February was a boring month from the perspective of the old expense report. Not much was purchased aside from the ordinary, which was a kindness to our savings account. No one’s expenses are the same month to month, and I relish a relatively cheap month. I see it as an opportunity to sock more into savings for the inevitable expensive month you just know looms on the horizon. As I’m fond of saying:
No one ever regrets saving money.
So if you have that rare cheap month? Consider it a boon to your savings account, not an invitation to overspend the next month.
We skied a ton in February, which was a fabulous usage of the season passes and equipment we’d already paid for. We snowshoed through the woods a lot–another great use of previously purchased gear. We ice skated at our free community rink using skates from the thrift store. We cooked good food at home. We hung out with our friends a bunch and celebrated Littlewoods’ fourth birthday in true frugal form with a homemade chocolate cake and gifts purchased last summer from garage sales and the thrift store. A delightful wintry month!
Come Hear Me Talk on April 8th!
I’m thrilled to let you know I’ll be speaking on a panel on Friday, April 8th at the online Mamas Talk Money: The Legacy You Leave conference. I’m honored to be on this panel with:
- Sandy Smith, the renowned founder of the Elevate Community and YesIAmCheap.com (best website name ever). Sandy formed the Elevate Community to, “raise awareness and shine greater light on the financial issues that people of color face. The 400+ members of the Elevate Community group are financial professionals, teachers, writers, bloggers, and educators of color who are committed to improving the financial lives of people of color.”
- Jamila Souffrant, the founder of the incredibly successful JourneytoLaunch.com. I was actually on Jamila’s Journey to Launch podcast back in 2018 and met her in person when we were both pregnant with our little girls (who are now FOUR!).
If you’re interested in attending this three-day online conference, you can save $5 off the $49 ticket price by using the coupon code FRUGALWOODS. Go here to get your ticket and register to attend. I hope to see you there!
I Love 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%)
- 2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and 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
- No annual fee. Rates and fees details here.
- Terms apply
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.
- Earn 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
- 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year)
- Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back!
- After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases
If you’re interested in travel rewards, 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: $38.39
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 $1,919.57 on that card, which netted us $38.39.
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 an MVNO!
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, 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.
Here are a few great MVNOs to consider:
- Mint has plans starting at $15 per month!
- Republic Wireless has plans starting at $20 per month!
- Total Wireless starts at $23.70 per month!
For more, I have a full chart of providers and their prices 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.
Note: these MVNO links are affiliate links.
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 we go there 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
- Here’s what we do for health insurance.
- 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 February:
|Gas for cars||$328.68||Yikes, gas prices!!! Also, yikes, driving to ski a lot!!!!|
|Bulk oats and flour (50lbs of each)||$172.54||
|Maple sugaring supplies||$160.75||New taps, tubing and filters to replace what we’ve used up in past years of making maple syrup from our maple trees.|
|Household supplies, toiletries, kid stuff, the miscellany of life||$151.34||Primarily from WalMart because they offer free shipping (affiliate link).
These are the thrilling things of life: toilet paper, craft supplies for the kids, laundry detergent, toothpaste, tooth picks, tooth floss, tooth legit to quit, etc.
|Beer, wine and alcohol||$139.69||The finer things of life.|
Health Insurance Premium
Through the Vermont ACA
|Utilities: Electricity||$30.19||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Eye doctor co-pay||$30.00|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$28.09||This is so cheap because we use an MVNO. MVNOs resell wireless service at discounted rates (but it’s the same service!!!).
If you’re not using an MVNO, check out this post to see if you can make the switch. The savings are tremendous.
|Ski lodge snack||$5.95||A muffin treat for Kidwoods and me during a day of skiing.|
|Olympics TV||$5.29||We paid for a one-month subscription so we could watch the winter olympics with the kids.|