March 2021 Early Retirement Update

Well folks, here we are in April. It’s no longer winter but it’s not quite summer yet. Maybe we’ll enjoy a little bit of spring before the heat sets in? Right now we’re suffering through the horrible intermediate phase of “pollen season” here in North Carolina. It lasts a week or two.

Everything is covered in a thick layer of yellow pollen. It billows through the air in thick clouds, turning the sky green. I’m just glad I can wear a mask outside and not look ridiculous any longer! The main consolation is that it will rain eventually and wash all the pollen away.

Our kids just enjoyed almost two weeks off school for spring break. We didn’t go anywhere this year. However we are ramping up our big summer travel plans. So far it’s looking like we’ll take six or seven weeks to make a tour across the USA all the way to California in the west, Montana in the north, and then head back home. I’m keeping reservations mostly refundable at this point since 2020 taught us that flexibility is very important. 

The good times keep on rolling. March was another great month for our finances. Net worth went up $68,000 to end the month at $2,648,000. Income during the month totaled $16,183, which exceeded our paltry spending of $1,483 by a factor of ten!

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled $5,923 in March. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. As a result, we had a really good month in March. However, not quite as good as our dividend income in December 2020 which was over $15,000. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $1,832 for the month which was slightly higher than the past several months. The small bump is due to the payout of the advertising revenues from the Black Friday and Christmas holiday shopping season. Retailers bid the ad prices way up in November and December so I get a little year-end bonus as a result (payment often lags by 2-3 months for advertising). 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $702 for the month of March which represents five hours of consulting sessions. I bumped my rates up by about 5% in February but the business keeps on coming in the door without any real marketing efforts. April looks to be strong as well.

Tradeline sales income was $425 in March. I ramped up my tradeline sales last year and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post

The “deposit income” totaled $7,016 in March. I wish I could say I was a financial genius and somehow made $7,000+ last month from some new venture. The reality is quite different – it’s the stimmy payment that most of us in America just received. With two adults and three kids in the house, we got $1,400 x 5 = $7,000. To put that in perspective on a global scale, that’s equivalent to the annual per capita GDP of a citizen of India. 

The other $16 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). 

My Youtube earnings totaled $284 last month. Here is the channel for the curious. It’s random travel videos, birds, kids, and a couple of DIY videos. Somehow through the magic of the internet hundreds of thousands of people watch the vids and we get paid for it. 

 

 

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.

 

 

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at March expenses:

 

In total, we spent $1,483 during March which is almost $2,000 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Electronics and utilities topped the spending categories for the month. 

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Electronics – $320

We bought a new computer for our daughter to use for her last year of high school and hopefully most of college. Part of the $374 total price was paid with Walmart gift cards left over from February. 

I also spent $11 on a new Logitech M100 corded computer mouse because, well, too much gaming broke one of the buttons on the old mouse. 

 

Utilities – $316:

The water/sewer/trash bill was $130. Our electricity bill was $66 for the month. The natural gas bill, which we covers our heating and hot water, was $121 in March which reflects heating for February, one of the coldest months here in North Carolina.

The next month or two should bring us more moderate utility bills as we won’t need huge amounts of heating or cooling during spring. 

 

Groceries – $296:

Grocery expenses of $296 are significantly lower than the $500 or $600 we spend in a typical month. We didn’t shop as much and we are entering the phase of emptying out our fridge and freezer before our big summer trip. 

 

Thai cucumber chicken salad with bean thread noodles and lime

 

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! 

 

Big plate of bbq ribs

 

Automotive – $171:

March was a relatively high spend in our normally tame automotive expense category. The annual inspection was $24. And the annual state registration and property tax bill totaled $130. 

I also spent $17 to buy replacement windshield wipers that we’ll install before our big summer trip. 

Looking ahead, I may need to do some more preventive maintenance before we head out of town this summer.

 

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.

With the latest stimulus bill, our ACA subsidy is likely to grow to the point where we will pay $0 per month for health insurance. I’m still not clear on whether we will get a refund for the $135 per month we’ve paid so far this year or if that money is gone for good. 

 

General Merchandise – $109:

A bunch of random stuff from Walmart plus $44 for two peacock windmills. One can never have enough bird feeders and peacock windmills. 

 

Wards away evil spirits.

 

Soooo many bird feeders… Can one house have *too many* bird feeders?

