Wild animal + Wild flowers

After nine years of pandemic isolation, we decided this would be the summer of family day trips! Our kids hadn’t been to any of the area museums or towns or restaurants or libraries due to: a) pandemic; b) being babies before the pandemic.

We’ve made up for that dearth of activity in force. Swimming, beaches, paddle boarding, museums, hiking, breweries, ice cream shops, mini summer camps–we’ve done it all! And paid for it all. Remember those cheap pandemic summer days? When no one could go anywhere or do anything? Nah!

Day Trip To Burlington, VT

Burlington, also known as the largest city in Vermont, was one of the many places our children hadn’t visited. This “metropolis” is home to a mere 220,000(ish) residents, but you must remember that our town is home to a mere 700 residents. It’s New York City as far as our woods-children are concerned.

We checked out the library’s pass to the Echo Science Museum, which entitled us to a reduced admission price. The museum was nice, but the kids’ favorite part of the day by far was walking on the sidewalks downtown. Littlewoods kept exclaiming, “This is a city because look at all these sidewalks!!!” We went to an art gallery where I said “do not touch the art” only 457 times, the girls got ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s (native to Burlington), we had lunch at Four Quarters Brewing and dinner at Burlington Beer Company.

Littlewoods: lover of restaurants

The kids are still not over the excitement of two restaurant meals in one day. We learned that breweries are the perfect place to dine with children because they offer: kids’ menus, easily-cleaned surfaces, loud cavernous spaces where children’s delighted shrieks go unnoticed and, of course, beer.

Day Trip to Montpelier, VT

The capitol of Vermont! We took a self-guided tour of the State House, which was perfect for a six and four-year-old. We then went to the Vermont History Museum, which was not perfect (or even good) for a six and four-year-old. Lesson learned!

Day Trips Are It For Now

Our extensive day tripping has reinforced our inkling that our kids are not ready for a full-on trip yet. While they can both make it through a full day of activities, they are exhausted and need to spend the next day lying around the house, dragging my beautiful throw blankets through the piles of crumbs they alternate between as they eat their customary 14 meals. There’s NO WAY they’d make it through multiple contiguous city days, so our decision to not “vacation” with them this summer feels very right. As they get older, I do want to explore farther afield and my dream is to one day take them to NYC. But I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t make it four hours on the streets of New York at this stage.

I Love the Free Expense Tracker from Personal Capital!

At the Vermont State House

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 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:

  1. 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.

  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 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:

Cash Back Cards to Consider

Early apples on our Red Duchess tree

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:

1) Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express:


  • 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 $250 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95. Rates and fees details here.
  • Terms apply

2) Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express:

  • 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 up to $250 – Here’s How: Earn up to $150 back when you shop with PayPal. Earn 20% back as a statement credit on purchases when you use your new Card to check out with PayPal at merchants in the first 6 months of Card Membership, up to $150 back. Plus, earn $100 back as a statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • No annual fee. Rates and fees details here.
  • Terms apply.

3) Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card:

  • 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.
Kidwoods shows off one of her tomato plants

4) Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card:


  • 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.

5) Chase Freedom Unlimited®:

  • 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.
July 4th in our little town!

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: $48.44

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 $2,422 on that card, which netted us $48.44.

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?

Littlewoods and the cucumber she grew!

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 1.40% in interest (affiliate link). In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,070. That means you earned $70 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 for Cell Phone Service (for two phones)

Our black currants are coming in well this year

Our cell phone service line item is not a typ0 (although that certainly is). We really and truly only paid $28 for both of our phones (that’s $14 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–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 two MVNOs to consider:

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 on what we use. Imagine that! We only pay for what we use! Will wonders ever cease. 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
  • Littlewoods + me on the 4th of July

    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 a few times 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
  • Happy 4th!

    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 July:

Item Amount Notes
Architectural Services $6,387 For our ongoing, longterm house renovations and garage-building projects
Toyota Prius repairs $1,121 Including: hubs, abs speed sensor, rear brakes
Restaurants $709 All that day tripping adds up!
Groceries $601
Car insurance for the year $479 Through Geico.
Gas for cars $451
Day camp for both kids $300
Whole frozen chickens plus some misc. produce from the farm stand $265 8 whole, organic, free-range frozen chickens from our farmer neighbor (plus some produce)
Cash $200 For my summer garage sale adventures! Garage sales only happen in the summertime here and every summer I buy:

-All the clothes and shoes I think the kids will need for the upcoming year.

