January 2020 Financial Update

January is over and February is already half way over. It’s been a busy month here at the Root of Good house and I’ve been a total slacker when it comes to blogging. Since the start of the year we have researched, planned, and booked not one, but two (!!) big international trips (more details below). The unseasonably warm winter weather has proved quite a distraction too (in a very good way). 

Financially, we had an okay month of January. Net worth declined $30,000 to end the month at $2,231,000. Income for the month remained strong at $3,270 while expenses totaled only $2,682 including a few dozen travel hacked international plane tickets. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled just $48 in January which is a marked decline from December’s $20,683 in investment income. Our equity mutual funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December with some payments arriving at the beginning of the next month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, totaled $1,741 for the month which was almost exactly the same as December’s blog income. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $1,454 for the month of January which represents 11 hours of consulting sessions. I raised my rates in early January since I’m getting a bit busier than I want to be. However, that seemed to only increase demand so I’m clearly doing something wrong. Perhaps this is a seasonally busy period of time as people are thinking about their finances, investments, and taxes just before the big April tax filing deadline. 

The “deposit income” totaled $25. The deposit income came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the Ebates.com and Mrrebates.com online shopping portals (some of which was earned from you readers signing up through these links). 

If you sign up for Ebates through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Ebates, you’ll get a $10 gift card. 

 

 

If you’re interested in tracking your income and expenses like I do, then check out 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 Personal Capital. We have accounts all over the place, and Personal Capital makes it really easy to check on everything at one time.

Personal Capital 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 Personal Capital 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 Personal Capital.

 

Attending our son’s friend’s birthday party at a bake-it-yourself bakery.

 

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at January expenses:


 

In total, we spent $2,682 during January which is about $600 less than our target spending of $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Travel and groceries topped the spending categories for the month. 

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

Travel – $1,366:

Almost all of January’s travel expense comes from booking the flights for our big two month summer trip to South America. We spent $1,265 for eight sets of tickets for the five of us between these cities:

  • Raleigh
  • Panama City, Panama (<– technically in “Central America” but I’m calling this a “South America” trip)
  • Lima, Peru
  • Santiago, Chile
  • Cordoba, Argentina
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Iguazu Falls, Argentina (and Brazil)
  • Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Miami, Florida

We have a week or two in most of those cities in South America. After completing our journey in South America we’ll return to Miami where we depart for a cruise in the Caribbean, then return home to Raleigh. 

Most of the flights were booked with frequent flyer points but the international taxes on those frequent flyer bookings were significant. In some cases, we paid full price for flights on discount airlines since the cost wasn’t much more than the taxes on “free” frequent flyer tickets. We saved the points/miles in that case. 

All together we paid 337,500 United or British Airways miles for five flight segments plus $795 in taxes. The other three flight segments were $720 total cash price (no miles/points required). These costs were partially offset by a $250 annual travel reimbursement credit from the Citi Prestige card, resulting in a net cost of $1,265 plus 337,500 frequent flyer miles for all of our flights for this summer’s vacation. 

We also booked all but one of our Airbnbs in South America during January (or very early February). We didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket in January. I have accumulated several thousand dollars in airbnb gift cards over the past year or two and used those (plus some referral credit from you readers signing up for airbnb!) to cover our weekly apartment rentals in South America. I’m almost out of gift card credit now, so the one remaining week that we need to book in Cordoba, Argentina may have a small out of pocket cost to it. 

If you are interested in booking a place through Airbnb, feel free to use my Airbnb referral link to save $40 off your first stay. 

The other travel expenses include a $95 annual fee on the Chase Ink Business Preferred card. This card offers 80,000 bonus points worth $1,000+ in travel. The Chase Ink Business Preferred card is still available for sign up if you are interested. 

The remaining $6 in travel expense came from the $6 convenience fee for paying our $300 quarterly state tax bill with a credit card. Diverting as much spending as possible onto our credit cards to maximize our credit card rewards is a key part of our strategy to get a lot of free travel every year. 

