June on the homestead: a massive rhubarb crop!

June was a glorious month punctuated by a visit from my in-laws, which is always a welcome and wonderful event. I won the in-law lottery and Mr. Frugalwoods’ family is, in a word, superb.

I’ve always felt lucky to have them as my second set of parents and that feeling is magnified now that they’re incredible grandparents to Babywoods. They even tolerate our extremely frugal ways!

Anniversary Trip (with free hotel!)

To give you some concrete evidence of just how fabulous my in-laws are: they watched Babywoods for three days and two nights while Mr. FW and I took our first ever post-baby solo vacation! Now that’s love. We drove up to Portland, Maine to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary sans bebe. I never realized how luxurious it is to travel without a baby/toddler until I had the remarkable life experience of traveling with a baby/toddler. I can’t believe I ever complained about travel prior to the unparalleled ridiculousness that is taking a baby on an airplane… alone… but I digress.

This was a true vacation for me and Mr. FW and we did our favorite city things: walked everywhere and ate and drank all day long, alternating between beer and coffee (or in one memorable instance, the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever come into contact with). This is our typical travel modus operandi: we don’t schedule our days or try to hit tourist sites or pay for guided tours. Nope. We stroll for hours on end and pop in and out of anywhere that piques our fancy.

Me strolling the streets of Portland, ME very fancy free indeed

The most frugal thing about this trip (aside from the free childcare) was our free hotel room! Mr. FW and I have an American Express Starwood Preferred Guest credit card (which we’ve had for almost a decade) and on which we’ve racked up a veritable mountain of hotel points. These points can also be converted into airline miles, but the best exchange rate is to use them for hotels. We’ve stayed at hotels for free all around the world using our Starwood points and now we’ve stayed for free in Portland, Maine!

Credit cards points are an ideal way to get something for nothing–or, not for nothing, but for stuff you were going to buy anyway. I obviously don’t advocate credit card usage for spending to excess (or incurring debt), but I am a gigantic fan of using credit cards to buy things you legitimately need (case in point: most of our points come from groceries).

The credit card we use might not be the best card for you, but you can use this website (for free) to see which credit cards match up with your spending and points priorities. Leveraging credit card points is one of the easiest ways to be frugal. Responsible (which means paying your card off IN FULL every single month) credit card usage has a number of other benefits, which I’ve outlined below:

Credits Cards: How We Buy Everything

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.
A girl and her hound

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!

Meet Me In Portland, Oregon!

I’m speaking on a panel in August at a new financial conference just for women. I share this with you because it’s not a conference only for financial professionals, 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 quite a few 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$e$

(Some of) the apple trees in June

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.

How To Read A Frugalwoods Expense Report

I feel like a barn! In springtime! Because I’m a barn!

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 17,100 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

Pasture view

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 June:

Item/Vendor Amount Frugalwoods Musings
Vermont Mortgage $1,392.86
Groceries $386.10 Nice!
9th Anniversary Vacation! $325.46 This includes all of our expenses for this trip: gas for the car, parking at our hotel, a few gifts we purchased for family members, and all of our fabulous food and drinks! At restaurants! Without a baby!
Household supplies $141.24 All non-food household and farm supplies, including such thrilling things as toilet paper, shampoo, and dental floss.
Air Conditioning Diagnostic and Recharge for Prius $90.13 The AC in the Prius doesn’t work (neither does the AC in the Subaru… ) and since we drive the Prius the most, we decided to take it in for a fix. We went all last summer without AC, which was tolerable, but decided to get it fixed this summer. Hopefully this’ll do it!
Subaru Inspection and Oil Change $76.00 The Subaru needed its annual state inspection and an oil change (we took our own oil and filters).
Internet $74.00 We adore our high-speed Fiber internet here in the middle of nowhere.
Utilities: Electricity $56.20
CO2 for Seltzer $42.87 It was time for our twice yearly seltzer C02 tank re-charge. This tank should last us about 6 months. Here’s the full story on our hacked Sodastream and our super duper cheap seltzer water.
Gasoline for cars $32.93 Our hybrid Prius is the gift that keeps on giving in terms of low fuel costs. We LOVE that car.
Diesel for the tractor $25.00
Doctor visit co-pay $25.00
Cell phone $19.99 Through BOOM Mobile
Two long-sleeved outside summer work shirts for Mr. FW $18.00 Mr. FW ordered two long-sleeved UPF-protecting shirts for working outside in the summer months. He’s been wearing his long-sleeved winter work shirts because long sleeves are preferable (keeps sun off, reduces bug bites, limits scratches from plants/trees/brush/chainsaw dust), but he was really hot. Hopefully these’ll do the trick for him!
Ethanol-free gasoline for the mower $12.97
TOTAL SPENT: $2,718.75  

How was your June?

