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. 

We began to assemble the building blocks for financial success. I started a budget and began to track our net worth – which was just $102,000 at the beginning of the decade.

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:

2010

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.

2011

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.

2012

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.

2013

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.

2014

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?

2015

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!

2016

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.

2017

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.

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).

2019

What. A. Year.

We went on an epic 32-day trip to Scotland and Ireland. We earned more from our online business than I did from my day job. I quit my job

Unreal. 

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. 

Final thoughts

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?

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21 Comments

  1. Pam on December 11, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Man this decade has been crazy. I moved back to Canada from Australia in 2010, took a role at work that meant working on the road 2 weeks a month for 2 years, then took an assignment that took me to Mongolia for about 1 week a month for a year.

    Then I decided to move to Edmonton and sold my Vancouver condo and bought something twice the size for the same money.

    I became an owner in the company I work for and have put almost all of the dividends into my mortgage. My condo will be paid off in 2020 and my net worth should reach $950k by the end of that year.

    Not sure exactly where the next 10 years take me but I’ll be 51 in 2029 and I hope I am only working because I enjoy it 🙂

    • Robb Engen on December 11, 2019 at 2:28 pm

      Wow, Pam, that has been a crazy decade for you! Congrats on the nearly paid-off condo and closing in on $1M net worth. Amazing!

  2. Dan on December 11, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    Hi Robb,

    Would you mind breaking down your net work in buckets. RRSP, TFSA, real estate, business. As you approach the $1MM net worth mark, I’m curious how that is made up and maybe what I should be targeting realistically. No side hustle, but high income, current low savings but plan to turn corner within a few months here and kick things into high gear.

    Thanks,
    DAN

    • Robb Engen on December 11, 2019 at 3:00 pm

      Hi Dan, you can see the breakdown in my last net worth update here: https://boomerandecho.com/net-worth-update-2019-mid-year-review/

      That was from mid-2019. I’ll have a year-end update in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned for that.

      • Bob Lin on December 17, 2019 at 9:33 am

        Robb: I checked out your net worth breakdown, and I didn’t see a Spousal RRSP.

        Because I’ll have a healthy income from a DB pension, my calculations show that we will be better able to balance our incomes (and reduce our tax bill) if most of our RRSP drawdowns are in my wife’s name. The DB pension income can be split before age 65, but not so from the RRSPs, even if converted to a RIFF or LIF pre age 65.

        So, I was just curious about your drawdown plan with everything is in your name – or perhaps it’s not, and it’s just not detailed.

  3. Dave on December 11, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    Congratulations Rob,
    In late 1978 I left a large accounting firms to be a ski bum on the West coast of North America that winter. I was 33 and completely burned out. When I returned in April 1979 I ran into a large client I had worked with at the accounting firm who said he had a friend who needed some assistance. This turned out to be the founder of a large oil and gas company who had several business associates he introduced me to and my private Chartered Accounting firm was established. Never planning for it, I was now self employed and today at the age of 73 have to say that fate dealt me the best life I could have hoped for. I met my wife at that first client and we have had a wonderful life together with the freedom of self employment. I have learned that in life, you don’t have to know what you are going to do, to know what you no longer want to do.

  4. Joseph Sadovia on December 11, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    Congratulations, Robb, on a well accomplished 2010 -2019 journey. I feel that you are well set to accomplish more in 2020. You asked what I accomplished this decade – I am not going to bore you with a lot of details. Suffice to say that I finally reached a net worth of at least $ 1 million earlier this year despite that I am a lot older than you and have been retired for the past 8 years. Hopefully you will experience an excellent time in Italy in April 2020 and will want to return again. My wife and I go to Italy for 4-6 months each year. Wishing you well going forward !

  5. Toby on December 12, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    Congrats Robb;
    I’ve been following you for several months now… as you articulate my ideal investment strategy — informed couch potato and low-fee with a solid plan to go forward.
    I wish that I had focused on paying more financial attention at least two decades back… but hindsight is always 20-20… so here I am just now engaging in belatedly trying to get my investments in order.

