April 2019 Financial Update – Cuba Cruise Edition

Time flies when you’re having fun! We’re almost half way through May and I’m just now updating our April financial snapshot. We have been vacationing, volunteering, and enjoying the wonderful springtime weather. What can I say? I’m retired and don’t always have time to focus on this blog! 

We had a great financial month during April. Our net worth climbed $47,000 to $2,109,000 thanks to great stock market returns. Our income for the month remained strong at $4,794 while our expenses were rather low at $1,591. 

Here is a more detailed look at our April finances along with some pictures to show what the life of an early retiree looks like. 



Investment income totaled $2,218 in April. Our equity mutual funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. In the first few days of April, another slug of end-of-quarter dividends arrived in our investment accounts, so April was also a good month for investment income.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, totaled $1,768 for the month of April which is lower than most months. But still very respectable considering the limited time I devote to this blog. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) totaled $755 for the month of April. This includes a couple of sessions completed in March but payment was recorded in April. Business is booming in May too. 

Deposit income of $51 which was cash back and incentive bonuses 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. 



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).

Tracking spending was one of the critical steps I took that allowed me to retire at 33. And it’s now easier than ever with Personal Capital.



Now let’s take a look at April expenses:



In total, we spent $1,591 during April which is almost $2,000 less than our target spending of $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year).  The top expense categories for April were travel and groceries like most months. You have to eat and take big vacations, right?


Detailed breakdown of spending:


Travel – $505:

Most of the travel expense this month came from our cruise to Cuba. We had already paid for the cruise fare in past months but we had to cover incidental expenses while on board and for the Raleigh-Miami round trip drive:

  • gas
  • parking
  • hotels
  • spending money while in port
  • suggested gratuities on the ship for dining staff and room attendants
  • Cuban visas ($75 per person!!)

I just completed the spending required to get the 70,000 point sign up bonus (worth $700+ when credited to reimburse travel purchases) on my Barclay Arrival card. I redeemed the $700 travel credit to cover the tips and Cuban visas we paid for while on the cruise. Otherwise we would have spent $1,200 out of pocket for the cruise.

If you want to score some free travel from credit cards, there are several cards currently offering 50,000 points or more. These points can be redeemed for $500 cash or $500+ in free flights or hotel stays. Compare travel credit card deals.

Airbnb plays a huge role in keeping lodging expenses moderate when we travel. For this summer’s trip to Asia, we have seven out of eight weeks of lodging booked through Airbnb. Save $40 off your first Airbnb stay with my airbnb referral link.


Leaving the Port of Miami.


First stop: Ochos Rios, Jamaica for some waterfall climbing and ocean swimming.


Next stop: Grand Cayman Island. We hung around the waterfront watching huge fish swim along the rocky shore and toured around the downtown business area.


Note: Our third stop on the cruise was Cozumel but we didn’t do much beyond shop for souvenirs and goat milk caramel candy and get some Mexican pesos from the ATM to exchange in Cuba. The Cuban exchange rate comes with a 10% surcharge when trading US dollars but no additional markup for trading Mexican pesos, euros, or several other world currencies. 


Last stop: Havana, Cuba. Interesting place to visit but I don’t know if I’ll be back. The $75 per person visa fee is a big deterrent.


The poverty in Havana really stood out. This was a typical street in the tourist area (before the government fixes it up). That’s probably a puddle of human pee on the right. Pretty gross stuff on the streets there. Some streets in the tourist part of town were fixed up nicely but not all of them.


In Havana, we took a tour in this classic car. Only $40 for one hour (after negotiating) including the tip.


Antique cars for rent to tourists. Locals could never afford the prices. In fact, we rarely saw locals driving cars. The streets were mostly empty other than taxis and the occasional bus.


The ship had open air decks on the back of the ship so that we could dine outdoors looking over the Havana skyline as the moon rose over the city.


Two couples from Camp FI came along with us on this cruise. Here we are enjoying the free unlimited drinks during the “Captain’s Cocktail Hour”. Yes, that’s me holding three glasses of champagne.


