Now that spring is here, the rain is finally starting to dry-up in the Pacific Northwest (PNW). For all the readers that don’t live in the area, we have a very bipolar weather pattern — 4 months of constant rain and clouds in the winter, and then 4 months of absolutely no rain in the summer.
It’s a weather pattern as regular as clockwork… just like the monsoon season in other parts of the world.
Our summers tend to be fairly mild too, so most residents tend to get outdoors as much as possible in the summer. Like last year, I’m going to be taking the whole family camping this summer. Unlike last year however, I won’t be borrowing a tent.
Last year I borrowed a tent from a family member. It was large enough for the whole family, but it was fiendishly complicated to setup. Way too hard to setup. It took over an hour to setup and take down by myself, so this year I resolved to find a simpler tent — even if it cost me a little money.
Almost everyone said I should go to REI to find a tent, so I packed up Tako Jr. in April, and we went tent shopping.
Unfortunately, the REI store was a bust. Turns out, that tent you see Tako Jr. sitting in above was the only tent available to look at in the entire store. What’s crazy is that all the other tents were locked-up and not available for customers to actually look at.
WTF? Well, Seattle has something of a homeless problem. Homeless people apparently were stealing tents from REI before they started locking them up. Now our local REI store keeps the tents permanently locked-up, and they don’t even unlock them for paying customers.
Store employees told me the only way to get a look at their tents now is to buy one online, and then set it up at home. Argh! What a completely wasted trip!
This just emphasizes all of the reasons why I think retail might be dead.
Dividend Income In April
Dividend income in April amounted to $1,881. April was not a big dividend month, but this was expected. March, June, September, and December are the biggest dividend months in the year. Meanwhile, months like April tend to be much ‘dryer’ by comparison.
For the year so far, we’ve collected $15,765 in dividends. This is $1,860 ahead of where we were last year. I’m fairly happy with our dividend income so far this year. I expected there to be a little growth due to newly invested funds, and this seems to be the case.
At this rate, we should be able to reach our 2018 dividend growth goals in December.
Expenses in April amounted to $4,989. This was higher than usual spending. Expense came in higher due to the purchase of camping gear and booking camp sites for our upcoming summer vacation. (More on this later.)
To this day, it still thrills me that I can book a vacation and not need to run it past ‘the boss’ first.
Whoa! What the hell happened to food expenses in April? We spent $631 on food! After several months of spending less than $500 on food, we finally blew past our long-term average in April. Two grocery trips in particular stand out as being very expensive — One Costco trip, and one trip to our local asian market. They made-up half the monthly total.
Those trips were more expensive than usual because we did some restocking on meat and other high-value staples. While we usually try to eat a low-meat diet (with a greater than average vegetable intake), we are no where near ‘zero’ in the meat department. We just eat smaller portions of meat and less red meat. Every once in awhile we still need to restock the freezer.
So what did I cook in April?
It started with soup. Spring starts slowly in the Pacific Northwest, and we usually have a few cold and rainy nights in April. Soup is always good when it’s cold, so I made bacon-cauliflower soup. It didn’t fail to please the family.
I’ve also been on a Thai-food cooking kick lately, and have been making a ton of classic Thai recipes. April included this carrot and chicken Thai fried rice…
Mostly I cook meals from scratch just at dinner time. For breakfast I’m usually fasting. For lunch, I’ll eat leftovers. There aren’t always leftovers of course. When that happens, I throw together something quick and easy — like this “kimchi tamago gohan” with avocado…
“Tamago gohan” (Egg rice) is a extremely popular breakfast or lunch dish in Japan. With this dish, you ‘whip’ the raw egg into the rice and veggies along with soy sauce. I like to add kimchi and plenty of green onion into mine. It’s delicious and very simple to prepare.
While some Americans might cringe at the thought of eating raw egg, but it’s really not a problem. Salmonella is exceedingly rare due to very good FDA sanitation rules and inspections. Our family has eaten thousands of raw eggs like this without ill effects.
Speaking of eggs – one night I made breakfast tacos … for dinner!
It’s sort of my take on “breakfast for dinner”. I always like mine with plenty of homemade spicy habanero salsa (above). Mrs. Tako doesn’t like hers quite so spicy, so she and the kids make a toned-down version.
April included Japanese-style Mapo Tofu on the menu, for which I recently posted a recipe here. My kids just love it, so I make this dish at least once a month.
Fuel spending in April totaled up to $85. That’s about two or three fill-ups for our family car. Not a lot of driving really.
Generally, I limit my driving to times when there’s the least amount of traffic on the streets. Often this means in the middle of the day when everyone else is at work. A typical shopping trip during a weekday takes half the time of a weekend trip. There’s usually only retirees in the store at those times, and they’re relatively easy to dodge with my shopping cart.
Yet another reason why not having a job can actually save money.
Mortgage & Childcare
As usual, monthly mortgage and childcare expenses were our two largest expenses in March. These two items totaled $3694. This is the bulk of our monthly spending.
Unlike many families however, these expenses are optional for us. Using spare cash I could easily pay-off the mortgage. If I wanted to, I could also take our youngest son (Tako Jr. #2) out of daycare, and erase that cost too.
