Lifestyle

August 2023 Early Retirement Update – Back to School Edition

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Hello and welcome back to another monthly update from Root of Good! It’s been a month since we arrived home from our two month trip to Argentina and Brazil. The first couple of weeks back home were a haze of getting set up in Raleigh, back to school events, and catching up on things I put on pause before departing home in June. Then, once all the kids were back in school and life slowed down, we had time to relax. 

In the last month, we spent a lot of time researching and buying several major purchases that have been in the works for a while. You’ll have to read on to find out what we got! 

On to our financial progress. August was a mixed month for our finances. Our net worth dropped by $75,000 to end August at $2,784,000. Our income totaled $3,571, while our spending was a relatively moderate $2,615 for the month of August. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

Income

Investment income totaled $148 in August. 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 than normal amount of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $404 for the month. This is the “new normal” for blog income since I only post on here about once per month. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $0 in August. A second consecutive month of $0 in consulting income! Perhaps I am truly unemployed now? 

Tradeline sales income totaled $0 in August. The tradeline income is fairly unpredictable and lumpy, so perhaps it will pick back up toward the end of 2023. 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 August, my “deposit income” totaled $61. Part of this deposit income 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

The majority of the “deposit income” came from a class action settlement from Yahoo. They grievously injured my legal rights when they allowed hackers to steal my personal data. I wish I got $50 from every company that wronged me in this way!

Youtube income was $100 in August. Youtube only pays out when you hit $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!).

The final (and largest!) piece of income came from bank and credit card bonuses. I received a total of $2,856 worth of bonuses during August. The bulk of the bonus income came from a Wells Fargo promotion. I received $2,500 for transferring a quarter of a million dollars worth of ETFs into a new IRA at Wells Fargo for a few months. I’ll eventually transfer these funds to another brokerage firm and collect another $1,000 to $2,500 for my troubles. Mrs. Root of Good received the same bonus for transferring her IRA as well (to be reported in our September update). 

The remaining $356 in bank/credit card bonuses came from a mix of rewards points lingering in four US Bank credit cards that we just closed after getting those sign up bonuses over the past year. 

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 August expenses:

In total, we spent $2,615 during August which is about $700 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Travel and groceries were the two highest categories of spending in August.

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Travel – $679:

The biggest single travel expense in August was the $260 fee to renew two passports. Our passports don’t expire until next March but some countries we’ll visit during December require more than three months of passport validity. So we went ahead and renewed the passports much earlier. Hopefully we get the passports back soon so we can do some international travel this fall. 

The remaining $419 in travel spending covered the 12 days we spent in Brazil during the first part of August.

We only spent about $35 per day which seems like a very low number. However, our airbnb apartment rentals were paid several months earlier. So the only real expenses we had while in Brazil were food and transportation.  Meals were generally very reasonable. Most places we visited were only $3 to $6 per plate. We also got a lot of takeout and the portions were often large enough to share between two people (or serve as leftovers for dinner/snacking). 

Transportation was also very affordable. We took Uber everywhere we went in Foz do Iguazu and in Sao Paulo. Typical fares were $2-3 for a short 10-15 minute trip, or $5-6 for longer 20-30 minute rides, such as to the airport or the Iguazu Falls waterfalls. The most expensive Uber ride was $20 for a nearly two hour ride to the airport in TONS of evening rush hour traffic in Sao Paulo. 

I couldn’t figure out the economics of the public transit in Sao Paulo. Local buses or subways would have been $4 for the 4 of us. Whereas ubers to the same locations were rarely more than $2-3. So we saved money and traveled in style! 

Iguazu Falls – the highlight of our whole summer trip. This is the Devil’s Throat or Garganta del Diablo (in Spanish).
We walked along the top of the falls on the Argentina side of the river. To the left is Brazil.
We felt like jungle explorers as we walked around the Argentinian side of the park.
The overlook on the Brazil side of the falls presents a different angle from the Argentina side’s overlooks.
Up close it’s an incredible experience.
We were fortunate to stay a whole week in Iguazu Falls so we could visit each side of the waterfalls over the course of two different days. This is the panoramic view from the Brazil side. When we were on the Argentina side, we walked along the raised walkway atop the falls seen in this picture.