 

Entertainment – $65:

I spent $24 for a five pack of Continental bike tire tubes. I had a hard time finding reasonably priced individual tubes.  So instead of getting two tubes for $10-12 each, I paid about the same price for the five pack. Two of our bikes use these size tubes, so I’ll have a few spares for future replacements.

 

DIY bike repair – a game of patience and perseverance. In the end I got everything back together and didn’t have any parts left over so I think it’s fine.

 

The other $41 of entertainment spending is bird food. Big 20 pound sacks of it. 

I don’t know if the bike gear or bird food is really legitimate “entertainment” spending as it could go elsewhere in our budget. But we get a lot of entertainment out of this stuff so I stuck it here!

You can do that when you have your own blog.

 

Gas – $41:

A tank of gas for our minivan. The first time we’ve refueled in a while. 

 

We mostly use gas to go places like this.

 

And this. Lake Crabtree in Cary.

 

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.

 

Taxes – $12:

I have used FreeTaxUSA for several years to file taxes. The federal filing is totally free and the state filing was $12. 

 

Home Maintenance – $4:

I refilled the gas container for our lawn mower. Time to mow the grass

 

Restaurants – $1:

I spent some Domino’s gift cards (bought in previous months) for pizza during March. 

The $1 restaurant charge came from redeeming Moe’s coupons for free burritos. I spent just over the $5 limit of the coupons so the total was about $1 for two kids burrito combo meals. 

 

Homemade pad thai – good stuff! Better than restaurant food? 

 

Travel – $0:

We ramped up our travel bookings right at the end of March but none of the hotel reservations hit the account statements until April. Some of the bookings won’t be charged until we check in. We booked several hotel stays using points, so those stays will be totally free. 

I’m super excited because I think we’re going to be able to book a few nights near Yellowstone in a $500+/night hotel suite using a tiny bit of hotel points. I can’t give any details yet because availability is very limited but stay tuned because this will be awesome if I can do it! 

If you have a small business and want to earn a bunch of free travel, you can get $750+ in cash back bonus or travel with a new Chase Ink business card

We also booked three Airbnb stays for a total of thirteen nights. I used a combo of travel credits from our 2020 cancelled airbnb bookings plus the airbnb gift cards I bought a couple of years ago.

 

I made my own hobo stove out of a gallon can of sliced bamboo shoots. It works surprisingly well! I’m thinking about upgrading to 55 gallon drum version but not sure if I can eat that many bamboo shoots…

 

Total Spending for 2021 – Year to Date

Our spending totaled $5,009 for the first three months of the year. This is about $5,000 less than the $10,000 we budgeted for three months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

Spending will likely ramp up over the next several months as we complete more travel bookings and set out on our trip. We’ll be dining out quite a bit and paying for a lot of hotels along the way. 

Our annual home insurance bill and semi-annual auto insurance bill comes due in May, so that will likely be over $1,000 combined. 

At some point in the next 6 to 24 months, we’ll have to buy a second car and start paying for college. So we are definitely enjoying these low spend months but fully recognize that they will not continue forever.

 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2021:

 

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

 

 

Net Worth: $2,648,000 (+$68,000)

This stock market is unbelievable. I guess it’ll keep going up forever! Our equities-heavy 90% allocation to stocks lets us take advantage of these gains. Month after month after month we keep on watching the portfolio go up in value. 

A pullback at some point in the future would not surprise me a bit so I’m not living like someone with $2.6+ million just yet.

 

 

Needless to say, March led to a big boost in our cash inflow with $16,183 in income. But behind the scenes I shoveled quite a bit of cash from the savings account into retirement accounts. I put $19,500 into my Root of Good Roth solo 401k and another $6,000 into each of our Roth IRAs. So on a net cash flow basis, we actually watched the cash balance decline quite a bit in March. 

 

Watch the stock market rise during the day and watch the sun set at night. What a way to live!

 

Life update

March’s theme seemed to be “optimism”. It definitely feels like we are turning a corner and leaving 2020 in the dust. Pandemic case numbers are looking pretty good. Vaccination numbers in the USA are looking PHENOMENAL

Things are slowly getting back to normal around here. Businesses are mostly reopened. Schools are back at full capacity (for those opting to return; our kids aren’t returning yet). I’m cautiously optimistic that “everything will be okay” but there’s a time lag of a few weeks before we know if all this reopening is really okay. 

 

Vaxed up and ready to make 2021 count!!

