Ditching 'cult' of home ownership unrealistic for most, finance expert says

Retiring young, with money in the bank. It’s little more than a fantasy for most 30-somethings, but one Canadian couple say they’ve found the secret formula to making it rich long before the grey hairs start sprouting.

'This couple is very extreme in how they amassed this money,' Kelley Keehn says

Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung when they married in 2010. (Kristy Shen/Bryce Leung)

Retiring young, with money in the bank.

It's little more than a pipe dream for most 30-somethings, but one Canadian couple say they've found the secret formula to making it rich long before the grey hairs start sprouting.

Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung of Toronto retired last year with more than a million bucks in the bank.

They say they're only living the dream because they rejected the "cult" of home ownership and the "prison" of mortgage payments, and invested their savings instead.

But this young Canadian couple, preaching their own brand of wealth, may be leading fellow millennials astray.

"They lead this cool, nomadic life, but the question is … is this realistic for the rest of us? And I don't think that it is," said Kelley Keehn, a St. Albert-based financial expert.

"It sounds great, and good for them. I think it's fantastic, and maybe more of us should ask these questions. But we have to put it in check."

Ditching the homeowner "cult" in favour of a jet-setting life of leisure is out of reach for most people, Keehn told CBC's Edmonton AM on Wednesday.

Until they left their jobs last year, Shen and Leung enjoyed careers in computer engineering. After marrying in 2010, they planned on buying a home until they saw what they could afford  — overpriced and run-down properties.

After abandoning the home hunt, they hired a financial planner, invested their $500,000 savings, and doubled their money.

The couple credit hard work and modest living for their sizable savings, but Keehn questions how they managed to make their cash.

She says the cost of raising a child, student loans, or a low-paying job could easily deflate the dream.

Couple lives on limited income 

The Toronto couple live on $30,000 to $40,000 a year, money that largely comes from dividend payments generated from their stock portfolio.

And although their nest egg is praiseworthy, Keehn says it's likely too small to support a family through to the golden years, and their reliance on stocks and bonds will make their bank account permanently volatile.

"Their income is $30,000 to $40,000 a year for them as a couple before tax. I don't know how many people could comfortably live off $30,000 to $40,000 a year as a couple.

"So it's possible, but the question is, is it sustainable and is it something that you want to do.

"I think this couple is very extreme in how they amassed this money. I just don't think most people would be willing to make this kind of sacrifice."

After ditching their jobs to to travel the world, Shen and Leung now share their financial secrets through their website and YouTube channel.

Everyone's financial situation is different, and Keehn says people shouldn't rely on advice from a stranger on the Internet.

"Do you have a professional on your side to help us figure this out? Not YouTube, not Google … someone who can help you crunch those numbers and figure out what works best for you."