I’m currently slogging my way through Anthony Bianco’s 700-plus page book on the Reichmann family titled Family, Faith, and Fortune, The Empire of Olympia and York. There’s no affiliate link there because while the book is hella interesting, I certainly could have done without the 200 pages detailing every detail about the family’s Jewish heritage. We get it, you’re through, and they’re Jewish. Holy hell, are they Jewish.
Essentially, the story of Olympia and York goes something like this. Jewish family displaced by World War 2 comes to Canada and starts to get involved in real estate. Within a few decades they’re the largest property developers in North America, building some of the most iconic office spaces in the world — including First Canadian Place in Toronto and Canary Wharf in London.
The Reichmann family was incredibly close-knit. Three of the five brothers lived within a five minute drive of their parents in Toronto. Most every night the Toronto side of the family would end up in Samuel Reichmann’s basement discussing religion or the latest real estate deal. And, naturally, many members of the family ended up working for the company.
The Reichmanns were wealthy before even stepping foot in Toronto, mostly thanks to Samuel’s successes in Hungary in the 1930s and Morocco in the 1940s. But there’s little doubt that the family’s ability to work together helped elevate the clan from a run of the mill success story to mega superstars.
And then it all came crashing down. But that’s another story for another day.
There’s an important lesson to learn from the Reichmann story. Your family could be an incredible resource that isn’t being exploited to the fullest. Here’s how you can use your kin to get ahead, and not just using by child labor, either.
Lessons from Asia
I was vaguely aware of this before spending a year in South Korea, but the concept still hit me like a ton of bricks. It makes so much sense.
Essentially, Asian family dynamics work like this. Instead of each generation splitting up and doing their own thing, the family pools their resources and everyone lives together in somewhat happy harmony. Grandma and grandpa take care of the kids while mom and dad go to work. Sometimes all of the middle generation live together, other times it’s just the eldest son’s family.
Compare this to my family. I have three grandparents still alive, who all live in some sort of assisted living facility. My parents are right around retirement age, but both still work. I live close by while my sister lives a couple of hours away. Between the nine adults — including my wife and brother-in-law — and my sister’s three kids, we maintain five separate residences. The older folks rent while the younger generations have nearly a million dollars invested in real estate.
If we pooled our resources and all lived together under one roof we could concievably have five incomes contributing to the household expenses. My mom could watch my sister’s kids and make sure grandpa didn’t break a hip. And the pensions earned by the eldest generation could be contributing towards household expenses rather than rent at the old folks home.
Say the five working adults pulled in an average of $40k each annually, while the three older folks each chipped in 20k from their pensions. That would generate a total family income of $260k. You’d have big expenses, obviously, since you’d need a place large enough for a dozen people. But the fact is it becomes cheaper to feed and clothe people if there’s more of them under one roof.
Practical ways you can do this
I’m the first to admit the last thing I want is grandma filling her Depends in my basement. That’s pretty much my definition of hell, actually.
But there are still plenty of ways to leverage your family to become richer.
I borrow money from my parents all the time. It’s a win-win scenario. They get better than GIC returns on their capital while I get a relatively cheap loan. You should consider doing the same thing, but only if your folks can afford it. 100% of anyone’s portfolio shouldn’t consist of loans to your lazy ass.
Another way is to join the family business. You’ll ensure the operation lives on for at least another generation, all while helping to keep the compounding machine rolling. Parents are usually pretty generous to their spawn in that kind of situation, too.
And so on. There are a million ways you improve your situation by leveraging your family. So what are you waiting for?
Oh, and one more thing. If you’re a single guy living with your parents, tell any prospective ladies that you don’t live with them. They live with you.
Back at the end of 2016, I was openly considering buying a storage business. I even wrote a bloggening asking you guys what you thought about it.
The business had the potential to generate $15,000 a year before any expenses, which consisted of eight different storage facilities (a garage, shed, and some older converted shipping containers), as well as spaces to store 15 RVs. The physical storage lockers were renting out at approximately $100 per month on average, while the RV spots cost $25 per month. There was potential to add more RV spots at least, which I planned to do.
The place wasn’t full when I was looking at it, with the property generating around $10,000 in annual income. It was for sale for $95,000, but word around town said it could be had for a much cheaper price.
