Category Archives: Lifestyle

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?



Book Review and Interview – Job Free: Four Ways to Quit the Rat Race


I recently had the opportunity to chat with Jake Desyllas, another very early retiree.  Jake hosts The Voluntary Life, a podcast about entrepreneurship, financial independence, and freedom. In 2000, he founded Intelligent Space, an award-winning consultancy in the UK, that led innovation in the field of pedestrian movement simulation and analysis. In 2007 he sold his business and in 2010 he retired early, at the age of 38. He is the author of Becoming an Entrepreneur and his new book is called Job Free.

Since achieving financial independence, his adventures have included becoming a perpetual traveller, going minimalist, playing in a band, writing books, and creating a podcast. He currently lives in Panama with his wife Hannah.


You just released your new book Job Free: Four Ways to Quit the Rat Race and Achieve Financial Freedom on Your Terms.  What’s it all about?

It’s a book demonstrating that a job-free life is possible and there are multiple ways to achieve it. I’ve interviewed many people who live free of jobs and presented their real-life stories in the book, along with my own journey to financial independence and early retirement. The book provides a framework to help understand the options for living job free.

There are four basic strategies to escape the rat race of jobs. I call these strategies extreme saving, unjobbing, lifestyle businesses, and startups. By reading the book, people can choose which of these strategies (or combination of strategies) is right for them.


Is becoming job free the same thing as reaching financial independence and retiring early (reaching FIRE)?

That’s a great question. They are not quite the same—job freedom is a broader concept than financial independence and retiring early (FIRE). FIRE is a great way to live a job-free life, but it is not the only way. I think it is helpful to consider why you want FIRE. Most people want it because they want more freedom in life. They especially want to be free of the dreary, unfulfilling obligations of their jobs. For example, they don’t like having a boss, having to show up at set times, having to commute, having to wear a suit, having to follow someone else’s vision and not their own, and so on.

One way to free yourself from these dreary obligations is to save for FIRE, and I cover this strategy in a chapter called “extreme saving.” But there are other ways to free yourself of bosses, commuting, and all the other crappy aspects of jobs. For example, you can start a lifestyle business and be your own boss, so you never have to answer to a boss again. Or you can found a startup and build the company of your dreams. You don’t have to spend your working life building someone else’s dream. There are ways to achieve great freedom in life without FIRE. And many job-free lifestyles can lead to FIRE in the end too, as mine did.


What led you to write Job Free?

The idea came from interviewing fascinating people on my podcast about how to get more financial freedom in your life. I’ve interviewed many people (including Mr. Root of Good himself) who achieved FIRE in different ways to me. I’ve also interviewed people who are not fully financially independent, but have achieved job-free lifestyles that give them the freedom that they want. I noticed that although these stories were very diverse, they could all be understood within a framework of four essential strategies.

I wanted to explain these four strategies using the stories of the people that I’ve interviewed, to show that it is possible to live job free and there are options for how to do it. Many books about lifestyle design convey the message, “my life is awesome and you should live like me.”  I’m not advocating for one particular lifestyle; I am explaining the available options and encouraging readers to choose the life that’s right for them.


Who would benefit most from reading Job Free?

The book will be most helpful to those at the beginning of their journey to job freedom, because it provides an overview of the entire journey ahead and all the options available. However, readers who already know a lot about one strategy for quitting the rat race can also gain a lot from understanding the alternative strategies.

I’ve found that there is not much crossover between different communities interested in job freedom. For example, there isn’t much overlap between the extreme saving community and the startup entrepreneurship community. Yet, I think they each have a lot to gain from learning about the other. I hope my book encourages crossover learning between different job-free communities. Although these lifestyles might look different, they share many goals.


When did you first decide that becoming job free was a main goal in your life?

When I was a teenager, I was lucky to meet a mentor who had the explicit plan to start his own business, reach financial independence, and retire early. I learned a huge amount from watching him successfully implement his plan, and from seeing how he changed (I tell his story in Job Free). His example inspired me to create a job-free life for myself. I did a PhD, and as soon as I had finished studying, I started my own business. Eventually I sold it and retired early. I’ve spent very little time as an employee.


What are the biggest hurdles encountered while trying to escape the need for a job?

