September 2016 Financial Update

I can’t believe September is already over!  Our oldest two kids are settling into the back to school routine (with a few hiccups along the way) while our youngest starts one day per week pre-school next week.  Fall usually brings cooler, dryer weather to North Carolina but this year summer decided to overstay its welcome by keeping the warm, humid air around much longer than normal.

September was another great month for us financially.  Our income remained strong at $5,695 while our spending remained below budget at $2,781.  Net worth increased by $12,000 to $1,647,000.

Here’s all the nitty gritty details on our September finances:



September investment income was $4,160 thanks to all the quarter-end dividend payments from our mutual funds and ETFs.  We are well on our way toward matching or exceeding the total of $28,527 in dividend income received in 2015.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, shrunk to $1,044 in September while my early retirement lifestyle consulting brought in $484.  Blog income was lower than normal because I received a large payment from one advertiser in the first days of October (it usually arrives at the end of the month but was a few days late this time).  The consulting income maintained about the same pace as August thanks to steady traffic here at Root of Good.  On the consulting side, I’m a little busier than I would like to be, so I raised the hourly rates again.  I’m aiming for 3-4 consulting sessions per month at a maximum.

$5 in Deposits includes the cash back rebates from the and online shopping portals. If you sign up through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Ebates, you’ll get a $10 gift card like I did.  I try to do all of my online shopping through one of these portals and the cash back adds up fast.  For example, in September I booked an $857 cruise through Expedia by clicking through Ebates to get to Expedia.  I’ll be getting $85.70 in cash back once we return home from the cruise in December.  Ebates is a nice way to get a 10% discount on every cruise from a booking site we already use.


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).



Now let’s look at September expenses:


Spending for September totaled $2,781, which was slightly lower than the $2,817 we spent in August.  We spent $500 less than our budget of $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year).  The bulk of our spending last month came from more cruise bookings and quarterly estimated taxes.

Travel – $868:  We booked a second cabin on our second cruise in December so our son can join us (along with my mother who’s paying her own way).  We booked a four person cabin last January and hoped we would find a two person cabin at a great deal and we finally did just a few months before the sail date (patience/procrastination pays off).  The final payment for our four person cabin was also due last month.

If you are interested in taking a cruise, now is the time to start shopping for deals because the fall season (hurricanes, oh no!) and the winter season offer the lowest prices for cruise fares.  Check out my cruise overview and my tips on getting the best deals.  And don’t click on this cruise ship food unless you want to get hungry.

Taxes – $600: Another quarterly estimated tax payment.  Half that went to the State of North Carolina, the other half went to the feds.  I paid both of these bills using my credit card to rack up some free airline miles (1.87-2% convenience fees to pay by CC were included in the “travel” expense category).

Utilities – $455: Water, sewer, trash, and electricity.  I prepaid the electric bill by applying an extra $250 toward my account balance – more credit card travel hacking. The natural gas bill was paid in October so it didn’t show up in this total.

Groceries – $420: After a restocking binge upon returning home from our 3.5 week Canada road trip, we didn’t have to shop as much in September.  We still made some awesome dishes.

Pad thai, my specialty. Just because we spend very little on groceries doesn’t mean we don’t eat amazing stuff. (edit: after all the comments on this pad thai I feel like I need to post the recipe!)

Healthcare/Medical – $336: Health insurance premiums of $125 for our very impressive gold plated silver plan obtained through with some very sizable ACA subsidies. $99 for a routine cleaning, x-rays, and exam from our dentist that gives great discounts to cash/debit payers. $66 in co-pays and co-insurance for a couple of doctor’s visits and some lab tests.  $45 for a few prescriptions.  The $336 we spent this month is much higher than average for our healthcare and medical expenses.

Gas – $35: We had to refuel the van in early September.  North Carolina also suffered a brief gasoline shortage when the Colonial pipeline supplying the southeastern United States leaked and had to be shut down for a couple weeks.  Some panicked.  We were fine because we drive so little (this drives up the “new shoes” budget line item, of course).  I think we’re at a half tank as of press time, so watch out, there will be another ~$35 gas purchase at the end of October or in early November.  Or maybe sooner since there’s a Hurricane Matthew pointed at us right now (fingers crossed that no one gets hurt but fingers also crossed that we lose our roof and get a free one courtesy of the insurance company).

Internet (“Cable”) – $34: 50/5 mbit service.

Restaurants – $19: Mrs. Root of Good and I went to Golden Corral.  At lunch time, it was disappointing.  We dined there several months ago for Father’s Day (with premium pricing!) and it was much better during that visit with fresh vegetables, steak from the grill, and some other delicious eats greeting us along the buffet line.  Apparently the cheaper lunch buffet doesn’t have much to offer.

Vietnamese chicken and rice noodle dish. Not at a restaurant though.
Vietnamese chicken and rice noodle dish. Not at a restaurant though. $.75 worth of ingredients that would be $8-15 at a restaurant.

Entertainment – $5: The kid’s school’s skate night at the roller skating rink down the street.   We skipped the $8 glow in the dark flashy thingy toys and the $4 slices of frozen reheated pizza.