Groceries – $401:

Grocery spending dropped in April. We were on vacation for nine days so we didn’t shop as much. 

In other grocery news, I am now a card-holding member of Costco. Don’t worry, I didn’t actually pay the $60 annual membership fee. My Fidelity 2% cash back credit card offered a promotion for a $40 credit plus $20 Costco cash card with a $60 membership purchase. So the net cost to me for the membership is zero after the promotion.

I don’t know if this will work, but I may cancel the membership soon and try to get a refund of the $60 membership fee. If that works out then I will profit $60 off of the promotion.

I gave Costco another shot and it’s not a great value proposition for us. All of the grocery items and paper products are more expensive than Aldi, Lidl, and Superwalmart. Prices are sometimes 50% higher at Costco. It’s been a year and a half since I did a more formal price comparison that found Costco to be 35-40% higher than Aldi and Superwalmart in my area. And that was before considering the excellent sales that grocery stores advertise every week. 

Not much has changed during my most recent visit when I bought the membership. However, I understand from dozens of comments from Costco lovers that Costco is a good bargain in areas of the country that don’t have much grocery competition. Fortunately I don’t live in one of those high priced areas! 


Crispy golden homemade egg rolls.


Utilities – $216:

The water, sewer, and trash bill from the city was $133 and the natural gas bill was $84 (home heating and water heater). The natural gas bill will drop significantly now that we’re in air conditioning season. However our electric consumption will go up significantly. 

I prepaid the electric bill a long time ago to hit the minimum spending requirement on credit cards, so I don’t have a monthly electric bill to pay right now. In the next month or two I will use up my bill credit and have to resume payments for electricity. 


Gifts – $185:

We gave our son money and presents for his birthday. We also gave all of our kids money for good grades on their report cards. 


Entertainment – $108:

We spent $57 on pizza for our son’s birthday party plus another $20 at Dollar Tree for party favors and decorations.  We undoubtedly spent more on drinks, snacks, and other party-related items but they got absorbed into the “grocery” expense category. 


Happy seventh birthday to our little guy!!


I also bought a Netflix gift card at Raise.com at a discount. I pay for half of a family Netflix plan that I share with my mom. By applying this gift card to our account I have prepaid our part of the bill for another eight months. 


Free entertainment – riding on Raleigh’s greenway system.


More free entertainment – drinking wine that David from Fiology.com brought with him when he visited in April.


Making Chinese lanterns at the community center’s Pop Up Art classes


Six local artists decorated the walking path in the park with sidewalk chalk art. This guy illustrated the twin volcanoes near Mexico City – Itzi and Popo (that’s their nicknames).


General Merchandise – $61:

We spent $61 at Walmart for items for the house plus we also purchased new umbrellas for our trip to Asia this summer (rainy season!!). 


Restaurants – $60:

Another month of not dining out very much. 

We visited a Korean Church Food Bazaar at the invitation of our dental hygienist (who is Korean). “The only place to get really good Korean food in all of Raleigh” she claims. The food did not disappoint. It was $43 well spent and we all left stuffed after lunch and we had enough leftovers for dinner too.

The coolest part was all the free samples of the different new-to-us Korean dishes. We tried several dishes.  We ended up buying more than we planned because it was so unique and delicious. Much cheaper and faster than a plane ticket to Seoul to enjoy similar treats. And $43 is about what it costs us to dine out at a real restaurant anyway! 


All the moms and grandmas working hard in the kitchen to bring us Korea’s best flavors.


The other $18 of restaurant spending was a big bag of fried chicken from Bojangles. Good stuff if you like fried chicken.


I spotted the Google Streetview car at this Raleigh Bojangles! My third spotting in under two months.


Healthcare/Medical – $31:

Our 2019 healthcare premiums are $31 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$40,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. The benefit of being “poor”.


Cable/Satellite – $15:

$15 for one month’s internet bill. We qualify for a local reduced rate package due to having a lower income and having kids. 30 mbit/s download, 4 mbit/s upload.


Easter egg hunt in the park!



