It’s a little past the middle of the month and that means I’m a little late to review September 2020’s passive income. Many other bloggers get their reviews out early. I like to wait until the tenant checks have come and our mortgage payments are deducted from our accounts. By the 7th of the month, our checking accounts seem to stabilize with all the typical big bills paid off.
This month’s report is going to be very different in one area than the previous 30-something reports before. We sold an investment property and are in the process of buying a new one. This is a big shake-up to the usual boring monthly mortgage payoff that grows our equity a tiny percentage. It’s also a big test as to whether my system of calculating the value of the real estate still stands despite the big change.
September is always a busy month for us. We have back to school, FinCon (the personal finance media convention), and gearing up for open enrollment for healthcare plans (the busy time for my wife’s work). There was no FinCon this year, so that’s one less thing to focus on. Our schools opened up with a ton of precautions, so there was a little more preparation necessary this year. My wife is working more on COVID detail than open enrollment, so that’s different as well.
We managed to stay busy by selling one investment property and buying a new one. I’m also still cleaning out the garage and basement so that we can make a little more living area in the house.
We also had a full slate of events with the kids. We did a local corn maze and went to a food truck event. We also did something called a BoldrDash run. That’s like a very beginner level Spartan-type obstacle race. It was a little muddy and there was a lot of climbing, but we worked together and the 6 and 8 year-old did fine. On the topic of there being an 8-year old, we had an 8th birthday party. This may sound all very irresponsible with COVID, but we all wearing masks, outside, and socially distanced. The birthday party was with the same kids from the school’s pod so the event was little different than what they do every day, except for it being more outside and maybe more of a chance of touching.
The kids started karate, but it was inside with masks and social distancing. We also got them signed up and started with Boy Scouts, but it’s starting a little slow. There aren’t a lot of kids into it this year and the pack leader is deployed in the Middle East. The closest to a picture I have to show of that is a scouting-at-home activity where the kids made SnapShips, which went well.
I find myself taking more pictures of events so that when I review the month, I can realize all the things we did. The individual days go by very fast. Typically the morning is rushing the kids to school. The early evening is picking them, making dinner, getting their homework done, doing karate/boy scouts, etc. I think most families are like that though. I have to think about how we can stop and smell the roses a bit.
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. Instead, I calculate the percentage of equity we have to show where on that journey we are.
Lazy Man’s Passive Income – September 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 do have some income in that area, but that’s not the focus of this report.) 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
We finally got dog sitting back in August as people seemed to start to travel again. Much like Keyser Soze, September’s income was, “…and like that – poof – [it’s] gone!” September is always a terrible month for dog sitting. Sometimes we get some people for Labor Day weekend, but most people are focused on getting back to work and the start of school. There simply isn’t much travel at all.
Our blog income recovered a very little bit. The good news is that I got more traffic than usual. The bad news is that I got fewer advertisers overall. The advertising piece is an unpredictable roller coaster that I don’t have much control over. The same could be said about traffic, but I have a little bit more control. I like this trend of increasing traffic and it makes me want to keep it going. Fortunately, with the kids doing great in school I have more time to write.
In August, dogs and blogs combined for a total of $1995.01. In September, it was:
Total Blogging + Dog Sitting Income: $1329.27
That’s the lowest number of the year. I’m not too worried though as October has bounced back a bit. I also don’t feel so bad since much of September was spent getting the kids back in the school routine and selling our investment condo.
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 an article or two by the end of the year.
(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
As I mentioned in the open, this section hasn’t changed much since I started this report. We hadn’t bought a new property in 7 years. Well, 2020 means change. We had a tenant move out (her decision without telling us). We are using this opportunity to do a 1031 exchange – selling one property and buying a new one without paying taxes on the gains. The plan is to get a condo that’s much closer and easier for us to manage. It’s also close to the local Navy base, which should let us use my wife’s military connections to get high-quality tenants.
We sold one condo and are under agreement on the new condo. We expect to close in a week or two. For this section, I’m going to assume that goes through.
We sold our old condo for $170K and netted $108K after closing costs and paying off the mortgage. That was a great return on the $25K that we put down in 2012. We bought the new condo at $205K, so we’ll finance around 95K.
We were 7 years away from paying off the old mortgage. Now it’s reset to 20 years, and it adjusts every 5 years. We didn’t have much of an option, because we incorporated as an LLC. I didn’t know it at the time, but that necessitates a commercial mortgage. Commercial mortgage terms are bad – stay away if you can. Incorporating as an LLC was a huge mistake, but that’s a story for its own article. We should be able to rent this condo for $1800 and net around $1000 a month. We’ll try to put much of that money towards the principal so that we can get it close to a 7-year mortgage again.
When my wife realized that we would be netting around $1000/mo. on the property, her jaw dropped. This is when the investment properties became “real” for her. For the first time, we’ll be getting true passive-ish income and not just waiting for it all to happen in 2027 when all the mortgages were looking to get paid off.
