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Net Worth Update November 2014 – Sean Cooper (+5.21%)

Welcome to the Million Dollar Journey November 2014 Net Worth Update – Team MDJ edition. A select group of readers were selected to be part of Team MDJ which was conceived after the million dollar net worth milestone was achieved in June 2014. Sean Cooper was selected as a team member and will post net worth updates on a regular basis. Here is more about Sean.

Profile:

  • Name: Sean Cooper
  • Age: 29
  • Day Job: Employed with a major global pension consulting firm.
  • Family Income: $50,000 (full-time job); $18,600 (rental income before expenses); and, $20,000 (approximate freelance income). $5,000 (part-time job)
  • Goals: Mortgage paid off by 31, million dollar net worth by mid thirties.
  • Notes: Owns a house, rents out main floor. Most of net worth is in the principal residence. No other debt besides mortgage.

August 1, 2014 marked my mortgage anniversary date, so I’ve started aggressively making lump sum payments on my mortgage; my mortgage is down a whopping 29.84%. In only three months, I’ve made lump sum payments totaling $35,350. Once I maximize my lump sum payments, I’ll start building up my emergency fund.

Similar to most people, my investment portfolio took a beating. With the TSX hitting an 8-month low, my RRSP is down 1.23%. Since I’m investing for the long-term, I’m not too concerned about daily fluctuations in the markets. I view this as a good buying opportunity for investments for my TFSA.

I decided to quit my part-time supermarket job to better focus on my full-time job and budding career as a financial journalist and personal finance expert. I was rated highly in my yearly performance review at work and received my full bonus for this calendar year. I’m considering working towards my Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS) designation and enrolling in Toastmaster to improve my communication skills. I’m interested in doing motivational speaking as a keynotes speaker.

My old tenants moved out at the end of September 2014, with my new tenants moving in October 1, 2014. Besides missing smoke detectors, my home was luckily in pretty good shape. I did do some minor repairs, including repainting the side door. I structured the lease slightly different this time around – instead of making the utilities inclusive, my tenants are paying a share (60%) of the utilities. I learned from my mistake last time when my previous tenants left my baseboard heater on for two straight moves and doubled my electricity bill.

On to the net worth numbers:

Assets: $623,413 (-0.77%)

  • Cash: $3,102 (-57.86%)
  • Registered/Retirement Investment Accounts (RRSP): $45,566 (-1.23%)
  • Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSA): $0 (+0.00%)
  • Defined Benefit Pension: $24,421 (+0.00%) (commuted value adjusted annually in June when I receive my annual statement)
  • Non-Registered Investment Accounts: $324 (+0.58%)
  • Principal Residence: $550,000 (+0.00%) (purchase price adjusted for average selling price annually)

Liabilities: $75,131 (-29.84%)

  • Principal Residence Mortgage: $75,131 (-29.84%)

Total Net Worth: ~$548,281 (+5.21%)

  • Started 2014 with Net Worth: $460,500
  • Year to Date Gain/Loss: +19.06%

Some quick notes and explanations to common questions:

The Cash

The cash is held in a no fee chequing account with PC Financial. I use my chequing account for regular bill payments, as well as making lump sum payments on my mortgage.

Savings

My savings are held in a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) with Canadian Direct Financial. I mainly use my TFSA as an emergency fund and to save towards the balance owing when I file my personal income tax return at the end of April. Even though I contribute the maximum to my RRSP annually, I still have a large balance owing to the taxman since I receive rental income and income from self-employment (I’m a freelance writer).

You may be wondering why my balance is currently $0. At the beginning of the year I had $15,000 in my TFSA. However, this year was especially costly, as I had to spend $25,000 on repairs and renovations to my house, including a new retaining wall, side walk, front porch, sump pump, and eaves troughs. I plan to rebuild my emergency fund once I’ve maximized the prepayment privileges on my mortgage. If any more costly home repairs creep up, I can always slow down on prepaying my mortgage.

Where Do the Savings Come From?

I’m very frugal with my money. People are often amazed at how low my monthly expenses are. For most families the most costly household expenses are housing (mortgage or rent), transportation, and food. I’ve been able to minimize all three through lifestyle choices.

