March 2020 Financial Update – Rollercoaster Edition

Did March seem like a particularly long month to anyone else? Looking back at my month in review, I have a hard time believing the world has changed so much in one month. In America it was mostly business as usual on March 1st. However by March 31st we are all self-isolating at home, many places are shut down, and international travel is nearly impossible. 

North Carolina hasn’t been particularly hard hit yet. One model forecasts that we won’t run out of hospital beds or ventilators during the peak in a couple of weeks, so that should help our local situation even more. Other folks in the rest of the country and overseas haven’t been as fortunate. 

As with last month’s update, I’ll go over our finances and provide some more thoughts on current events near the end of this article. 

Financially, March was about as ugly a month as I ever expect to see in my lifetime. Our net worth dropped by $298,000 to reach $1,819,000 by the end of the month. Income was relatively strong at $7,832 while expenses remained very low at $1,600 for the month.

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled $3,983 in March thanks to the quarterly dividend payments from our index funds. Our equity index 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 $3,118 for the month. This income stream will shrink significantly over the next several months based on several factors related to the current economic crisis. Advertising revenue has taken a significant hit over the past month for everyone. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $275 for the month of March which represents a single two hour consulting session. As I noted last month, the stock market drop led to all of my consulting client inquiries drying up completely. I get it – no one is focused on retiring early at the moment because bigger concerns loom over all of us. The silver lining in this cloud of doom is that the weather in North Carolina is excellent right now and I have even more free time. That means I can lounge around outside and take more long bike rides! 

With the blog income and consulting income expected to drop by 50-80%, I am very glad I didn’t factor those two income streams into my long term early retirement financial plan. We’re still living very comfortably on $40,000 per year and won’t be ruined if the blog and consulting income drop to zero. No need to stress over this! 

The “deposit income” totaled $455. The deposit income includes $50 that 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. 

$400 of deposit income came from two sign up bonuses of $200 each on our new Citi checking accounts. We moved some assets over to Citi to get some big brokerage bonuses too. They should be paid in a few more months. 

The remaining $5 of “deposit income” came from our Chase credit card. They gave us a $5 statement credit to sign up for e-statements. 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at March expenses:


 

In total, we spent a nice round $1,600 during March. That is about half of our target spending of $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Groceries and taxes topped the spending categories for the month. 

With the (much needed) government imposed stay-at-home order, it’s a lot easier to spend very little. If it weren’t for global travel restrictions and cruise line shutdowns, we would have been half way through our 11 night Caribbean cruise right now and spending money along the way. 

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Groceries – $563:

A pretty ordinary month of grocery spending overall. We continue to maintain our high level of food on hand in case we experience further supply chain interruptions. I’m still not able to find a few random items at the store but inventory levels have mostly gone back to normal with the exception of toilet paper. I imagine in another month stores will be doing even better. 

Our normal grocery buying habits of stocking up on huge quantities if we see good sales really paid off. We entered the current period of shortages with pretty much everything we need for a while. 

The one trend I have noticed is that the cheaper alternatives at the grocery store are perpetually out of stock. The store brand items seem to fly off the shelves while the comparable name brand items remain in stock (at a much higher price point). If this trend continues then eventually we will be paying higher prices as we exhaust our current supplies of the less expensive store brand items. 

In terms of safety concerns, I’m still shopping at the grocery store or Walmart while trying to keep frequency of trips to a bare minimum to limit potential exposure. I also “quarantine” all the non-perishable items for at least three days before putting them away or consuming them.

 

Stir fry shrimp and veggies with a side of ramen lo mein.

 

Celebrating St Patty’s Day (in isolation) with some corned beef and cabbage. And… naan?? Make do with what you can make at home!

 

Since we have a lot of free time on our hands, we make naan! Recipe

 

The kid loves deer burgers. The PE coach from our kid’s school hooked us up with some ground deer meat so we experimented with it. Good stuff!

 

Taxes – $300:

I paid our estimated state income tax bill in March. They extended the due date for first quarter estimated tax payments but I went ahead and got it out of the way early. I’m doing my small part to help our government out! 

 

Utilities – $225:

The city water, sewer, and trash bill was $138 for March.

The natural gas bill (for the water heater and furnace) totaled $87 for the month. 

