April 2020 was a weird month. A really weird month. Inevitably it will go down in the history books as one of the strangest on record. Not because it was a particularly good month (far from it), but because everything was just so gosh dang weird.
The stock market (for example) acted very weird in April. It did the opposite of what you might expect during a pandemic and recession — it went up!
This weirdness further imposed itself on the lives of everyday people (whether we liked it or not) with social distancing, lockdowns, and face masks a normal part of everyday life.
The Tako family’s finances were affected too — Our son’s daycare was closed, food prices were noticeably higher, we drove less, and actual food availability became spotty as well.
As you might expect, these things combined to make for a very unusual month…
Dividend Income In April
Dividend income in April was one of the few areas that I would say “seemed” pretty normal. Dividend income amounted to $706 for the month, which was expected..
Passive dividend income from stocks tends to be paid out quarterly, so certain months will be dividend heavy months and others will be “light” on dividends. April is one of our lighter months of the year, and this is perfectly normal behavior.
For the year so far, we’ve collected $15,738 in dividend income. This is entirely passive income that requires no work — We simply collect dividends every month, and use them as we see fit.
Compared to April 2019, dividend income was flat year-over-year. Given the fact that we’re in the middle of a world-wide pandemic, I view this as a fair result. I would not expect to see dividend increases in 2020, so I’m pleased to see flat dividend income levels.
Expenses in April totaled $3,525. This number is much lower than our typical monthly spending, primarily because childcare spending was non-existent. (More on this later.) Meanwhile, other spending categories were higher than anticipated.
Here’s the breakdown by category:
Grocery spending in April amounted to $665. This is *significantly* higher than what we usually spend on food in any given month. I attribute the change primarily to COVID-19 related supply-chain issues — items out of stock, fewer promotional items, and generally higher grocery prices (as I alluded to in this post). This is part of the reason why we’re doing more gardening this year. I’m trying to hold the line on food expenses, but as you can see from the April numbers, I’ve been unsuccessful so far.
That said, we did eat very well in April. Food was still in abundance, but I would occasionally need to make substitutions when certain items were out of stock. Here’s a few shots of my favorite meals from April…
“Easter” tacos with fresh chives from the garden.
Ginger pork over rice with shoyu stir-fried snap peas.
Sushi platter setup for temaki sushi night! You can see an additional shot of the temaki sushi in this post.
Broccoli potato soup with shishito peppers.
My two favorite “spring” foods — Bacon wrapped asparagus and a handmade Vietnamese spring roll!
And a very delicious taco salad!
If you’ve been reading my blog for very long at all, it should be apparent that these are very ordinary meals for our family. We continue to cook the vast majority of our meals at home from scratch, and yet our food spending was $165 higher in April. Weird.
Unsurprisingly, fuel spending was extremely low in April — we only spent $27! This amounts to one fill-up at the gas station, and it’s the lowest monthly fuel spending I’ve ever recorded. Woohoo!
Obviously being locked down for the entire month caused this low fuel usage. It’s nothing to celebrate We didn’t go anywhere, except for a couple weekly trips to the grocery store. As long as we remain lock-down, I expect this low fuel spending will continue.
Our largest single monthly expense is the mortgage on our home. This amounts to $2360 every month, and does include stuff like property taxes and home insurance.
While technically we could pay off our remaining mortgage at any time, we’ve chosen to retain that money and hunt for better investments.
Childcare was $0 this month! It’s the first time in….well…YEARS that we haven’t had to pay for some kind of childcare. Most childcare facilities (including the one we were using) are closed during the pandemic. This puts a big burden on parents who need to work from home *and* watch children at the same time.
Thankfully, I didn’t have anything important going on when the pandemic hit, and I picked up the childcare/homeschooling duties.
I’m doing my best, but I’m clearly not a good school teacher.
Internet expense was $32 in April, primarily because of the overly large bill we paid back in March. This is the last month we should see weirdness in our internet bill for awhile. It should remain $45 for the remainder of our contract.
For the curious, we have 100mbit cable internet from Comcast, and yes this is a one-year promotional package.
Utility expenses in April were $130. This amount is one combined electricity/gas bill. Due to the entire family being home, our power bill is about 20% higher than what we might normally be paying this time of year. Extra energy activity includes — extra computers running, additional cooking, lights on, heat running, and so forth during the day.
This is one of the few categories of spending that actually increased due to the pandemic.
Insurance costs in April were $0. Whenever possible, we try to pay our insurance bills for the entire year all in one go, to lower the total cost. For example, our car insurance is paid only once per year.
(For the curious: We do have home-owners insurance. It’s included in our mortgage. Call me lazy, but I don’t normally break that number out here in the insurance section.)
“Other” spending is the category where I tend put expenses that don’t fit neatly anywhere else. It’s something of a catch-all bucket for my hobby projects, home improvement projects, and the like.
In April, my other bucket had $309 of spending. The largest of these expenses was a PC building project. I decided to build my youngest son a small PC that he could use for doing school assignments, playing games, and (someday) using the internet.
Part costs include:
$80.92 – A used Dell Optiplex 3010 Small Form Factor PC off Ebay.
$61.49 – A Western Digital Blue 500MB SATA SSD from Amazon. (SSD’s greatly improve the performance of old PC’s)
$13.57 – A Edimax combined wifi and bluetooth usb adapter from Amazon. (Older PC’s didn’t have wifi or bluetooth built-in)
I spent $155.98 on this tiny PC build, and it’s a perfectly serviceable computer for Tako Jr. #2. It runs Windows 10, and can run any application a $150 PC might be expected to run. For parts like the keyboard and mouse, I simply scrounged these parts from spares I had in storage.
If you’re looking to build your own PC for cheap, these parts are very commonly given away on Craigslist/Freecycle/BuyNothing groups. So, if you keep your eyes open you can typically find them for free.
The other major area of spending in the “Other” category this month was a new car battery. After the car failed to start for Mrs. Tako one morning, I did a bunch of testing on her car battery and alternator. (Note: This is Mrs. Tako’s car that didn’t start, not my new car)
The eventual diagnosis was the car battery no longer held a charge, and needed to be replaced. To do so, I purchased a new battery from Costco for $85.15.
Cumulative Expenses For 2020
For the year so far, the Tako family spent $12,129, which works out to be roughly $3k per month. Total spending is below total dividends for the year. That’s great!
Outside of our mortgage, core spending remained very low for the year — typically between $950 and $1300 every month.
It’s been a very weird year so far, and with so much uncertainty in the air, I have very few good guesses about our spending will play-out in 2020. I do know this — our spending was over twice this amount in 2019. We’re way below that level today, so in that sense we’re doing well.
I attribute this spending decline primarily to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a little luck, perhaps we can maintain this $3k/month spending for the remainder of the year!
April 2020 Investing Update
With the stock market rising very rapidly in April, I elected to take the month off from my capital allocation duties. Given the impending recession, stocks seemed extremely expensive and priced a little too richly, given recent economic conditions.
Instead of gambling on stock prices rising even further, I elected to hold cash.
Why is the stock market is climbing so strongly in the midst of a recession?
Frankly, I believe it’s because there is lots of money sloshing around in the U.S. economy right now. Stimulus checks have arrived, but with most of the economy still in lockdown, that cash has precious few places to go. Instead of spending cash on restaurants, entertainment, travel, and the like, people are inevitably electing to invest some of that cash… which is pushing up stock prices.
That’s my theory at any rate! There may also be a certain amount of FOMO that’s pushing investors to put money into stocks right now.
Best of luck to all investors!
[Image Credit: Flickr]