October 2019

Reluctant with pumpkins

When October rolls around, I know it’s time for one thing and one thing only: purchasing an entire pound of Allspice (affiliate link). I know I’m not alone in this. Perhaps you favor ginger or nutmeg in such quantities, but I adore the versatile, flavorful zest of Allspice.

Advertiser Disclosure: Frugalwoods partners with CardRatings for coverage of credit card products. Frugalwoods and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers at no extra cost to you. Here’s a boring (but important) explanation of how Frugalwoods makes money

Fun fact: Allspice does not contain all spices; it’s made from the dried, unripened berries of the Pimenta dioica plant. I feel better for knowing this and I’m sure you do too.

Other Purchases

It won’t escape your notice that we bought this generator–and 1,000 generator parts–in October (affiliate link). But alas, you shall have to wait for a full rendering of this tale, which I promise to deliver in a separate post.

Wood Stove Catalyst

We bought a new catalyst for our wood stove as well as some furnace cement–not to mention new gaskets–items surely on everyone’s holiday shopping list. Our wood stove–which we use to heat our home with wood Mr. FW harvests from our land–is a highly efficient catalytic stove, which means it utilizes a catalyst to burn the smoke particles. This makes the stove efficient, allows it to use less wood, and provides a long, even burn time. Additionally, since it burns the smoke, the emissions from our stove are minimal, making it environmentally-friendly and better for our indoor air quality. Catalysts themselves last a number of years–hopefully around six or more–before requiring replacement. This catalyst (and stove) was here when we moved in four years ago and this is our first replacement purchase.

Seltzer CO2

Fire burning in our wood stove to heat our home (featuring $10 garage sale framed art and hand-me-down holiday decor)

It was time to swap out our 20lb tank of CO2, which we use to fuel our addiction to bubbly water. Our devotion to seltzer water is well-known, well-documented, and very, very cheap. Folks, never pay full price when you too could have a 20lb tank of CO2 in your kitchen. Here’s how:

Boot Repair Glue

Mr. FW bought this boot repair glue to mend his winter Muck Boots (affiliate links). We each have a pair of insulated Muck Boots for the icy months and they are miraculous at keeping our feet warm in severely sub-zero temperatures.

However, they are only miraculous provided they are hole-less. Mr. FW’s boots began to tear along the seams so he’s going to try repairing them with this glue to see if he can stave off buying a new pair of boots.

Yes, We Only Paid $29.50 for Cell Phone Service (for two phones)

Our cell phone service line item is not a typ0 (although that certainly is). We really and truly only pay $29.50 for both of our phones (that’s $14.75 per person for those of you into division). How is such trickery possible? We use the MVNO Ting (affiliate link). What’s an MVNO? Glad you asked because I was going to tell you anyway. It’s a cell phone service re-seller. MVNOs are basically the TJ Maxx of the cell phone service world–it’s the same service, just A LOT cheaper. If you’re not already using an MVNO, switching to one is an easy, slam-dunk, do-it-right-now way to save money every single month of every single year forever and ever amen. More here: My Frugal Cell Phone Service Trick: How I Pay $10.65 A Month*

*and yes, the dollar amount we pay every month fluctuates slightly because it’s calibrated on what we use. Imagine that! We only pay for what we use! Will wonders ever cease.

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.

Credits Cards: How We Buy Everything

The littlest Frugalwood–decked entirely in hand-me-downs–enjoying our fleeting fall, featuring everyone’s favorite Glamour Shed

Mr. Frugalwoods and I purchase everything we possibly can with credit cards for several reasons:

  1. 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.
  2. We get 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.
  3. 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 my credit card strategy, check out The Frugalwoods Guide to a Simple, Yet Rewarding, Credit Card Experience. I also wrote this guide on how to find the best credit card for you.

If you want a simple cash back credit card, here are a few good options that don’t have annual fees:

  1. The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card. This one’s good because it offers a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases. There are no categories to keep track of, you just get a straightforward 1.5% cash back on everything you buy. Nice, easy, and fee-free! What this means is that if you spend, for example, $1,000 on this card in a month, you’ll get $15 back just for using the card.
  2. The Chase Freedom Unlimited is also excellent and also offers a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases–with no categories or restrictions–which makes it super simple to use.
  3. The Fidelity Rewards Visa (which is the card that I have) offers 2% cash back on all purchases, with no categories or restrictions, but the downside is that it requires you to have a Fidelity account. If you’re already banking with Fidelity, then I think it’s a great deal, but if you’re not (and you don’t want to open a Fidelity account), I’d go with either the Capital One Quicksilver or the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
Our homestead in the fall

If you’re more interested in travel rewards, a lot of people love the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card as well as the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.

