Ahh spring!! Spring really starts to hit the Pacific Northwest when April rolls around. Things finally start to green-up again. It’s also the time of year when our weather starts to turn towards “dryer” and “slightly warmer”.
This is typically when I emerge from my winter hibernation, and start spending a lot more time outside. Generally speaking, this means a lot more exercise and vitamin-D generating sunshine, which is excellent for my health. I start working in the garden, mowing the lawn, doing home maintenance, and working on all the outdoor projects I put-off all winter because of the terrible weather.
This April I decided to tackle a big project I’d been putting off for years — Thatching our “lawn”. Notice how I put lawn in quotes there? For the record, I’m not really into having a fancy lawn. I consider it a wasteful status symbol. Water is expensive, as well as all the chemicals used to maintain a nice green lawn. Besides that, it’s hard to grow a decent lawn in the Pacific Northwest due to our perpetually damp and cloudy weather.
We’re much better at growing moss here.
Eventually all that moss has to be thatched (lest it grow to cover your entire home). I decided April was the month to finally take care of it. $60 dollars later (for a rented power thatcher), and a few hours of work… and I had a yard full of moss!
That’s just one corner of the yard. There was at least 3 times that amount which I didn’t photograph. As you can see, there is very little green grass present in our “lawn”. It was mostly a comfy blanket of yellow-brown moss, which grows best in our climate.
Thankfully, I had a couple of little helpers to help me clean-up the giant mess.
Apparently the novelty of giant piles of moss is enough to merit helping me for a few hours. If only it was that easy to get the kids to do their school work!
For now, our yard is devoid of moss once again, but I expect to grow a nice new crop come fall.
Speaking of crops — let’s see how the dividend harvest in April went!
Dividend Income In April
Dividends in April amounted to $998. This amount is 41% higher than our dividends back in April 2020, which I attribute to the new bank stocks we purchased in the first few months of 2021.
As you can see, dividends in April were considerable lower than that of March. April is what I call a “low dividend” month. It’s a natural lull in our dividend payments that is entirely expected.
Why does this happen?
Most dividend payments occur once a quarter. This means 8 out of 12 months of the year are ‘dry’ months for dividend income (like February was). It’s mostly ‘crickets’ for those months, and then there’s a huge gusher of cash when the floodgates finally open-up again (like they did in March).
April now appears to be a “in-between” month for dividend income. We receive some dividend income, but it’s not a huge gusher like March, June, September, or November.
For the year, we’ve collected $16,176 in dividend income, which is comfortably above our household spending for the year (more on this later).
Expenses in April totaled $3,632. This number is slightly higher than our long-term average, which might be due (in part) to rising inflation. For the most part, we spend like we always do, but our expenses in 2021 seem to be slightly higher than what we experienced in 2020.
Here’s the breakdown by category:
Groceries for the month totaled $411. This amount is slightly lower than our long-term average, but I was definitely working hard at keeping the food bill lower in April. Food prices are on the rise (in my area), and I put a lot more effort into shopping sales and keeping to lower cost items April.
Clearly the extra work paid-off with a lower grocery bill this month, but I can feel the pressure of rising food prices.
That said, we still eat very well on $411 in groceries! All it takes is a bit of creativity, some careful budgeting, and a desire to eat some delicious food at home. (Notice that we didn’t eat-out once in April!)
For example, it’s been ages since we last ate a Japanese dish called “hayashi-rice”. Hayashi-rice can best be described as a kind of a Japanese version of “beef stew” … but not exactly. It’s one of those dishes you just have to try in order to understand it.
It made for a wonderful meal in April.
The delicious food certainly didn’t stop there! I posted my recipe for Garlic Chili Edamame in April, so of course I was cooking up a few batches of that delicious spicy appetizer…
Have I ever mentioned that Mrs. Tako absolutely loves orange chicken? Yeah, she does! Like, A LOT! I’m actually surprised we don’t make it more often. She made up a batch in April that looked and tasted delicious (along with a yummy sausage miso soup).
Not to be outdone, the next day I made one of my favorites – Mabo tofu. If you haven’t eaten Mabo tofu before, I recommend you check out my Japanese mabo tofu recipe, which is less spicy than the Chinese version of the dish.
Not every day is a feast of course — some days I get a little lazy and need to pop something pre-made out of the freezer. Gyoza is my go-to for a quick and easy dinner. Just 5-10 minutes in the pan, some rice, a vegetable, and a few sauces/toppings on the table, and you’re done!
Yakisoba is another family-favorite that makes it to our table frequently (it could be because the kids love it!) Whatever the reason, it made a very tasty appearance in April.
