Lifestyle

February 2023 Early Retirement Update

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Welcome back to another update from Root of Good. We are slowly easing into spring. Or so we thought, until we got a brief snow blizzard over the weekend. It was above freezing the whole time, but it’s still neat to see snow in March in North Carolina. 

We spent the entire month of February at home without travel of any kind. In the last twelve months, September was the only other month where we were at home the whole month. It’s nice to have the time to relax and regroup after a busy year of post-pandemic “revenge travel”. 

February was a mixed month for our finances. Our net worth dropped by $68,000 to end February at $2,710,000. Our income totaled $1,756, while our spending was just a tiny bit lower at $1,675 for the entire month of February. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

Income

Investment income totaled $405 in February. 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 $920 for the month. This level of income is slightly higher than recent averages. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $185 in February. That’s just one hour of consulting. I suppose the tech industry has been hit particularly hard recently, and that’s where a lot of my aspiring early retiree clients come from. At some point they will be rich once again, and interested in figuring out how to leave the rat race 30 years early. 

Tradeline sales income totaled $0 in February. I should have received almost $1,000 during February, but due to some unexplained error the money didn’t magically show up. I have opened a support ticket with the tradeline sales company to hopefully restart the money pipeline soon! 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 January, my “deposit income” totaled $69. Out of the total, $54 of the “deposit 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

The remaining $15 of “deposit income” came from a Godiva Chocolate class action settlement. I can’t recall what rights of mine were infringed upon, but without doubt it was a grave injury I am sure. Fortunately, the $15 makes me whole again so I can continue consuming chocolate in the future. 

February Youtube income was $176. Youtube only pays out when you exceed $100 in accumulated revenue. Recently, my Youtube earnings have been just under $100 per month on average, so I only get paid every other month. 

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!).

If you’re interested in tracking your income and expenses like I do, then check out Empower Personal Dashboard, formerly known as 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 Empower Personal Dashboard. We have accounts all over the place, and Empower Personal Dashboard makes it really easy to check on everything at one time.

Empower Personal Dashboard 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 Empower Personal Dashboard 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 Empower Personal Dashboard.

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at February expenses:

In total, we spent $1,675 during February which is about half of our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Groceries and utilities were the two highest categories of spending in February.

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Groceries – $708:

Grocery expenses continue to creep upward. The most recent shock was on store brand generic sodas. A 2 liter bottle was $0.98 last month and it jumped to $1.25 this month. This is the same soda that was $0.59 per 2L a couple of years ago. It’s officially doubled in price. 

The good news is that other products seem to be coming back down to earth ever so slightly. Egg prices halved from $5 per dozen to just over $2 per dozen. Cheese and fresh meats also seem to be slightly cheaper versus a few months ago. 

The obligatory monthly pho pic

Utilities – $465:

The total utility spending was $465 last month. The electric bill contributed almost half of the total utility expense. I paid two months worth of electricity bills ($90 and $92). 

The water/sewer/trash bill totaled $129. 

The natural gas bill, which provides heating and hot water, totaled $154 for last month. We are past the coldest weather here in North Carolina. We didn’t even use the heat for half of the past month, and had to turn on the air conditioning for a few days. We should enjoy a couple months of lower utility spending before the intense summertime heat arrives and our electricity bill goes up for a few months. 

Travel – $237:

We have booked most of our trip to South America for this summer. All of the flights except for one are paid for. During February, I paid $192 in taxes plus 88,000 American Airlines miles for four tickets from Santiago, Chile to Raleigh, North Carolina. Later in March, we bought several more sets of tickets for flights within Argentina (those costs will be included in the March financial update). 

The two months of Airbnbs that we booked in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile were paid for using Airbnb gift cards that I got for free using my Chase Ultimate Rewards points and the “Pay Yourself Back” redemption option (no longer available for Airbnb gift cards). On average, we spent about $61 per day on the airbnbs in South America. Prices in LatAm are way more competitive than the lodging costs we experienced in Eastern Europe last summer.

We’re also booking slightly smaller and cheaper lodging since there are only four of us traveling this summer. Our oldest kid will be in college full time and working a part time job back here in Raleigh while we’re having fun in South America. Her choice, not ours (in case the haters want to know, ha ha ha).

The other travel that we booked during February was a set of four 1-way tickets from Miami to Raleigh to get home after our Christmas cruise to the Caribbean and South America. We spent $45 in taxes and a total of 30,000 American Airlines miles on the tickets home from Miami. 

If you are interested in getting free travel from your credit card like I do, consider the Chase Ink Unlimited or Chase Ink Cash business cards (my referral link). Right now the Chase Ink business cards offer 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be redeemed instantly for $750 in cash. Mrs. Root of Good and I each received our new Chase Ink Unlimited cards during December, and we just picked up a new Chase Ink Cash card during March. The bonuses keep on rolling in the door! 

Chase is pretty liberal when it comes to “what is a business”. If you sell stuff on eBay or Craigslist or do some odd jobs occasionally then you have a business and could get a credit card as a “sole proprietor”. 

