Welcome to the Million Dollar Journey September 2016 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: 31
  • Net Worth: $870,936
  • Day Job: Employed with a major global pension consulting firm.
  • Family Income: $58,050 (full-time job), $18,600 (rental income before expenses), $40,000 (approximate freelance income)
  • 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. Paid off my mortgage in three years by age 30.

These last three months have been busy, even by my standards. Between my full-time job, my side hustle as a financial journalist, money coaching, Toastmasters (I’m on my sixth speech) and writing my book, I’ve barely had a moment to rest. I had to take a brief hiatus from going to the gym because it got to be too much, but I’m happy to say my schedule has slowed down slightly and is more manageable once again.

When I’m not at my full-time job, every spare moment is spent on my book. I’ve tweaked the title slightly – it’s now “Burn Your Mortgage: The Simple, Powerful Path to Financial Freedom.” After getting some helpful feedback from my friends, I rewrote a large portion of my book. The first draft was decent, but it just wasn’t the motivational, uplifting book I was looking to write. I realize most people aren’t willing to live without a smartphone like me (more on that later), so I’ve offered simple, practical advice most people can follow . My main message is that you don’t have to give up Starbucks and your iPhone to achieve financial freedom, but you do have to be smart on big purchases like a home and car.

Now that I’ve finished with the editing of my book, it’s onto the design. I happy to say I recently signed a deal with a trade distributor to get my book carried at major bookstores across Canada. This is a good first step, but there’s a lot more to be done. The success of my book will depend on positioning. To that extent, I’m hiring a PR firm. The book is tentatively set for release on March 1, 2017, so stay tuned. That may sound like a long way away, but there’s a lot of planning and work going on behind the scenes to ensure it’s a success. My dream of being a published author is almost a reality!

Since I paid off my mortgage, I finally broke down and bought a decent smartphone. Previously I had a BlackBerry Z10 (or as I like to call it, an “antique”). It was fine for a while, until I decided to write a book. I want to be active on Instagram and guess what? Instagram doesn’t support BlackBerry, so I broke down and bought a mid-range Android phone. Since I don’t have data on my phone, I bought a wireless router for $40. If you don’t have a wireless router at home for your smartphone, rush out and get one right away. It literally pays for itself in a month in the amount of data usage you’ll save on your phone. So far, so good with my new phone. I’d love to support a Canadian company like BlackBerry, but with their app support so bad, I had no choice but to switch to Android. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I’m really looking forward to my trip to San Diego for in September for FinCon. I’ve never travelled before (besides a trip to Wisconsin on the Greyhound bus), so I had no idea how costly the trip would be. The trip ended up costing me under $1,000, including flight and hotel – not bad! I could have saved more money by staying at Airbnb, but decided against it since my accommodations would be quite away from the conference (staying at the hotel at the conference will make it easier to network). It’s a four day conference, but I plan to arrive a little early to check out California and (hopefully) hit the beach. Readers, have you ever travelled to San Diego? Do you have any recommendations of places to visit?

I’m still trying to figure out my whole philosophy on travelling. My father being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year was a real wakeup call. He planned to travel later in life, but now he can’t due to his illness. He ate well and exercised regularly. He had no way of knowing he would get sick. I don’t want to put off travelling my whole life because you never know when you could become sick too. Our health is something we often take for granted, but after my father’s health scare, I won’t make that mistake again. Going forward I’ll aim to take one big trip a year. With the Pound taking a tumble from the fallout of Brexit, maybe I’ll visit the U.K. next year. We’ll see.