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 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. But if you have no problem paying that bill in full every month? I recommend you credit card away, my friend! (note: the credit card links are affiliate links).

Cash Back Earned This Month: $58.56

The silver lining to all our 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 $2,928.33 on that card, which netted us $58.56. 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.

Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$e$

Mr. Frugalwoods and I use Personal Capital to 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.

Sugar maple leaf barn frame

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.

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.

How To Read A Frugalwoods Expense Report

Fall leaves and ye olde Glamour Shed

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. 

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 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 every month, you might consider taking my free, 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge. If you’re interested in other things I love, check out Frugalwoods Recommends.

A Note On Rural Life

October leaves on our driveway

Since we live on 66 acres in rural Vermont, our utilities and expenses are different from traditional urban and suburban homes.

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 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 October:

Item Amount Notes
VT Mortgage $1,392.86
Daycare $960 For Littlewoods so that my husband and I can work (which makes us happier, more balanced parents). Kidwoods goes to free preschool at our public elementary school.
Generator $859 The generator itself (affiliate link). I will note that we bought our generator from Walmart, but it’s currently out of stock there, so I’ve linked to the exact generator we bought on Amazon (I will note that the price is higher on Amazon right now).
Groceries, household supplies, prescription medication $682.43 Whoops… once again we accidentally lumped all this stuff together, so, this total is for all of our food, plus our household supplies (such as toilet paper, laundry detergent, toothpaste, etc), as well as our prescription medications
Generator supplies $277.74 10/3 wire, 30 amp breaker, conduit and fittings
Wood stove supplies $178.95 New catalyst, gaskets, and furnace cement
Farm, tractor, and garden supplies $153.36 Filters and oil for the tractor along with other farm-like stuff
Gasoline for cars $114.29
Doctor visit co-pays $105.00 Mr. FW and I both had our annual exams plus eye appointments plus the kids went to the pediatrician for some malady or other…
Beer (good beer, that is) $94.00 Life is too short to drink bad beer. We patronize several of our local craft breweries, including River Roost (our favorite of theirs is Mas Verde) and Upper Pass (our favorite of theirs is Cloud Drop).
Propane $89.79 One final tank top off before the snow flies. We use propane for cooking.
Massage for mama $80.00 A massage for moi! So decadent and wonderful.
My disastrous co-op run $78.59 Full story here.
Internet $74
Date night $71.12 Our monthly kid-free dinner out, facilitated by our amazing adopted grandma neighbor who stays at our house. We put the kids to bed before we leave.
Interlock kit for the Generator $69 We got this interlock kit.
Tire inflator $49.08 For all your tire inflation needs: a tire inflator with gauge (affiliate link).
Cord for the generator and a boot repair kit $44.21 Generator cord and boot repair glue (affiliate links).
Power back detector for generator $37.65 Power back detector (affiliate link).
SodaStream C02 $34.25 This 20lb tank of food-grade Co2 will last us at least six months.
Service for two cell phones $29.50 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). MVNOs are 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.

Utilities: Electric $19.06 We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
Allspice $15.10 It’s holiday baking season, so I got a commercial-sized Allspice (affiliate link). It was SO MUCH CHEAPER to get this enormous vat than the teensy little bottles sold in the grocery store.
Lunch $11.31 Whoops… I bought lunch at the hospital while waiting for my eyes to un-dilate after my annual ophthalmology exam.
Total: $5,520.29
Minus mortgage: $4,127.43

How was your October?

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Advertiser Disclosure: Frugalwoods partners with CardRatings for coverage of credit card products. Frugalwoods and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers at no extra cost to you.