If you want to score more free travel from credit cards, there are several other cards currently offering 50,000 points or more. These points can be redeemed for $500 cash or $500+ in free flights or hotel stays. Compare travel credit card deals

 

Our travel planning rig: dual screen computer for me with Mrs. Root of Good helping out on her laptop. Narrowing down Airbnb choices is a lot of work!

 

Groceries – $547:

We spent $547 on groceries during January. This is a pretty average level of grocery spending for us. 

Here are a few related articles on how we shop for groceries without using coupons. And how we avoid Costco because it’s way more expensive than closer, more convenient, and better alternatives like Walmart, Aldi, and Lidl. 

 

A Mrs. Root of Good creation: tomatillo jalapeno curry chicken over rice. Good stuff!

 

We have the whole family creating good eats. This is how you make Thai papaya salad with a pestle and mortar. Green papaya + fish sauce + garlic + lime juice + peppers.

 

End result: dinner. Steak, fried eggs, edamame, kimchi, pickled mustard greens, and papaya salad.

 

 

 

Taxes – $300:

Our quarterly estimated state taxes are $300. We have already paid the full federal estimated taxes in previous months of 2019 so we didn’t owe anything to the feds for quarter four. 

 

Utilities – $178:

The city water, sewer, and trash bill was $77 for January (after redeeming a $50 free gift card from our new health insurance company).

The natural gas bill (for the water heater and furnace) totaled $101 for the month. January has been shockingly warm so we haven’t used the heat as much as a typical January.

Several months ago I prepaid $600 on the electricity bill to hit the minimum spending requirement on a credit card. As a result, January utility charges didn’t include electric. However, the credit balance ran out in February so next month’s expense report will show another $600 lump sum charge. I charge a big chunk on the electricity bill at one time since the electric utility charges a flat fee to use a credit card. 

 

Healthcare/Medical – $152:

Our 2020 healthcare premiums are $123 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 benefit of being “poor” on our tax return. 

In other healthcare expenses, we spent $9 at Amazon for various over the counter medicines bought in bulk. 

The remaining $19 in medical expense is my monthly dental insurance premiums for 2020. 

 

Restaurants – $77:

We dined out quite a bit in January. Our big family outing was the neighborhood Chinese restaurant for $52.

I also met a friend for lunch at the neighborhood taqueria for $11 including a generous tip. 

We spent $3 at Moe’s for me and Mrs. Root of Good when they offered a $5 off anything promotion. 

In other near-free food purchases, we spent $6 at Wendy’s. During December Wendy’s ran a contest where you win a food or drink item each day through their app. Throughout January we redeemed a ton of coupons for free food, drinks, and frosties. We also redeemed six coupons that required a purchase ($1 times 6 purchases). 

Chick Fil A is another source of free restaurant eats. Every time the Carolina Hurricanes win a home game, we each get a free chicken sandwich. Plus Chick Fil A randomly doles out free sandwiches through their app. Mrs. Root of Good loves Chick Fil A. For me, it’s a nice excuse to make the four mile round trip on my bike to the restaurant to grab the sandwiches. 

The remaining $6 in restaurant spending was a slice of pizza at a Carolina Hurricanes NHL hockey game. Our son earned two free tickets to watch them play through a reading competition at school. It was a fun father-son outing but I don’t think either one of us were converted into hockey fans. 

 

A little high up but a good view of the goal from here. And the Canes won!

 

Gasoline – $38:

A tank of gas for the minivan

 

Cable/Satellite – $18:

We 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.

 

Home Maintenance – $8:

Over the past year, our dishwasher grew progressively worse at cleaning the dishes. In January, I decided to spend an afternoon tearing our dishwasher apart and deep cleaning everything. In the process I discovered that it was really gunked up with old dishwasher detergent deposits and possibly the “dissolvable” plastic wrappers from the detergent tablets. 

I have added “tear apart dishwasher and thoroughly clean” as an annual routine maintenance item in future years (Google Calendar recurring events = my friend). 

I also located a broken part while cleaning the dishwasher. The grinder blade that chops up larger chunks of food came loose from the motor somehow and had worn the base of the grinder blade away. I bought a new grinder blade for $8 and easily replaced it. 

