And just like that, the first month of 2018 came and went. January was a routine month for us, grinding away at work. That said, we did have a fun holiday break to end 2017. We spent Christmas in California seeing friends and family.
Here is a picture of me with my brother in law and our nieces. The little one pretends to be a gymnast now and again.
The markets started strong but were choppy in the middle and at the end. Overall, we had a good month on the financial front.
We’ve started using Personal Capital to track our income and expenses. Below is a summary of what we experienced in January.
January passive income totaled $238.
Blog income was $143 from Google Adsense. This was the first payment we received since we began this blog in June 2017. We’re still learning how to build a quality website.
Dividends received in January totaled $95. We receive the majority of our dividends quarterly so stay tuned. We will also look at the ratio of passive income to Financial Independence expenses at the end of the quarter.
Overall our spending totaled $5,671 in January. We were $709 below our budgeted monthly expenses. However, if we included the monthly cost of property taxes, homeowners insurance, and sibling assistance, we would be ($99) in the red.
One month is not enough to absorb the noise from costs such as travel which varies month to month. QL won’t be going to Hawaii each month and we won’t be taking another international vacation until November at the earliest.
We primarily use Personal Capital to track our expenses but we make a few minor adjustments for items such as cash we received from splitting bills and putting them on our cards or gift cards we buy to manufacture spending.
Rent for the month was $1,950. Our apartment allows us to pay rent using a credit card for ~$50 fee. We think this fee is well worth it to help meet minimum spending requirements. We put the last two rent payments on a credit card to hit a minimum spend, but we didn’t do so this month.
The mortgage on the house we own in California, net of the nominal help we get from QL’s parent’s, was $577.
We did not make a payment on homeowner’s insurance or property taxes this month.
We paid $53 for the electric bill, which was higher this month than in the past. We must have forgotten to turn down the heat when we were traveling during December. This amount should hopefully come down in the coming months. Our cable and internet expenses are bundled in with rent.
January’s phone bill was $220. This includes unlimited talk and text for four lines of service, unlimited high speed data on one line, 1GB of high speed data on the other lines, and $65 for three phones we are making payments on. Excluding the payments for the phones, it works out to an average of $38.80/line including taxes.
This category remains too expensive in my opinion. I need to do more research on FreedomPop, Republic, and GoogleFi. Let me know if you have any recommendations/analysis on this topic.
We spent a total of $274 on healthcare premiums for the month. Premiums of $233 and $41 were paid for medical and dental respectively.
It’s interesting to see that we’ll end up paying $492 (pre-tax) this year for dental insurance. If the only dental services we end up using in 2018 are semi-annual cleanings, then we’ll come out in the red there.
We were over budget in this category because I miscalculated how much my premiums would increase at work.
$0 was spent on clothing this month. So far so good on my efforts to not buy anything new in 2018. In fact, I need to start eBaying some things I have lying around the house.
$73 was spent in January on household items and personal care.
I’ve noticed that Walmart has started offering two different prices for items on its website – one price for the item in store, and one price for the item online. I don’t like this price discrimination for online shopping, but we paid the asking prices because doing so is still cheaper than buying those items from Target or Amazon. Plus, we don’t have to commute to the store or stand in line.
At work last week, a couple guys just joined a gentleman’s salon, which provides unlimited haircuts for $600/year (before tip). They asked me where I cut my hair and were pretty shocked when I told them Great Clips. I cut my hair twice this month and pay $9.99/haircut. The store sells prepaid haircuts for $9.99 twice a year. I buy 10 at a time and use them throughout the year. After a $5 tip, I’m out the door for $14.99. I’m happy with the price and the haircuts.
The total balance in this category was a little low because we used gift cards to pay for a few items. Currently, we have over $800 combined of gift cards for Walmart and Amazon. They were purchased when these stores fell in the 5% cashback category for Chase Freedom. We’ll continue to draw down on these balances throughout the year. You’ll notice large increases in this category later in the year when these stores once again fall in the 5% cashback category.
Travel expenses totaled $1,860 in January.
QL took her mom to Hawaii for their annual mother-daughter getaway.
We also booked several regional flight legs for our February/March trip to Southeast Asia. The flights listed below cost $1,562, however we used points from Capital One to erase $228 of the fares. Since we booked travel at the end of the month, some of the charges won’t post until next month. We also have $250 each in travel credits from the Citi Prestige that should hit the account next month lowering next month’s Travel Expenses.
