December was a rather regular month of spending for us, which might come as a surprise since Christmas happens in December after all. But here in Frugalwoods-land, Christmas and other such events are not an excuse to spend tons of money.
We prefer to celebrate in a simplified, non-consumer-focused style that emphasizes time spent together as a family–not money spent at a mall. I’ve detailed our frugal approach to the holidays (including birthdays and anniversaries) at great length in a number of posts over the years, so I’ll refer you to the following for the nitty gritty on how we mark special occasions and events with nary a dent to our budget:
- Reader Suggestions Of Frugal, Fun, Inexpensive, and Festive Holiday Gifts
- Our Festive, Frugal, and Merry Holiday Traditions
- How To Give Frugal Gifts With Joy And Generosity
As you’ll see in the below list of expenses, there’s a line item for shipping Christmas gifts because we enjoy sending gifts to our parents and siblings. This year, we were thrilled to mail out packages of entirely homemade products all sourced from our garden! Everyone received preserved pickles, beans, apple butter, and rhubarb compote, all grown on our land and canned in our kitchen. There were obviously costs associated with both the growing and the preserving end of things, but we were delighted to send out fully homemade gifts this year. I’m also a huge fan of consumable gifts because they don’t contribute to clutter, they’re meaningful, and everyone likes food! At least, I sure do!
Since the birth of our second daughter is fast approaching (she’s due in mid-February), we opted to spend a quiet cozy Christmas at home with our little family of three (four if you count Frugal Hound), which was equal parts frugal and festive. Our main expenditures were on a few extra grocery items to make special Christmas dishes–our customary breakfast casserole, shoo fly pie, and chicken spiedini menu, the recipes for which I shared last year.
We also went out for a rare treat lunch at a restaurant during the Christmas week as Babywoods is decidedly more delightful during the lunch hour than the dinner hour… no reason to struggle through a restaurant meal with an exhausted toddler! There’s a BBQ place not too far from us that offers a free salad bar meal for kids under four, which suits Babywoods perfectly as: 1) they have chicken and eggs on their salad bar, two of her favorites, 2) she gets to eat immediately, which alleviates the interminable (to a toddler) wait for food to come to the table, and 3) free meal for the kid! Ideal.
I Bought Curtains: NEW Curtains
Not a euphemism, I bought me some curtains. Try not to faint. Indeed, you might be surprised to see that I bought not one, not two, but THREE BRAND NEW blackout curtains for the three windows that grace Babywoods’ and her little sister’s bedrooms. People, it is RARE that I buy things and even RARER that I buy things new. But I did this time. Let me tell you all about this thrilling tale.
Two years ago, prior to the birth of our first daughter–known to you all as Babywoods–I read that babies sleep best in dark rooms. Ok, I thought, I will make her room dark. Easy! I taped paper bags over both windows in her room and presto: frugal and free blackout curtains. Then, we moved to a new home–aka our homestead in the Vermont woods–and I enacted the exact same methodology in her new bedroom. Paper bags taped up to completely cover her window. I then hung cute hand-me-down curtains (which are in no way, shape, or form blackout curtains) on the window to cover up the paper bag situation.
However. I did not realize that I’d made a terrible miscalculation vis-à-vis my new windows. You see, the windows in our Vermont home are made of–you will not be surprised by this–wood. And wood, as it turns out, is not amenable to being constrained by paper bags. Wood wants to breathe. It does not want tape covering its woody bits. Like an idiot, I did not realize this. Lo, quite a few months later, I happened to peek behind the paper bags and was confronted with growing mold. Ick. And so, my cheap paper bag hack had to go.
After cleaning off the mold, I began a quest that participants in my Uber Frugal Month Challenge will recognize. I went through all the steps of avoiding impulse spending by following my own 72-hour waiting rule. Although I actually waited a lot longer than 72 hours because I hate buying new stuff! Here’s what I did and the strategy I recommend for avoiding unnecessary spending:
- I first tried to meet this need by implementing a supremely frugal tactic: paper bags over the windows.
- When this failed, I got out my box of old curtains and tested them for their light-blocking capabilities. None of them were designed to block out light and all proved pretty miserable at the task.
- Then I considered whether or not I actually need blackout curtains for my children’s rooms. I determined that I DO need blackout curtains because my child sleeps fabulously (knock on wood) in a dark room and it’s not worth it to me to mess with a baby’s sleep. Fellow parents know that we will do ANYTHING to get our kids to sleep and if blackout curtains work? You don’t mess with a good thing.
- Next I considered if this was an item I could borrow from a friend. Nope because it’s something I’m going to need for a long time. With stuff that we only need for a single project or a brief period of time (such as a specific tool), borrowing is a fabulous frugal tactic. But for curtains? Not so much.
- Next I tried to find the curtains used. Buying used is vastly cheaper than buying new and it’s also a great way to shop environmentally. New products incur a high carbon footprint and buying used circumvents both these embodied costs and also keeps a used item out of a landfill. I scoured thrift stores, Craigslist, and my online parent swap groups. No luck.
- After exhausting all of these strategies, I resorted to my very last resort: I bought them new. In order to find a good deal, I checked a few local stores and compared prices on Amazon. The cheapest, best curtains I could find were these from Amazon and I’m pleased to report they’re working out quite well indeed.
By following this regimen before buying new, I’m able to avoid buyer’s remorse, know that I’m spending in alignment with my values, and feel confident about this outlay of cash. When purchases are intentional and well considered, there’s no reason to feel any guilt and they’re a great illustration of living a fully frugalized lifestyle.
I Wrote A Book!
I really did! And I’m so excited! As I shared last month, my book, Meet The Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living, publishes on March 6, 2018 and is available to be pre-ordered now.
If you do pre-order the book, I will mail you a signed bookplate! You’ll notice a line item below for stamps for said bookplates because I’ve already mailed out the first few batches! But if you too would like to have my signature arrive in your mailbox, there’s still plenty of time to place your order. You can find all of the details here.
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.
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 and expenses 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 Donate To Charities Like Billionaires and also How We Make Meaningful And Tax Efficient Charitable Donations.
Alright you frugal money voyeurs, feast your eyes on every dollar we spent in December:
|Home insurance for Vermont property
|One full year of home insurance on our Vermont home.
|Babywoods goes to a Waldorf preschool two mornings a week, which she loves and we love!
|Gasoline for cars
|All non-food household items, including such thrilling things as toilet paper, laundry detergent, and toothpaste. Woohoo!
|Love that we have high-speed Fiber internet out here in the middle of nowhere. An expense I’m very happy to pay!
|Shipping for Christmas gifts
|We mailed out 5 packages to our immediate family members for Christmas
|Restaurant dinner for date night
|Our fabulous neighbor comes over to watch Babywoods one night a month so that Mr. FW and I can go out on a date. We have the best neighbors in the world!!!!
|Three blackout curtains for the girls’ rooms
|Here are the curtains I ended up buying.
|Stamps for mailing out signed bookplates for my book
|Stamps for mailing out signed bookplates to Frugalwoods readers who pre-ordered my book.
|Chainsaw gas can
|A new gas can for the chainsaw.
|Restaurant family lunch
|The three of us went out for a special treat lunch during the Christmas week. Yum!
|Diesel for tractor
|Through BOOM Mobile
|Mr. FW made a divine green thai curry dish for us this month and needed this curry paste, which he couldn’t find at our local asian market. Amazon to the rescue!