September 2022 Early Retirement Update

Welcome back to another glimpse into my early retired lifestyle. In September, I enjoyed the slower pace of life at home in Raleigh after a busy summer traveling across Eastern Europe. We worked on some more travel planning for winter of 2022 and summer of 2023 (more on that below). And we spent a bunch of time relaxing and enjoying “doing nothing“. 

Our oldest two kids are half way through their fall semester of community college, and the youngest kid is doing well in his last year of elementary school. Each morning starts with our walk to school, and then us adults enjoy a peaceful, quiet day at home during the week until all the kids get home from school. 

Financially, September was a rough month for our net worth but a great month for our cash flow. Our net worth plummeted by a shocking $200,000 to end the month at $2,439,000. However, our income of $15,621 was substantially higher than our spending of $2,527 during September. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

 

Income

Investment income totaled $8,682 in September. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. As a result, we had a large amount of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $878 for the month. This is a pretty normal month for blog income. It is trending down over time as I spend less time on my blog. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $490 in September. The consulting income represents three hours of consulting time. I suppose people might not want to talk about early retirement when they are watching their portfolios lose 5-10% in a single month. 

Tradeline sales income totaled $1,150 in September. This represents two months of tradeline sales. The August payment arrived on the first day of September so I got a double month (after receiving $0 in August). I ramped up my tradeline sales in 2020 and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post and in my July 2021 monthly post

For September, my “deposit income” totaled $49. Of this total, $21 of the “deposit income” comes from cash back and incentive bonuses from the Rakuten.com and Mrrebates.com online shopping portals (some of which was earned from you readers signing up through these links). 

If you sign up for Rakuten through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Rakuten, you’ll get a $10 sign up bonus

The remaining $28 of “deposit income” came from some old funds in my Ibotta app. I haven’t used Ibotta as much lately but it’s another decent cash back site that rewards you for your everyday shopping trips. 

 

Got to hang out on my back porch with one of my local FIRE’d friends. Accidentally matching wardrobes, how embarrassing!

 

September Youtube income totaled $150. Youtube only pays out when you exceed $100 in accumulated revenue. Recently, my Youtube earnings have been just under $100 per month on average, so I’ll be getting paid a bit under $200 every two months.

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

I sold an item on ebay and brought in $32 for the “selling stuff” income category (net of shipping fees and ebay fees). 

Closing out the income from September: a huge $4,188 chunk of bank and credit card bonuses. Our Citibank IRA brokerage bonuses of $1,000 each posted in September ($2,000 total). I cashed out another $1,163 from my Citi Premier credit card I signed up for last year (then downgraded the card to avoid the $95 annual fee). And another two credit card bonuses of $500 and $525 posted during September for some US Bank Business credit cards. We don’t get anywhere near this much in bank/credit card bonuses in most months. But it’s nice to see all this “free money” showing up when the portfolio drops by $200,000. 

 

 

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.

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Expenses

Now let’s take a look at September expenses:


 

In total, we spent $2,527 during September which is about $800 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Travel expenses and groceries were the two highest categories of spending in September. 

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Travel – $1,080:

The single largest travel expense was $937 for cruises. We booked a nine night transatlantic cruise from Portugal to New York for December for $700 for the two of us. Transatlantic cruises in general are usually inexpensive.

We found a great deal where the balcony cabin was the same price as an inside cabin, so we jumped on the deal. I stacked the great cruise fare with an offer from American Express for $250 off of a $1,000 cruise purchase. I had to pre-pay $237 in gratuities to get the total cruise cost over $1,000 in order to get the $250 discount. 

In addition to the cruise, we are spending a week in Portugal before the cruise. I spent $54 for a prepaid (but fully refundable) rental car reservation for 3 days. Plus $50 for the taxes on the flights from Raleigh to Lisbon. I booked the flights with frequent flyer miles. For $25 per ticket plus 22,500 American Airlines miles each, we got a great flight schedule to Lisbon. 7.5 hours Raleigh to London, then a 5 hour layover in Heathrow at the Amex Centurion Lounge which I’ve heard is great. Then a short 2 hour hop to Lisbon. We opted for a 5 hour layover in London instead of the flights with a two hour layover so that we won’t have to rush to make our connection. And we get to enjoy more time in a nice lounge! 

