≡ Menu

Lessons from a 50 Year Old Multi-Millionaire


I got a later start on my Million Dollar Journey (MDJ) mainly because it took me until age 30 to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. The year I started making my first real income, I also got married. In retrospect, getting married factored majorly in to our financial success. Two travelers on the MDJ with similar goals and money views can journey faster, further, and happier. Divorce on the other hand, is one of the 5 biggest wealth-killers around.

Avoiding other big 4 wealth-killers such as annual tropical vacations, anything brand new with wheels, debt for depreciating assets, and expensive show homes and second homes, was also critical in our successful journey. You are now likely thinking “what a boring dude.” It’s not true but I’m happy it appears that way because living modestly is a key ingredient for a successful MDJ!

We reached the $1M net worth destination by age 40 and $5M by age 50. After working (we’re educators) and investing for about 20 years, working, which I still do, is now an option. Over the years, I’ve set many net worth (NW) goals and achieved them. The most recent milestone happened in 2013 – our NW increased by $1M; well $949,722 to be exact. That breaks out as 50K savings, about $170K in dividend income, and the balance in unrealized capital gains. 2014 is starting out on a strong footing with our NW increasing by ($254K) by March 21.

Here are the factors that led to our success

First, I took complete control. I realized early on that the only one that truly has my financial interests at heart is me! I rarely used brokers and advisors so I didn’t have to fire too many of them. Next, I consolidated all cash and investments in the fewest full investment trading accounts possible with one financial institution (FI) – my bank. Same with my credit card and line of credit (backed by house) used only for investing – I consolidated them to one FI. Tip: don’t de-register any investments in this consolidation process.

Managing a portfolio is complicated enough, so we didn’t want to make it harder by juggling multiple institutions. As a bonus, consolidation lowered my fees overall and let me manage the portfolio more effectively from one place. “Selling my soul” to one bank had other benefits too. All of a sudden I had better bargaining power and better service. It seemed like my business mattered more to my bank.

Then, I got financially literate. I don’t subscribe to any financial-related publications and services except two: the Canadian Money Saver (www.canadianmoneysaver.ca) and the Canadian ShareOwners Association (www.shareowner.com). Both of these offer independent advice and educational-based content. The CSA, in particular, has a stock study guide package, including video lessons that are fantastic. In addition to learning the “nuts and bolts” at the CSA, I also took the Canadian Securities Course. With a relatively small investment in time, I am now the most educated (but un-licensed) financial advisor that I know.

I don’t buy and read the seemingly endless barrage of financial self-help books. 20 years ago, I read Gordon Pape’s Building Wealth in the 90s and a seminal book called The Richest Man in Babylon. I read the original Wealthy Barber a few weeks ago and although now dated, it is excellent. But really folks, nearly all the current stuff is just a re-packaging of good old ideas. You’ve no doubt heard about the “pay yourself first 10%” wisdom? I read that in the Richest Man which was published in 1926. To be fair, there are some current tax and investment topics you should keep informed on but you can easily (and for free) do that online and in the Money Saver publication I mention above.

Next, I began to challenge accepted financial wisdom. For example, I’m wary of over-diversification. Stock diversification does not remove market risk and above a certain number of holdings, company-specific risk reduction is minimal to non-existent. Excessive diversification does serve the financial industry however by creating demand for their endless variety of managed fund products. It also creates portfolios with an excessive number of holdings which in turn is fertile ground for churn and hence frequent fees.

A friend of mine has a multi-million dollar portfolio with 150+ North American stocks managed by a broker. That size of “garden” needs a lot of pruning and weeding and is therefore very profitable for the broker. I have 49 stocks in a $5M portfolio – 75% Canadian and 25% US. My total commissions for 2013 for tending that garden – $150. That’s a tiny Management Expense Ratio (MER).

