Financial Advice From Internet Forums? Ask the Right Questions, with Joe Saul-Sehy
Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of Maple Money, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.
Ah, the internet. Where everyone has an opinion and people get advice from anonymous strangers. But it doesn’t have to be all bad, if you know the right questions to ask, as well as a healthy dose of skepticism to not blindly accept everything you hear. My guest this week is Joe Saul-Sehy, the founder of the podcasts Stacking Benjamins, and Money With Friends. Joe emerges from his basement, to share how we can use the internet to make the most of forums, social media, even Facebook groups.
According to Joe, one of the most dangerous types of advice you can receive online pertains to your investments. There are far too many so-called experts out there, making blanket fund or stock recommendations, without knowing anything about the people they are advising. Just because an investment has a solid track record (here’s looking at you, Vanguard), it doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for everyone. That’s why it’s important to do your own research, before listening to any investment advice.
Joe and I go on to discuss the value of having a team around you, to better your chances of success at anything you’re trying to accomplish in life. Joe shares a couple of great stories which illustrate this team concept, including a recent experience he had visiting a Nascar race. It’s all right here, on The MapleMoney Show!
Our sponsor this week is Wealthsimple, Canada’s robo-advisor leader. Did you know that you can now book a 15-minute call with one of Wealthsimple’s experienced portfolio managers, with no obligation to set up an account? To book your call, and for the best in low cost investing, head over to Wealthsimple Chat today!
- What Joe dislikes about every online forum he visits
- People online are asking the wrong questions
- You have to kill off bad habits to become the person you want to be
- Why you need to be wary of investment advice on the internet
- The problem with blanket Vanguard recommendations
- Make sure you’re getting advice from experts who understand your situation
- Your frugality mindset could end up costing you money
- Why it’s important to have a team around you
The Internet is where everyone has an opinion and people get advice from anonymous strangers. But it doesn’t have to be all bad if you know the right questions to ask and have the right level of skepticism to not blindly accept the replies when it involves your personal finances. Joe Saul-Sehy, the founder of Stacking Benjamin’s and Money with Friends gets out of the basement to join the show to discuss how we can use the Internet and make the most of forums, social media, and Facebook groups.
Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. We’ve talk about robo advisors often on the show and over at the blog as well, especially our sponsor Wealthsimple. Wealthsimple now lets you book a 15 minute call with an experienced portfolio manager with no obligation to set up an account. To see if robo advisors make sense for you head over to maplemoney.com/wealthsimplechat. Now here’s Joe.
Tom: Hi Joe. Welcome to The Maple Money Show.
Joe: I’m so happy I’m here. Thanks for having me.
Tom: I wanted to give you a bit of a soapbox. We had talked about this a bit before, a lot of people spend their time on internet forums asking questions within personal finance. I know you’ve seen a lot of interesting things online. I just want to kind of go through what your thoughts are with people going on these forums or Facebook groups and what kind of advice they should be getting?
Joe: It’s funny, Tom… I love it. First of all, I think it’s cool that with technology being—I could tell old guy stories all day, but I love it; the fact that you don’t have to have people locally to get information. Information is becoming more and more of a commodity because of the fact that it’s so widely available. I can ask pointed questions to a group of people and very quickly get an answer. You look at some groups like the ChooseFI guys. Brad and Jonathan are doing one heck of a job. Or your group—our group, these communities of people online are great. But when you pull it back a little bit and think about you as somebody trying to reach a set of goals, I think there is also some dangers that maybe we should dive into. Because one mentor told me a long time ago, “You want to have a group of really smart people around you, like your inner circle.” Sometimes the stuff you or I see online isn’t stuff that my inner circle would tell me.
Tom: So is this sort of this decade’s version of a water cooler talk?
Joe: I think it is, don’t you?
Tom: Probably because I remember when people actually talked at the water cooler. You’d literally go up to your co-worker and start talking about your finances. At least I did. I get that this whole money talk is a taboo subject but at least in my circle of co-workers, we were certainly talking money.
Joe: Yeah, it is that. I love the stories that people share. I love the successes, the failures. Going back directly to the ChooseFI forum, I absolutely love the Brad’s, “What’s one thing you did this week to move the ball forward?” I love that. I love thinking that way. I remember a mentor of mine telling me every day to lay one brick. You’ve got all the stuff you’ve got to do, but whatever you’re doing, lay one brick toward the goal. And even though we overestimate what we can do in an hour, in a day or in a week, we always underestimate what we can do over a year or a decade because we’re not focused on that long-term goal. In just 25 or 30 minutes of laying one brick every day toward a long-term goal makes that happen.
