Nelson Smith

Freelance writer. Contrarian investor. Watcher of baseball. Owner of At least my mom thinks I'm funny and/or handsome.

Jul 222014

Because I am the opposite of cool, I used to spend more hours than I’d care to admit watching Star Trek. Oh lord, I can’t believe I admitted that to the whole internet. That sound you hear? That’s my girlfriend frantically packing her bags so she can leave forever. Can’t say I blame her.

Time for an impromptu ranking of my favorite Treks? Don’t mind if I do.

  • The Original Series – Shatner is kind of annoying, and the special effects are lame. Grade: B-
  • The Next Generation – Mostly good, some of the clothes they wore were hilarious though. Grade: A
  • Deep Space Nine – Avery Brooks tries way too hard, but I liked the war seasons. Grade: A-
  • Voyager: Teenage Nelson undressed Jeri Ryan about a billion times, but the show got weaker as it went on. Grade: B+
  • Enterprise: Did anyone watch this? I sure didn’t. I heard the Vulcan chick was pretty hot though. Grade: ?

Now that we’ve got that out of the way (and my newly found singleness confirmed), we can get to what I was going to talk about. One of my favorite things about Deep Space Nine was how many “random” people found their way into recurring roles. These people were much more like real life. They were deeply flawed in certain ways. As much as everyone loves Captain Picard, you’d be hard pressed to find a weakness in his character, which isn’t exactly how real life works. Except me. I AM YOUR GOD.

One of my favorite characters was Quark, the Ferengi bartender. Quark was an unabashed capitalist, usually breaking some sort of law to smuggle aboard some fancy thing for resale. He was always getting into wacky adventures because of his greed.

In the show, the whole Ferengi race is into this stuff. They travel around the galaxy looking for opportunities to make a buck. Starfleet, meanwhile, has apparently evolved into a form of socialism, since technology have made all of humankind’s basic needs easily met. They even have holographic chicks you can do stuff with, except nobody ever does for some reason. Is it cheating if you do a hologram? Asking for a friend, of course.

The Ferengi live by a series of folksy one-liners they refer to as the Rules of Acquisition. Even though some Hollywood writers just randomly came up with them on the fly, there are some gems in there that will be useful to most any entrepreneur type person. There are also some real head scratchers. Let’s take a look at a few.

(A complete list can be found here)

Rule #1: Once you have their money, never give it back. 

Well, duh. Except if you’re a retailer, that is.

Fun fact: there’s a real problem in real estate with this. As a buyer, you don’t go over to inspect the house until after the seller has their money. Like the seller is going to refund you money for anything at that point. You can sue, but that’s expensive and time consuming. Not to mention stressful. I’ll write a post about it sometime.

Honestly, a little weak for THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE, but whatevs.

Rule #3: Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to. 

I don’t care what you’re buying. Chances are, there will be an opportunity to buy it at a lower price at some point in the future. This doesn’t mean that you should sit on your hands for all of eternity, but just that patience is especially important for investors. It’s not a big deal to sit on some cash for a couple months.

Rule #6: Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity. 

I’m all for having relationships with people, but if your friends or relatives want to hold you back while you move onto bigger and better things? Those friends suck. Luckily, there aren’t that many people like that in real life. Most people are legitimately happy for their friends’ success.

Rule #10: Greed is eternal

You mean, Ferengis don’t tithe? SOMEBODY GET THE FAINTING COUCH.

Rule #17: A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.

According to Star Trek, most of the Ferengi left the home planet because they all went to search the galaxy for opportunities to make money. Can you imagine living in a world where every person on the planet was looking to best you in a business transaction? That would kinda suck, actually.

Rule #59: Free advice is seldom cheap.

I prefer the other axiom — free advice is worth what you paid for it. Keep in mind that most of your friends’ opinions on things are kinda baseless. The big thing you learn from being questioned by lessor investors is having the ability to strengthen your own argument.

Rule #62: The riskier the road, the greater the profit

That’s gold, right there. The issue is finding out how to minimize the risk.

Rule #94: Finances and females don’t mix

The Ferengi are a highly sexist society that doesn’t let women leave the house, own property, or even wear clothes (unless they’re in public). It’s strange, to say the least.

I’m not arguing that anybody should be that sexist, but there’s a gem of wisdom to take from it. When you’re with your lady (or fella), let the money stuff slide a little bit. Not keeping such a close track of who pays for what isn’t the end of the world.

I’ll leave you guys with that one. There are 285 in total, but it’s an incomplete list. I wouldn’t go as far as printing them out or anything, but it’s fun when a show like that can teach us stuff.

Jul 212014

If you’re any kind of investor, you’ve got both Canadian and U.S. stocks.

Having all your assets tied up in Canada is silly. What happens when Quebec finally gets the bomb? You know those crazy poutine eaters won’t hesitate to nuke Alberta and then try to ride in and take the oil. They won’t succeed because MURICA will beat their asses to it, but still. It’s fun that they try.

Of course, the real reason why you shouldn’t have all your investments in Canadian dollars is because our economy isn’t really that important. Sure, we’ve got the oil and a lot of minerals, but that’s really about it. We’re not a superpower, we’re just pretty good. Think of us as the nation version of Ben Affleck’s little brother.

Besides, Canada is a whole 3% of the world’s economy. Our biggest claim to fame is our overpriced housing market, and maybe the fact that we’re America’s hat and/or largest trading partner. Oh, and Alberta will get mad if I don’t point out the oil thing again. Canada is a housing correction and a decent electric car away from turning into Poland.

Which is why, if you’re a canuck investor, you should hold at least some U.S. stocks. You could get all technical and say that everyone should own stocks from around the world, but let’s not go nuts. A lot of U.S. stocks have significant worldwide operations anyway. Besides, it’s easy to buy many foreign stocks using ADRs that trade in the U.S.

Assume you bought a U.S. stock that pays a dividend. Which account should you hold it in?

The answer is really simple — your registered one. As in, your RRSP.

Here’s what happens when you hold a U.S. stock in a registered account, and you get a dividend.

