August 2023 Early Retirement Update – Back to School Edition

Hello and welcome back to another monthly update from Root of Good! It’s been a month since we arrived home from our two month trip to Argentina and Brazil. The first couple of weeks back home were a haze of getting set up in Raleigh, back to school events, and catching up on things I put on pause before departing home in June. Then, once all the kids were back in school and life slowed down, we had time to relax. 

In the last month, we spent a lot of time researching and buying several major purchases that have been in the works for a while. You’ll have to read on to find out what we got! 

On to our financial progress. August was a mixed month for our finances. Our net worth dropped by $75,000 to end August at $2,784,000. Our income totaled $3,571, while our spending was a relatively moderate $2,615 for the month of August. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled $148 in August. 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 $404 for the month. This is the “new normal” for blog income since I only post on here about once per month. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $0 in August. A second consecutive month of $0 in consulting income! Perhaps I am truly unemployed now? 

Tradeline sales income totaled $0 in August. The tradeline income is fairly unpredictable and lumpy, so perhaps it will pick back up toward the end of 2023. I ramped up my tradeline sales in 2020 and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post and in my July 2021 monthly post

For August, my “deposit income” totaled $61. Part of this 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, youโ€™ll get a $10 sign up bonus

The majority of the “deposit income” came from a class action settlement from Yahoo. They grievously injured my legal rights when they allowed hackers to steal my personal data. I wish I got $50 from every company that wronged me in this way!

Youtube income was $100 in August. Youtube only pays out when you hit $100 in accumulated revenue. Recently, my Youtube earnings have been just under $100 per month on average, so I only get paid every other month. 

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!).

The final (and largest!) piece of income came from bank and credit card bonuses. I received a total of $2,856 worth of bonuses during August. The bulk of the bonus income came from a Wells Fargo promotion. I received $2,500 for transferring a quarter of a million dollars worth of ETFs into a new IRA at Wells Fargo for a few months. I’ll eventually transfer these funds to another brokerage firm and collect another $1,000 to $2,500 for my troubles. Mrs. Root of Good received the same bonus for transferring her IRA as well (to be reported in our September update). 

The remaining $356 in bank/credit card bonuses came from a mix of rewards points lingering in four US Bank credit cards that we just closed after getting those sign up bonuses over the past year. 

 

 

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 five 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.

 

 

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at August expenses:

In total, we spent $2,615 during August which is about $700 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Travel and groceries were the two highest categories of spending in August.

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Travel – $679:

The biggest single travel expense in August was the $260 fee to renew two passports. Our passports don’t expire until next March but some countries we’ll visit during December require more than three months of passport validity. So we went ahead and renewed the passports much earlier. Hopefully we get the passports back soon so we can do some international travel this fall. 

The remaining $419 in travel spending covered the 12 days we spent in Brazil during the first part of August.

We only spent about $35 per day which seems like a very low number. However, our airbnb apartment rentals were paid several months earlier. So the only real expenses we had while in Brazil were food and transportation.  Meals were generally very reasonable. Most places we visited were only $3 to $6 per plate. We also got a lot of takeout and the portions were often large enough to share between two people (or serve as leftovers for dinner/snacking). 

Transportation was also very affordable. We took Uber everywhere we went in Foz do Iguazu and in Sao Paulo. Typical fares were $2-3 for a short 10-15 minute trip, or $5-6 for longer 20-30 minute rides, such as to the airport or the Iguazu Falls waterfalls. The most expensive Uber ride was $20 for a nearly two hour ride to the airport in TONS of evening rush hour traffic in Sao Paulo. 

I couldn’t figure out the economics of the public transit in Sao Paulo. Local buses or subways would have been $4 for the 4 of us. Whereas ubers to the same locations were rarely more than $2-3. So we saved money and traveled in style! 

 

Iguazu Falls – the highlight of our whole summer trip. This is the Devil’s Throat or Garganta del Diablo (in Spanish).

 

We walked along the top of the falls on the Argentina side of the river. To the left is Brazil.

 

We felt like jungle explorers as we walked around the Argentinian side of the park.

 

The overlook on the Brazil side of the falls presents a different angle from the Argentina side’s overlooks.

 

Up close it’s an incredible experience.

 

We were fortunate to stay a whole week in Iguazu Falls so we could visit each side of the waterfalls over the course of two different days. This is the panoramic view from the Brazil side. When we were on the Argentina side, we walked along the raised walkway atop the falls seen in this picture.

 

Here is a video comparing the Brazil side and the Argentina side. There is a lot of debate over which side is the best. I think it’s best to visit both if you have time! 


 

 

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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”. 

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 credit plus $100 worth of points. Together, that makes $400 they give you annually which more than 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 in 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.

 

We had a lot of good tropical fruits in Brazil. The mangoes and papaya were the same prices as in the USA and about the same quality overall. The starfruit was super cheap – seven of them for $1 USD. Also in the pic: guava, baby bananas, and sugar apple or sweetsop.

