April 2024 Early Retirement Update – Cruising the Caribbean Edition

Welcome back to another monthly update from Root of Good! We are back at home in Raleigh after a fun 11 night cruise to the Caribbean during April. In a few days we return to the Caribbean for another week and a half sailing around the deep blue sea. Then we’ll have a couple more weeks at home in Raleigh before leaving for our two month trip in Poland. I think I need a vacation from all these vacations! 

Although our travel schedule for 2024 keeps us pretty busy, we still have a lot of relaxing days at home in between our trips. This early retired life is pretty sweet!

On to our financial progress. April was a mixed month for our finances. On the one hand, our net worth crashed by $114,000 to end the month at $3,015,000. Our income of $4,266 significantly exceeded our spending of $1,719 for the month of April. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled $472 in April. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. As a result, we had a smaller than normal amount of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $645 for the month. This represents a fairly average month of blog income. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $0 last month. Things have been pretty slow since March for my early retirement consulting. Perhaps folks know I’m busy traveling so they don’t reach out? Who knows. 

Tradeline sales income totaled $775 in April. My tradeline sales income is doing much better in 2024 than it did in 2023. I ramped up my tradeline sales a few years ago and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post and in my July 2021 monthly post. Most years I make around $4,000 to $6,000 in exchange for lending out my stellar credit report history from half a dozen credit cards. 

For last month, my “deposit income” was $2,271. Out of this total, $35 of the deposit income came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the Rakuten.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 Rakuten through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Rakuten, you’ll get a $10 sign up bonus (or more!)

The large majority of “deposit” income came from a class action settlement from TD Bank. Mrs. Root of Good received $2,236 to settle a claim against TD Bank for reopening a closed bank account without her permission. I was pretty surprised by the amount of this settlement. However TD Bank was a grossly incompetent bank from our time interacting with them several years ago. 

Youtube income was $102 last month. Youtube only pays out when you hit $100 in accumulated revenue. Recently, my Youtube earnings have been slightly under $50 per month on average, so I only get paid every three months.  

Here is the Youtube channel for the curious. It’s random travel videos, birds, kids, and a couple of DIY videos. There are only a few main videos that bring in most of the traffic (and revenue!).

 

 

If you’re interested in tracking your income and expenses like I do, then check out Empower Personal Dashboard, formerly known as Personal Capital (it’s free!). All of our savings and spending accounts (including checking, money market, and more than half a dozen credit cards) are all linked and updated in real time through Empower Personal Dashboard. We have accounts all over the place, and Empower Personal Dashboard makes it really easy to check on everything at one time.

Empower Personal Dashboard 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 Empower Personal Dashboard 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 Empower Personal Dashboard.

 

At the cruise port in Cartagena, Colombia, they have hundreds of parrots in their nature park in the port complex. And it’s free to hang out there all day! 

 

 

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at April expenses:

 

In total, we spent $1,719 during the month of April which is about $1,600 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Groceries and utilities were the highest two spending categories last month.

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Groceries – $560:

A relatively cheap month for groceries. We were out of town for almost half of April for our cruise. Which means we didn’t shop a lot. Our kids bought a few groceries while we were gone, but not much. 

 

Good cruise food. MSC Cruise line has Italian roots and it shows in their pizza. As good or better than any pizza we had in Italy.

 

A little breakfast on our private balcony

 

Utilities – $321:

We spent $152 on our water/sewer/trash bill last month.

No natural gas bill payment for April but I will be paying two bills in May. We don’t use the heat very much this late in the year so the gas bill will be small. 

The electricity bill was $169 for last month. We’ve been using the air conditioning a lot more now that it’s often hot in North Carolina. 

 

Taxes – $300

Our North Carolina Income Tax estimated payment for first quarter 2024 totaled $300. I paid a $6 convenience fee to be able to pay my taxes with a credit card (to get a huge sign up bonus), and have recorded this $6 convenience fee under the “Travel” category of spending. 

 

Backyard critters – our deer enjoying some bird food

 

More backyard critters – the goslings are here! We have several families of goslings running around the yard and the lake.

 

 

Travel – $224:

Paradoxically, our travel spending was rather low during April because the cruise we were on was paid for in March, when we spent almost $2,000 on travel (mostly for taxes/fees for 3 more cruises).

For our April cruise, I spent $61 on Ubers from Ft. Lauderdale to the Port of Miami and back. We also spent another $42 on souvenirs in Costa Rica and Panama. 

