Just starting out – how to get started with investing

Just starting out – how to get started with investing

Investing can be daunting. So much to think about. So many options. If you’re starting out, how to started with any investing?

I have some answers in today’s post. 

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. 


Based on my experiences including my own 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.
  • 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 instead of any wealth generator for sure. I barely 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.

Just starting out? Ensure you have a plan 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 for you. 
  • How am I going to accomplish all this? How should I budget to meet these goals?  Can I even meet these goals/dreams?  

Answering these questions is at the heart 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.

Our Financial Plan

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 own our home/condo outright and then we should be able to plan for semi-retirement. Our journey to debt freedom was based on many reflections over the last decade.

2010-2019: Financial reflections of the last decade

2. Save for a newer car every 10 years. We’ll need to start thinking about replacing our existing car in another few years. We tend to keep our cars for about 10 or more years. 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 – such as a newer car.

3. Have retirement income security. 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.  In fact, we hope that in the coming years thanks to maximizing contributions to these accounts we can live off dividends.

Why my goal to live off dividends remains alive and well

4. Manage risk – own insurance. 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.

In fact, my term life insurance is up for renewal soon. Here are some considerations.

Should I renew my term life insurance policy?

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.

After listing #1-5 above, our financial plan could be summarized this way:

  1. Put money into a spending bucket to enjoy (Today). 
  2. Register direct withdrawals for life insurance and insurance in general (Insure).
  3. Put money aside for near-term spending including travel (Soon).
  4. Put money aside and do not touch it in case of an emergency (That Sucks).
  5. Put money aside for long-term growth and retirement (Retire).


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. Here is what that plan should cover for you:

What should my financial plan cover?

How to get started with investing?

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 with broad market funds or firms that offer them.

  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.

Here is a list of some of their products, you can consider the Tangerine funds like:

  • Core Balanced Income: 30% bonds, 70% stocks
  • Core Balanced: 40% bonds, 60% stocks
  • Core Balanced Growth: 25% bonds, 75% stocks
  • Core Equity Growth: 0% bonds, 100% stocks

Get started by completing the online questionnaire. Answers provided will then recommend the most suitable portfolio for you. Then, you’re up and running!

Another consideration from Tangerine is their Global ETF Portfolios, in three, simple risk-tolerance levels:

  • The Balanced ETF Portfolio is 60% stocks and 40% bonds
  • The Balanced Growth ETF Portfolio is 75% stocks and 25% bonds
  • The Equity Growth ETF Portfolio is 100% stocks
  1. Mawer Balanced Fund (MAW104)

For a slightly lower fee than Tangerine, the Mawer Balanced Fund has been a star over the last decade or more.

Last time I checked, this fund sports an MER of about 0.91% (costing $91 per year for every $10,000 invested). This fund has really delivered over time as well – returns come in just north of 10% over the years at the time of this post – 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 never an 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 how Robo-Advisors work in this post here.

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. Good on them!

With TD e-funds, while the fees are generally lower than Tangerine’s, you’ll need to rebalance those funds to keep your asset allocation in check. I’ve highlighted four great e-funds to consider below in any risk tolerance mix you wish. The upside of this approach is, 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

In fact, now TD Bank has an all-in-one fund (TOCA)! Learn more by visiting their site. 

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.

If you have a long time horizon, as in decades, consider owning VEQT or TOCA from TD Bank. 

VEQT has a management fee of just 0.22%.  That means you’re paying just $22 per year for every $10,000 invested.  TOCA has a fee structure of just 0.25%.

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 left the mutual fund industry and moved 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 ongoing money management fees for holding these 40 dividend growth stocks now is zilch. 

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

By building your own ETF portfolio, while you’ll have more control over what you buy and when you buy it but mindful you’ll need to be in control of your investing behaviour.

Here are some tips for minding your behaviour gaps.

Just starting out – how to get started with investing

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 just getting started articles.

For millennials make sure you read this post and get your FREE ebook!


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.

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

  1. Hey Mark, “Just Starting Out” important info for anyone…thanks. As for myself, it sounds like TD e-series would force me to split accounts or use new money. As a retired person, I find it so much easier to stick with one broker (I use Investorline). As you say, fees are minimized when you invest and hold individual companies. But, not apposed to getting into more ETFs or good funds to spread diversification and possibly increase monthly income. Will keep your suggestions in the hopper.

    1. I think TD e-series can make great sense for younger investors who are internet savvy (i.e., buy online) but don’t want to pay any commissions as they slowly build up assets (i.e., buying funds every few months). $10 per trade/buy can be prohibitive if you’re only investing a few hundred bucks every few months.

      Once said younger investor gets into a few thousand or $10k+ into their account, I think they can easily switch into an all-in-one fund or a low cost mix of ETFs (dividend-oriented ones) or pure indexed; get into individual stock ownership as well.

      Low-fee is the best predictor of eventual returns. Behaviours matter too!

      Good to hear from you Paul.

  2. 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.


  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. 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.

  5. 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.


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