May 252020

What is driving Canadian FIRE?

Everyone is affected by the FIRE economy in one way or another. FIRE is an acronym that stands for Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate. Together, these 4 industries are growing over five times faster than the general economy and represent about 1/5th of Canada’s total economic output. FIRE is especially important in BC. Although it employs just 6% of the province’s workforce, it generates 24% of the province’s GDP.

Other industries such as manufacturing and mining produce things of intrinsic value so their growth tends to be linear. But FIRE industries can scale more quickly. Finance and insurance products often involve derivatives, annuities, and other intangible products. Banks and credit unions can literally increase the credit supply through fractional reserve banking – essentially creating money without actually producing anything material. The real estate industry can unlock value from existing land assets with re-zoning and densification. These advantages inherent in the FIRE economy allow for faster expansion and exponential growth.

Another tailwind for FIRE is population growth. Our charismatic leader wants to welcome 341,000 new immigrants into Canada in 2020, more than from previous years. All of those people will need homes. Many will require a mortgage and insurance – further expanding the FIRE industries.


How to invest in the FIRE sectors

FIRE should continue to outgrow the general economy in the future. The most direct way to capture some of this growth is by working in one of these fields. I have some friends who work in finance and real estate. They are all making a decent living. πŸ™‚ If you are just starting school or considering a career change, this can be something to think about. But for the rest of us, investing in FIRE businesses that pay dividends should pay off well in the long run.


How safe is playing with FIRE?

The risk of investing in the FIRE economy is a slowdown in these industries. However policy makers won’t let that happen easily. Instead of allowing markets to naturally go up and down, government officials have proven through their actions that they intend to accommodate perpetual economic growth. A real estate crash could drag down all other industries. No governing body wants to be responsible for a housing lead economic recession, or worse.

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May 112020

Why inflation matters

U.S. government bonds in 1990 were paying investors 8% a year. That sounds amazing! Especially for a low risk investment. πŸ™‚ But not everyone was buying them. Why? Because investment returns don’t tell the whole story. The inflation rate that year was 5.4%. That means the real rate of return on those bonds was only 2.6%. Stashing $100 under a mattress would have lost $5.40 in value during 1990. As Ray Dalio says, “cash is trash.”


Obtaining a mortgage from an unconventional lender

Earlier this year I bought a rental property and took on a new mortgage at 2.44% fixed interest rate for 5 years. After asking around different banks I decided to use monoline lender MCAP. They deal with broker channels and often have lower rates than the big banks. πŸ™‚

negative interest rate mortgage

Since this is an investment property the interest on the mortgage is tax deductible. My marginal tax rate is about 30%. So my effective interest rate after tax adjustment is 1.71%. But this is the nominal rate. To get the full picture we have to subtract the inflation rate. Last year Canada’s official inflation rate was 2.25%. So my real mortgage rate equals the nominal rate (1.71%) minus the inflation rate (2.25%) which comes toΒ -0.54%.

So I’m effectively paying a negative interest rate. I’m earning 54 basis points to borrow money. Woot! πŸ˜€ Personal finance author Robert Kiyosaki says smart people use debt to get rich. He’s right. I’m growing my net worth by literally having this mortgage.

The historical average inflation rate in Canada has been about 2% annually. Let’s assume it will continue to average 2% for the foreseeable future.

This is bad for my mortgage lender. The asset they are holding (my mortgage) will slowly lose value over time. Fortunately for them the 2.44% interest rate they charge me is still higher than the expected inflation rate.


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Apr 272020

Building an Asset Column

There were three events that greatly impacted my financial life. This is part two of three, where I will be writing about asset columns. The main idea is to buy income producing assets that generate perennial money over time.

I first came across this concept when reading the 1997 book Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki. The book primarily focuses on real estate. But stocks and bonds can also be included in an asset column. πŸ™‚


The book that changed my outlook on money

I picked up Rich Dad Poor Dad when I was 17 after a friend suggested it to me. Many of the concepts Robert discussed in the book such as taxes, inflation, and hard assets were completely new to me. But what fascinated me the most was the idea of financial independence. And also how to build wealth through investing in assets.

This was the first time I witnessed concrete examples of how to take actional steps to create a “column” of financial assets. A properly constructed asset column should grow by itself over time.

From learning about compound interest earlier that year I already knew how to make time work for me. And now thanks to Robert’s book, I learned how to get money to work for me. The two concepts combined lead to a breakthrough moment in my financial education. πŸ˜€ It completely changed my perspective about money.

Accumulate all the assets

Before I had thought of money as something people earn and spend in order to live. The idea of retiring early or becoming a multi-millionaire had never occured to me. But after reading the book, I began to see money from a completely different angle – one that involves assets and liabilities. I learned money isn’t only good for spending. It’s also good for generating more money. The poor and the middle class work for money. But the rich have money work for them. Robert explains how to multiply your investment returns with a fancy strategy call leverage. πŸ˜‰

I learned that the rich buy assets first. Then use the income generated from their asset column to buy wants and luxuries. Their lifestyle is funded by money working for them. Meanwhile the poor and middle class tend to buy luxuries first and don’t have much in terms of assets. So their lifestyle is funded by their own “sweat, blood, and children’s inheritance.”


