October Financial Update

We’ve been busy, which has kept our expenses down in our personal life. I’ve been working a few days at our local racetrack, which has been for my entertainment and a good way to bring in some money for our household. While our busy schedule has kept us from eating at restaurants and spending money on activities, the last quarter of the year brings big expenses on the rental front for insurance and taxes.

I still haven’t decided how to format these financial updates, but I did work on categorizing all the expenses for our year. I’d like to see how our spending changes through the year, and if I keep a running tally of the information, I’ll be able to consistently categorize expenses. At this point, I’ll just report for the whole year later in January, but it feels good to have that process started since there are a lot of transactions (already at 786 line items!).

RENTALS

We paid an extra $2000 towards the mortgage that we’re trying to pay off (we paid $1000 and our partner paid the other thousand). That mortgage balance is about $26k, which we’re responsible for half.

Kentucky taxes are due in October. Well, they’re actually due in November, but they give you a 2% discount if you pay before 11/1, so we of course do that. Two of our houses are still escrowed, so I don’t need to worry about that, but I had to pay one of the houses, which was about $1300. As an aside, I put it in the mail on 10/6 and it was taken out of our account on 10/8; I’ve never seen the mail and processing of taxes happen so quickly!

We had someone do the work on a house (fix bedroom doors and replace a missing section of fence) that was left over from my July walk throughs, and that was $490 (split with our partner). This house has been notoriously late on payments with very little communication, but they’ve turned a corner. They’re still late with payments, but they pay the late fee without prompting and give us advanced notice, which is all we ask for! They say they’ll be back on track with on time payments next month.

We’ve had issues with another rental, which I shared in my last post. They were approved for state assistance, so I’m expecting September, October, and November rent from the state here soon. Since there’s no timeframe for when that will come in, I’ve told her that she has to keep paying on the payment schedule we agreed to, and anything she pays will just go to December rent at this point.

PERSONAL EXPENSES

We had all the drywall for the basement delivered in September for $788. Several pieces arrived damaged from the strap that held them down. Mr. ODA called Home Depot since the delivery fee was $75 for this convenience, and they were super nice. She refunded us for the broken sheets and the delivery fee ($125!).

Only $130 spent in gas (that will probably go up next month since I’m driving to/from Lexington 3 times per week for work, plus a few more personal trips there). Only $92 spent in restaurants!

SUMMARY

While some of the expenses for rentals have trickled in, the next month is when most of them are going to hit. We’ll also have an annual medical bill come due in November.

Our net worth increased by $21k from last month. Our credit card balances are low, and then our cash balance is higher than usual because we used to just put any extra cash towards mortgages, but right now we’re trying to pay off that mortgage we have with a partner and rethink our approach (do we want to save for another down payment.. type question).

September Financial Update

Cooler weather is here! We have a full calendar these days with pre-school and sports. I’ve been managing that by setting a lot of alarms giving me a half hour warning that we need to leave the house for something. We also celebrated our son’s 3rd birthday with both sides of our family, which was so much fun. He knew all about a birthday and the traditions, did a great job at being grateful for his gifts, and hasn’t stopped playing with all those new toys. This month, his birthday party and a long weekend trip to Virginia were our big expenses, while the sports and activities kept us home and not eating at restaurants in between those things! On top of all this craziness, Mr. ODA went on a work trip, then I picked up a few shifts at the race track to help them out. And so, here we are, two-and-a-half weeks since my last post.

NET WORTH

About once a month, we have a meeting with our financial advisor. During last month’s meeting, his software system said that we hit $3 million net worth! Unfortunately, my numbers last month didn’t say that, and they still don’t, but we’re right there. I didn’t think it worth it to line up my information against how the software is reporting the number because a lot of our net worth is based on the current market value of our real estate, which isn’t necessarily an exact amount. I know Mr. ODA had a goal for the first million in net worth, but I wouldn’t say that we had a goal to hit this particular number. With the financial advisor, we’re working on our mentality. We’re basically trying to figure out what’s our true goal (instead of just this number), and if we had (and did) everything we wanted, what would that cost difference be? I’m working on two other posts about our mentality, and I’ll have to include this side of the thought process as well.

