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.
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:
- 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!
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$
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
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
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:
|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.|
|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|