Education – $5: PTA membership


Year to Date Living Expenses


At $29,319 year to date spending, we are once again below our annual spending target of $30,000 budgeted for the first nine months of the year by almost seven hundred dollars.  In spite of the $8,200 minivan purchase in March, we managed to get our year to date spending back in line with our annual target.

The remaining three months of the year should see fairly low spending from us.  The high summer air conditioning bills are gone, no more estimated taxes due in 2016, and most of our travel expenses are already paid for the year.

In the next week or two, we are hoping to book tickets to Europe for our summer 2017 trip.  Since we are redeeming United Airlines frequent flyer miles, we’ll only owe the taxes (probably under $500).  We will start booking hotels, airbnb rentals, and local train/plane tickets some time in the spring of 2017, so our spending will ramp up at that point.

Time to hit the books.
Time to hit the books.

Monthly Expense Summary:


Net Worth: $1,647,000 (+$12,000)

Another $12,000 added to our net worth!  It’s been smooth sailing in the investment portfolio lately.  Everything feels good in the markets but who knows what will happen in the next six months.


We’re still sitting on over $50,000 in cash in our credit union money market account right now.  I’ll be moving some of that cash around for year end tax planning, like a large solo 401k contribution, but I will also hang on to part of that cash in order to provide a buffer against severe market downturns.  If the market drops 20-30% (which it does occasionally), then we’ll sit back and live on our cash reserve and dividends (plus income from the blog and my early retirement lifestyle consulting).

Enjoying nachos al fresco. We did the Moe's free queso day this year and I had to convert the chips and queso into full on nachos.
Enjoying nachos al fresco. We did the Moe’s free queso day this year and I had to convert the chips and queso into full on nachos.

In the meantime, we’re busy enjoying our daily early retirement routine (which lately includes a lot of walking through the park and playing tennis first thing in the morning) and working out the bones of our summer in Europe next year.  We’re thinking of starting in northern Italy, then working our way through Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Czech, and Hungary with a possible side trip to Spain and/or Portugal.

Edit 10/12/2016: We just booked plane tickets to/from Europe (10 hours there, 13 hours back; excellent flights using United points!) and flights within Europe from Lisbon to Malaga, Spain, and Seville, Spain to Milan, Italy.  We’re adding Amsterdam, Netherlands to the end of our trip bringing the total country count to nine (in nine weeks).  More details soon! 🙂


How did you do in September?  Enjoying the steady upward trend in the markets?



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  1. It was an unusually good September at the Lazy Man household. I usually run a full spreadsheet analysis after the first week, but I gave Personal Capital a look in advance. (Personal Capital does a great job for 95% of our assets, but I’m a stickler for the last 5% – hence the spreadsheets.)

    I was surprised to see the net worth (of the assets it tracks) jump 4%. The stock market and paper gains in real estate are the cause. I can’t remember another month having that large of a jump percentage-wise. I’m getting excited to run the spreadsheets in 5 days when the end of the September settles financially (rent checks collected and such).

  2. That’s another fine month right there Justin! One thing I just noticed that I will have to check in to is the pre-pay of your utility bill. That’s a really smart move and I’m not sure if we can do that here or not. We paid all of our insurance bills on credit cards (about $7000) with no fee so that was great! (We have rental properties and three cars…and teenagers!) They told us it was “ending” and we couldn’t pay that way without fees but I got an email to pay it online and I did and no fee showed up! I guess their system hadn’t caught up yet because they all went through! I also love how you show healthy and tasty meals can come at a really reasonable price. I am working a temporary (more than full time) job right now and I can see that it is easy to get into the “order out” mode. We fight that urge by eating breakfast for dinner at times and doing some old simple stand-bys. As an educator, the PTA membership is key too! I’d encourage everyone to support the great folks who volunteer for PTA. They are some amazing folks and make that money stretch amazingly far!

    1. We cook some easy, simple meals too occasionally. Tacos are a stand-by for me. Good leftovers. And definitely dirt cheap (30 corn tortillas for under $2 = 8-10 meals worth) and are relatively healthy when the cheese and sour cream are used in limited quantities. Also enjoy breakfast any time of the day. Eggs-n-something is a favorite around here too if we’re feeling lazy.

  3. Nice month, looks like you are doing great so far staying within your budget. Always nice to see that work out.

    We are also tracking closely so far this year coming in under budget by $500. Unfortunately we still need to book or holiday travel though but we hope to pay for most of it with rewards.

    Thanks for the update!

  4. I really must stop reading your posts before meal times. Those food pictures have me hungry for fine home-cooked dining.

    It sounds like your United miles will do the trick for your Euro trip. You probably know already that BA Avios Miles has a sweet spot from East Coast (Boston) to Dublin for 25k round trip per person. I think those numbers are correct as of today. And getting anywhere in Europe from Dublin is dirt cheap on the many low cost airlines that operate out of there. Sounds like a mighty fine trip you are cooking up and look forward to reading about the planning and doing!!

    Cheers to your investments continuing to go through the roof and supporting your cunning plan to get a new roof…..

    1. The new roof plan not only didn’t work out (lots of rain but not enough wind), but we also discovered a new leak in the roof. Might be pulling that roof replacement forward a year to this fall once the roofers aren’t so busy from post-Matthew work.

