A Chainsaw And Other September 2019 Expenditures
Winter is coming and every year, we spend a boatload (an actual, entire boat) of money in preparation. It might cost us less to just burn dollar bills to keep warm. This September was particularly expensive because quite a few non-annual expenses all hit at once. Expenses we incur every two years, every three years, every five years–somehow they all aligned in September 2019. So let’s get to it!
Winter Preparations = $$$$$$$ and also $
Since we live in the rural wilds of Vermont, we have a legit mandate to prepare ourselves for the snowy months ahead. Woe betides ye who does not accomplish this prep work before the snow flies. And I do mean woe.
Here’s what we spent in service of the impending snow:
1) Snow tires for two cars: $1,148.39 (an every three years expense)
It was time to buy new snow tires for both of our vehicles. The truck (a 2010 Toyota Tundra) got the Nokian Hakkapeliitta LT 2 studded tires and the car (a 2010 Toyota Prius) was kitted out with the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9 studded tires. This is our second set of Hakkapeliittas for the Prius and we love them–they’re worth every penny. We just so happened to buy tires for both the truck and the car this year (via a Labor Day sale), but this is not an annual expense.
Our truck, which we bought used in April 2018, came with non-studded snow tires that were partially worn down. We figured we’d get one season out of those tires and we did. Since we don’t drive the truck as often as the Prius, we hope the new tires will last a long time.
The old winter tires on the Prius (also Hakkapeliittas) had 24k miles on them and were used for three winters. While we could get another winter out of those tires (especially if we didn’t live on such a steep, icy driveway), we decided to buy new tires so that we can re-sell the old tires while they’re still in decent condition. We hope to use the new tires for the next 3-4 winters.
Why studded snow tires? Our driveway is dirt, a quarter-mile long, our sole responsibility to maintain (hat tip to Mr. Frugalwoods and our snow-blowing tractor), and our only means of egress. Given this, and the fact that most of the roads in our town are dirt, studded snow tires are a requirement from both a safety and an ability-to-drive perspective.
Plus, we’ve found that by investing in these high-end (read: expen$ive) studded tires, we’re able to drive our fuel-efficient hybrid Toyota Prius year-round. There’s usually one day per winter where the ice makes it impossible to drive the Prius, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how effective these tires are in turning the two-wheel drive, tiny Prius into a winter weather hardy car! Buying good snow tires is much, much, much cheaper than driving a less fuel-efficient four-wheel drive car.
2) Heating oil for our home: $760.95 (an annual expense)
While we heat our home primarily via our woodstove (stocked with wood Mr. FW harvests himself from our land), we have baseboard oil heat as a backup. There are two 275 gallon oil tanks in our basement and we burn about half of that (275 gals) every winter.
We set our thermostats to 58 degrees and the oil heat only kicks on when the indoor temps dip below 58. When we’re out of town, and during especially frigid nights, the oil heat keeps the inside warm enough to prevent pipe freezing. As people who have personally dealt with frozen pipes, it’s not an experience we wish to repeat.
Since we only use half our oil supply every winter, we could technically buy oil every two years. However, oil is not something I want to run out of. Were we to run dry mid-winter, it’s unlikely the massive oil delivery truck could make it down (and back out) of our quarter-mile long driveway. Topping off our tanks every fall is an expense I’m happy to spend–I consider it cheap insurance against freezing people and/or pipes
3) Husqvarna 550XP Mark II chainsaw: $686.78 + chainsaw sharpening equipment: $32.51 = $719.29 (a once every 20 years expense)
What? You don’t buy a chainsaw to prepare for winter ;)? As noted, our primary heat source is our woodstove and our firewood is felled, skidded, bucked, split, and stacked by the one and only, Mr. Frugalwoods. Hence the need for a chainsaw. The summer we moved here, he bought a used 2002 Husqvarna Rancher 455 chainsaw for about $300.
Mr. FW initially bought a used chainsaw because, at the time, he hadn’t operated a chainsaw in over 15 years and wanted to buy a relatively inexpensive, used saw in order to test it out. He thought he’d be harvesting all of our firewood, but he wanted to test this theory in practice before plunking down the cash for a new saw.