-All the toys, books and games we’ll gift to them for Christmas and their birthdays.

-Any household /furniture / decor / kitchen stuff I find for a good price.

Household supplies $165 The thrilling things of life: laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, toilet paper, toothpaste, vitamins, craft supplies, bubbles, etc
Motor oil $125 All the jugs of Rotella T6 motor oil that were in stock at Walmart.

This is the best price on this oil, but it’s only in stock at Walmart occasionally. So when we find it, we stock up! (affiliate links)

Prius registration $76
Internet $72
Health insurance premium $52
Electric Shaver  $42 Mr. FW decided to join the land of the electrically shaved. He likes to keep his beard very short in the summertime and decided to upgrade to this electric razor (affiliate link). So far, he likes it a lot.
Seltzer re-up $42 A reload of our 20lb C02 tank for our hacked Sodastream system.
Coffee Shops $41
Passport photos $34 We’re due to renew our passports!
Ethanol-free gas for our small farm engines $31
Beer $29
Utilities: Electricity $29 We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
Cell phone service for two phones $28 Thank you, cheap MVNO!
Echo Science Museum admission $28
Ice cream shops! $14
Parking $12 In the big city
Highway tolls $2
TOTAL: $11,335

How was your July?

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  1. The day trips sound amazing! We actually took our 2 and 3 year old to NYC for Spring Break this year and had a BLAST. We found a very reasonable hotel suite on the Upper West Side with a kitchenette and a grocery store across the street. I stocked up on groceries for breakfast and lunch so that our toddlers would only have to make it through 1 meal in a restaurant per day. From there, we walked EVERYWHERE-Museum of Natural History, The Met (not a hit with the toddlers except for all of the butts on the marble sculptures), Central Park, Riverside Park…we even walked to Top of the Rock which was like 25 blocks. Since our kids are so little we’d venture out for a morning activity, come back for lunch/naps, then venture out for an afternoon activity and go to dinner on our way home. It was our first big trip since COVID and still so glad we did it and amazed at how well it went. All of that to say-I think your family would have a blast there! I need to do more day trips here in NC where we live as well, so this post has inspired me to do a little research. Sometimes it’s nice to sleep in your own bed. I also look forward to the day in which my kids are so exhausted from travel that they lay around afterwards, bc these toddlers are impossible to wear out!

    1. Depending on where you are in NC, Sylvan Heights Bird Park is a really cool day trip especially if you are already heading east! I also really want to check out the Whirligig Park in Wilson someday. I’m inspired by your NYC trip, maybe something we can do with our little ones someday!

  2. We did a lot of day-tripping when our kiddos were young too. So much fun not carrying a diaper bag anymore! We also spent a lot of time at museums(both kid appropriate and not). I highly recommend continuing it, as now we have teenagers who love history and all types of museums. My parents fortunately have a couple of local museums that have free admisson, so we spent many winter days exploring them! Our vacations now usually consist of museums they’re interested in seeing. I hope one day to take them to D.C. and explore all of theirs! We did our first disneyland trip at 4/7. Highly recommend staying on site, so we could go early then come back to rest up before venturing out for dinner/evening activities. It was expensive, but well worth the memories! We have adorable pictures of the kids passed out in the hotel room with their faces painted. (tip- don’t allow them to get their eyes painted with glitter, it’s a nightmare to get off!)

  3. That’s great you folks had some day trips. It must be a lot of fun, especially for the kids. Yeah, finally the life is back to sort of normal, and people started traveling again. That’s a wonderful feeling. In the spring I traveled to the west coast, and tasted the freedom of travel again. This month I might do some day trips as well. Enjoy the rest of the summer.

    1. 😳 really, Mary LeLoo? As Sherry noted, hyperbole is often used in casual writing, and as you offered your proofreading skills to Liz in another post a few months back (which, honestly, came across as rather rude), you might want to know that the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020, so you’ve corrected her incorrectly.

    2. Or less than 3…my hospital got our 1st covid pt in April of 2020 and most restrictions began March 2020 in the US.

  4. Love the day trips! We’ve been doing those from our house in Western NC. I have a 3.5 year old and a one year old and we’ve found that anything is easier than parenting at our home, where we get into this endless cycle of requests for snacks and clean-up from those snacks. We went to Panama in February and Spain in April and it was surprisingly delightful. Just throwing that out there! Thanks for the glimpse into your life in Vermont. 🙂

  5. Sounds like a bunch of post-pandemic isolation fun! I look forward to hearing more about your home improvement plans! Very exciting! We are doing the ultimate frugal vacationing now via home swapping and house/dog sitting. We are doing 4 weeks in Europe with 3 separate home exchange stays. Turns out that people are curious about visiting our home state of Oregon! So….we are trading homes. It really makes sense and is even better than renting a vacation home. Since these homes are generally people’s actual homes, the kitchens are fully stocked, everything works, lots of extras are included (like umbrellas for the one time it rained). Anyway, I am a huge fan of cheaper and better ways to vacation!

