Are you in search of how to start investing in Canada but not sure how to get started?
With all of the different options, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to begin investing in Canada.
No matter what level of an investor you are at, you can always learn more.
I’ve worked for over a decade in the finance industry in Canada and am constantly learning new things about investing.
I’ve created this article to serve as a one-stop guide on how to start investing in Canada. It’s the guide I wish I had when I started investing!
According to a survey, one in four Canadians don’t know the difference between the TFSA and RRSP
Table of Contents
Before You Start: Investing Beginner Basics
Before you learn how to begin investing, it is crucial to understand some of the basics about the whole thing. I am going to discuss some of the basic aspects of investing in Canada:
1.Set Investing Goals
According to a study conducted in 2015 by Dr. Gail Matthews, people who put down their goals in writing have a 42% higher success rate in meeting them than those who don’t.
Set goals for what you would like your investments to achieve, so you can know what you are aiming for in the end.
When you are setting investment goals, the SMART approach can help you create viable goals:
- Specific: Create a clear cut goal that is highly specific
- Measurable: The goal you set should be measurable in a way that you can easily realize when you have achieved it
- Achievable: Your goal needs to be realistic, and you need to be capable of meeting the requirement to achieve that goal before you set it up
- Relevant: You need to consider whether the goal you have set is realistic and applies to your plan with life
- Time-based: Assign a timeframe to each goal so you can hold yourself accountable and track the performance of meeting your goal
S.M.A.R.T Goal Examples by Age
Notice that all of these goals meet the SMART criteria above:
Young Adult (Age 18-35) – focused on buying things, paying off debt
- Save a 20% down payment to buy a $400,000 house in two years
- Pay off student loans by the age of 30 by paying back $X per month
- Save for a vacation in one year by putting aside $X per month
- Save $X per month for wedding in 18 months
Older Adults (Age 35-60) – focused more on saving for retirement
- Pay off mortgage by 50 by paying $X per month
- Accumulate retirement savings of $1,000,000 by 60 through investing X% income for X years
- Sell my home in Toronto and move to Vancouver in X years
- Budget $X per month for healthcare
Retirees (Aged 60+) – having enough money in retirement to live the lifestyle they want.
- Put aside $X for buying grandchildren gifts for Christmas each year
- Budget $X per month for essential expenses
- Budget $X per year for vacation
- Budget $X per year for charitable donations
These goals you set are the end result of what you’re trying to achieve with your investments and savings.
Break your investment goals into short-, medium-, and long-term selections wherever applicable. I like to set one-year, five-year, and 20-year goals at the beginning of each year.
2. What is Your Risk Tolerance?
As an investor, the risk you are willing to withstand in your investments is called your risk tolerance.
Knowing your risk tolerance is a crucial part of learning how to invest. It will determine how much of a certain asset class you will buy. Generally speaking, equities (stocks) are more risky than fixed income (bonds). The higher your risk tolerance, the more you can invest in stocks.
1. Financial Situation
If your income barely covers the cost of your expenses or you are deeply in debt, you will not be able to take on very much risk. On the other hand, if you have multiple sources of income that more than cover your costs, you can take on much more risk.
2. Job Stability and Income
The more stable your job and the higher your income is, the higher your risk tolerance can be.
3. Time Horizon
The longer the time horizon towards your investment goals, the more risk you are able to take. For example, a 30 year old who is saving for retirement can take on much more risk than a 60 year old who will retire in 5 years.
4. Investment knowledge
Generally speaking, the more experienced and knowledgeable about investing you are, the more risk you can take.
5. Your Willingness to Take Risk
If losing even the smallest amount of money will make you lose sleep, none of the other factors should matter, you have a low risk tolerance and should invest accordingly to that. This is your willingness to take risk.
Note that if you have a high willingness to take risk, but a low ability to take risk (for example, your job and income isn’t stable), you should stick to a low-risk investment strategy.
Risk Tolerance Examples:
Example 1: George is a 28-year old who is making $100,000 a year as a software developer. Because he has a long time horizon (is young) and makes a lot of money, George has a high-risk tolerance.
Example 2: Justine is a 35-year old who makes $45,000 per year as a mechanic. She is knowledgeable about investing and has set clear goals for retirement. Justine has a medium-risk tolerance because she doesn’t have a high income, but has a long time-horizon and investment knowledge.