As it turns out, 3.5 years later, Mr. FW enjoys chainsawing, he does it a lot, and it’s a mandatory part of our lives out here. Given how much he uses the saw (even more than he imagined because we’re now making maple syrup), he decided it was time for a new saw for the following reasons:
He’s always wanted a back-up chainsaw. Since it’s such an essential tool for us, it could be a major issue if it broke and we didn’t have a back-up saw (when a tree falls across our driveway, for example, the chainsaw is how we get out).
- His old saw is a hard starter, especially in the cold. He’s always been able to coax it into starting, but it wasn’t easy, which made it a reliability issue.
- The older saw has maintence issues that Mr. FW fixes himself as they come up, but it’s a hassle to be constantly repairing it.
- The new saw is more powerful and lighter weight, which matters when you’re bending over holding the saw out in front of you to buck fallen logs (see photo at right). This is good for Mr. FW’s back and his ability to saw safely.
- The new saw has lower vibrations, which is good for his hands and wrists.
- Both are 50 cc saws made by Husqvarna. By first owning a used saw, he was able to identify that he likes this brand and that this size saw is correct for the type of cutting he does.
Thanks to spending three years using the old saw, Mr. FW was able to make an informed decision about buying his new, expensive saw. He maintains his chainsaws religiously and both are professional class saws that should last a long time. He hopes to get 20 years (at least) of service out of this new chainsaw and plans to continue using and maintaining the old saw as his back-up.
Side note: Mr. FW took a chainsaw safety course a few years ago and is very serious about saw safety. He always wears chainsaw protective chaps, boots, gloves, a helmet, ear protection, and a face shield. Don’t mess around with a ‘saw!
4) Septic pumping: $395.00 (an every four years expense)
My life keeps getting more glamorous. Try to contain your envy. Since we live in the country, we have a septic system and a well. To put it politely, the septic system does what a city sewer system does on a much smaller scale.
If you’re dying to know more about rural septic systems, you may not be surprised to hear that I have an entire post dedicated to the topic: Frugal Homestead Series Part 6: Septic, The Other End Of The Water Equation.
Septic systems require pumping on regular intervals and ours was last pumped in 2016 as part of our home purchase.
The septic pumping specialist complemented us on the health of our septic system and suggested we have it pumped again in four years (circa 2023). Since the health of a septic system is the result of what goes down your drains, Mr. FW and I are tyrants about what gets flushed (septic safe toilet paper ONLY), what chemicals we clean with (mostly white vinegar and water), and how much water we use (good for the septic system and our well).
As you might’ve guessed, a septic system can only be pumped in good weather since the large truck needs to make it down (and back out of) our driveway. Further, they have to dig an access hole to the septic tank, which would be impossible to do in frozen ground.
5) Propane: $217.48 (an annual expense)
Since we can’t reliably have propane delivered from November to May (given the conditions of our driveway), I schedule a propane delivery every year for late fall to ensure we’re stocked for winter.
I’ll be honest, we cut it SUPER close this year and I was worried we were going to run out of propane before our September delivery. We somehow squeaked by and did not have to resort to cooking everything in our crock-pot (although it stood at the ready on the counter).
6) Chimney cleaning: $175 (a once every 2-3 years expense)
Once again we’re back to the fact that we heat our home with wood via our woodstove. Since chimney fires are a REAL BAD thing, it’s important to have one’s chimney swept and inspected periodically.
We do this every two years since we have a highly efficient combustion stove that burns the smoke from the fire and thus, emits very little up the chimney. Nevertheless, it’s one of those safety things that’s wise to have a professional check out. This is an early fall expenditure since one must get one’s chimney cleaned before one starts burning fires for the season.
7) Oil boiler servicing: $139 (a once every 4-5 years expense)
We’ve never had our oil boiler serviced, so we figured it’d be a good idea to have it done. The repair person noted it’s in great shape and, given how little oil we burn, we could probably go another 4-5 years before our next servicing. Since we only turn our boiler on in the winter months, it made sense to have it serviced right before we fire it up for the year.
8) Sauce maker: $68.19 (a one-time expense, we hope)
As our garden comes ripe and leaves crunch underfoot, we needed a way to transmute our tomatoes to sauce. Enter this sauce maker (that’s an affiliate link). We can report it works great and that we now have gallons and gallons of preserved tomato sauce in our basement.
A Few Frugality Lessons
Believe it or not, there are some frugality lessons in this bonfire of spending:
- Maintain your infrastructure:
- We treat our septic system, our woodstove (and thus chimney), our boiler, and all the other systems in our home with care.
- We use them thoughtfully and maintain them on our own to the extent possible.
- This allows us to decrease the frequency of major maintenance expenses. For example:
- Since we’re so gentle on our septic system, we can go four years before having it pumped again.
- Since we burn seasoned wood correctly, and in an efficient stove, we can skip the chimney sweep next year.
- Preventative care is important:
- We pay for cleaning and maintenance on regular intervals to ensure the longterm health of these systems.
- It would be extremely expensive, for example, to replace a broken septic system versus the nominal-by-comparison cost to have it pumped periodically.
- I maintain a document with dates and notes of the servicing of all of our systems so that we know when we need to do what. Mr. FW has a similar spreadsheet outlining the service needs of our car, truck, and tractor.
- Plan ahead:
- Since I know it’d be tough to have propane or oil delivered in the winter, and impossible to have the chimney cleaned or the septic pumped, I take care of all this stuff pre-season. I got a massive discount on our boiler servicing because it was done in September, which qualified us for the early-bird early-season special. Yay!
- None of the above are surprising or emergency expenses. They’re all routine spending for people running a homestead and living rurally. Knowing this allows us to budget, plan, and pay for it all without a hitch. It’s not an emergency to need new tires–it’s a 100% expected part of owning a car.
Try out the cheap, used option before buying the expensive, new option:
- This applies in the case of the chainsaw. See notes above!
- Track your spending:
- Months like this are why I harp on (and on) about the importance of tracking your spending every single month. If I only analyzed one, or two, months’ worth of spending, I’d have a distorted view of how much my family spends in a year, in two years, in three years…
- A lot of folks come to me wondering why they’re barely making ends meet and the answer is often that they’ve based their budget on just one months’ worth of spending data.
- To truly know what to expect, track your spending for at least a year and then review twelve months of data.
- While not perfect–because no one’s budget is a carbon copy year after year–this will give you a better sense of what you’re likely to spend on an annual basis.
- I use the free expense tracker from Personal Capital and there are plenty of other options out there as well (affiliate link).
- Shop around for deals!
- Even with things as seemingly fixed in price as propane, oil, boiler servicing, and septic pumping–shop around!
- Every year, I call all the companies that deliver propane and oil to our area and ask their prices. And every year? A different company is cheaper. We switch each year to take advantage of new customer discounts, paying-in-full discounts, bundling discounts, and more. See below for my price comparison spreadsheets from this year.
- As you’ll see, there’s a $2.28/gallon difference between the cheapest and priciest propane companies and a $0.28/gallon difference with oil. When you consider that most people order hundreds (if not thousands) of gallons of oil and propane every year, the savings are enormous!
|CHEAPEST BY PROPANE 2019|
|Company||Propane Price Per Gallon||Oil Price Per Gallon|
|CHEAPEST BY OIL 2019|
|Company||Propane Price Per Gallon||Oil Price Per Gallon|
Credits Cards: How We Buy Everything
Mr. Frugalwoods and I purchase everything we possibly can with credit cards for several reasons:
- It’s easier to track expenses. No guesswork over where that random $20 bill went; it all shows up in our monthly expense report from Personal Capital. I spend less money because I KNOW I’m going to see every expense in detail at the end of each month.
- We get rewards. Credit card rewards are a simple way to get something for nothing. Through the cards we use, Mr. FW and I get cash back as well as hotel and airline points just for buying things we were going to buy anyway.
- We build our credit. Since Mr. FW and I don’t carry debt other than our mortgages, having several credit cards open for many years (that are fully paid off every month) has helped our credit scores. By the way, it’s a dirty myth that carrying a balance on your credit card helps your credit score–IT DOES NOT. Paying your cards off IN FULL every month and keeping them open for many years does help your score.
For more on our credit card strategy, check out The Frugalwoods Guide to a Simple, Yet Rewarding, Credit Card Experience.
If you want a simple cash back credit card, I think the Fidelity Rewards Visa (which is the card that I have) and the Chase Freedom Unlimited are good options. Both of these cards have no annual fee and offer cash back on purchases.
While I like the Fidelity card, it does require you to have a Fidelity account. If you’re not already banking with Fidelity, the Chase Freedom Unlimited might be a better choice since it doesn’t require a specific bank account. Plus, it has no annual fee and offers a great cash back percentage. Another thing I like about the Chase card is that they’re currently offering double cash back. You get 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000. After that, the card delivers an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Pretty good deal, I’d say!
The best way to find a credit card that’ll work for you is to search for it yourself. Fortunately, there’s a website, CardRatings.com, with a search function that aggregates information about tons of different credit cards.
Huge caveat to credit card usage: you MUST pay your credit card bills in full every single month, with no exceptions. If you’re concerned about your ability to do this, or think that using credit cards might prompt you to spend more money, then credit cards are not for you–stick with using a debit card and/or cash. But if you have no problem paying that bill in full every month? I recommend you credit card away, my friend! (note: the credit card links are affiliate links)
Cash Back Earned This Month: $109.77
The silver lining to all this spending is our cash back credit card. We earn 2% cash back on every purchase made with our Fidelity Rewards Visa and this month, we spent $5,488.85 on that card, which netted us $109.77. Not a lot of money, perhaps, but it’s money we earned for buying stuff we were going to buy anyway!
This is why I love credit card rewards–they’re the simplest way to earn something for nothing.
I will note that if we instead had the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, we could’ve earned 3% cash back, which would be $164.66.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$e$
Mr. Frugalwoods and I use Personal Capital to consolidate our transactions from across all of our accounts. We then drop them into a spreadsheet to provide the below analysis for you fine people.
Tracking expenses is, in my opinion, the best way to get a handle on your finances. You absolutely, positively cannot make informed decisions about your money if you don’t know how you’re spending it. Sounds harsh, but without a holistic picture of how much you spend every month, there’s no way to set savings, debt repayment, or investment goals. It’s a must, folks. No excuses.
Personal Capital (which is free to use) is a great way for us to systematize our financial overviews since it links all of our accounts together and provides a comprehensive picture of our net worth.
If you’re not tracking your expenses in an organized fashion, you might consider trying Personal Capital (note: these Personal Capital links are affiliate links).
How To Read A Frugalwoods Expense Report
Want to know how we manage the rest of our money? Check out Our Low Cost, No Fuss, DIY Money Management System. We also own a rental property in Cambridge, MA, which I discuss here. Why do we allocate our money like we do? It’s all in service of our goal to reach financial independence and move to a homestead in the woods (which happened in May 2016).
For us, embracing prudent financial management and frugality is a joyful, longterm choice. We prefer a simple life to one filled with consumerism and we spend only on the things that matter most to us. Our approach isn’t one of miserly deprivation; to the contrary, we live a luxuriously frugal existence in which we maximize efficiency.
Why do I share our expenses? To give you a sense of how we spend our money in a values-based manner. Your spending will differ from ours and there’s no “one right way” to spend and no “perfect” budget (perfection does not exist!).
We’re not the most frugal people on earth (far from it) and we’re not spendthrifts either.
We fall somewhere in between and I hope that by being transparent about our spending, you might gain insights into your own spending and be inspired to take proactive control of your money.
If you’re wondering where to start with managing your money, or if you’d like to save more every month, you might consider taking my free, 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge. If you’re interested in the other things I love, check out Frugalwoods Recommends.
A Note On Rural Life
Since we live on 66 acres in rural Vermont, our utilities and expenses are different from traditional urban and suburban dwellings.
We don’t pay for water, sewer, trash, or heating/cooling because we have a well, a septic system, our town doesn’t provide trash pick-up (we take it to a transfer station once a week in bags we purchase from our town), we heat our home with wood we harvest ourselves from our land, and we don’t have central air conditioning (we use window units during the hottest parts of the summer). We also have solar panels, which account for our low electricity bill.
For more on our rural lifestyle, check out my series This Month On The Homestead as well as City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown.
But Mrs. Frugalwoods, Don’t You Pay For X, Y, Or Even Z????
Wondering about common expenses you don’t see listed below?
- We pay bills in full the month we receive them. That’s why you won’t see monthly payments for things like car insurance or property tax. These expenses show up as the full annual amount in the month we pay them.
- We don’t have any debt (other than our mortgages) and we paid cash for our cars.
- Our health insurance is paid for by Mr. FW’s employer (who he works for from home).
- Here’s how we make charitable contributions: How We Donate To Charities Like Billionaires and also How We Make Meaningful And Tax Efficient Charitable Donations.
If you’re wondering about anything else, feel free to ask me in the comments section!
Alright you frugal money voyeurs, feast your eyes on every dollar we spent in September:
|Snow tires for both vehicles||$1,148.39||It was time to buy new snow tires for both of our vehicles. The truck (a 2010 Toyota Tundra) got the Nokian Hakkapeliitta LT 2 studded tires and the car (a 2010 Toyota Prius) was kitted out with the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9 studded tires.|
|Three plane tickets||$1,086.30||Three plane tickets for us to visit my in-laws over the Thanksgiving holiday. This is the first time we’ve ever had to buy a plane ticket for a kid and we’re glad Littlewoods still qualifies for the free lap-infant ticket!
We were able to get cheaper tickets ($362.10 per person) by off-setting our travel dates. We’ll be arriving and departing slightly out-of-sync with the holiday week in order to save on airfare. If your family is flexible with holiday celebrations, it’s worth checking out neighboring dates for deals!
|Daycare||$960.00||This is for Littlewoods for two days each week so that I can work. Kidwoods’ preschool is free through our public school district.
I’ll write more later this month about why I choose to work and choose to pay for daycare.
|Heating oil for our home||$760.95||Notes above|
|Chainsaw||$686.78||Husqvarna 550XP Mark II (notes above)|
|Groceries & household supplies||$642.10||We accidentally lumped the household stuff in with the groceries this month, so this is food and non-food things like toilet paper, shampoo, etc.|
|Septic pumping||$395.00||Notes above|
|Mrs. FW’s new wardrobe||$248.45||I didn’t actually buy all of this in September–this is the sum of several months of updating my wardrobe.
Read the full story here: How I’m Learning To Love My Body, Find A Middle Ground, And Buy Clothes Without Regret
|Farm/garden and household supplies||$212.63||More household supplies (in addition to the stuff lumped in with groceries above) as well as things like tools and oil for the tractor and chainsaw and other farm-like things.|
|Chimney cleaning||$175.00||Notes above|
|Boiler servicing||$139.00||Notes above|
|Gasoline for cars||$104.76|
|Beer, wine, and–not gonna lie–caramel vodka…||$85.99||Life is too short to drink bad beer. This is mostly for beer from Upper Pass, a local brewery that makes excellent beer.
And also, of course, my caramel vodka (don’t knock it ’til you try it… or, in Mr. FW’s case, knock it EVEN MORE after you’ve tried it… )
|Date Night!!!!||$76.23||Our customary one kid-free dinner out per month, courtesy of our fabulous adopted grandma neighbor who stays with the girls after we put them to bed.|
|Utilities: Internet||$74.00||LOVE our fiber internet|
|Tomato sauce maker (affiliate link)||$68.19||Notes above|
|Leggings for Mrs. Frugalwoods||$64.95||Funny story: I bought a pair of these leggings at a garage sale and loved them so much that I bought a six-pack of them (affiliate link).
I wear them every single day. I will never wear anything else on my lower half as long as I shall live. They are BEYOND comfortable and they look nice too!
|Ladies’ Night||$50.31||My monthly girls’ night out with my gal pals. We leave our kids and husbands at home and go out to dinner together. It’s glorious.|
|Chainsaw Sharpening Equipment (affiliate link)||$32.51||Notes above|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$29.48||This is so cheap because we use an MVNO called Ting (affiliate link). MVNOs resell wireless service at discounted rates (but it’s the same service). MVNOs are basically the TJ Maxx of cell phone service.
If you’re not using an MVNO, check out this post to see if you can make the switch. The savings are tremendous.
|Utilities: Electric||$19.37||We have solar (which I detail here) and this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
How was your September?
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