Our basement, as previously disclosed, is undergoing a vast improvement plan. Our Cambridge, MA home (the one that’s now a rental) has a delightful panoply of built-in shelves in its basement, which suited our needs just fine. Here in our Vermont home, however, the basement is a huge, empty, concrete-floored cavern.
A cavern I’m very thankful for and which I love, but a blank cavern nonetheless. Beholden to my commitment of waiting at least one year before spending money on renovations or improvements in a new home, we spent our first year with nary a shelf in our basement.
All of our items in storage–everything from Christmas decorations to preserved food to tools–hung out on the floor of the basement this past year. In case you’re wondering, this is not an efficient, organized, sane, or sanitary way to store things.
Especially not when you live on a homestead in the middle of nowhere and need to keep bulk quantities of food on hand. And when you love Christmas decorations A LOT. And when you store baby clothes hand-me-downs for every size up to 5T that you’ve received from friends and relatives. And so, after our one-year waiting period elapsed–something I adhere to on the principle that you don’t know how you truly want to use a space until you’ve lived in it for awhile (here’s my full post on this idea)–we acquiesced to our fervent need for a storage system.
When DIY Doesn’t Save You (Much) Money
Being frugal weirdos committed to DIY-ing everything possible, our first inclination was for Mr. Frugalwoods to build a basement shelving system himself. We trekked down to the cavern and measured every wall and mapped out where each shelf would go. Then, Mr. FW drew up a shelving design system in SketchUp to accurately model out the exact size of each shelf and how much lumber he’d need. Next, with a lumber list in hand, he called lumber yards for cost estimates.
Then, ever the researcher, he browsed around online for pre-made shelves, just to see how much we’d be saving by going the DIY route. Well, as it turned out, we wouldn’t be saving much at all. In fact, due to a sale Home Depot was running on these metal shelves, we’d be paying just a tad less for our homemade shelves.
Armed with this knowledge, Mr. FW set out for Home Depot that very day and returned with glorious metal shelves to adorn our basement. While it’s often cheaper to build things ourselves, there are times when buying pre-made costs either less or only a bit more. When we considered the considerable outlay of time building these shelves would entail, we decided it was worth it to pay a modicum more in order to save hours of time. It’s always worth doing price comparison research before embarking on a materials and equipment purchasing spree.
I am thrilled–thrilled, I tell you–with my new basement shelves. I’ve set about organizing and, in the process, getting rid of quite a few items we no longer need. I love organizing and it feels cleansing to me to finally label, stack, and sort everything we own. Giving away all the things we no longer need is yet another balm to my soul–it’s refreshing to let go of stuff and to know that someone else will be able to use it. The basement isn’t done yet, but things are well underway thanks to my new shelves. Money well spent. Hooray!
Other Things That Happened In July
Will be discussed in next week’s installment of This Month On The Homestead!
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 this month 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 19,700 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 July:
|Shelving||$828.38||For our epic basement organization project|
|6 months of car insurance||$269.50||This is 6 months’ worth of car insurance for our 2010 Subaru Outback and 2010 Toyota Prius. Our insurance is through Geico and it’s inexpensive for several reasons: we don’t have comprehensive insurance (just liability), we’re good drivers (with no tickets), and we own older cars. We carry A LOT of liability insurance (more than the state required amount), but since our cars have a very finite $ value (which we could replace with cash tomorrow if we had to), we don’t see the point of paying for collision insurance. It’s not like we’d fix something superficial like a dent anyway. We’re happy to self-insure when the odd rock hits the proverbial windshield (which happened to our Subaru last year and which we simply paid cash to replace).|
|Gasoline for the cars||$78.06||LOVE our gas-sipping Prius. Since we live so rurally we drive a lot, but our gas bill does not show it!|
|Internet||$74.00||Love our high-speed fiber internet out here in the middle of nowhere!|
|Household supplies||$63.70||All non-food household supplies, including such thrilling things as toilet paper, shampoo, and dental floss.|
|Farm and garden supplies||$61.94||Fence Wire, Sprayer, BT Caterpillar Spray, Twine|
|Beer stockup||$59.59||Beer from the Alchemist and Hill Farmstead for our guests (and selves!)|
|Date night!||$57.49||Our one meal out for the month: date night with free babysitting provided by our amazing neighbor, Babywoods’ adopted grandmother!|
|Doctor appointment||$30.00||Co-payment for a doctor’s appointment|
|Ethanol-free gas||$29.17||For our gas-powered small engines: mower, trimmer, and chainsaw|
|OK to Wake Clock||$22.79||Our acquiescence to marketing: purchased this clock for Babywoods’ room, which lights up when it’s time to get up. Parents set the clock for whatever time they want in the morning, which teaches kids to keep quiet until it lights up. I have to say, it’s actually working so far and Babywoods LOVES having her own clock.|
|Cell phone||$19.99||Through BOOM Mobile|
|Home improvement supplies||$4.87||A new wax ring for one of our toilets, which was leaking a tad at the base.|