Announcing The Value of Simple

September 28th, 2014 by Potato

By now you all know that I’ve been working on an investing book. I’m pleased to announce that the title is The Value of Simple: A Practical Guide to Taking the Complexity Out of Investing.

I’m aiming for a December 1 release and I’m really excited about it. I’ve put a lot of work into refining the book and testing it out with readers (novices and experts) to make sure it works. I even like love the title.

Briefly, The Value of Simple: A Practical Guide to Taking the Complexity Out of Investing is a plain-language guide to implementing an index investing strategy for Canadians. With a focus on developing good processes to minimize the room for human error and step-by-step instructions, the book walks investors through the elements of managing their finances for the long term: how they can determine an appropriate asset allocation, devise a savings plan, stick to it through automation, track their investments, and deal with the inevitable issue of taxation. It provides tools and templates, along with default suggestions and rules-of-thumb to help prevent analysis paralysis and get investors started as soon as possible. Moreover, it directs the reader to focus on what can be controlled, to minimize effort and complexity.

For the average investor, a low-cost index investing approach is the easiest and simplest method available, and also provides the highest chances of long-term success. While there is a lot of material available on why investors should choose passive approaches over high-fee active mutual funds and what passive investing products exist, the average investor is at a loss on how to implement a passive index investing plan.

Investing doesn’t have to be complex to be successful. Indeed, simple solutions are valuable and are more likely to succeed in the long term. This book will guide you through implementing those simple solutions.

There is a separate webpage for the book (click here!) where you can find more details and pre-order it (and soon, purchase it). You can also sign up for email updates below (and I promise to only send a few):

I Am Not Good At Marketing

September 26th, 2014 by Potato

The book is very nearly done. The text is all in there and has had multiple runs of editing. Now it’s down to formatting all the little things, remastering a few images for print, getting the cataloging-in-publication data, the cover art, etc.

I’m proud of it — I think it will truly help people get started at investing, and covers a lot of important elements that are not covered by the books that are currently out there. While I usually have a lot of problems with self-promotion, I can think of the book as being separate from me, as a thing I can promote and herald without it being self-promotion in my damaged mind. But I’m still not particularly talented at it.

I can do the Fermi estimation and figure that there are millions of Canadians out there between 24 and 60 who could really benefit from this book. Yes, many won’t need it; others won’t invest on their own no matter how helpful the book; some are in debt and in no position to use it. Even if just 5-10% of them need it and would use it though, that’s a big market.

And I have no idea how to reach it. The simple fact is that I am not good at marketing. I can maybe write decent copy if I focus on not letting the loquacity run away from me and give it a few revisions. But that depends on having people actually there reading something, and I don’t know how to get to those people in the first place.

My big hope is that everyone who reads it will love it as much as my beta readers did. That they will recommend it to their friends, family, and frenemies. Sadly, people don’t talk about personal finance and investing. Even if I put a copy into someone’s hands and they adored it, to the extent of writing me a little email about how it totally opened their eyes to investing fees and changed their life, the odds are that they will not tell anyone else about it*. For whatever reason, vampire bondage erotica is a more acceptable dinner table, coffee with friends, or book club topic than personal finance. So I can’t rely on word-of-mouth to spread the news of how awesome and helpful the book is.

But beyond word-of-mouth, what have I got? I tried contacting some people in the media. I’ve had online interactions with Rob Carrick, Ellen Roseman, and Melissa Leong in the past when I wasn’t trying to sell them anything (not necessarily deep ones — moreso with Ellen and Rob than Melissa), so I started by contacting them. They were polite, but it wasn’t very promising. There are other people I can try to contact, but those would be completely cold calls. Somewhere I saw a suggestion to get some freelance articles in the paper or a magazine to build name recognition before a book release, which sounds like suggesting that to successfully sell your book, you start with having a past bestseller first — the book started because Adam Mayers didn’t want my how-to articles for the Star! So the media’s a bust.

Advertising? I got a free credit for Google AdWords a few years ago and I tried advertising for the predecessor book. The ads were a complete waste. Maybe subway posters would have a better ROI, but I suspect not.

Last time around I was really bad with social networking: the timing really worked against me, releasing right into my PhD defense, and then having Blueberry. This time I will try to distribute sample chapters and deeper discussions as guest posts on other blogs (if they’ll have me). Of course the problem there is that I might be hitting the wrong audience: it’s the people who aren’t reading personal finance/investing blogs who need the book the most. Good reviews on Amazon help, and I will plead with people to fill those out (their honest opinions — I’m not down for astroturfing). But if readers who liked it are already not telling their friends, going to the effort of writing a review may be out of the question.

So I have to admit it: I am not good at marketing. I have no idea what else to do. Suggestions, blogosphere?

