I haven’t always been a DIY investor.  Like many Canadians, I started investing in mutual funds through a financial advisor at my bank.

I was getting matching RRSP contributions from my employer, up to 2% of my salary each year, but in order to get the match I had to invest through a specific bank – HSBC.

I went to the local branch and filled out the know-your-client form.  Because I was young and had a high tolerance for risk, I was steered toward their HSBC Global Equity Fund.  One fund, that’s it.

Since I was in early the accumulation phase, I didn’t pay much attention to the abysmal returns I was getting, or the high MER that I was paying.  I just set up automatic contributions to come off my paycheque every two weeks and started pouring money in.

Related: Mutual Fund Fees – The High Cost of Canadian Funds

After a few years, I had invested nearly $25,000.  But the markets started tanking in 2008, and when I checked my annual statement I saw the value of my investments had dropped below $20,000.

Becoming a DIY Investor

I made a career change the next year, and one of the first things I did was transfer my RRSP portfolio from HSBC to TD Waterhouse.  I had researched dividend growth investing and was ready to take control of my investments and become a DIY investor.

The in-kind transfer took a few weeks to set up.  Once the transfer was complete, I used the $20,000 to buy eight dividend stocks.

Over the last three years I’ve added $3,900 to my RRSP, and with that, along with the cash accumulating dividends, I’ve added five more stocks to my portfolio and added to existing positions.

Related: Using ETFs Inside Your RRSP

(Since I have a defined benefit pension at my new job, I no longer contribute that much to my RRSP)

Calculating Returns

I haven’t been very diligent in tracking my returns in the past.  I found this rate of return calculator from Justin Bender at PWL Capital, which made it easy to calculate my portfolio returns.

All I did was plug-in the total month-end portfolio value from my TD Waterhouse statements, which are available online, and add in my contributions.  I was impressed with the results.  My DIY investing portfolio has grown from $20,000 to just over $40,000 in a little more than three years.

  • 2009: +35.54%
  • 2010: +14.23%
  • 2011: +9.82%
  • 2012: +10.12% (YTD)

Benchmarks

It’s a good idea to regularly track your performance, but unless you’re comparing it to an appropriate benchmark, you won’t really know where you stand.

I looked up the returns from my former HSBC Global Equity Fund to see how it’s done over the past three years.  According to Morningstar, this fund returned a total of 9.74% since 2009.  But wait, when you factor in the 2.7% annual MER, the fund returned -1.06%.

Related: How To Avoid These 4 Investing Mistakes

What about the S&P/TSX 60 Index?  Since July 2009, the main Canadian index had a total return of 20.39%, meaning $20,000 would have grown to just over $24,000 in three years.

The iShares dividend ETF (CDZ) had a total return of 57.58% since July 2009.  With this fund, my $20,000 would have grown to $31,516 in three years.  If you were to factor in the additional $3,900 in contributions, these returns are more in-line with the performance of my individual stock portfolio.

Final Thoughts

I realize not everyone is cut out for investing on their own, and so many people will look for help from a professional advisor.  But it’s important to understand what you’re invested in, and how much it’s costing you, even if you leave the details up to your advisor.

Related: Fee Only Financial Planner Vs. Commission Based Advisor

I’m happy with my decision to become a DIY investor.  I’m not saying my approach is perfect; I was extremely lucky to switch to dividend investing at the right time.

I doubt my personal rate of return will be this high going forward, but I know I’m better off now than I was with those expensive equity mutual funds.


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