January 2021 Early Retirement Update

Y’all still having fun out there? At this point of the year we are officially more than half way through winter. Spring is just around the corner! Here in North Carolina, January was more wet than cold for us. Although we did get a light dusting of snow that lasted for a few hours. I know my readers from the northern states laugh at our snow, but hey, it’s all we got. 

When it wasn’t wet and rainy, we managed to get outside a little and do some yard work, ride bikes, and go for walks. But we mostly stayed close to home and enjoyed a lot of inside activities. For me that means reading, video games, and Netflix. 

In financial terms, January was another great month. Our net worth went up $39,000 to end the month at $2,544,000. Income of $3,224 slightly exceeded our spending of $2,577 for all of January.

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled $143 in January. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. As a result, we didn’t receive hardly any investment income during the month of January. However, our dividend income in December 2020 was over $15,000. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $1,547 for the month which was almost exactly the same as December 2020 blog income.

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $819 for the month of January which represents six hours of consulting sessions. These days I’m getting just as much work from repeat clients as new clients. February is also off to a strong start. I decided to give myself an inflation raise for 2021 by adding $5 per hour to my rates. The 2021 rates are approximately 3.5% higher than 2020 rates.

Tradeline sales income was $350 in January. I ramped up my tradeline sales and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post

The “deposit income” totaled $311 in January. I signed up for the new Google Pay app and got a few referrals plus completed a bonus offer ($21 cash back on a $50+ Target purchase). The total received from Google Pay promos/referrals was $110.  If you want to sign up and see what promos and bonuses they’re offering, here’s my referral link (and you might get $1-5 for joining right now). 

Another $100 in deposit income came from redeeming $100 in cash back rewards on a credit card.

Also included in the deposit income was a $94 refund check from our dentist. We had dental insurance in 2020 and that was the amount reimbursed for an office visit in late 2020 that we paid out of pocket. 

The final $7 in 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/Rakuten through this link and make a qualifying $20 purchase through Ebates/Rakuten, you’ll get a $20 sign up bonus (limited time only; normal bonus is $10 after a $25 purchase). 

Closing out the January income was a $52 sale on ebay. I sold an old copy of the Quake II computer game. That’s pretty amazing since I bought it for $10 back in 1990-something and definitely played it enough to get my initial $10 investment back! Get in touch with me if you want to pay way too much for any other junk collecting dust in my house. I’ll cut you a really sweet deal! 

 

 

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.

 

I bet this guy in our backyard watches his spending… like a hawk!

 

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at January expenses:

 

 

In total, we spent $2,577 during January which is almost $800 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Taxes and groceries topped the spending categories for the month.

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Taxes – $1,385:

In the first few days of January, I paid the remainder of our 2020 property taxes which was $1,085. Our total property tax bill for 2020 was just under $2,000 (with the other ~$900 of the bill paid previously in 2020). 

I also paid $300 as a quarterly payment for our 2020 North Carolina estimated taxes. 

 

Groceries – $588:

Grocery expenses of $588 are pretty typical since we usually spend about $500 to $600 per month on groceries. 

I’m still using Walmart Grocery pick up service several times per month along with visits to Aldi, Lidl, and Food Lion.

The Walmart grocery pickers put together your order for you and you just drive up and click a button on the Walmart app to get them to bring the order out to you. The best part is you pay the same low prices as they offer in-store to all their customers and there is no delivery fee.

If you want to try Walmart Grocery, you can take $10 off your first $50+ order with my referral link. Enjoy! 

 

Homemade pizza. Okay, I cheat and buy the $1 bags of pre-made pizza dough from Walmart because I can’t be bothered to make the dough from scratch.

 

Wrapping up those egg rolls!

 

General Merchandise – $246:

I spent $246 for a $250 Walmart gift card purchased through the discount gift card reseller Raise.com (referral link for $5 off your first purchase at Raise). We spend a lot at Walmart so it makes sense to save a few bucks on all those transactions. I also got a few more dollars in cash back by completing the purchase using an online shopping portal. 