 

A cacao pod. They make chocolate from the seeds of this fruit. The white flesh that surrounds each seed is delicious too. It reminds me of the mangosteens we ate in Vietnam and Cambodia.

 

While walking around Foz do Iguacu, we stumbled across a hand-painted sign advertising fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice. For only USD$4 for 2 liters, I had to try it. The proprietor spoke no English so I pantomimed my way through buying a jug of fresh sugarcane juice. He grows the sugarcane in a little patch to the left of his sugarcane press. What’s crazy is this little patch of sweetness is right in the middle of downtown. You can see the high rise condo buildings in the background. The one word of Portuguese I understood was when he told me to “tranquilo”. Then he brought out some chairs for me and the kids to rest in the shade. We watched as he fed half a dozen sugarcane stalks through his press and added some lime to the mix for some zing!

 

Groceries – $546:

We spent about two thirds of August in Raleigh so $546 represents about two thirds of our normal grocery spending for an average month. We had to restock on a few things once we got back in town, so I’m surprised our grocery spending isn’t even higher. 

In some good inflation-related news, it seems like Aldi has figured out the inflation puzzle. On our last trip to Aldi I noticed that most of their prices are lower than they were in June when we left Raleigh. It’s only a 5-10% discount on most items, but up to 20-30% on a few things. Hopefully the other local grocery stores choose to compete with Aldi and pass the price cuts on to us consumers! 

 

Our grocery cart in Brazil (which I included in the “travel” spending, not “grocery” spending). We bought cachaca rum, fruit flavored Snickers bars, exotic fruits, guarani fruit drink, and some local beers.

 

Home Maintenance – $483:

We bought a new dishwasher during August. Our old dishwasher does its job for the most part, except I am done replacing parts on it to keep it running well. The old unit lasted 12 years which is very reasonable since the five of us in the family generate a ton of dishes. We eat at home almost every meal, so sometimes need to do two or three loads of dishes in one day. 

The new unit is a Bosch 100 series dishwasher that totaled $483 after taxes. I asked around and researched dishwashers quite a bit, and the Bosch brand kept surfacing as a reliable dishwasher that gets the job done. Hopefully I can get 12 years out of this unit, too! 

 

Electronics – $282:

Our main television died during August. The top half of the screen glitched out and went dark. Google said it would be $150 to replace the parts that broke. Which makes no sense when the same size 50″ TV doesn’t cost much more than that today brand new. We were mildly inconvenienced by needing to move to our second living room and watch the backup TV for our daily entertainment. 

I found a deal on a new 65″ TV for $298 plus tax and free shipping. I used some discounted gift cards and got the total price down to $282. The new TV arrived a few days ago and works great so far. 

 

Utilities – $251:

We spent $68 on our water/sewer/trash bill. 

The natural gas bill, which provides heating and hot water, totaled $15 for last month. The water/sewer/trash bill and the gas bill were lower than normal because our daughter was the only one at home during the period covered by these bills.

The electricity bill totaled $169 in August. It was a hot summer. Even though we were gone for most of the period covered by this bill, the usage didn’t drop significantly. The bulk of our electric consumption during summer months comes from air conditioning, which costs about the same whether there is one person at home or five people here. 

 

Acai smoothie. Not as flavorful as I was expecting but good overall.

 

Education – $141:

Our oldest daughter graduates from community college with her Associate’s degree in December. She just applied to a few nearby in-state public universities. The total cost for application fees and transcript requests totaled $141.

For some strange reason, these costs cannot be reimbursed out of our 529 account, so these will be paid out of pocket. 

All of the tuition, fees, and books will be covered by the kids’ financial aid for the fall semester. In fact, each college kid will most likely get a decent four figure refund check from the financial aid office since community college is so cheap. 

 

Telephone – $96:

The $96 telephone charge covers the cost of three annual cell phone plans through RedPocket Mobile. The plans are pretty basic – 200 MB of data per month with the option to buy more. So far that data allotment has been adequate since so many places have free wifi these days. 

 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $55:

Our current 2023 health insurance costs $18 per month, thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$45,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. 

Our 2023 dental insurance plans cost a total of $29 in premiums per month. I made a double payment on my dental insurance, so our total dental insurance expense for August was $38. 

I chose a very basic plan for $9 per month for me that covers most preventive care but no fillings. Mrs. Root of Good has a different set of dental needs than I do so we kept the more comprehensive $20 per month plan for her (same as 2022’s plan).

By buying insurance, we should save a couple hundred dollars on my dental care. For Mrs. Root of Good, we will still save a few dollars compared to paying cash for the preventive dentist visits throughout the year.

 

While in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, we walked across the river into Paraguay for the day. We did a little shopping and visited the Itaipu Dam on the Paraguay side.

 

The Itaipu Dam is one of the largest dams in the world. So big that it’s hard to fit the whole structure in one picture!

