Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Hawaii, I’m coming for you!


58176_440295435247_507680247_5842370_5352369_nIn 18 days, I’ll be headed to Kauai – the smallest of the four major Hawaiian islands. :)

We are in desperate need of a vacation. BF especially. He has been under a lot of stress lately, and neither of us has had a holiday for longer than 4 or 5 days in almost a year. So for the past week, we’ve been throwing around ideas about where we should go on vacation this year. We were thinking of everywhere from Paris to Lisbon to Jamaica. We almost booked a trip to Mexico, but ended up deciding on Kauai since neither of us have been there before.

A few years ago I was in Maui for a good friend’s wedding and had a great time. But I remember being shocked at how expensive everything was, so for this trip I’m going to be more prepared. I spent $1,100 in 2010 for the 5-day trip, and this trip won’t be significantly more expensive – despite staying longer, and at a much fancier hotel.

Here’s an approximate breakdown of the expenses:

Flight: $0

The direct flights actually cost $586 per person, but we are using our credit card rewards points, so both of our flights are free. :)

Hotel: $800 (7 nights)

One of BF’s good friends works for a global hotel chain. She was nice and let us use her friends & family discount to book a place to stay. So what would have been a $500/night resort ended up costing us $237/night after resort taxes/fees – which is still expensive! But since we got our flights for free, we decided to splurge. This hotel will definitely be the fanciest place I’ve ever stayed at before.

Car: $65

The rental cost us $130 for 7 nights, and was a nobrainer for us. There’s free parking at the resort, and a taxi would have cost $100 roundtrip from the airport or the shuttle would have been $42 roundtrip. We already have a growing list of places we want to visit, and I’m really looking forward to exploring and seeing what the island has to offer.

Food/Alcohol: $400

This is budgeting approximately $60 per person, per day. I anticipate making breakfast in our room, and packing simple beach picnics for lunch. Dinners we’ll likely go out for, but they don’t have to be fancy.

Miscellaneous: $300

We’d like to do a half day snorkeling trip on a catamaran ($140-180), so I’m budgeting in that amount plus any other miscellaneous expenses that might come up.

TOTAL: $1,565

With the discounts and points we were able to use, we saved approximately 50% on this trip – $950 per person on the hotel, and $586 per person on flights – saving us each a grand total of $1,536. Of course, we could have stayed at a much cheaper hotel. But our budget was $1,500 each for this holiday, and we were right on target. :)

So for those who have been to Kauai before, does anyone have any tips on what to see and where to eat?

How I started investing: Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 3-Part series in how I started investing. If you’re new here, please take a moment to read Part 1: The Beginning, as well as Part 2: DIY Investing!

Part 3: Figuring it Out

Since consulting with a financial advisor three years ago, I’ve made some significant changes in how I invest my money. In Part 2 of this series, I talked about how I rebalanced the asset allocation of my portfolio based on the financial advisor’s advice.

To recap, I was originally investing in 91.7% stocks, 2.7% bonds, and 5.6% cash.

The financial advisor suggested 70% stocks, and 30% bonds, so I readjusted my portfolio to reflect the following:

  • 20% Canadian equity
  • 25% U.S. equity
  • 25% International equity
  • 30% Canadian Bond

I continued to contribute to my TD e-series Funds for the next two years, and it wasn’t until 2013 that I decided I wanted to branch out into ETFs and individual stocks. But because I didn’t have much knowledge outside of these e-series funds, I started by doing a lot of reading online. Particularly Dan Bortolotti’s Canadian Couch Potato blog. I really liked how he laid out each mock portfolio, and I was already on the right track since my portfolio was very similar to Dan’s Global Couch Potato, Option 2:

Option 2: Using individual index mutual funds allows you to keep management fees low and customize the asset mix. TD’s e-Series funds are the best choice, but they are only available to investors who open an online account with TD Canada Trust, or through a TD Direct Investing discount brokerage account. The total annual cost of this portfolio is 0.44%.

When I started saving for retirement in 2007, I was only able to put away $25/month. But just that act of consistently putting away money got me into the habit of saving for retirement. So as my salary grew and my debt shrunk, I was able to contribute more and more. For the past few years, I have been contributing about $750/month towards retirement, and the plan is to keep increasing my contributions as my salary increases as well.

