March 2019 Financial Update – Springtime Pollen Edition

Spring is definitely here in Raleigh. Warm afternoon temperatures bring us outside while green clouds of pollen filling the air push us back inside. And everything is in bloom! 

We had a busy March as you’ll see in this article. April will be no different. We are just a few days away from departing for our one week cruise to Jamaica, Mexico, and Cuba. When we return, the last week of April will be filled with volunteering at our kid’s school all week and a big birthday party to close out the month. 

Our March financials look great. Net worth climbed $13,000 to $2,062,000. Our spending remained low at $2,299 while our income continued to be strong at $4,553. We just wrapped up another month where income greatly exceeded spending. 

Let’s jump into the full details of our March finances. 



Investment income totaled $1,498 in March. Our equity mutual funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly in March, June, September, and December so our March investment income was understandably higher than usual. In the first few days of April, another slug of end-of-quarter dividends arrived in our investment accounts, so April will also be a good month for investment income.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, totaled $2,915 for the month of March which is slightly lower than February. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) dropped to zero reported income for March. I forgot to transfer the consulting fees for a two hour session into my checking account until April 1, so at least I’m ahead of the game for April consulting revenue! Although April will likely be a low revenue month for my consulting business since I’m going to be gone for a third of the month on a cruise with no internet. 

Deposit income of $139 included cash back and incentive bonuses from the and 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. 

The “Deposit Income” category also includes $64 in cash back from my Fidelity 2% cash back credit card. Part of that $64 cash back was the 2% earnings accumulated over the past year and the remainder was a $25 promotional bonus earned by spending $500 in the last part of 2018. 



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.



Now let’s take a look at March expenses:


In total, we spent $2,299 during March  which is about $1,000 less than our target spending of $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year).  The top expense categories for March were travel and groceries like most months. It’s almost like all we do is vacation and eat. 


Detailed breakdown of spending:


Travel – $1,026:

We didn’t go on any trips during March but I did manage to buy $1,200 worth of Airbnb gift cards at a nice little discount. Some were purchased from Raise. The rest were purchased from a friend at 16% off (she needed to liquidate the GCs).

We’ll likely use these Airbnb credits during our summer 2020 trip (location remains uncertain but probably South America or Central Europe).

Airbnb plays a huge role in keeping lodging expenses moderate when we travel. Save $40 off your first Airbnb stay with my airbnb referral link.

In other travel news, I’ve been working on the spending required to get the 70,000 point sign up bonus (worth $700+ when credited to reimburse travel purchases) on my Barclay Arrival card. 

If you want to score some free travel 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 credit card deals.


We didn’t do any vacationing in March but we did get out of the house a lot!



Caught this pic while on a hike around Shelley Lake. 2 bald eagles built a nest right by a fork in the trail.



Groceries – $588:

Grocery spending returned to a somewhat normal amount since we had to restock after being gone the last half of February. 

In notable purchases, we bought two more packs of our favorite butter chicken curry paste while it was on sale at Amazon for $11 per six pack. 


Cheap groceries at Aldi. $5/lb salmon, $2/lb corned beef, $1/lb ground beef. Several papayas at $.69/lb. And a pile of prosciutto.


Home cooked pork and collard green stir fry. The kids like it!


Utilities – $214:

The water, sewer, and trash bill from the city was $117 and the natural gas bill was $97 (home heating and water heater).

I prepaid the electric bill a long time ago to hit the minimum spending requirement on credit cards, so I don’t have a monthly electric bill to pay right now. 


Automotive – $169:

Our annual safety and emissions inspection came due in March for our minivan. It’s usually $30 but I had a $6 coupon so I only spent $24 on the inspection. Fortunately the auto shop didn’t find anything wrong during the inspection. 

The state vehicle registration and license plate fee came due in March, along with the annual car property tax bill. Altogether those charges came to $145.

The state added a new $3 fee to pay online. Since I was in a time crunch to pay by the end of March (or face a $15 late fee!) I went ahead and paid the convenience fee. That $3 fee saved me at least 30 minutes of driving down to the license plate office and waiting in line. Cheap price to pay!