  6. Littlewoods’ exclamation about the sidewalks reminded me of my granddaughter’ s comment as we walked thru the Financial district in Boston: “These must be skyscrapers.” ( Now she wants to go to college in NYC. )

  7. We’ve been doing ALL THE THINGS this summer with the kids too, for the same reasons you described. It feels SO GOOD. I’m also really loving the late toddler- through-elementary-school phase of childhood. It’s been my favorite so far. Really makes me wish I could cut back at work to spend more time with them.

  8. So happy you are choosing day trips only for your young ones. As a retired recreational specialist I have seen way. Zto many children dragged through days of travel when they really would enjoy one day 100%. But longer and the world hear and sees their lack of interest and need for a routine. Thank you!

  9. We visited Burlington years ago with our 4 kids. We did the free Ben and Jerry’s factory tour and a pirate cruise in lake Champlain. My #3 just did a year at Norwich university and we spent a lot of time in Vermont, we love it!

  10. My kids are about the same age as yours, and we just started traveling the last couple of months too! We are doing trips of a few nights, places that are within a couple hours (direct) flight. I’ve found a good balance of just planning 1 big thing (or a couple of small things in the same area) each day. That way they still have down time and it doesn’t get exhausting for them to be touring all day, every day. We also eat almost exclusively (free) hotel food, since it is much easier than taking them outside to a restaurant after they are tired from an activity. Bonus that when they choose their food from a buffet they are more likely to eat it since they already know what it looks like! Don’t discount your kids being able to do overnight trips around this age, it will just take managing expectations of how much you will get done.

    If you didn’t know this yet, ECHO and the science museum in Manchester both belong to a group of a few hundred science or kids museums that offer reciprocal membership. So if you buy an annual membership to your local museum (or if you don’t have anything really local, the cheapest museum a reasonable distance away), then you get free entrance to all the other affiliated museums. There are TONS.

  11. We like all the pictures but the one of Littlewoods in the restaurant really takes me back to when our kids were that age!
    They grow up fast (our oldest is now starting to get grey hair – Wow – how did THAT happen?!).

  12. We took the 3 year old to NYC last month. We took Amtrak and she did well on the 4 hour train ride. We had a blast staying in the Upper West Side. We ate lots of bagels and pizza, went to multiple playgrounds nearby, and went to the natural history and children’s museums.

  13. When our girls were 4 and 7 we took them to Paris. Half the trip we stayed with friends and the other half we were on our own. It was magic.

  14. 100% on capturing New Englanders Liz (also I laughed because it’s true, grew up there) “Vermont is comprised of folks who pretend to love all four seasons, but who cannot abide any temperature above 72 degrees and who find solace in deep snow.”

  15. Earlier this summer we visited Hildene in southern Vermont. I think it might be fun for kids if you are in southern Vermont for another reason. All outdoors with odd sculptures and a maze.

  16. Whoops, Hildene is the name of the Lincoln family home. The maze is called The Path of Life Sculpture Garden . It’s in Windsor, Vermont.

  17. My daughter and I went to the Shelburne Museum when we visited Vermont and LOVED it. We especially liked the period houses. We stayed in a B and B in Montpelier and had a great time. Your pictures brought back memories.

    When do we see the house improvements?

  18. I love your Cash line item for garage sales. Brings back memories. When my two kids were as little as yours and through their school years, I scouted all their clothes, shoes, toys, books, sports equipment, etc. plus Christmas/gifts through garage sales. I approached it with military precision: marked the sales (in the newspaper classified ads) in order per my driving route, kept to my garage sale zone, had my clothing inventory at hand. I found the occasional item through thrift and consignment stores but most were from summer garage sales, when there were many in my area. It is through this huge frugal strategy and other frugal methods that we were able to pay off our mortgage early, pay cash for quality pre-owned cars, and my husband take early retirement. I work for our benefits only. We continue to live below our means.

  19. I am in NZ and I love reading your blog. What a beautiful place and life you have there and your two daughters are so adorable! Wishing you many more years of health and happiness.

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