Well, this is it. This is the month I transform from Frugalwoods to Spendywoods. The post-pandemic celebration of being alive continued in July and WOW can you tell from our expense report. I’m embarrassed to publish our expenses on spendy months because I feel like I’m supposed to always show up with the lowest expenses, the best frugal tips and an espousal of the joys of never spending money. But that’d be disingenuous.
While I have an overriding philosophy of frugality and minimalism, I’m not an ascetic. I’m a real person. A real person who had a lot of fun last month. My husband and I went on a kid-free vacation to Cambridge, MA where we dined and walked and dined and strolled and then got a coffee. Many thanks to my incredible in-laws for watching the girls while we were gone!
Also, yes, YIKES, I know it’s September and I’m just now posting July’s Expenses…
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Why You Gotta Track Your $$$$ Every Month
This month’s expense report is the perfect illustration of why it’s important to track your expenses every single month and year. Looking at a single month’s expenses in isolation would be like going to the doctor for your annual exam and having them only look at your left arm. It’s incomplete and doesn’t represent the whole picture.
It’s easy to get super excited when you have low spending in certain categories on certain months, but it’s imperative to see how that trend line works out over time.
- For example, this month, we only spent $381.28 on groceries, which if viewed in isolation would lead you to think:
- These people are frugal geniuses and must know a ton of tricks
- These people eat very little food and survive on air
But this is not a representative grocery budget because… we were on vacation this month! And we ate out A TON.
While $381 on groceries for a family of four SOUNDS like frugal maven status, you can’t view that figure in isolation.
Rather, you have to look at what you spend on groceries every month over the course of the year. And then do some super boring math (add up 12 months worth of grocery bills and divide by 12). There’s your actual average expenditure in the grocery category.
Frugality Is Not Deferred Spending
I discuss this concept a lot in my Uber Frugal Month program and it bears repeating. One of the major take-aways from the Uber Frugal Month is that frugality isn’t deferred spending; it’s a wholesale transformation of how we interact with our money. It’s not a question of depriving yourself for a month and then boomeranging back to overspending the next. It’s a question of changing your outlook on spending and being realistic about what you need–and want–to spend over the course of a year.
Works In The Other Direction Too
On the other end of the equation from our artificially low grocery bill is our astronomical restaurant line item: an eye-watering and previously unfathomable $925.78.
I could’ve omitted this and saved myself the shame and embarrassment, but that would miss the point of sharing my actual expenses with you all. The point is to highlight what we actually spend and what we spend it on.
Before you faint from reading this number, I did a bit of boring math. Since we didn’t eat out a single time throughout the pandemic, one way to look at this $925.78 is to amortize it over the previous fourteen months of restaurant-free life. We didn’t eat out from March 2020 to May 2021. Then in May, June and July 2021, we spent the following:
$664 spent in May and June combined
+ $925.78 spent in July =
$1,589.78 total, divided by 14 months = $113.55 per month
Viewed through this lens, $113.55 per month is about what we were spending on dining out pre-pandemic. Taken in isolation, $1,589.78 spent on restaurants over the course of three months sounds ludicrous. But contextualized, it makes a lot more sense.
The key going forward is to not spend $900 on dining out every month. If we started doing that, we’d get ourselves into some trouble. But a few months of excessive spending in one category isn’t going to impact our overall finances. Again, it’s all about the long-term trends and habits that you establish with your spending.
Craft Beer Paradise
And now, all my fellow craft beer nerds, you can shed tears of jealously over the fact that Mr. Frugalwoods and I visited ALL of these breweries last month:
- Aeronaut in Cambridge, MA (highly recommend)
Cambridge Brewing Company (a classic, but there’s nothing revolutionary about their beer)
- Lamplighter in Cambridge, MA (highly recommend; they have some super unique sours)
- Tree House (oh yes, THE Tree House) in Charlton, MA (pretty sure you know my recommendation on this one)
Other breweries we visited this summer:
- Harpoon (kinda meh beer, what you’d expect, but they have a nice tap room and lots of outdoor seating, so it works with kids) in Windsor, VT
- Silo Distillery (Vermont sourced and crafted liquors–highly recommend!) in Windsor, VT
- Schilling Brewery in Littleton, NH (highly recommend; very good food too)
- Bent Hill in Braintree, VT (highly recommend; they recently started serving an all-vegetarian menu and it was delicious!)
