March 2015 Financial Update

March has come and gone and left our net worth largely unchanged from it’s lofty heights of a month ago.  We brought in a bunch of income yet spent a relatively modest amount in spite of focusing a lot of time and effort on spending more money.

 

Income

The end of March marked the start of the first quarter dividend season from our mutual funds and ETF’s, and we received over $2,600 in the last few days of March.  For all of 2014, we received $29,383 in dividends, which was up significantly from the $22,300 of dividend income during 2013.  Though we don’t have a dividend-specific investment strategy, they certainly help fund our annual retirement expenses.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, increased significantly from last month’s already high $1,800 to $2,274 for March.  Things are picking up at Root of Good which is exciting for me because I enjoy sharing my story with more people (and getting paid isn’t bad either).

I had a really good month of freelance writing at $550.

I expect to make around $600-800 per month over the long term from blogging and freelance writing, and March far exceeded expectations.  I may have to revisit my “$600-800 per month” target at some point since I seem to be exceeding that target pretty often, however I like to remain conservative when forecasting income streams into the future.

I received $186 in beer rebates (shown as “deposits”).  These are deals that beer companies offer where you submit a grocery receipt and the rebate form and get back somewhere between $10 to $25.  One rebate was for $50 when you spend $200 or more on electronics, and I used the purchase of my new desktop computer to fulfill that offer.

march-2015-income

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).

 

Expenses

Now let’s look at March expenses:

march-2015-expenses

At $2,443 for March, we came in just under our target of $2,700 per month (1/12th of our $32,400 per year early retirement budget).

We are ramping up the spending for our big trip to Mexico this summer.  The total cost for the seven week trip will be around $7,000 to $8,000 (full trip budget).  So far, I have booked all of the flights and almost all of the lodging.  The $1,072 travel expense for March represents about half of the flight and lodging costs, with another $1,000 lodging expense booked in the first week of April.  We budgeted $3,000 for lodging but managed to come in at about half that for our six weeks of apartment rentals (thanks to AirBnB and VRBO!).

The travel expense also includes two $89 annual fees for the US Airways Dividend Miles Mastercard.  These cards are being discontinued very soon since US Air is merging with American Airlines.  The good news is the 100,000 US Air miles from these two cards will transfer into our American Airlines Aadvantage accounts.  I rarely pay annual fees for credit cards, but in this case, it seemed like a cheap way to get 100,000 Aadvantage miles (100,000 miles equals four domestic round trip flights or about two round trip tickets to South America or Europe).

We’re probably going to blow our $5,400 annual travel budget this year, but our investment portfolio is doing really well so we can afford it.  Travel will be one of the first things to get cut if we suffer a stock market collapse.

Our grocery expense of $873 included the purchase of a $500 Visa prepaid gift card.  I spent some of the gift card at Aldi in March, so actual grocery expenses in March were closer to $500.  I bought the gift card because the store offered $10 off my grocery purchase with a $100+ gift card purchase.  I put the maximum I could on the gift card because that allows me to effectively spend money at Aldi using a credit card (and I received 5% cash back using my Chase Freedom so received another $25).  $35 in savings for a few minutes of effort is certainly worth my time!

Utilities and gas expenses were very ordinary at $185 and $131 respectively.

We spent $93 at restaurants in March.  Mrs. Root of Good commented that we ate out a lot in March, but this amount of spending is roughly in line with our long term average over the last five years.  Since I retired and spend more time at home, I tend to cook more often.  That means our dining out has decreased in the year and a half since I retired.  We also enjoyed some free food last month.

The entertainment expense of $56 was the fee for one week of summer camp for our eight year old.  Since we are going to be in Mexico for most of the summer, she will have to miss summer camp.  I canceled the camp and will apply the $56 credit to a swimming pool and water park pass instead.

march-2015-ytd-expenses

At $5,895 of year to date spending, we are still $2,200 under the $8,700 budgeted for the first three months of 2015.  We will use up some of that surplus while on our summer trip, but our spending for the year as a whole should still be roughly within our budget.