I also ignore often-cited rules-of-thumb for asset allocation. Other than my house, I have two asset classes: stocks and cash. The types of stocks I own has gradually shifted over the years from growth to blue chip dividend payers, but even in my retirement, I don’t see a reason to not hold all stock. A solid dividend paying utility or Canadian bank beats a deposit based investment any day in any market. Radical? I’ve “managed” a 2-stock (TD and PKI) RRSP/ RRIF portfolio for an older friend for about 15 years. He is now well into his 80s and the required withdrawals have just recently exceeded the dividend income but the growth component has maintained the account value at about $40k. I took over this when he was frustrated that his then $14K deposit-style RRSP wasn’t performing.

My kids’ RESP is another good example of effective asset allocation. Started in 1998, with deposits and CESGs of $108k over the years, it is now worth $250k and has never held more than 13 Canadian stocks and nothing else. I don’t see any reason to change that formula, even after they start attending post-secondary. Actually, with some luck, I might be able to eventually withdraw my contributions and have their education paid from just the income and CESGs. That’s a grand slam home-run in my opinion.

Along the way I became patient. I don’t have a magic touch when it comes to stock-picking. I do study the companies to determine if their stocks are “on sale” and if they aren’t – I wait. As per CSA wisdom, I also build positions over several quarters or even years rather than buying my desired holding in one shot. However, if bargains suddenly appear I am ready to act. While the media was in doom and despair mode in the 2008-10 period, I added tons to my holdings, even using large amounts of (additional) margin to do so. Best example of this was adding 1,000 SBUX at $9.53 in 2009 (price is $76 at the time of writing).

I’m also not afraid to hold a lot of one company if it has a long and stable track record of increasing earnings and dividends. Holding nearly 12,000 shares of TD doesn’t bother me. TD was the first stock I ever bought in 1997 – 100 shares for $12.50 per. You have to start somewhere and a Canadian bank stock is arguably the best place. Canadian banks survived the biggest “global economic crisis” since the Great Depression. Need more evidence?

I’ve become philosophical. The most important thing I learned on the MDJ is that you have to give up some “good” things to get some “great” things. If you want to succeed on your own MDJ you need to ask yourself: “what am I prepared to give up?” A bit of time away from the TV to learn about investing? Driving new cars? The latest show home? Annual tropical vacations? I happily gave up a lot of that stuff and more and somehow I survived.

A recent article by a financial writer ominously proclaimed “the correction is coming.” He then went on to tell us very eloquently how to defend our portfolio from it. A little re-allocation, a fancy mutual fund or ETF, a little global diversification perhaps…The only thing I agree with is that a correction is coming since given enough time any fool making this prediction will be right eventually. However, this time try preparing for it another way. Get ready to look for bargains and to start your MDJ! Or, add to your portfolios with good quality, dividend paying stocks that you have identified! Bon voyage!

About the Author: Pete and his wife are educators in Western Canada, and are regular followers of MillionDollarJourney.com

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

About the author: This is a guest post. You can read more about the author in the biography above.

{ 64 comments… add one }

  • Ron April 4, 2014, 9:39 pm

    Pete,
    I can relate to you. It’s not easy making change especially when you’ve been so successful the way you’ve been doing. As soon as I could retire and decided not to (when I reached the 2 million goal), that’s when I decided to spend a little more on life enjoyment and take extra vacations. As much as I like to see my portfolio grow, 2008 has taught me that it doesn’t take a long period for the market to take back a good part of that growth.

    When you started saving was your goal to retire early and that goal changed along the way like a lot of us. One thing I have learned is that when you are younger, you want to find ways to retire early but as you get older, you get wiser and your priority changes. I figure the older I will get, the more things will change and that’s one of the reason I don’t like putting things off that I will enjoy doing today more than when I’m 60. I read somewhere that you will do in retirement what you have done most of your life. If you don’t exercise today, you more than likely won’t also in retirement.

    As for margin, like you, I don’t have much cash and that’s why I want my margin fully available to buy beaten up stocks in the future. Of course I’m hoping I will never have to use margin again.

