Category Archives: Awesome!

Mrs. Root of Good Jumps Into Early Retirement!


I’m looking over her shoulder at 4:30 pm on a Thursday while sitting in our home office.  A quick last check of her emails.  A moment’s hesitation.  Is this really it?  A click on the X in the upper right corner of the screen.  Fade to black.

Ten years of work culminating in that final click on the X in the corner.  One chapter of Mrs. Root of Good’s life is over.  Turning the page to a new chapter, she finds the rest of the script unwritten.  Her biggest worry becomes the emptiness of all that white space spread in front of her.

For over a month, it’s been a done deal but I’ve kept it a secret. Unlike the last time she resigned, no negotiation this time around.  She said in her resignation letter it was time to move on.  She is now officially free from the 9 to 5 work schedule.


It was not easy to call it quits.  Her job provided great pay, flexible work hours, work from home, great benefits for the family, and great retirement benefits.  It would be tough to find a similar position even in the same company.  However, she chose freedom and family over helping other people in the corporate world.

It was tough to overcome the brainwashing of having to be useful to society by continuing to work.  What good are you if you’re not contributing to society especially if you are able bodied?  Her thoughts floated around.  What is the goal in life?  Doesn’t everyone strive to be happy?  We work so we can earn money so that we can be financially stable, live life, and be happy.   We work so we can be useful members of society.

She earned enough money to live the life she wants which makes her happy.  To continue to work would be greedy.  Hey, she’s leaving a great position to allow another person to live their dream.  She contributes to society by spending more time to help raise her kids to be good people.  Our kids are our future.


Lady Liberty sheds a tear

Mrs. RoG is living her dream.  Through luck and her parents’ hard work, she arrived to a land of opportunity.  Hers is a true story of rags to riches.  Just like me, she was not raised in a well to do family but quite the opposite.  Her family lived as war refugees in Thailand for over nine years before coming to America.  Mrs. RoG was almost seven years old when she first arrived to the land of opportunity.  Her family arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  Her mom could not read or write with only a third grade education.  Her dad also had an elementary school education but could at least read and write at a basic level (but not in English).


Refugee camp, jungles of Thailand. Mrs. Root of Good, age 5.

Mrs. RoG entered the US not knowing any English.  Unlike her former jungle home in the refugee camp, school was mandatory and free in the US.  However, school field trips were not free and she forwent some trips as she knew her parents did not have the extra cash.  She didn’t even ask them to pay for the trips.  At an early age, she was self-aware that money doesn’t grow on trees and one must be smart with money.

She worked part time jobs through eleventh and twelfth grade.  To continue into higher education, she borrowed money as her parents did not have the money to pay for her college.  At the time, she didn’t know the true benefits of getting a college education, she just knew she had to go to college and luckily she did.  This college degree would open the door to jobs at PricewaterhouseCoopers and her last job at an investment bank.

Through some luck but mainly hard work, she earned enough money to live off and save for the future.  Her goal was not working 40+ hours a week away from home until she is in her sixties and then only have a few years left to enjoy life.  Her goal was to work hard, save money, have a family and spend quality time with the family.

Well done.

Her story isn’t any more noteworthy than the success stories of millions of other immigrants and refugees that landed on our shores over the past several centuries and discovered a country that offers unbounded opportunity to eager newcomers.  In today’s media morass, the groupthink says the American Dream is dead and there’s no point to take responsibility for one’s own future when so many forces conspire to keep the poor and middle class indebted and enchained in servitude.  Mrs. Root of Good disagrees.


What next?

Mrs. RoG is entering her second week of early retirement and enjoying the experience immensely so far.  She’s focusing on relaxing and decompressing during the first few weeks of early retirement.

So far she sleeps in, enjoys leisurely walks in the afternoons, and reads books.  We went swimming one morning during the work week and found the pool completely deserted.  Right before finishing lap #15, a sudden smile sneaked across my face as I realized this is how our life will be forever.  Swimming in the middle of the day just because we want to.

Benefits of early retirement: private olympic size swimming pool at 10:30 am on a Thursday.

Benefits of early retirement: completely empty private olympic size swimming pool at 10:30 am on a Thursday.

I imagine she will loosely follow my own early retirement weekly schedule with healthy doses of leisure and recreation tempered by small bits of work and chores.  She’s been working so little the past few months that early retirement doesn’t look drastically different than her recent experience working “full” time.

In our 2016 budget, I increased the entertainment/fun budget and the travel budget significantly.  Time will tell whether we actually spend more money traveling and having fun, because so many fun activities are cheap or free.

Last night, we spent about an hour looking over summer travel plans and mapped out a 2,000 mile trip from North Carolina through Tennessee and Kentucky, north through Ohio toward Niagara Falls and Toronto, then returning home through Washington DC.  Depending on how long we stop in each place, the trip might be as short as two weeks, or as long as five weeks (or more!).  We are also contemplating taking a break by staying at home the whole summer (a “vacation from vacationing”).  We are rich with ideas and travel funds but flat broke when it comes to commitment.

I just sold my trusty sixteen year old low mileage Honda Civic to someone I know through the Mr. Money Mustache forums.  That’s the answer to “should our family drop from two cars to one?”  The car ran perfectly fine for a sixteen year old car, but we simply didn’t need two cars.  Getting my above Kelly Blue Book asking price out of the car persuaded me that now is as good a time as any to make the sale and get us to the correct number of vehicles to match our lifestyle right now.

Over the coming months, we hope to purchase a larger car like a minivan so that our road trips will be more luxurious.  A seven or eight seater will also come in handy when hauling around the five of us plus a few friends.  The primary purpose of the new(er) vehicle is recreation, so we aren’t overly concerned about gas mileage since we won’t be putting a lot of miles on it commuting to work every day.

In her first year of early retirement, Mrs. Root of Good looks forward to:

  • reading more books,
  • working on reading, writing, and math/numeracy with our three year old, and
  • learning about photography so she can operate our new Canon t5i DSLR camera


Beyond that, we are both looking forward to a lot of relaxation time with the family in the next few months.



How do you envision your first few months of retirement?



Looking in the Rearview Mirror

Wouldn't mind a summer hanging around our house at all. :)

Here we are at the tail end of 2015.  I wanted to pause and reflect on where we are today and what we’ve been up to during the year.

I started out 2015 with a post asking Should We Conceal Our Wealth?  This post got a lot of social media shares because it addresses a concern that faces those who are accumulating wealth while trying to fly under the radar undetected.

Then I explained Why We Chose The Worst School In The District.  At the time our oldest kid started kindergarten, it was the worst school out of over 100 elementary schools in our school district.  If you know me, you know I’m all about taking calculated risks.  Fast forward almost six years and it turns out our gamble paid off because the school made a 180 degree turn and is actually a very good school that has been recognized nationally.  And it’s a leisurely ten minute walk from our front door.

I took a look at our Ten Largest Purchases of 2014 because you know how I love putting our spending under the microscope.  Not surprisingly, the largest five expenses for the year were housing and travel related which closely matches our largest budget categories.  The top expense was an $8,700 major home renovation that included new exterior siding, new windows, and a major roof repair.  Fortunately we budget for those long term major house projects so it wasn’t a shock to the budget at all and we finished 2014 just slightly above our budget for the year.

My first paycheck. $29.62 for a month of delivering the weekly newspaper when I was 13.

In the article From Paper Boy to Engineering Manager to Early Retiree I shared every single job I’ve had and how much I made since receiving my first paycheck for $29.62 delivering newspapers when I was 13.

In Cost Effective Investing With Motif I explored the Motif investment service that lets you pick a pre-mixed basket of up to 30 stocks based on a particular theme (a “motif”) for a single brokerage fee under $10.  They even offer $0 commissions on some baskets of low cost index fund ETFs which is why I find Motif’s service offerings particularly compelling for the style of investing that I prefer.

In My Version Of Financial Independence As A 17 Year Old I thought I had life figured out at age 17.  Here’s how I was planning to reach financial independence before I really knew anything about reaching financial independence:

  • Save up $120,000 by working extra shifts at a minimum wage job (you get paid time and a half for overtime!)
  • Invest the $120,000 at my credit union in a CD earning 6% interest
  • Earn $600 per month ($7,200 per year) from that CD
  • Live on $600 per month forever

Glad I didn’t stick with that plan.

In A Day Of Early Retirement – Going on a Walkabout I showed how a mundane day of “doing nothing” can be incredibly awesome if you let it.

Then came Summer In Mexico: The Next Big Adventure.  We spent seven weeks in Mexico traveling with three kids.  And everyone lived to talk about it.  I shared our $7,668 trip budget and cost saving tips in The Cost of Seven Weeks in Mexico (And How to Minimize it).  We ended up spending only $4,450 of the budgeted amount as it turns out (but still had a lot of fun).  We saved a ton by using airline miles and hotel points from credit card sign up bonus offers.

All other posts on our Mexico trip:

As we walked out our front door and down the sidewalk to start our seven week adventure in Mexico, I reflected on What Will We Miss About Home While On The Road.


Totally climbable. Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico.  Those little black dots at the top are people.

To get back to serious early retirement finance topics, I revealed exactly how we’ll spend our 401k and IRA funds decades before turning 59.5 without ever paying a penalty in Climbing The Roth IRA Conversion Ladder To Fund Early Retirement.  This is another very popular post at Root of Good.

