Derek Foster Interview – Becoming a Millionaire with Simple Investment Strategies

Derek FosterDerek Foster needs no introduction! He quit the rat race at 34 and became a millionaire using simple investment strategies.  He shared his unique approach in his five National Bestselling Books, including [earnist_link ref=”stop-working-heres-how-you-can” id=”12655″]STOP WORKING: Here’s How You Can[/earnist_link], and [earnist_link ref=”the-idiot-millionaire” id=”12654″]The Idiot Millionaire[/earnist_link].

Derek also offers regular financial tips in Canadian MoneySaver Magazine and he has been featured in various media across Canada.  When not writing or giving public speaking presentations about investing, Derek spends his time with his wife and five children (which can be quite a handful). Love him or leave him, Derek Foster is an inspiration to many investors using a dividend-focused strategy to fund their (hopefully early) retirement.

[earnist ref=”the-lazy-investor” id=”12656″]

Dividend Ninja:
Hi Derek, I wanted to say thanks very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to come and visit the Dividend Ninja. I know many of my readers, as well as divided investors whom you’ve inspired, will really enjoy this interview. It’s a real pleasure, so thanks again!

Thank you as well, and cool name for the website by the way!

Dividend Ninja:
Thanks Derek! You mention to readers you are Canada’s youngest retiree at 34. Even if you started investing in your early 20’s, and ate nothing but Mr. Noodle for days on end, or didn’t feed your kids, how did you do it?

When I started I was a cheap kid! You know how kids got their allowance and they would run off and get candy for $2 bucks or whatever. Well, I saved. I remember when I was 10 or 12 and I got my first thousand dollars – I was really proud I saved that up. As a young kid, I had a propensity for saving. When I was at university I had about $15K or something, but once I graduated I was very focused on saving.

But to be honest, and this is not an approach I would recommend most people do, but I also used margin. The 1990s were a phenomenal time to be in U.S. stocks, and I did very well. If I was to take a time machine and go back, I wouldn’t have taken on that risk.

Dividend Ninja:
So this is also a good time for Canadians to be buying U.S. Stocks, isn’t it? Especially with the Canadian Dollar doing so well. I just piled up on McDonald’s at $75 and wishing I bought JNJ as well. What are your favorite U.S. Stocks, and which ones would you definitely avoid?

I’m not a very smart guy, so I look for simple things, something I can understand. Things like Colgate Toothpaste, Coca-Cola, JNJ, things that I can see touch and feel. So those are the stocks I gravitate towards.  I would totally avoid anything that’s dependent on the economy. Airline stocks are the worst I can think of. You know like automotive stocks are terrible, I mean they had to be recently bailed out of bankruptcy with government money. And to be honest I’m a technological idiot, so anything technology based I don’t touch. I might miss out on some opportunities, but so be it – I just don’t go there.

But yes I agree with you wholeheartedly 100%, that U.S. Stocks have been a wonderful place to invest in for a while because our dollar is so strong. However, I did my buying a while ago, and I’m just finding the prices are creeping up a bit. But yes there’s been huge and phenomenal opportunities in U.S. Stocks, until recently.  If you do the comparison on some of those stocks, you can pick them up cheaper than the March 2009 lows, in Canadian Dollar terms I mean.

Dividend Ninja:
That’s an interesting thought, I never looked at it that way. It’s like getting a 5% discount isn’t it?

Absolutely! I bought more shares of Wal-Mart recently, and it’s cheaper if not similarly priced to what it was two years ago in March 2009. JNJ was cheaper, and a whole bunch of them.

Dividend Ninja:
Derek, I just finished perusing your recent article in Canadian MoneySaver, “Inflation is coming -What’s your best investment.”  You discuss the concept of Pricing Power. Can you elaborate on that point for readers who aren’t familiar with the Jargon? And why would those stocks would be good investments in an inflationary economy?

Pricing Power allows you to increase your prices with at least the rate of inflation, preferably even more. So certain products have pricing power and certain products don’t. So again, this comes back to the brand idea to a large extent, or something that people require. So as Warren Buffet describes – something with an economic moat of some sort.

