November 2020 Early Retirement Update

Well folks, we’ve almost made it through 2020! Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas/New Years holidays are rapidly approaching. Even though the way we celebrate these holidays will likely look different this year, they are always something I look forward to. 

In November, we were able to get outside a lot and enjoy the cool fall days. I appreciate the nice weather right now because I know it will be cold for a couple of months during the winter. So we make the most of it while we can! 

In financial terms, November was a phenomenally great month. Our net worth went up $243,000 to end the month at $2,405,000. Our income, while lower than most months at $1,744, still managed to exceed November’s spending of $1,437. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.



Investment income totaled $350 in November which came from our bond allocation. 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 totaled $738 for the month which was significantly lower than usual. One advertiser didn’t pay during November. Or the check was “lost in the mail”. I’ll have to follow up to find out what happened. Fortunately I don’t rely on income from this blog to pay for our living expenses so lower revenue isn’t a problem at all. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $275 for the month of November which represents two hours of consulting sessions. 

The “deposit income” totaled $93 in November.

Included in deposit income is a $25 redemption of some cash back points on a credit card. 

Another $31 came from the Ibotta cash back app (referral link). They’re offering a $10 sign up bonus if you want to use my referral link. 

The final $36 in deposit income came from 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/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). 

Youtube earnings totaled $287 for last month. This income mostly comes from a couple of DIY home improvement videos that Mrs. Root of Good filmed and edited (starring me!). 



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.


No place to go? There are always board games!





Now let’s take a look at November expenses:


In total, we spent $1,437 during November which is almost $2,000 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Groceries and insurance topped the spending categories for the month. 


Detailed breakdown of spending:


Groceries – $570:

Grocery expenses were slightly above average at $570 for the month. We tend to spend around $500-550 per month. 

We bought a bunch of food for Thanksgiving. Initially, we planned to host 28 people on Thanksgiving day and dine in the backyard. Due to a sharp rise in numbers of new cases during November, we made the tough call to cancel the big family get together.

We ended up cooking a much reduced Thanksgiving dinner just for immediate family and made a few extra desserts and side dishes to “trade” with extended family. So we were still able to enjoy a wide variety of traditional American Thanksgiving items plus the more exotic Southeast Asian cuisines from Mrs. Root of Good’s side of the family. 


Our smallest-ever Thanksgiving spread


The Cambodian/Thai/Laotian/Vietnamese Thanksgiving food


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! 


Free (after rebate) wine from First Leaf wine club


In other grocery “spending”, I got a free six pack of wine from First Leaf Wines using the Swagbucks app ($10 bonus Swagbucks for new accounts). The wine was pretty tasty to my simplistic non-oenophile palate.

First Leaf also included neat info cards for each wine that talked about the region of the world where the wine is from. It’s almost like traveling there in person! 😉 


Insurance – $259

Our six-month auto insurance premiums for 2 people. 


General Merchandise – $226:

The biggest purchase was a $150 Sam’s Club gift card I bought during November (using Swagbucks for 12% cash back on the gift card purchase). We used part of the gift card to order gifts and other random stuff from Walmart during November.

We also ordered some new stainless steel pots and pans from Macy’s for $65. Some of these new pots and pans will be Christmas gifts for family. 

Rounding out the “general merchandise” purchases is $9 for plastic chair leg inserts. Last month, we saw a neighbor giving away six nice metal chairs for free. We picked them up and realized they were missing the plastic chair leg inserts that keep them from scratching up the floor. Fortunately I found a set of 24 inserts on ebay for only $9 shipped. We also spent a few dollars on some nice fabric to reupholster the seats. 

I think the end result looks pretty nice! 


Reupholstered chairs



Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $135:

Our 2020 healthcare premiums are $123 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$40,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. The benefit of being “poor” on our tax return.

In November, I paid the $123 premium using a rewards card provided by our insurance company (so the net cost was $0). 