    1. Justin, I agree with Matt. Your blog is continually inspiring in that you seem to be just plain having more fun than anyone else, despite spending less than most. Are your cooking skills something you have developed in early retirement, or have you enjoyed those for a while? I’ve heard Pad Thai can be quite time-intensive…

      1. I’d like to think so. 🙂

        I’ve enjoyed cooking for a long time, and I’m always looking to add to my skills. Pad thai isn’t too bad. Maybe an hour or two including prep and clean up. Basically, cook the eggs, then cook the veggies and meat(s). Then throw the soaked rice noodles in a hot pan with a little water for a short minute and put the eggs, meat and sauce in for another minute or two. It could be a really quick meal if you cook the meat and eggs ahead of time, then it’s just throw everything into a pan and serve (like a quick after work meal).

  5. Pad Thai shouldn’t look so good at 630 Aam

    Looks like a great month, looking forward to further breakdowns of your Europe trip – that is going to be an amazing experience

  6. I would love to see your pad Thai recipe or tips, if you were willing to share!

    I have never tried making it but Thai food is one of my wife and my favorites.

    1. Here’s a similar recipe to what I do. I’d suggest the Maesri brand pad thai sauce if you’re buying a prepared sauce. Should be available at any Asian grocery store. You could also make the sauce from scratch with tamarind juice/paste and other ingredients but I cheat and use pad thai sauce (plus some other asian sauces/pastes to tweak it to my liking).

  7. The Europe trips sounds great! We lived there for 4 years and loved being able to travel around affordably. The kids will love it! Overall looks like a great month. September was a huge grocery month for us, I think the after road trip stock up came late for us!

    1. I hope the kids enjoy it. I was lecturing them on European history (“Spain in the 1490’s was crushing it!!”) so I hope they get something out of the trip other than gelato and pizza and pretzels.

  8. Hey Justin,
    This is adam from high school. How did you get your health insurance thru the marketplace to be 300 for a family of four with your income? We pay 500 a month and it is frustrating. I would appreciate any advice

  9. Feeling super inspired by your post – thanks for sharing! I’m putting together my September review post this week and love seeing when others have good months : )

  10. That’s great to see the net worth going up! Thanks for sharing this info with us! It’s super helpful to see how others are spending. Making me think how I can get that food bill down. That food looks amazing!

  11. I concur with Mr. Pie on the food photos!

    I always went the “rebating travel agent” route on cruises vs. the cashback portal. I’ll have to see how it compares next time.

    1. I almost went with a travel agent that offered a big discount up front. It wasn’t quite 10% off like the cash back site, but it’s instant instead of waiting till after the cruise. Oh well, I tossed the dice on this one and hopefully I’ll still get my 10%. 🙂 I also hate to deal with a travel agent one-off instead of buying through a major online travel agency like Expedia/Travelocity since I already have accounts there and I know they are decent to work with for generic stuff like cruises.

  12. Another great month, Justin. Congratulations.

    September was also a good month for our household as a slew of dividends from stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds came in. Also decided to join my wife, who started at 62, and take SS at 63 early next year. I believe I can do better with the $ than waiting until a more “advanced” age, and while we do not need it, I have a healthy distrust for government and their schemes to defraud the taxpayer. Plus this will give me a few years before they start confiscating part of the check for a Medicare system I do not want to join, but will be forced to.

    Also had good news on the spending front. While I have always bought into my wife’s medical insurance, when she retired it dropped eye and dental coverage for both of us. While I worked I covered those from my employer, who now allows me to continue buying into those during retirement until 65. The statement for the yearly signup period for 2017 came yesterday, and the increase per month for those two items from my former employer was 37 cents. Sweet. With my wife’s outstanding medical insurance you can understand why we would prefer to never be on Medicare, but will be forced to in a few years.

    1. We’ll be feeling the pain once we’re no longer on our sweet ACA plans and have to switch to Medicare. Much higher premiums and not quite as good coverage. Assuming the system is the same in 25-30 years. 🙂

  13. Nice to see money growing! I love gardening but watching money grow is a close 2nd. With all the drama coming it the late fall any itch to move your money to safe havens or do you plan to ride the storm as planned? I cant help but think of potential buy op if the market does crash. The Dreamers

    1. So far I’m holding steady. If the market keeps running up, I might take a little profit, but otherwise I’m good since I’m investing for multiple decades. And suck at timing the market 🙂

  14. Excellent looking September RoG! I was just putting together my September post too!

    I think you’re right to save a little extra cash “just in case”. There’s some dark clouds out on the horizon, we just don’t know how far off they are!

    Can you share some of your Pad Thai secrets? I’ve tried making it a few times, but I haven’t quite gotten it perfect yet.

    1. One thing is I use the Maesri brand Pad Thai sauce (about $2 for a 9 oz jar at our local SE Asian grocery store). I just bought a cheapo jar on clearance from walmart from some other brand (it’s in the “Asian” section at walmart, so YMMV of course). Not that great tasting – more like spicy ketchup. So the sauce really matters.

    1. Thanks for the link. I’ll definitely check it out!

      Housing? No mortgage (paid it off 1.5 years ago). Otherwise, tax is $1400, due in Dec or Jan. Utilities average a couple hundred. Home insurance is $550-ish/yr due in May/June. Pretty cheap living here in Raleigh with a paid off house. 🙂

  15. Vere interesting information as usual. Nice to know that you’re going to visit my country (Spain), if you are going to visit Madrid and surrounding area let me know and I can help you!

