Just starting out – how to get started with investing

Just starting out – how to get started with investing

Investing can be daunting.  You’re just starting out with investing.  So much to think about.  So many options.  A gazillion voices providing unsolicited advice.

Who can you trust?

I think if you’re reading this post you’ve come to the right place.  But I’m biased! 

Why do I say that?

Because I’ve learned nobody will ever care more about my money or my financial well-being than I do.

That’s my bias.  I want you to feel the same.

There is no one right way to invest – just your way

As you start your research about what to invest in, what accounts to fund, what products to hold, what stocks you might buy, etc., you’ll quickly come to the realization that everyone is likely telling you something a bit different.

But that’s OK.  Take a pause.  Breathe…

Based on my experiences including my money mistakes and lessons learned over two decades of investing myself, there are many ways to successfully build wealth.  Here are just a few common paths to consider:

  • Buying and owning real estate – including more of it over time.
  • Becoming a private equity investor.
  • Invest in the stock market via owning various funds or companies themselves.
  • Become an entrepreneur and grow a business (or two).

For our path, my wife and I have focused on owning our home (now condo) and investing in the stock market.  I run this blog but it’s more of a passion and side hobby than any wealth generator for sure.  I might earn minimum wage from this site!  That’s OK though, I enjoy running it.

Ultimately you need to determine what your wealth building path is and develop a plan around that. Financial plans or business plans always come before financial products.

Plans before products

Image courtesy of BAM Alliance.

I put this image up above because it’s so damn important.

There is huge power in asking yourself “why” as your financial starting point.

  • Why do I want to have money?
  • Why is money important to me or my family?

Then you can get into the “whats” and “hows”:

  • What I’m saving for is my financial future; but I also want to help my kids cover some university expenses; and then I want to go on a trip to Europe in a few years; I might want to replace my older car down the road. The list goes on.
  • How am I going to accomplish all this? How should I budget to meet these goals?  Can I even meet these goals/dreams?  How do I know I’m doing it right? 

Answering these questions is really part of financial planning.  That means your financial plans should include things like goal setting, itemizing your debt obligations, understanding your insurance needs, identifying some basic tax strategies, and so on.

Before you start investing, maybe do these three things first.  This will help you assess if you should be investing any money right now at all…

Our Financial Plan – FWIW

For what’s it worth here are some things that are part of our financial plan in no order of importance:

  1. Become debt free. In doing so it will provide some significant financial flexibility – all income made will be ours to keep or spend beyond the basic necessities. We hope to be debt free/mortgage free in another five (5) years. We’ll then own our condo outright.
  2. Save for a newer car – money we need soon. We’ll need to start thinking about replacing our existing car in another few years. It will be 10 years old by then.  Although saving and investing are really not the same things (investing has a longer-term time horizon), part of our financial plan is to put money aside today near term / expenses coming soon. A newer, used car will be one of them.
  3. Have (retirement) income security – investing for retirement. We continue to save money every month and invest that money for our financial future – money we don’t intend to touch for decades to come. We are striving to achieve income security by maximizing contributions to our TFSAs and RRSPs every year.  We do so even though we have some small workplace pensions in our future.
  4. Manage risk – insure. We have robust life insurance plans in place in case something happens to one of us. We just think insurance makes sense to support each other should something catastrophic happen.
  5. Worry less about money – keep a “that sucks” fund. With a modest emergency fund in place – we have money available to us for a few months if we need it.
  6. Have fun.  We set aside money every year short-term for international travel and long weekend experiences.  Life is for the living after all. Our financial plan could be summarized this way:


With a financial plan in place, you’ll have a better understanding of where you stand today, where you want to be and how you can get there.

Beauty in simplicity – low-cost mutual funds and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

Like I mentioned above, while there are many ways to invest, for the majority of us an effective and efficient way to invest is buying and holding broad stock market funds that cost next to nothing to own but can be expected to deliver meaningful long-term returns assuming you stay invested through market highs and lows.

