Mini Mittens

The mini mitten wearer herself, sporting all hand-me-downs, except for the mini mitts

One clothing item I’ve failed to find used, or receive as a hand-me-down, are winter hand coverings for my children. These are also known as mittens. There seems to be one–and only one–brand of mittens that’s truly warm enough and truly stays on enough for toddlers: SnowStoppers. We bought a pair for Kidwoods a few years ago and she’s still rocking them (I got her the size medium). Here’s a boring (but important) explanation of how Frugalwoods makes money.

We relented and bought a pair for Littlewoods last month because I reached my limit of her ripping off her little knitted mittens every two seconds while outside. If you have to buy new mittens, I think these things are pretty magical for feisty toddlers in cold climates. I put them on underneath their coats and, since they have such long cuffs, the kids cannot pull them off. Is this genius or straightjacket-esque? Do I care? I do not. (these are affiliate links).

Other December 2019 Expenses

Also this month: 529 college savings plan contributions for each of our children. You all have asked me so many questions about 529s over the course of so many years that I’ve written an entire post about them, which will debut later this month. Get excited.

Other expenses: me making a massive error (not in my favor) at the post office when shipping Christmas gifts, which resulted in spending WAY more to ship gifts than the gifts themselves cost. Not my best move.

And, as seems to be our habit of late, the Prius needed another new part (a battery this time).

Finally, the final expenses for our Thanksgiving trip and Christmas vacation all rolled together in one pricey, glittery ball of cheer, merriment, and caramel vodka.

Credits Cards: How We Buy Everything

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 stuff 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) helps 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.

Christmas morning! Oh please tell us there are 529s under the tree, mummy and daddy!

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. 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.
  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.

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

The best way to find a credit card that’ll work for you is to search for it yourself. Fortunately, there’s a website,, 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 a debit card 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: $40.38

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 $2,019.44 on that card, which netted us $40.38. 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 cash back credit card rewards–they’re the simplest way to earn something for nothing.

Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$e$

Snowy creek in our woods. Probably has a 529 plan for its tributaries.

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.

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 monthly dollar amount we pay 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.

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).

Snow on a tree branch! OMG snow

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.

My Christmas window. Yes, my decorations are still up…

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 December:

Item Amount Notes
529 Contribution $5,000 For Kidwoods. Post forthcoming with all the details.
529 Contribution $5,000 For Littlewoods
VT Mortgage $1,392.86
Groceries $797.79
Daycare for Littlewoods $620 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.

Christmas gift shipping to our families $223.80 I made a MAJOR mistake on shipping this year. I meant to buy large flat rate priority boxes from the post office, which cost about $20 each to ship.

Instead, we got the wrong boxes, which shipped based on weight of the box, which cost…. a lot of money. So much for my thrifty gift giving strategy this year. This was the cost to ship five boxes plus postcard stamps for our Christmas cards.

Prius 12v battery $192.90 Our Toyota Prius needed a new battery, so we bought one online from and Mr. FW installed it.
Gasoline for cars $168.87
Household supplies $137.23 Thrilling items such as: toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, dental floss, over-the-counter medications, and more.
Parking at airport $120.00 Parking at the airport while visiting my in-laws over Thanksgiving.
Beer, wine, and caramel vodka for the holidays $89.97 Necessary aspects of our festive celebrations. Side note: caramel vodka in egg nog is dangerously good.
Massage for Mama $80.00 My monthly massage from my childcare-massage co-op.
Internet $74.00
Meals for family while traveling $54.03 We bought a few meals for our relatives while visiting them over Thanksgiving
Rechargeable batteries and charger $48.06 In an effort to be more green, we bought these rechargeable batteries and this battery charger (affiliate links).
Our Christmas postcards $38.37 My super cheap Christmas card hack–postcards from VistaPrint. This was the cost for 150 cards.
Clothes! For Mrs. FW! $35.98 I bought a dress! For myself! Egads!
USB Battery packs for noise machines $33.18 Another purchase for the ongoing battle we wage against losing power to our home (which happens rather a lot here in rural Vermont). We have a generator (details here), but we don’t run it all night long because it eats gas.