On to the net worth numbers:

Assets: $870,936 (+15.09%)

  • Cash: $50,095 (+20.58%)
  • Registered/Retirement Investment Accounts (RRSP): $71,637 (+9.49%)
  • Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSA): $14,362 (+5.98%)
  • Defined Benefit Pension: $49,845 (+41.34%) (commuted value adjusted annually in June when I receive my annual statement)
  • Non-Registered Investment Accounts: $997 (+5.71%)
  • Principal Residence: $684,000 (+14.00%) (purchase price adjusted for average selling price annually)

Liabilities: $0 (0.00%)

  • Principal Residence Mortgage: $0 (0.00%)

Total Net Worth: ~$870,936 (+15.09%)

  • Started 2016 with Net Worth: $736,382
  • Year to Date Gain/Loss: +18.27%

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 savings account with Canadian Direct Financial. I mainly use my savings account 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).

How Did I Pay Off My Mortgage in Only Three Years?

Due to the number of comments in Sean’s last net worth update, Sean has provided a more detailed explanation of his strategies.

Update August 2016 – Despite an annual salary of $55,000 when I paid off my mortgage in September 2015, I was able to pay off my mortgage in three years by age 30 through side hustle. I got the idea from the host of HGTV’s Income Property, Scott McGillivray, to live in the basement of my house and rent out the upstairs, earning $18,600 per year in rental income. By renting out half my home, half my housing related costs (mortgage interest, utilities, home insurance and property taxes) are tax deductible. I also worked part-time at a grocery store once a week, earning $5,000 per year.

I’ve received a few questions about how I was able to pay down my mortgage so quickly. It was mainly through my freelance income. I tend to be conservative with my estimate of freelance income, as it can vary a lot from month to month. For example, some months I earn $2,000, while others I earn $5,000+. For 2014, I ended up earning over $60,000 in freelance income (including my full-time job and rental income, I made over $130,000 before taxes in 2014). To help offset the taxes payable on this income, I claim home office expenses and maximize my RRSP contributions each year.

Through freelance income, I’ve been able to maximize the prepayment privileges on my mortgage. I made accelerated mortgage payments of $850 per week (most of this money went toward principal since my mortgage rate was only 3.04 percent). I also made a total of $38,250 in lump sum payments each year (15 percent of my original mortgage balance of $255,00); this money went straight toward the principal on my mortgage. I made lump sum payments whenever I received rent from my tenants or freelance writing cheques.

While I was paying off my mortgage, I lived super frugally, cutting my expenses to a bare minimum. The two most costly expenses for most after mortgage/rent are food and transportation. I spent only $100 per month on groceries (it helps that I’m a vegetarian). I also spent less than $1,000 a year on transportation by cycling to work.

Real Estate

My real estate holdings consist of my primary residence. I purchased my house in November 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. I also increase this number based on my property assessment value, which I receive every four years.


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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Sean, I post a variation of this comment after each of your updates, because the numbers never add up.

You say you made $130,000 before tax. In 2015, in Ontario, that works out to approximately $91K after tax.

You made $38,250 in lump sum payments each year, and $44,200 ($850 per week) in routine mortgage payments. That’s $82,450 per year going to your mortgage. This gives you a buffer of just over $8,500 each year.

You mentioned in several of your previous updates that you had to spend $25,000 on home repairs. Over the three years that it took you to pay off the mortgage, that would leave you with $650 (($8,550 *3) – $25,000).

Please tell me how you used $650 over three years to pay for property taxes, home insurance, groceries, public transit, clothing, entertainment, and any other miscellaneous costs you incurred?

(You also said you maximize your RRSP contributions each year. I understand that it helps you save on taxes, but that actually REDUCES the amount of cash you’d have to pay down the mortgage).

These are all the exact same points I’ve made in prior months. Thank you, Timmy, for bringing this up again. In my mind, there is no more credibility to the story now than there ever has been.

I don’t want to make a second post but I thought Sean’s response to the comments on the value of his house were interesting. For some reason people get giddy when they get an increased assessment from the city – in Sean’s case +$84k. Are we so naive as to think the city gains nothing from these lofty assessments? Owners pay more cash taxes but receive no financial benefit and they are cheering. Yup, the city has no conflict of interest when reassessing. Never mind stepping back to ask whether a +56% annualized paper gain in an already lofty market is reasonable or sustainable. I’m assuming Sean charges 56% more in rent now, right? Because the ‘value’ of the home is up according to MPAC. While we’re papering in profits, don’t you think it would make sense for Sean to record the deferred tax liability from renting out half his home? Looks like 50% of that ‘gain’ will be subject to capital gains tax since you’ve been renting out half the home.

