Value Proposition for Investing Course

January 12th, 2017 by Potato

Since finishing the DIY investing course, I’ve had a few questions about what the value of the course is.

The course focuses on behaviour and processes for success, which is important — it’s not just about introducing the concepts and setting you free, but helping you to understand that investor behaviour is a huge factor, and something a lot of investors get wrong.

Everything is also explained clearly, in plain language — that’s my specialty and what I bring to the table. Some ways of explaining and framing things are unique and are not available outside of the course. There’s also a Q&A section so if anything isn’t clear, you can ask me a question and I’ll answer.

Another point of value that the course delivers is inherent to the format: rather than just text or just a person speaking at the front of a lecture hall, the course uses mixed media: text, video, presentations, spreadsheets, tools, templates, as well as active elements like exercises and quizzes. Not everyone learns the same way, and having variety and different approaches will help keep a student’s focus and improve their ability to learn. The material is also available on your schedule, whenever you need it, so you’ll never miss a line.

Finally, the course represents a huge value in time savings as well as the peace of mind in knowing that I’ve curated the vast amount of material out there for you — so you’ll also know when you’ve learned enough and can reduce the information overload. Some have commented that all the information needed to become an investor is available online or in the library, much of it for free. Yes, many people have figured out how to become successful DIY investors before I created the course, and many will continue to do so without the course. However, at this point there are millions of words written on the subject out there. Canadian Couch Potato alone has roughly 1,000 posts in his archives. And while there’s a ton of great material on that blog, it’s not the only one and it still doesn’t cover everything — you’ll definitely want to peruse the archives of Michael James on Money, Blessed by the Potato, Canadian Capitalist, oh and don’t forget Young & Thrifty, Canadian Portfolio Manager, and many more. Plus there are many magazine articles, newspaper articles, podcasts, whitepapers, and a few books. All told, you’re looking at something like one or two hundred hours of reading and having to determine what to follow because some of that freely available information is now out-of-date or just plain wrong.

For comparison, this course from UofT’s School of Continuing Studies will run you $325 (BTW, I’ll be popping in as a guest speaker for that one), but if you don’t happen to live near Toronto and have Thursday evenings free, you’ll likely appreciate the anytime, anywhere nature of an online course. PWL (Dan Bortolotti and Justin Bender) used to help teach people to be DIYers — a service that also included some personalized planning and the creation of a specific portfolio, so not apples-to-apples — for $2500-5000. Many investment coaches will help teach you from scratch, or answer specific questions to get you over any remaining hurdles after reading about it, but unless you can figure it all out in a single short session, that’s going to cost more than the course, too.

The course is not going to be for everyone, and that’s ok. Some people will figure this stuff out on their own, using free resources or a few books, filtering and addressing the conflicting information on their own. Some people are not interested in DIY investing, and will pay someone to handle it for them. For a fair number of people though, I believe the course will provide them with a lot of value in time saved, ease of understanding, and ongoing success.

Send in Your Investing Questions Now

January 12th, 2017 by Potato

The online Canadian Investor’s Conference is coming up, and I’ll have a presentation there. I’ll be recording early next week, so send in any questions you may have about DIY investing now. The conference is free if you can watch it right away, but to see the material later you’ll have to buy a premium pass — click here to enter a draw for a free premium pass (this draw is exclusive to BbtP/VoS readers so your odds should be pretty good).

Practical Index Investing Course is Complete

January 2nd, 2017 by Potato

My online course to guide you through becoming a do-it-yourself investor is now complete. Click here to download the final syllabus.

I want to thank everyone who signed up for the early access period, some of whom signed up over half a year before expected completion on little more than an outline and a promise (and a clever quote from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). I ended up a month late on delivering the completed course, with some entirely reasonable extenuating circumstances. Having those paying customers patiently waiting was hugely motivating, and kept me going even as the work ballooned.

About the Course

The course is your complete guide to all the practicalties involved in becoming a do-it-yourself investor with index funds or ETFs, including:

  • Coming up with a basic plan to guide your investing.
  • Assessing your risk tolerance, and understanding the risk involved in investing.
  • Creating an account and purchasing an investment.
  • Choosing between your TFSA and RRSP.
  • Tracking your gains and reporting your investment income on your taxes.
  • Managing your behaviour and setting up good processes for long-term success.

What Does Complete Mean?

I say the course is complete, but what exactly does that mean? Well, I’ve delivered on all the essential modules in the syllabus, and what I had originally envisioned1. That doesn’t mean that now I’m going to unplug and ignore it. I’m a strong believer in continuous improvement, and will keep tweaking the course to refine the content that’s there, and add material to address questions as they come up. The course platform has a discussion section, which will help identify areas that people may be having trouble with. I also plan on running a few webinars through the year — a feature other courses charge extra for — in case people want more chances for discussion and Q&A.