This isn’t an issue because we don’t need power at night except… for our children’s noise machines. After enduring a number of tough nights without noise machines, we got these USB battery packs to use on their noise machines when the power’s out (affiliate link).

Checked bag flying back from our Thanksgiving trip $30.00 I tried to fit all four of us into our carry-ons, but alas, we 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.

Cell phones (service for two 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.

Parking while on vacation $21.00 Parking expense while on our Thanksgiving trip.
Mittens $18.95 The amazing SnowStopper toddler mittens (affiliate link).
Utilities: Electric $16.93 We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
 AAA rechargeable batteries $13.77 AAA rechargeable batteries to use with our new battery charger (affiliate link).
TOTAL: $14,237.19
Minus mortgage: $12,877.33

How was your December?

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  1. I bought a pair of snow stoppers mittens a couple of years ago for our little guy after reading your review of them. They. Are. Amazing. He’s still wearing them. We love them so much that I bought a thumbless pair for our baby for Christmas that should last her until she’s old enough to use big brother’s. Thanks for the recommendation!

      1. I also bought a pair based on your review.

        I think daycare doesn’t like them, because I see my 3 year old in the silly little knit mittens in all the photos.

        I don’t like to play in the snow, so we don’t use them much at home. We probably will play outside more when the baby is older…

  2. I nearly passed out when I sent a package this year! Shipping was insane. Next year boring as it is I may shop online but I guess there I’m eating the cost in the item cost. Major holiday bummer.

  3. I was inspired by your MVNO post a while back, and when I finally paid off my phone, I switched to Ting. I am in the metro Boston area, so I am not too worried about coverage by Sprint. One thing that was missing from your initial post was, if you previously used Verizon (or another provider), you have to get a SIM card from Sprint before you even attempt the transfer process. So that added a few days. Once I got that settled and ported out my number, the setup wasn’t too bad. My first bill was $26.96 for one phone. Maybe I call and text a lot more than you and your husband? I had 41 minutes used and 221 text messages, 289 MB of data. I did start using WhatsApp with my husband (whose phone is paid for by work), to cut down on the text messages this month. I’d love to make it even smaller, but I’m not sure that’s feasible. It is definitely smaller than what I was paying at Verizon.

    1. Cheryl, was it hard to port all your contacts? I want to switch to Cricket (we use AT&T for our phones) but being technically challenged I’ve been afraid to make the switch.

      1. No, everything stayed the same for my contacts, applications, etc. I also called with a question, and their support was terrific!

    2. Yeah, we do almost everything over WiFi and try not to use talk or cellular. For calls, I use FaceTime or Skype and for texts, since I have an iPhone, I do iMessages. It’s been a learning curve for me to remember to turn on my WiFi and to find all these wifi alternatives, but so far, so good. But your bill is still super low and super awesome! I’m sorry the SIM card things was a hassle and I’m glad you got it all ironed out!

      1. I tried Ting at the end of last year. The switchover wasn’t too bad but I consistently lacked coverage here in southern Vermont. I wanted so badly to use it because Verizon’s costs are ridiculous but just couldn’t make a go of it. I couldn’t even use it at home on our WiFi because, they told me, I had NO coverage at all and you need a least “1 bar”. So I switched back to Verizon but am glad I gave it a chance. Sigh…

        1. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you! If you’re game to try another MVNO, you might see if there’s a Verizon re-seller that’ll work better for you. We had to try a couple MVNOs before landing on Ting. For us, it was worth the switching hassle because it’s so much cheaper. Good luck!!!

        2. Jill, you might want to try Consumer Cellular. I am currently living in Florida but in the process of moving back to Bennington, VT. I had Verizon for many, many, many years and they literally forced me to get a new phone by refusing to service my perfectly functioning flip phone (Only here could I make that statement and not have everyone go “What?). Anyway, I decided to shop around for service and CC covered both FL and Bennington using AT&T and another carrier’s towers. I went from paying over $80 a month to $25 for the same coverage and I get better cell reception in Florida than with Verizon. Also, no long term plans. My partner is joining me on my plan next month and we will be paying less for both of us than he has been paying alone, only $15 to add him on. I seldom use data but they will send out alerts if I am going over and I can increase it if I need to. I just wish I had switched over years ago. Oh, and btw, they gift you credit on your bill if you refer someone and they open an account.

