My May expenses are a great illustration of why it’s so important to track your spending every single month: this was a month rife with unexpected, aberrational, one-time expenses. But by tracking, I’ll have a clear picture at the end of the year of our actual annual spending. Because weird expenses happen all the time.
Now that Mr. FW is early retired, we no longer have the dental insurance his employer provided. When we transitioned our health insurance over to the Affordable Care Act, we researched paying for dental insurance and the numbers didn’t pan out. It seems it’ll be less expensive for us to pay out of pocket for dental care for the four of us.
As this is our first year on the ACA–and paying out of pocket for dental care–we’re saving all of our healthcare receipts and will tally everything up to analyze our decision at the end of the year. Then, we can make an informed choice about our coverage for next year. All that to say, we spent $515 in May for both girls to get their six-month cleaning and check-up as well as x-rays for Kidwoods.
A few notes on paying out of pocket for dental care:
- Call around to compare prices.
- Dentists do not all charge the same amount! I called roughly 10 different dental practices in our area to compare their prices for kids and adults (which are not the same price, I learned!).
- I ended up staying with our kids’ pediatric dentist, not because they’re the cheapest, but because they’re considered the best in our region. I have no problem paying for quality, especially for something as important as my children’s teeth! But, I do appreciate knowing the premium I’m paying.
Ask if there’s a discount for paying in full at the time of service.
- A lot of places will offer you some sort of discount if you pay in full at the time of service, as opposed to going with a payment plan or financing.
- Our dentist does not offer this, but I did ask. Never hurts to ask.
- Ask if you can pay with your credit card so you’ll receive those sweet, sweet rewards points!
- I asked our dentist if there was any penalty or extra charge for paying with a credit card and they said nope.
- I had my checkbook ready just in case, but was delighted to pay with our cash-back rewards card.
- Since we earn a flat 2% back on all purchases, we got $10.30 back on our dental bill. Not a lot, but not nothing!
- Ask for an itemized receipt.
- Save it so you can analyze your spending at the end of the calendar year to determine if it’ll make more sense to pay for insurance.
Have I ever mentioned how much I miss our car-free urban days? The one downside to living rurally is our total and utter reliance on our cars. I don’t plan to ever move back to the city, but if I do? I’ll hop on public transit SO FAST I’ll be a blur. On the whole, it’s a small price to pay for living in what I consider paradise.
At any rate, both the Prius and the truck needed A LOT of work last month. The upside to this spending is that we use a local mechanic who hires local people, which keeps the money in our community. I have to look for the bright side, people :)!
The truck needed:
- Front brakes
- Annual state inspection
- Wheel bearings/speed sensors
- Tie rod end
The Prius needed:
- Rear brakes: the parts were covered under the warranty from the last time we had the brakes done, so we just had to pay for the labor
- Annual state inspection
One Used Stand-Up Paddle Board for Mrs. FW’s Adventures
I found a used hard (not inflatable) stand-up paddle board + paddle for sale, so I bought it! It was $300–which sounds really expensive–but this particular board was $1,100 new, so I guess it’s a deal. I can’t wait for the water to be warm enough for me to get out there and learn a new sport! Hold your laughter, please.
At age 6.5, Kidwoods has almost outgrown her carseat (although don’t tell her that she actually still fits… ) so we went ahead and got her a booster seat. From our research, this one is highly rated for safety at a very reasonable price point. Car seats are pretty much the only thing we buy new for our kids.
Everything else–their clothes, shoes, toys, books, puzzles, etc–come used as hand-me-downs or from yard sales. But I will always pay more for safety. So far, Kidwoods is THRILLED with this big kid seat and can even buckle herself in!
Or, “hearing toe-tection” according to Littlewoods, is a crucial part of working around our loud farm machines. Safety really is my theme today. We have bulky, over-the-head earmuff-style hearing protection, but Mr. FW wanted to try out some ear-bud style protectors that have bluetooth AND fit under his wide-brimmed sun hat. His friend, who works in a woodshop, recommended these and so far, so good (affiliate link).
