How to Start Investing in Your Canadian Actors’ Equity Group RRSP

How to Start Investing in Your Canadian Actors’ Equity Group RRSP

The following is a guest post by Dr. John Robertson

Having access to a group RRSP plan can be confusing: so many forms and options and none of it looks optimal. But it’s often automatic and the contributions come off your pay invisibly (like taxes), which makes them a great way to get over behavioural hurdles and get investing for the future.

Chris asked me to look specifically at the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association group RRSP plan. The Association will take at least 6% of your performance earnings and ensure that it gets put away in the group RRSP plan: forced, automatic savings.

Not Optimal

Now for many artists, you may go through a TFSA vs RRSP decision guide and find that the TFSA may work better in your situation. Or find that while the fees are not super-high, you can do better on your own.

So it’s not optimal… so what. There are big benefits to being automatic and invisible (or forced), which may outweigh the other factors. That might mean that you won’t end up voluntarily topping up your contributions, but you’ve still got to register and choose how your contributions will be invested in the group plan.

And remember that a pretty good plan that you actually follow is better than an “optimal” one that exists only in a dusty filing cabinet.

Equity Group RRSP

Choosing Your Funds

In general, try to make your group plan fit your overall investing plan. That can mean looking for low-cost, broadly diversified funds to use, and finding ones with the title of a major index (like “S&P 500”) or that have the word “index” in the title can be good shortcuts to finding what in a big list of funds might work for you.

Target-date funds are not very common in the DIY world, but you can find them in group plans, and they are there for Equity. That can be a good, simple way to go. As can funds with “portfolio” or “balanced” in the name.

There are often lots of options in these plans, and few of them are what you find in the model portfolios you see in The Value of Simple or funds that everyone talks about on Reddit or in MoneySense. Remember that picking something and getting enrolled is far preferable to picking nothing while you try to research to identify the “optimal” fund (or mix of funds).

If you have investments outside your group RRSP, then it’s fine to make an incomplete portfolio with your group RRSP because it will be complemented by those other investments. For example, if you’re targeting 25% in each of bonds, Canadian equity, US equity, and international equity, and half your investments went into your RRSP[footnote], you could use ETFs to buy the US and international equity on your own and pick a bond and Canadian equity fund (or “balanced” fund using those two) from the group provider, and end up with an overall balanced portfolio.

Equity Group RRSP

Footnote: to be precise, you’d want to discount the value of your RRSP relative to your TFSA for the taxes you’d have to pay on withdrawal (i.e., if you only held US equity in your RRSP, and only held Canadian equity in your TFSA, to make them “equal” the dollar amount on your US equity in the RRSP would be higher than the Canadian in your TFSA). The Practical Index Investing for Canadians course has a module on this, but really there is no precision in investing in the first place, so if you just make the nominal amounts balance out and stick to that plan, you’ll likely do fine.

Specific for Equity (Canadian Actors): the fees for the funds are lower thanks to efforts by the association, so what might show up on Morningstar for these funds in terms of costs isn’t necessarily what you’d pay. There are a small enough number of funds to actually look at them without going blind, and there are all-in-one funds as well as sector funds, so you can complement an external portfolio with your group RRSP, or have a complete allocation with ease.

They have 4 asset allocation funds, each with a mix of fixed income, Canadian equities, and US equities, with the fixed income portion ranging from 75% (conservative) to 0% (Aggressive), with 20% for the Advanced and 60% for the Moderate fund. There’s also the Balanced Global fund, which is similar (but under a different heading on the sign-up form), with 30% fixed income.

So of those 5 funds, simply find the one that’s closest to your risk tolerance, put 100% of your contributions towards it, and call it a day.

Understand Your Risk Tolerance

Of course, that advice may be a bit too cavalier if you don’t have a good handle on your risk tolerance. That’s a central factor in figuring out what you can invest in, and a surprising challenge to really understand: it’s hard to say how you’ll respond to a market crash when you’re not really sure what a market is in the first place.

One of the advantages to a group plan is that you can set your allocation to be a little riskier (more aggressive, i.e. fewer bonds) because you’re less likely to see the declines, and panic selling is a lot harder because of the way the plan is administered. So if you’re not sure of what your risk tolerance overall is, do the best you can, then err a bit on the aggressive side for your group RRSP, then a bit on the conservative side for your other investments (e.g. your TFSA).

