Fee’s, The Investment Killers

What is the greatest threat to your investments that you can do something about?

 

Nighttime news sensationalizes claims of impending economic recessions, trade-wars between economic powerhouses like the US, China, EU. Or failing crop yields this year, or oil pipeline issues, climate change. The impact of all of these sounds terrifying, and will certainly have economic consequences that ripple around the world. If these news anchors are to be believed, the days of doom and gloom are ahead. Religious fanatics also scream of the end of days, with judgement day fast approaching. But before we work ourselves into a panic, let’s look at what we can control in our personal economic lives.

 

I can’t tell you how to deal with any of the aforementioned scenarios. These issues, although very real, also have very uncertain economic consequences. Speculating about those impacts is a dangerous game, and ill-advised in any financial portfolio. And as such, personal finance advice remains the same, invest in a diversified portfolio, and avoid as many fees as possible. It is these fees that you can avoid; these fees that kill your investment returns.

 

What is the effect of fees on your investments? Let’s take a look.

 

For the purpose of these examples, let’s use “typical” investment fees to represent the offerings of most large financial institutions. These would be the big banks, pension companies, etc. Their fees, depending on the investment option you pick, are usually around the 2% mark, but can go much higher. Let’s see what those fees do to your investments. In the following vastly simplified example, we’ll start with a $ 100,000 investment and no further additions. This money will be held for 25 years, a good long-term investing strategy.

 

Typical Investment Fees

Investment

100,000

Rate of Return

6.50%

Annual Fee %

2.20%

25 Year Return

$286,488.84

 

This simple example shows the growth a long-term investing strategy can have, more than doubling our money over that 25 year period. But there’s more to it than that. A low cost investing option, like those now offered by many e-banks, will knock those annual fees lower, and the impact is dramatic. Let’s take a look:

 

Low Cost Investment Fees

Investment

100,000

Rate of Return

6.50%

Annual Fee %

0.50%

25 Year Return

$429,187.07

Here we can see the same investment, the same rate of return on the portfolio, and yet the annual management fee is 1.7% lower. The results? A whopping $142,187.07 over the course of 25-years. That means those fees that are charged by typical investments are stealing 33.25% of our overall returns!

 

This example, although overly simplified, shows the impact that fees can have on your investment portfolio. And that impact is huge. So large that you would be able to retire earlier on more money if you simply moved your portfolio to one of many low-cost investment funds.

 

So what’s the take-away here?

 

Fees are often displayed in complex ways on your statements, which makes it hard to determine how much you are actually being charged. But those fees do add up, so it is essential for reaching financial freedom that you look into all the fees that are out there, and minimize the cost of those fees. By doing this one easy step, you could end up with an extra 30% (or more) in your investments!

 

Action Item

Look into your investments, including (and especially) any work-provided retirement plan. What are the fees? If you aren’t paying less than 1%, you should look at similar portfolios in terms of risk tolerance from other institutions, as the fees alone could save you thousands.

Note: if you do have an employer created retirement account, often these funds are locked in while you are an employee. If the time comes where you are advancing your career elsewhere though, you should definitely look into transferring those investments into a low-cost provider to see significant savings on fees!

Paralysis of Information

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

How do you make financial investment decisions? For many of us, the process of making a financial decision involves researching the available options. But can we fall into the trap of having too much information? We can. And this is the paralysis of information.

When you are starting out anything new, you always want to do research to find out a bit about your new endeavor. Investing is no different. But with investing, the options are nearly endless, and in that ever expanding universe of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, derivatives, options, dividends, interest rates, etc we can find ourselves quickly overwhelmed. In this state, rather than follow through with our original good intentions, we hesitate, we become paralyzed by information.

To illustrate this point, we can look at the steps we need to take to learn a new skill. As we learn something, such as driving, the list of steps and elements we need to remember is overwhelming. Turn the ignition, put the car in reverse, release the parking brake, ease off the pedal brake, slowly apply gas, turn the wheel, brakes, change gear, check mirrors, signal, check mirrors again, ease off the brakes again, apply pressure to the gas pedal, turn off indicators, check mirrors again.

When we look at a list of what we need to do, the process seems alarmingly complicated. And that’s if we already have an automatic-transmission car. But for many of us, driving is second nature now, so much so we have the confidence to talk and eat while driving too. How did we get to that stage of knowledge and familiarity that we can approach any vehicle? By actually driving. We overcame the paralysis of information by taking action. And our decisions and choices got better over time.

The same applies for financial decisions, especially investing. As we begin our research, we will undoubtedly come across talks of management fees, market swings, dividend yield, historic growth, and many other elements that help us evaluate different investment options. These are all incredibly important to know when making a decision. Charting these elements for the available options is an effective way at determining what investment will be right for you. But the most important part is taking action. As you make more investment decisions, you become more familiar with the elements that are important to you. And as a result, you make better decisions.

 

Application Steps:

How do we overcome this paralysis of information?

  1. Set a deadline for when you will have research conducted by.

  2. Perform research up to that deadline.

  3. Make the best decision you can with the information gathered in your research. You won’t have all the information right now, and you never will. The most important aspect is that you make a decision.

  4. Take action! Now, today, right this minute!

 

What decisions have you been putting off because you don’t have all the information? Set up a deadline for how long you’ll allow yourself to research. Then research until that deadline. Finally, on that deadline, a decision must be made based on the currently available information.

Remember, not making a decision is still a decision. And that inaction costs far more than any investment fee or poor market timing.

How to Create Career Success

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   Do you have a career plan in place? If so, what is on it? What should be on it?

   As we approach our professional lives, we need to understand the various elements that lead us to greater career success. To do this, we need to understand a few things, some unique to each of us, and some are shared.

Our Unique Talents and Abilities

   Our strengths and weaknesses will help define our areas of focus when it comes to our careers. Building off our strengths, we can leverage existing and inherent traits about ourselves. Leveraging our own unique strengths will enable us to out-perform others in similar roles and situations. We do this simply through accomplishing more, in a shorter period of time. The less effort required for us to produce the same results as someone else means we have more time and energy to devote to more projects or continued development. This is the beauty of leveraging our strengths, and also a reflection on how to treat weaknesses.

   Knowing our weaknesses usually highlights areas we should not be doing. If we can outperform by leveraging our strengths, then taking on tasks that are negatively influenced by our weaknesses means the same results will take us more time, and more energy. Since both time and energy are limited resources, we will fall behind as we try to compete against others that are leveraging their strengths. 

   What does this actually look like? I am a strong writer. When I sit down with a keyboard, I am able to produce written material quickly. In contrast, I do not have a strong sense for music. While I could learn, I will forever be slower than someone who is musically gifted. My strength lies in writing, and when I focus on that, I am leveraging that strength. If I have a need for music, rather than do it myself (which would take forever) I am better off outsourcing those tasks so I can continue to leverage my strengths.

   To highlight this point, we can look at a quote from actor Will Smith:

“The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft."

Will Smith

   Focusing on your strengths, your talents, will help you out-perform and out-produce all those around you. Do you know what your greatest strengths are?

Action Item: Ask 3 friends to tell you what they think your greatest strengths are.

Necessary Skills for Our Path

   The second element to creating career success is in the pursuit of the skills that you do need. The development of these skills should be pursued with a focused, planned growth strategy. Many times we simply try to learn a skill after we are presented with a new problem. This slows us down, as we then begin learning from scratch right when we need the skills the most. A clear growth plan will help alleviate this bottleneck of skill vs. need. With a growth plan, you can start developing your understanding, and practicing the skills before you are put in a position to use them. In this way you can respond faster to problems, and be more comfortable taking on stretch projects that really advance your skills, both in your eyes and in others. 

   How do you know what skills you’ll need? Almost nobody is walking a path that hasn’t been walked before. Even on the cutting edge fringes of science, there are parallels between different career paths. It is these other examples that you need to seek out. Once you have sought a good example out (one that is doing what you want to do), analyze the skills that they utilize most to be successful. Do you have those skills? Are they something you should be working on?

   Knowing the skills that are used on your next step will help you frame a growth strategy that aids you in your career growth. Armed with this knowledge, you can start developing those skills now. As Will Smith said, “Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft."  Starting early, you will surpass everyone else simply as a result of your extra hours devoted to learning and growing. 

Action Item: Find either job postings or example persons to determine the skills you’ll need most at your next career level. 

How do you create career success? 

