A time of idyl and pleasures, summers in Vermont are hedonistic romps through finally-thawed ground. For two months, maybe three, we denizens of the Northeast are made ecstatic by green grass and ripening gardens.
Then we get hot, retreat to the porch, and complain that it’s only 10am and already 75 degrees. We sweat and wonder aloud when fall will start. Vermont is comprised of folks who pretend to love all four seasons, but who cannot abide any temperature above 72 degrees and who find solace in deep snow. Or perhaps that’s just me.
Summer = Visitors!
Summer is when our visitors descend! For some unknown reason, our families–who live in southern climes–do not like to visit us in wintertime.
Why you’d want to avoid six feet of snow, sub-zero daytime temperatures and wind-tunnel blizzards is beyond me. So in summertime, we open up the guest room and the guest bath, wash the linens, prepare the refrigerator and enjoy the bounty of our garden and our relatives.
One of the reasons we chose our homestead is that it’s good for guests. Visitors can hike, walk, porch-sit, swim, pick berries, or read books, all within steps of our front door. I relish our summer visitors and am grateful they take the time to travel here and contend with black flies and our lack of central air conditioning.
In June, my parents stayed with us for several weeks and, right after they left, my in-laws arrived and will remain until August when my sister and her family arrive. Friends are sprinkled in with shorter visits between the family lode and I love it all.
A Child-Free Vacation: Of The Gods
Yet another reason we love our summer visitors? Free childcare. Our girls don’t see their grandparents all the time, but they get a full dose of grandparental love in the summertime. As an added benefit, Mr. Frugalwoods and I get a break from the relentlessness that is parenting a three-year-old and a seventeen-month-old.
There aren’t enough superlatives to encapsulate how grateful I am to my parents and in-laws for watching our kids. My in-laws get the gold star this year as they kept the girls for FOUR DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS while Mr. FW and I went on a child-free vacation. Everyone survived our absence and, aside from me nearly drowning in lattes, it was a bout of respite for we weary parents.
Reverse Commute Vacation
A lot of folks come to the woods of Vermont for vacation. But we who live in the woods of Vermont find the city a more appealing destination. It’s been two years since our last child-free vacation and Mr. FW and I looked forward to this vacation every single day of those two years. Every single day. We started planning by searching for quaint New England towns we could drive to. This quickly started to feel like work. I proposed we do a no-plan vacation and visit Cambridge, MA, which is where we lived before decamping to Vermont.
I would like to commend myself for this idea as it granted us total freedom from planning and researching and mapping. We know our way around Cambridge, we knew where we wanted to eat (and drink), and we didn’t feel any pressure to see the sights. We know the sights. We had a languid four days of doing our favorite vacation thing: walking around the city, stopping for coffees in the morning, decadent lunches at noon, afternoon cocktails, and divine dinners. We averaged 9 miles of walking each day, which I don’t think made up for the amount of food and beverage we consumed… but it was a nice counterbalance to the fish tacos, sushi, French pastries, nachos, craft beer, craft cider, craft cocktails…. uh, it was a delicious four days.
Plus, we got to hit up old haunts including the coffee shop where our homestead plan/Frugalwoods/financial independence goal was birthed (photo above: obviously the latte was mine… ). I also went to the Harvard Bookstore to see if they had my book (they did) and then took a picture of it on the shelf (yep, I got weird looks, especially because it was on the bottom shelf and so I had to sit on the floor in order to get the photo… ). This was the first time I saw my book in a bookstore (I don’t make it to many of those with my kidlets in tow) and I was like, WOW, I used to come to Harvard Bookstore for author talks and now, I’m an author?!? Still feels surreal. I also saw my friend Kristin Wong‘s book, Get Money, along with my buddy Erin Lowry‘s book, Broke Millennial Takes On Investing. I then nerded out and texted them photos of their books. Clearly I enjoyed myself in this bookstore…
I didn’t want to feel rushed or hectic on this vacation and, turns out, going to a city you already know is the answer. We felt zero pressure to be anywhere or do anything. We roamed around an urban Whole Foods for a good thirty minutes. I’ll be honest: they had free samples. We ducked into shops to peruse art. We stopped for a drink anytime we wanted.
We ate whatever meals we wanted on whatever schedule we wanted. During one 3pm lunch, a torrential rain descended. We didn’t have umbrellas. We could not leave the restaurant. What a shame. I asked the waiter for the drink menu and we watched the deluge as we sipped a Lost Nation beer (Mr. FW’s choice) and an aviation cocktail (my choice). This freedom from schedule and routine–the driver of our days with two littles–was refreshing and liberating. Also, disorienting.
Visiting Cambridge–the first time for me since moving away–gave me my city fix. It also made me realize how thankful I am that I no longer live there. I couldn’t get over the noise, the smells, the crowds–odd because I never noticed any of those things when I lived there. Only now that I’m more used to silence and trees does the city seem jarring.
This vacation also gave us the excuse to rack up hotel points on our travel rewards card (the Marriott Bonvoy). We stayed in a Marriott property (the Le Meridien in Cambridge, MA) for the stellar rate of $211 per night. Since this was such a good rate for that hotel, we decided to pay instead of using our points. By paying for the room with our Marriott Bonvoy card, we earned 6,105 points. Our plan is to (someday) use all of our points on an overseas trip where the exchange rate will be favorable to using points versus paying cash for hotel rooms.
Something Decidedly Less Relaxing (although a lot more hilarious)
Eating in a restaurant with our kids. Before leaving on our child-free vacation, I convinced the crew that we should drag everyone to lunch at a local brewery. They had outdoor seating, a playground, lots of delicious craft beer! My expectation of this outing differed just slightly from the reality of this outing.
Expectation: We will have a family meal that daddy does not have to cook and mommy does not have to clean up. Everyone will get to order whatever they want! We will have meaningful moments and treasure the time. Reality: no one can handle themselves and the three-year-old insisted on sitting in the baby high chair because the baby insisted on plastering herself to me.
In this photo, I have an Ergo carrier still strapped to my waist because why bother taking it off since I will most certainly need to put someone in there at some point. We order nachos to share because who doesn’t love nachos?! Our three-year-old, apparently. She requests that I lick the cheese and sour cream off her nacho and so, I do. She dissolves into tears because now her nacho is damp.
Her flailing knocks over my water glass, which splashes the (not amused) people at the table next to us. I take her outside (of the already outdoor seating area… ) for a chat. Upon my departure, the baby erupts in panic screams and throws nachos on the floor (with a string of pulled pork sticking out of her mouth for emphasis). I will point out that we were eating outdoors in the middle of the day and that the nachos were intended as the appetizer. They ended up being the entirety of the meal.
Stifling our laughter over our pulled-pork-nacho-chowing baby and our not-understanding-why-we-wouldn’t-share-our-beer-with-her toddler made the whole thing worth it. Much like our Christmas Eve fiasco, these experiences (memories, I suppose?) with our kids are pure gold. And hey, the beer wasn’t bad either!
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 debt other than our mortgages, having several credit cards open for many years (which are fully paid off every month) has 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: $33.07
We earn 2% cash back on every purchase made with our Fidelity Rewards Visa and this month, we spent $1,653.58 on that card, which netted us $33.07. 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 could’ve earned 3% cash back, which would be $49.61!
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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 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? Check out 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 give you a sense of how we spend our money in a values-based 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. 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 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 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 June:
|Le Meridien Cambridge
|Our three-night stay, which netted us 6,105 points on our Marriott Bonvoy card
|Very exciting items such as: laundry detergent, dental floss, toothpaste, baby wash (gotta wash those babies after they eat pulled pork nachos), toilet paper, and more.
|Gasoline for cars
|Several date nights!
|We usually go on one date night per month, but, thanks to the visiting grandparents we went on quite a few. Thank you, grandparents!!!!!
|Meals while on vacation
|Our vacation was at the end of June and spilled over into a few days of July. This dollar amount is only for some of our meals–the rest will show up in next month’s Expense report.
|Love our fiber internet!
|My monthly ladies’ night dinner out! A fabulous, child-free experience during which my friends and I mostly talk about our children.
|Family lunch out
|The ill-fated, though hilarious, family lunch at a restaurant.
|Mr. FW loves these overalls so much that he bought another pair (affiliate link). They are super durable and awesome for outdoor work.
|Home improvement supplies
|Ethanol-free gas for small engines (chainsaw, wood splitter, lawn mower, etc)
|Used kids’ books
|We stopped in Portsmouth, NH on our way to Cambridge and found a used book store with an excellent children’s section. Naturally, while on vacation away from our children, we ended up spending an hour reading through used kids’ books…
|We have solar (which I detail here) and this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
|Mousetraps because we live in the woods alongside a lot of mice. I will tell you that we’ve used a lot of different mousetraps over the years and we like these the best (affiliate link). 10 out 10, would mousetrap again.
|This is so cheap because I use an MVNO called Ting (affiliate link). MVNOs resell wireless service at discounted rates (but it’s the same service). They’re basically the TJ Maxx of cell phone service. If you’re not using an MVNO, check out this post to see if you can make the switch. The savings are tremendous.
|Book club book
|This month, my book club is reading this book (affiliate link).