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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Oh man, those spring rolls look delicious!
That is some mighty impressive dividend income. I can understand why you would enjoy early retirement so much.
The Barclay Arrival card is also on my list. Looking to hopefully do some more travel this year.
If you think they look delicious, imagine how they tasted! Mmmmm…
When the dividends flow in, it takes a little worry off of money in early retirement.
Congrats on another awesome month!
I just reached the $1,000 minimum to get the 40,000 miles on the Barclay Card and I am ecstatic! I can’t wait to figure out my next vacation (especially since I found out we get 5 extra vacation days at work this year – paltry, of course in comparison to you, but exciting nevertheless!)
On the other hand, you seem to work pretty hard yourself. Have you ever thought about designating “vacation time” for yourself and setting up an “out of office” on your email and kicking back? It might be nice!
It’s almost like I’m still working in a way because I have a kid-imposed schedule where I have to be up by 7:30 to get them to school, and I have to leave the house at 2:45 to pick them up again. Their school calendar also means we can’t just jet off to somewhere tropical on a whim.
After reading your comment this morning, I think I’ll add “develop some structure to my days” on my to do list. This morning I had a particular personal finance task I had to get done that I figured wouldn’t take more than an hour. I set a timer for an hour and told myself I would have fun the rest of the morning after I finished this one task. With a self-imposed time pressure, I finished the task in about 30 minutes and spent the rest of the morning having fun.
I’ll also do “no technology” days where I don’t get on the computer most of the day (or all day). That’s usually when I can get stuff done around the house or spend quality time outside with the kids or knock out a few chapters in whatever book I’ve been reading. Balance = key.
It’s funny how I hear so many retired people say they are actually busier once they retire. I’m not financially independent yet, but I’ll still strive for that, even if it means I’m still busy once I get there!
Busy is good. I suppose I could give up or cut back on any number of activities if I started getting overwhelmed. But for now I don’t mind the busyness.
Maintaining that balance between productiveness and relaxation in retirement is something I have to work hard at to make it happen. And I don’t mean that I relax too much! Quite the opposite. I’ve found that if I don’t actually schedule free time into my days and weeks, then chores and have-to-do’s will just gobble up all my time.
Since I still (!) live by the planner and to-do list, I’ve now incorporated as set features of my schedule a 4.5 hour block of free time each afternoon, and a totally free day each week. That’s working.
Hey! Am I feeling retired yet?
That sounds like a good schedule if it works for you! So far I’m happy enough with the balance in my life. I don’t feel like I need to change up what I’m doing, since it’s working well enough now. Maybe I’ll give a schedule a try if I get frustrated with how much time I’m wasting or not relaxing!
“With over $13,000 in dividend income in December alone…”
Holy Dividends RootOfGoodMan! I’d love to hear more about this! Please direct me to a post if you’ve already written it. Otherwise, please write it!
I’m working on a post on “dividends” right now! I’ll send you the link once I get it up in the next couple days.
I was just looking at your “Running out of Money” post and you mentioned this:
“I expect around $8,000 per year in dividends and interest…” But in this post, you stated you made $13,000 in December alone. Not trying to bust your balls, just curious about your retirement strategy.
To expand your quote a bit to provide some more context: “In our taxable accounts alone, I expect around $8,000 per year in dividends and interest…”. We have about 25% of our portfolio in taxable brokerage accounts, and in those accounts I was expecting around $8,000. It turned out to be roughly $7,700. I mentally keep the dividend income from taxable accounts sort of separate since those dividends are incredibly easy to spend without doing conversions or withdrawing contributions or properly seasoned conversions from Roth IRAs.
Most of the other investment accounts are tax deferred (IRA, 401k, 457, HSA) and in those accounts we had another $14,600 in dividend income. The total dividend income across all accounts was $22,300 for 2013. I also had a small bond position pay $562 in 2013.
The $13,000 in December investment income was a combined total of taxable and tax deferred dividend income.
I also have about 15% of our investments in accounts that don’t pay dividends for one reason or another (proprietary funds in 457 and an ESOP that has a minority interest in a private business that I only get updates on 1x per year). I should get the bulk of these assets into dividend paying investments over the next 2-3 years.
And Mr. 1500, I’ll have do a guest posting of answers to your list of questions at 1500 Days. One day soon!
Thanks for the thorough explanation and can’t wait to see your post on dividends. I’d love to have your answers.
I’ll put it on the “to do” list!
If I wasn’t interested in investing… I am now! Holy cow!
Also, I’m on duo too! I’m learning French as well. I started it pre-Paris honeymoon and have stuck with it ever since!
This level of investment income took quite a while of saving and investing. But even in the first few years it was still magical every time a mutual fund would pay out a dividend and I could look at the statement and see that it was hundreds of dollars of real money these investments were paying.
Another duolingoer? Cool! I’m going to do a lesson today just to break the string of absences I’ve given myself.
Aaaand, I’m back to learning French. First attempt back at duolingo.com (food, lesson 6), and success. Even after a month away! I’m at level 4 overall, where are you? Did it help while you were in France? I feel like I can read and maybe write plenty of stuff, but listening is challenging (I often click the slow turtle button to listen slowly). And I rarely speak it.
Great post RoG. I haven’t jumped into the credit card bonus game yet (currently put 100% of my spending into 2% cashback on everything priceline visa), but your post inspired me. I have been looking recently for a 4-5 hundred dollar bonus card with a small spend requirement. The arrival card fit perfectly, so I applied and was approved. I clicked through your link, so I hope that helps.
Your website is really awesome. I look forward to your posts every few days and really enjoy the writing style. I am currently lower 20’s (married with a family) and am trying to put myself on a 10-12 year plan to end up basically where you are now. Hopefully, with a lot of hard work, saving, and planning I can pull myself out of the rat race and move out of the burbs to a low cost of living area like yourself in my low to mid 30s.
I hope the Barclay’s card works out well for you. Don’t forget you can also get a card for your wife if you want to double up the bonus. And thanks for clicking through Root of Good. Hopefully I’ll see some revenue from it.
I’m glad you enjoy the posts. That’s why I keep writing and sharing (in addition to the fact that I enjoy it). To provide insight into possibilities of crafting your life however you want it to be. And particularly to set yourself up financially so that you won’t have money constraints crushing your dreams.
Funny you mention vacating the burbs and finding a low cost of living area. I actually live between downtown and the burbs, but the prices are right in the neighborhood. It’s a little slice of undiscovered real estate that’s not quite gentrified (yet). We are “lucky” to live on a lake and have lots of wildlife around though.
I met lots of people who retire early but fails to sustain their income. You are truly good and your on a good start! For the first four months of your early retirement, I can say you are doing good!
Good luck and can’t wait to see the next update about your retirement. 🙂
So far, so good. And the market has been very kind to all of us. We’ll see if 2014 is just as nice.
I’m jealous of your picture! On Christmas Eve it was too cold to be outside for more than a few minutes.
Probably half the time it’s nice enough to get outside and recreate during the winter holidays. I think it was 70-something that day we were laying in the hammock. We went out for a hike on the first day of winter the 70+ degree weather plus the bright sun made me break a sweat! The mild winters make the two months of hot, humid summer somewhat more bearable.
I love that you read three books related to Africa. What was the inspiration? I’m trying to work on my first novel now, and much of it is set in the DRC and Rwanda.
Are you on Goodreads? I find that’s a fun way to connect with other readers and also give myself some inspiration with its annual reading challenge.
I was watching a few documentaries set in Africa, and reading Infidel, and realized I know very little about Africa. So I picked up the other two books and have a couple more Africa-centric books on my list I might get to later.
Good luck with the novel. That’s a huge undertaking!
I’m not on Goodreads as far as I know. I may have signed up through facebook but I don’t ever use it. It sounds like a good resource though.
Sounds like another marvellous month in the rootofgood early retired life! You’d rather be too busy than struggling to find things to do anyway, especially in the first few months.
I never had that fear of getting bored. Just too many interesting things to do.
Hopefully you’ll get some cold weather this week to make up for Christmas. 🙂
And I worry about my inner productivity drive too, if and when I ever attain FI. I have a hard time on Saturday afternoon, like you, when I’ve played with kids all morning. I feel like I’ve GOT to “get something done” in the afternoon, and that’s after working all week! Sheesh.
Thanks for the cold weather. It’s supposed to be 9 degrees tomorrow. They already delayed schools for 2 hours here. Bizarre. It’s just a little colder than normal. I don’t know why schools are closed.
