November 2021 Early Retirement Update – Turkey Time Edition

Another fun and busy month of early retired life is in the books! During the past month, we hosted a big Thanksgiving celebration at our house. Since the weather was nice in November, we spent a lot of time outdoors. 

I really stretched my DIY muscles in November too. I got out the power tools and replaced some trim on the porch and the shed, then painted all the new trim along with repainting the crawl space door, mailbox, and bathroom ceiling. 

In less than two weeks, we are looking forward to escaping the ever-colder temperatures with a cruise to the Caribbean during Christmas. It’ll happen. I think. Fingers crossed.

Financially, last month was a “rebuilding month” for us. Net worth dropped by $49,000 to end the month at $2,715,000. Income during the month totaled $2,822 while expenses were $4,361 during November. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.



Investment income totaled $88 in November. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. As a result, we had a low investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $1,166 for the month. This is a little lower than the recent average income. But over the years, the trendline on my blogging income has dropped as I have posted less frequently. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) totaled $300 in November. I only completed one consulting session of two hours in length. I don’t mind the reprieve after a few rather busy months. I had some other projects like the DIY home repairs to keep me busy! 

Tradeline sales income was $975 in November. I ramped up my tradeline sales last year and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post and in my July 2021 monthly post. Of that $975 total payment, $100 came from referrals that signed up with Boost Credit 101 and mentioned “Root of Good” as a referrer. Thanks to all of you that did so. And good luck making money with tradelines! 

For November, my “deposit income” totaled $106. Of this total, $30 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 Rakuten through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Rakuten, you’ll get a $10 sign up bonus

The remaining “deposit income” included $41 from a Google Pay promotion and a referral bonus for Mrs. Root of Good opening a new Google Pay account. The other $35 of deposit income came from various Chase Offers on my Chase credit cards. Chase gave me $25 for buying $250 of gift cards at Best Buy and another $10 for joining Sam’s Club. The membership itself was free, since Sam’s also sent me a $45 e-gift card as a sign up bonus. 

My Youtube earnings were $186 last month. Here is the channel for the curious. It’s random travel videos, birds, kids, and a couple of DIY videos. There are only a few main videos that bring in most of the traffic (and revenue!).



If you’re interested in tracking your income and expenses like I do, then check out Personal Capital (it’s free!). All of our savings and spending accounts (including checking, money market, and five credit cards) are all linked and updated in real time through Personal Capital. We have accounts all over the place, and Personal Capital makes it really easy to check on everything at one time.

Personal Capital is also a solid tool for investment management. Keeping track of our entire investment portfolio takes two clicks. If you haven’t signed up for the free Personal Capital service, check it out today (review here).

Tracking spending was one of the critical steps I took that allowed me to retire at 33. And it’s now easier than ever with Personal Capital.




Now let’s take a look at November expenses:


In total, we spent $4,361 during November which is about $1,000 more than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Travel and “general merchandise” were the top two spending categories for last month. 


Detailed breakdown of spending:


Travel – $1,739:

I loaded up on $1,850 worth of Airbnb gift cards during November for $1,739 (plus some free groceries). I usually buy when I can find them for 10% off or more. Our local grocery store offered $25 of free groceries when buying $100 of Airbnb gift cards, so I did that deal a total of eight times in November, along with some other Airbnb gift card discount deals.

We typically use several thousand dollars in Airbnb credit during a normal summer vacation, so these credits won’t go to waste. Right now we have accumulated almost $4,000 in airbnb credits.

At the moment, we are in a holding pattern with our summer 2022 Eastern European vacation planning. We definitely want to go but definitely don’t want to lose hundreds (or thousands) on non-refundable fees and deposits. 

So far, we are keeping everything fully refundable. I have the plane tickets and a month-long rental car booked. I can cancel them all with no penalty. I’ll probably start booking Airbnb lodging in January assuming everything appears to be open for business next summer. 

The only constant I can rely on is uncertainty at this point, so we are hoping and planning as best as we can. 


No need to travel anywhere to watch the wildlife. Just take a look out back.


General Merchandise – $760:

As part of the “general merchandise” spending, I bought $800 worth of Walmart gift cards at a discounted price of $760. We spend quite a bit at Walmart so I don’t think we’ll have to worry about using up this humongous gift card balance. 