As a single first-time home buyer in Toronto, I decided to take on the added responsibility of being a landlord. Instead of living upstairs, I decided to live in the basement and rent the upstairs to a family. I got this brilliant idea from the host of HGTV’s Income Property, Scott McGillivray, who lived in his basement for nine years while renting out the upstairs unit to save money.

Instead of driving a car, I cycle the majority of the year and take public transit during wintertime. In my recent article, readers were amazed I only spend $100 per month on groceries. How have I managed to spend so little? I shop at discount supermarkets, price match, avoid fast food, and buy sale items in bulk. I’m also vegetarian, which helps me avoid paying the outrageous prices for meat.

How Have I Been Able to Pay Down My Mortgage So Quickly?

Despite an annual salary of only $50,000, I’ve been able to pay down over half of my mortgage in only two years through hard work and determination. Besides being a landlord, I’m a financial journalist. I also work part-time at a grocery store once a week. Through secondary sources of income, I’ve been able to maximize the prepayment privileges on my mortgage and maximize my RRSP contributions each year.

Real Estate

My real estate holdings consist of my primary residence. I purchased my house in August 2012 for $425,000 with a mortgage of $255,000. As I live in Toronto, one of Canada’s most expensive housing markets, I’ve based the value of my principal residence on comparable properties that have recently sold in my neighbourhood.

Pension

The pension amount listed above is the value of my defined benefit pension plan. I take the commuted value from my annual statement, which I receive by June 30th each year. I am fortunate to receive the commuted value on my annual statement, as most employers don’t provide it. This makes retirement planning a lot easier.

If you would like to read more articles like this, you can sign up for my free newsletter service below (we will not spam you).

About the author: Sean Cooper is a single, 20-something year old, first time home buyer located in Toronto. He has experience in the financial sector as a Pension Analyst, RESP administrator and Income Tax Preparer. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce in business management from Ryerson University. You can read some of his other articles here.

{ 32 comments… add one }
  • Jasper November 3, 2014, 10:45 am

    Great,

    Not clear when 5.21% increase is measured from.
    RRSP taking a beating – down 1.23% = doesnt make alot of sense. Comic relief? Unsure how much was added in during an unspecified time.

    If these are quarterly updates, maybe it should say this in title or I am missing it.
    Also it would be great to know Sean’s mortgage terms – just a one liner

  • Tony the Tiger November 3, 2014, 11:26 am

    Hi Sean,

    Firstly, great work on building your net worth to date. It’s obvious you’re of the right mindset to build long term wealth. I do have some constructive criticism but please don’t take it the wrong way. You’re doing very well so feel free to ignore me.

    1. You appear to be incredibly leveraged to the real estate market. I’m scared for you, but not because of the real estate leverage. It’s your lack of liquidity. Why are you doubling payments on your mortgage when you have no liquid reserves? It seems to me that if an unforeseen event (job loss, large home repair) came up, you would be in trouble. Why not have a minimum reserve fund before you double up mortgage payments? Net worth = assets – liabilities. Paying down your liabilities faster may save you some interest – a very small amount in the grand scheme of things. But I think the extra cash reserve would help you sleep better at night without altering your net worth in a material way.

    2. Why do you mark your house to market? It seems you’ve pencilled in a 30% paper gain ($125k) in just over 2 years. That seems high even for Toronto – not to mention unsustainable. I don’t know the circumstances of the gain so I’ll leave it to your judgement on the appropriate value. Would you mark it down if comparables in your area were selling for less? I only ask because there have been a number of studies showing our inherent bias in valuing things we own. Prior to the repairs, did you apply a $25,000 discount to your home for the required retaining wall, side walk, front porch, sump pump, and eaves troughs? I’m guessing not. Anyway, I would think the conservative approach would be book value or maybe purchase price plus inflation.

    3. I read your article on frugal living. It reminded me of being in University. Live a little!
    “Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.” – Benjamin Franklin
    I’m a big supporter of building wealth, but there has to be a balance with health and happiness. Obviously this is a personal finance blog so that tends to be the focus. But I hope you’re enjoying life along the way!