In February I paid $602 for electricity which left us with a huge credit balance. The utility charges a $1.50 convenience fee to use a credit card so I usually charge a big lump sum at one time so that the convenience fee is negligible as a percentage of the payment. These big payments help me hit credit card minimum spending requirements for new sign up bonuses too. 

 

Healthcare/Medical – $164:

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. 

I paid $19 for my monthly dental insurance premiums for 2020. 

The remaining $21 in healthcare spending is the copay from Mrs. Root of Good’s routine physical lab work from September 2019. Gotta love our healthcare system. Yes, sometimes it takes seven months for the final bill to arrive when insurance is involved. 

 

Taking advantage of nice weather to do some lakefront cleanup

 

With the kids at home during the week, there’s even more time for conscription into yard work duty.

 

Automotive – $139:

The annual license, registration, and property tax for our minivan came to $139 in total. 

 

Travel – $92:

If you haven’t been following the news in the cruise and travel industry, it’s pretty dire. All the major cruise lines halted new cruise departures in mid-March and it’s looking like none will resume operations until May or later. Perhaps much, much later. 

We cancelled our cruise that was scheduled to depart March 29th from Tampa then arrive in New York City in mid-April (by way of five Caribbean islands). We will get a full refund of the Chase Ultimate Reward points used to pay for the cruise. We already received a full refund of the airline points and taxes paid for the flights to Tampa and back home from New York City. 

Very soon we will have to make a call on what to do for our big nine week summer trip through South America ending with a Caribbean cruise out of Miami. At this point most of the countries we are scheduled to visit have travel bans in place preventing foreigners from entering the country.

We also hit another roadblock. Peru requires passport validity of at least six months after departure from their country. Two of our kids’ passports expire in just under six months from the dates we will visit and the US State Department is no longer issuing new or renewal passports except in emergency cases. 

At this point I expect to have to cancel most or all of our summer trip unfortunately. 

But I have high hopes for our October trip to Spain! Fingers crossed! 

As for the travel expenses during March, we spent a net of $18 on rebooking some cheaper and better flights for our summer trip before all the countries closed their borders to foreigners. We’ll likely get back most of those fees once we cancel. 

I also included as a travel expense the $6 convenience fee from paying our $300 state income tax bill with a credit card. We try to put as many expenses as possible on our credit card to earn points for travel. 

Right now, we are trying to complete the spending requirements on the Southwest Airlines credit card to earn 75,000 bonus miles. This credit card came with a $69 annual fee that I’m including as a travel expense for the month of March. This card is available through my referral link although the bonus for new card members may be lower at the moment. 

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

 

We can’t travel far but we can get out and enjoy some of Raleigh’s trails. Here are two bald eagles at their nest.

 

Entertainment – $48:

$48 for a bunch of liquor. When I first started tracking my spending 10 years ago I decided to categorize liquor purchases under “entertainment” instead of groceries and I’ve stuck to that over the decade.

At this point in our self-quarantine no one is coming to visit so it’s really just us entertaining ourselves! 

 

A birthday party in isolation livestreamed with friends.

 

Restaurants – $28:

$28 for a huge 20 piece fried chicken order from Bojangles. It’s not my favorite restaurant but Mrs. Root of Good loves it. We picked this up almost a month ago when times were relatively normal. 

These days we aren’t planning to go to any restaurants for a while.

 

Gas – $23:

I topped off the minivan with sub-$2 per gallon gasoline. We didn’t really need it yet but I got it just in case we had to get a few hundred miles away from here for some reason. 

 

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 – $0:

I bought some Walmart gift cards (included in last month’s spending report) and we used those during March to buy about $60 worth of paint supplies to redo our half bathroom downstairs. We stripped off the old wallpaper that had been painted over, then patched up some ugly spots, sanded, primed, painted, and trimmed the room. 

It turned out much better than I expected! I’ll post the final “after” pics next month once we get all the fixtures back in places. 

 

Gotta make it ugly before you make it beautiful

 

Total Spending for 2020 – Year to Date

 

After three months our spending totals $6,900 for the year. This is $3,100 less than the $10,000 we budgeted for three months of our $40,000 annual early retirement budget

2020 may be a very low spending year for us. Traveling is our main discretionary expenditure most years. The odds are stacked against us for our summer travel so I’m expecting 2020 travel expenses to be minimal. We may start booking something in the fall or winter for 2021 but time will tell whether that is a realistic time frame for us.