The kids are staying at home (with grandma and grandpa) for this trip since they have school for most of our trip. 

We’ll pay the lodging costs at a later date, about a month before the trip. But everything is already reserved. We will end up spending between $30 and $50 per night in some pretty awesome looking apartments for 2 stays of three nights each, plus a one night stay in a hotel in Lisbon. 

I booked post-cruise flights home from New York using 8,500 frequent flyer points per person plus $5.60 in taxes each. The flights are non-stop, so it’ll be a very easy travel day for us. The Amex Centurion Lounge in New York is supposed to be pretty good as well, so we’ll take advantage of that amenity while we have an Amex Platinum card.

The last bit of travel spending was four one-way flights to Buenos Aires for summer of 2023. The flights were 22,000 frequent flyer miles each plus $5.60 in taxes. In total, 88,000 frequent flyer miles plus $23 in taxes. Not a bad start to our summer travel plans! 

I felt like a professional travel agent during September while booking all these trips. Fortunately, we were able to get about $3,000 in free flights for just a few dollars in taxes per ticket. 

If you are interested in getting free travel from your credit card like I do, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (my referral link). Right now the Sapphire Preferred card offers 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be used to book $750 worth of travel. Or transfer the points to a ton of different airline frequent flyer programs and book a free trip to Europe. Or cash out the points for a $600 check and buy whatever you want! The card also has a lot of nice travel benefits as well.

 

Our kids went muscadine picking with their aunt. If you’ve never had muscadines, they are delicious. Like really sweet grapes with a thicker shell.

 

Groceries – $643:

Our grocery spending is back above $600 per month. I don’t see it dropping below $600 on average unless inflation magically disappears. We actually spent a bit more than $643 if we include the Walmart gift cards that I got for free. 

We are buying a lot of imported Asian foods, the “good” rice (in 50 pound sacks, of course), steak, and plenty of other meats and cheeses. So maybe that monthly grocery price tag isn’t so bad after all. 

 

A big box of Korean noodles and spices from H-Mart (with some Indonesian mi goreng noodles in there as well). We have an H-mart Korean grocery store in town but it’s 30 minutes from our house. I was happy to see that they offer internet ordering and nationwide delivery on non-perishables for $49+ orders. Our local Asian grocery store is cheaper and better for most things, but with H-Mart’s sale prices, we got a bargain by ordering from their site. 

 

Homemade crepes

 

Taxes – $300:

Our quarterly estimated state taxes were $300.

 

Insurance – $281:

We added our daughter to the auto insurance policy for the remainder of the year. The extra premium was $281. It works out to about $81 per month to insure our teen driver. 

 

Utilities – $97:

The total utility spending was $97 last month.

We spent $79 for the water/sewer/trash bill. The natural gas bill, which provides heating and hot water, totaled $19 for last month. Since we were only in town part of the month, these bills were lower than normal. 

I paid the electric bill of $76 using some rewards cards from our health insurance company so I didn’t include it in the “utilities” spending total. 

 

Gas – $64:

Our daughter is driving to community college twice per week, so we consume more gas overall than we used to. And we went on a trip to the beach with extended family that used up about half of this month’s gasoline purchase. 

 

Great time with family at Minnessott Beach, North Carolina.

 

 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $40:

Our current 2022 health insurance is completely free thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$45,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. 

The “American Rescue Plan Act” passed in March 2021 makes the Affordable Care Act premiums even cheaper through 2022. Households with modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGI) below 150% of the federal poverty level get select silver-level health insurance plans completely free. 

For the adults in the household, we spend $20 per month ($240 per year) for a basic dental insurance plan for each of us (or $40 per month in total). Our routine dental exams and cleanings with the occasional x-ray have increased in price recently. The cost is now $125 (no x-ray) or $170 (with x-ray). 

With two routine visits per year, we will spend almost $300 per person. A $240 insurance plan provides those same services for free. And we get some minimal level of insurance if one of us needs a filling during the year. 

 

General Merchandise – $15:

Mrs. Root of Good printed a bunch of photos for our “photo wall”. It’s a true work of art, showcasing all the places we have traveled to over the years. 

 

Home Maintenance – $10:

A new $10 toilet fill valve to fix one of our toilets. A relatively easy plumbing repair that saved me $150 or more compared to calling a plumber. I’ve done this repair at least a half dozen times in my life as an amateur plumber. Eventually I’ll be an expert! 

