September 2017 just might go down in Frugalwoods history as our most expensive month. Ever. As fate would have it, a ton of one-time and annual expenses all lined up this month and tallied to an astronomical total. But you know what? It doesn’t matter and we didn’t sweat it. Not for a moment. Here’s why:
- Mr. Frugalwoods and I are frugal every single day of the year. We don’t ever let up on our lifelong frugality, we don’t fall into our consumer culture’s ‘treat yourself’ trap, and we never, ever skate anywhere close to zero in our emergency fund. Thanks to our consistent frugality, ridiculously (and I do mean ridiculously) expensive months like this one don’t matter. They’re barely a blip on our otherwise supremely low spending trajectory. Consistent frugality grants you the freedom to spend a lot when you need to.
- We only spend on what matters. There’s no buyer’s remorse, regret, or guilt around our spending this month because every single thing we purchased is consistent with our priorities. We carefully consider and discuss each purchase and we don’t buy stuff we don’t need. Simple as that. By not wasting money on items that aren’t in alignment with our longterm goals–and that don’t yield the life we want–we’re able to buy the things we truly do need and that will facilitate our aspirations.
- We carefully track our spending. By using Personal Capital, we know exactly how much we spend every month. Doing this ensures that we understand what we’re buying, how much we’re spending, and how this impacts our longterm financial picture. Ignoring your spending is the fastest way to get into debt, fail to map out a financial future, overdraft your accounts, and otherwise stink at money management. But fear not, because it is super simple to start tracking your spending. It’s the first, best, and easiest way to get a handle on your finances. If you’re not tracking your spending, sign-up for Personal Capital today (hey, it’s free!).
So What DID We Buy??
The biggest thing we “bought” this month were our property taxes. Paid once a year, our property taxes cover our entire 66-acre parcel, our home, and our barn. Taxes are high in Vermont, but we’re happy to pay them as they support things that are important to us, such as high quality public schools! We made a very conscious decision to live in the state of Vermont, which you can read all about here.
Next up were a slew of items I’ve dubbed the “winter-is-coming preparations list.” Before winter sets in, which is usually in October/November ’round these parts, it’s important to be prepared. One does not want to be caught cold. To that end, we purchased oil for our oil tank as well as propane for our propane tanks along with a wood splitter. All three of these items are what will keep us Frugalwoodses warm during the long, chilly Vermont winter. Since this is a meagre explanation for what is surely a topic generating endless curiosity, I’m going to provide a full-blown description of these three winter-preparedness items in my upcoming installment of This Month On The Homestead. So, you know, brace yourself for the thrill of hearing an in-depth conversation about our new wood splitter. Try not to salivate.
September was also the month for Frugal Hound’s annual houndy check-up at the veterinarian. This year, for the first time ever, she received a “senior canine check-up” as she’s reached the robust age of eight. For a greyhound, that counts as elderly. I’m delighted to report that Frugal Hound passed with a healthy hound certificate and is not found to be wanting in any health-related category.
Planning for the longterm expenses related to owning a pet is a crucial element of deciding to bring an animal into your home and I will say that over the years, it adds up. For us, this is a worthy expense, but it’s important to recognize the inherent costs of pet ownership, even for extremely frugal pet owners, such as us, who insource everything from grooming to nail clipping to teeth brushing. For more on this topic, check out: Our Approach To Affordable, Responsible Dog Care.
Mr. FW–at my behest and urging–purchased a pair of chainsaw boots. Unfortunately, contrary to what the name might imply, these are not boots equipped with chainsaws; rather, they are safety boots for folks who use chainsaws. Our chainsaw is the most dangerous tool we own, which is why Mr. FW took a chainsaw safety course and why he wears A LOT of chainsaw safety gear, including saw-proof leg covers (called chainsaw chaps), gloves, a helmet with a mask, ear protection, and now these spiffy boots, which will repel a chainsaw blade. A great investment in his feet and toes! Hooray! Previously, he was wearing steel-toed boots, which are OK safety-wise, but these boots–specifically crafted for chainsaw use–are the ideal safety mechanism for protecting his lower extremities. PSA: Do not even THINK about using a chainsaw without the appropriate training and safety gear.
We also booked airline tickets for our last air travel trip
ever/ until our kids can carry their own suitcases before Babywoods 2’s birth. We’re headed down to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit my in-laws and then to Dallas, Texas for a personal finance conference (while Babywoods 1 hangs out with her grandparents!). Spending time with family is a priority, so we don’t bat an eye at booking the flights to make this possible.
In the farm and tools category, we stocked up this month in preparation for winter. Not a whole lot of outdoor work gets done while we’re covered in snow (except, naturally, snow clearing), so you’ll see a number of farm expenses related to preparing our equipment and land for the cold, cold months ahead.
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 $20 bill went; it all shows up in our monthly expense report from Personal Capital. This prompts me to spend less money because I KNOW I’m going to see every expense in detail at the end of each month.
- We get rewards. Who doesn’t like rewards? Credit card rewards are a simple way to get something for nothing. Through the cards we use, Mr. FW and I get cash back as well as hotel and airline points just for buying things we were going to buy anyway.
- We build our credit. Since Mr. FW and I don’t carry any debt other than our mortgages, having several credit cards open for many years (which are fully paid off every month) has greatly helped our credit scores. By the way, it’s a dirty, dirty myth that carrying a balance on your credit card helps your credit score–IT DOES NOT. Paying your cards off IN FULL every month and keeping them open for many years, however, does help your score.
If you’re interested in opening a credit card, I highly recommend using this site to search for a card that’ll best fit your needs. And if you’re interested in travel rewards cards specifically, check out this list curated by my friend Brad from Travel Miles 101. I respect Brad’s work in the travel rewards space and I trust his advice on which cards will reap the best benefits.
Huge caveat to credit card usage: you MUST pay your credit card bills in full every single month, with no exceptions. If you’re concerned about your ability to do this, or think that using credit cards might prompt you to spend more money, then credit cards are not for you–stick with using a debit card and/or cash. But if you have no problem paying that bill in full every month? I recommend you credit card away, my friend!
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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 free Uber Frugal Month Challenge, which is the method Mr. FW and I employ to sculpt our frugal lifestyle. Over 20,400 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. 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 tax.
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 September:
|Vermont Property Taxes (annual total)
|Paid once a year, our property taxes cover our full 66-acre parcel along with our home and barn
|Airline flights for October
|Flights for our trips to North Carolina and Texas
|Oil (annual total)
|For back-up heat in the winter
|Propane (annual total)
|For our hot water and gas stove
|Household and miscellaneous items
|Mr. FW’s Chainsaw Boots
|Frugal Hound’s annual vet check-up and shots
|Gasoline for cars
|Doctor visit co-pays
|I’m pregnant! Hooray! Co-pays galore.
|Three-point trailer hitch receiver and ball
|Attaches to our tractor and allows us to move our wood splitter around.
|LOVE our high-speed Fiber internet out here in the middle-o-nowhere
|Farm work pants for Mr. FW
|This man is HARD on work pants. Between splitting wood and digging in the garden and hauling things around, his pants meet untimely demises. We’re on the hunt for a pair that’ll last longer than a year or so. Hopefully these’ll do the trick!
|Diesel for tractor
|Through BOOM mobile
|Tools for tractor fluids change
|Ethanol-free gas for our small engines
|Gas for the chainsaw, mower, and trimmer