Another month of early retirement is in the books! March was a busy month for us. The weather is finally nice around Raleigh so we enjoyed more time outdoors. The kids had fun too, with our youngest going on a field trip to the children’s museum that we chaperoned. Our older two children bought themselves bicycles and have been out and about riding on these warm spring days.
Financially, March was a repeat of February. Due to downward movement in the stock market, our net worth dropped by $32,000 to a still-respectable $2,024,000. Our income of $5,659 far surpassed our spending of $2,025 which means our cash stash continues to grow slightly.
On to the numbers!
Investment income totaled $3,108 in March. Our equity mutual funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly in March, June, September, and December which explains why investment income was much higher in March than in January or February. More on our dividend income.
Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, declined slightly to $1,925. I have a couple of tasks in progress to boost this income a bit and they seem to be paying off. However the payment from advertisers tends to lag by a couple of months.
My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) of $465 was a little lower than February. That works out to roughly an hour per week of consulting, which is a very comfortable pace for me and leaves plenty of free time for all the other fun pursuits in life!
Deposit income of $159 came from two sources. A small part of that was cash back from the Capital One Spark Business card where I just completed the $10,000 spending requirement to qualify for a $1,000 sign up bonus (plus 2% cash back on the $10,000 spent). If you want some of this free money being handed out, check out the latest credit card offers.
The second source of “deposit income” was from the Ebates.com and Mrrebates.com online shopping portals (some of which was earned from you readers signing up through these links). If you sign up for Ebates through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Ebates, you’ll get a $10 gift card. During March and early April, we’ve scored a ton of cash back through those portals from shopping online and from travel bookings.
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 take a look at March expenses:
I never seem to have a “typical” month of spending because there’s always a “one time” expense of one type or another that happens every month. That’s why budgeting monthly is a tough chore but budgeting by the year makes a lot of sense to me. This month, the automotive spending went WAY up compared to the $0 we spend most months. However, I have now paid for almost all of the annual car expenses for 2018 other than gas and unexpected repairs.
In March, we spent $2,025 which is about two thirds of our target spending of $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Detailed breakdown of spending:
Automotive – $809:
Cars are awesome. You get where you want to go in a relatively fast manner and you don’t get soaked when it’s raining. However, driving costs money.
In March, we had to replace the spark plugs, a routine maintenance item due once every 120,000 miles. Which is to say, this is the last time we’ll ever replace the spark plugs since we only drive about 5,000 miles per year.
At $594, this maintenance item was extremely expensive and somewhat of a surprise. When we bought our used minivan I thought I was getting out of a huge expense of replacing the timing belt at 90,000 or 120,000 miles since Toyota Siennas have timing chains.
I was right about the timing chain, but didn’t realize that the spark plugs are really hard to get to in the engine compartment. They require 3.5 hours of shop labor to replace since half the engine has to come out to gain access to the plugs. In our former lives of owning Honda sedans, spark plug replacement was usually $175-200.
I could have spent a day or two of DIY to save about $500 but decided my leisure time was too valuable for that. I’m not super handy at auto repair, so I might have inflicted more than $500 of damage to the car during the repair attempt!
The annual inspection, property tax, and tag/registration also came due in March.
Then I had to renew my driver’s license.
The itemized $809 in automotive spending:
- $594 spark plug replacement
- $30 North Carolina State inspection
- $51 Annual North Carolina Registration/Tag Fee
- $94 Property Tax and Annual City Vehicle Fee
- $40 Driver’s license renewal – good for eight years
Fortunately, that’s it for 2018 routine car expenses other than gas and liability insurance.
Travel – $470:
I bought $200 worth of Airbnb gift cards for $173 at Raise.com when they offered 10% off sitewide. I don’t have any immediate plans to use them, but they never expire once added to your Airbnb account. The gift card balance will undoubtedly come in handy when we start planning our summer 2019 trip to somewhere.
Where is somewhere? Could be a cross country USA road trip. Or a summer in South America. Or in Southeast Asia.
In other travel spending, I spent $297 to put down a deposit for a week-long cruise aboard the MSC Armonia out of Miami. The cruise will total about $1,500 for the five of us after applying our MSC Voyager Club past passenger discount and getting 12% cash back through ebates.
The cruise is during spring break 2019. We are paying a slight premium of a few hundred dollars so that the kids won’t miss any school.
The cruise spends two days in Cuba including an overnight stay in the harbor of Havana! Everyone in the family is excited about visiting Cuba.
Those of us getting off the boat in Cuba will pay an extra $75 for the Cuban tourist visa card.
For those curious about how we’ll circumvent the United State’s restrictions on tourist visits to Cuba, we’ll be traveling “In Support of the Cuban People” which requires among other things that we support local entrepreneurs (buy trinkets and snacks from street vendors) and have significant and meaningful interactions with local Cubans (and presumably tell them how awesome capitalism is and how much communism sucks).
In other words, travel like we always do.
Groceries – $430:
Our grocery expenses were slightly lower than usual. We usually shop at Aldi, Lidl, and Walmart for most things. Occasionally I’ll make a special trip to Kroger or Food Lion (regular grocery stores) to shop their loss leader sales.
During March, we visited two local Asian grocery stores to restock ethnic foods like fish eggs, wasabi, and seaweed for sushi and pastes, spices, and noodles for pad thai.
We celebrated our daughter’s thirteenth birthday party by letting her invite a half dozen friends for a sleepover. We whipped up a teen-friendly “pasta bar” for our guests.
To help with the grocery expenses, I picked up some discounted Aldi gift cards at Cardcash.com (sign up through that link and you get $5 off your first purchase).
