Welcome to the Million Dollar Journey August 2014 Net Worth Update –  Team MDJ edition. A select group of readers were selected to be part of Team MDJ which was conceived after the million dollar  net worth milestone was achieved in June 2014.  Sean Cooper was selected as a team member and will post net worth updates on a regular basis.  Here is more about Sean.


  • Name: Sean Cooper
  • Age: 29
  • Net Worth: $521,149
  • Day Job: Employed with a major global pension consulting firm.
  • Family Income: $50,000 (full-time job), $18,600 (rental income before expenses), $20,000 (approximate freelance income), $5,000 (part-time job)
  • Goals: Mortgage paid off by 31, million dollar net worth by mid thirties.
  • Notes: Owns a house, rents out main floor. Most of net worth is in the principal residence. No other debt besides mortgage.

I’ve been following FrugalTrader’s net worth updates for over five years, so when he asked me if I would be interested in posting my personal net worth updates I was honoured. Since this is my first net worth update with my preliminary numbers. I look forward to you joining me on my journey as my net worth (hopefully) grows over the coming months.

I attribute most of my financial success to goal-setting. By setting SMART goals, I’ve been able to accomplish everything I’ve set out to achieve.  Not only did I graduate debt-free from university, I purchased a home on my own in one of Canada’s most expensive cities, Toronto, and became a first-time landlord at 27 years old.

My next stretch goal is to be mortgage-free by age 31. By maximizing the prepayment privileges on my mortgage, I plan to be mortgage-free by the end of 2015 (hopefully just before Star Wars Episodes VII debuts in theatres). I don’t plan to keep up this hectic pace forever; eventually I plan to settle down and perhaps get married.

On to the net worth numbers:

Assets: $628,239 (+0.00%)

  • Cash: $7,361 (+0.00%)
  • Registered/Retirement Investment Accounts (RRSP): $46,135 (+0.00%)
  • Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSA): $0 (+0.00%)
  • Defined Benefit Pension: $24,421 (+0.00%)
  • Non-Registered Investment Accounts: $322 (+0.00%)
  • Principal Residence: $550,000 (+0.00%)

Liabilities: $107,090 (+0.00%)

  • Principal Residence Mortgage: $107,090 (0.00%)

Total Net Worth: ~$521,149 (+0.00%)

  • Started 2014 with Net Worth: $460,500
  • Year to Date Gain/Loss: +13.17%

Some quick notes and explanations to common questions:

The Cash

The cash is held in a no fee chequing account with PC Financial. I use my chequing account for regular bill payments, as well as making lump sum payments on my mortgage.


My savings are held in a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) with Canadian Direct Financial. I mainly use my TFSA as an emergency fund and to save towards the balance owing when I file my personal income tax return at the end of April. Even though I contribute the maximum to my RRSP annually, I still have a large balance owing to the taxman since I receive rental income and income from self-employment (I’m a freelance writer).

You may be wondering why my balance is currently $0. At the beginning of the year I had $15,000 in my TFSA. However, this year was especially costly, as I had to spend $25,000 on repairs and renovations to my house, including a new retaining wall, side walk, front porch, sump pump, and eaves troughs. I plan to rebuild my emergency fund once I’ve maximized the prepayment privileges on my mortgage. If any more costly home repairs creep up, I can always slow down on prepaying my mortgage.

Where Do the Savings Come From?

I’m very frugal with my money. People are often amazed at how low my monthly expenses are. For most families the most costly household expenses are housing (mortgage or rent), transportation, and food. I’ve been able to minimize all three through lifestyle choices.

As a single first-time home buyer in Toronto, I decided to take on the added responsibility of being a landlord. Instead of living upstairs, I decided to live in the basement and rent the upstairs to a family. I got this brilliant idea from the host of HGTV’s Income Property, Scott McGillivray, who lived in his basement for nine years while renting out the upstairs unit to save money.

Instead of driving a car, I cycle the majority of the year and take public transit during wintertime. In my recent article in the Financial Post readers were amazed I only spend $100 per month on groceries. How have I managed to spend so little? I shop at discount supermarkets, price match, avoid fast food, and buy sale items in bulk. I’m also vegetarian, which helps me avoid paying the outrageous prices for meat.