Fortunately we were planning a road trip across the USA for summer of 2021 so maybe that will be possible even if international travel remains difficult or inconvenient. 

Upcoming spending over the next year might include a second car and a new water heater. These are included in our annual $40,000 spending target.

In the intermediate term, our two oldest children will start college in the next 3 to 4 years.  We think college costs will be manageable as I laid out in this article

 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2020:

 

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

 

Here we are doing second grade over the videoconferencing software. What strange times we live in!

 

Exactly one month ago we were volunteering at school. Now school is closed most likely for the rest of the year.

 

Net Worth: $1,819,000 (-$298,000)

A bit of a bumpy ride in the stock market last month, huh? Anybody else lose any money on paper? 

Our net worth dropped by a staggering $298,000 during the month of March to bring our net worth down to $1,819,000. We experience two days with losses exceeding $100,000 and a third that was very close. We also experienced gaining $100,000 in the stock market in a single day. Needless to say, there was a huge amount of volatility in March. 

The almost $300,000 drop in our investments during March is on top of the $114,000 drop we experienced in February. Our total losses from the peak are just over $400,000 at this point. 

 

 

I wish I knew if this was the bottom or we have further to drop. If I did I would time the market by knowing when to sell out and when to get back in. Absent the ability to accurately forecast the market day to day, I’m staying the course and “doing nothing”. 

I have a gut feeling that the market will go down some more before it starts going back up. Two factors may counteract any further declines, however. One factor is the potential for further rounds of federal stimulus money being sprinkled across our economy. You drop a few trillion more dollars on everyone and things might look downright rosy (economically at least). 

The other factor is the potential for an upside surprise in how fast we beat this thing. Vaccines might be developed and deployed sooner than expected. More effective treatment options may materialize. Our “stay-at-home” orders, social distancing, and better/more testing might actually do the job to flatten the curve and even lead to a significant decline in new cases and deaths. Stranger things have happened! 

Which leads me to my investing conclusion: I have no idea what will happen in the near future in the stock market. 

I’m going to stick with my boring 90% equities + 10% bond asset allocation and live off the bond portion if the market stays in negative territory. 

We have enough cash on hand to fund the remainder of 2020 living expenses, plus we will undoubtedly get some level of dividend income during the rest of the year. However, dividend payouts are likely to be smaller than previous years.

Beyond 2020, we have about six years of living expenses in relatively safe bond funds. 

We also paid off the mortgage several years ago, so our living expenses are fairly modest most months when we aren’t booking big international travel. 

As a result, we feel very comfortable financially and don’t have to worry too much about the huge paper losses we see in our portfolio. I mostly disregarded the gains of the past few years and didn’t inflate our lifestyle to match our “newfound” wealth.

So when our wealth suddenly shrunk and we dropped back to our net worth level last seen in April 2017, it wasn’t too painful. Looking back at that post from three years ago, we were very happy and living well. No reason to throw a pity party for our recently impoverished selves!

In fact, in that three year old post I mentioned how we were taking profits at that time and shifting more funds into bonds. Those are the very same bonds that provide a lot of peace of mind right now! 

 

Peaceful and calm – be like the great white heron not the angry Canadian goose.

 

Okay my dear friends, that is all I have for this month. I’m sure April will be just as crazy and unpredictable as March was. Try to stay grounded and keep a level head. Follow your long term investment plans. Make smart decisions to keep you and your family safe. Get outside (6+ feet away from others) and enjoy the spring when you get a chance.

And if you see any toilet paper on the shelves, leave me a pack or two if you don’t mind. 

 

 

Feel free to share how your March was. Any craziness you saw (in life or in finances)? Thoughts on the next few months?

 

 

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83 comments

  1. March was an exceptional month to test out my financials and mental capacity to handle downturns. In 2008 I wasn’t very financial savvy then so not counting it.

    Overall pretty pleased. My bare bones budget made sense in real life, the 35% drop didn’t shock me too much and the extra cash cushion I had finally came into use (during the bull market it felt stupid).

