I dub August “leaning into the pandemic.” No longer in denial, no longer hoping for a swift conclusion, no longer deluding myself that school and daycare will resume anytime soon, I am leaning in baby.
Leaning In Actually Looks Really Boring. Sorry About That.
Me leaning in primarily manifests as really, really boring expenses, but since you’re already reading this, I’ll do my best:
1) Educational Posters.
In acknowledgment of our new role as “homeschoolers,” I bought this set of educational posters (affiliate link). My hope is that my kids will periodically glance at these during breaks from stealing toys from one another (the latest coveted toy being a compost bucket… ). They will then absorb the lessons these saccharine colors and shapes wish to impart.
Of course, in order for this educational model to work (let’s call it “passive learning”), I would need to actually hang the posters on the wall. For they sit, lofted atop a filing cabinet, unopened, un-hung, and ignored. But I WILL hang them up, we WILL commence passive learning, and we WILL be glad that school will re-open at some point before my kids reach high school (right? RIGHT?!?!?!?).
2) Garden hose sprayer.
We spent most of August outside, running through the garden, exploring the creek and woods, breaking my garden hose sprayer (another casualty of being a coveted “toy”). Now, I have this new garden hose sprayer (affiliate link). I am very cool and interesting.
3) No household supplies.
As I illuminated in this post, we’ve transitioned to ordering our household supplies from the internet, which means we’re not buying them every month. As I write this, I realize I probably need to put in another order lest we find ourselves without hand soap and bereft.
4) The internet.
We continue to pay for internet, how remarkable. But hold on, I do have an actual money tip here: in the past month, I’ve helped several friends reduce their monthly spending by converting to web-based services. I feel a new section coming on….
How To Save Money with the Internet, on the Internet
1) Check the level of internet service you’re paying for. Some providers offer different tiers of service (with higher and lower bandwidth levels) and they will 100% make you think you need to pay for the highest tier–and hey, maybe you do! But for many use cases, the lowest tier is just fine. As a long-standing work-from-home team, my husband and I use a lot of internet (we’re talking simultaneous video conferencing in different rooms!!!!) and we have the lowest level of bandwidth.
2) Beware the bundle! Many internet providers attempt to hoodwink you into a bundled package with home phone, cable, and internet. Very rarely is this a good idea (although do your research!). Very often, it is cheaper to divide and conquer. Shop around and see if you can finagle lower prices through a diversity of providers. If your internet provider feigns it’s not possible to unbundle, tell them you’ll be cancelling your service and see what they come up with. Is it annoying to do this? Absolutely. Does it have the potential to save you money every month forever and ever? Absolutely.
3) Use yon internet. If you’re paying for the internet, use your internet. I don’t mean use your internet for some things some of the time, I mean use it for everything. Here’s what I mean:
- Phone calls and conferencing: Do not use your cell phone (or home phone) minutes. Use free, web-based, internet services for calling, such as Skype (audio or video), Google Meet (audio or video), FaceTime (for iPhone users), and on and on and on….
- Don’t tell me you can’t do this. I HAD to convert to all-internet all the time when we moved to our homestead because we have no cell reception. And you know what? It’s totally fine.
- My elderly (but very active, young-looking) parents use free web-based services, my friends, my in-laws, reporters who interview me, all of my work-related conference calls, my nonprofit board meetings… it’s all done online for free. Because guess what? OTHER PEOPLE WANT TO SAVE MONEY TOO. I know, contain yourself.
Texting: Do not use your data plan to text. Use free, web-based services, such as What’s App, iMessage, etc, etc and so forth. Sometimes, I have to use data and that’s ok. But 95% of the time? There’s another option. And that option is the internet.
- Home phone: If you, like me, live somewhere without cell reception, you too might have a home phone. I know, people in cities think we’re nutso, but it’s a real thing. The cheapest way to home phone is through a VOIP service. VOIP stands for “voice over internet protocol” and it’s another way to leverage the internet to get something for cheap.
- Your cell phone: Always Be WiFi-ing. Repeat after me: I will not use data on my phone, I will use WiFi. WiFi is the internet and the internet is everywhere (except out here where I live, but you know what? I’ve discovered I don’t always have to be available or in touch).
- My phone is often a glorified camera since I have no WiFi and no cell reception and no one has died as a result. I rarely use WiFi when I’m out and about (for example at the dentist’s office) because I’m uncertain of their WiFi security protocols. But at my house, at friend’s houses, etc, I always, always, always connect to the WiFi. When I worked in an office? Always on the WiFi.
- Start training yourself to look for the WiFi option first and the data second. Save beaucoup bucks and be happy.