One of the purchases we made using these gift cards was his-and-hers DNA tests for us. They were $48 each during Walmart’s Cyber Monday sale. Let’s see what interesting results we get! 


Groceries – $537:

Our grocery spending is slowly trending back down toward the $600 per month that we used to spend a year or two ago. I don’t think we’ll ever get back there long term given the recent food inflation, but at least we aren’t seeing the ~$900 grocery bills from August and September! 

This month’s rather modest $537 grocery bill is lower than normal thanks to gift card promotions that saved us close to $200 (mentioned in the preceding “Travel” category). 

I haven’t done the math, but I imagine hosting our big family Thanksgiving meal at our house actually saved us money compared to normal months. Hear me out – turkey is cheap and a TON of food. We got a 24 pound bird for $0.29 per pound. That’s only $7 for a huge chunk of meat! And all the fixings and side dishes are mostly cheap ingredients, too.

By “cheap” I mean that Thanksgiving food is cheap compared to the imported Asian ingredients and steak that we eat quite a bit of for normal meals. 

We fed twenty three people for Thanksgiving and sent everyone home with leftovers. Then we still had about seven pounds of leftover turkey. We ate the leftover turkey for a couple of meals and I recycled it into turkeychiladas as well. 


24 pound bird, brined to deliciousness.


The full Thanksgiving spread. Somewhat of a potluck Thanksgiving since family brought some dishes too.


Banh Xeo, papaya salad, steak, burgers, and ribs. Good food at our nephew’s going away party.


Electronics – $387:

I bought a new computer from Costco similar to this one (but with a newer processor). Just a basic lightweight 14″ laptop that I can use around the house and tote with me on my travels. It was $350 plus $10 shipping and a bit more for tax. The nice thing about “cheap” computers is that if they are stolen or damaged when we travel, they aren’t too expensive to replace. 


Gifts – $266:

Tons of gifts for our kids and the rest of the family. I cannot disclose what these secret gifts are but let me just say I personally think there are a bit too many plushies in the gift budget this year. But I wasn’t in charge of the gift-buying so I am not allowed to complain! 🙂  


Insurance – $234:

The six-month auto insurance bill for me and Mrs. Root of Good came due in November. We haven’t added our 16 year old to the insurance yet because we have been unsuccessful in finding a reasonably priced car for her. Eventually she will get her full driver’s license and we’ll add her to the insurance at a cost of approximately $75 per month (or so we have been told). 


Utilities – $196:

The total utility spending was $196 last month.

We spent $69 on the electric bill and $127 for the water/sewer/trash bill. I paid $23 toward the November natural gas bill during October, so it’s not reflected in this month’s utility spending. 

We didn’t use the air conditioning at all in November so the electric bill was lower than it has been over the past several months. Natural gas expenses will increase in the winter as we use the heat more frequently. 


Fall is here. Time to crank the heat. And escape to the Caribbean.


Clothing/Shoes – $116:

Winter coats for four of us plus some other cold weather apparel. We found a good deal at a local store. Otherwise the coats would have been a couple hundred dollars at least. 


Restaurants – $52:

I spent $41 for a $50 gift card for a pizza place from

We also got a tray of donuts and pastries from Baker’s Dozen Donuts in Cary for $11. Best place in town (and they have a Raleigh location, too). 


Gas – $47:

I filled up the van with gas that cost just under $3 per gallon. Quite a deal given rising gas prices these days!


Education – $31:

The yearbook for our son’s elementary school was $20. His class field trip fee was $11. 


Babysitting our one year old niece. She’s a handful!



Home Maintenance – $0:

I spent $90 at Lowe’s to buy primer, paint, painting supplies, and a few trim boards. I used a Lowe’s gift card I bought at a discount a while ago to cover these items. So the reported cost for November is $0. 


I got the job done. And the weather was nice!


Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $0:

Our current 2021 healthcare premiums are $1.15 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$45,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. I paid for December in a previous month, so there is no cost for December. 

The “American Rescue Plan Act” passed in March 2021 makes the Affordable Care Act premiums even cheaper through 2022. Households with modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGI) below 150% of the federal poverty level get some silver-level health insurance plans completely free. We opted for a slightly more expensive silver plan that comes with $1,000 in cash back incentive rewards. Our total cost is just over $1 per month now!


Cable/Satellite – $0:

We generally 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. Right now the cost of the internet service is temporarily reduced to $0 due to the “Emergency Broadband Benefit”. 