   Leverage your strengths, and don’t try too hard to improve your weaknesses. This will ensure everything you do, you’re the best at. And for the rest? Leave it to people who are better suited for those tasks. Your success will skyrocket as you out-perform everyone else! And as you leverage your strengths, be sure to keep an eye on the skills you’ll need in the future. Developing these through your own professional growth plan will help you get a leg up on the competition, as the hours you’ve spent preparing for future obstacles will give you an incredible head start over anyone else!

Asking for Wealth

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   Have you ever asked for a lower price? 

   A gentlemen I spoke with recently told me a story where he tried this for the first time. He was in a store with his daughters when a sweater caught their eyes. But after looking at the price tag, no matter how his daughters begged and pleaded, no matter the pouts and puppy dog eyes, there was no way he was spending that much on those sweaters. As he headed for the checkout, without the sweaters, he ran into the store manager. After the quick pleasantries, he simply asked, “Are those sweaters going on sale anytime soon? My daughters would love them, but I am not prepared to pay full price for them.” 

   Have you ever asked for a discount? In some cultures the process of bargaining and haggling over prices is part of every economic transaction. But in other cultures, like North American culture, that simply is not the norm. While this is not a commentary on the diverse cultures of the world, asking for preferential pricing is a strategy that could save you some serious dollars. 

   Even in cultures where asking for discounts isn’t common on everyday purchases, we’re still prepared to do it for certain items. We couldn’t even imagine buying a car without first talking the price down at the dealership. Or buying a home without making a few offers and counter-offers. But if we start applying that same mentality to our everyday purchasing, we might just be able to make our hard earned dollars stretch just a little bit further.

And for the really advanced readers, if you take those savings that you asked for and invest them, you’ll be on a greatly accelerated path to financial freedom.

   So what happened to our friend buying sweaters for his daughters? Well, his daughters have a couple of brand new sweaters with matching smiles to go with them! The savings were almost 50% of the price tag, which of course feels pretty good. And the store manager made a couple of sales that he otherwise wouldn’t have. I’d say the whole situation turned into a win-win.

   Stepping out of our comfort zone and asking for a discount is an important, and often overlooked strategy. Rather than waiting for things to go on sale, we can simply ask for preferred pricing. This helps us save money, which we can put to better use as we continue our pursuit of financial freedom.

Controlling Lifestyle Creep

   How much money do you need to live each month? Finding the answer to this question is an essential element of any successful personal finance plan. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t always as easy to answer as we like to think it is. But as we start to organize our finances to set ourselves up for success, there is a process we can take.

Write down what you need to live your lifestyle

   Deciding how much money we need to live on starts with a list of all of our current spending. This list is important for two main reasons, the first of which, it helps us determine how much we can invest for our future. The second reason, is that list is an essential component for self-review down the road.

   If your current lifestyle demands more expenses than you make in income, this first step has highlighted a serious problem. Overspending will draw down on savings. Unless you are in retirement and planning the final chapters of your life,  this overspending could place you in serious financial hardship.

   As a general rule, our lifestyles must not cost more than we make in income each month. This means there will be left over resources to allocate to future wealth and plans. How much extra money we have left is up for some debate, but the lowest reasonable number suggested in The Richest Man in Babylon is 10%. Jim Rohn would argue that the number is higher, suggesting 30% of total income be put aside for charity and wealth.

Repeat your lifestyle cost list

   Periodically you should compare previous lists to current lists for your lifestyle expenses. This will provide a visual representation to how you have changed and grown over time. These lists are especially important when you experience an increase in income, to ensure that your lifestyle creep doesn’t surpass your income growth. 

Our spending habits change over time, so what?

   While our spending habits change over time, and as our income grows we become accustomed to a higher standard of living, we need to be conscious of all these elements. This is especially prevalent when looking at how much we save and invest for the future. Often times, when our earnings are lower, we tell ourselves we’ll save more for the future in the future when our income increases. This is especially common among young professionals just getting started in their careers and lives. As our lives and careers progress, we must be intentional about saving enough for future riches. The best way to do this; ensure we aren’t letting our lifestyle creep leave us poor in the future.

   What does your lifestyle cost? How much is left over for future riches? Are you living at least below the 90% of income rule? Answering these questions will help you determine if you’re on the right path to financial success.

Money Mindset: A dollar saved…

A Dollar Saved

Is a dollar earned.

   How many times have we heard the sage advice; “A dollar saved is a dollar earned.” This cliche money tip is the cornerstone for frugal spenders, and as a popular belief, has its’ own space in the Money Mindset section. As a result of this phrases popularity, we would be remiss if we did not take this opportunity to dissect this ingrained philosophy.

What does A Dollar Saved is a Dollar Earned mean?

   The idea behind this philosophy is that income is fixed in the short term, and so to have more leftover, you need to cut back on where you spend. Holding the fixed income assumption constant, this is sound advice. The issue arises when taking this philosophy too far.

What are the benefits of this Money Mindset?

   The benefits of living frugally can be best seen in the judicious cuts in your expenses. Asking yourself whether the purchase is necessary can be a very good way to curb erroneous spending. The benefits are especially prevalent if you are carrying credit card debt, or on the borderline of living paycheck to paycheck. Regardless of income, spending all that you make causes difficulties, especially when the unexpected occurs. A healthy dose of spending skepticism provides the necessary focus to trim the fat on your purchasing habits.

   Another benefit of this Money Mindset, especially for those who are not independently wealthy (yet). Frugality is often seen as an accomplishment, and provides a sense of satisfaction. We’ve all heard those conversations, likely even allowed ourselves a humble brag when talking about a deal we just received at the outlet malls. Saving money is a good feeling, which allows us to conclude; a dollar saved is a dollar earned has some merit in the personal finance realm.

What are the risks of this Money Mindset?

   A dollar saved is a dollar earned. This focus on frugality, while at times has its own merits, can be taken too far. If money worries aren’t constricting you, it is probable that you need some discretionary spending to help you live life to its fullest. There should be an allowance in everyone’s spending patterns that allow you to safely spend on luxury purchases. The limits to the Money Mindset: A dollar saved is a dollar earned are hence put to the test. Luxury purchases are, applying this philosophy literally, causing feelings of guilt for the “loss” of money.

   The other risk of this Money Mindset is when we take the bargain chasing too far. Often times the sticker price is taken as the final cost, and we neglect to consider the extra time and energy that went into securing that bargain. Spending time browsing online shopping sites, flipping through paper flyers searching for a lower price, has an opportunity cost on that time, on those efforts.

Where do we draw the line between a good deal and a waste of time and energy?

   As we try, in Business Minded fashion to apply a formula to these topics of finance and success, we may consider the following equation to find the break even:

Break Even =

Satisfaction of Saving Money + Money Saved = Opportunity cost of (Time + Energy)

   As long as we receive more joy than the efforts that the bargain took, i.e. bargain hunting. The efforts we put out, and the cost associated with our time and energy, were worth it. Taking this philosophy too far might be seen when we spend an hour finding a deal that saves us 10 cents. Assuming our hour is worth more than 10 cents, we have lost if we spend those efforts.

The Verdict: A good tool in the toolkit.

   A dollar saved is a dollar earned. This philosophy, or money mindset, really holds its merit when money is in short supply. While not an enjoyable way to live, when short term sacrifices are required to make ends meet, this philosophy can help clarify spending needs. In the long term, income is variable as a direct result of increased value. Spending on improving our skills and abilities will help move income up.

   Once we have some financial control, this money mindset is useful for periodically evaluating our spending. As our value increases, the size of the discounts we get excited over also needs to increase to keep this money mindset favorable. As you achieve greater financial wealth, remember the equation for A dollar saved is a dollar earned:

Break Even =

Satisfaction of Saving Money + Money Saved = Opportunity cost of (Time + Energy)

With this tool in your tool chest, financial freedom is ever-more attainable. With your finances in check, continue your quest for success.

What Does Success Look Like?

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Do you know what success looks like?

   Scrolling through Instagram and other social media feeds, we soon become inundated with an endless barrage of fancy sports cars, pristine sandy beaches, yachts, high-rise patios, and the list goes on. Picture after picture, story after story, surely this is what success looks like.

But is it?

   Success is not achieved by having any of the aforementioned pictures alone. Those celebratory poses, when not faked, often come with a long back story that isn’t near as glamorous. And I’m not referring to trolling city streets looking for a parked Ferrari to take a selfie with. No, I’m talking about the owner of that Ferrari's story. Success looks like the countless years of grinding, on the phone with prospects, scribbling furious notes in online courses, constantly growing, constantly grinding. The long days and late nights, sticking it out when times’ are tough. And that is only one image of success.