 

Gas – $47:

Our daughter bought a tank of gas during August before we got home. 

 

Restaurants – $38:

A family sized box of fried chicken and biscuits from Bojangles (the #1 purveyor of fine fried chicken in the entire universe). This was the birthday lunch request from our 17 year old! 

 

Take out food in Brazil. These eight plates totaled about USD$35 and ended up feeding us for more than two meals.

 

The Brazilian steakhouse, rodizio, or churrasco might be the most common feature of Brazilian food to Americans. I’ve never been to one in the USA but we managed to make up for it while in Brazil. We found this great steak buffet restaurant downstairs from our apartment with all you can eat steak for about USD$6 per person. Here we are ordering a bunch of grilled to order chunks of steak for take out from the same restaurant. They charge by weight and the price is about $5 per pound.

 

Brazilian pizza. I have to admit, they make some good pizza down there. For no extra charge, they let us get 4 different toppings. Most were great. However the “chicken” pizza that I ordered ended up being “chicken hearts”. A delicacy that locals go crazy for. I ate a few but found the hearts too tough and chewy to enjoy. Still not a bad deal at USD$12 for a large family size pizza.

 

These are coxinhas, or fried dough pastries stuffed with fillings like sausage or chicken. I bought these at a local fast food restaurant called Ragazzo which sells coxinhas for about USD$0.35 each. They taste kind of like stuffed hushpuppies I guess? The inside of the dough is closer in texture to mashed potatoes, however. A pretty good, filling meal for a couple of dollars!

 

In Sao Paulo we visited Japantown or “Little Tokyo”. While there, we visited a ramen restaurant. It was our first time eating restaurant ramen. It was the best-rated place in town but I didn’t think the noodles or broth were anything special. They have lines out the door with average wait times of 1-2 hours most days, so I guess the locals like it a lot. We arrived right after they opened and didn’t have to wait at all.

 

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. 30 mbit/s download, 4 mbit/s upload. Right now the cost of the internet service is temporarily reduced to $0 due to the “Affordable Connectivity Program”. 

 

While visiting Iguazu Falls, we encountered several groups of intrepid coatis – cute raccoon-like critters that like to steal snacks from tourists.

 

Year to Date Spending – 2023

 


 

We spent $17,530 during the first eight months of 2023. This annual spending is about $9,000 less than the $26,667 we budgeted for eight months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

Last month I said:

The one large expense anticipated for 2023 will be a used car. We failed in our attempts to acquire one during 2022 but that’s okay. The market appears to be cooling off a bit, since I am finally seeing a few cars under $10,000 that aren’t complete pieces of junk. We will start the used car search very soon now that we are back at home. 

Fortunately, we are underspending our budget by a significant margin, so we should be able to “absorb” the used car purchase in our regular $40,000 per year budget without exceeding the budget by much. Right now we have an $8,000 budget surplus so that’s just a bit less than the amount we’ll likely spend on a used car. 

 

Here is the big news for this month: we finally bought a new (used) car!! I’ll have more details in next month’s update, but here are the basic details. We bought a 2017 Hyundai Accent SE hatchback with 99,000 miles on it for $9,200 including all fees, taxes, and registration. 

The expenditure for the new car is almost exactly the same as our budget underspending year-to-date. So we are very likely to end 2023 within our regular $40,000 annual budget. 

I don’t think we have a lot of other big spending for the remainder of 2023. Hopefully we can book some fall travel for Mrs. Root of Good and I. However this travel should be mostly free for us since we’ll be paying with points, miles, and free airbnb credit for flights, lodging, and any cruise fares.

 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2023:

 

Summary of annual spending from all ten years of early retirement:

 

 

Net Worth: $2,784,000 (-$75,000)

Our net worth dropped by $75,000 to end August at $2,784,000. In other words, August erased the gains from July and brought us back near the June month-end balance.

Like I always say, “it goes up and it goes down”. These little fluctuations are to be expected on a routine basis. I don’t really keep an eye on the net worth other than at the end of each month for these updates, so I don’t really feel any pain from these moves. Even though a $75,000 drop in one month represents about two years of our typical spending. “It’s just money”, right? 

 

 

For the curious, our net worth reported above includes our home value (which is fully paid off). 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.

 

Back at home-sweet-home where the deer love to roam in our backyard.

 

Sao Paulo Sightseeing

We spent a week in Sao Paulo before flying home. While there, we visited the Ibirapuera Park (their “Central Park”), Batman Alley, Japantown, Avenida Paulista, and the Cathedral and Municipal Market in downtown. 

Here’s a photo dump from Sao Paulo:

 

Amazing view of Sao Paulo from the sky. Block after block of apartment buildings and houses for dozens of miles.

 

Ancient trees in Ibirapuera Park. A great place to stroll around for the day.