We had mostly been cash flow neutral with the 15-year mortgages. This gives us some cash flexibility with all our properties.
As for September’s numbers though, we took a step back. We lose some equity in the sale (paying the agent and lawyers). We also haven’t finished buying the replacement condo, so we aren’t making any payments to lower what our debt on that will be. Things will hopefully start picking up by the time we review November’s numbers.
We went from having 66.10% of the equity in our properties to 60.64%. That was to be expected with the fees to sell. Previously, I calculated that, after insurance, property taxes, condo fees, and estimated maintenance we’d make $3,325 a month. That number because it represents our net gain.
With the new condo, I’ve re-examined everything and run the numbers again. Before I was a general rule of thumb and estimates. I took more time to do the calculation as accurately as I can now. It turns out that we can expect around $3,387.50 now. That didn’t change much. I think I underestimated expenses before, so the new condo with the new calculation mostly balances that out that mistake
If you multiply our expected net rent $3,387.50 by the amount of equity we have (i.e. where we are on our journey) 60.64% you get $2,054 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 44 months, we’ve seen the number grow $880/mo. That’s good passive growth in almost 4 years.
It looks like the formula still works with the property switch.
As the years march on, the ratio will grow to 100% of a rent that should net $3,400 monthly after expenses. 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. So we can think of it as $40,800/yr. of income in today’s dollars buying the same value of stuff in the future. That 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 $2,198.
Total Rental Property Income: $2,054
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.
On the last snapshot, September 5, the market was doing great. The market continued to inch up to October 5th. Maybe the market loves the free money that the government is giving out to help with the impact of COVID. Maybe it’s looking forward to vaccines and full opening up the country for business. I’m scared by all this, but I can’t deny the math.
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: $3,010
Last month, it was $2,999. We are past the pre-COVID numbers. We aren’t far above it, but it’s amazing that we are even close.
Annualized, this monthly $3,010 is ~$36,000. If our mortgage was paid off, we might 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 potential income for now. (We can use the profit-sharing check as it goes straight to our checking account.) We’ll let this investment continue to compound for another 15 years until we are 59.5. Then we’ll have to see if we want to tap it or let it continue until we are required to take some of it at age 72.
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 I’ll write 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.
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. We haven’t seen any kind of crash yet.
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. Stocks went down a lot, but then went back up. Real estate has held steady. Overall, plan keeps rolling along, even during COVID-19.
While the stock market is doing well, the real economy is terrible. No president wants to see six-figure homeland deaths, and an unemployment rate balloon to ~15%. A president shouldn’t want to see climate change create millions of acres of fires. 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, the president doesn’t acknowledge that the United States had one of the worst response of any country. The United States will suffer economically more than it would have if we had a competent president in the beginning. Let’s hope we get there in November.
Very Close to Passive Income: $5,064.00
Last month it was $5,197.00. For the first time in a while we didn’t make a new high.
This would be more $60,000 a year of almost completely passive income. What’s better is that there would be no need to touch the investments themselves. We wouldn’t have to sell stocks or get a reverse mortgage. Property maintenance and taxes are included. We would still have all the underlying assets (property, stocks, etc.) and be able to pass these to the kids for them to build on – unless we choose to draw them down for more fun, charity, or other spending.
This “very close to passive income” has grown from $2,354/mo. 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). In a few months, we’ll get to four years of tracking this number, and we may have gained $3,000 in passive-ish income. I wonder if we can get to $8,000/mo. in passive income by 2025 (another 4 years).
Final Passive Income
When you add up “dogs and blogs” to the “very close to passive income” you get:
Passive Income: $6,393.27
Last month it was $7,225.11. This is going in the wrong direction obviously. I had forgotten how bad dog sitting is when the summer ends. The good news is that this sets a low bar for me to beat in October. Also, with four different income streams here (and two consistent ones), there isn’t much room for everything to drop.
This nearly ~$6400+/mo income is ~$75K+ a year. That largely hypothetical annual income for writing on a blog, taking care of one dog, and investing isn’t half bad. In the long term, $75K would be a lot more income than we’d need – given our necessary expenses for the next 45 years. Of course, those necessary expenses aren’t going to cover all our spending, but it’s a large percentage of it.
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.
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. This is especially true since I’m good at stretching a dollar.
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’s 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. Though we are getting close to dipping below that $6,000 mark. COVID-19 may have held it back by a couple of thousand dollars a month from all the income streams. I don’t want to think about what could have been.
(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.
Like most investors in August, our net worth did very well. It was an average jump of 0.65% growth. For the year, our net worth is UP 12.82%. If you didn’t know better you might think 2020 was another boring year – a typical saving and investing plan for us.
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.
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 to every comment I get.