By the numbers: First quarter 2020

Carole Baskin killed her husband!

Why, hello.

After nearly three weeks of hiatus, it's time to get things back to normal around this joint! Has anything happened while I was away?

Despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis, I'm ready to resume writing about personal finance. I've (nearly) completed my “intro to FIRE” project for Audible and The Great Courses — we're now in the editing stage — Kim and I (and our beasts) are healthy, and I have plenty to say about money.

Let's do this thing!

A Little Housekeeping

To start, let me say that I'm aware some folks have experienced trouble actually seeing new articles here at Get Rich Slowly. I've received several reports that things have “stuck” on the cybersecurity basics article from mid February. Some people cannot see new articles or comments.

Obviously, people with this problem aren't going to see this post, so I can't ask them to drop me a line. But if you were experiencing this issue and know anything that might help us resolve it, please let me know. Tom and I are baffled by the situation.

We did change hosting companies around the time the trouble began. We switched servers, and that seems to have created some sort of caching issue. Maybe? Like I say, we're not sure.

While I've been hard at work on my Audible course, my business partner Tom has been messing with things behind the scenes here at GRS. At long last, we think we're close to launching our redesign, which has been in the works since I repurchased this site 2-1/2 years ago. If everything goes well — and it is, so far — the new design should go live by the site's 14th anniversary next Wednesday.

Here's a preview of the new logo and the new home page:

Site redesign

It's possible (likely, even) that we'll have some bugs when we launch the redesign. I'm counting on all of you to help us find them and squash them!

With that housekeeping out of the way, let's talk about how the first quarter of 2020 went for my finances. Short answer: Aside from the stock market (which I cannot control), things were pretty darn good!

First Quarter Finances

Here's a look at some of my spending numbers from the past three months and the first quarter of each of the past four years. Please note that this isn't all of my spending. It's just spending on select categories. Also, this is my spending and doesn't include Kim's purchases. Tracking numbers (whether for fitness or finance) drives her nuts so she doesn't do it. That means there's no way to know for sure how much we spend on things as a family.

First quarter numbers

January and February had relatively similar spending. Why was March so high? For three reasons.

  • The $450 annual fee for my Chase Sapphire Reserve card came due.
  • We bought a new mattress for $2450.10. (More about this soon, I hope. It was a process!)
  • We renewed our tickets to Broadway in Portland for next season. That cost $1473.50.

Without these three expenses, my spending for March was only $2433.44. That's great! Too bad I can't just ignore major purchases like mattresses and theater tickets haha.

When taken as a whole, my first quarter spending was down 21.4% from the same period last year. It was down nearly $6000 (31.1%) from first quarter spending in 2017! That's some fine progress.

Here are some thoughts on individual categories:

  • I am very very happy with my decline in spending on alcohol. As you can see (if you look at the “sin” category), I drank nothing in January. And most of that $233.92 in February went to the pot tincture I take most nights before bed. I bought two bottles of it. (Pot is legal in Oregon.) In fact, it's only since the coronavirus quarantine that my alcohol consumption has increased. Even so, I'm not drinking nearly as much as I have in previous years.
  • My big goal for this year is to reduce my food spending. The pandemic is helping with that. You can't go out to eat if all of the restaurants are shut down! Still, I find it curious that I spent roughly the same on food in March as in previous months despite only going out to eat twice. There's no doubt we've been buying more groceries. My food spending for the quarter was half what it was in 2017. Nice.
  • Last year, I made a focused effort to reduce my iTunes spending. That's clearly reflected in the spreadsheet. I'm definitely spending more on iTunes in 2020 than I did in 2019, but it's less than in previous years. One change I've made is to rent more movies. What's the point of buying Frozen II if it's unlikely I'll ever watch it again?
  • Lastly, I find the utilities trend interesting. You see, in 2017, we still lived in the condo. Some of our utilities were covered by our outrageous HOA fees. In 2018, we were in this new house but had not yet installed the hot tub. For the past two years, the utility fees include heating the spa. It looks like (during the winter) we're paying an extra $150 per quarter or about $50 per month to keep our water warm.

The big news, of course, has been the flash crash of the stock market. The S&P 500 lost one-third of its value in a month — and has since bounced back 20%. (Which means it's still down 20% from its peak. Funny how math works.)

I've seen far far too many posts in Facebook groups about people wondering when they should sell. This makes me tense. If you're a long-term investor, you shouldn't sell during a downturn! This is the opposite of what you should do. If your wealth snowball is meant to be used twenty years from now — or even ten years — what do you care that the market is down right now?

Anyhow, the market drop has certainly melted some of my personal wealth snowball. At the end of 2019, my net worth totalled $1,437,543. At the end of March, it was $1,234,053, a decline of $203,490 (-14.2%).

Actually, I AM going to recover from this

The End of the World

So, the first quarter went well for me financially despite the stock market drop. I'm pleased with my current level of spending all the way around. I've been so deeply focused on my work on the Audible course that I really haven't done anything else. Seriously. I've blocked out the world for the past three weeks.

In the evening, I've been indulging myself by reading and watching post-apocalypse fiction. It's one of my favorite genres. And our current situation makes this material feel more relevant than ever.

One of my favorite books, for instance, is the 1949 novel Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, which takes a realistic look at the aftermath of a global pandemic that wipes out nearly all of humanity. It sounds dreary, but the book is actually hopeful, optimistic. Hardly anyone knows Earth Abides, and it's a shame. It's great.