We spent a good bit of the Walmart gift card during January, including $39 for this 22 inch electric skillet. Since restaurants aren’t the best place to hang out these days, we decided to recreate the restaurant experience at home and do some communal hot plate cooking. 

 

Marinated pork, steak, shrimp, bok choy, enoki mushrooms, green onions, and other veggies with some mi goreng noodles on the side. Git in ma belly!

 

Utilities – $140:

The water/sewer/trash bill was $130 but I only had to pay $64 of that. I used a prepaid debit card loaded with cash rewards from our health insurance company to pay the other $66. 

Our electricity bill was $76 for the month. 

The natural gas bill, which we covers our heating and hot water, was $78 in January but I used the prepaid rewards card from our health insurance company to pay that bill, too.  

Our new health insurance company already gave us $400 of rewards so far in January so the good times keep on rolling! 

 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $135:

Our 2021 healthcare premiums are $135 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$45,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. The benefit of being “poor” on our tax return.

We decided not to renew our dental insurance for 2021, so there are no recurring monthly dental insurance payments. Instead, we’ll just pay cash for our routine cleanings and exams throughout the year and hope for no cavities or root canals! 

 

Restaurants – $22:

I spent $22 to get four plates of pad thai take out (using a buy one, get one free coupon). 

 

Electronics – $41:

We got two new batteries for Mrs. Root of Good’s DSLR camera for $11 from ebay. They are the generic batteries instead of the name brand batteries that cost $20+ each. So far they are performing very well! 

I’ve been slowly upgrading all our wireless USB mice for our laptops. I found a good basic model that lasts 6-12 months on a single AA battery even with heavy use and leaving it turned on all the time. It’s the M325 mouse from Logitech. I got it on sale at Best Buy for $9 after applying a $5 promotional gift card they sent me. 

The last electronics purchase in January was $22 for 4 GB of new RAM memory for a laptop. Mrs. Root of Good spent the last year trying to figure out why her internet was so slow. I was shocked to see the laptop only had 4 GB of RAM. I bought it new from Costco a couple years ago. Apparently that mediocre spec slipped my mind when I was troubleshooting her laptop’s performance issues. So far the extra RAM upgrade seems like the magic trick required to accelerate her computer into 2021! 

The installation went pretty well thanks to a good DIY youtube video I found. I also cleaned out a bunch of dust from the fan and heat sink while I had the laptop disassembled. 

 

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.

 

Travel – $6:

I used a credit card to pay our quarterly estimated state income taxes. The State of North Carolina charged a $6 convenience fee to use a credit card. Since I’m always accumulating credit card points and miles, it was a worthwhile fee to pay to bank even more free travel (whenever that becomes more feasible!). 

If you want to score free travel or big cash back from credit cards, there are several 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 and cash back credit card deals

And if you have a business, you can get $750+ in cash back bonus with a new Chase Ink business card

 

Gas – $0:

Another month of no gas purchases. We are below a half tank of gas so I feel like we’ll be buying another tank of gas in February or March.

My two feet and my bicycle require no gas. But I will have to buy new shoes and new bike tires eventually. 

 

These deer were trying to sneak by the backyard unnoticed. We noticed them.

 

Total Spending for Seven Full Years of Early Retirement

Here are the spending summaries for each month of last year for the curious minds:

Monthly Expense Summary for 2020:

 

And here is what we spent in previous years. This includes all the multi-month international vacations, a new (used) car, new roof, new siding, new windows, and a bunch of other “one time” expenses (that recur with surprising regularity).

Amazingly, we’ve never actually spent more than our $40,000 annual budget in any of the years of early retirement! 

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

 

Net Worth: $2,544,000 (+$39,000)

Another month of zoom zoom zoom upward in the stock market. This thing only goes up, right?

I jest…

After gaining a quarter million dollars in 2020, it looks like 2021 is continuing this strong upward trend so far. Like many of you, I watched the January GME/Gamestop/meme-stonk fun and games from the sidelines. What crazy times we live in! Fortunately the stock market isn’t GameStop. 

 

 

Life update

Optimism abounds right now. Virus infections keep dropping. Number vaccinated keeps rising. We are rapidly approaching herd immunity as a country, but we can’t quite celebrate victory yet.

So that leaves our household in a holding pattern. We want to plan a big summer road trip across the USA. But we also don’t want to invest the time, energy, and money in something that we end up cancelling or radically altering. And we don’t want to deal with patchwork closures, travel restrictions, and public health precautions across the country that would sap the fun away from our trip. 

For now, we aren’t spending too much time planning this summer’s trip. Fortunately it’s a road trip, so it’s somewhat easy to wait till the last minute and book hotels as we go. Or scratch the whole thing if it’s logistically too difficult. 

 

Focus on appreciating the beauty in the mundane

 

I don’t like the unpredictability, but we’re kind of stuck. I am sure I am not alone in this feeling! 

I’d rather scramble and plan things last minute than undertake a big effort to plan everything now without the certainty that we would be able to travel. 

So holding pattern it is (for now). But the big summer vacation is just one part of our early retired lifestyle. 

We can still do almost all of the things we enjoy while we are “stuck” in Raleigh. So we live life now, and don’t fret over the potential of missed opportunities in the future. If summer 2021 doesn’t work out, there’s always the fall or winter. Or 2022. 

Eventually we’ll get our vaccinations and hit the road again. Until then, all we can do is make the most out of each day as it comes. 

 

 

Anybody done with winter and ready for spring?

 

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39 comments

    1. I just look at last year’s return because it’s pretty similar incomes year to year for me now.

      But if you’re new to estimating taxes, or have extra income you need to account for, then you could just use your marginal tax rate for any extra income. Example: if you have $10,000 in extra dividend/capital gain income and you are in the 15% dividend/capital gains bracket then you’ll owe an extra $1,500 to the feds. 5% state tax = you owe $500 to state.

      1. oh that’s a good tip.
        Yeah I’ll now have to pay uncle Sam quarterly. He seems to be greedy for money now that he’s printing like hell
        Thanks Justin

  1. We just had 7 inches yesterday after 16 inches last week, and it is pretty much going to snow on and off for the next two weeks in Connecticut. I wish I could post a picture of the back yard, our kids are having fun in it so that is an extra activity with COVID. I’ll be ready for spring in a week or two, also making lots of fires…

  2. I live near you in Chapel Hill. I spend my summers in the NC mountains at Sugar Mountain near Banner Elk. High altitude so it is nice and cool (never above 80 degrees and low humidity). Many things to do–hiking, Grandfather Mountain to explore, fishing, rafting, apple orchards, zip lining, Blue Ridge Parkway. If you are not able to go on your big summer trip look into the Banner Elk area for a shorter trip. There are many airbnbs to rent. I enjoy your blog and twitter

  3. Nice month, again. Definitely sounds like Groundhog Day with the family finances.

    Is Mrs ROG running W10? I assume she is. 4GB would definitely be a problem, although it might be okay if she is running Linux. We run 8GB in all our systems but when we replace them down the road I’ll go a minimum of 16GB, and make the switch to SSD drives as well. Incredible prices on good refurbed units from reputable certified sellers right now, and it will probably only get better. Personally I have been using nothing but refurbed for years and they have worked equal to or mostly better than any new models I had previously purchased.

    Continued best wishes to you and the family!

    1. Yes, windows 10. I’d say 8 GB is the min specs for anything you’re buying today and a cheap $20 upgrade to go from 4 to 8 for most rigs. 16 GB is overkill today for a web surfing machine but a cheap upgrade if you want some futureproofing (or just get the extra 8 GB kit when needed). I highly recommend SSDs as a minimum for all rigs today. Incredibly cheap upgrade for sure! And worth it to upgrade old devices if you’re handy and can clone over the OS (or want to reinstall from scratch).

      I’ve done refurbs in the past with no problem as well. Definitely some good bargains to be had.

  4. Recently I noticed that Michael Burry and some other “value” investors say that US index funds are in a bubble and ready for collapse. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    1. Could be! I’m heavy into international and value asset allocations and they really haven’t gone up nearly as much so I’m not as concerned personally. Maybe a good time to revisit your asset allocation if you’re heavy on stocks and rebalance to your targets. Or add that bond allocation if you want to have one (now is as good of a time as any!).

  5. congrats on another great month!
    We’re also holding off on planning travel. We’ve received most of our money back on cancelled trips, so we can just book at the 11th hour should something come up. I don’t want to agonize over something that may just get closed and the worry isn’t worth it.

    Instead, we can worry about the stock market instead! haha.

    On a side note, well done on the consulting income, that is something that looks attractive in terms of hours and the rates. That hourly rate would go far in an emerging market like ours! But it seems to be just the right balance of hours worked to keep you interested? Or would you like more hours at those rates, what’s the sweet spot?

    1. Right now since I’m not traveling, I’d be happy to take on a few more hours of consulting per week. Just not interested enough to drop the rates significantly or market more. 🙂 I didn’t increase my rates by a significant amount in 2021 just because I figure I’ll have a good bit of free time since I’m mostly “stuck” at home. If I get busier with other pursuits, I use rate increases to reduce the consulting workload for me. It’s a nice switch to flip as needed if I want more/less work.

  6. I tried to do the same thing with getting a low income internet package since I just retired early. However, they want a previous year tax return. I’m assuming you had to wait until the subsequent year or 2 after you retired to qualify. Congrats on a low electricity bill for 5 people. I thought mine was low at $107 for gas/electric for January. Did you happen to qualify for the energy assistance program with that low rate?

    1. No reduced price electricity or gas over here. I don’t know what programs they have but the last I looked it was for elderly or really really really poor people. I think it just varies from city to city and state to state in terms of what they offer in the way of reduced price utilities and internet.

    1. No reduced price electricity or gas over here. I don’t know what programs they have but the last I looked it was for elderly or really really really poor people. I think it just varies from city to city and state to state in terms of what they offer in the way of reduced price utilities and internet.

  7. It’s been a while since I stopped by, Justin!

    Fantastic progress, as usual. You all have the most financial discipline of anyone I read. It’s awe-inspiring really.

    We are TOTALLY ready for Spring. This is my least favorite time of the year, and when the kids are finally all out of the house we will definitely make “wintering” a verb — somewhere further south and warm.

    I decided to start a company with a few friends while my wife continues to homeschool our kids. We were heading the early retirement route but decided to just press on with riskier endeavors with higher returns for the next few years. It’s definitely been a fun ride there and we’re already growing which is nice.

    Anyhow, thanks for your continuing inspiration and keep up the good work!!!!

    Fred

    1. Hey Fred, good to “see” you again!

      This winter has been mild overall so I can’t complain too much. Just incredibly wet. I think we’ve had 4 days without rain so far this month. Spring can’t be far away, right? 🙂

      Congrats on the new biz! That’ll keep you busy in the meantime, right?

  8. Great post as usual. The best thing I like about you for the past 7 years is enjoying beauty of mundane as you have mentioned here. This optimism keeps driving you
    Dude you missed out on youtube income this month??
    Keep going great.
    I think we can get to see college fees related post in coming months as your elder one is up and ready for college in a year or two.
    Are you showing net worth including valuation of your current home? If so are you taking current appraisals into consideration?

    1. Yes, college costs will be here soon enough. I just submitted the application for dual enrollment in community college earlier today, and although tuition will be free, I think there will be associated fees like books and lab fees. Then in 1.5 more years even more community college costs since we’re thinking of doing that for 12th grade (CC full time instead of high school).

