Halfway through the winter and our gear began to give out. We play hard outside year-round and the snow and ice have a tendency to be unkind to clothing (particularly when you draaaggggg your mittens through craggy ice in search of sticks for snowman arms… ).
Between snowshoeing, ice skating, sledding and skiing, last month necessitating purchasing:
- New insulated snow bibs for Nate, aka Mr. Frugalwoods (affiliate link). We join our kids in preferring the full coverage of snow overalls–as opposed to just snow pants–as they keep snow from flying up one’s shirt.
- A ski helmet for Littlewoods (affiliate link). We didn’t think Littlewoods would ski with us this year but, turns out, three years old is old enough to start skiing! We actually ended up giving this helmet to Kidwoods and giving her hand-me-down helmet to Littlewoods since it’s even smaller.
- A teensy balaclava for our teensiest skier to cover her ears, neck and chin while on the slopes (affiliate link).
- Gear Tape to repair a burgeoning list of ripped gear: Nate’s ski mittens, Kidwoods’ snowstopper mittens (used for skiing), two of my down coats/jackets, and I feel like there was something else…. So far so good with these repairs (affiliate link)! We’ll see how it holds up on the mittens since those things endure the most brutal treatment.
- Contact lenses for Nate, to wear while skiing. He likes the ability to wear his ski goggles without glasses underneath them, so he went ahead and got some contacts.
The other major hits this month were our annual payment for home insurance and six months’ worth of car insurance. We’re in the process of shopping our insurance around to see if we can bundle it all and find better rates, so I’ll let you know what we discover. Other than that, this was a pretty typical month without many deviations.
Our standard slew of monthly expenses are:
- Household supplies
- Gas for the cars
- Health insurance
- Cell phones
- Chicken feed
It’s tempting to assume that these could be our ONLY expenses in a given month, but that’s not reality. I don’t think we’ve ever had a single month with ONLY standard expenses. In reality, stuff comes up. In reality, there will always be semi-annual or annual expenses such as home insurance.
In reality, there will always be things that break and need to be repaired, such as ice-cut mittens. It’s unrealistic to assume we can avoid spending above and beyond this list, which already includes luxuries such as preschool and restaurants. And that’s why I track my spending every month and preach about it nonstop. Unless you know what you spend, you don’t really know what you have. For this task, I use and recommend…
The Free Expense Tracker from Personal Capital
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: the 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: $45.70
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 $2,284.85 on that card, which netted us $45.70.
Not a lot of money, 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, which–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 $28.09 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 $28.09 for both of our phones (that’s $14.05 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, just 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 or twice 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 debts and we paid cash for our cars.
- 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 January:
|One year of home insurance
|Gas for the cars
|6 months of car insurance
|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.
|Insulated snow bibs
|Nate needed a new pair of insulated snow bibs (affiliate link).
|Ski helmet for Littlewoods
|A ski helmet for Littlewoods (affiliate link).
|Health Insurance Premium
|Through the Vermont ACA.
|New sodastream bottles
|New sodastream bottles (affiliate link).
|20 lb CO2 tank for seltzer
|For our DIY hacked sodastream system
|We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
|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.
|A teensy balaclava for our smallest skier
|Tiny Balaclava (affiliate link)
|Gear Tape to repair ripped gloves and coats (affiliate link)