Lifestyle

February 2024 Early Retirement Update – Spring Blooms Edition

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Welcome back to a slightly belated monthly update from Root of Good! We’ve been busy the last week or two with some short vacations. Now that things have slowed down a bit, I can put fingers to keyboard and let you know what we’re up to. 

February was a cold month interspersed with warmer sunny days. Perfect days for cleaning up the lakefront, doing some exploring down by the water, and having a toasty campfire at night to stay warm.

February proved a busy month for our family. Both of our older kids applied to transfer to bigger and better universities for the fall and kept busy with a full load of courses. Our planning for our nine week summer trip through Poland continued. Now the logistical framework of lodging, rental cars, and flights are all booked at this point. 

On to our financial progress. February was a great month for our finances in all regards. Our net worth shot up by $46,000, to end the month at $3,002,000. We finally hit the $3M mark! Our income of $2,653 exceeded our spending of $1,746 for the month of February. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

Income

Investment income totaled $516 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 smaller than normal amount of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $610 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 $350 last month which represents 2 hours of consulting. This consulting side hustle remains interesting even though I do not devote much time to it. 

Tradeline sales income totaled $975 in February. That’s a very good month compared to a typical month during the last year. I ramped up my tradeline sales a few years ago and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post and in my July 2021 monthly post. Most years I make around $4,000 to $6,000 in exchange for lending out my stellar credit report history from half a dozen credit cards.

For last month, my “deposit income” was $102. 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 (or more!)

In February my bank/credit card sign up bonus income was $100. The $100 was completely unexpected. It came from a Yieldstreet signup where they only wanted to document that I was an accredited investor (high income or high net worth), no deposit or investment required. I got $500 from Rakuten (to be paid out in a future month) and Yieldstreet gave me another $100 bonus in addition to the $500. The “rich” really do keep on getting richer. 

Youtube income was zero last month. Youtube only pays out when you hit $100 in accumulated revenue. Recently, my Youtube earnings have been slightly under $50 per month on average, so I only get paid every two or three 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!).

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 more than half a dozen 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 $1,746 during the month of February which is about $1,500 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Groceries and insurance were the highest two spending categories last month.

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Groceries – $475:

Another relatively low month of grocery spending! The massive food inflation of 2022-2023 appears to be over for the most part. February was also a shorter month so that probably helped keep our spending down. 

Curry chicken somen noodle soup
Chinese pancakes our daughter enjoys making

Insurance – $441:

Our middle child obtained her driver’s license in January, so we had to add her to our auto insurance. Our rates went up significantly as a result. The prorated bill for the additional driver from mid-January to May was $441. If I extrapolate this cost over a whole year, then it looks like we’ll be paying $100 per month to insure our second child.

Fortunately, our insurer reduces the premium after 12 months of licensure. So we only have one year of paying these really high rates (assuming she remains a safe driver).

Utilities – $354:

We spent $95 on our water/sewer/trash bill. I cashed out a few low value rewards cards to offset a small part of the bill. 

The natural gas bill, which provides heating and hot water, totaled $161 for last month. We used the heat a lot as it got colder last month. That should be the worst bill of the year.

I paid $99 for the electricity bill. 

We built a makeshift bridge to cross the shallow part of the lake so we could explore the large central island.

Automotive – $153:

We spent $30 for the state’s annual safety and emissions inspection on our minivan. Once the minivan passed inspection, I paid another $123 for the annual vehicle registration and property tax bill. 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $123:

Our current 2024 health insurance is free, thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$48,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. 

Our 2024 dental insurance plan costs $37 in premiums per month. We picked a plan from Truassure through the healthcare.gov exchange. The dental insurance does a good job of covering routine cleanings, exams, and x-rays plus most of the cost of basic procedures like fillings.

I had a filling redone during February which totaled $86 after the dental insurance deductible and copay. 

Four deer enjoying corn in our backyard. One buck lost half his antlers and the other already shed both antlers!

Clothing/Shoes – $90:

We picked up a few articles of clothing for $90 last month. 

Travel – $72:

The only travel spending during February was $72 for the deposit on almost two months worth of rental cars in Poland for this summer. We’ll owe another $875 throughout the summer when we pick up the rental cars.

The plan is to go carless the first week in Poland while we are in Krakow. Then get a car for the next three and a half weeks while we are in more rural areas. Once we arrive in Wroclaw, we ditch the car for that one week in the city. Then as we leave Wroclaw, we pick up a new rental car for the next four weeks as we meander our way north through western and central Poland on our way to Gdansk. 

In our experience, cars are a great tool in most places in Europe. Almost a necessity. But inside big cities, cars can be a hindrance. Hence our desire to avoid having a car while in the busier cities of Krakow and Wroclaw. 

