September 2020 Early Retirement Update

Another fun month has flown by! Mrs. Root of Good and I should be driving through Northern Spain right now. Instead, we are keeping busy here in North Carolina while enjoying this wonderful fall weather. The kids are busy with virtual school during the days. Evenings and weekends are pretty relaxed. It’s business (mostly) as usual in our house right now. 

Financially speaking, September was a decent month overall. Our net worth dropped by $40,000 to end September at $2,166,000. Income was great at $8,908 while our expenses came in below budget at $1,830 for the entire month. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled $6,373 in September. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December with some payments arriving at the beginning of the next month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, totaled $1,402 for the month which was a bit higher than last month’s blog income. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $275 for the month of September which represents a two hour consulting session. This was a little lower revenue than recent months but bookings for October are fairly strong so I’m not worried yet! 

“Healthcare/medical” income of $496 represents the dental insurance reimbursement for Mrs. Root of Good’s root canal completed over the summer. We thought we were going to get back about $400 more. However, this was an out of network provider so the reimbursement rate wasn’t great. At least we have received enough in reimbursements to cover the entire 12 month dental premium. And Mrs. Root of Good should get 2 more mostly free dental visits during the policy year. Overall, the dental insurance was a good purchase for us. 

The “deposit income” totaled $260 in September. I’ve been decluttering by listing on Ebay some old computer games and electronics that were literally collecting dust in my office. I made a total of $135 net of ebay fees and shipping costs so far. 

The other $125 came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the Ebates.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 Ebates/Rakuten through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Ebates/Rakuten, you’ll get a $10 gift card. 

The $100 of “Home maintenance” income came from a manufacturer rebate for our tankless water heater installation in May, 2020. This rebate plus another $150 rebate from the gas company brought our total water heater cost to roughly $3,250. Since migrating from a tank water heater to a tankless unit, we are saving about $5 per month with reduced natural gas consumption. 

 

 

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.

 

Kicking off fall in style with some al fresco dining.

 

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at September expenses:

 


 

In total, we spent $1,830 during September which is about $1,500 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Taxes and groceries topped the spending categories for the month. 

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Taxes – $585:

I paid $300 for our third quarter estimated state income taxes. 

I also bought a $300 Visa prepaid debit card to pay my annual property taxes. The prepaid card came with a $15 discount and no purchase fees, so the total was only $285. 

 

Groceries – $502:

Grocery expenses were fairly average at $502 for the month. We tend to spend around $500-550 per month. That’s not bad considering we rarely get food from restaurants! 

I’m still using Walmart Grocery pick up service several times per month along with visits to Aldi, Lidl, and Food Lion.

The Walmart grocery pickers put together your order for you and you just drive up and click a button on the Walmart app to get them to bring the order out to you. The best part is you pay the same low prices as they offer in-store to all their customers and there is no delivery fee.

If you want to try Walmart Grocery, you can take $10 off your first $50+ order with my referral link. Enjoy! 

 

NY strip steak was on sale at the grocery store. Not a bad result given my basic grill skillz.

 

These guys did the baking for us. Who says child labor is a bad thing?

 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $188:

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

Both of the adults in our household bought dental insurance since the premiums are anticipated to be much less than the actual dental care we receive during 2020. The premiums total $64 per month for the two of us.  

 

Utilities – $181:

In September I paid $20 toward the city water, sewer, and trash bill that totaled $120 for the month. The balance was prepaid in August with $100 going toward the water bill to hit the minimum spending requirement on a credit card.

The natural gas bill for hot water was $0 since we got a $150 rebate in the form of a bill credit when we installed our new tankless water heater in May. I still have over $50 in credit balance on the natural gas account which should last until the winter heating bills start to arrive in another two months.

Our electricity bill was $161 for September. It was a hot summer (like all summers in North Carolina), and we don’t mind cranking the AC to stay cool. With cooler temperatures right now, our electricity bill will be much more moderate from now until about April or May when the cooling season returns. 

 

Clothing/Shoes – $172:

We did our first big shopping trip for clothing since everything got weird in March. It was easier than expected since the dressing rooms were open and we could try on clothes just like the good old days (of 2019 and before). 

 

Electronics – $87:

After building a new computer in August, I decided to upgrade to a new 24″ monitor. I went with this 24″ 1080p monitor from HP.  I set up the new monitor alongside an old 20″ monitor we were using on an older PC so I could have dual monitors. Excellent productivity setup for running my Root of Good Media empire! 

The cost was only $87 due to a $20 off coupon I used at Staples. 

