March 2018 Financial Update – Spring is Here!

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!

 

Income

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).

 

Expenses

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.

 

Bike time in the neighborhood park. No cars required.

 

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.

Interested in cruising? Check out my four part series on cruising and my latest update of our cruise on the MSC Divina.

 

We didn’t have to travel because these guys visited us! These faceless people are the folks behind the Enchumbao blog who want to remain anonymous for a little while longer before uncloaking when they retire early.  While on a road trip through Virginia and North Carolina, they stopped by Casa Root of Good for a few hours.

 

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.

 

Homemade salmon and avocado sushi

 

Yummy 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.

Spaghetti and penne pasta with meat sauce, meatballs, chipotle alfredo, Italian sausages, honey lemon chicken, and salad.

 

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).

More on how we shop for groceries without using coupons.  And why we never shop at Costco.

 

$0.50 homemade fish and avocado sandwich

 

Grocery budget under $500 and still able to put smoked salmon on bagels.

 

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.

 

Some assembly required.

 

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.

And the grass got mowed.

 

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.

 

Getting our Easter egg hunt on with our neighbors and classmates

 

Then this bunny shows up. Don’t worry, he didn’t make any kids cry

 

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).

 

Kids go CRAZY in this museum. Lots of fun though

 

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.

 

Putting together some bikes for the kids. We just bought a pair of bikes for the adults too! More on that in next month’s spending report.

 

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.

 

Life is good down by the lake. Build a little fire and look up at the stars.

 

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? 

 

 

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

 

86 comments

  • I was wondering where that referral traffic was coming from this morning! 🙂

    $500+ for spark plugs replacement?!? Ouch! Man, I remembered when I replaced my own spark plugs back in college. I probably spent less than $25 but half of the engine didn’t need to come off. The work was as simple as removing the cables and unscrewing them. I think some brands make repairs more complicated nowadays to get you to the repair shop more often.

    • BTW, again, thanks for hosting us! We had a great time meeting you and the rest of the family and enjoyed some of the free parks and museums that Raleigh has to offer.

  • For your HVAC and hot water heater, have you looked into Duke Energy’s repair replacement program? I’m paying $7/mo on a 15 year old hot water heater. When it goes out, my out of pocket will be minimal. We purchased our house last year so we inherited the old hot water heater. The hot water heater will likely go out in the next couple of years so the numbers seemed to work and worth paying for this “insurance policy”.

  • I enjoy your Blog. I also enjoy the Personal Capital app and have been getting familiar with its Retirement Planning function. It has the best, clearest interface I’ve seen. Using Monte Carlo Simulation, it lets you quickly envision what future possible spending or income elements at certain dates might mean for your future portfolio and income, all based on what your accounts total right now, your savings rate, chosen asset allocation, inflation and tax rates, etc. It seems a very powerful tool and 100x easier and better than FireCalc but there is precious little instruction provided or much in the way of web reviews by others out there. Just curious what you think about it as I’m starting to use it as my primary planning tool. Thanks for considering!

  • $40 dollars for 8 years on the renewal is a steal! I just paid $90 for five years here:(
    I am always amazed at how well you manage to take advantage of so many programs! Maybe once I retire, I will finally remember them all:)
    How does the cruise only cost $1,500 for five of you? I am looking at taking my three kids on vacation but everything is really expensive!

  • Very good that your passive income still overgrows your expenses. This is very nice 🙂 And your passive income is very well diversified. Very good expenses too!

    I wish I will be able to reach the same point in the future.

  • How come the Easter bunny didn’t get an anonymous smiley face?

  • I love that you recognize that sometimes it isn’t worth it to DIY everything, even if you technically could. Spark plugs are something we have the mechanic do as well. And $75 extra to get into Cuba seems well worth it to me.

    • When I heard it takes a pro with pro tools 3.5 hrs to do it, I immediately knew it would be a 2+ day job for me. Nope. I’ll save ~$500 elsewhere (like sign up for a new credit card or something!).

      • Not to mention the wear and tear on your knuckles.

        • Yes, there’s that too. Crazy story – it took the auto shop 2 days to finish my van spark plug change out because the mechanic that usually does those had to go to the emergency room. Oddly enough he busted his knuckle or finger and it got severely infected and he was in the hospital for at least 2 days. Glad it wasn’t me (and I’ve certainly busted more than 1 knuckle working on various home and auto DIY tasks).

