November is always a month of celebrations in our family! We hosted Thanksgiving for what we think is the 10th year–although there were a few years off for Covid–and Kidwoods turned seven!
Our expenses are always higher in November on account of these festivities and I don’t mind at all. Having the ability to spend on things that matter deeply to me is why I’m frugal. It’s why I track my spending. It’s why I interrogate my priorities and how my spending reflects them.
It’s an illustration of values-based spending:
Save on stuff that doesn’t matter–or that you can get used for a cheaper price–to enable yourself the freedom to spend on the things that matter most.
Earlier this month I wrote about how I’ve saved thousands of dollars on my kids’ wardrobes by sourcing all of their clothing second-hand. The reason I do this is because I can. Because I can outfit them in perfectly nice clothing for a FRACTION of the price. Then, when it comes time to celebrate and host family, I have the financial leeway to spend more on groceries and wine and birthday parties. My approach isn’t about depriving myself or cutting back in every single category, it’s about being strategic with how and where I spend my money.
A Christmas Stocking for A Dog
One of my traditions is to decorate for Christmas the week before Thanksgiving. Don’t come after me! I LOVE CHRISTMAS decorations and I won’t stop!!! I do this, in part, so that we can get the feeling of celebrating two holidays with my husband’s family since we don’t spend Christmas with them.
As I was putting up our decor–all of which I re-use year to year–I realized something was missing. When our oldest was born, my mother-in-law bought GORGEOUS monogrammed Christmas stockings for us from Land’s End. When Littlewoods was born, she bought her a stocking as well.
This is how I found myself on the Land’s End website searching for the perfect stocking to monogram for…. the dog. I know, I know, she can’t even read, but I wanted one! So I bought it. While on there, I availed myself of a screaming deal on winter base layers for the girls and, uh, ya know… also bought a dress for myself. What can I say? It’s Christmas-y plaid!!!!!! I have a thing for Christmas-y plaid, as all holiday photos of my children amply demonstrate.
Kidwoods’ SEVENTH Birthday!
Kidwoods requested a party to which she could invite her entire class along with a fair number of kids in other classes as well. Looking over her guest list, which she wrote herself and included such luminaries as her teacher and the principal, we realized it would be folly to try and have all these folks at our house.
And so, we had her party at our town center, which has a great playground! Perfect. For a mere $50 we were able to rent out the town center, host a birthday party and come home to a clean, non-destroyed home. WORTH IT.
We served sandwiches, chips, fruit & veggies, cans of seltzer, juice boxes, cupcakes and cookies, which–combined with hosting Thanksgiving–is why our grocery budget was about $200 more than normal.
While most of her birthday presents were purchased second-hand at yard sales and thrift stores, we did buy one gift new: Qwirkle!! Our friends introduced us to this board game during our beach vacation with them earlier this fall and it is delightful! It’s kinda like Scrabble, but with colors and shapes, which means the whole family can play.
We’ve been a bit limited in whole-family games since Littlewoods can’t read yet, but Qwirkle is perfect (affiliate links)! It’s actually fun for adults to play, there’s some serious strategy involved, AND a four-year-old can totally do it. Highly recommend!!
Household supplies were also up this month on account of purchasing some birthday party paraphernalia including, but not limited to, a unicorn piñata, which I have taped back together for reuse next year.
The final birthday-related expense was $5 for a Daniel Tiger stuffy that Kidwoods bought for her sister to have on her birthday. I was so touched by this gesture of kindness that I ended up paying for Daniel and not having Kidwoods pay me back. Littlewoods was thrilled and surprised that she got to open a present too! I will definitely be doing that again.
I continued my tradition of ordering business postcards for our family Christmas cards as they are SO MUCH cheaper.
I like postcards because:
- Their smaller size means they’re less expensive
- If you select “business” postcards, they’re a fraction of the price of regular “holiday” postcards
- You can still do full-color on both sides of the card
- Postcard stamps are cheaper than regular stamps
- They come with the return address already printed
- You don’t have to buy envelopes
I’ve been using this hack for the last 8 years and it’s still going strong! I ordered from my old standby, VistaPrint, and spent $52–including shipping–on 150 full-color postcards. I actually got myself in gear this year to order on Black Friday, which meant I was able to take advantage of a sale they were running. I’ve got to remember to order on that day every year!