Example 3: Ellen is a 40-year old investor who earns over $500,000 per year as an executive. But because she has only a low willingness to take on risk, Ellen has a low-risk tolerance.
In my experience, people often overestimate their risk tolerance. Try to start with a lower risk tolerance than you think you need.
3. What Type of Investor Are You?
I’ll break down a few different types of investors you can be based on your risk tolerance.
Risk Tolerance: High
Equity Allocation: ~60% or More
Investors with an aggressive approach tend to have a better understanding of markets. Knowing the intricacies of different securities and the level of risk involved allow such investors to purchase assets with high volatility. The assets they are inclined to invest in can offer them phenomenal returns while significantly putting their capital at risk. Aggressive risk tolerance is not for investors who cannot afford to lose capital.
Risk Tolerance: Medium
Equity Allocation: ~30-60%
Investors willing to accept some level of risk to their capital, but they balance their investments, so they do have significant upside potential. They combine various asset classes with investment horizons ranging from a period of five to ten years.
A combination of large-company mutual funds with securities like bonds with lower volatility can see investors see a mix of securities with around a 50/50 structure. A moderate strategy can see half of the capital invested in dividend-paying growth funds.
Risk Tolerance: Low
Equity Allocation: ~30% or Less
Investors who are willing to accept little to no risk to their capital have conservative risk tolerance. Typically, retirees who have spent a lifetime building a sizable nest egg are less inclined to allow any risk to their capital.
Conservative investors usually target investment vehicles with guaranteed returns and offer high liquidity. While their returns might not be significant, it also ensures relative safety to their capital. Risk-averse investors typically have investment portfolios that consist of low-risk and low-return securities.
Rule of thumb: If you’re not sure what your risk tolerance is, go more conservative instead of more aggressive.
4. Other Ways to Figure Out Your Fixed Income/Equity Split
1.Take a questionnaire
Try taking a questionnaire like this Vanguard one that can help determine your proper asset mix.
2.100 – Age Rule
A general rule of thumb when it comes to the fixed income and equity split is to minus 100 from your age. The number you get is the percentage of stocks you should hold in the split.
If you are 60 years old, the 100 minus age rule states to hold 40% in stocks while the rest of your capital should be invested in high-grade bonds, government debt, and other safer assets. While this rule of thumb presents a simplified picture for splitting equity and fixed-income investments, making the ideal choice depends largely on your risk tolerance.
Ultimately, the 100 minus the age guideline presents a basic guideline. You should adjust it based on your risk tolerance and goals for life as you grow older. If you have a higher risk tolerance, you can set it to 110 or 120 minus your age. If you have a lower risk tolerance, you can set it to 80 or 90 minus your age.
How to Invest in Stocks, Bonds, and ETFs
An important part of investing is figuring out how much time you want to spend on your investments. Time is money, so you should try to figure out the way you can invest in the most efficient manner possible.
Time you can spend: Medium – High
Transaction Fees: None-Low
Also known as equity, a stock is a type of security that represents ownership of a fraction of a publicly-traded company.
Stocks are traded on stock exchanges, but there can be private sales of stocks as well. Stocks are a particular favorite for investors, and they have historically outperformed many other asset classes.
Some stocks benefit investors through the increased value of the shares, while others also pay shareholders dividends from the profits the company earns. Companies sell stocks to raise funds to help them operate their businesses.
If you’re investing in stocks the right way, you’ll be doing a lot of analysis on things like earnings reports and financial statements. This can be very time-consuming, and many investors skip this research part which can lead to big mistakes.
Bonds (Fixed Income)
Risk-tolerance: Low – medium
Time commitment: Low-medium
Fees: Low to none
Bonds are referred to as fixed-income assets and are generally lower risk than stocks. A bond is another type of security that you can own as an investor. It is a fixed-income investment tool that essentially represents a loan that the investor makes to a borrower. For instance, if you buy a corporate bond, you have issued a loan to said corporation.
Companies, municipalities, states, and sovereign governments can use bonds to finance various operations and projects.
Bonds and fixed income are a balance to the equities in your investment, and the main method you can use to control the riskiness of your investments. The less risky you want your portfolio, the more you allocate to bonds.
Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
Risk-tolerance: Low – high
Time commitment: Low
Transaction Fees: Low
Exchange-Traded Funds or ETFs are all the rage these days. Billions of Canadian dollars flow into ETFs each year, and that number is forecasted to only increase.
ETFs can contain many types of investments like stocks, bonds, commodities, or even a mixture of them. An ETF is a marketable asset, which means that it has a price associated with it that allows you to buy and sell it easily.
ETFs can invest in a wide range of sectors or utilize several strategies when it comes to creating the group of securities that each of them consists of, ranging from very low-risk bond ETF funds, to high-risk marijuana stock ETFs. Beware of how much risk you are taking on in each ETF.
These funds, as their name suggests, can be traded on exchanges. In many ways, ETFs are like mutual funds, but they are listed on exchanges, and they can trade throughout the day like ordinary stocks on the stock market.
It’s easy to see why ETFs have exploded in popularity. ETFs can offer you easy diversification with almost no research needed, and at a very low fee.
Fees: Very High
I don’t invest in mutual funds, even though I used to work for one of the largest fund companies in Canada. Mutual funds are not proven to outperform the market after the high-fees to run a fund is taken into account.
The S&P semi-annual report from 2019 reported that over 85% of Canadian equity managers underperformed the S&P/TSX Composite Index. Small market capitalization managers performed the worst, with 88% of them lagging their benchmark.
The long-term performance of most active managers also falls short of their benchmark, according to the S&P report. The report also noted that just 46% of the Canadian equity funds that existed a decade ago were still active in June 2019.
It’s no wonder why Canadians are fleeing mutual funds to ETFs in droves, with over $200 billion invested at the start of 2020.
If you want more details, read my guide on the 7 best investment options in Canada here.
Investing in Canada with Discount Brokerages
Investment Knowledge Needed: Medium to High
Time commitment: Low to High (depends on your investment)
Fees: Low to None
Discount brokers allow you to trade bonds, stocks, ETFs, and a few other types of investments online. They are not acting as a middleman that buys or sells stocks for you. Discount brokerages present one of the most ideal methods to begin investing in Canada.
They lower the barrier to entry into the world of stock market investing for the average Canadian investor. The decision to choose between a full-time stockbroker and a discount broker can depend on several factors.
Discount brokers facilitate stock market trading, but they do not offer direct investment advice. Discount brokerage accounts are usually available as online platforms that essentially provide investors with a self-service option. Discount brokers charge fees, but their fees are low compared to that of traditional stockbrokers since you utilize little to no help from them to make investment decisions.
Typically, investors who develop more of an understanding of the markets, and do not need investment advice should choose discount brokers.
Pros of Using Discount Brokerage
- Free ETF purchases
- Affordable trades for stocks and other assets
- Simple to use platforms
- Offer helpful information to novice investors
- Do not have vested interest in selling you particular stocks or other securities
Cons of Using Discount Brokerage
- There is no guidance for you to refer to. Beginner investors might struggle with this
- Hidden fees can exist with some discount brokers. Discount brokers offer lower commission rates, but they can charge extra for services like issuing stock certificates or mailing statements.
- No face to face interaction can be annoying for investors who require that in case they run into issues. You can get in touch with online brokerages through phone or online but not in person.
Here is a handy chart of three online brokerages in Canada that can give you a better idea of which one is more suitable for your needs.
|Online Broker||Annual Fees||Minimum Investment||Transfer Fee||Inactivity Fee||Withdrawal Fee|
|TD Direct Investing||$9.99||$0||$75||$25||$125|
My two top picks for discount broker in Canada are:
- Questrade – Canada’s leading discount broker, I use Questrade to trade most of my stocks. It has a desktop and mobile trading platform. All Canadian ETF purchases are commission-free, but be aware that selling ETFs will cost a small fee. With this special offer, you can also get $50 of commission-free stock trades here.
- Wealthsimple Trade – Better known as a robo-advisor, Wealthsimple has now released this fantastic trading platform that now comes in both desktop and mobile versions. All Canadian stock and ETF trades are commission-free. Get a $10 signup bonus when you sign up here.
Learn more about Questrade in my detailed Questrade Review.
