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retirement planning

Dushan Milic/The Globe and Mail

It's been nearly a year since Janet agreed to participate in The Globe and Mail's Portfolio Makeover series, asking for expert help to give structure to her finances and investments: Janet's a millionaire, but her portfolio lacks balance.

At the time, the Vancouver mother of two had nearly $500,000 in cash and non-registered investments, as well as money in RRSPs and property. She was making about $28,000 annually through her part-time work as a personal trainer.

Since then, Janet, 39, has made adjustments to the way she manages her money, acting on some of the tips provided by advisers consulted in the series. She's taken steps to address her short-term goal of moving into the market and her long-term goal of preparing for retirement by accumulating rental properties. She's made other changes, too.

Ready to get more bang for her buck by not leaving so much money in a low-interest savings account, Janet has started transferring cash to investments. Looking back, she says she hadn't made the move before because the recession had scared her.

"I was sitting on cash and I knew my portfolio was not well-diversified at all, but I got worried by what happened in 2008," says Janet, who also contributes to her kids' RESPs. "I saw people's stocks drop, and I was gun shy."

Rather than relying on a financial adviser to do the work for her, however, she's has gone the do-it-yourself route. She has enrolled in Royal Bank of Canada's Direct Investing program, which offers free educational seminars. She also likes the flat fee of $9.95 for each trade.

She researches stocks and consults often with her father, who has a keen interest in the market. While she's found that she enjoys learning about investing, she's not taking undue risks.

"I'm sticking with things like Canadian large-cap funds; nothing risky," she says. "I'm working toward getting it diversified, but I don't want to go overly aggressive. I'm really interested in the market and I like researching things like ratios and dividends."

Janet's in an enviable financial position. However, since the Portfolio Makeover, she's increased the amount she works, adding 12 clients a week to her regular roster of personal-training clients. With that, she stands to make approximately $36,000 annually on top of her current income. She'd also like to see her business expand, whether it's through an online component or customized training packages. She may not need the money, but she wants fill her days when her kids are in school.

"I'm ambitious," she says. "I'd like to grow the business. I love my job. It's all centred around helping people feel better and improving their lives. I love learning about the body, helping people get rid of pain and helping them feel better. It's not a stressful job, but I can't just go for coffee every day. It's not me."

Although she hasn't implemented a strict budget, she says she and her husband live below their means.

"We don't have a fancy-schmancy house; we drive very modest cars," she says. "I don't feel like we're blowing money. We like to travel and have fun, but we're not extravagant."

With a rental apartment and a recreational property paid off, Janet may have a leg up on others her age, but she's still mindful of having a nest egg to rely on after 65. To that end, she plans on purchasing additional properties to rent. (The apartment she currently rents out generates $24,000 a year in gross income.) She's just not sure whether Vancouver proper, with its sky-high real-estate prices, is the place to buy.

"The original goal was to buy a whole bunch of apartments and get that cash flow," she says. "That's still the goal, but I'm moving toward it slowly."