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 $500 per year.
Drinking bubbly seltzer water (no sugars or flavors added) is one of our little luxuries. Sure, it’d be cheaper to drink plain water, but we enjoy the fizz and, rather than give it up, we found a way to epically frugalize it. The 20lb tanks usually last us around seven months, which makes our per-drink consumption extraordinarily cheap.
The other notable line items in February relate to the care and maintenance of our tractor, which got a workout clearing snow from our quarter-mile long driveway (sometimes twice in the same day!). Mr. FW noticed the tractor was bogging down at heavy load and, after some research, discovered that changing the filters might help. And so, thanks to the internet’s wealth of tractor maintenance videos (not a joke), he taught himself how to change the fuel and air filters.
The tractor’s running more smoothly now, so we’ll consider it a success. Insourcing this routine care yields the dual benefit of saving money and learning new skills. Of course he did sort of spill diesel all over the sleeve of his coat… but nothing in life is ever quite perfect.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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
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. 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.
- 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.
- 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
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:
|Household supplies||$182.98||All non-food household and farm supplies, including such thrilling things as toilet paper, soap, and dental floss.|
|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 Jet.com||$27.48||We’ve started checking Jet.com 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.|