During April, I paid a $6 convenience fee to pay my state estimated income taxes using a credit card. 

 

Another exciting find in the Cartagena cruise port complex. A presidential-looking golden pheasant in their aviary. This little guy promised to Make Aviaries Great Again! 

 

To prepare for our upcoming two months in Poland, I obtained an International Driver’s License (IDL) for $20 from AAA. I also spent $0.20 to have my homemade passport photos printed at Walgreens for the IDL application. I have heard conflicting reports on whether an IDL is required in Poland, so I contacted my rental car company. They informed me it is in fact required. We’ll see once I pick up the car whether it’s actually required.

Regardless, $20 for the peace of mind of having the IDL is worth it. I’d hate to be denied the rental car that we plan on driving for two months because I didn’t get an official-looking $20 piece of paper with my passport photo taped to it. 

The last bit of travel spending was a $95 annual fee for a credit card. We spend several hundred dollars per year on credit card annual fees. However we usually earn thousands or tens of thousands of dollars worth of free travel every year from various credit cards. So the annual fees are easily worth it. 

 

Baby sloths on exhibit in Cartagena

 

Get free travel like us

If you are interested in getting free travel from your credit card like I do, consider the Chase Ink Unlimited or Chase Ink Cash business cards (my referral link). Right now, the Chase Ink business cards offer an above average $750 to $1000 worth of Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be redeemed instantly for $750 in cash. I just signed up for another new Ink card to snag one of these great bonus offers.

Chase is pretty liberal when it comes to “what is a business”. If you sell stuff on eBay or Craigslist or do some odd jobs occasionally then you have a business and could get a credit card as a “sole proprietor”. 

I use the 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points by transferring them to my Chase Sapphire Reserve card (also offering a 60,000 point sign up bonus right now). With the Sapphire Reserve card, I can get 1.5x the points value by booking cruises, flights, hotels, or rental cars through their travel portal. Or 1.25x value by reimbursing myself for groceries. That turns the 75,000 points into $1,125 of free travel or $937.50 of free groceries. For example, I used 165,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points to pay for the $2,475 in taxes, fees, and gratuities on two of my fall cruises. Or I can transfer those Ultimate rewards points to over a dozen travel partners’ airline/hotel programs like United, Southwest, or Hyatt. 

 

Quick beach visit in Aruba. Top tier beaches!

 

Capital One VentureX card

Another favorite travel card in my wallet is the Capital One Venture X card. The Venture X card is a “keeper” for me. First off, it comes with a $750 sign up bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months. The bonus is paid in the form of 75,000 bonus points that you can redeem against any travel purchases from anywhere. Then you earn a solid 2 points per dollar spent forever! The other big perk is airport lounge access. You can get yourself plus unlimited guests into Priority Pass lounges. And you plus two guests can get into Plaza Premium network lounges and Capital One Lounges. 

The Capital One Venture X card does have one catch – a $395 annual fee. But they reward you every year with an easy to use $300 travel discount plus $100 worth of points. Together, that makes $400 they give you annually which completely offsets the annual fee. Another benefit worth mentioning: you can add up to four authorized users for free, and they also get all the benefits of the Venture X card including the valuable airport lounge access. We used this perk to “gift” a pair of Venture X cards with airport lounge access to my brother in law and his wife to use on their family trip back home to Cambodia last April with their two young children. 

Since the annual fee is offset in full by travel credits each year, I personally plan on keeping the Venture X card forever since the card benefits are so great.

 

The perpetually beautiful scenery sailing out of Port of Miami

 

Gifts – $144:

A birthday present for one of our kids. 

 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $114:

Our current 2024 health insurance is free, thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$48,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. 

Our 2024 dental insurance plan costs $37 in premiums per month. We picked a plan from Truassure through the healthcare.gov exchange. The dental insurance does a good job of covering routine cleanings, exams, and x-rays plus most of the cost of basic procedures like fillings.

Mrs. Root of Good had a copay of $77 at her dental exam during April. 

 

This little hummingbird enjoys perching right outside our kitchen window

 

Clothing/Shoes – $59:

Some new clothes for Mrs. Root of Good

 

Gas – $0:

We didn’t buy any gas during the month of April. 

 

Cable/Satellite/Internet – $0:

We generally pay $18 per month for a local reduced rate package due to having a lower income and having kids. 50 mbit/s download, 10 mbit/s upload. Right now the cost of the internet service is temporarily reduced to $0 due to the “Affordable Connectivity Program”.