Looking ahead, April will have some big lumpy expenses for our summer trip.  I also had to make some last minute charges to meet the minimum spending requirements on a pair of Chase British Airways cards to get another 100,000 BA Avios points (= how we fly for free).  I prepaid almost $900 on our electricity bill and $300 on our water bill to hit the $2,000 per card spending requirement.  That means I won’t have to pay another electricity bill until the end of the summer.  Check out all of the current credit card deals if you want to cash in on free travel too!

 

Net Worth: $1,503,000 (no change)

After joining the $1.5 Millionaire Club in February with an astounding $74,000 increase, our net worth remained above the $1.5 million mark at the end of March.  But not by a wide margin.  I fully expect to dance around the $1.5 million mark for a while and we spent about half of last month below that threshold.

march-2015-net-worth

I mentioned last month that I placed a few limit orders to raise some cash to fund our 2016 living expenses.  So far these have not executed.  I’m patient though.

 

 

How did you do in March?  Any big money moves for you?

 

 

Want to get the latest posts from Root of Good?  Make sure to subscribe on Facebook, Twitter, or by email or RSS reader (in the column to the right).

48 comments

  • ROG,

    Awesome month. I can’t wait until I can reach that type of monthly dividends. Also the trip to Mexico sounds amazing. My wife and I along with my parents have taken a few cruises in the Caribbean during the last few years, but nothing as long and no doubt enjoyable as what you guys are planning….one day though.

    MDP

  • The trip looks awesome and those dividends keep rolling.

  • Vawt @ Early Retirement Ahead

    I need to get the BA cards for my wife and I to get the 100k avios. We already did the US Airways cards last summer. I tend to do the same as you and spread the vacation spend over several months. This serves to help cash flow and lets me snap up good deals when I find them (not rushed or worried about not getting something taken care of).

    My net worth went up only slightly for the month. How the market does on the last day of the month can make all the difference.

    • I’m glad we decided to book apartments a few months ahead of time. There wasn’t a lot of good options in Oaxaca (or I don’t know where to look), and the place we ended up booking for $175 USD per week had another renter interested in the same time period right as we finalized the payment. Almost missed it!

  • Hello Justin,

    Wow, your website income is spectacular. Although no real surprise though as you are a good writer (that’s why I keep coming back!).

    Good luck with stocking up for the big trip, but considering the difference between your income and expenses, that should not be a problem.

    Regards, Mr. FSF.

    • I just wish I could snap my fingers and have $400 disappear from my account and have a couple of backpacks and some tablets sitting in my lap so I don’t have to go shopping or research things. 🙂

  • Looks like a great month! I continue to love your strategy of buying Visa gift cards to use at Aldi’s–such a good idea. March was fairly standard for us and mostly punctuated by slightly higher grocery spending due to hosting/seeing lots of friends. So, a good reason to spend more for sure :)!

    • Hosting friends and family is always a good excuse for spending more on groceries. I imagine the reward of spending time with friends and family more than paid back any cash outlays for groceries or other out of pocket expenses. 🙂

  • Great job on the income front, as well as controlling expenses. Regarding the credit cards – the only one I pay an annual fee for is the AmEx Blue Cash, since they give 6% on grocery stores purchases up to $6K/year. After hitting that limit (we buy our gift cards there for everything, including Lowe’s, so we always hit the $6K max) I revert to the Harley-Davidson Visa at 5% on all purchases including grocery stores from dollar one. The Visa is my default card on everything but grocery stores. And similar to what you do with the Aldi situation, I buy WalMart gift cards using my H-D Visa to get the 5% since Sam’s Club does not accept Visa, and use the gift cards there. They do accept Discover but since I do nothing on that card, the rebate is too low to make it worthwhile. Have to take advantage of every situation presented to all of us, and we certainly do with Kroger’s and their gift cards from the example above.

