Lifestyle

June 2021 Early Retirement Update – USA Road Trip Edition

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Here we are turning the page on our calendar to July. We’ve spent most of the last month traveling across the USA from North Carolina to California. As this post goes live, we’ll be waking up not too far from the Pacific Ocean. Soon we will turn back east and head toward home during the month of July. So far, so good, but there were a few hiccups along the way (read on for more details). 

We just finished a one week stay in Las Vegas where we were finally able to relax and sleep late for several days straight. Such a nice break after being on the move for several weeks in a row. The next segment of our trip takes us through California where wildfires are a big concern right now. This is a new risk to us, so I guess we are a little anxious that the wildfires interrupt our plans. 

Financially, we had a good month. Our stock investments went down very slightly but overall June didn’t have a lot of volatility. Net worth dipped by $12,000 to end the month at $2,701,000. Income during the month totaled $10,250, which was significantly higher than our $2,447 spending during the month. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

Income

Investment income totaled $6,829 in June. 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 large amount of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $790 for the month which was lower than my average blog income. Part of the reason is that I haven’t been at home to collect and deposit the checks from some advertisers. July will be a much better month once I get back and cash all those checks! But the blog income is also down over the past year or two simply because I’m posting less often. Perhaps once the kids are back in school in the fall, I’ll have more free time to crank out a few extra blog posts in addition to these monthly update posts. I place a high priority on my leisure and recreation pursuits, so it’s a stretch to get in front of a computer and “work” for several hours straight to publish a polished blog post.  

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) increased to $1,336 for the month of June after a weak result in May. This income represents nine hours of consulting time. Given recent inflation in most of the things we consume right now, I decided to raise my rates again in June to $160 for one hour or $300 for two hours (up $10 and $15 respectively). 

Tradeline sales income was $525 in June. I ramped up my tradeline sales last year and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post. The tradeline sales company I use tends to open up their enrollment of new tradeline sellers in the July/August timeframe, so if you are interested in getting in on the action, leave a comment on this post to let me know. I’ll copy your email address that I can see privately from your comment and add you to an email that I’ll send out later with details.

My “deposit income” totaled $388 in June. Of that total, $376 came from a health insurance rebate from my insurer for 2017 and 2018. Under the ACA, health insurance companies have to spend a certain percentage of collected premiums on actual healthcare. When they spend too little, the ACA requires them to rebate the shortfall to the policyholders. A nice little unexpected check for us!

The other $12 in “deposit income” 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

My Youtube earnings totaled $381 last month. Here is the channel for the curious. It’s random travel videos, birds, kids, and a couple of DIY videos. Somehow through the magic of the internet hundreds of thousands of people watch the vids and we get paid for it. 

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.

Sunset over the Mississippi as we looked out over the St. Louis Arch. This was one of those beautiful pitstops along our route out west.

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at June expenses:


 

In total, we spent $2,447 during June which is about $900 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Travel and taxes were the top two spending categories for the month. 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Travel – $1,679:

We’ve been traveling for most of June and have spent $1,679 through the end of the month on travel expenses. I am including the groceries and restaurants we have enjoyed along the way in addition to gas, hotels, parking fees, souvenirs, and admission tickets. 

A rough breakdown of the travel spending for the month of June:

  • Hotels – $665
  • Gas – $435
  • Groceries and supplies – $350
  • Restaurants – $150 (plus another $75 worth of restaurant gift cards bought in the past)
  • Souvenirs – $50
  • Parking and admission fees – $29

Lodging was the biggest expense at $665. On top of that, we spent another $1,600 in the previous couple of months on airbnb stays and prepaid hotel bookings. We also booked 18 nights in hotels for free throughout our whole trip using 243,500 hotel points spread across the Choice Privileges, Marriott, Hilton, and Wyndham loyalty programs. 

If you want to get in on the travel hacking points and miles game, and you have a small business you can get $750+ in cash back bonus or travel with a new Chase Ink business card. No business? You can still get a Chase Freedom personal card with $200 in cash back when you spend $500

Gas has been pretty much in line with what I was thinking except it’s getting much more expensive in the western states. We’ll only be in California for about a week and that seems to be the worst of the gas prices. 

As far as groceries and restaurants, we’ll go out to eat or get take out/fast food when it’s convenient. And we’ll buy groceries when we are in one place for a few days or more. We’ve also been buying picnic supplies so we can enjoy a leisurely meal in the national parks.

