The Bad Idea That Wouldn’t Die

June 14th, 2015 by Potato

I keep thinking that there are a lot of people who really want or need a course on personal finance and investing, and there aren’t many resources for it. There are books of course, but some people just aren’t book learners, or prefer a course for one reason or another. There are some good continuing education courses offered through UofT and a few other universities across the country, but for most people who don’t live close to campus they’re out of luck. So I’ve thought about putting together a full online course on the matter, and while few people think it’s needed, when I actually asked who would sign up for such a beast the response was under-whelming.

A full course would be something like 12-16 hours of lectures and discussions, which would take hundreds of hours to prepare, practice, and coordinate. It’s madness to put in that kind of work before knowing for sure that there’s actually an audience at the other end. So it’s a bad idea. No one wants it, at least not online.

And yet it’s an idea that won’t die. I’ve kept thinking about how to put it together, how to change and add to the content of the book for a course, and moreover talking myself into thinking that it is needed and maybe the reason for the previous response is that people just don’t want to raise their hands over vague hypothetical options (also, the people who would want a course are likely not on r/PFC or here, excusing the underwhelming response earlier). So I’ve doodled a bit and come up with a preliminary syllabus for such a course.

But it’s still a terrible idea that’s going to take way too much time that I don’t have. Fortunately I’ve heard that Ellen Roseman plans to take one of her UofT courses online next year, and Bridget of Money After Graduation is putting together an online course on investing too. So maybe I can bow out and let them solve the problem.

Here is the preliminary course outline/syllabus, make of it what you will. Maybe it will get you excited and you’ll want to enroll or back a kickstarter-type thing to make it happen. Maybe Ellen and/or Bridgette will liberally borrow for their courses (and the outline is not the hard part of creating a new course so I don’t really mind). Maybe you will tell me that my outline is bad and that I should feel bad.

Planning, Investing, and Other Grown-up Money Concerns
Proposed Course Outline (each unit approx. 45 minutes + time for questions)