  • I tried replacing plugs on my brother’s Mazda ten years ago and met with the same head-scratching design. I guess the engineers got overruled on that one. On my Hyundai, it takes about twelve minutes… most of which I usually spend looking for dielectric grease.

    After spending seven years of my twenties working in the bicycle industry, it did my heart good to read “[y]our older two children bought themselves bicycles”. There’s nothing like a bike and a friendly neighborhood… whether you’re ten or a significant multiple thereof! 😀

  • Great idea with the pasta bar for the teenagers/preteens!
    And, yeah, we don’t like doing car maintenance either, so we mostly outsource that and chose not to drive too much!

    • I’m with you on the “not driving much” thing. Oil changes are an annual thing for us and other stuff goes longer between maintenance cycles.

  • A spark plug change was once the most basic of automotive maintenance tasks, but those days are over unless you’re still driving a ’72 Dodge Dart with a slant six. I paid more than $500 to have plugs replaced in my former F150. The difficulty with those is that they routinely break off inside the cylinder head when trying to unscrew them.

    I will admit that your new lawn mower looks much better than the one I tried to sell you. I sold that beauty for $40 this weekend. Didn’t last 24 hours on Craigslist.

    I have to renew my driver’s license too – not looking forward to it.

    • Pretty much. Our old Civic and Accord were simple too (pop off the distributor cables and unscrew the plugs) with plenty of easy access. No longer a DIY task for me. But at least they are 120k mile plugs. 🙂

      Good to hear you sold the mower! Hopefully it’ll get many more seasons.

      Pro tip on the driver’s license renewal – call DMV and schedule an appointment. I did that and was in and out in 12 minutes flat.

      • In NC, you can renew online (if you meet the requirements). They use the same picture as on the expiring license.

        • For those renewing right now, you probably want to go into the DMV in person so you can get the new “Real ID” which works as a federal ID for boarding domestic flights. You can renew online but cannot get the new Real ID.

  • Hey Justin,

    Thanks so much for the blog post. Always informative. I just recently opened a Personal Capital account through your referral link and I’m loving only having to log into one account instead of over a dozen.

    Your story and ongoing updates are super encouraging as my wife and I work toward the goal of FI. Thanks for your transparency and keep the goodness coming!

    Brad

  • Huh, I didn’t know they had “Lidl” grocery stores in the States? For some reason, I always thought it was German (maybe because the first time I saw that grocery store was in Munich).

    Congrats on another awesome month! Love the “teen friendly” pasta bar idea.

    • Lidl has only been here for a couple of years. They are indeed a German grocery store and probably have a hundred stores in the US now. We’re getting another one 1.5 miles away so they’ll get even more convenient soon 🙂

  • Remember that Chase UR points are worth about 2 cents each . . . So the “5x” Freedom categories really earn 10% cash back (if you know how to deploy them)!

    • How are you getting 2 cents for UR pts? Transfer to airline miles? I’ve redeemed for 1.5x value on hotels and that seemed pretty good since I could shop for low season hotel rates. And same for flights – couldn’t find flights using airline points so paid “cash” using UR pts for some hard to find flights.

      • Yes, usually by transferring to airlines.

        I’m not an expert at redeeming URs either, so I’m sitting on 300,000 of them. We usually travel within the USA and have a stockpile of Southwest RRs and Starwood SPGs so we default to using those.

        The Points Guy values URs at 2.1 cents each, so there’s a way it can be done!

        • I’ve seen that 2.1 cents/UR figure too. I do tend to get about 2-3 cents per airline mile vs the cash price when I do transfer (eg $1200 flights to Europe vs 60000 UR pts transferred to United), though with the UR portal redemptions and Chase Sapphire Preferred I’m able to shop the cheapest flights and hotels too. So even at “only” 1.5 cents per point, I’m still probably getting 2-3 cents of value vs what the points would buy at airlines. Hotels are another story – we get crazy good 5-10 cent value for SPGs (3,000 pts for a $400-500/nt Niagara Falls hotel room).

  • With months that your income is over double your expenses, plus over 5 years worth of expenses in fixed income investments it’s no wonder you’re feeling pretty comfortable!