1. Note that a few minor changes were made to the structure since the original outline, in particular much more information in the middle sections, and I realized that there was a lot of overlap between sections 5 and 9, so those were streamlined.

Never Weight

January 2nd, 2017 by Potato

I’ve gained a crapload of weight in my life. I started undergrad as skinny and ended a touch on the pudgy side. But the final year of my MSc was the worst — I was depressed, my experiments failed so I had to repeat a number of experimental runs, and my nominal two-year master’s took over three to finish. Plus I got a kidney stone and was bed-ridden for over a week, and had trouble even making the 20-minute walk to work for several months afterward. In that short span of time I gained so much weight I blew right through fat to obese. Over half that weight was packed on in a span of just a few months, weight gain so rapid it left me with stretchmarks.

But I had work to do — thesis to write, experiments to science, thorium to mine. Losing weight takes willpower and mental energy (and moreover, can’t be done while also powering through consecutive all-nighters on the power of caffeine and refined carbohydrates).

After I defended my MSc, I managed to lose a tiny bit of that weight (not much) and get in a bit better shape (not much). As my PhD was coming to an end, I knew that I might backslide a bit, but set a “never weight” for myself so that I wouldn’t go through another round of that kind of damage to myself as I finished my PhD, especially because at that point I had (somewhat) figured out that I wasn’t destined for an academic career and science wasn’t worth the sacrifice. If at any point I hit my never weight, I made a deal with myself to miss deadlines or whatever it took to keep that under control. I managed to finish my thesis with minimal weight gain, and lost that and then some after Blueberry was born (having a kid is a great impetus for changing bad habits). I figured ok, this is just my life now: I’m overweight but have held steady here for a few years running.

Then I hit a few busy periods at work, and again all-nighters and 100-hour weeks became a central part of my life. Here’s a hot bio-hacking tip: you can survive on just 3-6 hours of sleep per night for up to 2-3 weeks of insanity if you just keep eating. Can’t fall asleep while you’re mid-chew!

I gained 10 pounds in just a few weeks for one big project (my “Discovery Frontiers” weight), managed to hold the line for a year, and then gained another 10 lbs over a few weeks (the “CFI Innovation Fund” bonus gift). By then I let some bad habits form (esp. eating at my desk at work), and got really run down from chronic sleep deprivation (many causes), so even holding the line became hard, let alone losing that weight after the crises passed. But as long as I had shown I could work so intensely for someone else, I decided that rather than simply throttle back after those busy periods and focus on recovery, I would keep it up and work for myself. I wrote The Value of Simple. I started developing the Practical Index Investing for Canadians Course, both brought to you by the letter C for chocolate, chips, coke, and caffeine, and the number 5, for the hours of sleep I averaged most nights.

Then in the last big project (that ended in early October) I gained some more weight and hit my never weight. I was about to put up this post and commit to focusing on my health as soon as the investing course was done, but then Wayfare got sick, which was not exactly a stress-free time. But now it’s a new year, and the course is done, so this seems like a good time to commit to making this year all about improving my health. I started already, skipping any bound-to-be-disappointing New Year’s Eve stuff to just get to bed by 8 last night :)

I don’t have a diet/exercise plan sorted out precisely yet, but I’ve got some ideas. My first priority is to fix my sleep schedule, as that alone will close some positive feedback loops.

And that’s it for the year’s goals: I’m not writing another book, I’m hoping that now that the course is done I’ll have put myself out of the investment coaching business, and I don’t have plans to take on many freelancing projects. A few speaking gigs will likely be the extent of my non-daddy, non-day-job stress-inducing activities.

Winter Tires and Bang-for-Your-Buck

December 17th, 2016 by Potato

When it comes to safety and your vehicle, seatbelts are likely the obvious winner in bang-for-your-buck. They’re cheap and save a whole bunch of lives. Yet when I was a kid, I knew adults who wouldn’t wear their seatbelts and just “wouldn’t drive like idiots.”

When I was a cheap grad student driving an older car, I also said something similar as a rationale for not getting winter tires. I didn’t want to buy dedicated rims for a car that might only live another three or four years. I didn’t drive to work so I could always plan my driving to avoid the worst winter storms, and I mostly drove on the highway which was excellently plowed. Well, of course none of that was really true: there were always the storms that came in by surprise (or because I didn’t always check the forecast), or the times when it was important to brave the weather, or the times when most of the route I wanted to drive had been plowed and salted, but part of it was slushy or icy. And even driving carefully there would be a time or two when instead of stopping at the line as I meant to, I’d stop in the crosswalk. Or I’d slip and spin the wheels trying to get started. Never with anyone there, thankfully, but visceral reminders that you can’t cheat winter.

