We’re building a garage! Well, we’re planning on building a garage.
Longtime readers know that one of the downsides of our Vermont homestead is its lack of a garage. Why this place has no garage is a mystery for the ages. My family in California all have garages. My family in North Carolina all have garages. People in Florida have garages! But people in Vermont? Nope. It’s more common to NOT have a garage than TO have a garage. If anyone, anywhere can answer this mystery, please do.
And it’s not because our house is old–it’s not! Built in the 1990s (not the 1790’s like my friend’s house), cars were definitely a thing when our house was designed and constructed. While we’ve enjoyed the ritual of scraping ice off our cars in -4 degree weather and defrosting the INTERIOR of our cars for upwards of 10 minutes, not to mention the battles we wage against rodentia incursions, we’re ready for a garage. Since our land is sloped and there’s not a clear spot for a garage, we’ve hired a local architect + designer team to design and site the garage for us. We also had to get an in-depth land survey done (not just a property boundary survey, but a one-foot topographical survey), to ensure the garage goes in a topographically appropriate spot.
We’ve spent the last six years discussing, considering and analyzing every type of car-covering device/building available and came to the conclusion that we want to build a proper garage. And so, the journey begins!
Christmas Gifts: Extended Family
For our extended family, I once again turned to my friend wine.com to ship bottles of wine. I’m a fan of consumable gifts that don’t add clutter and are something I know the recipient will enjoy. For the two non-wine drinkers in our family, I sent gift cards to their favorite local restaurants. Again, a consumable that will get used!
I like wine.com because:
- The wine costs the same as it does in a store. I’ve price-checked the bottles and wine.com doesn’t mark them up.
- The selection is immense. They’ve got every kind of wine (also liquor and port) imaginable!
- It saves time. I’m able to save my family’s addresses and their preferred types of wine on the website so I have an easy reference point each year. Thus, it takes me approximately 15 minutes to order Christmas gifts for my entire family!
- FREE SHIPPING. I saved the best for last. I pay $49 per year to be a “Wine Stewardship Member,” which qualifies me for free shipping on all of my purchases. Free shipping! Crucial since bottles of wine are heavy and expensive to ship. This really works out for me since I ship at least five cases of wine a year and each case would cost at least $20 to ship.
All in all, wine.com is quite literally the answer to my gifting prayers. These are affiliate links.
Christmas Gifts: Teachers, Postal Workers, the Angel Tree
The other Christmas line item last month was for the kids’ teachers, our postal workers and the Angel Tree at our church. On the astute advice of Frugalwoods readers who are teachers, we now give cash to teachers. I write a nice note and stick some cash in the card. Again, I want to give people something they can use. And everyone can use cash! I do the same for our postal workers.
For the Angel Tree at church, we buy what the child has requested.
Christmas Gifts: My Children and Husband
My husband and I don’t exchange gifts with each other–a choice we made almost a decade ago. We instead put money towards experiences we enjoy, such as: our kid-free getaway this past summer, meals out at restaurants, and our ski lessons this winter! We both prefer experiences over stuff, so this approach works perfectly for us.
Our kids receive hand-me-down and garage sale finds for Christmas! I scour thrift stores and yard sales all year long to collect things I know they’ll love. We also buy a few new items they’ve specifically requested but, every year, their favorite stuff ends up being some random thing I bought for $1 at a yard sale. In our house, Santa shops used!
For more on how I manage to do really inexpensive gifting for my kids, check out these two posts:
- How to Thrift Like a Rockstar: Plan Ahead, Buy Ahead and Focus on Depreciation
- How To Find Anything and Everything Used: A Compendium Of Frugal Treasure Hunting
Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$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%)
- 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations, on up to $6,000 per year, 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.
2) Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a flat cash back percentage:
- 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®)
- 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: $57.43
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 $2,871.74 on that card, which netted us $57.43.
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 0.50% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,025. That means you earned $25 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 December:
|Architect||$1,942.56||Architect + designer payment|
|Groceries, Household Supplies and Miscellany||$1,173.70||Ok, I figured out what happened here: I forgot to break out the “Household Supplies & Misc” line items this month, which means “Groceries” includes a ton of non-food things, such as: toilet paper, laundry detergent, craft supplies, toothpaste, some new baking pans, etc.|
|Christmas: extended family||$330.65||From wine.com (affiliate link).|
|Restaurants||$317.66||Outdoor lunch dates with my husband while the girls are at school! Definitely my preferred type of gift.|
|Christmas: teachers, postal workers, Angel Trees||$233.75|
|Preschool tuition||$200||For Littlewoods|
|Gas for cars||$145.99|
|Doctor visit co-pays||$125.00||Eye doctor visits (x2) and something else (cannot remember what… )|
|Beer, wine & alcohol||$98.26||Festive cheers!|
|Haircut||$82.80||My pixie lives on! I don’t think I’ll ever have long hair again. And yes, I’m sure I could find a cheaper salon, but, I love my hair lady (she is local and also a farmer!) and I go with one of my BFFs and we have a kid-free outing, so it’s worth it to me for the whole experience.|
|Ski Program for Kidwoods||$78.00||Kidwoods is doing the ski program through her school and this is the participation fee.|
|Chicken feed and tractor chain repair shackles||$63.38|
|Health insurance ACA payment||$52.43||Our first monthly payment for our new Affordable Care Act health insurance|
|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.
|Utilities: Electricity||$26.70||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Plexiglass for chicken coop||$21.08||To cover the windows to prevent draft/snow drifts.|
|Smart plugs||$19.27||We got these smart plugs for our lights, which I originally thought were gimmicky, but now I LOVE them (affiliate link). We can turn on all of our lights by voice command! I feel like the Jetsons.|
|Headphones||$18.22||I treated myself to some new headphones because my old ones only worked in one ear…. (affiliate link).|
|Thrift store||$17.76||I love that our thrift store accepts credit cards–helps me keep better track of my thrifting adventures.|
|Kids’ book||$15.15||This book on consent, boundaries and respect was recommended to me and we love it (affiliate link)! Very helpful and appropriate for our 3 and 6-year-old.|
|Shipping and postage||$9.75|