But I wonder how many people will wait in line to avoid the $3 fee? End result: the state will incur higher labor costs when they have to hire more staff to process more in-person payments.


Healthcare/Medical – $161:

Our 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. I spent $62 in March since I paid for insurance premiums for February and March. 

The other healthcare spending was a $99 routine dental exam and cleaning. We get the “cash discount” price since we don’t have dental insurance. And rumor has it that our dentist is offering a $20 referral fee when we recruit new patients. Dental costs might be dropping a lot for us given how many patients we send their way! 


Restaurants – $63:

Even though we took an eleven day trip to Mexico to celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary, we didn’t travel on our actual anniversary date. So once the special day arrived in March, we enjoyed a quiet lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant here in Raleigh for $22.


Good eats at Wild Cook’s Indian Grill in Raleigh. $9 lunch buffet.


This year I remembered my wallet so it made paying for lunch a lot easier compared to last year (when we also dined at the same restaurant for our anniversary). 

The remaining $41 of restaurant spending came from the purchase of $50 worth of Pei Wei gift cards at at a discount. I made the Raise purchase through ebates for another 1% cash back. I love the pad thai at Pei Wei but everything else is unimpressive in my opinion. 


Lunch at the Chinese/sushi place in our neighborhood. My parents picked up the tab this time around.


Gas – $42:

Another tank of gas for the minivan. It seems like we are driving more these days for school-related activities and to enjoy our local parks and trails. 


Dix Park in downtown Raleigh. Gas is cheap. Park admission is free!


WRAL Azalea Garden near NC State University. Also free.



Clothing/shoes – $24:

Thrift shopping for some bargains! The six year old got some sweet new threads (some were brand new) and Mrs. Root of Good picked up a nice purse that she’ll use as a padded camera bag on our Southeast Asia trip this summer.

The ladies of the house also had a major clothes shopping spree but that was paid for in February when I bought a discounted gift card. 


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.


We attended a free coding night at NC State University.


They had so much pizza left over at Coding Night. They gave us a huge box full of thin crust pizza to take home. It must have been 30 inches in diameter!


General Merchandise – $2:

On Ebay, I spent $0.99 Canadian ($0.74 US) on a five pack of CR2032 watch batteries shipped direct from China. I mastered international finance and logistics for under a buck. I needed replacement batteries for my car’s key fob. Ebay is a cheap place to get tiny batteries. 

Ebay brought more goodies to me for cheap. They offered $3 off any $3+ purchase, so I found a set of 12 Torx security bits that I’ve wanted to add to my tool collection for a while. Total cost $0.65 shipped after the coupon. They might not be the best quality but they’ll get the job done a lot better than using a flathead screwdriver or pliers or chiseling off the security knob from torx security screws/bolts. 


Random wildlife behind our house: two hawks roosting in the tree.


Entertainment – $0:

It’s pretty common to have an entire month go by where we don’t spend anything explicitly on “entertainment”. That’s not to say we are total bores. 

We get free books from the library. We prepaid for a Netflix subscription. In March we used a free Amazon Prime family account trial subscription.

The world is a big place to explore and we do what we can locally. 

We also have people over to the house pretty often. I don’t explicitly separate the “entertainment” expenses from general grocery expenses since I’m more interested in big picture spending vs. micromanaging exactly where every dollar went. Are beers and food given to friends entertainment? Or groceries? I choose the latter for simplicity’s sake.

This past month we hosted several play dates for the kids, a birthday party/sleepover for our teen daughter and her friends, and we invited over several groups of our friends for lunch or dinner. 


Storming the castle! This thing goes mostly unnoticed by our own kid but all his friends enjoy climbing all over it!


Running and playing in the backyard – a classic form of art that is sorely neglected these days.


Friends and their kids joining us for dinner.


The teenager’s birthday party exploring the lake. “Just don’t drown” was our main instruction. “Don’t fall into the mud” would have been useful too, in hindsight.



