January was another busy month for us in the Root of Good household. We worked hard planning our summer trip to Southeast Asia. We got outside and played a bit when the weather was nice. And we bundled up against the cold when winter returned with full force.
Financially, last month was quite a blockbuster. Our net worth jumped $133,000 to re-cross the mythical $2,000,000 mark and land at $2,004,000 by month’s end. Income was strong at $3,779 while expenses remained within our budget at $2,937.
Let’s dive into January’s financial update!
Investment income totaled $459 in January. Our equity mutual funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly in March, June, September, and December so January was expected to be a low income month for our investments.
Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, totaled $2,862 for the month of January. I’m expecting a lower revenue month in February and March.
My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) remained steady at $240 in January. That came from a single two hour session with one client. After raising rates for 2019 by 4%, I’m still getting some interest in consulting services.
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In January, I received my new United Business Explorer credit card. It comes with a 75,000 United mile bonus and two free passes to the United Club Lounge. These passes sold for $61 on ebay (included in “deposit” income in the summary).
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Now let’s take a look at January expenses:
In total, we spent $2,937 during January which is about $400 less than our target spending of $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). The top expense categories for January were travel and groceries.
Detailed breakdown of spending:
Travel – $1,762:
January was a rather expensive month in the travel category. The biggest single expense was the $1,193 final payment for our spring break cruise to Cuba aboard the MSC Armonia.
The bulk of the remaining travel spending in January came from our hard work booking all the lodging for our eight week trip to Southeast Asia this summer. We have been accumulating Airbnb gift card credit at a discount and continued to do so in January with $186 spent at Raise.com to buy $200 worth of Airbnb gift cards.
We also paid $340 to buy $400 worth of Hotels.com gift cards which we redeemed for three hotel rooms for a week in Siem Reap, Cambodia (where the Angkor Wat temple complex is located).
Closing out the Southeast Asia lodging spending was a $9 charge for two hotel rooms for one night in Saigon, Vietnam. I combined a $40 travel credit from Expedia Reward points plus $9 out of pocket to book the hotel rooms right next to the bus station in Saigon for $49 total.
Now that the lodging for Southeast Asia is all booked, I can reveal what we spent on lodging for eight weeks. After factoring in all the discounted Airbnb gift cards we bought over the past year, we spent about $2,700 on lodging for the whole trip. That’s an average of $48 per night. In general, we are staying in three bedroom apartments or three hotel rooms the entire time.
We could have gone with much cheaper lodging. However we decided to pay more so we could stay in nicer accommodations. Two of the apartments we rented are in high rise luxury condo buildings with rooftop pools (for example).
We still have about $1,100 in Airbnb gift cards left over. We’ll use those on our summer 2020 adventures which might occur in Central Europe or South America.
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The remaining $35 in travel spending in January was the local processing agent fee to renew our six year old’s passport. There will be an $80 expense in February that covers the actual passport renewal. Child passports are crazy expensive at $115 total and they expire after five years! Fortunately, it’s in the travel budget to cover these “hidden” costs of traveling with kids.
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Groceries – $605:
January’s grocery bill was a little higher than usual. Part of the reason is the $265 purchase of a $275 Walmart gift card. I still have over $100 remaining on the gift card which will make February (and possibly March) grocery spending lower than usual.
In general, we tend to shop at Aldi, Lidl, and Superwalmart for most items. Occasionally I’ll visit our neighborhood Food Lion to pick up some sale items or grab a few things out of convenience. Food Lion had a great sale on lean cuts of beef in January so we bought quite a bit.
One place we never shop for groceries is Costco because it’s one of the more expensive stores in our area.
Healthcare/Medical – $186:
Our new 2019 healthcare premiums are $31 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$40,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income.
The bulk of our health/dental spending occurred when Mrs. Root of Good visited the dentist for a routine cleaning and had annual x-rays completed for $150 total.
The remaining $5 of healthcare spending was a $5 copay for a doctor visit.
Utilities – $154:
The natural gas bill was $86 which covers heating and hot water. I paid $68 toward the water bill though it’s usually $100-125 per month. I had a small credit balance due to pre-paying the water bill to meet the minimum spending requirements for credit card sign up bonus offers.
The electric bill still has a positive credit balance so I paid nothing toward it in January.
Clothing/shoes – $70:
Four pair of shoes. Mrs. Root of Good found a great deal on Saucony Excursion TR11 shoes priced at $17.50 each so she added three pair to her cart. We also grabbed some Saucony Cohesion shoes for our six year old for $15 since that’s about what a crappy pair of shoes costs at Walmart (but this is a hopefully better built name brand shoe!).
Restaurants – $68:
We spent $48 for a family meal at the Chinese/sushi/hibachi buffet. The older two kids pay adult prices now, so we’re almost at $50/meal after tax and tip.