 

Three of us in the Root of Good household got our Pfizer vaccines in March and we are scheduled to get the 2nd dose next week. It feels great to know that we’re already highly immune and will have 95% immunity in a couple more weeks. I’m happy to report that none of us had any significant side effects from dose 1 of the vaccine. Fingers crossed that dose 2 treats us equally nice! 

The upside of getting vaccinated is that we can get together with other vaccinated people and not worry about it. 

 

First time my parents have been inside our house to join us for a meal in a year. Things are getting back to normal!

 

Easter was a blast with the other side of our family. We had to cancel our normal Thanksgiving and Christmas get togethers last year so it’s good to finally “do it right”. 

Getting the vaccine and watching the stats where millions of others are getting vaxed every day gave us the confidence to go ahead and move forward with our big summer trip in the USA where it looks to be pretty safe for us.

A bigger unknown is what the travel landscape will look like in 2022 in some parts of the world that aren’t able to get vaccines any time soon. Next year, we’ll have to vacation somewhere that’s mostly vaccinated in order to make traveling safer and less arduous for us.

But I remain optimistic that large segments of the world will eventually be healthy and safe once again as we continue to roll out highly effective vaccines around the globe! 

 

How are you feeling right now? Optimistic for the future? Still worried? 

 

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44 comments

  1. impressive month as always. I’m definitely jealous of the US being able to offer those stimmy cheques and not have it impacting your currency! If our country did that we’d all be in hyperinflation by now lol. The real winner though is that finally social activities can resume =)

    Wouldn’t being vaccinated imply that travel will be fine (from a health perspective), is the worry more that other countries lock down / close up AirBnBs etc whilst you are there right, so like admin issues and being locked in/sent home?

    Enjoy the summer! The test will be if the active numbers start to come down now that some many are getting vaccinated.

    1. I’m a little surprised the USD hasn’t lost any strength but I think it’s because our economy (big driver of value of the currency) is doing really well right now. A lot better than many developed economies last I checked. Stimmies definitely helping fuel that fire I think. Interesting to see what happens in 6-12 months when (if?) the endless firehose of free money ends and we have to face the financial hangover of paying for our own stuff again. We have legislative elections every 2 yrs here so maybe we have a stimmy round 4 and 5 and buy some more votes? Not sure!

      My main concern with traveling to other countries with more prevalence of covid is that we will face lockdowns, closures of restaurants, lodging, parks, transit, etc. Stay at home orders, mandatory quarantines, and all sorts of craziness.

      For better or worse, the US is mostly back open for business for the things we want to do. The only downside for our summer road trip is that some hotels that usually offer free breakfasts aren’t doing it or just give you a bag with a bottle of juice and a muffin or snack bar (instead of real eggs, bacon, biscuits, toast, etc). And maybe some closures of museums but we’re doing mostly nature/outside stuff anyway.

  2. I like your updates very much and look forward to them. I don’t think I noticed the YouTube reference before. Have always been curious how much money can be made with views/ads. Thank you so much for sharing! Continued best wishes to you and your family in 2021!

    1. It’s a ton of $ for something that’s entirely passive once we make a vid and post it. Pretty crazy! We also got really lucky as I don’t know my recipe for success.

  3. A little behind you guys on the pollen season here on the plateau in TN, but it is coming. Enjoying these days of temps in the low 70s and the house opened up before that nasty stuff starts.

    We never stopped traveling at all throughout 2020 and into 2021. TN and SC where we do much of our traveling both short and seasonal have been back to normal in most ways for some time now. Will be back in the Sevierville area for a few days starting the week after next, and have a variety of travels already planned for this year. And from upcoming Sept through May of next year we have five cruises booked; all have future cruise credits applied and the free drink package courtesy of all the past cancellations in 2020 and 2021. We don’t drink to speak of but the coffees and non-alcoholic beverages are appreciated. Like yourselves we have had our first Moderna shots and the second coming up next week. Good luck to all on that front.

    Bird seed definitely falls under entertainment. TN is home to more bird species than any state in the country, and I believe most if not all visit the wife’s feeder out back. It hold 3-4 lbs of seed and it totally squirrel proof. Watching the squirrels try to figure out how to get onto it without falling off, or having the feed holes close off due to their weight, is like watching Roman engineers figuring out how to build a new aqueduct. Enjoy the summer, my friend, and stay safe.

