October 2015 Financial Update

October is over and our investment portfolio decided to celebrate Halloween by giving us a treat after offering nothing but tricks the last couple of months.  Our net worth rose by $93,000 fueled by a recovery in the stock market.  With $7,715 in income and only $1,015 in expenses, we’re still making way more than we spend each month.

I’ll have to make this monthly financial update relatively short since my ten year old requested a pre-bedtime game of Monopoly and I’m running out time.  How can I turn down the opportunity to teach my kids about buying assets, leveraging those assets to generate income, and trying to bankrupt the competition by building hotels that they can’t afford to rent?

Income

In early October we caught the tail end of the third quarter dividend season when our mutual funds and ETFs pay out quarterly dividends.   We received $5,038 in dividends in September and $1,564 in October.  A solid quarter for investment income, but it’s still a little less than the $7,500 in dividends for the second quarter of 2015.  In December, we should get a very significant set of dividends from our investments since some only pay once per year in December (see my full article on our dividends for more info).

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, was a very solid $3,873.  This represents two month’s worth of payments from some sources, so it won’t be this large every month.  In fact, November will probably be a lower than average month for blog income.

Last month I mentioned that profitable hobbies and side hustles keep finding me in early retirement.  I launched my early retirement lifestyle consulting practice about a month ago and it’s off to a surprisingly strong start.  I collected $667 in October between freelance writing and consulting.  If it gets much busier I may have to raise my hourly rates since I’m trying to keep my schedule open for maximum pursuit of leisure and do as little work as possible (you know, to stay as early retired as I can).

Competing with my desire to do as little as possible is the knowledge that I’ve helped every single one of the people that have participated in the early retirement lifestyle consultations.  Almost all my clients have discovered immediately actionable ways to save many hundreds or even thousands of dollars through better tax planning, savvier investment management, or some other clever move that requires relatively little effort.  That’s pretty cool, and helps me feel justified in charging a fee to chat about this stuff.

The last item in the income report is Mrs. Root of Good’s paycheck.  She’s still working but only four days per week from home.  Hey, it’s still work, but on pretty good terms.  If anyone wants to wager some money, I can take bets on how many more months she’ll remain on the job.

october-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 October expenses:

october-2015-expenses

We just barely cracked the $1,000 spending barrier with a very respectable $1,015 in expenses for the month.  This level of spending is less than 40% of our targeted budget of $2,700 per month (1/12th of our $32,400 per year early retirement budget).

Groceries are our largest budget item when we don’t have any large lumpy expenses like major auto repairs, insurance, or property taxes due during the month.  For $491, we fed the five of us very well.  Here’s what a typical month of groceries looks like (in pictures) and here’s how we get by so cheap without using grocery coupons.

Travel expenses were passport renewals for our two daughters.  At $105 per passport (plus a couple bucks for passport photos printed at Walgreens), it’s not a fun expense but it means we can continue indulging our international travel habit and visit places like Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean (on board a cruise!).  We are actively looking for a cruise right now, but aren’t seeing any that fit the kids’ school schedule well and also happen to be dirt cheap.  The economy is doing so well that the cruise lines don’t have to discount fares as much as they have in the past five or six years.  But we’ll keep searching for a nicely discounted last minute cruise.

Home maintenance expenses of $135 represent the purchase of two Lowe’s gift cards with a face value of $160.  I spent about $60 of that on painting and roofing supplies so I can patch a roof leak and paint our shed, back porch, and mailbox.  The painting project is half way through and a huge success so far.  The other $100 of Lowe’s gift cards will be used later on other projects.

The $55 in gifts covered Christmas presents for five people.  We shopped ahead during a really good sale.  It’s something useful yet not very expensive.  It’s also a surprise so I can’t say exactly what it is.  Yeah, we’re cheapskates and I’m glad our families don’t have a habit of giving expensive presents worth many hundreds of dollars.

Education expenses of $48 reflects the total cost of the year’s field trips for our two elementary school students.  There may be an extra fee for another field trip later in the year if the school can’t secure grant funding for the charter bus ride to the coastal area.  Overall, we have experienced very moderate expenses for field trips throughout their elementary school careers.

Cable at $34 is our internet (provided by the cable company).  $34 for 20 megabits is a really good deal, and might get even better once Google Fiber lights up our neighborhood.  Competition is great.

Our total restaurant spending of $22 is a little lower than average.  That’s two visits to the neighborhood Chinese restaurant for take out dumplings and one trip to an infamous unnamed Mexican fast food restaurant (which, by the way, I love).  We also love Mexican food.  And cruise food.

