I dub thee “The Month of Winter Preparations,” for reasons made obvious below.
The Ski Odyssey
We’ve decided to do the world’s most expensive winter sport. Barring purchasing our own personal hockey rink, I cannot imagine anything being as expensive as skiing. Even the word looks pricey, what with its double i’s.
When we moved to Vermont five years ago people asked us three questions, all related to winter:
- What kind of tires do you have on your car?
- Do you have a generator?
- Do you ski?
I have proudly (and perhaps a bit too vehemently) replied ‘no’ to #3. That ends this winter.
At age 5 (almost 6!), Kidwoods wants to ski with her friends. Apparently everyone in Vermont–other than us–learned to ski when they were two years old.
Capitulating to our ski ignorance, Mr. FW, two of our good friends, and I signed up for a local adult learn-to-ski class. There was a questionnaire on what style of ski you prefer and I wrote, “whatever style does not entail me falling down the hill and into a tree.” I am terrified of skiing. I am not a thrill seeker. I prefer a sedate snowshoe through the woods. But, living in fear of something I’ve never done before isn’t really my style (or maybe it is, TBD).
Plus, we can’t take our kids skiing if we ourselves cannot ski. And all the kids ski here. And all the adults. The dogs probably ski too. We live in a state with a six-month-long winter and so we too will fling ourselves down the side of a mountain on foot-based, narrow, plastic boards INTENDED to make us go faster.
Despite the obvious and imminent danger, I am excited to do something new. It’s so rare that adults get to do something they’ve never done before. And that excites me. The actual part where I go down a mountain, not so much. But pursuing something I’m afraid of does stir up feelings of empowerment and possibility. I’ll keep you posted on how those feelings go once I’m mountain-side.
Hence, this month shows the costs for:
- Ski lessons for me and Mr. FW
- Ski lessons for Kidwoods
- A ski season pass for me and Mr. FW (entrance is not included with the price of adult lessons, although it is with kid lessons)
- A season-long rental of skis and boots for Kidwoods, plus the purchase of goggles
- The purchase of helmets and goggles for the adults
I did a ton of research into whether we should rent or buy skis and boots this first year and everything pointed to renting. Since we’re never skied before (and might never again), it didn’t make sense to buy skis and boots because even used options are $$$$$. Ditto for Kidwoods. Plus, she’s still growing so there’s no guarantee the gear will fit her next year (or even for this whole season). We rented her stuff from a local place offering a season-long rental for $99 with free size-up exchanges. So, if your kid grows during the season, you can take in the skis and boots to exchange them for a bigger size at no extra cost. Our friend kindly gave us a hand-me-down ski helmet for Kidwoods, we bought goggles for her, and helmets and goggles for ourselves since those are not included in the ski & boot rental. YIKES there’s a lot of gear involved with this thing!
Once we know whether or not we’re going to continue with this
torture sport as a family, we’ll try to buy used gear for all of us. We decided not to start Littlewoods in the ski program this year because at age 3, she’s just not ready.
I ordered our annual supply of propane and oil this month. We use propane for our kitchen stove/oven and the oil is our back-up heat. While we primarily heat via our woodstove, we have an oil boiler that serves as our back-up. If we ever go out of town during the winter (and thus can’t feed the woodstove), or the temperature drops precipitously overnight, the oil heat kicks on to keep the house warm enough that the pipes won’t freeze.
In our climate, where -20F isn’t uncommon, it’s wise to have more than one heat source. We don’t burn all that much oil every winter, but I still like to top up our oil tank annually, just to be safe.
Due to the length and hilliness of our driveway, we can’t get oil or propane deliveries once the snow sets in–the trucks just can’t make it down our driveway. A point driven home last year when the oil delivery truck got stuck on our driveway on a sunny October afternoon with no snow or ice in sight. Even in perfect weather, our driveway is treacherous for large trucks.
Other Winter Prep Items:
- Land survey:
- We’re trying to get a survey of our property done this fall before the snow sets in, so you’ll see the downpayment on that service this month.
Chicken warming devices:
- We bought this outdoor smart plug for the chicken coop’s light and water heater (affiliate link).
- Chimney sweep:
- We had our chimney swept and cleaned to ensure we have a safe wood-burning season all winter long.
- A bunch of round files and a bunch of flat files for sharpening chainsaw chains:
- It’s important to have a sharp chainsaw ready to fell firewood and remove trees that fall across our driveway–something they love to do during ice storms (affiliate link).
- Car wash:
- Alright, this is the dumbest $16 I’ve spent all year. Our Prius, which is white, was coated in the normal spring/summer Vermont ephemera. In other words, mud. Being low to the ground, white, and driven on a lot of dirt roads, that thing was tragic.
- I was in town with Kidwoods to pick up her rental skis and had the brilliant idea to get a car wash. I thought it would be smart to wash the mud off before the winter road salt set in. However. This was a ‘city car wash’ not intended to contend with rural dirt. The Prius emerged slightly less muddy, but by no means ‘clean.’