ETFs and Stocks

Early last year, I became interested in investing a little bit of money into the stock market – not enough to jeopardize my savings, but enough to make it interesting. So I started reading. I didn’t really know where to start, but I decided to pay attention to the Business section of the news. I took a look at what companies were doing, researched their stocks, and started tracking a few that I was interested in.

After about 3 or 4 months of monitoring, I decided to take a baby step and buy $1,000 worth of the stock I liked the best (October 2013) through Questrade. Within a few weeks, it plummeted 10%, and I felt pretty bad about it. But, I reminded myself that it wasn’t a lot of money, and the stock market was a lot more volatile than the mutual funds I was used to investing in. Since then, the company has been doing very well, and as of today, it is up 53%. :)

I’ve also invested in my first ETF: the Vanguard FTSE Canadian All Cap (VCN).

Moving Forward

Following the Couch Potato Model, in the coming years, I’ll be looking to advance from the Global Couch Potato over to the Complete Couch Potato portfolio:

The Complete Couch Potato includes additional asset classes while remaining easy to manage. This portfolio is really all the average investor will ever need: it includes almost 10,000 stocks in more than 40 countries, as well as government and corporate bonds of all maturities and additional diversification from real estate and real-return (inflation-protected) bonds. The weighted MER of this portfolio is 0.23%.

I hope to continue to play in the stock market as well – although to a much lesser degree than my mutual funds and ETFs. It was something I was intimidated of for many years, and I don’t think you can ever get over that fear until you take the plunge and make your first purchase. I’m still very cautious and I tend to monitor stocks for many months before buying. In fact, since my first stock purchase in October 2013, I’ve only purchased one other stock – which is up 9.5% since the beginning of the summer. But I have my eye on about 10 stocks at the moment, and I’m excited at making my next purchase. :)

I realized a long time ago that there’s no sense being scared of my money. With no company pension to help me reach my goal of early retirement (and with no confidence that CPP and OAS will be available to me when I retire), I’m going to have to work hard in order to achieve it on my own. Nobody taught me anything about investing, but I’m being proactive in learning and doing. Sure, I’ve made mistakes in the past, and I’ll likely continue to make mistakes. But we all have to start somewhere, right? And thankfully there are helpful blogs and websites out there to help us achieve whatever financial goals we’ve set for ourselves.

Related: What does retirement mean to you?

Anyway, that ends my 3-part series on how I started investing. :) If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave a message on this blog post in the comments section, or find me on Twitter at @krystalatwork.

Do you want to share your story on how you started investing? If so, please feel free to email me at I’d love to hear from you, and potentially feature your story here on the blog.

Spending Recap: August 18-24, 2014

Monday 18th
+ $736.35 freelance income
$46.51 gas

Tuesday 19th
$91 GoodLife Half Marathon registration
$31.20 groceries

Wednesday 20th
$66 field hockey insurance

Thursday 21st
No Spend Day!

Friday 22nd
No Spend Day!

Saturday 23rd
$20 dinner
$8.69 groceries

Sunday 24th
$61.74 BC Lions game (2 tickets)
$40.09 lunch (for 2)

Freelance Income: + $736.35
Expenses: - $365.23

TOTAL: + $371.12

This was an expensive, fun, exhausting week. :) First, I paid for my half marathon fees. I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to actually do it, since my recovery from injury has been slow. After a great 17km training run, I felt confident that I’d at least be able to finish the race, so I registered. Not sure how smart that was of me, but hopefully the next 6 weeks of training goes well.

I spent Saturday helping BF with renovations on his house. Progress has been stalled, and there’s still a lot to do, so I expect to be helping out often over the next few weeks. That evening, we went out to dinner with his family at a favourite local pub. :)

Sunday was spent with my family! My mom and dad, as well as my aunt and uncle came over for the BC Lions football game. A few days earlier, the owner of the BC Lions guaranteed a Lions victory – and if they didn’t win, everyone who attended would get free tickets to another game this season. Well, they didn’t win! So we’ll likely be claiming our free tickets to another game sometime this fall. It was probably the best valued game to go to, since we purchased our tickets to that game using a 2-for-1 coupon already. :)

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