October 2021 Early Retirement Update – Spooky Time Edition

Fall is in full swing here and I’m loving it! We enjoyed a fun October and look forward to more of the same in November as Thanksgiving approaches. Throughout the month we spent lots of time lounging outside, going on long bike rides, and plugging away at our travel planning for 2022. 

We ended the month with some trick-or-treating. It’s nice to see all the old holiday traditions coming back to life after a rough 2020! 

Financially, last month was a great month. Net worth spiked upwards by $77,000 to end the month at $2,764,000. Income during the month totaled $3,049, which was only $2 more than the $3,047 we spent during October. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled $349 in October. 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 $945 for the month which was a little lower than average. Since I have posted two or three articles the past couple of months, blog revenue will be a bit higher in November and December when the advertising revenues post to my account. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) totaled $1,060 in October. This income represents seven hours of consulting during the past month. That’s about one session of one or two hours per week, which is manageable given my goal to have a ton of leisure time. 

Tradeline sales income was $425 in October. 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 $425 total payment, $300 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 October, my “deposit income” totaled $133. Of this total, $33 came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the Rakuten.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 Rakuten through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Rakuten, you’ll get a $10 sign up bonus

The remaining “deposit income” of $100 comes with a story. Think of a real-life Monopoly game where I land on “Community Chest”. I draw the Community Chest card and it reads: “Mom sells your family burial plot. Collect $100”. True story. My grandparents bought burial plots for the whole family decades ago.

But none of us in the younger generations plan to get buried in that cemetery hundreds of miles away in the foothills of North Carolina. So my mom sold all the remaining burial plots back to the family church in the mountains. My share of the proceeds totaled $100. 

My Youtube earnings were $135 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 two 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.

 

 

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at October expenses:


 

In total, we spent $3,047 during October which is about $300 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Travel and groceries were the top two spending categories for last month (like many months in 2021!).

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Travel – $1,275:

Travel is back! 

At least we hope it is. 

We are deep into the process of planning our summer 2022 trip through Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary. Last month we booked our flights to Europe. We fly into Zagreb, Croatia in June. The return trip home departs from Budapest, Hungary eight weeks later. We redeemed 60,000 American Airlines frequent flyer miles per ticket (times five tickets) plus $126 in taxes per person.

For lodging, we spent $389 on various gift card deals to obtain $425 worth of Airbnb gift cards. Chase had a $25 Chase Offers cash back deal on $250 of Best Buy purchases. And Raise.com had promotions that we took advantage of during October to snag even more discounted Airbnb gift cards (included in the $389 total spending on Airbnb gift cards).

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 $1,800 in Airbnb gift card credit. 

In early October, we applied for new passports for our two teenagers. One kid is over 16 so she was able to get an adult passport for $145 that is valid for 10 years. The other kid is just under 16 so she got a youth passport with 5 year validity at a slightly lower cost of $110.

We heard horror stories of multi-month delays when applying for our new passports. The US State Department even warned us that it would take 16 weeks for standard processing. Fortunately, they got our kids’ passports back in lightning fast time. It only took two weeks to get the youth passport and four weeks to get the adult passport. 

 

We’re ready to hit the road again and do some exploring!

 

Groceries – $689:

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 given the recent food inflation, but at least we aren’t seeing the ~$900 grocery bills from August and September! 

I’m mostly seeing higher prices on meat. We still buy it because we can afford it. Prices for bread, pasta, and dairy hasn’t gone up too much (other than the price of milk). Fresh produce seems to have gone up in price. And I don’t see as many good sales on the stuff we routinely purchase. 

 

General Merchandise – $426:

This $426 in general merchandise spending consists of random things we buy throughout the month from Amazon and Walmart. Included in this catch-all category are things like bird food, toys, and cosmetics.

As part of the “general merchandise” spending, I bought $385 worth of Walmart gift cards at a discounted price of $354. Some of that total was spent in October. We’ll spend the rest of these gift cards in November and December most likely.

 

We spend a lot on bird food but we get to enjoy the birds that flock to our yard. Like this poor little lady cardinal that flew into our glass patio door and stunned herself! Eventually she recovered and flew away.

 

 

Utilities – $278:

The total utility spending was $278 last month.

We spent $117 on the electric bill, $44 on the natural gas bill (I paid two months of natural gas in October), and $118 for the water/sewer/trash bill. 

We are already seeing lower electric bills as the air conditioning usage dropped to zero by the end of October. Natural gas expenses will increase throughout the winter as we use the heat more frequently (including a few days so far in November!).

 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $187:

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. The benefit of being “poor” on our tax return. For some reason Personal Capital rounded the $1.15 up to $2. 

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!

The bulk of the medical/dental spending last month came from a $186 dental visit for Mrs. Root of Good. Dental care is one area where we are noticing a lot of inflation. The days of the $99 cleaning/x-ray/exam special are long gone! I’ll be looking much more closely at dental insurance during the annual enrollment period this fall. In the past the cost of 2 cleanings per year was about the same as the cost of insurance. With rising prices we might actually save quite a bit by buying insurance.

 

Clothing/Shoes – $123:

Time for new shoes for the three ladies in the house. The total came to $123 for three pair of Saucony shoes. 

 

Got to have good shoes to enjoy the trails!

 

Restaurants – $34:

I spent $22 for a $25 gift card for a pizza place from Raise.com (discount was almost $3 plus I got cashback on the purchase).

Mrs. Root of Good and I took a mini-vacation in Raleigh one fine fall day. After strolling around downtown, we headed over to the NC Seafood Restaurant at the nearby State Farmer’s Market and split a big plate of fried popcorn shrimp and hushpuppies for $12 total.

It was such a beautiful day, we ate at a picnic table outside. Our kids really don’t like seafood so we didn’t feel too guilty about enjoying a quiet meal without them. 

 

Nice day to walk around downtown. We stumbled upon the Bluegrass Music Festival downtown as they were getting set up for a big weekend of performances

 

Recently renovated Moore Square Park in downtown Raleigh.

 

 

Entertainment – $34:

We invited people over to our house for a campfire. 

I ordered pizza for $28 and picked up $6 worth of glow sticks from Dollar Tree. 

 

Glow sticks plus a long exposure picture down by the campfire

 

Home Maintenance – $4:

I filled the lawnmower gas can with just over a gallon of gas at the neighborhood gas station. I didn’t even check prices before I rode my bike up there.

 

Gas – $0:

Other than the gallon of gas for the lawnmower, I didn’t buy any more gas during last month. I’ll need to top up the van in November or December, however. 

 

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”. 

 

We spent Halloween at Mrs. Root of Good’s sister’s house out in the suburbs. They go all out on their decorations!

 

 

Total Spending for 2021 – Year to Date

Our spending totaled $24,068 for the first ten months of the year. This is about $9,000 less than the $33,333 we budgeted for ten 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. If I were to guess, I would say we will probably end the year at $30,000 to $32,000 annual spending. 

We are pressing forward with 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. Some of the lodging expense will hit the accounts in 2021 as we hope to start booking places in Europe pretty soon. 

I’m still keeping my eyes open for a second car, but not finding much out there. I have a hard time paying $6,000+ for 14 year old cars with high mileage (my most recent “exciting” car find until I looked up the Blue Book price!). Maybe we’ll spend another $6,000 to $10,000 on a used car this year if the right one finds us. 

 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2021:

 

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

 

This great blue heron chased his buddy around the yard for a while.

 

Net Worth: $2,764,000 (+$77,000)

On the heels of a $38,000 drop in net worth in September, our investments came roaring back in October with a $77,000 gain. Our total net worth climbed to $2,764,000 by month end. Another all time high! 

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.

 

 

The stock market really took off during October and so far in November it’s continuing the strong upward trend. 

Hitting these new all time highs has me feeling like the stock market is set for a fall at any time. It just feels overvalued. I haven’t really done much in response to my emotional take on the market, however.