I have determined overalls are THE perfect outdoor summer gear for working and hiking. I don’t wear anything else. I had one pair of overalls and, after several instances of them being in the wash when I needed them, capitulated to getting a second pair. I bought another pair of these men’s overalls, as they’re cheaper than the women’s version (affiliate link). I got the old time-y train conductor print this time because why not.
OH, I almost forgot! The pressure cooker we bought at a thrift store five years ago finally bit the dust. Since we use it to cook dried beans all the time, we needed a replacement and…. this Instapot seemed the most logical choice (affiliate link). Hit me with your recipes!!!
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) 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 (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 spend less money because I KNOW I’m going to see every expense listed at the end of the 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:
Cash Back Cards to Consider
If you’re now cash back curious, there are a number of cards on the market right now that offer pretty good cash back percentages. Here are a few I think are a good deal:
- 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
- 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
- 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
- 1% cash back on other purchases.
- Earn a $350 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months.
- $0 fee for the first year; $95 annual fee thereafter. Rates and fees details here.
- Terms apply
- 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 after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months.
- No annual fee. Rates and fees details here.
- Terms apply.
- 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
- $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
- No annual fee.
- Unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target).
- 1% 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.
- No annual fee.
- Earn an extra 1.5% on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year), which is worth up to $300 cash back:
- 6.5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 4.5% on dining and drugstores
- 3% on all other purchases.
- After your first year (or $20,000 spent), you earn:
- 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
- Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
- No annual fee.
If you’re interested in travel rewards, people love the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.You can earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate 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: $58.41
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 $2,920.31 on that card, which netted us $58.41.
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 How I Made $712.59 With My Cash Back Credit Card.
Where’s Your Money?
Another easy way to optimize your money is with 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 0.75% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,038. That means you earned $38 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 $28.03 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 $14.02 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!
- Total Wireless starts at $23.70 per month!
- Tracfone Wireless has a plan that’s $199 for a year of unlimited talk and text!
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 May:
|Car repairs||$1,910.66||For the Prius and the truck. See notes above.|
|Dentist x 2||$515.00||Out of pocket payment for both girls, plus x-rays for Kidwoods.|
|Gasoline for cars||$348.63||YIKES, GAS PRICES!!!|
|Stand-up paddle board and paddle||$300.00||To facilitate yet another way for me to look ridiculous in public.|
|Restaurants||$257.91||Lunch dates with my husband while the kids are in school!|
|Two booster carseats||$190.74||Two booster seats for Kidwoods.|
|Household supplies||$134.29||The thrilling miscellany of life: toilet paper, laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, vitamins, craft supplies, toothpaste, sunscreen, etc.|
|Gas for farm equipment||$122.86||10 gallons of ethanol-free gas and 10 gallons of off-road diesel|
|Hearing protection||$104.94||Hearing protection bluetooth ear buds (affiliate link).|
|Instapot||$103.88||We got this one and so far, so good (affiliate link).|
|Hardware store stuffs||$87.94||Magnetic sweeper, bottle jack, wire stripper, hose clamps, etc…|
|Health insurance monthly premium||$52.43|
|Overalls||$49.99||Overalls for me! (affiliate link)|
|Beer and wine||$43.92|
|Doctor visit co-pay||$37.81|
|Home Phone||$30.00||Six months of VOIP home phone service.|
|Utilities: Electric||$29.79||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$28.03||Thank you, cheap MVNO!|
|Replacement brush heads for the kids’ electric toothbrushes.||$21.15||Kids replacement toothbrush heads (affiliate link).|
|One kid sunhat||$15.33||Whoops, I totally lied. Sometimes I DO buy kids stuff new. Kidwoods needed a new sunhat and selected this one (affiliate link).|
|Coffee Shops||$15.06||Coffee dates!|
|Garden hose repair parts||$13.77||Several of our hoses have met with sharp implements over the years and require medical attention. Hose repair parts to the rescue (affiliate link).|
|12v DC circuit breaker||$8.43||12v DC circuit breaker for the kids’ play car–purchased used years ago–and driven around our yard with ultimate glee (affiliate link).|
|Superglue||$7.41||Superglue: for all of life’s little cracks (affiliate link).|
|Scissors||$7.20||Scissors: for all of life’s loose ends (affiliate link).|