November 2016 Financial Update

November was a busy month for us!  We ate a lot of turkey then packed up the minivan and set out for a five night Caribbean cruise.  Now that we are back, it’s time to take a look at our financials for last month.  Income looks tiny at $785 for the month (but I’ll explain why) while expenses remained moderate at $2,774 $1,884.  A strong stock market propelled our net worth $33,000 higher to $1,651,000.  All in all, November was a great month financially and otherwise.

Here’s the details:


November investment income dropped to $39.  Since our mutual funds pay at the end of each quarter, the months of March, June, September, and December always bring us high investment income while the other months are near zero.  December should be a huge month of dividends, hopefully pushing our 2016 dividends over last year’s total of $28,527 in dividend income.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, shrunk to $276, down from $7,253 in October.  The stark difference is a matter of timing of deposits.  I received some checks in the mail while we were on vacation and didn’t get them deposited till the first few days of December.  November’s numbers were bad but December’s income will make up for it.  My early retirement lifestyle consulting also declined from October to $242.  After a month of spotty income like November, I’m very glad I don’t rely on my blog and consulting income to support our living expenses!

My full time job now.

My full time job now.

The $227 in Deposits includes the cash back rebates from the and online shopping portals. 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.  I try to do all of my online shopping through one of these portals and the cash back adds up fast. We spent over $800 on the cruise through the Ebates portal and we’ll be getting 10% of that back soon.

Not shown in the income chart is the $10 per day our middle child earns as a tutor.  She was just getting started with tutoring at the time of my last monthly financial update and now she’s steadily earning $10 two or three days per week.


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 November expenses:


Even though we went on a Black Friday spending spree, at $2,774 $1,884* for the month, we still spent almost $1,500 less than our budget of $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year).

Groceries – $1,273 $383*:  No, we didn’t dine on wagyu beef and caviar for every meal.  I spent $890 on $1,000 worth of Aldi gift cards (my largest Black Friday purchase).  The other $383 was our actual grocery bill for the month, which was less than we usually spend because we didn’t want to buy many perishable goods then head out of town for a week on our cruise.

1/4/2017 note: since getting a quick refund of $890 on the Aldi gift card purchase, our revised spending total for November 2016 was $1,884 total, and $383 on groceries

Mrs. Root of Good's killer pho. It's pho real.

Mrs. Root of Good’s killer pho. It’s pho real.

Enchiladas hot from the oven.

Enchiladas hot from the oven.

More Mexican food (from the cruise). Here's a whole post on cruise food!

More Mexican food (from the cruise). Here’s a whole post on cruise food!

I’ll probably blow through those Aldi gift cards in the next three or four months since I spend more on groceries at Aldi than other grocery stores.  I bought them at, a gift card reseller that buys and sells gift cards, for 11% off of face value which saved me $110.  If you want to browse their inventory and save $5 on your first gift card purchase, click on over!  That’s my go-to site before I make any major purchases.  They offer gift cards for hundreds of different retailers like Lowe’s, Home Depot, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, even hotels.  Some are discounted just a percent or two while others routinely sell at double digit discounts.  They also run sales for an extra 5-10% off select gift cards (like the Black Friday 5% off everything sale).

*** 12/14/2016 Update: A couple of readers bought the Aldi gift cards from Cardcash and they turned out to be empty or invalid (and it turns out my $1000 of gift cards are duds too).  Cardcash will almost certainly refund the money we paid since it’s within their 45 day guaranteed refund period. If not a credit card charge back will do the trick!

After reading similar complaints online about Cardcash (maybe it’s only certain stores’ gift cards bought through Cardcash??) I think I’m switching my gift card buying to (get a $5 discount off your first purchase through that link).  They have very similar offerings and not as much negative feedback AND offer a 100 day money back guarantee.  I’m also learning it’s a good idea to buy just what you plan on spending within the guarantee period so you can ensure you won’t lose money.

12/15/2016 Update: Cardcash approved my refund claim and I received the full $890 value paid. ***

Electronics – $759: I’ve been looking for a smaller, lightweight laptop for our Europe trip next summer.  I finally found an almost perfect laptop on a Black Friday sale for $349.  Mrs. Root of Good said she needed one too so we got matching his and hers laptops.  I went with the HP ProBook 430 G3 13.3″.  It’s like a 70% cheaper version of the Macbook Pro but with a crappier LCD screen and worse battery life.  It came with a SSD hard drive, Intel i3-6100U CPU, and 8 GB of RAM.  I have to say I’m impressed so far given the $349 price tag. It weighs just over 3 pounds and it’s lightning fast for most tasks (but could only run my Heroes of the Storm graphic-intensive game at medium settings).  The keyboard feels a tiny bit cramped but I think it will be fine once I get used to the slightly different key layout.

I also bought the HP X3000 wireless mouse for $8 to accompany the new laptop.

Mrs. Root of Good indulged her photography habit with the purchase of a Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III zoom lens for $53.  Now she can take really close up pretty pictures of birds and stuff from far away.

Insurance – $213: 6 months of auto insurance for the two of us.  $500,000 liability limits.

Healthcare/Medical – $135: Health insurance premiums of $125 for our very impressive gold plated silver plan obtained through with some very sizable ACA subsidies.  $10 for a prescription.

Utilities – $124: Mainly the city water, sewer, and trash bill plus a small natural gas bill (before we turned the heat on in November).  In a previous month I prepaid the electric bill by applying an extra $250 toward my account balance – more credit card travel hacking.  This month I’ll have to start paying the electric bill once again.