I’m notoriously bad at timing the stock market so I’ll just stay almost fully invested (with a ~10% slice of the portfolio in cash and bonds). A heavy stock allocation got me to financial independence, and it’ll likely turn out just fine if we spend a while in a higher-than-baseline inflation environment. 

And if the stock market crashes tomorrow, at least I’ll have that ~10% in fixed income to get me through a six or seven year period of poor equity returns.

Diversification at work! 

 

Spooky times in the stock market? Let’s hope not!

 

Life update

Time flies when you’re having fun! I can’t believe we are less than two months away from the start of 2022. 

Life feels like it’s mostly back to normal. Mrs. Root of Good and I got our booster shots last month, so our worry level is on the decline in a big way. Our nine year old just got his first dose, which helps alleviate any fear that he brings home something unpleasant from school. By the time we depart for our Christmas cruise in mid-December, he’ll be fully vaccinated along with the rest of us. 

 

Our niece’s first birthday. All the family was able to make it to a big gathering for the first time in a long while. Birthday girl is in the pink tutu at the end of the table.

 

Of course, I say life is “mostly” back to normal. Even now, we have had a couple of recent social events with family and friends cancelled because of positive test results.

Make plans, hope for the best, and be flexible. That’s all we can do right now. 2021 has been a blast overall, uncertainty notwithstanding. 

We’re hosting a big family Thanksgiving gathering at our house in a couple of weeks. In November we usually have amazing weather outdoors. We’ll spread out the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, mac n cheese and cakes and pies on tables in the backyard and hang out in the grass under the trees. That’s the plan at least! 

 

Just another sunset…

 

That’s it for this month. See you next month! 

 

Are you enjoying fall? Looking forward to the upcoming holidays? 

 

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26 comments

  1. Another great month and great post. Look forward to hearing more about your Europe travel plans for next year. I am also loving your 2021 Road Trip updates. We are doing a lot of your road trip next year…Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Mesa Verde, Yellowstone (separate trip for Yellowstone). Last month, we went to Salt Lake City/Park City and drove through Antelope Island, which you featured pictures of during one of your past monthly updates. Plus, we live in IL right outside STL, so of course already enjoy the things you saw there. I’d love to do an extended Europe trip like you are planning. Our longest trip in Europe was just under 2 weeks, because we are not FIRE yet. We are looking at a 7 day European cruise next year though. We will probably book that later on this month! Thanks for sharing in your adventures!

  2. Ooh exciting plans for next summer! We are heading to Azores in Feb, and maybe Croatia & Montenegro in march! Can’t wait. So glad to be going back to travelling again (*fingers crossed that there are no more border closures*).

    Btw have you ever heard of home exchange, home link, or love home swap? I found out about the from other travellers who swap their houses instead of airbnb. That way their trip accomodations are free and someone is around to take care of their place while they’re gone. Curious about your thoughts on home swapping 🙂

    1. Look forward to seeing more “Let’s go exploring” post, I have missed the lack of posts over the last year or two. Coming back over to South East Asia any time soon?

    2. Please consider Serbia! Great food, great people and affordable stays! I’ve followed both you and RoG since the beginning, relocated from Canada to Serbia in the meantime, would love for the FI crowd to include Serbia in their itinerary a bit more frequently.

    3. I’ve looked at the home exchange/housesitting stuff a little. Home exchange is a bit harder if you are particular with what you want (we are to some extent) and with needing space for 5.

      House sitting – a lot of those are pet sitting arrangements and/or maintaining a mini farm. Not too interested in doing that while on vacation!

  3. Congratulations on another great month and “almost normal”! I lived and worked in Raleigh right out of college so enjoyed the brief walk down memory lane. Glad to see they’ve been cleaning up the downtown since I lived there.

    Your 2022 summer trip sounds awesome! We visited Budapest and Croatia a few years ago and loved them. Way cheaper than western Europe also (outside of Dubrovnik, that is). Try to schedule a day in Lake Plitvice if you can. I’m looking forward to seeing how you travel hack these. Still super impressed with how little was spent on your last big road trip.