A perfect example is Coca-Cola because it’s a product that really hasn’t changed over time. So if you’ve ever seen those old retro-signs where it says “Drink Coca-Cola 5¢”, well a Coke was $.05 cents. Now a Coke is $1.50, so over the long term they’ve definitely kept up or more than kept up with inflation.

Dividend Ninja:
Absolutely! But if people are going to have less purchasing power with inflation, then why would consumer staples be better stocks?

I think over the long-term wages tend to keep up with inflation. So people can still buy as many products and services. And the things they buy methodically, they buy if they need it. You don’t really give much thought to getting up and brushing your teeth in the morning, but you do it. If you’re in the supermarket, and you see a tube of toothpaste you recognize that is $1.29 and another brand that is $0.89 cents, people will dig a little deeper and afford the extra $0.40 cents, because their teeth are so important to them.

Dividend Ninja:
That leads me into your latest book “The Idiot Millionaire.” I noticed you shifted your holdings in your Portfolio Update chapter from higher paying dividend stocks and income trusts to larger cap and lower dividend yield companies.

Is part of that due to the recent conversion of Income Trusts into corporations, or just that the big dividend payers are safer? Or are you going for dividend growth instead of higher yield?

OK, there’s a couple of factors here. Number one to be as honest as possible was a bad move on my part to a point. At the time I was trying to shift out and shift back into the market at a better price.

But the big thing for me is that when I first stopped working and created my portfolio to stop working 5 or 6 years ago, I needed the dividend income to live. I also needed the higher yielding securities. And of course the income tax rules at that time for Income Trusts. The tax rules for the Income Trusts have changed now. I needed those higher-yielding vehicles in order to have a reasonable retirement income, for the Stop Working strategy.

Well now quite honestly, I mean I’ve written five books. They are all best sellers and I’ve made a few bucks doing it. So from a tax perspective it makes a lot more sense for me to be perfectly content with a much lower dividend yield, with more dividend growth over time. That strategy simply makes more sense for investors who have other sources of income.

Dividend Ninja:
So the question is, why bother going for high-yield in the first place? Why not just buy the big dividend blue-chips to begin with? Do you think that would have been a better strategy from the start, and that you would have had more portfolio growth?

That’s a really difficult question to answer because it really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. I’m a lazy guy (laughing) and I wanted to stop working and have the freedom as soon as possible. And that would have not been achievable by buying the companies with the lower dividend yield, even though they did have more growth.

Monetarily I’m not sure, because many of the income trusts I bought in the very late 1990s. If you recall everyone was enamored with tech stocks at the time. And Nortel’s market capitalization, if you can believe, was bigger than the major 5 banks in Canada. It was $200 billion dollars or something ridiculous, and people were chasing JDS Uniphase, and there was a whole bunch of the dot-com companies as you know. And during that time you could pick up income trusts for incredibly cheap prices. So I did reasonably well on those.

Dividend Ninja:
That really leads into my next point about Nortel and those kinds of stocks. You are always going to have companies like that in the index. Is that your main reason why you’re not a fan of index investing?

That’s a big part of it, of course, because certain companies are going to be overweighted. And especially in the Canadian Index, because we don’t have the same depth as the U.S. market. You know we have financial services, resources like oil and gas, and a splattering of other things. But it’s really tilted in certain industries by doing the indexing, and yeah you’ll find the hot companies monopolize the index. I think Nortel at some point was 30% of the index, or something like that, which to me is a complete overweighting obviously.

And the second reason is a habit. I tend to be a creature of habit, and I don’t change very quickly. I started buying stocks in my 20’s and that’s what I’ve been doing for 15 or 20 years. You know “ if it’s not  broke don’t fix it.” Buying individual stocks works pretty well for me. So I stick to it 🙂

Dividend Ninja:
Derek in the previous half of the interview, I asked you about index investing. Don’t you think with a 100% dividend portfolio, which is really a 100% equity portfolio, you’re taking a risk with that?

No, it depends on how you define risk. Volatility risk, absolutely!  Sure if I’m going to look at my statements every day, this is up and that is down, then yes in that sense there is a degree of risk.  But in my opinion, the biggest risk an investor faces longer term is inflation. And bonds just don’t protect you from that either, especially now with yields being as low as they are going to go.  I would rather be a 100% in equities without a doubt, and good quality equities at that.