DETAILS

One of our credit cards has a balance of over $2,200 in this net worth update. That includes almost $1,000 of a hotel that Mr. ODA had for a work trip, the hotel for Richmond at $450, and an AirBnB charge for an upcoming trip of $424. It also includes Mr. ODA’s food purchases while on travel, which amount to about $180, and an Uber trip of $10. The work expenses will be reimbursed, but that’s not yet accounted for in the math since the payment hasn’t hit our checking account yet.

With the child tax credits coming in, our investments have gone up each month. We’re putting some of that into the kids’ investment accounts. We’ve also had other unexpected income, which led to another $500 transfer into Mr. ODA’s investment account. Usually, we see an automatic contribution of $1100 between our Roth accounts and the kids’ accounts. This month, we had $1,900.

All of our housing expenses were about the same. This coming month has a trip planned, a day to hang drywall in the basement, and me working at the race track nearly every weekend.

August Financial Update

This has been a crazy month. We went to St. Louis and New York, we tiled the basement bathroom that we’re building, I refinished a desk that I purchased 6 years ago, and we had several activities to occupy our time. Being that we’ve been so busy, we haven’t set any new goals and are still talking through what we think the next few years look like. We are still managing sleep disruptions with our nearly 3 year old, and that takes a lot of time from my day and night. Anyway, here’s how things shook out over the last month – very high credit card bills to cover many large expenses.

just for fun – my before and after of the refinished desk that I bought for $15
  • Utilities: $240. This includes internet, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. I find it interesting that it’s not routine to have irrigation in Central KY, and that’s led to surprisingly low water bills. Our water, sewer, and trash is all together each month, and it’s only $53 in the middle of the summer!
  • Groceries: $390. On top of that, I had a charge for a 4 month supply of the vitamins that I take, which I pay for up front because I don’t want to pay a surcharge to pay monthly (if I can afford to pay $300 now, I’d rather pay that then end up paying $340 for the same product at the end of 4 months).
  • Gas: $230
  • Restaurants: $215
  • Entertainment/Travel: I broke down the St. Louis trip costs in my previous post. We booked our flights to NY through the Chase portal using points. It was the equivalent of $833 for 3 round trip flights (our daughter as a lap child). We paid for parking at the airport ($36), and that was it. On top of those costs, we had several sports fees and activities that we paid for. I didn’t add up the details, but I estimate that those cost us about $300 this past month.
  • I paid $3,800 worth of medical bills (high deductible plan… we got there).
  • We spent about $175 on tile supplies for the bathroom, which includes returning about $40 worth of materials.
  • Rental work cost us a good bit this month.
    • Our plumber made his rounds to 3 of our houses on one day to address items that I found during the walk throughs in July; this cost us $730.
    • Somehow (very unlike us), we had an outstanding pest control bill from December. When I called to schedule another appointment, they requested payment (rightfully so!). We spent $290 on pest control then.
    • We purchased a hot water heater and a refrigerator for a rental property after our property manager did her walk through. We also purchased a fan and had that installed (we would have done it, but we don’t live there anymore), but we split that cost with our partner. These cost us $2,317.
    • As usual, two houses were late on rent. One paid on Friday and actually included the late fee (10% of rent). Another gave us a letter about a car accident she was in and said she wouldn’t have rent until she received the settlement money from that. It’s the 16th and we still don’t have rent. The positive here is that we have several other properties worth of income that cover the expenses on this house (mortgage), so we’re not floating the mortgage with our own money for this one house.

Here’s a tidbit of my spending. I don’t have Amazon Prime. Rarely do I need something in 2 days or less than $25 that I would need to pay for this service. I search Amazon for things that I eventually want, put it in my cart, and then when I need to hit the $25 free shipping threshold, I add the items to the cart to check out. This is how I handle Christmas shopping basically. I have thoughts on what to get for people, keep it in my “save for later” section, and then order it when I place an order. I actually have several Christmas gifts already purchased.

NET WORTH

Since I’m not able to find the time to coordinate updating all our accounts with Mr. ODA, this is just a rough update of our financials. Our net worth has increased about $58k. I’ve paid down the very high balance on our Citi card already this month, so this snapshot in time isn’t showing that I’ve already made $5k worth of payments towards that. About half of that increase is attributed to an increase in property values. The rest is attributed to the usual mortgage payments and investment balances increasing.

July Financial Update

We paid off a mortgage! Reaching this accomplishment was threatened once again when I was told another rental property needed the HVAC replaced ($3,900), but we were able to cover the cost of the unit replacement and pay off the last $3,000 on the mortgage. This gives us $391 worth of positive cash flow each month going forward.