1. You get the dividend
2. There is no step 2, sucka
3. Uh, I dunno
4. Has this joke gone on too long?
5. Yes. Yes it has

Meanwhile, if you hold a U.S. stock in a regular margin account, the IRS will take a 15% withholding tax. You can apply to get that withholding tax back from the CRA, since the U.S. and Canada have a tax treaty. But unlike with Canadian dividends — which are taxed at a discounted rate — U.S. dividends are taxed as normal income. That means, depending on the tax bracket, you’d pay about 10% more in tax on U.S. dividends.

The TFSA is a little different. You’ll get dinged the 15% withholding tax, but that’s it. So again, it pays to hold U.S. stocks in your RRSP and stick Canadian ones in your TFSA or regular ol’ account.

Rules are slightly different for other parts of the world. Say you bought shares in Siemens, a German company. It pays a nice 3.25% dividend, and generally you’ll get withheld 15% of the income in both a registered or non-registered account.

The difference is that you’ll be able to get the tax credit from the taxable account, and not the RRSP. So it makes sense to hold foreign stocks that aren’t U.S. based (including ADRs that trade on U.S. stock exchanges) in your taxable account, at least from a dividend perspective.

Sometimes though, the country withholding the tax won’t know where the investor is from, and withhold the maximum amount of tax allowed. In the German example, it might be 25 or 30% of the value of the dividend. As a Canadian taxpayer you can apply to get your tax credit to get the 15% back, but that’s it.

Assume this happens with Siemens. Suddenly your 3.25% dividend turns into a less impressive 2.93% dividend, based on the 25% withholding tax and the 15% credit. And remember that you’re paying full tax on that, so in reality it’s more like a 2.75% dividend.

If you’re buying a stock based on the assumption that it’s undervalued and is likely to go up a lot, taxes are just a cost of doing business. Other governments don’t get in on the action of taxing capital gains on stocks.

But if you’re buying a stock for income, Canadian stocks continue to be your best bet. There’s no withholding taxes, and they get taxed using the dividend tax credit. I understand wanting to diversify across borders, but at least from a tax perspective, it’s not such a good plan.

Jul 202014

Well kids, it’s official. Remember that thing I’ve been talking about off and on for the last two months (plug time? YOU KNOW IT) that you’re probably really tired of? Well, you’re in luck. Because as your eyeballs move across the screen, my eyeballs will be thirty-some thousand feet in the air. And the rest of me too, I suppose.

My flight was leaving early in the morning, so I was just going to pull an all-nighter at the airport, which is probably at least in the top 5 of worst sleepovers of all time. And then it was about three o’clock the day before and I was done having lunch with my friend and I suddenly realized I had nothing to do for about 16 hours. I couldn’t really go to the mall or the movies with my luggage in tow, and I was already pushing my luck storing my luggage at the place where I checked out.

So I stayed at the Delta Airport Hotel, and let me tell you, this place is SWANKY. I got my very own king sized bed, which I DESECRATED with my farts. I also spent a little time watching the planes take off and land, but that got boring pretty quickly. Perfectly executed take-offs are all fine and good, but pretty boring when you’re watching. I want to see bloopers, dammit.

They’re renovating the pool, so I got a room for just over $100. I’d like to say I used the ways of the Hotwire, but there it was, a sponsored listing on Expedia. I barely even had to look. Easily the best $100 I spent today. Also pretty much the only $100 I spent.

Song I like and therefore you should too

Weird Al is coming out with a new album soon, and all the kids have been a twitter about it.

Well. Those four minutes were more glorious than that time I played spin the bottle in 7th grade and got that pity kiss on the cheek.

Simpsons quote

Homer: (after trying to get a gun) Five day waiting period?!? BUT IM MAD NOW!!

Thing you should watch

I’ll tell you want you shouldn’t watch, and that’s CFL Football. I went to a game on Friday night that ended 10-7. What in the actual hell is that? The only thing that had less scoring is Nelson’s teenage years.

It’s an interview with Francis Chou, who I profiled last week. It’s too bad there isn’t more interviews like this out there of the guy. He’s pretty smart.

Post you might have missed

Astute readers already noticed that I didn’t post yesterday. This is because I watched that stupid football game instead of typing out words for your amusement. I’ve never made a worse decision in my life.

Here’s a post I did last year on when it pays to break the law. I opened that post up with a hooker joke because of course I did.

Nelson’s so funny

I ended up buying him one, because apparently I’m not a good negotiator. And then he bragged about his sexual prowess. I wish I was kidding.

Funny picture

Fellas. Are you single, ready to mingle, and don’t mind a lady who has a kid? Have I got the woman for you.


Either she saw the kid and didn’t care, or she was so into taking that sexy selfie that she didn’t even see him. Either way, you’ve got to admire the dedication to the selfie. Give that woman her own post on The Chive.

Dirty word in Words With Friends

My phone is alllllllllll the way across the room, charging in the free iPod dock included at this here Delta hotel, the place I am staying because just for one night I want to be swanky. So I’ll make up a dirty sounding word. Like turdmuffin. Totally fits.

If you want to play, my username is nelsmi and those sobs you hear are real.

Babe loosely related to finance

How about another selfie, but this time without a kid in it?

sexy selfie

Is that the toilet by her thigh? Nothing’s more sexy than the room where we drop the stinkiest things.

Time for links

Hi guys. My name is Nelson, and I have a problem. I really like these discussions where brave authors go and challenge the gospel on how dividends are the greatest thing since sliced bread. And then I get sucked in. Please give me the strength to not wade into the comments next time. But still, it’s a terrific piece, well worth a couple minutes of your time.

Over at Save. Spend. Splurge., she points out how easy it is for Canadians to save a big chunk of their kids’ college funds by just pocketing the money the government gives the parents for free. I’m not sure why every parent doesn’t do this. Oh, right. They’re dumb.

Garth Turner points out the problems with Canada’s program that allows first time home buyers to borrow money from their RRSPs, and why that program has turned out to be kind of a disaster.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job uses an example about Nintendo to bust the whole “buy what you know” investing myth. As an investor with an extensive background in retail, it’s something I struggle with all the time.

Want to throw off the shackles of the working world and retire sooner than you ever thought possible. You can, but it’ll be such hard work that it might not even be worth it. I wrote all about it over at VOSA.

I also wrote for Sustainable PF, where I talked about the finance lessons taught by the Duck Dynasty guys. And then I got jealous of their beards and ogled the wives. Even Miss Kay.

And that’s about it. Have a good week everyone.