There are many practical challenges when it comes to replacing the income from a job. However, I have found that the really difficult hurdles are the psychological challenges that face anyone who wants to live job free. For example, job-free lifestyles require you to take a far more active role in creating a community and support network for yourself. Secondly, you have the challenge of creating structure for your life outside the structure of a job. Lastly, the most important psychological challenge is in finding your own clear sense of purpose that can replace the default purpose that you got from a job. Many of the topics that I cover in my podcast are directly related to these psychological challenges, since they are issues that I faced myself.


What are some of the other most important books those seeking a job free life should be reading?

I think Root of Good readers will already be familiar with many of the good books on the extreme saving approach, like Your Money Or Your Life by Joe Dominguez. I recommend exploring some books about other job-free lifestyles. If you want to find out about unjobbing, the best introduction is Michael Fogler’s original book, Un-Jobbing.

If you are interested in lifestyle businesses, I recommend starting with The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, because it is still the most influential book about this approach. You may also enjoy Pat Flynn’s short book, Let Go, for a personal story of his journey into this kind of business.

If you are interested in founding a startup, then my own book, Becoming an Entrepreneur, provides an overview for beginners, and contains many suggestions for further reading on specific topics. Derek Sivers’s book, Anything You Want, is a fascinating personal account of his experience of selling a business.


Root of Good’s thoughts on Job Free

Jake provided me with a free electronic copy of the book for review and I liked it enough to share Job Free with all of my Root of Good readers.  In Job Free, Jake does a superb job of conveying the multiple paths to ditching a traditional job, some of which lead to financial independence and some that are essentially lifestyle design on steroids.  All four paths lead to the same objective – removing the necessity of a regular nine to five job.

The chapter most interesting to me was the chapter on Extreme Savers because it presents the path that I took to reach financial independence.  Get a decent job, save and invest half or more of your income while keeping investment costs and taxes low.  When you have enough to cover your annual expenses with a 3% to 4% annual withdrawal, then you are Job Free.

In the chapter on Extreme Savers Jake shares what he learned from interviewing or researching a number of early retirees that you probably recognize:

In the Extreme Savers chapter, Jake also references Thomas Stanley’s The Millionaire Next Door where Dr. Stanley presents the patterns and commonalities observed after conducting hundreds of interviews of millionaires across the US.  In Job Free, Jake follows a similar methodology as Dr. Stanley by compiling a summary of how numerous Extreme Savers under age 40 managed to save and invest their way to financial independence.

Job Free presents three more in-depth chapters on other ways to escape a regular job through unjobbing, lifestyle businesses, or founding a startup.  Plenty of people balk at the idea of becoming an extreme saver, but might have no problem with one of the other three paths that involve pursuing a fun career at lower pay, developing a business that caters to one’s desired lifestyle, or in the case of founding a startup, growing a company and selling it for a large sum of money.

Jake draws on his practical experience as an entrepreneur and startup guy and on his interviews with dozens of others who have attained freedom from a job in different ways.

So far, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with Jake during two podcast interviews at The Voluntary Life and even though his intent was to glean some wisdom from me for his listeners, I have to admit that there was some information exchange going on in both directions.  Jake is one of those guys that truly gets what it means to design your life so you can live in an intentional manner.  His latest book, Job Free, is a great nugget of his wisdom.



Do you have any questions or comments for Jake?  



The Deception of a Billion Dollar Jackpot


I get it.  It sucks you in.  Dreaming of all the ways you would spend a sudden windfall.  The lottery is this amazing chance to live on easy street for the millions that play it every week.  It’s literally a ticket to a better life.  Where else but the Powerball lottery can you invest $2 and turn it into $1.3 billion dollars overnight?

When you come forward, your name is public in most states.  I hope you enjoy being a very popular third cousin once removed to everyone and their brother.  And hey, if you do win, can I borrow some money because I’ve got a really great business idea and I’m willing to let you in as a partner on the ground floor?  I’ll pay you back, I promise.

Let’s visit Jack Whittaker to see how the $315 million he won in 2002 changed his life.  Spoiler alert: it wasn’t for the better.  After winning an absurd amount of money, poor Jack was robbed a dozen times, got divorced, and, at 68, is currently back at work running two businesses that “aren’t doing very good”.  It might be because he spends $600 per week trying to win the lottery again.  Because it worked out so well the first time!

Poor Jack joins hands with his fellow “winners” like these ten people and these nineteen people who won big then lost it all.

Playing the lottery is dangerous, even deadly.  And not just because you’ll get jumped by a gang of ruffians like Poor Jack.  Your odds of dying while driving to the gas station are higher than winning the lottery.