  • Al November 3, 2014, 12:33 pm

    Sean, is the $35k of mortage paydown primarily the result of recieving your bonus? Understand that about $5k came out of beginning cash leaving $30k from savings turned over to mortgage over three months (this amount cannot be be saved from a $50k salary) – in which case I would posit that your income from your job is significantly higher than “only” $50k?

  • The Roamer November 3, 2014, 12:56 pm

    Wow this a very interesting format. So we will be following other people through their million dollar journey.

    Yes on the toastmasters. I have never been in the group but I’ve had exposure to it through my brother. I’ve read his table topic speeches and flipped through the magazines and it looks like a great resource…

  • DanielC November 3, 2014, 1:07 pm

    Great work Sean.
    I am still amazed that you have paid down that much of the mortgage in 2 years. Should serve as an inspiration to many.
    Sure takes a load of determination to live as frugally as you do, and I admire this short term pain for a long term gain.

    Cheers

  • Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld November 3, 2014, 6:33 pm

    Maybe I’m missing something, but this doesn’t add up.

    The mortgage was $255K as of August 2012. As of October 2014, it’s down to $75K – so it decreased by $180K in 26 months.

    Using an online mortgage calculator and making aggressive assumptions (payments are made accelerated weekly, with a 2.5% interest rate and a 15 year amortization), by October 2014 we’d expect the principal to be approximately $220K. If this assumption is in the right ballpark, that means that of the $180K decrease in his mortgage, $35K was due to the principal component of his routine mortgage payments, and $145K was due to extra payments.

    Sean’s stated income is $93,600 per year (assuming he just quit his part time job yesterday so he had those earnings for the full 26 months). Over those 26 months, that works out to approximately $203K in gross income. Let’s try to back out what amount of that couldn’t have been directed towards mortgage principle repayments.

    We know that $25K was spent on home repairs and if Sean maxes out his RRSP annually, that’s another $18K not available for mortgage repayments (assuming the contributions were based on 18% of his salary from his full-time job – perhaps contributions were even higher – that wasn’t clear but this would be the minimum possible value).

    Let’s assume he claims enough costs to reduce his rental income to zero for tax purposes and he deduct his RRSP contributions in full. That leaves him with around $66K in taxable income per year. Since he lives in Ontario that results in a bit under $14K in taxes per year (so let’s say $28K over two years).

    Adding all of that up, he earned $203K but the absolute minimum he spent/invested elsewhere was $25K + $18K + $28K = $71K. That means his available income available for mortgage repayments was $132K. Yet (even if we make very aggressive assumptions about how quickly his mortgage is repaid) he would have had to make at least $145K in mortgage payments to bring the balance down to where it is currently. That’s a deficit of $13K.

    To be clear, this ignores all personal expenses (groceries, transportation, entertainment, etc). By all accounts, Sean appears to be very frugal, so these costs will be low, but they`re not zero. Also, I’ve included all of the rental income, but none of the costs (property taxes, insurance, utilities, etc) – so we have $18.6K in gross income per year, without any corresponding costs. These points would increase that $13K deficit further.

    In other words: unless I’m missing something, the numbers in the article don’t add up. To get the mortgage down so quickly, quite a bit more than 100% of his “available income” (gross earnings, less taxes and less money that can’t be used toward lump sum payments – ie repairs and RRSP contributions) would have had to be put into the mortgage – and this ignores rental expenses and living expenses entirely. Are my assumptions wrong? If not, what am I missing?

  • nobleea November 3, 2014, 6:45 pm

    Good choice on dropping the part time grocery gig. I suspect you were earning under $20/hr which, combined with your other income, probably resulted in a very small take home.
    You mentioned 20K in freelance income per year. Does it look like that is an accurate number for 2014?
    I assume you would change both the commuted value of the pension and the house value should the markets change (positive or negative). As you know, rising interest rates (past a certain point at least), would affect both the house and the commuted value negatively.

  • Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist November 3, 2014, 6:53 pm

    To address a few comments about my income, I don’t like including freelance as part of my income, as it isn’t very stable. One month I can earn $5,000, while the next I can earn $1,500. I tend to be conservative and estimate on the low side. I’ve done very well the past few months, which has allowed me to pay down my mortgage even faster.

  • Greg November 3, 2014, 7:20 pm

    Sean, you need to find a way to make more than $50,000 from your full time job. For a dean’s list graduate with 5 years experience working in the financial industry in Toronto, that just doesn’t make sense. Pension actuaries start at $50,000 and can easily hit $100,000 five years in.

  • bigfan November 3, 2014, 9:55 pm

    How did you save your DP?

  • Andrew November 4, 2014, 7:23 am

    Keep up the good work Sean.
    You may want to think about how your RRSP is invested. S&P 500 index likely outperforming your current holdings (especially if they’re heavily TSX).

  • Samantha Gee November 4, 2014, 11:30 am

    Owning an almost paid off home in Toronto is impressive at your age! Keep at it!! I just wanted to say do the toastmasters course, I did it and it changed my life, i’m still nervous to talk in front of large rooms but now i am able to stand up in front of my colleagues and and not shake! Big step for me :)

  • Mike S November 4, 2014, 11:53 am

    Your goals seem to contradict to some extent:

    “Mortgage paid off by 31, million dollar net worth by mid thirties.”

    Why do you want the mortgage to be paid off that quickly? The rates are very low and you have extra room in your TFSA allowing you to invest in anything growing above these rates, tax free. Moreover, as an investment property you can claim the mortgage rate on your tax return, so long term you should be able to reach your second goal quicker by not paying the mortgage by 31 …

    For example instead of making the lump sum payments you could have used say 25K for TFSA. Assuming you have the invested it in a balanced portfolio two years ago you would have gained about 8-10% annual growth rate, tax free (long term average is lower, but these were good years) for these 25K left on the mortgage you would pay 2-3% (depending on the mortgage terms) and would be able to claim these on your tax return

    This may not seem a lot for just 2 years, but compounded over time it makes a big difference

  • Mike S November 4, 2014, 12:01 pm

    Also it is not clear what are your plans after you pay your mortgage

    Do you sell the house for profit?
    Do you continue renting the top floor?
    Do you move to live upstairs yourself, and then stop being frugal in that sense?

    I think the answers to these questions can/should affect your long term plan

  • Cool Koshur November 4, 2014, 2:12 pm

    @Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld

    You made some valid points and these were questions that popped in my head when I crunched the numbers.

    Total Income is $88,600 and with marginal tax rate of 30%. That’s net income of $62K per annum. Making it $144K for last two years. He tops us his RRSP and needs to pay property tax, groceries, Insurance, utilities, transportation. He manages to reduce his mortgage by half ($185K) in last two years. Unless he has been living on $100/month grocery bill since last two years.

    I feel good for @Sean that he is able to reduce his mortgage to 75K in last two years.

    But with all known sources of income and expenses. These numbers don’t add up. Unless we are missing something.

    My 2 cents

  • nobleea November 4, 2014, 4:36 pm

    Cool Koshur, that is not how tax rates work. His average tax rate is probably closer to 20%, meaning a take home of 70K (minus CPP and EI).

    The 20K freelance income is probably a low end budget amount, as mentioned. It’s probably closer to 40 or 50K this year I would guess.

    But that should be listed in the income area since it is misleading to say I paid off XX when I was making YY, when really it was much higher than that.

  • Banjopete November 6, 2014, 4:01 pm

    It seems folks are getting a little hung up on the personal choices Sean’s made, his stated goals are to be mortgage free, then net worth of $1mil. It’s not up to us to decide his goals or his lifestyle should’s am I right?

    Nice work on the reductions towards your goals Sean I’ll be curious to see how you proceed once the mortgage is gone.

  • Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet November 6, 2014, 11:19 pm

    Nice work, Sean. I am curious, did you do the necessary house repairs yourself or did you use a contractor? $25k for all that work doesn’t seem too unreasonable

  • Al November 8, 2014, 5:58 pm

    Good work thus far Sean. I’ll echo what others have said in that you should try your best to bump up your 50K income – your single largest contributor to building wealth. Think of the money you could be saving and investing if you had a 100K income.

