Last month we took the kids on their very first vacation! To the beach! We didn’t travel during Covid and, pre-Covid, the only trips they went on were to visit family (which is also a vacation, but you know what I mean). Our dear friends have a family beach house on the New Jersey shore in Mantoloking and we drove down with them for a five-day, four-night stay. It was glorious. Magical. Perfect.
Are We There Yet?
We were kinda nervous about how the kids would do on their first ever 7+ hour drive, but it was a non-issue! I had them each pack a little car backpack for themselves and I secretly packed a duffle bag of other toys and activities, which I meted out during our potty/food stops. Not to mention SNACKS. We broke our no-eating-in-the-car rule for the trip, which was a stellar move. Littlewoods must’ve gobbled 19 granola bars on each leg of the journey and I feel zero guilt about that. Additionally, we made the decision to eat lunch at restaurants on the road to give the kids something to look forward to and a chance to be out of the car for an extended period. On the return drive we had a picnic at a playground, which was the perfect mid-drive respite. All in all, they handled the long drives with aplomb!
We decided not to eat out while at the beach and instead, our two families took turns cooking dinner. This worked out marvelously! We bought groceries when we got there, which made it so much easier since we didn’t have to pack a cooler for the drive up. Being late September, the weather was a tad chilly but we all still made it into the ocean. We nearly had the beach to ourselves and the kids spent hours running up and down the sand collecting shells, chasing seagulls and fighting about whose turn it was to fly the one kite my friend brought. Note to self: bring more kites next time!
When not on the beach, we played board games, read books, went to a playground, did yoga, completed* a very memorable all-family circuit training exercise program and drank gin & tonics. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the most relaxing, most perfect, most idyllic family vacation. Plus, since the girls had our friends’ son to play with, they pretty much took care of themselves (I mean, sort of, let’s not go overboard here… ). But it was great for them to have another kiddo to
boss around play with.
We feel tremendously lucky that this was also a very cheap vacation since our friends’ family owns the beach house and didn’t charge us anything to stay there. Our expenses were: gas, restaurants while driving, groceries, beer & wine. Like I said: perfection.
*”completed” would be a strong word as all the kids bailed before the final reps.
Our other major expense last month was ski season preparation! We’ve decided to ski as a family again this winter, so you’ll see expenses for:
- Rental skis & boots for Kidwoods (we have a hand-me-down set for Littlewoods that fits her again this season)
- Season passes for the whole family to our local ski mountain (Littlewoods gets in free as she’s age 5 & under)
- Ski lessons for Littlewoods (Kidwoods is taking a different ski lesson program this year and the sign-up wasn’t until October, so that cost’ll show up next month)
- ….and skis & boots for Mr. FW and me!
We rented skis and boots last year to see if we wanted to stick with the sport and we do! Since it’s impossible to get a good, comfortable fit in rentals, we decided to buy skis this year. I know that a lot of folks find great deals on used skis and boots, but since this was our first time purchasing them, we made the conscious choice to buy new because:
- We needed an expert to guide us to boots that fit our feet and skis that are appropriate for our level/style/terrain of skiing.
- We didn’t want to incur any potential safety risks with getting older/used equipment.
- Our hope is that these boots and skis will last us for many years!
We went to a local ski shop’s Labor Day weekend sale and got a great deal. We showed up right when they opened on the first day of the sale (Friday), which meant there was a salesperson available to help us and alllll the inventory still in stock. By the time we were checking out (at around 10:30am) the store was packed. I’m glad we got there early and took our time trying on lots of different boots. Now all we need is snow!!!
The other less exciting, but very pricey, September line item was for plumbing work. As you may recall, we’re doing a series of renovations to our home and one of them entails removing a load-bearing wall that has plumbing running through it. In other words, the absolute most difficult wall in our entire house to remove. But we are persevering! This wall cut our kitchen off from the main living room, which was weird and something we’ve always hated.
While Mr. FW is comfortable doing basic plumbing work, this was a doozy and he wisely elected to hire an expert. And we are so glad we did! It took the plumber and his assistant three full days to complete the work and it is a work of art. Thrilled to have this element of the project done. Operation remove the hardest wall to remove moves ahead!!!
Can I Talk To You?
Yes! Last month I launched Private Reader Case Studies, which are an opportunity for folks to hire me for a full financial consultation. I’m also now offering hourlong video calls. You can:
To learn more about private one-on-one consultations, check this out.
I Love the Free Money Tracking Tools from Personal Capital!
I use a free online service called Personal Capital to organize our money. It tracks our spending, net worth, investments, retirement, everything.
Knowing where your money’s at is one of the 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 your finances, 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 don’t have a solid idea of where your money’s at–or how you’re spending it–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 offering 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 a $200 statement credit after spending $2,000 in 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: $117.08
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 $5,853.98 on that card, which netted us $117.08.
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 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 2.15% in interest (affiliate link). In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,108. That means you earned $108 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. 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.
Yes, We Only Paid $28.43 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 $28.43 for both of our phones (that’s $14.22 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 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 September:
|As discussed above!
|Skis for Mr. & Mrs. FW
|Skis, boots and poles for both of us plus a pair of mittens for Mr. FW and goggles for Littlewoods.
|Ski lessons & season passes
|Passes x3 and lessons for Littlewoods
|Preschool for end-of-August and September
|Includes all vacation expenses: gas, groceries, restaurants, beer and wine.
|Exploratory excavation work for future garage
|We hired our neighbor + his excavator to come over and dig some exploratory holes to determine the final siting for our future garage.
Thanks to this–and our awesome architect–we’ve finalized the layout, design and location of the garage. Construction to start in the spring! Fingers crossed!
|Dates + meals w/the kids
|For yard sales!
|Gas for cars
|Oil Change Tire Rotation
|We took the new Subaru into the dealership for her first 6k mile oil change and tire rotation. We normally go to our local mechanic, but opted for the dealer for this first one.
|Deeply exciting items, such as: toilet paper, vitamins, laundry detergent, school supplies, toothpaste, etc.
|Ski rental for Kidwoods
|Season-long ski & boot rental for Kidwoods, including free size-up if needed.
|Beer and wine
|CO2 for Seltzer
|A C02 reload for our hacked Sodastream system
|We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied
|Cell phone service for 2 phones
|Thank you, cheap MVNO!
|Dates with my husband!
|Mr. FW needed a pair for our beach trip. I will tell you that it’s very difficult to find flip flops off-season. Finally found a pair on the Old Navy clearance rack!