How Have I Been Able to Pay Down My Mortgage So Quickly?

Despite an annual salary of only $50,000, I’ve been able to pay down over half of my mortgage in only two years through hard work and determination. Besides being a landlord, I’m a financial freelance writer and blogger. I also work part-time at a grocery store once a week. Through secondary sources of income, I’ve been able to maximize the prepayment privileges on my mortgage and maximize my RRSP contributions each year.

Real Estate

My real estate holdings consist of my primary residence. I purchased my house in August 2012 for $425,000 with a mortgage of $255,000. As I live in Toronto, one of Canada’s most expensive housing markets, I’ve based the value of my principal residence on comparable properties that have recently sold in my neighbourhood.


The pension amount listed above is the value of my defined benefit pension plan. I take the commuted value from my annual statement, which I receive by June 30th each year. I am fortunate to receive the commuted value on my annual statement, as most employers don’t provide it. This makes retirement planning a lot easier.

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Interesting to note that while Frugal Trader bases his principal residence price at “purchase price adjusted for inflation annually”, Cooper uses “comparable properties that have recently sold in my neighbourhood”.

No wonder that in true net worth statements principal residences are always negated.

First off Sean congratulations on living so well within your means. Adding up a few approximate numbers here I basically estimated that although bringing in nearly $140K you are living off about $50K. Assuming no significant surprises you might make $1 Million in the next 5-6 years.
Avoiding lifestyle inflation is vital to saving and I sometimes wish I could go back and tell that to my younger self before I had a family. Additionally you’ve made me seriously think about a part time weekend job again although it might be difficult with the large unpaid overtime expectations in my current role.
Additionally I agree with SST’s comment above. I’d be concerned about using current pricing for your principle residence seeing as it looks like it’s gone up by 30% since 2012 purchase.

Good for you mate. Your story reminds me of my own. I’m under 40 now and mortgage and debt free. I graduated from University in the UK debt free, bought my first place at 21 and second a few years later. I set goals just like you and lived a frugal lifestyle. What I found interesting is that you lived in your basement. Unfortunately I never had a basement in the UK but now that I live in Canada we have a large basement that I still need to finish. If I did rent in the UK I’d have to rent a room and well, houses in the UK are very pricey and small for what you get compared to many cities in Canada. We live in the GTA as well and like you said it’s pricey but no matter where one lives as long as they live below their means anything is possible. Thanks for sharing and good luck on your journey! Mr.CBB

You are in a fabulous position already, and look on track to meet your ambitious goals – well done :)

Thanks for the update and looks like you’re doing very well.

I agree with SST here, I’d simply use purchase price adjusted for inflation annually for valuing the RE property. Just because a house in the neighbourhood sold for this much, it doesn’t mean your house will worth that much. I also think that using inflation adjusted method is more conservative.

I like your idea of using TFSA as an emergency fund.

This will be an interesting one to follow and I remembered your story in the FP a while back too. Nice work on keeping your expenses minimized it sure shows the value of earnings when you get to keep most of it.

I am curious though if at any point you considered the value of having no mortgage vs building an investment portfolio during this time of seemingly permanent low interest rates for mortgages. I know for most people this is a comfort based decision but aside from your RRSP the majority of your net wealth is in your residence. If you’ll be mortgage free in a year then I guess next will be full on investment/savings time anyway so my question might be moot anyway.

Either way great stuff, and good luck going forward, time is on your side for sure and it will be nice following someone starting out again as they build their retirement/lifestyle strategy.

Impressive at your age. Keep at it and you’ll hit your $1MM goal easily!


I have wondered something for a long time about people like this: it seems like a lot of hardcore savers have two or even three jobs. Unless you work for the Government, how is it possible to work a full-time salaried job, where the demands beyond the long days and/or commute often boil over into your evenings and weekend, and carry on part-time activities at the same time?

Assuming you are physically capable of working a higher volume of hours per week, doesn’t your productivity and performance at your full-time job suffer and thereby increase your long-term potential (i.e. promotions and raises). Now assuming you can handle the increase in hours worked without a drop in productivity, if you’re main employer finds out you have all these other jobs, won’t they question your loyalty and commitment (again limited your promotions and raises)?