Integrating with Other Investments

The Canadian Actors’ Equity Association will help force you to save 6% of your pay in the group RRSP, and other employer-sponsored RRSP programs have deductions in a similar range. While it’s a great start, no financial planner is going to say that that’s actually enough for a secure retirement, let alone other long-term financial goals. So odds are, you’re going to have to save more than that.

You can opt to save more within the same plan, which keeps everything simple, or you can save a bit on fees and have some more control by investing on the side. (As for how to do that, check out a robo-advisor or learn to do-it-yourself with this awesome online course or The Value of Simple)

So if you also invest outside the group RRSP (e.g., in your TFSA), you can view each account as parts of one big portfolio, and just put one (or a few) component(s) in your group RRSP, and hold the others in your TFSA/self-directed RRSP/other accounts. Or you can build complete, parallel portfolios in each account, which may be the way to go if you’re using one of the all-in-one asset allocation funds in your group RRSP.

As an aside, you may notice that the funds on offer in the Equity group plan are more heavily weighted in Canadian equities than the typical split of the canonical portfolio many index investing gurus talk about. Remember that there is no precision in investing, and one perfectly good solution is to just shrug that off and build your TFSA as you would otherwise, and let your group RRSP be a touch maple-flavoured. But if you like, you can also hold less Canadian equity in your TFSA (and more US and international equity) to compensate for the excess in your group RRSP fund.

Equity Group RRSP


It can be easy to fall into analysis paralysis with the group plan registration material, and how to make a (mandatory) group plan fit your financial plan. Remember that a good enough automatic investment is better than a headache and an unsubmitted form. For the Equity group plan in particular, a decent default is to take your best guess at your risk tolerance and then put all of your contributions towards the closest asset allocation fund. Costs do matter in investing, but so does simplicity and sticking to a plan. Plus, many group plans negotiate to bring the cost of their funds down to be competitive with simple, automatic options like Tangerine or robo-advisors (the asset allocation funds for Equity in particular cost 0.94%/yr, vs 1.07% for Tangerine).

A Silly But Also Kinda Serious Postscript

Model portfolios are quite popular because it’s scary to pick funds to meet even the simplest investment plan. There are tonnes of index funds out there, and even more closet index funds and the like in group plan offerings, and nearly any of them would be good enough for most investors. But it’s still really helpful to have a table with a shortlist of funds to pick from, and knowing that together that collection of funds forms a complete portfolio.

Unfortunately, every group plan is different, with lots of funds you may never hear of in books and articles. The guidelines above should help you find a fund (or a few funds) in the selection your plan offers that will work well enough with your investing plan. However, if you’re still having trouble choosing or if there are just too many to even read through them to filter the list, here is some silly-sounding advice that may actually work: pick a bunch at random.

When investing on your own there is a real cost to complexity: it takes effort to make the trades, to track the contributions, monitor your performance, etc. But in a group RRSP complexity is nearly free: once you sign up they handle splitting your contributions amongst the funds, and because it’s an RRSP you don’t have to track anything for taxes other than how much you put in (and eventually take out). So one way to get balance is to just strike off any funds you know are not appropriate for you (e.g., the highest fees if the group sponsor isn’t subsidizing, or ones with titles so vague you have no idea what they invest in), and just start assigning percentages to the rest. 10% in almost any random set of 10 funds (or 5% in 20 if your group plan has a really large menu) is going to get you some balance and some diversification, especially if it’s 10 balanced/asset allocation funds. This is quite unlikely to be perfect for you, but maybe close enough, especially if your group RRSP is just a portion of your overall investments – you can use your TFSA to make more logical investments, and fix your RRSP later when you know more.

And doing that at first may at least give you an alternative starting point if you’re having trouble picking funds: just build something that’s better for you than randomly choosing a whole bunch of funds was, and stop when you find it.

E.g., for the Canadian Actor’s Association Equity: if you put 12.5% into each of the 8 options (other than the asset allocation ones), you’d end up with a portfolio that was 66% very conservative fixed income, and the rest split between global and Canadian equity. Not ideal perhaps, but you could do worse and at least you picked something, which can be especially important if there’s an employer match just waiting for you to fill out your enrolment form.