Here are some simple ways to get started with investing:

  1. Tangerine Funds

For a fee just over 1% (that’s costing you $100 per year on every $10,000 you have invested), Tangerine offers a variety of funds to get started at costs far lower than some big bank mutual funds.  More specifically, Tangerine offers a number of balanced funds where there is no need to re-balance/think about how much stocks or bonds you should own and when.  This is a very simple but effective solution for any investor just starting out.

  1. Mawer Balanced Fund

For a slightly lower fee, the Mawer Balanced Fund has been a star over the last decade or more.  This fund with an MER of 0.93% (costing $93 per year for every $10,000 invested), this fund has really delivered – returns come in just north of 10% over the years – an impressive but simple all-in-one mutual fund solution to get started with investing.

You can contact Mawer directly to find out how to get started with them based on their account minimums.

  1. Robo-Advisor

For even lower fees (roughly $50 per year on every $10,000 invested), Robo-Advisor firms can offer a very simple investing solution for investors who need help to train their investing brain OR for investors who want a more hands-off approach to investing but want the confidence their money is being systematically managed.

There is no obligation of course – but ModernAdvisor can definitely help – my partnership gets you $50,000 managed FREE for a year.


There are many top-notch Robo-Advisors in Canada now – ready to help investors in a number of ways but the biggest is overcoming overconfidence tied to biased thinking and systematically providing diversification.  By putting investors’ money into high-quality, low-cost, indexed Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) they will create a systematic approach to investment management for you that entirely removes your emotions and opinions from the investment decision making process.  If the market goes up or goes down, there is no major knee-jerk reaction by the Robo-firm.  Decisions are therefore made based on well-defined models and processes that do not leave any room for subjective interpretations – including the folks at the Robo-Advisor firm themselves!  As long as the inputs into the system are the same, the outcome will be the same regardless.

As one Robo-Advisor CEO once explained to me:

“It’s paternalistic and it works – just like removing your potato chips from your house works if you are trying to eat healthy.”

I demystified Robo-Advisors in this post here and I have a partnership with ModernAdvisor, a leading firm in Canada that offers your first $10,000 managed without any management fees.

Again, you don’t need to invest with them rather this is one of many great options to get your investing journey started better than most.

  1. TD Bank e-Series Funds

I don’t have a partnership (yet) with TD but another simple solution is to own TD e-series funds.  Some Canadian big banks (like TD) have been in the space of offering low-cost mutual funds or their own in-house ETFs for some time.

TD e-funds happen to be some of the lowest cost solutions available, going even lower than some Robo-Advisor firms!  Using these products are a great way to start your DIY investing journey.

You could own a rather diversified portfolio by owning just three or four (4) of TD’s e-series funds:

  1. Canadian equity: buy and hold TD Canadian Index e-series (MER = 0.33% or $33 per year on every $10,000 invested in the fund).
  2. U.S. equity: buy and hold TD U.S. Index e-series (MER = 0.35%).
  3. International equity: buy and hold TD International Index e-series (MER = 0.50%).
  4. Canadian bond (optional since you’re just starting out).

The small “catch” with TD e-series is you’ll need to visit a TD branch and open a TD e-series account.  The upsides are plenty after that.  TD e-funds are professionally managed at a low cost; you can monitor your assets via TD EasyWeb Online Banking; there are no commissions to buy or sell TD e-funds inside your e-series account.  The latter is going to save you a bundle on account management fees.

  1. All-In-One Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

I wrote an extensive post about various all-in-one ETFs here.  After opening your discount brokerage account, this is how simple investing can be.  Buy these funds, continue to add to them over time, and these funds will do all the rebalancing work for you.  With rock bottom MERs (some of them costing just $18 per year for every $10,000 invested) these are GREAT solutions for getting started with investing and/or staying invested long-term.

Since posting this article myself, I’m considering adding VEQT to my wife’s RRSP for long-term growth and to capture market returns beyond Canada’s borders.  It will also allow me to simplify her portfolio over time.