Home improvement – $87: A run to Home Depot for miscellaneous home improvement and yard maintenance stuff.  Ant killer, some blue paint, wood stain for a furniture project, primer/stain block for some water stains, and HVAC vent covers.  Sadly, I didn’t have any discounted Home Depot gift cards on hand nor did I have any coupons so I HAD TO PAY RETAIL (and it breaks my heart a little).  But we knocked out several projects so there’s that.

One of those projects. Repurposing some random lumber from our storage shed to build a new shelf in our pantry.

One of those projects. Repurposing some random lumber from our storage shed to build a new shelf in our pantry.  Check out those safety goggles and steel toe sandals.

Travel – $63: Gas on the way to the cruise terminal in Jacksonville – $22.  Parking right across the street from the cruise terminal for six days – $41 (way better than $75 for parking at the port).

Crystal clear water. Fine white sand. Minimal waves. Perfect temperature. Other than the risk of sunburn, I can't complain.

Crystal clear water. Fine white sand. Minimal waves. Perfect temperature. Other than the risk of sunburn, I can’t complain.

I love Mexican buffets. I love them slightly less when they occur at 11 pm. That's what mid-day siestas are for though, right?

I love Mexican buffets on cruise ships. I love them slightly less when they occur at 11 pm. That’s what mid-day siestas are for though, right? (The kid is awake, just goofy all the time as most four year olds are)

Cruises are a great place to buy cheap liquor too. USD$79 for 7 liters of mid-shelf and top shelf goodies!

Cruises are a great place to buy cheap liquor too. USD$79 for 7 liters of middle shelf and top shelf goodness!

Restaurants – $62: This includes one meal for the whole family at the Chinese restaurant and a $25 Groupon deal for a $25 Papa John’s gift card plus two free large pizzas.  Using coupons and promotions, I’ll turn that $25 Groupon deal into six or seven large pizzas.  I’m not a huge Groupon fan because we don’t go out to eat very often, but there are certainly some killer deals to be had if you dine out often.  Check out Groupon if you haven’t already (they offer 25% off your first purchase through that link).

Not a restaurant purchase exactly because it cost $0. Half a dozen free Krispy Kreme donuts for getting A's on her report card.

Not a restaurant purchase exactly because it cost $0. Half a dozen free Krispy Kreme donuts for getting A’s on her report card.  Little guy on the right says “I promise I won’t eat any while you’re at school”.

Gasoline – $28: I finally had to buy two thirds of a tank of gas.  This was at the beginning of November when the east coast gasoline pipeline blew up (again) and we feared gasoline shortages.  Nothing ever happened here and prices didn’t even go up.  I topped off the tank at the very end of November while driving to the Jacksonville, Florida cruise port but I classify any gas purchased while on vacation as a “travel” expense and not a routine driving-around-town gasoline expense.

Cable – $24: This is internet from the cable company.  It’s usually $35 but I had a small credit from the previous bill.

Overall we had a very frugal month.  When I pull out the Aldi gift card purchase, the big electronics purchases, and the six months of auto insurance, our routine monthly expenses were only about $1,000.  Even when we include all those big lumpy expenses we were still several hundred dollars below our monthly budget of $3,333.


Year to Date Living Expenses


At $33,554 $32,664 (see note under “groceries”) year to date spending, we remain below our annual spending target of $36,667 budgeted for the first eleven months of the year by a few thousand dollars.

With only a few weeks left in the year, it looks like we’ll have a budget surplus of at least four or five thousand dollars.  I’ll mentally carry that balance forward into 2017 because we will need it.  Nine weeks in Europe in the summer of 2017 won’t be cheap.  I doubt I can pull it off for less than our 2016 travel budget of $10,000.

We also need to replace the roof early in 2017.  The budget for the roof replacement is somewhere around $4,000 to $8,000.

Of course we won’t be spending over $8,000 on a new vehicle in 2017, so things might work themselves out naturally.

Monthly Expense Summary:


Net Worth: $1,651,000 (+$33,000)

The $33,000 net worth increase in November more than erases the $29,000 we lost in October.  Our net worth reached a new high water mark in November at $1,651,000, and things are holding steady about a week into December as I publish this post.  It certainly looks like we’ll close out 2016 with a much higher net worth than 2015, when we ended the year at $1,503,000.

Most of this year’s net worth increase came from investment growth.  Mrs. Root of Good only worked about one month in 2016 before joining me in early retirement, so her salary this year was minimal.  This blog and my Early Retirement Lifestyle Consulting generated enough income during the year to roughly offset all of our living expenses, so we haven’t touched our investments during the year other than withdrawing the dividends from our taxable portfolio.

In November, I finally bumped up the value of our house from $140,000 to $145,000 in Personal Capital after reading some reader comments in my article on the gentrification of our neighborhood.  I don’t really update our home’s value on a regular basis because we have no plans of selling it any time soon, and I’m not sure I could get the $185,000 that Zillow says our home is worth.  But I figure after paying for some minor fixes, landscaping upgrades, and a 5-6% realtor commission, I could get a net of $145,000 with an easy sale.  Personal Capital has a neat tool where you can keep your home’s value updated in real time by linking to Zillow’s value estimate, but that seems like overkill for an illiquid asset.  I like to have manual control over how I value our house since spikes in value might be fleeting.

The view from our bedroom window. Fall is here!

The view from our bedroom window. Fall is here!

