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.
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!
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:
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 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 $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
- 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.
- 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: $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?
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 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
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
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:
|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!|
|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)
|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.|
|Passport photos||$34||We’re due to renew our passports!|
|Ethanol-free gas for our small farm engines||$31|
|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|