10 ways to master your money

10 ways to master your money

Regardless if we’re talking personal finances, I believe true success usually comes from taking meaningful action and simply trying again and again.

Lessons don’t always stick unless you make a few missteps along the way.

When it comes to our personal finances, we’d like to think we’ve learned what works (and what doesn’t) over the years. Here are some examples:

Here are some dumbass financial moves to avoid. That post highlights some key mistakes I made as a very young investor by buying mortgage life insurance, investing in penny stocks as a young 20-something, and owning pricey, underperforming mutual funds to my wealth-building detriment. Of course, I’ve learned to avoid all these things and I try to help pay it forward by telling others to avoid these things as much as possible too.

Here are six big retirement mistakes to avoid. I have little doubt this post could be MUCH longer but these six landmines are certainly ones you’ll want to navigate. I think the biggest issue in this list for many aspiring retirees is either poor use of the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) or drawing down a RRIF (Registered Retirement Income Fund) too late in life. The lack of understanding for how either account works can lead to one of two poor outcomes:

  1. You don’t optimize either account such that you don’t get to retire to the life you want or desire, and/or
  2. You over save money for fear of not having enough only to pay too much taxes as you age. 

This is some of my best, most straightforward financial advice – so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I have.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill.

10 ways to master your money

Building upon previous posts, I thought I would share 10 ways you can master your money this year or any year. Read on and let me know your thoughts!

1. Make a plan

What should your financial plan cover?  Lots!

Financial Goals Update

Financial plans go far beyond what funds or stocks or bonds to own where – although that’s important stuff too. I’m a huge believer in plans before products.

If you don’t know what your financial plan should cover, check out this killer, comprehensive post here:

What is a Financial Plan and what should it cover?

As we continue with our financial plan, here are some debt management and wealth-building goals for us:

1. Kill debt to become debt free. In doing so it will provide some significant financial flexibility – income earned will be ours to enjoy. Part-time work will be a major consideration. 

2. Continue to generate (retirement) income security. We continue to save and invest for our financial future by striving to maximize contributions to our TFSAs and RRSPs every year. In fact, here is a snapshot from our actual financial independence plan below:

Financial Independence Plan

You can read our updated Financial Independence Plan here.

Financial Independence Update

3. Worry less about money. What? That’s a goal? You bet it is. With a modest emergency fund in place – we have money available to us for a few months if we need it. With a strong debt management plan in place, savings that are automatic for investing purposes, and money set aside for when $hit hits the fan per se we pretty much spend as we please from there and have fun with all funds leftover. 

2. Track your expenses

Blah, blah, blah right?


The way I see it: you can’t manage what you don’t measure. It’s that simple.

When it comes to personal finances, most of us spend more than we think – a lot more!

So, track your expenses. Diligently. This isn’t a budget per se. Track your expenses and you might be surprised with the results!

Not sure how? Need a free cashflow tracking tool?

Check out and subscribe to Cashflows & Portfolios for a free cashflow tool. By doing so, you’ll realize why cashflow (not cash) is really king.

If nothing more, even if you know where all your money is going, this work will also identify what you value when you spend your money. See if that spending aligns with your values.

3. Pay yourself first

Arguably the best and most popularized term in personal finance for long-term financial success – because it works.

Heard of the 50/30/20 rule?

Popularized by Harvard bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren, she suggests this approach will provide an appropriate level of balance with your money:

  • 50% needs include rent/mortgage, groceries, utilities, insurance and other essentials.
  • 30% wants may include travel, dinner out, events, festivals, other.
  • 20% savings and debt repayments also include emergency funds and retirement savings.

While a decent model we don’t subscribe to Elizabeth’s advice ourselves.

To be honest, we believe this is a better way to budget.

4. Earn more money

Yes, they say ‘mo money comes with potentially ‘mo problems but let’s be honest – it also provides a new world of opportunities. Businesses excel because they make more money over time. In that light, you should consider your household like a business too.

If you’re serious about financial independence sooner than most, you’ll probably need to increase your income over time. Cutting back and extreme frugality can only go so far. What might be some ways to increase your income without leaving your current job? Here are some ideas:

  • Start a small side-business – earn income from your hobby or passion.
  • Work hard at work – get a deserved promotion.
  • Invest in you – further your formal education in a skill or service that’s in demand.
  • Sell crap stuff you no longer need.
  • Rent out your space, if you can.
  • Invest in income-producing stocks or securities.

5. Mind the debt

Debt, just like evil, is also a four-letter word. Watch out for it.

Here’s an older view on debt which remains relevant today.

While we still have debt, we’re working diligently to slay the mortgage beast every week.  You could argue there is “good debt” and “bad debt” but at the end of the day, owing other people money first long-term is, for the majority of us, a wealth destroyer (not a wealth builder).

  • Got a credit card? Pay it off every month.
  • Got a mortgage? Make lump sum payments where you can.
  • Got a car loan? Bad idea (because you are borrowing money on a depreciating asset…). Pay off that car loan too.

As long as you are doing these things above, one could argue that paying off your mortgage as fast as possible is not essential to financial success.

In fact, here is a detailed post about whether you should invest or pay off your mortgage first.

I have a bias on that.

Here is the answer:

The definitive answer to paying down your mortgage or investing

There is a strong case to be made that in today’s lower interest-rate environment, you’re better off investing inside your registered accounts as much as possible while meeting your debt obligations.

6. Watch the tax

We must all pay our fair share of taxes – such is life – but don’t pay any more than you should!

Here are some pro tips on tax management:

  • Take advantage of your RRSP account. Taxes deferred today and tax-deferred growth inside the account going forward.  Win-win!
  • Learn about available tax credits and deductions. Yes, our tax system is unnecessarily complex but knowing what you might be able to claim/deduct can save you a bundle every tax season. 
  • Make sure you read up on any pre-retirement tax tips.

Here’s a primer how to minimize taxes as you enter semi-retirement or full-on retirement.


7. Avoid too much house

Buy a house you can afford long-term. Sounds simple. Hard in practice.

Nobody can predict the financial future with any accuracy. Same goes for the real estate market.

Sure, looking at Toronto or Vancouver over the last decade, one could argue it’s like winning the lottery. Folks owning homes in those cities have seen HUGE price appreciation gains. Good on them! 

My take?

Buy a house first and foremost because it’s a great place to live and care for your family.

Here’s an article about why your house shouldn’t be your retirement nest egg.

8. Invest long term

Burton Malkiel, the famous author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street, once said trying to pick winning (mutual) funds is like running an obstacle course through hell’s kitchen.

To make matters worse for flame-fearing investors, the stock market always appears volatile in the short-term. 

When to buy? When to sell? When to stay in cash or gold or bonds?

Then you’ve got the former U.S. Chair of the Federal Reserve saying this dribble:  “run for cover”.


This is why you need to take the long road if you want to grow your nest egg.

Here are some simple tips to avoid losing your shirt when the stock market sky seems to be falling:

  • Learn to celebrate falling stock prices. It means stocks will be on sale!
  • Avoid letting your emotions get the best of you. Make an investment plan and stick with it.
  • Don’t get swayed by the talking heads on TV, or Alan Greenspan or anyone else. Be mindful they are working and they also want to put food on the table. 
  • If you don’t like individual stocks like I do then consider passively managed, low-cost Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) as the best way to invest. This way, you can achieve market-like returns and avoid major market under performance over time.
  • Consider dividend investing if the market noise is too much for you. This way, you can focus on the income your portfolio generates to assist your queasy stomach.

You can find out more details about how I invest in ETFs here.

You can find out my approach to dividend investing here.

9. Retire on your terms

I’m not a huge fan of the FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early) crowd.

Sure, I want to work on my terms sooner than later, but I can’t see myself becoming nor staying “retired” for long. I far prefer my own term:  FIWOOT (Financially Independent, Work On Own Terms).

Why I prefer FIWOOT vs. FIRE!

I prefer Financial Independence Work On Own Terms (FIWOOT) versus FIRE

How will your retirement measure up?  What’s your game plan?

For help check out these brilliant essays by readers and fans of this site to learn about what your retirement might look like – and just as importantly – how to get there.

Some additional tips and what I’m starting to think about:

  • Retirement is not a switch. Retirement is not an end. It’s simply a new phase of life.
  • Plans change. Plans get derailed. Be flexible and embrace adaptability. 
  • Retirement is not a financial number. What works for some at age 55 might not work for you at age 75!

10. Pay it forward

Exactly what it means.

Just like the story of a social studies teacher that asks his class to make things better for all, setting in motion of wave of goodness by one particular student to pay it forward, you too can help others.

You don’t need to run a blog. You don’t need to write a book. You don’t need to be an expert. In fact, it’s probably best to remain humble and admit you’re not! Even if you know a bundle about personal finance and investing, by paying it forward I bet you’ll learn some more things too. 

Some boring money advice actually never goes out our style.

Learn the basics, practice them often, share with others what you’ve learned and you’re well on your way to helping others.

As you learn about what works, and what doesn’t for you, pay it forward. Share what you know. Be honest. Be open to different perspectives. Be respectful with your opinions. How you treat others matters…

We all have limited time and resources on this earth. By helping others, we can make the most of it.

10 ways to master your money summary

These 10 tips are not the only ways to master your money but they’re a damn good start.

I hope you enjoyed the post and let me know what I should add over time.


My name is Mark Seed - the founder, editor and owner of My Own Advisor. As my own DIY financial advisor, I'm looking to start semi-retirement soon, sooner than most. Find out how, what I did, and what you can learn to tailor your own financial independence path. Join the newsletter read by thousands each day, always FREE.

20 Responses to "10 ways to master your money"

  1. Deane Hennigar (RBull) · Edit

    Hey Mark,

    I posted on your original post but thought I’d chime in again to say great list.
    I’ve certainly paid attention to all of these but probably fell some on #7, and went rather crazy on vehicles over the years.
    Now I pay a bit of attention to #10 whenever I get a chance to encourage or help someone a bit with investing, as well as staying interested and engaged to learn some more myself. Something I try to do on most all things in my life.

    1. Thanks. Yes, a revised post with some new content and insights. Great stuff on #10. I hope to do more of the same in the coming years once semi-retirement begins. 3-4 years I believe markets willing 🙂

  2. Lots of tips here can reflect to my own financial journey. The moment I begin to make a financial plan is the moment I became financially aware and eventually lead to financial independence now. Since that time, we are also making more money, increases in compensation more than the inflation rate. That makes the decision to retire is more difficult. FIRE people consider working as daily grind and want to escape as soon as possible. For us, as long as working is not too stressful, work actually can bring joy and feeling of achievement and satisfaction, also friendship. Not to mention both of our jobs are paying pretty well. Another thing is we are not empty nester yet, so cannot go anywhere even retired. We almost always live on only one’s salary. Now looks like we could live on less than one’s salary and I am trying to spend more. It’s difficult with the pandemic and the travel restriction, and our lack of interest to spend on luxury things.

    Thinking to get a 75″ TV this holiday season. We don’t need it, but when we occasionally watch TV, the 45″ one looks too small to our old eyes. A new laptop for my daughter. Debating for iphone 13 pro max for myself. Will donate more too now we are able.

  3. Great article Mark.
    Just a comment on financial literacy in classrooms. The curriculum already exists in many provinces at the High school level. There is some work being done in Alberta to bring it into lower grades but who knows when it will actually be implemented. I actually taught some at grade nine level as an option. DIY is so much easier now and there is tons of great literature out there. One of the keys is becoming a critical thinker, separating the solid concepts from the sales tactics and developing your own strategies, especially as personal finances keeps evolving.

    1. Wow, great stuff re: I actually taught some at grade nine level as an option.

      I guess I was commenting more about not having a national curriculum but if that exists – that is awesome. I never had such an introduction myself.

      You’re right about DIY – becoming easier all the time.

      Your skill point is a big one. If one does not have critical thinking or reasoning skills – all the financial books and blogs in the world will never help them.

    2. Deane Hennigar (RBull) · Edit

      Hey Gruff, awesome to read you did some of that actually teaching yourself. I agree its so important to think critically, learn the true concepts and develop your own plan.

  4. Mark, another great post. You covered a lot of ground on this one.

    There wasn’t valuable resources like this around when I was learning much of this stuff. I agree with you, we are all responsible to ourselves for our financial journey and future. Many people need to be a lot more engaged.

    I noted that killing debt was listed first on your 2019 key focus!

    1. Yes, is it…since once our TFSAs and RRSPs are full – might as well kill debt for the guaranteed rate of return. TFSAs will be maxed in 2 weeks! My RRSP is almost full, will be by March 2019. Just my wife’s is outstanding. Her contribution room was >$50K 5-years ago. Now, closer to $20K and will be ideally $15K as of March 2019.

      Onwards and upwards.

  5. Great post Mark. Lots to chew on…you’ve put a lot of work in this and should be part of the Financial courses offered in classrooms…if it ever happens! All the best in the New Year!

    1. Thanks Paul! I doubt that financial literacy will ever become mainstream in the schools. Too much drama over who should teach it, it is unbiased, etc. Gotta take matters into our own DIY hands and not rely on government to solve our problems – just me.

  6. Those are all great ways to help get your money under control. I consider myself fortunate that I have no debt and some savings and investments. Unfortunately I’ve never had a good paying job, I’ve never hit $20/hour, and I live in the Vancouver area so that 50/30/20 rule is something I can’t achieve. The reality is rent, groceries, insurance, gas, basic daily living is more like 80%. And for some people in this area it’s higher than that. I put aside 10% for savings. And that other 10% gets split between a travel fund and any other stuff that comes up that I might not have expected like dentist or vet bills. I track my spending and live really frugally, my eating out budget is $20/month and usually I don’t go over, sometimes I don’t even spend that. So far this month I went out with a group for dinner, ordered Greek salad, which wasn’t all that good, but the garlic toast that came with is was nice, and it came to just over $13.23 Last month I spent $11.29 eating out, and I don’t remember where! The good news is today at work I won a $100 gift card for the Keg! The bad news is I’m a vegetarian so there’s not much I can eat there but this will be a huge treat for me to eat someplace that I can’t consider on my budget.

    1. No doubt with rent, groceries, insurance, gas, basic daily living…is very expensive in Van City. Cheryl, it sounds like you’re doing many things well to meet your financial goals. Well done.

    1. I watched and I think his comments here taken out of context to be honest. But…that said, the idea you should “run for cover” when we know thinking and acting long-term is very important with investing is not helping to change the channel on the financial rhetoric.


        1. I would agree. It was certainly clickbait for me. I guess I don’t like that garbage very much. How is that helping the average investor? We know the answer – but it’s more of a median cash grab/readership angle and I get that too.


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