- Entertainment: Movies and TV are on the internet, my friends. Web-based services are taking over the world and all you have to do is pick one (or two!). Here’s a rundown excerpted from this post:
Free (and cheap) Entertainment Options:
Lots of streaming services offer a free trial period. If you sign-up for one free trial at a time, you could have MONTHS of free TV and movies. Here’s how:
- Sign-up for Netflix’s free 30-day trial
- Once your free Netflix trial is over, sign-up for Hulu’s free trial
- Then, sign-up for Amazon Prime Streaming’s free 30-day trial (affiliate link)
- Next, sign-up for a 7-day free trial with Philo TV
- After that, sign-up for Sling’s 14-day free trail
- Then, there’s the Disney Plus free trial
- And check out the 500 hours of programming that HBO just made free
- There are even more free trials out there, but I got tired of Googling them
Once you’ve run through all the free trials (which will take you a long time), sign-up for a super cheap streaming subscription, such as Hulu’s $5.99/month plan.
Explore Other Totally Free Entertainment Options:
Investigate your local public library’s DVDs, books, and videos.
- PBS is always free! And PBS Kids is–bar none–the best. My girls watch PBS Kids exclusively and it is fabulous.
- Their favorite shows right now: Daniel Tiger (social emotional learning for the youngest toddlers); Sesame Street (the OG); Nature Cat (science and environment lessons); Super Why (letters, spelling, and reading!); and Peg + Cat (a legit math class; we now sing “one hundred is one-zero-zero” on the regular)
- Check out the many, many, many free events and activities happening all over the internet right now. This post has a bunch of ideas.
- Watch videos of your children/grandchildren dressed as dinosaurs running into each other while singing “Row Row Row Your Boat.” Just, for example.
- Teach your cats to jump through a hula hoop (hat tip to my parents–and their cats–for that one).
Summary of Why You Should Do This
There are free (or dirt cheap) online, web-based services for just about everything. If you have a high cell phone bill every month, if you’re paying for cable, if you’re paying for an expensive home phone or any other entertainment or communication methods, try transferring everything to the internet. And yes, I do all of this on the lowest, cheapest tier of internet service. Remember: ABW (Always Be WiFi-ing).
I am a huge fan of this type of frugality because you get exactly the same end product at a lower price. And you only have to do the work once! Yes, it’s annoying to transfer companies and change your service level and figure out web-based alternatives, but you only have to do it ONE TIME. Then, you get to sit back and save money every month. Same goes for transferring your cell phone service to an MVNO. Oooooo I feel another section coming on!!!
Yes, We Only Paid $29.57 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 $14.79 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 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.
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. 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: $20.90
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 $1,045.13 on that card, which netted us $20.90
Not a lot of money, perhaps, but it’s money we earned for buying stuff we were going to buy anyway! This is why I love cash back credit card rewards–they’re the simplest way to earn something for nothing.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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).
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 August:
|Groceries||$393.24||All the foods|
|Wood splitter repair||$165.00||Rebuild of the wood splitter’s hydraulic cylinder. We’re back to splitting in style!|
|Gifts||$144.95||Five members of my family have August birthdays! I usually don’t send birthday gifts, but it’s a pandemic and I thought folks might appreciate a little lift via a gift.|
|Fancy craft beer||$112.20||Real fancy|
|Gas for cars||$77.01|
|Ethanol-free gas||$52.58||For our small farm engines|
|Standing desk anti-fatigue mat||$39.17||I’ve transitioned to using a standing desk in my home office and bought this anti-fatigue mat to stand on (affiliate link). So far, I love it!|
|20lb canister of CO2 for our hacked Sodastream system||$34.25||CO2 for seltzer|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$29.57||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 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.
|Garden hose sprayer||$28.61||Our previous garden hose sprayer bit the dust (literally) and we bought this one online–works great so far (affiliate link).|
|Utilities: Electricity||$25.93||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|External keyboard||$24.37||In order to achieve ergonomic mastery in my new standing desk set-up, I needed an external keyboard.
I bought this super cheap knock-off bluetooth keyboard, which is tremendously cheaper than the name brand external Apple keyboard and, so far, works really well (affiliate link)!
|Educational Posters!||$19.07||I swear I will actually hang these posters up… (affiliate link)!|
|Organic oats||$14.37||More organic oats for our daily breakfast oatmeal (affiliate link).|
|Za`atar seasoning||$11.30||Za`atar seasoning, which I use primarily on my homemade roasted chickpeas (affiliate link).|
|Local fruit||$10.40||Peaches and nectarines from a local farm|
|Local flour||$5.25||Locally milled flour|