How I saved $1 million by age 33

Even if something looks risky, if you invest your time, educate yourself on the topic and then invest yourself, you can succeed. Here’s how Fidan Geneski did it

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From the November 2015 issue of the magazine.

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Fidan Geneski, 33 from Ajax, Ont. (Photograph by Shlomi Amiga) save $1 million

Fidan Geneski, 33 from Ajax, Ont. (Photograph by Shlomi Amiga)

Sometimes a moment in your life changes you forever and that moment happened for me when I was 18 years old. The house next door to my family home in Scarborough, Ont. went up for sale and my dad looked at it to see if it would be a good investment. My dad spent his adult life running our family restaurant and had never bought a rental property before. But he had some savings and was looking for an investment that would offer him better returns than a simple GIC.

I still remember how excited my father was after he saw the house. His excitement piqued my interest. I had $12,000 just sitting in my own bank account—money I had saved over the years from working weekends at the restaurant. That afternoon, we ran the numbers. It didn’t take long for us to see that the $185,000-house was a great investment. My dad put down $40,000; I added $12,000 and my younger brother added $7,000 more—making it truly a family affair. That was 15 years ago and the investment has paid off in spades.

Right away we got good tenants and they stayed in the home for 12 years, never missing a rent payment. As the years went by, the tenants paid rent, which paid our mortgage. It didn’t take me long to see how prosperous real estate investing could be.

This newly acquired knowledge fueled an entrepreneurial desire of mine: I wanted to own my very own rental property. While attending college I continued to work at the restaurant to raise money for a down payment but I also decided to try something new. Poker was becoming very popular, so I took a chance and started importing poker game sets. I pre-bought 100 sets and put them on eBay for $100 each. Within a month, I had sold out and my $4,000 investment had turned into $10,000. That money, coupled with the money I’d saved from my work at the restaurant, ended up helping with the down payment for those rental properties­, which I bought after graduating college.

But my leap into poker during my college years wasn’t limited to selling poker sets. I decided to take a gamble—literally—and started playing online poker. Taught not to gamble, I approached it as a purely logical exercise. I read everything, watched several instructional videos and even began following some of the big-name players online. Finally, I felt ready. To my surprise I won money right away. For the next three years, I played online poker with a total profit of about $350,000. During this time, I learned that winning at poker takes a lot more skill than luck. Not being an emotional person and not doing things impulsively also helped.

By 2009, I was a college graduate and I started a job with Canada Post. But I still wanted my own investment property, so I took $150,000 of my earnings and bought two properties. Both were down the street from the family home. The single-family house cost $170,000, and I spent $50,000 fixing it up and turning it into a legal duplex. The duplex cost $220,000 and needed about $10,000 worth of cosmetic fixes. To keep expenses down, I did all the work myself—which didn’t surprise my parents. There are plenty of stories of how, as a toddler, I always had a hammer in my hand, trying to fix things.

This is when I realized that nothing put a smile on my face faster than buying and fixing up real estate properties. That’s when I surprised my parents and quit my Canada Post job. I started my own contracting company and even joined a real estate club. When I got married four years ago, I bought my $425,000 principal residence with a 50% down payment. Since then, my wife and I have paid that mortgage off and had three kids. Today, at age 33, my real estate holdings have helped me grow my net worth to over $1 million, and I’m looking at two more properties to invest in.

What I’ve learned is that even though something looks risky, if you invest the time to educate yourself on the topic—reading books, going to workshops and seminars and doing your due diligence—you can succeed.

As told to Julie Cazzin

14 comments on “How I saved $1 million by age 33

  1. A single house in Scarborough in 2009 cost only 170,000? He should probably keep playing online poker, it only takes 9 years to get over $1 million.


    • We bought the house in 2000, when I was eighteen.


  2. First off, congratulations to the individual for making it to where he is today….however, and by no means any disrespect to his success story, this is the most ridiculous article I have ever read. Is MoneySense really highlighting a success story where winnings from playing online poker was a huge source of wealth? I thought the article title was…How to ‘SAVE’ $1 Million by 33. Is taking a chance and learning poker the example we really want to educate readers with? Way to feed the fire for any of those with a gambling addiction looking towards this magazine for alternative means to save/earn more.


    • absolutely agree with you!


    • When I read this article in the print magazine I thought exactly the same thing. As a professional accountant I certainly would not advice anyone to attempt to create wealth through online poker gambling. My advice is to study hard when young, work hard at your career during your earning years, set aside a pre-determined amount from your earnings and invest this using a set plan. The day will come when you can retire and reap the rewards of your hard work and diligence. CD


    • Hi Will, thank you for the congratulations! I’d like to take a minute and add a few lines regarding my on-line poker success.

      Back in the early 2000’s during the poker boom, there where millions of people playing online poker worldwide, most recreationally.. If someone decided to take the time to learn the game properly, showing a profit at the end of the month was rather easy. This obviously didn’t last too long though as players eventually learned how to play and the games quickly dried out.