 

Cable/Satellite/Internet – $0:

We generally pay $18 per month for a local reduced rate package due to having a lower income and having kids. 30 mbit/s download, 4 mbit/s upload. Right now the cost of the internet service is temporarily reduced to $0 due to the “Affordable Connectivity Program”. 

 

A backyard visitor. Juvenile deer snacking on our vegetation.

 

 

Total Year-To-Date Spending for 2022


 

Our spending totaled $24,028 for the first nine months of 2022. This is about $6,000 less than the $30,000 we budgeted for nine months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

So far, our 2022 spending looks incredibly good, given the high inflation operating in the background. We are over our target on travel spending, but lower spending in other categories more than makes up for travel inflation. 

For the time being, we are all sharing one car. It’s not too much of a hassle since I have two feet and a bicycle and can get around town to a lot of places without a car. 

But we hope to buy a new used car soon. Used car prices are theoretically declining month after month at the wholesale level. But I can’t really tell by looking at the listings for used cars. I laugh every time the used car website emails me with “great deals that fit your search” and it’s just eight Ford Focuses that are all 10 years old and over 100,000 miles with five figure price tags.

I’m patient and I’ll keep waiting. But eventually I might have to face reality and just buy one of those used Ford Focuses for an outrageous price.

 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2022:

 

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

 

Doing a little chainsawing to clean up these unruly mimosa trees.
 

 

Net Worth: $2,439,000 (-$200,000)

Oh look, a $200,000 loss in one month! Those are pretty uncommon for us. I think the only other time this happened was in March 2020 when we experienced a painful $298,000 drop due to the initial panic at the start of the pandemic.

Fortunately, we are still $600,000 richer than we were at the end of March 2020, so times aren’t too tough for us. Even after adjusting our net worth to account for inflation, we still have about a quarter of a million dollars more than we did in March 2020 in real terms.

If we have a few more months of $200,000 monthly losses, I might start to worry. For now, these drops are just getting rid of the worry that we saved too much money for early retirement.

Right now, it looks like we saved just enough to insulate me against the fear of running out of money

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

 

 

Life update

After a slower paced September, we have a busier schedule through January. We have a 10 night cruise to the Caribbean in just a few days. Then a week in Portugal and nine more nights sailing across the Atlantic in November and December. Then in January, we have another 10 night Caribbean cruise.

 

Another beautiful sunset in early retirement

 

Throw in the year-end holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, and we will be busy busy busy until February. I don’t know how we ever found time to work! 

Maybe we’ll take it easy this spring and stay around home before we depart for our next big summer adventure. So far, it looks like we are going to Argentina for a month or two. Possibly stopping by some other countries on the way home. Or not. We don’t have any plans other than a flight down to Buenos Aires the day after our middle kid graduates from high school next June. The rest is yet-to-be-planned. 

Well, that’s it for me this month. See you again in another month! 

 

Has fall creeped into your weather forecast wherever you are? Are you looking forward to what I consider to be the best season ever?

 

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50 comments

      1. Yes. Also how were you able to score a flight to Lisbon from Rayleigh for a mere “22,500 American Airlines miles”?

        A quick check on Google Flights showing that tickets are going for $600-$700 each (round trip)!

        1. American Airlines has a fairly fixed redemption chart. 30k 1 way to Europe peak season. 22.5k 1 way to Europe off-season. You’re right on round trip costs – our 1 way flight from Raleigh to Lisbon would have been over $400 ($700 for round trip). It’s a nice value to get close to 2 cents per point on American Airlines.

        1. We are doing a crossing on the Norwegian Sun, Lisbon to Miami in April. Not too expensive. But not an exciting itinerary either. But we like to cruise.

          1. Sounds fun! I enjoy the peace and quiet on the boat. Although our 5 days of sea days with nothing to do but stare at the ocean? It will be the longest we’ve had consecutive sea days on a cruise. In the past, we have had 2 sea days in a row, maximum. So I guess we’ll see if we like it before committing to a longer 14 or 21 day transatlantic cruise.

    1. I found this one on Cruisesheet.com. Nice site to sort by price per night that includes the extra taxes and fees (which are often as high as the base fare on the cheaper cruises!).

