Buying Household Supplies In The Time Of A Pandemic
We’ve started ordering all of our household supplies online to limit our exposure to stores. Unfortunately, this seems to be more expensive due to the lack of generic options online. In non-pandemic times, we buy the generic Walmart brand of almost all household supplies, but the generics aren’t always (or ever) available online, so we’ve had to buy name brand laundry detergent, baby wash, floss, hand soap, shampoo, etc. Bummer, but we feel the expense is worth avoiding stores.
We’ve also been buying A LOT more craft supplies for the kids to support our “homeschool” (HAH) efforts, which involve throwing paper and paints on the table and letting them go wild. Yes, they paint each other’s bodies. No, I do not care.
I will say that this lack-of-generic-options provides me an (unwelcome) opportunity to test my theory that generic stuff is THE SAME as name-brand stuff. Having now (unwillingly) used name-brand laundry detergent, hand soap, baby wash, and more, I can say WITH CONFIDENCE that it’s the same as the generics. As a matter of actual frugal fact, I PREFER some of the generic options to the name brand.
Folks, if you’ve been laboring under the delusion that Tide is better than the generic, I am here to tell you that it’s not. This has been your official generic versus name brand testing report. Look through your pantry, cleaning supplies, and bathrooms: for every name-brand item you see, there’s a cheaper generic out there just waiting for you to save more money. Switching to generic is one of the easiest ways to permanently reduce your monthly spending–you still get the same products, you probably don’t even have to change the store you shop at, and you save money every month, forever! Of course, there are exceptions…
Never Buy Generic Washable Markers. Ever. Don’t Even THINK About It.
To prove I’m unbiased in my generic vs. name brand analysis, I will tell you there’s one thing I will NEVER buy the generic version of EVER again: washable children’s markers. With regular, name brand markers, any color cap fits onto any color marker. Ideal when a two-year-old and four-year-old are in charge of cleaning up the markers.
Let me tell you right now: the cruel person who invented the Walmart generic washable markers made it so that each marker cap will ONLY fit onto the marker of the same color. Untold hours of my life have been lost to parsing the difference between lavender and violet-hued generic markers. Resolve with me to never forget and never let this happen to anyone ever again.
Tell your friends and raise the alarm about this scourge threatening the safety and sanity of parents everywhere. Our children deserve better. And tell them to buy everything else generic while you’re at it.
Price Alerts: They Are Your Friend
My husband loves this work shirt. He’s tried other shirts and they’re nowhere near as warm, insulated, or durable. This shirt (pictured at right) has pockets, is fleece-lined, is not $1M, and is attractive (affiliate links). Before July, he owned one of these shirts, which he wore every day during the winter and which I had to steal away to launder.
He’s wanted another one, but was unwilling to pay full price and so, last winter, he set up an Amazon price alert for the shirt. Lo and behold, July was the month they went on sale. Makes sense that a deep winter shirt would be cheapest in deep summer and so (at my behest) he bought two. When you know you want something, but don’t need it immediately, set up a price alert and bide your time.
Price alerts also provide you the opportunity to cycle through the frugal guide to buying new:
- Follow the 72 hour rule (whereby you wait three days before buying something new). Take that time to ask yourself:
- Can I get this used?
- Can I borrow it from a friend?
- Do I own something similar that’ll suffice?
- Do I really need it or do I just want it?
- NEW ADDITION –> Can I set up a price alert and wait for a sale?
We set up our price alerts through a service called Camel Camel Camel, which rest assured, will not result in a triad of dromedaries being delivered to your doorstep.
Large Foam Roller: Bought New
Lest you be thinking I always buy used or always wait for price alert sales or always find substitutes or always buy generic, allow me to introduce you to my new, name brand BFF: Large Foam Roller. For years I’ve known I needed a foam roller. I have, in fact, borrowed one from a friend (thank you, Rosie), tried to find one at a garage sale (apparently people don’t re-sell these things?), and tried more substitutions than I care to admit (yoga mat, towels, broom handle–listen, desperate times, ok?).
Finally, finally, the pandemic wore me down and I bought a name-brand, brand new roller. I bought the roller my doctor recommends because I have muscle pain (thanks to pregnancy and childbirth and child carrying and outdoor work and age… ) and I needed a way to address this pain more effectively at home.
Large Foam Roller has only been in our household for a week but already, she’s earning her keep. I had debilitating sciatica pain earlier this week (I can thank my pregnancy with Littlewoods for that) and I did my PT exercises, used my foam roller, and stood up pain free! Miraculous? Maybe not. Awesome? Definitely.
The challenge now is keeping Large Foam Roller safe. My children view Large Foam Roller as a horse/pony/weapon and so it’s currently residing in the guest bedroom closet in the hopes of remaining undiscovered and subsequently ridden on (links to Large Foam Roller are affiliate links).
Small Engines: Unite and Fail
As so often seems happen here on the Frugalwoods homestead of woebegone subpar farmers of last resort, two small engines colluded while in the storage shed and decided to peace out at the same time.
Our wood splitter and trimmer both experienced spectacular failures and Mr. FW’s been in diagnostic mode. He ordered a few replacement parts for the splitter that he plans to install this weekend and fingers crossed those’ll do the trick.
The trimmer (purchased from a garage sale a few years ago) should be a more straightforward fix. The gas tank has deteriorated around the rubber seal, causing it to spray gas (not ideal), so he’s going to install a new gas tank, which should remedy the problem.
This is a rather large inconvenience because he’s deep in wood harvesting mode–both for house firewood and sugar wood for maple syrup making–and the wood splitter, as you might guess, is integral to the process. Yes, he can split by hand and yes, he split by hand for a year before buying the splitter, but the time savings of splitter vs. manual is magnificent.
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: $26.96
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 $1,347.97 on that card, which netted us $26.96
Not a lot of money, perhaps, but it’s money we earned for buying stuff we were going to buy anyway! This is why I love cash back credit card rewards–they’re the simplest way to earn something for nothing.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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 $22.57 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 $22.57 for both of our phones (that’s $11.28 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 1.00% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,050. That means you earned $50 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 July:
|Groceries||$334.33||We’ve continued our pandemic routine of having Mr. FW go to the grocery store roughly once every six weeks or so. This seems to be working well for us, mostly because we have ample fresh veggies from our garden right now.|
|Wood chips (9 yards)||$300||9 yards of wood chips (delivered by dump truck) for the completion of our two newest garden areas: the raised beds and the pumpkin/cherry tree zones. Read all the details here.|
|Household, craft, and kid supplies||$298.66||See above notes…|
|30 lbs of local beef||$220||30lbs of organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed beef from our neighbor the cow farmer (they live so close we can hear the cows moo!). Beef doesn’t get any better than this.|
|Car insurance for both vehicles (for six months)||$212.67||Six months of car insurance through Geico for our 2010 Toyota Prius and 2010 Toyota Tundra. This is low because:
More about our approach here.
|Pandemic priorities||$124.77||Wine, liquor, and a flat of tonic water (listen, buying in bulk works for many things).|
|Two winter work shirts||$89.98||Two of these shirts for Mr. Frugalwoods (affiliate link).|
|Necessities||$81.30||Beer, marshmallows, and graham crackers (listen, we’re getting a lot of use out of our fire pit… )|
|Internet||$72||Love our fiber internet!|
|Books for Mrs. FW||$63.79||Oh the books! I remain obsessed with this series and required an influx of more books. Don’t start with me–I borrowed some from a friend and can’t find the others at the library and I need me some mindless historical fiction!!! Also, it’s a series and so I cant stop reading…(affiliate link).|
|Replacement parts for the wood splitter||$62.52||Hydraulic oil, filter, and other parts for the wood splitter|
|Mandatory purchase||$59.45||Local craft beer|
|Mrs. FW’s new BFF||$52.99||Large Foam Roller (affiliate link).|
|Gasoline for cars||$44.50|
|Gifts||$41.77||Birthday gifts for family members. Everyone in my family (except for me!) was born in the summer.|
|Replacement gas tank for trimmer||$29.21|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$22.57||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||$18.89||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Local flour||$10.50||There’s a local flour mill that grinds wheat, so we’re trying out this hyper local flour for all our baking endeavors.|
|Prescription medication co-pay||$10||Finally figured out how to have our prescriptions delivered…|
|Local eggs||$4||Eggs from our neighbor (or, more specifically, from their chickens)|