    I’m hoping we can snap out of this crisis soon but not getting my hopes up.

    Cheers and stay safe!

    1. A 35% drop in 3 weeks is really the true test of the FIRE movement. I feel a lot of people will be going back to work soon (the ones who retired only on less than a million at 33). But 1.8 million in investments after a 35% drop is certainly more than enough.

      1. The problem with “going back to work soon” is that there are a ton of people out there looking for work and it may not be as soon as these folks would hope for.

        1. The bigger concern is all those people who are now getting paid more than their total salary for doing nothing.
          The a-hole dems created this addition to unemployment to get the lower income people used to welfare, with the intention of making them dependent on government, and thus likely to vote for those who promise them even more handouts. (ie: democrats).

  2. We all thought March was a long month. April and May might be EXTRA long for some people. Maybe even all summer and fall. Hopefully not. Hopefully this blows over and we can get back to normal life.

    I also have my kids doing yard work, but they are only 4 years old, so it’s minimal work that gets done. It’s not something new for them, but we have more time to do it.

  3. It’s great you’re keeping your investment allocation even when it’s tempting to try to time things. You mentioning boring bond funds and plummeting stock funds reminds me of a saying: “If you don’t dislike at least one of your investments at all times, you’re doing it wrong”. No one wanted their bonds for the last 12 years, and now not many people are fond of their stocks!

    1. I’ve always liked my bond allocation (for the 3 short years that I’ve had it). Kind of like paying off the 1.99% mortgage early – it all adds up to extra lines of defense for the most difficult times.

  4. As a recent early retiree, I can say this has been a very interesting period.

    It has helped put things in perspective (ie what is it that really matters) and also to test some assumptions about early retirement.

    For example we have cash to cover circa 2 years of current expenses, and we should be able to weather this; however, even with the certainty this period will end sooner or later, it’s hard to watch the portfolio accumulate (paper) losses.

    Anyway, flexibility is probably the most important thing at this point – I’m very happy we don’t have any big financial commitments!!

    1. At least you’ll have 2 years to watch and wait for the portfolio to recover. No worries (yet)!

      And yes, flexibility is key. I’m glad we have set ourselves up with a lot of flexibility, too!

  5. I love that you always share some photos of meals from the month! One of our favorite quarantine meals has been Arroz Con Pollo, I think. We’re also getting ready to celebrate our youngest son’s birthday this weekend, and are trying to make it special without extended family or friends — that’ll be interesting!

    Hopefully things get back to normal soon and you guys get to do your summer trip!

  6. Sorry, I am a new reader. Your cost of living is impressive. Where do you live ? Is your house paid off? Is it included in the net worth for such low living expenses?

    1. We live in Raleigh. House is paid off (since 2015).

      Yes, it’s included in net worth ($193,000 current value on my net worth calcs but might be worth $225-230k if we cleaned it up a bit and got a good price).

  7. Good to hear y’all are doing well! The Bojangles shout-out made me wistful; my monthly splurge is a $21 (including tip) haircut from the old 1960s-era barbershop followed by a chicken biscuit from Bojangles on the way home. That was supposed to be this past Saturday morning — but, well…

    On the bright side, last week I got what might’ve been the last pair of Remington Indestructible clippers in the country and yesterday my wife cut my hair. Still, can’t wait to get back to Carlo and the guys when this is all over.

      1. It’s not so much about the hair; it’s about waking up early on a Saturday, driving over in calm traffic, and sitting in a big comfy chair and worrying about absolutely nothing for ten or fifteen minutes, surrounded by old guys bantering in Sicilian while Formula One or European bicycle racing plays on the TV. There’s something comforting about it all.

        It’s kind of the opposite of my wife worrying about screwing up my hair while waving clippers at my head. 😉

  8. As you said, I can see why consulting would have dropped so much in March- people had a lot of surprises to deal with. But, I’d be very surprised if your consulting work didn’t come roaring back quickly with even more demand soon. What better way to control what you can during times like these than learning to live on less? Plus many people have more free time and are realizing that some things about being home are pretty great. (Not at all minimizing here all the people who are truly struggling at home… because there are many of those as well.). As always, I appreciate your calm and steady approach. Best wishes to you and your family.