  1. Q3, and the whole of 2022 in general, has not been kind when it comes to investments in the markets. Right now it looks like we will have a stock market rally after the midterms which are looking like when we will have a stalemated government, with the Republicans taking back at least one if not both of the houses in Congress. Hopefully that will salvage some of the debacle that was 2022.

      1. I am quite a bit older than you and as such, have been in the game longer than you. Seems to me that the price of being in stocks is to accept a drop of 40-50% every 7-10 years. Though I am retired and set, I am beginning to really wonder if the risk is worth it. There may be better ways. It is a complicated calculus, but simply “being in stocks” may seem a little simplistic. More than can be discussed here, but food for thought…

        1. I can’t site stats off the top of my head, but I tell people to expect a 30% drop sometime during roughly that same timeframe. About once per decade. Sometimes it’s not quite as bad, sometimes it’s worse.

          The cool part is that most of us doing the 4% rule thing aren’t selling stocks at the low points for more than 1-2 years since the recovery usually starts within that time frame.

  2. How is tradeline income treated for tax purposes? Is it earned income, or what tax form is provided by the middleman company?

  3. Hi Justin

    Thanks for the update! Do you usually use/keep all your Div & other sources income in checking accts for all day to day spending and then only top up from selling shares if need be?

    If you didn’t want to sell shares when the market is down (like now) what plan do you tend to have?

    Your travel plans sound so awesome! What a life

    All the best
    Aaron

    1. I typically transfer dividends to my checking account to replenish it. Then just spend down the cash over the next few months till the next dividend time. So far I don’t have to sell a ton of shares to support our living expenses.

  4. Wow! Love all the travel planning & credit card hacking to pay for said travels. I’m excited to hear all about your Buenos Aires trip! Since you are fluent in Spanish, South America is a great fit for you. Portugal is a great choice as well. One of our fav European cities. Eat all the pastel de natal!

    1. Brazil too…why FIREs avoid Brazil? Such a wonderful country and people are even better, just not as good as their FOOD!!

    2. Yes, speaking Spanish definitely helps live a little more like a local. I just hope the thick Argentinian accent isn’t too hard to understand (as I recall having a problem last time down there 10+ yrs ago)

  5. I cashed out another $1,163 from my Citi Premier credit card I signed up for last year (then downgraded the card to avoid the $95 annual fee). And another two credit card bonuses of $500 and $525 posted during September for some US Bank Business credit cards.
    —-

    Curious about what were the spending requirements for all these cards.
    My impression is that you don’t spend much.
    How hard was it to meet the requirements?

    1. Citi Premier was $4k spend. The 2 $500 bonus cards were $4500 spending on each.

      I do whatever I can to increase my spending. For example, I helped my brother in law (at his request) to book flights to Asia for him and his family. Those tickets cost almost $4500, hence helping me complete almost the entire the spending requirement on one of those cards. I also pay property tax for myself and my parents (and get reimbursed) using a credit card, which earns a lot more bonuses.

      So my “spending” on credit cards might be $25-30k/yr most years but I can often find ways to bump this number much higher!

  6. Keep an eye out for an early 2000s Toyota Camry. I owned a 2001 Camry with the 4-cylinder and it was reliable, fuel efficient, comfortable (had the best seats, thinks grandmas couch) and decent to drive. The prices seem cheap on them still, and any maintenance they need is easy to perform. Mine had 180k miles with original suspension and still was super smooth.

  7. OH MY GOSH!!!! 200 THOUSAND dollars “loss” in a month? How in hell can you sleep at night?
    I lost 12k and I almost killed myself….
    Seeing this I’m changing my portfolio out of ETFs into dividend paying stocks because the only explanation I have for your SWAN is the income you’re getting that covers your expenses…so I’ll do the same

    1. Nobody is forcing you to be in stocks. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. You know the deal. Stocks are volatile.

      1. Yeah, I see the CarDeadleshipGuy on Twitter continue to say prices are coming down, but kind of holding up on the sub $20K market.

        Get an e-bike to maximize mobility for when your daughter is using the one car?

        I plan on being FIRE’d (just recovering from tax season really) the week of Oct 17. Might be a good time to grab a beverage in the middle of day during a week day to sample the FIRE lifestyle?

        1. Yeah I see the CardealerGuy tweets and think the same thing. Still waiting on a non-beater sub-$10k car 🙂

          I thought about an e-bike but get around okay with my regular bike for now. I need the exercise and don’t mind it. Only 0.5-2 miles to most places and they have improved bike lanes here in the past couple of years.