 

Bamboo groves in Ibirapuera Park

 

Graffiti murals in Batman Alley

 

Impressive streetscape in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We stayed a couple of blocks from Avenida Paulista (shown here).

 

Not far from our apartment was the “Japan House” cultural center. They had an intriguing collection of artwork that blends real world mundane objects with various scenes of life. Here is a bowl of beans and rice (staple foods in Brazil) but if you look closely it’s also a beach scene where locals enjoy the sand and water!

 

Traveling isn’t all roses and rainbows. Sao Paulo, and Brazil more generally, has a reputation for crime and violence. When we visited Sao Paulo’s downtown, we saw firsthand how rough it can be. Whole blocks look like post-apocalyptic wastelands. We didn’t feel safe near the Municipal Market so we just grabbed an uber back home instead of exploring further (it was super sketchy). This photo of the police presence is taken from the steps of the main Cathedral in downtown. The Cathedral is totally safe (behind the wall of police). Beyond the cops lies a no man’s land where I didn’t dare go!

 

Life update

After celebrating 10 years of early retirement last month, I have officially entered my second decade of early retirement. 

What does the future hold for me? Our two oldest kids are in college, so they will (hopefully) graduate in 2-3 more years. Will they move out soon or live here for a while? Who knows! We have no plans to sell our house and move so I guess it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. 

We travel for two months each summer and about a month during the school year. As the kids get older, we’ll have a little more flexibility to travel more during the school year while leaving the kids at home. This new flexibility has me wondering what’s the optimal level of travel for us. Will we end up traveling half time? Will we grow exhausted from being away from home so much? Who knows! 

To summarize: I really don’t know what the future holds from a lifestyle design standpoint. Fortunately, we have adequate financial resources that makes anything possible. We can sit back, take it easy, and do whatever we want when the time comes. That’s a nice position to be in! 

That’s all from me for this update. See you next month!

 

Did you have a great summer? What kept you busy?

 

 

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53 comments

  1. > The electricity bill totaled $169 in August. It was a hot summer.

    Already checked out if installing Solar panels would help financially? They give you the most energy in the summer which is exactly when you need it and there’s always some government rebate going on.

    1. They are very expensive to install and can cost a lot to maintain. Our annual electricity consumption is relatively small, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever make the money back from installing solar. Maybe if the government paid for the whole install, but that’s hard to do with current tax incentives (since we can’t get the biggest solar tax credit due to not owing enough in taxes to benefit).

      Fortunately, we have a lot of nuclear energy locally so the electric costs here are only $.10-11 per kWh

      1. I’ve had solar panels for 5 years and haven’t paid a dime to maintain them. In fact, I’ve never heard about any such maintenance costs–they are actually pretty boring things, just sitting up there generating electricity and SRECs for us. I recommend looking into this again.

        1. Get back to me in another 15 years after you have a 20 year life cycle cost completed ๐Ÿ˜‰

          Just google “troubleshooting solar panels” and you’ll see a long list of things that can and do go wrong with them over their lifetimes. 5 years is pretty new for a solid-state system with no moving parts like most domestic rooftop solar PV installations.

          Here are a few:

          Dirty panels
          Malfunctioning inverters
          Low output
          Faulty connections and wiring
          Changes in temperature and humidity
          Damage caused by extreme weather conditions
          Poor installation and maintenance

          Not listed, and a concern of mine, is repairing a roof leak with panels installed on top of the roof. I can imagine some roofing contractors aren’t going to touch a roof covered in panels. Would be interested to know what you’ve heard/read about this.

          It’s another system, and all house-related systems will fail or need maintenance eventually. Electricians and/or roofers and/or solar professionals aren’t cheap.

          For us, we use about 7800 kWh in a typical year, so our electric consumption costs around $950 roughly. A $1000 roofer or electrician bill to fix a problem would offset a full year of foregone electricity consumption charges.

          Based on the PVWatts calculator, I would need a 6 kW system to roughly offset my annual energy consumption. Looking at North Carolina averages for installed systems, I’m getting ~$18,000 to get 6 kw solar installed. 5.5% ROI, if my maintenance costs are $0 forever. Or a little less than I can get from an FDIC/NCUA bank CD right now with a few clicks of my mouse.

          Solar PV keeps getting cheaper but it just doesn’t make sense for me unless someone else is paying for it. Maybe one day when I actually owe federal income tax, then I’ll benefit and get some subsidized panels!

          Or I’ll re-evaluate periodically (like I just did) and perhaps it’ll eventually make sense to take on the risk and large capital outlay (and recurring potential maintenance costs) to produce a comparatively small cost savings.