    1. 5 cruises! Love it! We only have 2 so far since we cancelled our June cruise (would have been cancelled anyway I think). Hopefully all of our cruises from here on actually happen (I feel like I said the same thing 6-8 months ago to you :/ ). Definitely feels like more of a reality by this summer or fall given the millions getting vaccines every day. And I’m personally okay if they require 100% vaccination to travel on cruises as it’ll make it safer for all on board and very little risk of mass outbreak and resulting quarantine.

    2. We’ve had 4 cruises canceled in the past year. Still have one to the Panama Canal scheduled later this year. We love to cruise, but I’m a bit shy to keep booking. I’d like to get one under our belt first. Good luck !!!

      1. We had 4 cancelled as well, Vic. But hope springs eternal. As much as I would like to sign up for more (we have until 16-April to keep getting the “mostly free” drink package from Carnival on new cruise bookings) we will stick with what we have. Best of luck to you as well!

    3. Hi! Was wondering where your wife got her bird feeder. We’ve tons of squirrels because of walnut trees and haven’t been able to find a feeder that works. Thanks

      1. Google the “Broome Squirrel Buster Plus.” I have two of them, ended my squirrel problem once and for all. Yeah, it’s pricy, but it works 100% and I save a ton of money on seed. Wild Birds Unlimited carries them if there is one in your city.

      2. JB14 shows exactly what the wife got, but it is much cheaper elsewhere. Anything above a particular weight and the circular piece at the bottom will cause the openings to close down. That’s why she also has a suet feeder for the larger birds and the smaller ones that prefer that over seed. The wife corrected me – it hold 4.5 pounds of seed.

  4. I would appreciate it if you would mention where you got the peacock windmills. They are very cute and might be a good Mother’s Day present for our moms. Thank you. Long time reader here.

          1. Just got one for the wife at Amazon. Walmart is out as you mentioned, but Amazon has 3-4 different versions/colors.

  5. Fantastic update! I just got jabbed yesterday at a FEMA site nearby that opened up on Tuesday in a metro station parking lot. About a hundred twentysomethings in fatigues directing people and making it work, face masks everywhere, huge white tents… it felt like the friendliest post-apocalyptic movie scene imaginable. Three weeks to dose #2 and two more weeks to full effectiveness; can’t wait.

    Two weeks ago I visited a local bike shop owned by some friends and bought a couple of tubes. Twenty years ago when I was in the business, landed parts cost from China was like 18¢ for a tube; wholesaler sold ’em to the bike shop around a buck apiece; bike shop sold them for four or five dollars. It was a bit surprising to spend twice that last month. But their sales racks are completely devoid of bikes due to supply chain problems and I really want them to stick around.

    1. Feels like bike supplies/parts are pricey and limited stock right now. Trails are absolutely packed around here and I see a lot more bikes on the backs of cars these days. Biking revolution!

  6. Expenses 10 times lower than the income. wooooooow. Biden checks helped too but it might make the USD a little less valuable and inflation will hit and market won’t be so generous then… so..enjoy while it lasts

  7. Congrats on another great month! When our kids had two weeks off my wife decided we’d fly over all the states and go to Hawaii where there is very little COVID (and everyone needs to test negative before entering). Fights were a lot cheaper than they’d ordinarily be, about half price.

    We wanted to do a road trip, but driving through states was a logistical mess with all the different COVID rules. We’ll have to save that for summer when we go to Hershey, PA. I don’t know if that’s too far north on your road trip across, but it’s fun to spend 2-3 days. It can be done cheaply too because there’s a lot of rural area around it. You could even sneak in some historic Philadelphia stuff to make it educational.

    Looks like we are on the same vaccine schedule. It certainly is nice on a personal level. I’m go to enjoy it even more in about 6 weeks when we start seeing the fruits of almost everyone getting it (and maybe news that some kids are approved too.)

    1. We haven’t really looked at the various states’ covid rules. I figure we’ll show up wherever and wing it to some extent. I’m sure there will be some surprises along the way!

      We won’t make it to PA this time around (driving pretty much straight west from here) but have visited Philly on the way north to NYC/Canada in the past. Pretty neat place but it was extremely hot when we visited so didn’t do much (and had a screaming 2 yr old at the time).

      1. The states will change by the time you travel anyway. (Hopefully, much, much better). When we were looking in March, we couldn’t go through a few states, so flying over them was the only option. We were also more restricted because we didn’t want to quarantine and have the kids out of school for a couple of weeks.

