Lifestyle

August 2021 Early Retirement Update – Back to School (and College!) Edition

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How is it September already? Summer break is over and all our kids have been back in school for a couple of weeks now. We are more than two thirds of the way through 2021 already! Where did all the time go?

The biggest news of the month is that our oldest kid is officially a college student. The college expenses have started on a very small scale with textbook purchases (read on to find out more details!). It’s strange to have the kids back in school after the past eighteen months of virtual schooling at home. So far so good – everyone is staying healthy! 

We’re settling back in to home after our long summer trip. And once again getting used to the “new” school year routine. The weather finally started cooling off in the past week so we’ve been able to spend more time outside, which is a nice relief! 

Financially, last month was great for us. Net worth popped up by $33,000 to end the month at $2,725,000. Income during the month totaled $2,587, which was slightly higher than our $2,091 spending during the month. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

Income

Investment income totaled $217 in August. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. As a result, we had a relatively small amount of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $744 for the month which was a little lower than average. One advertiser switched up their income reporting system and payment system so the August payments lagged a bit. Overall, summer traffic is usually a bit slower than other months which leads to lower revenues as well. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) came back strong with $953 in August revenue after a slow July. This income represents six hours of consulting during the past month. 

Tradeline sales income was $475 in August. I ramped up my tradeline sales last year and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post and in my July 2021 monthly post. The annual enrollment for new Boost Credit 101 tradeline sellers closed as of September 1st, but you can try to contact the company (details in the July 2021 post) if you want to see if they’ll still take your credit cards right now. 

Moving on to Deposit Income. My “deposit income” totaled $55 in August. Of this total, $12 came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the Rakuten.com and Mrrebates.com online shopping portals (some of which was earned from you readers signing up through these links). 

If you sign up for Rakuten through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Rakuten, you’ll get a $10 sign up bonus

The remaining “deposit income” came from a $43 cash back credit from routine monthly spending on a cash back credit card. 

My Youtube earnings totaled $143 last month. Here is the channel for the curious. It’s random travel videos, birds, kids, and a couple of DIY videos. There are only two main videos that bring in most of the traffic (and revenue!).

The $143 in Youtube earnings is about half of the normal monthly earnings, so it’s possible that my future Youtube revenues will remain depressed. I don’t do much to promote my channel or keep it fresh, so I am not surprised at declining revenues. In fact, I’m still shocked that I hit the Youtube lottery of success at all! 

If you’re interested in tracking your income and expenses like I do, then check out Personal Capital (it’s free!). All of our savings and spending accounts (including checking, money market, and five credit cards) are all linked and updated in real time through Personal Capital. We have accounts all over the place, and Personal Capital makes it really easy to check on everything at one time.

Personal Capital is also a solid tool for investment management. Keeping track of our entire investment portfolio takes two clicks. If you haven’t signed up for the free Personal Capital service, check it out today (review here).

Tracking spending was one of the critical steps I took that allowed me to retire at 33. And it’s now easier than ever with Personal Capital.

It’s cooling off so we’ve been spending more time outdoors lately. Hanging out with these eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies that love our wildflowers.

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at August expenses:


 

In total, we spent $2,091 during August which is about $1,200 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Groceries and education were the top two spending categories for last month. 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Groceries – $924:

Okay, I know what you’re thinking and you’re probably not wrong. Inflation hit food prices in a big way over the summer. We’re all feeling it and these numbers reflect our new reality. Food just costs more now and it probably won’t go back down in price.

The $924 we spent on groceries in August includes all those little $0.20 and $0.50 and $1 price increases on a big cross section of the items in our grocery cart. I would estimate that about 30-40% of the items we routinely buy have increased significantly in price by 10-25%. At my local stores, a few items like eggs and milk that are loss leaders have increased more than 100% since May. 

The good news is that a lot of items haven’t budged at all (yet) thanks to the strong competition in our local grocery market. Basically, thank you Aldi and Lidl for keeping things real in Raleigh. 