The deep cleaning and part replacement did the job. The dishwasher works like it’s brand new! 

 

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

 

Our new year’s party at home. Sparkling wine for the adults and something less alcoholic for the kids! Cheers!

 

Net Worth: $2,231,000 (-$30,000)

Two steps forward, one step back. That seems to be the wealth dance lately. We’ve had many months of mostly positive net worth increases as the stock market went up. January led to a slight decline (that has been erased in the first half of February as I write this).

The market feels overly optimistic since it seems like nothing makes the market waver for long. Not an almost-war with Iran and not a major virus outbreak in China. At least not yet. 

 

 

Our net worth dropped $30,000 to bring us to $2,231,000 by the end of January. This is still almost twice as much as we had when I left the working world way back in 2013. So we feel pretty wealthy. 

Given our fairly low average annual spending around $31,000, we could get by on a portfolio half the size of what we have and still only spend 3% of the principal balance each year. From a portfolio health perspective, we have nothing to worry about financially. 

 

Hanging out with friends on a rare middle-of-winter warm evening down by the lake.

 

In fact, we continue our quest to spend more money. In February we booked another big vacation for later in the year. This time, it’s just me and Mrs. Root of Good flying to Madrid for a two week road trip through the northern and central parts of Spain. It should be a fun and low key trip. 

That’s it for this month’s edition of the early retirement journeys of the Root of Good household. Until next time! 

 

Are you ready for winter to be over? Looking forward to big things in spring and summer?

 

 

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58 comments

  1. South America!! 🙂 Awesome! Santiago isn’t great in the winter, but hopefully it will rain/snow while you’ll there and you’ll get a view of the snow-capped Andes and less smog because of the rain. There are tons of wonderful vineyards to explore, even within the city. Iguazu is beautiful and Argentina is super fun. That’s all I know! If you need a housekeeper/translator I’m happy to tag along in your suitcase! Have a wonderful time. We’re headed to Spain, too, during Spring Break, with the whole fam. It’s the first time for my three boys (though I studied there during college). Do you have any great practices for narrowing down AirBnBs? I feel like I somewhat randomly book them without any sort of process at all!

    1. We booked a mountain-view Airbnb in Santiago for exactly that purpose 🙂 And we hope to get a rental car for a day or two and head up into the mountains.

      As for Airbnbs, we usually set some filters like “whole house rental”, “4 guests” (sometimes they charge extra for 5th guest but we can negotiate it), “2+ bedrooms”, “3+ beds”, and sometimes 2+ bathrooms if there is a ton of inventory in a given place. For price range limit we set the limits to show properties between 20 to 50% or 20-70% of median price. Weed out the super cheap low quality places and only show the cheaper end of places that sometimes offer some great values.

  2. Exciting stuff! With regard to your “early retirement lifestyle consulting”, have you ever thought of putting together a digital/video course for that? Producing a course might be a great way to reduce the workload of the 1:1 consulting AND make consuming the course a prerequisite of you working with someone 1:1.

    And even then, 1:1 coaching can be more of a “premium” service that you would charge more for (your current rates seem super low). I’ve started that with my own coaching and it’s really been working well. Anyhoo, just wanted to throw that out as an idea/suggestion.

    In my mind, if someone asks the same question more than once, it’s likely time to make a course or at least a piece of content about it. Thanks for all your great content. – Brad

    1. Most of my clients come in the door pretty knowledgeable about FIRE concepts. So I think they’ve covered FIRE 101 and 102 in general. I suppose there is some merit to courses on more advanced topics but I’ll leave that for others to develop!

      1. Awesome. Thanks for the response and keep up the great work. I regularly share your content with my more aspirational students to show them what’s possible with these principles.

  3. Always a good read. I’m curious, in the event of a significant market draw down (correction or ultimately a recession), would you change anything with your portfolio to protect against that or just ride it out long in your positions?

    1. Probably won’t do anything with a 10% correction. Got about 15% in fixed income right now so that’ll last us 10 years at our tiny little spending rate (even ignoring the fact that our dividends cover our spending already). 20%+ correction I’d actually move a bit from fixed income into equities at some point. Or at least try!