    As for stock picking, I know how addicting it can be, but I just didn’t want to be responsible for 100% of my portfolio especially since I like to take large bets on what I consider cheap stocks. I am trying to convince myself to go 100% etf’s and I haven’t been able to do so yet.

    One last question, do you ever plan on spending some of that portfolio? If not what will happen with that money and if yes, do you have anything particular that you would like to do. Of course if your goal is to reach 10 million, I gather you have no plan in touching that money for a while yet.

    S.
    I relate to you 100% with work, I run a convenience store and gas bar open 7 days a week day and night. I have all kinds of problem with staff turnaround, customer and staff stealing and a bunch of other issues. When I purchased it, my goal was to run it for 10 years, and now I’ve been running it for 15 years. I would like to sell, but I don’t want to go work for someone else after working for myself for so long. And I don’t know If I would be able to take as much risk on the stock market without having my business as a backup plan.
    I also would like to retire and maintain my lifestyle. Funny thing is that I am only spending about 55k a year right now plus saving, but when I retire, I would like to have 80k to 100k annually for spending because I’m scared 55k is not enough. That’s how my goals keep changing on me. With my investment and sale of my business, a 4% annual withdrawal would give me 108k annually but as I mentioned above, the problem is not money, but what will I do with all that free time if I stop working now.

    It’s nice to get different opinion from people in similar situations but in different stages of their life.

  • Mark April 5, 2014, 9:56 am

    Nice to read some comments from like-minded people.

    We have a sizable investment portfolio and its day-to-day fluctuations are large enough to buy a modest vehicle. When I was younger I was very focused on beating the market. Perhaps it was an ego thing, perhaps it was a perceived need to grow the base early on to facilitate the longer term compounding. Today I’m satisfied to see the portfolio grow steadily without too much excitement. Annual gains greatly outpace our spending. Once your portfolio reaches a certain size there is a definite comfort factor in that even a sizable loss is easier tolerated because what’s left is still considerable. Losing 50% of a $2MM portfolio, while painful, still leaves you with $1MM while losing 50% of a $200K portfolio only leaves you with $100K.

    I haven’t rigorously determined our annual rate of return because new cash added into the portfolios throughout the year complicates the calculation. A simple arithmetic average of the annual investment gains going back to 2004 shows 7.8%. Admittedly this is a rough number. We lost 25% in 2008 and gained 37% in 2009. Going into the 2008 decline we were 20% cash and picked up a lot of bank stocks early in 2009 which are now doubles and have also paid 4-6% dividends along the way.

    We had/have good jobs and we managed to save 25%-35% of our GROSS incomes annually. That rate has come down drastically though as my wife is now retired and I am semi-retired. We are both in our early 50’s, private sector employment and DC pension plans. Our incomes weren’t always high though and we see many people with good incomes frittering away their earnings on fancy cars and what not, so much so that the current pension crisis is focused on middle, not low, income earners.

    We live modestly but enjoy our vacations. We prefer to give our children experiences rather than material goods. Prior to our eldest leaving for university a few years ago and understanding that family vacations would be harder to come by we went on some big trips during her high school years. I don’t regret that one bit – the memories are priceless – and the impact to the portfolio was minimal.

    Like Pete we don’t own bonds. Unlike Pete we avoid margin. The only time we were margined was when we first started investing and our (former) FA got us to take out a $100K loan and buy DSC mutual funds which he proceeded to churn. Ironically that same FA is occasionally featured in the financial press espousing the principles of Warren Buffet. That experience convinced me to take charge myself. That was 20+ years ago and we’ve never looked back.

    Also contrary to popular advice we’ve never actually set a financial goal for ourselves. We saved & invested, adjusting our expectations and retirement dates along the way. It’s a little naive to think that one can predict rate of return and inflation 40+ years out. but I suppose it gets you thinking about retirement savings. You might say we built our wealth tactically rather than strategically.

    Early on our savings helped to build our nest egg but over time the power of compounding and the annual gains now dwarf any earnings that I receive via employment.