I am talking purely about part-time jobs which require your time and labor (wages, commissions, etc.), not capital and investment income.

One more consideration:

There are all kinds of people who are willing to invest their “extra-curricular” or “free” time to upgrade their skills (taking courses and designations) and networking, dedicated to advancing their primary occupations. How do you accomplish this if you are racing off to a part-time job the second your finish work for the day? Considering there is so much competition in the labor market and other people willing to go the extra mile for free, doesn’t this mean you slowly get behind your peers in your career? Essentially you are accumulating a career deficit to increase current earnings?

Error in post #8…it should read “and thereby decrease you long-term potential” in paragraph 2.

Banjopete brings up the age-old debate: “I am curious though if at any point you considered the value of having no mortgage vs building an investment portfolio during this time of seemingly permanent low interest rates for mortgages.”

This is what Rempel talks about — the Canadian way to “wealth”.

Over the short and long-term, stocks always beat real estate.
(Even more so when you factor in real estate being a consumable; did you enjoy that $25k repair bill, Mr. Cooper?)

Average Annual % Gain
RE: 5.4
TSX: 8

RE: 4.5
TSX: 8

RE: 5.5
TSX: 8.5

Even more insidious than the ‘stocks will make you rich’ marketing meme has been the home ownership/mortgage racket.

One only has to recall that the word mortgage has its origins from the French terminology meaning ‘death pledge’. Canadians spend so much time trying to stave off Death (pay down their mortgage), that they never fully enjoy the riches of life (growing wealth via other investment assets). Even more strange since Death rates have been continuously in decline over the last 30-years.

Now for a totally off-topic topic (but the OP did mention it…):
Being vegetarian might save on meat bills now, but you’ll make up for it with future medical bills. Modern humans have 200,000 years of omnivore eating behind them. It’s a bogus claim that being veg is less expensive. According to CPI reports, meat prices have gone up 16.5% since 2009; veg prices 6.5%. I use to eat according to the horrendous Canada Food Thingy; now I eat only meat and veg — period. No carbs, no processed. Meat + Veg.

My food bills have gone down because there is science behind the “madness”. For one thing, I spend less on ’empty’ bready food; secondly, by eating meat (more specifically, the fat in the meat), I actually eat less. Thus, by eating an historically/evolutionary proven human diet, I probably consume less and spend perhaps the same (or less) than a vegetarian (actually I know I spend less because I grow most of my own veggies — 400% return right there!). And science says I’ll also be healthier (aka I won’t be the cause of price increases in the Health Care system).

Thank you for the feedback, everyone! Being chosen to post my net worth statement is a great honour. It’s like being chosen to be a Dragon on Dragon’s Den.

@SST @Stompie The reason I value my house based on comparable properties is twofold. Firstly, I live in Toronto, Canada’s second most expensive housing market. Increasing my home’s value at inflation just wouldn’t be realistic. Secondly, I purchased my house way under market value. Realistically, my house was worth $475,000 when I bought it in August 2012. The seller was relocating for a new job and was in a hurry to sell, so I got a great deal.

@David That’s a good point, but it’s not like I’m slacking off at my full-time job. Instead of spending time talking about sports at the water cooler, I’m busy at my desk working. I try to be as productive possible at my full-time job. Last year I was promoted and I always receive positive performance reviews.

Sean, I wasn’t suggesting that you were slacking, but I have troubling understanding how you can possibly demonstrate additional value and go above and beyond. I worked 2 and 3 jobs while in I was in school, but my school hours and study time was pretty well defined that I could plan around it.

In my experience in the private sector (and those of my salaried Gen Y peers), it is the employees who usually bear the brunt of the cyclicality of the business cycle, which includes working long hours during certain days/weeks/periods. Furthermore, it seems to be that people who are well-liked and promoted in organizations are those who volunteer to take on incremental work or stay late to help out with last-minute assignments. I can’t imagine how this could be managed when you have to be at a part-time job at 6 pm, lets say.

