Saturday, December 29, 2018

Tax Saving on Steroids: Better than RRSP

Two years ago, I had a great job. I loved it. In fact, I loved my job too much.

I'd wake up at two or three am in the morning a few times a week to get some work done, while it was still relatively quiet and almost nobody else was working. I'd work through the day, and then put in a few more hours right before bed time, usually late at night, after my kids and my husband fell asleep.

I loved the job. It felt like a game. Loved solving puzzles and moving up to the next level. I was addicted. 

I was a conscientious super star at work and a dedicated WORKAHOLIC

Once, I even managed to impress the CEO and the CFO. I doubled an important business metric while holding an interim job for a quarter, in addition to my own regular job. I got a performance bonus! Hooraaah! That felt amazing!

Extremely shocked was I when only half of the bonus got deposited to my checking account. How could that be?

The answer was simple: Taxes.

Blinded by Success

Blinded by Success
That was the first time I actually noticed the impact taxes made on my net pay.

That same year happened to be the year of the highest earnings I ever achieved being a full time employee. I was really proud to be in a high marginal tax bracket.

Taxes didn't hurt. On the contrary, I was certain that it was a good problem to have:

The amount shown in Box 22, Income Tax Deducted, Line 437 of my T4 slip felt as a badge of honor.

I felt successful.

That year I finally saw the benefit of contributing to RRSP. At the very last minute just before RRSP contribution deadline,it occurred to me that for whatever contribution I can make, I'd get almost half of the money back as a tax refund.

For every RRSP dollar that'd be deducted out of my earnings, I would put 50 cents of tax refund back into my pocket

Wow. I got cash advances on several credit cards and took some money out of my TFSA and made my first ever RRSP contribution, which ironically became my last RRSP contribution as well.

Bingo! A couple of months later, taxes were filed and almost half of my contribution came back. I paid back the cash advances. "Wow! I rock," - I thought looking at my RRSP savings.

Unbearable Tax Burden

Stressed. Depressed. Overworked

Some time has gone by. It became obvious that I couldn't keep working 16 hours a day. I was exhausted. Tired. Depressed. Rock bottom was approaching fast.

I remember the day when I gave up.

I was driving to work in the morning. This was the forth 20-hour day in a row. Tears were running down my face.

Why am I even doing it to myself?

Is it worth it?

The recent performance bonus felt like a mean prank now.

I felt like a failure. I knew that this was the end of my career. I didn't make it to the top.

I thought again about my performance bonus slashed in half by tax and many thousands of dollars of tax I paid that year to CRA.

I thought about 50 cents deducted from every dollar. 

50 cents from every dollar that I made during those horrific 20-hour long days and short four hour nights when my dreams were a continuation of the previous day's train of incoming emails, never-ending meetings, and insurmountable workload.

Every minute my brain kept persistently telling me "Why are you doing this to yourself? Stop! It's not worth it"

Finally I heard my own subconscious scream for help. I knew I wouldn't last until retirement at this pace. I'd just collapse. This wouldn't be the first time when I'd have a break down and have to take a stress leave to recuperate.

Enough! I am not going to drive myself into the ground. I gave my notice and quit working.

The Best of The Two Worlds: High Income, Little Tax

The irony is that if I worked smart, rather than hard, I would have had time to learn that there were ways to minimize tax. 

I could have had the best of the two worlds: high paycheque and little tax.

Alas, I missed my chance.  I am sharing my knowledge with you, a successful high income earning employee, who works smart at a fun interesting job and wants to find a way to pay less tax.

The Best of The Two Worlds: High Income, Little Tax

This is all legal. This is all risky. You should do your own research, due diligence, etc. and check with your accountant. 

The steps are simple in this Tax-Optimization Strategy:

  1. Work smart, earn a LOT and get into high (or preferably highest) marginal tax bracket
  2. Invest in a flow-though fund that's eligible for up to 100% tax deduction and get a tax refund, which basically reduces your capital at risk by 50%
  3. Convert your income into more tax favourably taxed capital gains, essentially reducing tax by 50%.

A sample calculator and a detailed example of how flow-through fund works can be found at Maple Leaf Short Duration Flow-Through fund website here

I am a big proponent of tax saving strategies. I was thrilled when I learned about this flow-through tax optimization and investing strategy a few weeks ago. 

