City: Surrey, B.C.
Occupation: Resource economist
Finances: I have money in the stock market and I’m saving 40% of my income per month. In 10 years, my goal is to have financial freedom and not have to work if I don’t want to.
Money lessons: In Zimbabwe, most people start looking for their tuition fees the day before school opens. Now I’ve met people who, even before they have kids, start putting tuition money in trust accounts. That’s a different perspective.
From the land
I emigrated from Zimbabwe just over six years ago. I’d developed a keen interest in economics because my parents worked very hard on the communal lands. Yet, despite working so hard, market conditions meant they were unable to make much money. I had a lot of questions about resource scarcity and price mechanisms, so I studied economics at the University of Zimbabwe.
In 2014 I got a life-changing opportunity in the form of the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in food and resource economics at the University of British Columbia. After I completed that degree, I worked as a research assistant, and I recently graduated with a second master’s from UBC in resources, environment and sustainability.
Now I think it’s important to translate my education into meaningful and impactful work and to contribute to Canada.
In Zimbabwe, there’s a different banking system. Things are done mostly on a cash basis, and credit cards are not common. I had little experience with banks other than having a chequing account.
The day after I landed in Vancouver, my scholarship director organized for the scholars to go to a bank. I walked in and signed the papers. A week later, I got the credit card in the mail. [Laughs.] I asked, “What is this?!”
I was hesitant to use the credit card recklessly, but I know some of my friends took it and started spending. When international students come here, they may have no clue about how to use the credit system. I think there should be basic education for them. Banks will tell you it’s all in the terms and conditions, but I’ve heard horrible stories from people with a lot of credit card debt.
About a year after I arrived in Canada, I had about $4,000 to invest. I went to an advisor [at my bank] and he went through the normal drill to understand my risk tolerance. Then he said, “How about you put this money into a GIC?” I asked, “What’s the rate of return?” He said 1.6%. I asked, “What is the inflation rate?” It was about 2.8%. So I said, “Are you advising me to lose my money?”
Being an economist, I began to wonder, “How long is it going to take me to retire?” I then became a student of financial markets on my own. I learned about index funds and how the S&P 500 has returned about 9% annually over the past 30 years.
To be a successful investor, you need three variables. Consistency: keep investing the money. A good rate of return: at least 6%. And time: the earlier you start, the better. Focus on what you can control.
My attempt to talk about investing with friends was not well-received. They thought investing was too risky. So I realized this was something serious. No one told me [as a newcomer] about tax optimization, registered accounts, non-registered accounts.
I don’t want others to go through some of the challenges I’ve had. If you start investing $100 every month, maybe in a simple index fund, the compounding effect is one sure way to build wealth over time.
I’m writing a book about personal finance and I hope to self-publish it. I want to share my experiences. If I have kids, they will see it on the bookshelf — maybe after I’ve died — and ask, “What was my dad trying to say?”