It’s really good to see you have so many activities and things to do during retirement. I think there is a big misconception that people who want to retire early are lazy or unambitious. I could easily see myself doing a lot of self business ideas or charity work when I get there.
There’s a lot of free time, but I think I could spend 4-5 hours per day on 10 different activities. That’s 40-50 hours per day of fun stuff I would like to do. I only have about 16 available hours in the day, and probably closer to 6-8 hours when I subtract out tasks like preparing and eating meals, running errands, personal hygiene, and tasks around the house.
Awesome stuff, Justin. I love the intentional planning.
Right on, Justin! Keep rocking it!
Damn, those are some weird-ass liquor laws! WTF?
We also can’t buy alcohol between 2 am and 12 noon on Sundays. Picking up some ingredients and a bottle of wine Sunday at 11:30 am to prepare a nice lunch? Hell no, that’s against the law!
I enjoy the summaries, Justin, but slow down, man! You’ve earned the right to relax and pace yourself. It’s a marathon, and you have the rest of your life to wander around the course.
Many ERs report that their goals remained the same, but their deadlines became less urgent. Weekly goals moved to monthly, monthly deadlines stretched out a couple more quarters, and annual tasks moved even further down the list. Sure, there’s things that “need” to be done, but now you can wonder why you’re doing them in the first place.
Your kids don’t care about your “To Do” list today, and they certainly won’t be impressed with it during the next couple decades. Your time spent with them now is your new investment metric, and that pays even bigger dividends. I’m sure they appreciate how much you’re able to help them keep track of their homework, and no doubt they’ll appreciate it even more during their teen years…
By the way, I’ve eaten papaya salad, spring rolls, & pad thai over a dozen times (each!) during this Bangkok vacation. It’s amazing how each street vendor puts their own spin on the recipe and elevates my standards of “spicy” to a whole new level…
Maybe I need some of that Hawaiian chillness or some of the buddha zen from Thailand?? Can you mail me a care package? Ha ha
Perhaps I can add “do nothing” to my to do list? Or add “destroy the to do list” to my list. Oh wait…
Mmmm that street food sounds good. I think I could eat pad thai every day for a month and still look forward to it. My daughter is the same way.
There’s nothing better than cashing in all those points & miles and taking a trip. My trip this summer was completely paid for by my Starwood points and my fiances airline miles. Can’t beat it!
That’s how we felt on the flight to/from Argentina and Uruguay. Looking around the plane and thinking how all these other people were probably paying thousands of dollars for their flights. And ours were $10 each (taxes only).
Wow! Very impressive stuff here. Color me green. 🙂
That dividend income is fantastic! As someone who lives and breathes dividends I’m dreaming of the day I hit monthly tallies like that. I’m up to almost $5k/year, but I’ve got a long way to go to catch up to what you’re pulling down.
I’d say enjoy early retirement, but it sounds like you don’t need my well wishes there!
Thanks, but the $13,000 in December is a once a year partay! It does feel pretty freaking good to watch a thousand or two dollars pop up in your accounts every few days.
I only own mutual funds and ETF’s, and they tend to pay the largest dividend distributions in December (some pay quarterly throughout the year).
I’m working on a summary of my dividends and how they fit into my portfolio, and I’ll let you know when I get the article up since I can tell you’re a big dividend fan! Total dividends for 2013 was closer to $22,300.
Hi Justin, great blog here. Thanks for putting your thoughts and experiences down about the post-early-retirement experience. A couple of questions occurred to me while reading this post:
1. Do you find that receiving the lion’s share of your dividends in December imperils any tax planning you might be doing, such as Roth conversions and the like where you need to stay under a certain amount of income? Or are you still able to react quickly enough before the end of the year?
2. I’ve seen quite a bit written about Personal Capital on several different PF/FIRE blogs lately. They must be doing a big marketing push or something. At any rate, I wonder if anyone has written/blogged/talked about the security implications of giving Personal Capital (or any freemium website, for that matter) intimate data about all your finances. If there’s anything we’ve all learned in the last 13 years of the post-dotcom web is that the free services get paid for somehow, whether that’s by advertising or selling personal information or whatever…
Sorry for my long-windedness. My daughter is reading over my shoulder and just said, “That’s a long comment.” 🙂
Stephen, thanks for visiting Root of Good!
