Jonathan Chevreau

Hey everyone, this Sunday I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with Jonathan Chevreau, Editor at Large, MoneySense Magazine. It’s kind of crazy how it came to be. I had ordered a copy of Jon’s book Findependence Day, over at his website findependenceday.com. I usually read a lot more non-fiction and his was the first Personal Finance novel with a fictional structure that I have ever read. I thought it was a great read at that; the story follows the lives of Jamie and Sheena, a young couple on a rather turbulent path to financial independence. Throughout their journey of ups and downs in what would be quite real life scenarios, the reader is educated on how to deal with financial situations the particular couple encounters throughout their own lives. Personally I couldn’t put it down, I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next. He really did a great job writing this book.

Later I find out I am the first person to interview him since his title change at MoneySense. What a coincidence, this is my very first interview having ever done!  It was so much fun learning on the fly and getting a chance to speak with someone so passionate about financial writing. Seriously, listen to the interview. He is truly in love with what he does. Here’s a link to his latest post talking about his new title at MoneySense: http://www.findependenceday.com/cms/2014/05/30/editor-at-large/

As I said Jonathan is such an awesome guy, very friendly and well-spoken. I’d recommend anyone, especially young couples (seriously it’s so beneficial with regards to everything from paying off debt, buying a home, having children and getting their RESPs set up, and so on.) read his book Findependence Day (you can grab your copy of it over at findependenceday.com). There’s a lot of information in a very entertaining story that you can obtain from reading. So be sure to check it out, and follow him @JonChevreau on twitter.

Any comments, feedback, or suggestions are much appreciated down below.

Without further ado; here’s the interview, enjoy!

 Audio

 

Transcription

 

Jason: Today I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be speaking with Jonathan Chevreau, former Financial Post columnist and now editor at large MoneySense magazine. As a pretty novice personal finance blogger who is just starting to get my feet wet I must say this is quite an honourable moment, kind of a crazy one at that; being my very first interview and it happens with one of the most well-known names in finance. So thanks for taking the time out of your day Jon I greatly appreciate your willingness to do so.

Jonathan: It’s my pleasure Jason

Jason: Alright, so I wanted to talk about your book Findependence day; but first maybe I thought I’d follow Preet Banerjee’s method he uses on his podcasts and start by first allowing you to tell everyone a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you got to be where you are today in the world of finance:

Jonathan: Yeah it’s a long story but; I’m 61 years old now so I’ve been in journalism for 35 years, I’ve written 9 or 10 books if you count 5 of them are mutual fund guides for the Financial Post. You know it’s all about re-invention I started as a computer high-tech reporter and the globe hired me in the early 80’s to be their technology writer. It was the days when computer advertising was starting to take off, long before the personal computer I might add; or the internet. Eventually when I turned 40, by then I was married and had a house and things, and a child; I decided I wanted to go back into journalism having left it for 5 years. At that point I was becoming more interested in Personal Finance. We were paying off our mortgage, I was learning about mutual funds, and I was a reader of the financial post so I decided I wanted to get back into journalism at 40 and because I was a reader of the post I said gee I would like to write for it. So I knew a few people and eventually I did spend 19 years there as you know; and gradually the personal finance bee came from the mutual fund bee. Bruce Cohen was the senior personal finance columnist back then; because he practiced what he preached, a lot of what I’m doing now is practicing what I’m preaching and I think Bruce saved 50% of his income. So anyways 2 years ago MoneySense called me up and I thought I’d give it a shot. Rogers is a great place to work I mean there’s all sorts of things like a gym in there. I really have enjoyed the two years that I have been there although as you say my status has changed I am now going to be writing a financial independence column; doing a financial independence blog, and I’m going to write some more books, I wan’t to write a non-fiction version of Findependence Day for example.

Jason: Oh really?

Jonathan: Ya, and you know like last year I did the U.S. edition of the book. So I wanted to basically have more clients. I was freelancing for the closest of 5 years. So I have played the freelance gig in the past.

Jason: So you said you wanted to do a non-fiction version, kind of like Chilton did with his second book?