Total Spending in 2019


April is over and we are $5,000 under the $13,333 budgeted for four months of our $40,000 annual early retirement budget. Another year of under spending our budget by a wide margin! 

We have several big bills due in May such as our six month auto insurance and annual home insurance premiums. Beyond that, spending should be fairly modest going into the summer since we’ve prepaid most of our big summer travel expenses. 


My big volunteer gig in April: running the elementary school’s raffle fundraiser. Here we are drawing six lucky winners at the Spring Carnival.


I’m not going to work too hard to spend all this extra money we have because we have two big expenses looming in the near future. We’ll want an additional car once our oldest kid starts driving. Probably something small-ish, fuel efficient, and used. Perhaps something electric. We’ve enjoyed being a one car family (after debating it for a while) but that will come to an end in less than two years. Along with a second car comes another set of taxes, registration, inspection, and maintenance. 

The second big expense coming up soon is college for two kids. It’s still a few years off and the bottom line cost is unknown. More thoughts on what college costs might be for our early retired family


Monthly Expense Summary for 2019:


Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:


Crazy animal pics: our bald eagle is flying around the lake carrying a tree branch.


Several herons on our lake



Net Worth: $2,109,000 (+$47,000)

This roller coaster keeps going higher! Wheee! 

As of the end of April we are within $5,000 of the previous net worth high water mark of $2,114,000 set back in January 2018. Now that we are part of the way through May, some of these gains have disappeared but it’s still nice to be back near the high point on the net worth chart. 



That’s it for this month’s financial update. Our finances pretty much run themselves at this point. Between a little blog income and a little investment income we have “enough” since we live a pretty simple life.


Backyard chilling. Life is good.


As summer approaches, we are about a month away from hopping on a plane destined for Southeast Asia where we will spend eight weeks exploring Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. We have the flights and lodging for the trip already booked but now we need to get serious about researching each city and region to get a better idea of what we will do while traveling around the area. 

With that, I’ll wish you a happy remainder of the month and I hope it’s filled with good times and profit! 


Enjoying the wonderful spring weather? Looking forward to summer?



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  1. You’re having way too much fun for $1,500/month. An internet troll would say you’re lying and it’s impossible. I think you’re doing it right. You don’t need to be rich to enjoy the good life. It helps, though.
    We’re not a big fan of cruises, but this one looks pretty awesome. Those classic cars are so neat.
    Maybe we should try going on a cruise again someday.
    Have a great time in Asia. We’re not going to make it to Thailand this summer. Our old condo is up for sale and I don’t want to go anywhere until that’s done. 🙁

    1. The cruise was a pretty easy format to visit Havana. We docked at noon and spent the night then had till 5 pm on day 2 to go back on shore and explore. Of course we love going on cruises so YMMV on that 🙂

  2. It’s pretty amazing how low you’ve got your expenses down to. It’s all about spending on the things you value!

    Looking forward to meeting you at Camp FI in a couple weeks!

  3. > I don’t know if this will work, but I may cancel the membership soon and try to get a refund of the $60 membership fee. If that works out then I will profit $60 off of the promotion.

    I really appreciate your blog and getting to follow your retired life, but this comes off a little shady. I don’t think we FI-minded people should promote trying to profit off things like this.

    1. Stores spend $ all the time to get high value customers like this multimillionaire through their doors. Am I not worth at least $60? I gave them a fair shot and just wasn’t impressed with their value proposition. They advertise their return and member cancellation policy as being best in the biz. Maybe I take them up on their offer? They could easily prohibit me from cancelling the membership per terms and conditions on their promotion.

  4. I had a great time meeting your family and visiting last month. I’ll see you again soon at CampFI Mid-Atlantic in a few weeks.

    Awesome job maintaining your value-based spending.