    One last tidbit. I’ve watched a lot of talking heads and read a lot of business/investing articles over the years and for the most part, it’s all noise.

  • Pete April 5, 2014, 12:35 pm

    Great comments everyone! I’ll try to do justice to your questions. S, yes I get twinges at the thought of a 20% drop as well. Mostly I’ve conditioned myself to view these corrections as buying opportunities and rarely see them as house-cleaning (selling) opportunities.

    Fred, thanks for your questions. I agree that you should be quite leery about free investment advice. I’ve tried to be careful not to couch my ramblings as “investment advice” per se. Rather it’s just a “how I done it story” from which readers may relate to in some way or not. If any advice is implied it is personal rather than financial – i.e. think critically and take control. I don’t take advice from paid financial professionals let alone anonymous strangers in a blog. Having said that, I can relate to and have learned from many of the sincere comments made in this blog.

    As per, Fred’s specific questions re us getting to that first million, please remember that I never said I went from $0 to $1M in investments in 10 years. I said our net worth grew to $1M in those 10 years. My wife and I were poor students for about 7 years and learned how to live very cheaply. After we got married and started making money, those habits stayed and we found it very easy to live off of less than one of our incomes. We essentially lived like that for those 10 years (and still do to a large extent). For example, we drove old cars and owned just one at a time that whole period – a 1977 Olds, then a 1980 Taurus, then my dad’s old Plymouth van. We also lived in a small town (under 10,000) so our first house was relatively inexpensive ($80K). During that period we moved to a bigger town, made about $40K selling that first house and bought a house that also appreciated significantly. Yes, we had 2 kids in that time period as well so there was some maternity leave, child care, and other related factors but we figured out ways to do that as cost-efficiently as possible.

    When I started tracking our NW, it was about $155K in 1996 (I was 33). Early in 2004, when I was 40, we cracked the $1M mark. During that period our incomes moved steadily up from roughly $30K to $80K between annual increments and promotions. Keep in mind that a teacher with 10 years of experience and 6-years of education, in 2014, makes an average of $99K in my province.

    Don G. That’s a nice yield! Ron, I don’t actually think I’ll spend too much of the portfolio in a lump. I’m just not a “stuff” kind of guy so can’t imagine buying a vacation home or fancy car or such. As to what will happen to the money, that’s a good question. I want my kids to make their own way financially and not count on a big inheritance. They will get a sizable inheritance; they just don’t know it yet, or will know it anytime soon. I also have the thought of doing donations but not sure if/ when/ where/ who.

  • SST April 5, 2014, 3:55 pm

    A couple things you can take away from this story, apart from ‘buy stocks/use leverage': one is timing, albeit non-deliberate.

    Entering an under-valued RE market, then upscaling into a yet-to-burst bubble…and getting to utilize that new found leverage into a decimated equities market followed by a Fed-fueled bull market…
    As Buffett has admitted, born at the right time.

    Yes, you still had to have the brains about you to make it all happen, but a small shift either way makes all the difference (e.g. how many people who bought houses during double-digit inflation became millionaires?)

    The second take-away is career choice and income. Being a unionized government employee will almost ALWAYS provide you with a very-above average income, security, and benefits. I know; I know a lot of them and as a gov’t employee myself (but non-unionized) I earn 50% more than an equivalent private sector position. Having a high income does not automatically ensure a high savings rate, but it does provide a better probability of saving than with a low income. As well, you most likely have meaty pension plan in place which immediately alleviates a good chunk of retirement savings stress. I know U-G workers who earn over $100,000 per year and save nothing because they are guaranteed a full pension @55. Put two of them together in a household and it becomes a formidable wealth machine.

    Nothing can take away the fact a $5 mill portfolio was created (and I still stand by my vote for Pete as ‘Best Millionaire’ on this site), but there are always a few very specific caveats; in this case, timing and income.

