Wealthy 30-somethings doling out financial advice breed online hate

When self-made millionaires Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung told CBC News their story, they inspired plenty of online hate. Seems that many folks find no joy in hearing about young people’s financial success and their advice to others.

Hearing about millennials' success doesn't go over so well with others

When they sat down for an interview with CBC News, Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung said they were prepared for negative online comments. They got them. (CBC)

Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung predicted the haters would descend upon them, even before they sat down for their interview with CBC News.

Shen, 34 and Leung, 33, chose to invest their $500,000 savings in 2012 and continued to save and invest, instead of buying an expensive house in Toronto. Now, the self-described retired millionaires are on a crusade to tell millennials not to blow their money on a pricey home, but to invest it instead.

Some people were inspired by their story reported by CBC News, but it also generated many hateful comments. "Nobody should ever follow this advice. Complete garbage," one reader wrote in the story's comments section.

"Ahhh … the good old shallow selfie generation telling us how to live our lives," commented another person.

Seems that many folks find no joy in hearing about young people's financial success and their advice on how others can achieve similar goals.

Late last year, 30-year-old Sean Cooper told CBC News how he lived like a pauper in Toronto to pay off his $255,000 mortgage in three years. He encouraged other Canadians to pay down their debt faster.

His story, too inspired online hate. "What is he going to do next, buy a car and sell one of his kidneys to pay for it?" snarled one reader.

Is the vitriol warranted?

"Obviously, we're envious of it. We'd all like to have more money," says debt expert Doug Hoyes. He explains that when people have a tough time making ends meet, they sometimes don't take kindly to self-professed financial wizards doling out advice.

"It's just the stress of the times coming out," says the Kitchener-based bankruptcy trustee. "We're all starting from a different spot. And I think that breeds frustration when we see someone who has apparently had a bit of a head start."

Setting the record straight

So did Shen and Leung get a head start with their financial feat? Some would like to think so.

"This is a very unique case where the couple must have had mommy and daddy pay for 100 per cent of their education," commented a reader. "Not to mention they likely lived in mommy and daddy's house while saving that 500k."

Shen, now travelling with husband Leung in Japan, told CBC News in an email that they both paid their university tuition by holding down co-op jobs.

She says after graduation they lived in a modest $800-a-month apartment in Toronto and walked to work. Sure, they had well-paying computer engineer jobs. But Shen stresses that hoarding their pennies was the key to saving $500,000. She also says it was key to reaching their eventual goal of $1 million.

Kristy Shen and her husband Bryce Leung travelling in Thailand in February. After retirement, the 30-something couple travels the world. (Kristy Shen/Bryce Leung)

Their financial adviser Garth Turner backs that up. "They hoovered up every scrap of cash from every source and jammed them into their [stock] portfolio," he wrote in a blog this week.

Cooper dealt with similar accusations when he told his story about quickly paying down a $255,000 mortgage on a $425,000 home by living frugally.

Readers invented details about Cooper's life, such as claiming he got his $170,000 down payment from his parents. Cooper said he saved the cash himself by, yes, living frugally.

CBC News advertorial?

CBC News also received flak for writing a story about our anti-home-ownership duo, Shen and Leung. We referenced their website where the couple's financial advice to millennials includes investing their money instead of buying a house — at least in pricey cities where homebuyers are often saddled with a big mortgage.

They call their manifesto the "Millennial Revolution."

"'Millennial Revolution,' don't make me laugh," scoffed one reader. "This is all designed to get people to their website and buy whatever they are preparing to sell and CBC is helping with their marketing."

Unlike some financial bloggers' websites, Shen and Leung's site is not crowded with ads. Shen says the only one they post is a small Google advertisement to cover web server hosting costs.

She also says that if they ever recommend a financial product, it will be one that they use themselves, not something that generates commission.

"That's one of the things about being financially independent," says Shen. "We don't have to answer to anyone and we don't need the money."

Constructive criticism?

While some of the accusations may be unfounded, even Shen's and Leung's fans have some criticisms.

Turner, their adviser, describes them in his blog as "nauseating," and "tireless self-promoters and reasonably irritating juvenile 1%-ers." He tells CBC News he meant the words in a light-hearted way and emphasized that the two "are examples of what vision and guts, plus the ability to be creative and contrarian, can achieve."

Cooper also applauds Shen's and Leung's achievement. But the Toronto homeowner questions their staunch mantra not to buy a home in expensive markets.

He agrees people shouldn't blow their budget on a big house they can't afford. But Cooper contends people can aim to save their money and buy something smaller that won't cripple their budget.

"If you're willing to work hard and be disciplined, then you can buy a house, too," he says.

Sean Cooper says the key to smart homeownership is to buy a home you can afford. (CBC)

Of course, Cooper's own method of discipline — holding down three jobs, never vacationing, and living in the basement while he rented out the rest of his house — generated online jabs.

"He'll probably die young," opined one reader.

The comments don't bother Cooper, who says his frugal way of life has led to a current net worth of $871,000 — at age 31. He hopes to reach $1 million by 35 or sooner. He's also planning to publish a book on how to pay off your mortgage faster.

"If you want to achieve something," says Cooper, "you have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone and I guess kind of deal with the negative comments that come along with it."

Shen agrees. "I'm reminded of the quote, 'If you're not pissing someone off, you probably aren't doing anything important.'"


Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Based in Toronto, Sophia Harris covers consumer and business for CBC News web, radio and TV. She previously worked as a CBC videojournalist in the Maritimes where she won an Atlantic Journalism Award for her work. Contact: