Our emergence from winter crystallized in March with the purchase of lots of stuff for our vegetable garden! Don’t worry, we were still covered in snow alllllllllll month long, but we at least started buying things for our eventual, supposed, promised, ephemeral springtime.
I’m not sure I can emphasize just how much snow we had in March. I’ve included several photos, which do a far more descriptive job than my cabin-fevered ramblings.
You’d think it’d be cheap to grow your own food, but it’s not. We’re still in the start-up, infrastructure-building phase of gardening and so we’re optimistic that in a few years, we’ll own everything we need and the costs will indeed be minimal. but until that day, we proudly grow $687 tomatoes. Ok it’s not quite that bad…
I’ll detail our seed starting adventures in greater detail in my next installment of This Month On the Homestead, but the brief version is that we bought more expensive–and sturdier–seed starting trays and cells, which we hope to re-use for many years. Unfortunately, the cheaper trays we bought at Home Depot last year only lasted a single season (boo).
We also stocked up on a few more maple sugaring supplies and you know what that means–there’ll be another maple sugaring post coming your way soon!
Mrs. FW’s Birthday
I turned 35 in March and I celebrated by going out to dinner with my husband, which was glorious. Then I celebrated again by going out to dinner with two of my girlfriends, which was also glorious. We have five kids between the three of us and we brought none of them with us. All on our own, we ventured out on the town.
This is the kind of thing that I wouldn’t have prioritized in the past. I would’ve been worried about spending an evening away from my family, I would’ve been worried about spending money on myself, I would’ve been worried that I wasn’t using my time productively. I would’ve been worried that I should stay home and clean or write or work instead. All of those fears and worries would’ve consumed me before I began taking medication to treat my postpartum depression and anxiety.
Now, with my anxiety at bay and my depression under control, I see the wisdom in going out with my friends. I wasn’t worried about wasted time, or money wasted–because it wasn’t wasted time or wasted money. It was a valuable investment in my friendships with other adult women. It’s an aspect of my life that I haven’t nurtured all that much in recent years and I realized that I miss having close girlfriends. I’m proud of myself for carving out this time to do nothing more than have fun. We had so much fun, in fact, that we’ve decided to do it every month!
I also joined a book club, another effort for me to get out of the house alone, and procrastinated on getting the book and so had to buy it online. Whoops. This month we read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, which includes fascinating data and an eye-opening look at income inequality (affiliate link).
However, it’s a bit like reading a textbook in that it’s dry and doesn’t deliver on many proposed solutions for all of the problems it articulates. Still a worthwhile read and I’m grateful for the women in my book club who like to get together and discuss deep societal issues.
The more entrenched I become in parenting and homesteading, the more I realize it’s nice to have a few breaks that don’t involve either of those things in the slightest. It’s a refreshing reset and it makes me realize how thankful I am to come back home to my homestead, my husband, and my kids.
Come Hang Out With Me In NYC!
Ok this is not at all related, but I am SO EXCITED to share that I’ll be speaking at The Financial Gym (134 W. 25th St., New York, NY) this Thursday, May 2nd from 6-8pm. The event is FREE and, naturally, boxed wine + snacks will be served. Space is limited and so you need to RSVP here in order to reserve your spot.
Shannon McLay (Founder and CEO of The Financial Gym, friend of mine, all-around excellent person) and I will discuss financial independence, other money-related topics, and likely quite a few topics that aren’t related to money at all… Then I’ll do a Q&A! Did I mention there’ll be wine?! I hope to see you there!!
If you can’t make the event, you can watch via The Financial Gym’s Facebook LIVE starting at 6:30pm on May 2nd. The Financial Gym is a personal financial services company that takes a fitness-inspired approach to their clients’ finances. By working one-on-one with a Certified Financial Trainer, each client learns to make smarter money decisions.
April is financial literacy month and The Financial Gym is hosting FREE educational events every single night this month. If you’re interested in working with a trainer at the Gym, Frugalwoods readers can sign-up for a free introductory phone call here and save 20% on a Gym membership.
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)
Cash Back Earned This Month: $26.39
We earn 2% cash back on every purchase made with our Fidelity Rewards Visa and this month, we spent $1,319.82 on that card, which netted us $26.39. Not a lot of money, perhaps, but it’s money we earned for buying stuff we were going to buy anyway! This is why I love credit card rewards–they’re the simplest way to earn something for nothing. I will note that if we instead had the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, we would’ve earned 3% cash back, which would be $39.59!
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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 March:
|Groceries + Household Supplies||$710.07||We forgot to purchase the household supplies in a separate transaction this month so they’re grouped in with the groceries.|
|Preschool||$646.38||Kidwoods goes to preschool four mornings a week, which we and she love! More on our preschool decision here.|
|Gasoline for cars||$175.68|
|Seed starting supplies for our vegetable garden||$131.13||Seed starting supplies specifically these seedling trays along with this under-tray, which are so much sturdier than the regular trays we bought at Home Depot last year. I think they are awesome and would highly recommend them over the cheaper stuff.
We also got these nursery pots, which are OK (we ran out of empty yogurt containers and needed more pots and they were cheap).
Also these plant identification tags, which we plan to use to keep track of which tomato plant is which in the garden, since we’re trying out about 1,000 different tomato varieties this year (affiliate links).
|Doctor visits (co-pays)||$125.00|
|Maple sugaring supplies||$61.99||12v pump for sugaring (affiliate link).|
|Craft beer||$61.00||From Upper Pass Brewery. So local, so good.|
|Ladies’ Night dinner out!!!!||$57.05|
|Curly Girl method attempts||$38.11||As I shared in this post, I’ve chopped off (most of) my hair and started following the Curly Girl Method. In a fit of panic and confusion, I bought this super expensive conditioner and this sort-of expensive co-wash. I’ve already identified cheaper substitutes for both of these products for the future! Gah!!! Thanks to everyone who steered me to the CG subreddit! (affiliate links).|
|Shipping and stamps||$24.25|
|Toner for our printer||$20.99||Toner for our printer (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: electricity||$19.96||We have solar (which I detail here) and this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Maple sugaring supplies||$15.95||Bulkhead fitting for sap barrel (affiliate link).|
|Metal garden tags||$11.97||Metal tags for marking our fruit trees and bushes (affiliate link).|
|Whoops: sandwich at the hospital||$8.71||I had to take Littlewoods to the hospital for an x-ray (she’s fine) and I forgot to pack lunch for myself! Hence, I required a sandwich. Failed to take my own advice!|
|Propane Tank Fill||$6.66||For boiling down our maple sap into maple syrup|
|Book for my book club||$6.35||Book club book: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (affiliate link).|