On the investing front, I dumped $18,000 into my Roth solo 401k.  Since my federal income tax (not including the self employment tax I owe) remains around zero in early retirement, I don’t need the tax deduction of a traditional 401k contribution, so I chose the Roth this time around.  Later in the year or in early 2017 I’ll be making another contribution to the traditional 401k for my “employer” contribution since it isn’t possible to contribute to a Roth out of employer earnings.  I’ll also max out two Roth IRAs (assuming our earned income is high enough for all these contributions).


Our cash position continued to climb throughout 2016.  After the $18,000 solo 401k contribution, we still have close to $40,000 in cash right now.  It’s a nice spot to be in since that will cover more than a year of living expenses given the stream of dividend income routinely flowing into our checking account plus the hit and miss blog and consulting income.

Thanksgiving spread. I was conscripted to help with kitchen duty.

Thanksgiving spread. I was conscripted to help with kitchen duty.

If markets remain high, I might take some capital gains in taxable accounts in 2017 to shore up our cash position a little more.  I’m also looking closer at bonds as rates increase.  The Vanguard Total Bond Index Fund, BND, has dropped a lot since the election and I’ve had my eye on it for a while.

Aside from the year end financial moves, December is a very busy month for the Root of Good family.  We just returned from a Caribbean cruise and we are driving to Miami for another cruise next week heading to the central and eastern Caribbean.  Then there’s Christmas and New Year’s right after we get back from Miami.  Good thing we’re retired because we would have a hard time fitting in all this leisure with a full time work schedule.

This happened.

This happened.

Someone on Twitter suggested I block off an hour on the Monday morning after I get back from vacation to catch up on emails.  I gently reminded him that I was retired and no longer needed those kind of time/stress management tips!  I still get a lot of blog related emails and comments on the articles here which I promise I’ll respond to (eventually).

This is my Monday morning routine now.

This is my Monday morning routine now.

Given our hectic schedule for December, this will likely be my last blog post of the year.  I hope everyone has a profitable and enjoyable remainder of the year!

I’ve been posting a lot less frequently in 2016 and that will probably be the trend in 2017 as well.  Looking forward to 2017, I’ll be posting more about next summer’s nine week European vacation as well as the non-financial aspects of early retirement.

Nothing like a nice sunset at sea.

Nothing like a nice sunset at sea.


Did you have a good Thanksgiving?  Looking forward to Christmas/holidays?  Or dreading it?  Any big year end financial moves in the works?



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  • You are living the dream, Justin! I love that you include all the food photos and family photos in these. And, I’m sure you’ll survive the “low income” month of November just fine. 😀

    Can’t wait to see what the supercharged December looks like….

    I hope to share similar detailed reports myself once I begin traveling. 🙂

    • Thanks TJ. It’s sort of like a diary for me. Although Mrs. Root of Good does the photo selection. Nice to throw these pics up to see what we were up to for the month if I’m looking back later.

  • Awesome looks like you had a great cruise. That beach shot looks like it belongs in a travel magazine!

    We just got back from Costa Rica, and booked our next vacation using all travel rewards, it’s going to be Jamaica. And I’ve been stealing some of your travel hacking moves to get ready for the trip after that. Tickets are looking good for flying into Lisbon early June, but still haven’t pulled the trigger yet. Not sure yet how long we want to go, but even though we don’t have to go to work, it probably won’t be 9 weeks 🙂

    Also, I dig the stache free snorkeling look. You appear much more relaxed 😉

    • The weather in Lisbon should still be decent in early June (and maybe we’ll bump into each other in the airport! 😉 ).

      I liked the stache free look but don’t like shaving it. Goatee is back in effect for now.

  • Mr RoG – that Pho looks amazing! Does Mrs. RoG happen to have a recipe to share for it? I’d love to try my hand at making some at home!!

    Great update!

    • I’ll second Kyle’s request…especially interested in how she (or maybe you – we shouldn’t make assumptions) makes the broth.

    • From Mrs. Root of Good’s archives:

      You can get all the ingredients at your local Asian market.

      Noodles: If you have dry noodles, go ahead and soak the noodles in cold or warm water until somewhat soft. You can leave in the water while you prepare the broth.
      You don’t have to presoak the fresh noodles. You can also use any noodles you want.
      Pho Broth: You’ll need to make a lot since the noodles just soak up the juice. I usually make about 12 quarts of broth each time. This way you have plenty now and save some for later. You can freeze left over brother for later.
      All the ingredients for the broth is to taste, so I haven’t measure how much I actually put in the pot.
      ~1/2 lb sliced pork or any meat you like such as squid or octopus
      ~pork or beef bones if you have any
      -1 package of beef or pork asian meatballs (Optional)
      ~3-4 cubes of Pho cubes (pork or beef flavor). Crumble them as you place them into the pot
      ~1 TBS fish sauce
      ~2-3 TBS fried garlic
      ~2-3 TBS Chili paste in Soybean Oil
      ~2-3 TBS Hoison Sauce
      ~2-3 TBS Instant Beef Flavor Paste
      ~1 tsp msg (optional)
      4-5 kaffir lime leaves
      Bring to boil.Once meatballs are soft enough, scoop out of pot and slice to half or quarters and then return to pot. Boil broth until pork is cook. (~15-20 minutes after boiling)
      Get another large pot and bring to boil another 6-8 quarts of water. You will use this to cook your noodles. Use wire strainer, fill with noodles and soak in boiling water for about 15-30 seconds or until soft. Strain and put in bowl. If you want beef you can quickly cook the beef in this water or the above pho broth.
      Scoop pho broth to noodles. You can add the below ingredients to your pho and to your liking…
      sliced beef or any type of meat you like
      Bean Sprouts or any vegetables you like
      Thai basil
      Sriracha sauce
      Chopped cilantro
      Chopped green onions
      Lime juice
      Thai ground pepper
      Since I like my broth stronger in flavor than my family, I’ll add additional of the below to my bowl.
      Chili paste in Soybean Oil
      Hoison Sauce
      Instant Beef Flavor Paste