Jul 182014

Let me start this post with a statement that even the dullest of you can get behind. Playing the lottery is a colossally bad idea.

Say you’re playing Canada’s most popular lottery, Lotto 6-49. As the namesake implies, you’d have to match the six chosen numbers out of the first 49 numbers to win the grand prize. Usually this grand prize ranges from a couple million bucks to occasionally 50 million or more. Since the Canadian government is kind enough not to tax lottery winners, the lucky moron who picked all six numbers right gets to keep every dime of their earnings.

Of course, winning the lottery is an incredibly unlikely event. I’m way too lazy to figure it out myself, but a quick search tells me the odds of winning Lotto 6-49 is about 1 in 13 million. The following events are more likely to happen than you winning the lottery:

- Getting a royal flush in poker: 1 in 649,000

- Getting two holes in one in one golf round: 1 in 9.2 million

- Having a threesome with those two hot girls you know: 1 in 2.9 million*

*I bet the chances of that threesome would increase greatly if you won the lottery first. Everyone’s got a price, right?

By far my favorite description for the lottery is that it’s a tax on stupidity. Is it any wonder that, statistically, the average lottery player also happens to be of a lower income? After all, a lower income is generally a good indicator of below average intelligence. The person with a lower income has more reason to play the lottery too, since their life will be comparably better if they happen to match all the numbers.

I’m sure you’ve watched the TV specials that interview former lottery winners who’ve gone broke. There are all sorts of people who cash in that lucky ticket, only to be broke again after a few short years. Then they show up on one of those TV specials, whining about how winning the lottery ruined their life. And I, for one, am tired of it.

If somebody pisses away the money the lottery gave them, they have absolutely nobody to blame but themselves. Coming up with a way to make millions of dollars last for years is incredibly easy — you just DON’T SPEND IT. Yet the people who win the lottery continually don’t figure this out. That’s because, as we’ve already established, you’re not very good at math if you’re playing the lottery in the first place.

I’m quite okay with the way this works. The lottery winner spends like a prince for a few years, runs out of money, and then has to go get a real job again. In the meantime, his spending stimulates the economy, helps to generate jobs, which in turn further stimulates the economy. Money is taken from the stupid, and then redistributed throughout the economy. This is generally good for the economy in general. It’s not so good for the guy who spent all his lottery winnings, but if he’s stupid enough to do it then that’s his own fault.

Here’s what really makes me mad. How many times have you heard this before?

If someone handed me a winning lottery ticket. I wouldn’t cash it.

Every time I hear someone say that I want to punch them in the face. They’re a million times worse than the people who cash it and then blow it.

If someone handed you the ability to provide for your children for the rest of your life, you’d be an absolute idiot not to take advantage of that. You’d never have to worry about losing your job again, or getting disabled, or even disliking work. You could afford to quit and knit tea kettle cozies for all I care. That’s the beauty of having money, it provides freedom.

So instead we have people who wouldn’t even take the money, because they’re scared of what might happen. They’re the same type of people who didn’t ask out the hot girl because risk makes them wet their pants. So instead of admitting that the uncertainty of a sudden windfall is what really scares them, they just assume all their friends and family will turn into greedy leeches, without realizing that if your friends were greedy leeches you would have figured it out by now.

And just about everybody says they’d donate at least a portion of their winnings to charity. Frankly, for the vast majority of people, that’s bunk. Most lottery winners don’t make more than token donations to non-profits. The reasons are simple really.

Firstly, people are inherently selfish creatures. That’s why so many of us pine to be wealthy. I fully intend to continue to amass wealth even once I have more than enough to spend. I want to make sure I have enough money to do whatever I want, whenever I want. Why would I donate large sums of money while I’m still young, when there’s still a chance I might lose that money somehow?

Secondly, if you really feel strongly about a charity, then you should be volunteering for them right now. Oh, your favorite non-profit doesn’t have volunteer opportunities? Find one that does. There’s plenty, and they’re just waiting for passionate people to volunteer. Trust me. Personally, I wouldn’t contribute a nickel to a charity that doesn’t utilize free help.

I despise unearned wealth. I’d much rather earn it. But, if given the opportunity, I think I could turn a winning lottery ticket into an empire. I’d be stupid not to. So please, for at least my sanity, don’t pretend you wouldn’t cash that winning ticket.

This has been another edition of Recycle Friday, the blog series that makes you read an entire post that you think is new but is really old. Even my weekly features troll my readers.

Jul 172014

Vanessa is off today. She’ll be back next week.

You guys must think that I’ve officially gone off the deep end. Yesterday I tell you about a mutual fund manager who hammers the market on a regular basis, and today I talk about investing in mutual funds. But you’ve always assumed mutual funds are bad. That’s what the couch potato guy told you, and you all listen to him like he’s some sort of person to be worshipped, like that all powerful ape on the planet of said animals.

(I’ve met the couch potato guy. He’s nice. I approve of the worship.)

And yet, I think there’s still a place for you to invest in mutual funds. Oh, put the pitchforks away. I don’t mean calling up the nice lady at the bank and giving her your meagre life savings to invest in Bank X Canadian Equity Fund. That’s just plain dumb, because of the fees and whatnot. Instead, I want you to invest in the fund companies themselves, but especially one in particular.

Here’s the deal. There are a lot of dumb investors out there. People constantly chase stocks that are making new highs. They buy junior gold miners and strange tech companies with little in assets and nonexistent earnings. Some go out and blindly buy “what they know,” even though investing in Starbucks and drinking Starbucks are two completely different things. And there are even people who buy stocks solely based on tips they read on Twitter. One of those people writes about money. I’ll let you guess who it is.

And most of those people invest in mutual funds, even though ETFs are a far better idea.

Look, we can push financial literacy until the cows come home, but that doesn’t mean people are obligated to understand it. People have crap to do, like 3 solid hours of TV and making sure their kids don’t starve. They know a financially savvy person or two, and they just save their financial questions until the finance friend comes around. We all do the same thing with mechanics and doctors, among others.

So when they’re at the bank and the nice financial planner type person tells them to invest in funds, they do it. The banks do a nice job of creating the impression that the employee in charge of that stuff is just another buddy who is into finance. The planner will help you out, says the marketing. And we believe it.

