Lifestyle

May 2024 Early Retirement Update – Summer is Here

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Welcome back to Root of Good, folks! We are back in Raleigh after our latest Caribbean cruise. In a few days we hit the road again. We’ll spend two months visiting Krakow, Zakopane, Wroclaw, Gdansk and half a dozen other places scattered across Poland. 

During May, we spent 10 nights aboard the MSC Magnifica cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean. Our favorite port of call this time around was Key West, Florida. It was our first time visiting the shady, tree-lined streets of the southernmost town in the continental United States. 

In other exciting news, we had another kid graduate college in May. She finished her Associates degree at the community college and will be attending NC State University in the fall in order to complete her Bachelors degree. 

On to our financial progress. May was a great month for our finances. Our net worth shot up by $121,000 to end the month at $3,136,000. Our income of $2,266 exceeded our spending of $1,875 for the month of May. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

Income

Investment income totaled $468 in May. 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 $1,046 for the month. This represents a slightly above average month of blog income. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $0 last month. That’s two months in a row without booking any clients. Fortunately June is looking better, with three hours of consulting booked in the first few days of the month so far.

Tradeline sales income totaled $125 in May. This is lower than recent months but I’m still seeing more sales so I should continue to average several hundred dollars per month long term from tradeline sales. 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. 

Enjoying our free thermal spa day onboard the MSC Magnifica.

For last month, my “deposit income” was $627. The 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).

I signed up for Yieldstreet as an accredited investor in exchange for $400 through Rakuten. But the flakey people at Yieldstreet cancelled their promotion and fought hard to deny the $400 payment. I eventually got paid but I think it came out of Rakuten’s pocket and not Yieldstreet’s. I would not do business with Yieldstreet going forward given counterparty risk. 

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!)

Youtube income was $0 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 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.

Every evening on the cruise, they put on a show in the main theater. Their circus show was full of acrobats, a juggler, and a unicycle trick rider. Incredible!

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at May expenses:

In total, we spent $1,875 during the month of May which is about $1,500 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Travel and groceries were the highest two spending categories last month.

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Travel – $820:

We paid $790 for our 9 night apartment rental in Krakow, Poland. Most of our other lodging in Poland was paid for several months ago. 

The other $30 of travel spending covered the Uber to the Port of Miami for our May cruise, and the shuttle bus ride from the cruise port back to the airport. A friend rode with us to the cruise port so he paid for half of the Uber ride in that direction, saving us $10. 

Another great cruise. The MSC Magnifica ship had a lot of nice outdoor areas to relax and take in the views.

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 to $1000 worth of Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be redeemed instantly for $750 in cash. I just signed up for another new Ink card to snag one of these great bonus offers.

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 two of my 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 an 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 last 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.

Our balcony cabin on this cruise.

Groceries – $488:

A relatively cheap month for groceries. We were out of town for almost half of May for our cruise. Which means we didn’t shop a lot. Our kids bought a few groceries while we were gone, but not much. 

It’s cheaper to eat lobster on a free cruise than cook at home.

Electronics – $251:

We had a very unfortunate hard drive failure during May. Four years of photos were wiped out without a full backup of most of them. So we sent the hard drive off for data recovery. I just paid for that and will report on it in June’s monthly update. It wasn’t cheap but you’ll have to come back next month to find out what we spent!

I bought two replacement 8 TB hard drives for $236 total. The new storage capacity allows us to beef up our data backups going forward. I spent another $15 to mail the bad hard drive and one of the new 8 TB hard drives to our data recovery specialist in California. 

Our friends came over to fish in our lake in the backyard. Lots of bass in there!

Utilities – $241:

We spent $141 on our water/sewer/trash bill last month.

The natural gas bill was $100 for the two months of bills that I paid during May. Throughout the summer, our natural gas bill should be very low since it’s only for heating water. Additionally, usage will be low since there will only be one or two people living here in our Raleigh house during most of the summer. 

No electricity bill payments in May but I’ll have to make a double payment in June and it’s going to be a lot given how much we have to use the AC during the summer.