Sometimes eating local food is the destination. Like this local Kansas City barbeque we enjoyed. “Burnt ends”, smoked brisket, and pulled pork (counterclockwise from bottom left).

The alternative is relying on the outsourced in-park dining choices that come with erratic schedules, high prices, variable quality, and sometimes very long lines and limited supplies.

As we sat on a bench in the shade enjoying our ham and turkey sandwiches in Zion National Park, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the family sitting on the bench next to me. The father had waited in line for an hour to get some sandwiches and a few slices of pizza. Except they ran out of pizza so he had to go back 20 minutes later to pick up his pizza order! 

Our homemade sandwiches, apple slices, and chips were really good and we got to enjoy a nice calm, convenient lunch with a beautiful view of the mountains in Zion National Park. 

As far as other expenses, they have been very minimal. We have a fourth grader, so we got the free National Park Pass that all fourth graders can get. It covers our whole family’s entry fees to all the national parks across the country! Other than national parks, we’ve mostly done free things like hikes, picnics, and free self-guided tours and museums. We did pay $10 to park at Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. And we paid a $19 admission fee at Box Canyon in Ouray, Colorado. 

We got to play in the snow in the middle of June at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado!
Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. We set out on a pretty strenuous hike at elevations over 9,000 feet. After a couple of miles of steep terrain we decided to call it a day and head back to the van for some rest. That altitude is no joke!

 

Taxes – $300:

State of North Carolina estimated taxes for the second quarter were $300. We pay about $1,200 per year in total. 

Utilities – $260:

We paid $129 for the water/sewer/trash bill. Our electricity bill was $108 for the month. The natural gas bill, which covers our hot water, was $24 in June. The bills lag by a month so they should all be much lower in July because we’ve been gone most of June. 

Clothing/Shoes – $68:

Some last-minute clothes shopping before we left on our big summer trip totaled $68. 

General Merchandise – $40:

During the Amazon Prime Day promotion, I bought a $40 Amazon gift card that came with a free $10 promotional gift card. I don’t know what I’ll spend the $40 Amazon gift card on, but we spend enough at Amazon to make good use of it. 

Gas – $39:

I refueled in Raleigh in very early June before we left on our trip. I suppose we used most of the gas while on our road trip but I also assume I’ll return home in late July with a mostly full tank. 

We spent another $435 on gas while driving about 3,700 miles on our road trip. I have included the $435 road trip gas spending in the “travel” category of expenses. 

A lot of the trip revolved around scenic drives, like this one along the Million Dollar Highway (US 522) in southern Colorado.

Automotive – $33:

One of the “oh no!” moments on our trip happened when something small and hard smashed into our windshield while on the interstate somewhere in Indiana or Illinois. I’m not really sure what it was but it left a 1.25 inch wide crack in the windshield.

I contacted a couple of glass repair companies in St. Louis where we were spending the night to no avail. One place didn’t repair chips and cracks at all. The other was booked solid for the next week due to a recent hailstorm destroying a ton of windshields.

As a result, I turned to youtube and DIY windshield repair videos. After polling my friends, many told me it was pretty simple to repair small cracks with a cheap kit from Walmart or the auto parts store. I found two kits at the local auto parts place just a few minutes from my hotel. We were fortunate to have a very light travel day of about four hours of driving, so I had plenty of time to fix the windshield myself in the morning.

I requested a late checkout of 1 pm and got to work in the shade cast by the hotel. A couple hours later after several periods of sitting and waiting, the crack looked a lot better but not flawless. 

2,000 miles later, the crack hasn’t expanded any so I think my repair job was “good enough”. The total cost for the two repair kits was $33. I had to buy two kits because there were two impact marks close together. I wanted to inject the epoxy into each impact mark to hopefully increase the odds that I would get the epoxy into all the cracks. 

I was ready to drop $150-180 for a professional crack repair but once I hit a roadblock of getting an immediate appointment, I decided to hedge my risk and DIY it so I could guarantee it would get done quickly. Otherwise I might have spent all morning calling different auto glass repair shops instead of actually fixing the problem. 

Let’s hope that’s the most “exciting” thing that happens on our whole trip! 

Groceries – $30:

Before we left on our trip, we spent $30 on groceries in Raleigh. We spent more in previous months to stock up for our road trip. It’s nice to have some non-perishable staples in the minivan so that we can make a quick meal after a long day if we aren’t near any restaurants or grocery stores. 