Our two usual suspects are late on rent. One said that her bank account was frozen, and she has no idea why. With a history of forgery, fraud, and domestic abuse, I can’t imagine how this could have come about (sarcasm..). The other just casually emails us and says “Rent will be late. Sorry for the inconvenience.” Lovely. They also don’t pay the late fee, although I’m tracking that to be able to recoup it from the security deposit.

Last month, I mentioned that we had credit card rewards expiring without our knowledge. After several unanswered phone calls, it was resolved through a checking account credit.

  • Utilities: $420. This includes internet, cell phones (we pay quarterly, so this is a big bump from last month’s total), water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant.
  • Groceries: $590.
  • Gas: $327. We traveled to Virginia this month, so that caused a higher use of gas. Mr. ODA’s work trip also caused an increase in gas usage, but that’s covered through his employer.
  • Restaurants: $275.
  • Entertainment/Travel: $1,167. But this includes $485 worth of Mr. ODA’s work hotel that was reimbursed. This also includes $535 for our hotel stay in Virginia for 5 nights.
  • Investment: $1,100
  • Rental work cost us about $150 in supplies, and I paid one house’s quarterly HOA dues of $240.

Our net worth has increased again this month thanks to the stock market and property values. We’re down to 7 mortgages. We’d like to pay off one of the houses that our partner holds the mortgage on, but we need to re-evaluate our finances together first because that equates to about $20,000 for each of us.

ANNUAL TRACKING

I don’t love the format of these posts, so I’m brainstorming ways to share updates going forward. For now, I created a chart to show our spending so far this year and how it has changed month-to-month. I have a feeling I’m not categorizing our spending consistently after seeing this information, so I’m going to dive in deeper. At the end of each year, Mr. ODA asks me what our spending by category is, and I need to recreate that information each time. I thought I was being better about it this year with these monthly updates, but I’m not.

That’s my lesson learned for this month – while tracking your spending, track it consistently and look back at previous months. I thought $300 in gas was consistent with previous spending, but now I see that it’s much higher. While we did travel to Virginia this month, is that really representative of such a drastic increase? We may be ok with the entertainment that driving more has given us, or we may decide we want to scale back our spending in this category. It’s also important to know that some spending is seasonal. While our gas usage is high during the summer, we knew we were planning several trips and wanting to be out of the house more than we were over the winter.

Overall, I don’t feel like I have a good grasp of our spending after seeing this graph, and I plan to dig deeper into the costs. I’m glad I looked at it in this format halfway through the year, before I would have to go back through all 12 months of spending! It’s easy to see an increase in net worth and be complacent, but I’d rather be more intentional with our spending than we have been over the last few months.

Hear more from Mrs. ODA

Back in May, I was a guest on Maggie Germano’s Podcast, “The Money Circle.” I shared some of our background and how we started investing in real estate. We brushed on topics like establishing an LLC, tax advantages, and how you don’t need to start big to just get started. It was a brand new experience for me, but I’m passionate about our real estate experiences, and I loved being able to share. I hope you’ll check it out!

June Financial Update

We’re continuing our spring/summer of travel and activity, which is why there are fewer posts and lots more spending.

The stock market has increased, which has been the main factor in our net worth change. We paid $2,000 towards the mortgage we’re paying down, leaving a balance of $3,300. This mortgage will be paid off once all our rent is collected for July; it was pushed back a little bit because of the flooring replacement that occurred in one of our rentals, which is why our credit card balance is much lower than last month. We’re also still waiting for half of one property’s rent, which is the norm these days.

  • Utilities: $250. This includes internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant.
  • Groceries: $518
  • Gas: $268
  • Restaurants: $165. Our credit card reimburses for many of these expenses; we received credits totaling $120.13 in the last month.
  • Entertainment/Medical: $1,093
  • Investment: $1,100
  • Insurance Costs (personal and rentals): $845

VIGILANCE ON CREDIT CARD REWARDS

Mr. ODA discovered that our PNC credit card rewards balance was decreasing, despite earning new rewards this cycle. He investigated further and noticed that we had been losing rewards for a few months now. PNC has a policy that they don’t issue their rewards until you hit $100 worth of rewards. Once we hit $100, PNC sends us a check in the mail. Since they send a check, we still receive paper statements, even though we regularly check our financial accounts online. Over the past few months, both of us checked the balance to see “ok, we’re nearing $100,” but didn’t put any more effort into knowing the details of the balance. Mr. ODA happened to notice that the statement didn’t make sense.