  5. Wow, impressive value for your spend! Did it feel weird to be in that big fancy classic car driving around those Havana streets you pictured with people looking at you who couldn’t afford to ever ride in that car? Global distribution of wealth is always a really surprising thing to me no matter how many times I see it. I suppose wealth is all relative

    1. It was a little awkward. I didn’t bargain very hard when buying some trinkets and souvenirs later on. I think I sounded like a total elitist rich guy when speaking with a museum docent for about 30 minutes. Just because her world is so radically different from mine even though I live closer to a lower class person in the US than an upper class person (shop at Walmart, drive 10 yr old car, DIY stuff at home, etc).

  6. Looks like a great month Justin! You guys continue to live a very rich life for $1500/month!

    I’m with you on Costco too. The value proposition there has been eroding in recent years. I rarely find good deals there (well — OK, occasionally).

    I do have to give Costco credit though — They’re return policy is pretty incredible, and they optometry department is vastly cheaper than anywhere else I’ve found.

    That said, I continually question whether I should keep our membership there.

    1. We are due for vision exams for preventive care, not because we can’t see, or at least I think my vision is fine!! The independent optometrist was $89. Seems pretty decent for cash price but I’ll have to shop around. I imagine Walmart or Sam’s Club would be cheaper if they have an in house optometrist. Or Lenscrafters kind of place.

      There are a very few things that are slight deals vs regular price at other stores. Some medicine for example. Their sheet cakes were a great deal if you need a huge sheet cake for a big party (like 50 people??). $19 and the cake is 2x the size of the $19 cake at Walmart. Although our Walmart has cakes on clearance all the time which makes it the same price as Costco.

      1. I live in the Bay area of CA. Even though I don’t drive a lot, the Costco gas is cheaper enough than other options that it generally pays for the membership. It’s also the cheapest place to get organic baby spinach and similar. There’s one a mile from my apartment, so I often bike just to buy spinach and a bottle of wine, they look at me like I’m crazy.

        1. The Costco near us is usually cheaper for gas too. But it’s often just a few pennies and the lines are LOOOOOONG (just like inside the store). Save $2-3 on gas but spend 10 extra minutes? Not a horrible after tax hourly earnings rate but not sure it’s worth buying a membership! And recently their gas was actually MORE than other stations near the Costco (after using the other stores’ free loyalty card like at Sheetz and Shell stations to get 3-5 cents off per gallon). Plus I could drive 5 minutes in the opposite direction of Costco and consistently save several pennies per gallon on gas (if I wanted to spend extra time to save a tiny bit on gas).

          With Aldi and Lidl we can often find the higher end organic baby-whatever for pretty cheap and it’s in a manageable size that we can eat before it goes bad. I think we got prewashed organic baby arugula for $2 for a big clamshell (5 ounces??) recently. Though Costco does have decent unit prices on that kind of stuff. We would simply never want to consume it all before it went bad.

    2. I like to go in and eat the free snacks at Costco even though I don’t have a membership. You just have to say you are going to the pharmacy, which is open to all by federal law. The free snacks are tasty, although I prefer Trader Joe’s for free eats because they also have free coffee and juice and occasional customer appreciation barbecues.

      We actually had a free membership for years, but aside from filling up with gas it wasn’t a very good bargain. Everything was too expensive or too big or not what I wanted, or all of the above. We don’t have Aldi/Lidl here, but Walmart, Sprouts, or even the regular grocer is a far better deal for us.

      1. Trader Joe’s is more my speed. I don’t shop there a lot but I have several things that I buy there due to quality and/or price. And the free coffee is a nice perk too. So far they haven’t thrown me out for going for seconds or thirds. And that’s about all the coffee I need each day!

        I feel like you do about Costco. There’s no niche it fills in my shopping space. Everything is either too big or too expensive compared to other stores. I need to sample the samples some more to see if they are even worth pursuing.

  7. Do you have any tips of renting a car on vacation? Also, I read Costco has discounted car rentals. That may come in handy some time for you?

    1. Autoslash has saved me rental car $ before. Better rates than Costco. Kayak is my normal go-to comparison shopping tool for rental cars.

      But we don’t really rent cars that often.

  8. Hooray for another great month and nice to see all the travel you are doing! Yeah I remember seeing all the poverty in Cuba–so sad. The kids were so happy with any trinkets that you give them. Makes you grateful for everything you have.