Next up was another hard hitter where I showed the optimal income levels to maximize health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act with caveats about making just a little bit too much.  Don’t Fall Off The Affordable Care Act Subsidy Cliffs.

Those new to the blog might not realize that Mrs. Root of Good is still working.  She took a paid three month break this summer as I discussed in The Sabbatical – A Mini-Retirement.  That’s how we were able to take off for seven weeks to bum around Mexico.  She also spent the month of May at home chilling with us.

Mrs. RoG enjoying her first day of sabbatical.

Mrs. RoG enjoying her first day of sabbatical.

In The Early Retiree’s Weekly Schedule I broke down how I spend my time during a typical week.  Some folks aiming for early or traditional retirement are really scared of getting bored when they ditch the job that sucks up 40 to 70 hours of their time each week.  Here’s how I spend my time to stave off boredom:

  • Work – 13 hours
  • Physical Activity – 18 hours
  • Fun – 35.5 hours
  • Social – 7.5 hours



Next up was a guest post from John C who blogs at Action Economics. John told us about his Semi-Retired Summer.  He works mainly during the fall and spring in seasonal nuclear power plant maintenance, and enjoys mostly work free summers and winters.  He also has more kids than I do, and a lot of his summer was kid-related.

I shared Why Dropping Out Of School Was A Great Choice For Me.  After finishing law school, deciding not to practice law, and then working in engineering for a couple years, my employer asked me to go back to school to earn a master’s degree.  That was a poor choice in hindsight, and I wisely dropped out of the master’s program before spending any more time pursuing a degree that wouldn’t have helped me very much.

In Should Our Family Drop From Two Cars To One? I questioned our continued need for two cars since I’m not working and Mrs. Root of Good is slowly leaving the workforce.  We still haven’t made any moves to drop to one car but I’ve been thinking more about it lately.

In Celebrating Two Years of Early Retirement, I look back at my first two years of early retired life and finances.  In addition to the big Mexico trip mentioned earlier, we also took a major road trip up the east coast of the USA and into Canada during the summer of 2014 to take advantage of Mrs. RoG’s paid five week mini-sabbatical.

I don’t talk about investing a lot here at Root of Good simply because I don’t spend much time in my own life managing my investments.  Passive index funds just don’t require a lot of daily oversight.  But I did happen to log on to the computer right as the market opened on August 24, 2015 and took advantage of The Mini Flash Crash of 2015, or, How I Made $5,000 in 30 Minutes.  Dozens of exchange traded funds were trading 25-40% off of fair market value so I bought everything I could with my cash on hand before the deals vaporized not long after market open.

I show how we save hundreds of dollars by completing DIY projects ourselves instead of hiring them out in How To Save $375 On Air Conditioner Repair in Two Hours.  Pretty simple stuff to check if your AC stops working.

In Mrs. RoG’s First Attempt at Early Retirement you find out about the fantastic deal Mrs. RoG worked out to keep her full time pay while working four days per week from home.  She actually submitted her resignation in September 2015 but the employer’s counter offer was good enough to retain her (for a while).

In addition to self-paced slow travel trips to places like Mexico and Canada, we also enjoy cruises.  A lot.  And we always get ridiculously good deals on cruises.  In this four part series I reveal all I know about cruises and getting the best deals.  And there’s a gratuitous food post for those that enjoy eating.

View from our cabin's balcony

View from our cabin’s balcony.  Costa Atlantica.

With Zero To Millionaire in Ten Years I almost broke the internet.  That post went viral, received around 500 social media shares, and got picked up by Business Insider where it’s been viewed almost a million times.  To me it’s nothing particularly noteworthy – just the story of us saving half or more of our fairly ordinary (for college graduates) salaries for ten years which brought us to millionaire status and Financial Independence.

To answer some questions and clarify some points raised in that article, I followed it up with How We Reached Financial Independence In Our 30’s.  I showed in more detail exactly how we’re able to save half or more of our incomes (hint: low expenses on housing and cars plus low taxes).  And I addressed the question of whether our lifestyle sucks.  You’ll have to read the full article to find out what I think.

In order to answer another common complaint about early retirement, I pulled together How Early Retirement Affects Social Security to examine the specific impact of retiring after just a decade or two of full time work.  If you don’t really understand how the Social Security benefits formula works, then it might be a surprise to find out that retiring early doesn’t reduce your benefit nearly as much as you would think.  I’ll be receiving a little over $1,000 per month from SS.  If I worked an extra 30 years I could double my monthly benefit.  No thanks!

For Thanksgiving, I celebrated with Tis the Season of Thankfulness.  I’m thankful for all the ordinary things everyone else is also thankful for: health, family, and friends.  I also call out all the incredible technological advances we enjoy today that we didn’t have not too long ago.  I’m also thankful for political stability here in the US (and most of the rest of the developed world).  It’s a lot easier to plan for the long term when you don’t have to worry about imminent threats of civil unrest and violence, a fact we take for granted.

If you get bored or inquisitive and have some free time head over to the Root of Good Archives where you can find all of my posts since I started this blog in September of 2013.


Update on our 2015 Financials

We enjoyed an $88,000 increase in net worth for the year through November 30, 2015 ($1.437 million at the end of December 2014 versus $1.525 million in November 2015).  A rough start in December has lowered our net worth, so there’s a chance we’ll end the year close to where we started the year.

Our expenses have been very moderate, with spending of only $21,436 through November 2015 compared to our $33,400 annual budget.  I publish a detailed accounting of every expense we incur, and you can see all of those financial updates here:

We use Personal Capital to track all of our expenses and income (review here), and it does a great job with very little input from me.  For free.  You can say I like it a lot.  And it’s pretty.  Personal Capital also does a great job tracking and integrating all of my investments at multiple brokerage firms.

Crushing it with another ~$1,000 expense month.

Crushing it with another ~$1,000 expense month.


Where are we headed?

In 2016, I expect Mrs. Root of Good to finally cut ties with her employer and join me in early retirement.  The exact timing isn’t set yet, but you’ll know when something awesome happens.  Maybe they will double her pay and cut her to two days per week and she’ll work another year (I hope she didn’t read this far down the article).

We don’t have any big plans for the summer of 2016 yet, and it might be one where we mostly stay at home other than a few small road trips.  Or we might hop on a jet to a different country on the other side of the world.

2016 will be an exciting year here on the blog.  I’m planning to have posts on:

  • different choices for withdrawal rates
  • our updated and expanded budget
  • a series on retirement calculators
  • how to optimize college savings and approach student loans

If you want to see anything else on Root of Good, let me know in the comments!


Yeah, Mrs. RoG is an overachiever and has all the gifts already wrapped and placed under the tree.

With that, I’ll close this article by wishing everyone a Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Festivus and/or a Happy whatever other holiday(s) you celebrate.  Root of Good is taking a couple weeks off to tirelessly pursue the goal of doing a whole lot of nothing.  See you in January 2016!



How is 2015 treating you?  Did you have any turning points in your life this year? 



How We Reached Financial Independence In Our 30’s


After posting the Zero to Millionaire in Ten Years post a few weeks ago, there’s been a huge amount of traffic visiting Root of Good (hello, new readers!).  The article received top billing at Rockstar Finance (thanks, J Money!).  Business Insider loved my story so much that they reprinted it and it’s received close to a million views in the last two weeks.  My own article has been shared over 400 times (that I know of) on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and the Business Insider article has probably been shared thousands or tens of thousands of times.

Along with great attention comes inane comments.  It’s the Law of the Internet.  Check out the comments at the Business Insider article if you don’t believe me!  I put together a response to a few of the frequent questions and comments generated by the Business Insider article.


Savings and Expenses

Lots of people called BS on our savings rate.  That’s understandable because it’s shockingly high.

But it really comes down to math.  There’s an irrefutable mathematical relationship between income, savings, and expenses.  Income goes toward three things: expenses, taxes, and savings.  Stated mathematically, Income = Expenses + Taxes + Savings.  Rearrange the formula and you get: Savings = Income – Expenses – Taxes.  In other words, you can save all of your income that doesn’t go toward living expenses and taxes.  Limit expenses and taxes and you increase savings.

We saved a lot by living frugally in Raleigh, North Carolina (a low to moderate cost of living area) and having decent incomes.  The biggest expenses for almost everyone are housing, transportation, and food.  We focused on saving money on those areas.  We still drive the cars we bought brand new 15 years ago while in college (three kids can fit in the back of a Honda Accord).  We never upgraded from our starter home.  And we don’t go out to eat very often, preferring to cook awesome meals at home instead.  It’s nothing radical at all, and something that pretty much anyone can implement in their own lives if they want to.  Saving our raises and bonuses instead of increasing our standard of living also increased the amount we were able to save each year.

While working, we spent around $24,000 per year on core expenses (not including mortgage).  Right now, we have a budget of $32,400 per year in early retirement.  This might seem low for a family of five, but remember our house is paid off.  During our ten years of wealth-building covered in this article, our mortgage varied from a monthly payment of $500 up to $1,250 as we refinanced to shorter loan terms.


Root of Good's Earnings and Wealth

 My SalaryMrs. RoG SalaryAdditions to PortfolioPortfolio Total
Slow and steady wins the race. Go Team Tortoise!

(reprinted from Zero to Millionaire in Ten Years)


How can you save $75,000 on a $95,000 salary?