But you can’t just blindly pick a mutual fund company and buy it. There are a half dozen publicly traded mutual fund companies in Canada who are competing for assets under management. And for the most part, they’re all pretty much the same. Each company has a fund in each asset class, that makes about the same return and charges the same fee. How do they differentiate themselves?

Traditionally, it’s meant a sales force and an expense account, and maybe a strip club or two. When your product is virtually the same as a competitor’s, you either use goodwill to convince advisors to sell it, or you do it the old fashioned way, by paying them more.

But there’s one mutual fund flogger that stands apart from the rest, for one simple reason.

It has its own salesmen.

The company I’m referring to is Investors Group, a company that spectacularly didn’t hire me back in about 2004. Jerks. It has an army of nearly 1,000 financial advisors that are constantly pushing its expensive mutual funds that generally underperform the market. Some of Canada’s biggest funds are either Investors Group or Mackenzie Financial branded, which are all under a company called IGM Financial (TSX:IGM).

If you’ve ever seen the company’s marketing, it’s all about how professional and competent these advisors are. They wear a suit, and usually have a pretty swanky office. All a customer needs to do is show up and give them all their money, and retirement will be days of sunny skies and pants hiked up to your armpits.

If you compare that to Canada’s two largest mutual fund companies — AGF Financial and CI Financial, there’s a huge difference. Both these companies have to worry about first convincing advisors to suggest the funds in the first place, over the others. Sure, some independent financial planning type people exist, but for the most part the industry is dominated by big financials. Each bank branch has wealth management people, and even insurance companies are setting up little offices that handle both insurance and funds. You can bet those companies are going to offer funds with the company’s name on them first.

It’s even easier for customers to understand. Imagine knowing nothing about finance, going into your local Bank of Montreal, and having the person sell you a fund that’s called AGF Whatever. You’d think it was weird, at a minimum.

Those other mutual fund companies? I wouldn’t touch em. But Investors Group? I bought some a while ago, and I continue to hold it. It has a distinct competitive advantage of constantly pushing its own products, which will help out the stock over time. I wouldn’t buy at these levels, but at anything under about $40 it’s an interesting stock.

Jul 162014

We all hate mutual funds, right?

GRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Blog genies, can we put a picture of a ferocious tiger or something here, maybe RIPPING THE FLESH off a dead gazelle?



Not sure that’s what we were going for, but it’s the internet. We can’t take it off.

Anyway, we all hate mutual funds as much as that cat hates that bear. The reasons have been repeated at least a couple times, but let’s review them again. The fees are too high. Fund managers say they can beat the market, when in reality most fail, partly due to the large fees. The big mutual funds have hundreds of different investments, which make them pretty close proxies to the index. And since fund managers don’t want to trail the index by a whole bunch (because then they’d maybe get axed), they tend to be heavily influenced by it, even subconsciously.

It’s little wonder why the experts recommend most investors go with ETFs. You know you’ll at least match the market, and generally pay a fraction in fees. It’s a good strategy, and is something that most investors without time or knowledge to research individual stocks should probably do.

But just because most mutual funds are bad ideas, doesn’t mean there aren’t a few that fall through the cracks. In fact, I found one family of funds that are really interesting. Let’s take a boo.

Enter Francis Chou

His name is Francis Chou, and he runs the Chou family of funds, which have approximately $1 billion invested across 5 different funds.



Back in 1986, Francis Chou started two mutual funds – The Chou RRSP Fund (which invested in Canadian stocks) and the Chou Associates Fund, which looked at opportunities around the world, with a focus on the United States. He has since added three more funds — The Bond Fund, The Asia Fund, and The Europe Fund. Total assets under management are less than $1 billion.

Chou is a breath of fresh air in the fund world. He works in a somewhat ran down office building in a Toronto suburb. He has a staff of two, including himself. He intentionally keeps a low profile, barely spending a dime on marketing. And when his Europe Fund did poorly just after launch (like most every fund did in 2008-09), he refunded investor management fees for a full 3 years until the fund recovered to initial prices.

Recently, from a piece in the Globe and Mail (subscription required), Chou said he didn’t see a lot of upside in equities, predicting subdued returns for the next 5 to 10 years. He also said he was prepared to go to 50 or 100% cash if he can’t find anything to buy.

When was the last time you heard a fund manager say something like that?

Chou’s RRSP fund has performed well over the years. After fees, investors who put in $10,000 with Chou on launch day back in 1986 would have a little more than $150,000. If they would have put the same amount in the TSX Composite and reinvested the dividends, they’d be sitting on a little more than $117,000. Over the last 20 years, Chou’s RRSP fund has returned 11.98% annualized.

Results for the Associates Fund are equally as impressive. Since inception, it’s returned 11.52% annually. Over the last 20 years, returns are 12.06% a year, trouncing the comparable index, which only returned 8.05% annualized. If you would have stuck $10,000 in this fund on it’s opening day, you’d be sitting on more than $200,000. If you would have stuck your money in the S&P 500, you’d be sitting on a little over $150,000.

Over the long term, Francis Chou is trouncing the market.

How does he do it? Chou is a deep value investor, who focuses on companies that are trading at huge discounts to their net asset value. He’s doing pretty much when I do here, just probably a better job of it. He also takes large positions in each stock that he buys. The RRSP Fund currently has just 16 holdings, with a cash position of more than 20% of total assets.

And that’s it. It’s really not that complicated.

Of course, I’m going a disservice to Chou’s fantastic work. It’s not quite that easy, but it just goes to show how deep value investing can deliver some spectacular results if you average out the peaks and valleys.

His funds each charge a 1.5% MER, and he still trounces the market. And they’re still relatively small, meaning he can still take concentrated positions in smaller companies. The style isn’t about to be forced to change, like what happened to Warren Buffett in the 1980s. As long as Chou continues to work, he should be able to beat the market.

I’m not sure there’s a mutual fund in the country that I’d recommend you put money into, with one exception — Francis Chou’s. If you’re too lazy to do this deep value stuff yourself (or copy me , which is not recommended. Do your own research and whatnot), investing in any of Chou’s funds is a decent enough substitute. You’ll pay much higher fees than ETFs, but you actually get something for your money.

If you want more information on Francis Chou, his funds, or if you want to read his annual letters to investors (highly recommended), check out the Chou Funds website. It’s basic, as you can imagine, but there’s lots of good stuff there.