Let me drop some Math on you.  The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292 million.  Given the national average fatality rate of 1 death per 100 million miles driven, a four mile round trip to the gas station equates to a 1 in 25 million risk of dying in an auto accident.  For a freaking lottery ticket.  The odds are stacked against you.  You are 12 times more likely to die in a car crash while getting the ticket as you are to pick all six Powerball numbers.

Skip the lottery, save $2, save your life.

Even if we get past all the objections to buying a ticket, I ask “what’s different now?”  Is $1.3 billion materially different from $130 million or $13 billion?  Any of those jackpots would put virtually anyone into an entirely different category of wealth compared to where they are today.  Why do we chase a billion so much harder than a measly hundred million?  You would be fabulously filthy rich either way, so why try so hard for the billion?

Maybe it’s because a mere $100 million isn’t such a great jackpot after all, and it takes a billion dollar jackpot to entice us all off our couches and into our (deadly) cars to buy these $2 luck rockets.  I’m talking about the haircut from taking a lump sum and the huge tax bill.

You’ll lose 38% of the pot by taking a lump sum.  Then lose another 40-50% of what’s left when Uncle Sam realizes he, too, has won the lottery.  You’re going straight to the top of the 39.6% federal tax bracket and depending on your state and local taxes, you could face another 10%+ tax burden.  What you are left with is between 31% and 37% of the “jackpot”.  For the current $1.3 billion jackpot, that’s “only” four or five hundred million dollars.  A $100 million jackpot would only leave you with $31 to $37 million.

$31 million is a lot of money, but it’s not going to get you to Filthy Richville.  You couldn’t afford to buy and maintain a private jet with such a small pittance.  You’ll be stuck in first class sipping expensive champagne with all the other decamillionaires.  On a (non-private) public jet.  With Poor Jack Whittaker giving you the stink eye from his middle seat in coach while he contemptuously sips his room temperature can of ginger ale.

Of course, you might not even get $31 million because of the pari-mutuel nature of the lottery.  In pari-mutuel betting, all jackpot winners share the pot.  If anyone else picks “your” lucky numbers, get ready to split the pot with them.  Is $15.1 or $10.3 million still a “jackpot”?  You might be back in coach sharing that flat ginger ale with Poor Jack.

Between taxes, discounting for taking a lump sum, and the nature of the pari-mutuel bet, the $1.3 billion prize won’t be anywhere near $1.3 billion.

Setting aside the financials for a moment, just consider the sinking feeling you get when you realize you’re a loser.  It can’t be healthy to stare at a fist full of wadded up lottery tickets covered in your tears.  That megayacht with a helipad on top isn’t going to happen.  Go ahead and fire the imaginary butlers you’ll never be able to afford.

Let’s face the facts.  You are going to lose the lottery.  You have a 291,999,999 out of 292,000,000 chance that your $2 ticket isn’t going to win you a billion dollars.  Them are long odds.  And even if you win, you will still lose (need I mention the parable of Poor Jack again?).


Are there alternatives to losing the lottery?

Fortunately, there are.  One alternative is to light $2 on fire (without burning down your house) and at least enjoy some light and warmth from the fleeting flame.  And for only $2, you can tell your friends how you literally watched money burn instead of wasting it on a lottery ticket.  Instead of growing old and lamenting how you wasted $2 back in 2016 not winning a billion dollars, you can regale the youth with an epic tale of burning $2 just because you could.

But perhaps there’s another way to win the lottery of life.  Like saving the lotto ticket money and investing it responsibly.  Want to win $90,000?  Starting at age 18, forgo the twice weekly $2 tickets all year.  Keep doing that until you’re drawing Social Security at age 68 and all those $2 tickets will grow to $90,000 at a 7% rate of return.  Why play the lottery when you can guarantee a $90,000 jackpot just by buying an index fund and not wasting money on lottery tickets?


P.S.: The Powerball folks put out a pretty funny FAQ.  Check it out if you’re bored and/or tempted to waste money on lottery tickets.



What’s the appropriate amount of money to blow on lottery tickets?  $0, because, well, math.  $2 for entertainment value just to say you played?  $20 so you can boost your odds to 1 in 29.2 million?  If it’s higher than $20 just say $20 so I can feel better, okay?



September 2015 Financial Update


September is over and left us a little poorer but in overall great financial shape.  Our net worth dropped by $36,000 in spite of $8,225 in income for the month and a meager $927 in expenses.