    Personally I’d borrow against the house and invest in something that has good cash flow and low risk – your mortgage rate is likely low and you’d be able to deduct the interest paid on the investment loan while using the net cash flow to further reduce the mortgage.

  • Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld November 11, 2014, 2:58 pm

    Here`s a follow up to my previous comment. I should have said this before, but I want to commend Sean for growing his net worth so rapidly at such a young age. I also want to commend him, as it takes bravery to be so transparent with one’s financial information – but there are some serious questions about the numbers that he’s provided.

    There was an article that featured Sean in the National Post in June 2014 (http://business.financialpost.com/2014/06/07/mortgage-free-in-canada/) so these numbers are fairly recent. According to that article, Sean’s “maximum” income (ie, high end for consulting income) is $8,119 per month and his expenses (including RRSP contributions) are $5,033 per month ($3,086 savings per month).

    The just math doesn’t work. In 26 months his mortgage decreased by $180K (see calculation in post 6), yet he had around $80K ($3,086 * 26 months) of disposable income during that period. It`s true that there will be some reductions in the mortgage principle through the regular payments but, as I calculated earlier, that`s probably only around $35K. (I say “probably” as we don’t have the full details of Sean’s mortgage). So over the 26 months, his mortgage decreased $180K – let`s assume he directed all $80K of disposable income towards the mortgage, and $35K from the principle component of his normal mortgage payments. That leaves $65K unaccounted for. Maybe my assumption about the mortgage is off by as much as $5 or $10K in either direction, but that still leaves a huge amount of money unaccounted for.

    I know he says he tended to be conservative with his consulting income, but if there`s a shortfall of $65K over 26 months, that means (depending on the tax brackets and what year the income was earned in) he would have had to earn another $90K (approximately) in consulting income pre-tax to cover that shortfall. That`s nearly another $3,500 per month, in addition to the $3,000 already reported in the National Post. If Sean is earning that much money, good for him, but if he’s reporting these numbers they should be reported accurately.

    Once again, despite the tone of this post, I have nothing but respect for Sean and what he was able to accomplish. But these numbers are not consistent. Sean appears to be seriously under-stating his income from one or more sources. If I’m wrong, please provide an analysis that reconciles the decrease in the mortgage balance to the income and expense information reported in the National Post.

  • Jason November 13, 2014, 11:59 am

    There’s definitely a foul odour emanating from Sean’s post. Based on the information provided, the math simply doesn’t work. He’s drastically understating income, debt or both. What’s the point of having reader updates if they aren’t complete?

  • David November 16, 2014, 1:27 pm

    @ Timmy,

    I have seen a few stories on this guy over the years and I tend to agree with you.

    Even if he doesn’t pay any taxes (perhaps he is part native-Canadian?), his gross from all sources doesn’t seem to reconcile against his claims. He also claims to have saved up his $170k while a full-time student (I think it was 5 years?). This is at least $230k pretax, while a full-time student and paying tuition bills?

    Given his apparent attention to detail counting every penny, I find it unlikely that he wouldn’t have a complete accounting of all his income and expenses since forever. So the question is, why isn’t he releasing these details, since everything else is now in the public domain?

  • Al November 17, 2014, 6:27 pm

    Agree with above Timmy/David. The post loses credibility without a response from Sean regarding the source of the income discrepency is it a bonus? ridiculously profitable freelance work? inhertitance? medical trials? sold a kidney?

  • Kelly November 22, 2014, 3:02 pm

    Hi Sean,

    Wow, your financial feats are amazing. I admire your hard work and determination as well as the importance you have put on sacrificing today for a better tomorrow.

    I am 26 and have a similar salary and job in Vancouver. What did you do to save your $170,000 down payment, so quickly after graduating? Currently, through living at home and keeping my expenses to a minimum I have been able to save $115,000 (graduated with a positive NW of $20k and saved $25k-$30k each year once working). I hope to purchase a home on my own within the next 2 years.