How to Invest with Robo-Advisors
Investment Knowledge Needed: Just a little
Time commitment: Very low
Robo-advisors are investing platforms that design and manage your investment portfolio for you, usually automatically. It is a hands-off approach to investing in Canada.
Robo-advisors select investments or investment classes and create a portfolio for you based on metrics after tallying against the risk tolerance that you pre-define to them. They build the portfolio based on your investment goals and automatically rebalance the portfolio to align with your investment goals and risk tolerance.
Robo-advisors buy and balance a basket of ETFs for you based on your investment goals and risk tolerance. They determine everything by conducting a risk survey to help them understand what type of portfolio suits your needs.
Since robo-advisors operate solely online and trade low-cost ETFs, you can expect low fees for their services. If you want to get in touch with them, you can contact them via email, chat, or phone. Many of them even offer additional features like tax-loss harvesting during tax season.
Pros of Using a Robo Advisor
- Low fees
- High-quality and low-cost ETF portfolios
- Access to human advisors
- Simple to use
- Many robo-advisors offer services such as tax-loss harvesting to increase your after-tax returns if you use a taxable account
Cons of Using a Robo-Advisor
- No face-to-face meetings with advisors
- Higher fees than discount brokerages
Here are my top picks for the best robo-advisors available to Canadians right now.
|Robo Advisor||Best For|
|WealthSimple Review||Best overall robo-advisor platform|
|Questwealth Review||Most competitive fees|
Robo-advisors can often be the best option for first-time investors as they are building an understanding of investing and constructing portfolios based on financial goals. Robo advisors provide you with financial advice and hands-off portfolio management based on your preferences.
Investing with Big Five Banks (Don’t Do it!)
The Big Five is a term used to describe five of the largest banks in Canada:
- Royal Bank of Canada
- The Bank of Montreal
- Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce
- The Bank of Nova Scotia
- Toronto-Dominion Bank
When it comes to investing in Canada, traditional brick-and-mortar banks are the first option for most Canadians. I worked briefly as a financial advisor at a Big Five bank.
I want to stress that most financial advisors are good and decent hard-working people. But the harsh reality is that their paycheck is often based on how many bank-created products they can sell you.
A financial advisor’s fiduciary duty to provide sound and unbiased advice to you can be clouded by the incentive systems set up by the banks.
Also, the investment products offered by banks are usually its mutual funds, which contain some of the highest fees in the world.
For these reasons, it’s my opinion that most investors are better off either doing their own research and using discount brokerages or invest with robo-advisors if they need more guidance.
How to Invest with High-Interest Savings Accounts and Guaranteed Income Certificates
While technically not a way to invest, High-Interest Savings Accounts (HISA) and Guaranteed Income Certificates (GICs) offer you the opportunity to park your funds in savings accounts to earn a certain percentage return.
If you need to make a purchase in the short-term (2 years or less), a HISA or GIC is an ideal place to park your money as there is virtually no chance of losing money.
Many Canadians park their capital in savings accounts and rely on the interest rates to earn returns on their money. However, traditional savings accounts are not the ideal place to park your funds because they do not offer significant returns on your “investment.”
Canadians resort to using savings accounts because they entail zero risks to their capital. The rate of returns from traditional accounts, however, usually cannot keep up with the rate of inflation since the interest rates are not favorable enough.
HISAs and GICs are both safe and secure investment avenues that involve minimal risk to your capital. Both of them also help you make sure that your savings do not depreciate over time due to the rate of inflation.
How HISA and GICs differ from normal savings account
HISAs operate like traditional bank savings accounts, but they offer you much higher interest rates for your savings. For instance, normal savings accounts at one of the Big Five Banks can provide you with 0.50%, while the same bank can offer you 0.90% for its HISA.
GICs are an investment option that offers you a guaranteed income. Some of them offer you fixed-income interest rates, while others offer variable rates. These two options are ideal for investors who require liquidity but do not want to take on any risk to their capital.
They are still an option for conservative investors and do not offer returns as substantial as other investment vehicles, but they do present you with the safest options.