Jul 152014

In just a few days, I get on a small airplane and then a REALLY big airplane to head to some country on the other side of the ocean. You might remember me talking about it about once a week, in a not-so-thinly veiled attempt to make y’all jealous. I can only assume it’s working, since one of you egged my car last night. The cops are on it, so you might as well just confess now.

A couple of months ago when I announced this, friend of the blog Holy Potato expressed concern in my comment section. No, he wasn’t calling a moron for doing the trip — none of you did, actually, even after I practically dared you to — he was concerned about my health insurance coverage. Would my provincial coverage apply outside of Canada? How difficult would it be to get health insurance in that part of the world? It just showed all my readers really care and if we ever all got together it would be group hug after group hug.

Or not. Whatever.

So I looked into it. As far as I could tell I have some short-term coverage as a perk on my credit card, but that only got me as far as ‘Murica. My provincial coverage didn’t cover me in South Korea. I didn’t check Japan or China, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t covered there either. Those are the three places I know I’m going to visit, so it was obvious I was going to have to get travel insurance. Since I’m a freelancer now I’m going without traditional work benefits, so there was no back door coverage from them.

First up, I phoned the Alberta Motor Association, who has my auto insurance. I switched from ING Insurance (now Intact Financial) to AMA back in 2008 when I was pissed off disappointed my auto premium only went down $20 compared to the year before. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but switching saved me about 25% a year. It was an easy choice.

So I talk to somebody at AMA and get quoted $488.77 for 152 days of coverage (I plan to come back to Canada for a couple weeks over Christmas). This is a blanket Asia policy which included no deductible, $5 million in coverage, and the option to transport me home if I’m stable and it ends up being cheaper for the insurer. I’m happy with the amount of coverage, but not really with the price.

Next person I visited was the attractive redhead at my local insurance broker’s office. She was VERY perky (no double entendre even implied, dammit), and was happy to punch some information into a computer for me. She printed me out the following sheet.



Hey, now we’re talking. She quoted me a full $107 off the original price offered by the competition, coming in at $381.52. Worst case scenario, I’d take this travel insurance. It had some nice perks too, like a $10 million limit, no deductible, and I made sure my short layover in the U.S. was covered. And did I mention a cute redhead helped me out with it?

But alas, this frugal champion marched further. There was one place I hadn’t yet tried. It’s Canada’s largest online insurance broker, kanetix . I went on the site, typed in a few pieces of information, and literally a minute later I had a dozen quotes to look at. I narrowed it down to the top 4, and then took this screen shot.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 3.30.50 PM

Travel Underwriters had two products in the all-important top four, one with a $250 deductible and one with a zero deductible. Something called Travel Guard came in second place. I’m assuming it has to be cheap because it sounds like what you’d call your emergency travel condom. It only has $1 million in coverage, but in reality, how hard is it even to hit $1 million in damages when abroad? These are places that have reasonable medical costs.

Admittedly I’m not a travel insurance expert, but I went ahead and read the Travel Underwriters policy. It was pretty straightforward. You have to have no preexisting conditions within the last 6 months. Even undiagnosed stuff, like experiencing chest pains before getting on the plane. You also have to still be in your province of residence while applying, and they reserve the right to fly you back to Canada if its cheaper and you’re not about to kick it. And, of course, they ask if you’ve smoked at any point over the last two years too. NAH I HAVEN’T I’M JUST SMOKIN’ HOT HEY LADIES DON’T SHOVE.

It looked to me like a pretty standard policy, and I didn’t see anything alarming in the fine print. So I went ahead and chose the Travel Underwriters option but with the $250 deductible. I was okay with the deductible because it’s emergency coverage. I’m not buying it for when I get a little bit of the runs over some strange food. I’m buying it to cover getting hit by a car or a North Korean henchman.

I also think there’s a very high probability I won’t use this policy, but this is why travel insurance exists.

Kanetix is a pretty smooth operator. I didn’t even have to print a copy of my policy. I downloaded their travel insurance app, and just clicked on the link they provided in the confirmation email. It automatically downloaded a copy of my policy to the app, and that was it.

It took about 10 minutes to get travel insurance through Kanetix. It was fast, easy, and the policy I have is underwritten by a reputable insurer. When it comes time to shop for home and auto insurance again, I plan to give Kanetix a try. I saved more than 40% by using it. That’s a huge savings for the amount of work. I recommend you run all your insurance through kanetix  when it’s time to renew. I bet you’ll save a couple hundred bucks like I did.


Jul 142014

I turned 31 a couple of weeks ago, meaning I’ve officially completed 30 trips around the sun. I’d like to say those 30 trips were glorious and filled with more life lessons than a decade of manning the patent office with Einstein, but they weren’t. Hell, I probably squandered a whole half dozen of those trips on stupid crap like video games, golf, and learning how to juggle. It took far more hours that I’d care to admit to learn how to throw 3 balls at the same time. Most of my prior experience came with two balls.


Considering how I’m in the 30s now, apparently I have life experience. As my dad is fond of saying, I’ve been there, done that. I don’t have any grey hair yet (at least, I think, but I’m pretty blonde so it wouldn’t show up even if I did), and I’m pretty sure that under my unkept beard there’s still a baby face. I still feel young, but I’ve also done a few things. And, of course, I’ve learned a few life lessons along the way.

So let’s go ahead and condense my 30 years of life experience into little bite-sized quotes you can print out and put on your refrigerator. Because that’s what we do in the internet.

1. Take risks

Do you know what I regret? Although there really isn’t much, the things I do regret usually involve me being too much of a wuss to take advantage of something. If all it takes is asking, then ask. Having someone say no is much easier to deal with than wondering for the rest of your life what the answer would have been. It’s one of my most important life lessons.

2. Make mistakes

10 years ago, I didn’t know squat about investing in the stock market. I was 21, had taken the Canadian Securities Course and thought I knew everything. I made some terrible investments over those first few years, often with very little research. Luckily for my capital’s sake, I also made some good investments in those years. Which brings me to the third item on the list.

3. Get lucky


Two of the very first investments I made were buying shares in Nortel and General Motors, following my “blindly buy whatever stock is beaten up” rule. Both those companies ended up going bankrupt, as you probably already know. And yet, I made money on both of them. Hell, I doubled my money on General Motors, getting out within a dollar of its peak share price back in 2007. A lot of that was luck, admittedly, but it’s hard to get lucky like that when all your money is earning 1% sitting in ING’s Tangerine’s pockets.

