Reader Case: Condos and Crypto

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It’s Friday, and you know what that means: Reader Case Time!

Today’s reader writes to us from our old stomping grounds of Toronto, and as with all things Toronto, her questions centre around that all-encompassing topic that every Torontonian is obsessed with: Housing. Also Bitcoin. Anyway, there’s a lot going on here, so let’s jump in! It’s going to be a fun one.

Hi Firecracker,

I have to say discovering you site was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It was right along the time I was waiting for my house to be closed and I was looking at where to invest my money. My original steps before I discover your site was to buy bitcoin with the profits from the sale of my house. You pretty much stopped me wth your blog from doing that.

I still invested some money in cryptocurrency. but it was only 10% not the 100% from the profit as I had originally planned.

I was lucky to be able to invest quite a bit while the stock was falling in December 2018. Buying ETF’s on Christmas Eve was a stroke of insane luck haha. So much so, I have $20,000 increase in my portfolio right now… not bad for 2 months of investing only.

Anyway back to the real reason why I am contacting you. I recently just found a trick for Canadians to make mortgage tax deductible like the Americans. I was wondering if you heard of the Smith Manoeuvre?

This guy have a really detailed explanation of it at his site

You see I always like getting some other people to pay for my expense for me in one way or another. When I had my house I was renting out the basement out on airbnb so I pretty much was able to put down alot of expenses down against the profit from airbnb income. The new rules for airbnb for Toronto suck (private airbnb units are illegal now)… and pretty much made my airbnb operations illegal, so I sold my house and move into my condo (which was on airbnb unit previously before too).

I really like the idea of slowly turning the mortgage I have on the condo into a tax deductible debt and slowing build wealth on it in the long term. Its very attractive to me as I plan for this investment to not be withdraw for at least 10 years.

Here”s some of my numbers if you want to help me math some shit up. I’ve never calculate this with the Smith Manoeuvre in mind, but I am thinking of using the dividends method to pay for the condo mortgage when I reach Fire.

Between my partner and I we make a combine income of $110,000 annually in 2018. This will change in 2019. Cause when I found you site, I started plotting tricks to reach FIRE even faster… saving money is too hard since we were kinda saving pretty aggressively already, so I went looking for a higher paying job, and found one that pays me additionally 16k more right now.

Cost of Living Monthly
Condo Fees/Property Taxes 737.49
Mortgage 937.6
Food 435.38
Car Payment 367.8
Eat Out 300
Car Insurance 234.16
Gas 125.19
Entertainment 80
Eat Out Breakfast 70
Cellphone x 2 140
Internet 61
Condo Insurance 56.87
Laundry 20
Total 3565.49

x 12 months 42,785.88

That’s our cost of living. After taxes, our income is 82,800. Car payment should drop off in 2021, as it should be paid off fully. Currently we are on 0% finance for the car payment.

I know you’re probably rolling your eyes at the eat out cost, but that is from my partner and I got to do this slowly with him to make FIRE happen. Eating out breakfast is his cost for the morning coffees from MacDonald on his way to work. It was not negotiable. I’m working on the eating out cost right now, but man sometimes its hard to cook dinner coming home from work.

Our total invested asset is $392,000 from the sale of the house and 20k profit from stocks last 2 months! Cypto currency asset is 56k, slowly going to 0 but who’s counting.

I brought the 2BR condo at an incredible deal for 279k in 2017. Condo fee includes everything, maintenance cost, all utilities(water, gas, electricity, sewage).

I figure I can hit FIRE within 8-10 years. If cryptocurrency can hit 500k profit, maybe even sooner! I am aiming for FAT FIRE, so I would leave the car payment cost in the cost of living in case we need that money for eating out 🙂

I religiously check you blog every week!

Your hard core fan,


Well, that’s a lot of stuff to parse, but I’m going to have to go ahead and agree with one statement you made:

I have to say discovering you site was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.