Another beautiful sunset over our lake



Total Spending for 2021 – Year to Date

Our spending totaled $28,428 for the first eleven months of the year. This is about $8,000 less than the $36,667 we budgeted for eleven months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

We are still on track to finish the year under our $40,000 yearly budget.

In December, we’ll pay our small property tax bill along with approximately $1,000 in various spending for our Christmas cruise vacation. 

When we get back from the cruise, we will continue our travel bookings for summer 2022 in Europe. We’ll probably spend around $4,000 to $5,000 on lodging and $1,000 for a rental car and some bus tickets. Most of the remaining lodging expenses will hit the accounts in 2022 since we probably won’t get around to booking anything until January. And the first $4,000 of Airbnbs will be covered by gift cards in our possession already. 

The used car search has been unfruitful so far. I still can’t part with $10,000 or more for an old beater, so hopefully used car prices will be more reasonable in 2022 as supply chains reopen and the government stimmies disappear. 

College costs look to be minimal throughout 2022, since the FAFSA results indicate we’ll get enough to cover the full cost of community college plus books starting in the fall of 2022. College costs may increase beginning in 2023, however we have dedicated 529 savings that should cover most of the costs. 


Monthly Expense Summary for 2021:


Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:


Another fun night by the campfire down by the lake.



Net Worth: $2,715,000 (-$49,000)

We were up $77,000 in October then down $49,000 in November. Our investments are bouncing around quite a bit right now. Our total net worth ended the month at $2,715,000 which is more than plenty to fund our modest living expenses in early retirement. No worrying about the stock market over here! 

For the curious, our net worth reported above includes our home value (which is fully paid off). However, please note that I don’t consider my home value as part of my portfolio for “4% rule” calculation purposes. I realize folks ask me about that every month so I just wanted to state that here for clarity.



Life update

What to say? Another successful month of early retirement! 

We were very happy to host a big family Thanksgiving at our house this year. Last year, we had to cancel the 2020 Thanksgiving celebration at our house at the last minute. Case numbers kept rising and it felt like the prudent thing to do at the time. So it’s good that things are getting back to normal for us. 

This year we set up a bunch of tables and chairs outside so we could congregate in the fresh air. The kids had a good time playing basketball and corn hole and running around the yard. The old people sat around and embraced the post-turkey food-coma. 


Family relaxing outside at Thanksgiving.


These kids were really relaxing!


Looking to the near future, our family is excited to finally get back on a cruise ship in less than two weeks. It has been over two years since any of us have been on a cruise, so we are ready for it! I’m still not 100% sure it will actually happen but it’s looking very likely at this point. 

Tune in next month to see if we actually get to sail around the Caribbean or if we spend Christmas at home! 


Happy holidays to all! Any last minute money moves you’re doing during the remaining weeks of 2021? 


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  1. Hey Justin another great post about your early retirement lifestyle. Last week we just got back from our first cruise since COVID, and things have definitely changed in the cruise world. I can say some things improved and some things are disappointing. Improvements include check-in and getting off ship has greatly improved, and was very timely and smooth. Disappointments include the fact they have to run the same shows several nights to ensure everyone has a chance to see a show. Also, the activities team really is no more with no large group activities like quest or belly flop contest. The food was still great and we had a great time, and we are booked on a transatlantic this spring. I still love cruising, but it has definitively changed since starting back up.

    1. I hear that. Hopefully the parts we like will still be there. Of those you mentioned, losing the variety of live shows each night would be the biggest bummer. I’ve heard mostly positive things from recent passengers, so hopefully it all goes well! I’ve never had a bad experience on a cruise, so I’m guessing I’ll “power through” this one too 🙂

  2. Love these updates. Thanks for doing them. Sounds like thanksgiving was a blast. Hope you get to enjoy the cruise.

  3. Wow, that’s a big Thanksgiving bird. Amazing value at $7. I realize it must be a loss-leader for stores, but I have to wonder how much it really costs through the whole turkey supply chain.

    I couldn’t help but notice the community college thing. Is that because of COVID or just the general plan? Or is this the community college/high school sharing program? I thought I remember seeing UNC as the plan in the past (and what a great value it seemed at the time).

    1. I’m sure the actual cost is a lot more than $0.29 per pound! Probably closer to a dollar a pound I bet, since that seems to be the price for whole chickens and they are both birds.