Some commented that the annual salaries don’t make sense compared to the “Additions to Portfolio” shown in the table.  Take 2006 for example.  We made $95,000 yet managed to add $75,000 to the portfolio.  Not included in our $95,000 combined salaries were 401k matches of maybe $8,000 (records are fuzzy here) plus another $8,000 to $10,000 in profit sharing into my Employee Stock Ownership Plan.  I treated the 401k matches and ESOP contributions as “additions to portfolio” but they aren’t included in our salaries since I didn’t want to give an inflated sense of how much we actually made at pretty ordinary jobs (for those with college degrees in engineering or business).

In 2006, our combined “grossed up” salaries including the 401k matches and ESOP contributions were closer to $115,000 (again, my records are fuzzy beyond the straight salaries).  This means we spent about $40,000 between payroll taxes, income taxes, and living expenses.  $40,000 is a lot more realistic for all that compared to $20,000 if you just glance at the table!

Nationally, the median household income is somewhere around $50,000 to $60,000 per year.  In other words, we were living a lifestyle just a little below median while enjoying salaries and benefits significantly more than the median (but still comfortably middle class I would argue).

Regarding taxes, we paid very little due to some hard core tax planning efforts, three kids, and plain old luck.  In the last year that both of us worked, our combined incomes were just under $150,000 yet we only paid $150 in federal income tax.  We maxed out 401k’s, IRAs, and an HSA.  As a government employee, I also had access to a 457 and a pension plan so I was able to contribute and deduct another $20,000 beyond what most employees can.

If you think what we did is impossible, just remember that North Carolina is still accepting new immigrants from other states, and the state government continues to hire people all the time.  However, I would suggest working for a different employer if top pay is a priority!


Does our lifestyle suck?

One commenter, Nutjobmoron, said: “Also, what is his life of “retirement” like now. He can only afford to get up, sit on the couch and eat pasta. No golf, no boating, no beemer and no expensive steak dinners.”

Another commenter answered Nutjobmoron very eloquently:  “The fact that he doesn’t have a boat, or go golfing or drive a beemer is the exact reason he is able to do this. Might not be the life you want, but it is the life he has and he seems super happy with it.

But you’re right – dude gets to spend time with his family and travel whenever he wants, doesn’t even have to go to work every day. Such a loser.”

That sums it up well.  We didn’t spend money on all that stuff which allowed us to save tons toward our financial independence.

We don’t own a boat and probably never will.  Preferring to rent instead of own, we do go on a cruise (a very big boat) once or twice per year.  The past two years we’ve taken multi-week international vacations including a two and a half week road trip to Canada last year and a seven week trip to Mexico this year.  Leaving the couch and my plate of pasta was required for all of these trips.  We did eat quite a bit of steak dinners while on these trips.

I acknowledge it’s impossible to dine at fancy steakhouses every night, own a yacht, a fleet of late model German imports, and a mansion while living on $30,000 to $40,000 per year.  But that lifestyle was never our goal and isn’t something we would get a lot of value out of anyway.  Our 15 year old Honda’s run very well.  Our house is perfect for our family of five and in a convenient location.  We budget enough to allow some pretty crazy travel (considering that we have three kids).  We also enjoy the freedom of not needing to work.


Accessing retirement funds before age 59.5

One commenter asked how we will withdraw from our investment portfolio in our 30’s when there’s a penalty for withdrawals before age 59.5.

Our strategy involves a number of different sources of funds with different tax treatment.

We have a taxable brokerage account with over $300,000 in it that will cover the first ten or so years of early retirement living expenses.

While we are spending down our brokerage account, we are setting up a Roth IRA Conversion Ladder.  It’s a method to convert funds in a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.  Five years after the Roth conversion, it’s possible to withdraw the amounts converted penalty free.  By the time we deplete our brokerage account in around ten years, we should have at least a few years of living expenses sitting in our Roths ready to be withdrawn as necessary.

In addition to the taxable brokerage account and the Roth IRA Conversion Ladder, we have two other sources of penalty free funds.  We have two years of living expenses in a 457 account that can be withdrawn penalty free any time.  We also have $60,000 in a health savings account that can be withdrawn at any time to pay for medical bills.

This took some planning to set up, but it’s going to allow us to live off our various investment and retirement accounts for the next several decades until we hit age 59.5 and all the early withdrawal penalties disappear.



Internet commentators.  They’re great, aren’t they?  🙂



Tis the Season of Thankfulness


This week we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US, so I’d like to take a moment to briefly reflect on what I’m most thankful for.

We are days away from hosting almost 30 people for Thanksgiving at our house.  I’m very thankful we have ample wealth to pay for all the food and fixings without putting a dent in our budget.  I’m also thankful we don’t have to work so that we have plenty of time to cook all the good food we’ll be enjoying.  I’m thankful that both of our immediate families live in town, making getting together a lot easier and less stressful for all.

Last year I posted about all the things I’m thankful for, and some of those things merit mentioning again.



I know I mentioned this last year, but I’m still amazed at all the inexpensive electronics available today.  Smartphones under $100, tablets at $50, computers for $300 or less, and high definition TVs for a few hundred dollars.  There’s so much free content to watch and read that it’s hard to justify paying for anything.  But for $8-9 per month, you can get a half dozen lifetimes’ worth of high quality content streamed in HD to whatever device you’re on from Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

Our library offers free e-books for tens of thousands of titles.  When I’m too lazy to physically go to the library, I can access a huge selection of free books instantly wherever I am.

This stuff is amazing.  Having all this entertainment and intellectual stimulation at my fingertips means it’s not hard to fight off boredom.



We were fortunate to have solid incomes for a decade, and the foresight to save most of those incomes over the years.  Just ten years after college we crossed into millionaire territory, which brought us financial independence.

Along the path to financial independence, we enjoyed increasing levels of freedom and flexibility.  Now that we are financially independent, we have the ultimate freedom to do whatever we want all day.

We have plenty of food, a cozy house, more cars than we need, and all the material possessions we want.  There’s enough money in our budget to fund crazy adventures like our seven week trip to Mexico, a 2,500 mile road trip to Canada, and a cruise about once per year (with another one planned for January 2016!).

This year, we transferred some cash from savings and sold a little stock to pay off the last bit of our mortgage.  Now that we are mortgage free, we know we’ll at least have a house to live in even if our investment portfolio disappears (which it most likely won’t).

Adios, mortgage!

Adios, mortgage!

On the investing front, it’s so easy to invest in low cost investments on your own that you don’t need to pay an expensive money manager.  Transact your business online any time you want and get instant information on the entire universe of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs.  How can you not manage your own money these days?

Since we are financially independent now, Mrs. RoG has a lot of flexibility to ask for crazy stuff at work.  First, she snagged a three month paid sabbatical last summer.  Then when she tried (but failed) to quit, she negotiated a four day workweek out of our house while keeping her full time salary.


Economic and political stability

It’s hard to realize how fortunate we are in the US (and most of the rest of the developed world).  We take economic and political stability for granted.  But it’s truly something to be thankful for.  It affords us the opportunity to earn high wages.  After we pay for our living expenses, any extra income goes to accounts at banks and investment companies that will be there for us tomorrow, next year, and next decade.

Even though the 2016 elections season is rearing it’s ugly head right now, in general life is pretty good (regardless of which candidate you support).  The fact that we get to choose who we vote for in an open and free election isn’t a privilege enjoyed everywhere (I’m looking at you, Venezuela).

Unlike Syria, we don’t have warring factions fighting for control of our country with millions of refugees fleeing with not much more than the clothes on their backs.

That could be our fate, but it’s not.  And for that, I’m thankful.



What are you thankful for this year?



Going on a Cruise Part 4 – The Food!


This is the final post on cruising for a while.  And it’s a food post!  In my first post on cruising I talked about the basics of cruising. In the second post, I showed how to get the best deals when booking a cruise.  In the third post, I provided tips on saving money while on board and on your trip to the cruise port.

I’m all out money saving tips, so here’s a picture post of the different types of food you can enjoy on board.

In my first post on cruising, I mentioned you can get “Five star dining every night.  Or all you can eat buffets, burgers, pizzas and ice cream.”  One poster took exception to the “five star dining” comment, claiming that’s just hyperbole, and that the food is just adequate.

We thought the food was pretty good, but not everyone agrees.  The food varies from cruise line to cruise line, ship to ship, restaurant to restaurant, and even night to night.  It’s possible we’ve had a string of good luck with the food on the five cruises we have taken so far.

We really enjoy the variety of dishes because we get to experience things we don’t routinely cook at home.

Are we foodies?  I hate the connotations that go with the term “foodie” – snobby, elitist, holier-than-thou, overly concerned with authenticity and presentation instead of taste.  We just like to find good food, cook in our kitchen, and eat.  We also love to try new foods while on vacation like we did in Mexico this past summer.  So I’m not sure if we are foodies or not.

Here’s what happens when you sink too far down the foodie rabbit hole and lose your common sense (and taste buds):

“The taste is a lot richer.  It’s pure, it’s pure.”


Now it’s time for some good cruise eats!  Bon appetit!


A staple of cruise lines. On many ships, pizza is available 24/7. These slices are topped with prosciutto

A staple of cruise lines. On many ships, pizza is available 24/7. These slices are topped with prosciutto.  I love pizza and this was some pretty good thin crust (“NY Style”) pizza from the Costa Atlantica (an Italian cruise line)


Prime Rib

Filet Mignon with a side of… well who cares, it’s filet mignon.


