Lifestyle

March 2021 Early Retirement Update

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Well folks, here we are in April. It’s no longer winter but it’s not quite summer yet. Maybe we’ll enjoy a little bit of spring before the heat sets in? Right now we’re suffering through the horrible intermediate phase of “pollen season” here in North Carolina. It lasts a week or two.

Everything is covered in a thick layer of yellow pollen. It billows through the air in thick clouds, turning the sky green. I’m just glad I can wear a mask outside and not look ridiculous any longer! The main consolation is that it will rain eventually and wash all the pollen away.

Our kids just enjoyed almost two weeks off school for spring break. We didn’t go anywhere this year. However we are ramping up our big summer travel plans. So far it’s looking like we’ll take six or seven weeks to make a tour across the USA all the way to California in the west, Montana in the north, and then head back home. I’m keeping reservations mostly refundable at this point since 2020 taught us that flexibility is very important. 

The good times keep on rolling. March was another great month for our finances. Net worth went up $68,000 to end the month at $2,648,000. Income during the month totaled $16,183, which exceeded our paltry spending of $1,483 by a factor of ten!

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

Income

Investment income totaled $5,923 in March. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. As a result, we had a really good month in March. However, not quite as good as our dividend income in December 2020 which was over $15,000. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $1,832 for the month which was slightly higher than the past several months. The small bump is due to the payout of the advertising revenues from the Black Friday and Christmas holiday shopping season. Retailers bid the ad prices way up in November and December so I get a little year-end bonus as a result (payment often lags by 2-3 months for advertising). 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $702 for the month of March which represents five hours of consulting sessions. I bumped my rates up by about 5% in February but the business keeps on coming in the door without any real marketing efforts. April looks to be strong as well.

Tradeline sales income was $425 in March. I ramped up my tradeline sales last year and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post

The “deposit income” totaled $7,016 in March. I wish I could say I was a financial genius and somehow made $7,000+ last month from some new venture. The reality is quite different – it’s the stimmy payment that most of us in America just received. With two adults and three kids in the house, we got $1,400 x 5 = $7,000. To put that in perspective on a global scale, that’s equivalent to the annual per capita GDP of a citizen of India. 

The other $16 in “deposit income” came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the Ebates.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 Ebates/Rakuten through this link and make a qualifying $20 purchase through Ebates/Rakuten, you’ll get a $20 sign up bonus (limited time only; normal bonus is $10 after a $25 purchase). 

My Youtube earnings totaled $284 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.

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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.

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at March expenses:

In total, we spent $1,483 during March which is almost $2,000 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Electronics and utilities topped the spending categories for the month. 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Electronics – $320

We bought a new computer for our daughter to use for her last year of high school and hopefully most of college. Part of the $374 total price was paid with Walmart gift cards left over from February. 

I also spent $11 on a new Logitech M100 corded computer mouse because, well, too much gaming broke one of the buttons on the old mouse. 

Utilities – $316:

The water/sewer/trash bill was $130. Our electricity bill was $66 for the month. The natural gas bill, which we covers our heating and hot water, was $121 in March which reflects heating for February, one of the coldest months here in North Carolina.

The next month or two should bring us more moderate utility bills as we won’t need huge amounts of heating or cooling during spring. 

Groceries – $296:

Grocery expenses of $296 are significantly lower than the $500 or $600 we spend in a typical month. We didn’t shop as much and we are entering the phase of emptying out our fridge and freezer before our big summer trip. 

Thai cucumber chicken salad with bean thread noodles and lime

I’m still using Walmart Grocery pick up service several times per month along with visits to Aldi, Lidl, and Food Lion.

The Walmart grocery pickers put together your order for you and you just drive up and click a button on the Walmart app to get them to bring the order out to you. The best part is you pay the same low prices as they offer in-store to all their customers and there is no delivery fee.

If you want to try Walmart Grocery, you can take $10 off your first $50+ order with my referral link. Enjoy! 

 

Big plate of bbq ribs

 

Automotive – $171:

March was a relatively high spend in our normally tame automotive expense category. The annual inspection was $24. And the annual state registration and property tax bill totaled $130. 

I also spent $17 to buy replacement windshield wipers that we’ll install before our big summer trip. 

Looking ahead, I may need to do some more preventive maintenance before we head out of town this summer.

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $135:

Our 2021 healthcare premiums are $135 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.

With the latest stimulus bill, our ACA subsidy is likely to grow to the point where we will pay $0 per month for health insurance. I’m still not clear on whether we will get a refund for the $135 per month we’ve paid so far this year or if that money is gone for good. 

General Merchandise – $109:

A bunch of random stuff from Walmart plus $44 for two peacock windmills. One can never have enough bird feeders and peacock windmills. 

Wards away evil spirits.
Soooo many bird feeders… Can one house have *too many* bird feeders?

Entertainment – $65:

I spent $24 for a five pack of Continental bike tire tubes. I had a hard time finding reasonably priced individual tubes.  So instead of getting two tubes for $10-12 each, I paid about the same price for the five pack. Two of our bikes use these size tubes, so I’ll have a few spares for future replacements.

DIY bike repair – a game of patience and perseverance. In the end I got everything back together and didn’t have any parts left over so I think it’s fine.