That said, the $924 we spent in August isn’t purely inflation at work. During May and early June, we intentionally ate up our supply of staples before leaving on our big summer trip. After we returned home, we spent August replenishing our normal stock of food for the fridge, freezer, and pantry. For example, we spent $125 at the Asian grocery store on 50 pound sacks of imported Jasmine rice and sticky rice (one sack of each kind). That will last us a few months.

We’ll keep a close eye on the grocery spending to determine the impact on our personal food inflation over the next few months. 

A selection of home cooking this month:

Thom khem – Cambodian sweet pork and boiled egg dish
Thai basil, pork and gourd stir fry
beef larp (Laotian beef salad) with fresh herbs

Education – $283:

First the small education expense: school supplies were $25 at Walmart. Pretty cheap for all the back to school essentials! 

Now for the big education expense: COLLEGE.

It has started. Our oldest daughter attends community college half time and high school half time. College tuition is free while she is dual-enrolled so all we pay for is textbooks for her college classes.

She enrolled in Chemistry and Calculus I. The Chemistry class uses a free, open source online textbook which didn’t cost us a penny. 

The Calculus course uses a textbook and homework submission platform offered by the Cengage textbook publisher. We could have paid $120 + tax for the single online textbook and homework problems for this one course.

Cengage also offers a two year “unlimited” all-U-can-learn subscription pack that covers Calculus I, II, and III, Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, Physics 1+2, and probably some other courses our kid will end up taking in the next two years. The total price tag for two years is $240 + tax which is only twice the price of a single course e-textbook. Hopefully we’ll get six or more textbooks out of this single $258 (including tax) purchase.

We also have a 529 account, so we will reimburse ourselves for the full $258 purchase at the end of the year. We have over $90,000 in the 529 account, so we’re eager to start withdrawing from that account for qualified education expenses. It’s pretty cool to finally be able to spend from the 529 after all these years of saving for college! More on our thoughts on college spending

Clothing/Shoes – $265:

We spent a total of $265 on back to school clothes shopping including some clothes for the adults in the house as well.

We would have spent even more except we visited the thrift shop on “all clothing half off” day. At the thrift shop, we spent $70 on about 25 pieces of clothing plus a few pairs of shoes. Most of the stuff looked like it was brand new or worn once or twice. So many good name brands in the mix as well. 

We spent $195 at regular stores on brand new stuff. 

Utilities – $209:

The total utility spending in August was $209. We spent $133 on the electric bill, $13 on the natural gas bill, and $64 for the water/sewer/trash bill. 

These charges are much lower than normal since we were only home for about half of the billing period for each of these utilities. September charges will be higher across the board, although the electricity shouldn’t be too bad since it’s starting to cool off in Raleigh. 

Entertainment – $106:

I refilled the liquor cabinet in August for $106. I think it’s been about 18 months since my last big liquor run. This time around I had to fill out the official state liquor transportation license because I purchased “in excess of 9 liters of distilled spirits”.

For anyone doing the math to see if we’re alcoholics, that’s about 18 mL per day, or about half a shot daily, for the past 18 months. Don’t ask about wine consumption as that’s clearly a grocery expense. 🙂

I place hard liquor purchases in the “entertainment” category since it’s usually something we consume when we have people over. Eventually that will be true again! 

Speaking of entertainment, I’ve been playing Starcraft II with my son a lot more lately. It’s a great 10 year old classic game. And most of the content is free to play. Protoss is boss of course.

Telephone – $97:

Another first (in a long time) for us: cell phone bills! During the last 18 months we haven’t needed much in the way of cell service since the kids are mostly at home (or on someone else’s wifi).

Now that the kids are back in school, we got prepaid SIM cards from Red Pocket Mobile. I also got a SIM card for Mrs. Root of Good since she (finally) has a smart phone. 