For the kids - bacon macaroni with fries

For the kids – bacon macaroni with fries


Lobster and shrimp

Lobster and shrimp



Indian medley of (clockwise from top) dough balls in a creamy curry, curried potatoes, dal lentils. A delish vegetarian dish for those into shunning meat


Frog legs with parmesan on top. Tastes like dark meat chicken

Frog legs with parmesan on top. Tastes like dark meat chicken


Crab cakes so good I ate at least eight of them. Plus scallops with penne pasta, meatloaf, chicken drumstick, and pan-seared tuna

Crab cakes so good I ate at least eight of them. Plus scallops and shrimp with penne pasta, meatloaf, chicken drumstick, and pan-seared tuna


Chili relleno (stuffed chili pepper) with rice and beans on the side

Chili relleno (stuffed chili pepper) with rice and beans on the side


Spanakopita (greek pastry with spinach and feta inside), pepper stuffed with couscous. Another good vegetarian entree. Goes great with a side of steak (you can order a second main course any time you want).

Spanakopita (greek pastry with spinach and feta inside), pepper stuffed with couscous. Another good vegetarian entree. Goes great with a side of steak (you can order a second main course any time you want).


Snack plate with salami, provolone and parmesan cheese, octopus, and smoked salmon with wasabi

Snack plate with salami, provolone and parmesan cheese, octopus, and smoked salmon with wasabi


Lots and lots and lots of parmesan. There's even a bowl made from the rind of a huge ball of parmesan cheese.

Lots and lots and lots of parmesan. There’s even a bowl made from the rind of a huge wheel of parmesan cheese.  In case you want to eat it by the fist full.


Smoked salmon

Smoked salmon with capers


Salmon, scallops, muscles, clams, and shrimp on penne pasta

Salmon, scallops, muscles, clams, and shrimp on penne pasta


From the buffet - fish, ribs, eggplant, salami, pasta salad, seafood salad (clams, mussels,

From the buffet – fish, eggplant, salami, pasta salad, seafood salad (clams, mussels, shrimp, squid, octopus), olives.  With a rib on top.


Corned beef and pastrami reuben panini

Corned beef and pastrami reuben panini


Prosciutto, salami, and fried shrimp

Prosciutto, salami, and coconut fried shrimp with alfredo pasta.  We eat an embarrassingly large quantity of prosciutto on every cruise.


Mexican food from our cruise to Mexico. Almost as good as the real deal in Mexico.

Breakfast from the Blue Iguana Cantina Mexican restaurant on the Carnival Glory.  Breakfast is usually a pretty tame event on cruise lines, but not with this Mexican restaurant on board!



The kids enjoying hot chocolate on our balcony


A typical meal

I found a copy of the menu from the formal dining room.  The menu changes each night.  Here’s what you get to choose from for just one night:


  • seared tuna
  • broccoli salad
  • veggie spring rolls
  • navy bean soup
  • gazpacho andalouse
  • tortilla soup with braised chicken
  • shrimp cocktail
  • flatbread w/ apple, bacon, and parmesan cheese
  • a variety of salads
  • braised rabbit


  • veal parmesan
  • seared Tilapia
  • rosemary lamb shank
  • baked ziti
  • chick pea biscuits with roasted squash and peppers
  • vegetarian Indian medley with ~5 different veggies, papadum, yogurt sauce, etc
  • steak tacos
  • salmon fillet
  • flat iron steak
  • chicken breast
  • pork chop


  • corn and veggie succotash
  • loaded baked potato
  • sauteed beans with bacon
  • mashed potatoes
  • basmati pilaf
  • steamed broccoli


  • chilled rhubarb almond strawberry soup
  • chocolate melting cake (unimpressed with this one!)
  • passion fruit flan with a coconut/tapioca/basil syrup
  • coconut lime cake
  • fresh tropical fruit plate
  • cheese plate
  • ice cream assortment
  • pie a la mode

That’s all free. There was an extra charge on this night for lobster, surf and turf, filet mignon, and NY strip steak (though that stuff was free at other times on the cruise). This was their “American Table” menu focused on traditional American cuisine with some twists thrown in, plus a couple things to recognize the port of call for the day (tortilla soup and steak tacos for Cozumel, Mexico).

That sounds like a foodie-approved menu to me.  I know almost all the food we received was well executed in terms of seasoning, texture, temperature, flavor, and presentation (how I usually evaluate a plate). The buffet restaurants of course are much closer to average, and you can definitely find the cafeteria grade eggs for breakfast for example (just skip those and go to the egg/omelet station for a fresh omelet, sunny side up, over easy, scrambled, or however you take your eggs).



It’s hard to save room for desserts when the main courses are so good.


The best chocolate cake I've ever eaten.

The best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten.  I remember being very full from lunch and saddened by the fact that I could only eat a slice of this cake.



Cheesecake, coconut cream cake and banana custard


Chilled mango soup

Chilled mango soup


Key lime cheesecake (left), Napoleon almond cake (right) - Mrs. Root of Good's favorite

Key lime cheesecake (left), Napoleon almond cake (right) – Mrs. Root of Good’s favorite dessert ever


Fudge cheesecake, strawberry cream

Fudge cheesecake, strawberry cream, chocolate cream cake


Blueberry cheesecake (left)

Blueberry cheesecake with pistachios (left), cherry cream filling on top right, gelatin with fruit on bottom right



Crème brûlée custard with caramel popcorn on top


Strawberry cheesecake,

Strawberry cheesecake, assorted cookies and cakes


Dessert buffet

Dessert buffet





A triumvirate of chocolate cakes

A triumvirate of chocolate cakes


I’ll let the reader decide for themselves whether cruise food might be worth trying based on these pictures.  I can’t say with certainty that everyone, including foodies, will be happy with the cruise cuisine, but in our experience the dozen or more restaurants on board offer enough variety to satisfy burger-n-pizza folks, picky tastes, healthy eaters, carnivores, vegetarians, and low carbers.


Check out all the posts in the Going on a Cruise series:

Going on a Cruise Part 1: Overview (this post)

Going on a Cruise Part 2: Getting the Best Deal

Going on a Cruise Part 3: Save on Board and on Transportation

Going on a Cruise Part 4: The Food!


Could you manage a week on a cruise ship with all this food? 



Mrs. RoG’s First Attempt at Early Retirement


She did it.  She finally did it!  On September 1st Mrs. Root of Good formally resigned from her job.

After composing the resignation email at home the previous weekend, she lingered in anguish at her desk on the morning of September 1st with her mouse hovering over the send button.  She was very nervous when it came time to email the official resignation letter to her bosses.  Was it the right choice?  Was it the right time?  Will she regret the decision later?

SEND.  If not now, when?

It is done.


The Resignation Letter

“Hi BossRaleigh and BigBossNYC,

I would like to inform you that I will be retiring effective October 15, 2015.

I have enjoyed working for The Company and especially in our team.  I sincerely appreciate the support the team has provided me during my years as part of the company.  Thank you very much for the flexible work hours, generous time off and allowing me to grow professionally.

Time is very precious and I want to spend more time with my family.

I will be happy to provide whatever assistance I can to ensure a smooth transition.

Thank you again,

Mrs. RoG”


The Discussion

Mrs. RoG’s bosses knew she was planning on quitting soon because she told them as much on multiple occasions over the last two years.  Her formal resignation couldn’t have been much of a surprise.

An hour after clicking SEND on the resignation letter, Mrs. RoG’s manager asked her to join him in the conference room to discuss her resignation.

During the meeting, Mrs. RoG said “working five days per week just doesn’t work for me.  Saturday is laundry day, and it’s depressing to have just one day off before going back to work on Monday IF you have all day Sunday free.”

The manager asked if there was anything the company could do to get her to stay.  They discussed working from home as an option.  Her manager suggested working three days from home and two days in the office.  That still wouldn’t work.

Next up was a discussion of a part time work from home arrangement.  The downside to this would be a reduction in salary and a loss of some benefits like the generous 401k match, nearly free family health insurance (though we can get it nearly free on our own), and a full allotment of 20 days of vacation on January 1 each year.


The Compromise

In the end, they reached a pretty sweet compromise.  Mrs. RoG will work four “ten hour” days and have every Friday off.  “Just work whatever it takes to get the work done”, wink wink, nod nod says the manager (with accompanying waving of arms around the “ten hours per day” part of the discussion).  Mrs. RoG is the one in charge of doling out work to her team of nine, so those ten hour days might be shorter than you would think.

Mrs. RoG enjoying her first day off.

Mrs. RoG enjoying her first Friday off of work.

She’ll still be a full time employee with her full salary.  She will keep her fat 401k match, nearly free health insurance, heavily subsidized dental, incredible HSA at Fidelity, and a full 20 days per year of vacation time.  Other than possibly a few days per month, she’ll be ditching the hour or two round trip commute that costs over $10 in gas and tolls each day.  Her new commute is 21 steps from bedroom to office.  Her new schedule includes a three day weekend every week while still getting paid full time.