      1. So, Did you shield your holdings down between 10-28%? Did you move out into bonds or cash, a higher percentage? Hope so…..we didn’t, but have a much larger percentage of currencies and smaller percentage in equities to start with. And we’re still employed.

        I think this could be a 40-70% drop. Hoping I’m wrong. What’s just as disconcerting is the potential lingering after-effects or lower plateauing. I recall an older coworker in the year after 2008…..he had to work an additional 3 years to make up the carnage from that recession. This is a more precipitous and ferocious drop in the markets – the “airgaps” than 2008.

        1. No – didn’t do anything! I think I was down 29% at the worst and haven’t looked at the numbers since then (but the market went up ~10% after that low point). We still have 6 or 7 years worth of expenses in bonds so we’ll probably be fine even if this does end up being a 70% drop that takes a decade to recover from.

          1. Looking mostly at the macro-picture now, for 1 day US Markets are up 10%; volatility is through the roof – this is a a World problem though …. Europe is a mess right now and tightening. Its not only how far the market drops but at what speed and to what extent stocks recover as well. It could be a relatively quick recovery, if the infection rate slows or drops. Right now, the immediate economic health of the world economy is becoming more influenced by the infection-rate calming or not. If there’s widespread job-loss and economic malaise as a result of prolonged shutdowns, the economic recovery will take longer.

            There are quite a few economic outcomes, none of them good in the short term, and some much worse than others. One of the moderately bad economic scenarios, is if a full shutdown lingers on for a quarter to half a year, the ensuing large scale unemployment could contribute to a much lower plateau in the stock market and GDP setting back economies a long time (maybe your 5-10 years you mentioned). The likelihood of this seems low to moderate

            One of the relatively best economic outcomes (in a potpourri of bad ones) is a plateauing of cases in the next 30 days, which means a drop in the infection rate and a relaxation from world governments quickly. The economic damage in this case may be a year or (2 or 3) so recession as a result, something slightly to moderately worse than 2008. Stocks recover mostly within a year or 2, or at absolutely best within+multiple months. Government restrictions are lifted with a month or 2. Likelihood also moderate.

            The worst scenarios are not economic and at disease dependent. I am not a virologist, and modern medicine is much advanced in the last 70 years. But In this case we draw parallels to the past though to peek at what history has to offer. In the 1918 Flu pandemic some 100 years ago, we see some warnings. The initial influenza strain in the Spring then morphed into a 2nd strain during the summer of 1918 thanks in part to its spread during Wold War into Europe, and ignorance of the time. The mortality rate was similar to today’s bug, although the people and medicine of that time were at the mercy of the virus, as viruses were unknown and not to be discovered yet some years later. The 2nd strain caused the overwhelming majority of deaths, by the end ~1% of the World population perished. Today 1% of the world population would be 80 million people. This to me is a worst case scenario – death on a tremendous scale due to a vast amount of infections. I think this has a very low likelihood at this point, but from history, we know its possible.

            Encourage you to watch the PBS documentary on 1918 influenza pandemic –

            http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/influenza/

            Also of note, the common pathology in severe and lethal cases of the 2 viruses described are similar – mostly fluid in the lungs causing asphyxia due to bodily response to the viruses.

            Luckily in March 2020 here so far, infection numbers are still very low and the percent of severe cases is relatively low ~7% within the total cases. The clampdowns/shutdowns are imo absolutely the right thing to do. The infection rate must be nipped in the bud whatever the economic consequences.

            1. I generally agree on the potential for economic fallout. There will be something significant and it’s being priced into the market right now (through volatility and a major rapid drop). But will it be a run of the mill recession or will it be longer term? Hard to know at this point. Fingers crossed we can get on one of those “plateau in a month or two” scenarios and by summer we (well, those who have jobs) can cautiously get back to work (even if we can’t travel globally for a while).