  • I came here for the foodporn as usual and was not disappointed. I could never roll my sushi that neatly. I’m from the Pacific Northwest so Lidl or Aldi or whatever heck will never be here nor will I enjoy it’s frugalness. It’s maddening! Safeways are just…so uncool! Everyone has one everywhere!

  • Very nice March update Justin! You guys are killing it with your low expenses and great mix of income sources!

    The story was pretty similar at our house too! 🙂

    Love all the food pics btw. If you’re service sushi like that, I’ll be coming over for dinner tonight. What time is good for you?

  • Looking good. Great job with income and expense as usual.
    Whoa, spark plugs cost that much? Jeez. Our car is coming up on 50,000 miles. I hope it doesn’t cost much more than $1,000 for that maintenance.
    Sushi looks great.

  • Been waiting a week for this! Did not disappoint. The pad thai looked yummy. Is that really raw salmon in your sushi roll? I always thought (and read) restaurants secretly blanched it or something. Also, I could’ve sworn millenial-rev did some workaround getting charged for transferring their accounts, but she didn’t comment so maybe i’m wrong… :/…
    also… my car is due for inspection… you didn’t have to get your lights cleaned? curious…

    • Yes, raw salmon. 🙂 Pretty sure the raw salmon at sushi restaurants is just that – raw salmon, uncooked, unblanched. They do sear some kinds of sashimi seafood I think though I’m not too familiar with it since Mrs. Root of Good is the raw seafood eater.

      As for the inspection, I didn’t have to get the headlights cleaned. In the past, the dealer recommended it, but I guess they aren’t strict about it for the state inspection.

      • Enjoyed the update and food. We had raw tuna in a poke bowl yesterday and the chef said that the tuna is frozen before he gets it to kill bacteria.

        • In general you probably want to eat previously frozen tuna unless you see the fish being hauled off the boat and gutted. Especially if you’re not sitting oceanside. 🙂 All the salmon and tuna we buy is previously frozen – only way to get “fresh” fish around here 100+ miles inland.

          • By law, fish intended to be consumed raw must be “frozen and stored at a temperature of -20°C (-4°F) or below for a minimum of 168 hours (7 days)”. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t taste good. But, if you live ocean side or inland, the raw fish you are eating has been previously frozen.

  • nice post justin. I was waiting on this post. Which instrument does yield 3%. Maximum I’m seeing is 1.75% in savings account

  • Another great month. And I don’t know if I mentioned this but your interview with One Big Happy was great. So much so it changed my attitude on student loans. Thanks Justin.

    I wrote a blog post on it called Changing My Attitude on Student Loans. I would provide the link but it says my comment is spam. So I don’t want to be a spammer.

    • Glad you enjoyed the interview! FYI I “whitelisted” your email address you used for the comment so you should be good to go in posting in the future (I think). Max limit of 2 URLS per comment though, from what I remember in the detailed configurations.

  • Wow ….. I’m so jealous!

    NOT of how much money you’ve saved, (that just shows hard work and discipline), but of how well the ACA works for you in Wake county, NC.

    Here in central Georgia, (Bibb county, for all who care), the ACA is a disaster! Yeah, you can get cheap insurance thru it, but NO HEALTH PROVIDER IN THE COUNTY will accept it!! What the heck good is insurance like that?

    Because of stupid health insurance, (about $1,500/month on COBRA, probably more once COBRA runs out), I’ll probably have to work until I’m 65, and can get on Medicare. Ugh!! I’m almost 60 now, so that’s about five more years of at least working part-time.

    I’d leave the country, but my wife wants to stay here for the kids, (4 and 9 years old).

    But things could be worse; at least I have a nice stash of f*ck you money.

    • No need to leave the country – just move to Wake County or one of the other counties in the country that have great health care providers that accept ACA insurance (there are many hundreds of docs of different types and specialties within 5 miles of me, for example) 🙂

  • Thank you for being such wonderful hosts! It was great to meet you and the kids in person and hope we’ll cross paths again soon. Who knows, it may be abroad. The world is small.

    I was cracking up about your upcoming Cuba trip and the requirement to support local entrepreneurs. I do this all the time when I travel, so I take it, I’m ready to visit Cuba to spread the wealth. 🙂

    Have a fabulous trip!