The benefits of staying on full time don’t stop there.  By continuing to work, Mrs. RoG has a chance to get laid off and receive around 9 months of severance pay plus another $7,000 in state unemployment (if she decides to pursue new employment after a lay off).  If, in some unimaginably bad stroke of investing luck we see a huge 50%+ prolonged downturn in our investment portfolio, the job serves as an instant back up plan to provide income during difficult times (not that I think we’ll need it).


Adventure time on a weekday?!!?

In any big move it’s great to hold on to as much flexibility as possible.  Mrs. RoG retains the possibility of going part time at a later date or quitting altogether whenever she wants to.  This will happen some day, but probably not as soon as October 15!

Can you tell she's happy?

Can you tell she’s happy?


Tilting the Scales

Overall, this is a really good compromise that tilts the work/life balance very far toward “life”.  It’s not quite early retirement but it’s also not quite full time work.  We could fancy it up and call it “semi-retirement” or something like that if we really had to find a label.

Here’s a snapshot of the first day of the new working from home schedule:

  • Show up to work at 7:00 am
  • Walk to school to drop the kids off 7:45-8:15 am
  • A few minutes off around 11:00 am to make a salad and eat lunch with me while continuing to work and chat
  • Break for (home) gym time at 12:00 to 1:30 pm.
  • Return to work at 1:30 pm
  • Walk to school to pick up the kids 2:45-3:15
  • Work till 4:30-ish

That’s pretty close to ten hours if you round up.  Her daily schedule will undoubtedly vary as the workload ebbs and flows throughout the month.  The rest of her first week working from home followed a very similar schedule.  So far it’s working very well.


The best part of the new schedule is that by Tuesday afternoon, Mrs. RoG is halfway through the work week.

Her schedule is getting closer to my weekly early retirement schedule since she joins me on the morning and afternoon walks and takes a long mid-day break.  And since she is working from home most of the time, we are one step closer to being able to drop from two cars to one.

Having Friday off means more time for fun and adventure during the weekdays.  On her first Friday off we spent the morning picnicking and hiking through a new (to us) urban park where we spotted fish, frogs, and a snake(!).  Our three year old loved jumping from rock to rock in the creek bed.  After picking up the older kids from school we spent the afternoon at the city’s indoor water park and swimming pool (it’s deserted during the weekdays because everyone is at work).


We found this confusing bit of nature while out exploring.  Tree roots or rocks?

Mrs. RoG’s bold move to working from home status motivated another coworker to grab some work-life flexibility by getting a partial work from home schedule that lets her leave the office by 3 pm and finish the day at home.  Mrs. RoG is now a work/life balance trendsetter!

It’s worth mentioning that you gain a lot of negotiating power to name your terms once you reach financial independence.  If Mrs. RoG really needed the job for subsistence and survival (like the paycheck to paycheck big spenders), there’s no way she would have asked for a three month paid sabbatical and another extra five weeks of paid time off.  And she wouldn’t have actually resigned and received the current work from home flexible schedule.

I wanted to give a shout out to the Mad Fientist who also managed to wrangle a pretty sweet deal out of his employer when he decided to quit and retire early.  He’s still working but had no problem taking a few months off to travel the globe a bit and negotiated a permanent work-from-anywhere-in-the-world arrangement.

Grocery shopping at noon on Friday

Grocery shopping at noon on Friday


The Future

Last month as I celebrated my two year anniversary in early retirement, I mentioned Mrs. RoG would be joining me in early retirement in “a few more months”.  Her plan to resign was foiled by an unbeatable counteroffer persuasive enough to keep her at it for “a few more months” and possibly longer.

Her employer bent over backwards and touched their toes with their flexibility and willingness to keep her on board.  Eventually she’ll want to leave and enter the next phase of her life, but the timing is really uncertain at this point.  The next few weeks will be an adjustment period to the new schedule and flexibility, but everyone is settling into the new normal very well so far!

Celebratory homemade sushi for lunch

Celebratory homemade sushi for lunch

Financially we are doing just fine.  My blog income varies wildly month to month but so far this year it has more than covered our living expenses (including the seven week vacation in Mexico).  Our dividend income also roughly covers our $32,400 per year retirement budget.  Mrs. RoG’s net annual income covers our annual expenses two times over again.  We’re in a weird predicament of being financially independent with enough income to cover our expenses four times over.  We’re either making too much or not spending enough, and we’ll have to address one of those “problems” eventually.

The extra money we’re pulling in will go toward a few items:

  1. Additional margin of safety – more money in the portfolio means we have a much greater chance of successfully living off our portfolio for 5-6 decades
  2. Potential for significant future spending increases – we don’t currently have plans to ramp up spending but that’s always an option if our wants or needs change
  3. More to pass on to our kids sooner and later – we always planned on helping with college, and with more money comes more ability to help
  4. Charity – we don’t really give much away right now, but this could change in the future if we have way more than “enough”

It’s a great position to be in both in terms of finances and lifestyle, and we’re both peepee our pants giddy with excitement over what the future holds.

This summarizes how happy we are :)

This is how happy we are 🙂



What would you do in Mrs. RoG’s shoes?  Quit completely?  Stick around a while longer?



Celebrating Two Years of Early Retirement


Wow, two years into early retirement.  What have I accomplished?  Everything and nothing.

When I entered early retirement by ditching the working world, I was still focused on keeping busy.  Productivity, accountability, setting goals.  All stuff you have to do when you’re on an annual performance review cycle.  I shared my early retirement to do list in my “First Month of Early Retirement” post almost two years ago:

  1. Ebay a bunch of stuff
  2. Learn a foreign language or 3
  3. Investigate starting a blog and/or a Youtube channel
  4. Get more exercise
  5. Cook even more than I already have been, and perfect some new dishes
  6. Hang out with more people more often
  7. Play more video games
  8. Read more books

I’ve completed all of these action items (except that Youtube channel!), so I get a gold star for entering early retirement correctly, right?

That list is a pretty good summary of typical things I’ve done these last two years.  I pulled together a weekly schedule that shows how I routinely spend my time, although I don’t strictly follow any schedule day to day.  That weekly schedule includes blogging, reading, playing video games, socializing, and spending time with the kids plus a little housework that has to get done.


It took about six months before I really got into the early retirement groove and started relaxing.  I ditched any notion of having to accomplish something concrete in early retirement.  So far, I’m doing a great job of “doing nothing”.


Retiring early to travel the world

On top of all these routine pastimes that keep me busy and entertained on a daily basis, I’ve also fulfilled another early retirement goal by taking a few major trips abroad.  Last year we set out on a five week road trip from North Carolina to Canada.  It turns out that traveling with a two year old can be exhausting, so we returned home about half way through the trip.

Here’s a summary of the blog posts from the Canada trip:

A year later, a year wiser, and with a toddler a year older, we set out on another grand adventure.  This year we spent seven weeks in Mexico.  Join us on the journey:


Just a bug or The Most Interesting Thing In The World to a little kid?

Now that we’re official battle-hardened family travel veterans, we can share a few things we learned about traveling with young children:

  • Slow travel is the name of the game.  Take it slow and easy.
  • Plan plenty of “do nothing” days in between the more hectic days of touring, sightseeing, and traveling between cities.
  • If the kids want to take a detour, go for it.
  • Take breaks for water and snacks frequently.
  • Remember the reason you took the trip – relaxation and fun for the whole family



Keeping finances on track

After two years, we are $235,000 wealthier than when I left my job.  Around $120,000 of that net worth boost came from Mrs. Root of Good’s salary since she continued working even after we reached financial independence (more on that decision below).

The other $100,000+ of net worth growth came from investment gains in excess of our annual spending.  In other words, even if Mrs. RoG didn’t work at all these past two years, we would still be $100,000 richer today than when I quit working.  That’s the true test of how well our early retirement financial plan worked these past two years.

As I write this, we just suffered through one of the worst weeks in recent stock market history.  Our net worth dropped almost $100,000 over the past two weeks.  Are we worried?  Not yet.  I don’t think we will run out of money in early retirement, so these fluctuations, while volatile, aren’t that scary.


In 2 years: Net worth +$235,000 to $1,462,000.

We’ve managed our expenses incredibly well.  Better than I ever expected.  For the first seven months of 2015, for example, we only spent $14,883 which is $4,000 under budget compared to where we should be based on our $32,400 early retirement annual budget.  And that’s after spending almost $4,500 on a seven week vacation in Mexico!


In 2014, we came in just $2,400 over budget in spite of spending $8,700 on major renovations to our house including new siding, new windows, and a major roof repair.  We’ll undoubtedly have repairs to our home and auto over the next several decades of early retirement, but those repairs won’t typically be as expensive as the 2014 repair bill.


No need to raid our cat’s pantry just yet.

Something surprising happened after I retired.  I used to check our finances and investments almost daily.  Knowing how we were doing kept me motivated toward our early retirement goal.  Every $10,000 or $100,000 of growth meant we were getting closer to the goal.

Now that I’m retired and the victory flag is firmly planted, I let the investments do their job of growing long term and don’t routinely check the account balances.  Curiosity still gets the better of me occasionally and I’ll log in to Personal Capital to see where the totals are.  But I rarely make any changes to our portfolio.

In almost eight months of 2015, for example, I sold one investment to fund our mortgage pay off and I rebalanced the portfolio once near the beginning of the year to get us back to our asset allocation.

I figured I would worry about finances more in early retirement, when the opposite actually happened.  Maybe it’s because the net worth keeps growing?  I might feel different if we were sitting on a few hundred thousand dollars less than what I started with two years ago.