   Success looks like the teacher who is laughing with her students, celebrating top grades across the class. Taking in the look of jubilation on those students faces, knowing that her years of study, late nights marking tests, staying after school and sacrificing lunches to help others learn. That is the image of success, because she chose to be a teacher. Because she worked hard to earn those cheers of her students.

   Success looks like the glitter falling from his hair, because he defined success as being his daughter’s father and best friend. The make-up shining his cheeks to a rosy red, pink lipstick smeared across his face. The endless clean-up, driving to early morning practices, late nights listening to her first heart-break. All the behind-the-scenes care and support. No flashy picture captures that. But the laughter and memories made, that is success. That is his success. That is the success he chose.

   These are the stories of success we don’t see as we scroll through the day’s social media posts. But these are the real successes. So let me ask you, what does success look like? What does success look like for you?

Seasonal Spending Woes

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   As the seasons start to change, we are suddenly presented with all sorts of temptations to spend more money. Billboards tower above our commutes, magazines and newspapers line the checkout shelving, all promising new fashions and recreation activities. Under the constant pressure for our attention, and our wallets, we need to be extra vigilant. The basics of financial management remain constant despite the changing seasons.

   Financial management is not a lesson in frugality, although that is often talked about as a popular Money Mindset. Financial management is actually making a conscious decision about where you spend your money. That means you making the decision to purchase or not, based on your own criteria.

If making an effective financial decision relies on your own set of criteria, how do you determine if a purchase is worthwhile?

   As we are each unique, we are each responsible for determining our own decision criteria. The key here is that we think about what we value first. The alternative is that we will make split second decisions that aren’t always our own, but as a result of sales pressure and marketing manipulations.

   How do we maintain our individuality while deciding our own criteria? The following set of four questions is an excellent starting point that I've found helpful:

  • Can I afford this?
  • What are my core values?
  • Does this purchase reflect the values that I stated above?
  • Will I still support my decision on this purchase a month from now?

Let's look at each question.

Can I afford this?

   A straight-forward question, if the answer is no, don’t purchase. Avoiding spending above our means keeps us financially stable.

What are my core values?

   Understanding what you find valuable is essential to making sound purchases. For example, I place a lot of value on my health and fitness. When considering purchases, I’m more likely to splurge on goods that improve my physical health.

Does this purchase reflect the values that I stated above?

   Be honest on this one. Especially when under social pressure, this question can help you refocus on what you actually value, and not what the other friends you’re hanging out with value. I am far more likely to pick up a pair of supportive running shoes than the latest boat shoes, regardless of how “cool” I would look for the next two months.

Will I still support my decision on this purchase a month from now?

   Asking what your future self will think is a powerful question regardless of the situation you find yourself in. This holds especially true when facing financial decisions. Many times our current self thinks we’ll make better choices in the future. How many times have we promised ourselves we’ll save more when that next raise comes in? We’ll donate to a worthy charity when the year end bonus comes through? Or we’ll take a self-development course that helps us grow just as soon as that tax refund check clears? It’s easy to think we’ll make better choices in the future.

   But what happens when we flip that script? We ask ourselves if the right now choice is what we hope our future self would do.

   Thinking about ourselves in the future, reflecting on the choices made before we make them provides us the right amount of clarity that just might save us from the next magic infomercial product collecting dust in the garage.

   With the latest gadgets and gimmicks “new this year” released every season, we need to keep a careful eye on our impulses. Asking yourself a few simple questions can help you steer clear of the next big dust-collecting widget.

   Can I afford this? Is this important to me? Will this be important to me a month from now?

   In this way, we can spend on what we value, and save on those other impulse purchases marketed to us. We can make the most of the changing seasons, without suffering from seasonal spending woes.

Money Mindset: Pay Yourself First

Money Mindset: Pay yourself first

   What is the most important money mindset that differentiates people with financial abundance from those without? Financially successful people know this principle: pay yourself first.

   Understanding this Money Mindset of personal finance and financial achievement provides us the building block for all future financial successes.

What does Pay yourself first mean?

   "Pay yourself first." Put simply, it means that every dollar you earn, you put some aside for your future before you pay anyone else. This philosophy of money ensures that you will always have the means to take care of yourself and what is important to you without relying solely on your paycheck. If you pay yourself enough first, you will even achieve financial abundance, the monetary means to pursue whatever passions you have.

Why does this Money Mindset matter?

   With all the demands on our wallets in our hectic lives, it is only too easy to fall into a reactive mindset, burdened with excuses for why you can’t save enough.

The tax man takes too much. Rent is too high. My mortgage costs too much. Have you seen the price of food? Don’t even get me started on the cost of gasoline!

   Internalizing these devastating excuses will leave you at the end of each month with hardly a scrap to put towards your future. And while there are other money mindsets that have developed in response to these excuses, you’ll always be trying to play catch up at the cost of your happiness. With millions of people in North America alone living paycheck to paycheck, trying to save for our future after we’ve spent our earnings seems futile. Not paying ourselves first leads to a vicious cycle of pinching pennies on our morning coffee, buying the cheaper ingredients, wearing our shoes down until we have holes in the soles, and holes in our souls.

How do we apply this Money Mindset?

   Changing how we view money is hard, but there is a silver lining. While this Money Mindset of paying ourselves first is the most important, it is also the easiest to implement. Many employers are able to split our paycheck and send funds into an investment account before we even receive our monies. Holding back a portion of our earnings, and investing them before they even touch our bank account is the embodiment of the principle; Pay yourself first. If the source of our pay isn’t as regular, or the option to divert your earnings into a separate account isn’t available, we can set up our own system to pay ourselves first. With the advent of electronic banking, it is relatively simple to set up multiple accounts, and have automatic transfers regularly scheduled. All this can be accomplished within 30 minutes, and possibly even as quickly as 5 minutes.

   What if you are a freelancer and don’t have regular paychecks? While more manual, you still need to pay yourself first. While you are putting aside money for taxes (I hope you’re at least doing that!), send some extra dollars into your investment accounts for the future. This way, whatever is left is what you have for living and spending.

How much should you save?

   As with all other savings, the more you put away now, the faster you’ll reach financial freedom. George S. Clason suggests in The Richest Man in Babylon that 10% is a good number. Although that depends greatly on age, current savings, planned uses of the money, etc. Economists trying to give a single number for everyone range from the 10% number to 20%, or even higher. But before you get overwhelmed by the magnitude of that ask, just put aside a dollar. Then another dollar. Then another.

   We don’t need to change our thinking right away, the right system takes care of our financial future for us. But before long, as you start to realize the financial goals you have are attainable, you’ll certainly appreciate, and maybe even advocate, this essential Money Mindset.   Adopting the Money Mindset of Paying yourself first will ensure that you are taking care of your future self as well as your today’s self. And that simple action starts your journey towards financial freedom.

Defining your Career

Designing your Career

   Unless you're the beneficiary of a reclusive billionaires' estate, you're likely going to have to work. Your career is therefore an essential part to your success plans for the future. Are you on track to reach those career goals?  

   Knowing if you are on track to reach your career goals starts first with designing the career, and the life, you want to live. So what is the process to design your career?

   The process of designing your career falls into 3 steps:

  1. Set your career Goals
  2. Modelling the success of others
  3. Investment in your skills

   The first step to leading a successful career, the first step to success, is to work out what your goal actually is. The importance of this first step cannot be stressed enough. Often times our careers are treated haphazardly, accepting work and jobs based on a select few criteria. Settling into a career because "that's what my parents wanted", or following in their footsteps. Or we chase career progression for the paycheck, and the prestige we think that buys us.

   How many times have we answered that "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" question with where we think that job will lead? How many times have we looked into the future without asking if our path is heading where we actually want to go?

   Once we have taken some time to determine where we want to be professionally, we need to evaluate what it will take to get there. Fortunately, every next step that we want to take has already been taken by someone else. At one point in time or another, someone has walked a similar path to the one we're headed down. And this is excellent news. Now we have an example to follow, the skills, the knowledge, and the understanding that our dreams are possible.

   The second step to designing your career is best summed up by Les Brown, as he reflects on a lesson his mentor taught him,

"Success leaves clues. Always listen to, and follow people who are doing what you want to do, at the level you want to do it."