$89+3 somehow equals $82. There isn’t a single section on our statement or via our online account that identifies the loss of rewards Mr. ODA called PNC to ask for more details and learned that our rewards expire after 2 years, despite their policy of not issuing a check until you hit $100. They basically said, it doesn’t matter that your account is over 10 years old, or that credit has been used less in the last year due to the pandemic, or that they don’t clearly identify the expiration of rewards and just identify a lower balance. As a comparison, and I keep going back to Chase, but Chase changed up their reward categories to allow the consumer to earn more rewards during the pandemic (e.g., in addition to giving rewards in the travel category, since consumers weren’t traveling, they added grocery and home improvement stores as major reward categories).

The PNC customer service representative reinstated 60 days worth of lost rewards and issued a statement credit. We don’t want a statement credit because we no longer want to use this credit card, earning rewards that we’ll never be able to capture. If we use this credit card to use up the statement credit, that’s rewards that could be earned on a different credit card. Now Mr. ODA is fighting for the credit to be applied to our checking account or to have a check sent to us (which is the preference on our profile) and fighting for the reinstatement of the rest of the rewards lost.

Without PNC, we’re down to 4 credit cards in our regular rotation. We have 3 cards that we use for categories (gas, grocery, restaurants, travel, home improvement stores), and then we have the Citi Double Cash card that is for “everyday purchases.”

Medical Bills

Here’s something different. Medical insurance isn’t something I’m going to pretend I understand fully, but I know enough to protect my money. So here’s two quick stories about how due diligence saved us hundreds.

First, an overview.

When you see a provider (e.g., doctor), they bill your insurance on your behalf. The claim that’s submitted is reviewed by the insurance’s benefits administrator, and any coverage is paid out. Your insurance will likely have a “disallowed” amount (what your insurance deems is too expensive to be billed for the given service), a benefits paid amount (what insurance pays on your behalf), and then a member responsibility amount (what you owe). Once the claim is processed, these are outlined in an explanation of benefits, or an EOB. If and when you receive a bill from the provider, verify against your EOB to ensure that it aligns with your insurance benefits.

Here’s an example of an EOB. By using a provider that is in-network (in a negotiated agreement plan with my insurance company), the doctor and the insurance have agreed costs for services provided. My insurance’s “allowances” are negotiated with each provider who participates in the network. Allowances may be based on a standard reduction or on a negotiated fee schedule. For these allowances, the provider has agreed to accept the negotiated reduction and you are not responsible for this discounted amount. In these instances, the benefit paid plus your coinsurance equals payment in full. So here, for the services that I received, the insurance company is saying, “I see you billed for $115, but we agreed that this service only costs $65.34, so that’s what we’re allowing.” You, as a covered member, are not charged for the ‘disallow’ amount of $49.66.

In our case, we have a high deductible plan, which means we have to spend a certain amount of money on covered services before the insurance pays out benefits. Ours is $3,000. This means that for the first $3,000 worth of doctors visits to in-network providers, we’re paying the total allowed amount (e.g., our son had to go to the ER, and we paid $609 for the visit, which is the fully allowed amount). There are plans out there where you don’t have a deductible, but you have a copay (e.g., I had a plan where I paid a flat $20 for each doctor’s office visit and $125 for each hospital visit, but I was also paying a higher premium for that coverage type). In a future post, I will share how we compared our plan options and chose a high deductible plan.

After we meet the deductible, most of our services are covered at 95% (i.e., we’re responsible for paying 5% of the allowed charges). In the example above, we had to pay 5% of the $65.34, or $3.27.

There are tons of nuances to insurance though, but hopefully this broad overview helps understand how to read the EOB. I have more stories of where my interpretation of the coverage in my brochure doesn’t seem to match the benefits administered, but those are for another time. For now, here’s how we protected hundreds of dollars by staying on top of our coverage.