          1. We got our panels installed alongside a new roof, and thus were able to take the 30% federal tax credit on the cost of the roof too! Not paying federal income taxes does make it harder to get a good ROI. We had them in DC on our previous house and were earning about $2,500 in SRECs a year on them, and that wasn’t counting the savings in the electric bill. Now that we live in VA, the SREC market is not as profitable–we get about $250 a year on our panels. Not sure if there is a market in NC. So far, though, no maintenance costs for either system; the rain cleans them (don’t be suckered by the supposed cost of having to clean “dirty panels”, there is a 25-year warranty on the panels themselves, a 25-year warranty on the inverters, and a 25-year warranty on the racking. I also get a local tax credit that reduces my home’s value for tax assessment for 5 years. Weather damage would be covered in the home owner’s insurance. Plus, they have been found to increase the value of the house by 4%.
            I’m sure there are higher-earning ROIs out there (though with DC’s SREC market, maybe not), but I think they will grow more valuable as we electrify further, and I think you are overstating the risks and understating the ROI (particularly if there are state and local incentives).
            But, to each their own. Thanks for responding and for the good post that brought me here!

            1. yeah, I wish the math worked out better for me. As it is, I’d just barely have made back my initial investment by the time the 20-30 year warranties expire (20-30k of electricity produced for a system that would cost $18-20k today). Barely any return at all on that money. I don’t think NC pays much of a premium if any for solar generation. That didn’t used to be the case, as I recall they would pay 20 cents per kWh for generation, but that was just a temporary program that isn’t available any longer. If they offer that again, and will lock in long-term pricing for that then it’s certainly more of an interesting proposition. ~10 year payback ignoring any other tax subsidies, that sounds pretty enticing even if I end up calling an electrician or roofer 1-2x over the lifespan of the panels.

          2. Great reply, Justin. All things being equal I would like something like solar (I’d prefer nuclear or dilithium crystals, but noooo) as well, but our cost per Kw here in TN is even lower than yours. For all the reasons you list it is a non-starter here. The solar companies don’t even come into our area; they just can’t compete.

            1. I know – I love the idea of free electricity or paying a lump sum up front to cover it. But avoiding the <$1000 annual charge for elec consumption isn't worth today's prices for solar installation. And given the high cost of labor for installation and all the non-solar panel cost of components (wiring, racks, inverter, etc), I don't know if the price will ever drop to a sufficient level where the electricity generated is worth the capital cost up front. Ignoring subsidies - obviously if the government buys the panels for me or pays me to install them then the math changes big time. Would be nice! Well, nice for those that don't pay taxes...

          3. We’ve had solar for around 8 years now and it’s been great. There were problems with the microinverter twice. Each time covered by the warranty (one was a few months ago, so it seems like a long warranty). That included labor, so no out of pocket expenses at all.

            We passed the break-even point last year, so it’s all savings now.

            I think that solar panels may increase the life of your roof. They are covering it, so stopping some of the elements, right?

            The .10-.11 kWh is a good price. That’s a big factor. I think we are getting to .25 here in Rhode Island. With our panels though, we would pay around .06 for the 20-year life of them.

            1. As Jason stated you are still within the time window where you wouldn’t expect to have a lot of problems (which also coincidentally corresponds to the warranty period). I would love to hear the problems you may or may not have after another ten years; I hope you don’t but I think you will be singing a different tune then. BTW, we get hail often in our area of TN, and I would worry about panels under those conditions. We also have a Kw/hour rate of only slightly over .10 so panels are a no go for here as well.

            2. That is my concern – most likely everything would be fine. But then if something bad happens it can get expensive pretty quick. When the ROI is close to a risk-free bank CD under the best case scenario, it’s a non-starter with current numbers/elec rates here.

            3. I can’t reply to ChuckY’s comment below. We’re at the point where the system has paid for itself. So as long as the repair work isn’t too bad and too soon, I think it should be fine. If we start seeing problems in 10 years, we’ll have received something like $25,000+ worth of free electricity. The would pay for a lot of repairs. The labor costs may add up though.

            4. That much higher cost per kWh for electricity really changes the math a lot. If we paid 2.5x our current rates to get to your rates, then I am pretty sure my ROI goes from 5% to 12.5%, which would make the panels much more worthwhile. I guess 12.5% ROI would be about 8 years pay back period. Then we would get free electricity for the remainder of the service life (minus labor/repair costs).

      2. Maybe at some point when electricity costs rise, this calculation will change. For us in the Netherlands, the solar panels will pay for themselves in only five years or so due to our higher electricity costs, and so if they live and produce for say 18-20 years that is a ROI of 5-6% per year without too much risk. You’d be crazy to say no to such a deal.

        1. You are definitely right. It will be a nice way to hedge against future electricity price increases here, should that happen.

          I am also waiting for some poorly structured government subsidies that will pay for a low ROI on solar panels for me. At some point, if the government gives me 50-100% of the cost of a solar system, then the numbers make a lot more sense.

  2. I assume your subsidies and discounts will be changing once the kids are gone and your household is reduced to just 2 adults? What changes (to medical, utilities, internet, etc.), if any, will you be making when that happens? And, are you doing Roth conversions currently? Thank you for another great post!

    1. Changes – yes, our taxes will go up a bit as we lose the child-related deductions. And some small-ish freebies like internet discount go away, so our utilities will creep up. I haven’t modeled it too closely but I’m expecting it’ll be close to a wash in terms of changes in costs overall. We’ll pay less for most marginal costs like utility consumption and food, and our car insurance and gas costs will decline. Travel spending might actually go up since we’ll potentially travel even more/longer/more expensive places (maybe? ha ha – not really sure!)

      Roth conversions – yes, currently doing those. Depends on my tax situation each year but I usually manage $10-20k/yr most years.

  3. My wife and I have been thinking about going to Argentina ( we have already been to Brazil).
    Based on your photos and description, we will definitely plan to go there now.

  4. It’s very helpful for me to see these monthly spending updates, so thank you! One thing I was wondering though is if you have any costs related to running the website such as a yearly fee to keep the domain name, web hosting, email hosting, etc. I’m considering setting up a website and it would be great to see those expenses laid out by someone who has a successful website and also prioritizes keeping costs low.

    1. Yes, I just paid $12 in the beginning of the September for my annual Root of Good domain name registration. Also pay something like $100 every 2 years for hosting, which I will owe again next year. That’s all I pay for right now.

    1. We used Google Fi which has free international roaming. Just pay for the data you actually use. So we conserved data and mostly relied on wifi, except when we needed to call ubers or use google maps for transit directions, that sort of thing.

  5. Nice deal on the 65″ TV; incredible the pricing on them. Last year we had to replace our 65″ so after much due diligence I did take a chance on a 75″ TCL model at WalMart for a great price. I was reluctant to get a TV from a Chinese owned company directly, but it has been a good experience so far. But since this is America where size matters, I was almost enticed by a recent sale at our Sam’s Club where a 2023 model 86″ 4K UHD TV (name brand but I can’t remember which) was down to $799. But I practiced good financial sense and said if it isn’t broken don’t fix it, and our 75″ is doing exemplary duty for sports and movies.
    Enjoy the summer ending in NC, and safe travels this fall and winter.

    1. These things are so cheap these days. In hindsight, I kind of wish we went a little smaller on the tv just because our tv room is small-ish in the dimension where we face the tv. 58-60″ would be perfect. 65″ is good enough and not much more $!

      And I’m with you on using it up till it breaks. I guess I might get another 12 years out of this new tv, if it lasts as long as the previous one.

  6. Hi! Your video of the waterfalls is spectacular. Kinda dwarfs Niagara Falls.
    Did you and your family have any close calls with poisonous snakes, spiders, etc. Just curious because it’s something I’d be very afraid of. Great trip! Thanx, Gail

    1. Thanks, it’s really spectacular in person!

      We didn’t have any dangerous snake or insect encounters. Not hardly even any mosquitoes. We did see those coatis and that was about it. They aren’t aggressive generally. They had signs warning of jaguars and some wild boar-like animals (“tapirs”) but we never saw any of those.

  7. Amazing!!! Hope you enjoyed Brazil.
    Mercado Municipal is not very close to the Cathedral and it’s safe too. You just need to avoid the area the locals call “Cracolandia”, some blocks where the crack addicts live, but they usually don’t mess with anyone if you ignore them. Anyway, hope that doesn’t discourage more visitors from coming to Brazil;
    Abraรงos from Sao Paulo
    Jonas

    1. Maybe I am getting the names of these places wrong, but the market and Cathedral are 15 minutes walking distance apart according to Google Maps (just checked). I consider that pretty close and would make for a nice easy stroll if the area in between didn’t look so sketchy. I am not a local, so maybe you are right. But the large police presence and complete lack of tourists or “regular” people in that area made me think my gut instincts are correct – best to avoid the area. It also looks like the situation changes frequently, as pictures from 2022 didn’t look like what we saw this summer in August 2023.

      In my opinion, if you look around and see zombie-like, homeless, potentially drug addicted or mentally ill men (and nearly zero women) wandering and loitering, with trash lining the street, and zero “regular” people, it is a sign that the area may not be safe. There were plenty of nice areas in Sao Paulo worth a visit, I just would do some due diligence on particular spots and get ready to call another uber to GTFO if you feel unsafe.

      I really wish it was different, and I am confident things can get better over time. Just reporting what I saw in August 2023.

      1. haha, don’t need to be so polite. Downtown Sao Paulo can be intimidating and your gut was right. The crack-heads are everywhere in that area and it sure is very dangerous.
        Nevertheless, I noticed you didn’t do much down there. There are many places to go, do, eat very well and feel safe.
        Also, I’d say that you didn’t get a proper “churrasco” experience, let alone a rodizio one: the buffet restaurants with grilled meets are very popular and it seems that the food you got were pretty simple. Churrasco requires open fire and a pit. You defenitly could find a lot better options. Same thing with the mkt beverages and the aรงaรญ… really sorry you didn’t enjoy the best Brazil could offer you.