 

Entertainment – $44:

I bought a $50 Netflix gift card to cover our share of the Netflix monthly fees for a while. I got the gift card at a $6 discount at Raise.com. They are offering an additional $5 off gift cards for new customers

 

Two bald eagles just came back to our lake!

 

Gasoline – $34:

We haven’t bought gas for several months but it was finally time in September. I spent $34 to refuel the minivan.

We are driving about 100 miles per month for 2020 so far. The family hasn’t taken any big trips and our kids are in virtual school. I ride my bike to run a lot of errands around town, so there isn’t much of a demand for driving right now. Oh yeah, and we don’t have jobs to commute to. End result: we have not driven much this year. 

 

Gifts – $25:

$25 for a baby shower gift for a new niece due any minute now.

 

Education – $11:

$11 for an AP World History e-textbook for one of our high schoolers. I don’t quite understand why the school doesn’t provide textbooks. But if this saves our kid 3 credit hours in college, then it will be $11 very well spent. 

 

Travel – $6:

I paid my estimated state income taxes using a credit card. The convenience fee is 2%, which totaled $6 in this case. I assigned the credit card convenience fee to the “travel” category of spending. I try to put all of my expenses on credit cards if possible. This high level of spending helps us get large bonuses of miles and points from credit cards. And that means a whole lot of free travel! When it’s feasible again, of course. 

If you want to score free travel or big cash back 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 and cash back credit card deals

 

Can’t travel for real? The next best thing is sitting in the backyard down by the lake sipping on Havana Club rum you picked up the last time you were in Cuba. !Salud, amigos!

 

 

Total Spending for 2020 – Year to Date

 

Our spending totals $23,556 for the first nine months of the year. This is about $6,500 less than the $30,000 we budgeted for nine months of our $40,000 annual early retirement budget

The biggest driver of low spending for 2020 is our inability to travel conveniently. 2021 will hopefully bring better opportunities to spend more in this category! 

We did have a couple of big, lumpy multi-thousand dollar expenses this year. Mrs. Root of Good’s root canal was still almost $2,000 after factoring in the insurance reimbursement. And we spent a net of $3,250 on a new water heater.

The good news is that we budget for these big expenses every year, so it’s no big deal to pay for these “unexpected” costs. We expect them to occur on a fairly regular basis over the several decades of our early retirement. 

With only three months of 2020 left to go, it seems like our overall 2020 spending will come in well below budget. 

 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2020:

 

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

 

We rescued this little gal after she knocked herself out on the storm door outside of our kitchen. Eventually she regained her strength and flew away!

 

Net Worth: $2,166,000 (-$40,000)

The market kept going up all summer. Then September hit and it took a break from the perpetual growth streak. Oh well. Our net worth dropped by $40,000 by the end of September but as of this writing it has gained back all of those losses and then some. A $40,000 gain or loss on a $2+ million net worth is just background noise. Nothing to worry about! 

Yet…

 

 

September was another month of doing absolutely nothing with my investments.  I’m a big fan of low cost passive index fund investing. Anecdotally, it has worked out pretty well for us.

I’m still at roughly 90% equities and 10% bonds and don’t plan on doing much until the end of the year when I’ll move around some money for tax purposes. 

 

Life update

I’ve heard from some people that worry about being bored if they retire early. I can’t quite identify with that sentiment because I find I have the opposite problem. I never have enough time in the day to do everything I want to do. 

I’m missing travel like a lot of folks this year. So I’ve been forced to focus on the other things that bring me joy. For me, that’s reading, watching movies and TV shows, playing video games, riding my bike, walking/hiking outdoors, and learning new things. I don’t focus on any single activity in a particular day, but rather mix it up to keep things fresh. 

 

Reading a book while lying in a hammock. The perfect way to spend a fall day? Perhaps.

 

I’m definitely ready to hit the road once again when we can do so safely and conveniently. Hopefully by next summer, things will start to feel normal again. For now, we aren’t booking anything for our tentative summer 2020 road trip across the United States. However, we will do some research and planning on a rough itinerary at some point this winter. That’s something else to look forward to! 

Until then, we have Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to look forward to. These will all be “modified format” endeavors this year but we’ll all make the most of it I’m sure. 

 

Campfire down by the lake with our “bubbling” friends.

 

I may have a strange take on 2020, but I refuse to “wish it all away”. Nobody should want to fast forward life’s clock, since that’s time we never get back. No do-overs.