  4. Have you looked at starting the process of Roth conversions to lower the impact of RMD’s? I retired this year at age 46 and I have almost 4mill in net worth. I did the RMD calculation for myself with conservative figures and at age 72 and I will have to pull out 430k per year. I have 26 years to lower the impact of this, but I would have to convert over 160k per year.

    At your age, if you have 2 million of your net worth in tax differed vehicles, your RMD starting at the age of 72 will be $475,632.86. That’s only considering a 6% rate of return per year. See this calculator: https://www.schwab.com/ira/understand-iras/ira-calculators/rmd. At that point you can’t control your AGI and your taxes would be through the roof.

  5. Love your updates! I really look forward to them. So relatable – we are a family of 5 also. Enjoy Thanksgiving and the 2022 travel planning!

  6. Wow approaching $3 million NW!

    Not that its a “race”, but is it weird to think that some people who might make 2-3x what you did and save 50-70% of their income but didn’t start saving ~10 years after you might not ever catch up to your net worth even if they retire at a conventional age? Your investments will probably grow faster their income/investments forever.

  7. 2022 Europe family trip sounds exciting! I would like to explore Eastern Europe has the family one day. You spent more on gas for the lawn mower then the car this month! 😂 Enjoy your thanksgiving feast! Sounds like a good time (Australian here)

  8. Thanks for the update. I would think with $2.7M NW, you would do away with getting deals of a dollar here and there on grabbing gift cards. I need to learn from you. All of it can add up. Just from your Airbnb gift cards can add up to 2-3 free nights. I’m not good at tracking all of those credits and gift cards. Just looking at using credit card points for airlines and abiding by restrictions give me headaches.

    1. that’s the way I look at it. Saving $100 on gift cards is like getting a free night somewhere and it’s 100% flexible. And I’m usually trying to snag decent size discounts to make it worthwhile (not just a dollar or two at a time). Usually $10 to $100 savings at a time and it’s just a few minutes worth of work.

      I also admit to enjoying “the game” of all the points and miles. Piecing together a free $10,000-15,000 set of flights to somewhere awesome is pretty cool 🙂

  9. Impressive!

    I suspect I know the answer to this since you’ve mentioned using AirBnB gift cards for a long time, but in googling them, people seem to have a poor opinion. I *think* it’s some snafu with using a credit card for the initial deposit and some rules dictating the rest of the payments. But if you’ve got some thoughts, I’m interested to hear them.

    We’re not early retirees (in the FIRE sense) but we hope to retire in our (late) 50s, hopefully by end of ’22. Due to lackluster PTO restrictions for one of us, a post-retirement vacation will literally be our first 2 (consecutive) week vacation. It will be to Ireland and I have begun accumulating Airbnb gift cards between now and then. We’re empty nesters and also accumulating travel points (without redeeming, save Southwest).

    1. I think the trick is that you must pay for the full balance at the initial purchase. If you just pay half up front, then the remaining balance cannot be paid with gift cards. That’s the issue I think you’re talking about and probably the biggest “gotcha” with these gift cards. Also, I think they default the payment to “pay 1/2 up front” so you have to make sure to change it to “pay in full” before clicking to book the place.

      Enjoy your first long-ish vacation post-FIRE! It’s a nice change from the short 1 week trips (I know the feeling well from what we were able to do while working and while kids were young).

  10. Justin – not sure if this has taken hold in your area, but a mystery virus is taking out songbirds here in the Midwest. Consider cleaning your feeders with a 10% bleach solution regularly, and handle any sick/dead birds with gloves only.

  11. How are you approaching vacation bookings for next year?
    One of us is still working part-time. We’ve been traveling the US during this time. In February there will be no more work for either of us and we would like to execute the original plan which is to go to Europe for the Spring. We have airline points to handle the flights – but not sure about the approach to take considering Covid. Trip Insurance? We’ve never bought it before.

    1. We are still planning on Europe travel summer of 2022. But keeping things flexible for now since plans may be forced to change due to covid restrictions.

      I would look into travel insurance, but personally I’m okay taking some risks myself along with using whatever minimal travel insurance my credit cards provide.

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