Home Maintenance – $152:
Our old lawnmower lasted 12 years but it finally rusted out this year. The engine on the old mower ran nearly perfectly but the mower deck itself was about to split in half which could have been dangerous. Time for a new lawnmower.
I picked up a “Bolens” brand 21 inch lawnmower from Lowes. It’s identical to this Yard Machines mower sold at Home Depot and Amazon other than the color. Both Bolens and Yard Machines mowers use the same Briggs and Stratton engine and are both manufactured by MTD.
Using some gift card and coupon magic, I managed to bring the $192 price tag down to $152. I bought Lowe’s gift cards through Raise.com when they ran a 10% off sale. On top of that, I used the ebates portal to get another 1% cash back on the gift card purchase at Raise.
Upon paying for the mower at Lowes, I used the ebates portal to get another 1% cash back for Lowes purchases. I also applied a $20 off $100 purchase coupon that I bought from ebay.
In the end I saved $40 playing the discounted gift card, cash back portal, and coupon game.
Entertainment – $76:
Most of the entertainment expense was random things we bought for our daughter’s 13th birthday party and for the multiple Easter egg hunts we attended. Decorations, snacks, candy, and party favors.
We spent $15 on admission to Marbles, the children’s museum here in Raleigh. Our five year old’s Kindergarten field trip brought him to Marbles and we volunteered to chaperone his class. We had to pay for our own admission tickets. At least on-street parking in downtown is free if you don’t mind walking a few blocks (we don’t mind).
Closing out entertainment spending, I spent a dollar on some video games through Humble Bundle.
Restaurants – $42:
We revisited the Indian restaurant where we ate in February. This time we were celebrating our anniversary. Of all times, I forgot my wallet at home! We were 15 minutes from home, so “running back home” for money wasn’t a convenient option.
I checked the van and only had $4 worth of quarters which wouldn’t get us much more than dollar menu fare at Taco Bell or McDonald’s (a rapidly developing Plan B at the time).
Fortunately I didn’t have to disappoint Mrs. Root of Good.
I decided to head a few blocks down the street to my credit union to see if I could beg $20 from my money market account without any physical forms of ID. It worked! I showed a picture of my driver’s license on my phone (Google Drive for the win, folks) and the bank teller gave me a $20 which was just enough to cover two meals plus tip at the Indian restaurant.
Anniversary disaster averted.
In other restaurant spending, I bought a Groupon for eight meals and drinks at the local pizza place for $22. We used half of the Groupon in March.
Gas – $28:
By month-end I still had close to a half tank of gas. I went ahead and filled up to take advantage of the 5% cash back on gas for January-March on my Chase Freedom Card.
FYI the April-June 2018 Freedom bonus category is 5% back on grocery stores (not including Walmart/Target), paypal purchases, and Chase Pay purchases. I’m hoping to find discounted gift cards at ebay so I can pay with paypal and score another 5% cash back. If you’re interested in getting the Chase Freedom Card, it also comes with a $150 sign up bonus after $500 in spending within the first 90 days.
Cable/Satellite – $14:
$14.99 per month for 30 mbit/second download speeds and 4 mbit/second upload speeds with no data caps.
Note on Utilities and Health Insurance expenses:
- Utilities were prepaid in previous months to generate spending in order to fulfill the terms of sign up bonus offers on credit cards.
- Health insurance premiums were prepaid in January and February for the whole year. If paid monthly, premiums would be $40 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$40,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income.
Total Spending in 2018
After closing out the first quarter of 2018, we have spent $6,357. That’s about $3,500 less than the $10,000 budgeted for three months of our $40,000 early retirement budget.
Things are looking rosy in the spending department. I’m mentally preparing myself to pay several thousand dollars for major repairs and/or complete replacement of our furnace/air conditioner and our hot water heater since both are approaching or have exceeded their expected service lives.
Monthly Expense Summary for 2018:
Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:
Net Worth: $2,024,000 (-$32,000)
Net worth dropped by $32,000 during March. It was another volatile month in the stock market. At one point we briefly dipped below the magical $2,000,000 threshold before quickly recovering to multi-millionaire status. But will we stay above $2,000,000 long term? Who knows.
Taking a look at our net worth chart for the past month, you’ll probably notice two huge dips. I transferred over half a million dollars of investments from Fidelity to Vanguard in order to consolidate and simplify accounts. The funds went in two chunks and temporarily disappeared from our net worth tracking at Personal Capital (and yes, I freaked out a little when I logged in each time).
In the process I learned that Fidelity charges $50 to transfer and close out each IRA account (and I attempted to close four IRAs).
I called Fidelity and requested that they leave the four IRAs open with $50 in each of them. I bought two shares of FREL (Fidelity’s REIT Index Fund ETF) in each IRA. Now I’ll simply forget about the IRAs forever unless I need them in the future. We still have other accounts at Fidelity so we’re not terminating the relationship completely.
After completing the transfers to Vanguard, we’re getting upgraded to Flagship status which is offered to account holders with $1,000,000+ of Vanguard funds and ETFs. The main advantage to me is 25 commission free trades per year which will make rebalancing and shifting out of some higher cost ETFs slightly cheaper.
During 2017 I was focused on taking profits in stocks and shifting the proceeds into bonds. I haven’t shifted any more funds from stocks into bonds since the market is taking a breather from it’s strong upward trajectory that started in late 2016. I’m pretty happy with about five years of living expenses in fixed income investments like bonds, CD’s, and money market which yield between 1.7% and 3%. With this huge safety net, I don’t fear market volatility a bit.
And that, my friends, is how things went for us in the past month.
How about you? Any big money moves you want to share?