In Government where you can clock in 9-to-5 and promotion is based on showing up, I can see how this might be manageable, hence the caveat noted. I didn’t mean to pass judgment on your choices (and those of the other hardcore savers) but rather point out that they have some serious long-term implications, IMO.

re: “Firstly, I live in Toronto, Canada’s second most expensive housing market. Increasing my home’s value at inflation just wouldn’t be realistic. Secondly, I purchased my house way under market value. Realistically, my house was worth $475,000 when I bought it in August 2012.”

Firstly, what you are saying is that high prices reflect reality? I have first-hand experience with Canada’s first most expensive housing market; perhaps you are familiar with the term ‘Million Dollar Crack Shack”? The only price that matters is the price for which you sell. Something about a bubble being characterized by justifying prices…

Secondly, and realistically, your house was worth what it sold for/what you bought it for. That’s how markets work. If I buy a share of Amazon can I automatically price it at $55,000 because that’s what the P/E says it’s “worth”? Perhaps a fair (but not necessarily realistic) valuation would be your equity portion of the purchase price:mortgage.

(And how are you valuing the $25,000 in repairs & renos? Or is that money simply considered an expense and dead?)

Understandably, you want your principle residence to be priced as high as possible since it’s your largest “asset”, but let’s keep it actually real.

Valuing his home as he has done is perfectly fine, as long as the methodology is consistent through all markets. If one is to use market value, or recent comparable sales, that is fine in a boom market, but in a crash or downturn, the house value must be trended down as well. It means a dropping net worth, but that’s the methodology chosen.

The only way to be accurate is to obviously list the house and see where the offers come in. If you did that and your networth took a hit, or a massive jump due to super conservative valuations, then your messed up on networth estimates.

Some might say you take out your house value. But then you have to take out your mortgage on it. What if there’s a HELOC and that was used to invest? Do you take the investment out as well? If you want to take out primary residence from net worth, I believe that’s only a valid method if the house is paid off and free title.

Great first net worth update Sean.
We value our principal resident at the price of recent comparable sales -15%.
This gives us a buffer for real estate commissions (which you pay HST on :) as well as the extra expenses that will come up when liquidating the asset.
It’s pretty conservative, but it’s worked well for us over the last 30 years or so.

Anyway, we were mostly-vegetarian for many years, only eating some fish, but we certainly never got our grocery bills down so low. Can you share a weekly breakdown?

re: “Firstly, I live in Toronto, Canada’s second most expensive housing market. Increasing my home’s value at inflation just wouldn’t be realistic. Secondly, I purchased my house way under market value. Realistically, my house was worth $475,000 when I bought it in August 2012.”

Do you realize the paradox here? Toronto is Canada’s second most expensive market because it is one of the strongest and most liquid markets going. How is it that some idiot would misprice their home by >10% in such a market. In other words, how do you legally buy >10% below the market? Key word legally…

re: “Valuing his home as he has done is perfectly fine, as long as the methodology is consistent through all markets.”

But valuing his home as he has done is not using a methodology consistent with other net worth statements which also list ‘principal residence’.

Just one more reason why “homes” are never accounted in true net worth calculations.

SST, this isn’t about comparing networths between people, it’s about showing growth/changes in his net worth. He could value his investments at 30% lower because we’re at an all time high and due for a correction.

If homes aren’t included, then it’s not a true net worth statement. Simple as that. This has been proven many times over, I don’t know why you continue to argue this.

It’s about conflicting methods of valuing a like asset.
It’s about utilizing conflicting metrics to achieve different results depending on what you want the outcome to be.

Which is correct?

re: “If homes aren’t included, then it’s not a true net worth statement. Simple as that. This has been proven many times over…”

Proven by which accounting entities?
And what exactly do you mean by “proven”?
A mathematical proof, or simply a general society ‘proof’?

Open any HNWI report and you’ll see none of them include principal residence — none. Why does the rule all of a sudden change for low net-worth individuals? Envy?

I’ll just skip these inventive updates from now on. :)

This is an impressive net worth. I think the challenge going forward will be saving cash as an emergency fund since about 90% of the net worth is in the house

When the apocalypse comes the vegeterians will be the first ones to get eaten..