I signed up for new 2021 health insurance and made the first premium payment of $135 during November. That’s the net cost after a $700+ per month premium tax credit. 

Both of the adults in our household bought dental insurance since the premiums are anticipated to be much less than the actual dental care we receive during 2020. The premiums total $64 per month for the two of us.  This expense for November hit the credit card statement in the first days of December so it’ll be reported in next month’s financials. 


Getting our exercise in the woods


Restaurants – $109:

Look at us big spenders. $100 for a Taco Bell gift card that came with $20 in bonus gift cards. That’s a lot of tacos. We’ll probably still have some of the $100 gift card left over for our big summer 2021 USA road trip (if it happens). 

I also spent $9 on a Groupon for a local Mexican restaurant and picked up 5 takeout plates. Groupon is a good way to get a roughly 50% discount at many local restaurants. 


Home Maintenance – $103:

I bought a $100 Lowe’s Home Improvement gift card for $75 through a promotion at my neighborhood grocery store. 

I also spent $28 to buy replacement glass sheets for 2 of our storm windows in the front of the house. Thanks to a drive by shooting, we had 2 window panes shot out. Fortunately it was just a teenager with a BB gun cruising along having some “fun” and not a “real” drive by. 

In spite of my DIY skillz, I broke one of the glass sheets when installing it. So I stuck a piece of clear tape over the second storm window and may just ignore it forever. It’s a small bullet hole/crack and kind of behind a bush. No big deal, right?

Plus it makes for a good story if anyone ever comments on it. And it gives our house “character”.


Replacing the glass in my storm window.


I found out that Ace Hardware is a great place to buy cut-to-order sheet glass for window pane replacement. It was actually cheaper than Lowes and Home Depot, plus Ace would cut it for me. Lowes and Home Depot no longer cut glass in my region. Compared to local glass shop quotes, Ace Hardware was 65% cheaper.


The view from our “urban homestead”


Utilities – $37:

In November I paid $37 for the city water, sewer, and trash bill. I used up some random Visa gift cards that I’ve acquired throughout the year to pay the other $100 or so toward the water bill. 

The natural gas bill for heating and hot water was $0 since we got a $150 rebate in the form of a bill credit when we installed our new tankless water heater in May. I still have a $17 credit balance on the natural gas account, so we’ll have to pay something for heating in December. 

Our electricity bill was $69 for November. This fall has been warmer than usual, so we had to use the air conditioning a little. I paid the $69 using a reward card from our health insurance company so the net cost was $0 for the month. 


Cable/Satellite – $0:

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.

I used a rewards card from our health insurance company to pay the $18 internet bill for November, so the net cost to me was $0.


Total Spending for 2020 – Year to Date


Our spending totals $26,616 for the first 11 months of the year. This is about $10,000 less than the $36,667 we budgeted for 11 months of our $40,000 annual early retirement budget

Without really trying, we have managed to significantly underspend our normal budget. Zero travel certainly helped in that regard. However, we have booked several cruises for 2021 that will hopefully happen. If so, we’ll end up paying a few thousand dollars once the full cruise payments come due during 2021. Next month’s expenses already include $800 in cruise deposits charged at the end of November that didn’t hit the credit card statements until December. 


Monthly Expense Summary for 2020:


Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:


Hanging out at my alma mater over Thanksgiving break. Campus was deserted. The building in the background is where they keep the university’s nuclear reactor (true story). 


Socially distanced college tour!


Net Worth: $2,405,000 (+$243,000)

Well how about that? Stocks went way up and we made a ton of money. 

With a $243,000 gain during November, our net worth ended the month at $2,405,000. This is a new all time high for us. We are up roughly $60,000 from our highest point before the March 2020 pandemic crash. 

Will these gains stick around long term? We’ll see!



Life update

All this money and no place to go. The story of our 2020. 

To put life in perspective, we are incredibly fortunate. As the weather turns colder, I marvel at the fact that we don’t have to worry about heating our house or keeping food on the table.  Our house is paid off, so keeping a roof over our heads isn’t an issue either. 