Total Spending in 2019


One quarter of the way through the year and we are more than $3,000 under the $10,000 budgeted for three months of our $40,000 annual early retirement budget. Another year of under spending our budget! 

We have several big bills coming up in the next couple of months such as our six month auto insurance and annual home insurance premiums. Beyond that, spending should be fairly modest going into the summer since we’ve prepaid most of our big summer travel expenses. 

I’m not going to work too hard to spend all this extra money we have because we have two big expenses looming in the near future. We’ll want an additional car once our oldest kid starts driving. Probably something small-ish, fuel efficient, and used. We’ve enjoyed being a one car family (after debating it for a while) but that will come to an end in less than two years. Along with a second car comes another set of taxes, registration, inspection, and maintenance. 

The second big expense coming up soon is college for two kids. It’s still a few years off and the bottom line cost is unknown. More thoughts on what college costs might be for our early retired family


Volunteering at the kid’s school for Read Across America. We had breakfast with our city councilor (who also volunteered with us).


I read Dr. Seuss’s “Inside Your Outside” to this second grade classroom. One kid knew more about human physiology than I did. Future doctor?



Monthly Expense Summary for 2019:


Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:


Backdoor neighbors: deer and bald eagles


This place is full of creatures. The deer were talking with the heron this fine morning.


I think it’s mating season for these two herons.


Watching the birds on the water as the sun sets. Lovely way to wrap up the day!


Look at this sharp guy in the back yard!


Net Worth: $2,062,000 (+$13,000!!!)

Another month of net worth gains! No complaints here. 

We’re still about $50,000 below our net worth high water mark of $2,114,000 set back in January 2018. The good news is we’re almost $200,000 higher than we were at the end of December 2018. Big moves in a short period of time!



I don’t spend much time watching the financial market news, but I do get a kick out of taking a glance at the headlines occasionally.  Every time the stock market has a minor dip, I see articles professing that this is the beginning of the end of the ten year stock market boom. Recession is coming they say. Recession will come eventually but no one knows precisely when.

Some expert on one of the business news channels will eventually get it right with their prediction of a correction. Then they will be revered as a market expert. That is, until they are wrong a few times in the future. By then we’ll have moved on to a new favorite market expert to listen to. I’m not intentionally omitting the names of the current, past, or future experts out of nicety. I simply can’t name any of them because they’re generally irrelevant. 

The latest financial news this past month was the inversion of the 10 year and 3 month treasury yields. This has historically been an indicator of a recession. Or put another way, recessions rarely happen without the yield curve inverting several months beforehand. However, a yield curve inversion by itself does not always lead to a recession shortly thereafter. Yield curve inversion is a (maybe) necessary condition but not a fully sufficient condition for recession.

More (and better) thoughts on the yield curve inversion and why it’s not too worrying yet (from fellow early retiree Karsten (who has a PhD in this money stuff) at his blog, Early Retirement Now).

My advice continues to be to maintain your investments in a reasonable asset allocation that matches your risk tolerance. Stay invested in low cost, tax efficient index funds and you’ll probably grow rather wealthy over the long term. 


Don’t worry, be happy!


Okay folks, that’s it for my thoughts this month. I’m off to wrap up my 2018 tax return and pack some bags for our cruise to Cuba. See you next month! 



Are you done with your taxes yet? Or still procrastinating like me? Does this spring weather get you thinking about big summer plans?



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  1. I can’t believe I’m the first to post. I guess that comes from being on vacation in a time zone 6 hours ahead. You were looking at tulips in Raleigh while I looked at them in Amsterdam. I think I win that one.

    When you get a second car try to get it at a different time of year. Spread out those Insurance and registration payments the better to meet minimum spend requirements.

  2. Can you do a comprehensive post on all your deals, cards, pre-paying strategies – like is pre-paying Netflix a manufactured spend for credit card signup bonus?

