September 2019 Financial Update

Summer is officially over and fall is here (finally). Between the heat and humidity of our summer vacation in Southeast Asia and the excessively warm September in North Carolina, I’m definitely ready for cooler weather. Fall, my favorite time of the year, means more pleasant outdoor weather for lounging in the hammock and exploring the woods on foot and by bike.

September was a lazy month for us. I got in several nice bike rides, played a bunch of video games, and read a few books. I’m a big fan of leisurely pastimes in early retirement in case you haven’t noticed!

Financially, September was a really good month. Our net worth climbed by $45,000 to reach $2,123,000 by month end. Our income was very strong at $8,462 while our expenses were a puny $979 for the month. If every month were like September, then soon we’d be rich! 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.



Investment income totaled $5,776 in September. Our equity mutual funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December with some payments arriving at the beginning of the next month. This being a quarter-end month, we received a high amount of investment income. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, totaled $1,979 for the month. The blog income is trending downward since I don’t post very often these days.

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) totaled $630 for the month of September which represents five hours of consulting sessions. 

The “deposit income” totaled $76. $56 of the deposit income came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the and online shopping portals (some of which was earned from you readers signing up through these links).

If you sign up for Ebates through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Ebates, you’ll get a $10 gift card. 

The other $20 of “deposit” income came from a credit card promotion. My Citi Prestige card offered $20 cash back when spending $120 or more through paypal. I bought $120 of Walmart gift cards online and paid using paypal for an easy $20. 



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.


Geese and herons on our lake



Now let’s take a look at September expenses:


In total, we spent $979 during September which is about $2,300 less than our target spending of $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year).  Groceries topped the spending categories for the month. Gotta eat, right?


Detailed breakdown of spending:


Groceries – $380:

Our grocery spending dropped down to a more reasonable level of $380 in September after we spent more than $700 in August. 

A new grocery store opened here in Raleigh at the end of the month. Wegman’s, a familiar name for many in the northeastern part of the USA, finally graced North Carolina with a store. We just visited and found it a bit underwhelming. The selection is amazing but the prices are rather high compared to my normal Aldi/Lidl/Superwalmart combo of stores that all compete hard with each other. I’ll place Wegman’s in the Trader Joe’s category: a good place to get items I can’t find at my usual stores, even if it costs more.


$0.99 per pound boston butt pork shoulders at the grocery store always leads to something good. This time it was cochinita pibil – big chunks of pork marinated in achiote paste and roasted in the oven till the meat falls off the bone.


Mrs Root of Good made tom khem: stewed pork and boiled eggs in a sweet five spice broth.


We make pho about once per month. This stuff is so much better than what we had in Vietnam.


We realized that we haven’t sufficiently exposed our kids to American food. So we bought them Lunchables when they went on sale for $0.50 each. The kids’ reviews were mostly negative but they like to eat the Oreos.


Taxes – $300:

Quarterly estimated taxes came due on September 15. I paid $300 for my North Carolina estimated state taxes (plus a $6 fee to use a credit card that I filed under “travel expenses”).

I didn’t pay anything on my federal taxes in September since I paid extra at the last quarterly estimated tax deadline in June. 


Utilities – $138:

The city water, sewer, and trash bill was $119 for September. 

The natural gas bill (for the water heater) totaled $19 for the month. 

Several months ago I prepaid $600 on the electricity bill to hit the minimum spending requirement on a credit card. As a result, September utility charges didn’t include electric. 

If you want to score some free travel from credit cards, there are several cards currently offering 50,000 points or more. These points can be redeemed for $500 cash or $500+ in free flights or hotel stays. Compare travel credit card deals.


Travel – $56:

I bought a $65 Airbnb gift card on Amazon for $50 using a $15 off promotion. We stay in Airbnbs almost exclusively during our big summer vacations, so I can always use extra Airbnb gift cards.  If you haven’t tried it, give Airbnb a shot (and enjoy a $40 discount when you sign up through that affiliate link).

I also spent $6 on a “credit card convenience fee” so that I could pay my state estimated taxes by credit card. I consider this a travel expense since I get tons of free travel from credit cards and the more spending I put on credit cards, the more points and bonuses I can get. 


Grandma’s house = $800 worth of free Cambodian cooking classes. The five of us learned how to make khanom moek coconut and rice flour desserts.