4. Don’t get greedy

Every time I buy a stock, I set a sell price. Why? Because at the end of the day, a profit isn’t a profit unless you’ve got the money in your pocket. Mr. Market can turn against you very quickly. This isn’t to say you should immediately punt something if it hits the sell target, but at least entertain the thought of taking money off the table.

5. Wealth is awesome

If the stock market cooperated, my year abroad could be accomplished while actually increasing my net worth without having to work a day. I don’t believe I’m at the stage where I can give everyone the finger and not work again, but I can say without a doubt that I sure am glad I exchanged all those hours in the early stage of my life for financial stability now.

6. People… meh

The people I hang out with at 31 are completely different than who I hung with at 21, and I assume I’ll have a new group of friends at 41. At the end of the day, people will come in and out of your life, and it’ll be okay. Just have fun now and have fond memories in the future. You never know who’s gonna stay and who won’t. Besides, you’ll outgrow some of your friends anyway. Don’t be sad, it just happens.

7. Remember your biases

Psychology will hinder you, unless you have a basic understanding of it. Remember two things:

a) We seek information that confirms what we already know
b) We value things more highly because we own them/they happened to us

Remember those two things, and you’ll be better at manipulating yourself than 90% of the population.

8. Say it loud and proud

That sounds a lot like the slogan for some sort of gay pride event, but let’s go with it anyway.

Do you know how much value somebody who just agrees with the consensus contributes? It’s pretty close to zero. It doesn’t matter the platform, well thought out contrarian opinions are worth far more than someone who acts like the Borg, just waiting to be assimilated.  It’s not always easy to go against the crowd, but, again, the important things never are.

9. What I just said

The important things are never easy. Just about every overnight success has toiled for years in relative obscurity.

10. Learn patience

Remember how I said things weren’t easy? We’ve been conditioned to think they are. Which leads to a whole generation of university grads a year or two out of school wondering where their perfect life is. It’ll come, but not after a couple decades of really hard work. Or, from my experience, a decade of working hard and saving my ass off.

11. Balance comes at a price

How many times have you read advice about investing or paying off debt that says you’ve got to be balanced? Be balanced all you want, but remember — it comes at a price. For every beer you drink while out with your friends, that’s a few more dollars that have to be earned to be financially free. A lot of us spend too much on the comforts of today, get in debt, have an awakening, and then preach balance when paying it off. Not the ideal solution, in my view. Let balance be for the person who didn’t screw up in the first place.

12. Try things

10 years ago I was just a guy working at a store. A few years later, I was a terrible mortgage broker and equally bad real estate agent (one of the reasons why this blog was initially anonymous). Sometimes the new things you try will work out, and sometimes they won’t. But you never know unless you try it.

13. Invest early and often

Investing doesn’t have to be with money. You can work at mastering a skill, or go to school, providing the subject matter is marketable. You can even go work for free somewhere, although that rarely works out. We waste so much time that could be put to better use.

14. Alcohol is a waste

And topping the waste of time list? Partying. You’re living a delusional life if you think that any experience that needs alcohol as a lubricant is somehow more interesting or fun than time spent sober. Most people figure this one out on their own by the time they hit 30, but we all have that pathetic friend that still hasn’t grown up. Don’t be that friend.

15. Embrace your faults

For some reason, it’s a taboo to admit you’re anything less than a perfectly rounded person. It’s okay to have faults. If you’re the best musician in the world, do you really think anyone gives a crap that you aren’t very good at doing your taxes? (Well, besides the government?) If you make your strengths truly shine, the weaknesses will be forgiven.

16. Learn humility

In the 3+ years as a chip guy, I had countless conversations with front line retail employees about various work problems they were experiencing. Without exception, each problem was someone else’s fault. As we know, the truth isn’t quite so black and white. Once  in a while, your biggest problem will end up being you. Entertain the thought of that once in a while.

17. The comment section sucks

I constantly get sucked into this. Do you know how much time I’ve spent reading the dumbest crap on Reddit? Too much. 15 minutes is too much. For every gem in a comment section, there’s a whole lot of crap. There’s an argument that life is all about wading through crap to find a gem, but the internet isn’t the place to do it.

18. Internet activism

Which brings me to the other form of wasting time on the internet — activism. Your #yesallwomen or #freeourgirls tweets? They’re pretty much useless. So is filling up comment sections with your thoughts on guns, or pro-choice rights, or the cause du jour, LBGT rights. But we feel good when we support the latest social issue. That’s fine, but realize that comments on a website are literally the least you could do. Aim higher if you’re really passionate about something.

19. Learn from everyone

Even the crazy guy that nobody likes has wisdom about something. Sam Walton, the guy who founded Walmart and grew it into the behemoth that it is today, was famous for going into other stores and stealing their ideas. You don’t have a monopoly of good ideas, so steal away. Hell, I’m the 1,380,839th guy to do this exact same format of blog post.

20. Mentors

Having mentors is an important life lessons, but realizing that your mentors have faults is far more important. Success is like history — it doesn’t quite repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Don’t just blindly follow your mentor and make the same mistakes they did. Copy the good parts, and discard the bad. And realize that if you don’t outgrow your mentor, you’re not doing things right.

21. Experiences vs. stuff

The internet in general spends a lot of time favoring experiences over stuff, with very little emphasis on something really important. At the end of the day, if money is exchanged for trips or if it’s exchanged for things, it’s still gone. If you’re going to spend it, do it responsibly on what makes you happy.

22. School is a poor predictor of success

There were certain times as a 19 or 20-year old where I felt pretty inadequate. All my friends were off in university earning degrees, and I was stuck working night shift at a grocery store. These days? Some are doing well, others…not so much. I came to realize that simply going to university was a pretty poor predictor of success. It’s the other attributes that matter, not the amount of time you spend in a classroom. It is very possible to get a valuable education without stepping foot on a campus, and no, I’m not talking about taking courses online.

23. Be ambitious towards accomplishments, not things

Too often we gauge success on where someone lives, or the clothes they wear, or what they drive. After a while, I came to realize that these were pretty pointless things to be jealous about. Instead, focus on what someone has accomplished, and use it for motivation. When that other salesman in the office is so successful that he drives a luxury car, don’t be envious of the car. Motivate yourself to beat his sales record.

