Wow. Four months into early retirement! December was another very busy month in the Root of Good household. It’s usually a month filled with family, friends, and festivities. This December proved no different.
Our house has turned into party central for family gatherings. We invited Mrs. Root of Good’s side of the family to gather at our house for Christmas lunch. The weather cooperated and produced a slightly chilly but sunny day perfect for outside recreation. We gorged ourselves on excessive amounts of ham, veggies, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie. Mrs. RoG’s family tried to outdo my simple American fare by bringing their holiday favorites: spicy papaya salad, pad thai, egg rolls, and spring rolls.
Early Retirement: Month Four
If you want to see a full chronicle of my early retirement adventures, I produced summaries at one month, two months, and three months. It’s almost like a diary. But for grown men instead of little girls. Looking back at my previous updates, the same activities recur each month. Some have visions of early retirement that include grand goals like climbing mountains or hiking across the continent. For now, I’m content enjoying simple pursuits that I never really had time to explore in depth while working.
Here’s the four month update:
- French language studies at duolingo.com – I didn’t manage to complete any French lessons in December. The month was so full of fun holiday distractions and intellectual pursuits that I was too busy to complete a single French lesson. Hopefully I’ll find time in January to return to foreign language study. For some reason I have an urge to study German. Maybe the novelty of learning a new language will rekindle my interest.
- Blogging – Another decent month of blogging with eight articles released in December. It’s a nice hobby, and even better when it produces income. Revenue earned in November has finally started to flow into my checking account now.
- Exercise – Walking the kids to and from school every day means a built in 40+ minutes of moderate exercise five times per week. Since I have time to walk to the grocery store for shopping and to the library for my son’s story time, I occasionally hit three to five miles of walking each day. I asked the kids if they prefer walking to school or driving, and they both said they like walking. Even when it is slightly below freezing some mornings! All this walking with the kids will pay off when we go on vacation and find ourselves exploring new cities on foot. The kids are surprisingly whine-free compared to 99% of the other kids I have seen.
- Social – December was full of family gatherings, play dates with Mr. RoG Jr. and hosting friends for lunch or dinner at our house. One of the big concerns of prospective early retirees is that they will miss all the social interaction they enjoy at work. I haven’t felt socially isolated at all so far. Having kids, picking them up from school, and walking around the neighborhood creates a lot of casual social interaction. Kids are the magic social lubricant that makes you get out and meet other people. You get a few kids together for a play date and the parents hang out and socialize. It’s like a recipe for instant friend-making.
- Entertainment – I really indulged my reading addiction in December. I finished reading three books that were somehow related to Africa. For the curious, I read “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, and “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. I still feel a little guilty when I sit down and read for a few hours straight because I’m neglecting some other part of my life. Note to self: it’s okay to relax and indulge occasionally!
- Kids – Even though they are time sucks (in a good way), spending lots of quality time with them doesn’t suck at all! Since I started spending all day with Mr. RoG Jr. four months ago, I have noticed tons of subtle changes as he grows. Which makes the hard work of parenting all worthwhile.
- Oven update – For those that read my summary of early retirement month #3, you might recall that our 41 year old oven broke in November and we bought a new one. As it turns out, we didn’t receive the new oven for over a month because it was backordered. Now the new oven installation will be a January task. Using the broken oven to cook all the holiday meals was a bit tricky but we managed.
I still feel the need to be productive and efficient in what I set out to do each day. If I while away the morning playing with Mr. RoG Jr., then I feel bad in the afternoon when I realize I haven’t accomplished anything. I don’t know why this is the case, because I consider spending time with the little ones to be a valuable endeavor in itself. Maybe my internally imposed emphasis on productivity and trying to use each day to its fullest is a good thing? I just need to start thinking of “playing with the kids” as an important task. It’s okay to relax and enjoy life, right?
Under the old rules of the working life, I worked during the week and tried to do as little as possible on the weekends. The weekend effort at relaxation was usually stymied by those evil chores and errands that required my attention. Now that every day is a weekend, I know that attempting to do as little as possible means I’ll waste my life away. I’ll have to keep working on the fine balancing act between productivity and relaxation.
Whenever it gets chilly in North Carolina, I tend to get the travel bug. We still don’t have any travels planned or any particular dates picked out. But I have been exploring a few different ideas for cool places to visit. Our older kids’ summer camp enrollment forms are due at the end of the month, so hopefully this deadline will force our hand at making a decision on scheduling summer vacations. No more procrastination!
Time to make use of all the Starwood hotel points and airline frequent flyer miles I accumulated in 2013 and earlier. I have been thinking about getting a pair of Barclay’s Arrival cards for me and Mrs. Root of Good. The Barclay’s Arrival card is awesome because you get a bonus of 40,000 miles that you can redeem toward any $400 travel purchase. That means flights on any airline or rooms at any hotel brand. Or we can get $800 off a cruise ($400 for my card, $400 for Mrs. RoG’s card). To sweeten the deal, the card gives 2% in travel rewards on all purchases. I’m not sure where we are going yet, but I bet we won’t spend much out of pocket on the trip!
Income and Expenses
Here’s a look at the Root of Good household’s financial activity in December.
Personal Capital makes it really easy to take a quick look at my income and expenses, and then drill down to areas of spending that were unusually high. Keeping track of our investment portfolio takes two clicks and is incredibly easy with Personal Capital. If you haven’t signed up for the free Personal Capital service, check it out today.
Numbers don’t lie. We had a ton of income in December. As expected, our investments paid out huge dividends. I’ll be writing about the glory of dividends in a future article, so I won’t belabor the point here. With over $13,000 in dividend income in December alone, we can fund over half of our annual core expenses or five months of our fully loaded retirement budget. Not a bad way to start off the new year! And more dividends will continue to flow into our accounts all year.
The first of my blogging income appeared on the Personal Capital display in December. $532 to be exact (shown as “other income”). That’s about how much we spend on groceries each month. And I expect to receive significantly more revenue from blogging in January. If the blogging income continues, it will cover a big portion of our monthly expenses.
Now let’s look at expenses:
It looks like we spent a lot of money in December. But it isn’t as bad as it seems. $820 of this spending was for gift cards that, when purchased, led to many hundreds of dollars in discounts or credits. Our local grocery store offered $15 off groceries when you buy $100 in gift cards. I loaded up on $100 gift cards as much as I could, and saved a bunch on groceries. Our American Express cards offered a $25 statement credit when you purchase $75 of amazon.com gift cards. Yes, I’ll take a few of those, thanks! To top it all off, a local restaurant offered a free meal coupon when you purchase a $25 gift card. Another $100 in gift cards and four free meals. Since we have ample cash available in our accounts, I can make the strategic move to cash in on these promotions when they appear without fear of being able to pay off the credit card next month.
I also created $1,000 of spending to help us hit the spending requirements on our pair of Starwood Hotels Amex cards. This money eventually found it’s way back into the checking account.
In total, we spent about $1,200 after subtracting out the mortgage payment, gift card purchases, and the shuffle spending. Since we budgeted around $2,700 per month for retirement, we are well within our target budget. Not bad considering the Christmas gifts we purchased. It’s easy to be lulled into a sense of safety with these low spending months. However I know January will be much uglier since we will have the annual house property tax bill ($1,450) and the auto insurance bill for six months ($235) on top of all the regular expenses. We have been coming in under budget the last few months in order to cover months like January when it won’t be possible to stay under $2,700 monthly spending.
On the supplemental income front, I’m looking forward to getting some cash rebates in the next few months from different beer companies. North Carolina has some funky liquor laws. The result is that nationwide beer promotions that normally require you to buy beer and some groceries to get a $5 or $10 rebate don’t have the beer purchase requirement in NC. Score! I have a stack of beer rebates, a stack of receipts with qualifying grocery purchases, and a book of stamps. We’ll see how much beer money I can make off these beer rebates.
December was another great month of early retirement. Even though I still don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do, I’ll manage! It’s a great feeling to know that I can get up tomorrow and focus on whatever I didn’t get done today. I’m hoping January warms up a bit so I can get outside and enjoy some sunny days with Mr. RoG Jr. At least the days are getting longer now, and spring is just around the corner.
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