Gas expenses dropped to $2.  That was for our lawn mower.  We did refill about a half tank of gas in one car but used previously purchased gas gift cards (so the expense was recorded in a previous month’s expense report).  Since Mrs. RoG isn’t commuting to work any longer, we just don’t drive very often.  So many of our destinations are walkable.  Going forward, we will probably use about a half tank of gas per month.  We could drop to one car at this point, but our transportation needs might change when our oldest child enters middle school next year.

Other expenses include $9 for utilities.  We pre-pay utilities occasionally to meet credit card spending requirements to snag those sweet sign up bonus offers.  After months of living off the largesse of our pre-payment, our natural gas account finally went in the negative, so they wanted us to pay them something.  Go figure.

 

Year to date expenses

At $18,482 year to date spending, we are $8,500 under the $27,000 budgeted for the first ten months of 2015.  And that’s including our $5,100 expense for a seven week trip to Mexico.

We are on track to significantly under spend our $32,400 annual budget as long as no major unexpected expenses pop up later in the year.  In the last two months of 2015, we’ll have to pay a six-month auto insurance bill and the annual real estate tax bill, but otherwise we don’t anticipate any large expenses.

Monthly spending for 2015 to date:

 

Net Worth: $1,527,000 (+$93,000)

After losing a total of $110,000 in August and September, our bad fortunes reversed course and left us with a generous $93,000 gain in October.  It’s not quite enough to put us back to where we were financially at the beginning of August, but it’s a strong start.

The net worth rebound hasn’t changed our daily spending habits, and we remain as frugal as we’ve always been while not hesitating to spend on luxuries and niceties that are important to us.

 

october-2015-net-worth

Most of October’s rise in net worth happened in the first week.  That’s why I don’t worry when I see a $100,000 drop during one month.  The portfolio can rebound even faster.  Over the short term, it goes down and it goes up.  Long term it goes up.

Once again, we watched our portfolio drop by six figures then regain most of the losses.  Though I never know which way the market is headed, I am confident that we will see many more of these six figure losses and strong rebounds throughout the rest of our multi-decade retirement.

We can choose to obsess and worry over daily, weekly, and monthly fluctuations.  Or, we can choose to largely ignore the volatility, skip the worrying, and engage in fun stuff that actually makes life meaningful.  I know which one I prefer!  While we can’t control the volatility in the equity markets, we can control our reaction to it.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to get outside and partake of our mild fall weather and finish painting the shed.

 

 

Run, bulls, run!  How did you like that October market rally?

 

 

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50 comments

  • October was great for me as well! I saw a five figure net worth climb which was attributable to contributions plus some nice gains. Glad the consulting gig is going well. I love helping family and friends with their finances, who knew helping others would feel so good. And most of the time it’s an easy answer – your mortgage rate is what? refinance, or pick the HSA not the other expense plan and max that baby out!

  • The border was calling? I’m really shocked at the low education expenses, but I suppose it makes sense given your kids relatively young ages. Technically, we’ve spent $0 on education this year.

    Do you see your kids taking up sports or instruments in the near future, or just investigating the local real estate market?

    • Yes, the bell tolled for me and I answered it’s call 🙂 (celebration for awards day for the kids and a 50% off coupon through their app).

      I think our kids’ school has thrifty field trips (and they get grants to cover the cost) because of the majority of low income students in attendance at what was once the worst school in the district. If they started asking for $50-100 for a field trip, only 10-20% of students would pay for that. We attended a middle school open house at a more well to do school where a PTA mom was bragging about a field trip to Disney World/MGM to “study physics”. I’d hate to say “no” to that field trip that probably tops $1,000 per head. 🙂

      The kids might pick up sports or music, but we’re not pushing them in a particular direction. So far the after school/before school programs have been STEM, science, and programming oriented. We signed up for the soccer program but they cancelled it the semester we were going to start. 🙁 I imagine they’ll get a taste for different sports and performing arts in middle school with electives, so we’ll see where they take it from there. The oldest kid was amazed at the dance studio during our middle school tour, so maybe that’s in the cards for her.

      Although they might turn into little real estate entrepreneurs instead. 🙂

      • Yes, school expenses can vary. Our school has a heavy population of poor kids. So the PTA fundraising covers all of the field trips ($7000 per year in buses alone). The field trips are generally of the cheaper variety – most of the cost is the buses. We struggle to raise even $40k a year.

        The school a mile away is full of rich families. Their PTO requires each family to write a check for $500 per student. One month into school and they’d already raised $110,000. Craziness.