MR. ODA’S STORY

Speaking of nuances, here’s one of those. Preventative care is covered at 100% (e.g., maternity screenings and annual physical exams). Mr. ODA needed a physical to qualify for his agency’s wellness program (they’re given 3 hours per week to exercise). When he went to get the physical, it got coded as a sports physical because the doctor had to sign off on a paper that said he was healthy enough to participate in the wellness program. A routine annual physical is fully covered by insurance, regardless of deductible. Apparently, a sports physical is not the same concept and regular coverage requirements apply.

Mr. ODA had to call back to explain that the exam was routine with a signature on paper, and not any more in depth to be considered a sports physical. The doctors office offered a reduction in the amount owed, twice, but eventually realized they were spending more in postage and phone calls than the bill was worth while Mr. ODA fought the coding, and they wrote it off.

MRS. ODA’S STORY

I saw a doctor in December 2019 when having pregnancy complications. In February 2020, I received a bill, which I promptly, and erroneously, paid. A few days ago, I received a check for the amount I paid a year and a half ago. So it wasn’t a quick resolution, but I wasn’t going to let $300 go.

The bill said:
Charges to Date: $451.00
Payments/Discounts to Date: $157.85
Remaining Patient Balance: $293.15

I had seen multiple doctors in a short period of time, so I was just in auto mode to pay all the medical bills that I had. After I paid it, I realized that on the back of the bill there were more details about that “payments/discounts” line item. There were three columns: Insurance Payments, Patient Payments, and Adjustments to Date. The total $157.85 was in the Adjustments to Date column, and the insurance column said $0. I checked into my insurance claims online and didn’t see this date of service. Well, I’m insured, so this should have been submitted to my insurance for review first. I called the hospital to indicate that there was an error made, and I shouldn’t have paid this in full, even with an “uninsured discount” they graciously offered me.

I called the hospital to ask why this wasn’t submitted to my insurance and discovered that my name was spelled wrong, my insurance was entered wrong, and this claim wasn’t tied to all my other hospital-related claims I had processed. Supposedly, they updated my information and resubmitted. I still didn’t see it on my online claim history after the 30-45 day window they told me, so I called again in April 2020. I was told they would resubmit. Two months later, I was managing a newborn and we were just deciding to move, so this fell off my radar. Then all of our things were in storage for two months. By the time I got this paperwork back out, it was March 2021.

I explained my story to the hospital again and asked for it to be properly submitted. I was again told they would submit the claim, but this time they’d submit by paper handling. Again, nothing showed up in my insurance. I called in April 2021 and was again told that they would try submitting again. This time I escalated to a supervisor. I said that this was unacceptable, and I didn’t want to keep being told they would try again, delaying my reimbursement by another 30-45 days each time I called. The supervisor said she would ensure the paper claim was sent out and call me back in a week. I never got the call. On May 18, I called again, immediately asking for a supervisor. This supervisor said that my account showed a refund was approved, but he needed to issue it (why couldn’t that just have been done?!).

Well, on June 1, I received a check in the mail for $293.15. That’s the amount I paid back in February 2020 for a December 2019 date of service. I could have written this off in my mind a year ago and not made these five or six phone calls, taking about 90 minutes of my time in total. I could have said to myself, “I called. There’s nothing more I can do.” But we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in now with our finances if I kept saying “oh well, that’s all I can do.”

The moral of the story is that you should be an informed consumer. If you know how to determine your benefits and calculate your coverage, you can make sure the proper payments are made to the provider, and that you aren’t overcharged.

May Financial Update

RENTAL PROPERTIES

We paid $2,850 in extra principal towards the main mortgage we’re paying down, leaving that mortgage with a balance of $5,500. We had a $4k flooring purchase on another house that has set our pay off timeline a few weeks back, but we’ll still have that mortgage paid off in the next couple of months. We have a rental property that we purchased in 2016 that has flooring that’s at least that old. The carpet has long passed its useful life, and the linoleum in the kitchen and laundry room has started to peel up at the seam. Typically, we wouldn’t want to replace flooring while a tenant still lives there, but they’ve lived with this for almost a year, and they’ve been our tenants since we purchased the house. As a means of keeping the tenant happy, we agreed to replace the flooring in all the rooms except the bathrooms.