Certain alternative energy projects
are qualified to issue flow-through shares

Keep in mind that the window to invest in flow-through shares is very short: late fall to early December.

If you'd like to discuss or learn more about this topic, please send me an email or post below. All questions, feedback, ideas are welcome. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

When Frugality Fails

Being a landlord can feel EXTREME
Earlier this month, I started feeling as if

someone somehow 
the God of Appliances 

Every time I picked up the phone, I heard one of my tenants deliver the bad news.

It started on Sunday morning.

Ring-ring. My fridge stopped working.

Monday morning. Ring-ring. My dryer stopped working.

Monday evening. Ring-ring. The washing machine doesn't drain.

At that point, I made a strategic decision of letting the phone ring and go to voice mail, while I was sorting out all these appliances issues.

Luckily, this was it for the time being!

Extreme Efforts Being Frugal

Most properties I get, come with appliances and in most cases they are pretty old. Hence, I expect at least some of the appliances would break fairly soon after the purchase.

In the past, I always looked for a used appliance to replace the broken one. I thought this was the most cost effective approach.

For two to three hundred dollars, I could find a decent used washer, dryer, stove or whatever needed. A new appliance would be about $500, almost twice more expensive.

With a used appliance, I also had to figure out a way to deliver it to the tenant, get it installed, and get rid of the old broken one.

Luckily, my husband is quite handy and could help with most of this.

This is How We Did It

I'd find the most affordable decent used appliance and negotiate the price.

Then, coordinate child sitting, so we can free up either a Saturday or a Sunday.

Our weekends are packed with our youngest son's Russian lessons, music, hockey, and occasional birthday parties.

Our youngest son is nine and the oldest is almost 19. My parents and my-in-laws have 6 grand kids each. They used to be eager and excited to babysit the oldest couple of grand kids.

Let's be honest, after 19 years on grand-parents duty, I can't say any of the grand-parents are thrilled when I ask them to spend a day driving grand son #6 back and forth, trying to bribe him with just the right amount of doughnuts, chocolate milk, and chips as he goes through a back to back list of all sorts of developmental activities and sports.

Having said that, more often than not, our parents still agree to help us out.

Childcare arranged - Yay!

Next, we'd borrow our friends' mini-van. Our friends have three kids of their own. So this is a hassle for them as well. They have to move car seats, strollers, and downsize their life for the day every time we need to borrow their car.

I'm grateful every time they help us out! To thank them we always bring back their car with a tank-full of gas.

Transportation Arranged - Yay!

The following step is to make an appointment with the tenants, at least 24-hours ahead. This is usually the easy part since the tenants look forward to getting a working appliance.

It has to be on the weekend, though! Because my husband has a day job. All this investing jazz is happening after hours and on weekends.

Tenants on Standby - Yay!

On the day of, usually a Sunday

1) Wake up early in the morning, seven-ish

2) Get Starbucks, it's going to be a long day!

3) Pack and drop off the child

4) Give extremely-detailed-instructions to the grand-parents about all the activities they have to tackle including a back up plan in case the child is in a whiny mood

5) Get the mini-van from our friends

6) Pack all tools and hardware

7) Remember to take the key, in case tenants aren't home

8) Go and get the appliance from the seller, typically someone I found on Kijiji

9) Drive to the tenant, either to Barrie or Guelph

10) Attempt to install the appliance

11) Find out that something doesn't work or is missing - pipes, outlets, drains, narrow doorway. It's guaranteed that something is going to be messed up or in our way.

12) Go to the hardware store for the parts and tools, minimum twice

13) Finish appliance installation super-late in the evening

14) Roll out the old appliance to the curb. Comply with local city and safety rules (ex., if it's a fridge, take off the door!)

15) Get fast food. We are super hungry and done with all the snacks by this time

16) Drive back to Toronto. No traffic on the way back - Yaaay!

17) Fill up the tank and return the mini-van

18) Pick-up the child from the parents

19) Go to bed at two or three am

20) Wake up four hours later

The job is done! Yay!

How Much Money-Wise?

With do-it-yourself approach, we'd pay about $300 for the used appliance, $50 for gas, $80 for a full tank of gas as a Thank You to our friends, get coffee, fast food and realize one out of every four new used appliances would break within several months after purchase and we'd have to fix it.

In summary, used appliance would cost about $600, while a new one would be about $800.