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Apr 202020

I don’t trust millionaire gardeners. They’re always running some kind of pansy scheme. 😎 Fortunately there are more legitimate ways to build wealth. I recently watched a YouTube video where a young realtor in California named Graham Stephan explains how he became a millionaire in his 20s. He says just about anyone can become a millionaire in 10 years with the right attitude. In short here is his advice to others:

  • Get paid for your results, not your time.
  • Cut back on unnecessary spending.
  • Invest consistently and actively work on those investments to increase returns.

The mindset of a Millennial millionaire

Graham’s methods are simple and effective. He prefers to eat at home instead of going out. He drives a used car and buys clothing from the discount section of H&M. And he sticks to the same budget no matter how much extra money he earns. Graham also uses leverage to invest, and his portfolio consists mostly of real estate and stocks. Although we live in different countries, Graham and I seem to have a lot in common. πŸ™‚

If you want to build muscle, you have to lift weights. If you want to lose fat, you have to change your diet. Change requires commitment. Becoming a millionaire is no different. Graham explains that building wealth starts with the right mindset.

The only way you will change is if you believe the payoff is worth the sacrifice.Β Graham suggests a good way to begin is to ask yourself if living frugally for ten years is worth financial freedom for the rest of your life. Is one decade of living modestly worth not having to do something you don’t want to do ever again? Graham and I both answered this question ten years ago, and we categorically decided yes – it’s totally worth it. πŸ˜€ Admittedly it took me 12 years, not 10, to reach a million dollar net worth. Life doesn’t always go as planned. That’s why you also have to enjoy the journey. πŸ™‚

What makes you feel wealthy?

Wealth can come from both material possessions and financial security. I’m a big fan of the latter. I’ve always derived more joy from knowing that I could afford something, than actually buying it. And Graham seems to feel the same way.

But everyone is different. Although Tim Cook and Donald Trump are both super successful and wealthy, you just can’t compare the two. It’s Apples and oranges – if you know what I mean. πŸ˜‰

The mindset of most millionaires is one of frugality. But for many consumers, a frugal lifestyle would make life miserable, not better. Whatever drives someone to feel wealthy will motivate them to continue down that path. So knowing your mindset is paramount to living true to your values.


Do you need a high income to become a millionaire?

Income is important to build wealth. But similar to oxygen, it doesn’t become a problem unless you’re not getting enough of it. So how much is enough? As long as you can earn $75,000 a year or more, you should be able to become a millionaire within a decade. Don’t worry if you start off making less. My salary was $35,000 in 2008. But today I earn more than twice as much. Graham’s income started modestly low as well, but now he makes six figures annually from his real estate business. It’s not about where you start. It’s about where you can get to. πŸ™‚

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Apr 132020

Long term planning

There were three events that had a profound impact on my financial life. They helped me realize that when you choose to invest, you are not just picking up a new hobby or side hustle. You are actually choosing a lifelong career – a future. Much like a marathon, investing is for the long run. 😎

So today I’d like to start with part one of three – compound growth and long term planning. Compound interest is one of the most profound discoveries in human history and has the potential to change lives. Even Albert Einstein once declared it to be the most powerful force in the universe. πŸ™‚


It all started in high school

Financial education typically starts at home. I learned from my parents how to be a net saver. But grade 11 is when I really began to think about money and wealth.

It was the early 2000s. Linkin Park was on the radio. MSN Messenger was still relevant. I was 16 years old. My school offered Economics 11. Out of all the elective courses this one seemed to be the most practical so I decided to enroll. That might have been the single best decision I’ve ever made. πŸ™‚

One day during class we learned about compound interest. The textbook demonstrated the impact of time using an example with two people. I forgot their names, but let’s call them Stacy and Chad.

  • Stacy invests $2,000/year starting from the age of 19.
  • Chad also invests $2,000/year but starts 10 years later at age 29.

By the time they both retire at age 60 Stacy is a millionaire, while Chad only has $402,000. The book included a helpful table like the one below.

I couldn’t believe it. How can ten years make such a dramatic difference? I went home, copied the figures into Excel, and double checked the math myself. Sure enough, Stacy would end up with 2.5x as much as Chad. Furthermore if Stacy had only invested for the first 5 years and then stopped contributing to her account altogether, she would still end up wealthier despite investing only a fraction of the amount Chad had to save up. Here’s what that table looks like. Wow. It’s all because she started earlier.

This seemed unfathomable to me. In my naive teenage mind I had always thought that you can’t succeed on your own unless you work hard. You will never have good grades unless you study. You will never play in the basketball tournament unless you attend practice after school. You will never pwn your friends at GoldenEye 007 unless you have blisters from the N64 controller. But the economics lesson made me question everything. It turned my entire worldview upside down.

I used to believe that in order to accumulate more wealth you had to study harder in school, land a better job, and save more income. But Stacy proved there’s an easier way to achieve the same end result. She didn’t need a higher savings rate than Chad to retire with 2.5x his net worth. So the only thing you have to do to retire with more money is start investing early. That’s it. πŸ™‚

This idea of additional success without working for it created a paradigm shift in my way of thinking. I realized that it actually is possible to get something for nothing. From then on I tried to work smarter, not harder.

The only disadvantage of saving earlier is you have to delay your spending. But Stacy’s early start rewarded her with an extra $673,000 at retirement. So I think that far outweighs the downside of spending a little less in early adulthood.

After this epiphany in economics class I decided to follow in Stacy’s footsteps and invest as early as possible. I didn’t know what profession I would end up in. I wasn’t sure how much income I would earn. But I was certain that whatever money I do make, I would put away at least $2,000 a year.


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