    • I’ve met up with several other people while abroad – it seems more people travel where we travel vs. travel to Raleigh 🙂

      That Cuba stuff is funny to me too. US Govt regulations restricting our travel and requiring us to subvert the Cuban government by encouraging private entrepreneurship and spread our economic liberalism 🙂 George Orwell would relish the irony.

  • We have a Mazda Tribute and I also had them do the spark plugs for the same reason. But I’ve also been doing more things myself now that the car is older. I recently found out you can drain and replace the transmission fluid every 20k miles instead of having it flushed every 30k. It doesn’t replace all the fluid, so that’s why you do it more often. I also plan to change the transfer case and differential myself which don’t seem too bad.

    • Good job on the DIY transmission fluid. I’ve done that once before with the help of a friend that’s handy with cars. I might try it myself next time around after checking youtube to see how hard it is 🙂

  • Great job on the progress! It definitely gives me hope to keep chugging along. Dang, I missed the 10% raise deal. I usually buy a few gift cards, especially now since I need some Lowe’s gift cards for some upcoming purchases.

  • Speaking of Raise, I bought a $200 Airb&b e-certificate from them late last week (at a big discount, of course!). Couldn’t get it to work with the AirB&b site. Sent an email to Raise customer service…FOUR days later they send me clarifying directions, which was exactly how I was trying to enter the data into the AirB&B site. Sent them a screenshot of the error message I’m getting, and now I get a second response from Raise customer “service” that this has been escalated and I should hear back in 7-10 days. Wait, what? My first two non-AirB&B purchases went just fine with Raise, but this one is turning out to be a disaster. Ever have issues like this?

    • You’ll get a full refund from Raise if it doesn’t work out any time within the 1st year. Let it work through the process.

      That said, I’ve heard about gift card issues on the Airbnb side (I bought $5000+ worth in Dec 2016 and was fine but others had MAJOR problems – and this was at Giftcardmall not Raise). I’ve heard to copy/paste the gift card # into the space online. Also heard to use the app to add the gift card code. It might be a problem at Airbnb and not that the giftcard value is $0.

  • Nice to see you guys are still enjoying good food, travel, time with friends and a few new toys too. Just goes to show that living frugally doesn’t have to mean living in scarcity. With focus, we can all have good things that add value to our lives.

    I use Ebates regularly for purchasing things online we need, but I haven’t heard of Raise.com. I’m going to check that out. Thanks for the tip!

    • Raise is great. I especially like it when I’m about to buy something online anyway and I can get the instant delivery e-giftcards from Raise at a decent discount. And stack it with ebates at raise and a second time at the store I’m shopping at (like in my example with Lowes and my $40 off lawnmower!).

  • Glad you were able to save the anniversary from disaster! Happy wife, happy life.

  • I started changing the spark plugs on our sienna also this month. When I got to the third one in the front of the engine I found oil in the plug well. Fortunately the leaky gasket set was cheap. I replaced all the gaskets and seals on the front valve cover. This month I will be tackling the rear plugs. I’m not excited about the time it will take to do like you weren’t but I am glad that I am capable.

    • They changed the gaskets when they changed my spark plugs. The gasket was a ridiculous $60 or so!

      • It is crazy what they will charge for a piece of rubber. I bought our front and rear sets for $10.22 each on RockAuto. I’m glad to hear you got them replaced while the vehicle was already torn down that far. Hopefully this buys us another 120k on our siennas.
        Have you replaced the serpentine belt? Not required maintinence, but when I did the prepurchase inspection with a real mechanic they said the belt looked a little worn but didn’t need replacing yet. Whatever that means… I will likely do that this summer. You have to jack it up and take the wheel off.

        • Haven’t done the serp belt. I bought it used with 111k miles and I think they did a bunch of work before I bought it. Paid for a $99 prepurchase inspection from my Japanese-specific auto shop and they didn’t note the serp belt being overly worn or in need of replacement soon. Will wait for it to start squealing or fall off unless someone notices the wear during a routine inspection (I pay for oil changes and let them find stuff wrong or “wrong” with the car then decide what’s legit).

  • cantfindmyglasses

    Hey Justin, better check the condition of the MSC Armonia’s hull! If your cruise stops in Roatan, Honduras, we were there last fall and can make recommendations (email me).

