I’m convinced that large appliances are in league against humans. This month we had to replace our dishwasher and our TV and this is not the first time we’ve had a confluence of such events. Revenge of the Appliances hit back in 2016 when our oven, refrigerator and closet door all broke in the same month. Are these coincidences? Or are they evidence of the tenuous hold we have on our modern world? Whatever the (potentially malicious) underlying cause, we bought a dishwasher and a TV in September.
I am most displeased with our dishwasher because it was only four years old. Far too young to require replacement, in my opinion. I will give you details in case you yourself happen to be in the market for a new dishwasher. Four years ago, we bought a Whirlpool WDT780SAEM, thinking it would last us a decade (at least). It was well rated and seemed like a good compromise between the cheap end and the high end. Not so.
Earlier this year, in synchronization with the start of the pandemic, come to think of it… the Whirlpool stopped doing its one job: cleaning dishes. Our dishes were coming out un-clean and, worse, with what looked like globs of grey mold on them (turns out, it’s called “biofilm”–save yourself; don’t google this). The interior of the dishwasher increasingly resembled a mottled piece of decaying bread, but we figured we could fix it.
First up, Mr. FW took the entire thing apart and cleaned it. Several times. He washed the filters and scrubbed the interior. We ran cleaning cycles, we used dishwasher cleaning cycle cleaning packets, and then–thinking maybe the soap wasn’t releasing properly–we replaced the soap dispenser. Zero success. The dishwasher was indifferent to our ministrations and continued returning grey-speckled dishes.
Time to do more research. Mr. FW learned (thank you, internet) that the bushing in the recirculating impeller pump of this particular Whirlpool is made of plastic. The problem with this is that as it wears down with use, the impeller gets worse and worse at pumping water.
Our conclusion: let’s replace the broken pump bushings. Problem: they don’t sell just the bushings. Second problem: the entire pump costs circa $300, and research shows that a replacement would fail in the same way in another couple of years. Third problem: our dishes are still not getting clean and we have a small to medium-sized hill of daily dishes because all four of us are home all the time and our children eat 59 meals per day.
After exhausting the options of cleaning, replacing, and repairing, we capitulated that the best solution was to buy a new dishwasher. Having been burned by the middle-of-the-road option, we went ahead and paid the price for a somewhat higher end Bosch dishwasher.
Here’s what we bought:
- Bosch 800 Series
- Purchased online from AJ Madison (to be clear: not the swingers’ website, the appliance vendor)
- Delivered to our home; Mr. FW installed it himself, but you can pay AJ Madison extra to install it for you
- Price: $1,175.65 (includes $35 for them to take our old dishwasher away)
- My review so far: I absolutely love it. However, only time is going to tell if this thing was worth the cost.
- What I like most about it (other than the fact that it actually cleans our dishes) is the increased interior capacity. It has a pull-out drawer at the top for silverware, which dramatically increases the capacity of the racks.
- I can typically fit all of our dishes in for one wash per day unless we do a lot of cooking/baking, in which case I run the 60 minute quick-wash during the day and a longer wash overnight.
Television Set: A+
The TV, on the other hand, I’m not at all angry with since it was 13 years old. We bought it the year before we got married and it served us well. I feel like 13 years is a decent lifespan for an appliance, which is why it earned an A+.
Having not purchased a TV in 13 years, I was delighted to see how inexpensive they are these days. I was initially concerned that they no longer make TVs as small as our previous 37″ and worried that a new TV would eat our living room. No need to worry, we discovered we could mount it to the wall. Mr. FW plans to run the wiring through the wall so that we have a cord-free, free-standing TV screen mounted to the wall. Really, I was sold on the new TV idea as soon as I heard the words “cord-free.” There’s nothing I love more than hidden cords.
Here’s what we bought:
- TCL, 50” Class 5 Series LED 4K UHD Smart Roku TV. Model:50S535; SKU:6422763
- Purchased online from Best Buy for curbside pick-up at our Best Buy store
- Price: $399.99
- We also bought this wall mount for $22.99 and this recessed box for $27.01 to hold the cords (affiliate links).
- My review so far: it’s great! It works and it only has one little remote control, which is ideal in my book.
- I like that it’s mounted to the wall because we no longer have a TV stand taking up space.
- I like that there’s no chance the kids can knock it over (our old TV was strapped to the wall for child safety, but still)
- Have I mentioned the no cord thing? LOVE IT.
- Now that we’ve removed the TV stand and the baby gate from around our woodstove, our family room feels 1,000 times bigger. RIP baby gates, you will not be missed (don’t worry, I didn’t trash them, I handed them down to friends with smaller babies).
We really piled it on in September as we paid our annual property taxes in full for our 66 acre homestead.
Sometimes folks ask why they don’t see monthly payments for things like property taxes in my Expense Reports and it’s because we typically pay things in full once per year. This bumpiness in our expenses is why I’m such a stickler for tracking your spending every single month.
