Pants, a kettle, brake parts, and 150 trash bags: a sampling of what we purchased this month. Let’s start with the kettle, which is something of a woeful tale.
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The Frugalwoods Electric Kettle
Longtime readers have been briefed on our adoration of our electric kettle–our erstwhile electric kettle, I should say. We bought this kettle for $93 back on October 12, 2012 and it sufficed for all our hot water needs these past seven years. We made oatmeal with it, we made pour-over coffee with it (using these Melitta cones), we made tea and hot cocoa. For seven years, this kettle heated water every morning and every afternoon.
It did so without complaint, without questioning, and with aplomb. Then, two months ago, a leak formed at the base of the kettle. It started with a small spasm of water elicited from the bottom-most seam. This aqueous interference advanced to a trickle, a drip, and progressed to a Stage Four Leak. We researched repair options to no avail. We used it leak-ily for several months and finally surrendered to the inevitable: an electric kettle that spews water onto its charging base is not a safe kettle.
We bought our original (rather expensive) kettle on the premise that we thought it would last longer than a cheap kettle. I much prefer buying a more expensive option that’ll last over replacing a cheap alternative every year. However. I’m not always a proponent of Buy It For Life since I think it’s an inherently flawed pretense: precious few things last–or are needed/used–for one’s entire life. Given that, for our kettle replacement we opted to go the knock-off route and test the mettle of this less expensive kettle. At $31.79, it’s a full $61.21 cheaper than our original kettle. Will it last seven years? I know not. Will I try to make it last seven years? Absolutely. Note: the links in this section are all affiliate links.
150 Trash Bags: More Interesting Than They Sound*
Our town of 400 people does not provide trash pick-up. Instead, we take our trash and recycling to the transfer station once a week. For this purpose we are required to use specified trash bags, which are sold by the town. The bags are $2 each and we use one bag per week; hence, these 150 bags should last us almost three years. We’re able to get by with just one bag of trash per week by recycling everything recyclable (cleaned out and sorted) and by composting our food scraps and coffee grounds.
Composting is a fabulous way to reduce your trash, cut down on the methane in landfills, and create a wonderful source of nutrients for your garden. According to The Atlantic, “Wasted food is… the single biggest occupant in American landfills.” That’s disturbing and deeply depressing. Further, Bloomberg reports: “… food that ends up in landfills contributes to the release of methane, a major contributor to global warming.”
City and suburb dwellers can compost too! There are a plethora of handy compost bins and barrels one can use if one has limited outdoor space. And if you don’t garden, you probably know someone who does and who would appreciate a gift of compost. Environmentalism + a holiday gift all in one. Plus, a number of cities across the country now offer curbside compost pick-up alongside trash and recycling. Hooray!
*actually, maybe not…
Monthly Massages for Mamas: A Genius Arrangement
A friend of mine–who also has two young children–dreamed up a genius plan several months ago. She asked her massage therapist (who is also a mom of two young children) if she’d be willing to see clients at my friend’s home one day each month, which would allow us to watch each other’s children during our appointments. The massage therapist agreed and we’re into our third month of this system. My friend invites her friends (including me) to sign-up for a massage time slot on that one specified day per month and we use a sign-up sheet to coordinate childcare. It works brilliantly for everyone involved because:
The massage therapist is guaranteed back-to-back appointments all day long and most of us are now repeat monthly clients.
- We–the recipients of the massages–watch one another’s kids during our appointments!
- One of the main reasons parents don’t do more self-care is that they don’t have anyone to watch their kids during said self-care. It seems super obvious and easily surmountable, but it’s not. When you consider the logistics of booking an appointment, scheduling a babysitter, travel time, and of course paying for it all, the whole thing can quickly spiral into the category of not worth it.
- By trading babysitting, we’re only paying for the massage itself, not for the three hours (when you factor in travel time) of childcare we’d each need in order to go to a massage appointment.
This is, hands down, one of the greatest co-ops I’ve ever been part of. I watch someone else’s kids during their appointment and then they watch my kids during my appointment! We provide repeat business for a local, woman-owned business, our kids have fun playing together, and we reinforce the community of parents we rely on to get us through these not-so-easy early years of parenting. I can’t take credit for this idea, but I can share it in the hopes that you might create something similar in your community!
The Prius And Its Brakes: A Tale Of DIY Victory
Mr. FW is on a DIY skill-building tear. Last month he wired all of the electrical to install our generator and this month, he replaced the brakes on our Toyota Prius. He’s never done a brake job before and he wanted to see if he could teach himself how–and he did!
Armed with the internet and a willingness to spend hours researching and learning, he figured it out and successfully replaced the rotors, pads, and calipers on the rear brakes. Nicely done!
We ended up spending more on parts because once Mr. FW got into the job, he realized the calipers also needed replacing. He had to buy them locally instead of online, where they’re cheaper. Still, a much less expensive job than if we’d had to pay for the labor too!