We had two of our tenants not pay rent by the 5th, as required by the lease. They’re the two that are typically late, and they’re typically not up front with telling us about it. We’ve said several times that we’re really flexible landlords, but we can’t be flexible if we’re not told what is happening. With one tenant, who had just recently irked us with a plumbing issue and being incommunicado, we didn’t even reach out for information. We’ve had enough of their antics and having to chase them for rent. So I simply sent them their notice of default letter, outlining all their rights as tenants as now required under COVID-related procedures. I received an email letting me know that they’d pay on the 7th. I love their nonchalant response, like they hold the power and will pay whenever they feel like it (hmm). For the other tenant that was late, she texted to say she’d be late with the payment on the 7th, and then on the 7th only paid part of the rent due. She said she was in a car accident and there was an issue with her sick leave pay out, but she’d get it to us when it got fixed. She resolved it on the 12th, although still without the late fee.

We were able to get the invoice on the HVAC replacement for one property, which meant we paid our partner the $3,288 we owed him, on top of his usual $2,167 that we pay out for him to pay the mortgages and then his share of the profits (since I manage all the rent collections).

OUR SPENDING

Our credit card balances are high for several reasons. The $4k flooring purchase; as well as the insurance for one of our properties that isn’t escrowed because we paid off that mortgage, which was $436; an expensive gift purchase that isn’t transparent in the cash and credit line items because that cost was split 3 ways (i.e., we received 2/3 of that cost back in cash, but it’s still reflect in the credit line); and our travel.

We booked a camp site for the end of the month that required payment up front. We just got back from a trip, which increased our spending. But I’ll note that when we travel, we’re not eating expensive meals. Our interest is in the experiences and activities, rather than exploring sit down local restaurants. Our food for 5 days cost us $161 as a family of 4. We also ended up only paying for 2 of the 4 nights in the hotel because the air conditioning was broken, even after they came to ‘fix’ it, and then, when I was checking under the bed to see if any toys or socks got left behind as we were leaving, I found a large, dead roach. We didn’t ask for any comps; one was automatically reflected in my final invoice without my prompting, and then when the manager was speaking to Mr. ODA about his stay, he volunteered removing another night.

We opened a new credit card to take advantage of the bonuses since we knew we’d have this travel and the flooring cost to meet the $4,000 spending threshold for their bonus. This credit card has an annual fee of $95 and no 0% interest period, which goes against our norm when looking to open a new credit card. However, the bonus can be transferred to our Chase Rewards Portal, where we can use it to book travel at 50% the cost. We also received a $50 grocery credit.

ROUTINE UPDATES

  • My husband and I cashed in the last of his savings bonds that we got as children, so that was an extra $735 that we brought it that wasn’t planned.
  • We paid about $6,074 for our regular mortgage payments. Several of our properties had mortgage increases due to escrow shortages. I haven’t figured out which I dislike more: planning for tax and insurance payments, or the large escrow increases that seem to happen year after year. I think it’s the escrow though.
  • Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts. I should also note that I don’t speak to other investments because they happen before take-home pay, but my husband maxes out his TSP (401k) each year as well, which I had also done when I was employed.
  • Our grocery shopping cost us $700. Honestly, I don’t even know how to explain that cost jump. I think it’s because my husband shopped some deals at Kroger and Costco, so we stocked up on some things that aren’t part of our routine purchasing.   
  • We spent $200 on gas. Two trips to Cincinnati, our trip to Atlanta, and then more-than-usual trips around town. 
  • $400 went towards utilities. It’s higher than last month because we paid 3 months of our cell phones, which gets us back on quarterly billing as a family. Utilities include internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. We still haven’t sought reimbursement from the builder on our electric bill, but this month’s bill was even less than the last month’s. 
  • Our entertainment costs included baseball game tickets for our trip as well as two games later this summer, parking for the games this past weekend, a new shirt for our son, activities for the kids, and the hotel. This past month, we spent $650 on things I’d classify as entertainment related. I also included boarding for our dog ($100) in this total.
  • Speaking of our dog, he had his annual appointment (shots and the year’s worth of preventative medicines), and that cost us $500.
  • We spent $292 eating at restaurants and ordering take out. We utilized a Door Dash credit on one of our Chase credit cards, which was about $30.
  • But! I killed it with running errands this month and actually returning things that needed to be returned. I returned $150 worth of items one day!
  • We paid our State taxes during this period too. Between two states, that was $954. Also, anecdotally, I’ll share that we spent $6.40 to mail our Virginia tax return. We processed our taxes through Credit Karma, as we had done last year. We got through the federal e-file and moved onto the state filing, only to find out that if you’re filing partial states, Credit Karma doesn’t support it. I had to print 70 pages of our federal return, sign it, and ship it off to Virginia.