    3. We’ve used Red Pocket for the last couple of years and STRONGLY recommend them. You can buy an annual plan from Ebay during the holiday shopping season for $199, which gives you 12x 30 day cycles with unlimited talk, text, and 5 GB of data. $16.58/person monthly. They also work on all 4 major wireless networks, although you have to pick your network when you join. When it came time to renew, we just bought another ebay card, and they emailed us a code to apply to the account. It’s a bit more work, but honestly, we love the flexibility it gives.

  4. For those that really want to stick to hand knitted mittens… my husband and I had two different systems implemented by our moms when we were toddlers. My mom sewed a button inside each of my coat sleeves and added a knitted strip that looped over the button so that even if I took my mittens off, they stayed attached to my coat. My husband’s mom employed the much more comical to me practice of knitting a thick connecting string all the way between the two mittens. It went in one coat sleeve, around his back and into the other coat sleeve, so the mittens were always connected inside of the coat. I don’t know that either of these methods prevented us from taking our mittens off our hands if determined, but they did mean our mittens couldn’t drop and get lost.

    1. I tried the mittens-on-a-string system and my kids would just rip those mittens right off ;). HAH! For some reason, they both hate winter hand-coverings.

  5. I want to make mittens for charity and recently read a book indicating that longer cuffs that fit under coats is a good idea. You have confirmed that…so good to know. Plus making three at a time so there is an extra.

    1. Knitting three mittens instead of two? BRILLIANT!! Wish I’d thought of this, so stealing this idea 🙂

  6. I second and 3rd the endorsement of the SnowStoppers mittens! (have used them since our now 6 year old was about 2 years old, and we have purchased a pair for our youngest as well). They are FANTASTIC and we will definitely rebuy as they’re outgrown……my only gripe is that our 6 y/o’s stink to high heaven and they’re tough to thoroughly dry out! I manage to squeeze my hand inside to turn them inside out and run them in the dryer as needed, but it’s a challenge.

    Also….CAN NOT WAIT for your post about 529s. Each of our girls currently have UTMA accounts that I’ve thought about flipping over to 529s….but one of the things I liked about the 529s was that you can change the beneficiary if higher ed isn’t the path they choose (which seems unlikely at this point…..but who knows?!?!). If I convert their existing UTMAs into 529s, they can only ever be used for those designated trust beneficiaries (i.e. say 2nd kid decides to bail on higher ed altogether, that money can only be used for her, so the $ will be taxed and penalized for non-school use). So I’ve been torn about whether to just convert them (since that’s where the thousands of $ we have so far saved is), or start from scratch with 2 new 529 accounts for each which would have the beneficiary flexibility (but way less funds to start invest). Ugh….sometimes adulting is too much! (and also I wish such things had existed when I was 6 years old so my husband and I wouldn’t have had to graduate with school loan debt that took us almost 10 years to pay off!)

    1. Adulting is hard. No doubt about it. Lemme do some research and see if I can incorporate your question into the 529 post. So for the SnowStoppers, I air dry them and I jam my hand in to turn them inside out to dry. Otherwise, they totally stay damp inside.

      1. Michele,

        Your 529 comment speaks to a larger issue of tax deferred/advantaged accounts vs. flexibility. Michele Singletary who writes for The Washington Post wrote that she decided to split her savings for he children’s college education between tax deferred/advantaged and regular accounts because of this.

        Anytime you pick a tax deferred/advantaged account you face certain restrictions some of which don’t strike you at the time.

