I can feel the pandemic vibes coming through in last month’s spending. Notable is the line item “Beer, marshmallows, graham crackers, and Cheetos.” I regret nothing.
This month’s “more expensive than our mortgage” award goes to our 2010 Toyota Tundra truck. A dubious honor, to be sure.
The truck needed a lot of mechanic-related intervention, including: new rotors, calipers, a state inspection, an oil change and an ABS diagnosis. Cool. The upside is that the truck is now rolling along just fine and we got to support our local mechanic (who, of course, is my friend’s sister’s father-in-law), so it’s all in the family.
Every time we have to pay for a car repair, I like to point out that–pretty much no matter what we spend on repairs–we’ll never come CLOSE to how much we would’ve spent had we bought a new car. Check out all my maths in these posts:
- Why We Buy Used Cars And You Should Too
- Why We Broke Down And Bought A Used Truck
- Why Buying A Low Mileage Used Car Is The Worst Of Both Worlds
Swimsuit and Swimsuit
I, oh frugal queen of the used market, bought two BRAND NEW swimsuits for my kids–this one for Kidwoods and this one for Littlewoods (affiliate links). They’re not really swimsuits, but I don’t know what to call them–tiny wetsuits? They’re made of swimsuit material and have long pants and long sleeves and zip up the front.
They’re rated UPF 50 and they’re lightweight and breathable. Since our kids are forever in and out and in and out of their little splash pool and our creek and our pond, I could not keep up with the swimsuits on and off and off and on again. The issue here is the sun.
I don’t care if they run nekked, but I cannot deal with body-wide sunburn and also, I just can’t with the full-body, hourly sunscreen application on two wild weasels. I think I’ll spend less money by buying these suits than I would on bottles of sunscreen. So far, the girls love their suits! I now need one in my size…
Truly, this is what they’re called. Mr. FW originally sought them out for use in herbicide application on weeds around our yard, but as he perused the internet, realized these have the potential to serve as toddler art instruments (weapons?). And they do! Just look at this link so I don’t have to write 86 words trying to describe them (affiliate link). Outcome: I put (washable) paint into the daubers and let the kids go wild with making dots on paper. For what it’s worth, they’ve done quite a few collaborative works of art with these because dot-creation equalizes the artistic skill between them. So far, highly recommend for pandemic fun (and, of course, herbicide application–obviously not in the same dauber!).
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: $31.99
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 $1,599.88 on that card, which netted us $31.99.
Not a lot of money, perhaps, but it’s money we earned for buying stuff we were going to buy anyway! This is why I love cash back credit card rewards–they’re the simplest way to earn something for nothing.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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 $22.48 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 June:
|New rotors, calipers, an oil change, state inspection, and ABS diagnosis for our 2010 Toyota Tundra.
|Groceries and household supplies
|A combo of food and household supplies (the toilet paper and hand soaps of the world). Mr FW’s been going to the store once every six weeks or so, which means our grocery spending is way off (low one month; high the next).
This is the PERFECT illustration of why it’s important to track your spending every month of the year–things fluctuate, people.
|Gifts for extended family
|In normal times, I only send gifts to our families at Christmastime. But this is not normal times and I decided everyone could use a boost, so I sent birthday (x2), mother’s day, and father’s day gifts to my parents and in-laws. I had fun picking stuff out, they had fun drinking it. I say “drinking it” because it was wine. It was allllll wine.
|Gasoline for cars
|Our family pandemic-inspired drives to nowhere have a way of boosting our gas bill…. but the girls seem to love getting lost on dirt roads with us, so there ya go.
|Binoculars and Kitchen Scale
|Binoculars (the better to see you with, my dear) and a kitchen food scale (the better to weigh you with, my dear). affiliate links
|Trauma Medic Kits
|To assuage my ongoing paranoia about all the heavy equipment and machinery Mr. FW (very safely) uses on the homestead, he purchased these trauma medical kits, which we could use in the event of a serious accident (affiliate link).
|Annual state registration for our 2010 Toyota Prius
|Love our fiber internet!
|River Roost Brewery
|Beer. Life is too short to drink bad beer.
|Swimsuit for Kidwoods and Swimsuit for Littlewoods (affiliate links).
|Beer, marshmallows, graham crackers, and Cheetos
|It’s a pandemic, what can I say?
|CO2 for Seltzer (lasts about six months)
|For our hacked Sodastream. Find all the details here.
|We buy two dozen eggs from our neighbor-with-chickens every week at $4/dozen.
|Cell phone 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.
|We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
|Daubers for herbicide application and toddler art appreciation (affiliate link).