Me and Babywoods snowshoeing
Me and Babywoods snowshoeing

The first month of 2016 was a great little frugal month for us. Our aim is always to spend around $1,000 or less in any given month and so January’s $1,013.32 is right on target. One helpful boon is that its been a particularly mild winter thus far, which keeps our heating bill on the low side.

We got out and about for a few rounds of hiking and snowshoeing this month, which was most delightful. Babywoods, for her part, seems to love snowshoeing as it entails riding in her carrier being lightly bounced–two of her most favorite hobbies. Walking through peaceful, snowy woods is an idyllic way to combat the occasional cabin fever of parenthood (as in, who knows what day it is or the last time we showered… ). I’ve realized I’ve got to get out and about and so does Babywoods!

Update: since a number of folks have asked, Mr. FW and I have these snowshoes from Amazon, which we like a lot. Happy snowshoeing!

In the fall, Mr. FW cooked huge batches of meals to freeze (split pea soup, chili, and chicken tikka masala to name a few) in anticipation of Babywoods’ birth and a need for easily prepared foods. This month, I’m pleased to report that the frozen dinner extravaganza continues to be a resounding success. We’ve greatly enjoyed the ease of pulling these delicious meals out of our chest freezer and haven’t had to resort to take-out one single time.Woohoo! Now that we’re parents, we’re learning anything that saves us time is a worthy endeavor.

In fact, we’ve deemed the frozen dinners such a victory that Mr. FW is going to start batch cooking and freezing meals on a regular basis. This weekend he’s planning to whip up a vat of chili that we’ll be able to portion into 8-10 meals. Yum.

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

Mr. FW snowshoeing through the woods
Mr. FW snowshoeing through the woods

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 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 frugal 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, give Personal Capital a try. 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

The below is an itemization of every single dollar we spent over the course of the month. I do this because it’s the most transparent articulation of how we allocate our resources and managed to save 71% of our take-home pay (not counting maxing out our 401Ks).

Want to know how we manage the rest of our monies? Look no further thanWhy We Don’t Micromanage Our Money. 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. If you’re up for some hardcore frugal adventuring, take my Uber Frugal Month Challenge, and, see how we did one year later in How A Year Of Extreme Frugality Changed Us.

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.

Some snowy woods
Some snowy woods

But Mrs. Frugalwoods, Don’t You Pay For X, Y, Or Even Z????

Wondering about common expenses that you don’t see listed below? Our August 2015 expense report has the answers you seek!

Alright you frugal money voyeurs, feast your eyes on every dollar we spent during the inaugural month of 2016:

Item/Vendor Amount Frugalwoods Musings
Mortgage & Escrow for Taxes & Insurance $2,238.50 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.
Groceries $336.77 Our aim is always to bring groceries in under $350, so this month was a resounding success.
Household goods $333.60 Household supplies (including such things as dog food, toothpaste, toilet paper, vitamins, and more). This total does not include any human food.
Utilities: Electric bill $77.41 Higher than normal, most likely due to having our Christmas lights on in December. Expensive but worth it for the beauty of our tree!
Utilities: Gas bill $72.03 It’s getting colder and so the heat is on (but don’t worry, it’s not turned up very high). See how we keep our heating bill low here.
Gasoline for Frugalwoods-mobile $61.22 Did a bit more driving this month to enable our hiking/snowshoeing adventures.
Internet $56.45 A very necessary expense around here.
Sidewalk salt $34.65 Pet safe sidewalk salt in preparation for snow.
Wine and beer $25.19 From Costco’s liquor store–very reasonable indeed.
Masspike tolls $10.00 Tolls for our forays to hike.
Parking in the city $6.00 We must’ve parked somewhere in the city this month.
TOTAL SPENT: $3,251.82  
LESS MORTGAGE: $1,013.32

How was your January?

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  1. Wow! What a frugal month! I love snowshoeing, unfortunately due to a herniated disc, I must skip it this winter. I’ll be back at it next year, though! I really enjoy batch cooking. If I’m feeling lazy, I like to go dig in the freezer and come up with a freezer bag of chili or some other delicious soup and that’ll be my lunch for the whole week.

