December 2023 Early Retirement Update – Happy New Years Edition

Happy New Year and welcome back to another monthly update from Root of Good! We are back home from our Christmas cruise to South America and Central America. Right now we are cozied up and trying to make it through another month or so of winter weather. Fortunately it’s never that cold in North Carolina, so I can’t complain too much! 

Now that we are home, we are busily planning some trips for 2024. We have two cruises planned for the fall and we are about to book a bunch of accommodations for our nine week trip to Poland this summer. 

On to our financial progress. December was another phenomenal month for our finances. Our net worth skyrocketed by $149,000 to end the month at $2,966,000. Our income totaled an incredible $26,305, while our spending was in-line with our monthly budget at $3,428 for the month of December. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.



Investment income totaled $24,907 in December. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. The fourth quarter is always the largest quarterly distribution by far. As a result, we had a much larger than normal amount of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $560 for the month. This is the “new normal” for blog income since I only post on here about once per month. As you can see, our investment income dwarfs my meager blog income. Fortunately I don’t have to be a full time blogger and I can enjoy the early retired life instead! 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $555 in December which represents three hours of consulting. That’s not bad considering I was on vacation half the month. I just added a 3% inflation raise to my rates for 2024. 


Cruise pic time! Beautiful view from port. The Miami skyline at night as the moon sets over the buildings.


Tradeline sales income totaled $200 in December. It’s nice to see this income stream come back after a few slow months. 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

For December, my “deposit income” of $32 came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the and 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!)

In December, I gained $50 from a credit card cashback promotion for a travel booking. I ended up cancelling the travel booking but the $50 cashback stayed in my credit card account. Lucky me! 

Youtube income was $0 in December. 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 two or 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 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.


Before we went out of town, we had a little birthday get together with my parents and a family friend over shooting archery. Great weather for December!


Imported from Mexico tres leches “birthday” cake. Only $20 at Sam’s Club and worth every penny.



Now let’s take a look at December expenses:

In total, we spent $3,428 during December which is about $100 more than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Taxes and groceries were the two highest categories of spending in December. 


Detailed breakdown of spending:


Taxes – $1,779:

My annual property tax bill came due in December. I actually paid about $2,200 in property taxes but $450 of that was paid using a rewards debit card from our health insurance company. So the net out of pocket for the tax bill was $1,779. 


Groceries – $735:

Grocery spending was slightly less than normal because we were gone on vacation for two weeks. I also bought $280 worth of Lidl gift cards since I had some promotions on my credit cards where I get 10% off purchases at Lidl (up to $7 per card, times 4 cards). So I’ll be spending that Lidl gift card over the next month or two. 

As part of the “grocery” spending, we bought six liters of liquor on the cruise last month. It was significantly cheaper than at the liquor store in Raleigh (and tax free!) so we stocked up on some goodies! 


A big ole tray of delicious NC pulled pork barbeque. Fallin’ off the bone. So good and the crazy part is that it’s $0.99/lb at the grocery store but magically jumps to $15-20/lb at a barbeque restaurant. When we roast 20 lbs of raw pork shoulder, we end up with at least 10 lbs of cooked bbq (after all the fat and juices drain out and we discard the bones and eat a pound or so while we process it). 


Travel – $622:

We spent $363 last month on annual fees for our credit cards:

We’ll end up getting a lot of benefits out of these three cards, so I don’t mind paying an annual fee when it leads to a really good deal.

I consider these annual fees to be “travel expenses” because they directly lead to the points and miles and status that gets us “free” travel. Well, almost free, other than these annual fees. 


Free Cruises!

The Wyndham Earner Business card gets us Wyndham Diamond status which is a stepping stone to Caesar’s Diamond status and a whole bunch of other benefits like free hotel stays, free meals, and free-ish cruises. Nick at the Frequent Miler travel hacking blog has a great summary of what I’ve been up to with this new credit card. Dave at the MilesTalk blog also goes in depth on these free casino/cruise deals from status matches.

I just want to warn you that if you click on those links you’ll be going down a big deep huge rabbit hole. Exactly the kind of thing I enjoy! It’s a lot of reading and a lot of work but conservatively worth $10,000-20,000 of free cruises and other travel perks. 

We just booked two “free” 14-night cruises on Holland America using this casino status match travel hack. We saved $4,500 on the base fare on those two cruises. But we still had to pay about $2,500 in taxes, fees, and pre-paid gratuities. But that’s it for those 2 cruises unless we opt to pay for extras while on board.

I used 165,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points (keep reading to find out how to get these) to pay the $2,500 in taxes/fees/gratuities, so there really was no out-of-pocket expenses for 28 days worth of cruises for two of us. And once on the boat, we get $200 in free play at the casino plus free drinks for both of us any time we’re playing (or “playing”) in the casino. Cha-ching! 

The tentative plan is to use United and Southwest miles to get free flights to the departure points. And I will use Wyndham and Marriott points to get a free hotel night before each of the cruises. 


First port of call for our Christmas cruise was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We’ve been here half a dozen times so we just enjoyed a walk in the mild Caribbean winter weather along the beach road.


Other Travel Spending from December

On the 11 night cruise to South America and Central America, we spent a total of $248:

  • gratuities (mostly offset by onboard credits) – $103
  • Panama Canal Entrance fees – USD $35
  • Souvenirs – $20
  • Rental car from West Palm Beach to Miami plus gas – $65
  • Uber in all the ports and in Florida – $0 (I had $75 of free Uber credits from a Clear promotion)
  • A rescue from a nice lady (mil gracias a ti, Aida!) that took pity on us when no ubers or taxis were available at the Panama Canal when the visitors center closed – USD $25 cash gift as a “thank you” for taking us ~40 minutes back to the ship

We paid the cruise fare of roughly $2,400 for the four of us about a year ago using Chase Ultimate Reward points. 

Flights were all free using Southwest points (plus a few bucks in taxes we paid over the past few months). We stayed at a Sheraton in Ft. Lauderdale before the cruise (booked for free using 14,400 Marriott Bonvoy points). 

It goes without saying that this was a fantastic vacation at a phenomenal value. I cannot describe how nice it is to be lying on a beach on Christmas day while enjoying the perfectly mild Caribbean weather. It was a little sad to miss the extended family gathering back home in Raleigh, but overall the cruise was very enjoyable for us and the kids. 

In other travel spending, I spent $11 on taxes for a pair of Southwest tickets for Mrs. Root of Good and I, plus a few thousand Southwest points. I obtained my Southwest Companion Pass (more on that below) in early January and I’m already using it to get free companion tickets for Mrs. Root of Good when I book a paid ticket using my Southwest points. All we have to pay for her flights are the $5.60 airport taxes for each ticket (more taxes for international flights). 


Cartagena, Colombia was our second port of call on the cruise. I was looking forward to this stop as we’ve never been to Colombia before. The historic center of town was pretty cool. However, it was overrun with touts selling all kinds of trinkets, drinks, and snacks unfortunately.


The cruise port itself was interesting in its own way. Parrots, other tropical birds, peacocks, monkeys, an anteater, and a giant tortoise all roam around the expansive tree-filled passenger port complex. It’s the nicest port complex by far that I’ve ever visited.


“OMG there’s a monkey! Wait what is that?! An anteater?!”


Peacocks showing off their colors.


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 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be redeemed instantly for $750 in cash. Mrs. Root of Good and I each picked up another new Chase Ink card a few days ago. The bonuses keep on rolling in the door!

For about a day after this blog post goes live, you still may be able to get a 90,000/$900 point sign up bonus if you find a link for the higher offer. Or go through my referral link, guaranteed to get at least 75k points/$750, then ask Chase to match you to the 90,000 point offer (an extra 15k points). 

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 my two fall cruises. Or I can transfer those Ultimate rewards points to over a dozen travel partners’ airline/hotel programs like United, Southwest, or Hyatt. 


The next port of call on our cruise was Colon, Panama. We visited the Atlantic locks of the Panama Canal. This was a “bucket list” item for me, so I was absolutely thrilled to get to see this up close and in person. This one feat of civil engineering shaves about 12,000 miles off the maritime route from the east coast of the USA to the west coast.


Southwest Companion Pass deal – time to act now!

I picked up a pair of Chase Southwest cards during November. I timed my spending on these cards to trigger the sign up bonuses in the first part of January 2024, and thereby earned a Southwest Companion pass in early January that will be valid through December 2025. The Companion Pass is valid for the year you earn it plus the following calendar year.

The Companion Pass basically grants a free flight for your companion when you book flights for yourself (with points OR with cash). This means Mrs. Root of Good is flying free with me on Southwest for all of 2024 and 2025! 

Right now is a great time to get these cards since you’ll get almost two full years of the Companion Pass. 

Note that these cards have an annual fee (but they offer a lot of free points each cardmember anniversary so it offsets about half the annual fee). And you can apply for both cards on the same day if you want. 

Referral links if you’re interested:

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business card – 80,000 SW miles ($199 annual fee) – select the “Performance business” card option

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card – 50,000 SW miles ($69 annual fee)

For $268 in annual fees, we’ll get ~130,000 SW miles (plus an extra 10,000 mile head start toward the Companion Pass qualification), and the Companion Pass that offers buy-one-get-one-free Southwest flights for 2 years. Just pay taxes on the free ticket (usually $5.60 per one way segment in the USA). That’s about $3,600 worth of free flights for the two of us. 


After Panama, we stopped in Limon, Costa Rica for a short visit to the city around the port.


The main attraction for me was spotting a couple of wild sloths that live in the trees in the central park near the cruise dock.


More Root of Good articles on cruising:

  1. Going on a Cruise Part 1 – Overview 
  2. Going on a Cruise Part 2 – Getting the best deal on a cruise
  3. Going on a Cruise Part 3 – Save on board and on transportation 
  4. Going on a Cruise Part 4 – The Food


Utilities – $269:

We spent $186 on our water/sewer/trash bill. A small part of that was prepayment for the month of January.

The natural gas bill, which provides heating and hot water, totaled $84 for last month. We used the heat some since it started to get colder last month.

I paid the electricity bill in the first few days of January so I’ll be paying two electric bills next month. 


Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $0:

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 about $34 in premiums per month. We picked a plan from Truassure through the 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.

I guess December was kind of hectic and I don’t think we ever paid a dental insurance bill for January, 2024 and I am just now realizing that. The account is set to auto-pay but there must be a problem somewhere in the insurer’s system. So maybe we do have insurance, and maybe we don’t! 


While on the cruise, we had four full days at sea where we got to relax and bum around the boat all day.


What better way to pass the time than scarfing down some surf and turf for dinner? I keep on trying lobster and I have decided that I just don’t like it all that much. I’ll stick with the turf and leave the surf for others (but keep the shrimp coming!)


Most nights found us in this secluded hot tub secreted away on Deck 16 at the top of the ship, all the way in the back. We only had to share the hot tub on two occasions, having it all to ourselves the other half dozen times.


Gas – $20:

A tank of gas for our new car totaled $20. The new car is more fuel efficient so we should spend a little less on gas.


Automotive – $6:

The new car’s check engine light came on during December. Uh oh! I bought a bluetooth OBD2 code reader for $6 from Ebay so I could check on the error code(s). After checking the code, I reset the check engine light and it hasn’t come back on yet.

Google says the problem might be nothing and never come back, or a faulty $100-200 oxygen sensor replacement, or a brand new $1,000 catalytic converter. The car just ticked over 100,000 miles so it’s probably due for some random major failure by this point in its lifespan. 


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”. 


Our next port of call after Panama was Mahogany Bay in Roatan, Honduras. We spent Christmas day at a really stunning beach with perfect blue Caribbean water.



Spending for All 12 Months of 2023


We spent $37,865 throughout 2023. This annual spending is about $2,100 less than our $40,000 annual early retirement budget. Another great year! 

The biggest single purchase of 2023 was our new (to us) 2017 Hyundai Accent that was over $9,000. It turns out that our new car purchase didn’t throw our annual spending off by very much since we ended 2023 just under our annual budget target. 

Looking back at our 2023 spending, I see that our extensive travels didn’t cost as much as it does some years, in spite of spending roughly three months out of the country during the year. We spent the summer in Argentina and Brazil, two great budget-friendly travel destinations.