Les Brown

   Studying those who are standing where you want to stand will provide a clear picture as to what skills you will need to develop. That knowledge is invaluable. Write down those skills. And on the page before you will be a list of skills, a road map to the successful career that you hope to live.

   Finally the third step; investment in your skills.

   This is by far the most time consuming, expensive, and exhausting step. To learn the skills needed to be successful, we need to continually invest in ourselves. Investment in the audio programs, the mentors, the books, and the courses that develop our skills. These investments are essential to becoming more valuable, more capable of following the road map to our success.

   The first two steps have provided you the road map to the career you aspire to. But the blueprints to your career are only valuable if you put in the time and effort required to build the skills necessary. This third and never-ending step of investing in yourself and your abilities will result in you working, and living the life that you desire.

The Roller Coaster of Emotional Investing

The Emotional Roller Coaster of Investing

   What happens when the emotional roller coaster of investing runs out of control? Are you at risk of losing thousands?

   Illustrated in a 2018 Forbes article, The Cycle Of Market Emotions: Where Are We Now?, the emotional roller coaster was presented in emoji form. The dangers of falling to any emotional bias when investing is something everyone should be aware of. While we looked at an extreme example in our Three Parts to Growing Your Investments, falling victim to emotional investing can have catastrophic consequences.

The Cycle of Market Emotions

   The most prevalent form of emotional investing is relying too heavily on the market timing lever. As you can see in the above image, when the market is on the rise (a bull market), investor confidence is high. When this happens, most would logically assume that it is a good time to invest. After all, why not? The 6 o’clock news keeps telling us that the market is hitting new record highs every day. And with all that happiness and wealth being generated, it sure sounds like a good idea to jump on the ride!

   But record highs mean that prices are up. You are actually paying a premium to enter the market. While we drive the extra 10 minutes to a store further away to save 10% on shoes, we’re suddenly prepared to pay extra for our investments?

   On the other hand, when the markets are crashing (bear markets), our confidence is low. Prices are dropping and the Wall Street media yells and screams day after day that the end of times is near.

   Looking at the above rationally, the best time to get in is when stocks are on sale, or at the lowest price point. This of course goes contrary to our emotional preferences, since when the prices are lowest we’re stuck somewhere between the anger, frustration and sorrow of how much we’ve “lost”.

   Taking rides on the emotional roller coaster, trailing the ups and downs of the cycle of market emotions is exhausting. While the highs are euphoric, the feeling when the market, and our stomach drops out from beneath us is exhausting. Financial success is therefore not climbing on the emotional roller coaster. Instead, routine, automated investing will help average out the cost of our investments and capitalize on long-term economic growth. All while weathering, and prospering, through economic winters.

   Don’t lose your money and your mind. When the roller coaster of emotional investing sends others into a spiral, trust in your automated system to steer you to financial freedom by the end of the ride.

The Three Parts to Growing Your Investments

   In a healthy financial strategy, investments are one essential element for achieving financial success. When looking at where and how to invest, there are three essential elements that need to be considered. These are asset allocation, market timing, and time.

   Asset allocation is simply how you have invested your funds. Here is where diversification comes into play. A well diversified portfolio enables you to avoid some risk, while taking advantage of economic growth on a large scale. To illustrate, let’s look at the portfolios of two friends, Bill and Katelyn. Bill invests in the S&P 500, as a diversified portfolio that tracks the movement of the 500 largest companies traded in America. Katelyn however has invested her money in a company she is betting on for the future, Tesla.

A chart showing the impact of one asset vs a balanced portfolio.

   By allocating your assets in an undiversified portfolio, you can expose yourself to massive risk. In Katelyn’s case, having $10,000 in Tesla on March 1st led her to see an unrealized loss of $ 3,044.88 by May 21st, 2019. This could be devastating to any portfolio, especially if life circumstances required her to sell at the low point. Bill on the other hand saw moderate gains in the same period. His more diversified portfolio wasn’t exposed to massive gains, but also was protected from the huge losses his undiversified friend.

   As this rather extreme but not unheard of example illustrates, the volatility of investments makes it very risky to keep all your eggs in one basket. For those without immense knowledge of the market, that risk is usually not worth the potential reward.

   The above example also works well when looking at the second element to growing your investments, market timing. Timing the market means buying low, and selling high. Knowing precisely when to buy and sell is impossible for even the most talented stock trader. Taking a look at the S&P 500 again as our benchmark, we can look at the price on the first of every month for the last 9 months.

A graph showing S&P 500 market volatility.

   No investor has ever accurately predicted the right time to buy and sell on a consistent basis to be able to beat the market regularly. By looking at the graph above with only 9 data points, we can see that it would be hard to time exactly. If we looked at the daily market prices, the graph is even more sporadic.

   The final element to growing your investments is time. In the long run, historically investments have increased in value. This can be seen when looking at the market price of the S&P 500 since its inception. For our example purposes, we are only looking at the last 5 years.

A graph showing S&P 500 market growth over 5 years

   Even in the last 5 years, despite economic fluctuations, the price of the S&P 500 has increased 43%, or 8.6% annually.

   The three elements that are essential to growing your investments are asset allocation, market timing, and time. Diversification of your investment portfolio helps mitigate risk, while combined with the final element, time, leads to consistent growth. Market timing is risky, as knowing when to buy and sell is impossible. And by staying out of the market thinking you will buy at the lows, and sell at the highs, leaves you missing out on the one main element you can control, and that is time.

   Investing part of your monies for the future is the only way to reliably achieve financial freedom, and that is something not worth gambling over. Investing in a diversified portfolio regularly, automatically, will help you stay in the market. This capitalizes on the time element you can control, and takes the gambling out of market timing.

Why you need an Emergency Fund

We often hear about Emergency Funds in personal finance texts. A fund of easily accessible cash put aside for emergencies, if they should arise. Sometimes, especially when savings seem hard to come by, it might sound tempting to invest all our extra reserves to take advantage of economic growth. Certainly these past few years (currently 2019) have seemed an opportune time. But it wasn't always so.

Recently we had the opportunity to speak with some more seasoned life travelers. One story in specific stood out among the rest.

Francis (name changed to protect identity) grew up on the other side of the tracks. Don't leave the house after dark kind of tracks. But after going to college and starting his life, he got out from that circle of viciousness. He had a job, a tidy sum invested in the stock market. Things were on the up and up for Francis and his budding family. But then 2008 hit.

In 2008 the stock market crashed, as the US economy entered the worst recession in recent history. Jobs were lost, housing and stock prices plummeted, for some, it was the end of days. And bad luck has a way of following some people around.

Francis had recently had his second child, a sublime cause for celebration! Except there were complications at birth, and suddenly that exhilaration turned to concern. And a hefty doctors bill.

Not to worry! Francis had investments.

But in 2008 during the stock market crash, his investments were at an all time low. Liquidating at this time was ill-advised. But with mounting doctors bills, necessary. See Francis didn't have an emergency fund. He was enjoying the upward trajectory of the economy, right up until he wasn't enjoying it any more.

An emergency fund would have helped Francis weather the storm, and would have saved him from extraordinary losses as he paid off doctors bills.

Fast forward 10 years, and Francis has recovered economically, but his learning were paid for the hard way. And those lessons? Keep a little stashed away on the side for those sudden curve balls life throws. With a little emergency fund, you can be sure to weather economic storms and not see your fortunes washed away in a tidal wave.

Who are the three people we all need in our lives?

   When we set about building our professional networks, there are a few key roles that we need to fill to set ourselves up for optimal success. These three roles are: a mentor, a coach, and a cheerleader.

   Finding and engaging with a mentor is one of the more popular professional development elements. These mentors are individuals who have the expertise in one or more areas of focus for our professional lives. They have the knowledge of the mistakes that they have made on their journey, and that wisdom can help us avoid the same mistakes. A smart person will learn from their own mistakes, the most successful persons will learn from others mistakes, so as to avoid those pitfalls. Mentors are relied on for advice, and looked up to as examples of what you hope to achieve.

   When dealing with mentors, they are best utilized with smaller, more infrequent interactions at critical times. Most of the mentors that we seek out are busy professionals themselves, and therefore lack the time to help with the day-to-day challenges we face. And their role isn’t to hand hold and do the work for you, a mentor gives solid advice based on their experiences, and lets you take action yourself. Based on these actions, a mentor will also help you pull out the useful lessons learned. Learning from their mistakes, acting upon their advice, and extracting your own lessons learned will help you optimize your relationship with your mentor. And be sure to share all the successes and failures with your mentor! People love hearing of the successes that their advice helped you achieve.