   Used Appliance      New Appliance   
Appliance$300.00 $500.00
Delivery$- $100.00
Installation$- $200.00
Starbucks for Two$12.00 $-
Fast Food for Two$20.00 $-
Gas & gas re-fill$130.00 $-
Fix New Used Appliance$132.50 $-
Total $ Cost$594.50 $800.00

How Much Effort-Wise?

In addition to dollar cost, we'd need to collaborate with and inconvenience a whole bunch of family and friends to coordinate appliance re-placement.

Collectively, we'd spend over 150 hours either putting in heroic efforts AND/OR sacrificing our weekend.

The result would be subpar. After all this time invested, our old new appliance will likely break soon or stay functional for just a couple more years. So we'd need to re-group and fix it again!

People InvolvedDo It Yourself Delivery /InstallProfessional Delivery/Install
Grandparents @ 12-14 hours20
Child @ 12-14 hours10
Friends @ 12-14 hours50
Husband @ 12-14 hours10
Self @ 2-4 hours admin work11
Self @ 14-18 hours inspiring my husband to put in heroic efforts over the weekend10
Handyman @ 2-3 hours01
Tenants @ 3-6 hours22
Total # Participants:134
Total Time Needed from everyone involved128 to 156 hours8 to 16 hours

being a Landlord feels smooth

Landlord Job gets Easier with Professional Help

As my portfolio grows, appliances issue come up more and more frequently.

Sometimes, as often as three times a day!

My friends and family will NOT want me to hijack all their weekends, so that I can save $200 on an appliance.

I will never see my son again, if spend all my time trying to get and install cheap used appliances.

Also, my husband would very likely ask for a divorce if I queue up appliance deliveries and other handyman work for the next three-four-five weekends in a row...

Lately, I always go for NEW appliances and pay for PROFESSIONAL delivery and installation. 

This is the ONLY way I can scale to 50 doors.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Vacancy: Landlord's Worst Nightmare

Vacancies Keep me Awake at Night!
A few days ago we filled our last vacancy.

What a Relief!

The search took about three weeks. Our property manager began advertising the unit on November 19th. 

We started with $1,650 asking price, which was higher than the average for similar units in the area. There were barely any inquiries at that price. 

December and January are typically slow months for tenant search. People are busy with holiday prep and after holidays they go into hibernation-mode for the remainder of the winter. I was worried that we'd have a vacancy until Spring.

Vacancies Keep Me Awake at Night

The reason I am so afraid of vacancies is because they are very costly. Every month of vacancy, I'd have to come up with money to pay the mortgage, property taxes, utilities and, in case of this specific property, property management and condo fees as well.


Typically, they recommend that you include 2-5% vacancy fee in your cash flow calculations.

Given 5% vacancy, my annual cash flow would be $1,280. Or $100 a month.

In reality 5% only works if you manage to go without vacancies for a while. Actual losses are a lot higher!

For example, my annual loss for a year with one month of vacancy is about ($1,660). That's because:

I will not get a month of rent of $1,600
Pay about $300 for the utilities during that month
Pay about $2000 for tenant search and making the unit ready - fresh paint, minor fixes, etc. add up
Pay all regular expenses of $16,960...

If my property is vacant for two months, the loss will be ($3,560).

With three months of vacancy, I'd lose ($5,460).

Once I do find a tenant, it will take a l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng time to catch up.

I'd need the tenant to stay for almost 2 years, to catch up after one month of vacancy.
The tenant will have to stick for over 3.5 years to catch up after two months of vacancy.
Lastly, the tenant will have to stay for almost 6 years, to fully catch up after three months of vacancy.

My math is simplified, of course. I don't take rent increases into account at all, for instance. Still, you get the idea why I hate vacancies. Vacancy losses are horrific.

The danger is on the flip side as well. If you rush and get a BAD tenant, you can end up with thousands and thousands in losses... See my blog post here for details - My $30,000 Mistake.

Here is a chart with the numbers in my examples above:

5% Vacancy
   1 month
   2 months 
   3 months 
Gross Rent$19,200$19,200$19,200$19,200
Less Vacancy($960)($3,900)($5,800)($7,700)
Rent Income$18,240$15,300$13,400$11,500
Financing Cost$6,860$6,860$6,860$6,860
Condo Fee$5,304$5,304$5,304$5,304
Property Taxes$1,961$1,961$1,961$1,961
Property Management$1,094$1,094$1,094$1,094
Total Expenses$16,960$16,960$16,960$16,960
Net Profit (Loss):$1,280($1,660)($3,560)($5,460)

Success! Got a Great Tenant

Needless to day, the pressure was on.