Travel hacking well over $10,000 worth of benefits every year certainly helps keep travel spending to a minimum. The flights and Airbnbs for our 2024 summer trip would have been almost $15,000 if we paid cash. Instead, I used a combo of airline and Chase Ultimate Reward points to get nearly free flights (just pay a little taxes) plus thousands of dollars worth of Airbnb gift cards for free. 


Monthly Expense Summary for 2023:


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


Our last port of call before returning to Miami was at Ocean Cay in the Bahamas. This is MSC Cruises’ private island located a mere 60 miles from Miami. Somehow I got sunburned sitting in the shade underneath this palm tree.


Another beautiful beach day at Ocean Cay, Bahamas. Although with the stiff breeze blowing, it was almost chilly at times! 


Net Worth: $2,966,000 (+$149,000)

December brought us another six figure gain of $149,000 which adds to a six figure gain in November to bring our year end 2023 net worth total to $2,966,000.

The $3 million mark remains elusive but I think 2024 might be the year we finally cross that threshold. We got very close during December 2023 but couldn’t quite make it all the way. 

In real terms, we’re still down slightly from a couple of years ago after adjusting out net worth for inflation. However, we are objectively doing very well. Our annual spending is just over 1% of our total investment portfolio. We could double our spending and be totally okay long term. I don’t have any plans to do so immediately, but I’m also not in super frugal mode like I was 10 years ago. 



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.


Fun little Christmas gingerbread village on the cruise.


We’ve sailed on MSC Cruises so much that I’ve earned Diamond status in their MSC Voyagers Club loyalty program. One of the perks is a free visit to their upcharge steakhouse on board. We got a pair of filet mignon steaks and all the fixings, appetizers, and deserts. Usually it’s $100 for a couple but it was free with my Diamond status benefits. The steak was pretty good – a step up from the normal cruise dining room steak and on par with some of the better steaks we ate in Argentina last summer. 


Life update

Wow, what a year! We had a great one here at the Root of Good house. Plenty of travel and good times. Lots of relaxation, reading, reflection, and Netflix. Nothing really bad happened. No complaints from me! 

Our kids are growing up quickly, with the oldest two kids roughly halfway done with college. Our middle kid just passed her drivers license exam and now she can drive to college instead of having her parents take her there each day. She has a full day of classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so she camps out at school for about 11 hours while attending her classes scattered throughout the day. That new car purchase last year is proving very helpful for our family! 

For us parents, this newfound mobility means our schedule just got freed up a little bit more during the week. So far we have a slow spring scheduled without a lot of travel but I think we’ll end up taking a few trips before our big June to August summer trip. We just cancelled our tentatively planned trip to Phoenix and New Orleans for next week because we’re all recovering from some kind of illness that was probably the flu. It seems like everyone is catching this bug this winter. Not fun! 

I’m excited to see what 2024 has in store for us and our family. Cheers to all my readers and best wishes as we make our way through the new year! 


Who’s ready for another month of cold weather?!


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    1. Nice! Let me know if you end up pursuing the free cruises. Atlantic City in-person visit is sort of required to max out all the benefits and it’s a good time to do it starting March 1st (to get 2 years of benefits out of one of the status matches). And that’s not a horribly long drive from where you are.

      1. Interesting, I didn’t think the Atlantic City was necessary for the cruises. I thought you just have the cruise lines match your Caesars status which is matched from the Wyndham card?

        1. Yes, you can match to Carnival/Holland/Princess (if you have not cruised previously with them) just by uploading a screen shot of your Caesar’s card (and can match to that online with the Wyndham Biz Earner card).

          For the free MSC cruise, you have to go to Atlantic City. And the AC trip gets you some freebies in addition (2 free nights later on in AC at Ocean, 2 nights at Resorts World in Vegas, hundred(s) in free play and dining credits, maybe some more free nights at Hard Rock AC)

          For me, on the east coast, an AC trip isn’t too bad or expensive. West coast folks, I’m not sure if it’s worth it. Maybe it is? 10 night totally free oceanview cabin on a MSC cruise for 2 including port taxes/fees. Just pay tips. Pretty easy $2k+ value especially considering you can take the cruises during peak season when rates can be $200+/person/nt.