There’s a paid off car in the driveway. My bicycle works well. Our house is full of computers, TVs, and gaming systems, along with hundreds of books. We want for nothing. Life is good. 


Sunset over the lake. With geese.


And the best part of it all? We no longer need to work to pay for any of our material needs. 

Compared to a lot of people around the world, we are living a most luxurious life. Even by American standards, we score pretty well on the “quality of life” index. 

Of course, we worked hard to build our savings and investments to provide the life that we have today. 

Even though some parts of 2020 proved disappointing, it was “just another year” in many respects. And it is a lot easier to accept temporary disappointments when you know that the future has better things in store for you! 


Who’s ready to say goodbye to 2020 and welcome the new year? 


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  1. Hello,
    It’s a great blog you have; thanks for all the insightful information.
    About Personalcapital, does it work in Europe too or only in the US?


  2. We are definitely looking forward to a much better 2021 with hopefully more international travel than what was possible in 2020!

    We aren’t in a rush though to get to 2021 as we are looking forward to enjoying a pandemic-free Christmas and new year celebration here in Taipei (before getting to a massive Chinese New Year holiday). This is possible thanks to the amazing job Taiwan has been doing to control the pandemic as early as January of 2020.

    For once we might say that we are “part of the 1%” of the world population that did not have to worry about this entire pandemic in 2020! And since you like sharing numbers, you might be interested to look at the detailed breakdown of our 9 monthly budget here in Taiwan (including a ton of outdoor activities) where we spent ~18K USD -?

    Wishing you a great end of the year and looking forward to your next update Justin!

  3. Excellent post, I admire your frugal approach of maintaining low expenses after FI. this is your seventh year of your retirement and you have managed to stay way under your FI budget , resisting the lifestyle inflation while letting your portfolio grow particularly in the first 10 years will help mitigate any sequence of return risk and allow more room for future adventures and exploration once the kids go to college.

    1. For sure. I feel like we are being really conservative. But at the same time, I know I have minimal worries when something like a 40-50% crash happens. And yes, we may spend more in the future as the kids go to college and we have fewer time constraints on spending $ on travel. 🙂

      1. I was wondering this as well. Your portfolio seems to have found “escape velocity”, just another 16% gain and you’re at $3 million! I know its still far off but, do you have any dreams of how to spend it travel or otherwise if say it hits 4 million by the time you’re an empty nester? Month long cruises? 3+ month vacations?

        1. There are plenty of ways to just spend more money on cruises and vacations. Stay in nicer places, fly 1st class. We could buy new cars, hire a maid and landscaper, etc.

          With markets at all time highs and 3 kids still needing to go to college I’m not too worried about hitting that $3 or $4 million milestone yet 😉

  4. Justin,
    I see you reference a rewards card from your insurance carrier. Is that a gift card from Blue Cross Blue Shield? I ask, because I got one and it seems rather restrictive on what you can purchase – certain stores for certain products. Am I reading it wrong, and it is only IF you want to purchase food or other goods with it, and other expenses (electric, internet) are fine?

    1. I have Ambetter insurance and the way I understand it, the debit rewards card can be used for “essentials” like rent, groceries, utilities, healthcare/dental, etc. They list the categories on their website. Not sure how BCBS rewards card works. Mine is a Visa Debit Card. Everything I’ve tried it on works so far, but I haven’t tried it at Amazon or fast food or anything. I have enough utilities and health insurance premiums to use up the $1000/yr they give us.

  5. Outstanding month on both the income and expense side! This has been a phenomenal year for investing. Personally our bottom line is up ~40% in 2020, and that is including bond holdings getting low returns comparatively, and a decent amount of cash getting essentially nothing. Active trading, particularly in options when the market hit the lows in March-April, insured that pleasant outcome. Looking forward to the same in 2021.

