April was prep month. Prep for the garden, prep for the chickens, prep for the summer, prep for the bulk food orders.
The Chicken Coop!
Mr. FW began construction on the chicken coop for our twelve chicks, which arrived last week (peep peep!). We also rounded out our chick supplies with a 50lb bag of starter/grower feed and a metal trash can for food storage to prevent rodentia incursion.
Also got a bag of pine shavings for their bedding. Mercifully, we were able to borrow all other chick-related supplies.
Advertiser Disclosure: Frugalwoods partners with CardRatings for coverage of credit card products. Frugalwoods and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers at no extra cost to you. Here’s a boring (but important) explanation of how Frugalwoods makes money. The credit card links in this post are affiliate links.
We’re going to try out cattle panels this year for our vine-inclined plants (tomatoes and sugar snap peas). In the past, we’ve run lines of string and manually tied each plant to give it the vertical boost it needs. But cattle panels will do the work for us! Well, kinda. They’re basically large, flat, rectangular panels of bent wire. Ok, that was not a very good description… they’re, uh, molded wire? Listen, they are mostly open, so the plants can vine up them. I’ll just take a picture once we put them in the garden.
They’re not cheap, but, we can use them every year and they’ll save a lot of time. I’m thinking of the hours I spent last spring laboriously tying up each plant…. TBD, but seems like this’ll be easier. We do no-till mound gardening anyway, so having permanent garden fixtures should work well with our methodology.
I also got another batch of plant starting trays because I started so many this year that I ran out! These are the under-trays that hold the pants and I love them because you can bottom water seedlings and it helps keep them nice and warm atop their heating pads.
The Bulk Foods!
We’ve long been buyers of bulk foods and we sourced a new source last month: our local co-op food market. Ok, “local” is stretching it since it’s 45 minutes away, but….
We were able to have them special order two 50lb bags of flour and a 25 lb bag of oats for a great price! Those expenses actually hit in May, but we did join the co-op in April, hence the one-time $50 co-op joining fee.
Mr. FW also put in a bulk spice order from Penzey’s–yum!
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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
We buy everything we 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 have any 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 Easiest $486 I’ve Ever Made: How To Use Cash Back Credit Cards To Your Advantage
- The Best Credit Cards (and Credit Card Rewards)!
- The Frugalwoods Guide to a Simple, Yet Rewarding, Credit Card Experience
If you want a simple cash back credit card, here are some good options that don’t have annual fees:
1) Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers a hierarchy of cash back percentages:
- 3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%)
- 2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores
- 1% Cash Back on other purchases
- Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases in the first 6 months of card membership (up to $150 back)
- Earn $100 back if you spend $2,000 within the first 6 months of card membership
- Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- Earn $200 if you spend $500 or more in purchases within the first three months of card membership
- 3% cash back on dining and entertainment
- 2% at grocery stores
- 1% on all other purchases
- Cash back won’t expire for the life of the account; no limit to how much you can earn
- Get $200 if you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening
- 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase
- 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores
- 1.5% on all other purchases
- No minimum to redeem for cash back, rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
- Earn $200 if you spend $500 in your first 3 months from account opening
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, 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: $43.31
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 $2,165.50 on that card, which netted us $43.31.
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.
To see how this adds up over the course of a year, check out this post: The Easiest $486 I’ve Ever Made: How To Use Cash Back Credit Cards To Your Advantage.
Where’s Your Money?
Another easy way to optimize your money is to use a high-interest savings account. With these accounts, interest works in your favor as opposed to the interest rates on debt, which work against you. Having money in a no or low interest savings account is a waste of resources–your money is just sitting there doing nothing. Don’t let your money be lazy! Make it work for you! And now, enjoy some explanatory math:
Let’s say you have $5,000 in a savings account that earns 0% interest. In a year’s time, your $5,000 will still be… $5,000.
Let’s say you instead put that $5,000 into an American Express Personal Savings account that–as of this writing–earns 0.40% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,020. That means you earned $20 just by having your money in a high-interest account.
And you didn’t have to do anything! I’m a big fan of earning money while doing nothing. I mean, is anybody not a fan of that? Apparently so, because anyone who uses a low or no interest savings account is NOT making money while doing nothing. Don’t be that person.
Be the person who earns money while sleeping. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.
Yes, We Only Paid $29.88 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 $14.94 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 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 (also known as our first home) 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 April:
|Groceries||$654.94||All the food for all the family|
|Gas for cars||$289.59||This is so expensive in part because Mr. FW had to drive five hours round-trip in order to get his first COVID vaccine shot. WORTH IT|
|Chicken coop building materials||$270.17|
|Cattle panels for garden and other miscellaneous farm and garden supplies||$224.93||Six panels (plus a bunch of other farm stuff). Told you they’re expensive! But just think of me not winding string around 1,000 plants this summer.|
|Household supplies||$188.56||Toilet paper, toothpaste, vitamins, laundry detergent, dish washer detergent… the exciting items of life.|
|Chick supplies and home improvement materials||$115.15||Chick food, pine shavings, metal trash can, diesel can (for tractor), and misc home improvement/coop building materials|
|Bulk spice order||$89.67||From Penzey’s|
|DMV||$76.00||1 year registration for our truck|
|Beer||$64.96||For our craft beer tasting hobby|
|Plant starting trays||$58.29||Pack of 10 super strength plant starting trays (affiliate link).
We have some flimsy, cheap trays, which I’m recycling because they leak, they bend and they are worthless. Very much worth the expense to get the trays that last!
|Co-op Joining Fee||$50.00||One-time payment to join the food co-op so we can order bulk food.|
|VOIP phone connector||$42.39||We needed a new VOIP thing for our home phone (affiliate link).|
|Cell Phone service for two phones||$29.88||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||$24.14||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied|
|Liquor and wine||$19.22|
|Eye cream for me||$17.57||Ok so I recently decided to do a major skincare research deep dive and then I bought some stuff. I’m going to write a whole post on it, but until that time… here’s the eye cream I bought (affiliate link).|
|Face cream for me||$16.95||…and the face cream I bought. DON’T JUDGE ME, I’m aging before my very eyes… although, I’m pretty sure there’s no other way to age (affiliate link).|
|Tape refills||$14.41||My children are tape hounds. They LOVE to tape things together, to themselves, to the walls… I set them loose with tape dispensers and they are THRILLED.
Hence, I’m always needing more tape refills… (affiliate link).
|100 washable markers||$12.31||100 perfectly washable and lovely markers for the many tape-related craft projects engineered by my children (affiliate link).|
|Prescription medications||$10.00||Co-pays for prescriptions from online pharmacy. PSA: if you haven’t switched to an online pharmacy delivery service, DO IT. So swift and easy.|
|Book for me||$8.44||I heard this author, Eve Rodsky, interviewed on one of my favorite podcasts, Terrible Thanks for Asking, and was impressed enough to buy her book, Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live) (affiliate link).|
How was April for you?
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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.