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  1. Have you ever considered ordering spices from Atlantic Spice Company? I’ve been a big fan of them for years. Amazing prices, minimal packaging makes for a great deal

    1. Thank you for the tip! I’ll look into it! We get a lot of bulk spices from Penzey’s, but I’m always excited to price check elsewhere too 🙂

  2. Always enjoy your posts and your pics are beautiful too! I would enlarge and frame one of your beautiful homestead pictures to put above your wood stove 😁

    1. I agree. Your pictures are just beautiful and framing your own homestead picture perhaps with your little ones in it would be much nicer to look at. U could be frugal and use the old frame of course😃

        1. I’m gonna agree with this suggestion. All of the pictures you share with us of your home are stunning. One would look great there! The one in this post with the gorgeous fall leaves and crisp blue sky is perfect. (Can I tell you how jealous I am of all those trees?! I often miss witnessing this change because I live in a city, so I envy your view.)

    1. I mean, I didn’t have to cook it and it was warm…. they heated up the sandwich in a panini press thingy and I was pretty thrilled 😉

  3. You are getting a far, far better deal on CO2 than I can get in Chicagoland, at least from the research I have done. I did go and get my smaller tanks filled as a test at a supplier who will remain nameless but is located on Chicago’s northside and it was a bad experience. For one, they wouldn’t fill one of the two tanks saying it was too old (If I had known what to look for I wouldn’t have brought it in–and I had had an extensive conversation over the phone with them about the process before I headed their way). Then, while I was awaiting the filling of the tank they would do, I had to sit there and listen to the owner first start ranting to me about the fact that I biked over “you probably run every stop sign and break road rules” and then he starts ranting to me about immigration in the US and how we need to build a wall! Excuse me but I’m just trying to support your business, please stop assuming that A. I don’t know how to safely bicycle and B. Want to hear your political leanings.

    All this to say if anyone in Chicagoland has any recommendations besides “that place on the Northside” which if you live here you know what it is I’m all ears. I live on the west side/near west burbs. But yeah prices I’m seeing online are about $20 for 5 lbs in this area.

    1. Have you tried welding supply stores? We’ve found much better deals at places like that versus places like homebrew stores. Good luck!

    2. I just spent far too long trying to find the place I went. But I found it! It’s called Fox Paintball and it’s $20 for a 5 lb refill. It’s out in Aurora which doesn’t sound that convenient for you but if you are ever out that direction (at the outlet mall or somewhere else) stop by.

  4. “For Littlewoods so that I can work (which makes me a happier, more balanced parent).” should be “So that my husband and I can work.” I know you know this, but childcare is not just your responsibility. Just a subtle distinction that is important for working moms everywhere.

  5. I am curious why you would not get a duel-fuel generator? Don’t you have lpg at the house? I use one and it has never seen gasoline. So much cleaner. You never have to mess with gasoline. Just hook to your lpg line and it will run for weeks if needed. With gasoline you also have to worry about carb issues and stale gas. It needs to be started periodically, even in the summer, or it will fail when you need it most. Also the oil stays clean much longer.

  6. I love reading these monthly posts 🙂 I have a question about your grocery shopping/bill. Household sundries aside, I’m curious as to what monthly items you find you need to buy at the grocery store given that you seem to get the majority of your vegetable intake from your land, plus preserved goods you’ve made in previous seasons, and you bulk-buy cupboard basics as well. So I’m just interested to understand what additional groceries you buy that you can’t either grow or bulk buy really!

    1. So, while we do grow and preserve some food, it’s not enough to feed us for the year. We’re still working on building up our gardening/preserving/sustainability skills! My most recent This Month On The Homestead post has a pretty good list of what we grew and preserved.

      The grocery line item does include our bulk food buys, such as: quinoa, brown rice, coffee, flour, sugar, yeast (for baking bread), olive oil, vinegar, almonds, oats, dried beans, wine, tea, etc. It also includes produce: fresh salad greens, carrots, onions, garlic, avocados, bananas, oranges, green peppers, cucumbers, etc. As well as meat and dairy: whole milk (for the baby), cheese, yogurt, local beef, chicken.

  7. Just curious – would you buy those Muck boots again, given the hole? I can’t recall if they were bought used. Do you think the wear and tear Mr FW is experiencing is reasonable and expected? Thanks!

  8. I love that date night and a massage are included here. Frugality is about choosing what matters with intention and we too prioritize date night as a non-negotiable monthly expense. I need to run the math on that CO2 and soda stream. We drink bubbly water, but it’s a once monthly purchase for us at $3.99 for 12 so I need to figure out what the threshold is for making the switch. I’m not a huge proponent of Black Friday, but when it comes to appliance purchases I do firmly believe in tapping into big holiday sales (especially when there’s an online option that does not require getting trampled at 4am).