  9. We also lost several hundred thousand dollars in our investment portfolio, but I am not too worried because we have enough cash in an online savings account to cover short term expenses. I even bought some stock index ETF’s while there were low. My daughter was traveling / working in Asia but had to come home so she is staying with us for a while. Good luck this month and have fun wearing your masks!.

  10. Our international trip this summer will also likely go up in smoke. 🙂 How about moving the road trip up a year and swapping it with South America?

  11. After 26 years in our house, there is finally no wallpaper in it. I think there should be a law against putting it up, but I see it is coming back into fashion. Kudos to your bathroom update!

    1. Our 3 bathrooms are all wallpaper-free now. They’ve been liberated! We still have it in the kitchen though. We’ll save that job for the next massive global pandemic shut in…

  12. Hello, when life is normal and school is normal, how do your kids take so much days out of school to travel with you? You mention that you had a trip schedule to start end of March, school is still going on that time isn’t it?

    1. The younger 2 kids were going to miss a week of school then their spring break started the 2nd week of our cruise. We got an “Educational absence” approved for 1 kid but got denied on the other (a decision made by each school’s principal).

      The oldest kid is in high school and we didn’t want to pull her out of school so she was going to stay here with Grandma.

      But most of our travel is June-August when the kids are already out of school.

  13. We had planned to spend a month roaming around France in May. We used Chase points and our Chase credit card to purchase those flights by Delta. Any tips on how to get a cash refund and a return of those points?

    1. It really depends on Delta’s refund policy. I’d investigate their policy and also give Chase Travel Portal a call to see what they can do. Lots of airlines are giving refunds or free flight changes even for “non-refundable” tickets so you might be in luck.

  14. We lost more than you on paper since we own more individual stocks that got whacked hard, but I am not selling since I trust many will come back, eventually. Have bought a few more here and there over the last couple of weeks, along with our ETFs, but nothing too earth shattering. We’ll maintain our cash cushion and ride this thing out as best as possible. Even before this we were probably spending only 1-2% of assets on a yearly basis, mostly for traveling. Since we have two SS checks coming in and the wife’s small pension, in a worst case scenario we could handle our necessary expenses just from those amounts.

    Our cruise later this month was also cancelled by Carnival. We opted for the FCC and the extra $600 OBC to use on a later cruise. In addition all Wyndham resorts are closed so no traveling through our timeshare avenue as well. But we are enjoying the great weather here in TN and doing work around the house, cleaning out the garages, and in general getting more done on the home front than we probably would have otherwise. And like yourself we were well-prepared with a large pantry and upright freezer for our food needs, along with copious amounts of TP we built up over the years. Come to think of it, except for the lack of traveling this isolation thing looks like normal living for us. Stay safe, my friend, and best wishes for the family and your readers.

    1. Sounds like you’re in a good financial position! And since you won’t be traveling in the short term you’ll save even more $$$.

      Good call on the Carnival cruise bucks. I would do that too if it were Carnival. We just don’t seem to see good deals on Norwegian so the 25% bonus in FCC didn’t look as appealing as cash back (or refund of credit card points in my case). Let’s hope they get back to sailing sooner rather than later (if it’s safe).

  15. Our net worth was down quite a bit too but it’s all due to how the market has behaved the last month.

    We are taking this stay at home period as a learning experience, especially when it comes to home-schooling the kids.

    I should get the kids to do more yard work but at 6 and 4 there’s a limit how much they can help.

  16. I’m curious to how school is going in the house. I guess it’s a lot better than other homes with two full-time working adults. However, with three children, I can see it still being difficult.

    While I can see those two upsides, I’m fearful for two negatives. The unemployment being high is going to create problems. Also, the corporate earnings are going to be trash. The market looks like it’s still priced high (on a Shiller P/E ratio) and I expect that to get much higher as earnings drop. Maybe traditional market measurements don’t work if the expectation is a vaccine in 12-18 months.

    1. Mrs. Root of Good is handling most of the homeschooling. The school district was in “review” mode the past couple of weeks and this week is Spring Break. Next week starts the first week of “new learning”. We’ll see how it goes. The older 2 kids are mostly self sufficient. And some of their classes were already heavily linked up online with online reading, online videos, listening to podcasts, etc plus answering homework and quizzes online. Also online groupwork/collaboration plus submitting presentations via a classroom portal.