While you can resort to the Big Five Banks for HISAs and GICs, smaller banks offer you better rates of returns. Here are my top three picks and their rates for HISAs and GICs that you can use:
|Bank||HISA Rate (Annual)||GIC Rate (1-Year)|
Read my guide on the 7 Best High-Interest Savings Accounts in Canada for more details
Real Estate Investing in Canada
Investment Knowledge Needed: Very high
Time commitment: Very high
Fees: Very high
You might have been wondering why I have not even bothered to mention real estate investing in Canada yet. I know many people who want to learn how to start investing in Canada so they can learn how to invest in real estate. Considering the fact that Canada’s housing market has seen double-digit increases in value over the past decade, it is only natural to want to learn about it.
Real estate certainly seems like the most enviable asset class to have. With residential property rates in Vancouver and Toronto soaring, property owners have made astronomical profits from their assets. Real estate also has a much higher emotional attachment for most investors, as it’s a tangible asset you can see and touch.
Of course, it does not come as easy as you might want to think it is. While you might think that buying property and then flipping it for a higher price is a guaranteed method to earn profits, there is plenty of homework you need to do.
The creator of GT Canada and Synergy Asset Management, Joe Canavan, is among the most successful entrepreneurs in Canada. He figured out that he can make significantly more money by investing in equities rather than real estate. There are several reasons that contribute to this line of thought.
When you accumulate all the property taxes, insurance, necessary maintenance fees, and more hidden costs related to owning real estate, it amounts to a significant expense that many investors might not want to deal with. According to Canavan, the returns on stock market investment outweigh the returns of owning real estate assets.
In the past 25 years, the S&P/TSX Composite Index grew by 325%. Canavan suggests that tying up money in a house is not as smart a money move as opposed to investing in the equity market and maintaining liquidity.
While there is no guarantee about what the future holds, I can tell you that investing in the stock market offers you more flexibility and liquidity. Owning real estate has several pitfalls.
There are ways to capitalize on the advantages of the real estate industry without exposing yourself to the hassle of owning properties. You can invest in the stock of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). REITs are companies that invest in their own portfolio of properties and disburse payments to shareholders from the revenue that the company earns from its properties.
Saying all this, I have invested in real estate in Asia. Real estate investing can be a good option for those that are willing to put in the extensive time and research needed.
Check out my guide on the Best Real Estate Investment Options in Canada for more details.
How Much Should I Invest and Save?
When you are learning how to start investing in Canada, you should know, understand, and appreciate the role of budgeting in your financial situation. Many people might see budgeting as something with a negative context, but it is one thing that can help you improve your overall financial situation.
When you are investing, you also need to know that you cannot simply tie up all your funds in investments. There are several things you should consider when deciding how much money you should allocate for savings and investments.
1. Your Age
Your age helps you determine what you can allocate your funds towards. Older investors can have a higher allocation for investments as opposed to younger investors. However, you also need to consider how much money you need to put towards your future goals in life, like retirement or buying a home. Younger investors typically have lower incomes than older investors. Consequently, an investor in his 20s or 30s might be able to put away smaller amounts towards investments compared to investors in their 50s with a few retirement assets already in hand.
2. Disposable Income
Disposable income is the amount left over after you have taken care of all your necessary expenses. You can spend your disposable income on leisure today, or you can set it aside for useful purposes like saving for long-term goals or investment. While you should use some of your money to have fun, you might want to prioritize putting your disposable income to make income through investment.
Liquidity determines how quickly you can sell your assets for cash. Your liquidity levels can determine the kind of interest rates you can receive or how fast you can access your money. If you have money tied up in an account that only allows you to make withdrawals after a certain number of years, that cash is illiquid. The level of liquidity you want to maintain should align with your investment goals.
4. Allocating the Funds
You should try and review your spending habits to track what you are spending on. These figures can help you create a budget that adequately works with your goals. Remember that you do not need to budget too harshly that you have no fun at all during your younger years. However, your budget allocation should keep in mind the long-term goals in life.
The older you become, you will have more access to stable retirement assets. Besides putting aside money for rainy day expenses, you should prioritize long-term investments. As you grow older and your disposable income increases, adjust the allocation based on your preferences.
Alternative Ways to Figure Out How Much to Save and Invest
Allocate 50% of your budget for essentials like food, shelter, and transportation, 30% for discretionary spending (less if possible), and at least 20% of your money should be saved and invested.
