Your Complete Guide to Index Investing with Dan Bortolotti

An Even Better Reason to Fix Your Portfolio

2016-08-23T12:16:02+00:00August 23rd, 2016|Categories: Uncategorized|24 Comments

So your portfolio is a disaster. Your RRSP is full of high-cost mutual funds, sprinkled with some random stocks and a bunch of exotic ETFs that seemed like a good idea at the time. You know it’s time to clean house, but you’re not sure where to begin. Well, here’s your chance to fix your portfolio and support a great cause at the same time.

Until last spring, Alex was a healthy, thriving four-year-old who loved playing soccer, swimming, riding his bike and playing with his two brothers. But in late April he was air-lifted from their home on Vancouver Island to the intensive care unit at BC Children’s Hospital, where he spent two weeks fighting for his life. Alex was diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia and has been receiving treatment for this disease throughout the summer.

Alex’s parents—who are clients of PWL Capital—are grateful for the excellent care their son is receiving, and they’re raising funds for the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation with the goal of helping other families dealing with childhood cancer.  My colleagues Justin Bender, Shannon Bender, Amanda Dalziel and I want to support Alex and other brave kids like him by raising $10,000 for their cause.

For limited time, we’re reviving our popular DIY Investor Service, which has helped more than a hundred families over the last five years. We’ll work with four investors to create a financial plan and set up an index fund or ETF portfolio they can manage on their own.

We’ll walk you through every step of the process: creating a savings plan, opening new accounts with an online brokerage, transferring your existing investments, placing trades in your new accounts, and giving you the tools you’ll need to rebalance and track your performance.

The cost of this unique service? We’ll ask you to make a donation of $2,500 to the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation in Alex’s honour. (You’ll get a tax receipt for the full amount, so the cost of our service will likely be closer to $1,500.)

We expect to receive more requests than we can handle, so we’re asking investors to tell us a little about their situation to make sure our service is a good fit. In our experience, the DIY service is most appropriate for investors who:

  • are committed index investors prepared to sell their stocks and actively managed funds and rebuild their portfolios from scratch
  • are in the accumulation phase of their lives, growing their savings rather than drawing down their portfolio in retirement
  • have portfolios between $250,000 and $500,000 or so, mostly in registered accounts
  • have relatively simple situations without complicating factors, such as corporate accounts or US citizenship
  • have a genuine interest in DIY investing and a willingness to learn to manage their own portfolio going forward

Even if you’re not in a position to take advantage of our DIY service, you can still help Alex and other kids with cancer. If you’ve found value in the free information Justin and I have provided over the years, we invite you to pay it forward by making a donation here. Alex and his family thank you.

[Update: We are no longer able to accept new requests for this service. Many thanks to all of the readers who expressed interest in this offer, and to all the others who donated to Alex’s cause.]



  1. Linda Woo August 23, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    That is what I love about Justin and Shannon of PWL, your commitment to your clients. Too bad I don’t have the portfolio size to be one.


  2. Lisa August 23, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    I read your column all the time and I am finding as retirees, your blog does not always apply to our situation. We are winding down our accumulating phase although we can still add a little to our accounts.

    As retirees we would like to see one of your blogs aimed at specifics for retired persons. I am finding our accounts, non registered, RRSP, TFSA’S at our discount brokerage (BMO Investorline) somewhat difficult and unwieldy to manage now, and am wondering what to do in the future to set up for our needs. We will need to have a RRIF in 3 years. I read somewhere where the rules allow for the RRIF yearly amount to be taken out whether the funds are in a compound GIC or not. Of course the amount can just just be sold out of an ETF.

    Dan, what is your recommendation for reasonable and reputable places to have retired person’s accounts looked after?

  3. Bernie S August 23, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    This looks like a very good chance, sadly I’m an offshore reader but loved this note. Wishing the best to the people involved.


  4. Canadian Couch Potato August 23, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    @Lisa: You raise a great point, but the fact is that managing a portfolio during retirement is difficult, and that is why we have always been reluctant to work with retirees as DIY clients. By this stage you are often dealing with a portfolio that is as large as it has ever been, at least part of it is likely to be taxable, and now you have important tax and estate planning issues you need to consider as well as the usual investment issues. There is no “set it and forget it” option: you need revisit the plan every year or so, and it’s really not something you can teach someone in a short DIY engagement. And as people get older, they become less and less well equipped to manage on their own.

    Unless your situation was extremely simple, I tend to recommend that at this stage retirees at least look for a fee-only planner who can give them guidance. If they also need help with their investments, a full-service advisor is probably worth the fee.

  5. Willy August 23, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Great initiative. I would love to be included……but I’m not sure I’m the right candidate. Perhaps I’m being naive, but I think I’m in pretty good shape and don’t need a lot of advice, having read and digested the material on this site. Been a regular reader here since 2011/12 and through this great blog, I’ve learned everything I need to do this on my own (again, at least I think so). I made a small donation to the charity outlined…. seems only fair in exchange for the value I’ve received here. Cheers and thanks again for the blog.

  6. Canadian Couch Potato August 23, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    @Willy: Thanks so much for the donation, and thanks to other readers who have also helped out. We all appreciate it!

  7. Garth August 24, 2016 at 12:06 am

    Kudos to PWL Toronto for doing this. As one who has had the pleasure of working through the DIY process with Dan and gang, I highly recommend their services. Best money I have spent for financial advice. For those who fit the criteria, don’t pass up this opportunity. I will also make a small donation to this fine cause.