- Ko Samui to Bangkok
- Bangkok to Hanoi
- Hanoi to Nha Trang
- Nha Trang to Saigon
- Saigon to Rach Gia
- Rach Gia to Saigon
- Saigon to Da Nang
- Da Nang to Saigon
We spent $109 on restaurants this month, mostly on lunches and dinners while working.
I brought lunch a couple times a week like usual. When I stepped out for lunch, I took advantage of the McDonald’s app. Using the app and the McPick 2 for $3 menu, I usually got meals for under $4. There was a slick deal this month where you got any sandwich for $1 with any purchase. So, I bought a double hamburger and got a Sweet BBQ Bacon Grilled Artisan Chicken sandwich for $2.43.
QL brought food from home for a few meals each time she left for work. The rest of the time she ate at the cafeteria in the hospital where the meals are subsidized. She usually paid less than $4 per meal. The food selection in the small town she works in is slim, so she often picks up a three-item plate at Panda Express that would last for two meals.
We spent $142 on groceries for the month. This month there were some awesome specials on items at Jewel and Aldi.
Lobster tails were on sale again for $3.99 and strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries were on sale for $0.97 a package. Haas avocados were $0.49.
Credit Card Fees
We didn’t pay any annual fees this month on credit cards. I’m in the process of organizing our cards into an Excel sheet.
QL signed up for the Chase Marriott Business card this month. The annual fee is waived the first year. She canceled her Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite card since the $95 was almost due.
January transportation expenses were $39. This was all on Uber and Lyft rides.
At the end of December, I purchased $250 in Uber gift cards from Walmart when Chase Freedom was offering 5% UR points for purchases there. We’ll use that balance until it goes to $0. Given we spent over $2,400 last year on ride-sharing apps, using the $250 won’t be a problem.
We don’t own a car, so don’t have car payments, parking, insurance, and fuel expenses to deal with.
Charitable contributions totaled $250 this month.
We donated $200 to an organization to support former South Vietnamese Veterans.
We gave $50 in a fundraiser for a public high school in Gilroy, CA. The money went toward buying printers and papers for the math department at the school.
We were over budget this month as our giving is lumpy throughout the year.
Netflix cost $11 in January. With the holiday and work travels, we haven’t had time to watch any movies yet.
We watched both seasons of Stranger Things last month and thought it was very good. Season 1 reminded us a bit of the movie IT, otherwise, we thought it was well written.
Miscellaneous spending totaled $117 in January.
We had some development help with the website which we paid $30. Money orders and gift card fees for churning/manufactured spending totaled $67. I also paid $10 to tip on a 30 minute massage I bought on Groupon back in December.
We started the year with a net worth of $463,781. During the month, we blew through the half million mark from contributions and investment gains. Our net worth ended the month at $504,706, an increase of 8.8%.
In our portfolio, I sold completely out of Transdigm (TDG) and Snap-On (SNA) and decreased our position in Casey’s General Store (CASY). I am in the process of liquidating my IRA holdings to roll it into my 401k. That way I can start backdoor Roth IRA conversions without increasing our taxes. I’ll write a post about that in greater detail once it is done.
Contributions and proceeds from the sale of stock were invested in the Vanguard Total Market ETF (VTI).
Markets ended January in choppy conditions (and started this month giving back gains going back to December 2017). Earnings for the most part remain strong, however investors seem concerned about inflation expectations. Quantitative Tightening looms on the horizon as well. It remains to be seen what the overall impact to the market will be when the Fed combines rate hikes with reducing the size of its balance sheet. Regardless, we continue to believe 2018 will be another positive year, but we will see how Q2 earnings and updated guidance goes.
In February, we’ll start pulling together tax documentation. I’m going to try to do our taxes this year, and we’ll see how that goes. I’m not looking forward to calculating the exact amount the marriage penalty will cost us. Had I known tax legislation was going to be passed for 2018, I would have held off until 1/1/2018 to mail in the marriage certificate.
Toward the end of the month, we head to Asia for a couple weeks. Our commitment to miles and points remains strong! We’ll be sharing more Flight and Hotel reviews soon.
How did your January go on the personal finance front?