        For instance, my husband recently wanted to rollover some money inside his 403(b) which holds contracts from 3 separate educational institutions. He was doing a rollover from a previous employer to a current employer within the same 403(b) plan.
        Each time he did a rollover I had to sign a spousal waiver saying I knew I was giving up my right to a survivorship since it is an ERISA plan. (I have my own non-ERISA pension and his funds were being rolled over to another ERISA plan so I wasn’t going to lose anything by it.)

  7. Thanks for the mittens recommendation-sounds like the holy grail of winter hand coverings.

    I was excited to read 529 plans may now be used to repay up to 10,000 of student loans. This is quite advantageous to those who live in states that allow a deduction on state income tax for 529 contributions.

  8. Per your recommendation, I switched from a $75/mo unlimited t-mobile plan, to a $20/mo plan from Mint Mobile. It’s month 2 and I love it! The plan includes unlimited talk and text, plus 8G of data, which is more than enough!

  9. Can’t wait to read your 529 post! We used the biggies (Vanguard and Fidelity) so I’m curious to see which you went with. Also, totally random, but what are those holiday strip-like ribbons holding your holiday cards? I’ve been on the hunt for festive holders to display our cards beyond just putting them in a big collage. Snowstoppers are great too, we have them for each of the kids.

    1. The holiday cards are put on those ribbons with masking tape. The ribbons were leftover from something–a gift maybe?–years ago and I tape them to the wall and then tape the cards to them :).

  10. With respect to USPS priority shipping, make sure you check out using USPS regional priority shipping boxes. These boxes are free from USPS web site and generally the shipping cost is lower than using USPS flat rate boxes. Do not be misled by the term “regional” – you can ship over the entire USA with these “regional” boxes. You will need an inexpensive scale for accurate weight to compare regional priority vs. flat rate priority box vs. first class package. Finally, you cannot get these regional boxes in the local Post Office – you must order them cost free from USPS web site.

  11. We have a Prius and I’m delighted to hear that the battery was so affordable when DIY’d.

    Also, I want to hear more about the dress you got! 😊

    1. It looks like the Prius battery that they replaced was the common 12V lead-acid battery, not the much more expensive 200V+ nickel-metal-hydride battery that is part of the hybrid system

      1. Yes, good point, Adam. Emily: we gave our 2004 Prius to our son when he graduated college a couple of years ago. It is just a few thousand miles from hitting the 300,000 mile mark and never had to replace the battery the main (expensive) battery! 🙂

  12. You should look into Tello. We’ve been using them the past 2 months and have been pleased. Unlimited talk/text with 2GB data for only $15/month and no added junk fees. Hopefully they have an affiliate program so you can add them to your list of affiliate links in future posts.

  13. Those mittens look like they will be great! My kids are older now – but “back in the day” I had broken down and gotten them “L-bow mittens” which are the same type of thing, with a long, nylon-like forearm cover that went up to their elbow where it had elastic to hold in place. They were worth the price because they stayed in place and the kids couldn’t take them off easily. I’ve been looking at different rechargeable batteries & charger – so thank you for the recommendation!

  14. I was just curious as to why you break out household supplies? I have always lumped them in with groceries because they seem to be a constant need and it is too tedious to brake them down from the food portion. I have always loved your posts and would really appreciate your insight on this area.

    1. Hmmm, I think we started doing it originally so that we had a better sense of what we were spending on food and now it’s a habit.

      1. At my other half’s request we try to place stuff on the conveyor belt in categories so that itemising the receipt later is easier. Yes we’re 300 years old. No I don’t usually remember 😀

  15. I consider contributions to 529’s as an investment, rather than an expense, but I understand why you put it in the expense part of your budget because it is outgoing money.

  16. Congratulations on setting up 529 accounts for your children. I have them set up for each of grandchildren. I also add some money to each of their accounts on their birthdays as well as Christmas. At their tender ages, I am sure that they don’t give “two hoots” about my gift at this time although their parents do. Oh well, hopefully they appreciate it some day.

    You will be pleasantly surprised how fast the money grows. My goal is to have enough money in my grandchildren’s accounts so they might be able to afford to go to two years of community college and that’s no joke! Good Luck!

