With the ’10s quickly coming to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on the past decade and list our accomplishments. Looking back, this was an incredible decade of growth and happiness for me and my family. We are so grateful for what we’ve been able to achieve.
2010 was a big year for me. I had just started a new job. My wife and I were getting accustomed to living on one income with a new baby at home. I started this blog.
Fast forward to the end of 2019 and our net worth is more than $800,000. That’s an impressive 23 percent compounded annual growth rate.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s how we got to where we are today:
We still lived in a two-bedroom starter home that we had purchased back in 2003. I made $75,000 as a business development manager at the University of Lethbridge. My wife stayed home full-time with our newborn. We dreamed of upgrading our house and had our eyes on our dream house in a thriving new neighbourhood.
One year earlier I had opened a discount brokerage account at TD and, using the $25,000 I had transferred from my previous employer’s group RRSP plan (which was invested in high fee mutual funds), bought my first dividend paying stocks.
I was totally enamoured with dividend investing. It helped that I started DIY investing in July, 2009 – well after the turmoil of the global financial crisis. My dividend stock picks earned an incredible 35.54 percent. Clearly, I was the next Warren Buffett.
2010 was also the second year that TFSAs were available and I had maxed out my contribution room each year – again, investing in Canadian dividend payers.
We had opened an RESP for our daughter in 2009 and continued to contribute $50/month – basically all we could afford at the time – into a term deposit / GIC at TD Bank.
Oh, and an F-18 Hornet crashed during a practice run at the airport while I was president of the Alberta International Air Show Association. I got my first taste of media interviews. Fun times.
Finally, I started this blog in August 2010 as a way to document my financial journey and hold myself accountable to my goals. I didn’t imagine it would completely change my life over the next 10 years.
The highlight in 2011 was the purchase of our new house – a brand new one that we built as our forever home. We had saved for 18 months to top-up our downpayment to 20 percent of the purchase price and avoid costly CMHC fees.
We moved into the house in August that year, and found out shortly after that we were about to have baby number two.
The new house came with a big mortgage and a shift in our financial priorities. I drained my TFSA – worth $14,500 at the time – to help top-up the downpayment. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t contribute to it again for several years.
My investment returns were less prolific that year – earning just 9.82 percent – but my RRSP had grown to $41,000.
A funny thing happened with this blog. It earned $137 in January that year. Then $195 in March. Traffic started to increase, advertisers started to get in touch, and by the end of the year the blog had earned $13,000.
We ended the year with a net worth of $190,000. But we were just getting started.
This was an incredible year both personally and professionally. The highlight, of course, was the birth of our second daughter. Our family was complete.
I also started to make serious money from this online venture. Not just from the blog, but I also offered freelance writing for other websites, most notably my long-standing gig with the Toronto Star. I also launched the Rewards Cards Canada blog.
We decided to incorporate and capture the earnings from my online activities into a small business. The idea was to stream dividends to my wife (co-owner) and reduce our tax burden.
That year we earned $66,000 from our online business. We knew we were onto something, and that solidified our plan for my wife to stay home full-time. We had a reliable second income stream.
I bought out the lease on my 2007 Tucson and for three months we were car-payment free. Then we bought a new Santa Fe (curses) late that year – a decision that meant forgoing TFSA contributions for another four years.
This was one of those completely forgettable years where nothing notable happened. We paid our bills, saved where we could, and tried to survive as parents of a pre-schooler and a toddler.
My RRSP grew to a respectable $91,000 after a top-up loan caught up most of my unused contribution room. Our net worth continued to climb and was now sitting at $327,000.
The highlight of 2014 was that we took out a home equity line of credit and paid a contractor to develop our basement. That meant adding new debt to our finances and another strike against reaching all of our savings goals.
No regrets, though, as we have enjoyed the space and got the line of credit paid off relatively quickly.
My RRSP finally crossed the $100,000 threshold and the dividend stock portfolio returned a respectable 8.53 percent. But cracks started to form in my strategy.
The problem was when I realized my bad behavioural biases weren’t doing me any favours as a stock picker. I strayed from the blue-chip dividend growers (since I already owned most of them) and bought a few smaller cap stocks and high yield stocks that didn’t do well.
At work, I got the last salary increase that I’d see for five years as the provincial government froze wages for non-bargaining public sector employees. I would have to rely on my side hustle more than ever.
Only there was one problem. A major change to Google’s algorithm meant a few of my high ranking articles no longer appeared on the front page when you searched those terms. I lost 90 percent of my search traffic overnight, and online income dropped by 20 percent. Uh-oh.
One major step I took to combat this loss was to start my own fee-only financial planning service. I took on my first few clients in 2014. Who would have guessed this would be my main source of income today?
