Passive Income Update: July 2020 ($7520.09)

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Passive Income Pyramid
My Passive Income Pyramid

Once again, I’m late in reporting last month’s numbers. However, this is a new one that I’m rushing to get it before the end of this month. Much of the month has been consumed by our tenant breaking their lease and subsequet condo turnover.

We’re looking to do a 1031 Exchange, which means that we’d be buying a new place on short notice. I always recommend making big financial decisions on no notice when you don’t have any time to evaluate it. I hope the sarcasm came across there because it’s the exact opposite of what I recommend. Alas, it wouldn’t be 2020 without having to adapt to some kind of a mess, so here we are.

I could spend paragraphs on this August, but I don’t want to short-change July. That said, I barely remember some of the pictures below from July. The ones at the beginning were essentially two months ago – or two decades in Pandemic Time (PT).

I always like to take pictures of good times and good events. When I look back on them later, it seems like it was a perfect month. There’s a lot less of the sibling fighting and stress in day-to-day life. It’s all there, but it is covered well.

Because July is such a blur, here’s what in some of the pictures below. We got to do a charity “Beach Bash” for a local nature preservation. The kids had a great time on the beach with s’mores, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and live music. We had a day of blueberry picking. My wife and I tried to celebrate our 13th anniversary, but it didn’t go well the first time – so we tried again. The kids got to play in a friend’s inflatable hot tub… and now I’m thinking we might need one. We got to spend an evening with friends in one of Newport’s most famous public parks. The kids jumped of a rock a few dozen times planning their stunt landings.

Not pictured is the giant red-tailed hawk that decided to hang out in our back yard and the kids’ first trip the arcade since COVID. I also didn’t get any camp photos. Yes, the kids had a successful few weeks of camp.

That’s enough lead-in… let’s start the Passive Income report. I used to call this the Alternative Income Report, but everyone loves passive income better. While I transition to the new terminology, there may be some “alternative income” mentions including the FAQ. If you are a new reader, you’re going to want to refer to my Alternative Income FAQ as you’ll likely have a lot of questions.

The way I calculate these numbers requires that long explanation – it isn’t intuitive at all. The reason why I do things a little differently is that it is a journey. For example, we don’t have passive income from our rental properties while we are paying down their mortgages. These numbers reflect the progress of that journey.

Lazy Man’s Passive Income – July 2020

I categorize our passive income into 3 main sources that are largely represented in my passive income pyramid. For this report, I ignore the bottom section, “career/job” – that’s not passive at all. I combine dog sitting and blogging into one section of “somewhat active” income. I leave real estate and investment income as their own separate main sources of very passive income.

1. Blogging + Dog Sitting Income

After a few months of zero dog sitting, we’re getting dog requests again. The requests tricked in late June, but July was almost half of a normal non-COVID month.

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(This is my own dog. He so proud of finally ripping that dog toy and doesn’t look one bit guilty. He’ll get no judgment from me. That’s what the dog toys are for.)

Blogging income has been consistently low since coronavirus started. Advertising is down, but our spending, in general, is down too. Few people are searching for information about retiring early. In July we had the kids at camp and I got to write more. Often writing blog posts doesn’t pay off until the future. Also, sometimes an advertiser may make a small change that temporarily negates a month of writing. It’s a little like investing in the stock market. I’m investing more money, but the stock market could go down and end up losing money. That still doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have invested that money in the first place.

In June, dogs and blogs combined for a total of $1,804.15. In July, it was:

Total Blogging + Dog Sitting Income: $2,407.09

This is almost exactly the average for the year. As you can tell from the chart below, this is ticking upward nicely.

Now that dog sitting is coming back my kids can get back to work and pitch in to help. My 7-year old even went to the animal shelter for camp and came back with so many tips and tricks for training dogs. This help means that I can pay them a legitimately earned income (a small percentage of the overall dog-sitting income). Because the income is earned they can save money in their kid Roth IRAs and it will be money that they’ll never pay tax on. I want to get them more involved in blogging, taking pictures, and things like that, but it’s going slow. I have a plan for them to be able to help with a few articles by the end of the year. I need to work quickly though, because once school starts in a few days, it will be hard to get them focused.

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Passive Income Update: July 2020 ($7520.09) 51

(Note: The blue line is the monthly number. The red line is a 3-month average which helps smooth the curve.)

2. Rental Property Income

After a brief pause where I thought that Zillow was starting to finally factor in COVID-19, we reached new highs in real estate ownership. The value of our properties went up a bit. As with every month, we paid off a couple of thousand dollars of mortgage debt and grow some equity. This combination leads to growth in this area.

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(The kids picking blueberries. We’ve made progress on mask-wearing since these pictures. However, we were socially distant and outdoors.)

The big news is that we lost a tenant due to financial hardship, so this category is going to look a little different going forward as we sell one property and buy another. I have to think about what I’m doing over the next couple of months during the transition. I’m hopeful that in a few months, we’ll be able to say that this number is moving up nicely with the new property.

We now have 64.81% of the equity in our properties with a combined rent of $3,325 after insurance, property taxes, condo fees, and estimated maintenance. I use that number because it represents our net gain.