The end result: a couple hundred pyramid shaped sweet treats wrapped in banana leaves then steamed to perfection.


Healthcare/Medical – $36:

Our 2019 healthcare premiums are $31 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$40,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. The benefit of being “poor” on our tax return.

The other $5 medical spending was the copay for a doctor’s visit. 


Restaurants – $33:

We ate a lot of restaurant food in September but didn’t spend that much. The biggest single expense was a $21 box of fried chicken from Bojangles.

We also got a “free” Bloomin Onion from Outback Steakhouse twice (but I had to buy a $3.50 order of french fries each time). When their NASCAR race car driver places in the top 10 you can get a “free” Bloomin Onion on Mondays. 

Chick Fil A sent me a freebie through the app so I redeemed that plus bought a $4 chicken sandwich for Mrs. Root of Good. 

While we were out grocery shopping, we made a pit stop at McDonald’s. We enjoyed a free caramel iced coffee with whip cream using a coupon. It happened to be National Cheeseburger Day (or something like that) so we ordered the promotional “2 cheeseburgers for $1” deal. Nice light meal for $1.07 total. 

In other September free food deals, we hit up Moe’s Free Queso Day and got a ton of chips, salsa, and queso. 


Home cooked lemongrass chicken with bottle gourd. Better than restaurant food!


Gas – $33:

Three quarters of a tank of gas. When the Saudi oil fields got hit by a missile strike in September I rushed out to top off the tank to avoid risk of price spikes or supply disruption. I was worried I would have to pay something crazy like $3 per gallon for gas!

The Saudi oil field strike turned out to be a complete non-event. Better safe than sorry, right? 


Clothing/Shoes – $3:

Thrift shopping! The little guy needs several new pairs of pants since he’s growing fast. Our normal thrift shop burned down so we had to go to a far inferior alternate thrift shop and only found one pair of pants for him.

I also picked up a nice ironic t-shirt for a dollar. It says “Save the Mammoths”. 

But mammoths are already extinct. Get it? 


Entertainment – $2:

I used a $3 off Ebay coupon and picked up several cheap bike accessories including a flashlight mounting bracket, a rear blinking LED tail light, and a bell. Net cost was $0.75. These items may be total junk but at least I got them for almost free! 

I also paid a dollar for a $50 Netflix gift card from Amazon. I used another $15 off Amazon promo to knock the price down plus I used up some free Amazon gift cards I had already to pay for the Netflix card. 


I found this nice little creek overlook about six miles into my ~18 mile round trip ride to the Neuse river in Raleigh. Nice place to stretch your legs.


We all love playing Ticket to Ride Europe. The game itself is pricey but we’ve played it a ton.


A local FIRE friend came over for enchiladas and mangoes. We also brainstormed over her new business venture in higher education consulting. I’m hoping to get a guest post from her in the near future that will potentially lead to tens of thousands in savings for all of us. Stay tuned!


Cable/Satellite – $0:

Internet service is usually $15/month but I paid nothing in September since I paid it twice in August. We qualify for a local reduced rate package due to having a lower income and having kids. 30 mbit/s download, 4 mbit/s upload.


While purging some junk, I found these two old keyboards. Instead of tossing them straight out, we dissected them first!



Total Spending in 2019


Through the end of September we have spent $18,391 which is approximately $11,500 under the $30,000 budgeted for the first nine months of our $40,000 annual early retirement budget

It’s possible we will have the cheapest year of early retirement ever in 2019. All we need to do is spend less than $1,800 per month for the last three months of the year and our 2019 year-end total will be under the $23,802 we spent back in 2015. I’m not aiming to artificially constrain spending if fun (or necessary) expenses arise, but it’s certainly a possibility that we’ll have a record low expense year in 2019. 

However, we still have our summer 2020 travel to plan and book and that could be expensive depending on where we go. 

Otherwise, it’s business as usual over here in the Root of Good household. 


Monthly Expense Summary for 2019:


Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:


Mrs. Root of Good trimming the overgrowth from a neighbor’s yard to make the walk to school more pleasant.



Net Worth: $2,123,000 (+$45,000)

Down one month, up the next. Our net worth has been oscillating within a $200,000 range between approximately $1,900,000 and $2,100,000 for the past two years. Right now we’re just above that range. Will it go higher in October? Who knows! 