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  1. I’ve heard Portland, ME is the lovely city, I am so glad you and Mr. Frugalwoods had an opportunity to have an anniversary trip there 🙂 And great job hacking some of the expenses with your responsible credit card usage!

  2. Portland is a lot of fun to stroll and try different places. Especially when it’s kid free!

  3. So sad we do not have this system of points/rewards on credit card in France, as all our spending is made through credit cards 🙁
    We could have so much free hotel nights by now !!!

  4. Another impressive month of low expenses at the Frugalwoods household! Your grocery expenses look really neat for last month. I’m glad Mr. Frugalwoods and you had a great time in Portland and were able to save on the hotel. You look fabulous!!

  5. Oh wow, looks like an amazing trip. We don’t get such lucrative rewards for using credit cards here in the UK – but we do get cashback for certain types of shopping, and fuel, so we use cards for that.

    Happy Anniversary!!

  6. Sounds like a lovely vacation to celebrate your anniversary! I love cheap trips, there’s just something so pleasing about doing something so grand like travelling but on a budget. I always get a nice feeling of satisfaction when I manage to get a free hotel stay!

  7. Happy Anniversary! We are looking forward to a visit to Portand (Maine) next summer if all works out! I wish I could go to the Lola Retreat – maybe next year! I’d love to do something like the Lola Retreat locally – even for a day. I talked “money” with a few of my female peers before early retiring in June and I was amazed at what they didn’t know… Really bright ladies but living paycheck to paycheck. I’d love to be able to learn at the Retreat and then give back!

  8. Happy anniversary! Yes traveling without baby is an experience. I don’t fly with them anymore, unless absolutely necessary. We prefer road trips because we can always pull over if needed.

  9. Congratulations on your anniversary! Getting away for a couple of nights without kids is priceless. It’s crazy how much easier travel is without them. I bet you were happy to see Babywoods when you got back, though. 🙂

  10. Happy Anniversary! Portland ME looks like the perfect city to wander around for hours in.

    I’ll be attending the Lola Retreat in August and I can’t wait! I don’t have many friends I can discuss the minutia of finance with (even Bill tires of those discussions quickly) so I’m really looking forward to a place where everyone is excited to learn and talk about personal finance 🙂

  11. I’m spending 3 months in Norway this summer. I bought a bare-bones ticket on Norwegian Air for $420 round-trip! That means no meals onboard (I brought my own) and no baggage (other than 10-kg in the form of 1 carry-on plus 1 handbag). Two weeks in and I’m doing fine! I’m staying with relatives, so I don’t have any hotel expenses, but I do contribute to buying food, of course. I don’t have a mortgage, and I pay off my credit cards every month. I feel so incredibly free for the first time in my life! I am 75 yrs old. I ❤️Frugalwoods! ❤️👵🏻

    1. Btw, I only have Social Security to live on (no retirement, etc). Traveling so light is also a good excuse to not buy anything along the way, and to not accept gifts either. I have explained my philosophy (briefly) to those I’m staying with, and have even gotten some of them to look in their cupboards and freezers to see what we can make out of things that are already there (forgotten food, etc.). There are lots of fresh berries to pick at this time of year, too!

      1. You need to start you own blog! I would love to hear about your frugal tips…and your adventures.

    2. Good for you!! This is so inspiring to hear. I have goals for my later years and I love seeing people achieve theirs!

  12. I love it! I’ve heard Portland, Maine is a fantastic destination for food. I’m jealous! Also, happy belated anniversary. 🙂 Our June was all right. We were over budget, BUT we paid off the remainder of my $25,000 student loans. So it was a win overall. 🙂

  13. Happy Anniversary! We almost went to Portland last year and decided on Newport instead. I still want to go, mainly to eat at Duckfat!