Tom: You’re right. If I have this huge to-do-list it kind of makes me not do anything. But if you can make sure you get that one thing out, sometimes even just one big thing a week, means you’re taking a step and not just getting overwhelmed by all of it.
Joe: Yes, that stuff is really good. The part that I really dislike—if we’re going to go into what I dislike—and this isn’t every forum. This is not just a ChooseFI thing. I think in Jackie Benjamin’s forum and you probably have it in the Maple Money group, the frustration I see often is people don’t think about what I said earlier which is to have really smart people around you. Because we’re on a Canadian show… Usually I talk about Earl in Peoria but we’ll make an Earl from Timmins.
Tom: Thank you for regionalized it for us.
Joe: I’m great about that because I’ve been to Timmins. I went on a fishing trip and it was fantastic. But Earl and Timmins doesn’t know anything about my financial situation. Doesn’t know anything about me. Yet, Earl spends all day on Facebook, is in the community, and has a definite feeling about what the right thing is for me to do which is ridiculous. I mean, if you think about it; number one, why am I asking Earl for advice? Number two, why am I listening to Earl’s advice? I don’t know anything about Earl’s credentials. I don’t know a thing about Earl’s background. When I was a financial planner we’d always say, beware of broke professors. A broke professor is that dude who knows everything. We all have somebody like this in their life. And usually, back in the day this was the water cooler person. They’re always seeking out the water cooler to talk with someone like you saying, “Well, I’ll tell you what I’d do with that car. I’d do this and that and that… And if you do those three things your car could go from just crappy to awesome, Tom. How come you haven’t done that with your car? I’ll tell you what I’d do with that deck out back, I do this… Man, if I ran this place here’s what I do…” And you look and wonder why the hell isn’t that dude running the place? Why isn’t that guy working on his car? He doesn’t even have a deck on his house but he certainly has an opinion about mine. I see too much of that and it really frustrates me. Thinking this person that doesn’t even know me is going to be able to help me solve my problem.
Tom: And you mentioned you were a financial planner. An ex-financial planner I know as well, Jimmy at Retire Happy, one of the things he often says when people ask him questions is it’s not that simple. You’ve got to ask eight questions back because, like you pointed out, you don’t know all the details of that person. What are their retirement goals? How much money do they have now or how much money do they make? It’s not a simple question if someone just comes up to you and asks how much money will they need to retire? Even as a planner there is a slew of questions you have to return with that, right?
Joe: Well, it’s funny because our mutual friend Paula Pant and I had a long discussion about this. Often, people are asking the wrong question. That’s the first thing I think you have to do. Earl in Timmins will answer your question. A good adviser will do what your friend talks about which are, are you asking the right question in the first place? A lot of times the questions we get are not the right question. I’ll give you an example of that. There was a guy on a forum recently talking about how his kid plays soccer and he wants his kid to drink Gatorade but Gatorade is too expensive. How do I find a cheaper way to get Gatorade? There was something like 57 answers to that question. I’ll throw this out there. I don’t think that’s the right question to ask. My question to ask back to you (if you asked me that question) is why are you focused on 30 cent decisions? You only have so much time in your life and if you spend all day tripping over dollars to pick up nickels you’re never going to get anywhere. People that worry about 20 cents—and don’t get me wrong—there might be somebody listening to this who knows (like I do) that there was a time when every single penny mattered. There was a time when I didn’t know how was going to eat in two weeks. So for those people take this with a grain of salt, because for you, I get it. But the way, the guy asked the question and his responses later on were clear—he was just focused on the wrong stuff. He’s not focusing on how to earn more money and not worry about Gatorade. The three big things you and I know Tom, are housing, transportation and your overall grocery bill. Not just Gatorade. How do I just make that overall grocery bill smaller? I think we need to focus more on what the right question is to ask.
Tom: Yeah, for sure. I’ve said on the show in the past too where I started off being very frugality-minded and halfway through started heading towards the side of, “Oh well, you can actually just make more money because that actually solves a lot of problems.” Obviously, there are tons of different ways of doing that whether it’s improving your career situation or doing side-hustles.