The older kids are back in school and we’re settling into the school year routine.  I’m back to my normal weekly early retirement schedule.  We returned home from our 7 week vacation in Mexico two months ago.  Mrs. Root of Good experienced some excitement this month when she submitted her resignation letter to join me in early retirement.  Instead of quitting outright, she’s now working from home four days per week with full time pay.  Pretty sweet deal!


September is dividend season for us since that’s when our mutual funds and ETFs pay out quarterly dividends.   We received $5,038 in dividends in September and around $1,500 so far in October.  A solid bit of investment income, but it’s still a little less than the $7,500 in dividends for the second quarter.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, is back up to $1,448 after coming in at less than $100 last month.  I started this blog as a hobby without any great expectations to make big money, so it’s pretty amazing watching the blog income cover all of our expenses some months.  Somehow profitable hobbies or side hustles keep finding me in early retirement!

I didn’t make any money from freelance writing during the month (it turns out the check was really in the mail and arrived in October) but I did pick up $55 in consulting fees from my newly launched early retirement lifestyle consulting practice.  I’m not really advertising it or promoting it (other than tossing a page up here on my blog), because I don’t want it to consume all of my time.  So far interest has been strong.  If you’re interested in a one on one consultation to help guide you on your path to early retirement, check it out and give me a shout.

The “deposits” income of $70 comes from cash back from credit card spending plus cash back rebates from the and online shopping portals. I’m all about sharing the wealth, so if you sign up through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Ebates, you’ll get a $10 gift card like I did a while back.  I try to do all of my online shopping through one of these portals and the cash back adds up.  While shopping for cruises at Travelocity, for example, I noticed Ebates pays 7% cash back on cruise purchases whereas Mr. Rebates pays only 4%.  It pays to compare rates between those two online shopping portals because the cash back rates vary.

Rounding out this month’s income is Mrs. Root of Good’s paycheck.  She’s still working but only four days per week from home.  She managed to retain her full time pay, work a little less and skip the 30-45 minute one way commute and the related gas and tolls.


If you’re interested in tracking your income and expenses like I do, then check out Personal Capital (it’s free!). All of our savings and spending accounts (including checking, money market, and five credit cards) are all linked and updated in real time through Personal Capital. We have accounts all over the place, and Personal Capital makes it really easy to check on everything at one time.

Personal Capital 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 Personal Capital service, check it out today (review here).



Now let’s look at September expenses:


We ended the month without breaking the $1,000 spending barrier.  I always feel thrifty whenever we spend less than $1,000 in a month.  $927 is just a third of our targeted budget of $2,700 per month (1/12th of our $32,400 per year early retirement budget).

Just like last month, we spent the most on groceries at $507 for the month.  That’s an expense that’s hard to avoid when you’re feeding five mouths.

The $182 in healthcare expenses includes a doctor’s visit, a prescription medicine, and a tube of prescription toothpaste with really high fluoride content.  Since we have high deductible health insurance through Mrs. RoG’s employer, we pay out of pocket for doctor’s visits other than physicals.  We rarely have more than one or two of these “sick visits” per year so we’re still coming out way ahead versus paying thousands extra for more comprehensive insurance with lower or non-existent deductibles.  And we get to max out our Health Savings Account (which stays fully invested at Fidelity).

Once Mrs. RoG quits working, we’ll be jumping into an exchange health insurance plan and snagging some big Affordable Care Act subsidies.

The prescription toothpaste was recommended by our dentist as a bootleg way of receiving fluoride treatments at a fraction of the cost.  At $1 for a moldable athletic mouthguard and $5 for the 5x strength prescription fluoride toothpaste, it’s a cheap way to prevent tooth decay and rebuild enamel in a problem spot the dentist found at my last routine check up.  Per the dentist, squeeze toothpaste into the mouthguard and wear for at least 30 minutes.  We’ll see how well it works!

The $75 in gifts represents cash we gave to our middle child for her birthday.  We gave her a few small toys too, but the cash is her main source of spending money throughout the year.  Whenever she asks if she can have something, our normal response is to say “sure, if you want to spend your money”.  The kids are getting really good at spending their money wisely and maximizing value.  And we never get nagged to buy them the latest gadget.

Another month of low restaurant spending at $54.  Two thirds of that figure went toward large quantities of pizza (about once per week roughly – thanks crazy good Papa John’s deal!) and one third to Chinese take out from Mrs. RoG’s favorite spot near her work (incredible marinated tofu).  Since she’s telecommuting, she won’t be visiting that restaurant very often since it’s on the other side of town from our house.

