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… ).

The new teensy helmet-wearer in question, on the ski lift together!

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.
  • 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.

Chicken on the lamb, on the wrong side of the fence. What is your plan, chicken?

Our standard slew of monthly expenses are:

  • Groceries
  • Household supplies
  • Gas for the cars
  • Preschool
  • Health insurance
  • Electricity
  • Internet
  • Cell phones
  • Restaurants
  • Chicken feed

TOTAL: $2,259.36

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

Winter sunrise as seen from our back porch

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:

  1. Glamour Shed looking glamorous

    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.

  2. 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.
  3. 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:

If you want a simple cash back credit card, here are some good options that don’t have annual fees:

The ski lift: where we are most days

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) Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card:

  • 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.

4) Chase Freedom Unlimited:

  • 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.
Me learning to ski!

If you’re interested in travel rewards, a lot of people love the Chase Sapphire PreferredYou 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?

Icicles on our back porch roof

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)

Winter in our yard

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

  • Ski lift in motion

    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?

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:

Item Amount Notes
Groceries $868.73
One year of home insurance $719.00
Preschool $580.00 For Littlewoods
Gas for the cars $283.36
6 months of car insurance $225.40 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.

Restaurants $168.24
Household supplies $121.78
Contacts $116.00
Insulated snow bibs $94.99 Nate needed a new pair of insulated snow bibs (affiliate link).
Internet $72.00
Ski helmet for Littlewoods $56.17 A ski helmet for Littlewoods (affiliate link).
Chicken feed $55.97
Health Insurance Premium $52.43 Through the Vermont ACA.
New sodastream bottles $40.43 New sodastream bottles (affiliate link).
20 lb CO2 tank for seltzer $33.92 For our DIY hacked sodastream system
Utilities: Electricity $28.76 We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
Cell phone service for two phones $28.09 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 MVNOcheck out this post to see if you can make the switch. The savings are tremendous.

A teensy balaclava for our smallest skier $12.59 Tiny Balaclava (affiliate link)
Gear Tape $9.85 Gear Tape to repair ripped gloves and coats (affiliate link)
Total: $3,567.71

How was your first month of 2022?

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  1. Love to see the emphasis on safe skiing and helmets on everyone! 🙂 I love that the one for Littlewoods is convertible for biking in the summer too!

  2. I’m almost finished with your book at the moment but been following you for years. Enjoy rural life, we miss it but found a tiny town in my husband’s home state and I can still see all the stars at night.

  3. Hello! I can’t wait to read your write up on health insurance and navigating the ACA. Thank you for sharing and being transparent with your life numbers in details.

  4. I can attest that you do not need to borrow money to have a great credit score. We haven’t had a single debt or borrowed a penny in over 15 years since paying off the house. We are even buying land and building a cabin with cash right now. We have paid our credit cards off in full every month for the entire 43 years we’ve been married. So with no history of borrowing money and paying cards off in full each month our credit score is 820. And that’s close enough to perfect for me!

    1. My credit score is 821 (too). While you don’t have any loans (I haven’t for 20 years either), the charge you put on credit cards is considered a loan that is paid on time when paying in full each month. So each month counts as a “good loan”. Hence the high credit score. Had we not used any credit cards (with no other loan) for decades, the credit score will go down (I don’t plan to get loans– no issue even if that happens). The key to a good credit score is to keep credit cards that you use and pay off every month for years and years (even with no other loans).

      1. Exactly, I should have stated that. Probably why people mistakenly think they need to run a balance when they use credit cards. When you pay it off with no interest it doesn’t feel like a loan, but it still is.

  5. I’ll be interested in hearing what you find on car insurance. I was told to look at USAA, but it was a good bit higher than my current Farm Bureau.

    I think you might as well add a line item in for things like lift tickets and gear for each winter. I suspect your kids will be skiing on the regular now, and they will regularly outgrow their gear, too.

    Have you had to use your ACA insurance yet? If so, how did it go? And do you expect the small premiums to continue?

  6. You probably know this already but look into an umbrella policy if you do combine your home and auto insurance- basically an umbrella of additional coverage for catastrophes- it might cover your rental property too.

  7. It’s nice to know that I am not the only one that has “extra” expenses every month! In January we fully funded our TFSA accounts with our annual maximum. (We are in Canada). I also had a double payment on my extended health and travel insurance plan. February brings a massive pay down of our LOC and a down payment for a future vacation.

  8. Curious to see if you paid for the entire family’s seasonal pass for the ski lifts. Are you very close to the resort? We go almost every weekend, if not every other weekend too! It’s so much fun.

  9. Wow your home insurance is so low
    We just got our bill and it has gone up again. we live live close to the ocean but not on the ocean.

  10. 3 is not too young to start skiing! I started at age 3. It’s probably easier to start them young because they’re not as scared of falling.

  11. Interesting strategy to not carry collision on the 2010 Tundra. That is a $15K vehicle that might cost an additional $600-$700 a year to cover?

    1. If you can replace a vehicle in cash then there’s no reason to carry a lot of collision coverage, esp. on an older vehicle.

