Water heater mania! Well, not really a mania since we only bought ONE water heater, but more of a mania than if we hadn’t bought any water heaters. As eagle-eyed devotees of my Instagram account know–thanks to incriminating photos –we installed solar panels on our barn roof at the end of 2017. I will, at some point, write a full post on our solar decision (complete with lots of math!! I promise!), but in the meantime, suffice it to say that our solar array generates all of the electricity we need and then some.
In light of this, we’re in the process of converting our household machineries over to electric to the extent possible. The first conversion we made was our water heater, which previously ran on propane we purchased annually at no small expense. We converted to a heat pump hybrid electric water heater that eliminates our need for propane (for hot water) and allows us to leverage our solar power. It’s 3.5 times more efficient than a standard electric water heater and, due to its energy-efficiency, it qualified for two massive rebates:
- $500 from Efficiency Vermont
- $250 from our electric company (Washington Electric)
The water heater was $1,299 from Home Depot and these two rebates brought our cost down to a mere $549. These rebates coupled with the high price of propane made it a no-brainer and the water heater will pay for itself in short order. Hooray!
Mr. Frugalwoods installed the water heater himself, which saved us several hundred (a thousand?) dollars on the cost of installation. This was no easy feat since we were going from propane to electric and so he had to install a new 220 circuit. He also did all the plumbing for it using PEX and added ball valve shut-offs. The water heater technically requires a condensate drain, but we’re just using a 5 gallon bucket right now since it doesn’t actually drain very much water. If it turns out to be an issue, we’ll put in a condensate pump.
We are absolutely loving this water heater and, due to our low usage of hot water, we’re able to run it in “heat pump only” mode, which means it’s extra efficient. If we had a lot of guests in the house all needing to shower at the exact same moment, we could switch it over to “hybrid” mode, which would use electric resistance heaters. As a bonus, it works as a light dehumidifier for our basement. Our basement isn’t very damp, but a bit of dehumidifying is quite nice. Another bonus is that it’s super cool and dry right next to the water heater, so I’m storing the early apples we’ve harvested next to it.
All in all, we’re thrilled to be off propane for hot water and delighted to be utilizing our solar more efficiently. We over-installed our solar–meaning we had more panels put on than our annual usage–to allow us to increase our electricity usage (i.e. this water heater) and decrease our dependence on other forms of energy, such as propane.
You’ll see below the final (and I do mean FINAL) expenditure for our 2010 Subaru Outback: $125 for a professional detailing. This is the FINAL expense because I’m thrilled to report that we sold it to a happy new owner in July! Hooray! I’ll write up more on the process soon, but the quick version is that we sold it for $9,300, having purchased it (used) in 2016 for $12,000. This is a pretty modest depreciation and proof positive of why you want to buy used cars. I’ve written exhaustively on that topic, so if you’re curious, check out this, this, and this. Last month, we paid to have the Subaru’s brakes fixed, the oil changed, and the state inspection performed. Some readers asked why we didn’t sell it “as is” and the rationale was two-fold:
- We were able to command a higher price since we could cite all of the recent work performed
- We feel more comfortable selling a car that we know is safe and in good condition
We also made the decision to pay $125 to have it thoroughly cleaned and detailed because it was, uh, absolutely filthy. After carting around two kids, a dog, and a LOT of farm-type stuff, the car was a mess. After the detail? The thing looked brand new. I mean seriously, it looked GOOD. How they got those atrocious stains out of the upholstery, I will never know. I considered doing the cleaning myself, but that was before I detailed our Prius…. by myself, which took me THREE HOURS. Not an exaggeration. And the Prius is smaller and was a few grades cleaner to start with. Hence, I was happy to pay for the Subaru to be professionally cleaned since I view that as an investment in commanding a top re-sale price. On the other hand, I calculated that it wasn’t worth it for me to pay for the Prius to be cleaned since there’s not the same return on investment. I’m pleased to report that the new owner was delighted with the condition of the Subaru and it sold without a hitch. Hooray!
A Weird Car Thing I Bought
Pursuant to my three-hour scouring of the Prius, which entailed vacuuming and wiping every surface plus excavating all of the toys, books, and kids’ snacks (in addition to washing both carseat covers and bases… good grief that took another two hours… ), we bought this seat cover for the back seat.