I paid for the $25K in home renovations with savings (money I had saved before I had purchased my home). It wasn’t from my income.
The property assessment is accurate. Similar houses have sold around this value in my area.

Sean, this doesn’t clarify anything. It only raises more questions.

According to your website, you graduated from university in 2009. You’ve also said that you graduated with $50,000 in debt, and you bought your house with a $170K in August 2012. You now say that you had a $25K contingency fund set up prior to buying the house.

In approximately three years, you paid off $50K worth of student debt and you saved $195K (between the downpayment and the contingency fund). That requires $245K of after-tax savings. (You’ve also said that, even though you lived with your mother, you paid all of your living expenses personally).

Please explain how you were able to generate $245K in after-tax savings in three years on an annual salary of around $50K? Even before you’ve paid a dollar towards income tax, and before you’ve even paid a dollar towards living expenses, your gross income falls well short of what you claim you’ve been able to do.

(In terms of other sources of income – you obviously didn’t earn rental income before you bought your house. I understand you may have done some freelance work fresh out of university, but the shortfall is almost $100K over three years, before tax and before your living expenses (so the gross shortfall would need to be quite a bit more than that – perhaps $150K). In your November 2014 update – five years after you graduated university – you said you were only making $20K per year through freelance work, and so I find it unlikely that you were making substantially more than that when you had just graduated).

Once again, these numbers don’t make any sense. You’ve crafted a narrative that superficially seems to be engaging – and will probably help you sell books – but they don’t stand up to serious scrutiny. Hopefully your book has fewer inconsistencies and errors than what you’ve presented to the MDJ audience.

This is my first time reading Sean’s updates and it was immediately obvious the numbers didn’t add up.

Pretty sure he got around 500,000 in inheritance/ ‘gifts’.

“You’ve also said that you graduated with $50,000 in debt…”

That was a lie to get media exposure.

Kudos to Sean for admitting as much, however, he only came clean after he was busted.

I agree, those numbers don’t seem to add up. I think Sean is leaving something out on the income side, has some form of inheritance, or maybe extra cash on hand when he bought his house. It’s a great accomplishment either way. My wife and I were able to pay down about $400K in 3 years with double the income ($260K) at the same interest rate and we didn’t live like hermits but there is a lot more to that story too. A word of advice for Sean is to take the cash and Max TFSA and start to go heavy on investments to diversify from real estate. I recently sold my rental to realize profits and invest in market as I feel the returns in real estate will be stagnant or in the red for the foreseeable future.

Oh, goodie! Yet ANOTHER book in the already-bloated personal finance section. “Financial Freedom” is a failed dogma.

Just one question, Sean: what differentiates the material in your book from the previous 85,000+ available publications?


Without going into details, I guess it would stand out just by being authored by someone with extreme saving skills over the course of a few years. And, it has a copy right of 2017.

Thank you for your interest in my book. My book isn’t just on financial freedom, it’s on how buying as well. There are chapters on credit cards, real estate, mortgages and rental properties. I find a lot of personal finance books read like textbooks. To make mine more interesting, the tone is conversational. I’ve also included a ton of pop culture and celebrity references to make it more relatable and interesting. For example, I have examples that use Kanye West, Drake and Kim Kardashian. There really isn’t anything else like it out there. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Thank you for your interest in my book.
— you are mistaken, I have no interest in your book.

There really isn’t anything else like it out there.
— I’m sure the other 85,000 authors told themselves the exact same thing.