    Enjoy your SE Asian travels next Month! Hope we can cross paths in Europe next year!

  9. I just can’t get over the differences in our spending. Now of course I live in the NorthEast, in the commuting suburbs of NYC, but wow. I spend more in an average month than you have spent this year. When I look at my mortgage, property tax, and other related services like energy/heat/garbage and such, the difference is just that really. My parents retired down south and their annual property tax is just a bit more than what I pay in a month, and our homes have the same value. Of course, their home is much larger an nicer! Still, it’s the rates for all of those other things that are much less down there, and why hopefully we will be making the geo-arbitrage in retirement. Sigh, part of me wants to do it now, but I think we need to work at least 10 more years to save for what we want to retire with.

    1. From my POV here in low-cost-land I can’t fathom paying NYC-area prices for anything! It seems like everything costs a lot more.

      Does your 10 more years working include saving enough to live where you are now? Or could you shave some time off if you relocate to a lower cost area like North Carolina?

  10. That’s interesting about the antique cars being a tourist thing. I was under assumption it was a Cuban lifestyle. Learning new things every day. Nice NW.

    1. They have a lot of newer cars (from the past several decades) that are in use for regular taxis and presumably some private ownership. Pretty much all the old antiques from the 1950’s are the tourist taxis that rent for about USD$40-50 per hour or they are colectivo taxis (shared rides kind of like a bus but in a car) called almendrones – about a buck per ride I think.

  11. I’m putting Cuba on the short list of places that we should plan to visit. I don’t know if it will be Americanized or if the current administration will put a ban back on.

    I did my net worth numbers after the China trade war, so it’s going to be a mostly flat month for our investments.

    1. It’s definitely not Americanized yet. They have a good tourist-ish thing going on in old town Havana but it’s really hit and miss compared to basically every other Caribbean island/port/city we’ve visited. But maybe that’s worth seeing before it’s ruined by tourism? That’s one of the reasons we wanted to visit when we did instead of wait until it’s developed.

  12. Congratulations on both a successful investing month as well as a great cruise to Cuba. Happy for you guys, although the way things are going in May you’ve probably given back April’s gains already. Oh well, easy come easy go; you’ll always have Cuba (channeling my Humphrey Bogart).

    Just returned from a cruise ourselves to the Caribbean on the Carnival Dream out of New Orleans, their last cruise on that ship from that city after six years, since it moving to Galveston for the forseeable future. Our first in 30 years after a horrible bout of seasickness for Deb on that first cruise, which became her last until she decided to brave it again. She was prepared this time with Sea Bands, motion sickness glasses I got her from a French company, Dramamine; the whole nine yards. She did not need anything except the Sea Bands and the occasional use of the glasses, but still noticed a few things that were off. So how did we solve it completely? Went to an onboard seminar on Chinese acupuncture that was given by a beautiful Chinese doctor who trained at a university there for eight years, and now travels under contract with the cruise lines. We both signed up with her for treatment that among other things included alleviating any seasickness that Deb might have. The doctor used one needle for that, along with some small pressure patches she put on Deb’s ear, and any semblance of her seasickness was gone. Along with the other things she did for us we were extremely blessed to have met her, although to this day I cannot understand how a 94 lb person’s elbow can get that deep into a sciatica problem I am suffering from (thought I was going to hit the ceiling, but it was fun nonetheless). Count me as a believer in both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.

    We have now gone from never wanting to have anything to do with cruising to wondering when we will go out next. I can understand completely your love of the life. Keep on cruisin’!

    1. Yes, I think our April gains are gone after today 🙂 No worries (yet).

      That’s great to hear that you guys gave cruising a second try and that it turned out okay. Something for the two of you to continue enjoying in your later years too!