- On the other hand, Kidwoods had SO MUCH FUN riding through the car wash that I should just recategorize that $16 as “kid entertainment.”
- If I actually want the cars to get clean, I’ll have to scrub them myself. TBD if that’ll actually happen as I’m feeling a strong pull towards… nope.
Thrift Store Scores:
- Now that the kids are in school, I can go to thrift stores again!!!! As any parent of small ones will tell you, trying to navigate a garage sale or thrift store with a child in tow should on the UN’s list of “things that are torture.”
- Given that, I’ve been absent from the thrift stores for, oh, about five years. But no more!!!!! I find most of our kids’ stuff–clothes, books, toys, puzzles, games, shoes, birthday and Christmas gifts–at garage sales, which happen only in the summertime. But thrift stores are another fabulous source of used items.
- I went to two thrift stores and, for a grand total of $49.75, bought the following:
- Three winter coats for the kids, one of them brand new with tags on!
- One pair of kid winter gloves
- One puzzle (to be given as a birthday or Christmas gift)
- One princess snow globe (to be given as a birthday or Christmas gift)
- A dress for me (I mean, I was already in the store, so… )
- A jean jacket for me
- A dress for Kidwoods
- A dress for Littlewoods
- Three pairs of shoes for the kids (two of which I donated to the school because they needed some extra sneakers for gym class days if kids forget theirs–something both of mine have managed to do, uh, several times already this year… )
- One Superwoman costume to be used on a future Halloween
- A great haul for $50! I will never stop touting the value, the economy, the efficiency, the fun and the environmental-friendliness of buying used. If you’re interested in getting started with used shopping, I have a guide for ya: How to Thrift Like a Rockstar: Plan Ahead, Buy Ahead and Focus on Depreciation.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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. 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 also think 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, we 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 a $200 statement credit 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. Excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target® for grocery benefits.
- 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 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. You can earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 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: $95
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 $4,750.21 on that card, which netted us $95.
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 $28.28 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 $28.28 for both of our phones (that’s $14.14 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 former 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 October:
|Ski lessons and ski season passes for me and Mr. FW||$1,763.00||They promise this is a beginner class. It better be.|
|Retainer for Surveyor||$1,250.00||Downpayment to reserve a spot to have our property surveyed|
|Heating oil||$643.59||A top up of our oil tanks to ensure we have this back-up heat source for the winter.|
|Beer, wine and liquor||$409.39||Another winter stock-up item. Don’t be caught without in a snowstorm!|
|Dates!||$297.48||The husband + wife lunch dates while the kids are at school continue. Worth every penny!|
|Household supplies, all from Walmart.com||$238.56||We started ordering online from Walmart during the pandemic and have continued to do so because they offer free shipping for orders over $35 (and the nearest store is 45 minutes away from us).
I find Walmart’s prices particularly good for toiletries (shampoo, soap, vitamins, etc), household stuff (laundry detergent, band-aids, etc) and kids’ stuff I can’t find used, most recently for backpacks, lunchboxes and soccer shin guards (affiliate links).
|Ski helmets and goggles for the adults||$237.42|
|Gas for cars||$204.86|
|Ski rental||$134.98||Season-long rental of boots and skis for Kidwoods, plus the purchase of goggles.|
|Propane||$97.15||Annual top up of our propane, which we use for cooking.|
|Local chickens||$67.00||We buy whole, frozen chickens from our neighbor|
|BJ’s annual membership renewal||$55.00||It continues to be a good deal for us to have a membership to BJ’s (a warehouse store similar to Costco or Sam’s Club).|
|Chainsaw sharpening accoutrements||$51.58||A bunch of round files and a bunch of flat files for sharpening the chainsaws (affiliate link).|
|Thrift store scores||$49.75||See above for the full list of scores!|
|Winter basketball program registration fee||$48.00||Now that the soccer season’s over, Kidwoods is excited to be on the kindergarten basketball team! This’ll take place over the next few months and end when the ski season starts. I’m trying to keep us to one kid activity at a time!|
|Pajama pants for me||$40.00||Two pairs of my favorite, soft pajama leggings.|
|Family lunch out||$38.90||The four of us had lunch with friends outside at a local farm a few Saturdays ago.|
|A soccer ball, workbooks, and tea lights||$35.90||One youth soccer ball for kicking into my walls, preK workbooks for Littlewoods who is desperate to have workbooks to do just like her big sister:
… and some tea light candles (affiliate links).
|C02 replacement for our hacked sodasteam machine||$33.92|
|Utilities: Electricity||$31.33||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$28.28||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.
|Doctor visit co-pay||$25.00|
|Chicken wintertime warming mechanism||$19.07||We got this outdoor smart plug for the chicken coop’s light and water heater (affiliate link).|
|Car wash||$16.00||Better known as “kid entertainment”|