Joe: And it’s amazing how easy that is. You’ve seen the statistics. I think the number was something like 65 percent of bosses want to give you a raise. They might not have the ability to do it themselves. They might have to talk to somebody. But because you haven’t asked and haven’t given them the ammunition to go to their boss to help them give you a raise, they don’t give you one. But if you asked, they’d be happy to do it. And we don’t do that. Or the side-hustle stuff; going out and finding more money is so much easier than looking through 57 answers on how to save 10 cents on not buying Gatorade but finding an off-brand.
Tom: Speaking about asking for a raise, in my career I had asked for raises twice. One time, for sure, it was five digits. I don’t remember the other time but it was certainly a yes. Basically, the only times that got beyond that were, “Here’s two percent. Here’s 3 percent annually.” I really had to go out and ask for it. I don’t know what I would have been making if I just quietly never said anything and just kept going. It definitely helps to ask.
Joe: When you think about it, the way to get a raise is to apply for the next job, but you have to apply for the next job. For a lot of people, that’s the way they’re going to get the big bump. The big thing for me, just yesterday I went and saw that new movie Rocket Man, the story of Elton John. A guy told him early in his career that he had to kill the person he was to become the person you want to be. I think about George R.R. Martin and Game of Thrones. You’ve got to kill your darlings. When the red wedding happened I threw that damn book. I couldn’t watch it because I couldn’t go through the emotions. But when I read the book, I threw it across the room. I’m sitting in bed with Sheryl, my spouse, and I just threw the book. I was so angry. But that’s what made it exciting. You didn’t know who’s going to live. But you think about your life and there are bad habits you and you have to kill off some of those bad habits to become the person that you want to become in the future.
Tom: I don’t mean to go on a big tangent but I think I’m going to have to read the books just for a better ending than I got as a TV watcher.
Joe: Well, at least one that George R.R. Martin likes—I’ll tell everybody jus to continue your tangent. A funny story during one of the episodes where they were going off the rails, George R.R. Martin, apparently—I didn’t see the Tweet. I just heard this third hand. George R.R. Martin tweeted about how great The Last Kingdom show was. And it is great. I don’t know if you’ve seen The Last Kingdom, but if you’re if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones The Last Kingdom is phenomenal.
Tom: I’ll have to watch that next.
Joe: It’s about the Vikings coming to England in the 800s. And once again, the same stuff. There are people who die that you don’t want to see die. There’s lots of intrigue, very flawed characters, really good story. Because they’ve dedicated more money to it every year than the season before… They’re getting ready for season four. It’s one of the few shows I’ve seen where season one was fantastic and every season has actually gotten better, not worse or the same. They’ve got more exciting.
Tom: Great. To get us back on topic what are some other things you’re seeing online? I guess one of the ones that’s in my head is this investing advice. It’s probably one of the bigger areas where it could go pretty wild. I’ve mentioned on the show before where I know a guy that’s pretty much all invested in Apple and tells everybody they should be invested in Apple. What about that kind of person? The stock tip guy.
Joe: I get so frustrated with those pieces of advice only because the first thing you’re trained to do as a financial adviser is begin with the end in mind. Start off with what’s the goal? How much money is the person saving toward that goal? And then what’s the minimum return that we can receive to actually make that goal a reality? And then there’s a cool thing, model portfolio theory which shows us that there’s this cool line called the Efficient Frontier. There are places all over the Internet where you can look at the Efficient Frontier. You take the rate of return you need, look at the Efficient Frontier… That’s certainly not exact on how you’re going to get there in the future but that will show you very closely how you would have gotten there in the past. This is the closest thing you can get to an optimal portfolio. What’s funny is it’s very easy to find. It isn’t hard. There’s plenty of retirement calculators from all the asset management companies in Canada and in the U.S. They all have these online calculators. It’s easy to do and yet, the number one piece of advice I hear is don’t do this thing that’s going to take you 12 minutes. Put all your money in one Vanguard mutual fund. I understand the one Vanguard mutual fund approach is fine. I think the guy that preaches that is fine. My question is, if it’s going to take you 12 minutes to optimize your portfolio, why would I not do that versus putting all my money in one fund? Don’t get me wrong. The one-fund approach is a fine approach. The VTSAX; The Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund. Put all your money in that fund and you’re going to do fine. So Mr. JL Collins, the book. The Simple Path to Wealth… fantastic. My only problem with that book is it isn’t that hard to go a little bit beyond it.
Tom: Yeah. We have the same thing here. We have different ETFs just in Canadian dollars basically but there’s still, certainly, a U.S. ETF. And we have V-Grow, a Vanguard growth one that covers the entire market. So that’s probably a decent step.