  • I wish I could pick your brain!!! Ahhhh!!! Doesn’t sound like it’ll be possible but I am a loyal reader and enjoy your sarcastic and informative posts. Signed up today from your ebates link after months of avoiding to fall in line! Hopefully the money starts rolling in. HA! Happy Holiday’s and enjoy your freedom…the rest of us have to go suck it up! Blahhh. 🙂

  • All these great food photos are making me hungry! That Thanksgiving mega spread looked wonderful. There must be a lot of good cooks in the family.

  • Glad you had a good month! I’m planning to “retire” at the end of the year, so I’m getting pretty excited.
    We have been super busy getting ready for the big change, but it is going to be worth it in the end.

  • I’m happy you gave the tip about Aldi. I use CardCash a lot, but I didn’t think of it for Aldi. I use it more for Home Depot when I can get 10-12% off (and bank 2% rewards on my credit card). Combine that with my wife’s 10% military discount and we do fairly well whenever we need something. It’s harder to find 10-12% discounts there nowadays.

    I’ve had a couple of issues with CardCash gift cards not working. They guarantee them through 45 days, but I’m not always looking to spend them in that time. Fortunately, I was able to get refunds on these two because I moved fast enough with spending them.

    I’ll have to keep an eye out for Aldi. In the short term, I’ll continue take advantage of the 6% cash back we get from our Amex Premium Blue Cash card.

    • I was surprised that Aldi gift cards were offered at such a steep discount. I almost bit at 6% off then watched as it creeped up to 11%. Still at 10% off now. A great deal at Aldi gets even better!

    • I just got one of the $500 gift cards after reading about it here. $449.50 after the $5 off from JustinRoG’s referral and the 10% off. Unfortunately, checking the serial number on Aldi’s site wouldn’t give me the stored value. I also tried it at Aldi yesterday, and it just errored out. I reported the issue to CardCash, hopefully it gets sorted out soon. I’m nervous about being out $449.50 on this experiment! I suppose I can always call my CC company and have them not pay the charge if the refund doesn’t come through. Hopefully it does.

      A burning question between my friends and me, how do these cards get offered for 10% off? Are they black market cards or something? The clerk yesterday asked if I was corporate Aldi and if I got the card at HQ!

      • Wow that is really scary.

        This isn’t the first time I have read this now that I have heard about this.

        Thanks for checking in and letting us know. I don’t think I will use this site.

        • Be cautious for sure. It might have been a bad batch of cards they received from someone. Other gift cards I’ve bought from there have all been reliable. I expect to be made whole through their 45 day cash back guarantee and will update here with the results.

          • Justin, I would assume if you check it within the 45 days, and it is valid, you’re ok – ie, you spend $200 in the first 45 days, the remaining $300 is still good. I’m thinking these were bad from the start, so checking within the first 45 days we’re safe.

            CardCash emailed me this afternoon, they are refunding my $. Less than 24 hours for a response, that was reasonable, in my opinion, as the initial email said they’d get a response to me in 5-7 business days.

            • Good to hear you aren’t out any money yet (assuming the refund goes through). I’m not worried about it 🙂 I updated the main article to mention our experiences with Cardcash and suggested Raise as a more robust option. They also offer 100 day money back guarantee.

            • Just got the confirmation email that they are going to refund my $890.

      • I’m glad you brought this up. I just checked my Aldi GCs and they give me an error message too. So I filed a claim with cardcash and hope for a successful resolution (otherwise I’ll do a CC chargeback).

        I’m not really sure how they get these 10% off cards. There’s a million different reason why people buy or have gift cards (actual gifts; manufactured spending; bought to use and then moved away from Aldi’s operating regions, lower income people getting assistance from family/friends in the form of GCs to buy food). And/or fraud apparently 🙂 I suppose someone could go in and buy thousands of dollars of Aldi GC’s with a stolen credit card then sell them on cardcash. Not exactly cardcash’s fault but rather an inherent risk in buying second hand gift cards to save 10%. I won’t hesitate to jump on good deals in the future but caveat emptor as always. And maybe don’t go overboard by buying more than you can use in 45 days (like I did).

        • I purchased an Aldi giftcard from CardCash, too. I have been able to use it, but not without difficulty. Sometimes it would void the whole order at the register, and sometimes it would go through. I drained it down to the last $30, and now it’s just ringing up as invalid. I asked for a refund from CardCash for the remaining balance. Hopefully, it won’t be an issue as I’m within the 45-day guarantee period.

  • Cruises are always great fun. I did one, 2-3 weeker every two years around Europe and Mexico and it was a whole lot of fun. Hard NOT to gain weight on a cruise though!

    Currently in Hawaii for our year-end business offsite for 10 days. Got a lot of strategic planning to do for 2017!


  • My auto insurance bill was $658 for six months for one vehicle. My parents pay over $1100 for two vehicles. I know Florida auto insurance is more expensive than the rest of the nation but wow $213 for $500,000 liability. Is that normal for North Carolina?