I crunched the numbers and figured I’d like to pay a maximum of $70,000 or $75,000 for the place. So I did a little sniffing and made it known I’d be interested in the place at somewhere around $60,000. I was willing to pay a little more than $60k, of course, but I wanted to gauge interest.
It was nonexistent. The owner wasn’t interested in trying to make a deal.
In hindsight, this was the best possible outcome for me. I dodged a bullet.
The summer of 2017 was not a good one for that particular storage lot.
One of the things I liked about the property was it is near a main road, but it was tucked in behind some buildings in a private location. I thought this would help insulate the place from unwanted attention.
Unfortunately, some thieves also thought the same way. One night while the rest of the world slept they cut the padlock off the gate and took their time stealing a $40,000 trailer. The owners of said trailer discovered the unit was missing a few days later right before a weekend getaway.
Naturally, they were pretty pissed. The incident got plenty of attention on local media, and the victims themselves didn’t have nice things to say about that particular storage facility. It didn’t even have a camera! What a two bit operation!
Nothing nice ever comes from italics.
Storage has also become a sexy business to enter. There are two new RV-only storage facilities located in my small town, which opened within a few months of each other in 2017. Both are less than a kilometer from the facility I was looking at. The local UHaul dealer has added a few Sea Cans on the back of their property. And town council recently squashed a self-storage business on a piece of land located near downtown that needed new zoning.
These people have discovered that storage is a great way to get paid while speculating on the general direction of real estate. The two storage lots that opened in 2017 are both on a main road. The land will get sold at some point to a business that wants a great location. But in the meantime they’re undoubtedly taking away revenue from my potential acquisition. They don’t even need to advertise. Both places are filled with RVs using nothing more than word-of-mouth advertising and a ginormous sign strapped on the fence.
Ultimately the biggest problem with storage is there’s no moat. Any moron with a little land can compete with you. I realized that when looking, and insisted on a huge margin of safety. I’m glad I did.
Ooh, look at you. Such restraint in the title. Would you like the Nobel Peace Prize?
Why yes, I would, Italics Man. I think I deserve it after putting up with you.
Let’s talk a little about Nelson’s sexy new job. It must have been a great opportunity, since I quit writing about stocks to do it.
That new job is…
Just building up anticipation here, don’t mind me…
(whispers) I work in a grocery store.
(ducks as tomatoes come flying from the crowd)
Why in the actual hell would you go work at a grocery store?
First off, remember that I’ve spent much of my adult life in the retail industry. My first real job was working in a grocery store (the same one as today, actually). I stayed for almost six years. After becoming a terrible real estate agent, I went back into the industry for three more years as a potato chip salesman. It’s nice to start a new job and not have a crazy learning curve.
As I’ve mentioned before, retail is clamoring for brains. Most chains have their share of long-term employees, but most of these workers have zero hope of ever advancing past entry level. They just don’t have the intelligence or work ethic needed to excel. They’re decent at being told what to do, but never level up past that stage. Grocery is competitive as all hell; it needs people who can truly drive sales.
And apparently, one of those people is me. At least, according to my new bosses. I’ve been tapped to move up the ladder. Management has put me into a sort of half-assed advanced training program and has me in charge of certain parts of the grocery department to try and prepare me for the next step.
Grocery management is a decent living. Department managers regularly earn more than $50-60k per year, with store managers pushing six figures. Hell, even as a guy who just works in a store, I feel I’m more than adequately compensated. Certain chains invest in their staff. Others don’t. One of the reasons why I work where I do is this company is squarely in the former category. And it shows; they have some damn fine grocers.
Despite the opportunity staring me in the face, I’m not entirely certain I’m going to go for it. And it’s all because of damned financial independence.
How FI is BS
Thanks to years of aggressive saving and some savvy investments, I’m fortunate enough to be in a position at 34 years old to not have to work. I continue to drag my ass in every day because I know time off only means something if you have something to measure it against. When every day is a treat, it’s no longer a novelty. Suddenly, taking every day off is like having a job.
