Lifestyle

April 2022 Early Retirement Update

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Another busy month comes to a close! We spent Spring Break on a cruise. Upon returning to Raleigh, the older kids prepared to take their Advanced Placement exams. And now, we are getting ready to go on another cruise! 

After we get back from our next cruise, we’ll have about a month before we leave home for our two month summer trip through Europe. I need a vacation from vacations (ha ha)!

While we were at home in April, we were able to enjoy the nice mild spring weather. We had some friends over a few times and had a big family get-together for Easter. 

Financially, April was a mixed month with heavy stock market declines but very low spending. Our net worth declined by $139,000 to end the month at $2,667,000. Income during the month totaled $3,666 while expenses were a mere $1,321 during April.  

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

Income

Investment income totaled $454 in April. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. As a result, we had a smaller amount of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $721 for the month. This is a bit lower than recent average income from the blog. However, advertising revenues are usually lower during the first quarter of the year since advertisers “reset” their ad spending budgets at the beginning of the year. And this blog income reflects revenue earned during the first quarter. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $650 in April. These earnings came from four hours of consulting work during the month. So far, I’ve had a lot of inquiries in the first week of May, so this month might be a really good month for consulting income. 

Tradeline sales income totaled $950 in April. 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 April , my “deposit income” totaled $40. This income comes 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

This little bluebird has been terrorizing us for over a month. He attacks all of our downstairs windows unless we cover them with a screen or a piece of cloth.

My Youtube earnings payout was $0 during April. Youtube only pays out when you exceed $100 in accumulated revenue. Recently, my youtube earnings have been just under $100 per month, so I’ll be getting paid a bit under $200 every two months.

Here is the Youtube 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!).

The final bit of revenue comes in the form of some bank account and brokerage bonuses. I signed up for a US Bank Leverage Business credit card and cashed out $850 in rewards from this new card. Of that total, $750 came from the sign up bonus and the other $100 came from points earned while meeting the $7,500 minimum spending requirement. 

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 April expenses:


 

In total, we spent $1,321 during April which is about $2,000 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Groceries and Utilities were the top two spending categories for last month. We didn’t spend much in April since we didn’t have any major annual bills come due, and nothing major went wrong with the house or car or our health. 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Groceries – $785:

We spent $785 on groceries last month. This level of grocery spending is a bit higher than our normal month, but might be the new baseline spending level long term. Food inflation is hard to avoid. 

I looked back at my “Costco Costs More” article from five years ago to see how today’s prices compare to what we were spending waaaay back in 2017. Is inflation really that bad? 

It’s hard to tell. In the Costco article, I looked at 16 staple foods that we bought fairly often at the time. 

The prices on several items remains shockingly steady. For example, chicken breasts have been a magical $1.99 per pound pretty consistently over the past five years at most of the lower price grocery stores around here. 

The bad news is that prices have gone up significantly, in percentage terms, on several items including these three foods:

  • generic can of pinto beans: $0.57 –> $0.72 = 26% increase
  • generic jar of spaghetti sauce: $1.06 –> $1.40 = 32% increase
  • 80% lean ground beef, per pound: $2.39 –> $5.14 = 115% increase!!!

These are price points from Walmart, which tends to have pretty competitive prices in my area.

I can still find ground beef much cheaper than that on sale. But it’s getting harder to keep overall grocery spending low without substituting cheaper items for the more expensive foods. 

Our 10 year old’s Percy Jackson-themed homemade birthday cake for birthday party #1. We’re buying a cake for his second birthday party (combo thing with others in the extended family having birthdays around the same time)
The birthday boy!

Utilities – $309:

The total utility spending was $309 last month.

We spent $53 on the electric bill and $173 for the water/sewer/trash bill. The natural gas bill, which provides heating and hot water, totaled $83 for last month.

The heating bill was higher than it normally is at this time of year. Natural gas prices increased 50% since 2020. We rarely need to use the heat after April so our gas bill should drop to $20 or $30 per month for the remainder of the spring and summer.

But air conditioning season is here, so our electricity usage will increase significantly. 

The walk home from school on one of the days we babysat our 1 year old niece.

Travel – $127:

We didn’t spend a lot on travel in April. Our cruise was already prepaid in March. We only spent $97 on gas to drive from Raleigh to Jacksonville, Florida and back home. And while on the cruise, we went shopping for souvenirs in Nassau, Bahamas and spent another $30. That’s it, $127 in travel spending for the month! 

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, for a limited time, the Sapphire Preferred card offers 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be used to book $1,000 worth of travel. Or transfer the points to a ton of different airline frequent flyer programs and book a free trip to Europe (with enough points left over for a free round trip within the USA)! Or cash out the points for an $800 check and buy whatever you want! The card also has a lot of nice travel benefits as well.