    Per the pictures you look like you are shrinking and from the food pictures you are not on a diet. What is your secret?

    • I went with Farm Bureau, a mutual insurance company. Not sure if that matters but they had really low rates. I used to pay more but I guess we’re “old people” now so rates dropped.

      I think my secret is a good photographer. 🙂

  • What stocks would you recommend to invest in? I just started out with $3k and have put money into Shell, Walmart, Microsoft and Nike. Looking for different stock ideas to invest in.

  • Great post Justin. Love all the photos. Your online income was actually pretty good at $789…if I had those kinds of numbers I’d be patting myself on the back.

    Nice tip on the discounted gift cards. I checked out that link, but wasn’t able to find any gift cards that were usefull to me. Bummer, but I’ll keep it in mind for future use.

    Your dividend income seems to be quite good this year…seems like you’ll land in the mid-30k range this year. Nice! For our dividend income I think we’ll end up at around $47k. Below what I was projecting, but a solid improvement over last year!

    • Yes – I can’t complain about the online income given how little time I devote to it these days. Good to know I could hustle and make more if I put my mind to it though!

      Nice dividend income! Does that roughly cover your living expenses? Are you a dividend focused investor? Can’t recall seeing that discussion at your site but I might have missed it.

  • Nice work on the cruise there Justin! Looks like you all had a fantastic time, onto Europe planning next?
    We don’t celebrate thanksgiving here although looking forward to Christmas and getting up to a few treks and trips over the break

    Your update is decent as well, especially the net worth :)!

    • This week was cruise planning round 2 (leaving on Thursday for the Caribbean again – this time to a few islands we haven’t been to in 12 years!). That’ll be it for big travels till the Europe trip so we’ll crank up the Europe planning in late December and early January.

      No Thanksgiving? 🙂 Enjoy your Christmas then! The concept of a mid-summer Christmas in the southern hemisphere is interesting since snow is commonly associated with Christmas here (though I think I recall 2-3 Christmases with snow here since we only get snow a few times per year and it’s often not till January). I guess if you go back to the biblical days it was probably pretty toasty where the Main Event took place. 🙂 Though none of our family are that religious – it’s about eating a lot of food and hanging out with family and friends.

      • Wow, that’ll be epic enjoy the cruise and looking forward to hearing about the Europe trip 🙂

        Thanks, I do love the concept of Thanksgiving, was in Canada for the event a few years ago and loved the day and the food as well 😉

        Cool sounds like it’ll be an epic Chrissie then and it’s around 95 degrees Fahrenheit here today, it’s going to be a hot one and possibly a hot Christmas as well 🙂

  • Hello,

    I found your blog not to long ago, how do you allocate your investments? And how come Personal Capital service and not Mint? Do you have to provide your userids and passwords to these sites that track your income/expenses, is it safe?

    As I mentioned, I just found your blog, do you have somewhere any background info, like how you started, where you work?

  • Enjoyed all the pictures. Every single time I see your monthly expense report I find myself shocked by how low it is.

    A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours, and congratulations on ending 2016 in most excellent financial shape.

  • Wow, what a busy month! The food pictures are great, but I wonder how many people knows how to pronounce pho. 🙂 That Thanksgiving spread looks awesome.
    I agree about the online income, it’s so unsteady, but should work out well on an annual basis. Good idea going with Roth this year. I’ll have to keep that in mind when Mrs. RB40 quits working.
    The net worth is looking great too.

    • Pho is becoming a mainstream food it seems. But yeah I agree – not sure how many know how to pronounce it. I’ve heard it with a short O and a long O (and usually pronounce it with a short O).

      This online income bounces around a lot. December is starting out really slowly. It’s a little bit of a bummer to end the year this way but it’s all surplus income we don’t really need (so no big deal!).

  • There’s currently not an Aldi near me (there was one but it closed for remodeling) but there should be one opening soon! I’m looking forward to it, currently we do most of our shopping at BJ’s.

    For home value, there was a while that I updated it with what Zillow said but it was too all over the place. So instead I decided to just keep it steady at what I bought it for. It’s a big conservative since I’ve lived here for 10 years, but I’d rather just keep it the same than try to figure out the real value.

    • That’s the same conclusion I reached on home value. I’ve had my home at $140,000 for a decade and that’s basically what it was worth when we bought it (though we bought at auction from the city so paid much less).

  • Oh, I’d love the recipe of that “Pho” dish. Can you share?

    It doesn’t look like that you’re into DIY construction hobby from the safety perspective… flip flops, hammer and killer nails, not including splinters from the wood around…LOL

  • Oh, could you elaborate on that note in your graph “a dip in assets to snag some airline miles”? Which CC’s did you get and what did you do that it affected your assets? I’m guessing you had to use some cash to prepay some expenses or buy GC’s to meet the spending for the bonus, but I can be wrong. Thanks

  • Maybe now that the Mrs. Is retired, she can do a monthly recipe post. Your food pictures always looks delish!!!

  • Amazing. Your full-time job photo is fantastic! And that pho looks like it’s to die for. I need to branch out. I find recipes we like and we stick to them. I’m dying that there are Aldi gift cards. How did I not know this?! Congrats on a great month. Your net worth updates are always inspiring!

  • I didn’t think groceries at Aldi could possibly cost any less – I’ll be checking out Not a bad way to manufacture spend, either, which I’ve never done, but would be useful to meet credit card bonus criteria.

