February’s spending reflects the endless wintertime we find ourselves mired in. Nearly everything we bought is in some way seasonal, which is a lovely way of reminding myself that this snow, this winter, this cold is temporal. It’ll melt, it’ll move on, and spring will rush in, making us question if there ever really was snow piled so high that it partially covered our first floor windows? How could that be? Well, it could be because I’m looking at it right now.
The Spending Of An Impending Spring
We’re going to make maple syrup for the first time this year and so, we bought supplies. I wrote about our preparation for the process here and I’ll update you on how it goes! This incessant novelty and learning is why we moved here. Every time we do something new on the homestead, we embrace our goal of lifelong learning. Constant mistakes. Constant newness. Constant progress.
“We can only get better” is our constant refrain. I love being on this journey. I love this never-really-knowing-what-we’re-doing approach to life. Before we moved here, our lives were too easy. Too simple. Boring, even, because we’d mastered our routines. Out here? It’s a firehouse of inexperience and a barrage of errors that (hopefully) result in eventual wisdom.
We’re going to plant a vegetable garden this summer for the third time and so, we bought seeds. Each year we make adjustments to our vegetable aspirations based on what grew well, what died, what we ate, what we preserved, and what went to the compost. Even though this’ll be our third year of vegetable gardening, it still feels fresh. Our knowledge acquired so recently that we’re still tentative and green.
The Spending Of A Never-Ending Winter
Those are the forward-looking purchases. Then there are the where-we-are-right-now expenses. In deference to the permeating cold of this winter, we bought this electric blanket (affiliate link). Pre-heating the bed delivers the nightly luxury of slipping into an encompassing warmth that thaws even the frostiest of toes.
An advantage of the blanket we selected: two zones and two controls. Hence, if you share a bed with someone, you can each control your own side’s temperature! Very convenient if you happen to have different temperature requirements from your partner.
For warming from the inside out, we stocked up on local craft beer to imbibe on dark winter nights as we snuggle around the woodstove.
To mitigate the ice rink our driveway decided to masquerade as, we ordered a load of sand and gravel from our neighbor. This gets spread on top of the ice and gives our car tires traction so that we can drive up the driveway and not slide backwards like a wayward bobsled.
Sippy Cups: Not Related To Weather
Neither winter nor spring was the purchase of four sippy cups, to be evenly distributed between our two children. Up to this point, we’d been making it work with hand-me-down sippy cups received over the years, supplemented by a few .25 cent garage sale purchases. However. One of my teethed children chewed the spouts of every single cup to the point that they no longer function as spill-proof. Seeing as that’s the primary feature of a sippy cup, it was time to order replacements.
As I always do before buying kid-related stuff, I polled my wise mom’s group for their recommendations. A hearty contingent of experienced mommas recommended these Munchkin Miracle 360 cups (affiliate link) because:
- They’re not terribly expensive.
- They’re spill proof (I will note that if a kid throws the cup onto the floor, some liquid will leak out, but it’s not egregious).
- They allow kids to drink as you’d normally drink from a cup (as opposed to simulating a bottle), which is supposed to be better for their dental health.
- They can be used without the lids as regular drinking cups (convenient since Kidwoods drinks from an open cup at mealtimes).
- They are 100% dishwasher-able.
I was sold and bought four so that I can put an end to the interminable conversations with Kidwoods over which child will receive which cup with which liquid (milk or water). Having four identical sippy cups that aren’t chewed or leaking is a form of nirvana.
Littlewoods Turned One!
Our most noteworthy February event–Littlewoods’ first birthday–didn’t cost us anything at all. We feted our girl with homemade pancakes (we swear by this recipe) stuffed with berries picked from our garden last summer. I brought out the party hats we’ve used for everyone’s birthday for the last, oh, five years or so. Littlewoods’ grandparents sent her a few gifts and Mr. FW and I gave her a gift we’d purchased from a garage sale last summer. As soon as the gifts came out, Kidwoods went on alert and elected to “help” Littlewoods open her presents with a bit too much vigor. As Kidwoods explained, “Sometimes babies don’t know how to use their presents.” Good thing she was there to supervise and explain.
I took the opportunity to dress Littlewoods up in multiple outfits and take her photo because that’s my gift for, you know, giving birth to her and feeding her from my body for 12 months. Can’t help myself with the dresses and matching bows. Really, I can’t.