Gas and tolls at $45 are much lower than previous months when Mrs. RoG was commuting full time.  Since she’s no longer driving to work, we haven’t needed more than one car at a time during September, so I’m thinking we could drop to one car if we want to.

Rounding out the other expenses are $34 for internet (“cable”), $16 for entertainment (two roller skating trips for two kids to the neighborhood skating rink), and $9 in “other income” (a blog-related expense for web site hosting at Hostgator).


Year to date expenses


At $17,467 year to date spending, we are almost seven thousand dollars under the $24,300 budgeted for the first nine months of 2015.  Considering we spent $5,100 for a seven week trip to Mexico, our 2015 living expenses are ridiculously low for a family of five!

We are on track to significantly under spend our $32,400 annual budget as long as no major unexpected expenses pop up later in the year. With an almost $7,000 budget surplus, we can cover a lot of unexpected mishaps in the last few months of the year and still do okay overall.  We’re starting to get cruise fever again, so that might be a fun way to spend another couple thousand bucks before the year is over.

Monthly spending for 2015 to date:


Net Worth: $1,434,000 (-$36,000)

Another month with a big drop in net worth!  After losing $74,000 in August, our net worth dropped another $36,000 in September, bringing our two month total loss to $110,000.

After spending five months of 2015 in the $1.5 Millionaire club, we are sadly no longer qualified to hang out and breath that group’s rarefied air.  Otherwise, the drop in net worth hasn’t change a lot in our daily lives.  We’re still spending (or not spending) the same as we always do.

We have close to a year’s worth of living expenses sitting in cash even after dropping $15,000 into my solo 401k to shield most of my online income from taxation for 2015 (part of our strategy to keep our taxes near zero). Eventually, we’ll use the Roth IRA Conversion Ladder to unwind these tax-deferred contributions and convert them into spendable assets.

Emotionally, it feels good to know we won’t have to sell any investments to fund our living expenses for the next year or so even if:

  1. Mrs. Root of Good quits working for good,
  2. Root of Good blog income and my freelancing/consulting income drops to zero, and
  3. all of our investments stop paying dividends.

Odds are that those sources of income won’t disappear completely in the next year or two (though Mrs. RoG’s income probably will!).  I’m pretty confident we won’t run out of money any time soon.


The chart tells the whole story – it was a bumpy month of ups and downs (with a little more down than up).  In the middle of the month we were actually in the positive before losing the gains and closing out the month on a down note.  However the first few days of October have erased most of September’s losses.

Our net worth at the end of September is still higher than it was during most of 2014, so in relative terms we’re still feeling pretty wealthy.  We have more than enough to cover our spending needs for the foreseeable future and a steady stream of income from multiple sources.

Life is good.



How did you do in September?  Another ugly month or a month of opportunities?



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Going on a Cruise Part 1 – Overview

Pool deck on the cruise

In the past year, the Root of Good family went on two cruises in the Caribbean.  I wrote about the first cruise in my September 2014 financial update, and a few people wanted to learn more about cruises.

I think cruising gets unfairly painted with a broad brush.  My advice is to discard any preconceived notions you have about cruising such as “it’s for old people”, “it’s boring”, “I don’t want to be stuck on a ship with 3,000 other people”, or “no thanks, not interested in plastic wrapped vacations”.

Just think of a cruise as a floating resort hotel with free food and free transportation to a few sunny and sandy destinations.  With free entertainment for kids and adults, 360 degree oceanfront views, and maybe some sea spray if it’s windy.

We probably don’t fit the stereotype of the typical cruise customer.  We’re big on slow travel.  We spent seven and a half weeks bumming around Mexico this past summer and set out on a five week road trip to Canada last year (though we returned home half way through the five weeks).  Travel is so important to us that we devote about a sixth of our overall early retirement budget to it.  Now that I’ve established my independent traveler street credibility, let’s talk cruises.


Cruise Basics

Cruises come in many shapes and sizes.  Big boats, small boats.  Except don’t call it a boat, it’s a ship.  The smallest ships carry as few as a couple hundred passengers while the largest ships carry 5,000 or more passengers.  Most of the ships from the big brands like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line carry around 2,000 to 4,000 passengers.  Add that to another 1,000 crew members, and you have a lot of people on a big hunk of floating metal.