    I’m well into my 2nd geezerhood with a statistical life expectancy for another decade… hopefully a bit more than that as long as quality-of-life holds up.

    I hope that others at least 3 decades younger might read and be motivated by your story… and while everyone’s path will likely be somewhat different based upon their own unique life circumstances and opportunities, the general financial principles and milestones you expound will serve them very well when they’re implemented (and we geezers can also benefit — albeit belatedly).

    Best to you and your family in your coming decades — and I don’t have to advise you… to stay the course — since it’s obviously working for you!
    Cheers!
    Toby

  6. Tawcan on December 14, 2019 at 1:08 am

    So very inspirational to read about your decade Robb. Just like you guys, we had a great decade too, the highlights were the birth of our two kids. Our finances have been going up and up which has been amazing. 🙂

    I didn’t realize that you quit your job, congrats! That’s amazing!

  7. Maria @ Handful of Thoughts on December 15, 2019 at 3:45 pm

    Have never thought to look back on the decade to see what I have accomplished. We make steady consistent progress but when you look back on a decade it is astounding how much can be accomplished. In 2009 we bought our first home, paid it off by 2014. Somewhere in there I went back to school and get a new job that doubled my annual salary. In 2015 we bought our first investment property (well first 4 that year actually). In 2018 we added to our family with the birth of our daughter. Now in 2019 we have moved to a new home, own 9 rental properties and are back to tackling a mortgage again. Wow time flies.

  8. Deb on December 15, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    Congrats Robb! So very happy for you!

  9. Gin on December 16, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    Congratulations and also a sincere thanks for the personal finance writing over the last decade. It has made for enjoyable reading as well as keeping me informed. Much appreciated.
    Best wishes to you and the family including mom and co for 2020 and the following decade.
    Sounds like the year is starting off well with a trip to Hawaii and Italy. Enjoy!

  10. Joe on December 17, 2019 at 7:38 am

    Enjoyed your summary Rob. The last decade included job loss, rebounding and realizing retirement pre “60”. Low fee investing (and being fortunate with real estate) has certainly been instrumental in my journey. Your insights always interesting and useful. Enjoy!!

  11. GYM on December 18, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    What a way to top off the decade. Congratulations again and reaching the true ‘FI’ lifestyle, being able to work for yourself how you want and have enough of a cushion to do so.

    Time with our little ones is so precious.

  12. Dave Lyn on December 19, 2019 at 12:09 am

    Robb, clearly, you and your wife make a great team. Well done.

    You asked “What did you accomplish this decade?” Well, despite having tracked almost every dollar we earned and spent over the past 22 years, I’ve never thought to look back and do a summary, so here’s a snapshot of our past 10 years:

    December 31, 2009
    – Investments & cash $107,000
    – DB commuted value: $255,000
    – House value: $220,000
    – Mortgage: $117,000
    – Savings rate: 10% (excluding DB contributions)
    – Net Worth: $465,000
    – Children living at home: 2 and 1 occasionally
    – Retirement looked like age 65 for me and age 63 for my wife

    December 19, 2019
    – Investments & cash $609,000
    – DB commuted value: $988,000
    – House value: $366,000
    – Mortgage: $0
    – Savings rate: 50% (excluding DB contributions)
    – Net Worth: $1,962,000
    – [Adult] children living at home: 1 and their plus one
    – Retirement age will now be age 57 for me and for my wife it was at age 52

    Clearly the DB is doing most of the heavy lifting here, but our investments are now growing faster than the DB. Over the 10 years we shaved approximately 9 years off our original retirement dates through lifestyle changes, focusing on paying the mortgage off early, ramping up our savings rate and learning about self-directed low-cost investing. During those 10 years we also traveled/vacationed a fair bit around Canada and the US, plus overseas in Europe, Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand, and a few warm islands.