My one big money move for September was opening five new 529 accounts in the California ScholarShare 529 program. They offered a $100 bonus for each new account funded with $1,000 or more. I opened one for each of our three kids plus one for me and Mrs. Root of Good. Cash reserves dropped by $5,000 while college savings increased by $5,000 (plus $500 more once the bonuses hit the accounts).

After I get the bonuses I’ll close the two adult 529 accounts and transfer the money to the kids’ accounts. 

I also transferred $57,000 from my North Carolina 529 plan over to the California plan to save on investment fees. California’s plan offers US equity index funds at 0.08% expense ratio and international equity index funds at 0.12% expense ratio. The NC 529 plan, in contrast, charges 0.31% and 0.36%, respectively for basically the same fund choices.

I’ll save at least 0.23% in annual expenses by making the switch. That equates to $131 per year on my $57,000 investment. Compound that over the course of many years and we’re talking real money. Plus they are giving me $500 for switching 529 providers! 


Hammock time!


Update on Life In General

September was the first month of my seventh year of early retirement. How crazy is that? In a few more years I will have been retired longer than I worked full time

Last month was all about getting the kids back into the groove of school and things are going well so far. Our youngest hit a little snag in first grade but he’s doing well in second grade now (and even advanced to the third grade math class).

Our oldest kid just started high school and the transition has been relatively painless from our point of view. She’s excited to take a heavy course load and even took an extra science class and a computer science class. Now to maintain this momentum for another 3.75 years of high school, right?


Sunset over the lake


Ok, folks. That’s it for the September month in review. Time to go out and enjoy this fall weather! 



With less than three months of 2019 remaining, how will you fill this time?



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  1. You are using the term ‘food’ very loosely when describing Lunchables!

    I do have a question about Aldi. It seems that, over the summer, whenever we went there it was quite variable what we could actually find. What have been your observations?

    1. Ha ha – I know! I tried the pizza one and it was pretty bad. Once we heated up the “pizza” (ketchup and cheese on a cracker) it was better. Definitely not something I’d buy for taste but I’ve had other parents tell me they keep it on hand as a hearty snack when they are too busy to pack one. I’ve never been too busy to throw some crackers and/or cheese in a bag.

      As for Aldi, ours is usually really good about keeping things stocked but there is always that 1 item they are out of stock on. Seems like most stores are that way though (except the expensive stores that don’t get a lot of foot traffic). The biggest issue is the sales items that are deeply discounted. They sell out quickly if it’s a really good deal, and they don’t always replenish them. We usually go on Wednesdays, the first day of the sales week, the increase the odds that whatever we want will be in stock.

  2. Wow, less than $1000 in monthly spending? That’s insanely low Root Of Good! Amazingly good job keeping the expenses low!

    I wish I could see deals like $0.99 pork shoulder… wow! Unfortunately the West coast seems to be a little more expensive, so I can only watch with jealousy.

    One question though — you seem to have gotten a lot of “promotional” deals this month. Free queso and blooming onions and that sort of thing. How did you hear about these things? Is there some blog or app that you follow that announces these kinds of things?

    1. Finding these promo food deals is partly luck – I always forget about the bloomin onion then I see it in the local news website each year. I set a reminder for the free queso each year. It’s always on the third Thursday of September I think. I’m sure there are blogs out there that share free food/promo stuff. But I don’t focus that much effort at getting free stuff since a lot of it is subjectively junk and not worth the time and effort (like the free 1 scoop of ice cream – that’s like $0.15 at the grocery store).

    2. Earlier this year, we got pork tenderloins from our local Fred Meyer for $.99/lb. We stocked up a year’s worth, one tenderloin a week for a year.

      We do this sort of thing very often, buying in bulk when something we normally buy is on sale.

  3. Congrats on another awesome month! Is the record low cost this year due to your experience in optimizing, year after year? Or is it due to SE Asia being less expensive than the previous summer vacations?

    What’s your plan for next summer’s family vacation?

    1. Most years we have a big lumpy expense and this year we haven’t so far. I’m talking new roof, new siding, new windows, new car, etc.

      I took a quick look at Europe vs Asia expenses and we spent about the same. Europe was $135/day and Vietnam was $125/day. I think Europe is comparatively cheap with kids because a lot of museums didn’t charge for kids and much of the train travel and some public transit was free for the kids too. We also cooked more meals in EU where good groceries are comparatively cheap.