Jonathan: Right, well I actually had a contract with one of the publishers just the time I joined MoneySense two years ago, and I was told that’s what they wanted; a non-fiction version of it and unfortunately I took the job on and I said to MoneySense could you wait until the end of the summer, then I could do this book and then start; because they had an interim editor, But they said no-no we’ve had this opening; they were without an editor full-time for 6 months and they needed me to start right away so I had to call the publisher and say put it on hold. But now I’m going to try and take hold of it and do it again.

Jason: Okay, Congratulations

Jonathan: Thank you

Jason: Now Jon as I said I was hoping to discuss the book Findependence Day, I myself have been reading a lot of personal finance books; actually thanks to a peek into Theo’s Library I’ve added quite a few more to that list.

Jonathan: The appendix of books in Findependence Day 

Jason: So as I said I haven’t had the opportunity to read Chilton’s first book which is the fictional spin on Personal Finance; but I must say I was pretty captivated by yours. Could you give us a brief synopsis of it and why you decided to write a Personal Finance book with a fictional structure?

Jonathan: Well as you know David Chilton’s Wealthy Barber sold 2 million copies in Canada and the States and he’s been much imitated; included by me. But I would like to think that I took it to a different level, I think his The Wealthy Barber was more of a you know; what you really have is a young couple going to the barber who dispenses financial lessons along with his haircuts. What I tried to do because I studied a lot of fiction writing techniques, I felt that I wanted to write a “real novel” I had written one before, so had my wife a harlequin she did and I had written one I didn’t attempt to publish it was more of a practice novel. So there’s a lot of techniques like, you’ve got to worry about plot, setting, pacing; and the big technique in a real novel, like a love lin thriller or something is your always having little goals and setbacks that creates tension and makes you want to keep reading. So a lot of the books that have imitated Chilton were more or less data dumps. In Findependence day therefore; and as it turns out that the classic fiction structure is perfectly suited for financial planning because financial planning talks about a series of always planning, you know your always planning; what happens if I lose my job, your children have to be educated, or you get pregnant and have children. So actually as you know having read the book, there’s a lot of things that Jamie and Sheena had to overcome. He lost his job, he was betrayed by a business partner, they got pregnant, they almost got divorced, and this is over a 22-year time frame. Any financial planner will say that your financial independence is all about being prepared for the unexpected; it’s a standard in personal finance you should have 6-9 months of emergency funds. Personally I say in the book that the foundation of financial independence is a paid for home then you have your TFSA and emergency savings; even the part about a couple, having 2 incomes is like a 2 engine plane and if one engine conks out the other engine keeps the plane afloat until it can kind of refresh and get the engine fixed. In my case right now all of this is actually what’s been happening. It could turn out that the change in my title and status at MoneySense that was on May 20th; probably in a couple of years I will look back and say May 20th, 2014 was my real financial independence day or my real Findependence Day. But I’ll also say that in the book Findependence Day can be adjusted forward and backward given the circumstances. I discovered that I had 2 false alarms. Three or maybe 4 years ago the Financial Post was giving a lot of people packages to leave. For awhile I thought that I was going to get one and that would have been my Findependence Day. In the end I stayed longer and I didn’t take a package. Then I declared a year ago when I published the US edition of the book on my birthday when I turned 60 I said that was a Findependence Day because I could take Canada Pension Plan now finally; and collect pension from the post because I was no longer there. As it is all of these things I defer even in the current issue of MoneySense there’s a retirement section I say the longer you wait the better when it comes to deferring all of these pensions. Ironically I think that possibly this time it might be the real one, but there’s still a few things to be done yet. Again I say all along Findependence Day is not the same as retirement.

Jason: Ya exactly and that was one of the questions I was going to ask you is exactly what being findependent vs. being full-stop retired means to those that are listening.

Jonathan: Ya I’ve been reading a book which I would put into another edition of Theo’s Library called Retirementality; retire mentality, like the mentality of retirement. Almost everybody, and I’m talking about the baby boom generation; people are going to go in-and-out of retirement. Actually right now, we have a little party in the back yard; some people from church and our friend Meeta is 97 years old and left the workforce around this age, 61-62. But Even then she is still working part-time 1 day a week at 97.

Jason: I am not gonna lie, I’m pretty impressed!

Jonathan: Well she’s pretty heavenly hearty. But the point is a young person in their 60s often will try a retirement then they’ll find that after 6 months they’ll find that it’s boring shall we say.