John Robertson

John Robertson

PhD, Author of The Value of Simple

John Robertson, PhD, is the author of The Value of Simple and teaches regular people how to become DIY investors through his online course Practical Index Investing for Canadians. He also investigates deep money questions and goes on rants on his blog

What’s a robo-advisor (and should you be using one)??

What’s a robo-advisor (and should you be using one)??

What is a robo-advisor?

I get lots of questions about investing. It’s something I don’t write about a lot, partly because there are so many resources out there, and partly because it doesn’t interest me as much as some of the other areas of finance.

But I had a blast recording this episode of Because Money and talking about robo-advisors.

Robo-advisors are an awesome new tool that are great for people who want to invest, but have no idea how or where to start.

And John and Sandi (my podcast compatriates) have invented… YES INVENTED… a tool to help people choose which robo-advisor is the right fit for you.

This episode is great for newbie investors AND people that know a thing or two about stocks and bonds. Newbie’s might want to check out John’s ‘Starter guide to investing’ at the top of the episode… it’s everything the rest of the internet is trying to tell you… but explained way better.

So, give this episode a listen, play around with THE CALCULATOR, and if you have any questions feel free to send them my way (I will forward the tough ones on to Sandi and John).

Starter guide to investing (in under 5 minutes): 2:18

Is a robo-advisor a robot? 7:27

Why are robo-advisor fees so low? 9:06

Is my money safe with a robo-advisor? 10:33

What are the differences between the many robo-advisors in Canada? 13:10

Why build a robo-advisor calculator? 15:38

The ‘best’ robo-advisor vs the best robo-advisor FOR YOU: 18:43

How we compared all the Robo fees: 19:58

Do robo-advisors offer financial planning? 27:24

Should you consider investing with a robo advisor? 31:05

You can find the calculator HERE.

You can find John’s book on investing (it’s great) HERE.

And you can find the incomparible Sandi Martin right over…. HERE.

For another article on robo-advisors… check out THIS PIECE by Young and Thrifty (you might recognize the graphics).

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

Chris Enns

Chris Enns

Financial Planner/Opera Singer

Money never came naturally to me. In fact… I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be ‘financially out of control’.

And honestly, I still get stressed about money… that doesn’t stop… the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.

And those tools are what’s made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.

If you want to start getting control of your money I’d love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE or by checking out my SERVICES page.

Give a little… get a lot

Give a little… get a lot

Give a little - From Rags to Reasonable

So, apparently ‘Giving Tuesday’ is a thing now… I’m not sure when that started, but I will say that somehow it loses a little bit of its authenticity when it comes right after Black Friday and Cyber Monday (which I had also never heard of until this year).

Nonetheless, there was some pretty spectacular giving going on. I love how many great causes people were posting about. It was an amazing burst of positivity on my newsfeed. But I think we can all agree the winner has to be Mr. Facebook himself who pledged 99% of his Facebook shares to charity. Billions of dollars.

That’s a whole lot of giving.

It’s pretty easy as an artist living on less to not think about ‘giving’ all that often. In fact, in the arts, we often are the ones people are ‘giving’ to. And so, too often, the conversations artists have about charity and donations are about how people aren’t giving us enough.

I think it’s easy to become a little selfish when you’re having trouble making ends meet. At least, it’s easy for me. It’s easy to forget exactly how lucky I am, and how many things I have.

And it’s really easy to assume that because I can’t give billions of dollars away… the few dollars that I could afford couldn’t possibly matter. (more…)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Compound Interest

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Compound Interest

Compound InterestYou know what drives me crazy? The completely inferior education being given to those talented children enrolled in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Yes. They are magic children, but does that mean that they don’t need any training in language or math? Does science cease to be relevant if you can conjure matter out of thin air…. Or does it just get super interesting?

And the subjects they do take… what jobs are they being prepared for? Why is care of magical creatures REQUIRED for the first 3 years?! That has senior elective written all over it.

What they should really be teaching is the kind of practical magic that they’ll use every day of their adult lives.

Like the magic of compound interest.

You can believe me or not, but something that outwardly may seem pretty mundane is just as magic as anything you’d learn in a charms class.

Don’t believe me… well let’s start with some basics. (more…)



The Story of Inflation - From Rags to ReasonableWhenever people start throwing around financial terms like inflation, it’s easy to tune out immediately. But, aside from being crazy interesting, inflation is one of those big financial forces that affects you every day. It’s basically like gravity… yet another thing that’s keeping you from the miracle of flight….