And I ain’t just tootin’ my own horn here. This next statement gave me heart palpitations just reading it:

My original steps before I discover your site was to buy bitcoin with the profits from the sale of my house. You pretty much stopped me wth your blog from doing that.

Yikes. OK, so here’s the thing. I’ve been monitoring the cryptocurrency space, and certain events in the past few months have caused me to completely lose confidence in the entire thing. My rant on that got so long that I’ve decided to split it off into its own article, which will be posted on Monday. But suffice it to say, I was intrigued by Bitcoin at one point and now I won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. Details on Monday, but to address our reader’s other questions…

What the Hell Is the Smith Maneuver?

Condos&Crypto alluded to something that I suspect most people aren’t familiar with, and that’s the Smith Maneuver. Let’s back up a bit and explain what that is.

Our American readers have, for a long time now, been able to deduct their mortgage interest from their taxable income. This makes mortgages cheaper, and is one of the most popular tax deductions available to the general public.

We Canadians don’t have that. Only interest for loans taken out to purchase investments like stocks and ETFs can be deducted. Loans taken out to buy residential real estate don’t count. The Smith Maneuver tried to address this.

How it works is you take out a readvancable mortgage on your property, which is basically a conventional mortgage tied to a home equity line of credit, or HELOC. As you pay down the mortgage, the amount you can withdraw from your HELOC increases by the same amount.

So what you do is as you make mortgage payments, you withdraw the same amount from your HELOC and then shovel that into the stock market. And because the HELOC loan was used to buy investments, qualifying it as an investment loan, this converts your non-deductible mortgage into a deductible investment loan, allowing you to save money on your taxes and generating a tax refund when you file!

So here’s what I don’t like about the Smith Maneuver:

Issue #1: You never pay off your mortgage

Under this system, every time you make a payment, you take it right back out. So basically, you never make any progress on paying it off. Over time, your mortgage balance just turns into a HELOC balance. If you’re OK with being in debt for your entire life, then go for it, but I don’t even like owing my friend $10, so for that reason alone I’m out.

Issue #2: HELOC’s can be called at any time

While mortgages are paid off gradually over a set period of time, HELOC’s are issued as demand loans, meaning the issuer can simply demand (see what they did there?) their money back at any time for any reason. If this happens, and you’ve put all that money into the stock market, you can be forced to sell your assets to pay back the loan, or they’ll take your house. Here’s a short list of people who aren’t OK with that: Me.

So yeah. I’ve read up on the Smith Maneuver before, but I’m not a fan. It sounds fancy, and on paper it might make sense, but being perpetually in debt to someone who can just call you up and force you to screw up your retirement portfolio is not my cup of tea.

Time to Math Shit Up

OK onto the main event: Mathing Shit Up!

To summarize, here are CondoFIRE’s top-level numbers.

Income$110,000 gross, $82,800 net
Expenses$3,565.49 monthly, $42,785.88 annually
DebtMortgage (unknown balance)
Net Worth$412k ETFs, $56k crypto (sigh)

We’re going to use Condos&Crypto’s current reported gross/net income rather than their projected one at their new job, since we don’t know for sure if it’s going to come true. That might make our projection conservative, but that’s fine.

We’re also going to include only the ETFs when looking at their investible net worth. We won’t touch the crypto for now, but we’ll deal with that in a bit.

So given these inputs, Condos&Crypto’s savings rate is $82,800 – $42,785.88 = $40,014.12, or 48%. That’s pretty damned good!

At their current spend rate, their FI target will be $42,785.88 x 25 = $1,069,647. So how long does it take?


A little over 9 years. So their estimate of 8-10 years to FIRE is pretty accurate!

Condos, Cars and Crypto, Oh My!

CondoFIRE thought I’d be rolling my eyes at her partner’s coffee habits, or their eating out, but to be honest who really cares about $70 a month? Cutting that out’s not going to move the needle, and if it’s such a “non-negotiable deal-breaker,” or whatever, fine. Just let him have his dang coffee.

