending trends that drive the economy, the saving spells that slow it down, and particularly the movement of money between the different sectors and industries.The market is constantly in flux because it’s made of many different components that drive these fluctuations. Money is always being made somewhere.

One of the most important things I learned is that getting a good read on the economy will help you make better investment decisions. Having even just a basic understanding of the economy can make the difference between a novice investor and a savvy one. I found that watching sectors has helped me make money in the short term and longer term. Sector watching can also give you some idea where the overall markets might be headed towards. Sector movement can help determine why a market is up or down. Understanding sectors is important enough to me that I discuss them along with the economy in my book, Loonie to Toonie.

One of my readers seems to share my interest in sectors and has been asking me about where to find more information on them. I’m happy that she’s recognized the importance of understanding sectors and wants to do her own sector research.


Some Places to Look Up Sector Performance

Click here for a great list of sector indexes that track TSX stocks. If you click under “Symbol,” you will be taken to the index’s chart. You can select the time frame at the bottom of the chart. I suggest looking at the 1-year chart, or even longer. I find that longer time frames provide better insight on overall sector performance. For U.S. indexes, you can find a handy sector list here.

I’m often stalking stocks and looking for new ones that might possibly make a move in the near future. As I mentioned in a previous blog, “Stock Picking – Part 3: Factoring in Sectors and the Market,” I look at stocks, their respective sectors, and the market. It’s easier for me to just type in a sector index’s ETF symbol when I’m on my charting screens.

One thing to note: ETFs don’t always move in sync with their corresponding indexes because ETFs are actively traded on the exchanges. Sometimes ETFs will move more or less than their index as it depends on the trading volume and demand, or lack thereof. Having said this, looking at the sector or market indexes will provide a more accurate picture than the ETF. I’m super lazy, so it’s easier for me to just type in a sector ETF that I’m familiar with if I’m just looking on my phone and I’m not on my trading platform at my desk.

Reports on Sectors and the Economy

Economic reports happen every day. Some get more attention than others. The more important the report, the more effect it’ll have on the markets. Some of these reports are sector-focussed. Some sectors give big clues as to where the market could be headed. For example, a strong economic report on new home sales could indicate an optimistic economy and stronger retail sales. I always look at the US economic calendar to see where there might be a lot of action or potential change in the markets. To know what these reports mean and their significance, click on “Event Definitions.” Here is the Canadian economic calendar and here is the international economic calendar. Many different financial websites have economic calendars, so find ones with formats and reports more suitable to you and your interests.

Media

I sometimes watch CNBC and BNN because I like to listen to industry folks. I could watch that stuff all day (especially CNBC’s Fast Money as they’re traders who sometimes have highly entertaining arguments!). There are always so many different points of view on stocks, sectors, and the economy. There are a lot of opinions out there, many of which are conflicting, but these provide additional context to the charts.

If you read any financial paper, newsreel, website, or blog, you’ll also find a lot of up-to-date reporting on micro and macroeconomic stuff. The news often discusses the employment situation in certain industries or businesses. Consider your own job and the industry you’re working in. You might be able to see where you can be headed career-wise if it’s a growing or steady industry. Look at your bills and see where you’re paying the most. Maybe it’s in a sector that you should invest in. Sectors are out there and also are very much a part of our everyday lives. We know more about them than we might be aware of.


I’m sure my rudimentary research methods would make any financial professional shake his or her head!

As important as it is to know about sectors, there is no exact science in applying this information. It’s just one aspect of financial understanding. Some of your best investments will be so long-term that they will endure decades of economic fluctuations and sector cycles.

In the spirit of being financially literate, understanding sectors and their relationship with the economy will make you more financially fluent. That is how more of us can engage in the important conversation on financial matters.

Stock Picking 4: Investment Income

Part 4: Earning Investment Income from Stocks

Objective: To buy and hold dividend-paying stocks in my retirement fund.


Over the last couple of months, I’ve held off making any long-term buys for my retirement portfolio as I wanted to wait until after the US election. Now that it’s over, I can see how the markets, sectors, and stocks from both Canada and the US reacted. For the last week, I have been watching stocks and making decisions on what to hold for the long haul. If there’s one thing they all have in common, they all pay a dividend.

The Dividend Income Strategy

The big goal  with stocks is to be able to sell your shares at a higher price for a capital gain or profit. When stocks give their shareholders a dividend, then it makes it less desirable to sell your shares as they’re now a source of income!

If you’re buying stocks purely for dividend income, then the price you pay per share and what the sector and market are doing at the time have little significance. It’s intended as a long-term strategy and the idea is that over time, a dividend-paying stock of a good company should go up in value the longer it’s around and able to maintain dividend payments to its shareholders.

For me, these stocks are intended for my retirement fund. I’m still decades away from retiring, so I haven’t sold these stocks yet! With lesser ability to work and fewer job options, I want to have an investment source of income, and dividends are just that. In my opinion, this is the most simple form of stock investing and from a long-term perspective, the wisest.

If you have a blue chip company like a big bank or utility company you’d like to invest in for dividends, then you can accumulate shares over time, buying whenever it suits you. For me, when my stock goes down in price, I plan to buy more shares as it’s more affordable. I met a guy who buys shares of just one bank stock — his bank. He watches the stock price and whenever his stock takes a hit, he’s buying more shares. Over time, you can accumulate a lot of shares; the more shares you have, the more you make in dividend income.

So if you look up a stock on its company website, they’ll usually have its dividend payment schedule as well as what they pay their shareholders for each share they own. It’s usually on a quarterly basis, but sometimes dividends are paid monthly.