Join a UFM Mastermind Group
There’s a BRAND NEW way to participate in my January Uber Frugal Month (UFM) Challenge: join a Mastermind Group!!!! These groups are your chance to meet (on video) with me and some other frugal folks once a week for 5 weeks starting in January! Read more here; sign-up to join here.
Sign-up For The UFM to Win…. A PRIZE!
I’m giving away three prizes to three folks who sign-up for the FREE January Uber Frugal Month:
Prize #1: A one-on-one basic financial consultation with me, AKA a private reader case study ($1,500 value!).
Prize #2: A spot in a UFM Mastermind Group ($300 value!).
Prize #3: A photo of my dog with a nametag on her head with your name written on it by my seven-year-old. You think I’m kidding? This kid LOVES putting nametags on this dog’s head (priceless value!).
To enter, sign-up for the Uber Frugal Month in the box below. I’ll choose three winners via random number generator on Monday, December 19th. If you’ve already signed up for the January 2023 UFM, you’re already entered in the drawing!
Can I Talk To You?
Yes! In September I launched Private Reader Case Studies, which are an opportunity for folks to hire me for a full financial consultation. I also now offer 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.
- 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.
- 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through January 2023.
- $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 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: $55.60
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 $2,780.18 on that card, which netted us $55.60.
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 3% in interest (affiliate link). In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,150. That means you earned $150 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 $28.24 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 $28.24 for both of our phones (that’s $14.12 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
- 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 November:
|Groceries||$810.64||Roughly $200 more than normal due to:
Money very well spent!
|Truck repairs||$740.76||Ugh car repairs. The truck needed front struts, an oil change and its annual state inspection. Very thankful for our local mechanic who charges a lot less than a dealership!|
|Studded Snow Tires for the Outback||$687.01||We bought four 225/65/R17 Nokian Nordman 5 studded snow tires for the Subaru Outback. Careful readers will recall that we bought used snow tires and rims over the summer. But, our intention was always to use the used rims and buy new snow tires. Can’t put a price on safety and security during ice and snow season. Or, I guess you can and it’s $687.01…|
|Beer, wine and alcohol||$299.24||Much higher than normal on account of hosting Thanksgiving.|
|Gas for cars||$269.85|
|Dog and Chicken Food||$181.67|
|Restaurants||$159.25||Dates with my husband!|
|Dog Training||$150.00||We took Gigi to a dog trainer for a few sessions, which were great!|
|Chickens||$142.00||6 whole, frozen, free-range chickens from our farmer neighbors|
|The Dog Stocking + human clothing||$127.87||It’s possible I had a bit too much fun on the Land’s End website… I REGRET NOTHING|
|Household supplies||$104.66||Higher than normal on account of buying some supplies for the birthday party|
|Bulk food order||$98.18||50lbs white whole wheat flour and 25lbs of organic oats, ordered through our local co-op’s bulk food ordering|
|The Thanksgiving Turkey (+ some maple syrup)||$81.00||Free range, fresh turkey raised by our farmer neighbors. It was DELICIOUS.|
|Christmas cards + shipping||$52.00||150 full-color postcards from VistaPrint|
|Town Center Rental||$50.00||For Kidwoods’ 7th birthday party|
|The Vermont Almanac||$37.10||A standby in our house every year|
|Smart plugs and smart lights||$35.73||I’m obsessed with these smart plugs as they mean I can turn on ALL of our Christmas lights with ONE button! I’m in heaven.
Also got these smart light strips to replace our aging fairy lights, which are burning out after seven years of continuous use (affiliate links).
What can I say, I love warm and cozy lighting!!
|Cell phone service for two phones||$28.24||Thank you, cheap MVNO!|
|Qwirkle game||$26.49||Highly recommend Qwirkle for all-ages family fun (affiliate link).|
|Non-stick skillet||$26.45||I make scrambled eggs for myself for lunch everyday and so I got this little nonstick skillet for my own personal egg usage (affiliate link).|
|Doctor visit co-pay||$20.00|
|Dog License||$13.00||Dog is now officially registered with the town|
|Daniel Tiger Stuffy||$5.00||Awwww|