And there are reams of empirical data. I mean I understand the whole asset allocation model, but look at all the data – stocks have outperformed over the long term. And I think good quality stocks outperform even more.

Dividend Ninja:
And 2008 and 2009 was certainly an exceptional time period for any investor, no matter what you invested in. Bonds did save my hide in 2009. The 4% or 5% return I was making was not huge, but it certainly gave me a cushion.

Yeah, I absolutely agree with you. But let’s address that for a minute because I think that’s a really good point. A lot of people who said they were in bonds at that time did outperform, and that’s absolutely true. I just don’t think you can take a snapshot of 6 months, or a one year period, and say that proves the theory. If you look at it over the last decade, or the last twenty years, or the 20th century – stocks have still done better.

Dividend Ninja:
Derek, I know a lot of dividend investors don’t worry about falling share prices in market downturns, mainly because they will still earn their dividend income. However, in the 2008 and 2009 financial crisis, it didn’t work out that way for U.S. investors.

Many U.S. companies cut their dividends while their share prices collapsed. Take GE, Pfizer, and the U.S. Banks for example, all of which slashed their dividends (after raising them for years). Granted 2008 and 2009 was an exceptional time period. But if you are relying on dividend income from your stocks, then dividend cuts can really impact your bottom line. We were lucky in Canada, but that might not always be the case. Your thoughts?

Yes, you’re absolutely right. That’s one of the bigger lessons I learned from the financial crisis. I’m now a little more hesitant on financial companies than I was before the crash. But essentially I’m more hesitant on these financial companies because they do use this incredible amount of leverage. With the exception of Pfizer which fell off the patent cliff, if you trace GE back the trouble they ran into was their financial arm. Even the Canadian banks use leverage and the U.S. Banks of course.

In my own personal situation, I do have other sources of income. So if I was 100% reliant on dividend income portfolio, I’m not sure, but I’d still probably be 100% in dividend stocks. I think if you ignore the banks with their leverage, the chances of a Coca-Cola cutting its dividend, or a JNJ, or a Colgate or whatever is much lower, as all of them actually raised their dividends in 2008-2009.

I highlighted financial company risks (and also risks to companies which rely on patents) on pages 35-38 of my most recent book, [earnist_link ref=”the-idiot-millionaire” id=”12654″]The Idiot Millionaire[/earnist_link].  The examples you give are either financial companies or in the case of Pfizer (they fell off a patent cliff). During the same time, many excellent companies actually increased their dividends.

Dividend Ninja:
Derek, for me the Dividend Payout Ratio is one of my most important key criteria for a stock. What ratio or screening criteria do you think are the most important for dividend investors to consider?

First of all, I look for high-quality stocks that have a competitive advantage, or an economic moat. So my first screen:  Is this a quality company that is recession proof? Is it a product that people have brand loyalty to? Is it a product where somebody can’t come in and take away their business?

After that screen is cleared I’m then looking at the dividend history. Have the dividends gone up regularly? Have the earnings gone up regularly? To me, that is an absolute key, that consistent increase.

From there, is it trading somewhat historically cheaply? You’re not going to get these super quality companies at super-cheap, but I mean reasonably cheap.

Dividend Ninja:
Derek, back in February 2009 as almost everyone knows you sold all your stocks. I know you mentioned you were implementing a put-option strategy to pick up the stocks back at a lower price. Many writers and investors felt that you simply sold in a panic. I know you received an enormous amount of flack for that. Can you comment on that?

I sold partly because I wanted to buy back more cheaply via put options, then the markets soared faster than anyone expected. The interesting thing is that I was able to buy back many stocks at prices cheaper than I sold, in many cases due to currency swings with the Loonie soaring as well – but that was pure luck for me!

In hindsight, I made some mistakes. I’ve made lots of mistakes in the past, and I can guarantee that I will make more in the future. This is the reason I chose the title of “[earnist_link ref=”the-idiot-millionaire” id=”12654″]The Idiot Millionaire[/earnist_link]” in my latest book. The reality is that if you choose to invest, you will make mistakes at times.