Here I am given the water cooler talk but that’s a decent single ETF to go into.
Joe: No, you know it’s historic. You’re well diversified. You’re going to get some international exposure because some of these are going to be really broad companies that span the globe. So you’re going to get stuff that isn’t going to treat you badly and you’re going to get decent returns. It just isn’t that hard to optimize it. The other thing is a little bit tangentially but not too far off because it’s still on investment advice. This is a comment that always scares me when I see it in forums. “My adviser did negative two percent over the last year. What do you think I should do?” Number one is that you have to look at what the market did. Number two is, I have no idea what you’re invested in. I have no idea what your goal is and how far away it is. And yet, Earl in Timmins is going to tell you exactly what you want to hear. What I think you’re really asking here is, “Should I fire my adviser?” And by the way, if you’re asking Earl in Timmins, “Should I fire my advisor?” do you know what you need to do? You need to fire your adviser because there’s already some underlying reason you’re asking that. If trust Earl in Timmins you’re going to ask, “Is this what we should be doing? Tell me why? Tell me your strategies.” But, if you don’t trust your adviser enough to ask them that, Earl is going to tell you what you want to hear which is go fire him.
Tom: Is that always a bad thing? If you this idea in the back your head of what you should do, if you have a sounding board and someone at least gives you the same answer, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It may make you a little more confident maybe. The problem though is when you get a totally unexpected answer.
Joe: No, you can ask it. Just realize that an online community usually has a bent of not needing a financial adviser. What’s funny about that is they do have a financial adviser. They have that forum. They’re using that forum as their financial advisor. And I will throw out there that if you have really smart people around you, they’re going to beat asking random strangers in a forum. And again, going back to the forum is not bad. But I do think that having smart people around me that know me is a better thing. So you’re going to get answers but not from people that know what that relationship should be such as where you are according to your milestones. Let me give you an example from back in the day when I was a financial planner. If you’re my client, Tom, and you’ve got a goal that’s 15 years away, we would set up these milestones. Every six months we’d look at the milestone and where you are at. We’ll see if we’re still on the path and whether we’re ahead or behind on that path. If you’re behind we’re going to make a totally different decision than if we’re ahead. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say that you’re ahead by $20,000 toward your retirement goal. Well, cool. We can do a few things. Let’s say you’ve got some short-term things that you want to do like redo your kitchen, we could do that. We can slow down your retirement savings and spend money and let the milestones get back in line. The second thing we could do is pull that retirement goal closer. We could say, “Hey Tom, how would you like to push that up by three months?” The third thing is, leave that goal where it is and just spend more money when you get there. So, instead of an expectation of spending X, I’m not going to go on a few luxury vacations or I’m going to spend more every year during those years when I’m done working. You all of a sudden have all these moves you can make. What’s funny is, without knowing those milestones we can’t go through those emotionally like we just did. I bet anybody listening to this just went said, “Oh, here’s the one I’d do.” How do you know which one you would do if you’ve never done those milestones? The people in these forums haven’t done that. They have no idea. So when they say my advisor got negative two, what else is your advisor doing? And this is another misconception I see a lot in online forums. When I was a financial advisor, helping somebody manage their money was not most of my job. Most of my job was where you and I would meet and talk about how you spent money the last six months versus what your values were. Because that’s something you can control. Have you gotten a raise at work? What are things looking like? Are there opportunities where you can make more income, or the income you make is doing something that you love instead is something that you hate? We talk about those things. Are there any big expenses coming up? We’d look at your insurances and your estate plan. My job was to be your agent so that you’re a rock star and whenever there’s an opportunity for you to do better, my job is to call you and say, “Hey, here’s how we’re going to do this right way. I’m going to hook you up a person to buy your car or do whatever needs doing to your estate plan.” I’m going to make sure you’ve got the right people plugged in at the right stuff so that you can do what’s best for you.
Tom: This brings me back to the frugality mindset. People don’t want to spend a few hundred dollars a year for a fee-only advisor. But when you look at the big picture, if you’re ahead hundreds of thousands of dollars by retirement, was that not a good investment to spend that $300 or $500 or whatever so you just have an advisor review with you every once in awhile?
