Lifestyle

January 2022 Early Retirement Update – Snowy Winter Edition

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Welcome to my first monthly update of 2022! It’s been a busy month for us. We had a nice snowy weekend during January which is rare for us here in Raleigh. The snow was just deep enough to offer some decent sledding. Then it melted the next day and it was bright and sunny and back to business as usual. 

During January and the first few days of February, we finalized our big two month summer trip through Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary. Here’s to hoping that we are able to commence on this adventure successfully once the time comes!

Financially, January was a mixed month for us. Our net worth dropped by $71,000 to end the month at $2,759,000. Income during the month totaled $4,378 while expenses were a mere $1,193 during January. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

Income

Investment income totaled $127 in January. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. As a result, we had a small amount of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $1,275 for the month. This is pretty average for blog income lately, given I’m not posting as often as I did several years ago when I first started blogging. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $1,143 in January. This reflects seven hours of consulting time, however two of those hours were completed in December. So on average, I’m working about one hour per week on consulting calls. And the income from this one side hustle covered almost our entire month’s worth of living expenses. Not bad! 

To combat my personal inflation, I raised rates by 8% to 9% which is slightly higher than the official inflation as measured by the CPI. 

My Bank and Credit Card Bonus income totaled $1,191 in January. I got a new personal loan for $5,000 from SoFi and they gave me a $599 bonus. Then I repaid the loan the next day and only paid $1.34 in interest. Nice win! I also cashed out $592 from my new Capital One card’s sign up bonus. 

Tradeline sales income was $300 in January. I ramped up my tradeline sales in 2020 and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post and in my July 2021 monthly post

For December, my “deposit income” totaled $128. Of this total, $15 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

I also withdrew $102 from my Ibotta account (referral link). This balance accumulated throughout the year from various deals and promotions they offer periodically. Right now they have a new sign up offer that gives free pizza, chips, and other goodies to “get you ready for the big game”. Sportsball related I assume. Feel free to click through my link if you like free stuff.

The remaining “deposit income” included $10 from electronically submitting grocery rebates for cash back (that offer has expired unfortunately). 

My Youtube earnings were $120 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 a few main videos that bring in most of the traffic (and revenue!).

In the “Selling Stuff” category of income, I included two ebay sales. I had some old Western Digital media players that I flipped for $46 and $48 each. I don’t think I paid that much for them when I bought them brand new many years ago! 

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.

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at January expenses:


 

In total, we spent $1,193 during January which is about $2,000 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Groceries and Taxes were the top two spending categories for last month. 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Groceries – $526:

Our grocery spending is slowly trending back down toward the $600 per month that we used to spend a year or two ago. We only spent $526 during January. 

I am a little surprised that we get by on so little. Prices seem to be creeping up on so many individual items. Other than meat which has skyrocketed, it’s mostly the smaller items under a dollar than have gone up 20-50% in price in the last year. And our purchases at the Asian grocery store are much more expensive as well. 

But overall, continuing to shop at Aldi, Lidl, and Walmart for most things keeps the prices as low as can be. On top of that, we shop the sales at the local neighborhood grocery store. So we are still routinely purchasing bone-in pork and chicken at $1 per pound (or less), lean boneless pork and chicken at about $2 per pound, and boneless beef cuts for about $4 per pound. 

Another factor keeping our grocery spending somewhat low is the empty shelf factor. We simply can’t buy some items because they aren’t available. I guess we end up eating less expensive grocery items (though honestly I don’t track grocery spending that closely).

Pad Thai with shrimp.
Shrimp, steak, and bamboo coconut curry
Bok choy, mango salad, steak, and jasmine rice

Taxes – $300:

Our estimated North Carolina income tax payment for fourth quarter, 2022 was $300.

Utilities – $204:

The total utility spending was $204 last month.

We spent $55 on the electric bill and $76 for the water/sewer/trash bill. The natural gas bill, which provides heating and hot water, totaled $73 for last month.

Our heating bill was about half of what it normally is during this time of year. We were out of town for a big chunk of December, which saved us a lot. And it was abnormally warm the last week of December. Between our vacation and the heat wave, we didn’t use the heat very much during the second half of December.

The February bill (for January usage) just showed up and it’s much larger. It was cold during January, and natural gas prices are up 50% per unit compared to 2019’s prices. We can obviously afford the heating bill, so we haven’t adjusted the thermostat a bit in spite of much higher prices.

Home Maintenance – $51:

I bought a 1/4 horsepower utility pump for $51 in January. My tankless water heater is almost two years old. We are supposed to flush the heating coil every year or two to eliminate any mineral deposits. I bought this pump so that I can DIY the water heater flush myself using $7 worth of vinegar (for the acid content). 

I should save about $200-250 on this first DIY flush compared to the price of a plumber completing this maintenance task for me. And those savings are net of the $51 spent on the pump!

The DIY flush job itself is pretty clean and simple since I had the tankless water heater installed on the side of the house instead of inside the crawlspace. I was planning for long term ease of maintenance, especially in another couple of decades when I might not be able to crawl around in a confined space. 