Jason: Ya, it makes me think of my auntie. She went full stop retirement and it wasn’t very long before she was starting to work again on the side.

Jonathan: Ya and I never really intended to stop working, I mean my vision for myself in my 60s my findependence was write a book every second year. It’s hard to write books on top of stressful full-time careers. In the case of MoneySense it was a good 9 hour day plus a 1 hour commute at each end; and I would use time wisely on the subway reading both ways, magazines and books. But nevertheless it was like an 11-hour hole each day, and there wasn’t a lot of energy to write the book that I had wanted to write. So you end up putting a lot of projects on hold. So my vision of the 60s was to put my own projects number one but keep my hand in things and some people would call it semi-retirement; some people will basically have a series sabbatical. I’ve never had more than 2-weeks off in a row since I graduated from western journalism school the MA program in 1979. I’ve had many 2 week holidays. So this summer here I’m basically taking off. Mind you I’m in a fortunate position of having no debts having substantial financial assets and a wife who’s a couple years younger who is still working. So in the last issue of MoneySense actually telegraphs what I was planning to do. In the best tips issue, if you look at the financial independence column there I sort of tip readers off by saying you know, I really enjoy MoneySense and I do. But if it all ended tomorrow I would do this, this, this and that. What I said is I would start to take out RRSPs and I would start to collect CPP and little employer pensions from previous jobs. In reality though, it’s best to defer all of that stuff for as long as possible, so I’m probably not going to do any of that until the end of this year. Fundily enough I’m going to be meeting with a bunch of people, well-known sources and contacts at MoneySense like Malcom Hamilton and Moshe Milevsky. It’s something called the ‘decumulation institute’. It’s for people like myself or Bruce before me at the Financial Post; we’re so trained to be frugal, to save and put all of those principles of findependence that are in the book. It’s hard to get your head around that it’s okay to start drawing down capital, and what is the most tax-efficient way of doing it. And I’m not sure if it’s in Theo’s library or not is Daryl Diamond’s Your Retirement Blueprint which is completely on the money if you’re in the 55-65 range. And of course I suspect Jason, you’re a lot younger;

Jason: Yeah! I’m a lot younger

Jonathan: Daryl Diamond’s book Your Retirement Blueprint is aimed at the older baby boomers like myself who are transitioning from full-time employment to either entrepreneurship or freelance career, consulting, writing, etcetera. I’ll probably go the route throughout my 60’s of author, speaker, blogger, consultant. At some point I’ll probably consult back to the Financial Services Industry. I’ve always been relatively a pioneer on social media, because of my original background at The Globe as a high-tech reporter. The other day, if you haven’t seen it at findependenceday.com, the site has a blog that I write. Now at MoneySense I sort of do a version called Financial Independence, but the one that I own personally is findependenceday.com. If you haven’t seen it you might want to check the blog I did on friday where I announced the editor at large change in title, and change in my structured routine. So maybe if you do this blog you could link to that?

Jason: (At this point I should have been asking him more on his new title and the changes in his routine *slaps head*) Ya, for sure like I’ve seen the Findependence Day blog but I haven’t seen that particular post. I’ll be sure to do that.

Jonathan: I wasn’t really updating it much, because I was putting all of my energy into MoneySense. Now however, I’m going to be doing a lot more, probably weekly. Still talking to MoneySense they wan’t to do a blog as well; like Dan Bortolotti Canadian Couch Potato does a blog which is kind of a mirror blog which ends up on the MoneySense site, at least some of them. Hopefully if all goes well that’s what will happen, they’ll pick some of the blogs from findependenceday.com and re-produce them as the financial independence blog at moneysense.ca 

Jason: Jon I really wanted to ask you something too. I really found important in your book when Jamie and Sheena we’re looking into buying their first home. There was some pretty sound information to share, you know about paying off your mortgage with a shorter amortization period, especially during the first years to further principle reduction versus paying more on interest.