Driving out to the Neuse River for a long walk on the greenway. That’s our “travel” for February.

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $35:

Our current 2023 health insurance costs $18 per month, thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$45,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. We didn’t have to pay the premium in December (for coverage during January) because we paid it in November. 

We signed up for 2023 dental insurance plans and paid a total of $38 in premiums during February. This includes a double payment I made to my insurer. 

I chose a very basic plan for $9 per month for me that covers most preventive care but no fillings. Mrs. Root of Good has a different set of dental needs than I do so we kept the more comprehensive $20 per month plan for her (same as 2022’s plan).

By buying insurance, we should save a couple hundred dollars on my dental care. For Mrs. Root of Good, we will still save a few dollars compared to paying cash for the preventive dentist visits throughout the year.

I also visited the dentist and paid my annual $50 deductible for the exam, cleaning, and x-ray. My second routine dentist visit in 2023 should be 100% covered by my insurance.

Education – $57:

February’s education spending came from a $57 e-textbook purchase for our daughter’s community college coursework. It doesn’t sound like the textbook is used very much, but it’s required to take the in-class tests (as in “show me the receipt and I’ll give you your exam”). My cynical side says this is a pure profit grab for the textbook written and published in-house by the professors at the community college. My non-cynical side also says it’s a pure profit grab. 

Kind of like paying a bribe or getting scammed when traveling in foreign countries – it’s just a cost of doing business. Move on and accept it! And in this case, the $57 cost was paid for using scholarships and grant money so it didn’t actually cost us a penny out of pocket.

College chemistry remote learning mad scientist lab kit for home experiments. The lab kit was surprisingly free. 

Gas – $51:

An almost full tank of gas for $51. 

Restaurants – $24:

We got takeout from the neighborhood Chinese restaurant twice during February. Our Chase credit cards had an offer for $5 off a $10 purchase on four different cards. I split the charges from each restaurant visit into two transactions (per visit) to maximize our four Chase credits. The total cost of the takeout during the month was a net of $24. 

Automotive – $22:

Our middle child FINALLY got her teen learner’s permit after a 16 month delay (mostly caused by inept government contractors). We forked over $22 at the DMV for the learner’s permit.

Watch out Raleigh drivers, there’s a teenager in a minivan on the loose! 

You’ve been warned.

Home Improvement – $10:

Our dishwasher ate one of its parts. A grinder blade deep down in the innards of the dishwasher. For $10, I found a replacement blade and installed it myself in 20 minutes. 

I’m not confident that this repair will last long term because we still hear a weird noise coming from the dishwasher. The dishwasher is 13 years old at this point. So my next action will be to put the old unit to rest and buy a brand new dishwasher. 

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”. 

Mrs. Root of Good’s hobby – feeding the birds in the backyard

Year to Date Spending – 2023

We spent $5,097 during the first two months of 2023. This annual spending is about $1,600 less than what we budgeted for two months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

It’s shaping up to be another low-spending year overall. Most of our expenses for our summer 2023 trip to South America are already paid at this point. We’ll just have to cover meals and local transportation and one more set of flights. 

College costs for our two kids in college should be covered in full by grants and scholarships throughout the remainder of 2023. And we have ample 529 funds should we need to cover anything out of pocket. 

The one large expense anticipated for 2023 will be a used car. We failed in our attempts to acquire one during 2022 but that’s okay. The market appears to be cooling off a bit, since I am finally seeing a few cars under $10,000 that aren’t complete pieces of junk. 

Of course, we aren’t even a third of the way through the year, so it’s hard to forecast our spending if some unexpected emergency arises. 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2023:

Summary of annual spending from all ten years of early retirement:

Net Worth: $2,710,000 (-$68,000)

After a gigantic $162,000 in gains during January, we watched our net worth backslide by $68,000 to end the month at $2,710,000. A very respectable number nonetheless. 

Our net worth continues to slide into mid-March as this post goes live. We are in the midst of a bank crisis as I write this, so we’ll see in the coming days and weeks whether this turns out to be a nothing-burger or a major inflection point in economic history like the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. I’m leaning towards nothing-burger. 

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.

It’s springtime and the trees are in full bloom!

Life update

Another month of taking it easy. I can’t complain! We’ve got some exciting travel coming up in three short months. In the meantime, we’ll be celebrating two birthdays and two graduations (elementary school and high school). 

Grilling steak and veggie kebabs for dinner on a campfire in our backyard down by the lake. Our almost-free million dollar experience.

Our oldest child turns 18 in another week. I don’t know how this has happened since it seems like she was just born not too long ago. Tempus fugit, as they say. Now that she will be an adult herself, we are hoping she can serve as a babysitter for our other two kids while us parents travel more as a couple. 

Later this spring, I’m looking forward to consistently warmer weather. We’ll bust out the hammocks, relax under the trees, and enjoy the spring breezes. It shouldn’t be too much longer before that happens. 

Well folks, that’s it for me for this month. See you next month! 

Got any big things going on or any trips planned for this spring? 

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