VEQT has a management fee of just 0.22%.  That means you’re paying just $22 per year for every $10,000 invested.  VEQT (along with other all-in-one ETFs) is eligible for the RRSP, TFSA, RESP, RRIF and non-registered investing as well.

If you’re just getting started with investing, and presuming you have decades of investing years ahead of you, you might want to consider this low-cost highly diversified fund as a good way to invest – as you continue to read up about investing including how best to optimize your portfolio to avoid withholding taxes over time.

On that note, here are the best low-cost ETFs for your RRSP.

  1. Build your own ETF portfolio as part of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) investing

I saved my favourite approach for last.

About 10 years ago now, I started the switch out of big bank mutual funds into lower-cost ETFs and dividend paying stocks.  I haven’t looked back since.

At the time of this post, I now own about 30 Canadian dividend paying stocks and 10 U.S. stocks for across my portfolio for income and growth.  In doing so, I don’t pay any commissions for holding these stocks.  My money management fees for holding these 40 dividend growth stocks now is zilch. 

Beyond my stocks, I do own some units of VYM and HDV, very low-cost U.S. dividend paying ETFs for income and growth in our registered accounts.  I do so and I will continue to add more U.S. ETF units to my portfolio to diversity away from Canada’s oligopoly market.

VYM costs 0.06%.  Seriously.  That’s just $6 per year on every $10,000 invested to own >400 U.S. stocks.  Super cheap and very diversified for the U.S. economy.

I also own some HDV, a high dividend ETF that has delivered strong returns in recent years, that costs just $8 per year on every $10,000 invested (in my LIRA (Locked-In Retirement Account)).

If you’re unsure about what ETFs to own, check my ETFs page here.  

Funds on this page above represent some of the lowest possible costing funds available.  By opening up a discount brokerage account (e.g., Self-Directed RRSP or TFSA, other) you can buy (or sell) your ETFs at will.

Use my Bank of Montreal promo code MYOCASH, so I can provide you with up to hundreds of dollars cash back when you invest with them via a new investing account.

BMO InvestorLine - January 2019

Although the final expert jury is out on how many ETFs are enough (I have a more detailed answer for you here), I believe you can build a highly diversified DIY equity portfolio with just 2-4 ETFs; certainly no more than five funds are required.  By building your own ETF portfolio, you’ll have more control over what you buy and when you buy it but also be mindful you’ll need to be in control of your investing behaviour.

Here are some tips for minding your behaviour gaps.


Wow.  2,000+ words goes fast.  When it comes to investing, choices abound.

Honestly, that’s great for investors just starting out or seasoned investors like me.  Competition and the modern drive for simplicity has driven the financial industry into a lower-cost structure that’s more focused on the customer experience than ever before.

There is certainly much more room to improve on that, but as someone who might be just starting out with investing – please understand your investing journey does not need to be perfect.  Far from it.  Just get started and improve from there.  And enjoy your lattes on the way!

A big thanks to a number of recent emails who inspired this post.  Keep the emails coming – happy investing!

For more reading, check out my “Start Here” page for many related articles including a FREE ebook for millennials!


My name is Mark Seed and I'm the founder, editor and owner of My Own Advisor. As my own DIY financial advisor, we're inching closer to our ultimate goal - owning a 7-figure investment portfolio for semi-retirement. We're almost there! Subscribe and join the journey. Learn how I'm getting there and how you can get there too!

15 Responses to "Just starting out – how to get started with investing"

  1. Just to add to the TD e-series segment. There are no purchase/sell fees (there is an early redemption fee if sold within 30 days of purchase). Minimum order sizes are small usually $100 or less (especially if pre-authorized). This can make them attractive to small/new investors.

    Disclaimer: I use some of these and own shares in TD.

    1. Great, more granular details to add for sure Lloyd. Would you agree TD e-series are good for beginners and long-term investors as an option. I would! Their cost structure is great overall.

      1. I’d have no problem recommending these products. The ease of use between my TD accounts and TDDI accounts is incredible. It also likely helps that I’ve been banking with TD since 1994 and my local branch knows me very well.