  2. So are you including the mortgage in your after-tax savings then, since you’re paying down debt? We currently pay a lot in a city with very affordable housing, but we have a 15 year loan at 3% and I’m paying extra each month. My student loan as well. I’m thinking at this point I need to take the extra out of those loans (our only debt) and do some (small) emergency fund building then max out my IRA and pummel the rest into savings.

    1. We do not include our mortgage in our after-tax savings (and our mortgage is our only debt). I agree with your idea–I think having an emergency fund built up is a great idea. Especially with such a low interest rate on your mortgage.

  3. Great month! I love the snowshoeing bit. I’ve never tried it but I love most snow sports, so it’s definitely on the list. Freezing meals in preparation for Babywoods was a fantastic idea. This is also something I would like to try. I could see it turning into a Sunday afternoon tradition!

  4. We have a record saving rate of close to 60% of our net income. We hope to do the same this month even though it will not be an easy feat (NJ property taxes are due). I can’t wait to let you know if we made it this month.

  5. Do you guys have a page that explains how you package and thaw your freezer meals, or a resource you can recommend? I would love to try some freezer meals but am confused about how to package them safely, how to avoid freezer burn, how to reheat them, etc.
    Thanks! 🙂

    1. Your library should have at least a few freezer cooking books that will tell you everything you need to know. Older ones are fine, the guidelines have not changed in forever. There are a few things, like pasta, that do not freeze well (the texture gets weird) and things that are best if used within a certain period of time but any decent cookbook on the subject will tell you about those and it is not very complicated. I did get rid of my ancient, BPA loaded plastic containers some years back and freeze in glass containers and mason jars now. I write the date things go in the freezer on the container and have a little notebook on top of the chest freezer where I write down how many containers of what item I put in on what date. Nerdily organized, I know, but it just takes a second to change the quantity when I pull things out and I never have to throw out old food this way (and throwing out jars of homegrown summer pesto would make me cry and that would be no fun!)
      I am a Southern girl so snowshoeing sounds like torture to me but we are in the midst of Mardi Gras parades here right now – best free family entertainment available on the planet (we bring our rolling cooler and, as long as you look reasonably sober, pretty much any homeowner on the route will let you trade alcohol for a visit to their restroom). Make friends with someone down here (we all have air mattresses for visiting friends), avoid the tourist areas (Bourbon St is NOT family friendly), and come enjoy our free and fabulous party!

      1. Thanks for the tips, Debbi! Yes, the BPA issue is definitely one that I’m concerned about. It’s interesting to hear that you use glass containers instead; I should definitely look into that. And I’m totally with you on the nerdy organization — wasting food is to be avoided at all costs! 🙂

      1. Sarah Noelle–we did a very simple method of batch cooking and then freezing meals in Ziplock bags (which can then be reused for future meals). We don’t have enough space in our freezer (or enough tupperware) to freeze in tupperware or jars, so the Ziplocks worked perfectly as they can be stacked easily. None of our stuff had any freezer burn, although the oldest food was cooked in October, so not that long ago. I did label the front of each bag with the contents and the date cooked. I also made a spreadsheet of all the food and the dates cooked, but honestly, we’ve just been eating through it all without needing to reference the sheet. We reheat on the stovetop in a sauce pan and voila: dinner! Good luck :)!

    1. Oooo a snowshoeing guide… good idea! It’s pretty easy as far as winter sports go–there’s really no training or prep needed. Just strap on some snowshoes and start walking! We have these snowshoes from Amazon, which aren’t the most expensive or the cheapest option. We wanted something that’d last and be durable and so far we’ve been happy with them.

  6. Awesome month! How do you separate Groceries from all non-human-food Household expenses? I find myself frustrated with our $550-$600/mo “Groceries/Household” spending but I’m not sure how much is really people food and how much is whatever cleaning supplies/vitamins/face cream/etc. my husband bought at the grocery store. He does 100% of the grocery shopping and I’m pretty sure he’d quit if I made him separate his cart and do 2 transactions (which is what I would do! ;D) !

      1. Also wondering the same – do you sit down with your receipts and split them manually in Personal Capital? Or do you buy that stuff at a different store?

        So glad you guys are on the freezer meal kick, it really is great! Any time we make a favorite meal, we go ahead and make 4 or 5 of them and freeze for later. Especially good are crock pot soups, they freeze well and taste sooooo good later, just add water to cook.

        1. Good question! I get 99% of our household goods from Costco, so when we go there, I just do two separate transactions: one for food and one for non-food. I use the self-checkout lane and Mr. FW bags at the end, so we don’t have to inconvenience a checker. Short of doing that, you could go through each receipt line by line, but that would be pretty tedious! And then if I pick up other supplies elsewhere (like at the Dollar Store), I manually add that total into my Costco “household” total amount.

          1. I buy most of my household supplies and toiletries at the grocery store when I buy my groceries. It’s actually pretty easy to separate them by using the receipt because most stores’ receipts have the items listed under category (grocery, drugstore, home goods, etc) so you can very easily just add up each category without having to look through every single item to figure out which category it should go in. I used to have a grocery/household/toiletry category but got frustrated by not knowing how much of that was actually food. I like just figuring it out quickly on the receipts as soon as I get home.

    1. Could you just separate them on the checkout, but still in the same transaction? So the top half of your receipt is people food and the bottom half is the other stuff. Easy on your husband and easier for you to separate them for your calculations.

  7. Apologies if you answered this before but can you tell us more about your mortgage? Are you interested in paying it down faster with your savings? Do you have some leeway to pay off a little faster (obviously you don’t want to incur a penalty but sometimes the bank allows you to pay early.) Have you done the cost benefit analysis of paying off your mortage (faster or completely) versus locking your savings away in investments? And I guess there are tax implications as well. I’m in Canada so I’m not sure how it works for you.

    1. Good question! We’ve made the determination not to pay down our mortgage at an accelerated rate. We prefer to keep our excess cash invested in the market, particularly since we have a very low 3.8% interest rate on our mortgage. More info on our decision is in this post: Why Did We Buy Our House?. Hope that helps :)!

      1. Thank you, that does help. That IS a low rate! What is your timeline for paying it off?

        I thought I read that post but can’t remember if you referenced when you plan to pay it off or if you were accelerating payments.

        Does escrow mean you put aside the money ahead to pay off the taxes and residential insurance? Or it’s isolated by the bank early on? Not familiar with that term.

        I’m glad the breastfeeding is working for you. I have 3 kids and all breastfed but it’s not always as natural as one would think. 🙂

        I love your blog, it’s very motivating.

          1. So we’re not accelerating our mortgage payments at all–we have a 30-year fixed mortgage, so we’ll pay it off in that time frame. Escrow just means that every month our mortgage company sets aside money to pay taxes and insurance on our behalf. And I agree with you on breastfeeding–I’m deeply grateful that it has been so easy for me, I know it’s an uphill battle for many women. Thanks so much for reading :)!

        1. We’ve been using an Ergo, which was kindly handed down to us by the 1500 Days To Freedom family :). Around the house I often carry her in a Moby that my sister handed down to me, but I find that the Ergo is awesome for hiking, snowshoeing, and errands. Plus, since it’s adjustable, both Mr. FW and I can wear it.

  8. Our monthly expenses were about $4000 for a family of four paying off their Dec-Jan trip to Mexico (airport parking, few misc. expenses on a credit card). Our savings ended up being right above 61%. I also saved about $1000 in my business account.. usually I don’t include my business when thinking about money, but we’re about to pay off our mortgage in about three months thus, right now, it all counts!

    Last month we enjoyed free sledding, the library and lots of good, homemade food. I don’t know if there is any other way to get there!

  9. Our January was… interesting. We got hit with a few one-time expenses that stung. A couple of repairs, etc. But at least we now have a reverse osmosis system installed in our house. (Seriously, people don’t understand how disgusting Phoenix water is. A Brita barely touches it.) So we can officially nix the water service that was bleeding us. dry.

    It wouldn’t be so bad (well, water delivery bills are always bad, but you take my point), except that we decided to avoid touching Tim’s disability during the appeals process, lest we have to pay it back. So we’re tap dancing to find the extra $766 in the budget.

    Still, I’ll be glad as we slowly tick off the couple of big things that hit us. Then we can go back to getting ready to spend (ugh) $25,000 on Tim’s dental implants. It’s a fun year.

      1. Kim is correct! I just lumped diapers in with household since we buy them from Costco along with all of our other household stuff (dog food, toilet paper, etc).

        1. I thought I saw that category jump lately 🙂 Our Costco never had the best prices on diapers–when I bought disposable, I would get Walmart brand. Or sometimes Target brand. They did have an awesome sale on genuine Pull-Ups a month or two back–I probably should have bought more, but I like to believe that every case is the last one. Sigh.

  10. I love the ease of freezer cooking, but since our freezer is usually packed to the gills (pun intended) with salmon, I usually try to pack small, easy ingredients like the tikka marsala chicken marinade in bags ready to pop the chicken into and tupperwares of homemade enchilada sauce (which I throw in the crock pot with chicken and rice and beans and tomato sauce and corn and have a delicious enchilada soup)! Of course, the salmon also makes for a quick, weekly meal. 🙂

  11. Yay for snowshoeing! I’ve only been a couple times, but I really enjoyed it! Sounds like babywoods does too! I don’t have any personal experience, but my friends have often told me it is very important to make the effort to get out of the house when you have a young baby… so you don’t go stir-crazy…

    I’ve never calculated our savings rate, but I know it isn’t very good… But I think we did pretty well for us in January after a very spendy December.

  12. Where does the Frugalwoods family like to go snowshoeing? I live in the Boston area and have recently acquired snowshoes, but don’t know where to take them.

  13. An incredible month! I just posted our variable spending but lump home supplies, dog food and groceries all together. I’ve been tracking our spending for joining on four years now this way, but have been thinking it might be interesting for a month or two, to track these things separately.

  14. Huh, so maybe that’s where all the snow went. Since the beginning of winter, the Albany area has gotten around 5 inches. So no chance of snowshoeing and bragging about my $30 Ocean State Job Lot snowshoes (oh look, I just did). OSJL is also where I pick up our ice melt (or I would if we had any ice). I get the calcium chloride stuff and Maeby seems to do fine on it. But I can’t say whether the pet-friendly ice melt is jive or not because I haven’t really looked into it.

  15. Snowshoeing!!! Gahhh what a great idea! I want/need to get into this, we just need it to finally really snow here in Toronto during our freakishly warm winter….*insert ever-increasing concern about global warming here*

  16. Congrats on an awesome month!!

    I’m very tempted to try snowshoeing. We definitely suffer from winter cabin fever here in upstate NY, and it seems like a great way to get out and get a little exercise.

    1. Yes, do it! Snowshoeing is super easy–all’s you do is strap on the snowshoes and walk. I’m horrible at “sports” so walking, hiking, and snowshoeing are for me!

    1. That is amazing! Wow! Yeah, freezer meals were one of the best things we did in prep for Babywoods. It has seriously been a relief to know those meals are there for us!

  17. Cambridge provides salt for residents to use! It is available at lots of locations, they just ask that you only take what you need for the current storm.

  18. What about phone bill? Do you guys have cell phones or a land line? Maybe I missed it, but I don’t see a phone bill as part of your expenses. 🙂 Phone bills tend to be one of the major bills in our household.

    1. I missed them too and then remembered I believe the company pays for them what a perk! Also, life/health insurance taken out directly from your pay checks?

  19. Did you find that you needed to change the temperature of your home for Babywoods? Or does your previous system still work in the winter?

    1. We’ve kept it pretty much the same. Babywoods wears a hat indoors and so she’s pretty toasty warm all the time 🙂

  20. My January spending has been good! I had $20.00 left over from the month and my mother gave me $100.00 dollars to help me spend on food! But like you said in your post, tracking your money is the best way to know where it is going. I didn’t do it last month or for a while since I only have an iPad, but since I have the app, Pages, I will be tracking my money this month! I am very excited to be starting tracking my spending again and I hope I will be successful with it this month! Because I don’t know where that $100.00 my mother gave me went, lol! I think on food I am mostly sure. xD; Since my mother also doesn’t want me buying meat with antibiotics in it now, she is also going to help me buy my chicken thighs now! I am very greatful and blessed she is trying to help me eat better. C:

    Snowshoes are fun! If I lived in a snowy area, I would buy some too! Have fun this February! ^^

  21. Our January was on the high side because we made an unusual splurge–we paid a babysitter $450 to watch our kids for a long weekend while we zipped down to Tucson. It was a delightful treat. Another big expense was $513 to get new brakes and a new axle for my car, but on the plus side, it is no longer making alarming noises every time I brake or corner.

    Spending on “stuff” was pretty low. My parents were visiting and my mom did treat me to a Goodwill trip. (Also, she was so horrified by the ugly jeans I was wearing that she gave me her own new pair.)

    I got the new YNAB set up to get a better idea where our money is going.

    Love the snowshoeing pic! Is that the one-size-too-big coat you once found in the trash? Looks perfect for babywearing! Mr. FP has snowshoes but the boys and I haven’t tried it yet.

    1. New brakes are a good things :)! Good eye on the coat–that is indeed my too-large trash find coat! I wore it all through pregnancy and now you’re right, it’s a perfect babywearing coat! Totally try snowshoeing–it’s super easy and a beautiful way to be outside in the winter.

  22. Just curious about this: Your spreadsheet doesn’t show a separate item for water/sewer charges. We live in southeastern TN and ours runs about $45 a month for water and $75 for sewer charges. We find that a bit high, but the billing tiers are structuring in such a way that the only way to drop to a lower tier would be to simply never be at home using water.

    1. Good question! Our city bills us for water every three months, so that expense shows up in full on the months that we’re billed.

  23. Dear Frugalwoods family Hello from Greece….I would be grateful to hear your opinion about FI as it is my dream to finally quit my 9-5 job at some point in the near future. Here the minimum wage is around 500 euros a month and you are considered lucky if a couple can have 2.000-3.000 euros a month… Of course taxes are sky high and all household and food items are too expensive compared with the salaries… awaiting for your comments . Is there hope for us??

    1. I think there’s hope for everyone! Just wanting to take charge of your finances is a wonderful first step! There are really only two sides to the frugality equation: earnings and savings. The key to achieving FI is maximizing both to the best of your abilities and then not worrying about the factors beyond your control. I wish you all the very best!

  24. Inspirational, as always. I’m such a budget voyeur. Also fun to see how one person’s budget varies. I (woman living solo) pay only about $90 per month for groceries, sometimes less. But my internet is more and so is my alcohol bill (LOL, Pennsylvania only has state-run liquor stores, so booze is more costly here than across the bridge in NJ. Needless to say, people from Pennsy stock up when they visit other states)

  25. This reminds me of how I need to get a pair of snowshoes (BTW, I agree with you, MSRs are the best!). But damn, are they expensive!

    I’m savings up for some ice fishing gear, and I don’t think there’s enough winter months left for me to save for both! Maybe next winter. 🙂

  26. How are you planning on renting your home and being away such a distance? I did not know if you were going to use a service?

    1. We are actually researching this now–we’ll either work with a property management firm or manage the property ourselves from the 2.5 or so hours away that we’ll likely be in Vermont. Definitely one of those factors that we’re considering in advance!

  27. I am always amazed at how you keep the small purchases down to such a minimum. When I go over my monthly budget on Personal Capital, I always run across a few hundred dollars worth of charges from lots of little 5-10$ purchase that just add up. Oh well, I just have to buckle down and try my best.

    Your electric bill isn’t bad at all this month! Even though it was a cold month down here in Fort Worth, I am still embarrassed that we spent more on heat. You guys are in New England for cryin’ out loud. I actually just made a post about how I’ve gotten electricity for FREE over the past year. I’d love it if you came and checked it out!

    Your frugal friend,

    1. I would also love to see a post on this. In San Francisco where I live you’re lucky to find childcare for under $2k/month (for a funky in-home daycare).

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