      I agree with your 2 risks on the market – it may still be a very bumpy ride over the next year. Stocks definitely don’t feel cheap in my opinion but it’s hard to know how well the stimulus money will benefit corporate profitability. Dump a ton of cash on people and that makes everything rosy? We’ll see!

  17. As a bird nerd, I have to let you know that the “Great White Huron” is more commonly referred to as a Great Egret here in the USA, and if you call “deer meat” “venison,” it sounds fancier 🙂

    What are your thoughts on cruises going forward. I’ve only been on one, and didn’t really like it, but can’t see myself going one one ever again after all of this!

    1. I’ll definitely be willing to go on cruises in the future whenever they get back to sailing. I have no clue if it will be a few more months or a year or more. But at the moment I’m very glad I’m not stuck on one of those “ghost cruises” that couldn’t find a port that will take them right now!

  18. Because of currency volatility my networth dropped by 30% in usd, so from $1m down to $700k… It sucks. Hopefully the currency strengthens a bit again, then my loss will be a mere 15-20% lol.

    Ahh well, not like there’s much to spend it on in lockdown anyway. The currency also makes our spending drop from $40k to 28k. And to think 6 years ago we spent around $100k per annum!

    1. Wow, that’s a big forex swing! I’ve been watching a lot of LatAm currencies lose a ton of value vs the USD because we are (were?) planning on visiting there this summer. Looks like a lot of countries are “on sale” if you have USD’s right now.

  19. Regardless of what the government does to “stimulate” the market, they’re just printing more money out of thin air, diluting what we have saved, driving up future inflation rates, all to just give it to those who didn’t plan ahead. SMH
    We’ll have to recover 50% to 50% more than we had before this started to break even in spending power. Not going to be easy or quick. 🙁

    1. You see a big uptick in inflation? Hard to imagine that with the huge spike in unemployment numbers plus major hit to GDP. Where is the aggregate demand going to come from to drive up prices?

  20. This is is turning into the litmus test of whether we can FIRE for us. Our dividend income matched our expenses for about a week last month as luck would have it (or lack there of) and now with a 25% dividend cut on the horizon, obviously that has changed. We had some cash and own high quality stocks so I am forecasting a 15% hit to dividend income but we also put some of that cash to work producing more income.

    We also plan to cut some expenses next year including our country club so that will put us back into balance. Overall, I feel fortunate to have a job just in case but if we can get through this and get everything balanced in personal capital, I will feel pretty good about early retiring at 48/38. We also own a house in the NY suburbs which has been hard to sell to downsize but that might change as people move out of the city, I am hearing corporations are already trying to lock down leases out of city centers. Big changes coming, I predict we see a move back to suburbia especially in the Northeast.

    1. That move to suburbia thinking makes sense. Seems like being a city dweller, particularly in NYC, would be tough right now. Too many people in one spot and not enough outdoors and green spaces around. Hopefully the market trends work out for you so you can sell your house!

    1. Well 15% in one month! I also have about $200k of net worth in my house that I didn’t change in value, plus about $200k in bonds/cash that didn’t really change in value either. So probably closer to 18-19% drop on actual equities during March.

  21. I always look forward to your monthly financial updates. I commend you on your frugality and simple easy living. Sorry to see all your travel plans put on hiatus. Hopefully, things will begin to return to normal in May and throughout the summer.

    I made a decision to go all cash very early on. I had realized losses of less than 1% of my portfolio, so I’m pleased about that. I did, however, sacrifice all of my dividend income. I’m looking to get back in the market down the road and resume my dividend income lifestyle, hopefully sooner rather than later. In the meantime, my wife and I have over two years of living expenses set aside and probably about 9 months of food stores.

    I was actually in the middle of selling my house when we got locked down. Don’t know if the sale will go through after the crisis is over, or if the housing market will be up, down or sideways? A lot of unanswered questions for my family, and probably for everyone else as well. I just keep praying a lot and leaning into my faith in God as much as possible. I’m using all this down time to lay the foundations for a better online income stream and watching a lot of movies and concentrating on self-improvement.