    Looking forward to the holidays? Kinda, but mostly to them being over. I’ll be working a 96-hour call shift over the long Christmas weekend, and plenty busy with work between now and then. This will almost certainly be the last year I have to miss Christmas, though.

    Silver lining.

    Merry Christmas to you & the family!

    • That work schedule sounds rough! I never had to work over the holidays and in fact usually took a week or so off each year (office was basically empty around Christmas). I bet you’ll enjoy the time off and ability to spend holidays with family and friends all the time once you retire!

  • Our big year end move was re-fing the house. 2.75% for 15 years. Shaved 285 off the monthly payments without adding any time.

    2017 will see our pre school expenses ending. Yeah public school!!

    Have a great Holiday season RoG clan 🙂

  • Justin, it is very nice to read your articles and see how you and your family live a happy life. But I wanted to join Vivian with the question about auto insurance: how did you manage to get it that cheap?

    Best wishes,


    • No comprehensive, no collision. No negative marks on our driving record for past three years like tickets or accidents. And we only own one car (a boring minivan).

  • Nice cruise and food pics! No wonder you keep going under your monthly budget! It’s easy to do when Mrs.RoG can cook like that! I actually took some cooking lessons in Thailand, but every time I go to make Pho I get lazy and don’t feel like using more than 5 ingredients. Then I’m all disappointed when it doesn’t taste right and I’m like “damn it! Why doesn’t it taste anything like the Pho from the Chiang Mai night markets?”

    Congrats on the gain on your net worth! I’m curious about what you mean by “a dip in assets to snag some airline miles”?

    • 5 ingredients??!?! 🙂

      The airline miles hustle centers around transferring assets to/from a brokerage account to get a bonus. Fidelity offers 50,000 miles to a few different programs for $100k transfer. So I transferred out $200k of assets, wait 3 months, then transfer them back in to get 100,000 pts. Apparently we can do this every 12 months. This means free tix to Europe for the family every 3 years! 🙂

      • What programs for Fidelity?
        Hmm we could do that.

        I am going to buy some Aldis cards. Thanks so much. Make cheap even cheaper.

        Hey I saw this and thought I would pass it your way.
        20% off AirBNB

        The view from your window? Amazing.
        We are mulling around a move to North Carolina. I have never been, but I can’t deal with these winters any more.
        Life looks great for you guys this month.
        Have fun on your trip.

        • The Fidelity hustle revolves around transferring assets into Fidelity to get a bonus. It’s up to 50,000 points per account holder (so a his n hers account can earn 100,000 pts). Point rewards vary depending on how much is transferred in, and the 50k pts is for $100,000 transfer. Points are available on AA, United, and Delta (not sure if you can do all 3 promotions x 2 spouses if you have $600,000 to transfer). The best discussion is here at Flyertalk forums.

          The “trick” I’m doing is transferring the money out of fidelity for 3+ months, then I’ll transfer it back in. From reading at Flyertalk, it appears the money is considered new money at Fidelity if it’s been out of the account for 3+ months (ie there’s a 3 month look back period to see how much you transferred out; some say the Fidelity reps told them it was only a 30 day period but I’m not risking it).

          Re: airbnb gift cards 20% off – thanks so much!! I just bought $5750 of gift cards for $4600. Nice way to slice $1000+ off our summer lodging bill. 🙂 I’m hoping the purchases actually go through since I read at slickdeals that some transactions have been denied. My orders are only a few hours old and still say “pending”. I had to split in 4 orders each under $2000 to get them to process correctly (and my credit card company called me to verify it wasn’t fraud).

          I also used for 2.3% cash back ( was a decent option for 1% cash back but I wanted to see if I could get an extra 1.3% by trying new-to-me befrugal).

          Re: North Carolina – it definitely gets cold down here too. At least in December and January and sometimes November and February. Cold like lows in the teens and sometimes it stays below freezing for a few days straight. Of course this weekend it’s going to be 18 degrees one morning then 70+ degrees in less than 48 hours (gotta love those 70+ days in the middle of winter 🙂 ). We’re getting out of here though!

      • Wow. Wish we had that in Canada. But alas, we’ll have to rely on slowly building up the points from hacking various credit cards.

        Does does this mean y’all (tee hee hee) will be going to Europe every 3 years from now on?

        • Maybe possibly. Not sure how much we’ll like Europe so we’ll see. I hope we find a spot or two in Europe that we love and we can then go back for a more in depth stay later on.

  • Hi Justin, Thanks for the “heads-up” on “” . I had no idea Aldi had gift cards…with a 10% discount no less. This may be just what I’m looking for as my Amex card offers 6% back on groceries which is generous but the annual fee just jumped to $95…..Not a fan. It would make real sense to not renew the Amex and replace it with a “highly touted travel rewards card” that waves the fee for the 1st year and sometimes waves it thereafter as well. Leaning toward the Saphire Card from Visa. Thanks once more and Merry Xmas!

    • It was a total shock to me too since gas, grocery, and big box discount stores usually don’t have gift cards that sell at a big discount (typically 1-3% off face value maximum).

  • Justin,

    I recently opened an account at KeyBank and while at the branch, a rep mentioned that Key provides an aggregating service similar to Mint, called: “HelloWallet.” This service was originally meant for employees, but as a Key customer, one can access the service for free.

    Have you heard/used this service?

  • it is owned by MorningStar.

  • So I proceeded to sign up, but read their terms and conditions and stoped at that point. I sent an email to them if they offer such a service directly.