          1. Good to know. I wonder if my teenage years of cruising of Princess and HAL would DQ me from getting free cruises from them. Carnival I have definitely done as an adult, and definitely haven’t gambled.

            Josh seems to be getting free Royal Caribbean cruises over and over, I guess from gambling enough.

            1. Hard to know for sure if that will disqualify you. I think Royal Caribbean has a 5 year no-cruise requirement to get an initial status match cruise. Have not seen any data published for Princess/HAL about that. But I know Princess denied me a match even though I last cruised with them slightly over 5 years ago. I followed up and mentioned it’s been over 5 years and just got a standardized response (another denial). But perhaps 10-15 years since your last P/HAL cruise could be long enough?

              Honestly the barrier to entry is fairly low ($95 annual fee on the Wyndham biz card and it doesn’t even hit your 5/24 status). And you get enough hotel pts from that card to kind of make it a decent value. I redeemed for 2 hotel nights so far that would cost $200+/nt each and I still have almost half the points from the sign up bonus. Hotels kind of suck in general with Wyndham but they are good enough if you just need a comparatively cheap place to sleep for the night (pre-cruise for us in NYC and Vancouver where cash rates are UGLY).

  1. Love these posts. So interesting and inspiring how much you do as a family and what you spend. I have been back to detailing our spending for 2 of us for the last three years and I shock myself. If we don’t count our trips, our total annual spending has been $13k, $19k (significant upgrades to some equipment) and $15k. Love how you show how you all make conscious choices that give you so many experiences.

  2. While not a cruise person, I do appreciate your updates and travel hacks. Very impressive.

    While I doubt anything would happen, you may want to remove a reference to importing alcohol to NC as the state has strict limits. I investigated while considering my options at an out of state Costco.

    1. It appears that in 2022, the State of NC repealed that law restricting the importation of liquor into the state to a maximum of 4 liters. That section is repealed in full so it appears that there is no limit now.

      Also worth pointing out to any lawmen looking to retire early, that I only imported 3 liters and my wife only imported 3 liters, to the extent that any liquor was in fact imported at all (this is neither an admission or denial of any fact or allegation of course). It is entirely possible that I have fabricated the story of purchasing liquor completely!

      1. That is very handy to know! My outdated knowledge of NC liquor law may or may not have changed my plans to import what would be a year’s worth of liquor…

  3. Having just experienced 3 days of below zero temperatures, those warm sunny beaches look pretty nice. We also took advantage of the Southwest Airlines credit card companion pass deal.

    1. Ouch! Yes, defrosting in the tropics in the middle of winter was certainly nice. Now we are in the worst month of cold here in NC but it’ll be in the 70’s for a few days this week fortunately. Hopefully won’t be too humid.

  4. Glad you are able to enjoy all the vacations, especially cruising, which we only started doing about four years ago. Already at Diamond status on Carnival so we do get some good perks like priority embarkation/debarkation, so I understand the appeal of the levels. BTW, I would add another couple of words to your casino comment of playing (or “playing”), namely “being played”. TBH, I just never understood the appeal and we spent a lot of time over the years in Vegas and other big casino locales, but I never gambled then or now. A couple of lottery tickets now and then are my biggest vice.

    As for the oxygen sensor as the potential cause of your check engine light condition, they are cheap and usually quite easy to replace (they should be less than the $1-200 you referenced; when I have gotten them off Amazon in the past they were more like $25-30. Even with inflation they should still be somewhat reasonable). I am sure YT has a video or two for that vehicle you can quickly peruse. Best wishes.

    1. Gambling – I don’t really gamble either. At least not at games where I am expected to lose. Just never understood the appeal. Losing money (on average) is no fun!

      O2 sensor – I know they’re pretty cheap to DIY replace. I may see how hard it is to do so on my specific car (if the Check Engine Light ever comes back on). But I try to outsource car maintenance beyond the incredibly simple stuff. Trying to spend all this hard-earned money!!! 🙂

  5. I need to hop aboard the free cruises train. Evidently if you gamble (lose?) the right amount on the cruises – you’ll continue to be targeted with additional free cruises. 🙂

    1. That’s what they say. I’m really tempted to gamble some and lose a bit ($200?) and see what happens with future offers. I know it’s all about average play and average time spent playing to calculate your theoretical loss which comps are based on.