24. Don’t be afraid to quit

I was a poor mortgage broker for 3 years before I hung up my proverbial skates. I should have realized it after a year. I just didn’t have what it took, no matter how much I tried to will myself into it. I used to procrastinate doing simple tasks for hours because I hated asking people for their business. Either become effective at your profession or don’t do it.

25. Opportunities are everywhere

Once, while golfing, I was faced with a difficult chip shot. My friend came over and told me as much. I looked at it, and decided it wasn’t that tough. I swung, and put the ball within two feet of the cup. I’m fully convinced my confidence allowed me to make that shot.

You have the choice to look at the world in two ways — you can believe everything is stacked against you, or you can choose to believe that there are opportunities everywhere. If you choose the latter option, there will come a point where you’ll have to turn down opportunities because you don’t have the time to pursue them all.

26. You’ll bounce back

After finally quitting my real estate agent/mortgage broker career, I was the weekend chip guy for Frito-Lay. I was working with someone who I grew to hate. I was making less than $30k a year. I spent every weekend lugging chips when I would have been much happier hanging out with my friends.

18 months later, I was running one of the biggest routes in the province, making six figures a year, and impressing management to the point where promotions were discussed. A certain plagiarizing blogger once made fun of my profession, which made me laugh because I was 100% sure I made more money than he did and 1000% sure I had a higher net worth.

If you work hard and are patient, success will come. Sometimes though, you have to take a step back to take two steps forward.

27. On being busy

I’ve touched on this before, so I’ll be brief. Being busy is great, providing you’re doing something of value. Often, the things we think are important are anything but. Leave some leisure time for yourself.

28. Realize you’ll always have bosses

I think if you have the desire to do so, you should start a business. It teaches you all sorts of lessons about things that are important. But most importantly, it’ll teach you whether you’re any good at running a business. Because a lot of you won’t be.

The wrong reason for wanting to start a business is because you don’t want a boss anymore. You’ll always have a boss. If you’re a freelancer or even if you cut grass for a living, your customers will be your boss. And spoiler alert: sometimes they’ll be unreasonable too.

29. Realize the other party’s motivation

Whenever you enter into a transaction for anything, look at the other party’s motivation for doing it. If something seems too good to be true, then maybe it is. And once you figure out how to identify when the other party of a transaction is desperate to sell something, you’ll end up profiting. Don’t ever buy something when the seller is just testing out the market.

30. Don’t stress it

Before I dropped off Vanessa at the airport to go to Korea, we stopped in for dinner. I ordered a nice hamburger, which according to the menu, came with toppings I like. It showed up and there was mayo slapped on BOTH BUNS. It was a travesty.

I immediately got upset. I tend to internalize things when I get mad, so my mind started racing. I was at this nice meal with my girlfriend and I was expected to eat a burger with g.d. mayo on it? I’m gonna get charged $14 for this? Why doesn’t the menu list the stuff on the burger? You’d think people would be interested in that stuff.

And then I shrugged, and realized it wasn’t a big deal. I asked the waitress for a new bun, and transferred my burger over to it. It wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had, but I actively made the decision to not be mad about it. Remember that when you get mad about something that doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things.

That was more words than I expected.

I’ll end with this. There are things I’m better at as a 31-year old than a 20-year old. I’m an infinitely better investor. I’m more patient, mature (really!), and tolerant. 20-year old Nelson had just read Atlas Shrugged and had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He was a relatively smart guy, who worked hard and was well on his way to building a nice financial foundation.

And then he grew up, mellowed out a lot, and realized the world was a lot more complex than what Ayn Rand said. I made money on good investments and lost it on terrible ideas, like that time I thought I was going to rent out space at the farmer’s market to sell things you could only buy online to old people without the internet. Or that other time I thought I’d lend money to co-workers and charge slightly less than payday loan rates.

But the important thing is I continued to learn. I picked up a few life lessons along the way. Almost every day I crack open my laptop and dish out advice on all sorts of things, focusing on finance. The more I give out advice, the more I realize it’s important to continue learning and expanding my knowledge. The most important life lesson I know? That’s simple. I can sum it up in a math equation.

Hard work + intelligence + time = success

I know smart people who cruise through life, who do okay. I know people who are dumb who work hard who do okay too. But when you combine both? You’ll almost always end up being successful. If you’re not, either you aren’t as smart or hard working as you think, or you just need to learn patience. The more time you spend on something, the easier it gets. Once you embrace all three variables, success will inevitably happen. And when you’re missing all of them? Yikes. We all know those people.

But the best part? It’s not very crowded at the top. I’ll meet you guys there.

Jul 132014

I got a review copy of something called Travel Hacking for Canadians, written by friend of the blog Steven Zussino. I find he usually does pretty good work, so I knew he’d be sending me over something decent.

After a few days, I finally got the chance to sit down and have a look at it. I figured I’d spend about 20 minutes giving it the once over, and letting you guys know what I thought.

That was two hours ago. Hot damn, that’s a meaty book.

Zussino covers all sorts of interesting stuff, including:

  • The ins and outs of all the frequent flyer mile programs, including detailed analysis of which ones are the best deal
  • Some interesting ways to maximize the number of miles you earn
  • Ways to get hotel deals, including a guide to navigating the world of the Hotwire.
  • How to get the best bang for your buck when exchanging flights for miles
  • And even ways to go on cruises and get rental cars on the cheap
  • About a billion other things, all related to travel hacking

He goes into an amazing amount of detail for a lot of stuff. Not only will you know the best deals, but you’ll also get step-by-step instructions on exactly what you need to do in order to get them. The best deals are still reserved for Americans, but there’s still plenty of good stuff available for Canadians who are willing to jump through a few hoops.

Anyway, go check it out if that’s something you’re into. It’s a pretty valuable resource if you decide to jump into the world of travel hacking.

Song I like and therefore you should too

Song? How about a billion songs, back to back to back to back to back to back to back

To back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back.

Simpsons quote

Homer: Just once I’d like somebody to call me ‘sir’ without adding ‘you’re making a scene.’

Thing you should watch

I’ll tell you what you shouldn’t watch, and that’s the shopping channel. It’s like buying from the internet, without any of the benefits of buying from the internet.

