• A week ago, it was payday. But not just any ordinary payday, the big one! My year-end bonus was deposited in my bank account. The product of a long and hard year where I truly earned each dollar. Why do I do that? I’ll tell you here; it’s my little secret ;-). I’m not the kind of guy who wants to win contests (been there, done that), not the guy who wants to tell all his colleagues he’s the best and not the guy who’s looking for my boss’ appreciation. I’m simply the kind of guy who works hard to earn a big fat check at the end of the year.

    I won’t disclose my real bonus, the title is completely phoney and not the point of my article anyways. The point is; what would you do with a lump sum deposited in your account? Tax season is approaching and you might want to ask this question for a smaller amount anyway. I didn’t always spend my money wisely or the way I should have done it. In fact, many of my bonuses were used to treat myself (like going to Hawaii last year with my wife!). But this year, I’ve tried to make sound decisions.


    The Eternal Question; Pay Your Debt or Invest?

    My first thought was to make a huge contribution to my TFSA and invest this money in the stock market. After all, I could easily create a 4% dividend yield portfolio right now with the recent volatility. On the other hand, I still have a couple of loans that I’ve carried for the past two years. One was used to install a central AC in my house and the second one was for the pool. You can tell, these were priorities back then ;-). The first point to settle when you are wondering if you should pay down your debt or invest is how much interest you pay vs how much return you can expect. Considering this rule, I should have invested the money in my TFSA since my expected return is greater than the loan interest.

    However, I’ve decided to pay both loans and clean my balance sheet of consumer debts. The second point is to consider your current financial goals; do you wish to decrease your monthly payments or increase your balance sheet. Right now, I’m in the middle of my 18 month countdown before I retire and go live in an RV for a year. I don’t want to have any loans hanging over my head during that period. This is why I’ve decided to pay off my debts.

    I now have three debts; my car loan, my RV loan and my mortgage. My car loan will be paid off by selling my car in 2016 and my mortgage along with my RV loan will also be cleared by selling my house. If I’m lucky, I’ll even have about 50K in cash once I become “debt free”. That’s a pretty solid plan since I expect to spend roughly $2,000 per month in my RV, this means I can easily live 12 months without even trying to make a penny with my websites…


    Crazy Idea: Invest in a Margin Account

    While I think I’ve made the right and foremost conservative decision, I’ve also looked at the possibility of taking my money in a margin account to almost double my investment. But I’ve made the following calculation to see if it was worth it:

    Assume an investment of $10,000 with a margin at 70%. If I want to give myself some room for volatility, I can’t invest more than $30,000 (9K cash + 21K from the margin) and leave 1K in cash to cover for a potential margin call. So what can I do with 30K? Let’s say I do the best case scenario possible and make 20% return on it. This means I make $6,000 in a single year. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it in term of return (that means a 67% return on my initial investment of $9,000). But does it really change my life for a year considering all the risks taken?

    I’ve leveraged several times in my life and it almost always paid off. However, with three kids and a financial future that is uncertain, I would rather play it safe this time. I might want to do it when I leave with my RV as I will live from my websites and investments, but for now, I would still rather pay off all my debts. I will keep the idea of leveraging with a margin account for next year, what do you think? Have you ever traded on margin?

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  • I’ve admitted it in the past; Im not the typical dividend investor. I started investing by trading, buying & selling every two weeks while most dividend investors usually buy and hold completing the sale transaction after several years holding their shares. In my opinion, the dividend investor is the upgraded version of the buy & hold investors. More often than not, the buy & hold and dividend investor is the same guy. I strongly believe in dividend investing, that is why 100% of my portfolio is composed of dividend paying stocks. I even wrote two books and created a whole investing platform around dividend stocks called Dividend Stocks Rock. Still, I’m not convinced a 100% buy & hold strategy is the best way to maximize your investment these days.