If you’re curious about our approach to frugal kid-rearing, check out my kids section. For birthdays specifically, there’s Our Thrifty And Simple Baby’s First Birthday Party (about Kidwoods’ first b-day), and for infant-hood, which we’re now departing (!!!!), last month I wrote How I Saved Tons Of Money During My Baby’s First Year.
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.
For more on our credit card strategy, check out The Frugalwoods Guide to a Simple, Yet Rewarding, Credit Card Experience.
If you want to get a simple cash back credit card, then from my research, I think the Fidelity Rewards Visa (which is the card that I have) and the Chase Freedom Unlimited are both excellent options. Both of these cards have no annual fee and offer good cash back percentages on your purchases.
The best way to find a credit card that’ll work for you is to search for them yourself. Fortunately, there’s a website, CardRatings.com, with a search function for this purpose that nicely aggregates information about tons of different credit cards.
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! (note: these credit card links 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 manner, you might consider trying Personal Capital (note: these Personal Capital links 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 Cambridge, 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.
If you’re wondering where to start with managing your money, or if you’d like to save more money every month, you might consider taking my free, 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge. You can sign-up at any time and you’ll start with Day One of the Challenge.
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 mortgages) 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 February:
|Groceries||$841.83||I guess we were extra hungry this month? I also did the grocery shopping once, which could explain some things… Mr. FW is our usual grocery shopper (since he’s our cook) and I tend to be less, uh, focused when I’m at the grocery store…|
|Preschool||$482.74||Kidwoods goes to preschool four mornings a week, which we and she love! More on our preschool decision here.|
|Repairs for our Truck||$262.30||Repairs to our 2010 Toyota Tundra, pursuant to my truck-not-starting adventure last month.|
|Roomba!||$259.98||We bought this Roomba (affiliate link) and I’m so excited that I wrote an entire post about it. You’re welcome.|
|Household supplies||$177.29||Thrilling items such as laundry detergent, toilet paper, medications, dental floss, baby supplies, etc.|
|Maple sugaring supplies||$153.46||We’re making maple syrup this spring! This was the cost for tubing, spiles, T’s, and a tapping bit. Wondering what all of that means? Lucky for you, I wrote this post about maple syrup making.|
|Electric Blanket||$153.16||Mr. FW and I adore a pre-warmed bed and our old electric blanket ceased to get warm. We did some research and selected this one to keep our toes toasty and whoa buddy is it warm (affiliate link).|
|Gasoline for cars||$80.40|
|Internet||$74.00||Big fans of our fiber internet!!!!|
|Date night!!!||$70.61||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).|
|Driveway sanding||$65.00||Icy conditions necessitated we order a load of sand/gravel from our neighbor to dump on our quarter-mile long, steep driveway.|
|Local craft beer||$56.00||A stock-up for our beer fridge. Yep, we have a beer fridge, which we found for free on the side of the road many years ago.|
|Diesel for the Tractor||$45.86|
|Spices from Penzey’s||$40.63||Smoked Paprika, Chili Powder, and Epazote|
|Kitchen supplies||$29.29||We’re in a never ending quest to find spatulas and spoons that don’t fall apart. We cook a lot and our stuff takes a beating. We bought this cooking spoon and this spatula (affiliate links) in the hopes that they’ll be more durable.|
|Vegetable garden seeds!!!||$26.50||It’s seed starting time! We bought seeds for our massive vegetable garden from Sample Seeds this year, which has a chaotic website but cheap prices.|
|Co-pay for a visit to the pediatrician||$25.00||One of the kids was sick with something at some point during this month. Can’t remember who or with what, so they must be fine now.|
|Local maple syrup||$25.00||Can’t wait ’til we’re making our own!|
|Sippy cups for the kiddos||$23.94||On the recommendation of my mom’s group, I bought four of these and I love them (affiliate link).|
|Cell phone through BOOM Mobile||$19.99||BOOM is an MVNO cell provider, which is why it’s so cheap. If you’re not using an MVNO (such as BOOM, Ting, Mint, Republic Wireless), do some research as it’s likely you’ll be able to decrease your cell phone bill by A LOT.|
|Utilities: Electric||$19.09||We have solar (which I detail here) and this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|