The FINAL month of 2020 was one of gift-buying, food-buying, and tractor repair parts-buying. Also dryer parts. Plus liquor. And some beer. According to our expenses, we were either: a) giving gifts; b) eating and drinking; and/or c) repairing stuff. Sounds about right.
A Festive At-Home Christmas
We celebrated a quiet, lovely little Christmas at home with just us four. It was sweet, inexpensive and un-stressful. We might do this every year. Our church held a gorgeous online Christmas Eve service, in which I sang a solo (it’s a pandemic, they’re hard-up for musicians…. ) and the kids watched from the couch downstairs with Mr. FW.
This allowed us to avoid the Christmas Eve screaming Cheerio-strewing apocalypse of 2018. See? There are upsides to the pandemic!
On Christmas Day, the girls were THRILLED with their hand-me-down and garage sale toys. At ages 5 and almost 3, they have no concept of “new” versus “used” and were delighted with their new-to-them goodies. Plus, Santa does garage sales too!!
In one of my prouder parenting moments, I remembered to wrap the Santa gifts in DIFFERENT paper and disguise the handwriting, as my own parents used to do. My found-in-a-free-pile Christmas wrapping paper was top notch! I tied the packages with reusable ribbons and tags, all of which I’ve saved for next year.
I’d say I probably spent around $40 for all of their gifts. They were purchased over time from different garage sales, so I don’t know the exact amount. Maybe I’ll try to keep track next year…. eh, probably not.
The Gifts We Gave
Were primarily foods. By which I mean wine. As I detailed in my holiday write-up, I ordered wine from wine.com for all of my family members. Easy, inexpensive, free shipping, and something I know everyone will enjoy and use (affiliate links). Cheers!
I also bought a set of Statement Cards and gave them away on Instagram. Yes! I do giveaways on Instagram sometimes! Statement Cards were created my dear friend Stefanie O’Connell and are dedicated to highlighting and honoring ambitious women.
These are not your grandmother’s greeting cards, although they should be. With biting wit, Statement Cards celebrate women for their achievements OTHER THAN marriage and babies.
We focus so much attention on when a woman is going to get married and when she’s going to have a baby and then another baby, and all of that is great, BUT women do so much more than get married and procreate! We write books! We start companies! We pay off debt! We buy our own houses! We get raises and become The Boss. If you’re a woman, or if you know any women, you want these cards.
Congrats to Frugalwoods reader Kim, winner of the set of Statement Cards!!
The Things We Fixed
To be clear, by “we” I mean Mr. FW. The tractor was due for its 400-hour servicing and so we had a few parts-related expenses. Mr. FW is pleased to report he has finished the servicing and the tractor is in fine form.
In the not ideal column is our clothes dryer. It decided to experience failure last month, right in the middle of a full load of damp laundry. After we hefted it down (it’s stacked on top of our washing machine), Mr. FW took it apart and figured out that the belt tension pulley was partially seized on the shaft, which will require a new pulley arm and pulley to fix it. Folks, I have no idea what these words mean; this is what he told me to write.
What I do know is that my MacGyver husband created a temporary fix by applying tractor grease to the pulley shaft. He read online that this was a bad idea and wouldn’t last and… it worked for two weeks, after which the pulley seized again and the belt snapped in the middle of a load of… you guessed it… wet laundry. Being 15 years old, I suppose the dryer is entitled to this little tantrum, but did it have to happen in the middle of a pandemic winter?
Mr. FW ordered a set of OEM dryer parts in early December and… they still haven’t arrived thanks to the COVID-riddled global supply chain. He called the company to check and they originally told him the parts would arrive in “12 to 20 business days.” Here’s my opinion: if you have to say “20 business days,” you might as well just say a month. But what do I know? I’m a writer, not a dryer parts manufacturer.
He called the company after these so-called “20 business days” elapsed and they reported the parts “might arrive in mid-February.” I appreciate that they resisted the temptation of “40 business days,” but that it the singular thing I appreciate about this situation. Losing confidence in his dryer parts hook-up, Mr. FW took to Amazon and bought knock-off replacement parts which are reported to “kind of work for awhile.” Our thinking is that these knock-offs were only $12 and perhaps they’ll tide us over until the dryer parts from the manufacturer decide to show up. In 55 business days.