    1. We finally booked the tickets this week. As part of a 9 week trip to Europe, we’re landing in Malaga in mid-June then spending 9 days between Malaga, Granada and Seville (flying out of Seville to Milan). I doubt we’ll make it up to Madrid on this trip (and sad we’re missing Madrid and Barcelona completely but I’ve been wanting to visit southern Spain for a while). I’m definitely looking forward to it, after having studied Spain off and on for a decade or more in Spanish classes.

  16. Your European trip sounds awesome! I’d really recommend checking out the Rick Steves books for the countries you’re traveling to. You’ll save a ton of money and time with the advice he has in those books. Most are updated yearly to reflect changes. Our library generally has the most up to date version, and I’ve bought a few along the way. Note that he does have separate books for countries as well as some cities (London, Paris, Munich, etc.). You may also want to see if you could check out some of the DVDs from your library to get an idea of what to expect and what you might want to see.

    1. We’ve been watching all those Rick Steves videos on Youtube (I think they are all there now – must be dozens or hundreds of them). Great for inspiration, though it feels formulaic in a way – “here’s a church, here’s an art museum now let me curate art for 5 minutes of this 25 minute video, and here’s the rest of the city”. I have the Eyewitness travel guides in addition to a Rick Steves book from the library.

  17. Congrats on a nice nw bump in September! Same here, though we’re not withdrawing funds yet… will be interesting to see what the markets have in store for us in the coming months, especially post-election. We’re trying to figure out if we want to take one more expensive trip while we’re still working (to an expensive destination, not a trip with luxury hotels or anything like that), so that’s the big decision on the horizon over here. 😉

    1. For travel planning, I’d weigh what you can get now versus after you retire. Odds are that you can make your trip 2x more awesome (ie stay twice as long but only pay 1 airfare) without spending anywhere near 2x the cost. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the flexibility that comes with early retirement! 🙂

  18. After looking back through your financial updates over the past few months, I think one area our family can improve on is groceries. We typically shop at Safeway, but I need to check out Aldi again. Not too mention that our older son is off at college, so we need to make sure we are adjusting the amount of food we are buying.

    Now if I could only make Pad Thai like yours…

    Thanks for the updates!

    1. If you’re throwing food away it means you’re throwing money away 🙂 Definitely check out Aldi. It’s my go to place and rarely beaten even by the loss leader sales at regular grocery stores (though sometimes they edge out Aldi by 10-20%; just barely enough to warrant a separate trip if we’re not already driving past the area).

  19. I envy your ability to pay utilities with a credit card. We are not even allowed in City Hall to pay the bill. There is an outdoor drive thru and payments are strictly by check or money order. Part of the reason I have never applied for additional credit cards is my inability to meet their 3 month spending requirements. Paying your utilities in advance is a great use of that system.
    Hope you don’t have any hurricane damage, your insurance will pay and then non-renew (cancel) the following year or at least that was my experience after Hurricane Charlie. With the company for 23 years and that was my one and only claim. Had a terrible time getting home insurance after that.
    Can’t wait to hear about your plans for Europe. How many weeks are you planning to stay? That seems like an awful lot of countries to visit at one time.

    1. Turns out we were fine. Never lost power but had 7+” of rain and the culvert underneath our property was scary high water level (though still about ~5′ from flooding us).

  20. Man, that Pad Thai looks good! Reminds me of the time we took a cooking class in Thailand and they taught us how to make Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, and mango+sticky rice. Ummm…yum!

    Have fun with the European trip research! After our insane 3 hour chat, we’re looking into Mexico and Argentina based on your advice. I’m definitely leaning more towards Mexico, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve also always wanted to go to Machu Picchu in Peru, but I think it might be just a tad too touristy. What do you think?

    1. Do go to Machu Picchu – it is incredible! I didn’t find it too touristy. I didn’t do the Inca Trail or take the touristy train, just hired a guide and travelled from Cusco on local transportation. If you’re into the big hike, there’s another multi-day one far less travelled you could research.

    2. I think Machu Picchu would be awesome. If you haven’t booked elsewhere already I bet the Jan-April time frame would offer decent weather (considering Jan is summertime in Peru). I’m hoping to make it down there at some point, though traveling mainly during N. American summer means it’ll be chilly in Peru while we’re free.

  21. Looking good

    Are your income numbers pre or post tax?

    Where are you heading in Europe? I will be interested to hear how much the tickets cost you in points or miles.

    1. All numbers here are pre-tax, though you can see the cost of tax (which I treat as an expense now) in this post. $600 for the quarter for state+fed taxes. We pay very little tax, so post tax isn’t much less than pre-tax income.

      We’re heading to Europe some time in early-mid June and returning mid-August (kids’ summer vacation from school!). Tickets are 60,000 pts each x 5 on United, and come with a free one way flight anywhere in Europe (new redemption rules on United as of October 6 2016).