Joe: I get it though. I get it for a few reasons. There’s a ton of reasons we’re afraid. Number one is the person quotes a fee which is seems huge. And I’m not really sure where the value is ahead of time. And I know that I’ve got to kind of go in blindly. I can maybe get a few referrals and talk to the person. But I also am a little afraid in my head that the person is just talking a good game. And once I give them my money my money’s gone and now I’m worse off. So I get that piece. I’m very lucky I got to work with really smart people who could do their financial planning themselves. And I often wonder why they had me. So I started asking people why they had me and they’d say, “Because I can’t watch everything and I need somebody who is really smart, who is watching it when I can’t. I need somebody who I can also turn to that will hook me up with the right people.” But that’s a difficult thing. I went to a NASCAR race last weekend and I don’t want people to say, “Oh boy, I’m not listening.” But just hold on. If you know anything about racing there’s a good analogy. A lot of people think that a race car driver drives the car in a circle for X number of laps and then they’re done. There is a guy who listens to our show where I got to be a guest of his. He reached out to me and said, “Hey, would you like to come and tour our garage area and our pits. I’m a fan of your show and I’d love to have you,” which was awesome. So I got this pass to the garage and he took me around. I didn’t know that a race team has 25 people on it. There are four engineers—super smart people. There is a crew chief. There’s the truck driver who, by the way, is not only the truck driver. He’s also the chef. He’s the go-getter who fetches stuff. There are all the people that change the tires. There are mechanics in the pit. Every team has 25 people. You’ve got 24 people supporting this one person. It costs a bunch of money. But why did they do it? Because they make oodles of money if they win. I thought that was a phenomenal analogy for who I want to be. Do I want to be the person who is always worried about nickel and diming my way to mediocrity? Or do I want to be the person who wins? If I want to be the person who wins, unfortunately, I’m going to have to do a bunch of research to make sure I’ve got these good rock stars in my corner and I’m going to have to pay them. The frustrating part is can you afford to pay them? Find somebody like you or me that was an up-and-comer once upon a time. Image, Tom, if somebody had bet on you when you were just starting to build the Maple Money empire? Look at how wealthy they’d be now.
Tom: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s a good point about having a team because people go to a doctor when they have any health concerns. Why not see an advisor? Even when you mentioned the idea of someone that knows their stuff and they were coming to see you in the past, why not have that sounding board that does know what they’re talking about? Even in my own life, whether it’s money or the business side of things, it’s still nice to talk to people even though you kind of already know the answer. Sometimes it’s just a matter of some perspective and confidence.
Joe: I talked to a former NFL star two years ago, Philip Buchanan. His advisers are not licensed advisers. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be a licensed financial adviser in an office with a big company. He has a couple of people that are multimillionaires that he asked to have mentor him. So these multimillionaires became his advisers. It could be that. Just surround yourself with some smart people and I think you’re going to do really well.
Tom: Yes. Great advice. Well, thanks for being the show. Can you let people know where they can find you online?
Joe: You can find me at—we call it the greatest money show on earth, the Stacking Benjamins Show, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It’s very much a variety show. Very lightweight. Tom, you’ve been on the show before. We need to have you back on very soon.
Tom: I’d love to be on again.
Joe: We love to have you join our roundtable circus. But it’s incredibly light. It’s meant to be an analogy. Something like an airport where there are lots of planes taking off. We will have maybe eight different ideas or guests on a week. And you pick the ones that you really like and get on that plane. But we’re the airport. People come to us thinking that we’re going to have these long in-depth discussions. They’re not a great fit for us . But if they’re coming to us as kind of a hub where we found great people like Tom, to be friends that we have on the show, then that might be a great fit.
Tom: Great. Thanks for being on the show.
Joe: Thanks a lot, man.
Thanks Joe, for your thoughts on Internet advice and for showing us it’s not all bad if you go in with the right perspective. And thanks to you your buddy Earl from Timmins for stopping by as well. You can find the show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/joesaulsehy. Or you can see all of the episodes at maplemoney.com/show. Now that you ready to get into these online discussions, let’s look at where you can head for decent conversations about money. Here in Canada, my favorites are the Canadian Money Forum and the Personal Finance Canada sub Reddit. Then on Facebook, I like ChooseFI Canada and Jessica Moorehouse’s, Money, Life, Balance group are great. I hope you’ll join us at the Maple Money community which you can find easily by heading to maplemoney.com/community. Thanks for tuning in. I’m looking forward to next week when Kristy and Bryce from Millennial Revolution drop by to share their story of how they built a seven figure portfolio that allowed them to quit their jobs and travel the world.