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Oct 1, 2015

Investing Like A Zombie To Beat The Sharks And Vampires

by Kyle Prevost

Kyle PrevostZombies have gotten a (somewhat-deserved) bad rap these days due to their exploits in pop culture phenomena such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. The truth is though, that there is a lot we can learn from our reanimated life-form cousins. Underneath all the brain-eating and limp walking, they might not be such bad beings after all.

According to my painstakingly collected data set (i.e. a quick poll of my friends), many more young Canadians are familiar with the intricate details of how to survive a zombie apocalypse than they are with surviving a personal financial apocalypse.  Long ago, many of them memorized preparations concerning non-perishable food, escape routes, and potential weapon sources—however, black magic puts them instantly asleep when anyone tries to explain retirement planning or insurance needs to them.

It’s not the zombies we have to worry about, though—it’s the vampires. Zombies are relatively simple creatures after all. I’m sure we can come to an understanding with them. The vampires, though—they’re a whole other animal. You see, financial vampires are never satiated.  They survive and thrive by sucking up the hard-earned capital of everyone around them.  Give credit where it is due: the whole Twilight thing was a brilliant stroke of PR, and their methods of extracting the life from humanity have evolved over the years. No more do they rely on manual labour like sinking teeth into victims.  No, instead financial vampires have created confusingly labelled instruments called management expense ratio (MER) fees, trailer fees, chequing account fees, transaction fees, front-end loads (ISC fees), and back-end loads (DSC fees) to do their dirty deeds for them.  This is all in addition to the grand vampire (who shall not be named) that swoops in to take their pound of flesh every year during the dark time known as tax season.

Canada’s has the worst case of these financial vampires in the world.  A study by several prominent economists titled, “Mutual Fund Fees Around the World” reported that the MER fees charged on our equities-based mutual funds average over 2.5%.  That’s more than double the average of the 18-country study.  Very few of the millions of Canadians who invest in high-fee mutual funds every year understand what DSC fees mean (that the vampires get to slowly drain your capital over several years – or gobble up a large part of you if you try to leave before your time is up), or that ISC fees are code for “a substantial amount of what you think you’re investing for your future is going straight into our bank accounts.” Don’t let your eyes and ears fool you: the vampires are experts at camouflaging their instruments and intentions—they’re experts at this after all. While financial vampires perfect their strategies by practising day in and day out, most Canadians only spend a few minutes a year thinking about their investments, if they spend any at all.

The other major threat we face is from the sharks.  They wouldn’t have their own week on Discovery Channel if they weren’t legit.  The sharks (short for Wall Street Sharks) sneak up on their prey by muddying the waters with talk of bulls and bears. They blind us with 24-hour business news channels filled with useless charts and meaningless clichés. Sharks are infamous for convincing us that they are the key to finally beating back the vampires once and for all—when in fact we know that they’re long-time allies when it comes to sucking our bank accounts dry. The sharks get their pound of flesh whether you gain or lose money—just as long as you play their game.

I’m proposing we take a closer look at the whole zombie philosophy. Perhaps they hold the key to defeating the sharks and vampires.  Their single-minded pursuit of a goal is laudable. Zombies are not thrown off course by watercooler tips or Jim Cramer.  Instead, unlike the mass heard of sheeple investors, they refuse to allow themselves to be fleeced by fees or corralled by the jargon-fuelled maneuverings of the sharks.  Once you point a zombie in the right direction, they will stagger until they reach their destination, rebalancing along the way to make up for the effects of unforeseen obstacles.

If young people were to apply the Tao of Zombie-ism to their portfolio construction, I believe they would be well on their way to rebalancing their way to an early retirement. The lack of awareness concerning luxury purchases would keep them out of debt—if anyone understands delayed gratification it is a being that seemingly has no concern for the passage of time.  The real advantage of investing like a zombie, though, is the forced ignorance of the siren song that is the master tool of the sharks and vampires. The siren song promises great wealth and provides visions of grandeur if only we wander in a little closer and follow vague directions and orders.  If we are able to resist the determined efforts of the army of commissioned cronies that work for the sharks and vampires, as well as the well-funded manipulation of our media sources, we might have a fighting chance. 

Only by banding together, fighting on with the endurance and single-mindedness of our misunderstood, decomposing brethren, and repeating the ancient mantras of “staying the course” and “ignore the noise” can we hope to reach the promised land of financial independence.  The alternative is to break out that zombie survival kit earlier than expected—you’ll need those cans of non-perishables once you see what the sharks and vampires have left you to eat.

Kyle Prevost is a business teacher and personal finance writer helping people save and invest over at and His co-authored book, More Money for Beer and Textbooks, is available in book stores.