I came to Canada from the U.K. 12 years ago when I was 28. I had just $11,000 with me—the bare minimum for entry. In those early days, I spent that money on housing, a new laptop and other basic amenities before starting my job search in earnest. It was tough. Even though I had a PhD in agricultural sciences, I failed to get a job in my field. I was told one of three things by recruiters: either my doctoral degree from the U.K. wasn’t recognized in Canada, I had no Canadian qualification or experience, or, simply put, I just wasn’t qualified. I sent out more than 1,000 job applications and never got an interview.
Frustrated, I changed my strategy and started job hunting with a resume that listed just my master’s degree. I soon landed a marketing job where I only made a commission. I had to hustle. With just $30 in my savings account, I took a second job writing freelance articles about personal finance for Canadian Immigrant magazine.
It was during this time that I accidentally stumbled upon The Courage to be Rich by Suze Orman. That book changed my life. Determined to make a better life for me and my family (which would grow to include three children), I started attending free wealth-building seminars in my neighbourhood. When others at work were talking about how expensive groceries and gas were becoming, I was thinking about recession-proof stocks that would see some dividend growth. This became the main focus of my investing strategy.
My first investment was a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) called First Capital Realty. I loved the idea that I could become a landlord without having to own a house, earning rent in the form of dividend earnings. I still own that REIT. I also bought shares in Bombardier. I had a mad love affair with this stock until 2014, when it plunged below $3 and cancelled its dividend. I sold it right away.
Over the years I did well in my career and worked my way up the ladder. As my salary grew, so did my investment portfolio, which today consists of 65 dividend-paying stocks worth $250,000, including shares in Altrica, General-Electric, PepsiCo, Apple, Walmart, several REITs and a few gold-mining stocks.
I credit my success to living frugally and making every saved dollar count. I’ve made a concerted effort over the last few years to save $12,000 annually from my paycheque—money that goes to buy more blue-chip stocks. Sure, the stock market is volatile. Many people believe you could lose all your money, but I have spent hours at the library studying the specifics of financial investing, learning to understand price-to-earning ratios, earnings per share and debt-to-equity ratios. All so I could have a firm grasp of the basics.
I recently read the 1920s classic Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, which highlights the strategies of Jesse Livermore, a stock trader who made and lost millions through various strategies including options and shorting the market. It helped solidify my own focus on dividend-paying investments.
Getting educated and staying the course has paid off. In the past decade, my portfolio’s average annual return has been about 10%. My aim is to keep growing my investments with the goal that at some point my passive dividend income will exceed my expenses. When this happens, and I’m on track to achieve that goal in the next six years, I’ve pledged to quit my day job. Then I plan to spend my time volunteering to help poor and orphaned kids in India. For me, life is about giving back.
In the meantime, my life is centred around my family and my kids. That means trips to the Royal Ontario Museum, swimming lessons, the zoo, the Ontario Science Centre and dozens of fun family fairs. I still look for family outings that offer discount admission or free passes. I’m a saver at heart. I don’t think that will ever change.
As told to Julie Cazzin