It’s appropriate that I spent $34.25 on a 20lb tank of C02 because quite a few of you are participating in my bi-annual Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge (UFM) this month. And this tank of C02 is the perfect illustration of an overarching theme of the UFM:
Frugality isn’t about depriving yourself, it’s about being strategic with your resources.
I am not into hardship or deprivation. Not my thing. What I am into is saving money where I can and in ways that are efficient, focused on what matters most to me, and with an eye on the return on my investment (whether that’s in the form of $$ or happiness).
Frugality has a reputation for being painful, boring, and devoid of all pleasure. False. Frugality is about being creative, strategic, and conscious about how you spend your money (and I’d argue, your time too).
Mr. FW and I could stop drinking seltzer in order to save money. It would cost us much less to drink plain tap water. But we love seltzer and we choose to keep it in our lives. Making the choice to continue drinking seltzer is an example of what I call luxurious frugality and it’s how I like to live. I’m not about cutting every last gratuitous expense. I’m about judicious allocation of money and clever savings where possible.
My 20lb tank of C02 embodies my approach to frugality SO much so that a lot of you are probably sick of hearing me talk about it. But you guys, it’s such a good example!!!! And so, to the cringing of people around the globe who’ve heard this story before, allow me to regale you with The Tale Of Our Seltzer Machine.
Carbonation Is King
There once was a young lass (that’s me!) who drank at least one Diet Coke per day. She knew it was expensive and not ideal for one’s health, but she craved it nonetheless. Until one day she happened upon some seltzer in a store.
Intrigued at the prospect of plain water with carbonation, she bought a pack. As she hoisted the can to her lips, she was overcome with the realization that all this time, it hadn’t been the ersatz flavor of Diet Coke that kept her coming back. All along, it had been the carbonation that held her captive…
Ok that version was going to take way too long, let’s hustle things along here:
- I drank soda until I discovered seltzer. It’s only water, so yay, no more weird diet soda chemicals.
- Somewhere in here, I converted Mr. FW to seltzer.
- Mr. FW and I bought cans of seltzer at the grocery store.
- We realized that two liter bottles of seltzer were cheaper, so we bought those.
- We learned about SodaStream seltzer-making machines–and calculated that would be cheaper than two liter bottles–and bought one.
- We swapped out our tiny, expensive SodaStream C02 cartridges until one day, Mr. FW was beset by the idea that he could hack our SodaStream, hook it up to a cheap 20lb tank of C02 and deliver fresh seltzer to us for a fraction of the price.
- And so he did. Here’s my step-by-step tutorial if you too would like to hack your SodaStream.
- UPDATE: A LOT OF PEOPLE have noted that the hose adaptor kit we purchased for our hack is no longer available on Amazon.
- A LOT OF PEOPLE have asked me for a new link.
- I have heard you, people.
- BEHOLD: A NEW LINK for the hose adaptor kits (yes, this is an affiliate link).
- Oh but we’re not done yet.
- Not by a long shot.
- Bet you thought that new hose adaptor kit link was the end.
- It was not.
A year into our life as Hacked SodaStream Enthusiast Weirdos, we made a discovery:
- “Lo but we did one day see that the hipster homebrew store where we were swapping out our 20lb C02 tanks was slapping a hipster-designed marketing sticker over the incriminating evidence that their C02 tanks were DIRECTLY FROM the not-at-all hipster local welding supply shop.”
- Upon making this discovery, my frugal antennae went up. WAY up.
- Hipster = more expensive than not-at-all hipster.
- I called the not-at-all hipster local welding supply shop (called Igo’s, by the way) and queried their price for a 20lb C02 tank swap.
- I was vindicated. Igo’s price was a whopping HALF of what we’d been paying at the hipster homebrew store.
- See data below.
- This data was “liberated” from my complete post on the topic: The Great Homemade Seltzer Discovery of 2015
Raw CO2 costs:
- Traditional Sodastream cartridge: $1.07/oz ($15 for 14oz)
- 20lb C02 tank from homebrew store: $0.22/oz ($69 for 320oz, or 20lbs)
- 20lb C02 tank from welding supply store: $0.11/oz ($35 for 320oz, or 20lbs)
Based on our consumption rate of 42oz of CO2 a month (3 traditional Sodastream cartridges worth), our monthly CO2 cost is now dramatically lower:
- Old system with traditional Sodastream cartridge: $44.94/month
- 2014 frugal newbie system with homebrew store-sourced tank: $9.24/month
- 2015 frugal boss system with welding store-sourced tank: $4.62/month
With our original tank hack, we were saving $35.70 a month. But with our new tank hack, we save $40.32 per month, which is also known as $483.84 per year.
