Dirt And Other May 2020 Expenditures
Boatloads of Dirt
May was the month of the raised bed. Mr. Frugalwoods designed, built, and installed four enormous raised beds to serve as our kitchen garden. I’ll give the full rundown in my next This Month On The Homestead installment, but for today’s purposes, know that these beds required dirt. A lot of dirt. 5.5 yards of dirt, to be precise.
And as I learned, dirt is not just dirt. At least, not when you want to grow vegetables in it. Sure, we could’ve used regular dirt dirt, but regular (free) dirt dirt is littered with weeds. And weed seeds, and nascent weeds, and nasty weeds. We already devote a large percentage of our time to the eradication of weeds from our large vegetable garden, our blueberry patch, our cherry, plum, and apple trees and so, the thought of adding four more weed vectors didn’t appeal.
So we bought the good dirt. The weed-free, compost-amended, tasty-to-baby-plants dirt. Thankfully, this is/should be a one-time dirt-related expense as all four enormous beds are now filled with the dirt that’ll be there for the ages. Or at least several years. Who knew you could send so much money on dirt? I did not, but now I do.
We bought our dirt in bulk, which involved Mr. FW making four trips to a dirt purveyor, loading the bed of the truck with dirt, shoveling out the dirt, and repeating the process with another load of dirt. Dirt was moved, a lot. It would’ve been a lot more expensive if we’d bought this much dirt in bags, so to avoid being dirtbags, this bulk dirt procurement worked well.
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Also, Some Bedsheets
For a different sort of bed, we ordered one set of king-sized bedsheets. For the first twelve years of our marriage, we managed to not buy a single sheet. We received sheets as wedding presents (thank you, friends and family) and we received hand-me-down sheets from my parents (thank you, parents).
We rode this free sheet train until it ended last month with ripped sheets. The cause of the rips remains unknown, their origin is speculated upon, but the result was clear: our sheets were so threadbare they simply split. We initially rotated the sheets to see if we could stem the splits, but that just caused them to split in other areas.
Next, I attempted a mediocre patching project, which–how should I put this–failed. We then slept on slit sheets for a month before agreeing it was highly annoying to constantly tangle one’s foot/feet in ripped sheets. The time had come for us to buy our first pair of sheets. Naturally, we turned to the internet to see what she recommended.
And wow, there are some expensive sheets on the market. I had no idea one could spend so much money on square shards of cotton. Thankfully, we were able to find the sheet equivalent of our Internet Mattress: inexpensive, plain, well-made, and organic! Allow me to introduce: Internet Sheets (affiliate link). Ringing up at $55.99 (for king size no less), in the color of white, made of organic cotton, these sheets are–so far–working beautifully.
A Dishwasher Soap Dispenser Replacement
A most annoying and fiddly bit of plastic broke in our dishwasher’s soap dispenser thing and we had to buy a replacement part… for $71.97… Better than buying a new dishwasher, but come on! We fiddled with it, tried to fix it, and used the dishwasher without the soap dispenser system for months until, finally, we had to admit our efforts were in vain. Apparently, there is no substitute for a spring-loaded soap dispenser in a dishwasher. Alas. Thankfully, Mr. FW (who installed our dishwasher a few years ago) was able to install this new part, saving us the cost of labor.
When it first broke, we just put dishwasher soap onto the floor of the dishwasher, but that ended up clogging the filters and caused mold to grow inside the dishwasher. GAH!
The Wait-and-See Method
I didn’t realize until now that our sheets and dishwasher soap dispenser are both examples of my wait-and-see-before-purchasing methodology. This methodology stems from my 72-Hour-Rule, but takes that rule farther and entails a system of doing without or coping with before buying new.
In both instances, we figured we’d eventually need to purchase the item, but in both instances, we waited several months to see if we could cobble together an alternative. Rather than immediately buying new, Mr. FW and I typically bide our time to see if:
- We can get a used one
- We can do without it
- We can fix it
- We have something similar that can serve as a substitute
Once we acquiesce to the need to buy new, we spend time researching options to find something that’ll suffice. We usually don’t buy the dirt cheapest option and we almost never buy the most expensive. When I’m able to remove the immediacy of a purchase, I often find I don’t really need the thing after all. Or, if I do need it, I realize I don’t need the highest end thing on the market.
This isn’t a perfect system, but it helps me curb knee-jerk spending. The reason I apply this approach to almost all of our purchases is that stuff adds up over time. This month, we’re just talking about $55.99 sheets and a $71.97 dishwasher part, but there was stuff last month and there will be other stuff next month. By bringing mindfulness to all of our spending, we’re able to reduce our overall cash outlay and, more important to me, reduce our environmental impact by buying fewer things and buying even fewer things new. It’s an ongoing practice and I still find myself with itchy online shopping trigger finger because we get a hit of dopamine when we buy stuff–that’s a solid fact. I have to continually remind myself to slow down and question why I’m compelled to buy.
Credits Cards: How We Buy Everything
Mr. Frugalwoods and I purchase everything we possibly can with credit cards because:
- It’s easier to track expenses. No guesswork over where a 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 listed at the end of each month. Here’s a more detailed explanation of how I use Personal Capital for my expense tracking (and other stuff too).
- 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 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:
1. The TD Cash Visa® Credit Card:
- This card gives you 3% cash back on dining, 2% cash back at grocery stores, and 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases.
- Plus, if you spend $500 within 90 days of opening an account, you’ll get $150 back.