What’s next?

One thing is certain – I don’t miss work.  From September through May, I still have to wake up with an alarm clock so I can walk the kids to school, but I don’t mind that at all.  I’m working for me and my family and not for The Man.

But if I ever do get bored, I can always polish the resume and dust off my interviewing attire.  Boredom = unlikely.

Mrs. RoG still works full time right now.  The plan was for her to work “a few more months” after I quit working.  Then she received another month block of vacation time.  Then it was bonus season.  And she got a raise.  Then she negotiated an additional five weeks paid time off on top of her regular vacation time and holidays.  After working four day weeks and burning up most of her vacation days last fall, her tentative plans to walk away from work fell through again.

Eventually it was the start of a new year and with that another month allotment of vacation time.  Then bonus and raise time again.  As if her employer wasn’t generous enough, she requested and received a paid three month sabbatical for May-August of this year.  We traveled the world and Mrs. RoG learned to swim.  Very successful sabbatical if you ask me!

Today we arrive back at the crossroad where “quitting work” intersects “easy money and lots of time off”.  It’s not an easy choice to walk away from great benefits and pay at a job that has flexible hours, allows telecommuting, and comes with mostly reasonable coworkers and managers and a 40 hour work week.

When is Mrs. RoG going to quit for real?  In “a few more months”.

In the meantime, I’m holding down the fort at home until she hangs it up for good.  A combination of stay at home dad, travel agent, chef, handyman, and chauffeur.  Which is probably how I’ll spend the next decade even if Mrs. RoG quits tomorrow.

I wish I could tell you what I’ll be up to in five or ten years, but I can’t realistically forecast that beyond a year or two out.  In two years, our youngest child will be in kindergarten, our oldest two kids will be in middle school.  Mrs. RoG will almost definitely be done working.  We’ll probably go on at least one extended international trip in the next two years (Germany? Spain? Argentina?) and a few smaller vacations.  If I had to guess, we’ll still be living in our same house in Raleigh.



What do you envision for your first two years of early retirement or regular retirement?  



Should Our Family Drop From Two Cars To One?

This is the Montevideo version of an environmentally friendly recycling program.  These guys go around in their horse drawn cart and pick recyclables out of the garbage.

As Mrs. Root of Good’s retirement date comes closer, we have to revisit the question of whether we should get rid of one of our cars and become a single vehicle family.

First, let’s ponder the significance of the auto.  Cars are an oxymoron.  They are an incredibly convenient way to travel from point A to point B very quickly.  However, owning and maintaining a car isn’t convenient at all.  I’m approaching the question of whether we should drop to one car from this vantage point: convenience versus inconvenience and cost.


The Ultimate in Convenience…

This is America.  Cars are cheap, gas is cheap, the open road beckons.  Land use planning leaves much of America spread out and poorly accessible by foot or by bike, at least where I choose to live a few miles from downtown Raleigh.  The car is the default choice of transportation for anyone who can afford one, and many who can’t.

In five to ten minutes I can traverse most of the city, reaching major shopping centers, parks, libraries, hospitals, and downtown cultural attractions.  Parking is almost universally free and plentiful.  Twenty two hours per day the traffic is bearable.  The car is a wonderful modern tool, truly a luxurious way to get around town.

For us, having a second car means Mrs. Root of Good and I can independently go anywhere we want regardless of what the other person is up to.  I might have a volunteering obligation on the other side of town while Mrs. RoG wants to run errands, visit family, or pick the kids up from school.


…Comes with Inconvenience…

Cars are stuff.  And stuff always makes demands on your time.  Throughout the year I spend a good bit of time maintaining my car.  I complete most of the routine maintenance and repairs myself or with the help of a shade tree mechanic friend.  It takes time to figure out a repair procedure, procure the right parts and equipment, and complete the actual repair and follow up testing.  Even if I outsource one hundred percent of car maintenance, I’m still on the hook for many hours each year of dropping the car off, waiting at the auto shop, and then driving back home.


…And Expenses

Cars cost money.  With two cars, we split our annual mileage across two vehicles.  If we drop to one car, all of our driving will be concentrated on one vehicle.  This means we’ll have to do slightly more maintenance on our only car but won’t have to maintain a second car at all.  As a result, annual maintenance costs will drop.



2015 auto expenses through August. $534 for insurance, $60 for inspections, and $464 for repairs and maintenance.  Incredibly simple way to track auto expenses and all other household expenses: Personal Capital (it’s free!).


The annual fixed costs of car ownership should drop roughly in half if we drop to one car.  We would only owe property taxes, registration, and inspection fees for one vehicle.  We currently spend around $1,000 per year on maintenance, taxes, registration, and inspections, or around $500 per vehicle.  Dropping to one vehicle means saving $500 per year on those annual maintenance and operation costs.

Insurance costs might drop, though perhaps not that much since we would still have two licensed drivers on the policy.  I’ll assume insurance will stay the same at around $500 per year.

Depreciation is the biggest car ownership expense for us.  The Honda Civic and Accord we bought fifteen years ago depreciated by $800 to $1,000 per year.  Owning only one car would save us around $1,000 per year in depreciation costs.

Adding the maintenance and depreciation costs together, I find that dropping to one car would save us $1,500 per year.  That’s a pretty steep cost to pay for the added convenience of a second car.


Do We NEED a Second Car?  Or WANT one?

We have to face the facts.  We are homebodies by nature.  We really enjoy staying at home and doing fun stuff around the house.  Sometimes we don’t leave the house for multiple days in a row.  When we do, it’s often to destinations not far from home and we walk to get there.

We don’t eat out in restaurants very often.  At night you’ll find us enjoying dinner and a drink at home, sometimes by the lake on our back patio or sometimes in front of the TV engrossed in a thriller on Netflix.  We rarely go to bars or concerts.

Most driving trips are either grocery shopping or seeking fun at local parks, swimming pools, museums, or visiting family and friends.  We are homebodies.

And much of our shopping and recreating doesn’t involve driving at all.  Within a mile of our house we can walk to:

  • parks
  • library
  • community center
  • elementary school
  • major grocery store
  • Asian and Hispanic grocery stores
  • dozens of restaurants (chains and local eateries)
  • dollar store
  • big box discount store

In other words, we can walk to almost everything we need on a routine basis, and sometimes walk for miles just for fun.

I checked out our Walk Score from and our house received a 37 out of 100 which translates to a “car-dependent neighborhood”.  They offer a breakout for different categories of nearby destinations and we actually scored around a 50 (“somewhat walkable”) for groceries, general shopping, dining, drinking, and schools, a 75 for parks “very walkable”), and much lower for errands, culture, and entertainment.  That seems about right.  We lack culture but almost everything else is somewhat walkable.

We also live within easy walking distance of three transit routes (one of which we caught for the five minute ride to the Greyhound bus station to start our seven week vacation in Mexico).  Easy access to transit means we can get to tons of other destinations without a car for about a buck each way. gave us a Transit Score of 32 (“some transit”).

Currently neither one of us adults owns a bicycle, but that’s another easy solution to get us past the current mile or two walking radius.  A traditional bike in the $150-300 price range or an electric bike in the $600-1,000 price range would extend our car-less theater of operations to three to ten miles (if we dare brave the busy city streets!).  A pair of e-bikes would set us back about the same $1,500 we spend on car maintenance and depreciation in one year.

Looking at all the angles, we probably don’t need a second car.  Right now, the main reason we want one is because that’s the status quo.  We currently own two cars and it’s easy to keep doing what you’ve been doing for the last 15 years without introducing change.


Can We Do It?

With change comes fear of the unknown.  What if one of us is stuck at home when we want to go somewhere?  What if I’m out having fun with our only car while Mrs. RoG unexpectedly needs to pick a kid up from school?  What if our only car breaks down?

Between walking, biking, transit, and the very infrequent Uber ride or rental car, we could probably make do with only one car and save close to $1,500 per year.  It might not always be the most convenient set up.  However, maintaining only one car eliminates some of the auto maintenance tasks (which is convenient).

In general, retiring early gives us a great deal of flexibility in our schedule so that with a little planning we can make sure the car is generally available to whoever needs it for kid-hauling duties, shopping, or recreating around town.

We just enjoyed a thirteen week test run of both of us not working when Mrs. RoG took her sabbatical.  We were on vacation for seven weeks of her sabbatical and didn’t need any cars.  The other six weeks we spent at home and never needed a second car the entire time.  In my routine early retired life, I don’t drive very often, so I feel like the need for a second car is very low.

One way to approach the dilemma of ditching the second car is to simply do it and then evaluate for three to six months to see if we really miss it.


Looking Into the Future

Although cars are easy to buy and sell without ridiculous transaction costs, I like to look ahead into the future to forecast our needs.

Our oldest child is going to middle school in one year.  It won’t be walkable and we don’t know for sure whether the school bus will come to our street or whether we will drive our kid to school.  Our transportation needs might be different at that point.  Transit routes take us within a half mile or mile of likely middle schools, so that’s a decent plan B for the occasional ride to school.

Long term I would like to upgrade to a minivan or SUV that holds around seven people for family road trips and for carrying our family of five plus a couple other family or friends.

