November 2021 was the Month of Cars and Carving
I am confident our cars are in a covert coven requiring them to break down in synchronization. Far be it for one car to have an issue and the other car to be fine. Nope. We must have parity in all things and we, the cars, remain unsympathetic to your transportation needs.
In the most spectacular break-down I’ve ever experienced, the Prius began emitting an ear-splitting, interminable beep as I was pulling into the school parking lot to pick the kids up one afternoon. There were no dashboard lights and zero indication of where this unremitting beep stemmed from. The car itself was screaming, “HELP HELP HELP!” from the bowels of its existence.
In case anyone else owns a Toyota Prius and has this happen to them, this was the car informing me that the brakes were completely shot. Thankfully, I made it safely to school and parked before all of the brake fluid flowed out. And I do mean all of the brake fluid. A novel experience for me, having never before had a car berate me so personally, so intentionally, so loudly. And so, the Prius was towed to the mechanic’s and its brakes were fixed.
Feeling neglected, the truck decided to throw a rock onto its windshield in a desperate, and I must say successful, bid for our attention. We ignored the crack for a week. Two weeks. Three weeks. A month. The truck escalated things by branching the crack out across the entire windshield. Ok, truck, you got your wish: a brand new, $315 windshield.
Cars, are you both happy now? Satisfied that we’ve paid enough attention to you? Yes? Good. Remember that nice leisurely tow and your shiny new glass the next time you have the urge to pop off.
Public transit and walkability are the things I miss most about living in the city. The fact that we must own two cars in order to survive out here is the biggest, and really the only, downside. I loved my car-free walking, biking, subway-riding city days and think of them fondly as I’m driving down a dirt road in a car that’s screaming at me. But, on balance, it’s worth the trade-off for our nature-encased life.
There were a lot of questions about our cars in the comments section and I appreciate everyone’s concerns regarding the Frugalwoods fleet. I realize I didn’t outline the entire car story and so, since there is so much interest, I’ll be happy to. Buckle up, it’s a long story :)!:
-Both of our cars are 2010’s, which we’ve owned and religiously maintained since 2015 (Prius) and 2018 (Tundra truck)
-The Prius had been inspected and serviced by our mechanic a mere WEEK prior to the brake failure. We’d had those brakes replaced on schedule as well. Sometimes, things happen.
-The truck windshield crack was not the type that could be filled–we certainly would’ve done that if it’d been a possibility.
-The reason we didn’t have insurance cover the windshield is that we very intentionally do not have comprehensive insurance because we can afford to pay cash for these sort of repairs (or to replace the car entirely if needed). It’s much less expensive overall for us to go this route and to instead carry the absolute maximum in liability.
-We actually began car shopping last spring for something to replace the aging Prius, but, as you all have seen in the news, the supply chain has made cars unbelievably expensive and flat out unavailable. We spent months researching used Toyota RAV4s as well as Honda CRVs and think we’ve narrowed our search down to recent-year RAV4s.
-We found that many of the used RAV4s on the market were actually MORE expensive than brand new RAV4s!
-Upon learning this, we called all the dealers in our region to see about buying a–gasp–brand new car. Their responses were that they had no inventory and did not know when they’d have new ones in stock as all available and upcoming stock was taken by folks on waiting lists. But, they’d be happy to sell us used RAV4s for over the asking price of a 2022 model. YIKES!
-After this exhaustive research (along with saved Craigslist searches and local private sale research), we determined that now is not the time to replace the Prius. Our hope is that things normalize in the auto market by spring/summer and we can move forward with replacing that car.
-All that to say, rest assured folks, we’ve done our research and arrived at what we feel are the best decisions for our family.
-I’ll post this up in the post so folks can easily refer to it.
We had the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving this year and it was a JOY to be around the table with my mother-in-law, father-in-law, and sister-in-law and her new girlfriend (who we got to meet in-person for the first time)! Such a warm change from last year’s pandemic holiday. We are deeply grateful that all of us are vaccinated and were able to celebrate together.