Ugh. I wanna fly so bad.

But seriously… understanding a little bit about inflation is actually super important, especially for those of us who are trying to stretch every dollar.

I’d even go so far as to say that ignoring inflation could end up costing you a ton of money in the long run. (more…)



Investing. The holy grail of financial wizardry. You put money in, you get more money out. Whether it excites you or it scares you it can be a little tough to understand the intricacies of the whole investment world. But there’s one great investment that a lot of people are sitting on that is 100 PERCENT GUARANTEED.

Your debt.

These days, most people seem to have some kind of debt… whether it’s the kind of debt that’s okay to talk about: mortgage/student loans, or the kind that we secretly stress about at 3 in the morning: credit cards, tax debt, and the money you owe Vinny the loan shark.

There are lots of reasons to take care of your debt. For me, stress was a huge factor, but that’s not true for everyone. So if you need a push, or a new reason to take another look at aggressively paying off your debt… try this one on for size:

Paying off your debt just may be the best guaranteed investment you can make right now.

There’s a term that people kick around when talking about investments: Return on Investment (ROI.. If you wanna be financially fancy). It boils down to the amount you get back from investing money into something. If you buy a stock, the amount that its value goes up in a year is your ROI. If your house value goes up…. Hey, presto… a return on investment.

But as with most things that you invest in, there’s an element of risk. Prices can go up, but they can also go down (I know… mind blowing). There’s no real guarantee of a return on your investment.

And this is where your debt comes out on top.

Every month, you pay someone for the privilege of holding on to your debt, whether it’s the government (student and tax debt), or the bank (credit lines, and cards). The fee you pay for that privilege is your interest rate… and it can get pretty scary over a long period of time.

Let me paint you a word picture:

Meet Dennis: he’s just a normal artistic dude, with a little normal credit card debt.

dennis credit card 

These numbers are based on the assumption that Dennis stops using his credit card, and only pays the minimum payments every month.

This isn’t a post about how you should pay your credit card faster because it’s costing you a ton of money (or any debt really… credit cards are just the most dramatic example). This is a post about how you should pay down your debt, because it’s the BEST POSSIBLE INVESTMENT FOR YOUR MONEY.

Putting more than the minimum payment towards the balance doesn’t really feel worth it to Dennis. He feels like it’s sucking up money that he could be using to actually invest – in his career, the stock market, or one of those fancy GICs everyone’s talking about.

Dennis might feel like he has a black hole on his hands. But what he actually has in that credit card debt is an investment, with a guaranteed return much higher than any of those other options.

I promise you that if the banks found some way to offer people a GUARANTEED 20% RETURN ON INVESTMENT that Dennis would be losing his freakin’ mind.

It’s important to remember that your finances aren’t just measured by how much money you have in your bank account. It’s a bit more big picture than that. It’s about your net worth (which is basically just your assets minus your debts). So whether you’re increasing your assets, or decreasing your debt… the results are the same…. You, getting into a better financial place.

Right now the money sitting in your savings account is earning just over ONE PERCENT interest. BLERG. And even if you’re in the stock market (which is doing quite well right now… unless you’re invested in Canadian oil fields… then… less well) the returns are probably less AND they’re not a sure thing.

Paying off your debt is a lot less sexy of an investment than buying property, or building a stock portfolio, but it’s really simple, is hugely beneficial, and (in case I haven’t made it 1000% clear) it’s totally guaranteed.

So pay off your debt with pride, and next time the topic of money comes up while you’re sitting around the family dinner table, or at the bar… slip in to the conversation that you got a sweet tip on a guaranteed investment that’s paying you 20% a year (or whatever the percentage on your debt may be). And as your friends and family try to tear the secret out of you, sit back and sip your drink like the financially savvy wizard you are.

Silly muggles… they’ll never learn.

Want to pay off your debt… but can’t quite seem to get to the ‘doing it’ stage? 

Why not try out this workbook? 

It’ll help you get organized, and it only costs 8 bucks. 

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

Chris Enns

Chris Enns

Financial Planner/Opera Singer

Money never came naturally to me. In fact… I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be ‘financially out of control’.

And honestly, I still get stressed about money… that doesn’t stop… the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.

And those tools are what’s made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.

If you want to start getting control of your money I’d love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE by checking out my SERVICES page.