    We just had our fourth cruise booking/rebooking cancelled this year, this one for the new Carnival megaship “Mardi Gras” in April 2021 that we were really looking forward to. We still have two booked later in 2021 and one in 2022 so we hold at that for now until something gives on the cruising front. Tired of tracking all the rebates and if we got everything due us from a rebooking.

    I like your final comments. Many if not most of your readers are very fortunate in that they find themselves in the same boat, with immediate needs (and oftentimes much more) well taken care of. I find myself being very thankful every day for what He has blessed us with, and the only two things I ask for are:
    1. The safety and health of family and friends, and
    2. The wisdom to keep things going on the financial front, and not wasting any resources we are blessed with.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, have a safe holiday season, and the same to all your readers. God Bless!

    1. I’ve been thinking of you and your cruise bookings 🙂 We have several in mid-late 2021 and I’m still optimistic. But also planning for the disappointment of us cancelling them (if safety/health precautions are too burdensome) or them cancelling on us. Such is life. We’ll get back to normal eventually.

      All the best to you and yours, too!

    1. That’s tough, and Christmas without them will be tougher I am sure. I know we are fortunate that everyone is healthy and skipping the big family gatherings should help keep all of us that way (or at least greatly improve our odds!).

  6. Have you ever modeled how your investments would be doing, if you actually used the annual 34k budget you anticipated when you saved your retirement balance? I wonder if your balance would still be net growing, or if it would just be keeping up with inflation (as per 4% rule)? Interesting stuff!

    1. We’ve been averaging pretty close to that 34k over the long haul. Quick math says we’re actually at $30,200 average annual spending and I initially targeted $32k/yr waaaaay back in 2013 when I quit working. So we pretty much nailed it with the forecasting back then!

      So I guess if we actually spent the $32k/yr then we would have something like $15k-20k less today vs what we actually have with slightly reduced spending?? I haven’t modeled “actual vs predicted”. The stock market fluctuations year to year dwarf any kind of meaningful change in the portfolio balance due to spending 5-10% more or less in any given year.

  7. You are blessed indeed! The shot of the your backyard is breathtaking to say the least. This year has been a good one for us as well financially and we are grateful. I must admit I was disappointed in the election, but I will carry on. Wishing you and your readers much Health and Happiness and a very prosperous New Year 🥃

      1. I also had a healthy and prosperous year. Though we should remember those who did not have a good year. There is more to life than your own investment portfolio… I am happy with the election because those who did not have a good 2020 can look forward to “BLUE skies ahead”. ….Only 42 days to go for sanity to return to government and a prosperous and healthy 2021 for more Americans.

        BTW, I very much enjoy your blog and views on life. I am much older, but live a similar lifestyle.

  8. I’m jealous of the Catan game with your son. I’ll probably wait another 18 months for my 6-year-old to be mid-8 so that both kids can learn at the same time. I just introduced them to Stratego and Life. We may go to Risk next.

    Thanks for the tip on Ace hardware and glass cutting. I have a small table that had some square glass (9″ x 9″) that got broken from a dog we were sitting. Hopefully, the small size and ease of cutting will be cheap.

    1. I thought Catan would be too complicated but the 8 yr old picked it up fast. Now he plays scrimmage matches against himself! He always wins 🙂

      I don’t know if the glass at Ace will work for a table as it’s pretty thin (3/32″). Unless it’s sitting on top of a flat surface just for protection. It’s non-tempered so cracks fairly easily. But they do have some thicker stuff I think. It’s worth a call at least!

    1. It’s a rewards program they have for clicking on random stuff to learn more about health. And rewards for getting flu shot, doing a physical, etc. It totals about $500 per person per year. They send a debit card and keep reloading it with more free money when you do stuff 🙂 Can be used on a limited set of stuff like groceries, utilities, health/dental etc.