@Emilio: One can only hope :)

@SST: Ay Carumba. You’ve managed to systemically find a reason to dismiss nearly everyone who’s come on here with a successful or quasi-successful financial journey as “not a REAL millionaire,” or whatever. You’re harder to impress than my mother-in-law!

And while I don’t actually disagree with many of your arguments, what WOULD impress you? What would an actually financially successful person look like to you?

Remember folks – don’t feed the trolls.

Good job there Sean! Question for you, what are your longer term financial goals? I know that with a DBP, retiring early isn’t as attractive of an option due to the reduction in benefits when you turn 60. Thoughts?

Sean, great job so far. My wife and I are in our early 40’s with net worth approaching $3m. We also made it a priority to pay off our mortgage quickly and took some heat from the crowd who believe in a low interest rate environment you should be dumping cash into investment accounts. We still did max our RSPs during those years.

I can tell you we love being mortgage free and since then have been dumping six figures a year into our investment accounts.

FYI on my net worth statements I show the house value as a conservative value minus 7% for related costs should I sell. I haven’t increased the number for quite a while and prefer it remain overly conservative.

My ultimate goal is to reach financial independence (or Findependence as Jon Chevreau calls it). I’d like to retire by age 55. If blogging is still around by then, I still plan to do freelance writing on the side for fun. Until then I plan to work full-time and blog on the side. I would never want to freelance full-time – too unstable.

@Kristy: What would a “REAL millionaire” look like to me? One with a million in liquid/investable assets. Period. No pretending, no smoke and mirrors, no feel-good pump. Thus, it’s fairly easy to impress me.

A house is a consumer durable. One continually has to pump money into it in order to maintain “market price”. I can buy a share of KO and hold it for 100 years without ever injecting more capital.

Since part of the house is utilized for income generation, a realistic action would be to calculate that percentage of the equity into net worth, but not the entire thing. So I’ll give ~$200k for the house instead of the posted ~$445k; netting ~$275k in net worth.
That’s great, but it’s not a million or even half a million.

@Andrew: A big Canadian apology for demanding absolute correctness in financial matters. My bad. However, this is a free personal finance internet blog, and as the mantra goes — you get what you pay for. :)

I also discount 7% off each real estate asset for sales commission and sales cost in calculating net asset value. | watch for exact, or as close as possible, units sold on the market to adjust my pricing. It’s still difficult to assess but I need to put a number to the portfolio in order to see where I stand because banks loan on these numbers. Between high and low estimations, the difference can be a million dollars. Definitely not an exact science.

I’ve got sixty grand liquid in chequing…only 940,000 to qualify as an SST millionaire : )

I would like to see a study of a family of four, head of household 50K, increasing their net worth without additional income. Can it be Done?

Interesting how Sean seems to be using some of the techniques recommended by David Trahair, the guy who wrote “Enough Bull”. I haven’t read the book, but I saw an interview with him, and he basically seemed to say to pay down your mortgage as fast a possible. Only when that is done, can you invest in laddered GICs. He recommended GICs to avoid the yo-yoing of the markets. Certainly seems plausible, especially for the general public, who by a large, is pretty unsophisticated at investing. Though GICs won’t even beat inflation in real terms, in my opinion.

I think what Sean will do here is: when the mortgage is paid off, he’ll go heavy on investible assets. He’ll probably get more than GICs, though.

“Cooper uses “comparable properties that have recently sold in my neighbourhood, No wonder that in true net worth statements principal residences are always negated.”

Well, fine, but by the same parameters we should take stocks value as purchase price plus adjusted inflation, since tomorrow your stocks may be worth 30% less than today, or not even if the company closes overnight.
If the market values should be ignored for an own house, than do it for stocks too.

I understand some of the reasons for that, but it’s ridiculus to put a renter with 250K in stocks at a higher level then a home owner with no stocks and a house worth 1 million in todays market.

re: “If the market values should be ignored for an own house, than do it for stocks too.”

Residential real estate (esp. primary residence) and stocks are not the same asset and are thus treated differently.

