Let there be LIGHT!!!!
I’ve surrendered all restraint and decorum with regard to Christmas decorations. This year, we are lit. It’s dark, it’s cold, there’s nowhere to go and so I transformed the interior of our house into a beacon of light/some might call it tacky. Up to this point, we’ve used hand-me-down and garage-sale-purchased strands of Christmas lights which, while cheap at the outset, were not cheap from an energy use perspective.
This year, we “invested” (quotations because you don’t invest in something that’s certain to depreciate over time) in ten strands of white LED Christmas lights. And I am not sorry.
We didn’t get the cheapest, we went with the slightly-more-expensive option at $11.07 per 26-foot strand because of their long lifespan, warmer color temperature of 2700k and high color rendering index (CRI).
A few years ago, we bought a strand of white LED lights that are so bright and blue-tinged we don’t even use them. But let me tell you, 2020 has one good thing going for it: they’ve invented WARM white LED lights. In a highly scientific test whereby I plugged in an old, non-LED strand next to one of my new LED strands, I will report that the LED lights are slightly less warm than the regular lights. But they’re nothing like the old-school LED blue light special. So take heart, not everything in the world is falling apart.
My plan/hope is to use these ten strands for the next six decades, at which point I’ll bequeath them to my children who will roll their eyes and inform me that no one decorates with white lights anymore. Happily, I will keep them and continue decorating with them until I die, at which point my last will and testament will stipulate the lights are to be buried with me. Grandma Frugalwoods always was a little odd, but darn it if she didn’t make Christmas magical (is what they’ll say).
Hope for Elderly Pre-Lit Christmas Trees
Despite living in a woods of ten thousand fir trees, we have an artificial Christmas tree. For so many reasons. Firstly, we bought it ten years ago when we lived in Washington, DC where real trees are like $100. Secondly, Mr. FW has seasonal allergies that are aggravated anytime we bring foliage into the house. Thirdly, pine needles and pine sap in my house: not something I need. Fourthly, I like my fake tree. We bought this ersatz shrub in 2010 (for about $200 from Lowe’s) and it still looks fantastic. I mean, what do you need from a fake tree? It’s not like it’s going to go out of style.
The only problem is that it was a pre-lit tree, meaning it came with a million strands of white lights wrapped around its every little branch. This arrangement looked gorgeous for the first seven years. Then, bulbs started to burn out culminating in last year’s final insult: all the top and bottom strands burnt out leaving only the mid-section lit. Not a good look.
But, as I said, the thing still looks like a tree and I wasn’t going to trash it and buy a new one. Solution? We don’t plug in the pre-lit lights. Instead, we draped it in five strands of our new, highly efficient, warmly white LED bulbs. FIXED IT.
If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t buy a pre-lit tree in the first place, but I have to say, this solution totally works and it looks great. The major upside is that we are using far less electricity this year while lighting with far more strands of light. Let there be peace on earth indeed!
We didn’t stop at Christmas lights. We replaced our kitchen lightbulbs with these LED filament bulbs. As a closet hipster, I’ve always wanted exposed filament bulbs but was unwilling to go the non-LED route. But lo and behold, 2020 delivered another incredible gift: LED filaments. Hipsters everywhere may rejoice with glad exaltations.
A crucial element of our “maintaining sanity during a pandemic” regimen is hiking every single day. I hike in the mornings and Mr. FW hikes in the late afternoon. This worked great until it started getting dark at 4pm. The solution? A wicked bright headlamp. It’s still light when he leaves on his hikes, but he typically returns in darkness, so this headlamp is his guide.
It was time for the tractor’s 400-hour maintenance and Mr. FW gamely took it on. We have a Kubota L4400 and it recently rolled over 400 hours, so the time had come. By doing the labor himself, we saved at least $1,200 since the dealership charges to tow it, work on it, and return it.
The parts alone were $500, but well worth it to keep our tractor in peak tractor shape–especially as we plow into its most hardworking season of snow removal and firewood moving. We also bought new rear tire chains as the previous (cheap) chains broke and were unrepairable. We went with the more reliable, more expensive Eko OFOs in the hopes that we’ll never have to buy chains again.
Beer as a Hobby
Mr. FW and I have long been beer enthusiasts and love going to specialty tastings and out-of-the-way breweries. We went to Tree House back when they were still brewing in their garage. We’ve been to Cantillon in Belgium. We’ve lounged in the Hill Farmstead tasting room and stood in line at The Alchemist. We enjoy trying unique beers and discussing how they’re made, the hops that are used, and whether or not the flavors come together. What can I say, there are weirder hobbies, no?
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been unable to visit any breweries and so, we started an at-home tasting club. Almost every evening, as soon as the children are tucked in bed, we split a craft beer and discuss the flavor. It’s our pandemic version of traveling the state by beer.
In November, Lawson’s releases their specialty Maple Tripple–a one-day-a-year release–as well as their Maple Brown Ale. This year, having nowhere else to be, Mr. FW drove to the brewery to pick-up a case. And we are not sorry. Aged in Vermont bourbon barrels, it has a deep, earthy flavor that flirts with the boundary between beer and cocktail.
If you’re ever wondering why we spend so much money on beer, we don’t drink a ton of it; rather, we savor small amounts of very, very expensive liquid. We also view buying super local beer is a good way of supporting local industry here in Vermont during the pandemic.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$e$
Mr. Frugalwoods and I use a free, online service called Personal Capital to keep track of our money: our spending, our net worth, our investments, our retirement–everything!
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 mortgage, 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 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: $80.64
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 $4,032.01 on that card, which netted us $80.64.
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 $29.58 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 $29.58 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.
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.
- Don’t you have a rental property? Yes! We own a rental property (formerly known as our first house) 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 online ordering 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 November:
|Tractor chains||$782.28||Rear chains for the tractor. Brand: Ice Pick OFA Eko 9|
|Tractor parts||$505.85||Filters and hydraulic oil for the tractor’s 400 hour service + seals for front axle repair|
|Household supplies and giving tree gifts||$404.29||Thrilling things like dental floss|
|Beer + Christmas Gifts||$391.50||We were able to get in on Lawson’s specialty annual release of their Maple Tripple and maple bourbon beer and so, we bought a lot. We also were able to do an order from our hyper-local brewery, Upper Pass! Merry Christmas to us.|
|Snowshoes for Mr. FW||$279.00||Snowshoes for the daily hike. Mr. FW has long wanted to upgrade his old snowshoes and this was the year. He reports he’s very happy with them so far as they’re super lightweight.|
|Propane (annual supply)||$247.48||See last month’s expense report for all the details on this.|
|Headlamp for Mr. FW||$120.14||Wicked bright headlamp|
|Lightbulbs and Christmas lights||$114.17||See notes above!|
|Gas for cars||$89.64|
|Stamps and shipping||$70.88|
|PO Box annual renewal||$64.00|
|Christmas cards||$59.21||150 custom photo cards|
|20lbs of C02||$34.25||Seltzer|
|Diesel for the tractor||$33.19|
|The Vermont Almanac|
|50lb of bread flour||$29.95||Purchased locally from King Arthur Flour|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$29.58||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.
|Utilities: Electricity||$21.70||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Prescription medication co-pay||$10.00||Online pharmacy for the win!|