      The risk that was involved back then was very minimal. Far less than trading stocks, currency or even real estate.


  3. Cute story. Who wrote this, a realtor? Didn’t you pay mortgage interest, property taxes, maintenance and real estate fees of 5% when you sold your “investment” ? You sure it was a winner? tells me 5yr fixed rates were 8.55% in January 2000, 6% in 2005 and 5.5% in 2010. An average interest rate of 6.6% … so $39,000 in mortgage interest costs over 15 years, maybe $1500/yr for property tax? so another $22,500 over 15 years. … now for the big one … maintenance. I won’t even try to guess this one. And lastly the pain in the butt factor of dealing with tenants, priceless.

    Another option could have been take your combined $59,000 and invested in CN Rail at market open on January 4, 2000 at a stock price of $37.65 and set it up to DRIP the dividends and you would have … drum roll please …. $931,739.68… without lifting a finger in 15 years. For those keeping score that’s an annualized return just shy of 19%. Better stick to poker, Fidan.


    • We still own the property, which is worth just shy of your CN rail profits example.

      Mortgage principle, interest, proprietary tax, insurance, utilities and maintenance are all covered by the monthly rent from the tenants, plus positive cash flow every month.

      Now that the house is mortgage free, (thanks to the tenants) our positive cash flow allows us to invest in other opportunities similar to your CN rail example.


      • The $150,000.00 in cash you used to purchase 2 houses with in 2009 could have been invested in CN Rail on Jan 2, 2009 and would be worth $585,989.58 now, without adding any additional capitol. That’s just under 22% annualized return. Yikes. Now that’s what I call opportunity cost. Even if you are lucky enough to land the dumbest renters on the planet who willingly pay mortgage principle, mortgage interest, property taxes, all utilities and maintenance for you. Congrats on that feat. And remember … a house is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.


        • Here’s an example of a property I just finished.

          Purchase price: $150,000
          Renovation costs: $68,000
          Holding costs: $12,000
          TOTAL: $230,000

          I just re-financed the property which got appraised at $300,000. I took out 80% of the value ($240,000). The annualized rate of return is infinite!

          I was able to pull all the money I had invested AND still keep the property for a nice monthly cashflow. I’ve done three similar deals this year, on to the next!


  4. He was smart enough to take his poker winnings and not blow it on stupid things but by putting all his money keeping on reinvesting in just rental real estate will bite him financially and possibly legally in the future at some time.

    Anything from rental tenant problems from vacancies to property damage to liability issues could cost tens of thousands or more. Also, Canadian housing did not have a correction of 10% or more which is normal for real estate every 6 to 7 years. He could lose $200,000 to $300,000 in real estate market value from his property or properties.

    If we get a Japan like scenario which we we have many similarities today of which are much lower interest rates 70% down from highs of 9% to 10% mortgage rates, much older growing population as a proportion of the overall population, lower and lower wages, falling or disinflation, deflation possibly, deep discounted, depreciating currency 30%+ down, slower and slower economic growth not an economic malaise yet but close, depressing stock markets lower by about 15% Toronto TSX, Toronto TSX Venture down about 85% all since highs from 2007 to 2008 stock, economic, financial crash then a 60% to 70% decline in real estate prices, market values is possible with $600,000 to $700,000 in property values losses.

    Rental rates and annual increases do not keep up with annual higher water, electricity, property taxes, garbage fees, insurance premiums, future maintenance and repairs which will cost thousands a year over year. What about future new taxes like land transfer taxes, possible new carbon taxes and other energy taxes on housing.

    What about higher mortgage, borrowing rates from higher interest rates which even a 1% point increase in the next 5 to 6 years will add $1,000 a month in extra mortgage payments. There is a difference between real estate investing and real estate speculation which is using 85% to 90% leverage, borrowing to buy rental properties is not being risky but financially dangerous and hazardous when things turn the other way.


  5. One more thing that must not forgotten which impacts real real estate, Canadian housing just like interest rates, unemployment rates and wage, salary, employment opportunities.

    Look at Detroit and other run down cities that have had many employment problems, this is a very important factor that many don’t count which in a tougher economy can make a huge difference. Also, what about his personal employment and financial position and prospects. How much personal and family debt does he and they have, credit card payments, car payments, business loans, lines of credit, mortgage payments, mortgage balances etc.

    What are his and family’s personal living expenses and business expenses? Mortgage payments, car insurance payments, house insurance payments, total utility payments from water, gas, electricity etc. How will future minimum wage, salary, wage, tax increases, tax policy now with the new 3 Liberal governments, Toronto, Ontario, Canada impact his tenants and his family’s finances?

    Watch out when it comes to rental properties and thinking that the last 20 years makes it a golden goose that will last and last never running out!


  6. Your net worth should not include your principal residence. True net worth consists of investible assets.


    • You’re right. But, we didn’t include my principle residence in my net worth.


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