      1. Are you guys considering a Eurail Pass? They can be a very good deal, but you must purchase them in advance. Some of the trains are overnighters with bunks, your family would probably have a cabin to yourselves. That saves on a hotel room, and it’s wicked fun to sleep on a train, especially as a kid (says the 41 year old kid)!

        1. Thanks for mentioning it and the link. I’ve looked at it a bit but not sure we’ll save any money versus buying tickets a la carte. The 5 and 10 year olds will be free many times when we’re buying individual tickets, and Germany seems to have “family” rates for up to five travelers that make advance purchase family tickets less than $100 pretty often. Elsewhere, the bus is more economical than the train and generally time competitive too. I expect our intercity travel to average USD$100 or so for the family and we’re looking at ~17 different “stops” along the way over 2 months (some of those are already booked air tickets; others are ~USD$50 on bus/train from the quotes I’m seeing).

          I’m looking forward to the trains too and hoping to see some cool countryside scenery along the route. 🙂

      2. How are you able to pay your taxes via a credit card? I haven’t ever heard of that. Can you do that if you have a regular 9-5 job?

        Wow 2 months in Europe. Nice. What credit cards did you use to get the 300,000 points needed for the flights?
        We just started hacking and we emptied our Delta points for a trip to Banff and now are trying to get some major points. Have you gotten the Sapphire Reserve yet? Do you get any of the high end cards that come with a high fee per year?
        I had read on some travel blogs the United new rules were not good. Meaning they had wanted to book things before Oct. 6. Do you find the new rules benefit you better?
        And how do you book the free one way flight? I cannot figure that out. How are you going to use it? Will you book one way flights all around? Just wondering how you work this out the best way points wise.

        1. Fed taxes allow paying with CC for everyone I think. The fee is something like 1.87%. State taxes vary I’m sure, but NC allows it ($2 fee per $100 aka 2%). I’m paying estimated taxes but I think it applies to all income tax payments.

          I got a lot of the Chase United Explorer cards and the Continental cards pre-merger (been collecting these for several years). Haven’t done the Sapphire Reserve yet but hope to in February once I’m not prohibited under the chase 5/24 rule.

          New United rules do defeat several cool “hacks” for united miles. For example, we could have added a side trip to Asia for just 10-20k more points per person (but chose not to). Instead, we were actually able to get slightly more flexibility with our Europe tickets, but ended up not using it. The post October 6 rules essentially award you a free one way flight within whatever region you’re traveling to. In this case, we could have flown all the way across the European continent for free (plus taxes of course). We ended up using that free flight for a cheapo non-stop flight from Lisbon to Malaga Spain (and paying for a Seville-Milan flight on Ryanair that was slightly more expensive, but non-stop 2.5 hrs instead of 7 hours on United with the “free” flight).

          Theoretically you could fly into one edge of Europe, tour around, then fly to the far opposite side, tour around some more, then leave from a different airport. Like fly into Lisbon, travel to Barcelona overland, then fly to Oslo, travel to Dublin overland (and/or water!) then fly home from Dublin.

  22. IT seems like you are really organized with travel hacking and planning. The net worth is usually going to head up as that is the market trend. Do you reinvest any of the dividends you get or just use it all as monthly spending money? Good luck in October.

    1. So far I’m taking all dividends as cash. The cash in our money market keeps piling up (mostly due to having lots of income from this blog) so I need to figure out what to do with this surplus of cash in the future.

  23. Awesome month!

    We just returned from an ‘Adult trip'(meaning no kids) cycling trip to Girona, Spain. We share a home(a mansion really) and it worked out to $20/night per person. We had a kitchen to made all of our breakfasts and dinners there.

    We shopped at a grocery store called Carrefour(they have these in France, as well). I also checked out Aldi’s, which is a German brand, great prices. The food prices were very affordable.

    We also say in Barcelona at this fantastic Airbnb….walking distance to Sagrada Familia, a definite not to miss site.

    1. Awesome! This one won’t be an “adult trip” but hopefully we can still see and do a lot. I’ve heard Spain is pretty decent when it comes to groceries, food and other costs of living. I’m still not sure if we’ll end up in Spain but look forward to it if we do make it. Thanks for your overview of your experience!

  24. Looks like another solid month in the can there for you Justin! 🙂
    Exciting news about the travel and keep up the good fight

    September was solid for me although October is looking even better

  25. “We’re still sitting on over $50,000 in cash right now.” Justin, I believe you need to explain this cash is in your bank. With the statement coming right before the picture of you and your son eating a meal on your patio could give some ill-thinking person the wrong idea. I would edit the post. I’ve read too many unpleasant police reports in my time as a journalist to dismiss the statement.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I clarified the post to make it clear we don’t have $50,000 in cash at our house. More like $50-100 and the bulk of that is in the kids’ piggy banks ha ha (but please avoid robbing us everyone).

  26. I was “reading a magazine” this morning and read your Bloomberg Magazine story. Very good PR!

    September was another good month for you.

    Keep up the good work Justin and crew.

      1. The story is in the actual magazine so I do not have a link. The story profiled 3 early retirement people who are living on less than 4% of their portfolios.

  27. Looking forward to reading about that trip to Europe! I hope that you will post a bit about the planning process as you go along over the winter….

