Greetings, Everyone!

School is in full swing, and it’s been a big shift having the kids go from 100% virtual last year to 100% in-person this year. With school meals completely free for everyone, regardless of income, you’d think our grocery bills would have gone down. Nope. Also, Mr. FD and I are eating out a lot more for lunches while the kids are away. It’s been nice, but it’s definitely adding up in terms of spending and my waistline.

Financially, September was another weird month. We had a strangely high electricity bill that’s still a mystery to us. We were also overcharged for health insurance, basically making us pre-pay through November. Mr. FD paid extra into his Solo 401k, making up for the lack of contributions last month. We still did fine, but the numbers are a bit wacky.

So, without further ado, here’s our monthly update.

Monthly Spending and Income

September 2021 Spending

Primary Residence – Property Tax+Assoc. Fees $290
Rental – Property Tax+Assoc. Fees $215
Internet $40
Cell Phone $32
Gas + Electric $254
Water/Sewer $61
Food (Groceries/Household) $1275
Food (Eating Out) $540
Transportation [Gas] $194
Car Insurance $0
Life/Home/Umbrella Insurance $90
Health/Dental Insurance $3,380
Misc/Buffer [GetEpic!, Netflix, Gifts, Clothes, MOAR Masks!,Towing,Car Repair] $557
Total Monthly Spending $6,837

Our average monthly grocery/household spending is $1,081 so far this year. Similarly, our average monthly eating-out spending is about $426. This month, we’re pushing the average a bit higher, but it’s still about right for us. 

Before, when our kids were at home or in virtual school, we’d have fairly set meal plans for lunch at home. For sanity’s sake, it would be quick and kid-friendly, as our kids are young and sometimes picky. Now, we suddenly have free time while the kids are in school to enjoy a leisurely lunch from one of the various places around town. We’ve gotten take-out more than a few times, and it’s been nice. Local diners, new-to-us brunch spots that have opened up during the pandemic, Mediterranean, Indian, Korean, and more. Yeah, I think we went a little overboard initially with this new-found ability to eat out without the kids. We’ll see how our new normal for eating settles as time goes on.

The electricity bill is a bit of a mystery for us. The cost of electricity went up, but the usage is the puzzling part. We used more than twice our highest usage ever for a single month in September. Usually, we expect our usage to go down as the temperature cools. We have no idea what caused September’s spike. As a result, I’ve started monitoring our actual meter readings daily to see if that can shed some light on things. We’ve also purchased an electricity usage monitor to see if we can find any offending appliances. So far, no luck. Since I started monitoring, our usage has been pretty low.

The huge health insurance bill is a mistake on the part of our provider. When we updated our expected earnings with GetCovered NJ a few months ago, our monthly premium jumped from less than $100/month to a much larger $860/month. This was expected because Mr. FD was going to continue freelance work for the rest of the year. More income, less subsidies. After this update on GetCovered NJ, it took some time before this information got updated with our health insurance provider. In September, we were finally billed for a little more than $1600, which was about two months worth of premiums.  According to our statements, this was for both the current month of September and the previous month of August, minus what we already paid. Here’s the kicker. The error they made was to charge us this amount twice. The first was on the credit card they had on file. The second was on the credit card that we used on the actual GetCovered NJ application. We later found out that they had a credit processing issue in September that basically affected everyone paying by credit card. We’ll have to wait until later this year to see if it happens again. For now, we can see pretty clearly from our payment history that we overpaid. In the past, the extra amount has gone to future premiums, so we’re all paid until the end of November! Yay, right!?

In our miscellaneous spending, we had an unexpected car repair. It cost $100 to tow our car and another $200 for the repair itself to fix a leaking break line.  We have two cars in our household, and with Mr. FD working from home, one of them barely gets used. That barely used car has needed repairs twice during this pandemic, and it’s making us consider getting rid of it altogether to save on repairs and insurance costs. We’re keeping it for now, but another unexpected repair might get us to change our mind.

We also spent on some new school clothes for the kiddos, a trial subscription to a reading service called GetEpic!, random gifts to friends and family, and finally more masks. The masks we purchased last month have been working well for our kids at school, so we went ahead and bought even more. They ended up being about $70 for a hundred adult masks, and $88 for a hundred kid masks. We should hopefully have enough to last us through the beginning of next year.

September 2021 InCOME

Rent $1,400
Child Tax Credit (Federal) $500
Hobby Site $108
Mr. FD Freelance $5,245
Total Monthly Income $7,253

Mr. FD’s freelance income was a bit on the low side, but that’s mainly because of a large Solo 401k contribution for both this month and last month. Mr. FD contributed $8,480, which includes both employee and employer contributions. Rent came in as expected. The hobby site brought in a little bit too, and we had another month of Advance Child Tax Credits  to round out our income for September.


Solo 401k Contributions

By subtracting our expenses from our income, we were able to save this month.

September Savings: $7,253 –  $6,837 + $8,480 = $8,896.00 in total

Spending and Savings Summary for the year

Here’s a summary of our spending and savings for this year.