  9. Thank you for the update. I know i live in Los Angeles, but your utility cost are super low compare what we pay out here. I need to find some way to cut cost. I use Personal Capital to keep track(switched from mint) but now Chris Daniels keeps calling and wants to advise me. Do you use him? Anybody use there service? If yes, why? there is some much free information out there. Is it a trust issue?

    1. LOL @ Chris Daniels continuing to call. I just tell them I’m not interested. And they only call about once every 2 years now.

      Our utilities usually run about $150 for electric in the summer with A/C usage. Then the natural gas for hot water and heat are $100-150 for a couple months in the dead of winter. Spring/fall we don’t use a ton of heat or AC so electric and nat gas bills are 1/2 to 1/4 the peak summer/winter bills. Water/sewer/trash is $130-ish every month. I don’t know how that compares but it feels pretty reasonable for the quality of service we get.

  10. What colleges is your daughter thinking of applying to ? You don’t have to answer if it is too personal.
    I recall taking my 2 children to visit colleges . They were fun and interesting times. One child went to a local state university, the other went to a private college with a good scholarship. I hope you all have a nice covid-free Christmas !!

    1. Thanks for the well wishes, Steve! Hope you and yours have a safe and healthy, happy Christmas too!

      The two big, local flagship universities are NC State University and Univ. of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I have degrees from both and they each have their strengths. I figure we’ll drop applications off with both schools and maybe a backup school or two just in case. Also may try for some good private schools just for kicks to see if they want to give a full ride!

      I was semi-kidding about college tours. We were just trying to get outside the house and do something fun for the day and the local university was an interesting place to explore since it was deserted due to covid closures and it being fall break/Thanksgiving holidays.

  11. Why dont advertisers just do a bank transfer (is it called an ACH or wire transfer or something in the US?) seems incredibly slow/open to fraud to send cheques?

    Im laughing at the thought, because between the post office being dysfunctional for decades here and the fact of all banks having stopped checks years ago, I find it very interesting to read about countries that still use them.

    1. Most places do. This particular advertiser has ACH transfer but I’ve requested multiple times to set it up, sent in the forms etc and they have failed to do so. So they keep sending me the checks (except last month 🙂 ). They might have stretched their payment terms to 60 days from 30 because I got the check just last night that I was expecting 1 month ago (for revenue generated 2 months ago!).

      Our postal service to my address is a bit like developing nations. I routinely have lost mail. We have a free digital tracking service that shows pics of what we are scheduled to receive each day and I seem to lose about 5% of those letters (and mostly the important ones!).

      I still have check books from checking accounts though I probably use checks a few times per year now. Pretty much everything can be automated payments or paid online if you have a credit or debit card or checking account.

  12. Another great update. I was hoping to hear update on the credit repair side gig you had. The one where you let someone piggy back on your credit. How is that coming along? Do you get paid monthly?

    1. It’s not exactly monthly – more like every few months for 1 slot I sell. But they will eventually pay out on a staggered basis so I’ll probably get a bit each month. So far the process is going well but November’s income got paid in December and it was only $175 (not over $1000 like October!).

  13. Justin, first time commenter here : First off – hats off on the great blog — been reading it for a while now.

    One suggestion : Notice how the quick Youtube videos (with your wife) are resulting in hundreds of dollars of income each month ? And that too on a topic that is outside your main blog topic. I would suggest considering doing more Youtube videos — but on the topic of this blog (since you are like in the Top 3 in the world on this topic!) — that could result in significant monthly RECURRING revenue. Just a thought ..

      1. I had wondered why you hadn’t started a YouTube channel because I love reading the blog so much. When you mentioned your channel in the blog, I then looked on YouTube and saw that you actually had a YouTube channel. I agree with the previous post, if you focused on what is in the blog and bring it to YouTube, you would absolutely increase that monthly income. I did subscribe to your channel, but I really think you have a lot to offer. It would bring the blog to life

      2. I also purchased my Google Fi phone using your affiliate link. My daughter was going overseas, until Covid, at the time and we wanted a phone that worked overseas. Even though I am now using it stateside, I still love it.