    Take care and be safe everyone…

  22. Call it entertainment or call it entertainment. Liquor has now become an essential !!!…I had a house on the market for about 10 months. It finally sold and I closed about a week before it really hit the fan. Quite a relief. … I am a lot older than you. Though we had a painful paper loss in stocks, with pension, SS and income from Muni’s sleeping is not a problem. Remember folks, stocks are volatile and they do go down…. We also had to cancel a cruise in May, 3 weeks from Florida to Seattle. Disappointed… You do a nice job and your blog is enjoyable to read. Years ago I read ” Your Money or Your Life” and have lead a somewhat FIRE lifestyle ever since. Retired from military and corporate world at 57. Thanx….

    1. Good job on getting the house sold! You wouldn’t want that hanging over your head for the next several months since I’ve heard sales are very slow in many places right now.

      That cruise sounds awesome. Hopefully you’ll get another shot at something similar in the future!

  23. Down the line and when things get better, will you still keep 90% in equities or change up the allocation? On another note, after reading your post awhile back on Costco not being worth it, I canceled my membership and haven’t looked back! Don’t miss it one bit! I did do a non-member purchase on line once for some hiking shoes. It cost me a few extra dollars but even with that, the price was better than I could find elsewhere. Thanks for the update and glad that the family is doing well.

    1. I’ll probably stay at 90% equities long term. Maybe shift that % down another 5-10% if our ~$2 million portfolio doubles in size. 90% feels “good enough” given how little we spend.

      Good job on the Costco membership! I almost ordered some TP from there a few days ago and it’s only 5% extra for non-members. The price was still almost 2 times the price at Lidl for the exact same product (Angel Soft knockoff TP in 30 megaroll packs).

  24. Hi Justin, I just stumbled across your site and so impressed with what you have accomplished here. My expenses (for a family of 4 incl 2 teenage boys) is approx 4x yours (and I don’t even have a health ins premium or a mortgage other that HELOC int). How you are able to get by on $140/wk for groceries? That is truly un-beliveable! One thing I wanted to mention that I have used both personally (and professionally) are fixed index annuities that have income riders. This can be utilized as part of your Roth conversion ladder strategy with the goal of activating the income rider at age 59.5. This concept works better for someone in their late 40’s to early 50’s but can be a great way to generate a tax free pension (that can also grow each year by doing your ladder strategy). I’m 53 now but at 60 I will be able to activate my various income riders for close to $83,000/yr in guaranteed lifetime income. I personally wanted a pension like income that would kick in when I’m 60 and plan to retire. I’m also not particularly confident on what the future holds for Social Security. These products also allow me to keep investing my other retirement money with out having to worry about a potential 30-50% drawdown in those accounts. If you had any interest in learning more, feel free to reach out. Keep up the great work and stay healthy!

  25. Very interesting blog. Appreciate you putting it together. I have been semi–fully retired for the couple of years. I was told by the FP at one of the personal capital sites that I need to diversify extensively, so I got into airlines, retail, energy, etf’s, web security, ecommerce stocks, medical and lost my entire portfolio as I was doing cash secured puts. Now I am facing severe hardship. My expenses are
    Real Estate taxes 12000.00
    Term Insurance 6700
    Heath care 2200 (Affordable Care Act Participant)
    Groceries 3600
    Utilities 3600
    Cell Phone 2200
    Household Maintenance 1000
    Auto/Homeowner Insurance 3100
    Entertainment 0
    Cable/Internet 1600
    Auto maintenance/License Stickers 1000
    I am wondering if someone can give me any ideas, how to reduce or shave expenses.
    I live in Illinois. Two people in the family.
    Appreciate any guidance

    1. Get out of Illinois and live somewhere with a cheaper property tax!! Semi-joking but that would certainly reduce your spending quite a bit.

      Cell phone and cable/internet might be something you can trim back or negotiate with your providers. Same with auto/home insurance – shop it around to 2-3 other companies and make sure you’re getting the best deal.

    2. I agree with Justin.
      I live in VA, and with a home worth ~ $300K, in a low cost real estate market, my RE tax is barely 10% of yours.
      Utilities are less than half, groceries around 60%.
      My insurance costs are similar to yours, but I have quite a few cars, trucks, trailers, and a diesel pusher coach.

