What a mutual fund flop, part-time jobs and a box of Nerds taught Sandy Yong about managing her money
Get to know Sandy Yong, personal finance author and MoneySense’s newest columnist.
Get to know Sandy Yong, personal finance author and MoneySense’s newest columnist.
Sandy Yong loves learning, writing and talking about money. So much so, in fact, that she wrote a book about personal finance: The Money Master. She’s also penning a new column for MoneySense, called Making It, to help Gen Z get a better grip on their finances. Yong wants to people feel less anxious and overwhelmed by money—and she’s not afraid to talk about her missteps either. Here she shares her experience learning about personal finance, mistakes included.
If I had to narrow it down to my top three, it would be Andrew Hallam, Melissa Leong and Warren Buffett. I read Andrew Hallam’s book, The Millionaire Teacher, about a decade ago. Fast forward to today, and I call him one of my mentors. Seeing Melissa Leong’s success gives me hope that I too can inspire young women to achieve their financial goals. And, it’s important to have Asian women represented in the personal finance industry. Finally, Warren Buffett. As a value investor, he’s one of the most successful investors of all time, and I admire how many charities he donates to.
Besides spending time with my friends and family, prioritizing my health is important to me. So, I play volleyball and take fitness classes. I also love to play with my two pet rabbits, Captain Pancake and Cinnabun.
I would be having more experiences, like travelling to different countries and visiting the Disney resorts, or dining at Michelin star restaurants.
As a kid, I would beg my parents to buy me candy at the grocery store. I was very persistent. But my father would stand his ground, and, eventually I’d give up. That’s when I learned I couldn’t always have whatever I wanted because we had to stick to our grocery budget.
I saved money in a piggy bank from the tooth fairy, my birthday, Chinese New Year and Christmas. I remember my father taking me to the Becker’s convenience store down the street and letting me hand over some coins to the cashier in exchange for some candy. My favourites were Nerds, Junior Mints and Pop Rocks. That’s when I realized that to get something, you need to exchange something of equal value to the other person.
My first real paying job was during high school, working as a barista at a coffee shop in the Beaches in Toronto. I spent some of the money on buying clothes at Eaton Centre, some on buying CDs from Columbia House, and I saved some of it. I always had different part-time jobs throughout high school and university, and I paid for my own post-secondary education. Looking back, I’m glad that I had those work experiences. They taught the value of money and how to manage my income.
In my early 20s, I was convinced by a sales rep at one of the big banks to purchase high-risk, high-fee, non-diversified, actively managed mutual funds. At first, the funds were performing well but they ended up tanking soon after. I was making a modest salary and losing my hard-earned money was a devastating experience. I realized that I needed to be in control of my finances and not put blind faith into someone else. I’m thankful that I went through that experience because it pushed me to do my own research and understand how investing in the stock market works. Thanks to the Canadian couch potato, I decided to become a successful self-directed investor and haven’t looked back since.
Investing in yourself is the key to success. After I graduated from university, I continued to take courses, read books and attend workshops and conferences to learn new skills. I think many people graduate from school never pick up a book again. By investing in myself, this has helped me to grow personally and professionally.
Further to that, one of the most powerful concepts I learned was about leverage. Having a mortgage is a form a leverage and can help Canadians accumulate wealth faster. Even the magic of compounding interest is fascinating to me. I knew that having time on my side was a big factor in how successful I could become. That’s why I was proactive with investing in the stock market in my early 20s.
To focus on cherry-picking the best companies when investing in the stock market. First of all, no one can predict the stock market. Second, statistics show that many active traders who try to beat the market tend to fail. Why not keep things simple and buy the entire market, and sit back and relax? I have many priorities to juggle, so I’m all for simplification and automation making my life easier.
A large sum of money all at once and that is for two reasons. The first reason is that it will allow me to make big money moves such as buying property—which we know in many major cities is not cheap! Second, I am a dividend investor and I receive payouts every month already. Most of these dividends go through a dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP) or are distributed to my savings goals.
An overlooked strategy for many investors is paying attention to the fees. It’s not uncommon for investors to overpay on the financial products and services they’re receiving. Oftentimes, you can find more affordable funds in the market that will perform just as well if not better than what you may currently own. For example, if you own mutual funds with fees typically ranging from 2% to 3%, you may consider looking into more cost-effective index funds or ETFs and pay only a fraction in fees, ranging on average from 0.05% to 0.50%.
Recently, with instant gratification and gamification on trading apps, young investors have the desire to get rich quickly. However, they need to understand the difference between investing and speculating. If you want to grow your wealth steadily and safely, it’s wise to focus on a long-term approach by having a balanced and diversified investment portfolio.
One of my money regrets is not negotiating my salary when I was younger. I should have advocated for myself more and not left money on the table. This is especially important for women and minorities like me. Women are still facing the gender pay gap where women are earning $0.89 for every dollar a man earns, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. The worst that can happen is that your employer says no.
Value means getting my money’s worth. Being a foodie, I don’t mind spending money on fancy restaurants. For one of our wedding anniversaries, I made reservations at what I consider Canada’s best restaurants, Alo. It took me several months to book a table but it was well worth it to me.
The biggest purchase I made was buying a pre-construction condo. I was looking to expand my real estate investment portfolio and this rental property would help me build my wealth. My real estate agent informed me about the project and after a few days of gathering all the necessary information, I decided to put in my deposit and sign all the paperwork. Although it was a major purchase, it didn’t take me a long time to make that decision, since I knew what I wanted. For me, I had several years of being a landlord and felt like this was a great opportunity to grow my income streams. As long as I have done sufficient research, I make an informed decision and move on to other priorities.
There’s good debt and bad debt. Good debt can help you grow your wealth, knowledge and skills. This would include having a mortgage or a student loan. In contrast, bad debt can harm you and are liabilities, such as having credit card debt.
I like to prioritize spending money on experiences, and studies show that they provide more happiness than buying materialistic items. Recently, I went on a family trip to Lake Simcoe and stayed at an Airbnb at Friday Harbour Resort. We enjoyed the local food, walked along the marina and hiked the trails. Plus, I wanted to take advantage of the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit for this year. It was great to explore our own province and support local businesses while receiving a tax credit.
The most recent one I read was Reboot Your Portfolio by Dan Bortolotti. It’s a great book for those who are looking to start investing or switch over from a financial advisor. I’ve been a big fan of Dan since his Canadian couch potato days.
I want to save up for an electric vehicle (EV), since it will help our family save money in the long run. I’ve been eyeing Tesla, but more competitors are coming out with new EV models, too. I haven’t been in a rush, but I may consider buying one sooner considering our high gas prices.
I prefer to own property because it’s a great way to grow my assets. My husband and I own condo properties that we rent out to long-term tenants. It provides us with rental income and we hope that the property values will increase over time.
Buy: I don’t want to pay additional interest unless it’s a big-ticket item where I need to spread out my payments.
Both! I have multiple savings accounts dedicated to short-term and medium-term goals. For the long-term, I focus on investing, both in the stock market and in real estate.
I have a budget. It’s structured in a way that provides flexibility as our spending habits change every month. We always pay ourselves first, pay off expenses, invest regularly and then spend what is left over. It helps us ensure that we are on track with our yearly budget.
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