March makes very clear that we had a baby! Our co-payment for Littlewoods’ birth as well as a few doctor’s appointments and her birth certificates are all reflected in March’s spending. While we frugalize nearly every aspect of child-rearing–from sourcing all used clothing, furniture, and baby accoutrements to creating simple, inexpensive holiday celebrations–there are some immutable costs of having a baby (such as buying copies of their birth certificates!). I love that most of Littlewoods’ stuff–her crib, her clothes, my infant carrier, etc–is on at least its fourth child.
Friends and family handed things down to us before Babywoods was born (and I bought some things at garage sales and thrift stores) and it lives on for Littlewoods! I’m already lining up friends interested in taking these hand-me-downs from us after Littlewoods is done with them.
foisted off gave away a bunch of maternity clothes this past weekend to a friend who is pregnant and am delighted to continue the cycle of sharing and passing along maternity and baby things. Those maternity clothes have been through AT LEAST five different pregnancies–likely even more!–and I love that so many of us have embraced the philosophy of not buying new stuff and instead sharing and passing around our things. I also recently donated two huge bags of baby clothes that we no longer need to a kids clothing swap where I was able to find some bigger sizes for Babywoods for the coming months.
Kids cycle through toys, clothes, and stuff at such a rapid rate that it is absolutely not worth it to buy new. Looking around our house, there are precious few brand new things for our kids. We did have to buy a new infant carseat for Littlewoods as Babywoods’ hand-me-down seat was expired, but we found one at Wal-Mart for 50% off! Hooray! Still bummed we had to buy new, but I wasn’t able to find a hand-me-down that wasn’t expired. In addition to the obvious cost savings of hand-me-downs and used things, I also love the environmental benefit. By taking used things otherwise destined for a landfill, and then passing them along instead of throwing them out, we’re circumventing the embodied costs of buying new and keeping perfectly good baby things in circulation. It’s also true that sourcing things used eliminates the temptation to overanalyze every single purchase and become overwhelmed by choice (research shows that more choices do not make us happier!). I’ve written extensively on the topic of used stuff, and used baby/kid stuff in particular, and I’m reminded of the compounding savings of used things anytime we have a major life change and are able to avoid spending a ton of money.
Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Birthday!
It’s true, I’m getting older. I turned 34 in March and Mr. FW took me out to lunch to celebrate! My fabulous in-laws were visiting and very kindly watched the girls for us while we had a lovely little date. We went to Worthy Burger, a local establishment, and feasted on organic grass-fed burgers (made with beef raised by our neighbors), truffle fries, and local craft beers (full disclosure: I had two. It’s my birthday and, for once, I’m not pregnant!!!!!). We then went in search of a new local coffee shop, only to discover it hasn’t had its grand opening yet. Continuing our hunt, we found a grocery store selling coffee and cupcakes with a little “cafe” (cafe being a charitable word for a table and chairs in their front entryway). Perfect!
Mr. FW and I don’t exchange gifts or cards for birthdays and holidays since we’d much rather put that money towards shared experiences–such as lunch and coffee out on the town. I also don’t need more stuff in my life as I’m trying (so hard) to be more minimalist in the things I own and surround myself with at home.
Less stuff = less stress (as I discovered during my manic pregnancy decluttering episode earlier this year… ). I know that gift giving is a source of expensive drama for many folks and so I have a number of resources that discuss various different frugal approaches to gift giving. Not giving gifts isn’t for everyone and there’s often a happy middle ground to reach between massive consumerism and a total absence of gifts.
Despite it being March, a month you might normally associate with–ahem–spring, we continue our snow-covered existence up here in Vermont and needed a few snow-related items. Chiefly, the snow scrapers for our cars keep breaking. All the time. I don’t think we’re particularly rough on them (doesn’t everyone joust with their snow scrapers?), yet they snap with regularity.
Tired of this ongoing snapping cycle, we decided to up the ante and spend a whopping $34.95 on this snow broom, which is purported to not break quite so easily. It hasn’t broken yet so we’ll see how it does over the long run. I hate replacing stuff all the time since it creates so much waste. I’d much rather use the same darn thing for many, many years and so I very much hope this snow broom is up to the task. Also, snow scrapers do not seem to be something you can find on the used market…
We also bought these new wiper blades for our Prius as the Bosch icon blades we bought last year shattered in the cold weather. Boo! Again, really wish this stuff would last longer. For stuff like wiper blades that typically can’t be sourced used, I’m a fan of trying to buy things that are not at the top of the market, but that aren’t the very cheapest either. I’d prefer to spend more in an effort to create less waste and hopefully avoid needing to continually replace them.
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 as well as City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown.
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 March:
|Our co-payment for Littlewoods’ birth
|Preschool for Babywoods
|Babywoods goes to preschool two mornings a week and loves it!
|Exciting things like toilet paper, dental floss, shampoo, dish soap, and more!
|Dental x-rays for Mr. FW’s fangs
|LOVE our high-speed fiber internet out here in the middle of nowhere
|Gasoline for cars
|Mrs. FW’s birthday lunch!
|Burgers, fries, and beers oh my!
|Local charity snowshoe-a-thon donation
|Doctor visit co-pays
|We bought this snow broom to replace the cheap one we bought just last fall which broke.
|Diesel for tractor
|Wiper blades for Prius
|Wiper blades for our Prius after the Bosch icon blades we bought last year broke.
|Birth Certificates for Littlewoods
|Cell phone through BOOM Mobile
|Parking at the airport to pick-up visiting family
How was your March?
P.S. This month’s Reader Suggestions question is up on the Frugalwoods Facebook page now! Head over there to respond!