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:
- 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 stuff 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) 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.
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. 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.
- 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 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 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$
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).
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 December:
|For Kidwoods. Post forthcoming with all the details.
|Daycare for Littlewoods
|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
|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
|Our Toyota Prius needed a new battery, so we bought one online from RockAuto.com and Mr. FW installed it.
|Gasoline for cars
|Thrilling items such as: toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, dental floss, over-the-counter medications, and more.
|Parking at airport
|Parking at the airport while visiting my in-laws over Thanksgiving.
|Beer, wine, and caramel vodka for the holidays
|Necessary aspects of our festive celebrations. Side note: caramel vodka in egg nog is dangerously good.
|Massage for Mama
|My monthly massage from my childcare-massage co-op.
|Meals for family while traveling
|We bought a few meals for our relatives while visiting them over Thanksgiving
|Rechargeable batteries and charger
|In an effort to be more green, we bought these rechargeable batteries and this battery charger (affiliate links).
|Our Christmas postcards
|My super cheap Christmas card hack–postcards from VistaPrint. This was the cost for 150 cards.
|Clothes! For Mrs. FW!
|I bought a dress! For myself! Egads!
|USB Battery packs for noise machines
|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
|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)
|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
|Parking expense while on our Thanksgiving trip.
|The amazing SnowStopper toddler mittens (affiliate link).
|We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
|AAA rechargeable batteries
|AAA rechargeable batteries to use with our new battery charger (affiliate link).
How was your December?
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