Perhaps you misunderstood my question, so I’ll reword it: cutting out all the extraneous fluff and camouflage (e.g. a ton of pop culture and celebrity references), what differentiates *YOUR* personal finance advice from the decades and reams of already-published personal (and professional) finance tomes currently available?

Published advice on “financial freedom” has been around for at least 100 years (on this continent, anyway) but the vast majority of society has never gained financial freedom. More information is not the solution.

“Financial freedom” is a red herring utilized most often by people looking to sell something.

Re: San Diego
Its really a personal thing, as everyone has a different interest. When I went 2 years ago, it was with my sisters family and her 7 and 9 year old boys, so we did Sea World, Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, the USS Midway, the beach at Coronado, the beach at La Jolla Cove, did a harbour cruise. Looked at the maritime museum with the submarine tours and tall ships, but didn’t go in. We took in a Padres game, but wouldn’t be an option in November. Lots of options, depending on what interests you, but suggest checking out the various web sites for lists of things to do and see what interests you. This list of course may be limited depending on your choices of transportation.

re: San Diego — give Cullen Roche a ding: http://www.pragcap.com/meet-cullen-roche/ (he’s in SD). A great money mind and a published finance author. He could give you a few tips on any number of topics.


Curious why you choose to take such an optimistic assumption on the value of your house? Based on your August 2015 update youre including 24% growth which is based on your personal view of the value of your home relative to others in your area.

How do you calculate the value of your home each year?

@Sean – House price was $600,000 on June 6, 2016 whereas it is now $684,000 on September 5, 2016. $84,000 has increased in just three months. Is it true?

@MDJ – Do you do any due diligence when someone publish their net worth or just simply publish it by using GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out)?

@WS As I explained above, my property value is based on my assessment value from the city. My house was recently assessed at $684,000 by the City of Toronto (MPAC). That’s why the value has increased by $84,000.

I am also part of a defined benefit pension plan. I may have maximized my RRSP contributions, but I have very little room due to the pension adjustment. Apologies for not making that clearer.

I think that because rrsp contributions have a tax liability attached to them, people should account for the tax liability in their net worth statements. I think it’s a bit deceptive if you are sitting on a large rrsp portfolio but don’t account for the tax liability. This isn’t a comment aimed at sean cooper specifically but lots of people.

Poor Sean. I think some of the commenters might be being a little hard on him. But at the same time, it sure looks like he leaves stuff out and makes puzzling moves.

Like why have $50k in cash and only $14k in a TFSA? Maxing out a TFSA is such a no-brainer. The move is doubly puzzling considering the fact Sean has a pension. By maxing out his RRSP before his TFSA, he’s adding another tax liability once he hits 65.

Sean does a terrific job of hustling, nobody is denying that. But perhaps he should spend more time managing what he has. What’s the point of getting rich if you’re so busy you can’t even find time to go to the gym?

Thing is, he isn’t “rich”. He has $65,000 and a house.

I would agree he is not “rich” yet, but you did not count his RRSP and his DB pension plan.
He is not poor for sure, compared to other Canadians who are 31 years old. He has time on his side to have more investments.

He lost “good years” on the stock market by putting all his money on his mortgage though.

Sean has built up a decent amount of wealth so far. But most of his money is sitting in real estate. My suggestion to him is to consider diversifying his portfolio more into other asset classes.

The net worth value is not a sign of financial freedom. It’s good for the banks so they know what assets to go after.

What Sean needs to pay attention to is the growth of his investment portfolio or maybe he will just ride the gravy train of a defined benefit pension plan.

I passed the million dollar networth 2 years ago but it was ridiculous how much was from the home so I just track my investment portfolio. My journey is now the million dollar portfolio.

It’s interesting to see how MDJ leveraged his home to invest and Sean is doing the exact opposite. However, MDJ has more in investment assets to show for in the end. Will Sean ever leverage to invest? I stopped rushing to pay the mortgage with such low interest rates – I make way more by investing my money.

In Sean’s initial post you’ll find some interesting comments that summarize the deception of his whole story. See here:

He’s made conflicting claims about his debt after graduation. See comment “James, January 10, 2015, 8:04 pm” in link provided. Now look at the comment Sean inserts 6 months later. See “Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist January 12, 2015, 11:57 pm”. “I told the TV producer that I graduated-debt free, but he said it would be “more compelling” if I said I had $50K of debt. I regretted saying this ever since, but I wanted to be on the show. I have been truthful about my finances ever since.”

In that same article he claims his income is “Family Income: $50,000 (full-time job); $18,600 (rental income before expenses); and, $20,000 (approximate freelance income)”. But in the same comment referenced above Sean responds, “Although I said I only earned $2000-$3000 a month in freelance income in the Financial Post article, it’s more like $5,000-$6,000 a month (before taxes).” Ok, that’s 2-3x what he’s been claiming. $2k per month is $24k per year. $6k per month is $72k per year. That’s a big difference. Something that a “Financial Analyst” should recognize as material.

Furthermore, the initial post linked above shows he had a down payment of $170k when he bought the house in 2012. He then discloses in a comment (See comment in this article, “Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist September 6, 2016, 6:08 pm”) that he had from savings. I just want to summarize the flows here to get an idea. I’ll assume round numbers and sole proprietorship for his freelance income.

Sean has $195k of savings ($170k down payment + $25k he used for repairs). He buys a house for $425k with a $255k mortgage. Now let’s get into the flows.
Pre-tax Annual Income
$128k($50k full time job, $18k rental, $5kx12=$60k freelance)
After Tax Income
$90k (I used http://www.ey.com/CA/en/Services/Tax/Tax-Calculators-2016-Personal-Tax although it’s probably greater from a number of credits but this is close enough)

So take that after tax income from 2012 to 2016, let’s say ~4yrs. 4x$90k=$360k. Add in his paper gains for the house $684-$425=$259k
2012 Net worth = $195k
Cumulative After tax income = $360k
Home Gain = $260k (rounded)
Total: $815k
Throw in a DB plan and it’s not unreasonable. But it doesn’t fit with his narrative of living like a pauper. The real narrative here is “Make $130k per year, buy a house, have home prices increase 60% on paper over 4 years, and you too can get wealthy”. The catch 22 for poor Sean is that half of his income depends on him telling the pauper story. If he tells the pauper story, he gets to make $130k per year. If he tells the $130k per year story, he probably only makes half that because that story doesn’t sell books.

You can’t blame the guy for taking advantage of the gullible. I think the reason people get so upset is illustrated well by David. See “David December 7, 2014, 12:23 pm” from the article I link in the opening paragraph. MDJ was the second kind of personal finance guy: “genuinely want to help others and believe that “opening the books” will inspire others to do what they did”. Sean is the first kind of person: “want to generate a following and sell lots of books/advice teaching others how to do what they did” but are often found to be frauds.

Advice to Sean:

Take a trip, enjoy your 30s for they will be gone before you know it. Life is also about experiences not about how big your bank account is. While you do need one for the other, it does not mean you should live so frugal that you aren’t having any “fun”. For someone without these wonderful life experiences will never truly be “rich” at all.


Agreed. Living in such a frugal way is not fun at all.

Another idea for Sean, since he loves to be uber frugal and pay off debt, is to max out a HELOC and buy public equities with the proceeds. He can spend the next 3 years slaving away to pay off that loan which will increase his net worth to an even greater hight as well as greatly diversifying his wealth. That, coupled with his rental income, would allow him to retire at age 35 as a Toronto bubble-priced home-owner as well as stock owner.

Think about it, dude.

Not a bad idea SST!

Also, max out that TFSA as others have said. $50k in a cash account getting charged interest when you can put most of that into a TFSA and avoid taxation on interest, let alone, build some cash flow from your investments tax-free, diversify away from just real estate, is a much better idea.