    1. Matt – Prepaying bills would not really be manufactured spending. It wouldn’t get you crosswise with the cc company.

  3. Yes, chose a reasonable SWR and asset allocation and you are very likely to finish with 4-6x what you started with (real terms). No need to worry about the next recession or downturn. Just be prepared for it. In the meantime, keep living and traveling!

  4. Another great month!!
    Come to South America man. Brazil is waiting for you and from June on without the need of a tourist visa. I suggest the Iguacu falls and Florianopolis.

  5. Three months I noticed we were below our 1/1/19 $280k retirement savings target, at $277k. Eh, so it goes.
    Yesterday I noticed we were above our 1/1/2020 $330k retirement savings target, at $340k+. That gave me a nice little dopamine hit — and eh, so it goes.

    The market does what the market does. All we can control is what we spend and how much we save.

    We spent a big chunk last month on new HVAC and a tankless water heater, and our record net worth is making me think it’s acceptable to look at a plug-in car for when mine dies instead of a used subcompact gas-burner… it’s dangerous to realize just how much money we have!

  6. A fulfilling life at a low cost; can’t ask for much better. Congratulations on both the increase in net worth and continued low expenses. We also had a healthy increase in our net worth while still enjoying life.

    We are back on the Plateau in TN from our winter travels and admiring all the wildlife that comes right through our development, including deer, fox, geese, ducks, and wild turkeys, along with an assortment of hawks and birds (btw, TN is home to more bird species than anywhere in the country, and possibly the world, and I think they all frequent Deb’s bird feeder in the backyard!) Your pics look very similar to our area; then ago we share a state boundary.

    Some traveling ourselves already planned for 2019. This month we’ll be at the Smokies for a few days, while May finds us in New Orleans to take our first seven day cruise in 32 years (not due to cost but rather Deb’s horrendous sickness the first time). June in VA Beach before spending a beautiful summer at home, October in San Antonio, and then our 13-14 weeks during the winter in SC starting in December. Dang, life is good.

    Best wishes for a successful cruise to Cuba, my friend!

  7. I’ve been procrastinating on our taxes, but this week is the week! Glad to hear I’m not the only one putting off taxes. Enjoy your cruise.

  8. Love that $0 line for entertainment! This is what I’m striving for, though definitely can’t say I had anywhere close to that in my net worth report this month haha. Oh well, something to keep working towards. Loving this springtime weather!

  9. I find it nice to be able to spend some time at home after a bit of traveling. I am glad you were also able to relax a bit at home in between your trip in February and your up coming trip in April.

    Regarding my taxes, I usually file an extension. My tax accountant just completed coming up with my extension payment. It’s definitely a lot more than I was expecting.

    It’s also nice to be in Spring. Warmer weather and longer days make for a happier living!

  10. You can buy 4 $25 Pei Wei gift cards at Costco for $80.

    Be prepared for a large increase in car insurance when your oldest gets her license. Luckily, it’s not necessary while she has her permit. We already owned our car that my 17-year old drives, but when we added her to the policy, it cost an extra $700 for 6 months. (We live in Chapel Hill.)

    Have fun in Cuba. We went on a cruise to Havana back in August 2017. It was very cool and historic and also cheap. You can get some WiFi cards when you are there for a buck or two.

  11. Your Aldi has 1/2 price meat stickers? I’m usually happy with a $2 one, but I occasionally find a $5 on those ground beef packages.

    I added the Dr. Seuss book to my cart. (However, I’ll probably get it at the library instead.)

  12. You practically have a wildlife refuge in your back yard! Pretty awesome to be able to watch bald eagles from the comfort of a lawn chair in your back yard. Have you always had that much wild life around? Great place to live!

  13. I love your optimistic outlook on life 🙂

    I am also loving your backyard wildlife! We have herons here in the U.K., but I have never seen a bald eagle.

    As always, Impressively low expenditure given how much travel you do !

  14. I just found you blog, it was suggested as one of the best 8 early retirement blogs by Well Kept Wallet.

    At first I was pretty upset seeing how a person with a net worth of over 2 million was taking advantage of the “system” with highly subsidized health care, and free internet and probably free college when your kids get to that age, but then it hit me, “why and the heck am I not doing it?”