  13. Passivecanadianincome on December 29, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Nice Robb

    First time here so it’s nice to get a simple round up about you and your journey.

    Congrats on all your accomplishments. Sounds like you guys are living that dream already.

    This past decade has been a massive change for us. Started learning about finances and eliminated over 70k of debt. Now were debt free other than our mortgage. Got married had 2 kids. Sold our townhouse and got a nice house and property and started this journey in the investment world.

    It’s pretty cool to look back 10 years vs 1 year which I normally do. Thanks for that.

    keep it up Rob
    cheers!

    • Robb Engen on December 31, 2019 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story as well! 10 years truly doesn’t seem like a long time until you look back at all that took place.

      I heard about a study where subjects were asked to list everything noteworthy that happened to them in the past 10 years and then try to predict where they’d be 10 years from now. In most cases people listed off a bunch of milestone accomplishments, but said they see themselves in 10 years doing exactly what they’re doing now. Incredible!

  14. Steve Bridge on December 31, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Robb,
    Thank you for the open and thorough summary of your decade. Most people aren’t as forthcoming with personal details and it is inspiring to me that you share yours.

    My decade was pretty interesting finance and job-wise. It went from working for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver to a brief return to the travel industry to three years in professional sports (admin, not participating) to starting in the financial service industry.

    The decade started with three rental properties under my belt and ended with none (once I figured out the math, it just wasn’t worth it). My net worth has not increased as dramatically as yours, but we are in similar places and I hope to have the choice to retire in 7 years (age 55). No DB plan here and CPP will be limited.

    Like you, I have moved from dividend-paying stocks (I was a rabid fan at the start of the decade) into a plain-vanilla globally diversified ETF portfolio. Unlike you, I kept the DRIPs but I don’t add money to them anymore.

    As I write to you, I am finishing a month of working remotely from the west coast of Mexico. This has been a successful experiment and may stretch to two months next year.

    Keep up the great posts!

    Steve

    • Robb Engen on December 31, 2019 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Steve, wow – we’ve got a lot in common. I spent 10 years working in hotels, and another 10 years fundraising for university sports (while dabbling in financial writing and planning on the side).

      That’s amazing that have been able to work remotely for the past month! That’s definitely part of the appeal of doing the online business full time. I’d love to spend a month or two away somewhere and still keep up with writing and planning.

      Thanks for sharing!

  15. Bryan on January 11, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    Graduating university in 2009 had meant I started the decade with about $25,000 of my just under $30,000 of student debt remaining. By 2011 I was debt free! Secured a full time job in early 2012 and that’s when things really changed. The job helped, but we started getting the Toronto Star at work so I’d read it at lunch. That’s when I first stumbled on an article by Robb and it led me to this very blog! Life changing!!! The other life changer was losing money by having someone else manage it. It wasn’t a lot, but the combo of that and learning about DIY investing made me want to handle everything myself. By 2013 I was in a brand new starter home. In 2014 I re-purchased that same home when buying out my now ex-gf. But I had the funds saved up, and bet on housing going up. Whew! And it all led to the best Xmas gift ever: a date with my now wife 🙂 In 2016 we travelled to the Dominican, Maui, San Fran and Cuba. Clearly bit by the travel bug. In 2017 we bought our brand new forever home that would be ready in 2019. In 2018 she said yes atop the French alps. We got married this summer and moved in just a few months ago.
    It’s been a whirl-wind decade and (at least financially) it’s felt like Boomer and Echo has been my guide in this crazy world. Robb, you’re a few years older than me and it’s been life-changing following in your digital footprints. Cheers to a great decade and many more! Be sure to check out the Old Lahaina Luau in Maui. Book early but it is worth every penny!

    • Robb Engen on January 13, 2020 at 9:41 am

      Hi Bryan, thanks for sharing your story and for the incredibly kind words. It’s the greatest thrill to know that I’ve had a positive impact on someone’s life.

      BTW, as I read your comment I had just finished booking reservations for the Old Lahaina Luau – crazy coincidence!

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