  9. Another wonderful post! I am thrilled to see the subtle changes you all are making to your spending to maximize your happiness! It’s so good to see you not getting so caught up in “frugal” that you miss out on “fun.” It’s been an amazing 2 year transformation. I am so glad I stuck around to witness it 🙂 The best to you all!

  10. Hi Mrs. FW! I am a long time reader and first time commenter. My husband and I are both 27 and currently live in Watertown and both work office jobs, and we’re a few years into our path towards FIRE. I have always been attracted to your story because it is so much like ours!

    I have a random question. It’s such a huge jump to go from city living to homesteading, and even though our FIRE dreams are similar to yours, it’s hard to picture making that big of a lifestyle change. Especially because homesteading includes such a learning curve too, with lots of skills to be figured out. How did you both know you wanted to homestead? Was there any concern or doubt before you made the jump that it might not work out or you might not like it?

    Thank you for being such a HUGE part of our financial journey! 🙂

  11. First time poster and reader but love everything I’ve read so far. Definitely going to look into getting a CO2 tank and hack my soda stream. One question about Credit Cards, does your monthly statement show 0 at the time it’s posted or some small amount? The research I’ve done has suggested you indeed want to pay in full, but you don’t need to have your account at zero when it’s posted and this impacts your credit utilization.

    For example, if I pay off the card a week before posting, then buy a burger for 12.00, my statement will show a balance of 12 and thus a utilization greater than 0. It’s not going to incur any interest while improving the total utilization for my credit score.

  12. My favorite muck boot repair strategy is flashing tape (zip tape is the brand I have used). If you have ever seen a house being built, it is the tape they use between sheets of plywood on the exterior of a house. It isn’t the prettiest fix but it works on many things that are otherwise unfixable. We have fixed an inflatable bounce house, hard plastic kiddie pools (even slits in the bottom, it’s totally water proof), our broom, the bags our camp chairs came in, inflatable pool toys, rain boots and muck/big style boots.

  13. hi from Spain! why do you pay two cellphones? Mr. FW’s cellphone used to be payed by his employer… has he already quit his job?? 😉

  14. I’ve noticed the last few months that we’re not seeing a line item for the Cambridge mortgage–did that get sold and we haven’t heard the story yet? Or did I miss something?

      1. Good question! We do still own that house and we rent it out, but I haven’t included the Cambridge mortgage on our expense reports since we turned it into a rental back in 2016. You can check out my post about it here.

  15. I’m a couple of days late here, but every time you mention your soda stream hack I want to ask if your adaptor or your soda stream has ever broken or needed replacing, and if so what did you do.

    It was your post on your hack that led me to your blog in early 2016 and I’ve enjoyed been a regular reader ever since. We got a soda stream, an adaptor and a 20lb CO2 tank soon after reading about your hack because, like you guys, we are addicts.

    For 11 glorious months we had all the soda water we wanted right at our finger tips then it was time to refill the tank. It didn’t work very well after that and after some messing around with it we realized our soda stream had broken. We replaced that and then it still didn’t work properly. After some frustrating calls to the help line offered by the seller of the adaptor we figured out that we needed to replace our adaptor, too. We did that and it still didn’t work so we refilled the tank again thinking that all the messing about with it had emptied it prematurely. And it still didn’t work properly. Then we moved across country.

    I did a whole thing with the supplier of the tank/CO2 to deposit it in Idaho and then pick up a new one at the franchise location in PA. We finally got the whole thing set up several months after our move. We filled two bottles and there was great rejoicing – then it stopped working again. And that’s how it’s been left the last 9 months. We are so bummed! Neither of us are handy DIY people and we don’t even know what type of expert to call in and we just haven’t had the emotional/mental energy to figure anything out. So, if you or any other readers have advice we’d be grateful!!!

    P.S. I should mention we did try out one of the soda stream canisters that are made for the machine and that worked so we know the machine isn’t broken. The tank is full. So I think it’s a problem with the adaptor, or how we attached it.

    1. Man. That sounds like such a bummer/hassle. Makes me not want to even mess with it, even though I was seriously considering trying to build this system soon. Let us know if you ever figure it out!

  16. Glad you found a solution that works for you with daycare! I can barely work from home with my pets. I can’t imagine how difficult it can be with children.

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