But while I’m a big advocate of doing work, I find myself with less motivation now that I know each paychque just goes to further increase the big pile of money at my disposal. I should be working my ass off towards getting promoted. I should be telling management to send me to a new store the minute a department manager opportunity opens up.
But I’m not. Instead, much to their chagrin, I’m hemming and hawing and coming up with reasons why it’s not a good idea to accept a promotion. I don’t want to move. I’m not sure I’m ready. I want to make sure the manager is someone I can work with.
It’s all nonsense. The reason why I’m dragging my feet is because money doesn’t motivate me any longer. Sure, there are plenty of other reasons to take a promotion, but y’all gotta admit the cash is a huge motivating factor. And if the money doesn’t motivate me, then it’s all about the challenge of a new position. But why bother taking on huge potential frustrations when I don’t need the money?
This is what financial independence has done to me. Suddenly, I understand these early retirement bloggers who threw up their hands and decided work was stupid. It’s really hard to get motivated under such circumstances. Why work so hard when you don’t need to? Why not just have fun instead?
There’s a lot of good that comes with financial independence. We all know about that. But nobody ever talks about the bad. Sapping motivation is not a good thing. Early retirees are, generally, smart as hell and great with money. They’re probably people who should stay in the work force long-term. Unfortunately, there just isn’t much sense trying to talk these people out of it. As I’m finding out, the default response to “fuck you” money is “fuck it,” no matter how much I want it not to be.
Hey, it’s been almost two months now. I bet you kids are just JONESING FOR MORE NELSON.
(Crickets chirp and a tumbleweed slowly goes by)
The interwebs is very much a place where you can just quietly go way and nobody gives a crap. I retired from Motley Fool about a month ago and two people cared enough to mention it. Two! I’ve never felt more disposable.
I have a real job now, and it’s great. Co-workers are fun when you’ve gone without for a few years. I like working with people towards the same goal. I really missed that.
But enough about my personal life. It’s time for a bunch of thoughts on some different subjects. ARM THE RANDOMNESS CANNON.
New portfolio position
I think Alberta is a great place to search for undervalued stocks today. The economy will eventually recover, bringing up earnings of Alberta-centric companies up with it.
Gamehost Inc. (TSX:GH) is one such company. It owns and operates three different casinos in the province, with locations in Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, and Calgary. Earnings peaked in 2014 at $0.95 per share, falling to $0.66 per share in 2016. Keep in mind 2016’s results were temporarily low because of the Fort McMurray fire.
I paid just over $9 per share for my position, meaning I got in for less than 10x peak earnings. I believe the company grows earnings in 2017, since they’ve already come out and said both Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray are looking strong. Calgary is the weak market today, but the city will eventually recover. Oil always swings back. It’s just a matter of time.
And while I wait, the company pays a generous 7.6% yield.
Gamehost has other things going for it value investors typically like. Insiders own approximately 40% of shares outstanding. It has a solid balance sheet. Management did cut the dividend, but that was to free up capital to put to work buying back shares. And since Alberta’s economy is in the shitter, there’s little chance of any new casinos opening anytime soon.
I bought a bunch of Aimia (TSX:AIM) shares in 2016, enticed by the company’s strong free cash flow and what I thought was a no-brainer choice for Air Canada to renew the contract.
I guessed wrong, and I’m now down a cool 75% on Aimia. Yeah, that stings.
I’m not entirely convinced Aimia will end up insolvent, although I do admit that’s a very real possibility. I like the company’s other assets, including the 50% stake it has in AeroMexico’s loyalty program. I suspect that will get sold and the proceeds applied to debt.
There’s also the possibility of another company buying Aimia, whether it’s the parent company of Air Miles (Alliance Data) or one of its bank partners. There’s zero possibility of Air Canada buying the company back, at least in my opinion.
The Aimia debacle pretty much erases my big win with Canam a couple of months ago. Oh, investing. You have a special way to keep a guy humble.
Home Capital and Buffett
Anything that fucks over Marc Cododes, the short-seller who declared Home Capital was a gigantic fraud at every possible opportunity, is fine by me. Short all you want, but don’t be an asshole about it.
I don’t see what attracted Buffett to Home Cap, but the reaction on Financial Twitter (or FinTwit) was delightful. I’m 80% certain Warren did the deal just to lurk and LOL at everyone’s reaction.