My internet company recently included a note on the bill that the ACP program will be ending in April. So we might have to pay for internet in May or June once the stimmies run out. And it appears the new “reduced rate” plan will cost a bit more at $20 or $25 per month. 

On the upside, Spectrum gave us a year of free unlimited cell service as a consolation prize for losing the ACP benefit. Free cell service will save us $30+ compared to what we normally spend on a year of cell service. 

 

 

Spending for 2024 – Year to Date

 

 
We spent $8,817 for the first four months of 2024. This annual spending is about $4,500 less than the budgeted $13,333 for four months per our $40,000 annual early retirement budget. I haven’t increased our annual budget for inflation in a decade, so at some point I need to revisit the budget numbers. So far, so good! No need to give ourselves a raise if we’re managing just fine within the current budget. 

So far we are spending well below budget. The month of May will be a fairly expensive month, with about $3,000 in travel spending (lodging for our summer trip plus the taxes, fees, and deposit on a “free” cruise). Our annual homeowners insurance and 6-month auto insurance premiums both fall due during May as well. That’s another $2,500. In addition, we have about $1,000 worth of tech purchases to hopefully complete during May. 

Our summertime spending while in Poland will be fairly modest overall. Mainly restaurants, groceries, and about $1,000 for a rental car plus gas for most of the summer. A lot of attractions in Poland are free or very affordable so we won’t spend a ton on admission tickets. 

As I mentioned last month, our kids’ college costs are completely paid for by their financial aid so far. So college spending should remain rather modest throughout the rest of 2024 into 2025. 

All in all, this year is shaping up to be another very reasonable year of spending within our budget. 

 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2024:

 

Summary of annual spending from more than a decade of my early retirement:

 

 

 

Net Worth: $3,015,000 (-$114,000)

A shocking drop of $114,000 during April left us significantly poorer after hitting a new all time high in March. We haven’t seen a net worth this low since… 2 months ago in February 2024! This is the stock market, folks. It goes up a lot over the long term but the month to month fluctuations can be brutal.

As much as I enjoyed celebrating the gain of 3-4 years worth of living expenses in last month’s update, I now have to give back almost all of those monthly gains. And that’s okay – these wild monthly swings are completely normal. 

 

 

For the curious, our net worth reported above includes our home value (which is fully paid off). I value the house at $300,000, which is probably what we would net after sales expenses. However, please note that I don’t consider my home value as part of my portfolio for “4% rule” calculation purposes. I realize folks ask me about that every month so I just wanted to state that here for clarity.

 

Even the I-95 adjacent La Quinta Inn in Ft. Lauderdale had a great view.

 

Life update

It’s been a busy spring but so far we are juggling everything pretty well. Being on a boat without internet for most of the duration of our 10-11 day cruises means we have some catching up to do once we’re back on land.

However, the communications blackout was strangely comforting on this last cruise. We don’t see the daily disturbances that folks get upset about on social media or in the news. I did turn on the TV once during our cruise to verify that World War 3 had in fact not started (it hadn’t). Otherwise we were mostly oblivious to current events while bubble wrapped in our cocoon of disconnectedness onboard the ship.  

Our index funds run themselves and make money while we’re offline. Our (adult) kids and other family take care of the house while we’re away. Life is pretty good! 

Okay folks, that’s it from me for this month. Time to go hop on another cruise! See you again next month! 

 

Anyone still waiting on winter to go away in your part of the world? Anyone already wishing the cool winter weather would return soon?!

 

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5 comments

  1. Great update as always! I’m curious how your tradeline sales income is taxed. Self employment or some type of 1099 MISC?

    1. 1000 NEC so it’s basically taxed as self-employment income. At least that’s how I treat it. I think you could make an argument for it being 1099 MISC type “other” income though. There is some debate in the tradeline sales community about how you treat the income.

  2. Love your updates as always! Can you tell us a little more about how you can cruise so often? How do you find deals? I’m in Canada so we don’t have the same credit cards for points but do you use points to pay for cruises? Thanks!!

  3. Very insightful updates! How do your kids qualify for financial aid based on the amount of assets you have? I believe IRAs and 401ks don’t count toward the FAFSA, so I would assume most of your assets are in those types of accounts. This then leads to the question of how you access your money for early retirement if it is in IRAs and 401ks?

  4. I’m really curious to see how many free cruises you end up with after they realize your presumed lack of gambling. 😀

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