Instead, I focus on making the most of the situation. We can still enjoy a lot of things. For example, we can spend time with family and friends, even it is under different circumstances compared to past years. While we can’t hop on a plane and fly anywhere we want, we can travel more locally. Or plan the next big trip! Or at least dream about the next big trip! 

Life goes on; the clock doesn’t stop. Focus on the things you can enjoy and experience right now and don’t worry too much about what you’re missing out on. 

 

Fall is here and that means fall/winter holidays are coming up. Are you looking forward to them? Ready for 2020 to be over? Or still trying to squeeze as much fun as possible out of the year? 

 

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43 comments

    1. This article on our dividends includes a chart with breakdown of investments we hold.

      Groceries might be a location specific thing. We have a Lidl, Aldi, and Superwalmart basically right next to each other and they compete hard for our business. And our neighborhood grocery store matches a lot of their prices too!

  1. Hi Justin,

    I agree with you on the part of the time. It makes sense for us to make full use of the time. What is gone will never come back. Making the best use of the situation is the best approach and I believe that this is the way of making life more desirable. The same applies in this comment. Whenever there is thought, it is worthwhile to pen the thoughts accordingly.

    WTK

  2. Congratulations on another great month for the RoG household. Stay safe, my friend.

    Quick question – with the higher cost involved with putting in a tankless water heater versus the standard, even with your rebates, would you do it again for a savings of $60/year? In our case it would be even less since there are only two of us and we travel so much of the year. It doesn’t seem worth it to me particularly since I have seen how they don’t last any longer than a good tank model.

    1. Along with the low ROI I am not a fan of tankless water heaters for a variety of reasons. I always recommend to my clients to go with the “tried and true” tank water heaters (w/ re-circulation pump) when designing their facility.

    2. I had to switch to tankless based on the tight crawlspace. I would have spent a couple thousand dollars rerouting all the plumbing, gas, exhaust etc. if I went with a tank unit in a new location.

      Longevity of tankless unit will probably be a bit longer. The warranty is 12 years vs 3-6-9 for various tank units. Not holding my breath about that but we’ll see!

      I definitely wouldn’t spend ~$2200 extra just to save $60/yr on utilities in general. That’s a sub-3% ROI for very little improvement in quality of life. Stock market treats me a lot better 🙂

  3. Your post today inspired me to review our utility spending since we added a gas line (and furnace, and tankless heater) in February 2019. It was a massive outlay at the time, but since then our very highest months of spending are now less than half what they used to be. Feels awesome!

    What do you do for car insurance? I’ve been telecommuting full-time for four and a half years and my wife now hasn’t bothered driving her car since July; our auto insurance provider sent us a discounted annual bill last month but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when insurance is by far the greatest per-mile cost of owning cars. I’d love to find a company that charges commensurate to our severely diminished driving habit.

    1. I’m still paying the $500/yr for our 2 drivers. No reduction in premium at the June renewal. Will see what December brings. We also have a teen driver with learner’s permit right now, that will get a license sometime in 2021. The new premium is “only” $900/yr and I’ve been told that this insurer is the cheapest in town for that. So I may shop policies but don’t expect to beat the current set up by much.

      I would suggest calling your insurance and asking for a discount since you don’t drive much at all. I suppose I need to do the same since we’re only putting 100 miles/month on the car at this point.

  4. Long-time reader, first time commenter here. Your expenses look wonderful! I’ve stopped working, but my husband hasn’t, even though I think we have enough to retire. We live in a HCOL area. And we would move to a less expensive area when he retires. (We even checked out your neck of the woods last year, we’re hunting for our retirement home.) However, what’s really keeping my husband from quitting is the high cost of health care. Are you worried that the Affordable Care Act will go away, given what’s happening with the Supreme Court? If it does, what would you do for health insurance? My husband has some health issues that we’ve been very grateful were covered by the great health insurance through his employer. He had heart surgery last fall, and a hip replacement a few weeks ago. There’s one more major surgery coming up, but I can’t imagine how much this all would have cost if we hadn’t had this insurance! So I would be curious if you have an alternate plan if your current insurance goes away. Thanks.

    1. Hi,

      I am not sure whether the below views might aid your situation.

      In the country of my residence, the employer and employee have the notice of at least one month in the event if either parties decides to terminate the relationship. I am not sure in the country of your residence. Let say in the event if the employer decides to give notice of termination, the employee will not enjoy the benefit of the health insurance. You may want to consider the potential cost of the medical treatment in respect of your husband and see whether you and your husband can afford such expense.

