One piece of standard advice that I just hate is that you should keep an emergency fund of three to six months worth of expenses. I personally don’t have one, instead I keep a unused line of credit that can cover about five months of expenses.
Why do I avoid an emergency fund? I plan for an entire year’s worth of normal expenses in advance, so having the car insurance or Christmas come due is hardly a surprise. I save a set amount each month into my high interest savings account and pull out the money for those yearly expenses when the come up. That way I’m not having too large of a sum of money sitting around, uninvested and losing its value to inflation but I do have a large enough fund to help cushion those unexpected expenses.
As for a true emergency, I have used the line of credit before and found it worked out fine. After our baby was born ten weeks early, we had a lot of unexpected expenses (hotels, food) including the replacement of one of the main structural beams in our house for $9,000 and the car lease buyout for $8,000 (the story on the lease is an entirely new post). The total damage was about $22,000 in three months. So after maxing out the line of credit and stripping down every penny I had saved in non taxable accounts I was still $5000 short. So I took an offer of help from my parents and took out a loan from them for $5000 to be paid back in 8 months.
In 12 months I had manged to pay off the entire debt, which given the size of the emergency I feel is a perfectly acceptable time frame. So depending on your own situation, you may be better off with a $0 emergency fund.
As I was doing my estimates for retirement, it occurred to me that I was planning to retire exactly as my kid will be in post secondary education. So how can I do both? Simple I don’t plan to pay for my kid’s entire education.
It’s not that I’m not going to help, but I didn’t have my entire education paid for, so why would I pay for all of my kid’s education? I personally found that when my parents stopped paying the bill my spending dropped by about $2000/year. It forced me to question my spending habits and really made me think “Do I really need to buy this?”
I personally found the easiest way to fund a RESP for my kid is to take the Child Tax Benefit and that $100/month from the Federal Government and pour it into a RESP to receive the Education Saving Grant . In my case, that works out to $120/month of government’s money that is then topped up to $150/month. So it costs me nothing until the kid no longer qualifies for the $100/month at which point I will continue to fund that amount in every month.
As to where to put the money. I suggest you read the following from the Canadian Capitalist, which is a great post with links to many helpful resources.
Over at the Canadian Capitalist, he has an interesting post on index investing and investor average rate of return. The general idea is that it is hard to beat an index (TSX, S&P 500, etc) by choosing your own stocks. The main reason for this is the index cheats. It picks up the winning stocks and dumps the sinking stones for you.
Early this year I changed my retirement mutal funds over to all index funds because I realized that I’m not that good at doing my own research yet. To cover myself from being tied to just one index I have the following breakdown:
25% Bond Index
25% TSX Index
25% S&P500 Index
25% International Index
This is the high growth version of the Couch Potato portfolio which I read about in MoneySense magazine. Overall I’m very happy with the results to date. Even with the big income trust bomb I’m still ahead with about 8 months into the new portfolio.
I think the major thing about doing a system like this is being honest with yourself. How much time can I put towards investing and can I really beat the index? If you don’t know or you know you can’t beat the index I would suggest using index funds.