Even Warren Buffett, who’s 1000 times smarter than me, makes mistakes at times. But over time, if you stick to quality stocks and keep your expenses low – the whole thing is rigged in you’re favor. So I admit I am a complete idiot at times, but I also have a new worth comfortably over $1 million. So investing has been pretty good to me!

Dividend Ninja:
Looking back on that whole experience, how do you think that changed your investment strategy?

What I’ve realized and I alluded to it earlier, is that it is very hard to know what’s on the balance sheet of financial companies. You know this number of mortgages outstanding, and all rated Triple AAA, but how trustworthy is that? So I’m gravitating even more towards the certainty.

I mean I had some extra money to invest recently, and I noticed even Warren Buffet was backing up the truck on Wells Fargo. You know I looked at it, and I said I don’t want it. It’s kinda like the forest fire after there’s been a forest fire, pretty safe to bet there isn’t going to be another one. But I just don’t want to buy another black box. You know that’s the biggest lesson I learned.

Dividend Ninja:
You know I could have bought Manulife Financial for $12 last year, but for the same reasons, you mentioned I just didn’t go there, even though it looked cheap.

So looking back on 2008 and 2009, what advice would you now give to investors if we have another market downturn?

I think you have to go with the quality companies. I have become even more stringent on quality than I used to be. So barring the Earth colliding with the Moon or something, I mean people are still going to brush their teeth, drink Coca-Cola, or shop at Wal-Mart. So I think if you build the portfolio with those super high-quality firms, it can weather the downturns reasonably well. In fact, if stock prices plummet, most of these companies are continually buying back their own shares. So it’s like a positive for them as well.

Dividend Ninja:
So Derek, more importantly, can we expect another book from you in the near future?

I am working on one right now, but with Summer coming and we’re off camping for a month or so. Perhaps it will be completed this fall.

Dividend Ninja:
The good and prudent advice in the interviews Derek! Thanks so much for taking the time for this. It’s been a real pleasure on my part! 🙂

Thanks for the interview – take care!

[earnist ref=”the-idiot-millionaire” id=”12654″]
Derek Foster’s Books

Derek Foster is the author of five National Bestselling Books:

  • [earnist_link ref=”stop-working-heres-how-you-can” id=”12655″]STOP WORKING: Here’s How You Can![/earnist_link]
  • [earnist_link ref=”the-lazy-investor” id=”12656″]The Lazy Investor: Start with $50 and no Investment Knowledge[/earnist_link]
  • Money for Nothing: And You Stocks for FREE
  • [earnist_link ref=”stop-working-too-you-still-can” id=”12657″]STOP WORKING Too: You Still Can![/earnist_link]
  • [earnist_link ref=”the-idiot-millionaire” id=”12654″]The Idiot Millionaire[/earnist_link]

buy now

16 thoughts on “Derek Foster Interview – Becoming a Millionaire with Simple Investment Strategies”

  1. Great interview Ninja,

    It sounds like Derek has done really well. What line of work was he in before he retired? To retire at such a young age with five kids is remarkable. Well done Derek! I once borrowed money to invest, in the mid 90s. I bought the Dogs of the Dow with $30,000 that I borrowed from my father-in-law, after he took out a line of credit on his apartment…so I could invest the money. Generous of him, wasn’t it? I got lucky as well. And I’m glad I did. That $30,000 was greater than my take-home salary as a teacher on Vancouver Island. And like Derek, I wouldn’t do it again.

  2. Great interview Ninja,

    It sounds like Derek has done really well. What line of work was he in before he retired? To retire at such a young age with five kids is remarkable. Well done Derek! I once borrowed money to invest, in the mid 90s. I bought the Dogs of the Dow with $30,000 that I borrowed from my father-in-law, after he took out a line of credit on his apartment…so I could invest the money. Generous of him, wasn’t it? I got lucky as well. And I’m glad I did. That $30,000 was greater than my take-home salary as a teacher on Vancouver Island. And like Derek, I wouldn’t do it again.