Designed for dogs, it works just as well for kids and has holes for carseat buckles. My hope is that this’ll reduce my cleaning time next go around (which, let’s be honest, won’t be until next summer… ). Since both of our kids are rear-facing in their carseats, their little feets go up on the back seats (well, Littlewoods’ tiny feets don’t reach, but Babywoods’ sure do). Even though we take their shoes off in the car, dirt and sundry detritus still sneaks on in. With this cover, I am pleased to report that I can simply wipe it off and not fret about mashed cheese in the upholstery. I am now on a campaign to keep the car clean and junk-free after our experience with rodentia earlier this year… ick. Between having kids and living in the woods, our lives are often gross. Just sayin.
Restaurants! And Gifts!
My fab parents visited us for several weeks in June and offered to babysit while Mr. FW and I went out to dinner. At least I think that’s what they were saying as he and I ran out of the house and jumped into the car, leaving them gaping in the doorway with both kids… I jest. We actually put the kids to bed before we go out on date nights because it’s easier for everyone (and gives mama peace of mind). It was our tenth wedding anniversary in June, so we just kept right on celebrating in July with my parents-as-babysitters. Parents of small children must party when they have the option. We also went hiking sans kids, which was the free iteration of our date-days.
Babywoods is THRILLED that her little friends are starting to have birthday parties and so you’ll see expenses for several toddler b-day gifts below. I don’t know that a kid has ever been so excited to go to birthday parties and it’s a joy for us to watch her (also, hilarious). My philosophy on birthday gifts for other kids is that I buy them new and try to stay in the $10-$18 price range per gift. This feels like a reasonable approach for us now and we’ll reassess if needed as she gets older and starts going to more parties. For reference, we bought the toddler board games Hoot Owl Hoot and Monkey Around (I haven’t played either, but they were both highly recommended to me by other parents of toddlers).
Additionally, one of my best friends had her first baby, so we sent along a gift from their registry to celebrate. Plus, Mr. FW’s birthday is in August and, for his gift, he went to the Stellafane Amateur Telescope Makers conference in southern Vermont. The perfect gift for a man who does not like stuff but does love stars. I’m all for gift giving when it makes sense and is done practically and affordably.
As I shared in this month’s installment of This Month On The Homestead (there HAS to be a less repetitive way for me to write that… ), we bought a used logging winch in July. Mr. FW also procured a snatch block, tree strap, and shackle to work with the logging winch.
Additionally, as discussed in This Month On The Homestead, our garden is producing prolifically and so we found ourselves in dire need of more canning and preserving jars, lids, as well as weights and airlocks for making our custom chard kimchi, known–of course–as Kimchardashian.
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 Uber Frugal Month Challenge, which is the method Mr. FW and I employ to sculpt our frugal lifestyle. 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 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 July:
|Logging Winch||$1,900.00||A used Norse 350 Logging Winch, which retails new for $2,600. Check out my This Month On The Homestead for the full story.|
|Water heater||$549.00||Retails for $1,299 (from Home Depot). This is our price after a $500 rebate from Efficiency Vermont and a $250 rebate from Washington Electric.|
|Costco stock-up||$347.81||We have a Costco membership and the closest store is 1.5 hours away. This was our quarterly stock-up of shelf-stable foods and supplies, including olive oil, oats, spices, work gloves, and more!|
|Six months of car insurance||$278.40||Six months of car insurance through Geico for our Toyota Prius and Toyota Tundra. This is so low because: we shopped around, we are both accident and ticket-free, we live in a rural area, we don’t commute to work, AND we don’t carry comprehensive insurance because we could easily replace both of our cars (in full with cash) if we needed to. However, we carry the maximum in liability coverage because we feel that with healthcare costs as they are, the risk of a large liability claim is one we don’t want to self-insure against. More here.|
|Household supplies||$177.71||Thrilling non-food items such as shampoo, laundry detergent, vitamins, toilet paper, and more! Including this car seat cover thing for the Prius.|
|Parts for water heater install||$146.12||Parts is parts|
|Detailing (cleaning) for the Subaru||$125.00||A good scrub prior to selling|
|Gasoline for cars||$82.76|
|Gifts||$69.13||Gifts (this and this) for several birthday parties and a friend’s new baby!|
|Supplies for logging winch||$63.83||Snatch block along with a tree strap and shackle for winching trees|
|Canning jars||$41.29||For our excessive amount of food preservation|
|Vermont Woodlands Association Annual Membership||$40.00||Annual membership in the Vermont Woodlands Association|
|Stellafane Conference||$35.00||Stellafane entrance fee for Mr. FW|
|Canning supplies||$26.94||Weights and airlock for making our own kimchi from our chard and kale|
|Cell phone through BOOM Mobile||$19.99|
|Utilities: Electricity||$15.60||We have solar; this is the base price to keep us grid tied.|
|Snacks!||$4.98||I failed to take my own advice and forgot to pack snacks one day for an outing. The horror!|