April was also the month to make a new batch of salsa! I make all my own salsas (check out my favorite salsa recipe here). It’s easiest to make it in big batches at a time, then portion it out and freeze it. This new batch ought to last me a few months!
Fuel spending was (again) abnormally low at $78. This was two fill-ups for our cars in April. Pre-COVID we were spending around $100-$140 per month on fuel, but this has changed dramatically over the last year. We now spend less than $100/month on fuel.
We’ve been averaging around one or two tanks of gas under these COVID-19 “stay at home” conditions. It’ll be interesting to see if fuel spend increases as we come out of this thing. There’s already a TON more traffic on the road compared to 1-year ago, and I only expect it to increase as more vaccinations happen.
As usual, our largest single monthly expense is our home mortgage. This amounted to $2,357 in April. This includes interest, principal, insurance, and taxes. If this seems like a lot of money, please remember that we live in a high-cost of living area, and real estate is quite expensive here.
While technically we could pay-off our remaining mortgage at any time, we’ve chosen to retain all that money and hunt for better investments instead.
Internet expenses in April were lower than usual at $35 for the month. This lower amount was due entirely to a larger internet bill we received in March ($54).
Next month, our internet should resume it’s regular $45/month cost for 100Mbps cable internet.
Mobile phone spending in April came to $0. Yes, zero dollars! This might come as a complete shock to people who are used to spending $60 (or more) for phone service every month, but it is possible to spend $0.
Why is it zero?
Typically we pre-pay our mobile phone service once a year. This happened back in May of last year, and amounted to $35 for two phones. Yes, that is our annual amount. (Note: We are grandfathered into this plan. T-Mobile no longer offers this plan to new subscribers.)
Google Voice handles the remainder of our telephony needs for free.
Utility bills in April amounted to $130. This amount was one bill — our electricity and gas bill. Now that temperatures are warming up again, I can see our utility bill beginning to (slowly) drop every month.
By summer time, I expect to see a sub-$100 electric/gas utility bill. Typically our summers do not require heating or AC in our area, which means it’s an incredibly cheap time of year. I can’t wait!
Insurance costs in April amounted to $0. This is a normal amount for us. Most of our insurance expenses occur once per year in October, when we pay our annual car insurance bill.
As usual, we prefer to pay very large once-a-year insurance premiums due to the slightly lower cost (given by our insurance company) by doing it this way.
(For the curious: We do have home-owners insurance. It’s included in our mortgage, but I’m super lazy, and I don’t break that number out here in the insurance section.)
Other spending in April was $619. This “Other” expense category is a ‘catch-all’ for all the expenses that don’t fit anywhere else in the monthly report.
“Other” expenses consisted of the following:
- Swimming lessons for the boys ($200).
- A birthday present for my nephew ($29).
- Power thatcher rental from Home Depot ($60).
- Tax software expenses ($121).
- Electric pressure washer from Costco ($209).
Cumulative Expenses For 2021
For the year 2021 so far, the Tako family has spent $14,674. That’s an average spend of $3,668 per month. We’re only four months into 2021, but already it appears our spending is up compared to our average monthly spend of $3,497 in 2020.
Is this inflation staring us in the face?
It looks that way to me, but I’m not freaking out about inflation. I can already tell that food prices are up slightly, as well as a few a few other categories of goods.
Thankfully, inflation is unlikely to “break our budget” if prices continue to rise at this moderate pace. We have plenty of buffer room to combat rising prices — With expected dividends of $62,000 for the year. So long as our monthly average spending is less than $5,167/month we should underspend our dividend income for the year.
Of course, any income that isn’t spent on household expenses will be reinvested and compounded further.
April 2021 Investing Update
On the investing front, April was relatively quiet. The ‘put’ options I wrote in previous months expired un-executed, which meant I pocketed a little bit of cash income ($1,496). Yes, that’s not a lot, but I still consider my option-writing an experiment. It’s a learning experience for me. Even though I’ve been successful writing options, I consider this success mostly luck.
Stocks seem extremely expensive right now. Too expensive for me to buy. For example, Copart (Symbol: CPRT) is a great business that I’d love to own a few shares of, but at 42 times earnings (and a slow grower), it’s too rich for my blood!
Despite the expensive stock market, I don’t just want to sit on cash. Inflation is already starting to eat away at my cash, and we’ll likely see higher levels of inflation this year than we’ve seen in recent decades. Holding a ton of cash is not a great idea.
With that in mind, I keep hunting for good companies at reasonable prices. Lately I’ve been looking at home-builders as a potential investment idea, but haven’t committed any capital yet.
What’s your opinion on the home-building business? Good? Bad? Are there any that stand out? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
[Image Credit: Flickr]