And this may surprise you, but I’m not even rolling my eyes at the condo. Yes, the condo fees are a bit nuts, but add that together with the mortgage and insurance and we’re talking $1731.96 a month. In the downtown core, that’s not that unusual if you were to rent a similar unit. And at a total sticker price of $279k, it’s not even swamping their finances too badly.

What I do roll my eyes at is the car. If you live in a condo in Toronto, you don’t need a car. The downtown core is kind of like Manhattan. The roads are so congested during rush hour and it’s so well connected via public transit that it’s actually faster to take the subway than to drive, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper, too!

So if we were to eliminate the car related expenses and add 2 metropasses, that would bring their monthly expenses to $3,565.49 – $367.80 (car payment) – $234.16 (insurance) – $125.19 (gas) + $151.15 x 2 (metropass) = $3,140.64, or $37,687.68 per year.

This increases their savings rate to $82,800 – $37,687.68 = $45,112.32, or 54%.

And their FI target comes down from $1,069,647 to $37,687,68 x 25 = $942,192.

Oh and also…the crypto. Again, I am so not a fan of crypto, especially after recents events which I will elaborate on Monday, but suffice it to say that you should get rid of that $56k in crypto you’re currently holding ASAP.

So with these two changes, how does that affect Condos&Crypto’s time to retirement?


7 years. There, I just saved you two years.

Final Thoughts

There’s actually a lot in this email to digest, but those are the main points I wanted to focus on. Again, I have a LOT to say about crypto, but that’ll be the topic of Monday’s post.

Other than that, Condos&Crypto’s tax rate seems rather high. If that combined salary of $110,000 was relatively evenly split amongst two people, their average tax rate should be lower. And I’m not convinced they’re contributing anything into their RRSP’s, but I don’t have enough info to definitively prove that one way or another. If they don’t have RRSP’s, they should definitely set one up and start contributing. Lower taxes = more money for you = faster time to retirement!

What do you guys/gals think? Let’s hear it in the comments below!

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43 thoughts on “Reader Case: Condos and Crypto”

  1. Yet another great case! It strikes me that almost every case ends with “In about 7-10 years you can be FI.” I think this overarching message is very important. Consider for example a 55 year old could that is panicking about retiring. They have saved nothing. They stumble on the FIRE community and they notice that its a bunch of 20 and 30 somethings trying to retire by 40. One conclusion is “well I’m too late for this game,” but a second and better conclusion is, “Maybe I still have time to right this ship!”

    1. Yes, so come to my site “Boomer Revolution” and we can get started, ok it doesn’t exist, but it should.

      At 55, you should be making a lot more than you did at 22, so there is the potential to save. And if you could save 50% of your income, and catch a market cycle like the one we are in now, there is still the potential to average a 7-8% compound gain. But, you will have to incur more risk, and probably will still need another 10 years.

      I would love to see MR tackle a case like this…

      1. Not to mention that the more ‘seasoned’ folk likely have, or are at least much closer to, paying off their mortgage, removing one of the bigger line items from the equation.

    2. Good point! If it’s so often </= 10 years, that is a ray of hope for a lot of us! Agreed about cryptocurrency – get OUT of it, for your own sake. Will wait for Monday's post with baited breath to hear how much crypto is "lost" or missing…please do sell it off.
      Even if something is a fabulous idea (electronic currency), it still stands that the first go-round isn't necessarily the winner… umm, Napster, Iomega, Palm, Flooz, and – at the risk of sparking a riotous debate – the current CBD fad. CBD, at least in my area, is advertised like crazy, and every goof is opening a shop.
      If it makes you feel any better 🙂 I have a close family member that bought 90,000 shares of a start up at 50 cents/share. A cursory examination of their activities would suggest NO do not buy. I inherited 40,000 shares. The paper stock certificate makes a lovely placemat. Good luck!

    3. That’s a really good point. I think I’m going to look through my inbox for one from an older reader for the next one. That should be interesting.