We ventured onto the island in the middle of our little lake. The goal was to cut down all the really tall trees that had grown up in the past several years. They were messing up our view. It’s hard to believe none of this land was here 15 years ago. The silt and sand came first, then emergent vegetation and eventually full size trees.

Automotive – $42:

In contrast to my DIY plumbing, I chose not to DIY the oil change in our minivan. I took the van to a local independent shop that specializes in Toyota and Honda repairs. After using a coupon, the oil change totaled $42. They did a thorough inspection and found several potential issues that might need attention in the next few months or years. 

I may go back soon and have them complete an axle boot repair along with a couple of fluid flushes for another $600-700 in total. 

If I wanted to, I could probably DIY these repairs. But the ratio of effort to cost savings doesn’t make sense. The auto shop works at least 3-4 times as fast as me. And they have all the tools, equipment, and supplies to get the job done right the first time. I just don’t want to devote a few days to auto repair when the net savings work out to $10-20 dollars per hour. 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $40:

Our current 2022 health insurance is completely free thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$45,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. 

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 select silver-level health insurance plans completely free. 

The $40 shown in this month’s medical/dental expense is our dental insurance for 2022. For the adults, we’ll spend about $20 per month ($240 per year) for a basic dental insurance plan for each of us. Our routine dental exams and cleanings with the occasional x-ray have increased in price recently. The cost is now $125 (no x-ray) or $170 (with x-ray). 

With two routine visits per year, we will spend almost $300 per person. A $240 insurance plan provides those same services for free. And we get some minimal level of insurance if one of us needs a filling during the year. 

Gas – $23:

While visiting the auto shop, I noticed cheap gas on my way back home. So I bought a half tank of gas. I like keeping the tank relatively full just in case we get a bad winter storm and need gasoline to keep the car running for emergency electricity. Or to get out of town and escape a natural disaster (where gas stations cannot pump gas due to lack of electricity). 

The bald eagles are back on the lake.

Travel – $6:

We didn’t spend much cash on travel in January. I paid my North Carolina estimated income tax using a credit card and had to pay a $6 convenience fee as a result. I file that convenience fee under the “travel” category because we get thousands of dollars of travel benefits from our credit card spending annually. 

For our two month summer trip through Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary, we managed to book all of our accommodations in late January and early February. We had over $3,700 worth of Airbnb gift cards purchased in previous months that we used to pay for our European lodging. As a result, no travel bookings hit our expense ledger in January. But we did spend a couple thousand dollars in February that will show in next month’s spending report. 

We tried to keep all of our trip fully refundable. I have the plane tickets and a month-long rental car booked. I can cancel them all with no penalty. Most of our Airbnb bookings are fully refundable. However we had to book partially refundable accommodations in two cities simply because the supply of fully refundable lodging wasn’t to our liking.

In total, we’ll forfeit about $1,200 if we have to cancel our trip at this point. The upside is that we got some pretty nice places to stay for eight weeks throughout Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary. 

If you are interested in getting free travel from your credit card like I do, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (my referral link). Right now the Sapphire Preferred card offers 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be used to book $750 worth of travel. Or transfer the points to a ton of different airline frequent flyer programs and book a free trip to Europe! Or cash out the points for a $600 check. I’m also using the Sapphire Preferred card to get free rental car insurance for our rentals in Europe this summer.

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”. 

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

We’ve had some really pretty sunsets this winter.

Net Worth: $2,759,000 (-$71,000)

We had a spectacular $115,000 gain in December, so losing $71,000 in January doesn’t sting too bad. Our net worth ended the month at $2,759,000, which is more than enough to fund our living expenses indefinitely. 

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.

Life update

We keep on keeping on. The last couple of weeks have been busy finalizing our plans for our summer trip through Europe. I really think the trip will work out. If we end up cancelling the trip, it will be a big disappointment. We have a lot of time (and money) invested in the trip already, and it’s a little worrisome to know that world events outside of our control may force us to back out of the trip. 

Here in Raleigh, It’s been chilly outside most days, so we haven’t been lounging outside nearly as much as we normally do. In fact, it was finally cold enough to snow and stick around for the day! We had a fun but exhausting day playing in the snow. 

Nice view down by the lake!

During January, I managed to squeeze in several short bike rides around town while running some errands. It’s nice to live in a place where winter never hits too hard. While the mornings were usually cold, many afternoons were warm enough for shorts and short sleeves (for me anyway). 

Poor birdies! This female cardinal was hiding out underneath the icicles when we got some freezing rain.

Looking ahead, we are a mere four months away from the end of school and the start of our big trip. Time flies! I have several small maintenance tasks around the house to complete this spring before we go out of town, so that will keep me busy I’m sure. Along with my extensive Netflix queue, stack of books to read, and warmer weather calling us back outside. 

That’s it for this month! See you next time!

How is your year going so far? Winter weather got you down? Or is your area thawing out already?

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