This means that Mr. FW and I will have to heft the dryer down from the washer a total of three times and it means he will have to disassemble the dryer three times, but this whole interaction provides IMMENSE entertainment for our kids. Since the washer and dryer are located in our main floor bathroom, we can’t leave the dryer disassembled because the parts would be all over our open floor-plan main floor, which is not tenable when you have two curious, uncoordinated young children. And it’s too heavy for us to carry down to the basement without incurring the need for surgery. So, if you’re wondering what we’re up to this month…
How Am I Drying Our Clothes?
Not well, I will tell you that. I’m a life-long line-dryer of clothing and THOUGHT I only used the dryer sparingly, but this dearth of dryer that exposed that I REALLY like to use my dryer. Yes, I line-dry dresses and pants and sweaters and tops and long underwear. But I DO NOT line-dry socks, undies, pajamas, all of the two-year-old’s clothes (her socks are the size of a peanut, what am I supposed to do with those?????), towels, cleaning rags, blankets, and bed sheets. I’m managing this two ways:
Taking wet laundry over to friends’ houses. They take it inside, pop it in their dryers, we take a socially-distant hike together and when we return, they put a basket of dry laundry in my trunk. This is another in a litany of examples of how deeply I value our tight-knit community and friendships. Having friends who will dry your undies is true friendship indeed. Shout out to RG and RW for the loving use of your dryers P.S. RG, I have one of your dryer balls and RW, you have one of my socks.
- Hanging laundry to dry around the woodstove. I do this anyway, but the challenge is the volume of laundry. I can only fit one load on my drying racks around the woodstove, so I’m doing one load of laundry a day. This way, I can fit everything around the stove. In our pre-kid lives, I did about one load of laundry a week, but with the addition of two messy marmots, my washer is almost always on the run.
- This whole situation would be a lot easier if it were summer and I could hang everything outside. But alas, it is snow-covered winter and my laundry would freeze to the porch. Then I’d have two problems.
- Of course there’s no laundromat in our tiny town or the surrounding towns.
What I will say is that this has re-taught me gratitude. When something you use every day is suddenly gone, you realize how fortunate you are. When Mr. FW and I first moved into an apartment with an in-unit washer/dryer, we marveled at the ease of doing laundry every week. In the intervening years, I think I’d forgotten just how amazing and luxurious it is to have your own washer and dryer. So for that lesson, that reminder of my privilege, I am grateful.
P.S. I don’t think I need another “20 business days” to let this lesson sink it. I get it, I promise.
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 $200.
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: $33.70
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 $1,684.90 on that card, which netted us $33.70.
Not a lot of money, 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 $24.75 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 $24.75 for both of our phones (that’s $12.38 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 rely on online ordering and larger big box stores for necessities. 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 household 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 December:
|Christmas treat foods!!!!
|Gifts of… wine!
|Wine from wine.com gifted to our families (affiliate links).
|Thrilling items such as hand soap, toilet paper, dental floss, toothpaste, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, white vinegar for cleaning, shampoo, etc.
|Liquor for holiday festivities
|Let’s see…. whisky to put in warm apple cider, caramel vodka to put in egg nog, gin for tonics, and I’m not sure what else…
|LOVE our Fiber internet
|For our date night hobby
|Stupid dryer parts that aren’t even here yet
|My oldest niece and nephew requested gift cards for Christmas and WOW was I happy to oblige. It’s like they know I hate to shop…
|My friend who teaches our homeschool pod introduced us to these amazing crayons that you can use to paint on windows!!!! They are addictive.
I bought one box for us and one box for my youngest niece. Highly recommend! (affiliate links)
|Gasoline for cars
|Going nowhere has its upsides.
|Postage for our holiday cards
|Statement greeting cards
|A set of Statement Cards
|Mocktail gift set
|I have a friend who doesn’t drink and so I ordered her a gift set of mocktails from The Mocktail Club.
|Gear lube for the tractor’s snowblower
|2x CRC Gear Lube for tractor snowblower (affiliate link).
|AA Rechargeable Batteries
|I’m a huge fan of rechargeable batteries and these work well and are pretty cheap (affiliate link).
|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.
|AAA Rechargeable Batteries
|More rechargeable batteries, this time in AAA (affiliate link).
|We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
|1 gallon measuring pitcher for measuring the amount of oil drained from small engines
|If you don’t think my life is glamorous by this point, I don’t know what to tell you (affiliate link).