  • 1. Introduction and Money 101 Review
    a. What you should already know and have mastered.
    b. Budgeting and living within your means.
    c. Saving saving saving
    d. Emergency funds (insurance?)
    e. Credit cards, lattes, etc., etc.
    f. Clever parables, Diderot’s housecoat, Chilton’s four most dangerous words.
    g. Reading list to kick-start the course.
  • 2. Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow
    a. The importance of attitude, behaviour, and long-term thinking.
    b. Neat grey matter tricks, including why free makes us stupid.
    c. Social animals and keeping up with the Joneses.
    d. Heuristics and rules-of-thumb (or should this be a whole other class?).
    e. Points-of-view.
    f. On uncertainty, and why a scientist is talking right now.
  • 3. Canoeing Down the Spanish River: Goals, Direction, and Having Fun [w/ Sandi Martin]
    a. Sandi’s talk from TPL, expanded a bit.
  • 4. Needs, Wants, and Other Sundry Topics
    a. Some concepts, because I had to stick them somewhere (inflation, compound returns, how to read graphs, use a spreadsheet, probably some other stuff).
    b. Needs and wants, and creating your minimum plan and ideal plan.
    c. Other goals and things that will affect your planning.
    d. An aside on the industry, some ranting, why I push the do-it-yourself way.
    e. Sketching out a plan and how to get there.
  • 5. Finally, the One in Which He Talks About Investing
    a. Investments help us make our plans a reality.
    b. Types of investments.
    c. Investing in businesses.
    d. Lessons from active investing: intrinsic vs market value, and what it means for long-term investing in a world that survives the coming zombie apocalypse.
    e. Investing in bonds, real estate, commodities, and other stuff.
    f. History and setting reasonable expectations.
  • 6. The Quick and Dirty Yet Completely Convincing Explanation of Index Investing
    a. The importance of fees.
    b. For repetition sake, a discussion of how fees matter.
    c. What can be controlled and what cannot be.
    d. Active vs passive – theory and past results.
    e. The added benefit of simplicity.
    f. Other ways of investing, and what they entail.
    g. The importance of “I don’t know”.
  • 7. Risk, the Gom Jabbar, and the Unfortunate Gambling Analogy
    a. Risk in everything.
    b. Many definitions of risk, and blending of volatility and uncertainty with risk of lifestyle impairment.
    c. Risk on different timescales.
    d. Risk tolerance.
    e. Enduring a market-crash in real time and Dune’s Gom Jabbar.
  • 8. Let’s Do It: Asset Allocation and Your Plan
    a. The canonical portfolio.
    b. How to decide on an allocation that will work for you.
    i. The age-based rule-of-thumb, and the completely arbitrary equity split.
    ii. The classic 60/40 one-size-fits-all portfolio.
    c. Apocrypha.
  • 9. How You Actually Do This: Three and a Half Investing Options
    a. Robo-advisors.
    b. Tangerine.
    c. TD e-series.
    d. ETFs.
  • 10. How You Actually Do This: Taxes and Tax-Shelters
    a. TFSA.
    b. RRSP.
    c. RESP.
    d. RDSP.
    e. Non-registered: taxes, dividend tax credit, capital gains, ACB.
  • 11. How You Actually Do This: Writing Stuff Down and Making Spreadsheets (Or Whatever)
    a. Condensing your goals and direction down into a written plan.
    b. Writing down your asset allocation and a rebalancing plan.
    c. Tracking stuff with spreadsheets (or pieces of paper in a binder, or whatever works for you).
    d. Tools that already exist and can help.
  • 12. Where I Talk About Processes and Take a Break to Riff
    a. Processes, lessons from engineering and health care.
    b. Good enough solutions.
    c. Execution risk, and some more talk about the behaviour gap.
    d. Some slack time to review any material from the previous classes that needs further discussion.
  • 13. Au Secours, Au Secours!
    a. When to get help.
    b. How to find help.
    c. Getting value-for-money.
    d. What an advisor/coach can do, and what they can’t do.
  • 14. The One Where I Reveal My Thoughts on Real Estate and You All Hate Me for It.
    a. The biggest purchase – and biggest expense – in your life, and why it deserves more thought than it gets.
    b. Rent vs buy analysis, and busting myths about renting. The ball pit analogy.
    c. Income suites are not magical.
    d. The housing bubble, and the pernicious myth of the property ladder.
    e. A look back at US housing bubble and why it’s not really different here.
    f. Real estate as an investment, direct and REITs.
  • 15. The Hardest Problem in Personal Finance [hopefully w/ secret guest(s)]
    a. The options that open up as you near retirement (annuities).
    b. Government benefits in retirement, CPP.
    c. Sequence-of-returns risk, longevity risk.
    d. Sustainable withdrawal rate, and the various schemes to convert a pile of investments into lifetime income.
    e. Decumulation plans.
  • 16. An Hour for Questions, or Lacking Those, Delicious Discussions of Dirty Dealing
    a. Q&A.
    b. Why I hate market-linked GICs and their dirty advertising.
    c. TANSTAAFL in general, being skeptical.

4 Responses to “The Bad Idea That Wouldn’t Die”

  1. Kyle @ Young and Thrifty Says:

    That’s a sweet syllabus. My only comment would be that unless it’s a graduate-level course, that is way too much to master each night for most Canadian students that I know. Aim high though!

  2. Potato Says:

    Thanks Kyle! The target audience was adults, not sure if that helps with trying to breeze through the material.

  3. Ellen Roseman Says:

    Hi John, I just found your blog post. Great course outline, though I agree with Kyle that it might be too ambitious for most students.

    Yes, I am giving an online course in investing and stock picking next spring at University of Toronto Continuing Studies. Here is a link (so you know it’s official):

    I still do my classroom course, Investing for Beginners, at the U. of T. downtown campus. It starts Sept. 10 and runs to Nov. 5. Here’s a link: (go to section 011).

    The current stock market turmoil should increase attendance, but it may also scare people away. Last year, I had 85+ students. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  4. Potato Says:

    Thanks Ellen!