Howdy! If you feel like I was a bit absent during the month of August, well, you are correct: I was! Babywoods and I were gone for a whopping three weeks in August (and Mr. Frugalwoods for one), which as it turns out, is an incredibly long time to be away from one’s home(stead). But this travel was all for good reason, I assure you.
San Diego Anniversary Extravaganza
My parents celebrated their 50th (yes, 50th!!!) wedding anniversary this summer and in recognition of this momentous milestone, my sister, brother, and I–along with our respective spouses and kids–descended upon my parents’ San Diego-area home. We enjoyed a rollicking three-day celebration consisting of eight adults, four children, and three dogs. There was food, there were drinks, there was a cake, there were champagne toasts, we presented my parents with engraved wine glasses noting the date and their names (in case they forget who they are), and we hired a photographer to document the occasion.
Despite all of our familial revelry, it was a fairly frugal occasion. My parents raised my siblings and me with an emphasis on thriftiness and so it was only natural for us to mark this event in frugal style. We split the costs for the gathering between my brother, sister, and I and my parents insisted (despite persistent resistance from us) on chipping in for food.
It’s also true that I adhere to a system of values-based, priority-driven spending and so I don’t stress out over the cost of airfare and other sundry bits that travel, and this celebration, entailed. Quality time with my family is a top priority and so spending money on it is a no-brainer. The point of my extreme frugality isn’t to save every last dime, it’s to spend my resources judiciously and only on what matters most to me.
To keep things low stress and low cost, we ordered take-out for our dinners together, which had several benefits: it was cheaper than eating in a restaurant, it was easier than wrangling four children (primarily mine) in a restaurant, it’s a lot easier to have a nice conversation at home versus in a noisy restaurant, and best of all, we had take-out leftovers for our lunches the next day! Take-out turned out to be an excellent solution that was cheaper than catering, cheaper and easier than going to a restaurant, and ensured that no one was trapped in the kitchen cooking for 12 people all day long.
And Then On To Portland!
As if my trip to San Diego wasn’t enough excitement for my normally homebody self, I jetted up to Portland, Oregon for the Lola Retreat and left Babywoods in the care of her grandparents. Can I just say that after flying cross-country alone with a toddler, it’s really lovely to fly somewhere solo… I didn’t have to check a bag, no one spit up on me, I was able to enjoy my in-flight beverage without it spilling down my front, and–wait for it–I read a book and worked on my laptop. Sheer bliss, I tell you.
I had the honor of speaking on a panel at the Lola Retreat, which is a conference for women, by women, and with the goal of empowering women to take charge of their finances. And it was amazing. I had the privilege of meeting, and spending time with, a bunch of Frugalwoods readers who came to the conference. Hearing their stories, plans, and goals for everything from paying off debt to achieving financial independence was inspiring and a motivator for me to keep doing what I do.
I’m passionate about personal finance education and most especially about enfranchising women to manage their money themselves. It was thrilling to be part of such a dedicated, engaged community of women all focused on furthering this mission of financial literacy and I can’t wait for the next conference!
Mr. Frugalwoods returned to Vermont after a week in San Diego as both Frugal Hound (who stayed at our kind neighbors’ house while he was away) and the homestead required his assistance. August is growing season and our garden was on fire this month, which I’ll detail in my upcoming 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 $20 bill went; it all shows up in our monthly expense report from Personal Capital. This prompts me to spend less money because I KNOW I’m going to see every expense in detail at the end of each month.
- We get rewards. Who doesn’t like rewards? Credit card rewards are a simple way to get something for nothing. Through the cards we use, Mr. FW and I get cash back as well as hotel and airline points just for buying things we were going to buy anyway.
- We build our credit. Since Mr. FW and I don’t carry any debt other than our mortgages, having several credit cards open for many years (which are fully paid off every month) has greatly helped our credit scores.
If you’re interested in opening a credit card, I highly recommend using this site to search for a card that’ll best fit your needs. And if you’re interested in travel rewards cards specifically, check out this list curated by my friend Brad from Travel Miles 101. I respect Brad’s work in the travel rewards space and I trust his advice on which cards will reap the best benefits.
Huge caveat to credit card usage: you MUST pay your credit card bills in full every single month, with no exceptions. If you’re concerned about your ability to do this, or think that using credit cards might prompt you to spend more money, then credit cards are not for you–stick with using a debit card and/or cash. But if you have no problem paying that bill in full every month? I recommend you credit card away, my friend!
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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 August:
|Cider press and apple grinder||$691.93||More info on this to be included in my upcoming installment of This Month On The Homestead, but suffice it to say, we’re going to be pressing our apples soon!|
|Hotel in Portland, Oregon||$611.10||My hotel room for the Lola Retreat conference.|
|Hydraulic filters and oil for our tractor||$131.46|
|Anniversary celebration for Mrs. FW’s parents||$82.00|
|Gasoline for the cars||$66.62|
|Parking at the airport for a week||$60.00||The cost to park our car at the Manchester, NH airport for a week. SO much cheaper than the Boston area!|
|Restaurants||$47.70||Dining out while on our three-week vacation|
|Annual membership to Vermont Woodlands Association||$40.00||Our membership in an advocacy and education organization for people who own forest acerage in Vermont.|
|Canning jars||$37.64||For preserving the bounty of our garden. Details to come in This Month On The Homestead!|
|Cider yeast and other supplies for cider making||$35.09||To accompany the aforementioned cider press!|
|Cell phone through BOOM mobile||$19.99|
|Household supplies||$15.19||All non-food household supplies, including such thrilling things as toilet paper, shampoo, and dental floss.|
|Public transit in Portland, Oregon||$5.00||I took the delightful light rail system from the airport to my hotel and back. A steal at $2.50 per ride! I love public transit so very much.|