  17. lol… As a former ski instructor, who worked mostly with 3-6 year olds, I can confirm that there are very few well-made hand coverings for small children. I honestly spent at least 10% of any work day just pulling their dang mittens back on their little hands. Either that, or I was digging through the lost and found bin to find a half-decent set of loaners to replace mittens that were woefully inadequate for conditions. It’s good to know someone’s out there filling this market gap.

    One of the older ski instructors I worked with blew my mind one day when they told me that one of the reasons their mittens never stay on, is they were never really on in the first place. Small children are very, very, very good at tricking you into thinking their mittens are on all the way when they’re not (jury’s out on whether they do this intentionally, lol). Their pro-tip for getting kids into mittens was to make a little game of it: have the kid put their hand most of the way into the mitten (basically you’re just lining up their fingers with the appropriate glove fingers), hold the cuff but keep your arms extended far enough that the kid will not be able to touch your nose, tell the kid to touch your nose, while cheering them on with fun phrases like “go, go, go, go” or “push, push, push.” You’re basically tricking them into getting their mittens all the way on. I’m still grateful to the older ski instructor who handed this nugget of wisdom down to me, it really made a difference in the maddening amount of time I was spending putting mittens onto small, wriggly hands.

  18. December was great! We had a wonderful Christmas that came in under budget. In fact, despite our Christmas spending we actually spent less in December than we did any other month last year!

    And those mittens? WORTH IT. Oh my gosh. So worth it.

    We donated to our kids’ 529s as well. We started one for my stepson two years ago and started one for our daughter as soon as I found out that this time my pregnancy was viable. My husband asked how we wanted to celebrate the good news (I’d had five miscarriages in two years leading up to her) and I said, “Spaghetti and meatballs at home, and let’s open a 529 with what we would have spent at a restaurant.” I’m the current beneficiary and we’ll transfer it to her when she has an SSN.

    For baby gifts, we’ve been asking for college money, but everyone wants to knit us a blanket. I have so many blankets. Does anyone in the FrugalFam need a blanket? I’ve got you covered. Literally.

    We’ve been asking for 529 donations as gifts for her but all anyone wants to do is knit her a blanket. It’s the thought that counts but still, sigh.

    1. Congratulations on your pregnancy! I love the idea of skipping the celebratory dinner out to start funding your child’s 529. While I don’t have kids, I get irritated when people decide what gifts to provide for weddings, showers, etc. I always assume the people receiving know what they need most and go from there. Most want all kinds of unnecessary things, so if something seems wasteful of or could be a one-time use only gift, I’ll opt to give money. Other than you, though, I have one friend who listed a college education gift on their very tiny baby shower gift wishlist. That’s both surprising and sad.

      If you have too many baby blankets, you can likely donate them to a women’s pregnancy crisis center or maybe even a women’s shelter. Congratulations again!

      Can’t wait to read the 529 story!

  19. I tried those mittens, and found it much too aggravating to try to get their tiny thumbs in place so they can play with their snow shovels. I bought ones with velcro on the back so I can put the thumb in, then velcro them up. They stay in coats well, too.

    1. I have a two year old, and this is his second winter with Snow Stoppers. His thumbs have never, not once, been in place. Anyone have tips for how to get them in??

    1. I don’t know if I have! We compost in a pile in our garden because we have the space. Our methodology is pretty simple–not sure there’s a whole post in there :)!

  20. I do not have to pay for the flat rate priority boxes at my local post office – it is so much cheaper to ship using these! Each of my five (soon to be six) grandchildren have 529 plans. Typically I give them something to open for birthdays and Christmas, as well be as a contribution to their 529. We always exclaim “You are going to college!” Since the oldest two just entered first grade, I don’t think they are very impressed (yet)!

    1. My five-year-old granddaughter started kindergarten this year. As she was preparing for the first day, she told her Mom, “You’re going to miss me when I go to college.”

  21. I got really excited about the MTNO thing for cell phones only to discover that Canada is one of the few countries in the developed world that don’t allow it. However, apparently there is pressure on the CRTC (our regulator) to allow and it might be available in the next couple of years. Since we are only on cells (no landline) we do use our phones a lot but most of it is within a wifi area so this should save us a bunch of money. Currently we pay $90 for two phones.