The single most important thing I did in 2015 happened when markets opened on January 2nd. I sold all of my dividend stocks and switched to an indexing strategy – more specifically a two-ETF solution of Vanguard’s VCN and VXC.
I don’t want to downplay the significance of this change. I was a die-hard dividend investor, and there’s a bit of a cult following of dividend investors online. I lost blog readers because of this move. I likely lost the respect of certain dividend bloggers.
But looking back I know it was the right thing to do, both from an evidence-based perspective and from a personal behaviour perspective as I was simply not cut out to be a stock picker.
My RRSP soared to more than $119,000 and our net worth grew to more than $450,000. Online income recovered back to 2012 levels. The side hustle was back!
My wife and I celebrated our 10th anniversary in 2016 with a childless trip to Vancouver. It was glorious. We also ran eight kilometres around the seawall at Stanley Park. I was hooked on running.
Financially, this was another one of those forgettable years. I wrote about how the waiting was the hardest part. We were paying off our line of credit, paying off our new car, and saving what we could. But our big goals were still a few years away. We just had to keep chugging along.
The lone bright spot was that our car loan was paid off in November and we could finally start diverting that money into a TFSA.
We also started maxing out the kids’ RESPs. And my RRSP kept growing – now to $133,000.
Our net worth reached a milestone – smashing through the half-million mark and ending the year at $532,000. Ok, it was a good year.
Our youngest daughter started Kindergarten in the fall of 2017, giving us a small taste of freedom (at least for the weekday mornings).
With no car payment, and our line of credit nearly paid off, we made a big effort to save in 2017. I put $10,000 into my RRSP. I also put away $1,000 per month into my TFSA, an approach I still take to this day until it is fully maxed out.
The result was a $100,000 increase in net worth – to $635,000. Financial freedom at 45 was becoming more and more realistic by the day.
I also ran in three races in 2017 – a 6k and two 10k – with plans to do my first half-marathon in 2018.
With both kids in school full-time, my wife had time to help me with the online business – taking care of the accounting, scheduling, design, and administration (true weaknesses of mine). That’s been a life-saver and helped take the business to new heights.
Markets didn’t cooperate in 2018, but my RRSP was now worth $166,000 and I grew my TFSA to $29,000. We paid off the last of our line of credit and could focus solely on our savings goals. It was time to ramp it up!
Our net worth by the end of the year nearly reached $700,000.
I finished two half-marathons: the first in Calgary in a time of 1:52:34, and the second here in Lethbridge in a time of 1:52:26 (hey, at least I’m consistent).
What. A. Year.
Our net worth crossed the $800,000 mark. We’re so close to reaching our $1M goal by the end of 2021. My RRSP is so close to $200,000.
I switched to an even simpler portfolio, with the new Vanguard all-equity ETF (VEQT).
We’ve managed to put ourselves in such great shape financially that I felt comfortable leaving my day job to focus entirely on blogging, freelancing, and financial planning.
I’ve been at it for three days and I can’t believe I didn’t do this earlier. It’s an amazing feeling to work for yourself and not have to answer to anyone else.
What’s next for 2020-2029?
The 20s are shaping up to be a great decade. My wife and I will work side-by-side at home on our online business. We can come and go as we please, and attend all of our kids’ activities and special events.
We’ve got the travel bug and plan to visit Maui in February and Italy in April. I doubt we’ll stop there, now that I don’t have a limited amount of vacation days to hold us back. We’ve talked about going back to Scotland again soon.
Then there’s my well-documented goal of reaching $1M net worth by the end of 2021. That’s still well within reach, even though I’ve shed one major income source.
I want to have the mortgage paid off by the end of 2024. That’s a stretch goal, but it can be done.
Looking far ahead to the end of the decade, it’s not out of the question to reach a net worth of $2M.
I could have stayed in my day job for another 5-10 years, collecting a nice salary while earning another good income stream on the side. That would’ve been the smart move, financially speaking, and allowed us to meet and exceed all of our lofty savings goals.
But life isn’t about earning the most money, or saving the biggest pile. The fact is, I wasn’t happy rushing the kids off to bed so I could write another article or work on a client’s financial plan. I wasn’t happy spending my weekends working online instead of sledding, skating, or swimming with my kids – or spending quality time with my wife.
The truth is, I was burning out. It’s tough to work all day, spend a few hours with my family, and then pull out my laptop for another two hours every night. I did that for nine years. Did I really want to spend another year, or two, or five, doing the same thing?
The clear answer was no. We have a viable online business that has more earning potential than my day job ever had. I just need to put some daylight hours into it to uncover its true potential.
Plus, I actually enjoy it! I love writing about personal finance and investing. I love helping people achieve their financial goals and dreams. It’s the perfect job for me because it still feels like a hobby.
The ’10s have been an eventful decade, and we’re looking forward to see what the ’20s bring.
What did you accomplish this decade?