SUMMARY

Our net worth actually dipped this month. The stock market is the main factor in that, but the house valuation estimates are starting to level off and look more realistic as well.

Between our personal lives and our business life with these rental properties, we were sure kept busy. We expect the Spring months to be a busy time of year, and honestly it feels good to be active again. While we’ve loosened the purse strings for the summer months, especially after having done hardly anything for the last year, it was still a shock to see just how much we spent in these categories. But that’s the benefit of looking at your finances regularly. We can either choose to remain on course with our summer plans, or we can dial it back if we feel this was more than we expected.

Since we know we’re on top of our finances and have set up a healthy mentality when it comes to spending, we’re comfortable looking at this information once a month. If you’re currently developing these money habits, you may want to do these types of check-ins more frequently.

April Financial Update

This month had a lot of money movement – tax payment out, stimulus check in. As I’ve shared before, we don’t budget. But you can start seeing how we’re pretty consistent on where we spend out money. This is because we have a spending mentality that we use to make each decision, rather than giving ourselves a ceiling in each category. I believe some may see a ceiling as a definitive amount to spend (e.g., if I’ve allocated $100 for restaurants this month, and by the last week I still have $75 in that budget pot, then I’m going to go spend it). If you know your long term goals and take responsibility for your decision-making, then you don’t need to pay close attention to each dollar.

With that said, my family came to visit for a week. It was our second’s first birthday, and my dad is helping us finish our basement. With 3 more adults in the house, we spent more than typical feeding them and eating at restaurants versus cooking after spending the day working in the basement. Mr. ODA and I share the same birthday, so we splurged for a nice meal that night. We actually spent about $300 at restaurants over this last month, but thanks to our Chase credit card, we received statement credits for $188 worth of these purchases!

We have also spent more on entertainment. We went to a winery and a brewery, purchased tickets for the local horse race season, and have done other activities now that the weather is nice. The pandemic and winter had our spending lower than our usual amounts, but I expect our spending to be more than it had been in these coming months. We’ve already put together our summer bucket list for travel.

We had all the tenants pay their rent on time, except one who eventually paid. Our rental income is $12,353, and we pay our business partner about $2,100 (we collect the rent and then pay him to cover the mortgages he holds and his half of the ‘profit’ after the mortgages are deducted from rent). We had to replace the HVAC in a rental. Luckily, this rental is owned with a partner, so only half the cost will affect us. We haven’t paid the bill yet, so that will hit next month.

  • We paid about $5,972 for our regular mortgage payments. We put an additional $5,000 towards an investment property mortgage, which now has a balance of $8,665. We also put $5,000 towards one of the properties that we have with a partner, which he matched, leaving that balance at $42k.
  • Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts. Our stimulus checks that we received for the kids went directly into the kids’ UTMAs.
  • Our grocery shopping cost us $539.  
  • We spent $91 on gas.
  • $290 went towards utilities. This includes internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. We still haven’t sought reimbursement from the builder on our electric bill, but this month’s bill was significantly less than the previous months.
  • About $1300 was spent on supplies for the basement bathroom work. We registered the kids for swim lessons, registered our son for pre-school in the Fall, did more activities with the nice weather, and I made several gift purchases (current birthdays, baby shower, next Christmas (I like buying when I find something that makes me think of a person rather than a mad dash in the Fall to buy gifts)), so that was about $400.

SUMMARY

Our net worth has increased over $123k since last month due to our investment accounts and property values increasing. Our cash balance is starting to dwindle down to what we typically carry as ‘cash.’ And our mortgage balance is decreasing more than average due to our goal of paying off two of the mortgages that we’re carrying.

Contrarian View on an Emergency Fund

There are many teachings out there that talk about a safe, sustainable, and efficient way to wealth being many streams of income. This diversifies and provides multiple avenues for growth, but also mitigates risk and protects your larger portfolio against any one stream failing.

Our financial portfolio meets those goals. Instead of having an emergency fund sitting in a savings account earning 0.03% interest (that’s literally our savings account interest rate, and that’s the ‘special’ relationship rate), our money is put to “work,” earning more money for us.