Each Red Pocket SIM card was $30+ tax, or $97 in total for 3 cards each valid for one full year of service. The plan is only available through Ebay for those looking to buy the same package. This plan works out to about $2.50 per month.

Each month, the plan includes:

  • 200 minutes talk time
  • 1,000 texts (we use Google Voice/Hangouts for unlimited free texts)
  • 200 MB high speed data (it’s unclear if slow 2G/3G service will be free after using the 200MB high speed data)

That’s not a lot of data. But it’s enough to text, find out where the bus is, and use the internet occasionally. It also takes just a few clicks to add a 100MB data packet for $2 that’s good for the rest of the plan month if we really need extra data. 

After almost a month of using the service, there haven’t been any problems so far. As you can guess, we aren’t really heavy cell voice/data users so the cheapo plan suits our needs pretty well. 

General Merchandise – $81:

The biggest single item in the “general merchandise” category was a food processor from Amazon. We spent $47 on a Hamilton Beach 12 cup food processor. It’s working well so far.

The other $34 of general merchandise spending consists of random things we bought throughout the month from Amazon and Walmart. I think the Prime and Walmart+ free delivery is making us buy more stuff! 

Restaurants – $68:

We got a couple of trays of takeout from the neighborhood Chinese buffet for $25. The other $44 went toward a $50 gift card for Pei Wei from Raise.com (discount was $6). 

Gifts – $49:

Our middle kid turned 15 in August so we got her what every 15 year old wants.

A katana! 

No, seriously, she’s been wanting a real sword for a long time. After watching thousands of hours of anime she finally merited a real samurai sword of her own. 

Another addition to our home security system

Yes, it’s real. Yes, it’s sharp. 

Online Services – $12:

Another year of Root of Good domain registration through Google Domains. So I’m all registered through September of 2022. 

I didn’t have any web hosting bills this year (which is different than domain registration, FYI). Last year, I bought a 2 year hosting package so I won’t have to renew the hosting service until 2022. 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $2:

Our current 2021 healthcare premiums are $1.15 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$45,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. The benefit of being “poor” on our tax return. For some reason Personal Capital rounded the $1.15 up to $2. 

The “American Rescue Plan Act” passed in March 2021 makes the Affordable Care Act premiums even cheaper through 2022. Households with modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGI) below 150% of the federal poverty level get some silver-level health insurance plans completely free. We opted for a slightly more expensive silver plan that comes with $1,000 in cash back incentive rewards. Our total cost is just over $1 per month now!

Our friendly neighborhood great blue heron hanging out in the back yard.

Travel – $1:

More travel hacking. Instead of spending $15 for a passport picture at the post office (times two), we took some high quality photos at home and formatted them using the US Department of State online tool. Then I photoshopped the pics into a 4″ by 6″ photo and paid $0.15 for one picture, delivered, from Amazon Prime Photos. 

At home, I cut the six 2″ by 2″ passport pics apart using our craft tools. 

And voila! 15 cents for two sets of passport pics instead of $30. 

We go for passport renewals for two of our kids in October so that we can (hopefully) travel more during 2021 and 2022, global issues permitting of course

Gas – $0:

We haven’t bought any gas since returning to Raleigh in July, hence the $0 gas expenditure (I run errands on my bike a lot). The van is at 3/8th’s of a tank so we’ll definitely have to get more gas in September or October. I should fill up anyway just to prepare for the occasional gas shortage during hurricane season. 

Cable/Satellite – $0:

We generally pay $18 per month for a local reduced rate package due to having a lower income and having kids. 30 mbit/s download, 4 mbit/s upload. Right now the cost of the internet service is temporarily reduced to $0 due to the “Emergency Broadband Benefit”. 

Me pretending to be a construction inspector on the massive water/sewer line replacement project in front of my house. After almost 3 months of major disruptions, they finally reopened our road.