Jonathan: Ya you know, we have friends who, when we got married we were in our mid-thirties and it was the top of the Toronto Real Estate market, late 1980’s; and friends that had sort of got married earlier or younger most of them had paid off their mortgages so we we’re really interested because what you find out really quickly with the mortgage; and this was when mortgage rates were close to 12%, not like now; you find that on 95% of your original payment the first few years; if you play it the banks way and you do a 25 year mortgage for example. You’ll find that you’ll probably pay out, back then it would have been $24,000, like $2,000 a month your paying the bank and then you find out that 95% of that is not taking your principal down, it’s not reducing your debt. Most of it is interest only and therefore it’s agonizing. In our case we had a $170,000 mortgage and at the end of the first year it was only, despite $24,000 worth of payment the mortgage was reduced maybe $1,000 by $170,000 to $169,000. You soon realize that is CRAZY!

Jason: Ya no doubt!

Jonathan: And then the biggest single thing that we had done to get it paid off was what our friends had taught us. You take advantage of the 10% sometimes 15% annual pre-payment which meant that in addition to paying that $2,000 a month; which only really just pays interest; once a year you can pay 10% of our case, $170,000 so $17,000. I give an example of that in Findependence Day with similar thinking, but with that $17,000 that you pay on that pre-payment; all of a sudden your mortgage goes from $170,000 to what was it $153,000. Then a year later it goes dramatically down. Let’s use an easier example, if it’s $20,000 a year, it’ll be going from 170 to 150 to 130 to 110; FAR accelerating your pay down. You can do that, the annual pre-down payment, you can also of course accelerate your payments. Bigger payments than necessary, you want to pay as much as you can. People thing oh interest rates are low we can get a bigger house, but what you really want to do is have the biggest payments possible where more and more of it is principal and that’s what speeds it down. Back when we were doing this, the $200,000 house would have cost $600,000 if you do it the long protracted mortgage way that the banks want. The advantage that your generation has right now, is of course the interest rates are far lower than during my time. That means that you have a lot more capacity to pay it down, but it’s still a huge advantage to get rid of it. If the unexpected happens; these are what these books Retirementality and all of the rest are talking about. My whole point is it’s not about retirement it’s about having financial independence while your still young enough to enjoy it, that’s the subtitle of the US book; I mean there’s no security these days with jobs. Whether your with the government or in the private sector, there’s no reason why a 30-year-old should not strive for financial independence by the time their 35 in so far as; again into my column in the June issue of MoneySense talks about this definition of financial independence which you can find on Wikipedia. Just google Wikipedia and put financial independence down and you’ll see their definition. Then if the unexpected happens, you lose a job or whatever; you could define it as being debt free. Personally I don’t want to have any kind of mortgage I wan’t to be living rent free. Same with car payments. I was driving an old Volvo until quite recently I bought a 2-year old Camry with not a lot of mileage on it but I paid for it with cash, I just sold some stocks. I didn’t like the idea of having $400 a month for the next 4 years that I’ve got to pay to a car company? Didn’t like that idea. Luckily as it turned out a change did happen, and I’m really happy to have the car. It’s really good on gas, it’s paid for, it’s reliable, it’s not going to have the big repairs that the old Volvo would have had, and the gas slash is 3 times cheaper so that was actually a good move but again in line with my financial independence philosophy: No debt whatsoever if you could pull it off.

Jason: Ya and talking about your car there really brought into perspective frugality and how important that is. Another term I got from your book that I really liked was ‘Guerrilla Frugality’. I thought it was very creative and adds power the word frugality itself. Did you come up with that term?

Jonathan: Ya when I was in the Financial Post I wrote a couple of pieces on guerilla frugality. Some people mis-pronounce it they say ‘Gorilla’ like a big orangutan. It’s ‘Guerilla’ as in guerilla marketing; or like warfare. But it’s g—u-e-r-i-l-l-a I believe. So I’ll take credit for it, I take credit for inventing Findependence; the phrase, and for Guerrilla Frugality. A few other things are in there I can’t remember them off-hand. 

Jason: That’s right the Findependence Day I heard, that is your term you came up with that right? How did you come up with that again?