  14. Hi Justin,

    I live in Cary, and I said good bye to my job of 6 figures in July as well, and don’t regret it at all. My question is regarding cruises, we are 5 people (3, 9 and 11 years old) when I attempted to book a cruise, it asked me to book additional room becausewe are 5, which is not what I want. Is there a way around this?

    Thank you,

    1. There are cruise ships that have cabins with a capacity of 5, but they are few. Norwegian Sun is one that comes to mind immediately.

    2. It’s pretty hard to find 5 person cruise cabins. Some of the newer ships have a few of those larger cabins but they often cost just as much as 2 cabins with 2 and 3 people in them.

      We have always booked 2 cabins when we’re traveling with 5 people (us 2 adults plus 3 kids).

  15. Hi Justin. Thanks for the update. It sounds like a good month overall.

    It is still probably early days for you, but I am very curious to hear more about your experiences with Tradeline Sales, as mentioned in October’s post. This is something that I am very curious about doing myself. Most of the info I have found is either written directly by companies who offer the service or from people who do not understand the service very well. Given your writing style and its ability to help get me onto the FI path a few years ago, I would appreciate hearing more from you. Please keep us updated as you have more to share.

    Have a safe and happy holiday season!

    1. Unfortunately I am far from an expert on the tradeline sales! I’ve read quite a bit and understand the risks I believe. I’m going to give it another 6 months at least before I pass any judgment or recommend it to others.

  16. Hi there! I was wondering how you keep your car insurance so low? Do you just carry liability and self-finance anything else that might happen?

    1. It’s liability only (but pretty high limits of $500,000 I believe).

      No comprehensive/collision. We will self insure the loss of our van if it gets messed up or stolen. We drive so rarely these days that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to insure it for comp/collision when it mostly just sits in our driveway.

  17. Hi Justin,

    Kudos to another great month for you.

    Based on the allocated annual expense of $40K, you would have about 61 years of such expenses based on your net worth. This goes to show the 4% rule works well given that you have shown through past seven years.


  18. If I read correctly, ya’ll are paying $60/mo for dental insurance to cover just you and Mrs. RoG. ….do ya’ll routinely have cavities or need other work beyond cleanings and preventative ? That doesn’t seem like super great value when I see how much my dental has cost over the years.

    Life’s pretty cheap when you can’t go anywhere. 🙂

    There’s part of me that thinks I probably could just stop saving for retirement now because I have almost iron clad job security, if I work until I can get the immediate pension and lifetime FEHB, I really don’t need to save heavily because the pension and SS alone would easily cover a well above-poverty existence at traditional retirement age…and I have other retirement assets that have accumulated over the past decade.

    There’s the other part of me that feels like if I’m going to spend so much of valuable time working, I might as well continue to save as much as I can so that I can theoretically stop working as soon as mathematically possible and at least give myself the option to retire early…plus after working 3 years, I have career tenure for life and can get re-hired relatively easy if plans fail. Also, what would I spend surplus income on if I spend so much of my time working? lol. I suppose at least once I settle into one position and quit jumping around to try different things because I get bored, I can start taking one-week or two-week trips again…

    1. We got the dental insurance to cover Mrs. Root of Good’s root canal. No waiting period, so why not? Cancelled after 6 months since it didn’t make sense for 2021. Maybe we’ll get it in 2022 again to pay for x-rays and other stuff. The cheap plan is only $19/month per person and works out to roughly the cost of 2 cleanings+exams+1 x-ray.

      As far as saving for FI – why not? It gives you a ton of options down the road.

  19. Hey Justin,

    Great post! Would you be able to post an article on your stocks/funds/bonds? I’m curious about your overall portfolio.


  20. Thanks for sharing, Justin! That’s a diversified portfolio of passive income. It’s nice to be paid from via multiple income streams. Thanks for all the great photos and the overview. Wish you the best in 2021!

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