  28. Looks great as usual. I like your cash reserve. We have about the same amount. I really think 2017 will be the year that I can redeploy this cash.
    Your Europe trip sounds great especially since you are using reward points. We’re heading to Thailand next month and I can’t wait.

    1. Looking forward to seeing updates from Thailand! We’re hoping to get there some day but traveling during the school year is hard, and summer is the hot season in Thailand.

  29. You are going to have a blast in Europe.

    My wife and I have had the chance to do a lot of traveling since we paid off our mortgage. Paying off our mortgage was one of the most freeing things that we did as we no longer felt guilty when we spent money creating memories. Especially knowing that we didn’t have the weight of debt hanging around our neck.

    I can’t wait to hear where you plan to go and what you plan to see!!!

    1. That’s awesome to direct the newly freed up money toward something fun. That’s where we are at in retirement – plenty of money right now sow we’re indulging in expenses that might end up over our $40k budget, but that’s okay since we’re still spending under 4% of our actual portfolio value.

  30. Hi Justin, I’m two months away from early retirement (sort of early…age 48). I just started using credit cards to accumulate airline miles. I’ll have no income during retirement and will be living off my portfolio. How does that work when applying for credit cards? I have an excellent credit score, but I can’t imagine being approved for a credit card when I show $0 income. What has your experience been with this?

    1. I list my investment income as “income” and usually put “retired” or self employed for occupation. I think I use $40,000 or so as my income since that’s about where I aim to be on my taxes each year. So far I don’t appear to be getting rejections based on low income.

  31. Congrats Mr. RoG, very solid numbers!
    If you happen to come visiting Switzerland (not the best destination moneywise) in your next year European trip let me know!

    1. So far we are avoiding Switzerland. Not so much because it’s so expensive but that we only have a limited time in Europe and can’t see it all. We’re also skipping all of France and UK, and not making it to big capitals or cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and Rome. And skipping all of the Scandinavian countries. We’ll be pretty close (in Milan) but not likely to head north to Switzerland this time around.

  32. I’m curious that you don’t have any kids activity fees. Do your kids not do anything like sports, music or scouts? Ours do a few programs through Parks and Rec, but the costs still add up! Is it a conscious, cost-saving move on the part of family’s, or are your kids just not interested in organized activities?

    And wow, $69.00 for the year field trip fee is a bargain! I feel like our kids’ (public) schools all always requesting $$ from us ($89 outdoor school, $50 school supplies, $150 fundraising donation, plus cash donations for teacher birthdays, christmas, teacher appreciation, support staff appreciation etc.). While I greatly appreciate and support our schools and teachers, the financial requests get to be a bit much!

    Anyway, thanks for the inspiration! I always enjoy your posts.

    1. We don’t do many organized after school activities. I don’t know how other families do it, other than staying busy from sun up to sun down every day of the week (and most of the weekends too!). They usually get involved in some kind of after school activity that meets 2-3x per week (so they’re getting home around 4:45-5) and we seem to have about one evening per week busy with something. Weekends are filled with birthday parties, hanging out with friends (often at our house), outside fun stuff when the weather is nice, swimming when it’s hot or cold. We just got home from a couple hours in the park playing tennis and they met up with a friend so they’re enjoying a lazy movie watching afternoon right now. All the stuff we do is free (besides gas to/from) except for the swimming which is $1.60 per kid admission and $3.20 per adult admission when we buy 15 admission punch passes.

      We’ll occasionally spend more on “entertainment”, like we drove to the city lake and rented a jon boat for an hour and a half and paddled for a few miles ($4). Sometimes we’ll go to the skating rink down the street from our house ($4-5 per kid).

      We aren’t opposed to recurring organized activities, just don’t want to miss out on all the other fun stuff going on because of practices or games. And from observing friends that are engaged in lots of organized activities, it looks hectic and stressful. I’d rather our kids have a little free time each day to pursue whatever interests them. We’d certainly be willing to drop a couple hundred bucks on whatever activities interest them, and ask them about activities pretty often. So far they haven’t wanted to sign up for anything.

      We do summer camps when we’re in town during the summer, but lately it seems we’re on vacation. We even found a great free science camp sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, so we did that last year but literally picked up the kids on the last day of camp on the way out of town on our 3.5 week road trip through the US and Canada.

      1. Sounds nice and relaxing! My son is a homebody and not too interested in extra-currulars (other than Parks and Rec soccer), but my daughter is always asking to participate in whatever activities her friends are (girl scouts, band, gymnastics, swim team…) so we have to limit her. I bet the socio-economics of friend groups has a big impact as well – my kids go/went to the (public) magnet school that’s two blocks away but tends to attract all the rich kid families from around town. Lots of overscheduled kids!

        1. We’re in a lower-middle income neighborhood so not too much craziness with after school activities. I’ve seen a few friends on facebook though. Insane stuff like gone from the house from 6 am to 9:30 am every day dropping kids off, then back out at 1 or 2 to start afternoon pickup and afternoon extracurricular drop offs every day, and not home before 7:30 or 8 pm (presumably dinner is squeezed in at a restaurant somewhere in there??!!). Not much of a life if you ask me.

          1. Yikes! We’re walking distance to school, and limit afterschool activities to closeby options no more than 2x/week, but even that feels busy with two working parents! I have friends who have each child participating in 2-3 activities EVERY DAY after school. It’s nuts!