        • Wow, $500 per student? Is that a private school? I’d hate to be a kid of moderate or little means in that school! At our kids’ school, 80% get free/reduced price lunches and many get food assistance in the form of grocery bags of canned goods and non-perishables sent home each Friday ostensibly so they won’t starve over the weekend.

          I’ve heard on one local school asking for $100 cash per kid instead of messing with fund raisers (aka time wasters!). Seems like a sensible way to spread the burden around.

  • I think October treated us all well. I benefit greatly when volatility is falling thanks to long UVXY puts.

  • Vawt @ Early Retirement Ahead

    I actually laughed out loud a little when I read “gas expense dropped to $2.” That is pretty awesome.

    Glad to hear the consulting business is going well. I have been thinking about trying it, but I have less credibility since I am not actually retired! Maybe I get credit for all my years in finance though?

    • The consulting took off given I’m not promoting it hard (other than the link in the menu bar above and mentioning it here in the monthly reports). There is definitely a niche market for “early retirement financial consulting” because what I hear from many clients is that no one really gets the interplay between low cost investments, early retirement withdrawal strategies, tax concerns for early retirees, and the general sense that early retirement is doable.

  • $1k per month in expenses is pretty impressive. I’m assuming that’s without a mortgage?

  • $22 on restaurants? $2 on gasoline? You guys are crushing it! Keep up the good work.

    • That’s our lowest month so far, and I doubt we’ll be able to keep it that low forever. We do like to dine out occasionally and spending on gas equals driving to fun places (not work).

  • That expense number is super impressive! We’re so curious to know what we’ll actually spend once we no longer feel like we need to decompress from work. We have all of these projections and budgets, but I think we have to live it to really know. Your post makes me wonder if we’ll actually crave a lot less spending and stretch our budget even farther.

    August and September were rough for us just like everyone else, but October’s bounce put us almost exactly where we would have been if none of that roller coaster ever happened. While we’re sad not to get the discounted shares any more, we’re super happy to be back on track to hit this year’s targets, and stay in a position to pull the plug in two years. But your point is a good one, that instead of worry about the markets, we should all get outside and do something meaningful instead. Thanks!

    • When I was still working and we were cranking the savings and investments way up, I loved these market dips and corrections. They put a smile on my face because who doesn’t love buying opportunities? Everyone else around me at work. It was like the sky was falling when shares dipped 10%, and I’m sitting back smiling, locking up more shares at 10% off month after month, and sad I didn’t have more cash to dump in the market and sad when the sale ends. 🙂

  • I am glad that you are earning more from writing and consulting than what you are spending. Based on your experience, you are more qualified for consulting people on retirement/tax issues than most licensed advisers out there.

    Isn’t it funny how you have accumulated a nice nest egg to retire, and now you are covering expenses from side income alone? All while still having a nice allocation of leisure..

    Oh, and I had to say it but based on your expense level, you can simply afford to live off the dividends generated from your retirement profile 😉

    • I’m honestly surprised that the side income has increased to the point of more than covering our expenses. The last I checked we’re over $25k year to date for blog/freelancing/consulting income and expenses are many thousands less than that.

      And like you say, our dividends are roughly enough to cover expenses as well. I expect the dividends to grow over time and provide more than enough to cover ongoing expenses.

  • Your monthly report always amazes me. Great job once again. The consulting service sounds very interesting. Your dividend looks great too.
    Our net worth is back to August level. That’s not bad. I just wish I could have picked up more shares during the dip.

    • It’s been a nice multi-month run of low expenses, but we’re about to break the $1,000/month trend over the next couple months when the big year end bills are due.

  • Hey ROG!! Congrats on such a good month…we did well this month, which was a nice “treat”. I am new to your site and really enjoying it. It looks like you don’t have a mortgage, is that correct? Was that part of your plan to pay off before retiring? I am starting to read your older posts and am curious. We are working to get this off of us, as I feel this will be easier on us, not having to worry about mortgages. Looking forward to catching up on all your posts!!

    • Paying off the mortgage was always a goal as we approached early retirement. I quit working a little before we paid off the mortgage, and just finished paying it off in the first part of 2015. Definitely easier to manage cash flow in retirement without an extra mortgage payment to worry about each month.

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog! Make sure those old posts aren’t too dusty when you go back to read them. 😉

  • It’s months like the last one that remind me not to freak out after the previous two months. 🙂

  • Wow! Expenses of $1,000. That’s crazy low. It really does pay to simplify your living. We got punched by those lumpy expenses (tires are expensive) and I was really hoping the downturn would last. I hate purchasing stock at “new record highs”. I should take your advice and skip the worrying since dollar cost averaging will even it out.