- And, there’s no annual fee!
2. The Citi® Double Cash Card:
- Gives you a total of 2% cash back (1% at the time of purchase and 1% when you pay your credit card bill).
- This is a really good cash back percentage and it means that if you spent, for example, $2,000 on this card in a month, you’d get $40 back, just for using the card! Not bad.
- I also like this card because there are no categories for purchases–anything you buy with the card is eligible for the 2% cash back, which makes is super simple to use.
- If you already have a Costco membership, this card is a pretty good deal.
- You get 4% cash back on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter.
- You also get 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases and 2% cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com.
- And finally, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- This is a lot of categories to keep track of, but, those are some really high cash back percentages, so might be worth it if you’re a Costco member (side note: this makes me miss our Costco!!!!).
- There’s no annual fee if you’re a Costco member.
The best way to find a credit card that’ll work for you is to search for it yourself; I have a guide to help you do just that: The Best Credit Cards (and Credit Card Rewards)!
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 using credit cards might prompt you to spend more, then 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: $28.36
The silver lining to 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 $1,418.78 on that card, which netted us $28.36.
Not a lot of money, perhaps, but it’s money we earned for buying stuff we were going to buy anyway! This is why I love cash back credit card rewards–they’re the simplest way to earn something for nothing.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$e$
Mr. Frugalwoods and I use a free, online service called Personal Capital to keep track of our money.
Tracking expenses is one of the best–and easiest–ways 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. If you’d like to know more about how Personal Capital works, check out my full write-up.
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. Here’s a more detailed explanation of how I use Personal Capital (note: these Personal Capital links are affiliate links).
Yes, We Only Paid $31.54 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 paid $22.48 for both of our phones (that’s $11.24 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, but A LOT cheaper. If you’re not already using an MVNO, switching to one is easy, slam-dunk, do-it-right-away 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*
*the amount we pay fluctuates every month 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 sleeping. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.
Expense Report FAQs
- Want to know how we manage the rest of our money? Check out How We Manage Our Money: Behind The Scenes of The Frugalwoods Family Accounts. We also own a rental property in Cambridge, MA, which I discuss here.
- 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.
- Are we the most frugal frugal people on earth? Absolutely not. My hope is 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.
- Wondering where to start with managing your money? Take my free, 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge. If you’re interested in other things I love, check out Frugalwoods Recommends.
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 (or bi-annual, etc) 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.
- Here’s an overview of how we save for our kids’ higher education: How We Use 529 Plans To Save For College
We live on 66 acres in rural Vermont, so 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).
- There are, of course, costs associated with maintaining these systems (such as having our septic system pumped and inspected) and those expenses show up in the months we pay them.
- We 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.
If you’re wondering about anything else, feel free to ask in the comments section!
Alright you frugal money voyeurs, feast your eyes on every dollar we spent in May:
|Groceries and household supplies||$519.05||Mr. FW did another stock-up of food and household supplies. He goes to the store about once every six weeks.|
|Dirt, a lot||$439.45||5.5 yards of dirt for our new raised beds. This mixtures is 50% compost, 20% screened soil, 10% peat moss, and 10% sand. All the details will be in the next This Month On The Homestead Installment.|
|Local beef, 30lbs||$210.00||30lbs of local organic, grass-fed beef, purchased from my neighbor, the cow farmer.|
|Liquor store stock-up||$137.95||A stock-up of liquor and wine for our creative quarantine cocktails.
Word to the wise: DO NOT make margaritas without lime juice. Sound like it’ll be ok, it’s not.
|Internet||$72.00||LOVE our middle-of-nowhere fiber internet|
|Dishwasher soap drawer replacement part||$71.97||The stupid soap drawer in our dishwasher broke and we used the dishwasher for about three months with a broken soap dispenser before it became really annoying and we finally broke down and bought a replacement soap drawer.
Thankfully, Mr. FW (who also installed the dishwasher himself) was able to install it.
|Flour||$65.75||A bulk buy of flour from our local flour purveyor, King Arthur Flour|
|Local craft beer||$65.48||Stock-up of local craft beers. This sounds like a lot of beer, but it’s not. We buy super local, super delicious, super expensive beer, so this is like four cans of beer.
Our current local faves: River Roost Brewery, Upper Pass Brewery and Hill Farmstead (yes, THE Hill Farmstead. There are advantages to living in the middle of nowhere, people, and this is one of them).
|King-size sheets||$55.99||We bought these king-sized sheets in white and so far, highly recommend (affiliate link)!|
|Socks for Mr. FW||$44.00||Mr. FW wore through most of his wool work socks and Darn Tough (a Vermont sock company) ran a promotion where a portion of their proceeds went to the Vermont Food Bank, so we figured it was the perfect time for a sock stock-up.|
|Window fan||$41.86||We don’t have central AC and we find that these window fans work pretty well in our upstairs bedrooms (affiliate link).|
|Electrical stuff for our used powerwheels||$39.15||Our two used powerwheels required some electrical work (which, thankfully, Mr. FW was able to do). He bought these splices, and some fuses, along with these 60 Amp connectors (affiliate links).|
|Bulk flour storage container||$37.05||Now that we’re buying our flour in bulk, we needed this bulk flour storage container (affiliate link).|
|Gasoline for cars||$32.80||Driving less is not without advantages|
|Local eggs||$32.00||We buy two dozen eggs from our neighbor-with-chickens every week.|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$22.48||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: Electricity||$19.85||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
How was your May?
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