    What advice do you have for all the haters? I find a lot of my coworkers and peers do not understand or support my lifestyle choices.

  • Miiockm November 25, 2014, 1:44 am

    I don’t see how the numbers add up either.

  • David December 7, 2014, 12:23 pm

    @Kelly

    This has nothing to do with “hating”. Aside from people with big egos, there are probably two types of people who feel the need to publish their net worth on the internet:

    1) They want to generate a following and sell lots of books/advice teaching others how to do what they did. Look at how many so-called “gurus” have been proven to be frauds. Accepting anything less than full transparency from a guru or wannabe guru with respect to their claims is dumb, especially if you hope to learn anything from them.

    2) They genuinely want to help others and believe that “opening the books” will do inspire others to do what they did. This is noble, however, in Sean’s case his lack of transparency and connecting the dots are more likely to leave disappointed, since they will never be able emulate his apparently awesome achievements without knowing specifically how he did it.

  • James January 10, 2015, 8:04 pm

    As other have noticed, the math just doesn’t work. Plus:

    a) In this article he claimed to graduate debt free: http://www.housingblock.com/blog/mortgage-free-31-journey-student-first-time-homeowner/

    b) In this video, he says he graduated with 50k in student debt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tygGTC-FQw

    c) In this article, he claimed to earn up to 25k per year from working during university: http://business.financialpost.com/2014/06/07/mortgage-free-in-canada/

    So he either graduated with 50k in debt or with no debt at all, never made more than 25k per year during school, yet somehow had a down payment of 170k saved up, and somehow decreased his mortgage by 180k in 26 months.

    What a bunch of BS.

  • SST January 11, 2015, 10:45 am

    @James: it’s the world of finance, lies and fraud are all part of the game. :) Thanks for the expose!

    How I Graduated from University Debt-Free (2011)
    http://www.milliondollarjourney.com/how-i-graduated-from-university-debt-free.htm

    vs

    How I Graduated from University With $50,000 of Debt (2012)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tygGTC-FQw

    Sounds like a case of wanting to be overly adored.

  • David January 11, 2015, 1:45 pm

    Lesson Learned: if you’re going to lie or bend the truth on the internet, at least make sure your message is consistent across time and space!

  • David January 11, 2015, 1:58 pm

    @ James

    Up until this point, I was willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. But it’s pretty clear from your sources there’s something fishy going on.

    I also find it particularly interesting the way he uses accounting discretion to make his progress appear better than reality. For example, he rents out the majority of the space in his house, but includes unrealized capital gains on his house in his net worth without an associated tax liability.

  • David January 11, 2015, 2:05 pm

    One last point….it’s pretty clear that if the majority if his claims are true, he’s got to be making $150k+ gross from all sources, which makes him a high earner.

    He ought to consider changing his message/image FROM “how to pinch pennys” which is a high effort/low impact way to increase wealth TO “how to make more money” OR “how to become a high-income earner” which are really driving his progress.

    Anyone who follows his penny pinching tips with the hopes of emulating him is bound to be disappointed.

  • Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist January 12, 2015, 11:57 pm

    I just wanted to clarify a few points.
    – No, I did not graduate with 50K of student debt. That was the TOTAL COST of my post-secondary education in college and university (tuition, books, school supplies, etc). Quite honestly, this was the first TV interview. I told the TV producer that I graduated-debt free, but he said it would be “more compelling” if I said I had $50K of debt. I regretted saying this ever since, but I wanted to be on the show. I have been truthful about my finances ever since.
    -I never saved a down payment of $170K when I was a full-time student. That was 3 years after I graduated from university and had a full-time job.
    – I tend to be conservative with my estimate of freelance income. Although I said I only earned $2000-$3000 a month in freelance income in the Financial Post article, it’s more like $5,000-$6,000 a month (before taxes). I also have rental income. Last year between my freelance work, rental income and full-time job, I easily earned over $110K gross. With this extra money I’m able to contribute the max to my RRSP and max out the prepayment privileges on my mortgage.

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