      Based on the above assessment, this goes to show that it makes sense not to rely solely on the employer for medical treatment. I believe that you and your husband will have saved some form of the retirement stash in anticipation for the exit from the full-time employment. This amount may be enough for the medical treatment. In addition, this is a possibility that the medical condition of your husband might get better with his exit from the full-time employment.

      Ultimately, both of you will have to assess your own situation and make the apriopriate decisions accordingly.

      I wish you all the best in your circumstances.

      WTK

      1. WTK,
        Thanks for the reply. We are in the U.S., which I believe has the most expensive medical care in the world. Right now, my husband’s employer pays for the majority of the health insurance for our family of 3. They pay around $22,000, and our portion is around $5000 per year. It’s a very good insurance, our co-pays for the surgeries have been only $500 each. You can see how expensive it is if we were to pay for the all the insurance ourselves. This would be an option for a limited time through COBRA if his employment was to be terminated. This last surgery is sort of optional, it would be a permanent solution instead of using an appliance he is using currently to help the condition. This surgery would cost around $50,000. We may have to pay that out of pocket anyway because his health insurance may not cover it, since it is optional.

        1. Hi Amy,

          Thks for providing more details on your circumstance. It appears that the annual premium for such insurance is about $27K per annum. The surgery is about 2 times your annual premium. This gives me the impression that the insurance company definitely makes money with the hefty premium payment given that there will be many family of 3 like your case.

          You may want to refer to the below link on the Affordable Care Act

          https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2018/11/29/how-to-retire-forever-on-a-fixed-chunk-of-money/

          I hope that this may give some insight and some assistance for your case.

          Best wishes.

          WTK

          1. WTK,
            MMM’s article appears to use the ACA as the only health insurance option. The ACA was my original point. It may go away when the new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, and I think this is a given. If the Supreme Court invalidates the ACA (they will be hearing arguments on it starting Nov. 10), we will go back to the old way where you may be denied health insurance if you have a pre-existing condition. I wanted to know if Justin is considering other options for healthcare, since he is using the ACA for his family, and what those are in case the ACA goes away. Employer sponsored healthcare here does not deny you coverage based on pre-existing health conditions. At least my husband’s does not. But if you’re shopping on your own…

            1. Both political parties have openly stated you will not be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions even if ACA is replaced or ceases to exist.

    2. We’ll tackle the health insurance if/when ACA goes away. Maybe go uninsured until we need it. Maybe pay the $20k/yr or whatever it costs. Or buy some “health share ministry” plan that may cover us or maybe not. The $20k/yr premiums seem steep when compared to “only” paying $10-50k for a major surgery/recovery. So self insurance with $2 million in the bank doesn’t seem so crazy (which is crazy in itself).

      There’s also the chance that a new/different/better (or at least cheaper) ACA replacement plan comes along regardless of the outcome of Supreme Court cases or presidential election outcome.

  5. Nice, non-investment income covered expenses this month, great stuff =)

    Yes, gratitude is important, and a lack of travel is not worth getting upset about compared to the mental health, physical health and financial issues the world is going through. The is an enormous amount of new poverty happening in emerging markets like my own. Fingers crossed, but wishing it away/2020 away doesn’t help. Here’s to enjoying what we have.

    1. Yes – all things considered we are in an incredibly fortunate position where our biggest “worry” is we can’t take all the international vacations we are accustomed to. “First world problems” as we joke here 🙂

  6. I got a HP vh204a monitor last holiday season for around the same price on a similar deal. What a world to get a 24″ monitor for under $100, right?

    Hard to beat the ROI on supplies for an AP course.

    Congrats on another good month (I’m factoring the recovery of the market since so the $40,000 drop doesn’t seem so bad.)

  7. Hi,

    Can you tell more about your tankless water heater and why you went for it? Is it gas or electric?
    It must be something important because the usual water heater would’ve cost much less.
    Did you install it yourself?
    What are pros and cons?
    How old was your water heater that got replaced?

    I’m on the fence which option to go for but time is coming. Actually I’ve been told by a few men (specialists and not) that it’s on the borrowed time for sure as it’s past 17 years now.

    1. There’s a bit more info in my May 2020 blog post. Basically the old tank unit was in a tight crawlspace that wouldn’t accommodate a replacement tank unit and keep it up to code due to vertical clearance issues. So I had to either build a closet for the tank unit somewhere inside or outside, and reroute the hot and cold water plus gas, and exhaust gas. Or relocate utilities and go with tankless which can be screwed into the side of our house. I went the tankless route. It only cost a tiny bit more vs. the tank unit once all the other work was considered.