    Did the a/c in both cars break over time or did you purchase them this way? I would have given in to fixing it as well!

    1. We went to Duckfat! SO GOOD and we shared a fries so it was pretty cheap too :). The AC didn’t work when we bought them–not really a huge deal since it’s not that hot here, but we decided it’d be nice to have one car with working AC.

  14. Congrats on nine years which include a baby and buying a farm! That’s a lot happening in nine years.
    My daughter and I visited Portland, Maine, several years ago and really liked it. We loved visiting the whole New England area, although we based our visit in Vermont — the food was great everywhere. It was also a LOT more fun to hike around in the summer in Vermont in July than it was back in Florida.

  15. Question The last week of June our range blew up. We got a great buy on a plain Jane model and had the cash to spend but we actually paid for it on July 3rd. Do we count this on July?

  16. Happy Anniversary! We love using points from credit cards to fund our travel (flights and hotels alike). We’re huge fans of travel hacking and taking advantage of “free money.” Well done!

  17. You can’t go wrong with beer and coffee and a beautiful place for your anniversary (and free hotel and babysitting)! That’s a win-win-win-win-win in my book!

  18. Way to go on the grocery bill! I know it’s been a challenge since you moved to VT. What made the difference this month?

  19. Just stayed in Portland, ME too and loved it’s wakability. Recommend a ferry ride $19 for two people round trip to Peaks Island where you can bring a picnic and walk around the island. Cheaper than a tourist cruise or sailboat ride. We stayed at a great Airbnb which was less expensive than the local hotels and we didn’t have to pay for parking! Great trip!

  20. I spent $100 on a beach vacation in June. It was actually a work conference trip, but I count this as my vacation every year. I stay at a nice hotel for free, and have a gasoline allowance and a food allowance. I took my son with me, which is why I had to spend a $100 on food….lol. Congrats on your June budget!

  21. Hi Mrs. Frugalwoods! I’ve been following your blog since before Babywoods was born and was wondering if you will be meeting any readers in Portland, OR outside of the conference? I would love to attend, but it’s not in my budget right now…

    1. Yes, Mrs. Frugalwoods! I’m in the same boat! would love to meet you and other readers when your on our side of the country!

  22. Portland sounds like a wonderful destination for an anniversary vacation! I hope you enjoyed yourselves.

  23. Congrats on that ‘sans-baby’ anniversary vacation. I sure wish I could have one of those! 😉

    Looks like another good month on the expense front too! Our expenses for June were our lowest of the year!

  24. Hi! I’m in awe of your electric bill, I’m next door in NH and mine is much more! Do you have any tips or a blog post on getting that lowered? Thanks so much and happy July!

  25. “I never realized how luxurious it is to travel without a baby/toddler until I had the remarkable life experience of traveling with a baby/toddler” Truer words are seldom spoken. We’ve traveled with Toddler BITA from the west coast of the U.S. to Europe (twice), Southern Africa (Botswana and Zimbabwe) once and a whole slew of domestic flights – all before she turned 3. Then I traveled to Berlin on a work trip. Oh the luxury! Sans baby coach seemed like business to me – I could drink as much as I wanted, sleep when I wanted, watch as much TV as I liked, read an entire book….the whole trip just stank of hedonism.

  26. Congratulations on your anniversary! What a treat to be sans bébé. I too love Portland. We always stop there en route to Ogunquit to fill up at Whole Foods. We did the mail boat run two years ago and loved it. My husband and I plan on spending a long week-end there this fall to fill up on ocean views and smells. We always have pizza at the Flatbread Company as they have gluten free crusts (I am celiac).

    1. You know, so far, so good. Last summer we had a few hot nights where we wished for it, but not enough to do anything about it. And so far (knock on wood), this summer has been quite mild. There were probably two days this summer (so far) that we would’ve turned it on. It just doesn’t get that hot here!

  27. I live in the Portland area, so I’d love to know where you encountered this fabulous Bloody Mary! So glad you enjoyed your trip. It really is a great little city!

    1. The Bloody Mary in question was enjoyed during a lunchtime(so decadent!) special at Central Provisions. It was $5 and truly the best I’ve ever had! It was spicy and flavorful and had kimchi on top!

