Occupation: Luc works mainly as a plumber, but also takes on renovation and handyman projects. Hélène is a kinesiologist who coaches clients from the couple’s home gym facility, where Luc also coaches part time (he’s certified in gymnastics, kettlebell, powerlifting and other activities). Hélène has an MBA and earns income from writing and speaking, and she chronicles their financial journey on her blog, freetopursue.com.
City: Winnipeg, Man.
Age: 42 (Hélène) & 44 (Luc)
We’ve been investing since: Our early 20s
Portfolio: In 2017, we reached the milestone of a seven-figure net worth. About 40% of that is in fixed assets, like our home (which is mortgage-free) and our car. The remaining 60% is in short-term cash and retirement savings. We prefer to invest in low-cost index funds.
We had an advisor: Until 2013, when we dumped him in favour of an online virtual broker.
We call money—available cash—“liquid courage.” By that we mean the ability to tap into liquid assets that can float you through a change, [and] that will make you happier and more fulfilled. It’s about having the financial padding that enables you to decide how to live your life. It’s why we are so debt-averse: anyone you owe money to is your boss, because they can modify your behaviour.
In 1999, I (Hélène) saw the movie American Beauty. The protagonist takes a two-year severance package from a job he hates and gets a job in a fast food restaurant. That really struck me. I decided I wanted to be in a position where I could spend my time flipping burgers if that’s what made me happy.
Up close and personal
Luc: Everything in life is a negotiation. My goal is to know what I really want, to keep myself in a position where I have some power to negotiate for it, and [to have] the freedom to walk away.
I was leaving a bad work situation in 2000, and I vowed never again to feel that I needed to stay in a job I knew was bad news. That’s when Luc and I began to pay more attention to saving and vowed we’d always have options in case of another bad situation. Today, we save more than 50% of our income, and we’re mortgage-free. In 2013, I was able to walk away from a six-figure corporate job that no longer worked for me. (For the record, I ran the numbers: I spent $26,000 a year in after-tax dollars on work-related expenses including a second car, parking, dry-cleaning, clothing, grooming, meals and coffee. That wasn’t the deciding factor, but it didn’t hurt, either.) Today, we both like what we do, but if we wanted or needed to walk away at any time, we could.
Investing for ourselves
We had a financial advisor for more than 10 years, a friend of Hélène’s from her business program. Hélène had worked with him on school assignments, and she knew he was smart and how he thought. He charged us $1,000 a year, which felt fair.
When he moved to the U.S. and sold his practice to a different advisor, the new guy told us at the very first meeting that he wanted a 1% fee rather than our agreed-upon $1,000 a year—which amounted to a 250% raise. Hélène ran the numbers and the difference in compensation after 20 years, at a 7% return, was $140,000. After 30 years, it was more than $400,000. We left.
Today, we use an online brokerage firm. Hélène made two significant trades last week and the total cost was $14. We’re absolutely open to working with another certified financial planner, especially when it comes to issues like tax strategies, rebalancing our portfolio or approaching transitions like retirement. But we will only be working with someone who offers a flat fee for services, not a percentage.