One school of thought is that you should save 1x of your pre-retirement income by 30, 3x the amount by 40, 7x by the age of 55, and 10x by the time you hit 67. For instance, if you think you’re going to need $70,000 income during retirement, you need to save $70,000 by the time you turn 30, $210,000 by the time you turn 40, and so on.
Common Beginner Mistakes When Investing
What better way to avoid making mistakes by learning from the mistakes others have already made. In this section of my guide to start investing in Canada, I will discuss some of the most frequent mistakes beginner investors make that you need to be aware of.
1. Not Understanding Investments
When you are investing in an asset, whether it is a bond, stock, or ETF it is crucial to understand how it works. Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most successful investors, says that you should invest only in the businesses you understand. Stock market investors buying the shares of a company should not simply treat the shares as stocks. According to Buffett, understanding how the company works helps you make better judgment calls about your stock position. Avoid investing in companies or ETFs that you do not understand.
2. The Danger of Impatience
Slow and steady wins the race. I’m sure you’ve heard this time and time again. The phrase applies to every aspect of life, and it is true for the world of investors as well. A disciplined, slow, and steady approach can help investors go a lot further than an impatient one. Many investors make the mistake of making risky moves without gauging the situation. They expect their portfolios to do more than what they are designed to do, and that can be disastrous for them. Keeping realistic expectations can help you make the most of your investment career.
3. Failing to Diversify
Diversification can be an investor’s best friend. While you might see some professional investors make substantial returns by investing with a focused approach, beginners should not attempt to do this. Diversification through ETFs provides you with exposure to a wide range of spaces and offers your capital more security. If you’re starting out, try not to invest more than 5% to 10% of your funds to one stock.
4. Too Much Investment Turnover
Jumping in and out of positions as an investor kills your chances of making significant returns with your capital. The transaction costs of changing your positions in an investment can eat up any returns. You also have the opportunity cost of missing out on potential long-term gains.
Tips for Beginner Investors
Now that I’ve warned you of some of the most common mistakes investors make when they start out, here are some tips to help you on your way. Remember that learning how to start investing in Canada is not hard. Here is some advice for first-time investors:
1. Start as Early as Possible
I will recommend that you start investing as soon as possible. Whether you are a mid-career professional in our 40s who has just realized the importance of investing, or a young professional about to get your first paycheck – start as soon as you can. The longer you invest, the more your investments can pay off in the long run.
2. Invest Regularly
Make investing a habit rather than something to do occasionally. Even if you are investing a seemingly insignificant amount, you should put some money towards your investments. That spare change from when you bought a chai tea latte might not seem like much, but investing that amount into an income-generating asset can result in massive long-term returns due to the power of compounding.
3. Stay invested
Many investors try to time the market and wait along on the sidelines waiting for the right time to invest. The idea is to invest in the stock of a company while it bottoms so you can make the maximum profit when it bounces back. It might produce short-term gains, but generally sitting on the sidelines as an investor causes more losses than gains, since the direction of the stock market trends upwards over time.
4. Automate Investments
Automated investment allows you to capitalize on your capital with little to no experience in investing. Platforms like WealthSimple offer you the chance to allocate funds to your savings portfolio automatically. It is a low-cost investment option you can use to automate your investing without having to worry about taking a hands-on approach.
5. Your Company’s RRSP
If you have a full-time job at a company, you can take advantage of tax-savings through your company’s Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). Set your RRSP to automatically deduct a fixed amount from your salary and allocate it to investments. Always sign up for any type of matching RRSP or pension contribution that your company offers, as that is free money for you.
Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, I know and understand that learning how to start investing in Canada can’t happen overnight. It is a lengthy process, and you will face challenges due to many unforeseen events. You might even fail many times on your way.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made bad investments myself in the past. However, I’ve used those opportunities to learn and progress. It helped me learn and understand the stock market better, and what types of investments work for me.
Investing is a skill that you get better at, like learning the guitar or playing hockey. Though the stakes are a lot higher, as it is the livelihood for you and your family, so start slow and keep on learning!
I’ve created this guide to help you learn from my experience. While it will not lay down everything for you on a platter, it can help you understand what to expect.
I really hope this article turns out to be helpful for you. Best of luck!