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A toddler reaches for a rubber duck during a swimming class for babies at Lane Cove pool in Sydney, Australia.
A toddler reaches for a rubber duck during a swimming class for babies at Lane Cove pool in Sydney, Australia.

Invest for Life part 4

Having kids? Pull out the wallet and get set to invest Add to ...

Some parents believe in a conservative approach when investing for their children's sojourn in the halls of higher learning. Lower returns are acceptable to them as a trade-off for minimizing the risk of losses - something their kids might not look kindly upon.

"I look at it like I am the trustee of the funds and have a responsibility to be prudent with the investment choices," explains Jim Yih, a fee-only financial adviser with financial firm Retirement Think Box in Edmonton. He has put half of the RESP funds for his four young kids into a balanced mutual fund and the other half into fixed-income instruments.

In the end, whether a parent goes with a high or low allocation to volatile investments such as equities is a matter for risk tolerances. Those who go with higher allocations will likely wind up ahead of the game given the superior long-run returns of stocks - see Jeremy Siegel's Stocks for the Long Run - but the price of admission is a greater risk of ending up with sub-par returns.

4. Become a couch potato

A popular choice within the Canadian personal-finance blogosphere for investing RESP funds appears to be the Couch Potato Portfolio. It spreads money over a diversified basket of low-cost index funds. According to MoneySense magazine, the "classic" version has generated average annual returns greater than 10 per cent over the past three decades.

One of the more popular instruments for implementing the Couch Potato portfolio in an RESP is the TD e-Series Funds, a family of index mutual funds only available online - but at the lowest of annual fees for mutual funds. The Pre-Authorized Purchase Plan (PAPP) allows investors to automatically invest small amounts at regular intervals, without commissions.

The Couch Potato Portfolio from the author of the Million Dollar Journey blog is diversified across Canadian equity (30 per cent), U.S. equity (30 per cent), international equity (30 per cent), and Canadian bonds (10 per cent). It's rebalanced annually. At the 10-year mark, the asset mix will begin a transition to a more conservative stance, which by the 18th year it will consist of guaranteed investment certificates (75 per cent) and money-market funds (25 per cent).

5. Automate asset shifts

Shifts in the asset mix of an educational fund from the aggressive to conservative, as described in the above tip, seek to maximize returns while controlling for the volatility of equities as your children's university or college enrolment dates approach. Target-date funds automate this shift in asset mix. An example is the RBC Target 2025 Education Fund.

They offer the convenience of one-stop shopping to investors who don't have the time or inclination to do their own research. In return, there are some trade-offs. One is higher fees. Another is that the fund's asset mix may not be suitable for a family.

6. Fine tune the asset allocation

Mr. Milevsky urges investors to think of their total wealth as including their human capital (discounted value of salary, wages, and other income earned over one's working life). "While conceptually this asset is different from your tangible, financial assets, it should be considered and diversified in tandem with your financial capital," writes Mr. Milevsky in his book, Are You a Stock or a Bond?

Thus, the rule of thumb is to have an allocation to stocks equal to "100 minus your age" can be fine tuned. Couples with secure jobs, like tenured professors, could allot more to equities than what the rule suggests for their age group. Couples with variable commission income, such as stockbrokers, should go with lower equity allocations.

Another consideration is that the age-related rule of thumb is usually applied more to investing for retirement, where the investing horizon is 25 to 40 years. For children's educational funds, the horizon usually runs from 10 to 15 years, which is less time for the superior returns on stocks to take shape. Lower equity allocations may perhaps be more prudent within this time frame.

7. Put those child benefits to work

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