August 2019 Financial Update – Back to School Edition

Here we are days away from the official start of fall. We are fully recovered from our eight week vacation in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. After we landed in Raleigh, we were immediately busy with back to school shopping for supplies and clothes and several rounds of school orientations now that each of our kids attend a different school. Throw a teenager’s birthday party/sleepover into the mix and it made for a very busy August. 

Now that the kids are back in school, the adults of the Root of Good household get to take a breather. Our daily schedule shifts from the summertime routine of waking up, touring temples and palaces, and gorging on street food to the school year routine of waking up, walking one kid to school, then returning home to sip coffee for as long as we want.   

Financially, last month was a mixed bag. Our net worth dropped by $34,000 to end the month at $2,078,000. Income was better than average at $3,968 while expenses remained modest at $1,995 for the month of August. Any month where income greatly exceeds expenses is a win as far as I’m concerned. Small fluctuations in the stock market don’t mean anything in terms of long term financial success for early retirement.

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Cracking $2 Million: November 2017 Financial Update

Where did the year go? As I write this we are less than four weeks from 2018! Time flies when you are having fun.  As usual, November weather has been beautiful here in North Carolina and we have enjoyed many nice days outside.  Now that December is here, it’s starting to feel more like winter with the short days and frost on the ground for a brief time span some mornings.

Big news on the financial front.  In November, our net worth smashed through the big $2 million dollar mark!  Our net worth climbed $33,000 to close the month at $2,011,000.  Income remained strong at $3,228 while expenses increased to $2,857 (still within budget though).  To summarize: we are doing okay financially.

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Costco Costs More: A Cautionary Tale of Bulk Buying Gone Wrong

Every year or two I revisit my assumption that I’m spending my money in an optimal way.  Sometimes this means shopping my home and auto policies to several new insurers to make sure I’m getting the best rates available. More recently, I questioned whether I could save money by buying in bulk at Costco or by shifting more grocery spending to Target or Walmart.

Enter the cost comparison.  During September and October 2017 I stealthily visited five stores near me in the Raleigh area to check prices on sixteen different staple foods.  I chose Trader Joes, Costco, Walmart, Aldi, and Target.

Going into the experiment, I assumed Walmart and Aldi would be the cheapest, with Target slightly more expensive than those two.  Costco would come in fourth place while Trader Joe’s would stand out as the most expensive.  This was exactly the results of my study (with the exception that Target was noticeably more expensive compared to Aldi/Walmart).  Walmart was the cheapest while Trader Joe’s was the most expensive with the other stores falling in between in the predicted order.

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How to Pay for College while Early Retired

One of the top questions I’m asked when people see “retired at 33 with 3 kids” is “yeah, but what about college?”. The truth is I never really gave it a lot of thought because the total cost is well into the future (though closing in fast for our oldest kid) and not huge relative to our total net worth. I had a very vague goal of being able to cover the tuition and fees for four years of in-state tuition for all three kids.

We funneled some cash into 529 accounts when North Carolina offered a tax credit for doing so. We earned a $350 tax credit for contributing $5,000 per year to the 529. When that tax credit was eliminated, I stopped contributing to the 529s and stopped thinking about college funding. Paying tens of thousands of dollars for college is no biggie when you have a million or two, right?

It turns out my lazy attitude toward college funding won’t spell disaster for my children’s higher education future. Between what we have saved in 529s, our large investment portfolio, and a plethora of other funding sources, the kids will be perfectly fine when the college tuition bills start piling up. You’ll have to read on to find out why I’m so confident (or is it cocky?).

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Climbing The Roth IRA Conversion Ladder To Fund Early Retirement

I want to tell you a story about accessing tax-deferred funds in an IRA or 401k before age 59.5 without paying a penalty. But first I’m going full out White Fang on you.

A trapped animal will do just about anything to get free. When you get caught, normal rules of comportment and demeanor are sloughed off to make room for the demands of the primordial will to live. It’s all about survival. Adrenaline rushing, pumping through arteries and veins, clouding the judgment and dulling the pain, the wild animal will chew it’s own leg off to disengage itself from a trap. It’s all about survival.

You’ll have to keep reading to figure out what this has to do with accessing tax deferred accounts without paying a 10% penalty.

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Our Bad Experience With AirBnB Rental Had A Happy Ending

While on our road trip through Canada, we rented a two bedroom apartment in Quebec City. The reviews at AirBnB were great and made the place sound clean and well-appointed. It had a large kitchen with plenty of room for us to cook. The living room was spacious and had enough seating for our family of five. The bedrooms had comfortable beds and plenty of linens.

Unfortunately, the apartment was filthy!

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Extreme Grocery Shopping Without Coupons

In a previous article, I shared one month of grocery purchases in great detail. On food items alone, we spent $448 for our family of five. For those that spend two or three times this amount, read on. I’m about to share how we keep grocery costs down without dumpster diving* or coupon clipping. We keep costs down yet eat a relatively varied diet filled with fresh produce, meats, and dairy.

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