            2. The situation is getting worse quickly. Economics need to be secondary – now. Looking at Italy , I think the United States government has to pull out some stops, and decree a 6 ft radius to be yielded around every person enforced by the law outside of home. We must sacrifice some of our freedoms to protect the health of our people and curb the infections RIGHT NOW. The posture must be ratcheted up.

  4. Love the itinerary for the South American / Panamanian trip you’ve got planned.

    As we often do, we’ll probably use it as a template for some of our future travels. But first, we’ve got to replicate some of your Asian adventures. We’ve got the cruises there and back scheduled for this November and next April. Hopefully, that’s enough time for the world to get a handle on this viral epidemic!

    Cheers to another successful month and year of FIREd life!
    -PoF

    1. Oh wow, that’ll be a nice time to visit depending on where you are. You’ll avoid most of the heat and humidity although April is the hot and dry season in SE Asia (or at least parts of it).

  5. Wow..just wow! 8 week trip to South America followed up with a cruise? Your kids will have incredible memories of their family summer vacations! What a way to travel! Already looking forward to your posts this coming August and September.

    1. Basically I just take a look at cards that have higher than normal bonuses. Or I’ll get a card that I need for something specific (rental car insurance, Priority Pass for the family, no foreign transaction fees, specific type of airline reward miles/pts etc).

  6. Another awesome month. Since your coming to South America, let me know if you stop by here in Brazil. I’d love to meet you, my FIRE inspiration, in person. Enjoy your time in this side of the America.

  7. Looks like you’re doing great at the consulting, congrats Justin! South America for 2 months will be freaking amazing! I’ve never been and would love to go one of these days.

    Regarding hockey, I’m sure it’s way cheaper to go to a game in Raleigh than here in Vancouver. Years ago, the cheapest ticket was ~$80 per person. Yucks!

    1. Wow, that’s crazy. I think these tickets we got for free were ~$30-40 retail price ($25 was the resale value per ticket). And from looking at the forums for the team, I see people routinely get free tix or $5-20 tix depending on how popular the opposing team is. And parking is free if you don’t mind walking 10 minutes! The stadium was packed but I’m really curious how many were there on free/cheap tickets. I imagine the concession sales generate as much profit as the ticket sales for the upper decks (where the cheap tix are).

  8. I’m in Liberia airport Costa Rica as we speak and United tried to hit me with $30 per carry on bag for our basic economy tickets. I’ll spare you the details but curious how you guys get all that baggage around now that airlines like United have resorted to nickel and diming customers. We also had to pay additional to sit together!

    1. That’s rough. We had to pay a few extra fees of $5-20 per flight to bring a big carry on onto the plane. Otherwise our bags are pretty close to “personal item” size so hopefully we won’t get hammered with extra fees when we try to board the plane!

  9. Can you detail how you did the flights for South America in a future post? We’re planning a similar trip this summer and would love to see which airlines/points you used. And maybe we can meet up at some point down there!

    1. I think I bought a bunch on Raise when they did the “7% sitewide” coupon code a lot last year. And I bought $1000 from a friend directly for 16% off. She got them from a Google Fi promotion and just wanted to cash them out. I’m almost out of credits now so I’m on the prowl! 🙂

  10. Great update. I’ll have to compare the best travel reward credit cards. Seeing you book all those trips using travel rewards points just blows my mind.

    I’ve been using solely debit cards for years but I like the perks of a travel rewards credit card.

    Networth will change in the short term but you have a solid foundation to churn out wealth over the long run.

    No big deal here. Looking forward to reading February’s update!

    1. If you are good with credit, these credit card rewards programs are easy free money. 2%+ on basically everything you buy if you just get that kind of card. Even more $$$$ if you focus on sign up bonuses.

  11. I just got and used the Moe’s $5 off in my app too. Every so often I get something for free in the Chikfila app. And quite a few times I’ve gotten a survey on my receipt that got me a free chicken sandwich. Plenty of deals if you keep an eye out for them. Plus, pay with a discounted gift card or rewards credit card.

  12. Your travel plans are so inspirational! Thanks to stories from you and a handful of other bloggers, we spent two weeks in the Yucatan last month and absolutely loved it. There’s nothing quite like $0.40 street tacos, $25/night AirBNB apartments, and 85° weather in January. I think we’ll be making similar plans in future years to get out of the country in the dead of winter.