  3. Andrew,

    I am curious if you did well with your investment and what impact that has had on your current net worth.

    Although I am not advocating borrowing to invest, it seems to have had a major benefit for Dereck and allowed him to accomplish things that wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. Perhaps you are in a similar situation. Both of you have written books due to your net worth.



  4. Hey James,

    No, borrowing to invest made me a few dollars, but not many. It was pure luck, for sure, but I turned that borrowed $30,000 into about $50,000. My profit was about $20,000, and then I folded up shop and never borrowed to invest again. That $30,000 was an extraordinary amount of money for me to borrow at the time. It exceeded by annual net income as a school teacher. And without outside help (my father in law’s help) I never would have been able to secure that kind of line of credit in the first place. I didn’t have enough in collateral resources. My investment success came the old fashioned way: I started investing when I was 19; I was cheap; and my salary took on some extra juice when I moved to Asia. I’m 41 today. And I don’t have enough to retire yet, although my passive income from dividends and interest is about $45,000 a year, so it could be done, I suppose.

    For Derek to have retired when he did, he would have needed an extraordinarily large salary (pre-retirement) or some kind of very impressive collateral, in order to borrow enough money to make it worthwhile. I’d love to hear that part of his story, because I have to admit, it would be pretty exciting to live vicariously through it. Which of his books takes you through that part of his story? I haven’t read any of his books, but that one would be a great read. Thanks again for the interview Ninja! It’s always inspiring to read about someone who has done so well.

  5. Great article, and I’m definitely looking forward to part 2. I know there are a lot of Derek Foster haters out there that think he never could have stayed retired without the book sales, but hey..give a guy credit when credit is due. Good for him!

    Andrew Hallam,

    From my memory, and this is pure memory, Derek never made much money and he traveled pretty extensively. I do remember reading somewhere that he never made over $40,000 CAD. Not chump change, but very middle-class if I’m right. I believe he traveled to Asia and taught ESL. I could be wrong, so please don’t quote me. From my understanding, his margin bet on Altria was a make or break type investment, and it made him. I think living frugally on a middle-class income and maximizing investments monthly can lead to early retirement, as I’ll be living proof of it. But Derek did have a dash of luck, which he certainly isn’t trying to hide or be bashful about. He is honest.

    Thanks Ninja!

  6. Well done Derek!

    Alluding to Dividend Mantra’s suggestion that Derek has some detractors, I suppose I can respond with this:

    I was once interviewed in that Me & My Money piece for the Globe and Mail, and I was surprised how caustic anonymous people can be. I had investment success, yeah, but that didn’t make me a liar or a bad guy. That was an interesting peak into human nature, and something that Derek has probably experienced.

    I’m more jealous of the guy who lives until he’s 90, while smoking and drinking (while I get cancer at 37, living a clean lifestyle). But I certainly don’t “hate” those guys or moan about them. That’s life. Good for you Derek! And I hope you keep selling plenty of books, and keep smiling, while living a long, healthy life.

  7. @Dividend Mantra @Sunny

    My pleasure! I really enjoyed interviewing Derek, he was very open and candid, and all questions were fair game. The bottom line is all investors make mistakes at some point, and hit lucky streaks as well. You guys will really enjoy Part-2 🙂

    I hear you about the Me & Money piece. I sure noticed a lot of nasty comments towards people in that column LOL.

  8. Andrew,

    Thanks for the reply. Just to clarify, I wasn’t trying to take anything away from Derek for his accomplishments. I was just curious the impact that his and your margin bets/borrowing to invest had on your porfolios.

    A friend of mine passed me a few of his books beofore I had any investments and they did a good job of inspiring me to become more frugal. The books, although very simple, read like candy. However, luckily I am a naturally skeptical person and took his story with a gain of salt and used a couple fincial calculators before setting off on any journey.

    If there is any criticism of Derek, it is that he makes it seem to easy and he was not clear about the details of his journey.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading your book Andrew and I appreciate the reply. Good luck on your journey.


  9. Will Derek talk about his selling during the 08-09 crash? Was he able to get back in, before the end of it? I know he got a lot of flac about it.

