View from our porch in mid-February

February was a rather inexpensive month, by which I mean you can tell we spent most of the month either sick or clearing snow, or both at the same time. It was a simple month–comprised mostly of flu followed by croup followed by bronchitis followed by a double ear infection–but as I shared last week, it wasn’t without its sweet moments. And in between coughing fits, I was interviewed on this podcast, which was a fun change of pace from my normal mode of written-only communication (don’t worry, I do talk in person too).

We also experienced the ever-exciting swap out of our swappable 20lb C02 canister for our custom hacked Sodastream machine. Several years ago, Mr. Frugalwoods devised a system for hooking our conventional Sodastream up to a gigantic, and gigantically cheaper, canister of C02 as opposed to relying on the pricey little Sodastream inserts. Thanks to this hack, we save around $500 per year.

Mr. FW and the tractor on snow removal detail

Drinking bubbly seltzer water (no sugars or flavors added) is one of our little luxuries. Sure, it’d be cheaper to drink plain water, but we enjoy the fizz and, rather than give it up, we found a way to epically frugalize it. The 20lb tanks usually last us around seven months, which makes our per-drink consumption extraordinarily cheap.

The other notable line items in February relate to the care and maintenance of our tractor, which got a workout clearing snow from our quarter-mile long driveway (sometimes twice in the same day!). Mr. FW noticed the tractor was bogging down at heavy load and, after some research, discovered that changing the filters might help. And so, thanks to the internet’s wealth of tractor maintenance videos (not a joke), he taught himself how to change the fuel and air filters.

The tractor’s running more smoothly now, so we’ll consider it a success. Insourcing this routine care yields the dual benefit of saving money and learning new skills. Of course he did sort of spill diesel all over the sleeve of his coat… but nothing in life is ever quite perfect.

Personal Capital: 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 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 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.

Credits Cards: How We Buy Everything

Snow-covered winter house

Mr. Frugalwoods and I purchase everything we possibly can with credit cards for several reasons:

  1. 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. This prompts me to spend less money because I KNOW I’m going to see every expense in detail at the end of each month.
  2. We get rewards. Who doesn’t like 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.
  3. We build our credit. Since Mr. FW and I don’t carry any debt other than our mortgages, having several credit cards open for many years (which are fully paid off every month) has greatly helped our credit scores.

If you’re interested in opening a credit card, I highly recommend using this site to search for a card that’ll best fit your needs. And if you’re interested in travel rewards cards specifically, check out this list curated by my friend Brad from Travel Miles 101. I respect Brad’s work in the travel rewards space and I trust his advice on which cards will reap the best benefits.

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!

How To Read A Frugalwoods Expense Report

Snow-laden branches

Want to know how we manage the rest of our monies? Look no further than Our Low Cost, No Fuss, DIY Money Management System. We also own a rental property in MA, which I discuss here. Why do we save so much and spend so little? It’s all in service of our goal to reach financial independence and move to a homestead in the woods (which happened in May!!).

For us, embracing 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.

Interested in how we keep costs so low? Up for some hardcore frugal adventuring? Sign-up to take my Uber Frugal Month Challenge, which is the method Mr. FW and I employ to sculpt our frugal lifestyle. Over 11,000 people have already taken the Challenge–and saved thousands of dollars–and you can sign-up at any time. You’ll start with Day 1 so you won’t miss a frugal thing. P.S. It’s free! And if you’re interested in the other things I love, check out Frugalwoods Recommends.

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! Plus, as I explained here, 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 taxes. If you’re curious about how we handle charitable contributions, check out How We Make Meaningful And Tax Efficient Charitable Donations.

Alright you frugal money voyeurs, feast your eyes on every dollar we spent in February:

Item/Vendor Amount Frugalwoods Musings
VT mortgage $1,392.86
Groceries $633.75
Household supplies $182.98 All non-food household and farm supplies, including such thrilling things as toilet paper, soap, and dental floss.
Internet $74.00
C02 for seltzer (7 months’ supply) $53.57 We swapped out our 20lb C02 tank for our hacked Sodastream system this month, which will provide us with roughly 7 months’ worth of bubbly seltzer water.
Two pediatrician visits $40.00 Our valiant attempts to get Babywoods better… she’s now coming off a double ear infection, so maybe March will be healthier?
Gasoline for cars $33.81 LOVE our gas-sipping Prius.
Oil, air, and fuel filters for our tractor $28.97 Mr. FW is staying on top of tractor maintenance, which is key since that’s how we clear snow.
Bulk spices from $27.48 We’ve started checking for sales as sometimes they’re cheaper than Amazon.
Off-road diesel for our tractor $25.90
Cell phone through Boom Mobile $19.99
Bolts and nuts for baby gate repair $4.55 We received a fabulous hand-me-down baby gate with a door, but it lacked the appropriate mounting hardware, so we bought the correct size nuts and bolts and are now in business.
TOTAL SPENT: $2,517.86  
LESS MORTGAGE: $1,125.00

How was your February?

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  1. Yay first to comment, how unusual.I love you guys I have directed so many people to yor epic blog. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and story.

  2. Excellent expense report this month! Happy to hear that Babywoods is now on the mend. This month has been filled with various illnesses-in the last week my nine year old had an episode of stomach sickness that kept him out of school two days; my 13 year old had a sore throat culminating in coughing blood on Saturday; and my little one year old guy was struck by the same stomach bug. No better way to start off your Monday than a baby getting sick all over you! Last month our expenses were nothing spectacular-we spent a lot of time at home being sick, stuck due to snow, and generally hoping that winter ends soon. Here’s to a healthier March!

  3. Awesome report, Frugalwoods. Your breakdown always amazes me!

    Glad to hear Babywoods is starting to come off the ear infection. Hopefully, she’ll be fine and well in March!

  4. I’m big on insourcing routine care as well. You can truly find how to do anything on the internet. I agree 100% with your statement that you can’t make informed decisions on your money when you don’t know how you’re spending it. While I know longer track spending dollar for dollar by category, I do know how much we spend on average for variable expenses. All of those expenses are on credit cards which I review each month to give a pretty good idea of where the money is going in the event we are over or under budget for the month.

  5. Sorry to hear about all the sickness, but at least it was a frugal month, eh? I’m not sure if this is your thing, but I started making homemade “soda” with water kefir grains. It’s self-carbonating and has beneficial probiotics, too. It could be a more frugal option if you don’t want to buy CO2 canisters. 🙂

    February was a great month for us. We were able to save over 50% of our income and apply that surplus ($3,600) to our student loans. Ahhh. We also came UNDER budget for the first time in forever on all of our food categories. Food is one of our worst budget categories for over-spending so I’m so proud that our efforts are paying off. 🙂

    1. That’s a good idea for the soda water made from water kefir. I make a bubbly carbonated water from soaking barley grains until they sprout, which is also probiotic. I can reuse the grains several times, then feed them to the chickens or they can be composted. I like to make bubbly lemonade or a peach flavored fizzy drink from my barley water. Even plain it’s refreshing.

    2. Can I ask where (and for how much) you bought the water kefir grains, how long they last (that is, do you have to keep buying more of them), and how it tastes? I’m quite interested in trying to get more probiotics in my diet.S

      1. They sell Kefir grains at whole foods? not sure on price as I was looking for cake mixes and not kefir at the time so didn’t pay attention to price

      2. I bought water kefir grains from ebay for $8 and I’ve been using the same ones for years. When they are happy they actually multiply themselves.

    1. So the only utility we pay for is electricity and it was covered this month by a deposit we had to put down when we signed up for service last year. Since we don’t use much electricity, the deposit is covering quite a few months for us! Since we live in the country, we have a septic system and a well, so we don’t have any sewer or water bills.

  6. Awe poor babywoods! One thing I’m always so impressed with is how Mr. Frugalwoods DIY’s so many things. He’s one handy dude. Curious to know if you think your expenses would be more not being married to someone who was so handy? I have a tendency to make something worse if I try to fix it myself. Luckily I have a lot of engineer friends around town. Is it a left-brained thing?

    1. I know you aren’t asking me- but one of the reasons we have more life insurance on my husband than on me is that all the things I do around the house are things he COULD do, but it’s nice that he doesn’t have to. Replacing my salary for a short time is really the only goal with it. However, all the things he does (Like Mr. Frugalwoods, it seems like he can do anything and everything!) I would have to hire out to have done if he wasn’t here. So in addition to replacing his salary, we’ve had to account for the fact that without him, my expenses would be much greater.

  7. Did you forget to pay your electric bill in February? I did that once and only realized it once I did my monthly expense report. It was hanging out on my fridge, waiting to be paid.

    1. Our electricity was covered this month by a deposit we had to put down when we signed up for service last year. Since we don’t use much electricity, the deposit will cover quite a few months for us :)!

      1. Oh I LOVE that. That happened to me with my electric and water bill one month and it was the best unexpected surprise ever. I was super cool and deposited what I would have paid into my Vanguard account lol

  8. My husband stumbled upon your podcast, and after a moment of listening and realizing it was the one and only Mrs. FW, we were both like, “She sounds super cool!” Always good to put a voice to the words!

    1. Haha, thank you! Glad I didn’t sound ridiculous ;). I’m much more of a writer than a talker, but it was fun to be interviewed!

  9. We had a ton of sickness among the 7 of us. I feel like between the 5 kids, we catch everything that is going around. So it wiped out a whole week. But the rest of the month was great. Our spending came in at $1569 which is great for us. We have been having so much fun in the Montana snow and mountains. Between sledding, winter hikes, and snowmen, there is always something fun to do.

  10. February was a great month, coming in under $700 after a bruising January. I love your blog and the joyful way you approach being frugal. I am debt free, including my home and two rentals. My problem is that every other month my health insurance is over 1630.00. I’m thinking of trying one of the Christian groups that deal with sharing medical expenses. Have you ever covered that topic? Again, thanks for your inspiring articles and I hope March is a god month health wise for your family.

  11. How are you liking Boom Mobile? I’d like to switch (because it’s just crazy that I pay $85 a month for my iPhone!) but I’m not sure about the data usage since I don’t have wifi at home.

  12. I’ve looked into Personal Capital. I like their free services a lot and have talked with them about money management. They make a case for what you get if you invest with them rather than Vanguard. What they say is tempting but their fees are considerably higher (they seem to feel confident about making back what they charge plus some). Assume you are against management fees in general but thought I’d ask. There’s something quite appealing about their strategy and their handholding!

  13. Again sorry to hear your family was taken by sickness in February, but it does make for one easy month to reflect back on expenses! Knock on wood, our family has been very fortunate to not experience a single sickness this winter. We’ll see how that changes with a new baby on the way. I think the soda stream hack sounds brilliant!

  14. Reading personal finance blogs has helped me so much over the past few years. Yours is one of my favorites. Poor babywoods – hope she gets better soon. Speaking of the CO2, do you have enough fruit trees on your property to eventually make cider or juice? That would be fun!

  15. poor little babywoods. let me comment on groceries/household items. we are walmart shoppers (other than that food which we raise on the farm and source locally) and as such we use the savings catcher they offer. if items we purchase are found locally cheaper, their ‘savings catcher’ catches the difference and deposits it automatically into an account for us through american express. it builds up over time and can be redeemed for a card that can be spent (only) in walmart. over a two year period, that has accumulated to over $200. for us. incredible savings, but keeps me from having to clip coupons and/or check flyers for cheaper prices and drive all over town to save a buck. plus we get all out household goodies as well as food from one place making the savings even better. walmart may not be your jam, but you cannot argue with the savings. which we love.

  16. A double ear infection, ouch! Poor baby.

    We use credit cards for all expenses too, and have a card worth an 80k ultimate rewards bonus coming in the mail. Wheee!

  17. Your grocery budget is amazing!!! I really need to work on meal planning and not impulse buying random stuff I see while at Trader Joe’s or wherever I am. We spend about $1,000/month on groceries for our family of five (though the baby doesn’t eat yet haha), plus additional money for restaurants. Ahhhh!!

    Keep up the great work!! Hope Babywoods feels better soon, poor girl!!


  18. I’m enjoying your blog! For earaches, have you tried warm olive oil infused with garlic? I did with success when my bebes were…bebes.

  19. Question on the sparking water- I love it too and actually had a soda stream once upon a time, but I read a lot about how it’s bad for your teeth, cavities and the like. Do you guys do anything in particular to mitigate the risk?

    1. We brush and floss every night and neither of us has had a cavity (or any other dental issues) since we were kids. We also go to the dentist every six months for a cleaning and check-up.

      1. I actually misspoke- it’s not cavities, but teeth erosion. Here’s a layman’s article on the subject:

        Essentially, the sparkling water breaks down into carbonic acid which is no good for teeth, especially if you have it a lot. The erosion is apparently a slow process, so you have to be careful.

        Thanks Mrs Frugalwoods! That’s essentially what I do every day and haven’t had cavities for a long time either.

  20. A few years ago my husband spilled quite a bit of diesel on his sturdy coveralls. I was distraught but I took a relative’s advice and washed the coveralls in the washer with a can of Coca Cola (the only time I ever justified buying soda) and the smell came right out! I washed it once more with soap after that and the mishap wasn’t even noticeable. It’s worth a shot, at least!

  21. First sorry to hear about the sickness for February and hopefully your through the worst of it.
    Glad to hear the air filters and fuel filters did the trick on the tractor. I typically change mine yearly with the oil in the spring, but our tractor is a little commercial model that has to be winterized as I don’t use it for snow. For the Diesel I might suggest pretreating the clothes with something like Shout. Don’t put it in the washer with other clothes or in the dryer. Good luck.

  22. Hi, Looking at Boom it appears there is no data on your plan. How do you use wifi or web services on your phones especially on the road?

    1. We have 250 megabytes of data on our plan and they offer plans with more data too if you need it. So far, we’ve been really happy with the service :)!

  23. Wow, that’s some incredibly low spending there Mrs. FrugalWoods! You guys always amaze me with your low spending!

    I’ve also noticed that sometimes things are cheaper on I need to get in the habit of checking around other sites like that more frequently. There’.s just sooo many online retailers….

  24. Your expense is ridiculously low! Great job. We spent about $3,500 in February and that’s very low for us already. We’d need to move to a cheaper location to cut back anymore. I haven’t seen, I will check them out. We have plenty of spices right now, though.

  25. I enjoy reading your blog. I am glad babywoods is on the mend. How is frugal hound dealing with all the snow? It is so refreshing to see a nice young family who had the foresight to reject all the consumer driven hype. I have been living an uber frugal lifetsyle for about 10 years now. I am debt free and was able to retire from my full time career of 38 years. I am 64 years young. I still have a mortgage but refinanced it at a lower rate saving me almost 400 dollars a month.
    This is my first Monday of freedom. Yoohoo

  26. Have you guys done “Christmas in January with your extended families” this year? I recall you saved celebrations for Jan instead of Dec due to the much cheaper airfare. I didn’t see any expenses related to holiday celebrations?

    1. No Christmas in January this year! We’ll likely be visiting family sometime this summer 🙂

  27. Wow! Great spending month! Hope all the sickness is gone! Always enjoy your posts! I’ll be checking out as we’re always on the look out for cheaper bulk (organic, if possible) herbs and spices! Btw, who takes the pics? Gorgeous!

  28. Frugal months are great months, and with the amount of snow you guys have some of the most fun can be had with a plastic sliding disc. Unfortunately sick doesn’t always equate to that, but at least it helps you in your journey too.

  29. It sounds like your February was a great one! February was the first full month since I started freelancing full-time, so I was pleased to see it go off to good start.

  30. Poor little Babywoods! It’s no fun being sick any time of the year, but in the cold of winter it just seems more miserable for everybody. I hope you all continue to get better!

  31. Wow. I have so many bills that you don’t have – lucky your employer pays your phone and your city doesn’t charge for trash. I can’t get rid of my water/sewer bill of $80-100 per month. I was so happy that I only used $5 worth of water last month, but the bill won’t ever go below $80. Trash is another annoyance because I’ve only been taking it to the curb every 4-5 weeks and regardless I have to pay $48/mo.

  32. I’m jealous of that cellphone bill. 🙁 I wish my mother would switch to a cheaper carrier since I am on her plan and live with her, but alas, she sticks with AT&T. : /

    So happy Babywoods is feeling better!

    February was a good month for me, but I had to dig into my savings to buy jeans from Torrid, so that was a crazy amount of money I spent on clothes that month. That’s usually not the case each month, but that’s what it came down to. : / Besides that, February was pretty good! 🙂

  33. I love the fact that you guys have a tractor! I bet your Boston friends get a kick out of that. Snow removal can be so expensive. We’re already trying to figure out what to do for next winter when we finish building our house. Our driveway will be almost a 1/4 mile long! We’re looking into a Polaris UTV or something along those lines. I definitely don’t want to pay someone to come every time it snows.

    1. Yeah, insourcing snow removal is a major money saver–especially since we sometimes have to clear twice in a day. We have a friend who clears with a plow on the front of a UTV, so that’s definitely a good option. Or if you have a truck, you could mount a plow on that. So many options :)! Good luck!

  34. I know I’m totally behind the times here, but I just read your post about hacking your seltzer machine and it is AWESOME! My finace and I love seltzer so I think we’ll be looking into this project

  35. We’re kicking around the idea of doing your SodaStream mod in our new home, too.

    Do you pay for your health insurance all at once, too? That’s always my big question mark when planning for early retirement: health insurance premiums. Harder than ever to plan for those.

  36. Though it’s good to have a super cheap month, it’s is preferable to have you health even if it means spending a little more!

    Like you, the majority of our expenses are put on credit cards. Offers in the UK aren’t as good as the used to be due to some annoying regulation that came in, but there are some out there, even if the rewards aren’t as good as they were. I always immediately set up a direct debit to clear the balance in full each month. I would be so cross with myself if I accidentally forgot and had to pay interest, even though that’s the norm for most people.

    I had a penny drop moment in February (after reading one of your posts accidentally) about how we all have both accidental (or natural) and deliberate frugal tendencies and accidental and deliberate spending tendencies. I give myself a hard time if I let my deliberate frugal actions slide or an accidental spend creep in, but I want to be more positive about my natural frugal habits 🙂

  37. Do you guys have only one cell phone between you? I was looking on the Boom Mobile site and there are plenty of individual plans for $19.99 but family seems to start at way higher.

  38. Fist time checking out the blog and I am intrigued. I am trying to get my family of 4 on par with a more frugal lifestyle. It seems that you spent $633.75 on groceries. That seems like a lot for 3 people in a month. I just wanted to see if groceries was just food or other items. Thanks.

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