    Best of luck on the trip this summer. Sounds great, except for that heat part. Travel safe.

    • Sounds like you’re working the gift card and cash back maximizing even harder than me! I’m just happy picking up a spare $20 or $30 here and there and it sounds like you’re cranking out hundreds of dollars worth of rewards.

    • Can you elaborate on 5% @ harley davidson visa? I only see 1% on their website and the card has average reviews.

      • hokieG, the 5% from dollar one and on is specifically for use on H-D bikes, merchandise, and service. My wife and I are both riders so we make use of it extensively. I should have clarified that. For an H-D rider it is a tremendous card.

  • Great job RoG family! You guys continue to make great progress. I hear ya about the travel expenses – we plan our yearly travel early in the year (also using miles and points) and our expenses take a hit in Q1 because of this. However, despite the many travel plans this year, we are making good progress so far. Looking forward to reading more about your trip to Mexico! We want to one day do a roadtrip through Mexico and down Central America one day, so your experience driving through Mexico will be interesting to read about.

  • That is some great dividend. Does that include dividend from both taxable and tax deferred accounts? I do not see dividends in my 401k accounts in Fidelity.

  • I just listened to your Radical Personal Finance yesterday on the train back to NYC. Great interview (I think it was from Oct-14). Have you discussed when your wife will be taking the leap with you into retirement?

    • I haven’t discussed it in great detail. “Soon” is about as specific as we can get because she’s taking it month by month at this point. She’s taking a paid sabbatical May through July and returning to work in early August. How much longer she works beyond August is up in the air!

  • I need to get in the habit of buying gift cards for Aldi’s – I just use my debit card, but I could get 1.5-2% cash back on the pre-paid card. Unfortunately, that means I have to actually go to the other grocery store, something I try to avoid like the plague…
    March looks like a great month for you for spending – even if you were trying to spend “a lot”.

    • I don’t go out of my way to go to the regular grocery store, since I’m there occasionally to get sales items (and they mailed me a stack of coupons for free stuff, so yeah, I’ll be visiting there more often). Otherwise, I feel your pain. It’s just barely worth it to save $10-20 if it requires any significant detour or time investments.

  • I’m always so impressed with your expenses. How do you handle clothes and gifts? My kids beat up their clothes on a regular basis and there seems to be at least one birthday party to attend each month.

    • Our clothes get beat up, too. And it’s about time to go shopping soon. 🙂 We visit the thrift shop for some clothes, and supplement that with new shoes (usually on sale) and clothes from lower cost places like Ross. There’s also some hand me downs for the 2 year old (though we can get a week’s worth of new or nearly new clothes for him for $5-10 at the thrift shop).

      We average probably one birthday party per month too. Mrs. RoG does a good job of pre-buying some gifts during after-Christmas sales. Or we’ll pick up generic toys when we see them on sale or clearance throughout the year. We also asked all of the invitees to our kid’s birthday party to not bring gifts, hoping to start a nationwide trend of non-gift giving (everyone’s house is pretty full already it seems). Without much success. But we’re hoping it’ll eventually rub off and absolve us of mutually assured gift giving destruction (MAGGD).

      • I think if all of your readers lived in the same area, MAGGD would be very successful. Since we do not, we are left with the ever frustrating task of trying to convince the non-frugals around us to not to give my children more pieces of plastic from China. Thanks for the reply!

  • Wow those are great dividends that you’re receiving. Very inspirational. What’s even more impressive is that you’re able to keep your expenses pretty low as well. Thanks for sharing.

  • Great month on the blog income front. Certainly exceeding your expectations by a large margin.

    That month long Mexico trip sure sounds awesome.

    March was a decent month for me. Net Worth passed the $200K mark for the first time, and so far YTD I have seen my NW increase by almost $20K or 11%. Still have another $49K to go in order to hit the 2015 goal.

    Cheers!

  • Man, I am totally jealous of those dividends! Send me to the jelly school! These numbers look great. You guys seem to be crushing it in the expenses category this year.