        My nephew uses BMO Investorline and I can’t figure that platform out at all. I suppose I’m just too lazy to really try to get into it but I find the TDDI platform heads and shoulders better than BMO. I haven’t seen anything comparable to the e-series with other Banks (not that I’ve looked).

        1. Once you have all those zeros in the bank, the bank tends to like you and know you very well 🙂

          Kidding aside, TD has a great set of products (e-series) and based on recent assessments/reviews – TDDI seems to rank very well against BMO or any other big bank discount brokerage – if not the best of the bunch.

  2. I have been reading your site since time began. This is by far, your best post. Keep it up and THANKS. By the way I have Mawer balanced and Global Equity

    1. @unbalanced,

      Well done, you picked two excellent funds. An equal weight Mawer Balanced Fund (MAW104) / Mawer Global Equity Fund (MAW120) would have returned an annualized 11.5% since Oct 2009, the inception date of the later. Over the past 5 years they returned 10.3% annualized.

      Mawer Balanced Fund has been a pretty steady performer since they began in 1988 with a lifetime 8.4% return but they’ve been outpaced by Mawer’s Global Balanced Fund (MAW130) which incepted in 2013. The outperformance probably is due to Canadian Equity content, ie; MAW104 = 15.6% while MAW 130 = 4.3%. Mawer’s active management clearly knows what they’re doing. I have Mawer Global Balanced Fund in my RRIF.

      1. Thanks Bernie. Like I wrote to unbalanced, I wouldn’t hesitate if someone really wanted to own Mawer Balanced and “be done” with their portfolio in terms of stocks and bonds and what-to-put-where. You could do FAR worse than with that type of professional money management.

    2. Geez, thanks very much 🙂

      Mawer Balanced is a stud of a fund and I wouldn’t hesitate directing folks in that way if they still wanted some professional money management for a great all-in-one product.

  3. Great post! Gives us something to think about, different options.

    “nobody will ever care more about my money or my financial well-being than I do.” – That is so true! “Financial advisors” might pretend but I find that bloggers like yourself and places like the Canadian Money Forum care more about my money that any “financial advisor” I’ve used in the past. These people are more encouraging and offer way better advice and aren’t trying to make any money off me!

    1. I think fee-only planners have a big role to play in the industry but they should have fiduciary duty (i.e., client first). Many other financial planners are compensated based on the products they sell. Not a good duty for the client!!

      Bloggers have a bias too Cheryl but I certainly know where most of mine lie = dividends 🙂

      All the best and thanks for the kind words.

  4. Hi Mark,

    I have been reading your blog for over a year now – thank you so much for everything you share – I am miffed at myself that I haven’t cut ties with my advisor yet even though I have been following – its finding the time and having the confidence. I am contemplating either the BMO investor line or the TDDI – but not sure which is best – I know this sounds silly but do I just call them and open up a “self directed RRSP and TFSA” account and will the brokerage do the rest from there? Like what are the dynamics of setting up Self directed account?? Are there practice platforms to help guide you through the purchasing process? I have to figure how to break down 100K that is invested in a series of funds from Fidelity, Dynamic and Sentry and is arranged in a Spousal RSP, RRSP, TFSA and RESP – I am not sure where to put what where but the information here I believe is sufficient – the low cost ETFs sound like a good start to me. I just need to get started and I have a mentality that doesn’t like to offend anyone – what do I tell my advisor?? How do I cut ties nicely? No worries, I will make it happen – I just have to jump through a few mind hoops. Again – thank you and your readers for everything they share here. I have appreciated your blog site so much!!

    1. I meant to add this post as well…too eager to reply!

      Thanks for the kind words about the site. It’s great to hear it’s helping others gain more money confidence.

      Have you considering opening the accounts and simply transferring assets/funds “in kind”?

      This is really a fancy term to say please keep my funds invested in the same stuff, same accounts, just move those accounts here e.g., BMO, TD, RBC, etc.



Post Comment