  12. I’m curious how you will make out with the ACA health insurance (at tax time next year)…my accountant told me not to get it, because while it’s cheap up front, at tax time there are tax ramifications that can be huge. My State Health Dept rep. also was critical of ACA. also had to do with tax ramifications….in 2021 our earned income was still high, 2022 will be different. Surely it can’t be that bad, but when you have investments you don’t know what your income will be.

  13. Just wondering if you have replaced your screws In your metal roof. We have a metal roof and were told on installation that at close to 18 to 20 years of age the old screws need to be removed and replaced with new ones. All due to neoprene washers wear out and can have leakage at the screws. We just had ours replaced with all stainless steel but the screws still have neoprene washers. Replaced them also in our storage barn. We live in south fla with a lot of rain and heat. Just FYI🙂

  14. I am really inspired by your skiing and other “outdoor activities with kids” posts, Mrs. FW. My nephew and his wife are expecting their first baby later this year. They’re active, outdoorsy people and I plan to gift only experiences and (used) sporting goods to their kid(s.) I have already asked them to decide on the best gift I can give them to support being active with a baby. Based on your skiing posts I plan to gift lessons or ski rental when baby is 3. Baby’s parents are into snow boarding so I’ll set them up to have a lot of fun on the slopes in the future. And when they’re not on the slopes they can go hiking and backpacking with me. Do you have any posts on hiking or backpacking with kids?

    1. That’s awesome, Jen! You are a stellar aunt!!! Once their baby is older, snowshoes are a great gift! My girls could both snowshoe by age 3.5 or so (but not before–they just fell into the snow and cried). Also, good mittens are absolutely key and very hard to find used (I’ve had to buy new ones for my girls because I’ve never once found a used pair in all my thrifting!). I highly recommend SnowStoppers.

      Many people love the fancy hiking backpacks, but I found them to be too clunky and heavy (and you can’t nurse while wearing them). Instead, I hiked & snowshoed with our kids in an ErgoBaby because it kept them closer to my body, which felt better for my back and center of gravity. Plus, I could breastfeed them while hiking! We actually had two Ergos, one for me and one for Mr. FW because we both preferred the Ergo to all other carrier options.

      Apparently I should write a whole post on this…. 😉

      1. Ooops, forgot to mention…. depending on the terrain where they live, a good jogging stroller with BIG wheels was a game changer for me–I could hike almost any trail with mine (which I found at a thrift store for $5). And if they have a lot of snow and ice, I highly recommend a large game sled for pulling kids behind while snowshoeing–it’s much less expensive and more durable than all the kid pull-behind sleds on the market.

        And here are a few old posts on the topic:
        How We Recreate In Winter: The Gear, The Mindset, and The Baby Sled
        How I Saved Tons Of Money During My Baby’s First Year
        The Gear You Actually Need For Your Baby (Or The Next Baby Shower You Attend)

  15. Your mentioning that repair tape reminds me of a couple of things from my past. In elementary school our mother’s would all iron on these sticky patches over the knees on our blue jeans because we’d wear through them in a matter of days being on our knees in the dirt catching bugs or playing marbles or building dams when it rained. I remember on hot days they’d get sticky and stick to our knees, yuck! And then in high school playing on the tennis team we’d go through expensive tennis shoes in just a few weeks so we’d buy tubes of this rubbery plastic stuff called Shoe Gu to put on the worn spots on the soles, they may still make the stuff. Otherwise I’d have put our family in bankruptcy buying Stan Smith Adidas shoes. Stan Smith was a tennis player in the jurrasic age.

  16. Every time you reference your soda stream hack I think about hacking ours. I always convince myself I don’t use it that much and I should quit the diet soda anyway. But I think I will (finally?) look into sourcing the CO2 tanks locally and see what they cost in my neck of the woods. So I looked over the previous posts and step by step tutorial you have (thank you for that) – and the eBay link is no longer current. I will google around a bit – but if you happen to have any updated info on the parts – I would appreciate it! Also – thanks for the tape recommendation – I need something like that for my teens puffer jacket that is leaking feathers – so I ordered some to try!

  17. House insurance for us is $1200/year. Taxes for this year are going to be $3.300. Car insurance through Geico for 3 older cars $269/mos. ACA insurance $0. You have a very good rate for ACA. Have you written a post about experience?

  18. Whenever I try to fix things with tape I usually regret it. It’s a miracle at first, but eventually gets all gooey and is impossible to get off.

    1. I was also wondering how many contacts her husband got for $116…was it a six-month supply, etc.?
      I have started using my HSA funds to pay for contacts. I ordered for years from 1-800-Contacts thinking it was cheaper but found out recently that my local eye doctor has exactly the same rates.

  19. I’d like to hear about the results of your shopping around for auto insurance. Although we would like to cut $$$ from our yearly auto insurance bill, we do want to stay adequately protected. Looking forward to reading about the outcome of your “shop around”.

  20. I finally made the switch to Ting, but the sound quality is pretty terrible and the new voicemail system means I can’t see my messages and have to call in to listen like the old days. I’m trying to decide if it’s worth the savings.

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