Here is a video comparing the Brazil side and the Argentina side. There is a lot of debate over which side is the best. I think it’s best to visit both if you have time! 


 

Get free travel like us

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 just picked up a new Chase Ink Cash card during March. And I am about to get a new Chase Ink Card too. 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”. 

Another favorite travel card in my wallet is the Capital One Venture X card. The Venture X card is a “keeper” for me. First off, it comes with a $750 sign up bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months. The bonus is paid in the form of 75,000 bonus points that you can redeem against any travel purchases from anywhere. Then you earn a solid 2 points per dollar spent forever! The other big perk is airport lounge access. You can get yourself plus unlimited guests into Priority Pass lounges. And you plus two guests can get into Plaza Premium network lounges and Capital One Lounges.

The Capital One Venture X card does have one catch – a $395 annual fee. But they reward you every year with an easy to use $300 travel credit plus $100 worth of points. Together, that makes $400 they give you annually which more than offsets the annual fee. Another benefit worth mentioning: you can add up to four authorized users for free, and they also get all the benefits of the Venture X card including the valuable airport lounge access. We used this perk to “gift” a pair of Venture X cards with airport lounge access to my brother in law and his wife to use on their family trip back home to Cambodia in April with their two young children. 

Since the annual fee is offset in full by travel credits each year, I personally plan on keeping the Venture X card forever since the card benefits are so great.

We had a lot of good tropical fruits in Brazil. The mangoes and papaya were the same prices as in the USA and about the same quality overall. The starfruit was super cheap – seven of them for $1 USD. Also in the pic: guava, baby bananas, and sugar apple or sweetsop.
A cacao pod. They make chocolate from the seeds of this fruit. The white flesh that surrounds each seed is delicious too. It reminds me of the mangosteens we ate in Vietnam and Cambodia.
While walking around Foz do Iguacu, we stumbled across a hand-painted sign advertising fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice. For only USD$4 for 2 liters, I had to try it. The proprietor spoke no English so I pantomimed my way through buying a jug of fresh sugarcane juice. He grows the sugarcane in a little patch to the left of his sugarcane press. What’s crazy is this little patch of sweetness is right in the middle of downtown. You can see the high rise condo buildings in the background. The one word of Portuguese I understood was when he told me to “tranquilo”. Then he brought out some chairs for me and the kids to rest in the shade. We watched as he fed half a dozen sugarcane stalks through his press and added some lime to the mix for some zing!

Groceries – $546:

We spent about two thirds of August in Raleigh so $546 represents about two thirds of our normal grocery spending for an average month. We had to restock on a few things once we got back in town, so I’m surprised our grocery spending isn’t even higher. 

In some good inflation-related news, it seems like Aldi has figured out the inflation puzzle. On our last trip to Aldi I noticed that most of their prices are lower than they were in June when we left Raleigh. It’s only a 5-10% discount on most items, but up to 20-30% on a few things. Hopefully the other local grocery stores choose to compete with Aldi and pass the price cuts on to us consumers! 

Our grocery cart in Brazil (which I included in the “travel” spending, not “grocery” spending). We bought cachaca rum, fruit flavored Snickers bars, exotic fruits, guarani fruit drink, and some local beers.

Home Maintenance – $483:

We bought a new dishwasher during August. Our old dishwasher does its job for the most part, except I am done replacing parts on it to keep it running well. The old unit lasted 12 years which is very reasonable since the five of us in the family generate a ton of dishes. We eat at home almost every meal, so sometimes need to do two or three loads of dishes in one day. 

The new unit is a Bosch 100 series dishwasher that totaled $483 after taxes. I asked around and researched dishwashers quite a bit, and the Bosch brand kept surfacing as a reliable dishwasher that gets the job done. Hopefully I can get 12 years out of this unit, too! 