"There are few obstacles capable of standing against human willpower, but when that willpower starts to fade, you need a coach to keep you pushing forward."

   The second person you need in your life is a coach. Coaches are more hands-on than mentors, and while you are still the one putting in the effort, your coach will help you stay accountable and focused on the goals. The best coaches will help provide the focus to achieve your goals, working out what obstacles you are facing and helping determine the next steps to overcome those obstacles. By keeping you focused and accountable for both action and results, a coach is an essential component of any successful persons team.

   Coaches are also great for telling you the hard truths that other friends and colleagues won’t tell you. A good coach isn’t concerned about hurting your feelings, they want you to succeed, sometimes even in spite of yourself. This doesn’t mean they’re a drill sergeant, but if that’s what it takes, your coaches are the ones to yell, scream, and push you to be better. Your coaches are in your corner, pushing you to surpass any obstacles. There are few obstacles capable of standing against human willpower, but when that willpower starts to fade, you need a coach to keep you pushing forward.

   The last person you need in your life is a cheerleader. These are the people that you can talk with, who support you no matter what. They are always in your corner, encouraging you to be the best you can be, but also there to help you up when you stumble. Your cheerleaders are often friends who are genuinely excited for your success.

   Of the three people you need in your life, the cheerleader is the hardest to find. Mentors that you have a connection with are excited at the prospect of sharing their knowledge and experiences, especially when they see how it helps you succeed. Coaches are always eager to push their clients to greater successes. Holding you accountable to yourself and your dreams is an exciting prospect for the best coaches, and we’re eager to push you to greater heights. Cheerleaders on the other hand, these are the friends and partners that support you no matter what. Certainly the most valuable, but also the hardest to cultivate because they can’t be bought or sold. Ingratiating yourself into a community with similar interests and aspirations helps you meet like-minded individuals who you can support, and whom will in return support you.

   So as you build your team, your professional network, keep in mind these three roles. Who is your mentor? Who do you trust and respect, whose advice will guide you through the tough choices? Who is in your corner, coaching you to greatness? The coach(es) who push you past your limits, the coaches who hold you accountable in your journey for success. And who is your cheerleader supporting you and cheering you on? Who will be there to lend an ear when the times are rough, and to raise a glass when successes are realized?

   Your mentors, coaches, and cheerleaders all have one thing in common, we all want you to succeed.

What is the best investment?

   There are so many options for investing, the choices can be overwhelming. Stocks? Bonds? Real estate? Foreign currency? Or, weed stocks because we overheard a tip from our local barista? Oh! And don’t forget bitcoin, we could all be rich with bitcoin! Or we could be broke. Depends on the day. So when we invest in our future, which option is best?

   The list above has actually left out the best investment you can make. And no it isn’t rare metals, stamps, watches, or baseball cards. The best investment that you can make is, you.

Investing in yourself is the safest investment that you can make. And the ROI on that investment is unbeatable in the marketplace. And the best part? That investment can come in many different ways.

When you consider where you are in your career, does someone in your company make more money than you? Your boss, or their boss? Or for the self-employed, is there anyone doing something similar who is more successful? Investing in your skill set makes you more valuable, which you can use to command higher earnings. And those gains, just like investments, they compound. The better you get, the more valuable you are, and the higher your earnings will go.

The best investment that you can make is, you.

   You can also invest in yourself in other ways, that aren’t solely based on career progression. Take fitness for example, the more physically active you are, the lower your risk of costly health issues. These investments cost little more financially than a pair of running shoes, although a personal trainer might be handy for some. But these investments come more in the form of time and mental energy dedicating yourself to a healthier lifestyle. The return on investment (ROI) you will see here comes in the form of cost savings, with lower healthcare bills. And a not insignificant opportunity cost of being productive when you would otherwise be sick.

   Any area of our life can be improved with investment, and the returns can be exceptional. Want to eat healthier? Hire a nutritionist, or take a cooking class. Want to be more spiritually in tune? Go on a retreat, or speak to a counselor. No matter what area of your life you want to invest in, there are options and/or coaches for that. Find a coach or teacher that will help you become a better version of you, and enjoy the return on investment for the rest of your life!

   You may find yourself asking; if investing in ourselves is the best investment possible, why are these investments overlooked so frequently? The returns on investments in ourselves aren’t track able the same way as investing in stocks or real estate. Those have real purchase prices and selling prices, the difference being our gains or losses. When we invest in ourselves, how much of our gains, or savings from living healthier, can be attributable to our good decisions? How much of our “gains” would we have experienced naturally? The ambiguity of personal development causes many people to fail to invest in themselves as much as they should.

   Part of any solid financial plan involves investing in yourself. So whether that’s an extra course, hitting the gym, simply reading more, or hiring a coach - be sure that you invest in your future success by investing in you.

The Staircase to Success

   Previously in The Appetite of Success I shared the pathway to becoming an achiever. For the sake of brevity, I omitted two crucial elements, which will be dealt with here. If you haven’t read The Appetite of Success, I would strongly recommend doing that first.

   If you recall, we looked at the journey from Newbie to Achiever, following the Motivated Equilibrium line. (Refresher image below:)

Motivated Equilibrium

   The journey, as we discovered, was a series of increasingly challenging goals, causing us to develop our skills further. Each of these becomes a step along the path. But in this case, “step” is a literal translation.

Pick a goal that is  more challenging, and build the necessary skills.
Pick a goal that is more challenging, and build the necessary skills.

   The staircase we see is our skills building to surpass each new challenge we set before us. Each step pushes the boundaries of current achievement, the Motivated Equilibrium line, then we continue to grow our skills incrementally before taking the next challenging stair up the staircase. As we take each new step, conquer each new challenge, we gain a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. This feeling of accomplishment helps us look towards the next step, and grants us the perseverance to stick with our craft, building more skills to take us to new heights.

   When taking stairs, in life and in our metaphorical sense, too many stairs at one time will leave you stumbling. This is why you cannot simply jump up entire staircases. Nor can you build skill and charge up too many steps at once, as fatigue will set in and cause you to falter.

   And faltering brings us to our next crucial element, landings. Not all skills and endeavors are destined to bring us to greatness. Indeed, we need to focus on just a few core staircases that lead us to our highest levels of achievement and success. That means some of our areas of interest we need to either abandon, or at least hold at a level that is acceptable. Let us quickly define acceptable in the instance of this article as: the point where desire equals effort + time. The landing we hold should maintain our desired skills without costing too much effort and time. If it costs more time and effort than we want (desire) to dedicate, then we need to scale back to a landing that is comfortable.

Maintaining your skills requires consistent practice at the same level of challenge.
Maintaining your skills requires consistent practice at the same level of challenge.

   Landings require some effort to maintain our skill level, but we are no longer devoting extra time and effort to grow our skill base. This means we are holding skills constant without striving for achievement in this area of focus. To tie this back to our guitar playing example, progressing along our motivated equilibrium between challenge and skill, but recognize that we would rather be an exceptional <insert profession here> mother, father, teacher, athlete, entrepreneur, lawyer, developer, salesperson, etc. Our efforts should be focused on that staircase, but since guitar playing is still important, we need to continue to practice to maintain our skills. Instead of playing Through the Fire and the Flames by DragonForce, perhaps we’re comfortable strumming out some Beatles around a summer campfire. This means we still need to practice, but to a lesser extend, freeing up time and energy to continue along the path of who we truly want to be. To thrive, to continue to climb upwards along your chosen staircase that is important to you.

The Appetite of Success

   We’ve all heard the idiom before:

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

   And how wise those words are. The issue with biting off more than you can chew is the struggle to swallow. Many times, tackling an obstacle that far exceeds our skill level is too daunting, and when that happens we give up. We step back from the challenge, and take smaller bites. This is especially true when setting goals, as too lofty a goal will leave us standing slack, overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. And in that paralyzed state of overwhelm, nothing gets accomplished.

   But the reverse is also true. Goals, real goals, goals that mean something to ourselves. Those goals need to be challenging enough to keep us striving to be better. Taking too small a bite leaves us malnourished. This malnourishment shows up in the form of boredom. Overcoming obstacles that are so far beneath us that we glean no sense of satisfaction from their accomplishment. Without the sense of satisfaction, we become complacent, and our skills deteriorate.