We lowered the price by $50 to $1,600. Luckily, the interest picked up! 

The ad generated over 230 views, 15 inquiries, three viewings, and a great application on December 9th. 

Our property manager uses Naborly for tenant screening. I've never seen a Naborly report before and was quite impressed. The multi-page document covered most of the information that I typically review for a candidate and gave some additional insights. Here is what the report covered:
  • General info about all occupants
  • Previous addresses and address verification
  • Equifax credit summary and score
  • Debt summary including monthly debt payments
  • Rental history
  • Financial information
  • Employment history
  • Analytics showing the likelihood of key tenancy risks (late payments, eviction, property damage) 
  • Analytics showing the likelihood of a successful tenancy during the entire term.
Our property manager also collected a photo ID, a full credit report, and a letter from the employer. They conducted a face-to-face interview and verified employment and personal references. My property manager summarized their findings including possible risks.

I reviewed all the information as well and did my own due diligence. I typically research every piece of factual information and make sure all facts align and make sense. The way I do it is very simple: research every name, every address, every company name, every email, and every phone number that the candidate provided; look in Google and on all social media platforms; contact all references and chat with them; verify income.

In this case, all checks were successful. I accepted the application and to my delight, the tenant confirmed that they'd like to go forward as well.

No Vacancies!!!!!
Overwhelmed with JOY and
will definitely sleep like a baby :)
The property manager impressed me very much! This was the first time when they found a tenant for me and I loved how smooth the tenant on-boarding process was. 

As soon as this last vacancy was filled, I started sleeping like a baby again! 

Monday, December 24, 2018

How Two Families Got Richer

Miss my car, but don't miss spending ~8K a year 
Over the past 5 years, I've been adamant about eliminating liabilities.

Here is the theory:

Liabilities take money out of your pocket.

The more liabilities you get rid of, the more money you keep for yourself.

Every dollar you keep, you can put to work by acquiring assets.

Assets put money in your pocket.

Once money from your assets cover your needs, you are financially free.

Hence, eliminating liabilities expedites your financial freedom

Easy! Right?

Not really!

It took me over five years to make the decision to get rid of one of my biggest liabilities - my car! 

In Love with My Car

In love with my car
My husband and I knew precisely the cost of owning two cars. Yet we hesitated. We had a lot of questions: do we really need both cars? can we do with one car? how much extra time will we spend on logistics if we were to get rid of one of the cars? which of the cars we keep? how much can we save?

Most of uncertainty and hesitation came from the fact that my car was really important to me. I loved it! It was an integral part of my life.

It was hard to imagine not having my own car. I was used to being free to go whenever and wherever I want.

Managing our properties, driving kids to schools and sports, visiting our parents, getting tons of food from Costco, etc. all required a lot of driving. My husband and I often had to be in two or three different places at once. Eliminating one of our cars would cause a lot of stress and cost time.

After discussing pros and cons, we always came to the same conclusion: we had to keep both cars.

Even though I knew my car was an expensive liability, I loved it too much. I couldn't let it go.

Annual Car Cost = Seven Weeks Working 

It's been taking a TON of money out of my pocket. In 2018, relevant  expenses added up to $7,878:


At 17% tax rate, this equals $9,492 of pre-tax money.

An average family with 73.7K annual household income has to work for over seven weeks to earn enough money to cover this liability. This is a recurring expense, so it's not just a one time seven week work project. You'd have to work for seven weeks every year to pay for all the car expenses expenses that year.

Time for Change

All good things must come to an end
This year our personal situation changed.

Our oldest son moved out.

Our middle son became fully self-sufficient. He prefers TTC.

I work from home most of the time.

My husband takes train to work.

We noticed that both cars are parked and idle during most of the time.

The next step was obvious. No more hesitation. We no longer needed two cars. Time to sell!

My Ex-Car is now an Asset

Once we made the decision, selling was easy. We found a buyer on Kijiji.

What I loved the most was that he turned the car into an Uber! It's now an asset and is putting money into the buyer's pocket.

One transaction made two families a little bit richer:

My family got rid of a liability. We now keep more money for ourselves.
The buyer's family acquired an asset, which puts money into their pockets.