Five and a half years from now, our oldest child will be able to drive on her own.  We still don’t know what we’ll do about providing a car (hand me down? buy one for her? split the cost?) and auto insurance.  Part of me says keep one of our well-maintained fifteen year old Hondas.  The Civic only has 98,000 miles on it after all!

Even the Governor pimps it in an affordable car

My beautiful green 2000 Honda Civic when it was still nearly new and I still had hair.  I parked in the Governor’s spot just because I could back before he was indicted.


Then I realize in five and a half more years it will be a 21 year old Honda Civic that lacks modern safety features and the reliability of a newer car when our oldest would start driving it.


The Bigger Picture – Owning and Consuming What’s Optimal

I like to think and analyze what we own and whether it’s the best use of our financial resources.  We can “afford” a second car, but is it the best use of $1,500 per year?  Do we get $1,500 worth of convenience out of a second car?  Could we spend those funds on something more awesome?

I think all of us should view our large expense categories with the same critical eye.

Are we using all of the house we currently own?  Do we need all this space?  How are we using it?  Could we downsize?

Do we get the most value out of our restaurant and grocery purchases?  Can we make small incremental changes to get even better value out of food expenditures without sacrificing nutrition and taste?

Are we getting bang for our buck on vacations?  Should we focus on slow travel more?  Can I stretch my travel dollar by getting free travel from credit card hacking?

For us, housing, transportation, food, and vacations are two thirds of our entire $32,400 per year retirement budget, which is why I emphasize the importance of critically examining those expenses.



If you didn’t have to work, could you go to a one car family?  Completely car-less? 



Why Dropping Out Of School Was A Great Choice For Me

House repair billion

Hey look, I tried.  I earned A’s.  I showed up for class.  But it just didn’t work out for me.  It was too much work and not enough reward.

No, I didn’t drop out of high school or abandon my undergraduate studies.  I didn’t even drop out of law school after discovering I didn’t want to practice law.

But I did drop out of the Master’s program in Civil Engineering after finishing half of the coursework.  Only five more classes and I would have earned the Masters degree.  But I quit.

I quit, even though my employer was paying for all of my tuition, fees, and books.  I quit, even though I was able to instantly complete 30% of my master’s program by transferring in three classes from my juris doctor degree.

I was only taking one class per semester in the evening after work.  During the first semester of the master’s program, school kept me busy.  Very busy.  Between class two or three times per week, a heavy dose of homework, and a few major projects, and a full time job, I was slammed.  Add in the birth of our first kid at the very end of the first semester and I didn’t do much other than work, study, and change diapers.

I signed up for course number two in the fall of 2005.  It was an online course, but required just as much time and effort as attending in person.  It was sometime during that second semester that I decided I didn’t value the master’s degree enough to continue.  So I quit.


The purpose of education

Why do we value education?

It’s intrinsically valuable.  Smarter people make a better society.  Education enriches lives.  Students of history are less likely to repeat mistakes of the past.  Understanding how our world works makes life less confusing and more satisfying.  All are great reasons to get educated for the sake of knowledge itself.

It’s instrumentally valuable.  More education tends to lead to higher earnings and more advancement in one’s career.  That translates to more money.  More money means more options, more freedom, and more autonomy in your own life.  Or as I’m fond of saying: Money is the Root of Good.


Is a master’s degree a worthy pursuit?

It depends.  In some fields, a master’s degree can greatly expand your career options and turbocharge your earnings over the course of a decades-long career.  In other fields, a master’s degree might be required for entry level work.

In my (former) field of Civil Engineering, a masters degree isn’t worth that much.  Most employers don’t require a master’s degree and most don’t offer significantly higher salaries to those with extra education beyond a bachelor’s degree.

I took a peek at for civil engineers with 0-9 years of experience.  Having a master’s degree adds about $4,000 per year to the median salary.  Consider that half or more of those extra earnings are due to people who get master’s degrees being more motivated and higher achievers in general (lazy people don’t tend to further their education as much as highly motivated people).  Let’s say the net impact of a master’s degree after discounting for variable motivation levels is about $2,000 per year.

$2,000 per year isn’t a lot after taxes.  In my case, state and federal taxes took a combined 22% of every extra dollar I earned (even though we paid nearly zero taxes on a $150,000 income) while payroll taxes took another 7.65% bringing my marginal tax rate to roughly 30%.  After taxes, a master’s degree could have earned me another $1,400 per year.

Other benefits to a master’s degree:

  • One extra year of experience toward the four years required to obtain the Professional Engineer (PE) license (though I earned my PE at the same time as I would have graduated with the master’s)
  • Possibility for advancement (however an MBA would help much more)
  • Learn new skills – broaden and deepen knowledge of practice

From my observations, people skills and willingness to enter management had a much more direct bearing on salary and advancement than holding an advanced degree.  A genius at leadership, marketing, networking, or rainmaking is worth a lot more than someone who is technically very proficient (at least in the world of consulting engineering).  A few years in government employment reinforced the notion that those who rise to the top aren’t necessarily the most highly educated or most technically competent (because, wow, there were some real duds at the top).


Is it okay to give up?

I think so.  Phrased differently, giving up is simply moving in a different direction and pursuing other interests.

Instead of spending 400+ hours per year for another 2.5 years earning a master’s degree, I was able to work the occasional bit of overtime at work and get the occasional bonus.  But in general, after clocking in my normal 40.0 hours per week, I had plenty of free time to spend with my family and to pursue other fun pastimes such as reading, relaxing, and enjoying the outdoors (like I do now in early retirement).

What can I say?  I prioritized extra free time over more money at a very early point in my career.  

Instead of focusing my efforts on obtaining another degree that would lead to roughly $1,400 per year in additional after tax income, I chose to streamline my finances.  I skipped the money manager and learned how to invest on my own by sticking to my asset allocation.

I started tracking our spending more closely.  Cutting $1,400 of wasteful spending per year was way easier than getting a master’s degree.  Learning to DIY can easily save that much every year.


Advice for those NOT aiming for early retirement

For those seeking a very early retirement, small increases in earning potential won’t help very much.  But for those planning to work for a few decades, even a few thousand after-tax dollars per year can add up to a large figure upon reaching a normal retirement age of 60 or 65.

Going back to the salaries from, I noticed the master’s degree led to significantly more earnings for engineers with a decade or two of experience. Like $10,000 to $15,000 per year more money.

I knew early on that I wouldn’t have to work more than a decade or two, so I discounted the value of the master’s degree accordingly.  By the time I started seeing the big pay differential for the master’s degree, I’d be nearing early retirement.  In hindsight, I worked just under ten years in engineering, so dropping out didn’t cost me very much in foregone earnings potential.


Making the right choice

I’m a big believer in continuing education to keep skills from growing stale.  But it doesn’t always pay off.  The main reason I started the master’s program was because “everyone else was doing it” and my employer offered to pay for all of it.  They also wanted me to take a specific course to lead our firm into a new practice area, but that didn’t pan out (for me or them).

At the end of the day, we should all analyze big life choices like pursuing a master’s degree in the context of what we want out of life and how to get there the best way possible.  In my case, I realized after a year that I learned what I needed to learn and that another 2.5 years of further education wouldn’t benefit me very much.

I dodged the sunk cost fallacy of thinking “Well, I’ve already spent a year working on the master’s degree.  No reason to let that go to waste” and quit when it made sense.  I have absolutely zero regrets about dropping out and don’t miss that fourth diploma not collecting dust next to my other three degrees (wherever they are these days).

Much like my choice to leave the world of full time work at age 33, I got out of the master’s program when it made sense.  Sometimes being a dropout is a good thing.



Have you ever walked halfway down a path in life and then realized you should go in a different direction?



Retiring Abroad – Could We Do It?


We are in the middle of our seven week adventure in Mexico right now.  Although we traveled to Mexico just for fun, I’m also viewing the trip as an opportunity to explore a few places where we might spend prolonged periods of time in the future.  That might mean spending a year or more living abroad or spending summers or winters chasing nice weather.

Mexico tends to top the lists of places to retire abroad.  I think I know why: inexpensive living, good weather, and close proximity to the US.  But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns south of the border.

Throughout the decade of building my retirement stash, I was always intrigued by the early retirees that chose to live overseas.  Jeremy and Winnie, who blog at Go Curry Cracker retired in their 30’s and have traveled or lived in various locales in Latin America and Asia since then.  Billy and Akaisha Kaderli also retired in their 30’s and have been traveling the world for the past 25 years.  The maybe-retired Jed at Bucking the Trend is living in Granada, Spain at the moment with his wife and two kids.  The folks at Bumfuzzle, though not likely to self-describe as “early retired”, have trotted the globe by van and by boat for around a decade now (and are currently in Mexico not far from us).  They also had a couple of kids along the way.  Others are doing it, so I know it’s not impossible.

Moving to a low cost of living destination overseas that many people visit on vacation sounds exciting.  It’s not currently our Plan A but might be a decent Plan B or Plan C.

Here’s my take on the pros and cons of retiring abroad:


The Pros

Living in Mexico is cheap.  Virtually everything is the same price as in the US or less.  Sometimes much less.  Fruits and vegetables are half the price of what we pay in Raleigh.  There are amazing bakeries all over called “panaderias” that serve up hot and fresh breads and pastries for well under a buck each.  Sit down restaurants run roughly 30-50% less than Raleigh, while incredible street food can be 50-75% less than something similar back home.  Check out our $12 USD lunch of steak tacos, soup, fish, and french fries.