Jonathan: Ya, well somebody wanted me to write a book. They thought I should write a book on financial independence. I was just thinking it was around July 4th, the American Independence Day and I thought Independence Day, financial independence: Findependence, financial independence contracts to findependence and then you tack on the day, it sounds like Independence Day, like the American Independence Day, so Findependence Day. So it was just a 3-part process; a neologism we’d call it. The US edition better articulates it. It was the cover, I don’t know if you’ve seen it but if you go to findependenceday.com you’ll see both the Canadian and the US edition. The US edition; shows a desk calendar with July 4th circled with balloons and fireworks. That was supposed to be the original cover in Canada but somebody got cold-feet and they went with this balloon treatment.

Jason: One thing I also wanted to bring up, Theo’s character. He’s very intelligent and he serves as a great example of what a good financial advisor is. If someone were looking for financial advice from someone in the industry, what should they look for from a financial professional. I hear a lot about you know, fee-only and people who are commission based. Could you shed some light on that?

Jonathan: Well sure again a lot of these principles I took to MoneySense so that’s why we’ve got Dan Bortolotti in June does the annual discount brokerage report. Then we also updated what used to be a popular fee-only planning directory online at moneysense.ca

Jason: I think I’ve seen that actually

Jonathan: Ya so what I call the Findependence Day model is essentially you buy ETFs or Index Funds at a discount brokerage but the argument is that you don’t have to do without financial advice. I think you can get really efficient, not to costly financial advice by finding a true fee-for-service planner. We made that distinction in the directory between asset based where they charge 1% of your assets and a true billing by time, fee-for service or hourly billing. Just like when you go to an accountant or a lawyer, they don’t say we’re gonna take 1% of your wealth for the rest of your life. 

Jason: Ya that’s not right.

Jonathan: They say give us 500 bucks for this and 500 dollars for all of the rest of it. So you can do that. Theo was an example, he was a merger of a few people I actually knew, including my own fee-only planner. For years I hadn’t even met because he was on the internet but we did eventually meet at my second annual Findependence Day birthday party. So all of those principles I sort of carried over to MoneySense. Another good book is Dan Bortolotti’s MoneySense Guide to the Perfect Portfolio. I don’t think that it’s in Theo’s library either but he really lays out how to open a discount brokerage and buy ETFs. He doesn’t go so much into fee-only planning but that’s essentially the Findependence Day model and the rest is just common sense: Get rid of debt, pay off your mortgage;

Jason: Ya, but that’s the thing too a lot of people think investing is such a daunting thing but really, like Dan Bortollotti he does a good job over at Canadian Couch Potato. Low cost Index Funds and ETFs are not actually that hard to get your hands on.

Jonathan: No I mean, for example it could be as simple as having 3 Vangaurd or iShares ETFs; 40% fixed income, 20% Canadian equity, 20% US equity and 20% international; that’s all you need to do!

Jason: Yeah it’s

Jonathan: Simple as heck! You go to your fee-only planner to get a little advice on helping with quarterly or yearly re-balancing and then start worrying more about, not so much the investment part of it because that’s all taken care of with such a portfolio but to take care of other things like retirement income strategy, efficient taxation, and the bread and butter Personal Finance topics like insurance, life insurance etc. That’s what a financial planner should be doing. People sort of equate it with the fun, let’s buy some stocks, let’s buy ETFs. The couch potato portfolio means you don’t need to spend a lot of worry, you don’t have to be watching BBN or CNBC and forever worry about individual stocks, or whether the markets about to crash, or whether certain sectors are over-valued or under-valued. A properly constructed couch potato portfolio the kind that Dan would espouse either at MoneySense in his columns or at PWL Capital where he works part-time. That’s all you need.

Jason: That’s the thing too when you talked about life insurance and setting up the important aspects, really that’s more important. It makes me think of Preet’s book. He does a really good job in the first few chapters of you know, Disaster Proof your life.

Jonathan: Ya in Don’t Overthink Your Money which we did a mini-review in the last issue of MoneySense. So Preets of course having been a financial advisor he’s quite interesting. In fact in the middle of may we had David Chilton speaking at MoneySense 15th anniversary. Preet and Dan were both on the panel that I moderated and we talked about the irony that the 2 were actually mirror images of each other because Dan is a financial pundit writer who is becoming a planner, and Preet was a former financial advisor who’s now a pundit so.

Jason: Okay and I’ve already kept you for quite awhile so I should probably let you go. But before I do, if you could share your best advice for the younger generations on their own path to Findependence Day.