Electronics – $282:

Our main television died during August. The top half of the screen glitched out and went dark. Google said it would be $150 to replace the parts that broke. Which makes no sense when the same size 50″ TV doesn’t cost much more than that today brand new. We were mildly inconvenienced by needing to move to our second living room and watch the backup TV for our daily entertainment. 

I found a deal on a new 65″ TV for $298 plus tax and free shipping. I used some discounted gift cards and got the total price down to $282. The new TV arrived a few days ago and works great so far. 

Utilities – $251:

We spent $68 on our water/sewer/trash bill. 

The natural gas bill, which provides heating and hot water, totaled $15 for last month. The water/sewer/trash bill and the gas bill were lower than normal because our daughter was the only one at home during the period covered by these bills.

The electricity bill totaled $169 in August. It was a hot summer. Even though we were gone for most of the period covered by this bill, the usage didn’t drop significantly. The bulk of our electric consumption during summer months comes from air conditioning, which costs about the same whether there is one person at home or five people here. 

Acai smoothie. Not as flavorful as I was expecting but good overall.

Education – $141:

Our oldest daughter graduates from community college with her Associate’s degree in December. She just applied to a few nearby in-state public universities. The total cost for application fees and transcript requests totaled $141.

For some strange reason, these costs cannot be reimbursed out of our 529 account, so these will be paid out of pocket. 

All of the tuition, fees, and books will be covered by the kids’ financial aid for the fall semester. In fact, each college kid will most likely get a decent four figure refund check from the financial aid office since community college is so cheap. 

Telephone – $96:

The $96 telephone charge covers the cost of three annual cell phone plans through RedPocket Mobile. The plans are pretty basic – 200 MB of data per month with the option to buy more. So far that data allotment has been adequate since so many places have free wifi these days. 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $55:

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. 

Our 2023 dental insurance plans cost a total of $29 in premiums per month. I made a double payment on my dental insurance, so our total dental insurance expense for August was $38. 

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.

While in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, we walked across the river into Paraguay for the day. We did a little shopping and visited the Itaipu Dam on the Paraguay side.
The Itaipu Dam is one of the largest dams in the world. So big that it’s hard to fit the whole structure in one picture!

Gas – $47:

Our daughter bought a tank of gas during August before we got home. 

Restaurants – $38:

A family sized box of fried chicken and biscuits from Bojangles (the #1 purveyor of fine fried chicken in the entire universe). This was the birthday lunch request from our 17 year old! 

Take out food in Brazil. These eight plates totaled about USD$35 and ended up feeding us for more than two meals.
The Brazilian steakhouse, rodizio, or churrasco might be the most common feature of Brazilian food to Americans. I’ve never been to one in the USA but we managed to make up for it while in Brazil. We found this great steak buffet restaurant downstairs from our apartment with all you can eat steak for about USD$6 per person. Here we are ordering a bunch of grilled to order chunks of steak for take out from the same restaurant. They charge by weight and the price is about $5 per pound.
Brazilian pizza. I have to admit, they make some good pizza down there. For no extra charge, they let us get 4 different toppings. Most were great. However the “chicken” pizza that I ordered ended up being “chicken hearts”. A delicacy that locals go crazy for. I ate a few but found the hearts too tough and chewy to enjoy. Still not a bad deal at USD$12 for a large family size pizza.
These are coxinhas, or fried dough pastries stuffed with fillings like sausage or chicken. I bought these at a local fast food restaurant called Ragazzo which sells coxinhas for about USD$0.35 each. They taste kind of like stuffed hushpuppies I guess? The inside of the dough is closer in texture to mashed potatoes, however. A pretty good, filling meal for a couple of dollars!
In Sao Paulo we visited Japantown or “Little Tokyo”. While there, we visited a ramen restaurant. It was our first time eating restaurant ramen. It was the best-rated place in town but I didn’t think the noodles or broth were anything special. They have lines out the door with average wait times of 1-2 hours most days, so I guess the locals like it a lot. We arrived right after they opened and didn’t have to wait at all.

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”. 

While visiting Iguazu Falls, we encountered several groups of intrepid coatis – cute raccoon-like critters that like to steal snacks from tourists.