        1. We did more and ate more than just what was in these pictures. Probably had Acai from 3-4 different places? And other frozen fruit drinks of various types, and got the cachaca rum and mixed our own capirinhas, etc

          Also had a lot more steak than that at other restaurants while in Brazil ๐Ÿ™‚ and even more in Argentina. Kind of tired of steak after 2 months of all of that.

          1. Yeah Sao Paulo is like that. If you want to see a nicer part of Brazil you gotta go to the south. Santa Catarina and Hills of Rio Grande do Sul are unbelievable. Besides that state has the best churrasco in the whole world

  8. Thanks for the update. Looks like an amazing trip!
    With the bonus you received from switching the ETF to make up your income this month. Do they add that the to etf balance or a spendable cash bonus? I just wondered how that worked

    1. Most places pay the bonus into the IRA, so we could reinvest the $2500 into more ETFs in that case. With Wells Fargo, they paid the bonus straight into our Wells Fargo checking account as cash, so we can spend it. I assume we will get a 1099-MISC and end up paying taxes on that $2500 but it’s still relatively easy money!

  9. Are you grandfathered in for your redpocket phone deal or is it through a sponsorship? I don’t see those rates available on their website. Doctor of credit was reporting that the Capital one statement credit is changing to a coupon that you apply at purchase, does that change your opinion of the card going forward? How do you manage such low expenses for clothing? I know that you have mentioned thrift stores for a lot of purchases, but what about items that you can’t get used thru thrift stores, like socks etc. Are those just part of your walmart household expenditures and as such just not separated into the clothing category. I’ve gotten my expenses lower in that category, but still not at your family’s level of spending.

    1. Redpocket – they sell their cheaper plans on Ebay (with a SIM chip for free if you don’t already have a redpocket SIM chip). $30+tax for a 1 year basic plan, or you can buy a more expensive plan with more data. I am able to renew for a 2nd year directly at Redpocket now too.

      Capital One Venture X – Yes, the change makes the card slightly less attractive. I have not looked at the travel portal too closely to see if they have great deals on travel but from a quick glance it looks decent for rental cars and hotels (which we pay cash for fairly often). If you can use up $300/yr then it still seems like an almost-free high end premium credit card with a lot of benefits. And even paying $295 annual fee per year (net of $100 easy-to-use annual points credit), then it’s still a comparable price to Sapphire Reserve, Amex Platinum, etc premium cards. Ultimately, VentureX is for those that travel somewhat often. If you are a frequent traveler then it is worth jumping through their hoops, even with the slight degradation in their $300 travel credit.

      Socks/clothes/etc: yes, I am guilty of not being 100% accurate when I split up “Walmart” purchases. The $14 bag of socks or underwear from Walmart end up lumped into “general merchandise” or “groceries” all too often. Back to school clothes shopping, or summertime clothes shopping = those are always over $100 so they are split out and included as “clothing/shoes” category purchases.

  10. I can’t believe your kids are in college already. I guess I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time!

    It will be interesting to see if your travel ramps up after you become empty-nesters.

    I read about a guy who lived on a cruise ship for about $3k per month and was intrigued, but I could not duplicate that experience when I ran the numbers. It must have been a product of some very dirt cheap post covid cruise fares.

    Which US Bank cards did you unload? I just opened an Altitude Connect, but I’ve wondered if it makes sense to keep it. It comes with four free priority pass entrances per year. I used $28 at an airport restaurant during a work layover and also went to the club for free breakfast for the flight home on my last work trip, and I’ll get the $30 annual streaming credit..still not sure if it’s worth it though. I’ve kept the Cash+ around for a while. Not sure how much longer I’ll want to do the working thing. The numbers fluctuate between 3-4 years for the 4% rule – but my portfolio is so equity heavy that the calculations could easily change.

    It’s pretty sweet that you can continue to bring in $500/mo from the current schedule of one new post per month. I guess all the hard work early on paid off!

    1. Re: empty nester travel – we will probably travel a bit more I would guess. Still 6 more years until our youngest kid is in college, so we may have a while to wait. And our travel will probably change – more trips during the year and maybe not as long during the summertime.

      Cruises can be pretty cheap but the best I could expect during off season is about $60-70/day per person for 2 of us including the semi-mandatory gratuities. Still not bad for room, board, and most transportation.

      US bank cards I dumped: All business cards. 3x leverage cards (annual fee kicks in after 1 year). Just churnin’ on those ๐Ÿ™‚

      Not sure about that Altitude card if it’s worth it. I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve so I can get me+2 guests into the priority pass restaurants. Made good use of that coming home from Miami and snagged 3 steak and eggs to go and ate them at home later.

      1. Interesting re: Sapphire Reserve. I’ve actually never had that card – when it first came out with the sweet 100k bonus, I was over 5/24, and after the 4 year wait to be eligible again, I picked up a Preferred as it seemed better value for a similar bonus with a much lower fee.