Case in point: our September spending of $13,460.93 was wildly higher than August’s $2,652.13.
Creating a budget based on just one of those months would result in supreme inaccuracy. Instead, I track every month and focus on my total annual spending. Interestingly, over the years I’ve found that our annual spending often shakes out to be about the same, despite the wild fluctuations we see month to month. Why is this? Because there are ALWAYS things like broken dishwashers and TVs to replace. There will ALWAYS be property taxes and Christmas gifts and new shoes. These things aren’t surprises or emergencies–they’re expected costs to living a life (a life in which I adore the luxury of a dishwasher and a TV).
Ok this actually has nothing to do with unicorns, but that was a much more interesting title than “How To Think About Monthly Expenses.” The other way to accurately track your spending is to divide all your expenses by 12.
If I wanted to average out my spending over the course of the year, I’d take my property tax bill of $9,227.28 and divide by 12, which reveals my monthly property tax cost to be $768.94. I’d also sum expenses like the dishwasher and TV ($1,575.64 total), add in all other appliance/repair purchases this year, and divide the total by 12.
This is what I ask the Reader Case Study participants to do and it’s why their budgets are so thorough and detailed! This is also the approach I take with anyone I’m working with one-on-one–I need to see their spending averaged out over the course of a year, not just one random month in isolation.
You need to know your annual spending because that’s the best way to calibrate your emergency fund. As we often discuss, an emergency fund is three to six months (or more, but not less) worth of your spending. If I only looked at my August 2020 spending of $2,652.13, I’d think I only needed an emergency fund of $7,956.39 (three months) to $15,912.78 (six months).
Conversely, if I only looked at September’s astronomical $13,460.93, I’d deduce I need an emergency fund of $40,382.79 to $80,765.58 (yikes!!!!). But as we know, neither of these numbers are correct. The correct answer is for me to look at my spending over a 12-month period and create an emergency fund calculation from there.
The best way to accurately forecast your future spending, calculate your emergency fund, and set budget goals is to use a tracking system. You can use pen and paper, you can create your own spreadsheet system, or you can use free software to do it for you. Being lazy, I do the last option and use Personal Capital, which I’m sure you’re sick of hearing me mention, but here’s the thing: anytime anyone ever comes to me for advice, the FIRST question I ask is: are you tracking your spending?
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$e$
Mr. Frugalwoods and I use a free, online service called Personal Capital to keep track of our money (I feel like I just said this, no?).
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).
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:
- 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.
- Plus, if you spend $500 in the first three months of having this card, you’ll get $150.
2) The Chase Freedom Unlimited:
- Also offers a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases–with no categories or restrictions–which makes it super simple to use.
- You can earn up to 5% cash back in specific categories as well, which makes it really attractive to folks who can track their spending carefully.
- This card also offers you $200 if you spend $500 in the first three months of having it.
3) 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!
4) 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.
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: $52.21
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 $2,610.48 on that card, which netted us $52.21.
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.
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 $29.57 for both of our phones (that’s $14.78 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.
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.
- Why don’t you buy everything locally? We do our best to support our local community and we buy as much of our food as possible directly from our farmer neighbors. Our town doesn’t have any stores, so we do rely on ordering online and larger big box stores for necessities like toilet paper. The closest stores are 45 minutes away and Mr. FW goes once a month to stock up on what we can’t get from our neighbors or online.
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 September:
|Annual property taxes on our 66 acres, house, and barn
|Dishwasher. See above for all the details!
|All the foods including local flour, eggs, and more. We buy everything possible from our farmer neighbors, eat our own garden produce, and get the rest from BJ’s (a club store similar to Costco and Sam’s Club).
|TV. See above for all the details!
|Fancy craft beers
|Wine and alcohol
|A stock-up on wine and assorted spirits
|Thrilling items such as: dishwasher soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, dental floss, toothpaste, art supplies for the kids, toilet paper, etc.
|Gas for cars
|LOVE our Fiber internet service
|Wall mount and recessed box for the TV
|TV wall mount and recessed box (affiliate links). See above for all the details!
|Pizza and a puppet show!
|A local farm held an outdoor pizza-eating and puppet show performance for families; our girls were in heaven. Having been nowhere in months, it was lovely to be outside with neighbors and friends and to support two local businesses: the farm and the puppeteers!
|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 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.
|Compost bin (affiliate link). We needed a second compost bin and this model has served us well, so we got another one. We have our veggie scraps in one bin and our meat/dairy in the other.
I like that this bin isn’t plastic, it’s not enormous, and it has 100% effective odor blocking (you can remove and clean the filter!). Since they’re stainless steel, I can scrub the entire thing down as needed and wash the filters.
|We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
|Diesel for the tractor
|De-skunk soap (affiliate link). To be clear, no one has yet been skunked. We bought this prophylactically realizing we have two VERY curious and adventurous pre-schoolers and that being without skunk remover was not a position we wanted to find ourselves in.