      New worth includes the house. I don’t use appraisals since I don’t have any, but rather zillow. I guess that’s comparable appraisals in a way. Zillow is pretty accurate here so I’ll update the value I use a few times per year. Housing here has done relatively well (increase from $108k to $250k since we bought the house 17 years ago)

  9. So enjoy this blog and man, the food looks awesome–you guys know how to live 😉 !

    My 2 cents on road trips during the pandemic — my husband and I went in June 2020 from SoCal to Mass. to see my 93 year old mom without the worry of contamination on a plane. We basically quarantined our way across and it was fine. We took an actual atlas with state by state maps, plugged our destination address into my husband’s phone and off we went. Yes, some things were not available but National Parks were (we got a lifetime old fogey permit for future trips) and every city has a park where you can stop and have a picnic lunch, not to mention quirky local sights or stuff that caught our eye. And local ice cream. We even talked to people from a safe distance. We brought a cooler and made most breakfasts and lunches and hit up drive-thru and take out for dinners — all masked and social distancing. For restroom stops, McD’s and other fast food often had bathrooms open even thought the dining rooms weren’t. I had a bucket of cleanser and towels and I used them to wipe stuff down before use and it was just fine. Was it as much fun as a non-disease year would be? Maybe not, and we didn’t have kids to entertain so it was 2 adults cooing over — The Platte River! The 12,000 lb. concrete cow on the only upland in North Dakokta! Giant murals of Lucy in her home city in upstate NY! Niagara Falls! And we just chose a hotel everyday based on where we were. Comfort Inn was a favorite — consistently clean and comfy and they gave out bag breakfasts, usually, although it helped to have our cooler stash. They might even be back to sit down breakfasts now.

    I know it’s different with kids — but you can tie in literature and history: The Platte river to Little house on the Prairie — see what’s left of the prairie; for older kids, check out famous author’s homes (Fitzgerald in Minneapolis, Sinclair Lewis in wherever that was 🙂 Or historic places — Civil War, heck, Revolutionary war, Native American history. On the west coast there is just tons of beach and hiking and mountains and Hollywood — it’s a big, dang country. I hope you get a chance to do it, if not this year, then sometime soon. Good luck!

    1. That’s reassuring to hear. We really really want to make this summer’s road trip happen. You’re right – it won’t be as fun as without-pandemic road trip but it will probably be more fun than sitting at home staring at each other for a 2nd summer in a row 🙂

  10. The house third stimulus proposal bumps up the investment income threshold to $10k for EITC, it seems like some leanFIRE folks could now qualify. Do you know if they only count taxable dividends and capital gains as “investment income” for purposes of calculating the EITC?

    1. I believe cap gains and roth conversions also count. I didn’t know about that newly increased $10k threshold for EITC so I’ll have to dig a little deeper on that.

      1. I knew capital gains did count but found conflicting info on whether roth conversions count. The EITC does phase out pretty fast anyway once you get above $40k so there’s probably on a a narrow group of lean FIRE folks that it would make enough of a difference to change their plans, but something to be aware of if they boost the credit more in the future.

          1. Reading through the EITC publication 596 from the IRS, it appears you are correct! I can’t find where they actually include IRA withdrawals or conversions in “investment income”. That is (good) news to me! So I might be able to do Roth conversions in 2021 and potentially still qualify for the EITC if my interest, dividends and capital gains drop below $10k.

            1. Yeah looks like about $2k credit if your AGI is at 149% FPL with 3 kids. Just another thing to manage when doing Roth Conversions and deciding what to do with your taxable accounts. Its amazing how many hidden marginal “taxes” there are when you factor in all the lost credits moving up the AGI scale such as EITC, ACA subsidies, FAFSA EFC, retirement savings credits, reduced price lunches, just to name a few. They can easily add up to a >100% marginal tax for families making mid five figure incomes.

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