Jonathan: Well it goes back to, this is a line I; basically I write my own material; is the foundation of financial independence is a paid for home. I believe that sincerely, not everybody believes it. I think that you need a house. Your always going to be paying a mortgage. Your either paying your own mortgage or your paying your landlord’s mortgage. That’s what renting is your paying somebody’s mortgage, but your never ever going to be free of rent, and because of inflation, they variably hike your rent every year. So to me, you want to be free of that. Now it’s true home ownership does still involve property taxes, and there’s maintenance and things so it’s not free once you’ve paid off the mortgage, but there’s a huge pressure off, you feel psychologically liberated. In the old days they had mortgage burning parties and it was a great day to celebrate. To me that is almost the first phase of Findependence Day, the day you’ve got it paid. So you can’t pay off a house if you don’t first buy one and it’ll take a few years, you know 3-5 years particularly if you’re a half of a couple. If you’re a dual-income couple no excuse not to pay down the mortgage because a) interest rates are very low. The combination of very low-interest rates, and double-income which most people have these days; young couples. You should be able to pay off a house within 5 years. Then the other one is pay yourself first. Again some of these are in the best tips ever issue of MoneySense in the current magazine rant. I think the first 2 are David Chilton’s again which everybody else uses this too, David Bach for example; pay yourself first. The beauty of paying down the mortgage is your used to let’s say you’ve got an aggressive pay down and you put out $3,000 a month just on your mortgage. The day that it’s paid off, your already used to the $3,000 leaving your bank account so now you divert that into your TFSA and your RRSP. Then all of a sudden the speed that you were paying down your mortgage and getting out of debt, heading towards financial freedom. The same behaviour now is going to build assets. So eventually you can know not to work and you have all of this interest income and dividend income paying what’s the equivalent of a would have been a salary. So to me that’s it. Pay yourself first, and the foundation of financial independence is a paid for home. Those two things, just practice them for 30 years and you too will be Findependent

Jason: That day will come

Jonathan: It will! 

Jason: Well, as I said Jonathan. Findependence Day was a great read, I really appreciate your hard work that has allowed me to gain the knowledge that I have taken from the book; I’d recommend it to anyone, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today. Oh one more thing I guess I should allow you to tell people where they can pick up their copy as well of Findependence Day.

Jonathan: Oh ya well it’s not easily available in Canada anymore because I bought back the copies so you have to go to findependenceday.com, and you might want to spell that out or when you do the blog send a link out so it’s easy to get there. If it’s the US edition you want it’s easier because you can get it at Amazon.com you can go there, and you get an e-book for just $3.99. Again the US edition but it’s more or less the same story I just took out the Canada bits and put all of the US bits in there. The US edition has a different forward by a US financial planner Sheryl Garret. It also has a glossary which the original edition that you got does not have. Also there’s end of chapter summaries in the new edition. I would say if you already own the Canadian edition; at least get the $3.99 e-book so you can see some of these extras that are in there. I’d like to eventually do a new Canadian edition but my next project is probably the non-fiction version of it. So that’s where you go, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com that’s for the US edition and the e-book. And then again, the only way you can get the Canadian edition is through findependenceday.com as you know it’s $16 you use paypal, credit card, etc. You can follow me and it’s @JonChevreau twitter and I’m on Linked in, Facebook, and Google+

Jason: Perfect

Jonathan: But I say you sort of have a scoop in so far as this is the first interview that I’ve done since the change in my title at MoneySense 

Jason: Ya no doubt and that’s alright it’s my very first interview ever doing so

Jonathan: Well you’ve done a good job 

Jason: Thank you, I appreciate it.

Jonathan: But you’ve done your research see some people interview on and they haven’t even read the book which is a good start.

Jason: That doesn’t make sense. Alright Jon I appreciate it, thank you.

Jonathan: Thank you Jason.

Fin.

I hope you enjoyed hearing what Jonathan had to say. I sure enjoyed listening to him. Remember to provide feedback below. Thanks!

 

Later Days,

-Jason

 

One Response to Financial Independence With Jonathan Chevreau: Editor At Large MoneySense Magazine

  1. chijioke obasi c says:

    how can i get the copied of dis great book

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