Here are some things to note:

  • Not all companies pay a dividend as they don’t HAVE to;
  • Companies don’t always pay the same amount in dividends each time – they can pay more or less each time;
  • Companies can suspend dividend payments for periods of time if it financially makes sense for them – doing this can often make the stock price go down;
  • If you’re receiving dividends from a Canadian company, you get a tax credit, so you can hold these stocks in non-registered accounts;
  • If the company or your brokerage doesn’t have the DRIP (dividend reinvestment plan) feature to automatically buy more shares, the dividend income just goes into your investment account and you can reinvest it at your discretion;
  • If you’re receiving dividends from US companies, then you should hold these stocks in your RRSP as we have an agreement with the US that investment income in retirement accounts won’t be subject to international withholding tax.

My dividend-paying stocks so far are in utilities, energy, finance, and consumer staples. My discount brokerage doesn’t offer the DRIP option, so the money just comes in regularly into my investment account and it’s nice to see my portfolio increase in value from both the capital appreciation of my stocks and from regular dividend payments.

If you’re off stock picking, you can also buy shares of a dividend income ETF. The dividends that are generated by the stocks in the fund are paid to you in the form of distributions (but also often called dividends). I, too, own a preferred share laddered ETF that pays me a substantial dividend every month!


 Generating a regular investment income from solid dividend-paying stocks of Canadian companies is a great strategy for the long term!

Stock Picking – Part 2: Determine Your Investment Goals

Part 2: Determine Your Investment Goals

Objective: Identify your investment objectives first, and then let them guide you when you’re choosing a stock.


The main objective for investing in anything is to make money. With stocks, you make money two ways by selling your shares at a higher price than you paid and from dividend payments. Additionally, your decision to invest in a stock could be supported by a number of other reasons. Such reasons will guide you in the selection process.

Here are some reasons to buy a stock:

  • To fund your retirement 
  • For faster portfolio growth
  • To generate dividend income
  • You see potential growth in a particular sector, so you want a good stock from that sector
  • The economy is looking to slow down, so you want to invest in a defensive stock
  • The economy has been in a slump for a while but now business activity is starting to pick up, so you want to buy stocks to get in on the action
  • You like a company for its products, services, or growth potential, so you want to be a shareholder.

My investment objectives vary as I want to invest for the long-term (a fun and comfy retirement life) and the short-term (concerts, trips, and buying a couple of properties in Canada and somewhere hot).

For my retirement portfolio, it’s all about the long game and I’m looking to invest in something that will do me well for years, even decades. So, I look for stocks that have ‘blue chip’ qualities: they pay dividends, they’re well-known, well-established and have been around for a long time, and they usually offer more than one type of product or service which allows them to adapt to various consumer demands and trends. It’s also a bonus when the stocks are in defensive sectors such as utilities and consumer staples. I don’t do much analysis here, I apply a very basic, rudimentary logic.

There is no guarantee these stocks won’t suffer when the economy is slow, but the idea is that even during tough times, they’ll do better or suffer less, and they’ll still likely pay you dividends. If their stock prices take a hit, I’ll likely buy more shares when they start to recover because they’ll be cheaper.

For my swing trades, I look for stocks that look like they’ll do well over the next few months to a year. I look for typically strong stocks that have been quiet for a while and haven’t seen much trading action. When this happens, it’s usually because their sectors have also been quiet. If all the stocks in a particular sector have been down for a while, I’ll narrow down my selection based on the stock price and volume. (See Stock Picking – Part 1.)

The selection process for my swing trades is more involved as I use a very basic form of technical analysis of a stock’s price history to help me decide on where I’m going to buy and where I’m likely going to sell. Technical analysis is about analyzing the price history of a stock in relation to its trading volume, sector, and market environment. 

Many people dispute the validity of technical analysis and prefer to examine the fundamentals of a company’s value in relation to its share price instead. They’re all valid to some degree and many financial pros analyze both the technical and fundamental information.

I prefer to analyze charts because I’d rather see if I’m paying much more than others who got in earlier than me. The lower the price I pay for a stock, the more confident I am in the trade. It’s not a guarantee that the price won’t go lower, but even if it does, I will suffer less by getting in at a lower price than if I bought a stock after it became hot and expensive. I never buy a stock after it makes the news because it’s usually too expensive by then.

chart-1d

Above is a very basic chart of a stock that I actually own. I consider a stock to be ‘quiet’ if it’s trading sideways (the first horizontal line). Think of a stock’s price in terms of flying in an airplane; trading sideways is like starting on the runway. I try to buy either when it’s still on the runway or just as it’s taking off (no higher than where the airplane is). So I just have a quick glance at a stock’s chart to determine if it’s just taken off or if it’s gone far beyond the clouds. If it has long taken off already, I’ll just wait for another sideways setup. Sometimes this wait time could take months to years and I’ll just keep checking the charts every now and then.

For years, I’ve been using freestockcharts.com to look up charts for Canadian and U.S. stocks. It’s FREE and the features and tools for the charts are very similar to what you would use if you had a pro trading account with a brokerage. To look up a stock, you just type the company name and you can select it from the list of options it provides. Sometimes a company will trade on both the Canadian and US stock exchanges, so be sure you’re selecting the proper exchange for you. There are many short and informative tutorials available on its site and on YouTube.

__________________________

I look at the charts for everything I buy for both long-term buys and shorter-term swing trades as my goal is always to buy shares at lower prices. For the long-term trades, it’s more important that the stocks meet some ‘blue chip’ criteria. For the swing trades, I rely more on technical analysis, the sectors, and the markets.

Next time, I’ll get into how I analyze sectors and markets!