Unlimited free drinks in the casino onboard

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $37:

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. 

Gas – $26:

A tank of gas for our car. 

Gifts – $16:

A birthday gift for one of the kids.

They had really impressive desserts on this cruise. Unfortunately our kids were busy with school and couldn’t come with us on this cruise to enjoy the sweets.

Cable/Satellite/Internet – $0:

We generally pay $20 per month for a local reduced rate package due to having a lower income and having kids. 50 mbit/s download, 10 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 in May. We paid a small amount in May out of some existing credits on the account. We will have to pay out of pocket during June once our credit balance runs out. 

Spectrum Mobile was nice enough to give us a year of unlimited cell service to thank us for being such loyal customers on their (free) internet plan.

Surprisingly good food. The ethnic cuisines were great. Tofu curry with a tamale on the side. And fresh guac on the buffet every day.

Spending for 2024 – Year to Date

 
We spent $10,692 for the first five months of 2024. This annual spending is about $6,000 less than the budgeted $16,667 for five months per 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. So far, so good! No need to give ourselves a raise if we’re managing just fine within the current budget. 

So far we are spending well below budget. However there is some big spending on the horizon. We have an $800 deposit due for a “free” cruise we’ll take next year. I just paid our annual homeowners insurance and 6-month auto insurance premiums in the first days of June and those totaled over $2,500.

MSC Magnifica docked in Cozumel, Mexico.

Our summertime spending while in Poland will be fairly modest overall. Mainly restaurants, groceries, and about $1,000 for a rental car plus gas for most of the summer. A lot of attractions in Poland are free or very affordable so we won’t spend a ton on admission tickets. 

As I mentioned in April, our kids’ college costs are completely paid for by their financial aid so far. So college spending should remain rather modest throughout the rest of 2024 into 2025. And it appears that both of our older children are on track to finish their bachelors degrees in 2025. 

Celebrating another college grad!

The wildcard spending for 2024 will be some upcoming dental work for Mrs. Root of Good. We still don’t know what this will look like but we’ll find out more in the fall once we return home from our summer trip. At least we’re running $6,000 below our budget, so any large dental expenses won’t make our total annual spending completely out of line for the year.

Monthly Expense Summary for 2024:

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

The upcharge pan-Asian restaurant on board was free with our MSC Voyager’s Club Diamond status. We ordered sushi, steak, fried rice, tempura veggies, and matcha flan for dessert.

Net Worth: $3,136,000 (+$121,000)

Our net worth climbed $121,000 to end the month at $3,136,000. That’s another record high, folks! This also marks three months in a row with a six figure fluctuation in net worth. Volatility doesn’t bother me a bit as long as the net worth continues to go up over the years.

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.

Right before we left for our cruise, we found this mama snapping turtle laying eggs on the bank of the creek in the park.

Life update

It’s funny publishing these monthly posts where I discuss spending and net worth. I don’t think I glanced at the Empower dashboard a single time during May to check our net worth. It’s going to do whatever it wants in the short term. Long term, it’ll probably keep on going up. 

I also didn’t peek at our spending last month until prepping the numbers for this monthly update. It just happened to be a cheap month. I guess we are naturally frugal. But we also don’t mind spending money when it’s something we value. Travel, hobbies, things to make life easier or more fun. All these things get their dose of spending from time to time. 

Nassau, Bahamas, where the water is always beautiful.

Could we spend more? Yes. Do I worry about “not spending enough”? No. We spend what we spend and we spend more some months, and spend less other months. 

Having “enough” means we don’t have to worry about money. The answer to “can we afford it?” is almost always “yes”. But the next question is “do we value it?” and that answer is often “not really”. 

This attitude towards money has enabled us to retire several decades early and take one or two trips of a lifetime every single year. That’s the goal – ultimate freedom and flexibility.  

Okay, enough pontificating about money for this month. I’m about to hop on a plane to Europe so I’ll see everyone next month! 

Summer is here, right? Anyone have any fun plans coming up soon?

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