Join The January 2020 Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge!!!
It’s time, my friends. It’s time to sign-up for my free January 2020 Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge (UFM)!!! You’ve read the Frugalwoods Case Studies, you’ve seen the UFM testimonials, you look at my monthly expense reports and think “I can spend less than Frugalwoods!,” and now, it’s time.
The UFM is your opportunity to put these frugal concepts into practice. The UFM is your chance to lasso your spending, organize your money, and get a better handle on your financial life.
The UFM doesn’t just help you save money. The UFM helps transform your relationship with money: how you earn it, how you spend it, how you manage it. The UFM is money management bootcamp and next month, we’re doing the Challenge together! Did I mention it’s FREE? It’s free.
Also, brand new for this Challenge, for the first time ever, we will convene in a private Facebook Group to discuss the UFM, to share our challenges, and to offer support and advice to one another. In the past, I’ve hosted an Uber Frugal Month Facebook Page, but you all adroitly noted that “Pages” are public while “Groups” are private, which is desirable since we get into some pretty heavy topics over the course of the UFM. More details here.
Yes, We Only Paid $22.50 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 $22.50 for both of our phones (that’s $11.25 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
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. 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 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:
- The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card (more here). 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.
- 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.
- 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 (more about that card here) or the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
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: $43.45
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 $2,172.79 on that card, which netted us $43.45. Not a lot of money, perhaps, but it’s money we earned for buying stuff we were going to buy anyway! This is why I love credit card rewards–they’re the simplest way to earn something for nothing.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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.
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
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
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 November:
|Daycare||$600||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.|
|Groceries||$460.40||All foodstuffs for our family of four|
|Vacation (over Thanksgiving)||$316.37||We jetted down to North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with Mr. Frugalwoods’ family and had a glorious time.
A full post on the details coming soon! For now, enjoy our vacation-related expenses.
|150 Town Trash Bags||$300||These 150 bags should last us almost three years|
|Toyota Prius brake parts||$263.96||Rear Calipers + Core Charge|
|Household and Farm supplies||$258.74|
|Gasoline for cars||$158.56|
|Toyota Prius brake parts||$139.21||Rotors and Pads|
|Pants for Mr. Frugalwoods||$89.40||Mr. FW’s favorite pants went on sale so he bought two more pairs. He’s been really happy with the quality and fit of Duluth’s stuff–it’s durable and comfortable for the hard manual labor he puts in, but not ugly, and not super duper expensive.|
|Date night!!!||$88.68||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.|
|Massage for Mrs. Frugalwoods||$80.00|
|Christmas Gifts||$65.00||Read about my holiday gift-giving strategy here.|
|Mount and Balance New Prius Snow Tires||$62.79||As I noted the other month, we bought new studded snow tires for our Prius this year. This charge was for our mechanic to mount the tires on the rims. Now that they’re mounted, Mr. FW will take care of switching them out with the summer tires every year.|
|Doctor visit co-pays||$50.00||Somebody was sick with something. I feel like I should just have a standing monthly appointment with our pediatrician because we end up there at least once a month anyway…|
|Wrenches||$48.64||Wrench set for use on car repairs (affiliate link).|
|Ethanol-free Gas||$46.66||For our chainsaw, generator, and other small engines.|
|Car seat and little potty for my in-laws’ house (for our Thanksgiving trip)||$40.92||My in-laws already have one carseat at their house and we didn’t want to lug the second carseat through the airport, so we bought this carseat and had it shipped to their house in North Carolina in advance of our trip.
We also bought this little potty and had it shipped to them. Since these are both super bulky, super necessary items that we will use for years, I thought it made sense to buy them to leave at my in-laws’ house. P.S. we did NOT put the batteries in this potty to make it play music… that’s just a bridge too far, even for me.
|Electric kettle||$31.79||We shall test the mettle of this new kettle (affiliate link).|
|One checked bag for our flight||$30.00||I tried to fit all four of us into our carry-ons, but alas, I had to check one bag. Once the girls are old enough to roll their own suitcases, we’ll be back to being carry-on only!
I was delighted that Kidwoods carried her own little carry-on backpack, so I feel we’re moving in the right direction.
|Emergency Snow Shovel||$24.58||This is an embarrassing story that I’ll regale you with in an upcoming post…|
|Cell phones (service for two phones)||$22.50||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.|
|Cold weather work gloves||$14.99||Here in the tundra of Vermont, we have near-constant need for cold weather work gloves. It’s hard to find gloves that are warm enough in sub-zero temps, but that offer enough dexterity to actually use your hands.
Mr. FW bought these gloves to try out–he’s hoping to find something warmer than his fleece gloves, but more dextrous than his giant leather mittens (affiliate link).
|Pharmacy||$8.49||Medication for one of the kids for some malady or another.|
|Winter gloves to accompany Emergency Snow Shovel||$7.45||To be included in embarrassing saga in upcoming post…|
How was your November?
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