  8. Canadian Couch Potato August 24, 2016 at 7:41 am

    @Garth: Many thanks for the kind words, and for the donation. Hope you’re doing well!

  9. Raz August 24, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Smaller donation made, as I’m not a suitable candidate for the DIY service based on your stipulations (portfolio is much larger, and I’ve got a hold-co), but I’ve certainly derived at least $100 worth of value from this blog over the years. Hope it helps make a difference.

  10. Canadian Couch Potato August 24, 2016 at 11:28 am

    @Raz: Thank you so much. Very pleased to see all of the donations trickling in from CCP readers.

  11. Anu August 24, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    This is awesome stuff, Dan.
    My portfolios are already streamlined thanks to Money Sense Magazine and this blog but I will be making a donation to this great cause.

  12. Robert M August 24, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Happy to make a personal donation to this great cause. rob…

  13. Alex Family August 24, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    What can I say other than thank you to Dan, Justin, Shannon and Amanda in their generosity in doing this to support our cause. I would like to add that this was 100 % their idea and were going to do it anonymously should that of been our wish.

    As clients of PWL Capital we are exceptionally satisfied with their diligence and the process they have guided us through to get us to where we are today with our finances.

    Finally, the generosity of the readers of this blog to our fundraising efforts even hours after posting the blog has been amazing and humbling. Thank you for contributing to research into improving the prognosis of Pediatric Cancer.


  14. Andre August 27, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Hi Dan,
    I am a supporter of the IWK on the East Coast but for all you have done to help me and my friends and family financially, I have gladly made a donation to this valuable cause. Thanks again Dan.

  15. Canadian Couch Potato August 28, 2016 at 9:23 am

    @Robert M and Andre: Many thanks for the donations!

  16. AZ August 29, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Any chance that you would accept me for your DIY service and donation to Alex’s fund?

  17. Canadian Couch Potato August 29, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    @AZ: Unfortunately, we are no longer accepting new applicants.

  18. AZ August 29, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Do you offer a flat fee consulting service, or is that considered the same as the DIY service?

  19. Canadian Couch Potato August 29, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    @AZ: Unfortunately, we are not able to offer flat-fee consultations.

  20. John Rock November 9, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Speaking of fixing your portfolio, I’m currently looking into rebelancing my portfolio with new investments only, no need to sell existing positions. I currently invest in VCN, VTI/VUN, VEA/VEF and VWO/VEE. As a rule, I buy all my VCN under my TFSA, the rest is better under my RRSP based on previous posts I’ve read here. However, to keep my portfolio balanced, I have to use TFSA cash to buy some of the other positions. Based on the ETFs above (mostly CAD versions), which ones should I consider, first to last, within my TFSA after VCN?

  21. Canadian Couch Potato November 10, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    @John Rock: It’s hard to say too much without knowing the details, but in general, you definitely should avoid US-listed in ETFs in the TFSA. After that, I would look for the lowest-yielding foreign equity ETFs for the TFSA. This should help you lower the impact for foreign withholding taxes (assuming you hold the remainder of your foreign equities in the RRSP and use US-listed ETFs there). Right now the lowest yield is from the US stocks (VUN).

  22. Oldie January 3, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    I have a large diversified Couch Potato ETF portfolio in a Non-Registered account that is a buy and hold, i.e. is not intended as a necessary source of current revenue, with US and Bonds represented by HXS and HBB respectively. Say my ideal allocation is 25% each Intermediate Term Bonds/US Equities/World Equities/Canadian Equities. Suppose that allocation has drifted so that Canadian is now 30%. Theoretically I should rebalance, but that would trigger capital gains and a taxation spike. Given that the rationale for rebalancing is to manage acceptable risk, rather than to lock in profits (which would not be a certainty anyway), and that the 25%/25%/25%/25% original formulation was merely a ball-park approximation of acceptable risk, would an acceptable management course be to let things ride? I have a hard time sorting out the pros and cons, partly because I have difficulty projecting the likely (worst and best case scenarios) after tax value in 20 years time. Would I be better off paying my tax now or later (assuming tax rules don’t change, and that tax hits now and in 20 years would be large enough to hit the highest tax brackets).

  23. John Rock January 3, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    @CCP: I just want to make sure I understand your reply since it’s maybe contradicting my previous approach to the TSFA. Besides avoiding US-listed ETFs in the TFSA, do you mean you should also AVOID lowest-yielding foreign equity ETFs in the TFSA, or should you FAVOR lowest-yielding foreign equity in the TFSA? Not sure which direction your comment is leaning towards and when I noticed I’ve been FAVORING VCN in my TFSA so far, I’m hoping I wasn’t doing it wrong all this time! Thanks!

  24. Canadian Couch Potato January 3, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    @John Rock: I always hesitate to give asset location advice because so often the answer is “it depends.” In this context, I assumed that the investor’s registered room was maxed out and he needed to hold some equities in a taxable account. In that case, it usually makes sense to hold the lower-yielding ETF in the taxable account (that is, US rather than international). And it may make even more sense to hold Canadian equities in the taxable account because they are taxed more favourably. But if all your portfolio is registered and the decision is just RRSP vs. TFSA, it may not make a difference, since both accounts are tax-sheltered.

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