That is way too many french fries for one family to eat.

That is way too many french fries for one family to eat.  In the bags are ketchup, spicy salsa, cilantro and diced onions, sliced onions and peppers, limes, and radishes (free stuff they give you when you order take out).

Beyond the price of food, there’s also the freshness of the fruits and vegetables.  Because the climate allows year round growing seasons, there are lots of somewhat locally grown fresh produce all the time.  Many tropical fruits like mangoes, pineapples, and avocados are hard to find at peak ripeness in Raleigh at any price. But that’s not a problem here where fruit stands are plentiful.

As far as access to US goods, it’s pretty easy to find almost anything you want here.  There are Walmarts, Sam’s Clubs, Costcos, and a variety of other similar warehouse and big box stores offering any grocery product, electronic item, household good, or clothing article you want.  The styles and varieties might be different than what you are used to, but overall it’s not hard to find what you want.

Housing can be cheaper than many parts of the US, though maybe not by much if we were to stay in an expat area or a decent part of Mexico City.  Our current rental apartment of about 700 square feet in Mexico City costs $135,000 USD, similar to our 1,800 square foot house in Raleigh.

Our swank little Mexico City rental.  At nightly airbnb rates it's $350 USD per week furnished including all utilities.

Our swank little Mexico City rental. At nightly airbnb rates it’s $320 USD per week furnished including all utilities.  Monthly rentals would drop the rate quite a bit.

Transportation is about $0.30-0.35 USD (5-6 pesos) for local buses or the subway.  Mostly clean, generally fast, and with a more respectable clientele than what I’ve experienced on public transit in the US.  Taxis are incredibly cheap, with fares starting around $2 USD for a short trip and usually no more than $3-4 for most places around town.  Cheap and convenient buses, subways, and taxis make it easy to skip car ownership, unlike where we live in Raleigh.

Some public areas like parks and playgrounds are very nice but it’s highly variable.


Services like housecleaning and repairs are very affordable.  Essentially any labor-intensive service won’t cost a lot compared to US prices.  In Mexico City, 4-5 hours of housekeeping runs about $20 USD (300 pesos).  In San Miguel de Allende, we were asked to pay the maid an extra $2.67 USD (40 pesos) per hour if we have her cook for us or render additional services.

Saving money isn’t the only good thing about Mexico.  The weather is incredible.  This summer the temperatures have been in the 70’s and low 80’s during the day then dipping into the 50’s at night.  Air conditioning isn’t necessary at all at these temps.  Back home in Raleigh it’s been a steady 90-100 degrees almost every day.  Some folks winter in Mexico, but we are tempted to summer in Mexico.  The weather stats I’m throwing out pertain to the central highland area in and around Mexico City.  It’s crazy hot and humid in many coastal locations similar to the southeastern US during summer.

We’re also enjoying the novelty of new parks, museums, food, music, customs, and culture.  A trip to the grocery store or market is an adventure, whereas at home it’s just a chore.  I imagine the novelty would wear off after a certain point though.


The Cons

Some costs are higher, such as imported foodstuffs or items that aren’t very common in Mexico.  Spaghetti sauce, for example is $1.50-$2.00 per not very tasty can here (or $3 for a jar of Prego), whereas back home I can get decent pasta sauce for $1.00 per jar or can.  Italian deli meats are crazy expensive and you’re mostly stuck with expensive cooked and pressed ham or uninspired turkey meat if you want sliced meat for a sandwich.  It’s obviously smart to live like the locals when imported goods are expensive.

“Don’t drink the tap water”, they say.  As a result, you have to buy bottled water ($.50 for a small bottle or a few bucks for five gallons) and can’t simply quench your thirst at water fountains scattered around town at parks and in stores and museums.  Brushing teeth and washing produce require extra effort compared to using tap water.

At $2.60 USD (39 pesos), this 750 mL of tequila is cheaper than mouthwash.

At $2.60 USD (39 pesos), this 750 mL of tequila is cheaper than mouthwash.

It’s easy to save money on almost everything down in Mexico, but flying back to the US to visit friends and family would eat into any cost savings (particularly for our family of five).  We could partially offset the flight costs by travel hacking credit cards (which is how we got free flights to Mexico this year!) but I’m not sure if we could get free flights indefinitely through travel hacking.  Eventually the kids would be out of the house and at that point, buying two round trip tickets is much more affordable for the occasional trip back home.

As foreigners not quite fluent in the language, we are occasionally subjected to the “tourist tax”.  Cashiers and shopkeepers sometimes “forget” to give us the correct change.  Taxi drivers know we don’t know exactly what a trip should cost, so we end up paying a little extra.  We have been fairly vigilant about not getting ripped off but it will happen.  No point in getting mad.  It’s just a cost of doing business.  The longer you are here and the more fluency you have in the language, the less likely you are to pay tourist rates for anything.

On the subject of language, it’s a big deal.  Unless you’re staying in an expat area that caters to English-speaking Americans and Canadians, not knowing the local language will make life a lot more difficult.  On the flip side, living here forces you to learn more Spanish since you can’t avoid it.  “Language” could be a positive aspect of life abroad if you are interested in learning the language (which we are).

Culture shock can be challenging.  Clothing choices, for example, vary between the US and Mexico.  No one here wears shorts.  Trash is pretty common on the streets in Mexico, whereas the US does a better job of providing (and emptying) trash receptacles and enforcing litter laws.  Dog poop on the sidewalks is another common sight here, whereas in the US it’s mostly picked up by the dog’s owner.  Otherwise, our societies share a lot of common characteristics given our western European cultural origins.

For long term residents, immigration issues can be an issue.  In Mexico, everyone gets a 180 day tourist visa no questions asked.  Without filing for residency, you’ll have to make a border run every six months to reset the clock on your tourist visa.  I’m not up to date on Mexico’s take on “permanent tourists” that make visa runs every six months, but they might catch on and deny you entry (at least in theory).  And leaving the country every six months could grow tiresome pretty quickly if you just want to relax and enjoy life at home.  Plus it’s not cheap to buy plane tickets for a family of five twice per year (though travel hacking credit cards helps), nor do we enjoy quick weekend trips like making border runs to renew visas since we have young children.


The Kids’ Perspective

Since we have three kids between age three and ten, we have to keep them in mind when deciding whether we want to live overseas in retirement.

After three weeks of living in Mexico, the kids have developed a routine.  Plenty of down time, some time at the park, some time on chores (they are the official Root of Good dishwashers!), and some touristy stuff like visiting pyramids and museums.

When I asked the kids what they thought about living in Mexico, they say they don’t want to live here (yet).  The tap water isn’t clean and according to them, “you could die from it”.  I’m not certain you could actually die from ingesting Mexican water, but you can get a stomach ache.

On the upside, the kids realize that their money goes further here in Mexico as measured by ice cream.  Prices range from $0.25 USD for a popsicle up to a buck or two for a large cup or cone of hand made ice cream in tons of different flavors.


Our 3 year old keeps asking to go back to the pyramids. Guess he’s a fan!

They are able to keep in touch with family and friends through video chats on Skype and Google Hangouts, so they aren’t socially isolated while we’re on the road.  If we lived here on a more permanent basis, they would eventually make new friends and learn enough of the language to get by.

The final concern with living abroad with kids is schooling.  We could always home school, and incur minimal costs for a curriculum and materials.  If we wanted to go the traditional schooling route, there might be substantial costs for a private school if the public schools near where we live are not adequate (though we are no strangers to less than perfect schools).

A rough estimate of costs for tuition at a private school range from $2,000 to $5,000 USD per year per kid.  If we went the traditional schooling route and wanted an education similar to what we can get in the US, it will be very expensive.  In fact, paying for private education would likely offset any cost of living savings from housing, food, and transportation costs.  Homeschool might be our best option if lowering our cost of living is the primary objective of living in Mexico.


Why Retire Abroad?

Why would we want to retire abroad?  Lower cost of living is a prime motivation.  Or phrased a different way, we could stretch our dollars further and live a nicer lifestyle than we can afford in the US on the same budget.

We are able to get by on a retirement budget of about $33,000 per year including a paid off house.  We could rent our house in the US and net $800-900 per month which might be enough to allow us to rent a decent furnished house or apartment in Mexico.  Almost all of our costs would drop, but we would have to use part of our $5,300 vacation budget for visits back to the US.  Food, transportation, and entertainment costs would drop.  Electronics and appliances tend to cost the same or more down here, so we might see an increase in these expense categories.  Overall, I imagine we could live a slightly more luxurious lifestyle on a little less money.

But should we move 2,000 miles away just to save a little money?  That’s the tough part of the equation.  I don’t think it’s necessarily better or worse in Mexico assuming you have adequate funds to live on.   Just different in some aspects.  There’s a vibe here that’s hard to explain.  The parks seem to attract more people having fun.  There’s always a festival or parade or protest going down.  Running errands can be a cultural and language adventure.

So far, we aren’t committed to retiring overseas, but I’m still taking notes on the three cities we are visiting for extended periods of time.  Our next step in pursuing overseas living would be to spend an entire summer in a longer term rental to see how we like it.  Although we miss a few things about home, no one has broken down in tears crying to return to Raleigh just yet.  We’ll see how the next month of travel treats us.



Could you retire overseas?  What would it take to motivate you to leave your home country and live abroad?



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