  4. Besides rent, January and February are our most costly usual expense months with Insurance and taxes back to back. Nice to live in a lower cost housing area for your financial accounting. Myself though, couldn’t live in high humidity. ‘Cold’ ok, not ‘hot’. Spoiled – probably. A couple remarkable observations biologically and really cosmically is how the earth maintains such hospitable temperature range for life, and how tiny a sliver of that temperature range human beings can live in their birthday suits.

  5. Nice work Justin! Thank you for being so open with your expenses and income. Many FIRE bloggers, including some very prominent ones, don’t disclose much about the latter. It’s certainly true that you don’t need your investment portfolio at all right now due to your blogging and consulting income, but you would be very comfortably FI without it.

    How did you get a $50 Netflix gift card for $1? We occasionally visit the websites where you can buy discounted gift cards and have gotten some really good deals but never anything that good!

    1. Transparency is the name of the game. Most transparent blog on the internet right here!

      I bought the netflix card with a “$15 off $50” promotion when you use Chase or Citicard points (they each have a promotion; can’t recall which I used as one is $15 off $50 other is $15 off $60). Then I had something like $34 Amazon gift card balance remaining that I got for free (Google Rewards something-or-other that I participate in). So the net cost was $1 🙂 Not easily reproduced.

      Otherwise, I usually buy Netflix at a discount on Raise or similar and try to use a coupon there to sweeten the discount. Maybe get 10-15% off.

  6. I did the same thing with rushing out to buy gas after the Saudi explosion. A day after I got gas it went up like 20 cents, but today I noticed it was back down to the same price from a few weeks ago. So as you said, a whole bunch of nothing.

    Question on credit cards. When you apply for new credit cards, what do you put as your income? Just your blog income? Or do you include the dividend income?

    1. Yes – prices are back down to exactly where they were pre-explosion here I think. They did rise a few cents but not much.

      For income I put my AGI from my tax form which is usually in the $40-45k/yr range. I figure if they ever ask for verification I have a tax form to back up my claimed income! Never been asked for a tax form or proof of income though. And that income is partly blog, partly investment income.

  7. I got my oil tank filled up the Monday after and the owner honored the previous weeks price for me. We called back yesterday just to see what the current price was now that its all over with and its still .10 /Gal more so I guess it was a good move. I keep my eye out for restaurant/ fast food deals also. Sometimes they have some really good promotions which I try to stack using a discounted gift card or credit card offer and it works out pretty good for a treat. But nothing beats a great home cooked meal like you guys make!

  8. Nice cash flow in September.
    Never heard of Wegman. Trader Joe’s is more on the low end in Portland. It’s cheaper than other grocery stores near us. We’d have to drive a bit to get to a cheaper place.

    1. Wow, Trader Joe’s is cheap?!? In my neck of the woods there are very few things that are cheaper at TJs and it’s mostly higher end stuff (wine, craft beer, fancy imported cheeses, organic arugula, some nuts/seeds). But then again we live on the poor side of town so not many expensive grocery stores other than the Wegmans and Costco (both right next to the TJs)

  9. We lived in Upstate NY for decades until moving South nine years ago, and we were about one hour east of Wegmans corporate hdqtrs near Rochester, NY. It is truly an amazing chain, still family owned even though their sales are at least $1B/yr (possibly a lot more by now), and their superstores are destinations unto themselves with tons of sit down eating from a variety of nations. Look at Consumer Reports rankings of supermarket chains; if Wegmans is not their #1 choice it will be #2 in any given year. Regardless they are always rated the #1 chain in produce and they are exceptional at it. Wish we had them here in TN, even though as you found out they can look pricey at first glance. They have a lot of digital coupons and sale items so give them a shot.

    Still trying to run every other day and strength training on the days in between, but want to get into bike riding as well. Pulled a 21-speed Trek road bike out of the upper garage this weekend that I hadn’t touched in the nine years since we moved. In very good shape so I ordered chain lube and grease, an inexpensive bike stand for working, and will get that puppy up and running soon. Repurposing what we already have – my way of saving $.

    Keep up the great work, Justin, and best wishes to you and the family.