  2. C’mon, getting rid of bitcoins? That’s just a small percentage of his networth. Ride with it and maybe it will turn you into a millionaire sooner,,,maybe not…just don’t consider it part of your networth and you’ll be fine.
    Just give luck a chance if you can afford.

  3. You’ve been away from Toronto too long 😉 A two bedroom in the downtown core rents for 2700-3000/month now. It’s insane. They should hold on to their cheap condo forever.

    1. It was like that when I left too. That’s why I lived in Greektown. Plus I could eat baklava and gelato every day!

      Good times, good times.

  4. I’m looking forward to your post on Monday! I have been thinking of putting a small percentage of my portfolio into crypto lately but haven’t done enough research on it so I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

    1. I am not an investment advisor, but you need to do your research carefully. Crypto is a sinking ship largely buoyed by fraudulent activity from most of the leading exchanges, who engage in traditionally regulated activities including wash trading, front-running, “painting the tape”, etc.

      Stay far, far away.

  5. Crypto, Gold, Tulip bulbs, or Marijuana – why not just take a stack of hundred dollars bills and burn them… or go to Vegas.

    Look, you wanna get rich quick, fill your boots, 99% of the time you will lose it all. I did Nortel, I did Gold, I did Tech companies, and except for my investment in Berkshire none of my picks came close to a simple S&P etf.

    Oh, sorry to tell you, the Smith Maneuver is considered illegal in Canada, which may explain why HELOC rules changed in the last couple of years. You now need 20% into the equity of your home to access a HELOC, and can only access 65% of that can be used to invest in equities. Tax avoidance is illegal in Canada, and if the CRA thinks your avoiding tax, they will nail you.

    Read up on it and get a good advisor, you can use a HELOC to invest in the market, no problem there, but if your paying your mortgage, and pulling the exact same amount out again of a HELOC to invest… do so at your own risk, it could be deemed tax avoidance.


    1. Interesting read, though it seems the author had a bit of a personal beef that might have made him a bit biased, but still interesting.

      Anyway, legalities aside, I just don’t like having such a portion of my portfolio being under the control of some pencil pushing loan officer. My strategy for balancing home equity with your investment portfolio is simply to keep your home price as low as possible (like 0, ideally).

  6. That Smith Maneuver is stupid. In addition to the reasons you cited, here’s another viewpoint: Compound interest — your friend when saving, your enemy when borrowing.
    On a 30 year mortgage, you are paying just over 74% of your early payments in interest. It’s a great deal for your banker, and a lousy deal for you. And it’s very low risk for the banker. Any squiggle in your credit rating, or unemployment rises, they just call the note and take the house if you can’t liquidate the note.
    Where do folks come up with a notion like this?

  7. We call it debt recycling here with a LOC in Australia and works quite well. Usually pay off your house in 5-10 years doing it this way.

    With interest rates for a mortgage quite low and average returns in the stock market significantly higher make sense to use leverage from a mortgage interest rate rather than a margin loan which is significantly higher.

    Banks aren’t likely to call it in because you can only redraw to what is considered a safe LVR anyway & as long as you can service the loan they are happy to take the interest payments.

    Gives people the tax deduction for the mortgage, allows you to build a portfolio of shares @ a much faster rate & isn’t considered tax avoidance. Because you’re still paying your taxes its just considered tax minimalisation which is 100% legal. As the great Kerry Packer said, “If anyone isn’t trying to minimise their tax they need their head read. Because as a government I dont think you are spending it that well that we should be donating extra”.

    Love the blog and love the travel guides. Hopefully see you guys on one of our holidays or maybe a Chautauqua someday in the future.

    1. Debt recycling is a much better term than Smith Maneuver. Who is this Smith person, and how did he get a Maneuver named after him? Maybe he’s Heimlich’s lesser known, nerdier brother.