You still can’t convince me to touch Home Capital, however. I’m staying far away from that turd. Genworth MI Canada (TSX:MIC) looks a little more interesting, but it’s too expensive today. I might sniff when it falls back to $30ish. Or I might nope out of anything related to Canadian housing. That seems like the safer bet.
Other interesting stocks
I like Inter Pipeline (TSX:IPL) at anywhere under $25 and Altagas (TSX:ALA) under $30. I think both are solid businesses that will succeed over the long-term. Neither are particularly cheap, but they’re the kinds of companies that never get truly inexpensive.
I once bought Inter Pipeline under $10 a share and then sold at $20 per share, collecting a sweet dividend along the way. The company has increased both cash flow and the dividend since, a trend I think continues over time.
I’m down a bit on recent portfolio additions High Liner Foods (TSX:HLF) and Information Services Corp (TSX:ISV). I think both are solid businesses you want to own over the next decade or so, and would buy more once I add a little more capital to my portfolio.
Fairfax Financial (TSX:FFH) is also looking pretty interesting at right around book value. Not having to pay a premium to have Prem Watsa in your corner is nice.
And finally, if you’re into energy stocks, I think both Cenovus (TSX:CVE) and Baytex (TSX:BTE) look interesting here. I’d be much more inclined to buy the former, but the latter comes with more upside potential.
That’s about it, kids
See y’all in a couple of months. Or sooner. Probably sooner.
Those of you who show up here on a regular basis know that your boy Nelly here isn’t very generous with the guest post spots. In fact, I tell most of these people to kiss the hairiest part of my ass.
But today, you kids are in for a real treat. Paul from Asset-Based Life is one of the finest finance bloggers out there. Handsomest too, or at least I’m assuming. He consistently posts some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking stuff out there, and he’s not a douche despite having a blog name with a hyphen in it. It’s criminal he doesn’t have more readers.
Paul and I decided to do a “dueling banjos” type of post, whatever the hell that means. He’s going to take one part of an interesting personal finance argument while I take the other. The winner will feast on the warm brain goo of the loser. We do not mess around.
The topic? It’s about going to college. To put a further twist on the topic, I’m going to argue the pro-college side of the argument despite consistently saying college is hella overrated, while Paul, who’s presumably more edumacated than a penguin dressed up with a bowtie, will take the anti-college side of the argument. Make sure you go check out Asset-Based Life for my side of the argument.
Without further aideu, here’s Paul. Make him feel welcome by tossing some rotten tomatoes his way.
There was something truly decadent about going to college. My parents were quite frugal and passed it down to me, but somehow financial discipline was thrown out the window when it came to college. I was told over and over, “We’ll pay for wherever you get in.” I managed to get in a very good and very expensive school. So much for the ol’ ROI.
College opened up many career paths. I learned a lot and had some fun. But as a cold, pragmatic investment decision, college was highly suspect when I went. It’s even more so today.
College Costs Too Much
A degree from my alma mater, if you started today, would set you back a cool US$280,000 (if you grew my actual cost back from dinosaur times by 7% p.a., it’d be about $360,000).
That is a lot of money.
If you consider your career a quest to build a big pile of financial assets (not a bad way to view it), college can start you off with a huge crater to fill.
There is certainly a premium in going to college, and a further premium to a great university. I just feel that the premium is rarely worth the cost.
Even if you’re able to go to college on the cheap, or even free, there’s still a big opportunity cost to the time you spend there. Which brings us to our second charge against college.
College Takes Too Long
You can accomplish a lot in four years. You can earn a full four years of wages (trust me – I went to college). You can learn and master a trade. You can start a business and see it thrive.
There’s a long-running quip that a bricklayer who stays busy can outearn (net of school cost) a doctor. Add in a high saving rate, compound interest, and perhaps a little entrepreneurship, and their tortoise v. hare race isn’t even close.
If I had simply learned a trade out of high school and started working and investing, there’s a great chance I’d be ahead of where I am today.
But What About the Learning!
I learned some really interesting things in my college coursework.
I had an Anthropology 101 class that was fascinating. But you know what was far more fascinating? Just about any Jared Diamond book I’ve ever read.
