Evidently February is a short and boring month. We didn’t buy anything interesting or story-worthy or unusual. So instead of talking about what we DID buy, I’ll talk about what we didn’t buy.
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Littlewoods, so named as the littlest Frugalwood, turned three in February! And what you won’t find on my expense report are birthday presents and decorations and a cake. Before you decry that we forgot to fete our poor little niblet, let me tell you how we celebrated her birthday for free! What I do isn’t revolutionary, I didn’t invent it, and a lot of you already do this. But it is frugal and this is Frugalwoods after all.
Is homemade. Baking a cake from scratch takes about two minutes longer than baking one from a box mix. Yes, it takes longer than buying one from the store, but it tastes so good and it’s so cheap.
- Our tradition is that you get to choose the type of dessert you’d like for your birthday and then I make it (the fine print is that it has to be something I know how to make… ).
- I am a huge fan of the King Arthur Baking Company recipes and for this birthday, Littlewoods selected a “choca-cake,” which I interpreted as this recipe: Moist Chocolate Cake. Delicious! Plus, I love me a 9×13 cake since I can just pop the lid on my 9×13 bake-n-store* and keep it in the refrigerator (affiliate link).
- P.S. yes, I realize the icing flowers look like unicorn poops, but hey, I did my best, ok?!
*not my actual bake-n-store because mine is so old they don’t make it anymore, but this one looks identical.
- Were all from yard sales! Also the town dump’s free table. My kids always get second-hand toys. And they love them. My process is to stock up at summer yard sales on toys, books, puzzles, clothes, shoes and games that I think my kids will enjoy. I then store them in the basement in a box surprisingly labeled, “gifts for the kids.” I mete these gifts out for their birthdays, Christmas and any other occasion that befits a “new” toy. What my kids don’t end up using, I pass along to my friends for their kids.
As an extra-special addition this year, I found a barely used American Girl doll stroller at the free table of our town dump last month. The person who runs the dump saw me coming and said, “I bet you’re going to want this stroller for your girls!” And he was right.
- When I find new, tags-on gifts at yard sales, I put them in a different box labeled, “gifts for other kids.” These new, tags-on items become gifts for kid birthday parties we attend (not that we’ve been doing that during the pandemic).
- The key with this approach is to give yourself time. You (usually) can’t find what you need on the used market the day or the week you need it; you have to plan ahead.
- That’s why you’ll find me scouring garage sales with my friends in mid-July, on the hunt for Christmas gifts and Easter baskets and winter snow pants. Organizing everything in labeled boxes in my basement keeps this pursuit from becoming a cluster of clutter.
- And when I find I’ve bought stuff we don’t need or can’t use? I pass it right along via my box labeled–you guessed it–“give away.” Since I spend so little money on this used stuff, I don’t feel the need to sell it to recoup the costs, I just give it away.
- If you want to get started with an all-used approach for your kids (and life in general), I have a few posts with specific guidance:
The Wrapping Paper!
Is re-used gift bags! I save all gift bags (and tissue paper) and keep them folded in a box labeled–wait for it–“wrapping supplies.”
- The advantage of this approach is three-fold:
- It’s free.
- It’s fast. It takes 2 minutes to pop the gifts into bags.
- It’s environmentally friendly because I keep reusing the same bags! I realized that one of the bags I keep reusing is from our wedding, which was…. nearly 13 years ago.
- For Christmas, I did wrap up all of their gifts in Christmas wrapping paper I found for free by the side of the road, but I’m not sure I’ll ever do that again. It took FOREVER to wrap everything and then I realized not all of the paper was recyclable. Double fail on my part!!
- Are re-used! We’ve been using the same birthday hats for at least 8 or 9 years now.
- I have it in mind to sew one of those lovely, fabric, reusable “happy birthday” banners that I keep seeing. So maybe I’ll do that for the next birthday. Or better yet, maybe I’ll find one at a yard sale…
- Was on Zoom! Being a pandemic, and also sub-zero winter outside, we opted for a small Zoom party with our family. This lasted about three minutes until the birthday girl was donezo.
- For added fun, I took the leftover cake to our homeschool pod the next day where we lit the candles and sang happy birthday.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$e$
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 or how much you have. 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 me 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
My husband 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. .
- 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 we 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, 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 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: $22.75
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 $1,137.38 on that card, which netted us $22.75.
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 $24.87 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 $24.87 for both of our phones (that’s $12.44 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 an easy, slam-dunk, do-it-right-away way 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 to 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 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 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 February:
|Craft beer||$100.03||So much lovely beer for our beer tasting hobby|
|Gasoline for cars||$96.80|
|Local meat||$71.06||Pork butt + beef from our farmer neighbor|
|Liquor and wine||$57.66|
|C02 for Seltzer||$34.25||A C02 refill tank (20lbs) for our hacked Sodastream system.|
|Doctor visit co-pay||$25.00|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$24.87||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||$24.35||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied|
|Local flour||$10.50||From our neighbor the flour miller|
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Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses and recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.