      Just not sure it’s worth gambling $200 in losses to see if I get more free cruise offers ha ha ha.

  6. Thanks, always enjoy these updates. But I sure wish you could find a new host for your blog. Almost impossible to figure out how to stop tracking cookies, and invariably reloads your blog before I finish 🤷‍♂️

    1. It’s probably the WordPress software that most blogs use. And there are tons of compliance rules (that I hate!) internationally that makes it much worse for your average internet user. I am frustrated by having to click 2-3 times on every website I go to in order to be able to read anything.

  7. I recently started following these posts and love them! It is so interesting to see how much you are all able to do as a family. Thanks for sharing them!

    1. Pork shoulder in the oven at 350 till it falls off the bone. The marinade is brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, black pepper, pepper flakes. Just rub it around on there and put it in the oven till it’s fallin’ off the bone!

  8. I enjoy reading your post: So two questions. What Index funds provide such high dividends these days?
    Seems like you are always getting a new credit card for some type of an offer. Doesn’t having all these credit cards impact your credit score and thus ability to keep getting new cards?

    1. Probably the international index funds. They ramp up dividends when earnings are higher.

      New credit cards – a new card takes off about 5 points initially but it recovers quickly, and more credit helps with credit utilization ratios. Long term I have not noticed any problems getting new cards as I’ve been doing this for decades now.

      1. Hi Justin,

        I also have a question about all these new cards. Mainly about all the annual fees. My mental model for how these new cards with annual fees work is that you are essentially getting a huge discount for travel benefits. You get $1000-3000 in travel benefits and you may only pay a $95 annual fee for a few years, which means you got thousands in travel at a supreme discount. You obviouslly travel quite a bit so getting such a good deal on travel benefits makes a lot of sense.

        My question is about having so many cards though. After you’ve had a card 3-4 years and you already used the travel benefits, do you product change and downgrade? Cancel it? Keep it and continue to pay the annual fee? Do you end up with 20 cards you pay the annual fee on (but still worth it because you got 10’s of thousands in travel benefits, not to mention tradelines?)

        I don’t travel often so I just downgraded my only annual fee card to a no fee card. Now I just have 4 cards with no fees. But unless I plan on spending tons of money on travel, I don’t see myself signing up for a lot more cards any time soon. Because otherwise the annual fees will eat into the sign-up bonuses.

        1. I only keep annual fee cards for the 1st year, then cancel around the 12 month mark. Unless they are “keepers”, then I’ll pay the annual fee if the benefits are so great that it’s worth keeping the card long term. So far the only cards I have in my “keeper” category are:
          -Chase Sapphire Reserve (Annual fee is around $250 net of a $300 travel credit; I pay the annual fee with my Ultimate Reward points)
          -Capital One VentureX (Annnual fee is roughly $0 after factoring in $400 of travel credits)
          -Wyndham Earners Business Card x2 ($95 annual fee each, but I get status with Caesars that I can match to get free cruises and other benefits; also get 15k Wyndham points which is easily worth a $100-200 hotel night each year)

          Everything else, I just cancel as soon as I can. There are a few other hotel cards I may end up getting that give you more points each year than the cost of the annual fee. It’s like paying $75-100/yr annual fee for a “free” hotel room that would cost me $100-200/nt or more potentially.

          If I didn’t travel much, it probably wouldn’t be worth keeping any of these cards I have.

  9. I always enjoy these updates! I haven’t been on a cruise yet, but that does look a nice way to vacation in the winter.

  10. Enjoying the posts as always, and especially how y’all do it so frugally. I am well down the rabbit hole. I just got the Capital One Venture card, so I am working on the introductory spend for the 75k points. Recently retired early, I am typing this from our AirBnB in Puerto Morelos. Like the rest of the world, inflation has hit hard also in Mexico. But it’s still pretty awesome being here for 3 weeks just enjoying the warm weather and the water of El Mar Caribe. Thanks as always for the inspiration for the FIRE community.