I've also been watching movies about the end of the world, including The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959), which I'd never heard of before. It's fascinating.

After a radiation catastrophe destroys most life on Earth, one man finds himself alone in New York City. Eventually, he meets a woman. Adam and Eve, right? The trouble is he's black and she's white. They're in love but cannot consumate their relationship because of the race issue — despite the fact that nobody else is left. When a third survivor appears — a white man — things get complicated quickly.

Judged by today's standards, this film is pretty tame. But in 1959, it must have been bold stuff. Personally, I think it's a pretty powerful indictment of the racist standards of the time. (And it takes a few stabs at sexism, too.)

Oh, and like everybody else, Kim and I watched the awe-inspiring train wreck that is Tiger King. Holy cats!

Okay, that's enough for now. I need to begin editing the lessons for my Audible course. After that, I'll go help Kim tackle the yard. There's tons to do! But over the next few days, we'll resume a more normal publication schedule around here. And, as I said, look for the launch of the GRS redesign in about a week. Take care!

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William Nichols
William Nichols

Post-Apocalypse you say?

Are you interested in pen and paper roleplaying games?

If yes: http://apocalypse-world.com/

David
David

Not sure if this info helps or matters, but I view your website on iPhone and iPad, and last couple of weeks I only see the new posts if I open a “Private” Safari tab. Which I did today to see this post. Also, the last spare change link I see is the one on index funds. Of course, that may be because you’ve been focused on your course. Congrats on (mostly) finishing! Looking forward to the redesign. And thank you for being so transparent with your spending, and your feelings about your spending. Your authenticity is compelling, as it… Read more »

Tech Young
Tech Young

Looking forward to this new site.

Adam
Adam

Two things:

1. Anyone who had a stable job in 2007-2009 and kept plowing investments into the market, and has a stable job now, should know better than to even THINK about selling when things are volatile. The last eleven years have been an object lesson in the benefits of buying when the buying’s good.

2. Thank you for renewing your theater tickets. My degree is in music performance, and so many of my friends in that world are going through some really tough times. Supporting the arts means a lot; on their behalf, I’m grateful.

Sean
Sean

Glad to see you back at it and I can’t wait for the redesign. Just an FYI I think you have a typo in “Here’s a preview of the new log and the new home page:” I think you meant blog no log

SharonW
SharonW

I’m also a huge fan of Earth Abides. I read it for the first time when I was in high school and was blown away. Go Ish!. It’s great to see someone else recommending it. You may also like the non-fiction story of the 1854 London cholera outbreak. It was the start of the germ theory of disease, made the Veroni diagram indispensable and it is an incredible detective story. The book is called The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson.

FoxTesla
FoxTesla

Not updating: I think it’s user-ISP (and any associated filters) related – my home Win10 machine using Chrome has no issues, but my work laptop (both directly connected at work and now VPN’d from home) using Win10 and Chrome needs a refresh to get the new content. Redesign: I can’t tell from that snippet – will new posts be on the main page, or will you have to click “ARTICLES” to see them? I will say the front page has a feel similar to TheSimpleDollar’s redesign, which I’m not particularly fond of, the giant “as featured in space” in the… Read more »

Jay
Jay

Did you ever consider depreciation some of the larger expenses over its usable life instead of when it hits your account? For example you could divide the annual Chase bill by 12 or only account for the theatre tickets when they are actually used? This would treat your household income more like a business and treat these items like assets instead of expenses until they no longer have value.

Just me
Just me

I saw the post on March 6, then nothing again until April 6. I was beginning to wonder if you had contracted the virus.

Jennifer
Jennifer

I have honestly never seen an annual credit card fee as high as yours. Do you get unusually amazing benefits for that fee?

FrugalStrong
FrugalStrong

I read on a Verizon tablet and I’ve noticed not being able to see new articles when I pull up your page since the beginning of the year. However, I realized that if I click refresh after going to your site, then I can see the new stuff.

Jennifer
Jennifer

Hello JD,
> At the end of 2019, my net worth totalled $1,437,543. At the end of March, it was $1,234,053, a decline of $203,490 (-14.2%).

You probably mentioned this before but I missed it. Do you include your home in your net worth?

Anne
Anne

Wow, I thought I was the only person who remembered Earth Abides.

Also, don’t miss Will Smith’s “I Am Legend” from 2007, I think. Really good and another movie that will give you chills.

Hans Plichta
Hans Plichta

J.D. I did have the same problem of seeing the Coronavirus Resources posting until I cleared my Chrome browsing history. Now, I’m up to date.

Shelley Ram
Shelley Ram

Hi GRS! I just stumbled across your website recently and I am loving it! Thank you for all this information. You are actually the only person that calculates their money exactly the way I do (I do that for both me and my husband). I create an excel sheet with categories and document our spending habits. I have been doing this since 2014 and it has made an incredible difference in my life- it gave me confidence and understanding about my spending habits. Would you feel comfortable if I send you the past 3 years of 1Q and give me… Read more »

Susan
Susan

I’m curious – it sounds like the pot tincture you use before bed is to help you sleep. If that’s the case, why do you categorize it as “sin” ? I get the history of marijuana and other uses, but it seems like “sin” would be reserved for indulgences or things you think are more hedonistic in nature. Anyway, curious about that!

Chris Appicelli
Chris Appicelli

Thanks for the book and film suggestions and the great article!

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