Clearly, this is a cost savings. But it’s also an elaborate way of having fun. There was intrigue, discovery, self-improvement (no more soda passes my lips!), a mystery to be solved, and a field trip to a place called Igo’s. In a near-universal truism of frugality, this approach is also more environmentally friendly.
No more cans or plastic bottles or tiny cartridges. Just one giant tank that gets used and re-used and re-used… What more could a frugal sojourner desire? While we no longer live near Igo’s (pour one out), we’ve found another welding supply shop here in Vermont that suits our needs and, oddly enough, charges almost exactly the same price as Igo’s. Must be the going rate and must be inflation-proof.
Note: our C02 is food grade and what I recommend to anyone interested in setting up a similar system is to call your supplier and specifically ask for food grade C02.
Credits Cards: How We Buy Everything (20lb tanks of C02 included)
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 $20 bill went; it all shows up in our monthly expense report from Personal Capital. This prompts me to spend less money because I KNOW I’m going to see every expense in detail at the end of each month.
- We get rewards. Who doesn’t like rewards? Credit card rewards are a simple way to get something for nothing. Through the cards we use, Mr. FW and I get cash back as well as hotel and airline points just for buying things we were going to buy anyway.
- We build our credit. Since Mr. FW and I don’t carry any debt other than our mortgages, having several credit cards open for many years (which are fully paid off every month) has greatly helped our credit scores. By the way, it’s a dirty, dirty myth that carrying a balance on your credit card helps your credit score–IT DOES NOT. Paying your cards off IN FULL every month and keeping them open for many years, however, does help your score.
If you’re interested in opening a credit card, I highly recommend using this site to search for a card that’ll best fit your needs. And if you’re interested in travel rewards cards specifically, check out this list curated by my friend Brad from Travel Miles 101. I respect Brad’s work in the travel rewards space and I trust his advice on which cards will reap the best benefits.
Huge caveat to credit card usage: you MUST pay your credit card bills in full every single month, with no exceptions. If you’re concerned about your ability to do this, or think that using credit cards might prompt you to spend more money, then credit cards are not for you–stick with using a debit card and/or cash. But if you have no problem paying that bill in full every month? I recommend you credit card away, my friend! (these are affiliate links)
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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 (these are affiliate links). 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 allocate our money like we do? 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 prudent financial management and 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 in which we maximize efficiency.
Why do I share our expenses? To help give you a sense of how we use our money in a goal-oriented manner. Your spending will differ from ours and there’s no “one right way” to spend and no “perfect” budget (perfection does not exist!). We’re not the most frugal people on earth (far from it) and we’re not spendthrifts either. We fall somewhere in between and I hope that by being transparent about our spending, you might gain some insights into your own spending and be inspired to take proactive control of your money.
Interested in how we keep costs 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 it’s free!
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 take it to a transfer station once a week in bags that we purchase from our town), we heat our home with wood we harvest ourselves from our land, and we don’t have central air conditioning (we use window units during the hottest parts of the summer). We also have solar panels, which account for our low electricity bill.
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 other common expenses that you don’t see listed below?
- 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. These expenses show up as the full annual amount in the month we pay them.
- We don’t have any debt (other than our mortgage) and we paid cash for our cars.
- Our health insurance is paid for by Mr. FW’s employer (who he works for from home).
- Here’s how we make charitable contributions: How We Donate To Charities Like Billionaires and also How We Make Meaningful And Tax Efficient Charitable Donations.
If you’re wondering about anything else, feel free to ask me in the comments section!