If you multiply $3,325 by 64.81% you get $2,155 in estimated monthly passive income. When I started tracking this (beginning of 2017), we only owned 36.4% of the properties and they had lower rents. The math worked out to $1,174 back then. So in 42 months, we’ve seen the number grow $981/mo. That’s like giving ourselves an annual $11,772 raise until the end of time. It’s a very nice gain from 3+ years ago.

The change in properties will be a real test of this accounting procedure. We’ll suddenly lose a percentage of equity, but the rent profit should grow. I’m curious to see how it all works out when the dust settles.

As the years march on, the ratio will grow to 100% of a rent that should be around $3,750 monthly Since rent is inflation-resistant, we can raise it as costs of living go up, we don’t have to factor in inflation like other investments. With the change in properties, we may be more likely to reach the annual $40,000 income. It should be enough money for us to live on with our own home paid off (plus our solar panels, frugal shopping habits, and military healthcare.)

In the previous report, the rental property income was $2,141. This number always moves slowly as it only changes if one of two things happens: 1) The properties go up in value. 2) We charge more for rent.

Total Rental Property Income: $2,155

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3. Dividend Income

For this section, I assume we will earn a 2.5% dividend yield on our holdings. That could be from a high-dividend ETF or from simply holding strong companies that have a long history of dividend growth. For that we’ll look at making passive income with dividend kings. If I wanted to simply retire on this dividend income, I would get Sure Dividend’s newsletter to try to get closer to a 4% average dividend yield. That link to the newsletter has a special discount rate and in full disclosure, I make a few dollars if you sign up for it.

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(The kids enjoying the beach. It’s a different kind of enjoyment this year, but it’s better than what many people have, so we’ll take the wins wherever we get them.)

On the last snapshot, July 7, the market was doing great. Maybe the market loves the free money that the government is giving out. Maybe it’s looking forward to vaccines and opening up the country for business. I’m scared by all this, but I can’t deny the math. The market has done very well over the last month. Those last four sentences were actually straight from the last report. I didn’t have to change anything, because the market continued as you probably know.

We continue to get a profit-sharing check since I bought (a lot of) a company. The business is doing well. It’s actually almost ideally positioned due to its virtual nature. The investment income from this is essentially the same as dividend income. It is taxed differently, but for the purposes of this report, it makes sense to group together all stock ownership in this bucket.

Total Dividend-ish Income: $2,958

Last month, it was $2,856. We’re now at pre-COVID numbers and the stock market is back to where it was. Growing $102 over the month is a lot. These numbers were from August 5th, so writing this on August 28th, we’re looking at greater numbers for September’s report.

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Annualized, this monthly $2,958 is ~$35,500. If our mortgage was paid off, we probably be able to live on this by itself. However, because most of our investments are in retirement accounts, we can’t use much of this income for now. (We can use the profit-sharing check as it goes straight to our checking account.) We’ll let the rest of this income continue to compound for at least another 15 years, but hopefully a lot longer.

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Passive Income Update: July 2020 ($7520.09) 59

Very Close to Passive Income

Our “very close to passive income” is a combination of rental property income and dividend income. If there were some royalty income from books, movies, or music, I’d include that here. I’m too tone-deaf to have a rockstar music career, but maybe there’s room to have a book someday.

The stock market goes up and down fast, even more so nowadays. That makes the dividend calculation fluctuate a lot more than it normally would. We don’t even know if companies can reliably pay dividends anymore. Without customers and profits, many companies have cut their dividends.

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(This was view of our annivesary lunch. With the kids in camp, it was easier, and cheaper, to escape for the day and watch the sailboats with some wine.)

The rental property income typically keeps going up because the mortgages are always getting paid down every month. Unless there’s a housing market crash, this should continue to happen. That housing crash may be coming, but for this month it hasn’t happened.

For a few years, I’ve been saying:

I love having both types of income working together for us. I think everyone interested in FIRE should have stocks and real estate income streams. The diversification gives me great confidence that we’ll be better prepared than most people in the case of an unfortunate economic event. We’ll still likely get rent checks if the stock market crashes. We’ll still get dividend checks if a tenant is late paying for awhile. Of course a bad economy may impact both at the same time, but that’s what an emergency fund is for.

Here we are in an unfortunate economic event. Our stocks went down a lot, but then went back up. Our real estate has held steady. A couple of our tenants continue to pay rent, but one couldn’t and chose to move out before telling us. Overall, the plan keeps rolling along, even during COVID.

While the stock market is doing well, the real economy is terrible. No President wants to see long food lines, six-figure homeland deaths, and an unemployment rate balloon to ~15%. The best answer is a bailout of nearly everyone and everything at a cost of several trillion dollars… and it may go up from there. If only the people in political power believed that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure, the United States would be in a much better situation. To make things worse, he doesn’t acknowledge that the United States had the worst response of any country.

I know some people don’t like politics, but those politics directly lead to more than a hundred thousand deaths, economic disaster, massive job losses, kid homeschooling, and overall loneliness and doom. It’s simple cause-effect and I’d rather not have a repeat in 2021… or worse if we have to wait until 2024 for competency. I don’t like it when the world laughs and pities America for being an unmitigated mess.