          Ha ha – I misread your comment about FIRE and thought you were done for good!! Ha ha. I’ll be out of town the week of Oct 17 on my cruise, so no-go for getting a midday beverage with me. But that won’t prevent you from enjoying one yourself! 🙂 Enjoy the time off.

  8. What company are you using for selling trade lines. I have a Do you that I could sell and make some additional income

      1. I tried signing up a few months ago and they said they weren’t taking on new clients but said they would contact me when available. Do you know of if they have any plans on doing that?

  9. First comment (I think), but just wanted to drop by and say I hope you and your family are all safe following the scary news about the shootings in your town Justin. Best wishes and prayers for your well being!

    1. Thanks for the well wishes. My wife and I were actually many hundreds of miles away when the shooting happened (on a cruise). But our kids were at grandma’s house that afternoon and she lives about a mile away from the neighborhood where the shooting is. Very close to home unfortunately. But our kids and rest of our family are okay.

  10. Great update Justin, hope the $200K bounces back a little, it seems the market has been green the last couple of days, hopefully that has helped. I’m interested in taking a transatlantic cruise to Europe someday, love to hear how yours turns out.

  11. Hey!
    an argentine here, living in PA now. I hope you will have a great time, many beautiful places to visit. However….the economy is always fluctuating there…right now and probly into 2023 there is a “black market” for the US dollar…not as bad as it sounds, you can exchange currency almost anywhere but the bottom line is that you much rather pay cash than with credit cards that give you the lower official rate…there is a good website with expats if you want to reach out for advice baexpats.org
    cheers!

    1. I’ve read quite a bit on baexpats website! Yes, I have followed the dolar blue exchange rate for a bit and I am planning on taking advantage of it. Either trading in USD’s on Calle Florida at a blue dolar exchange place, or trying Western Union money transfers (since they pay roughly at Blue Dolar rates when receiving the money).

  12. Thanks for continuing to update everyone on your status. Despite your recent portfolio losses, you’re still in great shape to keep doing what you’re doing!

    I’m curious about your comment that you might start to worry if you had a ‘few more months’ of $200k losses. Considering that stocks can and have dropped by 50% or more, it’s very possible that your portfolio could go down another $600k (i.e., 3 more months of $200k losses) or more. How confident are you in your assessment of your risk tolerance? This is a topic I’ve recently posted about, so it’s on the top of my mind.

    1. If we had 3x $200k losses, I’d be down to a 35% loss from my peak (in nominal terms). After 15%+ inflation since inflation picked up, that would put me down about 50% in real terms. I know the normal 50% losses are in nominal terms, but they usually aren’t coupled with double digit inflation.

      I’m not saying I would worry in the “oh no my financial plan is ruined forever”. More like “well I am fine but I can’t engage in unlimited spending if cool stuff comes along”. Mathematically I know that the whole 4% rule thing is backtested including those 50% drops and it usually recovers.

      1. Gotcha. And you’re right that ‘4% rule’ type withdrawals (i.e., constant inflation-adjusted dollars) usually recover but certainly not always. Retirees from 1998-2001 and 2007-2008 who implemented ‘4% rule’ type withdrawals and had total market funds without any factor tilts haven’t recovered their inflation-adjusted starting balance. The year 2000 cohort only has 30-40% of their inflation-adjusted starting balance still intact. That’s fine for those planning on a 30 year retirement but not for those preparing for 50-60 years in retirement. The latter has very little chance of making it without significant reductions in their withdrawals. But factor tilts like yours have certainly helped significantly.

  13. Your travel notes in your posts are always my favorite part! I get great inspiration for travel hacking. We recently booked a week in Maui and with points and deals were able to keep airfare for two (DFW to Maui) to just under $300–roundtrip! Rental car came in free with Capital One points. And four out of 7 nights also are free with points.

    Question: It seems like several years ago, you had some great information on how to hack on cruise fares, but I can’t find it. I think you listed a couple discount sites. Can you tell me where to look?

    1. Hmmm not sure where to point you but I don’t doubt I mentioned some cruise discount sites!

      I usually look at cruisesheet.com and have heard good things about VacationsToGo (but don’t really use the latter that much).

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