    Looks like a great month. Even if you spend it up, you’ll come in well under the yearly budget.

    • Buying new tires is never a fun purchase, but at least you get peace of mind for a few years before you have to replace them again.

      New record highs aren’t fun either if you’re still accumulating assets. Just keep investing – if you have 5-10 more years in the accumulation stage, I bet you’ll see a market crash at some point in that period. 🙂

  • Great job increasing that net worth. Do you include the the equity in your home for net-worth calculation? If yes, then what do you base your home value on?

    • We include the value of the home in the net worth figures. It’s valued at $140,000 in Personal Capital. I leave it at a static $140,000 just because. Personal Capital does have a cool feature to link your home value to the Zillow value so it automatically updates each month, but I chose not to link it up.

      We have no plans to sell it any time soon, but that’s always an option if we were to take up a nomadic lifestyle and travel full time. Zillow says our house is valued at $166k, and I figure 94% of that value is what I could get if I chose to sell (maybe less since some parts of our house aren’t updated as much as other houses). 94% = 100% minus a 6% realtor commission.

      It’s a small enough part of our net worth where I don’t really care if it goes up $5k or $10k in a year.

  • Perhaps it could have been <$1000 if you hadn't gotten halloween candy to hand out, too? But that wouldn't have been sporting, would it? =)

    • We didn’t even buy Halloween candy. We always go out with our kids so don’t get a chance to hand out candy.

      But yes, there were plenty of small $15 purchases we could have skipped if our goal was to dip under $1000/month.

  • That was a nice $100K bounce back in one month!

    October was good for us as we passed $300K in net worth for the first time. Income continues to come in much better than we expected going into 2015.

    Onward & Upward

    • Nice. I believe we hit $300k NW for the first time right before the stock market crashed in 2007. Took a while to break back above $300k but after that the NW went on a huge run!

  • Only $1000 is extremely impressive. I am trying to get Mrs. ROB to go down to just $1000 in terms of food consumption in general. Maybe I need to have her start reading your blog it might give her inspiration (and save our wallets in the process). Keep it up and just finished the cruise series.

    • Maybe you should throw the gauntlet down and make it a challenge to stay below $1,000 per month. If dining out is included in that number, it might force you guys into switching up how many meals are consumed outside the home to save money and drop below $1,000.

  • Hi Justin

    Ive been a silent reader of yours. Love how you do a massive posts out there with the cruise that makes me excited.

    I’m always incredibly curious on how you guys can spend so low with 5 pax in a family. I guess you really budgeted well. Just curious on the personal insurance do you lump and expense it down in a single month or does that gets spread out across the months because i dont see them.

    • We really focus on the deals!

      As for insurance, we pay it in a lump sum when it is due. Right now that means May and November (with the bulk of the insurance payments occurring in May).

  • Nice rally for the month! I still think there are some great values to be had in some underachieving sectors – like mining – but it will all come around and commodities will be back in vogue (I guess? Were they ever in vogue? Well, they’ll always be needed haha . . . that’s probably a better way to put it). Regardless, things seem back to normal at the moment and after November has often been some of the best historical returns.

    -DP

  • Nice rebound ! I can’t wait to see how mine jiggled up and down for the year at some point. The rental properties had vacancies..and rented pretty quickly at higher rents so pretty happy as that is what funds most of our living expenses. Your expenses are admirable 🙂

  • Amazing! I love your posts and especially these financial updates. However, your low monthly living expenses make me sick with envy. My wife & I spend around $1000/month on food alone (groceries and restaurants combined). It’s disgusting. I don’t even understand why we do it, but we keep doing it. If I could just get our monthly expenses under more control, I could be saving/investing around 75-80% of my income. Aside from food, we’re pretty frugal and careful with our money. We currently save ~45-48% of gross income, but it could be SO much better.

    • Hey, at least you know where you’re bleeding money and where you could focus on saving money (if it’s worth it to cut the food expense).

      And even at 45-48% of gross, you’re doing much better than most of your peers I bet!

  • I’m shocked that you spend so little when you’re in a family of 5. I spend about 1.5 times what your budget is for the year on myself. How in the world do you only spend 3 dollars on utilities in a month?? No water bill?

    • We pre-paid the electric, gas, and water a few months ago in order to meet a minimum spending requirement for a credit card sign up bonus offer. So we’re coasting on those credit balances right now. In December we’ll be back to paying gas and water.

  • Hi Justin,

    First time visitor. I’m so glad I came across your blog today. Looks like you’ve done an amazing job controlling costs and getting to an early retirement through persistence and sacrifice. Kudos to you and your wife and enjoy your extra time with the kids.

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