- Brocklebank in Chelsea, VT (highly recommend; tiny tap room and no food, but a great little brewery)
Oh! I almost forgot we had a gargantuan homestead expense in July: tractor repair. This is one of those things that makes rural life more expensive than urban life. We have so many…. machines and engines and tools to maintain, all of which facilitate our life out here in the woods. They’re necessary, but they’re not cheap.
Our tractor, a Kubota L4400, needed the following repairs, which could only be done at the dealer’s:
- The input shaft seal blew out, necessitating splitting the engine from the transmission to replace it.
- While the tractor was split, we had them replace all of the other seals and bearings exposed, since the parts aren’t that expensive and the labor is negligible once the tractor is split open.
Historically, Mr. Frugalwoods did all tractor maintence and repair himself, but this project was beyond his skills and also he doesn’t have any of the right tools. Since it had to be worked on at the dealer’s, it also had to be transported there on our neighbor’s flatbed, which was another expense.
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, 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: $125.14
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 $6,257.19 (!!!!!!!) on that card, which netted us $125.14
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 $37.87 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 $37.87 for both of our phones (that’s $18.94 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: How to Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill with an MVNO: I Pay $12 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 don’t have a mortgage because we paid it off (I’ll write a full post on that soon!).
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 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 July:
|Tractor Repair||$3,393.30||Details above!|
|Tractor Transport||$450.00||Details above!|
|Clothing||$299.98||We stopped at Duluth Trading Company on our way to Cambridge for our vacation. It’s our favorite Mr. FW clothing source so he stocked up on outdoor work pants and shirts.
And I got a dress–I’d never checked out their women’s clothes before and I’m glad I did!
|Car Insurance (covers six months)||$225.40||Six months of car insurance through Geico for our 2010 Toyota Prius and 2010 Toyota Tundra.
This is fairly cheap because we shopped around, we are both accident and ticket-free, we live in a rural area and we don’t commute to work.
Most importantly, it’s cheap because we don’t carry comprehensive insurance because we could replace both of our cars (in full with cash) if we needed to.
However, we carry the maximum in liability coverage because we feel that with healthcare costs as they are, the risk of a large liability claim is one we don’t want to self-insure against. More here.
|Total Wine & More||$166.12||On our way back from Cambridge we stopped at the renowned Total Wine & More to stock up on wine for our cellar as well as for my in-laws. I’d heard of their cheap prices but had to see for myself. Turns out, they have very cheap wine. And more.|
|Swim Lessons (two sessions worth)||$150.00||Kidwoods started swim lessons this summer! She enjoyed the first session so much that we signed her up for a second session. She’s already asking when they’ll start again next summer.|
|Hotel parking||$135.00||To park our car while on our kid-free vacation in Cambridge|
|Gas for cars||$129.02||Higher on account of our drive to Cambridge|
|Household supplies||$58.16||Thrilling items including soap, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, sunscreen, dental floss, etc|
|Gifts||$56.00||Gifts for family, purchased while on our vacation|
|Doctor visit||$40.00||Some kid had to go to the doctor for some reason. Apparently they’re fine now because I can’t even remember why we went.|
|Fuel Club Dues||$40.00||I joined a Fuel Club last year in order to get bulk discount prices on our oil and propane deliveries. I wrote a longer explanation in this post.|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$37.87||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.
|Tractor Supply||$35.97||Chicken feed|
|Kid workbooks (4)||$17.98||Four workbooks for Kidwoods.
I found a writing workbook at a garage sale for Kidwoods and she liked it so much that after she finished it, I got her more workbooks of the same brand for phonics , math , spelling and writing , and beginning reading (affiliate links).
|Public Transportation||$14.40||For the T, while in Cambridge|
|Sling TV one-month subscription||$10.60||We got a one-month subscription to Sling so that we could watch the summer Olympics.|
|Pharmacy||$10.00||Prescription refill from our online pharmacy|
How was your July?
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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.