      I went from gas tank unit to gas tankless unit. I would replace tank with tank if you can do that in your house. We really don’t get a lot of benefit out of a tankless unit. We only save a few bucks a month on our gas bill, and we never ran out of hot water with the old tank unit (gas fired).

  8. Thank you for the update. looking to retire soon and will doing multiple hobbies. Does Personal Capitol have a podcast or a page where you can find here information about their planning services?

  9. Hi Justin! Always impressed with your monthly expenses Mrs. P2F and I live in a much higher cost of living area and spend multiples of you each month. Jealous doesn’t begin to describe my feelings! Noticing that despite lack of travel this year, you are on track to exceed 2019’s annual expenses. Other than the additional dental work and water heater, are there certain categories that you are spending more on this year than last? I’ve noticed our take out food category is much higher this year as we make a point of frequenting some of our local businesses given the difficulties they face. Interested in what categories, if any, you’ve seen a rise in this year. Best regards…be safe!

    1. Home maintenance and dental/medical are the two main categories. In addition to a root canal and the tankless water heater, we’ve also installed new flooring in the kitchen and reinforced the floor to eliminate a squeak. And stripped some wallpaper and repainted that bathroom. Takeout/restaurant spending has declined slightly for us this year. Other categories might be slightly higher since we stayed at home all summer (utilities mainly).

  10. Hi, my net worth change by month has been almost identical with yours this year, but based on a 1.2 million investment portfolio. I have much less dividend income. Last month I only had 1400 dividend income. Obviously I have more risky assets than your index funds. Is there a tax free strategy to convert my stock holdings to index fund? I want to minimize the risk in the future.

    1. There isn’t an easy way to convert appreciated stocks to index funds tax free. You could do it in small amounts each year to spread out your tax liability. Or wait for the next big market crash and do it then (when gains would be minimized!).

  11. I agree with you about not getting bored in retirement. There are plenty of things to keep me busy. We are fortunate to live in the West because there are a lot of good camping and outdoor opportunities. This year we went camping in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and northern New Mexico. Have a great October and November!

    1. That’s awesome. We are hoping to make our way out to the West in summer of 2021 for a big road trip. So many awesome national parks and scenic areas with landscapes a lot different from ours here on the East Coast.

  12. With the low cost of natural gas just go with the tank water heater. It’s what I recommend to my clients when designing your facility. Changing to a tankless will require a licensed plumber and permits. Regular maintenance is another downside for a tankless water heater.

    Replacing your tank water heater is definitely DIY (with one person to help). Just ensure your new water heater is the same size with the gas and water fittings in the same location. Just go on youtube for tutorials. You should be able to have a junk hauler take away your old water heater due to the scrap value of it.

    1. Tank unit just wasn’t feasible with my site constraints. Old unit was a lowboy in the crawlspace so the vertical clearance wasn’t adequate for a tank gas unit. Excavation was an option but $$$$ or tons of effort and need to shore up the foundation ($$$$$$$$$ ha ha). Tankless worked well enough. And now it’s external so it is much easier for me to DIY the periodic maintenance.

      I’m curious regarding your comment on maintenance for tankless vs tank unit. As I understand it, you need to do a lot of periodic maintenance on a tank unit such as check/replace sacrificial anode rod, flush, inspect/cycle/replace TPM and drain valves. The periodic maintenance for the tankless unit is 1x/yr flush with anti-scaling solution ($10 worth of vinegar basically), and if you have neutral water like we do, then you can probably do it every other year (per our plumber). I see the tankless as a slight winner for long term periodic maintenance if you can DIY. Although I admit I am concerned about all the fancy parts and systems in my tankless unit. Tank units win for simplicity for sure!

  13. Hello, I enjoy seeing how creative you are to get discounts in big expenses. Like the $300 tax bill and you got $15 discount. How do you find those deals? I own rental units and my yearly bill for property taxes is about $5,000. What do you suggest me to do to take advantage of that bill? They don’t accept credit cards but debit cards are ok.
    I agree with you regarding not being bored during retirement; I hardly have time to do all the things I enjoy in a day. Since I retired I have consistently ran 5 miles per day for two months already. I really enjoy running and I stopped running when I started working. I am glad I was not too old or out of shape to retake it now that retired.

    1. I skim the DoctorofCredit website daily for deals on credit cards, travel, bank bonuses etc. One idea to pay that $5000 bill with debit cards is to buy $5000 worth of debit cards through a site like giftcardmall or simons mall. Maybe $60 in fees to buy them but you could get a $500+ sign up bonus with that kind of spending.

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