   So there we have it, don’t bite off more than you can chew, and eat enough to keep from starving. There exists in the middle a space of not just surviving, but thriving.

   To help visualize the line that we all need to strive for in our own lives, the below graph shows the quadrants we are looking at:

Motivated Equilibrium

   Arguably, at birth we start with no skills, and no real challenges. From there, we start to take on more challenges, and gaining more skills. This is the same in any new endeavor, regardless of age. From the first thought, to progressive realization of a new skill. If we follow the Motivated Equilibrium line carefully, we progress from being new to the challenge, through to being a real achiever. Where we get off the line, or come to a plateau is completely up to us.

   How does this shape up? Forgive my musical ignorance, but we will use guitar playing in our example.

   We begin with the idea of playing a guitar. Never picked one up, never strummed a chord, we’re a newbie (new to this). From the first moment we decide to learn this skill, we enter the lower left quadrant. At this moment, biting off more than you can chew, trying to play Through the Fire and the Flames by DragonForce. This song would be so completely overwhelming, for virtually everyone, this would be the point where they stopped trying to play the guitar.

   On the flip side, let’s fast forward a few (or a lot of) hours of practice. So now we can hit every chord with our eyes closed. Our fingers know the struts and the strings, the sound is as familiar as our own voice. If all you played from this point forward was Mary had a Little Lamb, it wouldn’t take long for boredom to set in. All those skills you had developed over hours and potentially even years of practice, those skills would eventually falter. You would become rusty, and your skills would deteriorate.

   We see this deterioration every day, the lessons taught in past schooling that no longer seem relevant. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Canadian French, or the nuances of biology, or even guitar playing. My once acquired knowledge and skills faded into boredom with misuse, and eventually deteriorated.

   So where does achievement lie? And how can we retain and grow our skills? We need consistently evolving goals and challenges, only within reach. These cause us to strive for greater skills, which in turn help us push our goals further out as we take on bigger and bigger challenges. This walk along the path of Motivated Equilibrium leads us to excellence. But that walk is a tightrope. Too much or too little, and we’ll stall, or fall. If we stick with biting off exactly what we need to become better versions of ourselves, throughout the passage of time and effort, we will not only survive, we will thrive.

How to Save for your Future

   When we look at how much we should be saving, the best conservative estimates for young professionals entering the workforce is 10% of their income. As you get older and fall further behind the investment benchmark, that amount increases dramatically. For many, even the prospect of saving 10% seems daunting. But if we set that as a level to reach, what is the best way to get there?

   There are numerous strategies on how to reach those savings targets. One of those strategies is spending future earnings on our future. What does this mean? Each year, many of us receive a cost of living adjustment as part of our employment. Recently, this has been close to inflation of 2%. If you take half of this increase every year and add it to your investments, you will be increasing the amount of savings by 1% per year. Adding that on top of the amount you already save, you will be hitting the 10% benchmark in just a couple of years. And continuing this good habit? Well, that could lead you to financial freedom.

   Automating your finances is the best way to achieve a positive Return on Investment, eventually reaching financial freedom through your disciplined savings. By spending the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) before you receive it, you trick your mind into saving. This is because when you spend money before you look at it in your bank account, you don’t feel the acute loss of those funds.

   To highlight this point, try answer exactly how much you pay on income taxes each pay? Or employment expenses such as Employment Insurance (EI). Can you do it? The majority of us don’t know exactly how much the government takes per pay. We survive by spending what’s left.

   By allocating your COLA in this way, you’ll never feel the loss of the funds, but you’ll certainly reap the benefits of investing now, in the future.

Why you need a Success Coach

What is a Success Coach? & Why do you need one?

   When we look at the success framework, it is clear that success is achieved by taking strides towards your ideal future. This ideal future is why success means such vastly different things to different people, but the similarity is that each of us is striving for a future where we want to live. We set our sights on a future target, we create SMART goals, and we begin taking action. Now that we’ve set goals and are working towards them, we’re in the success game. And as with all truly great performers, regardless of their craft, they all need a coach to help.

   The greatest singers have vocal coaches, someone that helps them refine their craft so they continue to be at the top of their game. Athletes that excel, they have coaches, many coaches. Each there to help the individual player excel, whether that be fitness, skills, mentality, or other discipline. The prevalence of coaches among top performers is without fail, which highlights an important element to success. Nobody achieves success alone.

What does a Success Coach do?

   As defined by Oxford dictionaries, a coach is “an instructor or trainer; to give (someone) professional advice on how to attain their goals.” Simply put, a coach ensures that the efforts are accurately directed towards the eventual goal, and keeps the performer, you, accountable. And that is where a success coach comes in.

   Success Coaching is focused on helping identify the most impactful behaviours and actions to achieve your goals. This means working closely to map out SMART goals, and breaking those goals down further into more manageable actions that you can held accountable for daily or weekly. Tracking your progress is an important element of any coaching program, to ensure that you are actually making progress, and not simply movement.

   What does this look like in practice? For illustrative purposes, we’ll use a career goal of: Develop the skill-set of a manager/leader within 12 months. The success coach would work with you to identify the skill-set required; communication skills, delegation skills, time management skills, and so forth. Focusing on one skill at a time, the behaviors you would be held accountable to by your coach might be communication, with weekly presentations, reading requirements, and effective email writing practice. Breaking the learning down into manageable pieces, your coach forces you to become more than you are right now, so that you can be more successful than you are right now. And to top it off, the best coaches help you reach your goals without sacrificing the important areas of your life. This isn’t a “survive on 4-hours of sleep” regimen, nor a “sacrifice years of fun and enjoyment for the hustle.” Success is hard work, but it doesn’t need to come at the cost of your life.

Where do you find a Success Coach?

   A success coach can be anyone who is able to help you sharpen your focus on your goals, and holds you accountable for their achievement. Some of us have friends or partners that are able to help us reach for higher levels of achievement. If that isn’t an option, success coaches and accountability partners can be found online, or through professional organizations.

   Just as not all fitness coaches are right for everyone, not all success coaches are the right fit. Be sure to ask how your coach plans to help you achieve your goals. It is essential to find a coach that supports your goals and vision, and can give you tangible, actionable insights as to how to achieve success. And perhaps most importantly, you need to be willing to hear constructive criticism from your coach. Which means the criticism must be offered by your coach, and listened to by you.

*Consider this a cautionary note, before you put undue stress on relationships or friendships. You can always part ways with a coach you’ve contracted, but it’s much harder to part ways with a friend.

   If you’re interested in seeing how our success coaching programs at Business Minded work, check out the page here.

   As you embark on your journey to reach new heights, just remember, that vision of the future you’re working towards? It’s worth it. And when the road seems too steep to push on further? You aren’t alone, you’ve got a success coach ready to help you push for new successes.

What is a Tax Free Savings Account? (TFSA)

A tax free savings account (TFSA) is one of the best tax-advantaged accounts that you can take advantage of. Introduced in 2009, this account offers tax-free earnings on any monies invested through it.

What is a TFSA?

   A TFSA, or Tax Free Savings Account, is an investment account open to Canadian residents. Despite the misleading name of the TFSA investment account, there are many types of financial activities that can be conducted within the tax-sheltered confines of your TFSA. These “qualifying investments” include:

  • Cash (Savings Account)
  • Bonds
  • Mutual funds
  • Publically available stocks from a listed stock exchange
  • Investment certificates
  • Small business corporation shares**

** There are limits on the small business corporation shares that can be sheltered in a TFSA. A tax professional should be consulted before investing these shares in a TFSA.

   As you can see, there are a wide variety of options with which to choose from when investing in your TFSA. Indeed, this account is so much more than a simple savings account.

Who Can Invest?

Use of the account depends on two factors:

  1. Being a Canadian resident
  2. Age minimum of 18

How Does it Work?

   Each year you can invest money up to a certain lifetime maximum into your TFSA. All of your contributions will be made on an after-tax basis, meaning you’ve already paid the taxes on every dollar you invest. Now this is where the magic happens. All investment growth on the monies that you invest can be withdrawn in the future tax free.

   You can make contributions up to a lifetime maximum, determined by the factors listed above. Here’s where it gets complicated though, the lifetime maximum is affected by any withdrawals you make in the year. Any withdrawals made in this year are then added to the amount you can contribute back into the TFSA the following year. When making withdrawals, it is possible to crystalize any investment losses incurred in the account, which would decrease the amount eligible to contribute in the future. Let’s look at the formula, then run through a couple examples to show how this works.