We went as local as possible with our ingredients, including an 18lb turkey, potatoes, and cranberries from a farm down the road, sage from our garden, cider pressed from our apples and eggs from our very own chickens!
Kidwoods turned SIX in November and we celebrated with a family party the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The benefit of a holiday(ish) birthdate is that she usually gets to have a party with at least some of our extended family! Among her birthday gifts was the princess snow globe I found at a thrift store last month. She has it on her bedside table and told us it was the best present ever. $3 very well spent.
Thrift Store Success
My thrift store success streak continued this month and I found:
- A winter ski coat for Mr. FW for our upcoming ski
- A pair of snow bibs for me
- A bunch of clothes for the kids
- A bunch of books for the kids
- HOLIDAY-THEMED coffee mugs (a definite need)
- Some other winter gear I neglected to write down and now can’t remember…. gloves, maybe?
- Two dresses for me (I know, I know! I need to restrain myself… )
- Some other stuff… oh geez, I really should’ve written it down right after I bought it…
Littlewoods Lunch Date
In November, Littlewoods had a day off preschool on a day where Kidwoods did have school. So, I took her out for a very special and fancy lunch date: I bought sandwiches, chips and cans of seltzer from a general store and we ate them in the car together.
Since she’s not old enough to be vaccinated, I’m not keen on her eating inside a restaurant. No problem as you would think I’d taken her to the Ritz Carlton for high tea. She was ELATED and could not stop talking about it.
A good reminder to me of how special one-on-one time is for each of my kids—and how cheap it can be! Sandwiches eaten together in the car = major win.
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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. gas stations, on up to $6,000 per year, then 1%.
- 3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%)
- 1% Cash Back on other purchases
- Earn a $200 statement credit if you spend $2,000 within the first 6 months of card membership
- Terms apply. No annual fee.
- 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, which is $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: $71.31
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 $3,565.59 on that card, which netted us $71.31.
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 $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 November:
|Prius repairs / towing||$854.98||See above for details.|
|Groceries||$752.47||Thanksgiving feast items + regular food for the month.|
|Preschool Tuition||$740.00||For Littlewoods|
|Household supplies||$495.56||All the thrilling tidbits of life: laundry detergent, toilet paper, dishwasher detergent, craft supplies for the kids, vitamins, tissues, medications, etc|
|Beer, wine and alcohol for Thanksgiving hosting||$413.67|
|Windshield for Truck||$315.00||Blerg. I hope it appreciates it.|
|Gas for cars||$221.08|
|Restaurants||$195.63||For husband + wife lunch dates while the kids are at school!|
|Tractor Supply||$87.07||Chicken feed, something else for the chickens, some other farm stuff… I really can’t remember|
|The Thanksgiving Turkey||$79.00||An 18.5 lb free-range turkey raised on a farm right down the road.|
|Christmas cards||$74.18||I continued my tradition of ordering Christmas postcards, the cheapest option because:
1) No need to buy envelopes
2) Postcard stamps are cheaper than regular stamps
3) The postcards themselves cost less than regular cards
|Three chickens||$66.40||Three whole frozen, free-range chickens from a farm down the road.|
|New hydraulic hose for wood splitter||$64.71||Things break all the time out here on the homestead. Breaking all over the place, non-stop.|
|Stamps||$60.00||For mailing out our Christmas cards!|
|Outdoor camera||$38.14||Another outdoor camera to monitor snowfall and wildlife (affiliate link).|
|Woodstove item||$35.00||New diverter plate for the woodstove|
|Utilities: Electricity||$28.57||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.
|Lunch date with Littlewoods||$17.98||The very Fancy and Special sandwiches, chips and seltzer eaten-in-the-car dining event of the year.|
|Local cranberries and potatoes||$17.50||For the Thanksgiving feast!|
|Coffee date with my husband!||$13.40|
|Yeast||$8.79||1lb of yeast, for use in our homemade sandwich bread (affiliate link).|
|Parking meter in ye olde Big City||$3.35|