How long is a typical cruise?  Seven nights is the standard cruise length (if there is a standard) and what I would recommend for a first time cruiser.  There are plenty of three and four night cruises, and also many cruises of two weeks or longer.  The three or four night cruises are very affordable but won’t permit a lot of time to relax and enjoy the time on board since three nights aboard equates to only two full days aboard.  Cruises of two weeks or more can be nice, but if it’s your first cruise I wouldn’t commit to more than a week in case you really don’t like it.

If you’re in the US, most cruises visit the Caribbean or Mexico and depart from ports on the east coast (mostly in Florida) or from the west coast (Los Angeles).  There are other ports of departure with limited sailing dates up and down the east coast, the gulf coast, and the west coast.  You can also visit Europe, Central America, South America, Asia or really almost anywhere in the world.  Sometimes these more distant destinations are part of a multi-week cruise departing from the US, but just as often you will depart from a port near the continent you will be cruising around.  Cruise ships only cover about 500-600 miles per day so it can take a week or two to cross the Atlantic or Pacific ocean or skirt the shores of a continent.

Are cruises cheap?  They can be very inexpensive.  The cruise we booked last September was $650 per two person cabin including taxes for a seven night cruise.  I can’t find a land based all-inclusive resort for that amount, and certainly not one within driving distance of North Carolina.  A three night cruise from Florida to the Bahamas can be under $300 per cabin.  Cruises can also be expensive.  A 32 night cruise from Florida to Chile (by way of Cape Horn at the tip of South America) can set you back $8,000 per cabin.  Some luxury cruises last a month or two and approach $100,000 for the cheapest cabin (which I bet isn’t too shabby).

The advertised cruise fare can be misleading.  The cruise we booked in September was advertised as $199.  That’s per person and doesn’t include taxes.  A cabin is what you are actually booking, which means two or more people.  On our cruise, taxes of $125 per person increase the advertised price by more than 50%.  That’s usually the case for the least expensive cruises.  The advertised price is often for the cheapest cabin on board, and if you want to upgrade to something luxurious, you’ll pay more.


What the cruise fare covers (and doesn’t)

What do you get for the $650 cruise fare (or whatever you pay)?

  • Food.  Five star dining every night.  Or all you can eat buffets, burgers, pizzas and ice cream.  We enjoyed fifteen different restaurants on our last cruise including a fish and chips counter, a fresh burrito joint, and the formal dining room with favorites like lobster, filet mignon, and crab cakes.
  • Some drinks.  Juices, coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and tap water are pretty standard.
  • Entertainment.  Broadway stage shows, dance clubs, live music, DJ’s, comedy clubs, magicians, game shows, and outdoor movies
  • Port visits.  What you do while visiting the port is up to you.  We visited Mexico, Honduras, and Belize on our last cruise.
  • Kids club.  Free childcare for kids.  Our kids love it.  Those still in diapers may not qualify for the kids club, and some cruises charge extra for childcare on port days.
  • Fitness and recreation.  Gym with treadmills, weight sets, and stepping machines are standard.  Table tennis, basketball courts, volleyball courts, mini golf, rock climbing, zip lines, water slides, swimming pools.
Mexican food from our cruise to Mexico. Almost as good as the real deal in Mexico.

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

What the fare doesn’t cover:

  • Excursions while in port
  • Internet
  • Alcohol and sodas
  • Premium restaurants on board
  • Gratuities

In our experience, cruises are pretty good value propositions.  You pay a lump sum price for the entire vacation and as long as you don’t overindulge on extras, cruises can be a rather inexpensive way to vacation and experience a taste of luxury.


Life on board

While you’re on a cruise your day can be jammed packed with activities or laid back and filled with nothing more than seaside lounging with a good book with occasional breaks to dine at the seemingly endless assortment of restaurants and dining spots on board.

Each evening you receive a newsletter outlining the next day’s schedule of activities on board as well as the restaurant schedules and food themes.  Glancing back at the daily newsletter from the first day of our cruise, I see the programmed activities started at 7:00 am with a free morning stretching and fitness class at the spa and the day ended with a midnight comedy show in the cabaret lounge at the rear of the ship.  Throughout the day there are dozens of planned activities like:

  • a cooking demo in the ship’s steakhouse
  • sports trivia, music trivia, and entertainment trivia in the lounges
  • karaoke awesome party (they seriously put “awesome” in the name of the party on the schedule)
  • family friendly comedy shows
  • cornhole competition
  • mini golf tournament (did I mention the ship had a full mini golf course?)
  • two different broadway style musicals in the evening.
  • acoustic guitar performance
  • live jazz music
  • hairy chest contest (can’t say I’m sad I missed this one!)
  • ping pong tournament

The daily schedule

Those are all covered in your basic cruise fare.  There’s also a huge array of organized activities to essentially separate you from your money like the art auction, designer watch seminar, bingo, slots tournament, Texas Hold Em tournament, “free” diamond gemstone consultation, spa tours, and jewelry by the inch sales.