I can’t embed this, because for some reason BNN doesn’t want people watching their videos away from the website (even though there’s more commercials than the TV), but here’s Benj Gallander on Market Call Tonight. His style is pretty close to mine, so if you like me then you’ll LURVE him.

Post you might have missed

We surpassed 800 posts a couple weeks ago, and the fine editorial staff here at Financial Uproar all decided to celebrate. I bought myself a nice pizza and then ate it in front of everybody. It was a good team building exercise.

Do you kids like Shark Tank? I hope so, because I once got to attend a taping and can assure you all that my behind the scenes look was very different than what you see on TV each week.

Nelson’s so funny

My Twitter wasn’t very funny this week. I will rectify that immediately.


Funny picture




Can you do my laundry?

Dirty word in Words With Friends

I played ‘sext’ and then I went ahead and sent a sext but it was to the wrong person and long story short I think my grandma is a little bit into me :(

If you want to play, my username is nelsmi and I will definitely be playing while on the toilet.

Babe loosely related to finance

I was going to feature an attractive young lady who is on Mr. D., but she has a lack of scantily clad internet pictures. She’ll never advance her career that way, that’s for sure.


So anyway, it’s Jennifer Love Hewitt on a cover of an unnamed men’s magazine. I was half tempted to track down the Amanda Bynes picture before I remembered that she makes actual serial killers look sane in comparison, and I’m not 100% sure that can’t be transmitted over the internet.

Time for links

I thought it was a good week for links, actually. Let’s take a boo.

Taylor Swift wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the future of the music industry. And the thing is, it’s really well done. She makes a lot of good points that anybody who’s trying to build a business could benefit from. You all think I’m saying this because it’s Taylor Swift and my crush on her is both well-documented and creepy as all hell, but I would read a blog or a book she wrote about business.

Want to make a pretty easy retro game console that has all your old favorites? I want to, which is why I’m including the link. That way I can find it when I throw up my hands and hire a nerd to do it for me.

A Morningstar analyst thinks the Canadian real estate market could fall 30%. MacLeans has all the words for your brain.

Most people don’t have enough material for one good blog. Robb Engen is a (sex) machine in comparison. His new blog called Earn Save Grow is every bit as good as his old one, (Boomer and Echo) which you might remember from EVERY. SINGLE. LINK DUMP. This week, Robb talks about how multiple income streams are better than an emergency fund.

Over at My Pennies My Thoughts, Janine points out how stupid it is to own a home in your early-20s. As someone who bought his home in his mid-20s, I wholeheartedly agree. It ended up working out okay for me, but people who buy now and then have to move in a few years are going to be in for a world of hurt.

And finally, you know how some of you think you’re Warren Buffett and you want to buy cheap, good quality stocks and hold them forever. I might not agree with the hold forever thing, but if there’s a stock out there that you want to do that with, it’s Whole Foods. Old School Value has all the reasons why.

Have a good week everyone.

Jul 122014

I am a big fan of Knorr Sidekicks. Not only can you get them cheap (regularly on sale for a buck), but they’re the perfect size for lunch. You boil some water and milk, throw in the noodles, and BAM! 10 minutes later, you’ve got some tasty noodles. Sometimes, I even mix in some leftover chicken or sausages. I’m like Gordon Ramsey, but without the less swearing. Pretty much all the Knorr Sidekick flavors are pretty good.


Because I thought it would be fun, let’s count down the best Knorr Sidekicks flavors. Note: these are Canadian flavors. If I find out Americans have better flavors I will personally break into all your houses until I find them. This seems simpler that going to the store.

5. Tomato Alfredo

I used to eat this one almost exclusively, before discovering the wonder of the other 4 on this list. It’s mostly a tomato-y sauce, and the penne shells are smaller than Lindsay Lohan’s waist after a cocaine binge. Still, it’s a solid meal.

4. Creamy Chicken Fusilli

When I first tried that flavor of Knorr Sidekick, I thought I was eating chicken flavored ramen noodles. It was a little odd at first, especially with the shredded carrots that are also in the sauce. Still, I grew to like it.

3. Garlic Alfredo Spaghetti

Would it kill Knorr to spring for some pasta that isn’t so small? That’s the only complaint I had with the Garlic Alfredo Spaghetti. The sauce has a nice amount of garlic, and is pretty damn tasty.

2. Homestyle Cheddar

The cheddar flavor is sorta like Kraft Dinner for grown-ups. The noodles are bigger, and the cheese has a bit more of a kick. Warning: this one sells out fast. You might be tempted to pick up the store brand as a substitute. Don’t, it’s terrible.

1. Creamy Bacon Carbonara


Not only does this bad boy have a delicious creamy garlic-y sauce, but it also comes with real bacon bits. I’d recommend adding more because I am a gluttonous pig, but it’s good on its own too. What a delicious feast. Easily the best Knorr Sidekick.

Oh yeah, it’s time for some Motley Fool links. I know you’re hungry from the very thought of those delicious pasta and powdered sauce combinations, but you have to at least stay and read my other stuff. It’s the very least you could do…

Wait, I’m being told that most certainly isn’t true. There is much less you could do.

Never mind. Here are the links. It’s the best of what I wrote over the last week. As a reminder, I only post about half of what I wrote. If you want to see everything I do, just click on this here link.

As much fun as rising stock markets are, anybody under 40 should be hoping for a stock market crash. That gives you the opportunity to load up on stocks that are cheap, which is pretty much the way you make money in this stock market thing. At least, I think. I don’t know much about that kind of stuff. :(

Who likes dividends? (all the hands shoot up) Okay, who also likes undervalued stocks? (all the hands go down, except for one. He looks around and then lowers his hand too) Oh. Well, here are some undervalued dividend payers anyway.

Here are two companies with dividends less safe than a Soviet made nuclear reactor. I know! I always assumed the Soviets were known for their high quality merchandise too. Turns out we were both wrong. But mostly you.

You all like DIY projects, right? Whether it’s some tech dealie or putting together something from IKEA your girlfriend got even though it’s totally unnecessary, apparently us guys go gaga over this stuff. Well, why don’t you take it a step further and make your own pension plan using stocks that pay monthly dividends.

And finally, here’s a huge investing trend that you should probably pay attention to.

That’s it guys. See you tomorrow for the dump.