        Do you have any other annual fee cards that are perma-keeps besides Sapphire Reserve and Venture X ?

        1. No, those 2 are the only ones I see value in. Some claim Amex Platinum is a keeper but I hate the “coupon book” nature of the benefits and the annual fee is really really high. The biggest benefit is the Centurion lounges but I really don’t fly enough to make good use of them, especially since I can’t get any guests in, and I rarely fly alone so it’s nearly useless.

          1. How are you finding the ongoing value out of the Sapphire Reserve? It looks like there’s a $300 travel credit and a $550 fee. The other credits seem a bit coupon book like (Doordash, Instacart, etc)
            Do you use the PP airport restaurants enough to justify paying the delta between the annual fee and the travel credit?

            1. I treat it as a $250 annual fee net of the travel credit (you can make a dummy booking, get $300 credit, then cancel and keep the credit). I finally signed up for the doordash free $5/month coupon 3 months ago so I’ll get a free jumbo beef burrito combo plate once every quarter. So basically $0 value if I round down. ๐Ÿ™‚

              PP restaurant access with Chase – we used it once for the family in 2023 and got $70 worth of airport food (3 steak and egg breakfast trays from MIA’s Corona Beach House). We could have used it once more for 3-4 burger combo meals but just went to a lounge instead. So not a lot of value there on average. Perhaps we use it 2-3x total during 2024 and we get $100-150 of value?

              The real benefit is the 1.5x Ultimate Reward redemption and travel partner transfers. We paid $2500 for cruise taxes and prepaid gratuities a month ago using Chase UR points. The 1.5x redemption was 200,000 UR pts vs 166,667 UR Pts if we were to use Sapphire Preferred. So we saved 33k UR pts by having the Sapphire Reserve. Those points are worth $500 in free travel, so it effectively “pays” the $250 net annual fee each year if we keep on taking 1 or more cruise annually and use Chase UR pts to redeem. I’ve also booked a few hotels for this spring and summer at 1.5x (but it seems like it’s closer to 1.4-1.45x redemption because I could get slightly cheaper hotels booking directly with cash).

              The transfer benefit is hard to value, but I can shift our 1 million or more UR points to Hyatt, Southwest, United, etc pretty quickly to snag some valuable points redemptions on airlines and hotels. Those typically work out to 1.5x to 3x value on the points (vs cashing out at 1 cent per point).

            2. That’s badass! I’m surprised that you are willing to risk selling tradelines on Chase. ๐Ÿ˜€

              Are you going to start playing the CC games with P3 and P4 for your older kids? Build their credit while amassing even more signup bonuses? ๐Ÿ™‚

            3. I’m rolling the dice but hopefully it works out ๐Ÿ™‚

              So far no P3/P4 for the kids but maybe we’ll ramp that up eventually? Problem right now is that there’s not much income for them. And P3 did get denied on a Chase Freedom app about a year ago (soon after turning 18) so she’s 0 for 1 so far in this game ๐Ÿ™‚ She’s been on several of my long-credit history cards for a long time so hopefully that has helped boost her credit history too.

  11. First time reader, found u via the Frugalwoods. Love reading your post about the different life in the US. Australia here, retired at 55, been 10 years now. Solar here is a bonus for saving on electricity bills. First 1.5kW system in 2007 paid for itself under 2 years. The current 10kW system which was installed in 2018 has paid for itself but with increased administration charges and falling feed in tariff means we will likely face $50/ month charges over summer.
    Cannot believe the price you pay for electrical goods. A dishwasher for that price here would only be no name from Aldi and a television for that price would be the size would 25 inch.
    Here we budget for $75 000, living comfortably on 18 acres with a few cows, chickens and bees but not travel, cheaper to go overseas than domestic travel. Love the travel comments and reading about the different lifestyles around state taxes, property taxes, school fees. Same 2nd hand vehicle twice that price here, petrol now $2.21/litre. Only straight goods and services tax of 10% across Australia and income tax if earning above $18200 as well as council rates and service charges (water, sewerage and garbage) on unimproved value of land. Free hospitals and free primary to secondary schools. Different worlds, different journeys.

    1. Life here in the USA is pretty inexpensive. I think part of it is the huge size of our market in the USA. For example, our dishwasher was manufactured here in North Carolina just 100 miles away, so the transport costs are small compared to importing stuff to an island nation.

  12. Hey there – I always read your blog on my phone, and the comments end up as a long string of letters if thereโ€™s an exchange that goes on for more than, say, four comments – wish I knew how to fix it! Iโ€™ve been meaning to mention it for years, haha!

    T
    H
    A
    N
    K
    S
    .
    .
    .

    1. It might be possible to set your phone web browser to “desktop” mode and it would render better? Not really sure to be honest, and I’m not a computer programmer with skills to tweak the code to get it to work unfortunately! ๐Ÿ™‚

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