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Dave McGinn resolves to turn his $9,000 into $750,000, a figure the retirement calculators tell him should translate into an annual income of around $40,000. The challenge? He wants to do it in fewer than 10 years, before his daughter even starts Grade 5. (Ryan Hughes)
Dave McGinn resolves to turn his $9,000 into $750,000, a figure the retirement calculators tell him should translate into an annual income of around $40,000. The challenge? He wants to do it in fewer than 10 years, before his daughter even starts Grade 5. (Ryan Hughes)

How to retire early with no money Add to ...

While I like the idea of anything that comes with a 600% upshot-however rare-the thought of losing anything at all is a real downer. What I need is something tangible, an investment simple enough that a mouth-breather such as myself can understand it. What I need is real estate! Maybe I can become the next Donald, get myself a comb-over and a catchphrase, and a gold-plated hotel with my name on it. If I want all this in 10 years' time, I had better get started now.

For guidance, I turn to Brad Lamb, a man often described as Toronto's condo king. Over the phone, he assures me that real estate is probably the most viable way for me to achieve my goals.

He lays it out: With a pair of $25,000 down payments, I could likely purchase two 400-square-foot apartments in downtown Toronto. In four years, there's a decent chance I could list each of those units for $250,000, assuming the housing market continues to run strong. Using my profits from the sales, I might buy four more such apartments (at a discount from the builder, if I'm smart) and flip those in another four to five years, by which time I should be able to realize another $50,000 per apartment.

"If there's no setbacks, you could get up to maybe $500,000, after tax, in 10 years," Lamb calculates. But while such a strategy appears "foolproof" in a hot market, he cautions that there's a strong chance that house prices will cool off at some point over the next decade. Considering the risk involved, he throws out an alternative.

"You should go to Vegas," he says.



On a cold Monday night in December, I point my Oldsmobile Alero toward Casino Niagara. As I rattle down the QEW, the words of Wolfgang Klein echo in my head: "You've got to put it all on red."

Once inside, having wiped my feet on the plush gaudy carpet, I make a beeline for the first roulette wheel I see, and settle in beside five guys in sports jerseys. I slide $100 in cash-the maximum bet-toward the dealer.

Do I want $5 or $10 chips, she asks?

"Doesn't matter," I say. "It's all going on red." The guys at the table turn and look at me as the dealer passes me a single, black chip. They think I'm either a god or a moron. I promptly slide the chip onto the red section of the mat.

As the ball rattles round the wheel, images of retired life serenade my cortex. Lazy mornings. Crosswords. Tuesday morning tee-offs. Waffles. The ball bounces erratically as the wheel slows, finally settling on...19 red!

I just doubled my investment.

However, if I'm going to retire rich, I need to keep this roll going. I put my black chip back on red, but spread my winnings four ways-the roulette version of an ETF-over the numbers 26, 27, 29 and 30. If the ball lands on any of them, the payout is 8 to 1. The dealer gives me a look not unlike the one my banker gave me, and spins the wheel again.

I'll give you the Coles Notes summary: The ball landed on 33 black and, just like that, my chips were gone. I only lost $100 but I learned a pair of very valuable lessons. One is that my investment adviser was only half-right: You do need to put it all on red. You also need to be prepared to put it on red again and again, except for the times you need to put it on black.

The second thing I've learned is that there are a lot of senior citizens at Casino Niagara on a Monday night. Each is seated at a slot machine, and each has that same checked-out look upon their face. Some of the seniors don't even appear to be playing, just sitting on their stools staring at the machines. If this is what retirement looks like, I think I'd rather be at work.

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