The Degrassi school of investing

The Degrassi school of investing
As a child actor, Pat Mastroianni starting socking his money away in RRSPs. It’s a lesson he learned early, and well

Jason Chow
Financial Post

Yvonne Berg, National Post-photo credit
There’s no glamour in show business, says Pat Mastroianni, once better known as Joey Jeremiah.

Pat Mastroianni was 16 years old and better known as Joey Jeremiah from the CBC series Degrassi High when he was introduced to the idea of investing.

The company that produced the show had deposited some money for the young actors in individual RRSPs. A financial advisor was invited along to tell cast members how RRSPs worked.

“I was like, ‘OK. Cool. I can get into this.’ And ever since I was 16, I put money into RRSPs,” recalls Mr. Mastroianni. “I watched these statements coming in, and thought ‘This is great.’ ”

The 29-year-old Toronto native has been maximizing his contribution ever since, even if it meant borrowing from the bank. “And it saved my ass. I had a choice to make money or break even.”

The production company wasn’t the only one stashing his money away for him. His parents shrewdly kept much of his pay aside when he was growing up, so he wouldn’t fritter it away. When he turned 19, his parents told him about the nest egg and he decided to put it into property. He bought the house he and his parents share in the Toronto suburb of Willowdale.

Mr. Mastroianni has been in the acting business for 16 years, getting his start as the obnoxious slickster Joey when Degrassi began. When the series ended in 1992, he continued to appear in commercials and other Canadian TV shows.

In 1997, he moved to Los Angeles hoping to jumpstart a career in Hollywood. But after four years in California, he decided to come home.

Today, Mr. Mastroianni is hosting and co-producing a series about extreme sports: Maximum Speed, which is geared toward teens. He also hosts the CBC afternoon show Musicworks, which showcases up-and-coming Canadian music acts. He continues to act in commercials and public service announcements. And the Degrassi legacy lives on: He’s slated to play Joey Jeremiah in a reunion feature that will be shot this summer.

“Being a Canadian actor in Canada doesn’t mean financial comfort,” said Mr. Mastroianni, whose income has ranged from $25,000 to $100,000 a year. In the slow times, he waited on tables or helped out at his father’s construction company.

“Literally, I can be on the set one day and the next day shovelling asphalt. There’s no glamour in this business.”

The unpredictability of show business makes it even more important for Mr. Mastroianni — who is getting married in August — to keep up his savings.

He has money in an acting union RRSP (for every acting job, the producer puts 9% of his pay into the RRSP), his Degrassi RRSP and a small portfolio through CIBC, where he dabbles in mutual funds with his “play money.” This portfolio had a rough time last year: He lost roughly 25% in his tech-heavy CIBC Nasdaq Index funds. But he made up for it with his holdings in CIBC’s Canadian Small Companies fund (up 17%) and Canadian Imperial Equity fund, (12%).

He is also trying to educate himself about the stock market through newspapers and various Web sites.

“I don’t listen to music anymore on the radio. I listen to news stations that give me the business reports. I love that.”

With married life about to begin, Mr. Mastroianni is thinking about the future. The first major expense is the wedding itself, which will set him back $45,000. He’s looking for an apartment downtown, where he will live for the next two years. Then he plans to buy a house and starting a family.

What he’s not putting money away for is a new car: He drives a 1996 Ford Explorer that he bought used two years ago. “I’ve never bought a brand new car in my life. I don’t like spending that kind of money on a new car. Your starting price is at $25,000 and I can do a lot with $25,000.”

Cars might not be his indulgence but old hand-held video games are. Over the past year, Mr. Mastroianni has collected 12 of them, recently spending $100 on a Miss Pac Man game. “I don’t know what happened to me. Maybe it’s a quarter-life crisis or something. I needed to have those games.”

He may still be playing video games but he’s no Degrassi kid any more. “I can’t believe I’ve turned into this nerd. I remember as a kid thinking, ‘What is this jargon?’ Now it makes sense to me; it’s a great feeling to know you’re in control of your investments.”

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