I got a bath in April and I'm mad about it.
I got a bath in April and I’m mad about it.

While April didn’t bring us warm weather, it did at least melt our Snountain and yield a month of extremely low spending. Our most significant purchases were two round-trip flights to North Carolina to visit Mr. Frugalwoods’ family in June to celebrate his youngest sibling’s high school graduation. This is a perfect example of spending on our values.

We’re happy to buy those tickets since it’s an opportunity to spend quality time with family during a celebratory event. Although we do travel hack to some extent, and we have plenty of miles to burn, we learned from Brad at Richmond Savers that when we’re able to find flights that cheap ($179/person), it’s a better value to spend the money than redeem the points. So, we’ll save our points for a longer, more expensive trip. No sense in redeeming points for a poor redemption rate. Sidenote: if you even think you want to get into travel hacking, check out Richmond Savers–the dude knows more about the topic than anyone I’ve ever met (and he’s a super nice guy to boot!).

A few happenings around the Frugalwoods home in April:

  • Shards. Everywhere.
    Shards. Everywhere.

    I accidentally broke a Corelle bowl by dropping it on our quartz countertop. I had no idea those things shattered! Let me tell you, there were shards of bowl everywhere. EVERYWHERE. My enthusiasm for Corelle’s cheap, classic, easily cleaned, and nearly indestructible flatware isn’t diminished, but wow do I hope we don’t break another one anytime soon. Props to Mr. FW for swooping in with dustpan and broom.

  • Frugal Hound was the recipient of her twice-annual bath, about which she was not even remotely amused. In case you’re hoping to replicate this experience with your own hound in your own home, this is the doggie shampoo we use. We like this shampoo because it’s extra-gentle on her sensitive (and sometimes dandruff-y) greyhound skin.
  • Brownie! In a mug!
    Brownie! In a mug!

    Mr. Frugalwoods, in his bid for best frugal husband of the year award (awarded by me to him every year for the past 7 years), baked me a brownie in a mug! I had no idea this was even a thing. But lo and behold, one Saturday afternoon I commented that I would love a sweet treat and 20 minutes later, he made me this delectable concoction. Will the wonders of the internet ever cease? Methinks not.

  • We found lovely Mother’s Day cards for our mommies at the Dollar Store for, you guessed it, $1! For comparison, I priced out similar-looking cards at CVS and they rang up at a whopping $5.99. Now we love our moms, but $6 for a folded piece of cardboard is absurd.
We love our moms!
We love our moms!

Personal Capital: It’s How We Organize Our Expen$e$

Mr. Frugalwoods and I use Personal Capital to aggregate and consolidate our transactions from across all of our accounts. We then drop them into a spreadsheet to provide our below blog-ready analysis.

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 frugal must, folks.

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. Here’s a more detailed explanation of how I use Personal Capital for my expense tracking.

Where’s Your Money?

One of the easiest ways to optimize your money is to use a high-interest savings account. A high-interest savings account gives you money for nothing. With these accounts, interest works in YOUR favor (as opposed to the interest rates on debt, which work against you). Having money in a no (or low) interest savings account is a waste of resources–your money is just sitting there doing nothing. Don’t let your money be lazy! Make it work for you! And now, enjoy some explanatory math:

Let’s say you have $5,000 in a savings account that earns 0% interest. In a year’s time, your $5,000 will still be… $5,000.

Let’s say you instead put that $5,000 into an American Express Personal Savings account that–as of this writing–earns 1.70% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,085.67. That means you earned $85.67 just by having your money in a high-interest account.

And you didn’t have to do anything! I’m a big fan of earning money while doing nothing. I mean, is anybody not a fan of that? Apparently so, because anyone who uses a low (or no) interest savings account is NOT making money while doing nothing. Don’t be that person. Be the person who earns money while you sleep. Rack up the interest and prosper. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, is here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.

How To Read A Frugalwoods Expense Report

From top to bottom. I jest, you could read it bottom to top if you so desire, I’m not going to stop you. As regular readers know, we itemize every single dollar we spend (which is why there’s a line item for $4.71 this month). I do this because it’s the most honest articulation of how we allocate our resources and managed to save 71% of our take-home pay in 2014 (after maxing out our 401Ks).

Why do we save so much and spend so little? It’s all in service of our goal to reach financial independence by age 33 and move to a homestead in the woods.

Interested in how we keep costs so low? Check out How We Save 65% Annually and, if you’re up for some hardcore frugal adventuring, take my Uber Frugal Month Challenge. If you’re curious about the common expenses missing from the below, our August 2014 Expense report has the answers (or feel free to ask in the comments).

We don’t budget and instead live on frugal autopilot. This technique saves us the time and hassle of building a budget (we’re some lazy frugal weirdos). The caveat here is that many people find budgeting incredibly helpful and I in no way malign the budgeting process. If you operate more successfully with a budget, then budget away my friends.

Alright you frugal money voyeurs, feast your eyes on every dollar we spent in the month of April:

Item/Vendor Amount Frugalwoods Musings
Mortgage & Escrow for Taxes & Insurance $2,741.01 Yep, it’s high. But, we live in a very high COL city (Cambridge, MA) and this house will be our cash-flowin’ rental after we decamp to our rural homestead.
Airfare $359.40 Two round-trip flights to North Carolina for us to celebrate Mr. FW’s youngest sibling’s high school graduation in June. Congrats to the youngest Frugalwoods sibling!!
Groceries $239.04 Ahhh, let me just bask in how low this is… it’s so low because we didn’t go to Costco in April. So, I’m sure we’ll make up for it in May ;).
Utilities: Gas $140.27 Still riding out the long, cold winter as this was the gas we used in March. But warmer days are ahead!
Utilities: Water (3 months worth) $128.76 Standard amount for our water bill, which covers three months of use.
MA State Income Tax $110.00 Income tax we owed to the state of Massachusetts.
Utilities: Electric $87.28 It’s electric! Boogie woogie woogie.
Internet $66.95 Pretty darn necessary.
Medication (for hounds) $41.97 Got to keep Frugal Hound healthy! We’re happy to spend on preventative medications for her. This is a 6-month supply of heartworm prevention medication.
Gasoline for Frugalwoods-mobile $29.89 One tank of gas for our 1996 Honda Odyssey.
Medication (for humans) $19.63 Vitamins and other over-the-counter medications for humans.
Beer $13.00 Bought a case of beer to take over to a friends’ house for dinner.
Brakelight bulb for Frugalwoods-mobile $7.96 Mr. FW replaced a burned out brakelight on the car. Vastly cheaper than paying a mechanic to do it!
Back-up and CDN for Frugalwoods.com $4.71 Gotta keep the ol’ Frugalwoods.com backed up! We’re lucky that Mr. FW is a software engineer and can manage our website himself, which keeps our blog-related expenses extremely low.
TOTAL SPENT: $3,989.87  
LESS MORTGAGE: $1,248.86  

What do you think of our expenses? How was your April?

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    1. Hah! Fortunately we had pizza in reserve in the freezer. Would’ve been a disaster otherwise 😉

  1. You had a great April! Mine had it’s ups and downs. lol. I had some good increases in savings (retirement, emergency fund and vacation) but I was also a little spendy when it came to clothing, entertainment and health expenses (therapy for my back). I am still fairly pleased with my net worth growth for April. I’m hoping May will be a little better.

    1. Congrats on increasing your savings–that’s fabulous! And, expenses certainly do happen, no sweat ;). It’s great that you’re pleased overall!

  2. I’ve always loved getting cards from the dollar store. They used to be 2/$1 at ours! So do you do mother’s day gifts or just a thoughtful card?

    1. We’ve always done cards and a phone call for Mother’s Day, but I suppose some people do gifts? I guess our families just never have.

  3. Nice work! I had over $1,100 of unanticipated expenses in April, thanks to two propane bills being due, plus my geriatric cat requiring a $550 of vet care, including an enema. Poor old guy!

    1. I feel like you get a pass since you moved! Eating out is pretty much a requirement when moving 🙂

      1. Happy for a little pass on that…we just moved last week and our spending was so out of the ordinary because of it. And, I ate poorly. We are getting back to our normal frugal selves more each day!

    1. It was a six-pack of craft beer… Mr. FW can’t remember which kind. We don’t buy beer often, but when we do, it’s usually pretty nice 🙂

    1. Good question! Both of our employers pay our cell phone bills and we don’t have a landline.

      1. Oh, sweet! Perhaps a post at some point on how you plan to handle phones/plans out at the homestead?

  4. We of course spent a lot on our trip to Peru. The final tally is coming on the blog, but whatever it was, it was worth it. Our latest gas bill was $93 I think, with electric around $65, which was good. One bad thing was eating out with the in-laws. 40 bucks. You know how many homemade lunches that buys!

    We are also ramping up production on our backyard patio and buying things like gravel, cobblestones and fence material, but I’m happy to spend that. We got a lot done this weekend!

    1. I’ve seen some of your photos and it looks like Peru was worth every penny! I’d love to go there someday. And, the patio sounds like an exciting project!

  5. Thanks for the tip on The Dollar Store cards! I’m amazed at the low cost of your grocery shopping, we have a teenager here so we go through food like crazy! He heads off to college in the Fall so I’ll be curious as to what that does to our food budget.

    1. Thanks! This was a particularly low grocery month for us since we didn’t go to Costco to stock up on bulk staples. We’re usually more in the range of $300-$330 for all the food we eat.

    1. It really was! I mean, it wasn’t to the level of the homemade brownies I made using the double boiler last month, but it was darn tasty. I was so impressed with the speed and the small-ness of it–the perfect little treat for me :).

  6. Our April was high, but nearly $1 of every $2 went into the kitchen. =P. And besides that our numbers were pretty much where we like to see them. If not a little better.

  7. Love the $1 cards for Mother’s Day. I know this won’t work for your moms anymore – but last year I came up with a great Mother’s Day idea for Mr. SSC and the kids to pull off every year. He bought one of those photo album/scrapbook things (at Michael’s with a 40% coupon), and now every year the kids make me a card/picture to put into the album. I love it because it is inexpensive and meaningful! Plus in 30 years I can flip through it and remember how cute they are, and then start putting my future grandkids cards in there!

  8. Nice April!

    My expenses were high last month but that’s because I went on a two week vacation to Korea and Japan. But I’ll make up for that starting this month – I just moved to a place that reduced my total rent + utilities by 50%.

    I just had my first commute from my new place. Beautiful morning. 4.5 miles, 23 minutes on my bike (and honestly, even if I drove it wouldn’t be all that much faster because of lights and the fact that the highway isn’t that close).

    1. Congrats on the move! Sounds like a great decision! That’s awesome you were able to reduce your rent, utilities and commute all in one fell swoop. Nice!

      1. Haha well my old commute was a 5 minute walk, so my commute time went up. But it’s so much more enjoyable! Also, the longer commute has made me more productive. On some days at my old place I would get very lazy about rolling into the lab because I knew I could just be there in 5 minutes (and then tell myself I’d get work done at home, and do a half-ass job of it). Now, I either make it in in the morning, or not at all.

  9. Frugal autopilot – I like it. We don’t budget either but manage to spend very very very little for a family of 5.

    Props to buying the Mothers day cards for $1 each at the dollar store. And a little surprised you didn’t get the 2 for a dollar cards (if they offer them at your store). 🙂

    And congrats on having your dumpster diving pic on the Vox article. Making all of us featured in the article appear to be a little more frugal than we really are. 🙂 I always glance at the dumpster/pile-o-trash when I walk the back way to the grocery store. So far it’s mostly torn up mattresses, busted CRT tv sets, and similarly useless stuff. But I have high hopes I might find something really useful (and clean) with a $0 price tag on it.

    1. Oh man, we didn’t see any 2 for $1 cards (definitely would’ve gone for them if we had). That dumpster pic cracks me up too ;). We really do find great stuff in the trash around here–Mr. FW can’t pass a dumpster without sticking his head in.

      1. I once saw the grocery store manager chucking cases of Blue Bell ice cream in the (locked) dumpster. This was pre-Blue Bell recall a few years ago. I was very tempted to figure out a way to climb into that dumpster. Given the quantity, I bet it was overstock or approaching the expiration date and still totally fine.

    1. Yeah, Brad definitely schooled us in the ways of points valuation, which we’re very grateful for!

  10. I have noticed that the grocery stores around me are starting to sell $0.99 cards as well. They are usually lower on the shelf and you have to search for them, but I agree, WAYYY better then spending $4.99 +tax for something that will get thrown away.

    We wash our dog (lovingly referred to as The Penny Pinscher) about every 6-8 weeks. I bet Frugal Hound would hate that!

    I think you left out the C in Mr. FW’s delectable concoction. Or did you really want to delete it? I guess you did make it disappear…by eating it! 😉

    1. I totally did leave out the “c”–thanks for that (edited above 🙂 )! Frugal Hound would most certainly not be a fan of bathing that often. She is both sad and tragic when wet (and just a little bit funny looking… ). Penny Pinscher is an adorable name!

  11. Mrs. FW, I know you are on a shopping ban but I’d love to know how you built a professional wardrobe over the years. Just good finds at thrift shops? I’m not a big fashion person and I mostly work from home, but I need a few classic, professional pieces for meetings. But they have to be the right price! Do I just need to load up on coffee and hit the thrift stores?

    1. Yes! Coffee and thrift stores :)! That really is how I did it. I think my biggest tip is to try not to “specific shop.” In other words, if you go in looking for a black pencil skirt, you’re almost guaranteed NOT to find it. But if you go in looking for professional outfits that are flattering and a great price, you’ll surely find a few pieces. I wrote up my tips in this old post (When to Thrift: Chic on the Cheap), but feel free to let me know if you have any other questions, and good luck!

  12. I agree with buying low priced tickets versus using points. When it is borderline, I use the points as they may get devalued before I get a chance to use them again. It all depends on how many programs you keep points with (the more I have, the more likely I am to use them). We are staying at the Ritz Carlton in downtown SF for Mother’s Day (well close to it) and used some points that were at an okay redemption rate. Fortunately we have some credits to use for valet and dinner, so the stay should be very close to $0. I hope the food and service are as good as I hear they are!

    1. Sounds like a great Mother’s Day plan! We’re all about using points as judiciously as possible and so we were happy to learn more from Brad at Richmond Savers about wise redemption rates. I hope you enjoy your weekend!

  13. I love the frugality oozing from this budget! I just picked up two pairs of sunglasses at the dollar store. It was finally a price I was willing to pay for something I’m constantly losing or breaking. : )

    Your savings rate is inspirational. We’re trying to bump ours up with a house full of kids, but it’s still achievable!

    1. I saw the sunglasses at the Dollar Store and made a mental note for the next time we need new ones!! My last pair was a whopping $5, so if we can find some for less, all the better ;). Good luck to you with your savings rate–I love your optimism!!

  14. FWs,

    Congrats on being featured in the Vox piece. Good stuff there!

    Nice job once again with the savings rate and keeping the expenses low, especially relative to your area with high COL. Frugaltastic. 🙂

    Best regards.

    1. Hey thanks! We’re coming into a great time for utilities… cool nights, warm days. Our heat has been off for a couple of weeks and we don’t normally need to use the AC until July. Shoulder seasons are wonderful!

  15. We spent a few hundred on the garden, but otherwise our expenses were well in-line with our goals. Our non-mortgage, non-SL burn rate was ~$1,700 (including $400 one-time garden expenses).

    1. Wow, that’s pretty awesome. And those gardening expenses will pay dividends this summer!

  16. Nice job keeping the taxes low, and no federal! (I assume you posted those as your yearly tax bill).

    Your food bill is simply inspiring. Ive got to copy you guys more and more to get mine more in line with yours.

    1. Hey thanks! We’re big fans of optimizing breakfast (oats) and lunch (rice&beans) and then eating lots of different things for dinner. If you can get those two early meals really cost-effective… it opens up a lot of budget space for creative dinners.

    1. We invest the surplus in broad, low fee index funds. Our only debt is our mortgage, but it has such a low interest rate (3.8%) that we think we’ll come out ahead in the market long term.

  17. Our Dollar Store still has greeting cards 2/$1.00 last time I looked (although I have not been there for awhile since I avoid that place due to a tendency to overspend on “bargains”). What I have been doing is sort of stocking up- I buy maybe 6 cards at a time for a total of $3. This saves me the expense and time of going out for a card when the need arises or is remembered. I actually gave my busy doctor daughter a second hand but pristine greeting card file/notebook with pockets for every month in the hope that she would be ready and not have to run out for expensive cards at the last minute. So far it’s pretty much unused. Sigh.

    1. I don’t think we saw any 2/$1 cards, most were $1 and there were some $2 ones as well. Our dollar store is pretty liberal with the “dollar” concept 🙂

  18. Well… We spent $20K in two months. And that’s NOT counting the giant pile of bricks. About $6K for a (temporary) second car, $1K for Mr. FP’s brand-new bike, $2K for daycare, $600 for three pairs of glasses for Mr. FP, various Craigslist finds and house needs (push lawn mower!). Fortunately, we have bought almost all the things now and it should slow waaaay down. Even daycare isn’t usually that high–we pay by the hour and Mr. FP was often too busy to pick them up before dinner.

    On a more positive note, grocery spending was low and we enjoyed a delightful visit from Grandma and Grandpa FP, who were very complimentary about my cooking during their visit. (Grandma FP, a full-time teacher, raised the three of us on frozen fried chicken and Jennie-O turkey roasts. No one can do everything!) And she was a very good sport about riding in the backseat of the Accord between the boys’ car seats.

    1. And hey, at least some of that is a temporary car that you hopefully can recoup some costs on when you are done. I do love having family visit, glad to hear your’s went well!

    1. We do what we can! We’re pretty happy how the month turned out. It’ll be even nicer when the utility bills go down in the spring!

  19. I’m impressed you were able to break a Corelle!

    On a more serious note, you guys are doing great. I’ve given up giving specialized cards: I have a huge pack of black cards that I got for $10 or $15 that will last me years. I prefer a handwritten card, anyway.

    1. I was shocked about the Corelle breaking, let me tell you! I seriously thought they were indestructible! As soon as it happened, we both just stared at it in disbelief.

  20. Excellent month. I just got some Corelle bowls leftover from a tenant, so I’ll have to be really careful. Once you have kids, you’ll never have to even pay $1 for cards. My daughter could knock out a whole stack for every occasion. I don’t think homemade cards work nearly as well coming from adults, so good call on the Dollar Store.

    1. Hah, yeah, judging from our past artistic endeavours… we’re better off buying $1 cards 🙂

  21. Cheers very much for the mention and super excited to discover your blog. Your frugalistic tendencies speak very to my own, and we saved around the same % back in the day of our “regular” jobs. I sense early retirement is in good hands for you. Looking forward to more blog frugalness!


    1. Hey thanks! Ya’ll are inspiring! I never would have imagined you could have dogs and cats in such a compact space and have everyone be ok 🙂 !

  22. You guys are ROCKIN’ the frugalness. 🙂 LOVE the brownie in a mug! On Sunday I made bars based on a yummy-looking pic I saw on Twitter over the weekend – Brownie on the bottom/ chocolate chip bars on the top – bars. Let me just say O M G. They were DELIGHTFUL!

    1. Oh wow, that sounds delicious too! Sunday afternoon baking just always seems like a good idea.

  23. We managed to spend over 90k in April – luckily, 81k of that was a down payment on a house – but I really wish Personal Capital would have a “don’t count this” option because our spending graph has this huge red circle for “uncategorized”, and everything else is basically hidden because it’s so dwarfed by the down payment.

    1. Hah, that’s a good point! And congrats on closing on the house! You locked in an excellent rate, and it’s so exciting that the appraisal came in high. Always nice to know you got a good deal!

    1. I do enjoy cards since I like writing in them… but I’m just as happy to write in a $1 card as a $6 card. 🙂

    1. Thanks! We keep it low by cooking from scratch, mostly eating vegetarian, and not eating out / doing take out. We do spend on good coffee beans, craft beer, and organic produce. And we eat darned well. Probably too well 🙂

  24. Are you putting any monies toward the principal on a monthly payment. Would be a good idea. How long is your mortgage for 10,15,20 or 30 years? Peter.

    1. We have a 30 year, fixed rate mortgage at 3.8%. And since we’re in the USA, and mortgage interest is tax deductible, our “real” rate is close to 3.2%.

      Since we believe that over 30 years the overall economy (and the stock market in particular) will return better than 3.8% we’re investing our surplus rather than paying down the mortgage faster than necessary.

  25. i break a correlle every year or two but just last weekend, picked up three for $1 at Rietta Ranch in Hubbardston. You should check out that place when you want a sunday drive. Acres of dealers (not as fun as homeowners downsizing) and people who just pack up their junk (good stuff) and rent a table. Fantastic finds — last weekend: the correlle dishes, a stainless steel thermos (large) for $1 (have been looking for one to replace one my husband lost), a set of nice thick hardly used sheets and a ton of pillowcases $3 (and a stop at the laundromat on the way home to wash them in hot water and bleach) to donate to someone in need (and a white linen table cloth included for free). Those are they kinds of deals to be found. Take a friend, some cold water to drink, a sun hat, a cart or wagon to hold your treasures and see what you can find (they always have tons of baby gear, clothes, toddler clothes).

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