Summer, apparently, is expensive. I think we set a record high for spending in a single month. On the upside? We had a lot of fun. July continued our summer-of-visitors and my in-laws, who were here all month, were generous with their offers of childcare. We took them up on those offers. Every single time.
I’m so thankful that our girls have involved, loving, healthy, vibrant grandparents. And I’m so thankful my husband and I got to spend a lot of time alone together. All those dates meant we had…
A Month Of Hedonism
If we weren’t eating, we were drinking. If we weren’t drinking, we were eating. All this child-free time made us wild, hedonistic heathens. I’m not gonna lie, it was amazing. We spent tons of money. I’m pretty sure I gained 5 pounds. More importantly, my husband and I carried on uninterrupted conversations. We enjoyed silence together. We ate meals un-punctuated by requests for more avocado and brown rice flung to the floor.
The first few days of July finished out our child-free vacation to Cambridge, MA (the exploits of which I detailed last month). Then in mid-July, my in-laws nudged us out the door for several day trips and a few dinners out. While the girls baked cookies with their grandparents, Mr. Frugalwoods and I ventured to the craft beer mecca of Hill Farmstead in northern Vermont. Hill Farmstead makes several of the top ten beers in the world and the diversity of license plates in their parking lot bore witness to its popularity. While our children romped around the yard with my in-laws and their dog, Mr. FW and I strolled through Brattleboro, Vermont and had lunch overlooking a river. We crammed a year’s worth of dates into one month.
A Month of Hard Work
Thankfully, we moderated our hedonism with garden and land work. Fenceposts, people. We bought fenceposts. I feel like those are the ultimate indicators of hard work, no? Mr. FW installed fenceposts as tomato trellises. The vegetable garden was weeded, tended, and harvested.
Summer is overabundance. There seems to be a correlation between the brevity of a season and the intensity with which we observe it. Winter is a long, languid unfurling of snowfall after snowfall after snowfall. I feel no urgency with winter.
I don’t need to hustle in order to experience it. Summer is the opposite. Every hour of sunlit heat feels like an imperative to take pleasure in the warmth and to work, work, work our land and gardens.
Family Dinner Out: A Success Story
Following our less-than-ideal luncheon out with our children last month, I decided to go for total immersion and take them out to dinner this month. And I have to say, it worked. In fairness, we went to an ice cream and hamburger stand where you order at the counter, the food comes fast, and… you sit outside. And the kids rocked it.
Long, long ago–during one of those soporific winter days–I (for unremembered reasons) promised Kidwoods that during the summer we’d go get ice cream at the Whippi-Dip. It was a promise made without any intention of following through. I figured the snow was so deep, and the memory of a toddler so fleeting, that this off-season promise would be forgotten, along with the feeling of ice sifting between my fingers as I scraped windshields in that interminable cold.
What I hadn’t taken into account was Kidwoods’ proclivity for recollection. She recounts outfits worn two years ago. She knows where everyone sat at a dinner party six months ago. Why I thought something as pivotal as an ice cream cone would be forgotten can only be chalked up to a temporary seasonal ignorance. She was patient and persistent. She mentioned the promised ice cream cone for months. She dropped it into conversation on the regular.
Capitulating to the realness of this desire, we made it a whole big thing. A dinner of a shared hamburger, a shared order of curly fries, and an ice cream cone. It was magical and lovely and I would, in fact, do it again.
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. I 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 (that are fully paid off every month) has helped our credit scores. By the way, it’s a 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 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 a simple cash back credit card, I think the Fidelity Rewards Visa (which is the card that I have) and the Chase Freedom Unlimited are good options. Both of these cards have no annual fee and offer cash back on purchases.
While I like the Fidelity card, it requires you to have a Fidelity account. If you’re not already banking with Fidelity, the Chase Freedom Unlimited might be a better choice since it doesn’t require a specific bank account. Plus, it has no annual fee and offers a great cash back percentage. Another thing I like about the Chase card is that they’re currently offering double cash back. You receive 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000. After that, the card delivers an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Pretty good deal, I’d say!
The best way to find a credit card that’ll work for you is to search for it yourself. Fortunately, there’s a website, CardRatings.com, with a search function for this purpose that 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.
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: $49.30
The silver lining to all this spending is our cash back credit card. We earn 2% cash back on every purchase made with our Fidelity Rewards Visa and this month, we spent $2,465.09 on that card, which netted us $49.30. 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 $73.95!
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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 fashion, 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 July:
|Dumpster||$825.00||Check out the backstory on our dumpster extravaganza here.|
|Vacation!||$607.55||Kid-free vacation to Cambridge, MA! More about that here.|
|Car insurance||$278.20||Six months of car insurance through Geico for our 2010 Toyota Prius and 2010 Toyota Tundra. This is low because we shopped around, we’re 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 replace both of our cars (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||$226.81||Thrilling stuff. Floss, laundry detergent, medications, and more.|
|Day trips||$185.80||Our days trips around Vermont, including buying beer to bring home from Hill Farmstead and Hermit Thrush breweries.|
|Massage||$162.00||I got a massage while on vacation. It was divine, decadent, and sorely needed.|
|Doctor visit co-pays||$150.00|
|Car repairs||$143.24||Inspection, oil change, and headlight replacement bulb for our Toyota Prius|
|Gasoline for cars||$125.55||Higher this month on account of driving for our vacation and day trips.|
|Parking at hotel||$105.00||During our glorious and extravagant kid-free vacay.|
|Clothes for Mr. Frugalwoods||$102.49||We got Mr. FW some work pants and shirts from Duluth Trading Co, which has a store in Burlington, MA. It was a rare moment where we were together, kid-free, and in a store.|
|Wine, beer, liquor stock-up||$89.12||From Total Wine & More. After our Cambridge vacation, we hit up the strip mall in Burlington, MA and stocked up on discount wine, beer, and more.|
|Fenceposts||$77.00||Fenceposts for our tomato plant trellis system.|
|Driver’s License Renewal||$51.00||Mr. FW renewed his driver’s license.|
|Vermont Woodlands Association||$40.00|
|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.
|Overalls for me||$32.99||After three years of cobbling together under-performing, uncomfortable outdoor work clothes, I decided to take the lead from my main man and buy a pair of these work overalls. And I LOVE THEM (affiliate link).
Yes, I looked at the women’s version, but wouldn’t you know, they were more expensive, less durable and had fewer pockets. No thanks. I went with a small men’s size and am thrilled.
|Ethanol-free gas||$32.16||For our small engines (chainsaw, wood splitter, lawn mower, etc)|
|Service for two cell phones||$25.78||This is so cheap because we 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.
|Gifts for several kids’ birthday parties||$19.04||As Kidwoods’ social life revs up, we find ourselves frequent guests at toddler birthday parties. My preferred approach for birthdays is to either:
|Shirt for me||$18.00||Following my successful copying of Mr. FW with regards to overalls, I purchased these SPF long-sleeved work shirts, which he’s worn for years.
Yep, also men’s, also cheaper, more functional, and more durable than women’s (affiliate link).
|Utilities: electricity||$17.95||We have solar (which I detail here) and this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Family dinner out||$13.84||Successful burger, fries, and ice cream cones with the kiddos.|
|Coffee shop work day||$10.39||You guys, I spent an entire day working BY MYSELF in a local coffee shop while my in-laws watched the kids. It was amazing.
I drank 90 lattes and wrote 809,882 words.