Hanging out in the cabanas on the cruise
Beautiful blue Bahamian seas at Princess Cay private island. Our “little” cruise ship docked a half mile from the shore in the background.

Gas – $44:

I filled up the van in preparation for our road trip to our next cruise in May. 

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. 

For the adults in the household, we spend $20 per month ($240 per year) for a basic dental insurance plan for each of us (or $40 per month in total). 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. 

Traditional New Year’s Blessing from Mrs. Root of Good’s parents. I don’t know if it will help me any but it can’t hurt!

Restaurants – $19:

Several plates of pad thai takeout totaled $19 (plus I used up a $6 gift card balance). 

Cable/Satellite/Internet – $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 “Affordable Connectivity Program”. 

This hawk had to dry itself off after a thorough soaking from one of our springtime rainstorms
More springtime fun. Ducklings with their mommy and daddy ducks swimming in our lake
And the geese did okay this year too. Several sets of goslings showed up this spring. Unfortunately, many of the goslings and ducklings get eaten by the hawks before they reach adulthood.

Total Year-To-Date Spending for 2022

Our spending totaled $10,404 for the first four months of 2022. This is about $3,000 less than the $13,333 we budgeted for four months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

Even though April saw us spend very little, we went a little crazy with our travel bookings during March. But so far it’s not pushing us over our budget target for the year. A paid off house and a paid off car keep our basic living expenses very low. This means we have the financial flexibility to afford little luxuries like booking several cruises and spending the summer in Europe while still keeping our overall spending low. 

Coming up, we have $1,000 worth of home and auto payments due in May. Next month, we’ll also be paying $930 toward our 11 night airbnb rental in Zagreb, Croatia. And in June we will pay over $1,000 for a rental car for 5+ weeks this summer.

Easter egg hunting in our back yard

In August when we return home from our summer trip, we will hopefully be able to purchase an additional car. Used car prices are finally starting to drop since February. I hope car prices continue that downward trend all spring and summer so we won’t be paying $10,000 for a 15 year old Ford Escort. 

Our oldest kid starts full time community college in the fall. It’s looking like financial aid will cover the entire cost and cover all the books too. So we shouldn’t have to dip into the 529 plan too much. 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2022:

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

Lighting stuff on fire is fun. Shhh… don’t tell the city I may have violated the three foot height restriction on “warming fires” in the city limits!
This colorful woodpecker decided to do his ritual mating dance on top of our chimney.

Net Worth: $2,667,000 (-$139,000)

We were doing so well! What happened?! 

The stock market giveth and it taketh away. It tooketh away a lot in April. A perfect storm of economic slowdown, rising interest rates, and inflation all added up to shake the confidence of investors last month. And the downward trend continues into May (so far). 

Our net worth dropped $139,000 to end the month at $2,667,000. 

Are we on the precipice of another recession? Probably. Our GDP contracted slightly (in real terms) in the first quarter of 2022 and we’re almost halfway through the second quarter of 2022. This quarter will potentially show a decline in GDP as well. Another technical recession (2 successive quarters of GDP contraction).

Springtime flowers in the yard

It really doesn’t feel like a normal recession yet. Demand is up, prices are up, and stores are busy. Where does the economy go from here? Short term, I have no clue.

In a decade? The economy will probably be significantly larger than it is today. Long term buy and hold is still the strategy, folks. 

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.

Even though our net worth dropped significantly, we still have WAY more than we need to pay for our $40,000 per year lifestyle. Eventually inflation will force us to spend more than $40,000 in a year.

So far, we are almost nine years into this early retirement experiment and our equity-heavy portfolio has outpaced inflation by a wide margin. And we are nine years closer to US-government backed, inflation adjusted Social Security payments. 

We’re doing okay!

Relax. Breathe. Enjoy.

Life update

We are keeping busy and entertained. After cruises in April and May, we set out for a huge two month adventure through Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary starting in June. 

Our oldest kid is graduating high school in June and starting college in the fall. This summer’s trip might be the last big summer trip she takes with us since she’ll be busy with school, work, and her own independent summer plans next year. 

As the kids get older and become adults, it will be a little easier for me and Mrs. Root of Good to sneak away for our own trips while our children are busy at home with school. I’m looking forward to that! 

A quick bit of news: CNN interviewed me at the end of April and just released this well-done, balanced article on how to get started on the path to Financial Independence

Okay, I’ve said enough for this month. Have a good remainder of your month, and see you next time! 

Getting ready for the summer? Any big plans you are looking forward to?

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