      1. It is definitely much calmer here. We did a day trip to Playa del Carmen 2 weeks ago, and frankly we’d be fine not going back. That day 5 cruise ships were in Cozumel with lots of ferry traffic to Playa. We could hardly wait to get back to Puerto Morelos where it was not so hectic. Easy to walk everywhere; they have lots of beach clubs, restaurants along the main road that is pedestrian only in the evening, a good grocery store. So yeah life is pretty good down here. Sadly, inflation has hit the whole word, and Mexico is no exception.

        1. Yeah I bet it turns crazy once all those cruise ships show up. And the inflation down there is partly caused by a strong peso. It was 20 to the dollar last time we were down there, and it was as high as 22 soon after that. Now it’s closer to 17 so you’ve lost about 15-25% of your purchasing power in USD compared to the best exchange rate in recent times. Plus the underlying inflation of course that we’ve all felt. No more tasty meat-filled street tacos for 10 pesos!

  11. Hi Justin,
    Can you elaborate on what percentage of your portfolio is in 401k’s (which I assume do NOT earn any dividends) ?

    1. Almost zero in 401k at the moment. I fund a little to my 401k each year from Root of Good earnings, but the % is always small. Most of my investments do pay dividends which is why my div earnings are so high.

  12. Little things do add up. You’re always an inspiration. Extremely brilliant to keep average annual spend well below $3000 per year for over a decade with 3 beautiful kids
    Keep going like this always

  13. I have 4 free cruises booked this year and just got back from our free stay at Resorts world. My $100 free play became $136 in real money. Did the free nights at AC back in October at the Hard Rock. Didn’t make it to Oceans for the free stay there. I just retired at the end of December, so ramping up the travel plans and doing all the travel hacking. My SW companion pass should be issued in February. My old one ended in December. Love this travel hacking stuff.

  14. Wow so your net worth doubled after retiring 10 years ago and following the 4% rule? That’s awesome! Have you thought of spending more (per Die with Zero Book)?

    1. Yes, net worth has roughly doubled in 10 years. I did have a bit of earned income from the blog and a couple of little side hustles so I’m not pulling a full 4% from my portfolio. And inflation has been worse than average, so I don’t really have 2x the spending power as when I first retired.

      No plans to ramp up spending to 2x what we initially budgeted. But we are spending more liberally and will continue to do so. If I blow right through my $40k budget, that is totally fine.

    1. The list so far:

      Southeast Rural / Zakopane
      Jelenia Góra (SW mountains)
      Zielona Góra/Międzyrzecki

      Basically a week long stay in most of the big cities and 3-7 days in most of the other places. A few 1-2 night stays in the mix just for convenience and to break up long driving days. 65 days in total.

  15. I’ve travel-hacked the crap outta flights and hotels…but just recently my oldest (12) started asking about cruises.

    This comes at a perfect time!

    I haven’t been down the status match rabbit hole…but have a feeling I’m about to go “all-in”

    Hardest part is getting my family of 6 in a room. Probably need to book 2.

    (p.s. sent a referral to your early retirement consulting, hope they reach out soon.)

    (p.p.s. long time, no chat. Glad to see you’re doing well!)

    1. For a family of 6, yes you are looking at 2 cabins. 2 adults in 1 cabin and the 4 kids in the 2nd cabin. Very often the 3rd/4th passenger sails “free” (just pay taxes/port fees) or cheap, especially if they are kids. If you do the casino status match route, then you and your wife can each get a free cruise on the same ship/sailing date and then just add your 2 extra kiddos to 1 of the reservations and pay a bit extra (probably $200-400 extra per kid but really depends on a lot of factors).

      The free cruises are a pretty great deal for families that might be stuck traveling during summertime or spring break because many of the free cruises are bookable during those peak seasons, when cash rates often go up 2-4x.

      1. Great tips, thanks! I’m halfway down the rabbit hole with Frequent Miler, looks like I need to get ramped up. I’ve paused credit cards while applying for a mortgage, though, so not until later this year.

        1. There are some changes year to year in this casino match-free cruise hustle but hopefully there will still be some low hanging fruit left for you when you’re ready to take advantage of the opportunities.

  16. Hi Justin,
    I am always excited to read your monthly updates. I would like to know the percentage of home value on your Net Worth.

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