Between eating and lounging, we usually didn’t make it to more than the main broadway stage show each night and a little ping pong, mini golf, and swimming sprinkled throughout the day.

Early Retirement Interview

Eating, swimming, and lounging all day.

On sea days, you’ll have the chance to get off the boat for most of the day until around 4 or 5 pm and explore the day’s destination.  On our cruise, the ship stopped at Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico, Roatan Bay in Honduras and Belize City in Belize.


Who wants to get off the ship and explore when the view from the deck is this nice?

While on board, dress is pretty casual most of the time, but this varies by cruise line.  The only time there is a dress code is in the formal dining room.  During our cruise, the dressiest night in the dining room required “Cruise Elegant” attire (“shorts, t-shirts, jeans, flip flops, bathing suits, sleeveless shirts for men, sportswear, and baseball hats are not allowed in the dining room”).  I translated that to mean khakis and a polo shirt or button up shirt with no tie should be fine if you don’t mind being surrounded by some folks in tuxes and cocktail dresses.  So far we’ve never been tossed from the dining room for dressing inappropriately.

While on the subject of the dining room, it’s worth mentioning the social opportunities aboard ship.  You can choose to dine with your own family or group at a perfectly sized table, or you can choose to sit at a larger table with random strangers (that soon become friends).  We’ve never opted for the “dining with strangers” program, but for the extroverts it should work well.

With the advent of the internet, you can also meet strangers online (sounds like fun!) before your cruise departure date and then meet up in person once on board the ship.  If you’re interested, check out the “roll call” forums at (a great resource in general) or search facebook for the ship name and sail date for the facebook group for your sailing.

For those traveling with kids, you are in luck.  Most cruise lines operate some form of kids club which is basically all day babysitting for ages 2 or 3 up to 17.  These kids clubs are generally free though some cruise lines charge for late night service or on days that you are in port.  Our kids love love love the kids clubs because it’s like summer camp with a bunch of other kids.  The adult staff get paid to entertain kids all day.  What do the kids do?  Arts and crafts, music, video and board games, sports, and sometimes on stage performances in front of the whole ship.  On our Costa cruise a few years ago, the kids club ended each evening with a kids’ disco party in the night club complete with a real DJ, flashing lights, and awkward dancing.

And not only can you ditch your own kids in the kids club, you can also get away from all other kids on board in one of the adults only areas of the ship.  On the Carnival cruise line ships, the adults only area is called “Serenity”.  The adults only swimming pool and hot tubs were serene other than the occasional drunk 22 year old stumbling around.


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!




Ever been on a cruise?  How did you like it?  If you’ve never been, what kind of preconceptions do you have about cruising?



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?



My Semi-Retired Summer


I’m busy having fun with the family on our seven week vacation in Mexico.  This week we have a guest post from John C who blogs at Action Economics. John was kind enough to share his awesome summer of semi-retired fun.  


One of the major advantages to my line of work is that I tend to have the entire summer off. I work as a contractor at nuclear power plants during refueling outages, which normally take place during the spring and fall months, since the plants want to be producing power during the peak usage summer and winter months. Having summers off helps our family save a decent amount of money and headache by reducing our childcare expenses, but it also gives me a sneak peak of what early retirement may be like. Currently I am planning to hit Financial Independence by age 45, which is “only” 16 short years away. Having the summers off has shown me that regardless of whether I have to go back to work in September, I certainly won’t be bored with a surplus of free time.


Summer Fun:

We have 4 boys ages 12, 6, 3, and 2 so our summers are filled with a ton of rambunctious energy.  Most of the activities we do in the summer are absolutely free and are much more enjoyable since I don’t have to worry about waiting for the weekend. My wife, Mrs. C., only works a couple days a week during the summer as well so she doesn’t miss out on too much of the fun either. Over the years I have acquired a massive arsenal of original Super Soaker water guns and several times during the summer we have water wars that last for most of the day. I fill up all the guns before we get started and the kids have a blast.  We have 4 different hose spigots across the yard so it is easy for the kids to refill once they run out.  We also go on a lot of nature walks to wear the the kids out.


