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Retired at 31: The Interview

After hearing the story about John, who retired at the age of 31, many of you have been anticipating an interview with him to get more details.  Here are some questions that I had for the early retiree.

What province do you live in?

Alberta

How old are you?

32

When did you retire?

August 2008 at 31.

What is your current net worth?

$1.7 million not including the equity in 3 corporations. I don’t include the value until it’s realized.

Can you break down your net worth by portfolio and real estate?

Only real estate is the primary residence. Bought for $320k and it’s currently worth about $400k. Contents would be another $30k to $40k. $100k in vehicles and toys.

We have $180k in RRSP’s, $100k in RESP’s/in-trust funds for two children, and $170k in a non-registered portfolio. Presently there’s about $40k in cash. There’s $180k in deferred income in the form of owner carry on sales of shares in private corporations. $20k in the form of  alternative minimum tax credit. There’s $510k in shareholder loans to the 3 private corporations.

When did you start saving and investing?

I started saving very young. I came from a frugal parents who grew up quite poor on farms. A penny saved is a penny earned was something I heard often growing up. I never received an allowance, but did work on the family farm for which I was paid. All that money went into a savings account and from there into GIC’s.

I got my first real job during high school when I was 17. I ended up spending the savings and income from that job on a car. Parents weren’t that happy, but you need to “fail” on your own sometimes to appreciate the lesson. I had a paid for car in school, something not many kids did, unless it was given to them. I spent what I earned for the next couple years and even flirted with consumer debt a bit before getting on track.

Investing started with my first RRSP contribution which was made when I was 19. I wasn’t a sophisticated investor then and found myself in mutual fund on the recommendation of the bank rep.

What is your savings philosophy?

A strict pay yourself first, spend the rest mentality. Everything is/was on an automated withdrawal – rrsp, resps, etc. They came out on the same frequency as income going into the account. You never miss it.

What would you say was the greatest factor in your financial achievement thus far?

By far the greatest factor was starting my company. There are numerous tax advantages available, but the earnings potential is key. The very nature of working for someone else means you’re enriching them from your labour. Owning the company allows you to enrich yourself and means others enrich you!

How does your spouse feel about your financial fanatics?

She came from a very different type of upbringing. Shopping was recreation. You worked to spend. Her and her siblings were indoctrinated into the world of credit with their first vehicle when their mother co-signed for each of them. It took a while to, ahem, fix her, but she’s onside now.

What influence did your parents have on your financial knowledge?

They had a huge influence in terms of my over all approach to money. Frugality and delayed gratification came directly from emulating them and following my upbringing. They were big savers, but quite risk adverse – a product of their upbringing. Neither were big believers in the market or vehicles like RRSP’s. Dad always said he could get a better return by investing in his own company. Before becoming a farmer he was an entrepreneur. After my brother and I passed on taking over the family farm, he went into business again.

What are your favorite stocks/mutual funds today?

We are indexed in our RRSP and no longer contributing. The RESP and in trust money for the kids is also indexed. The only active stock picking is happening in the non-registered portfolio. It is this portfolio that will one day provide all of our income. Given the huge tax advantage of Canadian dividends, this is the primary focus, but the yields on some income trusts are also quite attractive. I presently own T, TD, TRP, FTS, and RET.A. along with some XDV. On the trust side, I have some BPF.UN, YLO.UN and XTR.

How do you pick them?

Yield is important, but so is the viability of the company. I generally like low debt, fat margins and growing income. I try to buy them on sale, but given the time line of 2-3 years to convert the shareholder loans and owner carry amounts into cash for the non-registered portfolio, it’s not always going to be possible.

Thinking in terms of owning the whole company helps. Is this something I would buy myself? I drop the zero’s from financial statement and get it down to “real” levels that make sense to me. I really like the idea of utilities – these will always be around and profitable.

I also really like the franchise trusts. If you owned the whole thing, who wouldn’t want to be a franchiser? You get paid regardless of how much money your franchisee’s make. The royalty comes right off the top. Given the investment that someone has put into their local restaurant (probably 2-3 million in the case of Boston Pizza) – they’re highly committed to the business. Even a down turn in the economy that squeezes their profit or maybe makes them lose some money in the short turn – they’re not going to bail on their investment and all along the way – they’re paying me royalties.

If you were to give some financial tips to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Set goals and don’t stop until you achieve them. Pay yourself first. Don’t let your income determine your budget. A higher education is something you can always fall back on, even if you never use it. Owning a business isn’t for everyone – we’ve all heard the stats about how many fail, but if you’re young and just starting out, what do you have to lose?

Is retirement what you thought it would be?

Retirement has been interesting. Doing “nothing” is harder than it seems. The very things that drove me to get to where I am are proving to be difficult to turn off. School ends for the kids in a few weeks and we’ll have true “freedom” for the first time – well 2 months worth anyway. We’d like to travel more, but with 2 kids in school, it’s pretty much impossible.

What is your retirement investment strategy?

My goal is $2 million in book value in the non-registered portfolio by the time the kids are done school. That gives me about a decade. Unless the children show an interest in the business(es), we plan to have divested of them completely by then. I plan to live off the income generated by the portfolio. I don’t want to touch the capital. $2 million at book value with even a 4 or 5% yield via mostly dividends will provide more income than we could spend yearly.

Did you have a financial role model? If so, who?

My parents and my brother. Both are/were entrepreneurs.

What is your favorite financial book of all time?

Atlas Shrugged

Which financial web sites do you read often?