        I like the idea of rotating directions every few years which would be perfect from your location. Being up in Rhode Island, we mostly have to come down or go to Maine/Vermont/rural NY.

  8. Hi Justin,
    I’ve been reading your blog for years, and as far as I can recall, this is my first comment. But my memory isn’t what it used to be, hence the following question.

    Just curious about whether or not your include your home’s value in your net worth calculation? I’d search for a blog post on that topic, but I don’t see a search function on the website.

    Looking forward to reading about your road trip!

    Mark

  9. If you can swing it, staying for a night or 2 at one of the Yellowstone lodges is really worth it. Amazing history, plus you’re in the park at the hours when noone else is! The early mornings and late evenings are magical. Also make sure you drive the Beartooth pass east of the park. One of the most scenic drives in the country, if not the world.

    1. We considered it but it looks like most are closed due to covid. The accommodations inside didn’t look great given the $$$$$ price tag either, but they are kind of cool looking inside! Maybe we’ll take a peek inside while visiting. It’s tough to stay in 1 place because the park is so big. Even staying outside the park, we were debating staying on 1 side or another since it’ll mean a long drive to at least some of the sights within the park.

      1. West Yellowstone is the best bet, closest to the major attractions. Gardiner is also good, but limited options on lodging. Jackson Hole would be my last choice as it’s the furthest away, and you’ll need to cross through Grand Teton to get to the south entrance.

        Check out Old Faithful Lodge at the very least. The lobby is amazing.

        1. If nothing else, drop by the Old Faithful Lodge to buy an ice-cream and go eat it up on the upstairs porch area in front overlooking the geyser and enjoy the atmosphere of the historic lodge. Also, drop by rangers offices to find out about free lectures being offered. The bear and wolf park at West Yellowstone is also worth a visit to see those big grizzlies up close.

      2. It may be too hard to snag one, but we’ve stayed at the Roosevelt Lodge Cabins 3 times. They aren’t that pricey. They are sparse (communal bathrooms like a campground), but it’s well situated to drive out to Lamar Valley for wildlife viewing. I believe the road between Roosevelt and Canyon is closed this summer, but if not, it’s not hard to drive to Canyon and back in a day.

        If park lodging is unavailable, I’d suggest West Yellowstone and Gardiner. You can bisect the park pretty well with those locations.

        You don’t want to miss the Tetons either, but lodging there (or even in Jackson) is $$$$. You might not be bringing along sleeping bags, but an affordable option is Colter Bay Tent Cabins. It’s 2 sides wooden, 2 sides canvas with bunks inside. And you are pretty much in the middle of things.

  10. Thanks for these regular month updates, it’s the reason why I have the subscribed to the blog and it’s always interesting to read them.

  11. Nice to hear everything is going well. I can’t believe the government keeps giving out all these stimuli to people whose income didn’t drop in 2020.
    I’m still waiting on all 3 of mine. I was fortunately just outside the cutoff based on 2019 income but qualified for them based on 2020 income but still haven’t received anything since they haven’t finished processing my 2020 taxes that I filed back in mid-February. I personally think they should only give them to people who were more adversely affected by the pandemic but I obviously won’t turn them down ;-).

  12. I think you will enjoy traveling out West. I recommend Grand Canyon NP, Yosemite NP, central California coast , Redwoods NP, Olympic NP, Glacier NP . Of course they will be crowded in the summer so you may need to make reservations some places.

    1. I’d add Sequoia/King’s Canyon. Bigger trees and smaller crowds than Yosemite. But do both if you can! If you really want a unique park visit, check out Great Basin NP. You’ll see more stars than you thought possible at night!

  13. Great update! I love the blog and I am sure you have thought about possibly doing more Vlogs on Youtube. Does the internet speed affect uploading? I, personally, would love the same info and more in a Vlog format.

  14. Any giving in the plans?

    It looks to me like money is just finding its way to your house in every way possible, and you should throw some of it back out or else you’ll drown in it.

  15. Congrats! Those numbers are awesome! (Pollen always got me in the spring) How do you like living North Carolina for retirement? Pros, Cons?

  16. Love your blog Justin! You live such a simple yet so happy and fulfilling life. Thank you for the continued inspiration and transparency. I can definitely relate because the little things in life also make me happy. Keep up the great work RoG!

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