Year to Date Spending – 2023


 

We spent $17,530 during the first eight months of 2023. This annual spending is about $9,000 less than the $26,667 we budgeted for eight months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

Last month I said:

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. We will start the used car search very soon now that we are back at home. 

Fortunately, we are underspending our budget by a significant margin, so we should be able to “absorb” the used car purchase in our regular $40,000 per year budget without exceeding the budget by much. Right now we have an $8,000 budget surplus so that’s just a bit less than the amount we’ll likely spend on a used car. 

Here is the big news for this month: we finally bought a new (used) car!! I’ll have more details in next month’s update, but here are the basic details. We bought a 2017 Hyundai Accent SE hatchback with 99,000 miles on it for $9,200 including all fees, taxes, and registration. 

The expenditure for the new car is almost exactly the same as our budget underspending year-to-date. So we are very likely to end 2023 within our regular $40,000 annual budget. 

I don’t think we have a lot of other big spending for the remainder of 2023. Hopefully we can book some fall travel for Mrs. Root of Good and I. However this travel should be mostly free for us since we’ll be paying with points, miles, and free airbnb credit for flights, lodging, and any cruise fares.

Monthly Expense Summary for 2023:

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

Net Worth: $2,784,000 (-$75,000)

Our net worth dropped by $75,000 to end August at $2,784,000. In other words, August erased the gains from July and brought us back near the June month-end balance.

Like I always say, “it goes up and it goes down”. These little fluctuations are to be expected on a routine basis. I don’t really keep an eye on the net worth other than at the end of each month for these updates, so I don’t really feel any pain from these moves. Even though a $75,000 drop in one month represents about two years of our typical spending. “It’s just money”, right? 

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.

Back at home-sweet-home where the deer love to roam in our backyard.

Sao Paulo Sightseeing

We spent a week in Sao Paulo before flying home. While there, we visited the Ibirapuera Park (their “Central Park”), Batman Alley, Japantown, Avenida Paulista, and the Cathedral and Municipal Market in downtown. 

Here’s a photo dump from Sao Paulo:

Amazing view of Sao Paulo from the sky. Block after block of apartment buildings and houses for dozens of miles.
Ancient trees in Ibirapuera Park. A great place to stroll around for the day.
Bamboo groves in Ibirapuera Park
Graffiti murals in Batman Alley
Impressive streetscape in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We stayed a couple of blocks from Avenida Paulista (shown here).
Not far from our apartment was the “Japan House” cultural center. They had an intriguing collection of artwork that blends real world mundane objects with various scenes of life. Here is a bowl of beans and rice (staple foods in Brazil) but if you look closely it’s also a beach scene where locals enjoy the sand and water!
Traveling isn’t all roses and rainbows. Sao Paulo, and Brazil more generally, has a reputation for crime and violence. When we visited Sao Paulo’s downtown, we saw firsthand how rough it can be. Whole blocks look like post-apocalyptic wastelands. We didn’t feel safe near the Municipal Market so we just grabbed an uber back home instead of exploring further (it was super sketchy). This photo of the police presence is taken from the steps of the main Cathedral in downtown. The Cathedral is totally safe (behind the wall of police). Beyond the cops lies a no man’s land where I didn’t dare go!

Life update

After celebrating 10 years of early retirement last month, I have officially entered my second decade of early retirement. 

What does the future hold for me? Our two oldest kids are in college, so they will (hopefully) graduate in 2-3 more years. Will they move out soon or live here for a while? Who knows! We have no plans to sell our house and move so I guess it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. 

We travel for two months each summer and about a month during the school year. As the kids get older, we’ll have a little more flexibility to travel more during the school year while leaving the kids at home. This new flexibility has me wondering what’s the optimal level of travel for us. Will we end up traveling half time? Will we grow exhausted from being away from home so much? Who knows! 

To summarize: I really don’t know what the future holds from a lifestyle design standpoint. Fortunately, we have adequate financial resources that makes anything possible. We can sit back, take it easy, and do whatever we want when the time comes. That’s a nice position to be in! 

That’s all from me for this update. See you next month!

Did you have a great summer? What kept you busy?

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