    You understand and agree that your Wellness Score as displayed in the KeyBank Online Banking Service may differ from the Wellness Score displayed on HelloWallet’s website, and the Wellness Score on the HelloWallet website should be considered the most accurate.

    By clicking “Agree and Continue to HelloWallet Registration”, you authorize HelloWallet to share certain Personal Information you have voluntarily furnished to HelloWallet, or to which you have authorized HelloWallet to obtain access (“Personal Information”), with KeyBank. The Personal Information HelloWallet provides to KeyBank will include, but will not necessarily be limited to, your Wellness Score, your record of purchases, household profile, financial profile, a record of your usage of the HelloWallet service, and other information that will be used by KeyBank in furnishing authorized services to you. HelloWallet’s sharing of Personal Information with KeyBank will be in accordance with the HelloWallet Privacy Notice at and the Terms and Conditions you agreed to that may change from time to time.

  • That Pho pic is making me hungry! You are hitting on all cylinders.

  • Just curious where the cruise expenses are and how you funded it? Travel hack?

    • Check out the past few monthly expense updates since August. I paid for the cruises here and there, and mostly cash (though I think I used the Barclay Arrival Card for $500 bonus cash back on the cruise we’re taking next week).

      There’s also my four part series on cruises you might find helpful on general travel hacking on cruises (here’s part 1).

  • I’m waiting to see what the new administration and congress has in store. Could be better, could be worse, could be a whole lot worse. I’m not too optimistic, but I do expect change. I’m not sure what we’ll do if we have to pay $10-20k per year in HI premiums for the whole family (assuming the kids can’t get on medicaid/CHIP). Move overseas? Get a part time job with health insurance? Move to a state with ACA-like coverage (Massachusetts??)?

    From what I’ve read, it’s unlikely that the subsidies will change before 2019 so we have a while to adjust plans. If the markets keep going up we’ll have enough surplus to cover larger health insurance premiums.

  • IT is great when there’s a monthly and annual surplus right. I love Mexican food too, and never seem to get tired of it. DO they have quac and chips on cruises? STill have to go on my first one soon. So if im reading the investment section right, You plan on buying BND with new money or transfer equities into more bonds?

    • On the past 3 carnival cruises, they’ve had a nachos bar every day from noon till 6 on the pool deck (along with fries, burgers, dogs, chicken tenders etc). Chips, salsa, chili, queso, jalapenos, pico de gallo (salsa). No guacamole except during the Mexican buffet they had just one night (bummer it’s just once and so late at night – who wants to pig out at 11 pm??).

      The BND purchases could be new money I contribute to solo 401k or IRA for 2016, or might be $ I’m shifting around elsewhere. Not sure yet but the prices are still attractive compared to recent price history.

  • Historically I’ve really enjoyed your posts, Justin, but I’m really sad to see how many affiliate links have infiltrated your last few monthly updates. I can’t say I’d do it any differently, as they make you a very nice full-time income, but it bothers me. I think it clouds the reader’s ability to discern whether you’re making an honest recommendation or not.

    • Sorry you feel that way!

      I only post links to stuff I use and find helpful (or in a few limited cases it’s things that I might use some day because they appear to be helpful and/or would be appropriate for more people). If I’m going to link to something and that something will pay me if you buy their services, I’ll gladly take that money. Judging by the comments here, many people appreciated the links to some of the ways to save more on stuff you buy already (Mr Rebates, Ebates, Cardcash, etc).

      You’ll notice an absence of what would be very profitable links to places like Prosper and Lending Club and Realtyshares. I don’t think most appreciate the risk involved and how much time you actually have to spend to make the returns worthwhile. And I don’t personally use any of those type services so I’m just not familiar enough to recommend them.

      • First, let me say that I know Mr. ROG and he is genuine and won’t advertise something that he doesn’t believe in himself. It’s also safe to assume that nearly ALL of us readers of ROG are wise enough to make a decision on whether or not to click on a link, and educated enough to decide whether a product is a good one or not. The ads are just fine – especially given the invaluable advice provided free of subscription fees. Just my not-so-humble opinion.

        That said, Justin – You may want to reconsider your thoughts on the peer-to-peer lending businesses. Even though you haven’t used the services yourself, there are plenty of credible testimonials available now, based on several years of experiences, including others in the early retirement community, e.g. RB40. At minimum, it’d be a worthwhile informational post where you can share your opinion.

        I’m just learning about them myself. From what I see, you can be as active as you want, choosing your loans manually, or setting criteria to auto-invest. The big risk I see is the risk of the P2P lending company itself going bankrupt. But as they say, without risk, there is no reward.

        Finally, if in the end you decide the P2P’s are indeed worth consideration, put up an ad for them and let us grown ups decide on whether or not to click on the ad and whether or not to take the risk ourselves. Keep up the fine work.

        • I just checked and my application to get links to advertise Lending Club is still “pending” (after applying to their program several years ago 🙂 ). I think I’ll leave it pending. From what I’ve seen and read, I can’t recommend their service at this time and don’t want to put links up here (but if my opinion changes, I reserve the right to do so at that time 🙂 ). I would encourage everyone to conduct due diligence on any investment and sign up for a service/product if it makes sense for them.

          And I see you got what looks like your blog up and running. Congrats on that!

  • Justin,
    I’d like to confirm: When you present your monthly financial picture does it also include the value of your house? Only curious. I kind of always assumed your NW meant only invested financial assets and no primary residence.

