August transitioned us to fall, to school, to a more sedate pace. The guests all went home, the kids are back to their regular and rightful bedtime and I pulled out my tacky fall decor.
Don’t Forget about Property Taxes!
Last week I shared the details of our mortgage pay-off and this week brings our annual property tax expense. For truly, the gifts of home ownership never end ;). Property tax is one of those things that varies by state, which can make it a super relevant element when considering where you want to live long term.
We discussed this earlier in the month in Eve and Gordon’s Case Study, as they’re house hunting in five different states. I know most people bemoan their property taxes, but I view them as a way to contribute to our community: our schools, our roads, our community services. It’s a lot of money, but it’s put to good use. You kinda get what you pay for with property taxes and I’m grateful for all the social services our state provides.
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.
The Other Stuff of Life
The rest of our August expenses were the quotidian pieces that end up making a life:
The truck broke down and had to be towed to the mechanic.
- The kids needed backpacks, lunchboxes and masks for school, all of which I failed to find used (and let me tell you, I looked).
- Following an exhaustive online backpack search, we ended up with backpack/lunchbox combos from Walmart that were super affordable–$27 for each set, which is far cheaper than anything else I found (affiliate link).
- For kid masks, I really wanted nose clips, double layers and adjustable ear loops. Following another exhaustive online search, we got the Crayola School Mask Pack. The size small was initially too big for Littlewoods (a certified shrimp), so I washed them and put them through the dryer. This shrunk them down to the perfect size for Littlewoods’ little face. The nose clip is perfect for keeping it in place on her face, they’re super soft on the inside and the adjustable ear loops are ideal.
- Unfortunately, neither the small nor the medium size fits Kidwoods correctly (the small’s too small and the medium’s too big, even after washing and drying). So I initiated another search…. and came up with these, which don’t have a nose clip or adjustable ear loops, but they fit pretty well, they’re soft and, crucial to Kidwoods, have unicorns and rainbows. I tied the loops in the back to make them fit a bit better, but I have to say, the nose clip and adjustable loops are a better option for small faces.
- The chickens needed food.
- The people needed food .
- Mr. FW needed new muck boots and got this pair, which have a short top making them ideal for summertime when it’s really too hot for our full-length insulated mucks (affiliate link).
- We needed a new mesh bag for our apple cider press because it’s apple picking season (affiliate link)!
- In honor of how fancy we are, we needed this ice cube tray for making ENORMOUS square cubes, perfect for dropping into your Vermont Manhattan, which is a regular Manhattan with maple syrup and orange peel added (affiliate link).
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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, entertainment, popular streaming services and grocery stores.
- 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Plus, earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023.
- Get $200 if you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening
- 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
- 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards.
- 3% cash back on dining and drugstores.
- 1.5% cash back 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
If you’re interested in travel rewards, a lot of people love the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which currently has its best offer ever! You can earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
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: $41.04
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 $2,051.89 on that card, which netted us $41.04.
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 $29.70 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 $29.70 for both of our phones (that’s $14.85 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 (details here).
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 (as noted in this post, this expires at the end of 2021. I’ll write a post about our ACA coverage research soon!)
- 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 August:
|Annual property taxes for our 66 acre property, home, barn and sheds
|The truck broke down and needed to be towed to the mechanic’s. The neutral safety switch broke and needed replacement.
|Beer, wine, liquor
|All the riveting accoutrements of life, including laundry detergent, soap, backpacks and lunchboxes for the kids, craft/art supplies, toothpaste, etc, etc and so forth (affiliate link).
|Getting this back down to a pre-pandemic normal-ish… 😉
|Bulk organic rolled oats (50 lbs)
|We now order our organic rolled oats through our local co-op. This is a 50 pound bag along with a few miscellaneous groceries I picked up while in the store. These are cheaper and the quality is better, so I’m thrilled!
|Gasoline for cars
|Chicken feed, mealworms and a diesel can (for diesel, not for chickens)
|Pizza farm night
|We went out for pizza with friends at a nearby farm that hosts weekly summer outdoor pizza nights! With live music!
|Short muck boots
|Mr. FW’s had his eye on these short muck boots for awhile now and I convinced him to splurge (affiliate link). Can’t put a price on dry, mud-free feet!
|State inspection for the truck
|C02 refill (20lb canister)
|20 lb CO2 refill for our custom Sodastream hack. This’ll last about six months.
|New internal thermometer for our oven, which broke. Thankfully Mr. FW was able to repair it himself, which saved us the considerable cost of labor.
|Ethanol-free gas for our small farm engines
|We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
|Home phone service (8 months worth)
|8 months of home phone service through our VOIP provider
|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.
|Parts to fix our wood splitter
|Hose clamps for Mr. FW to repair our wood splitter, which was leaking oil
|Cider press bag
|A new mesh bag for use in our apple cider press (affiliate link). Apple picking season is here!!!!
|Ice cube tray
|Mr. FW upped his bartender game and now has these fancy large whisky ice cubes (affiliate link). We feel very high-end.
|Stamps and mailing a package
How was your August?
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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.