    We have been in the one more year stage for about 3 years, we calculated our healthcare to cost to be $18,500/ yr plus deductible and we have one boy in college, 25k a year and another starting in 1 1/2 years another 25k a year. Had we planned it correctly we would be retired and not paying for a lot of stuff.
    I am no longer upset with you but thank you for opening my eyes to what could be.

  15. Those wildlife pictures! I guess early retirement gives you the time to notice the beautiful creatures living all around you. As always, I’m slightly amazed and majorly impressed by your low levels of spending. Hope you enjoy your cruise!

  16. The weather is still miserable here. We had about a week of nice weather, but it’s cold and rainy now. Bah!
    Yes, I’m still finishing up our taxes. It’s about done and I just need to send it off. It’s not fun sending money to the IRS so I procrastinate.
    Half off ground meat… It’ll help build your kids’ immunity system.

  17. Thanks for posting details on your spending (especially since you have more than 1 kid). Helps regular folks still on their savings journey. We save a fair amount, striving for 50% of gross, but I still get tripped up with random expenses. Like this months are a broken window and a ER trip for a kid who fell at school. We can pay it fine of course, it just puts us further behind with our savings. Maybe I’ll eat away my sorrow with some of the Butter Chicken curry paste I ordered from your amazon link.

  18. Ridiculously low spending as usual RoG. You sure do make it look easy!

    Actually, what amazes me most is that your net worth isn’t setting all-time highs right now. Mine certainly is! The market is going pretty crazy right now.

  19. Hi Justin,
    I know you have kids, which add future education expenses, but do you think you over-saved for retirement? Just curious. It seems like you comfortably live on much less than $40K.


  20. Awesome shot of the bald eagle!

    It always amazes me how you guys can spend so little for a family of 5. Have you ever felt an urge to increase spending once you started making money from the blog? I get asked this question a lot, but since we’re already living our dream by travelling the world, there’s really nothing else I can think of to blow money on. But if you have kids, does that result in FOMO when they want stuff that other kids have or to attend events that other kids go to?

    1. Hi FC,

      I guess that it’s the matter of making full use of the dollar to maximise the enjoyment in respect of Justin and his family.

      Any thing extra on the spending is unlikely to increase the enjoyment.

      My two cents worth of views.


  21. Really nice pictures.
    When i had such an Backyard, i would sit most time there and just see what the animals do.

  22. Hi Justin,
    Great report as usual:)
    College education? My son just got accepted into his University of choice. Estimated cost is $30,000/year all included. I got it easy with my girls at $8K/year average. We are in Canada , it’s supposed to be cheap:)

    1. Ouch! $30k/yr is a lot up there, right? That amount converted to USD is a pretty typical price all-included for lower cost in-state schools in the US. I think our 2 local good reputation state universities (public and therefore subsidized) are both right around $25,000USD/yr.

  23. We were down in your area (a little south) for years but I will always remember the pine pollen. Sounds like you had a great month! Are the dogwoods out yet? Probably been out a few weeks?

    Can you count each kid as a separate referral to the Dentist? ; )

    Max OOP

  24. I am particularly impressed by your low cost spending when it comes to your children. Especially in the general merchandise category. How do you not spend money on kids stuff – arts and crafts supplies, random doodads for school (for example, I bought easter eggs for school egg hunt), gifts for teachers or kids birthdays (I am going to a birthday nearly every week and probably spend the least on gifts, but its usually $10-15 at least at least!)

    1. We get a lot of the random stuff at Walmart or Dollar tree and it gets wrapped into groceries or whatever category is the bulk of the expense. Or we categorize it as “entertainment” such as our recent $20 Dollar Tree visit in April 2019 financial update (birthday party favors and decorations).

  25. Just had to pipe in and say “Amen!” about Pad Thai being the best thing at Pei Wei! A surprising but delicious discovery.

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