Formula for Lifetime Contributions:

Unused Lifetime Contribution room + Withdrawals made during the year + Next Year’s contribution room = Total Contribution room at the beginning of next year.

Scenario 1: Frank turns 18 in 2008, and invests $ 5,000.00 on Jan 1, 2009.

By the end of the year, the money invested has fallen in value to $ 2,500.00.

Frank withdraws all his money before December 31st, 2009.

How much can Frank contribute in 2010?

 

Answer to Scenario 1:

Using the above formula, Frank can contribute:

Unused Contribution ($ 0.00) + Withdrawals ($ 2,500.00) + Contribution

Room for following year (year 2010) ($ 5,000.00) = $ 7,500.00

   As you can see, the losses incurred by Frank have been crystallized, meaning when withdrawing money from the TFSA that had decreased in value, that investment contribution room is considered used already, and thereby lost. Let’s look at another scenario with similar timelines:

Scenario 2: Annie also turns 18 in 2008, and invests $ 5,000.00 on Jan 1, 2009.

By the end of the year, the money invested has increased in value to $ 10,000.00.

Annie withdraws all her money before December 31st, 2009.

How much can Annie contribute in 2010?

 

Answer to Scenario 2:

Using the above formula, Annie can contribute:

Unused Contribution ($ 0.00) + Withdrawals ($ 10,000.00) + Contribution

Room for following year (year 2010) ($ 5,000.00) = $ 15,000.00

   This scenario showcases the true magic of the TFSA account. Annie has invested and done quite well in her account, and the $ 5,000 ( $10,000 account value, less $ 5,000.00 contributed) she earned in 2009 was tax free! And, these earnings do not go against future contributions. Annie can now earn more money, tax free through the TFSA, on the $ 15,000.00, which through gains in the account is higher than the lifetime contribution amount.

Okay, I’m with you so far. Now, How Much Can I Contribute?

   There is a lifetime maximum amount that can be contributed to the TFSA, an amount that increases each year. Since the inception in 2009, the maximum contribution amount increased annually as follows:

Year

Amount

2009

$ 5,000.00

2010

5,000.00

2011

5,000.00

2012

5,000.00

2013

5,500.00

2014

5,500.00

2015

10,000.00

2016

5,500.00

2017

5,500.00

2018

5,500.00

2019

6,000.00

   In 2019, if you have been a Canadian resident and older than 18 since 2009, your contribution limit is $ 63,500.00. The additional amount added each year is indexed to inflation, and rounded up or down to the nearest $500.00.

This sounds Amazing! Where can I get one?

   Now you’re talking! A TFSA will be available at all major financial institutions, mutual fund, and investment companies.

Why use a TFSA?

   A TFSA is used to save taxes on investment growth. At the end of the day, saving money on taxes means more money in your pocket.

Using the right tools, at the right time, will make your journey to Financial Freedom much easier. And now, you're equipped with the knowledge to make better investment decisions, opening you up for the best Return on Investment possible!

When should I use a TFSA?

   In case you haven't read our comparison between RRSP and TFSA investment vehicles, you should do that here first.

How to Set Goals SMARTly

SMART Goal setting

   We’ve talked about goal setting as essential for success. Those 5-year goals, defining what success means to you. These are your plans for the future. These grand goals you set for yourself years from now can often be broken down further, into milestone goals, and ultimately behaviors. But before we can get granular with our goal setting endeavors, we need to ensure our goals are well formed. Without well formed goals, we run the risk of misalignment of our actions, and ending up off-course.

   So what does it take to set well-formed goals? The most popular framework that is used in goal setting is the SMART framework. By using the SMART framework outlined below, you can ensure that your goals, when executed upon, will lead you to your envisioned future.

Let’s look at the framework:

   Specific: Each goal needs to be as clearly defined as possible, so that you will know when you have achieved the desired result. You should be focusing on the What, Where, and When questions. For example: Running isn’t sufficient. Running the Boston marathon next year provides a specific element so that you will know when you have succeeded.

   Measurable: Determining the specifics of the goal should have provided a unit of measurement so that you will know when you have fulfilled your goal. In the above example, Boston marathon is the unit of measure that, once reached, will spell out success for your goal. For many of us, success is more than a finish line though, and having a measurable benchmark is more appropriate. These maintenance goals are just as important, and might involve staying a certain body size/weight, attending X social outings in Y time frame, or maintaining a base level of financial wealth.

   Attainable: Here is your action plan, as well as an honest look as to how realistic the goal is. It is important when setting personal goals to only include aspects that you can directly control. The other aspect of Attainable, is answering How you plan to reach your goal.

   Example: Your goal might be to learn valuable skills to pursue a career in Nursing in 2 years time. Your how in this case might be attending a local school to educate yourself in the various subjects and studies required by nurses. It is important to note that the goal is to set yourself up for a job, not obtain one, as you cannot exert full control over the hiring process.

   Relevant: now is the time to relate this back to your life mission. Will accomplishing this goal help you on your journey? There are so many competing demands for our time and energy, it is important that you do things that drive success in your life, however you have defined that.

   Time-bound: To hold yourself accountable, all goals need to have a deadline. It is much easier to work towards an end target. Having an end target in mind frames the efforts that will be required, such as our 5-year goal setting. Or, as in the case of the above examples, the marathon is set for next year, or pursuing a career in two years. These timelines help you work backwards to determine the steps needed now, and also provide a definitive target in mind so the initial steps are actually taken now.

   There it is, the SMART way to set goals. This is the What, Where, When, Why, and How of your goals. It is important to note that adding a Who component when planning your own success is risky, as any goal that isn’t completely in your control requires an extra level of accountability. Whenever possible, refine your goal to ensure that it is something you can accomplish without someone else’s direct influence.

   The Who element will definitely come into play when you are acting as a leader, and helping a team succeed. Whether the team is a family, business, or relationship.

   Once you have your 5-year goals, or whatever future time frame you are using to envision your ideal future, you can begin the process of breaking those goals down further into more short-term goals. These shorter term goals will act as mile markers on the way to your grander success. Mile markers that you can use to gauge and adjust progress along the journey.

   Success lies just down the road you’ve started on. You’ve drawn your road map. You know what needs to be done. Now go, take the first steps towards the future of your dreams.

How to Achieve Financial Freedom

  Success platitudes aside, we need to look into the practical methods of achieving success. As we live in a commercialized world, this involves setting our finances up to provide us the financial freedom required to pursue our life's goals. The key to financial freedom is to make one choice, once, and let the numbers do the rest.

  What does this mean? It means automating where your money goes, and ensuring part of that automation involves putting some aside for your future. These future funds should be invested in some capacity, as Jim Rohn puts it,

“The key is to engage in commerce, even if only on a part-time basis."

Jim Rohn

How to Achieve Financial Freedom Calculations

  By investing money, either in your own commercial activities, or by allowing others to use the funds to grow businesses (stocks, bonds, real estate, etc), your returns increase. Year over year, these funds can build into quite the foundation for financial freedom over the course of your life.

  Of course, the question often arises: how much should I save? Unfortunately, the correct answer to this is almost always “more”. And with that disheartening statement, often times people put off the investment decision until sometime in the future when their financial circumstances are better. But a dollar invested now is worth more than a dollar in the future.

  Let’s look at two friends aged 25, Francis and Jenny. Francis decides to put away $500 / month right now. He is afraid he can’t afford it, but as a Business Minded reader, also knows he cannot afford not to invest in his future. Jenny, on the other hand, says money is just too tight right now, and she’ll make up for it in the future. Starting when she is 35, she needs to invest $ 1,157.45 every month to have the same amount at age 60.

  By the time they plan to retire with their million dollars, Jenny will have had to invest $137,235 more than Francis. That is 165% more over the course of their lives. If the salaries of the two friends stayed the same throughout their lives, Francis would have had a far higher quality of life. Think of the extra vacations with his family, the extra date nights with his wife, the additional experiences he would have had with extra money to spend throughout his entire life to arrive at the same place financially at the age of 60.

   Financial Freedom is attainable for you, for everyone. And the cost is lowest when you start now, today.

  The trick to Financial Freedom is to start putting aside money. Think of the maximum amount you could afford to invest. Then increase that amount slightly. Invest that. You might feel the pinch that first month, but by the second month you will have adjusted slightly to accommodate to your new means of living.

