Passive Income: How to Make Your Money Work For You

By the Inspired Investor teamMay 11, 2023

Multiplying your sources of income can add financial stability and diversify your investments – and it's even better when your money does the work for you. Enter: passive income. Here are the basics of creating regular cash flows from investments without breaking (too much of) a sweat.

Ever hear the saying “let your money work for you?” That’s the mindset behind passive income, or earnings generated with minimal effort. While active income usually comes from a job or a business that requires, you guessed it, active participation, types of passive income include things like earnings from investments or rent from investment properties. Building out your revenue streams can be rewarding, grant you additional financial stability (or independence!) and help shape your big-picture financial plan. Let’s look at what that means.

Types of passive-income investments

Investments that can generate passive income generally fall into these categories:

Real estate. Rental income is the primary way of making passive income from real estate. That can include renting apartments or short-term accommodations. About two-thirds of Canadians are homeowners. In 2020, almost eight per cent of Canadian households declared rental income, up from seven per cent in 2008.

Business or entrepreneurship. If you have a hands-off role at a company (say, one structured as a limited partnership), there are ways to make money without directly managing the business. Selling copies of on-demand courses, art or other content online is an example of a business model that can be mostly automated after the initial creative work is done.

Fixed-income products. As the name implies, these investment vehicles are a source of fixed, or regular, income. Bonds typically net you semi-annual interest payments. Fixed-income mutual funds or ETFs (exchange-traded funds) are professionally managed and provide opportunities to diversify your account. GICs, or guaranteed investment certificates, have become more popular as higher interest rates have increased their returns.

Other income-generating securities. This category includes so-called “income stocks,” or stocks that pay dividends. Companies that pay dividends tend to be more established and well-managed — and have less volatile share prices — than those that do not.

As you might have noticed, few of the income streams listed above are truly “passive.” For example, real estate requires a degree of property and tenant management, and stocks may require planning and monitoring a portfolio. They also require up-front effort – consider the work it takes to start up a business venture versus simply signing up for an investment account online. These are important considerations when planning out a passive portfolio.

The benefits of passive income

Passive income can be appealing for many reasons. A little extra cash flow is always nice, especially if it is regular and predictable. Additional income can supplement your paycheque or retirement income, help you diversify, serve as a buffer against economic downturn or bolster your emergency fund. Plus, the often minimal effort required to generate passive income frees up time to focus on interests and other important work. Put simply, more cash flow gives you more options.

Risks of passive income

It’s important to note that passive income doesn’t mean easy money. As with all investments, returns can fluctuate with the markets. Companies are not obligated to pay dividends, interest rates can take bonds and real estate prices for a ride, and inflation can put a dent in online sales. And, depending on your source of income, different tax rules may apply.

Some of these risks can be limited through increasing your sources of passive income. As a rule of thumb, the more sources of passive income you have, the more insulated your holdings are from volatility.

How investors use passive income

With that in mind, passive income can be a powerful tool in an investor’s portfolio. Some popular investing strategies include:

Reinvestment. Reinvesting gains can help increase your earning potential over time – think expanding a business to make more sales. In an investment portfolio, reinvesting dividends from certain stocks or ETFs, or distributions from mutual funds, can buy you more units or shares that in turn pay even more returns. (And as you may know, compounding can be an amazing thing.)

Retirement. Passive income can supplement an investor’s retirement income with regular inflows to live off of and help sidestep the need to sell off assets to generate income. Some investors aim to grow their passive-income streams to replace employment income entirely, as in the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement.

Diversification. As part of a balanced portfolio, passive-income generating assets can provide stable growth alongside more volatile investments or assets that must be sold before you can make money. Mutual funds and ETFs are one way to help diversify your investments.

Tax-advantaged accounts. Canadians can hold certain income-generating securities in registered plans, including TFSAs (Tax-Free Savings Accounts), RRSPs (Registered Retirement Savings Plans) and FHSAs (First Home Savings Accounts). These accounts allow investors to defer or minimize the taxes they would otherwise owe on earnings from their investments.

Getting started? Get creative

There are many ways to earn passive income. Wondering how to pick one and get started? A great first step involves evaluating your income goals, risk capacity and how much work you are willing to take on.

For many, investing can be an accessible path to earning regular income. Real estate may be attractive to investors who prefer working with something they can see and feel. Or perhaps you like the idea of a side hustle? Look to your unique skills and interests for inspiration. With a bit of research, you can find a method that works best for you.

+ Disclaimers

Mutual Funds are sold by Royal Mutual Funds Inc. (RMFI). There may be commissions, trailing commissions, management fees and expenses associated with mutual fund investments. Please read the Fund Facts/prospectus before investing. Mutual fund securities are not insured by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation. For funds other than money market funds, unit values change frequently. For money market funds, there can be no assurances that a fund will be able to maintain its net asset value per security at a constant amount or that the full amount of your investment in a fund will be returned to you. Past performance may not be repeated. RMFI is licensed as a financial services firm in the province of Quebec.

Financial planning services and investment advice are provided by Royal Mutual Funds Inc. (RMFI). RMFI, RBC Global Asset Management Inc., Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Trust Corporation of Canada and The Royal Trust Company are separate corporate entities which are affiliated. RMFI is licensed as a financial services firm in the province of Quebec.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.