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/4a3abe0c-8f1d-3e00-ad51-b84661a75d0f/ss_watch%3A-giant-cruise-ship.html

    • Wow, crazy stuff! Hope they have their bailing buckets, chicken wire, and epoxy working in overdrive. They have a year so hopefully that can hammer out those dents.

      As for Roatan, sadly we aren’t visiting there this time around (but I’d love to go back!). If we were I’d probably hit up the beach and relax all day 🙂 They have 2 itineraries and one does visit Roatan. The one we’re on visits Jamaica, Grand Caymen, Cozumel, and then 2 days in Cuba.

  • Most people that are in the stock market saw their net worth went down in March. Mine was down about 15%, and there were days that I did not even bother looking at my Ameritrade account.
    I was also surprised the cost of spark plug replacement on your Siena. Could not believe that amount just to replace the spark plug. Did you get it done at the dealership?

  • Hello,
    We still have about 8 years before retirement. At that point we won’t qualify for Medicare for 9 more years, how did you go about getting medical? It will only be for me as my spouse will have free VA medical.
    Thank for any info,
    Michelle

  • I am F.I. too, but not R.E … Overseas things have been going sideways or down too for the last several weeks… some folks say that P.E. ratios are a bit inflated compared to the norm of around 13 … I think last time I heard it was over 20 …? So the market may have gotten ahead of itself and will maybe go sideways or down until company profits catch up etc etc etc … I am mostly invested here as an expat in the Hong Kong exchange and overseas real estate … Michael CPO, From the far side of the planet … teaching overseas …

    • Your guess on the market is as good as mine! The market needs a breather occasionally and that’s what I think it’s doing right now. Economic indicators are still strong in the US at least, so we aren’t in a recession yet.

  • I’ve read your cruise post. I there any recommendation on deck choice while choosing oceanview/balcony

    Also, you stated that balcony/oceanview is not needed as we will be out most of time and cabin is sufficient. Is that so?

    • For deck, just try to avoid being over or under the theater to avoid noise. I like closer to the main attractions (pool or food in my case 🙂 ).

      I feel like inside cabin is generally fine since we spend a lot of time on deck, in the port of call or out and about on the ship and not in the room (which we mostly use for sleeping/napping 🙂 ).

  • Its awesome how you can maintain such low expenses, with 3 kids, all the travel plans, and the credit card churning you do. I would like to know if you have a post that explains how you are able to get investment income at such an early age from traditional IRA accounts? Do the 5 years of expenses provide all the investment income? I assume you have a mix of brokerage after tax and traditional retirement accounts. 72T is an option I’ve read about, did you go that route to be able to access the investment income?

  • I found your website off ClarkHoward. I’m wanting to learn about saving money and investing. This looked like a great place to learn from real people who have actually done it.

  • Gosh you lost 32 thousand dollars in a month and you’re calm? That’s more than I make in a year !

    • On a really good or bad day we can make or lose $32,000 so that much fluctuation in a month is pretty normal. It’s still a ton of money – about what we spend most years. Just not something you can focus on as a long term investor.

  • I have too many credit cards and it is stressful, so I’m thinking of simplifying. My oldest card – approx. 24 years – has the least amount of benefits. All my other cards I have had probably less than 8 years. What is your opinion on canceling my oldest one? I know that is one of the factors of your credit score. My current credit score is 817 and my online bank has a credit score simulator, which shows my credit score going down to 797 (which I don’t mind), with canceling my oldest card. However, I don’t know how accurate this credit simulator is. This little feature with my online bank also gives me advice on how to improve my credit score. The first thing it mentions is that I have never had a first mortgage. I have had two mortgages, the first one being with my husband when I was 19 years old, which was over 30 years ago. Thanks for your help.

    • PS I haven’t had a mortgage since 2007 but you would think the credit card simulator tool would know that (?)

    • I would believe the credit simulator. Canceling the oldest card in your case will significantly reduce your average age of credit, hence the projected drop. I’d keep the oldest card in a sock drawer if nothing else and pretty much ignore it (assuming no annual fee or other reason to cancel it; if so, consider downgrading to a free version).

      The mortgage probably dropped off the credit report after 10 years which is why it looks like you don’t have one.

  • Last month I finally received the life insurance payment and got a steady gig. Right now, I’m just working on feeling what coasting feels like. And studying like a woman who’d like to double her income.

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