    It’s good to hear that the weather down in NC has been cooperating with running errands by bicycle. I’ve got a retired aunt and uncle in Wake Forest whom I don’t see as often as I should; perhaps it’s time to spend a long weekend reacquainting ourselves with the South.

    1. It’s really variable weather. One day 50s or 60s then it’s snowing (like today). Just did 8 mile hilly ride 2 days ago in shorts and short sleeves (maybe 60F) and now it’s snowing. Crazy.

      1. I’m a little jealous! The DC area has had all of a quarter inch of snow this winter and it’s not looking good for any more. What’s the point of this 24° weather when it’s dry as a bone? 😛

        Here’s to spring, I guess: may it come gently, warmly, and soon.

  13. Your trip to South America sounds very interesting.
    My wife and I went to Brazil in 2017 and had a great time.
    We went to Rio de Janeiro, Manaus ( Amazon jungle) and Paraty.
    Have a great month.

    1. Sounds like fun! We mostly ended up in Brazil by accident. Iguazu Falls was a must see, but Sao Paulo was the best place to catch a return flight to Miami that fit our cruise schedule. So we stretched Sao Paulo into 4 days since we’ll be passing through there anyway!

    1. Dumb luck I guess. It snowballs over time though. I guess I should count my lucky stars. After today’s 2019 solo 401k contributions my Root of Good 401k is up to $150k. Just from blog income. Pure craziness to think this would ever happen when I quit work 7 yrs ago.

    1. Living in the country? Or nomad/RV? For us, natural gas is incredibly cheap vs electricity to heat our water and home. The rest of it is just the cost of living in the city. Though it’s a small price to pay for all the clean drinking water we need and never needing to worry about a septic system!

  14. Since you mentioned the Hurricanes, here are treats that we recently received courtesy of the Pittsburgh Penguins blasting the Detroit Red Wings 5-1:

    Scored a goal in a particular time frame: Free Big Mac from McDonald’s
    Hat trick (three goals by the same player): Free Arby’s slider sandwich
    Five goals scored in a game: Free meatball and sauce from Emporio’s

    The NHL later negated Patric Hornquist’s hat trick, but Arby’s honored the ticket anyway. THEY HAVE THE MEATS!

    Also, if you’re a couple and you’re both in the car, there’s free stuff for both of you

    LET’S GO PENS!

    1. That’s pretty awesome. Moe’s just messaged me that they are doing college sports giveaways (some local teams do well, they give away free food on Tuesdays this month). And Outback Steakhouse gives a free bloomin onion with any purchase (including $1 kid ice cream or $3 french fries) when their racecar driver wins. Did that a few times but it’s so greasy.

  15. Make sure to get your vaccinations up to date for this trip, plus any possible medication that needs to come with you on this trip.

  16. Are you worried at all about this virus? How are you hedging against the chance of it getting worse in South America?

    I’m in Southeast Asia now and it’s looking pretty crazy. I’m banking on it blowing over in the future, but I can’t plan too far ahead yet.

    1. Not worried yet. We depart for central America in mid-June. Hopefully it’ll be fine by then. One slight worry is that we’re visiting S America in middle of winter when the virus has the best chance of spreading. We will see how it goes and adjust plans if possible.

      There’s also a chance that the US is absolutely wrecked by it but S America isn’t hit as hard. We might be the ones denied entry to many S American countries!!

  17. Thanks for sharing the info on prepaying the electric bill. We also live in Raleigh and use our credit cards to pay utilities (love those credit card points!) but haven’t done so with the electric bill in the past due to the service fee. Always love hearing about a work around!

  18. Hah — got to the paragraph explaining that your trip to South America would segway directly into a cruise and just had to cheer — you guys are rocking this whole early retirement/live-within-our-means experience fabulously — Kudos! It is so much fun to read and I actually think of your advice about not sweating it as the stock market’s “corrections” take place and our portfolio rockets downward. Stay the course!

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