As for your questions,
1. Tax planning busted by dividends? So far we haven’t had any really strong reason to keep our income under a certain threshold, since we were low enough into the 15% bracket during our working days. Now that I’m retired, there might be advantages to keeping near a certain threshold once we apply for healthcare and the related Affordable Care Act subsidies. But going over those thresholds would only mean we pay a tiny bit more in tax and lose a tiny bit of subsidies. I can forecast our dividend income well enough that I can plan on it. I forecasted $8,000 taxable dividends for tax year 2013 and we came in just under at $7,700. For planning purposes, that’s close enough! In the past I have had to react quickly in late December, but only 1-2 times.
2. Personal Capital security concerns: I think there are 2 types of concerns/risks with Personal Capital (PC) or any similar website. The first is their security and how well they protect your data. PC seems to do a good job on the front end security so that others can’t access your accounts. From their website:
Security is even more beefed up when you use their phone app (an extra PIN is required for login plus your username and pw).
Part of the security risk is that they are hacked and mass data compromise happens. Hey, it could happen. See target, for example. I weigh that risk against the benefit of the free service.
The second risk for services like PC is that they have lots of your financial information. An unscrupulous vendor could then sell your information to a third party and then third parties could market to you. I trust the power of the market to expose dirty companies that do this. So far I haven’t seen anything marketing-related since signing up for PC, other than their adviser calling me 1-2x to offer a free consultation on advising services. I took them up on the offer, but they charge almost 1% to manage your portfolio, and I’m competent enough to manage my own investments (for free!) so I politely declined their paid management services.
Which brings me to my conclusion as to why I think it’s unlikely PC will screw you by selling your data. They want to entice you with the free service offerings of consolidating all your finances and investment activity into one screen, and then they hope to gain you as a paid customer of their investment management services (at an almost 1% fee on your investments). If they screw you, you’re unlikely to want a continuing relationship.
Hope that helps put the risks in perspective (from my perspective, anyway!). The decision to sign up is really up to you and whether you think the benefit of having all your finances (income, expenses, and investments) all in one place is worth the risk, however small, of compromised data or selling your data to 3rd parties.
And that’s a long comment from me, as your daughter would probably tell you. Take care!
That is an awesome month. I feel like you are winning at life when I read this. Well done!
Wow! You had a fantastic month. Congratulations. I need to reread “things fall apart”. It’s been a long time, and l have the time now. You should definitely add “do nothing” to your list though and “chill” like he said above. Personal Capital sounds to me like mint 2.0 or am l missing something? Part of my retirement includes enjoying your blog. I am still thinking of what to do with my 401k, but yeah..I’ll do it tomorrow..maybe…
There’s definitely some “do nothing” and “chill” time in my daily routine. I guess I didn’t feel like “I laid in the hammock on the back porch for a few hours and watched the herons, geese, birds, deer, beavers, and other animals play around the lake” was interesting enough to include in my round up of monthly activities. But it happens (particularly on the infrequent warm winter day). See photographic evidence, above. 🙂
I think my daily walking routine of 40 minutes to 2 hours would fall in the “chill” or “do nothing” category, at least mentally. It’s a good time to unwind, let your mind roam, and just live in the moment and take in all the scenery. I was watching Mr. RoG Jr. this morning as I pushed him in the stroller to the library. He was looking around in wonderment at all the trees and houses and animals surrounding him. Adults forget to take it all in so many times, that life just passes them by.
I haven’t used mint in a while, but sure, mint 2.0 sounds accurate. Except Personal Capital has a huge investment management component that I’ve heard mint is sorely lacking. That’s why I figure PC is much more powerful for the typical early retiree with a big fat portfolio – you get the income/expense tracking AND the investment management all consolidated in one place. It’s a pretty sweet tool, and for free. If you haven’t seen my review: Personal Capital review. Give it a try if you think it might be helpful. It’s really quick to get it up and running with all your accounts (10-20 minutes max).
I’ll check it out. Thanks
That seems like a great way to spend a month! Should be motivating for people to see what early retirement could be like.
Even though I’m not retired, I can totally understand how kids’ schedules could impose structure. That morning to mid-afternoon school day requires being on time, as of course kids can’t be late in the morning or for pickup. It adds a sense of urgency to the day. I know from my daily experience taking kids to school in the morning 🙂
It was a pretty awesome month.
Kids late to school? Never! Except this morning.