      And yes, please do come to a Chautauqua one of these days. We’d love to have you 🙂

  8. Wanderer is it just this case or do you never account for the taxes that they will have to pay to live off the investments? Sure might be low depending on how they split income but likely there will be something.

    I do find overall these case studies are overly simplistic. Of course you are not a Financial Planner nor are you being paid. But if you want the case study to be realistic mention something about taxes, health care – even in Canada, Dental, Drugs etc – there will be some costs. There are probably a few other minor things missing from these – like clothes – should be minimal but you do need shoes every once in while. Others, travel, entertainment, charitable donations for some people, gifts.

    I could go on and you running a calculation on what they give you but some food for thought to make your case studies more realistic.

    1. Taxes? What taxes? If you structure your portfolio properly, your tax bill drops to 0. And we should know, cause that’s what we did.

      As for health care, we covered that here.

      As for the rest of the itemized costs, those are all included in the reader’s current living costs which we use to calculate their FI number. Whatever they’re spending on food, cable, clothing, insurance, etc. now, they’ll continue to be able to support that in retirement because of the 4% rule.

    2. The problem with this–and I’ve seen this mentioned in the comments before on the Reader Cases–is that Wanderer can only work with the numbers he’s given. Otherwise, he’s making up numbers and doing an analysis that has no bearing on the situation of the person asking for a Reader Case.

      If I say I’m single with no children, it doesn’t help me if Wanderer assumes I’m going to want kids in five years and also I’m going to start donating to charity just because.

      While I see what you and many of the others who’ve brought this up before are saying, Wanderer assuming expenses that were never disclosed and making up numbers doesn’t make a Reader Case’s calculation more realistic.

      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  9. If you read some of the other FIRE websites you’ll see much bandwidth used up discussing paying off your dwelling vs. keeping it mortgaged and the equity invested in the market. Using historic market returns the vast majority of Monte Carlo simulations demonstrate that this strategy has about a 95% probability of yielding a personal balance sheet with more wealth. I intellectually accept this and that equity just sitting in personal real estate is “dead” in terms of returns except upon sale.

    That said I could not sleep at night knowing our casa was mortgaged to the hilt. That’s part of personal finances, knowing what does and does not feel right for yourself, even if it doesn’t yield the biggest possible return.

    Kudos to CondoFIRE for having 400k in investments given their global financial picture. Keep up the great work.

    1. Me too. I never liked the Smith Maneuver despite it’s stastical likelihood of success, because it just gives away too much control over my portfolio to some pencil pushing loan officer.

      My solution was far simpler: Don’t lock up ANY equity in real estate and put it 100% into your investment portfolio 🙂

      1. Hah! Well we all know the aversion you two have to home ownership! 😉

        Again, part of personal finances and 100% valid. We did our own version of geographic arbitrage and moved from southern Ontario to a part of the US where quality of life is very high, salaries in our lines of work are excellent, and we bought our dream house in a beautiful location for less than some tear downs I’ve seen for sale in GTA. While we love to travel at heart we’re home bodies and would not be happy living the nomadic lives you two do. Whichever choices it’s all about rational financial planning.

        Vive la difference!

  10. Crypto? Not me, I’m going 100% lottery tickets and scratch cards. I’m going to leverage this investment with cash from all my credit cards, HELOC, and payday loan shops at bargain rates of just 22%.

    I did the math, and I only need to win big once! Early retirement here I come, in fact I’m not going to wait, I’m resigning from my job right now via Twitter “FU big company with your fancy profit sharing scheme and stodgy DB pension plan, I quit!”.

    1. I can’t wait to see your popular personal finance blog

      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

      1. I’ve had a rethink of my strategy.

        I’m going to seek out all lottery ticket vendors with a demonstrated record of outperforming other vendors, you know, where there’s a sign outside the store that say’s “last week’s $500,000 lottery ticket sold here”. That way I know I’m only buying from a vendor with a great past record. Then I’m going to globally diversify my ticket investment by buying from only the market beating vendors in Canada, the US, and Europe.

        Brilliant eh!