    If it’s not much to ask, could you explain the tax situation that as a blogger/consultant you can invest in Solo 401k, top of Roth IRA’s, employment taxes, etc.? Of course, I could try and read it in theory but I’d love to read this as a real life example/explanation with some dollar numbers (you disclose your dollars but it would be easier to get it when everything is combined in one place). Is everything reported on your family’s 1040 IRS form, or do you need to file some kind of S-corp, LLC or whatever tax forms because of your blog/consulting? Hint: it might be an idea for an article.


    • I include the house in my net worth I report here. It’s currently valued at $145,000 (from memory). Which is less than 10% of total net worth, so not too much of a distortion. When considering the 4% rule you only want to include portfolio value.

      For me, the house is a financial asset that I could leverage (get a HELOC/mortgage to access cash value; rent out and live elsewhere; sell and cash out to buy or rent somewhere else). Not currently using the house in that manner but it’s a possibility. Possibilities are good.

      Tax wise, I run my biz as a sole proprietorship which means I file a schedule C and pay self employment tax on net earnings. Keeps it pretty simple tax wise. I can contribute to a solo 401k based on my Schedule C self employment income, as well as IRAs (for me and Mrs. RoG).

      In 2015 for example I grossed maybe $32,000, netted $28000 after expenses and contributed around $21,000 to my solo 401k based on those earnings. This year I netted closer to $30000 and will do Roth 401k at $18000, 2x Roth IRAs at $11000 which uses up most of my earned income for the year.

  • Justin – I have a question about mutual fund capital gains. So mutual funds pay out dividends, short term, and long term capital gains. When it comes to you tracking your “income” – which of these do you include in that number?

    • Just the dividends in my income reports. Cap gains could be spent as income but it’s really “income” only because the IRS says mutual funds have to pay out any gains within the fund for tax purposes.

  • Justin, I was wanting to ask the same thing a John Smith. What are your thoughts about healthcare under the Trump administration?

  • I like the idea of Personal Capital, but it is so buggy!!! Most recently, they haven’t been able to connect with Vanguard accounts in over a week — it has actually been 10 days — when I log in to PC I get a message saying there are “technical difficulties refreshing” Vanguard accounts. Is anyone else experiencing this? I’ve emailed support a few times to find out more, no response.

    I always enjoy your posts Justin – Enjoy your mini blogging break, but don’t stay away too long!

  • I just got screwed by Cardcash too. Luckily I didn’t go to Aldi’s and try to use the card! I would’ve been seriously pissed then, but I went on Aldi’s website and checked the balance there. It kept saying invalid card, so then I emailed Cardcash. But really? Couldn’t cardcash be checking it online the same way I did BEFORE they mail out a worthless card? Lousy experience all around, then I read some horrible stuff about them online. Really bummed. Hope I actually get my $450 back.

    • Hope you got your cash back. Mine worked initially then it came back as “invalid” when I checked it online after a few days. Strange stuff. I’m curious how their system manages fraudulent activity.

  • Looking forward to seeing your plans for 2017 Europe vacation! If you happen to be visiting Switzerland or Italy I’d be happy to meet you for a FIRE chat 🙂

    • We won’t make it to Switzerland this time around but will be spending several days in Northern Italy (Milan, maybe a day at a lake, and a day or two in Venice).

  • It was really an enlighting post as I now know how to work out my expenses using your example. The details are well charted and I am looking forward to more posts like this as it will help me plan and manage my expenses as well. With calculations so accurate, it is obvious that you are living your life magnificently. Therefore I will surely take a leaf out of your book and try to follow your guidelines as far as income, expenditure, and investment are concerned. Last but not the least, the food looks absolutely delightful.

  • How much did the cruise cost? Discounts?
    That came out of your yearly travel budget, not your monthly budget?
    Your travel is contingent on your children’s schooling, would you choose to live overseas and do homeschooling …or do you think that is a hassle? Any friends who do that? Examples?
    God Bless,
    Beijing, China

    • The first cruise was 5 nights for three of us and totaled $800 for the cruise tix. Second cruise was for the five of us for seven nights and cost $1500-1600 total. If you check the December 2016 expense update (just posted) I figured out I spent another $700 for mandatory gratuities, gas to/from Florida twice, and parking.

      Our travel budget is part of our monthly and annual budget, and I don’t maintain a separate “travel fund”. The goal is to keep travel spending around $10,000 per year.

      I’ve considered homeschooling but it doesn’t interest me and my kids don’t seem interested either. Great local schools that are free are too appealing and easy 🙂

  • Hi Justin I am catching up on all the gems of wisdom in your blog. We are moving to the Raleigh area soon! Planning on buying a house with cash and not having any debt, can’t wait to have all that extra money not going to pay a mortgage.

    What are some tax saving options for us if we are solely relying on stock market returns and divis for income? We will mostly have money sitting in a taxable stock market account.

    I am not sure if we will qualify for ACA credits this year though which is going to be a bummer, I noticed health insurance is spendy in NC.

    Thanks for the response and for everything you are doing to help us with your blog!

    • Tax efficiency in taxable investments is key. Qualified dividends, limiting cap gains and cap gain distributions (in other words, index funds are your friends).

  • Sure something bad might happen with our health insurance but it’ll probably be a year or two before it impacts us. I put a brief discussion of Obamacare / TrumpCare speculation in my most recent financial update.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m paying attention. But I might as well save money at Aldi and elsewhere in the meantime (in case my health insurance costs go way up!). Big picture – all the costs matter.

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