INDEX FUNDS

Probably the simplest and most common example of multiple streams is index fund investing. A quick read of JL Collins’ “The Simple Path To Wealth” will teach you that through index fund investing, you have an ownership share of every company the index fund covers. Some are matched to S&P 500 companies, some to International, some to the DJIA, and most to the “Total Market.” Mr. and Mrs. ODA invest in the “Total Market Index Fund,” through Fidelity, in our IRAs and taxable investment portfolio. By owning a small part of every publicly traded company, we own that many streams of income. Any one company going belly up will only be a blip on the radar of that index fund, and, over enough time, it will go up, and up a lot. This is as risk free of a true investment as you can get. 

Being Federal Employees (Mrs. ODA no more, though), we both have access to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for our 401k’s. The TSP provides a group of 5 index funds to choose from: Government Securities, Fixed Income Index, Common Stock Index, Small Cap Stock Index, and International Stock Index. 

In times of market upheaval, we can ‘escape’ to the Government Securities fund, and pending a nuclear winter or alien attack, is guaranteed to be paid (TSP.gov). However, with this little risk also comes little reward, so it won’t grow fast. With index funds and a safety spot, our TSPs are about as low risk a retirement investment as you can have. Note that Index Funds through Fidelity or Vanguard (for example) and the TSP have the industry’s lowest fees on their funds, so we won’t lose our nest egg to management costs either. 

REAL ESTATE

Outside of anything related to the stock market, we have 12 single family rental properties. Each of these houses operate as their own small business, with long term tenants in most of them (that have thankfully all been able to maintain rent payments through the pandemic). If one or two houses did lose their tenant, or have an AC break, or a roof needing replaced all at the same time, the other houses (businesses) can pick up the financial slack. A few of the properties are owned outright, so the lack of a mortgage certainly helps the whole portfolio’s cash flow. And actually, we did have to replace/repair multiple roofs and HVAC units at the same time in the summer of 2020! On top of the individual homeowners insurance we have on each house, we have a Commercial Liability Umbrella Policy covering anything above and beyond the individual policies.

DIVERSITY

We also have some money tied up in more actively managed mutual funds – investments we owned before we discovered index fund investing – and individual stocks. However, I can’t bare the capital gains taxes required if I were to sell them and shift that money over to an index fund. But – they’re there in case of an emergency.

That Federal job I mentioned – I’m lucky to have about as much job security as any W2 employee can have in this great nation. Through the shutdown a couple years ago, I had 2 paychecks delayed, but my rental properties made it so that I didn’t have to worry about our finances. Otherwise, a safe, consistent paycheck is something I can count on – with health insurance for our whole family that comes with an annual out of pocket maximum of only $10,000.

So we have a W2 income, 12 rental property small businesses providing monthly cash flow, and a slew of stock investments diversified across all markets. We have diversity that mitigates risk and shields us from small “emergencies” manifesting themselves as such.

We view “medium” emergencies as something that can be solved with a new credit card deferring needing to truly “pay” for our expenses until life gets back to normal. You’ve seen a past post discussing our perspective on strategic credit card usage (and the Chase cards specifically). Twelve to fifteen months of no interest on a credit card can get anyone out of a financial bind when emergencies hit. We haven’t found a reason to NEED this option, but know that it’s always out there if the perfect storm of bad luck were to ever hit.

For these “small” and “medium” emergencies, stocks could be sold before we would need to be faced with something like not being able to pay utilities, buy food, or get foreclosed on. We simply don’t view a “large” EMERGENCY cropping up with any higher than a near non-zero probability given the shielding and structure we have built out of our total financial portfolio.

I can’t fathom what that perfect storm would look like. Six months of expenses can easily be found in selling our stocks if all of our tenants suddenly stopped paying rent, for example. But if a pandemic isn’t going to make that happen, what would?

All this to say – Mrs. ODA and I keep very little cash liquid to cover our “emergency” fund. Outside of a couple thousand in our checking account to cover regular monthly/cyclical financial obligation fluctuations, we don’t have any dollars NOT “working for us.” Whether it be investing in index funds, contributing to IRA/401k, or paying down mortgages to eventually achieve more cash flow, we put all our money to work. We see the rewards of this strategy far outweighing the risk of encountering a debilitating financial emergency, and therefore don’t follow the traditional personal finance advice of keeping X months’ living expenses in cash handy at a moment’s notice.