  10. Hey guys,

    Sorry, I’ve been busy the last couple of days, so I’d like to “drop in”…

    There are two really big factors to me being able to retire so young…

    First, I am incredibly frugal. By this I mean we are North America are incredibly wasteful. I prioritize free time over useless trinkets. I will spend when it makes sense, but for example, I STILL don’t own a cell phone – because I don’t need one…

    Second, investing in the 90s was GREAT and I also used leverage to a point (although I am VERY conservative in this regard now). My “big bet” that everyone refers to was explained in detail in an interview I had with Moneysense Magazine about 5-6 years ago – with Phillip Morris (which became Altria).

    This was a VERY rare opportunity, but the tobacco industry had lost their first case EVER to a sick smoker and everyone was worried about the implications and the stocks got HAMMERED. But with consumer companies (not tech stocks), it is VERY rare for the market leader to lose their top spot. I mean Pepsi has been taking a run at Coke for decades to no avail…but with Tobacco, Phillip Morris (Marlboro) took the top spot from RJ Reynolds (Winston, Camel) in the early 1980s. With cigarettes, people usually start in their teens and stick to one brand – so this was HUGE. The Surgeon General Warning came out in the 1960s – when Marlboro’s market share was quite low, but this warning greatly reduced the potential liability to tobacco companies as the warning was right on the pack. So Philip Morris had MUCH younger customers who had less argument for going to court (as the warning was on the pack) and the market share was growing by leaps and bounds (also internationally) while companies were increasing prices yearly and boosting profits massively while the stock traded at a P/E of around 10-11 with an almost 6% GROWING dividend.

    I had 60K net worth at the time (I was 25) and I borrowed on margin and bought almost 200K in stock (stupid in hindsight). But once the market digested all the facts, the stock rose 30% within 6 months or so, and I cashed out with my net worth having doubled…

    I also used leverage (although much more sparingly) in the late 1990s when everyone wanted hi-tech companies and income trusts (pipelines and electricity) and REITS were paying 10-13%. I did not take a rocket scientist to understand that borrowing at 7% and earning over 10% (tax-advantaged) was a good deal. The incredible rise of prices after hi-tech imploded was icing on the cake…

    I am not a huge fan of margin borrowing now (because of risks), but I evolved over time. If I would have invested like I do now, I would not have reached the same point quite so quickly, but I also would have avoided some other stupid moves I made…so perhaps I would have stopped working at 38 or 40 instead of 34…but that again is also because I am pretty frugal…

    If anyone has any more questions….feel free.

    Derek Foster (The Idiot Millionaire)

  11. @Derek Foster
    Thanx for posting 🙂

    Thanx for contributing to the discussion.

    Yes, I asked Derek about this in the second half of the interview. He explains it in detail.

  12. Great interview Ninja!

    Derek, great stuff. I think you’ve found a new passion and hobby, making the rounds of the Canadian blogosphere and getting interviewed by bloggers!

    “I’m not a very smart guy, so I look for simple things, something I can understand.”

    I dunno about that one. You’re pretty modest – which is good, but I wouldn’t take it that far 🙂 I’d like to believe you are smart enough to a) save and invest like few others can and b) invest very wisely and make many decisions few others could. You don’t get to where you are, as an investor, without some luck but also some great know-how.

    You and Mr. Hallam have alot in common in that regard 🙂

    While I’ve heard it before, even from my interview with you in fact, I continue to enjoy reading about your take on recession-proof companies like Coca-Cola. It just makes sense – to invest in these types of companies. You never let these companies go so long as dividends are paid and are increasing over time. Nothing not to love there.

    Continued success with the books, speaking engagements and any other investing endeavours Derek. Hope to catch up with you later this summer.

    Ninja, looking forward to Post #2! 🙂


  13. Derek,

    Great comments! I appreciate and applaud your frugality. I’m also a very frugal investor and invest at least 50% of my net income every month, and shooting for 70% within three years. I also live without a cell phone, without cable television, and am eventually going to live car-free. Your explanation was crystal clear in exactly what you did, how you did it, and why you did it…and why it wouldn’t apply today. Thanks again for your contribution to the community. Good luck with your continued successes! Take care.

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