Our non-perishable supply boxes. Spaghetti-O’s, ramen, mi goreng, instant pho noodles, tom yum soup, applesauce, canned fruit, canned tamales, canned chicken breast, peanut butter, various crackers and cereals. We supplemented these foods along the way with fresh and frozen veggies, meats, and lots of fresh fruits. 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $0:

Our current 2021 healthcare premiums are $1 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. 

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! 

In May, we prepaid the health insurance for the entire summer which totaled $5. As a result, there is no medical spending in June. 

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”. 

The first few days of the road trip included virtual schooling for our youngest kid while on the road (sometimes literally on the road logging in through a mobile wifi device). The older kids had already completed high school classes by the time we left home.

Total Spending for 2021 – Year to Date

Our spending totaled $12,323 for the first half of the year. This is over $7,000 less than the $20,000 we budgeted for six months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

We are on track to finish the year well under our $40,000 year budget. However we’ll have a good bit of spending coming up. While on our road trip, we still have three weeks worth of dining and 3,500+ miles worth of gas. As far as future travel spending, we have prepaid for our October cruise but we still owe $1,400 for our family cruise over Christmas. And now that everything is basically open, we might do some more traveling in the fall! 

In the intermediate term over the next 6 to 24 months, we’ll have to buy a second car and start paying 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

The Grand Canyon!

Monthly Expense Summary for 2021:

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

Cooling off in the shade during a 105F degree day at Hoover Dam.

Net Worth: $2,701,000 (-$12,000)

After who knows how many consecutive months of net worth increases, we finally hit a bump in the road! I’m okay with that. My index funds can’t go up forever! 

Our net worth dropped by $12,000 to end the month at $2,701,000. Even after inflation, we are up roughly a million dollars from when I quit working eight years ago! 

Speaking of inflation, I’ve never really noticed it until this summer road trip. In general, inflation during my adult lifetime has been so mild that it’s hard to spot. Mostly 2% per year give or take a percent. Nobody notices when a $2 item is $2.04 the next year (or more likely, they shrink the item by 3% and make 1% more profit!). 

But while booking the road trip, we were watching hotel prices increase almost daily. Fortunately we booked lodging early enough to avoid the worst of the price spikes. Rental cars had even more inflation (but we drove our own van so we avoided that cost!). Now that we are out west, everything seems more expensive. Perhaps it’s just because everything is more expensive out here in general. I guess we’ll see when we get back home to Raleigh in a month. 

Fortunately for us, our 90% equities allocation should do a pretty good job of keeping up with inflation if it continues unabated. Most of the goods and services sold by the companies in our index funds have gone up in price, which means they should be able to increase their profits accordingly. More profits, higher share prices, right? At least in the long term! 

Breath-taking views in Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
Our daughter the official cell phone photographer. The Pixel 3 is a great budget choice for nice cell phone pics!

Life update

Right now we are a month into our grand adventure across the USA. We’re only getting a glimpse into the beauty and splendor that the western half of our country has to offer. If only we had more time! 

The truth is that this is a bit of a whirlwind trip. And that is by design. We want to cover a lot of territory and see a lot of things. That necessarily means we aren’t able to see everything at every National Park we visit. But we can always come back later and spend more time diving deep into those areas that are particularly notable. 

Visiting with our recently FIRE-d friends in Denver, Colorado.

Even though we are traveling at a fast pace, we are fortunate that our youngest kid is nine years old and the other two kids are teenagers. They’re veteran travelers by now, each having spent close to a year on the road in total during our various journeys across the world. We are all pretty good at packing, unpacking, settling in, then packing up again and moving on to the next hotel, cabin, or airbnb.

And we have our car. This makes it much less stressful to travel to a new city every day or two compared to taking planes or trains with a fixed ticket time. When driving our own car, we can leave an hour or two later than we intended and we get to our destination an hour or two later (or we shorten some sightseeing along the way to make up time). However, if you get to the airport or train station an hour or two after your plane or train leaves, you won’t have a very good day.

We’ve also programmed in many “do nothing days” throughout the trip where we have a very light schedule or literally have nothing planned at all. We just enjoyed two “do nothing” days in Las Vegas because we had already seen everything we wanted to see.

We kept our schedule pretty light some days. In Page, Arizona, we rested all day then went out in the evening to do some exploring of The Chains lake overlook after the sun started to get low in the sky. Less intense heat and thinner crowds. We had this park all to ourselves. 

What a luxury to have all summer to travel and be able to “do nothing” and relax! 

See you next month when we’re back in Raleigh! 

How’s the summer going so far? Is it getting hot where you are?

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