We live about 3 miles from Lake Michigan and go to the beach regularly.  One of the parks around us by the beach has a large fountain for kids to play in and has a nice playground.  There are a few other beaches along the shore that we go to as well and these beaches tend to have a lot fewer people at them than the large beach with the park.

We have several memberships to local organizations that help keep the kids busy as well. Instead of asking for presents for the kids for their birthdays we often ask for memberships for activities instead. We have memberships to our local kids museum, nature center, and zoo. For a family of six these memberships typically pay for themselves if we go twice during a year. One of the nice things about these memberships is that they are reciprocal with many other zoos and museums across the country. When taking a trip we can often stop at a zoo or museum at half the cost of normal admission.



All kids (and adults) need a bit of extra education. I remember during my summer vacations as a kid feeling like my brain was atrophying. I kicked off my summer break with studying for and taking the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) exam in order to help me move up with my employer.  In addition to teaching the kids the basics to prepare them for the next school year I am also taking some extra time to teach them life skills.

Kid 1: Kid 1 who is 12 struggles in school a lot. My parents are kindly paying for some extra math tutoring for him. I will be working with him every day on reading and comprehension as well. Kid 1 is my lazy kid so I am trying to instill a better work ethic in him and will also be teaching him the basics of how to use hand tools, a drill, and some electrical and plumbing repair.


Kid 2: Kid 2 does a lot better in school, but I still will be challenging him to read more difficult books and to get even better in math.  In addition to having him work with Kid 1 and myself with hand tools, I will also start teaching him some simple meals to prepare. Both kid 1 and kid 2 love the “Survivorman” type shows, so we will do a little bit of wilderness survival in the woods in our backyard this summer.

Kid 3: Kid 3 will turn 4 this summer. He is really smart, but gets emotional very easily and will shut down if he gets upset. We will be working on kindergarten prep over the summer even though it will be another year before he goes to school.  Mostly the basics of ABCs, 123s, being able to write his name and recognize shapes.  Improving his communication when he gets upset will be a major challenge that we need to work on.

Kid 4: Kid 4 just turned 2. He loves to talk and talk and talk.  Teaching him as many new words as possible is the best course of action for him.  Once he gets a little bit better with communication we will embark on potty training.

All 4: All 4 kids are on commission and can earn money based on the work they do. Obviously the older kids are capable of doing more work and thus earning more money.  We generally let the kids decide how much of their money to save and how much to spend.  Our kids are very good at saving money and even the 2 year old will do some very small chores to add to his piggy bank.


Home Improvements:

Home improvements are certainly a big part of our summer.  Mrs. C. just acquired several giant boxes approximately 12′ long by 1′ wide by 2′ deep for planters for practically nothing.  Getting these in the right spots, painted, and filled will be very labor intensive and will make our yard look a lot nicer.

In January we acquired 4.5 acres of adjacent land to our home by purchasing the old railroad bed that runs behind our neighborhood.  The land is 60′ wide by approx. a half mile.  There are several trees that are down across the path that I need to clean up and get out of the way. There is also a train bridge going over a creek on this land. My goal is to build a safe foot bridge and clear out a nice fishing spot on the creek.  The old bridge is rotting away and isn’t safe for the little kids to go across on.


A major improvement we are looking at is paving the end of our driveway and putting in a basketball hoop. This one will be a bit costly, but it’s been on our radar for several years. In addition to providing us with another fun activity it will also help with the drainage of our driveway during heavy rainfalls.


Going Forward:

I am certainly thankful that the job I have allows me to be able to spend more time with my kids in the summer when they are out of school. I miss a lot when I am travelling, but having these three months off certainly balances that out.  Now that we have the two little kids having the summers off saves us a lot of money on child care and allows Mrs. C. to maintain her job.

At age 45 all of our kids will be grown, which will take away a good deal of the activities I spend my time on during my summers off currently.  It is entirely possible that by age 45 I will be a grandpa several times over, since my oldest boy will be about the age I am now.  I consistently have more ideas of things I would like to do than time I have to do them, which is a good indicator for the future.  If I go even 2 or 3 days without moving forward on something I get stir crazy. I am capable of figuring out fun, interesting, and productive things to do with my time, which is half the battle with early retirement.



What would you do this summer if work wasn’t in the way?



Root of Good comments:  Thanks John!  Great insight into what’s possible when you have large chunks of free time and your finances under control.  I’ll share a few of my posts from the archives that are relevant to what John talks about. 

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