Very Close to Passive Income: $5,113

Last month it was $4,997. We are now well into new highs. That would be $61,354 a year of almost completely passive income thrown off investments without ever drawing down on them. We would still have all the underlying assets (property, stocks, etc.) and be able to will these to the kids for them to build on.

This “very close to passive income” has grown from $2,354 in January 2017. It’s worth noting that, once again, these are fudged numbers that aren’t “real” yet (except for that profit-sharing check). Add in stock market growth (of a conservative 4%) and this number could be real, non-fudged $100K/year. I’m especially looking forward to 7 years from now when most of the mortgages on the investment properties (and our primary residence) are paid off. That’s going to be a huge financial swing for us.

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Final Passive Income

When you add up “dogs and blogs” to the “very close to passive income” you get:

Passive Income: $7,520.09

Last month it was $6,801.15, so we’re getting back to some growth. All of our passive-ish sources are trending in the right direction now.

This nearly $7500+/mo income is $90K+ a year. That largely hypothetical annual income for writing on a blog, taking care of one dog, and investing feels like a dream. In the long term, $90K would be a lot more income than we’d need. Here’s what our necessary expenses look like… for the next 45 years. Of course, those necessary expenses aren’t everything, but it’s a large percentage of everything.

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As 2020 has proven, you never know what bad news is lurking around the corner. This preparation gives us the financial flexibility to fight it.

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(This is my favorite picture of the month. I took a lot of pictures, but this one of the best ones I got them jumping. Maybe when you are a 6 and 7 year old, COVID doesn’t ruin ALL the fun.)

None of the numbers here include my wife’s bread-winning pharmacist income, her vested military pension (more passive income), or the freelance work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years (which isn’t passive at all). That’s the fuel that drives the passive income engine – it allows us to invest more and live well.

As always, I’m still hoping to write a book someday. That would add some more passive income. My wife will probably get her book out first. She had an incredibly interesting life until she met me – I am so boring. I may tip my toe into self-publishing sometime next year. I would love to talk to a real publisher, but I don’t want to take on the “job” of writing. That’s probably a deal-breaker. If you know someone who I could talk to contact me.

My favorite thing about the graph below is that it doesn’t dip down too far. It’s been above $6,000 for a while now. I thought that it may be tested with the coronavirus, but it doesn’t look like it will be.

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(Once again, the blue line is the monthly number. The red line is a 3-month average which helps smooth the curve.)

Net Worth Update

My net worth updates aren’t very exciting as I don’t share the exact numbers. That’s why it’s just a footnote here.

I truly believe that net worth is one of the most important numbers in personal finance so it is worth sharing in some way. Showing relative growth can be useful, I think.

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(Boarding on the beach is a good way to stay safe from COVID and have some fun. Hopefully, next year surfing classes will be back and we can start on that as a family.)

Like most investors in July, our net worth did very well. It was a big jump of 3.57% growth. For the year, our net worth is UP 9.02%. If you didn’t know better you might think 2020 was another boring year and a typical saving and investing plan.

Diversification helps a lot in bad times. Even when the stock market was way down, we were still grounded with our real estate. We can’t control the market, but we can be happy that the amazing river of compound interest has been working well for us over the years.

I feel it’s important to acknowledge that everyone is in a different place in their financial journey. I’ve been blogging about personal finance for 14 years. FIRE wasn’t a “thing” back then, but it’s in the news all the time now. We naturally are further along in that journey than some younger readers who may be more towards the beginning of their journey. If you are one of these readers, I hope you won’t be discouraged by some of the numbers above. I didn’t start many of these graphs until year 11 of blogging (year 13 of early retirement planning). Please try to use it as motivation for what may be possible (depending on your circumstances and market luck) over 10-15 years.

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(We really need to get one of these inflatable hot tubs, right? I’m afraid of getting one this late in the season. Seems like it would better to purchase in the spring and use it from March on. It’s worth the $750 and maintenance, right?)

There’s a big wild card in calculating our net worth. Now that my wife’s pension is vested, it’s reasonable to ask whether to include a pension in your net worth. I decided that it does make sense to include it. She could have earned more direct monetary compensation if she didn’t work for the government. That would have boosted all the numbers across the board. Calculating pension value is not easy, but here’s the best way to know what a pension is worth. In the end, it seems my wife’s pension may be worth $2.3 million. However, like most of the money mentioned in this article, this isn’t money we can spend right now.

Because the pension would ridiculously dominate our net worth, I’ll note two separate numbers in my personal spreadsheet. I don’t share the numbers anyway, aside from these hints, so I don’t think it should matter much to you. It’s not like I’m suggesting that you might want to make a financial-based decision on a pension.

I always end this article by asking how your last month went. I know that COVID-19 is making everything difficult. I hope that some of it is getting easier. I’m sure that for many the kids going back to school, in whatever form, represents new challenges and anxieties. Feel free to use the comment space to vent, I try to give a thoughtful reply every comment I get.

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