I read 4 or 5 blogs on a somewhat regular basis, including Million Dollar Journey, Triaging My Way To Financial Success, Canadian Capitalist, Thicken My Wallet.

I lurk on some forums like Canadian Business, RedFlagDeals, FinancialWebring and have started to post on Canadian Money Forum. I spent a lot of time online with the company I sold in August, so I’m trying to cure my internet addiction.

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FT About the author: FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Blogging Banks June 22, 2009, 11:30 am

    MDJ,

    That was a very motivational interview. Do you know however, what types of businesses this young retiree owns/owned?

  • FT FrugalTrader June 22, 2009, 11:33 am

    BB, check out the comments section of this post: https://www.milliondollarjourney.com/retired-at-31-an-early-retirement-story.htm

    John explains the various types of businesses that he owns.

  • Astin June 22, 2009, 1:07 pm

    You keep using the word “retired”, but I do not think it means what you think it means.

    How can someone who owns 3 companies be retired? He still has a vested interest in their well-being, and even if 2 of them are hands-off due to highly active minority owners, one would imagine he could be called in at a moment’s notice, or suddenly find himself elbow-deep in trying to keep them profitable if they turned.

    Just because someone isn’t working a “regular” job doesn’t make them retired. It makes them financially independent. It grants them many of the freedoms of retirement, but we’re still talking about growing one’s wealth, and looking at 40-60 years of life that needs to be funded for him and his family.

    Retirement to me has always meant being able to look back at the work you did, and enjoy the money you have without having to worry about when it’s going to disappear. Enjoying the life you worked for. It also means NOT having to work. But a net worth of $1.7 million at 32 years old with a family of 4 doesn’t mean that at all.

  • skube June 22, 2009, 5:00 pm

    Nice Princess Bride reference Astin.

  • Nurseb911 June 22, 2009, 5:23 pm

    Great to see that John has such good taste in financial reading MDJ!

    Congrats to him on accomplishing such feats at an early age.

  • Meredith June 22, 2009, 5:38 pm

    Great interview and very helpful insights. I’m sure Retired at 31’s wife loves being referred to as ahem, “fixed.”

  • Kathryn June 22, 2009, 6:53 pm

    haha Meredith. I was thinking the same thing!

    Next let’s have an interview with “Mrs. Retired at 31”. :-)

  • Georumble June 23, 2009, 12:36 am

    Great info!

    In the non-registered account, do you receive the dividends in cash of participate in DRIP?

    G.

  • Tom @ Canadian Finance Blog June 23, 2009, 6:42 pm

    I agree with Austin, while these are great accomplishments I’m not sure if I would call it truly retired. But either way, congratulations on all you’ve done by such an early age!

  • CrazyFish June 24, 2009, 7:39 am

    “But a net worth of $1.7 million at 32 years old with a family of 4 doesn’t mean that at all.”

    I don’t see why not. That represents a perpetual, annual, indexed withdrawal of around $70K which is more than a lot of average families ever have.

  • Retired at 31 June 24, 2009, 8:50 pm

    Astin / Tom:

    If retirement means enjoying your money without having to worry about it running out, is there a limit to how much enjoyment? Does one need infinite funds to be retired? Or how much worry about it running out? Other than those with government pensions, is anyone truly secure? Ask the 50-75 year old (pick your failed company, such as GM, Enron, Nortel, Air Canada, etc) worker who was counting on their pension. Will they need to work again?

    What of those who own (shares in) publicly traded companies. Dividend cut(s) could severely hamper their income. A correction/crash could wipe out a lot of money at the wrong time. All are possible events for sending someone back out looking for work who was previously “retired”, regardless of their age.

    Suffice to say, life is full of unknowns. Call it financially independent, call it retired, call it a sabbatical, call it being lazy :) A change in my situation has just as many outs if not more than a person in a conventional retirement. I could get an outside job (which in some environments – high unemployment might be hard for anyone) or I could work for one of my own companies. I could sell one or more companies, I could liquidate shares in publicly traded companies or I could sell the house and live in a van by the river! :)

    As for being called in on a moment’s notice – I can count the number of times it’s happened in almost 3 years on the fingers of one hand. Each and every time I’m paid for my time.

    Georumble:

    All dividends and distributions are enrolled in drips were possible.

  • Mark in Nepean July 2, 2009, 9:43 pm

    Non-registered DRIPs are the way to go, right John???

    Question for John:
    Are you going to buy more stocks for your non-registered account/DRIP, or, are you keeping the same portfolio mix? If so, which stocks will you be investing in and why? I like your TD and FTS picks!

    One final comment – you and family are very fortunate to have great wealth, but you’re not quite “retired” yet:
    Recall retired definition: withdrawn from one’s position or occupation; having concluded one’s working career.

    That said, you’re WAAAAAYYYY ahead of me in getting there!

    Cheers and keep these good posts coming,
    Mark

  • Retired at 31 July 4, 2009, 5:15 am

    Mark,

    The tax advantages of dividends in a non-registered portfolio are very attractive. Drips offer a forced saving and often a discount. Win-win imo.

    I have bought some more stuff in the non-reg account; it’s up to just shy of 200 at book value now. No new positions, but ‘ve added some T, TRP and RET.A. TD is up quite a bit from where I entered before and FTS is also to a lesser degree.

  • Mark in Nepean July 4, 2009, 11:08 am

    Nice work John!

    I just started my DRIP this year with ENB. In another year or so, once I have a few hundred shares of ENB as a base, I will buy some banks, RY, BMO or TD.

    Thanks for your insight, and continued luck with your financial independence journey.

    Cheers!

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