      The community college thing – she’s dual enrolled right now. And basically swapping a year of taking general electives at a State U at $9-10k+ per year (plus another $12-15k in ancillary room/board/expenses) for a year of taking the exact same electives that transfer 1:1 at the community college at a cost of $2400 per year (fully covered by financial aid). Not really covid related, just a thing we are doing.

      1. We’re thinking about the doing that with community college at the high school level (swapping out some classes), but I hadn’t thought about it at the college level. That’s smart especially if you know that all the credits will transfer.

        It’s a while away though, since my oldest is about the same age as your youngest.

        1. We have a formalized process here in North Carolina. An “articulation agreement” I believe it is called. It outlines exactly how the Community College classes transfer to the 16 public universities in the state of NC. So we can look at a really big chart and see 1:1 how those classes will transfer with 100% certainty.

          Really, the community college classes are way better than AP classes. CC classes are much easier than passing an AP exam with an adequate score to get full college credit (often a 4 or a 5 is required). So when we were faced with taking a whole bunch of AP classes in 12th grade or just switching to the community college and graduating 1 year early, the choice was obvious. Guaranteed credit vs a bunch of AP lottery tickets (and a whole lot of extra work in those AP classes!).

  4. Do AirBnB gift cards work overseas? I ran into that issue with Uber gift cards in Europe. I bought a bunch of them (discounted) in the states before our European vacation and when I got to Europe I found out I couldn’t use them. they could only be used in the US.

    1. I’m curious about the risks of the tradeline stuff. I followed your links and looked at the FAQ at Credit Boost 101, but I don’t totally understand the risks. Is it simply that you’re adding and removing a bunch of authorized users regularly and it could eventually be a red flag to a bank? How many people would you say you add each month? And to how many cards? Thanks for your helpful post!

      1. I think the biggest risk is the credit card issuer closing your account because you broke their Terms of Service by adding strangers as authorized users.

        Some secondary risks would be risks to your identity or information (or your money!) if your tradeline company is not honest or has security flaws in their process somehow.. and I have seen many bloggers act with caution with some tradeline companies who didn’t pass the smell test.

    2. Yes, they do in my experience with stays in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico, and all over Europe. They are deposited into your account in US Dollars then they convert it behind the scenes to whatever foreign currency the properties are priced in. I know Uber works a little different since you’re actually paying in that foreign currency (at least it has been euros or pesos when I’ve used uber in the EU or Mexico).

  5. Sounds like another great month! I hope you and your family are able to enjoy your cruise. You do a great job with the discounted gift cards so thanks for sharing. I need to start looking out for those AirBnb GC deals as we ramp up for some more (and longer) travel stays next year. Will be interested to see more about the college cost hacking, though we’ve still got quite a few years before we have to worry about that. Happy holidays!

    1. Ancestry with Traits. I read up on the pros and cons of this vs 23andMe and didn’t have a strong preference given the Ancestry test was 1/2 price compared to 23andMe. 23andMe does include some additional tests on the DNA that I suppose lead to some more/better results but I’m just doing this for fun! 🙂

  6. Wow, you fed 23 people?! Amazing. I can barely make a dinner for 8 people before getting overwhelmed. Thank goodness for Hot Pot.

    Enjoy your cruise! *fingers crossed it still goes according to plan*

    1. It’s not too hard since the Thanksgiving dishes are pretty easy to pull together in bulk 🙂

      Yes, cruise is still on as far as we can tell. Things are surprisingly normal in the cruise world right now. But events change rapidly so we are still crossing our fingers, too.

  7. I realize this question is going to sound challenging, but I sincerely feel it’s worth bringing up –
    Why wouldn’t you buy the SAFEST and BEST vehicle you can possibly afford for your daughter?

    1. An M1 Abrams tank? Ha ha…

      We aren’t planning on buying a deathtrap but also aren’t trying to buy a heavily armored tank either. Somewhere in between. A lot of safety features are standard on the age range of cars we’re planning on buying (the “low hanging fruit”). Even bigger safety gains come from sensible usage as a driver: drive less, drive during daylight hours, maintain appropriate speeds, don’t drive intoxicated/distracted/tired, drive defensively, avoid the drunk driving hours (10 pm to 4 am), etc.