Alright you frugal money voyeurs, feast your eyes on every dollar we spent in December:
|Groceries||$699.92||Special Christmas foods for the win (and the expensive-ness). Our waistlines and wallets are thankful we only eat decadently once a year…|
|Christmas Gifts||$442.95||This total includes gifts for:
Mr. FW and I don’t exchange gifts with each other and we buy our kids’ gifts at garage sales/thrift stores throughout the year. More on our gift-giving approach here.
|Preschool||$434.56||Kidwoods goes to preschool four mornings a week, which we and she love! More on our preschool decision here.|
|Beer and alcohol||$187.44||Mr. FW made a mini pilgrimage to the new Upper Pass tasting room to stock up on some delicious and luscious local beers, which we’ve been drinking with relish. He also bought a bottle of Hendrick’s gin (the best gin) for my traditional Christmas gin-and-tonics. Plus, a caramel-flavored vodka (sounds disgusting, I know, but it’s amazing) for addition to Mommywoods and Daddywoods’ Christmastime hot cocoa and egg nog. Divine, I tell you. Divine. Wondering why we needed spiked cocoa and egg nog? Read this.
We also gave a some of these local Vermont beers as gifts!
|Gasoline for cars||$124.80|
|Restaurants||$101.37||Mr. FW and I went on our customary once-a-month date night (our adopted grandma neighbor comes over to babysit after we put the kids to bed!!! WE LOVE HER).
AND Mr. FW and I took Littlewoods out to lunch at a local coffee shop while Kidwoods was at preschool one day (this mostly because I wanted a holiday-themed latte real bad). Can I just say that it is SO EASY to take a baby to a restaurant? Toddlers on the other hand? Forget about it. We’ve taken both of our children out to eat with us exactly one time. That was enough. We’ll revisit restaurants with our children once they’re both old enough. Which might not be until they’re ten. I’m OK with that.
P.S. the latte was “gingerbread” and it was amazing.
|Household supplies||$97.23||Thrilling items such as laundry detergent, toilet paper, medications, dental floss, baby supplies, etc.|
|Internet||$75.00||Love our fiber internet!!!!|
|Landline VOIP reload (14 months of service)||$50.00 ($3.57 per month)||We–GASP–have a landline (through VOIP.ms) because we don’t get reliable cell reception at our homestead. This is a reload that’ll last us about 14 months. At $3.57 per month, that’s a pretty good deal!|
|Shirt for Mr. FW||$48.99||We purchased this Carhartt work shirt for Mr. FW from our local farm supply store (the aptly named Farm Way). We’ve found that Carhartt seems to be the happy medium between super expensive work gear (not worth the price) and super cheap stuff that doesn’t last.
Mr. FW loves this shirt as it’s fleece-lined and has pockets, so he can sometimes get away without a coat, which is ideal for some of his outdoor chores since a coat can impede movement. (the above is an affiliate link)
|Fireplace gloves and baby cream||$46.18||We were in dire need of new fireplace gloves as our old gloves had holes in every fingertip, which kind of defeated the purpose of their role as gloves. We got this pair. And yes, we tried to buy these locally, but couldn’t find them in stock anywhere.
Littlewoods is a rashy baby and our pediatrician recommend this cream, so we’re trying it out to see if it’ll help. All my cheaper remedies that worked on Kidwoods are no match for Littlewoods’ rash-prone self (these are both affiliate links).
|Stone chip delivery for our driveway||$45.00||Icy conditions necessitated a delivery of stone chips for our quarter-mile-long, steep driveway.|
|Diesel for our tractor||$44.00||We use our tractor (with snowblower attachment) to clear our snow in the winter, which equals a need for more diesel!|
|Doctor visit co-pay||$35.00||Someone went to the doctor at some point for something (I cannot recall who or for what, so clearly that person is now fine… )|
|20lb C02 refill for our homemade seltzer-rama machine (an 8 month supply)||$34.25 (lasts for 8 months; so it’s $4.28 per month)||Longtime readers know that several years ago we hacked our Sodastream machine to outfit it with a 20lb C02 tank, which is VASTLY less expensive than the tiny refill cartridges. Thanks to this system, we enjoy bubbly water for a fraction of the price. This tank’ll last us approximately 8 months.|
|Cell phone through BOOM Mobile||$19.99|
|Utilities: Electric||$12.60||We have solar (which I detail here) and this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Yellow Curry Paste||$7.31||For Mr. FW’s homemade Thai recipes. Oddly enough, none of our local stores or markets carry this curry paste (affiliate link).|