For now, we’ve decided to keep these two expenses because of the flexibility it provides us. On one hand, not paying off our mortgage means we have plenty of spare cash to invest, should good investing opportunities arise. On the other hand, Tako Jr. #2 also gets to attend his language immersive daycare (It is a completely non-English ).
Long-term, I continue to believe both expenses are good value for the money.
Our internet expense came in higher this month at $65 because our annual contract with Comcast expired. I forgot this was going to happen, but a quick call to Comcast got those higher charges backed-out. Next month our internet service costs will be $35, and then resume for the remainder of the year at $49.95/month.
If you’re curious — We have cable-internet service through Comcast. The speeds our $49.95/month buys is 60Mbps down and 5 Mbps up cable internet. That’s probably a little faster than we need, but the price of our internet service hasn’t gone up in two years. I’d call that a win. All due to the power of a phone-call.
OK, this category was a complete surprise to me. For some reason we had zero utility bills in April. At first I thought I might have missed a bill — but it’s actually correct. We still had a slight balance with the power company, and none of our other utilities billed in April. (They bill every-other month.)
April just lined-up perfect. We had $0 in utility bills.
Our monthly insurance bill totaled $0 again in April. Whenever possible, we try to pay insurance premiums annually. We pay the entire year all in one go. For example, our car insurance is paid once per year. It’s always a large expense, but most insurance companies give significant discount for doing it this way — so it’s actually cheaper.
Our last big insurance bill was back in October 2018.
“Other” expenses in April were much higher than average at $513. Most of this was paying for our summer camping trip. For one, we reserved our campsites for the trip. Experience has taught us we need to book early, or we end-up with not-so-great campsites. So, we book early.
The campsite reservations added up to $117, which covers 4 nights of our 5 day family trip camping. We’ll be camping on two different islands in the San Juan Islands. This works out to be $29.25/night after taxes.
As I mentioned earlier, we had no luck with REI and had to purchase a tent online. When it arrived, we put it up in the kids “playroom” (really just our living/dining room). The kids had a ton of fun setting-up and hanging-out in the tent.
What kind of tent did we get? We went with a Alps Mountaineering Taurus 6, which we purchased off Amazon. Unfortunately REI did not have the model we wanted with a full rainfly… so Amazon to the rescue.
Total cost for the tent was $200.19. There are certainly much more expensive models available from both Amazon and REI, but I was looking for good value (not a indestructible tent). I think we may have found it.
The quality seems better than your typical Coleman tent (that’s not saying much), and it’s super easy to setup (just two poles). Oh, and it’s also quite BIG! At 10′ by 10′ we could barely fit the tent in our living room.
This should be plenty big for the entire family to sleep in comfort.
Speaking of comfort, we decided to buy new air mattresses this year. After last year’s camping trip, I decided my old Thermarest inflatable sleeping pad just wasn’t good enough anymore. My old-man back was complaining after that trip. Ouch! I guess I’m not getting any younger.
So, we upgraded — I wanted more cushion and to be higher off the ground. TPU air mattresses seem to be the current “best technology” for this kind of thing, but they often run into the hundreds of dollars. Originally I priced-out a Lightspeed Outdoors TPU air mattress on Amazon for $84.
Right before I was going to hit the ‘Buy’ button, I thought of checking Costco first. Turns out my instincts were good. Costco is selling nearly the exact same model for $45 (in-store only). We purchased 2 of these air mattresses for $100 after taxes.
The other major purchase for the month was equipment and supplies for our car oil change. After being charged over $100 last time I took the car in for a “cheapo” oil-change, I vowed to do it myself next time.
To do so, there was some necessary equipment to buy (including the oil and filter). All this totaled $92.
I saved myself a little money right out of the gate, but most of that $92 is a one-time “startup cost”. I calculate the next time I do an oil change will only cost $50.
Cumulative Expenses For 2019
For the year so far, we’ve spent $18,971. Outside of our mortgage and childcare, this means we’ve spent $4547 in 2019. Those always seem like big numbers to me. I always wish we could spend a little less, but this might just be an old habit from the times when we had a lot less.
Old habits die hard. Especially the penny-pinching kind.
If those sound like very luxurious numbers to you, then you’re absolutely right. We spend a ton of money, and have a very nice lifestyle… for which I am incredibly thankful.
April Investing Updates
On the investing front, other than watching some options I wrote in March, practically nothing happened. Basically I just watched the market charge forward, reaching all new highs…
Sometimes that’s what it means to be a good investor — doing absolutely nothing. Sitting around and collecting dividends when Mr. Market gets a little crazy.
Some people might attempt to time the market OR trade in-and-out of stocks/funds, but I don’t do any of this. I simply prefer to be a very long-term buy and hold investor. Some months this means I have no activity to report, as was the case in April.
If patience is one of the hallmarks of a good investor, then I think I did OK in April. Most of the stocks I was buying in March went up considerably. In other words, the good deals on all my favorite stocks dried-up.
I guess that means it’s time I start hunting for new investing ideas.
[Image Credit: Flickr]