  8. I would like some advice. My husband works at Wal-Mart and I just found out today that he has the option of converting his 401K to a Roth. We would not want to do the whole thing because we would owe a LOT of tax but would you advise converting part of it? He is planning early semi-retirement in about a year or so. We would not need the money for a few years. As of now, we are planning on just taking a little bit out each year (after a few years) so we would not owe much tax anyway if we keep it as is.

    1. Update to question. My son quit WM this year but has the same 401K. Would this be a good option for him? He is in his 20’s.

      1. The answer to both questions is “it depends”. If you’re in a low tax bracket right now (or almost zero income!) then it definitely could make sense to do the conversion to Roth. A big benefit is potentially being able to access the funds sooner (before age 59.5).

        But alternatively, you could just take small withdrawals of the traditional 401k each year and that won’t generate a lot of tax either. If you’re going to end up in the 12% bracket now and in retirement, it’s often not a big difference to do the conversion or just withdraw during retirement.

        Perhaps it’ll make more sense to do the conversions now then withdraw from Roth later when/if you plan on using ACA subsidies, since traditional IRA/401k withdrawals will reduce your ACA subsidies but Roth withdrawals will not (the latter don’t count in your AGI).

  9. I’m curious about the risks of the tradeline stuff. I followed your links and looked at the FAQ at Credit Boost 101, but I don’t totally understand the risks. Is it simply that you’re adding and removing a bunch of authorized users regularly and it could eventually be a red flag to a bank? How many people would you say you add each month? And to how many cards? Thanks for your helpful post!

    1. Main risk is card issuers cancel your accounts. I’m adding around 2 or 3 authorized users per month but that’s spread across 5 cards. Holding period ranges from 2 to 4 months before I remove them (and that’s based on the tradeline sales company’s knowledge of how long you need to hold them to minimize the risk of those red flags being raised).

      So far no issues or cancellations for me a little over 1 year into this experiment.

  10. Justin! I can’t believe I’ve been following your story for 4 years! I just came on here to to celebrate and thank you and your family for sharing your story. I remember a slow day at work just like today but in Dec 2017 when I googled something about retiring early (after only being in the workforce for 2 years haha) and your blog was a top hit – likely because I was at my windowless cubicle not too far away in RTP 🙂

    I was just a silly peon contributing a little more than the minimum to my 401k to get the match and now I’ve just crossed over $400k with a FIRE goal of 500k.
    At the time I was only thinking of saving in terms of cash. My back of napkin plan was just to save half my income for 10 years so I could take 10 years off.
    Investments were a thing for rich people!

    I almost wrote off your blog until I saw you posted your actual salary numbers and that changed everything! This now became a thing that I, too, could do! So thank you for that and for continuing to do that.
    You’ve changed my life for sure, at least financially. I think you and A Purple Life have had the biggest impact on my FI journey. You for opening the door and APL for actually still being in the trenches and sharing the perils of working and switching jobs (I’ve had 3 roles in the last 2 years all in the name of FIRE after doing the same job for 4!).

    Anyway, I should stop now because I could go on forever.

    Happy Holidays to you and your family!

  11. Great post once again. Happy to hear you are getting back on a cruise. We had our first since the pandemic started two weeks ago on the new Carnival “Mardi Gras”, and board her again tomorrow for another one week outing. Still a lot of fun. The adult comedians were funny (six different ones), some of the shows were good but not all, and the food and drinks were as good as usual. The one drawback is we had to wear masks; in our area of TN we haven’t worn masks in over a year so that was a pain. Also, there is the “suspense” involved with taking the BinaxNow Covid test and dealing with the company in India supervising the results. But it is what it is and we deal with the bad to get back out on the high seas. Best wishes and enjoy the outing.

    1. Good to hear the cruise went mostly well, all things considered! I’m expecting a little masking up which we are still doing here in grocery stores and the kids at school. More incentive to go outside to the open air on deck!

  12. Have you considered moving some of your bond holdings to I-bonds which are currently paying 7% compared to <2% for treasury bonds?

    1. I considered it for some cash in savings accounts (but ultimately didn’t do it for liquidity reasons). Did not consider i bonds for IRAs as I can’t hold I-bonds there without a self-directed IRA.

  13. We have a Caribbean Cruise scheduled for later this week. After 4 canceled cruises really looking forward to this 11day jaunt, through the New Year. Good luck.

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