    I recently started getting in to the free travel game, and that US Airways card is a killer deal. Thanks for sharing, and keep up the good work.

  • Way to go keeping the expenses low even though you have the income to spend more.

  • Great job! I have already maxed out my 401K and am now working on after tax savings. You beat me in dividend income, but my rental income is solid.

  • Looking good. I’m looking forward to reading more about your Mexico trip. It sounds awesome.
    March was pretty uneventful for us. Not much changes.

  • Would you be able to share, how much of your NW is in taxable accounts v/s tax deferred? The reason I ask is for early retirees essentially have to face 20-35 years based off the taxable account. This is the part that makes me nervous. Of course, you can always have a side-gig but lets just say we don’t to be more conservative.

    • I have about $300-350k in taxable accounts, another $55k in HSA (almost like a taxable account), maybe $800-900k in traditional 401k/IRA/457, and under $100k in Roth IRAs.

      We’ll live off of the taxable accounts for ~12 years, and during that time period, we’ll convert the traditional 401k/IRA assets to Roth IRAs so we can spend those funds 5 years after converting them.

  • Beer rebates? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Am I just living underneath a rock??

    Also, would you be willing to share some of the details about your blog income? I know that’s rather personal, but I’d certainly be interested in learning more. After all, I’m merely a civil engineer…

    • North Carolina is one of the few states where alcohol laws make the beer rebates very lucrative. They are “no beer purchase required” rebates which means you just buy the groceries or whatever and submit a rebate for $5, $10, or sometimes $25 cash back. Just picked up another stack of $5 rebates from Food Lion today in fact.

      As for blog income, it’s a mix of all kinds of advertising and affiliate advertising links. It’ll take a while to explain it in adequate detail. 🙂 Also freelance writing gigs that find me through the blog pay pretty well on a per-hour basis.

  • Excellent progress. I love seeing these updates and looking forward to hearing to getting updates when you all travel to Mexico.

  • Is the $29 cable/satellite TV or your internet? If so, who is your provider? I might be overpaying.

    Our month was pretty good on the net worth front. We managed to keep things growing despite most of our stock market investments taking a dip. I guess that’s the power of being skewed towards real estate.

    • Hey Hannah! Good start on the blog by the way!

      We are with TWC. That $29.99 is about half their normal rate for those without cable TV (which we actually have but don’t pay for for some reason, not that we ever watch it though). That’s for 15 mbps down, and I think 1 or 1.5 mpbs upload speed. Here’s what you do: call them up and downgrade to the cheapest service, and one of two things happen. They either downgrade you, or they make a retention offer. I just told them to get it under $30/mo and I’d stay with the 15 mpbs plan. That worked.

      If you get downgraded, immediately go online to TWC and upgrade using their promo rates online. I think you can get $35/month for 12 months, but only if you upgrade from lower tier service, and only if you do it online. Hope that helps!

      • Thanks, this is good knowledge for the next time we randomly have our rates hiked (happens about once every 12 months with ATT). Right now, the higher speed is important (since I work from home), and we are paying just $38, but now I know that I can hack my way into a similar product at a similar rate should I need to (or I could downgrade if I wanted to).

  • It looks like you are well positioned to be under budget this year in expenses and have a surplus going forward for 2016. 1.5 million should kick off more in dividend income than you expected, it should be around 40K-45K minimum at a 3% return rate. Well good luck and keep motivating others.

    • It’s only about $1.4 million in investments – the rest is home equity. And I don’t think we’re quite at 3% dividend yield since some investments don’t pay a dividend (like my $70k in my 457 that’s in some proprietary index funds that don’t pay dividends). But yeah, I think we’ll be fine in terms of spending and having plenty in 2016. 🙂

  • You may have mentioned it before somewhere but does you “cable” include internet? How do you access the net etc…?

    • Cable is internet (and not cable at all). It’s through the cable company though, and there’s not an “internet” category (other than the blanket “utilities” category).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *