May was expensive. No mincing words, it was one of those pricey, pricey months. Heading up our expenses this month were the airline tickets we purchased for a trip to the west coast this August. My parents are celebrating their 50th!!!!!! wedding anniversary this summer and so my family is gathering at their home in San Diego for a celebration and family reunion. Then, I’ll fly from there up to Portland, Oregon to speak at the Lola Retreat (details on how you can join me there are below!). Airfare is almost always expensive, but it’s also an expense I never regret.
Traveling and spending time with family are both high priorities for me and Mr. Frugalwoods and if we need to drop some dough in order to do so? We don’t sweat it. It’s one of the beautiful things about living a consistently, longterm frugal lifestyle: expensive treats like plane tickets don’t make the slightest dent in our overall net worth. By always living way below our means, and by reaching financial independence, we’re able to spend on our priorities without any gnashing of teeth–financial or otherwise.
Friends! And Beer!
Speaking of priorities, we hosted a number of friends in May, including the wonderful MadFientist and his fantastic wife, Mrs. MadFientist! If you’re not familiar with his work, I highly recommend you check out his blog. And, if you’re in the mood for something auditory, Mr. Frugalwoods and I were interviewed on the MadFientist’s eponymous podcast awhile back. We had such a wonderful time showing the Fientists around the homestead and geeking out about all things personal finance, early retirement, and beer-related…
Speaking of beer, you’ll note our beer and grocery expenses were quite through the proverbial roof in May, attributable to the fact that we’ve been hosting a lot of dinner parties and going to a lot of potlucks! Also attributable to the fact that Babywoods is a fully fledged eating member of the family (and that kid can eat), coupled with our decision to purchase high-quality, and local, ingredients. Plus, Mr. FW made a sojourn to Costco (details below… ). Plus, life is way too short to drink subpar beer.
Our beloved 2010 Prius, Snowdrop, needed to have a wheel bearing and hub replaced this month as well as a routine oil change and an annual state inspection. We queried our friends and neighbors for their recommendation of a reliable, honest mechanic and everyone seemed to have the same answer. I am a huge proponent of crowd sourcing recommendations for things like mechanics because getting a good one will save you untold time, money, and hassle.
Prior to taking the Prius in for diagnostics, Mr. FW did some internet research to determine the cost of the part (he’d surmised what the problem was and he was right). With this knowledge, he asked our mechanic how much he would charge us for the part, to which the mechanic replied “$470.” And so, Mr. FW asked if it would be alright if we instead ordered the very same part off the internet for a cool $170 and then brought it in for the mechanic to replace. Our mechanic readily agreed and so we realized $300 in savings.
Next, Mr. FW brought in our own oil and filters–which we’d purchased on sale–for the mechanic to use in the oil change. By supplying our own oil and filters, we paid just $16 for the labor on the oil change. And before you point out the obvious–yes, we could’ve done the oil change ourselves and saved the $16–since the Prius was already in the shop, it was easier–yep, I said easier–to pay to have them do it. Sometimes, we don’t insource.
We’ve done this a number of times with car repairs and it’s an excellent way to save money on the mark-up that most auto parts suppliers levy. The power of the internet to save you money should never be underestimated, which brings me to my next story…
Frugal Hound and Her Houndy Needs
Frugal Hound needed a top up of her flea/tick and heartworm prevention medications. I called our vet to ask their prices for these medications and then researched the same medications online. You can guess where they were cheapest. In the past, I’ve had good luck getting her prescriptions filled at Costco, but this time around I ordered her meds from Allivet for an absolute fraction of the price. Hooray!
As longtime readers know, we’ve been in a state of limbo vis-a-vis our relationship with the warehouse store known as Costco. You see, back in Cambridge, MA (where we lived until last May), we had a Costco near our home. But here in Vermont, the closest store is 1.5 hours away, each way.
This doesn’t represent a massive problem in any area of our lives except for one: Frugal Hound’s dog chow. Frugal Hound has a sensitive hound tummy and she does best on a grain-free diet of high-quality kibble. Naturally, there are scads of expensive options for such a kibble, but only–apparently–a single option for a generic, discount option: Costco. We’ve searched every single local store (from the Tractor Supply to the local country store) and found nary a knock-off with the right blend of ingredients.
We then took to the internet in a frenzied quest and, as you might recall, found the goods on Jet.com a few months back. We ordered a six-month supply from Jet and FH has been dining on that. Jet, however, raised their price on this kibble and so we were back to our original quandary. After much number-crunching and debate, we determined that the most economical solution would be to get a Costco membership and make a trek to the store every six months. And so, my knight in shining white Prius set off last week in search of Nature’s Domain Salmon & Sweet Potato dog kibble.
He returned several hours later with a six month supply of kibble, a newly minted Costco membership, and massive quantities of other stuff that’s cheaper at Costco: olive oil, oats, almonds, and garbanzo beans. Even with the cost of membership and the gas (in the hybrid Prius) to drive there, FH’s kibble is still cheaper from Costco. And so, there you have the resolution to our year-long hunt for sensitive dog stomach kibble.
With both the car and the dog, the moral of the story is that there’s almost always a cheaper option for the stuff of life. Even with expensive undertakings like car repairs, be dogged in your quest to find opportunities for discounts! We’re happy to support our local mechanic (a small business owner in our community) and so paying him for his labor is only fair. But our mechanic wouldn’t benefit from the mark-up of the parts supplier, so there’s no reason to pay such an exorbitant price. I joke that we’d rather have internet than indoor plumbing and it’s actually almost true.
Frugalwoods Updates: Ticket Giveaway and a Conference
Frugalwoods on Reddit!
Mr. Frugalwoods and I did our first ever “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit earlier this week and had a blast! An “Ask Me Anything” is a real-time interview in which anyone can ask the interviewee (in this case, me!) any questions they’d like. If you’re interested in reading through all of the questions and my answers, you can do so on Reddit (no need to have a Reddit account in order to read it).
Mother Earth News Fair Ticket Giveaway!
I’m thrilled to announce I’m giving away a pair of tickets to the upcoming Mother Earth News Fair taking place in Burlington, Vermont on June 10-11, 2017! If you’re interested in winning the tickets, you can enter the drawing on the Frugalwoods Facebook page. I’ll use a random number generator to select a winner at 9:00am EST on Saturday, June 3, 2017 so be sure to comment on my Facebook post before then!
Meet Me In Portland!
I’m speaking on a panel this summer at a new financial conference just for women. I share this with you because it’s not a conference only for bloggers, it’s a conference for any woman who wants to expand, or begin, her journey to personal finance prowess.
It’s called the Lola Retreat, it’s taking place in Portland, Oregon August 18-20, 2017 and I will be there! It’s not free, but if you’re interested in attending, you can get $50 off your ticket if you enter the promo code “FRUGALWOODS.” I know there are a number of Frugalwoods readers planning to attend–let me know if you’ll be joining us and we’ll meet up!
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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 money? 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 2016).
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 12,500 people have already taken the Challenge and saved thousands of dollars. You can sign-up at any time and 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.
A Note On Rural Life
Since we live on 66 acres in rural Vermont, our utilities are slightly 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 heat our home with wood we harvest ourselves from our land, and we don’t have air conditioning. For more on our rural lifestyle, check out my series This Month On The Homestead.
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 May:
|Airfare||$1,376.02||For our flights to San Diego, CA and my flight to Portland, OR|
|Groceries||$692.23||Costco stock-up! Plus other foodstuffs|
|Household supplies||$315.11||The infamous dog food along with the purchase of a Costco membership and a bevy of other household goods (toilet paper, laundry detergent, etc)|
|Farm and garden equipment and supplies||$233.24||Tick clothing spray, spices, tire tread gauge, oil for our tractor and mower, garden supplies, a tractor oil filter|
|Prius part||$170.78||Our discount online-purchased auto part, which was $300 cheaper than the part our mechanic would’ve ordered|
|Prius labor and annual Vermont inspection||$168.00||Labor for replacing the Prius wheel bearing and hub as well as the car’s annual Vermont inspection|
|Alchemist beer||$80.70||Heady Topper, Crusher, and Focal Banger! We’ve been treating our guests to taste tests of the three under the premise that life’s too short to drink bad beer|
|Dog prescriptions||$63.67||From Allivet. So much cheaper than our vet’s office or Costco!|
|Dinner date!||$60.99||Mr. FW and I went on our customary one date night dinner out in May, while our wonderful neighbor watched Babywoods for free|
|Doctor visit co-pays||$40.00|
|Cell phone through Boom Mobile||$19.99|
|Oil change labor||$16.00||We supplied the oil and filter, so this is just the cost of the labor (a price we were happy to pay instead of DIY-ing it)|
|Battery for the lawn mower||$14.99|
|Buckwheat seed for cover crop planting||$9.80||We’ve targeted a long neglected flower bed for transformation into a perennial food bed and were advised to plant a buckwheat cover crop for a year before planting our perennials. More details to come in next week’s This Month On The Homestead edition!|