I had a great Philosophy course where we proved we do exist. That was definitely worth a semester of my time, and I feel sorry for you non-college grads who are still struggling with that question.
Almost everything I learned in class could have been picked up from a book (and funny fact, we actually used those “books” in our classes). Today it’d be even easier with all of the cheap or free online teaching resources.
As a business major with post-college jobs in finance, I was rather shocked how little of my coursework I used. In those rare cases I did, I always needed a refresher to remind me what I (sorta) learned.
Notwithstanding that, I did need a college degree for my first job in financial consulting, and that brings me to…
College Is An Incredibly Inefficient Filter
It’s hard – sometimes very hard – to get into college. That can make college a useful filter for employers. Since the schools have gone to all of that trouble to identify top test takers, high achievers, and whatnot, lazy companies can use that as their own screen for hires.
The only problem with this Rube Goldberg machine is that it requires students to then sit through four years of classes, many (most) of which they’ll never actually use. Plus there is the real risk of finding after four years that you should have gone a non-college path. Sorry about that.
Can’t we design a near-instant filter similar to college admission? Is it really that hard? I know of some companies who rely heavily on IQ, behavioral, and knowledge tests and don’t really care about your pedigree. I think that trend is just starting.
If college was and would always remain a ironclad filter for great jobs, I’d probably favor it more. But we’re shifting to a more meritocratic world where your college degree union card isn’t as important. The role of college as a filter may be nearing its end.
The Move to Meritocracy
Nelson (feeling charitable) and I (ambitious!) have both decided to write these guest posts today. Somehow we both felt it was a good use of our time.
Are you going to measure the quality of our posts based on how much we spent on college (fingers crossed)? Or are you going to judge them based on the quality of the writing (boo)?
There are many fields where college just isn’t relevant anymore, and there are many a millionaire and billionaire with no degree. If an orangutan was a world-class programmer, he’d have a job at Google tomorrow.
There are professions where college is still a required credential, and if you really want one of them, then have at it. Just know we’re shifting more to a world of merit. If you just want a big pile, college may not be the best route. I’ll tell you what is.
The most lucrative career paths have always involved entrepreneurship. If you want a shot at being truly rich, start your own business.
It’s a scary path with uncertain prospects, but one thing is certain: You do not need a college degree to become an entrepreneur.
On the contrary, I think a college degree can inhibit entrepreneurship. College debt, a comfortable salary, and a personal brand of “college grad” can lower your risk tolerance and turn up your nose to many simple but great business ideas.
As an entrepreneur, if you ever need skills that might come from college, you can simply hire those folks. When they sniff that you don’t even have a degree, you can tell them to go make you some more money.
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. While my current effort (strategy consultant) levers my college and MBA degrees, I have no doubt I could have found one that didn’t need a degree at all.
Wait! College Is So Much More than Career Prep
I had a wonderful university experience. The social aspect was really fun. I made great friends and had many a good time. I even spent a semester in London, which was culturally amazing for a simple Texan lad.
But here’s a sneaky little secret. Did you know that people who don’t go to college are also allowed to have fun? You may not get do it in a Hogwarts-like setting, but you can have many of the same incredible experiences. You can even visit foreign countries and cultures – they let in non-students too. And you can do it much, much cheaper.
Can your genius reach its full potential without being tested in the crucible of college? I’m gonna go with yep. Many brilliant minds are forged outside of college. Colleges mass-produce pseudo-intellectuals, but I don’t know that they craft real genius.
College Isn’t Completely Worthless
College is a safe and well-trodden path from high school. You don’t need to pick a career; you just need to make it to your 9am class. Your professors will help you learn, the administration will help you pick courses and majors, and recruiters will come right to you on campus.
All of this outsourcing doesn’t come cheap, though.
I didn’t even think about careers in high school. With my parents’ full support, I just moseyed to college ‘cause that’s what one does. Had I sat down and grasped I was at the start of a great adventure, with college as one of many options, I might have gone a totally different and more lucrative route (esp. if my parents gave me my tuition as seed capital!).
College is clearly worth something. It’s just often not worth the cost in money and time. It’s an incredibly expensive luxury. In a word, it’s overrated.