    The Investment Thesis Behind the Buy & Hold Strategy


    Before I present my view of investing, I think it’s important to mention why the buy & hold philosophy is so seductive for many investors. First, several famous investors have used this method in the past. Guys like Warren Buffett have reputations for success to make following their path seem logical. Invest in solid companies that you can understand and buy only if you intend to hold the stock for ten years… or more. This is roughly what you can learn from the buy & hold strategy.

    Then, there will be a horde of investors with shocking examples of company success over the years such as Coca-Cola (KO) which shows a total return of over 5,000% since 1978. But my point is not to debate as to whether or not you should buy & hold stocks for several years. This totally makes sense for your core portfolio, but if you want to maximize your return, I think you should add more trading habits to your investing strategy.


    The Way I See Things: a Buy & Hold Core + a Growth Segment


    I’ve had several reactions about my latest trade: selling a dividend aristocrats (McDonalds  NYSE:MCD) to buy a speculative company working in the oil industry which is down 35% since January 2014 (Black Diamond Group TSE:BDI). For many, this transaction looks like a trader’s move at best and like a gambler for others.

    I told you already: I’m not the typical dividend investor. I have a set of 7 investing principles I follow religiously and I also allow some cash to make “growth additions” to my dividend portfolio. The point is simple: I have most of my portfolio in shares of companies I truly want to hold forever (such as JNJ, KO, Telus(T), ScotiaBank (BNS), DIS, WMT, etc) but I also allow myself to forget about 1 of my investing principles if I think there is a great opportunity on the market. I have done it in the past with STX, INTC and HSE which all reported profits over 25% over a short period of time. I’m currently holding AAPL, HP, Gluskin & Sheff (GS) and Balck Diamond Group (BDI) in my “additional growth” segment. When I sold MCD to buy BDI, I simply sold a part of my core portfolio to transfer it to my “growth” segment. My point is the following, what if MCD is the new KO that did an astronomic 1.82% (plus dividend) over the past 16 years???

    buy & hold

    You see it right, someone who bought and held Coca-Cola (KO) since June 30th 1998 until today only made 1.82% in appreciation. Thank god there is a dividend attached to this stock!


    BDI’s drop in price is directly linked to the oil sand industry. BDI rents & sells modular equipment for remote areas. Its biggest market is renting modular homes in Northern Alberta for oil sand exploration businesses. However, nothing is stopping BDI from exploring other markets (basically any company with an interest to develop in a remote area) and generate additional revenue. The company shows solid fundamentals and pays over 5% in dividend yield right now. Between a stagnating company like MCD which is probably going to trade around $95-$100 in three years and BDI which can easily trade at $30 (from $19 right now) in 12 months, I’ll take the chance. Keep in mind that I’m not buying a weak company with shaky financials, if you look at BDI’s fundamentals, you will see that the company shows strong basics. Now it’s only a matter of going through the oil barrel storm before we see the light. The 5% dividend is more than enough to keep me waiting in the meantime.

    To be honest, in this specific situation, the perfect scenario would have been to keep MCD and use new money to buy BDI. But since I didn’t have more liquidity at the moment and have been following BDI for the past 18 months, I thought it was the right time to make this move.


    I’ve been using this strategy for a few years now and it has served me very well. Let’s see if its only luck or a solid investing strategy. I personally think it’s the latter!

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    We will never repeat this enough; You can never start saving too early! And being a father of three, I can appreciate that savings is not always the top priority when you work on the budget. Not so long ago, I wanted to start a new portfolio for my kids’ education (called an RESP in Canada). My oldest son just turned 9 this summer and college is not too far away. However, between my mortgage payments and retirement savings, I don’t have much cash left to save. This is why I started this portfolio with only $50 per week.


    Is $50/Week Enough?


    You might think $50/week is not much to start investing, but it’s more than enough. Between a an 30% Gov’t subsidy for education and two good years of market return, my portfolio is now showing a value over $8,500. As you can see, you don’t need a fortune to build an interesting portfolio.