  I gave this advice to one young mother recently. She assured me that there was no way that she could afford to put money aside for the future. I then presented her a situation, her child needed a couple hundred a month for a recurring doctors bill. How would she be able to afford that? She simply replied (rather indignantly), “easily, I just won’t go out for lunch as often. He’s my son, of course I’m going to provide for him.” Needless to say, we are all capable of living off just a little less, and saving just a little more for that future we dream of.

  So do this today, open a (low fee) investment account, and start putting a little aside every month. Your future self will be really glad you did. And that future self? That isn’t you at 60. That’s you every year until then, when you can spoil yourself a little knowing that your future is taken care of, by you. That is what it means to achieve financial freedom.

What is Success?

   Remember those tests at school? Not the sitting down in those cold hard plastic chairs, sharpened HB pencils, and writing examinations. No, those dreaded memories always were followed up with the joyous bragging or crestfallen sheepish jokes about the grades we all received. 50’s, 70’s 90’s, A’s, B’s, or even F’s. Allocations designed to grade us against our fellows. And therein lies the problem. Pass or fail were set criteria. But set by someone else.

   Achieving a passing grade was commonplace, even the “average” grade was a comparison against other people. People of different interests, different skills, different intellects. We spend the first 20 years of our life chasing after someone else’s definition of success.

   And then suddenly we are thrust out into the world. And if grade point averages meant next to nothing before, they mean even less now.

"I had failed, because I failed to define success."

   I can remember those hours of studying I never did. I remember buying the text books I never opened, the classes never attended. All because I defined “success” by someone else’s standard. Looking back now, all I did was fail. Sure, I took that passing grade, but that wasn’t enough. I had failed, because I failed to define success.

   Define success by what that means to you. If that is in an academic setting, perhaps that means success is achieving X% above, or below a pre-assigned “acceptable” level. What did that look like for me? I was disinterested in some of the mandatory language courses, so success for me was achieving a 70% or above. But math on the other hand, I could only consider myself successful if I achieved 83% or above. That was my definition of success.

   Financially that could mean making enough to support a family, own a property, take a vacation, dine at upscale restaurants. Physically this could be a certain weight or body fat percentage, a certain time on the track, the number of plates on the rack. In your career maybe it’s reaching a certain level, earning $ X amount, or having an impact in your field. No matter the category, this is your measure.

   So I implore you to sit down and reflect. Think about what is important to you. Set your own limits, decide what success and failure looks like to you. And then work like hell to make sure you achieve your successes.

How to Best Use a Company RRSP

How to best use a company RRSP

   If you are lucky enough to have a company RRSP and receive a year end bonus or commission payment, this question can pose quite the dilemma. When we are told about this option, it sounds like a no brainer. Invest in my retirement AND beat the tax man? Sign me up!

   But, as with most decisions in this financial world, things aren’t quite so simple. And what seems like the right decision now can actually cost you substantially in the long run.

   Let’s look into this scenario in a bit more detail:

   We’ll start with our hypothetical employees, John and Mary. Both make a solid salary of $ 65,000 /year, and both are receiving a $ 5,000 bonus for exceptional performance. John think’s he’ll beat the tax man this year, and he plans to put his entire bonus into his company sponsored RRSP. By contributing through payroll, he is able to avoid Income taxes that would otherwise be levied on his earnings.

(As a note: other statutory deductions are charged no matter the course of action. For the purpose of this example, we will ignore them since they are the same in both scenarios.)

   Mary, on the other hand, must be an avid BusinessMinded reader. She takes her bonus in cash, and therefore her employer deducts income tax (Federal and Provincial). This cash she invests in her own RRSP, and she dips a little into savings or takes a short-term loan to make sure she is also investing the same $5,000.

So far, the situation looks like this:

Tax Savings on RRSP

   John looks like he's ahead at this stage. They both invested the same $5,000, but Mary paid $1,500 in tax and therefore had to borrow $1,500 to make sure she invested the same amount. But, it's tax time. And that is where the playing field levels out.

   John has paid tax on his salary of $65,000, while Mary has paid tax on her salary and bonus, for a total Gross income of $70,000. John's RRSP contributions have already been considered in his tax payments, so when he files he reports income of 70,000, and RRSP contributions deducted from income of 5,000. This leaves his taxable net income of 65,000. Since John only paid income tax based on 65,000, his tax return is 0.

   Mary on the other hand, has paid tax on the full 70,000 that she earned. But she also invested 5,000 into her RRSP, giving her a taxable income of 65,000. She has therefore overpaid her income taxes, and can expect to receive a tax refund! At her marginal tax rate of 30%, Mary can expect to receive a tax refund of (70,000 - 65,000) * 30% = 1,500. This money she uses to replace her savings or pay off her loan. At this stage John and Mary seem to be on equal footing.

   But there's a catch. John has a typical company RRSP, maybe even a bit better than most, with only 2% management fees. Mary invested her RRSP in the same portfolio with a low cost provider, and only pays 0.75% management fees.

   At an annual return of 7%, Mary will outperform John by $389 in only 5 years, on this single investment. Take that timeline out to 25 years, and John will have only 75% of what Mary has saved. This could be the difference of retiring or still working.

   Important note! We did not take into consideration an employer RRSP match here. If one was available, the best option is to take full advantage of the matching contributions, and then put the rest in your lower cost (fees) RRSP portfolio.

   And now, armed with this new knowledge, you are prepared to make the best investments in your future!

5 Year Road Map for Success

Road Map for Success
What is your 5-year Success Road Map?

    Congratulations, You have arrived! This is as true now as it will be 5 years from now. Or 10 years from now.

But wait, where are we?

   The choices you make will determine where that destination is. We cannot change where we are right now, but deciding where you want to be in 5 years will help you align your goals and your efforts to take you in the right direction. We cannot speed up the passage of time, if you have a 5 year vision of your future, that future will come towards you. The only change you can make is the direction you face, so that when 5 years passes you will be standing where you envision it today.

   I’m not sure about the devil, but certainly the recipe for success lies in the details. Planning and mapping out your ideal future is essential for achievement. That is why all our courses start with a structured planning phase. When you map out the ideal future, you are able to make the small, incremental changes to your direction that lead you to a new path.

5-yr goal setting diagram

   Failing to plan for that target in the future will leave you walking down the same path. A slight course correction can easily change your future trajectory for your future self. What does this look like?

   Financially, you could automate some savings. Over time that automatic investment in your future brings you closer to your financial goals, closer to financial freedom. For your health, something as small as taking the stairs each day, or an evening stroll around the block. This moderate amount of movement can help you keep off those extra few pounds (kilo’s). And it could improve your heart health, allowing you to take an extra hike with your family and friends, enjoying those moments with growing children without gasping for air. A small health change today leads to laughter and memories 5 years from now, or 10 years from now, or for the rest of your life.

   In your career, this could be the extra few phone calls or meeting networking prospects, leading to new opportunities, more challenging and fulfilling work. Or a daily meditation or journal that helps keep your stress levels down in the rough times, and helps you more fully enjoy the blessed times. A small change will set you on a better path with your friendships, and most importantly your loving relationships.

   While it may not be doom and gloom if you fail to plan today, you certainly won’t be living your best, richest life without a plan and a dream to work towards.

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   In the overwhelm of our busy, bustling lives, it’s easy to push this dreaming and planning off for another day. But we must ask ourselves, what is the cost of doing nothing? To that I must answer, the cost is high.

   You can still achieve success. You can still reach your ideal destination.

5-yr goal #2

   But the road to reach your destination is so much harder if you wait. Postponing the “difficult” planning for your future only makes the road much, much steeper. And that extra effort on the steep road? That’s only the fraction of the cost that you experience as you make radical changes later on.

5-yr goal #3

   The real cost is the extra effort that you need to exert to make radical changes later on, plus the cost of missed opportunities throughout the delayed time. How much is an extra year of financial freedom worth? How about years of stronger relationships with friends, family, and loved ones? A stronger mind? Extra years of youthful vigor? More fulfilment from your career?

Do you have a 5-year plan?

   If so, what are your goals and aspirations? If not, take out a piece of paper, think about the important areas of your life and plan out where you would like to be in 5 years. The cost of inaction is too high to wait!

   I want to pass along a dare I was once challenged to.

The Dare to Dream.

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Share with us in the comments below, what is your Dream?