Lifestyle

March 2023 Early Retirement Update – Springtime Edition

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Welcome back to another monthly update from Root of Good. We spent the whole month of March at home in Raleigh. Along with relaxing in some nice springtime weather throughout the month, we also celebrated the 18th birthday of our daughter. We officially have an adult kid now! 

Looking ahead, we are putting the final touches on our summer 2023 South America trip and we are starting to think ahead for our summer 2024 trip. So far our summer plans for next year have been narrowed down to the northern hemisphere but even that is not set in stone! 

March was a good month overall for our finances. Our net worth climbed slightly by $3,000 to end March at $2,713,000. Our income totaled $8,892, while our spending was significantly lower at $1,679 for the entire month of March. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

A little campfire down by the lake. Gotta sneak in one last fire before it gets too hot!

Income

Investment income totaled $6,533 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 large amount of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $442 for the month. This level of income is lower than recent averages. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $1,023 in March. That represents six hours of consulting last month. All of that occurred within the span of one week, so it was almost like full time work. Well, 34 hours away from full time. But it still felt like real work! Some great sessions with folks, and all of them left happy with the conversation and advice. 

Tradeline sales income totaled $875 in March. This payment was delayed from February due to an accounting error. Overall, my tradeline income has slowed down in recent months. 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 $17. This 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

March Youtube income was $0. 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 March expenses:

In total, we spent $1,679 during March which is about half of our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Groceries and automotive expenses were the two highest categories of spending in March.

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Groceries – $922:

An expensive month of groceries, at $922. Inflation is finally showing up in my grocery spending. 

The official CPI inflation report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that food costs went down slightly last month. Perhaps we’ll see that reflected in future months’ spending reports? 

Anecdotally I have seen some costs decline slightly. Chicken breasts and boneless pork loins had been $1.99/lb on sale for maybe six months here. Now I routinely see them at $1.79/lb. And eggs are down from $5/dozen to $2.25/dozen. A drop of more than 50%. A few other items have declined but it feels like just as many have gone up. 

However, things aren’t as bad as they used to be. Every week when I would walk in the grocery store it was like I was being pranked. All the prices had gone up a tiny bit on most of the staples that we buy. 10 cents here, 20 cents there. Those shocking weekly price hikes have mostly disappeared in the last few months.

We like to do some marinated steak and pork grilled with fresh veggies. All of this for less than the USDA says a family should spend for food at a subsistence level!

Automotive – $198:

Included in the $198 total automotive expense is a $44 payment for a driver’s license for our new adult! She turned 18 in March and we celebrated her birthday by replacing her teenage temporary driver’s license with the real deal. It’s valid for 8 years, so the cost isn’t too steep on a per-year basis.

March is when my car property tax and registration fee is due, which totaled $124. The other $30 of auto expenses came from the mandatory state inspection fee. 

Travel – $169:

We finished buying flights for our South America trip for $169. We made a slight change and decided to skip Chile and instead head to Sao Paulo, Brazil for the last destination of our summer trip. This will end up saving us a significant amount of money on flights. Sao Paulo was part of our planned 2020 South America trip that we had to unfortunately cancel because of the pandemic-related travel restrictions. So it’s nice to be able to finally make the trip to some of the places we wanted to visit in 2020. 

The two months of Airbnbs that we booked in Argentina and Brazil 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.

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”. 

We babysit our sweet little 2 year old niece whenever we can. Here we are walking to school for afternoon pickup.

Utilities – $123:

The total utility spending was $123 last month for our water/sewer/trash bill. 

I paid the electric bill for March way back in February so it isn’t showing up in this month’s spending report. 

The natural gas bill, which provides heating and hot water, totaled $37 for last month. We didn’t use the heat all that much during March. I paid for the natural gas bill using a prepaid rewards card from my health insurance company, so that $37 charge didn’t hit the spending report. 

Gifts – $72:

$72 for gifts for various kids’ birthdays 

Restaurants – $70:

We got $25 worth of Chinese takeout. And $45 worth of food and drinks from the neighborhood cafe where our daughter now works (15% to 50% employee discount!). 

Our oldest kid’s first job!

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $47:

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 $29 in premiums during March.

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.

Springtime? But it’s snowing! Yes – snow in March here in Raleigh with the tulips already in full bloom. Crazy weather.

Gas – $41:

Three quarters of a tank of gas for $41. 

Clothing/shoes – $23:

A few items from the thrift shop and Walmart. 

Taxes – $15:

My annual tax filing fee using FreeTaxUSA. Their name is completely accurate. The USA tax filing is in fact free. The state of North Carolina return is $15. 

Home Maintenance – $4:

1.2 gallons of gas for our lawnmower. I also tuned up the lawnmower for the season by sharpening the blade, cleaning the air filter, and checking the oil. It runs like a champ, immediately cranking on the first pull after sitting in the shed all winter. 

Mrs. Root of Good’s flower planter. Her hobby along with birdwatching.

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”. 

We took our middle kid to her calculus and chemistry exams at the community college campus 10 minutes up the road from us. While waiting on her to finish her exams, we explored the beautiful new campus. Then we walked for a few miles on the adjacent greenway along the Neuse River.

Year to Date Spending – 2023


 

We spent $6,776 during the first three months of 2023. This annual spending is about $3,200 less than what we budgeted for three months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

It’s shaping up to be another low-spending year overall. Our big expenses for our summer 2023 trip to South America are fully paid at this point. We’ll just have to cover meals and local transportation while in Argentina and Brazil, plus some admission fees to museums, national parks, and other attractions. 

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. The tentative plan is to buy a second car when we return from South America in August. 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2023:

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

Cherry trees in full bloom. Looking good!

Net Worth: $2,713,000 (+$3,000)

Our net worth treaded water for most of the month of March and ended the month at $2,713,000, just $3,000 higher than it started the month

This is an interesting outcome given how scary it felt at this time last month:

We are in the midst of a bank crisis as I write this [in March], 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. 

As it turns out, it was in fact mostly a “nothing-burger”. The Fed backstopped the banks to some extent, so the doom and gloom quickly evaporated. Fortunately for me, I take a “do nothing” approach to my portfolio management and didn’t change a thing. Long term holding is the way to wealth instead of emotional swing investing. 

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

Another great month. No complaints here!

Our biggest event last month was our daughter turning 18. We officially have an adult child now! She recently started a part time job 10-15 hours per week while also attending college full time. We had a little birthday party at home for her. And she went out with her friends over the weekend to celebrate too. 

Homemade b-day cake

Since she’s an adult now, and busy with school and work, she chose to stay at home in Raleigh over the summer while we go on our big annual multi-month summer vacation. This family vacation will feel different without her, but we knew all along that the kids would grow up eventually. Right? 

Our youngest child starts middle school in the fall. We attended the elective fair in the gym at his new school during March.

Looking ahead, we have less than two months till our big trip. All the big details are booked other than swapping our Santiago, Chile Airbnb for a Sao Paulo, Brazil Airbnb. We are looking forward to the cooler weather, and eating all the steaks and empanadas in Buenos Aires. Plus the whale watching in Puerto Madryn and the magical waterfall of Iguazu Falls. 

This spring will fly by for sure, and our middle child will be graduating high school before we know it. Her graduation ceremony is on a Tuesday night and we get on our flight to Buenos Aires less than 24 hours later! She just signed up for fully remote college classes for the summer term, so she’ll have remote classes during the last month of high school in May/June and during the full month that we are living in our apartment in Buenos Aires mid-June to mid-July.

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

Got anything going on or any trips planned for this spring or summer? 

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