    I must admit I made a mistake when I started this portfolio; since I didn’t have much money to start with, I started by investing in mutual funds. When I compare my two portfolios (my self-managed RRSP vs mutual funds in the RESP), I can see that it is a mistake:


      2013 YTD
    RRSP 21.70% 12.50%
    RESP 17.23% 12.09%
    Difference 4.47% 0.41%


    The choice of picking mutual funds cost me about 5% total over almost 2 years. It’s not the end of the world, but still, it is still money I didn’t make. When I realized this; I started working on how to build a portfolio with a small amount. If I had to start over with $0 in hand and savings of $50/week, this is how I would start my portfolio:


    #1 Setup an online brokerage account


    Well… this may sound obvious for some of you, but as soon as you are committed to start investing, you should open an online brokerage account. You don’t need $10,000 to start investing with a brokerage account; most companies will accept your money, no matter how much you want to save. If you are American, I recommend you start with TradeKing for two reasons: #1 great customer service and #2 the lowest trade commission in the industry ($4.95/trade). It definitely matters a lot if you intent to invest small amounts.

    You can check out TradeKing’s account special features here.


    If you are Canadian like me, Questrade is the way to go. They offer a USD RRSP (not all brokers do) and they are also the cheapest online broker on this side of the border. They offer promotions when you open an account so check out their website for their latest promotion.


    #2 Set up an automatic savings plan in my brokerage account


    The first move to make once you have opened your brokerage account is to setup an automatic savings plan in a money market fund or an index fund/ETF if you are more aggressive like me. I don’t like having money sitting on the sidelines. This is why I always prefer to have my small cash amount invested in an index instead of seeing it dying at 1-1.5% in the money market. However, this is up to you; both strategies will lead you to the same point: growing your fund up to $1,000. The $1,000 mark is important because of the transaction fee charged. If you pay $4.95 per trade, this represent 1% on a complete buy and sell transition ($9.90 on $1,000). Since your goal is to keep saving on a weekly basis, I wouldn’t bother buying with a smaller amount on hand (you will eventually have too many stocks with small positions).


    #3 While you save; build your “buy list”


    As soon as you start saving, build your buy list. At $50/week, you will be able to make your first trade only five months down the road! This is enough to make a list of about ten stocks that will meet your fundamental requirements (you can read mine here) and follow these companies through at least one quarter.


    I would personally aim for blue chips that show great diversification such as Procter & Gamble (PG) or Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). They are almost as diversified (product wise and geographic wise) as a mutual fund!


    #4 Get your first $1,000 to work for you!


    Once you reach $1,000, it’s time to buy your first stock. Make sure you keep your $50/week investment plan in your money market fund or index to make sure you build another $1,000 very fast. You can also use your dividend payouts to build your next $1,000. Since the dividend payout will be very small on a $1,000 investment, dripping at this point is not very useful. Keep in mind that in another five months, you’ll have enough money to buy another stock!


    Risk management and diversification is extremely difficult when starting a new portfolio with a small amount. Your investment return for the first two years are pretty much luck as it will be hard to compete against the market with so few positions in hand. In order to help new investors choose their first stocks, I built a starter portfolio with four stocks.


    #5 In two years; you’ll have a “real portfolio”


    With an annual savings of $2,600, you will get reach a total of five different companies in only two years. At this point, you will have something that looks like a real portfolio and going forward will be easier. The point is to keep buying stocks with your next $1,000 available until you have 10-15 stocks in hand. This will happen after another two-three years of savings. Then, you can add to your existing position through dripping or by adding an extra $1,000 to each of your positions.


    It’s a long process but as you can see, you don’t need much money on hand to start investing. Only $50/week is enough to build your nest egg! Now, I have to get moving and sell my funds to start trading for my kids’ future!


    Disclaimer: I hold shares of JNJ

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