Our two month summer trip to Poland is fully booked now. We reserved 65 nights of lodging for a total of $6,385, or an average of $97 USD per night. Of that total, about $4,400 was booked with Airbnb credits we got for free last year through our Chase Ultimate Rewards points. 

We still owe about $2,000 for five different stays this summer. Those amounts will be paid in June or July closer to when we arrive at the apartments. Or we will pay in person for the two short stays we have booked at a castle and a palace. 

We booked apartments with two or more bedrooms, or two hotel rooms everywhere we’re staying in Poland this summer. Most of the time we’ll stay in one place for a week or slightly longer. Weekly stays usually come with a discount of 5-15% compared to the nightly rates.

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 an above average $750 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be redeemed instantly for $750 in cash. I will probably get another Ink card soon since the bonus is so good. 

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”. 

I use the 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points by transferring them to my Chase Sapphire Reserve card (also offering a 60,000 point sign up bonus right now). With the Sapphire Reserve card, I can get 1.5x the points value by booking cruises, flights, hotels, or rental cars through their travel portal. Or 1.25x value by reimbursing myself for groceries. That turns the 75,000 points into $1,125 of free travel or $937.50 of free groceries. For example, I used 165,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points to pay for the $2,475 in taxes, fees, and gratuities on my two fall cruises. Or I can transfer those Ultimate rewards points to over a dozen travel partners’ airline/hotel programs like United, Southwest, or Hyatt. 

Capital One VentureX card

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 a somewhat easy to use $300 travel discount plus $100 worth of points. Together, that makes $400 they give you annually which completely 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.

Gas – $27:

A tank of gas for our new car totaled $27. On a recent road trip to the beach we got 42 miles per gallon in the new car on local highways. That’s much better than the 25 mpg or so that we get here in the city while driving in traffic and WAY better than what our minivan gets.

Nice time to stick around home and enjoy the back yard

Taxes – $15:

I paid a $15 fee for state income tax filing through the FreeTaxUSA tax software. Federal income tax filing is free through them. I’ve been using the FreeTaxUSA software for seven or eight years and it has been pretty convenient and easy to use. 

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”.

My internet company recently included a note on the bill that the ACP program will be ending soon. So we once again may have to pay for internet once the stimmies run out. And it appears the new “reduced rate” plan will cost a bit more at $20 or $25 per month. 

Spring is officially here.
Don’t believe spring has arrived? Here’s our groundhog trying to find his shadow (he can’t).

Spending for 2024 – Year to Date

 
We spent $3,574 for the first two months of 2024. This annual spending is about $3,000 less than our $40,000 annual early retirement budget. I haven’t increased our annual budget for inflation in a decade, so at some point I need to revisit the budget numbers. But so far, so good! No need to give ourselves a raise if we’re managing just fine within the current budget. 

2024 is shaping up to be a relatively modest spending year so far. Our summer plans have us staying in Poland for two months and it’s one of the more affordable developed nations in the world. 

The only wildcard for 2024 spending is another new used car. We have two cars right now but we may need to acquire another one depending on what our oldest two kids end up doing in the fall for college and internships. 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2024:

Summary of annual spending from more than a decade of my early retirement:

Enjoying a small warming fire down by the lake. 

Net Worth: $3,002,000 (+$46,000)

Well, well, well folks. We did it. We finally cracked the elusive $3 million mark after coming very close a couple of times over the past few years. 

Our net worth shot up $46,000 to end the month at $3,002,000. Just a hair over $3 million but it definitely counts. 

We didn’t do anything fancy to celebrate. It’s just a number, a nice big number, but a number nonetheless. Nothing substantial changes in our lives, other than acknowledging that we have even more money and even fewer constraints on what we can do with all this money. 

For the curious, our net worth reported above includes our home value (which is fully paid off). I value the house at $300,000, which is probably what we would net after sales expenses. 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.

Another beautiful sunset over the lake

Life update

My eleventh year of early retirement is more than half over. Pretty wild that it’s been over a decade since I had to work for a living. Even wilder that I only worked a bit under a decade, so I’ve been retired longer than I spent working. 

Early retirement has been everything I thought it would be and then some more. When planning and dreaming for early retirement, I never planned on doing these two month long summer trips every year. I never planned on going on all these cruises and shorter trips throughout the year.

But it turns out we have the time, money, energy, and interest to make all these trips happen. We have a ton of travel planned for the next year or so, which will most likely be our busiest year of travel so far. More details on that in future posts! 

Okay folks, that’s it from me. See you again next month! 

Spring is here, who’s excited?

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