      In total, my basic expenses are around half what yours are.
      Moving to a better state would make a significant difference.

  26. Justin-

    1) Suggestion for your first paragraph . . . . . March can legitimately be referred to as a year, not a month.
    2) Thanks for your travel musings. I work seasonally in the travel industry and like so many others saw my calendar go “poof”. Though there are currently far more important concerns and than leisure travel, daydreaming about it can sure provide much needed mental relief. We too have a cruise booked; 10 days in western Europe, in October. Though it’s technically still on the books, and the heart says “go”, it’s hard to envision taking any type of multi-country trip a few months from now, considering that any Covid-19 recurrence in even one of those countries could immediately trigger lockdowns, border closures, a much longer cruise than planned, and a prolonged/difficult return home. Not sure we want one of those “buy 10 nights, get 30 free” cruises that have been happening recently. It’ll be all about safety.

    Best to you and the RoG family.

    1. That’s a tough call for October. We have one booked in August but I only have a tiny deposit on it so far. Probably will cancel it if they don’t cancel on me first!! I’m not too interested in that extra free 30 days on board either (with 1000 sick passengers).

  27. I was just reading one of your old blog posts (year end 2018 financial summary) which you described as your first options trade: “I sold one January 2021 put on Carnival stock (CCL) with a 37.5 strike price for $3.60 per share. After commission I pocketed $354. I’d gladly take 100 shares of Carnival at $37.50 (a 25% discount to the current ~$50 price per share).”

    Just pulling your leg. I’ve made my share of these kinds of trades too.

    1. Yeah this whole cruise line put option business isn’t going well (so far). Carnival looks like it won’t recover to anywhere near $37.50/sh by next year. At least I’ve made a tiny bit of other “lucky” trades since the February drop started. Offsetting some losses!

  28. I’ve wondered how they handle the costs when one gets locked down on a ship.
    Can the cruise line bill you for the additional days, or does their insurance cover the additional costs?
    It has to be expensive to feed and house a ship-full of people for an extra month. 😮

    1. I was reading that the contract stipulates they can bill you for extra days if they have to keep you on board for medical reasons. I don’t think any of the cruise lines are doing that though. In fact, I think many gave a full refund and often gave an additional 100% future cruise credit as an apology.

      You are right though. Cruise lines were getting hammered by the operational issues and it’s an expensive proposition. Good incentive for them to step up screening passengers and encourage good public hygiene and health on board!!

  29. Hi Justin,

    This is a great litmus on one’s ability to remain retired despite the adverse market. I believe that one will be able to go through such crisis with ease given all the buffers in place.

    WTK

  30. Hello,

    Does anyone have a plan to beat inflation in the years to come, like buying non perishables and consumable items that we need everyday?

    Thanks

    1. I suggest you buy all the toilet paper you can get your hands on.
      Everyone else thinks it’s the best investment, all those people can’t be wrong. /s

      1. I’m as guilty as the next guy about this. I have bought 3 six packs of TP at more than 2x the normal price I usually pay. Just want to make sure I have it on hand. I’m good for a few more weeks so I won’t get any more before then unless I see it at a reasonable price.

        1. Justin,

          Hasn’t been a problem for us.
          I buy stuff like paper towels, detergent, soap, TP and other non-perishables once a year, just to avoid having to go to the store so often. We had 3+ huge cases of each on hand before any of this nonsense started. Lol

  31. Hi, Nice write up and incredible detail. I love how your spending is decreasing every year. March for me was up and down, My investment income is slowly increasing albiet not at the levels that you are at. It is still increasing each month and keeps me motivated. On a personal side I had to close my cafe until futher notice. Not knowing when we can open again is tough and as a result we had to place our staff on leave until we can open again.

    Looking forward to your april reprot already

  32. First of all thank your for your blog, I just recently stumbled upon it and it has proved to be really inspirational. You mentioned having a low income taxable profile (40.000$), which allows you to have reduced premiums on healthcare. May I ask by which mechanism you achieved that ? There are parts of your income which are not taxable if I understand correctly?

    1. Some of the income is in tax-preferred accounts (traditional and Roth IRA). And I can contribute almost all of my blog earnings to a deductible solo 401k should the need arise.

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