  • HAP April 5, 2014, 5:23 pm

    Pete,

    I not sure if I missed it, but aside from the huge portfolio, what other assets do you have. House, condo, others? Just wondering about the whole picture and NW.

  • Pete April 5, 2014, 10:44 pm

    HAP, I have a house with a market value of about $500K. I also have some vehicles and a camper that are not immaterial in value now, but will be by the time I’m done with them. I don’t have any debt except a line of credit of $190,000 (fully invested) and a $15,000 margin balance. I was heavier in margin last week but took some profit on a couple stocks.

  • HAP April 6, 2014, 11:31 am

    Pete,

    You hit a home run and can relax. Going from 1 mil to 5 mil in 10 years is a fantastic accomplishment with a 5X increase in NW. As posters have mention this was due to a combination of timing, market conditions, and your aggressive investing. Probably not possible for the average investor to pursue successfully.

    You want to go from 5 mil to 10 mil over the next decade and that represents a 2X increase, compared to a 5X increase in the decade prior. This is a realistic goal and can be done without timing the market, use of margin, or other aggressive methods. The good news is you have done the risky part and come out ahead, and now you can turn down the risk, relax and enjoy the ride.

    I would caution new investor to not think it would be easy or realistic to replicate you excellent success over the decade.

    Again, nice job!

  • Free To Pursue April 7, 2014, 12:01 pm

    Pete,

    Simple and straight forward: SAVE, then INVEST and don’t try to make it sexy.

    I appreciate you highlighting that you should buy for value, focusing on companies stock that is on “sale”. Too few people focus on this aspect of stock investing. That is where the real returns are. Chasing speculative wins is a sure loser in my books.

    I hope I get to our first $1M as quickly as you did!

  • Brian April 12, 2014, 3:20 am

    Hi Pete:

    Great story and congrats. It’s refreshing see an article from the 1%.

    I am in my early 40’s with a net worth of 2.5M. With good income and high saving rate, I will probably hit 7-8M at 50 if I net 5.5% annually. (I use a investment firm which charges me 1% on asset). I plan to work until I expire and even my part time income will more than cover our expenses.

    My problem is that I have trouble spending. It’s been better but I still live way below my means. I don’t really want to leave a large inheritance so I need to either quit earlier or spend more.

    Another problem is that I want to develop more hobbies but hasn’t had much time to do so. I find it habits gets more entrenched and its harder to change it. However, I am not complaining and am happy with what I have.

    Best wishes for the future.

  • A Frugal Family's Journey April 27, 2014, 8:21 pm

    Great Post…two things really stuck out for me: 1) Having Goals – I’ve been creating and tracking goals for several years now and I must say that the goals have significantly contributed to my success thus far; and 2) Be Patient – Don’t go for the home run hit. Slow and steady wins the race. From my experience, this is equally true for investing.

  • James January 4, 2015, 5:15 pm

    This guy is awesome! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Frederic February 26, 2015, 10:59 am

    Pete,

    first, congratulations for your achievements!

    Would you suggest a beginning investor to take the CSC? They now offer the Canadian Securities Course (CSC) for Investors, which is like the CSC without certification, for half the price. Would you recommend this one?

    Thank you!

    Frederic

  • Pete March 1, 2015, 1:12 am

    Hi Frederic,
    Thanks! I’ll give a qualified answer of yes to your question. I assume the course for investors is essentially the same content as for those seeking certification. If so, I say go for it. Good luck.

  • Super Saver March 1, 2015, 10:02 am

    @Brian,

    Interesting problem to have not spending enuogh or being too successful at this. If you do not want to leave a big inheritance you better make plans to donate a large portion, don’t let the government get their hands on it!

    5 mil at 50 is admirable accomplishment! Probable you will easily be able to retire, maybe you can right now?

    We need a good article on ‘saving Too Much?’ or ‘When to Stop’ or something like that, age spending savings and retirement are al considered.

    Are you up to tackling that??

Leave a Comment

Pinterest
Email
Print