The other $41 of entertainment spending is bird food. Big 20 pound sacks of it. 

I don’t know if the bike gear or bird food is really legitimate “entertainment” spending as it could go elsewhere in our budget. But we get a lot of entertainment out of this stuff so I stuck it here!

You can do that when you have your own blog.

Gas – $41:

A tank of gas for our minivan. The first time we’ve refueled in a while. 

We mostly use gas to go places like this.
And this. Lake Crabtree in Cary.

Cable/Satellite – $18:

We 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.

Taxes – $12:

I have used FreeTaxUSA for several years to file taxes. The federal filing is totally free and the state filing was $12. 

Home Maintenance – $4:

I refilled the gas container for our lawn mower. Time to mow the grass

Restaurants – $1:

I spent some Domino’s gift cards (bought in previous months) for pizza during March. 

The $1 restaurant charge came from redeeming Moe’s coupons for free burritos. I spent just over the $5 limit of the coupons so the total was about $1 for two kids burrito combo meals. 

Homemade pad thai – good stuff! Better than restaurant food? 

Travel – $0:

We ramped up our travel bookings right at the end of March but none of the hotel reservations hit the account statements until April. Some of the bookings won’t be charged until we check in. We booked several hotel stays using points, so those stays will be totally free. 

I’m super excited because I think we’re going to be able to book a few nights near Yellowstone in a $500+/night hotel suite using a tiny bit of hotel points. I can’t give any details yet because availability is very limited but stay tuned because this will be awesome if I can do it! 

If you have a small business and want to earn a bunch of free travel, you can get $750+ in cash back bonus or travel with a new Chase Ink business card

We also booked three Airbnb stays for a total of thirteen nights. I used a combo of travel credits from our 2020 cancelled airbnb bookings plus the airbnb gift cards I bought a couple of years ago.

I made my own hobo stove out of a gallon can of sliced bamboo shoots. It works surprisingly well! I’m thinking about upgrading to 55 gallon drum version but not sure if I can eat that many bamboo shoots…

Total Spending for 2021 – Year to Date

Our spending totaled $5,009 for the first three months of the year. This is about $5,000 less than the $10,000 we budgeted for three months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

Spending will likely ramp up over the next several months as we complete more travel bookings and set out on our trip. We’ll be dining out quite a bit and paying for a lot of hotels along the way. 

Our annual home insurance bill and semi-annual auto insurance bill comes due in May, so that will likely be over $1,000 combined. 

At some point in the next 6 to 24 months, we’ll have to buy a second car and start paying for college. So we are definitely enjoying these low spend months but fully recognize that they will not continue forever.

Monthly Expense Summary for 2021:

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

Net Worth: $2,648,000 (+$68,000)

This stock market is unbelievable. I guess it’ll keep going up forever! Our equities-heavy 90% allocation to stocks lets us take advantage of these gains. Month after month after month we keep on watching the portfolio go up in value. 

A pullback at some point in the future would not surprise me a bit so I’m not living like someone with $2.6+ million just yet.

Needless to say, March led to a big boost in our cash inflow with $16,183 in income. But behind the scenes I shoveled quite a bit of cash from the savings account into retirement accounts. I put $19,500 into my Root of Good Roth solo 401k and another $6,000 into each of our Roth IRAs. So on a net cash flow basis, we actually watched the cash balance decline quite a bit in March. 

Watch the stock market rise during the day and watch the sun set at night. What a way to live!

Life update

March’s theme seemed to be “optimism”. It definitely feels like we are turning a corner and leaving 2020 in the dust. Pandemic case numbers are looking pretty good. Vaccination numbers in the USA are looking PHENOMENAL

Things are slowly getting back to normal around here. Businesses are mostly reopened. Schools are back at full capacity (for those opting to return; our kids aren’t returning yet). I’m cautiously optimistic that “everything will be okay” but there’s a time lag of a few weeks before we know if all this reopening is really okay. 

Vaxed up and ready to make 2021 count!!

Three of us in the Root of Good household got our Pfizer vaccines in March and we are scheduled to get the 2nd dose next week. It feels great to know that we’re already highly immune and will have 95% immunity in a couple more weeks. I’m happy to report that none of us had any significant side effects from dose 1 of the vaccine. Fingers crossed that dose 2 treats us equally nice! 

The upside of getting vaccinated is that we can get together with other vaccinated people and not worry about it. 

First time my parents have been inside our house to join us for a meal in a year. Things are getting back to normal!

Easter was a blast with the other side of our family. We had to cancel our normal Thanksgiving and Christmas get togethers last year so it’s good to finally “do it right”. 

Getting the vaccine and watching the stats where millions of others are getting vaxed every day gave us the confidence to go ahead and move forward with our big summer trip in the USA where it looks to be pretty safe for us.

A bigger unknown is what the travel landscape will look like in 2022 in some parts of the world that aren’t able to get vaccines any time soon. Next year, we’ll have to vacation somewhere that’s mostly vaccinated in order to make traveling safer and less arduous for us.

But I remain optimistic that large segments of the world will eventually be healthy and safe once again as we continue to roll out highly effective vaccines around the globe! 

How are you feeling right now? Optimistic for the future? Still worried? 

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