            1. That’s what I mean. You have a 4:00 activity, then a 5:30 activity and a 7:00 activity most days of the week. How? Why?! When we have the occasional after school or evening activity during the week it’s a bit of a rush to eat, do homework and shower before 9 pm kids’ bed time.

  33. Justin,
    A few quick questions. I’m not sure I understand how you end up with divvies pouring into your MMA if the holdings producing those divvies are in tax deferred (aka retirement) accounts. Are you doing 72t or have converted your both 401k’s to the IRA? I’d love to understand your strategy better. Do you do Roth IRA’s ladders as your family is in the low tax brake now? Probably it’s not a super idea to convert to Roth IRA if you want to stay under certain income limit for ACA purposes.

    You mentioned you’ll pass Chase 5/24 rule soon. To qualify for a new Chase CC, do they look/count the actual cards received within the 24-month period or check the # of hard pulls in that time frame? So, if I applied for say 4 cards and didn’t get approved for one in the last 2 years, Chase will count 4 pulls, not the 3 cards, right? But even in this case, Chase would hopefully approve for a new CC, still 4 is under 5 :-).

    Yep, I read the same story in BW and learned your last name. You’re brave to disclose so much info all over the place. The lady who was featured is VERY loaded (I read about her and her husband’s occupations in the past, but super smart with finances, totally different league than RofG and Joe income wise and net worth wise) plus they don’t have kids.

    I’ll have to visit an Asian store or two to find your mentioned sauce. My husband cooks Pad Thai, but I think he cracks the eggs into the dish when noodles cook in the pan whereas you boil them. Hmm?

    Oh, finally, what does your wife do these day? Does she miss work and interaction with other adults beside you :-)? I’m curious about your both routines when your kids are at school.

    1. Re dividends: we have around $300-350k in taxable accounts (about 1/4 total portfolio) so that produces around $8-10k in dividends each year that flow directly into the taxable accounts then into our checking account. No 72t for us (for now!). I’m planning on doing the Roth IRA conversion ladder if the income from this blog ever disappears (but for now I’m already in a high enough tax bracket considering the ACA that I don’t want to go higher w/ conversions).

      Chase 5/24 – they count cards you actually qualified for, not hard pulls. And some biz cards don’t count apparently. If you’re at 3 approved cards you’re fine for sure!

      Pad thai – I scramble and fry the eggs first, then pull from the pan before putting the noodles in. After cooking the noodles for a minute I add some of the already cooked eggs back in. Adding raw eggs to the noodles won’t work well in my experience.

      My wife? She’s taking it easy! We usually go to the park and play tennis a few times per week when it’s nice (that’ll change to indoor swimming once it gets really cold out). Catching up on a netflix queue. Cooking. 3 kids. Pretty busy schedule! 🙂

        1. Ha ha, yeah. Lots of strange twists in early retirement. It’s hard to predict what I’ll be up to 2 years out, let alone 10. And when all the kids have graduated high school? Who knows!

          As for the food – I actually consider myself an anti-foodie. I like food and like to cook but generally consider most of the “foodie favorite” restaurants overpriced and overrated at best and absolute garbage at worst. I think my problem is analyzing the value in everything, so it’s hard to pay $20 for a plate of anything that I know only costs around $4-5 for the ingredients (and I can probably make it to my liking at home after a few attempts). I’m also easy to please and not too picky (as long as something has flavor and isn’t totally busted).

          As for the pad thai, I think it is gluten free. We use rice noodles which I understand white rice is usually gluten free. Otherwise, meat, eggs, and veggies plus sauces. One of the sauces might have gluten in something (some kind of wheat based derivative??; I think the imported soy sauce we buy is actually fermented wheat or something crazy like that).

          1. “Foodie” is kind of a bad word to me. I get immediately repulsed (well, maybe that’s a strong word…immediately “turned off”?) when someone says “I’m a foodie.” So I’m glad to read everything you just said, because I feel exactly the same way!

            And you’re right the sauces could be a problem, but I’m sure we could easily work around that. We always keep a gluten free soy sauce on hand for cooking some of our best dishes.

            1. Glad I’m not the only one that thinks about running away when they hear the term “foodie”. 🙂

              As for GF sauces, it’s probably not too hard to find. All of the sauces in our pad thai are imported from Thailand but all come with English language ingredient lists (and sometimes horribly hilarious English transliterations of cooking instructions!). And I think the Japanese made Kikkoman soy sauce we also buy (the “cheap” stuff) is soy based which is GF I think.

  34. Congratulations on a good September. We had a less than interesting September because we couldn’t really invest – we needed to keep cash on hand for several large expenses in October – so it was nice to live vicariously through your update.

    Yay for your upcoming trip to Europe. We’ve spent a lot of time in Amsterdam and in Spain (we have family in both places), so if you have questions, or need suggestions let me know. Spain is just an excellent place to visit with children. Their concept of a ‘bar’ is so different from ours. The local bars in little towns are frequented by the whole family – it is common to find three generations at the bar, from grandma down to the toddler – all enjoying a beer (well, except for the toddler) and some tapas together.