Here’s a great example:
“…it’s ridiculus to put a renter with 250K in stocks at a higher level then a home owner with no stocks and a house worth 1 million in todays market.”

The renter can access and utilize his $250k of capital probably within a week and with no disruption or alteration to the rest of their life.

If the home owner wants to access and utilize his $1M of capital he/she must sell it and become a renter, that is, not buy another primary residence. Either that or assume a loan against his capital, but then i) the amount of the loan will not be for the full amount of the capital, and ii) the home owner will be paying to access and utilize his/her own capital; neither situation is applicable to the stock owner renter.

A good rule of thumb — include principle residence in your net worth if you want to know how much you can borrow; exclude it if you want to know how much you can buy.

I still think there is bias on networth calculations. A stock value goes up and down like crazy, why do we consider the value of the stock at a given day? tomorrow can be up 10% or down 10%
I would feel it would be fair to calculate a house and stocks according to inflation or average appreaciation, a house at 5% appreciation and stocks at the average returns rate.

Like you said, A Home owner can access his funds too, in one week, I have done it, at 70% of the house value. A house should not be considered anymore an asset that you cannot pull capital from, How many of us keeps refinancing to invest in stocks or income properties?

The owner will pay to access that capital the same way the renter has to pay rent to live under a roof. The owner would pay 2,500 in mortgage payments, the same way the renter would have to pay rent of 2,500 on a house for his family…. plus utilities, same as owner.
The owner also has the option to get an HLOC and use only what he needs at a given moment.
The owner even has the option to pull a small amount through private financing without even proving he works, at a low rate since he has 100% equity, in just a few days. The interest rate in this case would climb as the LTV increases.

I am not saying a home should be included at 100% of market value, -at least 70%?-, but comparing a renter with 250K that has to pay 2,500 in rent plus utilities ,with someone that howns a 1million dollar house and does not have to pay rent….
It feels like one more way the financial world to lure people to invest in funds and stocks instead of purchase assets on their own.

Many say an owner needs a roof, well, a renter needs a roof too and to pay rent as an extra cost…


Interesting to see the evolution of this blog, the authors, the commentators etc.

I’d like to dip into the principle residence in the NW statement. Whether right or wrong… who cares?

As nobleea pointed out, the statement is for personal use and to develop metrics for self-analysis. Separating different elements of the NW statement (contributions from different asset classes) and looking at those separately is the useful part.

Real millionaire or not, what does it matter? Nothing happens when you become a millionaire, ask FT. Well, maybe you decide you can sell off the blog or something, but balloons certainly don’t fall from the sky, and you may or may not be ‘Findependent’.

The Networth statement was hardly used amongst us poor Canadians until these types of blogs gave them higher profile.

What would be more interesting that a simple Networth statement would really be a Financial plan, but that would be more complex to share and less catchy than a simple NW statement.

I wish balloons had fallen from the sky… or suddenly one didn’t have to go to work.

Well said, Sampson. I’ve received many comments about my own net worth updates asking why I include my home, or why I don’t include on off-setting tax liability for my RRSP. Who cares? The point is that I keep the measurement consistent so that I can use it for my own tracking purposes.

Congrats on your financial success. Motivational, indeed.
Glad to see the openness toward life experience. Now that you have a very solid base, you should comfortably enjoy some of the experiences (not things) life has to offer. My wife and I are frugal but have never regretted spending money on cool lif experiences. As we look back on the past 8 years, many of our most memorable moments happened abroad.

As you add physical fitness goals to your regime, supplement use is fairly simple:
Whey protein directly after your workout
Cassein protein before bed.
One fish oil supplement daily, unless you eat fish 3+ times per week.
Creatine – 5 grams daily.
Possibly glutamine – but most commercial protein products contain 5 grams per scoop. Check ur labels.
A daily vitamin.

If you are eating enough then you shouldn’t need a weight gainer. Though, I understand the conflict of frugality vs. Spending on food/products that will compliment your fitness regime.
And for the regime – progressive overload will be key when you hit your first plateau.

Finally – 16 pounds in 2 months is aggressive. Gaining 1-2 pounds max per week is healthy. Any more and you’re likely adding fat.

All the best on the next leg of your journey.