Finally, my tires needed to be replaced. And at the time a new kind of tire was on the market, an “all weather” tire (vs “all season”) called the Nokian WR. They’re good enough in winter conditions to earn the mountain+snowflake mark of winter tires, but the rubber stays hard enough in the heat that you can drive them all year long, so no need for a second set of rims and twice yearly change-overs. They were such a huge improvement over all seasons in winter driving.

So huge that I didn’t need fancy equipment like tape measures and controlled conditions to see the difference. It was like night and day in the ability to drive, and I was never going back to trying to muddle through winter with all-seasons (or “three seasons” as called by car buffs).

Now, they are a bit more expensive, but for the amount of safety edge they give you, it’s really cheap. And important – I definitely recommend them to everyone. After all, “Tires are the sole point of contact to the road. Do not underestimate their importance.” And I used the words “night and day” above – go and find people who have put winter tires on their car and see how many express the increase in traction that way. Yes, it’s anecdotal data, but try to find the number who say “meh, I’m not sure winter tires were worth it.” I could find a few such opinions online, but in person everyone I knew who had got winter tires was satisfied with the value for them and would not go back. The only people who weren’t sure winter tires were worth it were people who hadn’t tried them.

I idly speculated on Twitter that winter tires were possibly the second-best bang-for-your-buck when it came to safety, after seatbelts. Determining how much added safety you get is a bit of a tough metric to come up with, but we can bracket in the cost side fairly easily.

For my Nokian WRs, they cost about $200 more, all-in, than the set of three-season tires I would have purchased instead. There was no hassle about changing them over, storage, etc. So if we assume that a car would need about three sets of tires in its lifetime, that’s about $600 total.

For dedicated winter tires on my Prius, I paid about $850 for the first set, which included steel rims. Then, I had to either pay $20-30 each season for a change-over, or $100 for a jack and jack stands to do it myself (plus the hassle of actually doing it myself). However, the cost of the tires is offset a bit because while the winter tires are on the car, the three-seasons are not getting worn down. So the added cost of winter tires for a 15-year car lifespan would be about $850 for the first set, $650 for the next two sets, $600 for 30 change-overs, less $800 for saving a bit over one round of three-season replacements. $1950 all told over the lifetime of the car.

Safety margin added? Huge. Tremendous. Just enormous. See this video (H/T Preet) for a demonstration of just how much extra traction winter tires provide (and don’t forget that even on clear, dry roads, the cold temperatures alone increase the stopping distance of three-season tires).

What would some other bits of gear people often pine over for their cars for safety reasons?

How about all-wheel-drive, which many people say they need for winter driving? Well, on a Rav4 adding AWD will run you $2,265 on the sticker price, and it will decrease your fuel economy by about 0.5 L/100 km. The total lifetime cost could be over $3,500. Safety margin added? Really not much. As much as people swear by AWD, it really does not add much on safety. If you can’t “get up and go” on two wheels, it’s maybe a sign you shouldn’t be driving, rather than that you need help from the rear wheels. Plus every car has all-wheel-stop (i.e., brakes on all four corners), so AWD sometimes provides a false sense of confidence when you get going, which is shattered when you try to stop. I’d take a FWD car with winter tires over an AWD SUV with three-season tires.

Electronic stability control is another feature that adds a margin of safety in winter driving, helping you to keep steering in the direction you want to go and preventing an uncontrolled skid. This one also has a fairly high addition of safety. However, I can’t even find a set of models to compare to tell you how much extra it costs now because many manufacturers have made it standard equipment — and when I was thinking of ranking features by bang-for-the-buck, this one was one I thought might possibly beat out winter tires.

Conclusion

Winter tires will cost a bit more money than three-season tires. However, they add a huge margin of safety to your winter driving. In terms of the bang-for-your-buck, they’re well worth the money in my opinion, the only thing you can optionally buy for your car that provides that kind of value. Plus you can think of them like insurance: you pay a bit more to get them and hope that you never need those extra few meters of stopping distance – you can still not drive like an idiot, but it’s there if you need it.

Go ahead and ask around, this is one area where there is virtually zero disagreement from experts and those who have tried it. Winter tires are awesome and well worth the price.

With winter-rated all weather tires now available, there really is no excuse to not at least have something winter-rated and better than a typical all-season. Not having storage or the ability to do a change-over is no longer an excuse, and the extra cost is so small that if you can afford to drive in the winter at all, you should be able to afford to drive on something decently safe.

What if you really can’t afford it? Like, driving at all is barely within your grad student budget? This may be bad advice in the end, but if you need to sacrifice something on your car to afford the trade-off for all-weather cars, sacrifice an oil change. Many people change their oil twice per year – dropping one of those should free up the money you need to buy a slightly better set of tires.