  13. I can relate to how you do things as I do pretty much the same thing myself. You dont need to always spend a lot to enjoy yourself and with a little effort and self discipline you can find ways of having fun for less and DIY fixing stuff yourself. I look for ways to stack coupons, promotions, credit card/ Ebates cash back, and discounted gift cards etc. I kinda make a game of it sometimes. I have a BJ’s near me and feel the same way. Not really enough deals there to justify the membership fee. Gas is usually quite a bit cheaper and you dont have to have a membership to get it. But sometimes the lines are long and its not always worth it. I may plan to go there like early in the morning and make a run for a few other stores to make it worth the trip. BJ’s sends out these free 3 month membership coupons in the paper all the time, so I let some time lapse and try to sign up like once a year just for fun and to try some different items. Here in NJ by me, we have Aldi’s and Lidl. Plus our local supermarket chain has a few good deals. Some of the promotional deals each week are hard to beat.

    1. I finally got to purchase Costco gas this week. I saved a $0.14 per gallon vs the Shell station where I usually buy gas. I didn’t really need gas yet but I was near the not-extremely-convenient Costco and filled up 3/4 tank (13 gallons). Savings were under $2 but at least the line wasn’t very long (maybe a couple minutes of waiting). Since we buy gas once every month or two, and we aren’t near Costco that much, it’s unlikely we would save more than $5-10 on Costco gas. And I went off-peak around 9:30 before Costco opens. Otherwise the lines are six or eight deep and not worth waiting for $2.

  14. Good to know that your net worth reached all time high…just one question….what is the total money you invested so far?

    1. Good question! Probably a million or $1.2 million?? I haven’t really tracked it that closely. Unless you are asking invested assets total which hovers around $1.8-1.9 million depending on the month.

  15. I’ve always heard about the classic cars in Cuba. Did you get a chance to see under the hood of any cars? I’ve always wonder if the motors were all original. I’ve never seen a google street view car.. wonder what that pays and how you get that job. Only one food pic this month? My mouth is still watering. I love egg rolls. Let’s hope May gains turn around and end up like April :D!

    1. I didn’t look under the hood! I bet there are a lot of new parts in there since they drive these things a ton. Our car sounded very rough. I have heard they make a lot of the parts themselves down there due to embargo restrictions on importing OEM or second hand parts from elsewhere.

  16. I just booked a cruise to Cuba and found out about the revised special requirements for US travelers, which seems to require a full-time schedule of very limited qualifying activities before recreational time is allowed each day you go on shore. Did you find a good option to fulfill that requirement? There seems to be some confusion in online forums about what is really required vs. what cruiseline tell people. Just interested in your first-hand experience, so I know what to expect. Thanks!

    1. If the November 2017 guidelines are still in place (the one you linked to), then that’s what we traveled under. We checked the box for “Support of the Cuban People”. Google that a little and you can see what you need to do. Basically you can travel on your own but it can’t be a purely touristic visit. You have to interact with locals and support local entrepreneurs (and not the military dictatorship). So we bought snacks and souvenirs from locals and spoke with several locals and visited culturally relevant places.

      Our cruise line told us we had to buy an excursion to comply with US law but we definitely didn’t. Once on board they sold us the $75 visa even without an excursion and we got off the ship just like everyone else.

  17. My last cheap cruise was Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel .. Cuba would have been a nice option just to experience it as you never know how things will change.

    We also live in the Triangle, came down 4 years ago when I FIREd as a temporary trial and stayed because of the weather, free entertainment, and wildlife.

    We joined BJs as Costco was a little far and kept adding too many nice to haves to the cart. BJs paid for itself as glasses were cheaper than Costco and 1/3 the price of the various eye doctors we inquired at. Well and I’m addicted to Bryers ice cream that they sell for a steal.

    I just started reading and tried to look thru the archives, I know I saw a few articles in 2014/2015 about your taxable/deferred split but not sure if you’ve really addressed the RMD cliff at all. I know having kids its likely the ACA subsidy is your priority but curious with the decent market returns if that deferred snow ball isn’t become monstrously huge.

    1. I’m sure I’ll get hit by RMDs in another 30-ish years. In the mean time I’m focusing on getting assets into Roth status as much as possible. Contributing to a Roth 401k and Roth IRAs with any blog income I earn plus doing Roth Conversions as much as possible.

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