  11. Your statement : “Issue #2: HELOC’s can be called at any time” is fatuous.

    As long as the HELOC is being serviced properly (i.e payments made on time) there is no way in creation the HELOC will be called – the last thing the bank wants is to own your real estate; it is in the business of loaning money not owning real estate.

    The bank will bend over backwards to avoid foreclosing – MAJOR PITA for them.

    Only if you are a total screw up will this have even a remote chance of happening.
    You service the loan properly and all stays copacetic.

    I’ve been using my HELOC (well into 6 digits) for years to invest (mainly in stable income producing investments) and I pick up the delta between income and interest cost literally for the effort of signing a couple of documents. Yes there is some risk but hell may freeze over too. This is one method of utilizing the equity in paid off real estate.

    1. I had to look up fatuous to learn it meant “silly or pointless.” I learned a new word today!

      I’ve thought about using a HELOC in a SM portfolio to only buy fixed income since that’s likely to go up in an economic downturn, which is the situation where my loan might get called, but I found that HELOC interest rates were way higher than what I could make on fixed income. What income producing assets are you using?

      1. Glad I expanded your vocabulary.

        I use an MIC – Romspen in particular – with has generated 7-9% (varies a bit) over the last 25+yrs – no capital appreciation just income but steady as all hell.I’ve also used high yield stocks very occasionally. HELOC costs have been 2.2-3.3 % – delta is mine.

        Tell me, how do you do get a HELOC when you steadfastly denounce home ownership? and do not own any, since it is an acronym for Home Equity Line Of Credit.

      2. Wanderer – really curious how you would gotten/used a HELOC without real estate?

        ps. I expanded your vocabulary and answered your question 🙂

  12. Buying crypto is fine – if you’re okay with losing it all. So yeah…fill yer boots up with the amount you’re okay with losing! That way you can be like one of my friends who finds it only amusing (and not heart-attack inducing) when the price swings drastically.

    As for me, I’m horribly risk adverse. So I’m sticking with the usual boring (but reliable) suspects – index etfs, bonds, and preferred shares. They’ve served me well so far!

  13. If you personally asked me, I think the cost of the condo is way overpriced because you can use that money to purchase a four bedroom house with 3 1/2 baths. That’s just my personal opinion although, I know many people will object to what I’m saying.

    Your thoughts on this? 🙂

      1. Between a few places. I’m in the market for something cozy & snug. Sorta like a ugh…tucked away cubby hole with a secret tunnel (sike). L 😛 L

  14. I´m getting a boner just imagining what will be said in the ¨crypto¨ post this monday. Just like Buffet feeling dumb about Amazon, so much fake-Millenials aka. proto.boomers will eventually accept their defeat at the inevitable victory of sound money. Bitcoin.

  15. Forget the metropasses, at least one of the two should just get a comfortable pair of runners and/or a bike. Way faster, cheaper, and generally more comfortable than either driving or taking overcrowded transit downtown. Just layer properly and leave a pair of dress shoes at the office to change into, and you’re done.

  16. I’m in my late 40s and neck deep in child related costs…sports, piano lessons, Kumon, clothes, shoes, RESPs…aagggh!

    While it’s encouraging to read how many of you have been able to accumulate so much wealth in a short period of time, I feel like adding kids into your financial equation will take a significant bite out of getting towards your FIRE goals or eat significantly into your savings if you’re relying entirely on passive income.

    Any examples of people getting into this late in the game and with financial anchors (aka children)?

  17. Can you please comment on Vanguards asset allocation ETFs. Following your blog I invested in the couch potato Individual ETFs, so should I just switch to allocation ETFs since it does all the re-balancing for you ?

  18. Hi folks. Quite a bit of chatter on The Smith Manoeuvre here. At you can get more info from the source (and learn why it’s called The Smith Manoeuvre) – there’s a lot of misinformation out there in the world. It’s not for everyone, but it is for those that are comfortable with tax deductible debt.

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