Total Spending for 2021 – Year to Date

Our spending totaled $16,320 for the first eight months of the year. This is about $9,000 less than the $26,667 we budgeted for eight months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

We are still on track to finish the year well under our $40,000 yearly budget. We still owe $1,400 for our family cruise over Christmas. Hopefully that will happen. It looks like we’re going to cancel our October cruise from Miami due to several factors. 

In the intermediate term over the next 6 to 24 months, we’ll have to buy a second car and start paying more for college. Used car prices are way up! However, it’s looking like college bills won’t be so bad due to a combo of financial aid and kids doing AP classes, college transfer classes, and community college for a year before university. Some more thoughts on college spending here

For most of the year, our monthly spending has been hovering in the $2,000 to $2,500 range. It’s likely this will continue through the end of the year with perhaps a month or two of higher spending when we pay for some of the big ticket items like the December cruise or a new (used) car. 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2021:

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

Our yard is full of rabbits…
…Which is weird because this hawk is always hanging around.

Net Worth: $2,725,000 (+$33,000)

After a couple months of watching our portfolio tread water and lose a little value each month, it looks like the bull market is back. Our assets jumped up $33,000 throughout August to leave our net worth at $2,725,000 by month end. 

This marks a new all time high net worth for us. It’s just $12,000 higher than May 2021’s $2,713,000 net worth, so not a huge reason to celebrate (yet).

I manually adjusted my house value upward to reflect the recent spike in Raleigh property values. I’m still undervaluing the house versus what Zillow says just because I know we would pay real estate commissions and complete some repairs/upgrades if we had to sell the house abruptly. 

For the curious, our net worth reported above includes our home value (which is fully paid off). However, please note that I don’t consider my home value as part of my portfolio for “4% rule” calculation purposes. I realize folks ask me about that every month so I just wanted to state that here for clarity.

As I mentioned in the grocery section, inflation has started to pick up in 2021. That’s a huge concern to every early retiree out there. If you aren’t keeping up with inflation then your real purchasing power will decline over time. 

Equities have been a great way to keep up with inflation historically and this year seems like it will be no different. While it is tough to watch prices go up at a 5%+ annual rate, watching stocks go up 15-20% makes it less painful.  

Is the inflation here to stay? The answer is “yes” for some of the current price hikes. Other items that have experienced price spikes due to short term supply constraints may drop in price in the future.

Look no further than the collapse in wholesale lumber prices in the past several months. Those $9-10 2 by 4’s at Home Depot are back down to the more reasonable $3-4 price range. 

The bigwig economists use the term “transitory” to describe the current nature of inflation. They think high inflation will not persist for the long term, but rather be “transitory” for the next several months (or years?). Eventually we’ll get back to a nice, boring 2% average annual inflation rate. Or so they say.

In the meantime, I’ve strapped myself to my skyrocketing 90% equities portfolio and hope it continues to beat inflation for the next five decades.

If I’m wrong, I might end up eating cat food for the rest of my retirement (only on April 1st however). 

Or maybe I could catch this little guy and enjoy some free venison.

Life update

Life keeps on happening no matter the local and global events transpiring around you. I keep an eye on social media and see that a lot of people have been running around like their hair is on fire for the past 18 months. 

That is no way to live.

Yes, things aren’t perfect but if you’re reading this in English and living in America, then you’re probably living a rather comfortable life (statistically speaking). I know I fall in that category. 

My brief advice is to focus on changing those things that you can control in your life and not worry too much about the big picture stuff. Vote for the politicos in local, state, and national elections that you think will do the best. Get involved if you really have the mental space to dedicate to your mission.

Make sure you’re dictating your own agenda and not getting triggered by the 24/7 news cycle and what your closest 1,000 friends on social media are obsessing over this week. Trust me, next week there will be a new crisis du jour and everyone will obsess over that until they forget about it and move on to the next problem. 

Put your oxygen mask on first, then make sure everyone around you has their mask on. 

Okay, that’s it for me (and my soap box) for this month. See you next time! 

Summer is almost over and fall is just around the corner. Which one do you like better?

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