      1. I was also so curious as to where you find the best Bloody Mary in Portland. My in-laws are from Portland and we are there quite often so will have to check out Central Provisions next time I’m in town. Thanks for sharing!

  28. Congrats on your anniversary. Would love to have a baby free trip. We are 17 months into this parent thing and are starting our deliberations for a baby free getaway.

    Portland Maine looks lovely and I have only heard great things, would love to visit. It is always so much more fun to just wander and find hole in the wall places. They seem to make for the best memories!

    Thanks for sharing the monthly spending. Definitely motivating to see how you live on your amazing acreage and spend so well!

  29. Back in the 70’s we used to rent a cabin on Peaks island for 25$ a week. Portland was one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever seen! Good memories canoeing between the islands.

  30. I’m looking at buying a used Prius (~$5000) because of affordability, reliability, gas cost, and lower emissions. Have you liked yours?

  31. Hi, we are grandparents and will be looking after our 3 year old grandson, so his Mum and Dad can have three nights away in late September. Mum will be about 6 months pregnant and has booked a getaway place. My daughter lives about a ten hour drive away and we will be staying at their place to look after the 3 year old. Our daughter and son in law are really looking forward to the break and I can still remember what it felt like to have a break from children.
    Regards Melinda (from Australia)

  32. Mrs. Frugalwoods, you have given me so many tips and now one for you, it is really easy to recharge the air conditioners on your cars, here is the product link from Amazon although I bought mine at Walmart for much cheaper. Good Youtube videos on how to do, not hard….. wish someone had told us about it years ago.. This product did two cars for us.

  33. Your vacation sounds amazing! I am so looking forward to when this baby (19 months) weans so we can have an adults only getaway! We just took pretty much the opposite of your trip- drove to Indiana with both kids in order to attend my husband’s grandparents combined 90th birthday/72nd wedding anniversary. It was not at all relaxing, but it was a lot of fun!

  34. +10 life points for going to Duckfat
    +100 life points for getting a vacation w/o Babywoods (I love my little mongrel as much as the next person, but getting away for a day or two really makes you appreciate all the things)

    QQ, ever thought of upgrading to a rocket mass heater? Great woodstoves are great, but burning a fire for a few hours in the morning and heating the house for the day…. Uber Duber frugal… although it seems you have plenty of wood…

  35. So many people say cash makes you spend less, but I totally agree with you that spending on your credit card makes you spend less because you know you’re going to have to come face to face with that charge at the end of the month! 🙂 Plus, like you said, points! Portland sounds so lovely. Would love to make it there next time I’m in the US. Glad you enjoyed!

  36. First of all, congratulation on your 9years anniversary.
    Being a parent of 2 kids I know how it’s important and tough to get a time just for you and your spouse. You are lucky to have in-laws willing to help

  37. We don’t have personal capital yet in Australia is there a global financial management system that is similar that I would be able to use that is also free? I’m yet to find one 🙁

  38. Enjoyed the article…and how you travel reminds me how we traveled as a young family. We never did the tourist thing, unless it was something we really wanted to experience. We found that traveling with a book-bag type cooler cut down food and drink expenses, especially when traveling with children.

  39. Thanks for the Travel Miles 101 link. I’d been eyeing the American Airlines card (some trips planned using that airline), but wasn’t sure if it was a decent signup bonus. Travel Miles indicated that 60k Miles is double the norm, so I just got the card.

  40. How gorgeous are those red bricks you are surrounded with!
    You look very foot loose and fancy free, full of joy on your break and celebrations. Congrats to you both ☀🌻💓💓

  41. Happy anniversary! I am 100% in your court on the SPG card – we’ve been using it since 2005 and I love all the hotels that we can stay at for a nominal cost per year. Responsibly, of course!

    That’s the one thing I’m concerned about with the merger – I don’t want to lose our favorite card!

  42. Happy Anniversary! We were just in Portland as well. I know Mr. FW loves beer – I hope he tried Bissell Bros. Substance or Maine Beer Co’s Dinner. Both are sooooo close to being as good as Heady Topper.

  43. Can you talk more about bringing your own oil and filters for an oil change? I’m not sure the chain I go to would allow that.

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