  22. Just curious if you’ve decided to move away from the Amazon Rewards card? We’re looking into other options.

  23. I made a postage mistake similar to yours, although not for that much money, thank heavens. I made mine in 2018, and it cost me around $25 extra dollars. I had done such a good job of saving on the gifts, then blew it on the postage mistake. Ah well, live and learn — I hope.
    When I was a kid we had the string through the coat sleeves thing for our mittens, as I grew up in the upper south. My own kids wore a pair of mittens now and then, but here in Florida, they got very little use, and were usually missing by the time we needed them again.
    When my kids were very young, I started them with the Florida Pre-Paid College program, which at that time only covered tuition. They each earned enough of a Bright Futures (state) scholarship to help pay for books and such, but we still paid for some fees and of course, living arrangements. They had roommates, worked part time while in school and helped by paying costs such as utilities, gas, and food while at college. They graduated debt-free from college, and believe me, they were grateful. So, so many of their friends graduated with such scary debt. Money was very tight when I started the Pre-paid program, but I am so glad I did. If they had not gone to college, they could have used the money for technical school or take it as income.
    Please let us know how the rechargeable batteries work out! I’ve heard every frugal person should use them, and I’ve also heard they aren’t worth it. I’m interested in hearing from someone who has used them.

  24. We’ve just switched from mint to red pocket for cheap cell phone service, they’re great because you can pick the network you want to be on. We pay $25 for TWO phones on Verizon network. It’s amazing 😉

  25. Mitten idea….
    What I finally did when mine were little is add clips on the gloves and on the jacket cuffs.
    Ive seen jackets with elastic loops to clip gloves too.

  26. I have a budget line item called “kill me now” for things like the postage snafu, or if I get a parking ticket. My budget for this category is obviously zero but at least it gives me a place to sort things at the end of the month.

  27. college 529 vs Roth IRA principle as college funding
    I have 2 of 4 in college
    Depending upon college choice qualified expenses are much less than actual expenses.
    My son in private college has spent all that was in his 529
    My daughter at less expensive community college most of her expenses fell outside the qualified expense.
    I think using my Roth IRA principle may have been a wiser option.

    Other challenge was making sure they re approved and continued to qualify for scholarship sources each year

  28. I live in Michigan and have been trying to walk outdoors more. My winter gear is great except for my hands. No gloves I’ve purchased keep my hands warm at all. Any recommendations for adult gloves?

  29. There is no cost for the actual flat rate boxes. This may help you avoid having the surprise mailing costs although mailing the flat rate boxes isn’t inexpensive.

    1. Yes! And you can actually order them in advance from, and have your mail carrier bring them to you.
      Just go to and then click on the “Free Shipping Supplies” link. It makes it easier to make sure you have the right box at the right time, and pack it all up before you go to the post office.

  30. I discovered that for me it was cheaper to join Amazon prime for the month and have all the presents shipped directly to the recipients. I had a gift card that paid for the gifts. You can even have the presents wrapped by Amazon for another charge, which was still cheaper than shipping larger items cross country. Worked beautifully.

  31. I did the opposite to you Mrs FW with my Christmas parcel sending…and it still worked out the expensive way 🙁 Having been an expat and having lived overseas, I am used to buying ultra light presents as standard. I did the same automatically now back at home and sending presents to nieces and nephews (my Brother’s family’s first xmas away in their new state). I happily collected light frugal goodies for the children, but then heard of the flat rate box. I bought one…without first weighing my presents!!! It was a flat rate $18 for the box and up to 5kg, but my featherlight present buying meant we only had about 2kg of gifts and it would have been cheaper to do the pay by weight!! Grr! I did end up buying a couple of extra books to up the weight, and I know for next year I can buy heavier gifts or do pay by weight! Live. Learn.