  Spending Saving
January 2021 -$4,977 $6,259
February 2021 -$4,288 $3,632
March 2021 -$2,567 $11,802
April 2021 -$5,632 $1,591
May 2021 -$3,271 $9,888
June 2021 -$3,207 $9,880
July 2021 -$4,850 $11,881
August 2021 -$3,403 $806
September 2021 -$6,837 $8,896
TOTAL -$39,032 $64,636

Net Worth for the year

For net worth, here’s how we’ve been doing. I calculate net worth near the end of the month, but not always on the final day of the month. Most of our net worth increases or decreases are heavily dependent on the stock market. I’m also including our total FIRE assets, which is arguably more important.

Our net worth went down by a little more than $6k this month, and our FIRE assets went down about the same. This is mainly from a recent downward trend in the stock market. Year-to-date, our net worth is up more than $275k.  For us, that’s still more than 5 years worth of expenses. Even with the market drop it’s still pretty crazy how much our assets have increased this year.  This is the first month in 2021 that our Net Worth has decreased. I’m hoping it doesn’t go down too much more, but in reality, it would kind of make the markets seem more sane if it did continue to drop. We’ll see. (NOTE: The way I chose to round numbers below makes it seem like our Net Worth didn’t go down, but it did. It’s hidden in the rounding.)

  Net Worth FIRE Assets
January 2021 $2.15 M $1.55 M
February 2021 $2.18 M $1.59 M
March 2021 $2.23 M $1.63 M
April 2021 $2.29 M $1.69 M
May 2021 $2.32 M $1.72 M
June 2021 $2.36 M $1.76 M
July 2021 $2.40 M $1.80 M
August 2021 $2.44 M $1.84 M
September 2021 $2.44 M $1.83 M

FIRE Failure Indicators

Here’s our sanity check for the month.  

  1. Is our spending on track? So far this year, we’ve spent about $39, 032. If we do a simple projection on this to the end of the year (divide by 9, multiple by 12), it looks like we’ll spend about $52, 042 in total. That’s a big jump from last month’s projection. It’s more than we originally planned for in a single year of being FIRE. However, we’ve been forced to pre-pay health insurance basically until the end of November. I’m hoping the actual annual spending decreases or levels out a bit as we approach the end of the year. In any case, spending about $50k per year is close enough to where we thought we’d be. We’re okay here. Additionally, if Mr. FD took on less freelance work, we’d probably have lower expenses like health insurance and our projections would match better.
  2. Is our withdrawal rate okay? Mr. FD still works part time as a freelancer, but he could stop at any point if he wanted to or if he was forced to. If Mr. FD were to stop working today, we’d have a withdrawal rate close to 3.00%. It was closer to 2.75% last month, but we’re still in a good place. Below is a table of withdrawal rates and equivalent withdrawal amounts given our current FIRE assets. We want to keep our spending at or below 3%, so we should be fine if and when Mr. FD decides to stop part-time work. 
    Withdrawal Rate Withdrawal Amount
    4.00% $73,352
    3.75% $68,768
    3.50% $64,183
    3.25% $59,599
    3.00% $55,014
    2.75% $50,430

Happiness Indicators

On a scale of 1-10, how would I rate my happiness? Hmm…. I’m probably still a 7?

I dropped yet another grad course. I couldn’t get the timing right or my mindset right to put into my class. This is probably my most challenging class so far in terms of time-commitment and difficulty of content.  It didn’t help that it started two weeks before the kids’ school started. I guess I have my excuses, but this makes two terms in a row that I had to drop. I’m not feeling so great on this front. It’s possible that getting a masters isn’t in the cards for me. For now, I plan to try one more time in the Spring. My hope is that with the kids in school, and with a more established routine, I’ll have more time to devote to it. Mr. FD will be working fewer hours too, so he said he’ll take on more of the responsibilities with the kids. We’ll see.

On the good side, as soon as I dropped the class, I revisited an old pet project that I started years ago. I have been slowly getting engrossed in that, which surprisingly has lifted my spirits a bit.

The pandemic is another thing that’s caused some anxiety. It’s been a while since it started, and we’ve been waiting for what seems like forever for the 5-11 year old vaccine to come out. Pfizer submitted their data in September on the relevant clinical trials, but they have yet to submit an actual request for an Emergency Use Authorization for kids in that age group. I had hoped to get the kids vaccinated sometime in October, but it’s looking more like November. I think the anxiety of having the kids start in-person school in the midst of all this has weighed a lot on me, especially since I could have decided to home-school them for one year. FIRE offered me that option, which many families just don’t have, and I still opted to send them in.  So FIRE gives you options, but it doesn’t make the hard choices for you.

On a lighter note, running has pretty much become routine. I run two short runs during the week (~1.7 miles), and I do one long run on the weekends. I can consistently do 7 miles now, but I can’t seem to drop my pace below 14 minutes miles. I’ll probably stay at 7 miles for a while and try to work on speed and endurance.  

As always, thanks for reading. Please stay safe and stay healthy!