In other restaurant expenses, we spent $20 for pad thai for the whole family from Pei Wei. I bought a $25 gift card for $20 and still have a couple bucks left on the card.
Home Maintenance – $44:
There’s nothing fun in this category unfortunately. I spent $39 on three new toilet seats from Home Depot. At least I’m savvy enough at DIY skills that I was able to replace the old seats in about five minutes each. And most of that time was spent cleaning the installation site thoroughly and unwrapping the new seats.
I also spent $6 on a chainsaw sharpening file set from the neighborhood Harbor Freight store.
End result: we have three shiny white new toilet seats, a tree-free lakefront, a pile of firewood for future lakefront campfires, and a sharp (borrowed) chainsaw.
Gifts – $21:
For my daughter’s Christmas present, I bought her a $99 Moto G6 cell phone from Google Fi during a sweet Black Friday sale a couple months ago. In January I spent another $21 to buy a Freedompop SIM and activate it on the Freedompop network. A small up front cost to get free cell service on a recurring basis.
Electronics – $15:
Mrs. Root of Good bought a Canon T5i DSLR camera several years ago. We also bought a pair of cheapo no-name spare batteries. After tens of thousands of shots, these batteries aren’t performing well. We need a lot of battery life when we’re traveling through Southeast Asia this summer, so it’s time for an upgrade.
While searching for a reasonably priced genuine Canon replacement battery (model LP-E8 battery for the camera enthusiasts out there), I couldn’t find anything for less than $50.
Then I went to ebay and found a new genuine battery still in the original packaging. I paid $15 for it. Once it arrived I realized it was manufactured in 2011! So far it’s working great but I have my doubts about the longevity of the battery given how old it is. At least we didn’t pay much more than the cost of a knock-off no-name battery.
Cable/Satellite – $15:
$15 for one month’s internet bill. We qualify for a local reduced rate package due to having a lower income and having kids. 30 mbit/s download, 4 mbit/s upload.
Gas – $0:
I didn’t buy any gas in January but I did just fill up the tank in early February. Hopefully I can stretch this tank till we drive through South Carolina (“The Cheap Gas State”) on the way to our cruise to Cuba in April.
Total Spending in 2019
Since it’s January, the year to date spending total is simply last month’s spending of $2,937. For the sake of consistency, I’ll leave this section in the monthly financial update.
So far the year is off to a great start since we have spent about $400 less than the $3,333 we budgeted for one month as part of our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.
This is good news on the heels of last year’s $11,000 budget surplus when we only spent $29,000!
Spending for the next several months should be rather modest even though we have several trips coming up soon:
- In a few days we hop on a plane to celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary with an eleven day trip to Mexico City
- April finds us on a week long cruise to several Caribbean islands including Cuba and Cozumel in Mexico
- In June we depart for eight weeks of adventuring in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Other than meals, gratuities, ground transportation, and incidentals, we are mostly paid in full for these three trips.
Flashback: Monthly Expense Summary for 2018:
- January 2018 – $1,281
- February 2018 – $3,108
- March 2018 – $2,025
- April – $1,977
- May – $3,366
- June – $3,554
- July – $1,389
- August – $2,565
- September – $1,342
- October – $1,784
- November – $2,846
- December – $3,878
Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:
Net Worth: $2,004,000 (+$133,000!!!)
After a really ugly December where we lost $117,000 in a single month, January was a welcome respite from the sharp stock market decline we were experiencing at year-end. In January, the stock market reversed course, erased all of December’s losses and even gained a small bit of ground to bring our net worth $133,000 higher to end the month at $2,004,000.
There’s something to be said about being above an arbitrary round threshold number like $2 million. We retired with much less than this and watched our portfolio grow by more than a half million dollars post-retirement, so now we feel rather wealthy!
Truth be told, I don’t spend a lot of time looking at my investment portfolio and didn’t touch it a bit during January. I mostly collect the dividends and let it ride. I’m still hanging on to my boring 90% stock / 10% bond+cash+CDs asset allocation. If the market goes way up I might take some profit and move some more funds into the fixed income side. Conversely, if the market dips really low I may shift some safe money into the stock allocation.
Or we may keep on doing nothing. We’ll see how things go with our cash reserves and upcoming spending needs. At this point, I feel like we have “won the game” and don’t need to take on every last bit of risk to eek out a small additional return.
In other news, Mrs. Root of Good just celebrated her three year anniversary of early retirement!
And that’s it for the January update. Back to my full time occupation of doing as little as possible!
Stay relaxed, my friends.
How is the new year treating you? I bet you enjoyed that wild January stock market recovery a lot more than the big fat nothingburger losses in December, huh?
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