  32. Sadly….in your 529 article….could you address what to do with the money if your child doesn’t go to school? We have 2 529s, started when he was a baby, with just 1 intitial contribution…..he’s now a senior in high school and NOT going to college or tech school (he’s going to be a fireman, but the county’s pay for the schooling)…so now I have 30,000 (at least) of 529 I don’t know what to do with it…..listen to me, complaining about “found” money, but we’ll have to pay penalty and taxes on it. ouch

    1. The 529’s that we have set up allow us to transfer the $ to another person. It can still only be used for education expenses, but at least it’s transferrable. I wonder if it could be left where it is for now and then transferred to future grandchildren? And you never know, your son might want to take some classes sometime. Our son finished college with money left in his 529 and we are leaving it there for now. He talks of going to grad school sometime. And our daughter who swore she would never go to college…she just finished her masters. There are lots of twists in the life of a parent of young adults 😊

    2. Maybe keep it in the 529 plan? I have a former coworker who had a situation similar to yours…one of his children decided not to attend college, and the other got a full ride that included housing. So once he retired at 60, he transferred the account to his name, and began to study what he always wanted to. He and his wife moved to Paris where he enrolled in a master’s program in philosophy. They could use the 529 money to cover the (limited EU) tuition and living expenses. I think they lived on about $35k/year, so you’re not far off.

  33. I don’t recommend WalMart for much, but their car batteries are great! You can get their top of the line–Everstart MAXX batteries for about $100, and they come with a hassle-free 3 year full replacement, 2 additional year pro-rata warranty. I’ve done a warranty replacement once, and you simply bring the old battery to the return desk and they send you out with a new one on the spot. They also don’t do any battery checks first, which can be helpful if the battery is being pesky but appears fine to the machines. (I got one from a large auto chain before, and when it went bad, the machines all said it was fine and they refused to pay for it. I even bought a new one and showed them in the parking lot that the new one would start the car and the old one wouldn’t, but it didn’t matter to them.)

    5 years is about the lifecycle for the battery, so even if it lasts right until the warranty ends and then gives up the ghost, it still cost half price to begin with! The top-shelf batteries are great, but I wouldn’t buy one of the cheaper lines. Not worth the savings.

  34. Thanks for sharing how you save $, and where you “goof!” November 2019 my 2010 Prius wouldn’t start–all the lights lit up on the dash–had it towed to the dealership, and, at the dealership a 12V battery was $301.00! Be thankful you have a handy hubby! 🙂 (I’m a single senior citizen)

  35. Question about the rechargeable batteries: how many times are you able to recharge? I remember many years ago using them but they didn’t allow very many recharges before dying completely. Maybe they are of better quality now. What is everyone’s opinion?

    1. Hey Rebecca! I have been using Eneloop rechargeables for 10+ years and they are great. I think they are rated for 1000+ recharge cycles. I most recently picked up some AAA and AA “LADDA” rechargables from Ikea after reading a ton of positive comments and suggestions that they are very similar to Eneloop quality. They have been great so far as well. If you have an Ikea nearby I highly recommend the LADDA. about $6.99 for a 4 pack. The charger is about the same I think.

  36. Thanks for this report! You talked about earning rewards and getting cash back for your purchases. I’m just wondering have you ever tried to save money by sharing your referral codes to your friends and family? I have personally found it pretty useful myself. I can give you a recommendation if you’d like.

  37. Hello there Mrs FW!! You are an incredible inspiration and it is because of you that my husband and I started our frugal path. I cannot thank you enough!

    Just wanted to take the time to mention another Sprint MVNO company called Tello. My husband and I have been using them for over a year, and depending on what you need, the plans range from $6 to $39 per month per person. Currently, my cell phone bill is $9.08/month for unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 500mb of 4G data (throttled to 2G speeds after that). It’s really easy to check your remaining balance and add more at any time, or wait for it to automatically renew the following month. If you don’t choose unlimited, you can roll over your unused minutes and data as long as you renew at least one day before your automatic renewal date. I had Ting for a little while, but found Tello to be much cheaper in the end. Our cell phone bill for the entire year of 2019 for two people was under $300!!

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