    1. I may check out Wegman’s again in the future. The general consensus here was the opening weekend sales were pitiful. They emailed some online coupons and a mailer with coupons but it wasn’t worth much. Once I looked around and saw they were pricing things to compete with the rich fancy stores, I decided I wouldn’t spend too much more time comparison shopping and trying to make use of the limited coupons they sent. Very nice store so I can see why it’s liked so much. But I love the tiny Aldi/Lidl store footprint because I can be in and out in 20 minutes. And it’s way cheaper there too!

      Good job on getting the bike out! Fun little project to get you going again. I just had to change a tube on one of the kid’s bikes. 🙂

  10. My kids love Lunchables, it’s almost the only thing they will eat that would count as a meal. I supplement them with really healthy snacks, so I take the win where I can get it.

    I got a deal on Ticket to Ride (original version) at Wal-Mart a couple of months ago. Saving it for Christmas. Not sure if it’s going to be this one or the next one. I think it’s beyond my 5 year old, but he’ll be about 6 at Christmas this year.

    1. I think mine would eat them if I bought them but it wouldn’t be a first choice. We have “real” sandwich meat and cheese in the fridge so they’d be hitting that up first. But they’re older and have refined tastes in cheese. Although they’ve recently discovered the joys of imitation American cheese food product in little plastic wrappers 🙂 Apparently I had been depriving them of the “good” processed cheese food product by buying all this imported European cheese…

  11. Where do you hear about those bonuses on investments like the 529 plan? A scheduled alert you set up or another blog group? Ho does it work that you can set it up for yourself and then close? Do you have to pay the penalty? Will you transfer it to the kids accounts or to a retirement account? Thanks for the blog – I learn tons following

    1. I look at daily and saw the deal on there.

      529s can be set up with anyone as the beneficiary. I could have had my wife set up another 5 accounts – 1 for each of us in the family.

      I’ll close the 2 adult accounts and transfer the $ to the kids’ accounts. There are no fees to transfer or close accounts at the Scholarshare 529 but some plans do (like the NC 529 plan I’m closing out).

  12. I might have missed it but is it possible to get an update of the taxable vs tax-deferred vs tax free account balances? In the States I understand some retirement accounts attract taxes upon withdrawal whereas others (“Roth”?) would be tax free? Cheers from Melbourne, Australia

  13. Great post Jeremy and happy seventh year anniversary of early retirement! I was going to make a comment on the “lunchables” but I’m late to the game so I’m gonna skip that one. Instead, I’m gonna ask again the question from Kristy that you haven’t answered I believe: “What’s your plan for next summer’s family vacation?”

    As for us, we also have a similar spending challenge as we were thinking to only spend $30K traveling the world this year (similar to our budget on year 1) but has a snafu during our summer in Portugal where our accommodation budget went off the charts! Who knew Porto & Lisbon got so expensive?

  14. Justin, I also live in North Carolina, great state and I spend my winters in Chapel Hill not too far from you. I spend my summers in the NC mountains–Banner Elk and Sugar Mountain. I suggest you try a summer vacation in the NC mountains. This summer we had wonderful weather, mid 70s most days and low humidity. Houses do not need air conditioning. There are so many things to do–hiking, kayaking, zip lining, tennis, golf, camping, fishing, historical sites, lake swimming, mountain music and dancing. Great food, plenty of good grocery stores. Boone and Appalachain State nearby, Grandfather Mountain. I think your kids would love it and you could just drive. You would expose the kids to a different way of American life. Many Air BnB and VRBO rentals. Send me an email and I can give you some ideas.

  15. With 3 kids and a wife at home how do u manage to keep this blog in such quality? How do u manage to get anything done at all? Looking forward for a post on time management!

  16. Justin, do I smell another series of great advice coming in the future related to college funding? Now that you have a teen in high school now is the time to start establishing the path towards additional planning and hacking of college costs. I have a 12th grade HS student with an 8th grader following behind. For the 12th grader, we have followed the typical path of AP classes and currently working on a CLEP test for more credits. My DW and I both work with some good 529 savings for both children, so recent completion of the FAFSA was a shocker! Our estimated EFC is huge! As we are planning on FIRE <2 years we would like to start proper planning with child no.2. You seem to have figured out most other financial planning (Roth Ladder, ACA, etc.), so looking forward to your creative path of college planning and wrapping it all together.

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