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

* — True story, nearly no hyperbole (at least, not in the retelling).

To Put It Another Way

September 25th, 2014 by Potato

Once again I saw the “but if I buy a house I get something back. If I rent I get nothing back. Even a small return is better than zero…” trope about renting vs. buying. This time I answered it slightly differently, and maybe this explanation will stick:

You have to look at the whole picture.

Give me $10. I will buy you a bag of chips and give you $2 back. Hey, a small return and a bag of chips, that’s good, right? But if you can just buy the bag of chips for $5 you’re better off — you can hold on to $5 out of your $10, rather than just $2. There’s no “return” in the second case, but you put out less to begin with. In both cases you get delicious chips.

So it is with housing. The key thing to appreciate is that all discussions of “building equity” and what-not are distractions: at the end of the day, living somewhere is going to cost you money. This is where the details matter: how much money for each option? If the total cost of owning (interest/opportunity cost, transaction costs, upkeep, insurance, property taxes) is more than the total cost of renting (rent, tenant’s insurance) for the same place and you invest the difference, you’ll do better renting.

Cover Design Update

September 24th, 2014 by Potato

I had originally scheduled a minor reveal post today where I was going to tell you all the amazing title of my amazing new book and provide an amazing (-ly short, for me) synopsis, to start building something I’m told is called “buzz.” Big with bees, I hear. Anyway, in talking with some people about that the point was raised that maybe I should keep totally silent until the book is actually available for pre-order (rather than the pre-pre-order state it’s in now where you email me and I add a mark to my tally to guess how big to make the initial print run). I think I will explode if I wait that long, so I’ll probably just end up publishing that reveal post tomorrow anyway.

I got the first drafts of the cover concepts back from my artist today and I’m quite impressed. There was a concept that some people liked because it really said “this book is about doing stuff with money.” But it was the first one I threw out because it was so generic. The one I immediately decided was the one is a bit different, which I hope means that it will stand out on the shelf and make people pick it up. Hopefully only another week or so then until I can swap out the teaser image on the right with the actual cover (unless I listen to reason and wait until pre-orders open).

I still haven’t set a firm date to take PSGtDIYI out of publication yet. Expect that it will happen suddenly on the same day that (firm) pre-orders open for the new book.

I’ve had to enter pricing information to get my ISBN* and UPC code, which means I had to decide on pricing without having a proper public hand-wringing about it. I can still change it, but I think I’ve settled on going a little bit cheaper than most of the books out there (which have a list price of $19.95 but actually sell in the mid-high teens). I went with what looks like an odd price, so that with HST (5% on books) it will come out to an even dollar amount if you’re paying cash. I don’t really know how much something like that might phase people (or please them). I also don’t know whether being a few dollars under the $19.95 cluster is attractive or gives off a “stinky kind of cheap” aura.

* I have an ISBN assigned. Several, actually! Squee!

We Have TFSAs Now: Lose the HBP

September 18th, 2014 by Potato

A little while ago Rob Carrick idly wondered on his facebook page/discussion group if the home buyer’s plan (HBP) was a good idea. In case you’re not aware, the HBP is one of the few ways you can take money out of your RRSP without paying tax on it: you can pull up to $25,000 out as a first-time buyer, and repay it over the next 15 years. The HBP primarily accomplishes two things.

1. It lets people contribute to their long-term (retirement) savings with an “out” to use those funds for a down payment on a house/condo. This way they can save for the future without having to plan what will be house funds and what will be retirement funds.

2. It lets people get a tax refund on their down payment that they can also use on the house right away, effectively borrowing from their future selves. In the short term, it’s an incentive to buy.

On top of this, it has a psychological effect: home ownership and post-secondary education are the only sanctioned reasons for borrowing from your RRSP. Add how irrational people can be about taxes and tax deductions, and it’s a bit of a sacred cow. In the right light (octarine?) it looks like the government encouraging buyers to reach for as much real estate as they can, using everything at their disposal (including their RRSP).

With TFSAs in place now though the first point is well taken care of by that tax shelter: you can easily throw all your long-term savings in there as a young person, and if you need to raid them for a down payment (or whatever) then you can, even in excess of $25,000. Plus it’s already set up to be indexed to inflation so we won’t have to worry about future whining that the HBP isn’t big enough. As for point two, I really don’t think we need any more tax incentives or holiness attached to housing, so doing away with the HBP in favour of encouraging TFSA use would suit my politics just fine.

To be fair, this may need a few years for transition, and would present a bit of a savings conundrum to people who get employer RRSP top-ups, but I find it hard to feel that’s a major flaw in my plan. Let’s simplify the RRSP that one extra step, and phase out the HBP.