    1. We’re looking forward to Spain. I’ve wanted to visit southern Spain for a while now, and it’s finally happening! Seems like a nice place to relax and explore, too. Also will be spending several days in Amsterdam at the end of the trip (no real reason other than AMS being the lowest taxed airport we could find and the canals look cool).

  35. We are baby travel hackers, and are planning our first family vacation ever for this coming year. I just started putting a few recurring bills on my travel rewards credit card (paying off monthly of course)and starting scoping out air bnb.

  36. Did you have trouble finding 5 award tickets on the same flight? We were able to get 6 award tickets on Delta this summer on the same flight. We just got our Chase Reserve cards and people are kind of freaking me out telling me I will not be able to find 6 or 7 award tickets on say United when I go to book.

    1. I didn’t really have any problems but I intentionally booked WAAAAY ahead of time to guarantee (1) 5 seats on the same plane to and from Europe and (2) our pick of the litter for optimum flight schedule and connections. I could have booked a month or so earlier, but waited it out thinking I would benefit from the new United miles booking rules. I ended up not using the new flexibility in the end, but didn’t really lose out. I think I had to book one day earlier (on a Monday) instead of on a Tuesday like I originally planned because the best flight combos weren’t available on the Tuesday. No big deal – we’ll have just 2.5 days after school gets out to say our goodbyes, pack (only a bookbag each lol), and head out the door.

      So my advice is to book ASAP because the tickets will disappear. That said, you might still be able to find less than optimal tickets even if you wait till the spring to book summer tickets. United’s schedule opens up around 330 days out (I think), so keep that in mind when booking tickets. You can book for September 2017 flights right now, for example.

      1. Thanks for giving me some peace. We booked 6 tickets on Delta maybe 3 months ahead of time to Banff and had no issues. But all the boards I was reading were saying I wouldn’t find award tickets on United in the numbers I needed.

        I still don’t know what we are going to do with the points. We will have 200k here shortly thanks to 2 Reserve cards. I am thinking maybe we should get the regular cards to and get 50k times 2 to get us up to 300k. But that still leaves us short for getting to Europe since I need 6 or 7 tickets.

        Doing some research I have come up with these thoughts.
        I can get a RT flight to Hawaii for 25k or 35k.

        I think I have read I can get RT flight to Alaska for about the same.

        Is there anyway to get to Europe with these points? I thought going on Aer Lingus was going to work but now I have read they charge 100 some per ticket in taxes and fees.

        Or what else would you do with these points if you were me?
        Thanks for the tip of booking ASAP, only thing is that I don’t have enough points yet. Maybe I am going to have to put this trip off another year.
        I am still pretty new to all this reward hacking. The trip this summer was our first hacked one. Although I haven’t done any hotel hacking yet. I need to get on that.

        Wow packing in a backpack each awesome. It is so much easier to be a light traveler. You guys did it when you went to Mexico was it? It helps that you are going to be some place warm.

        1. Hmmm, Europe might work w/ 300k points from the cards plus focusing all your spending on using those Sapphire cards w/ Ultimate rewards (you can transfer to United miles 1:1). Also check out their online portal and do any online shopping through there (or directly through United’s shopping portal). And check out other ways to earn pts on United (hotel, car rental, etc). If you can get to 360k total points, you’re set for 6 tix to Europe.

          About the taxes, plan on paying around $100, possibly more, on United (and many other airline reward programs too). We ended up paying $6 to Lisbon, $15 Lisbon-Malaga, and $48 Amsterdam-Raleigh (for a total of around $70/ticket in taxes) and that was after bending over backwards finding the lowest tax options available near our itinerary. Some departure airports charge $100 just for that one flight back to the US! And British Air Avios pts to/from Europe often have $300-400+ in taxes (half the cost if you just pay cash!).

          As for packing in bookbags only, I don’t think it was a problem. We took 4 changes of clothes, and might drop to 3 changes for this summer (plus perhaps an extra set for cool/cold weather since we’re doing an ice cave tour – freezing weather in July!). I had a full size laptop but I’m thinking of going with a mid-range ultrabook to trim off several pounds of weight. And I already bought some lighter weight shorts. 🙂

  37. Justin,

    I love reading your monthly updates because I can really imagine myself getting to where you are in just a couple more years. That’s so awesome that you are able to get your spending so low. Kudos!

  38. Last year I read several FI bloggers who stated they were holding on to cash or building up cash, anticipating a market crash. Are people in this arena still holding out for a crash before putting more money in the market? What are your thoughts of throwing a large amount of cash into the market at this time? My gut says to go for it but my brain says, Boy, the Dow is up there!

    1. I have no clue which way the market is going. We are many years into an economic expansion cycle and they don’t last forever, for whatever that knowledge is worth. We’ll have a recession and correction eventually. But if you’re investing in equities you should be investing for long term, like 5+ years and ideally a decade or more. Volatility can be a killer over shorter time spans.

      As for what I’m doing, I just sold $50,000 worth of equities and plunked it into Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund yesterday. That’s not a market call, just a promise I made to myself that if the markets ever get really high again I’d take some profits off the table. That dollar amount plus my dividends in taxable accounts will cover our basic expenses for a couple of years. I’ll probably take some more profits if things stay at today’s valuation or keep going up, but I don’t have a concrete framework for when or how much.

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