Ahhh decadent December! Filled with food, wine, life-sized penguin stuffies and dog booties. December always promises to be a high-spend month, but that doesn’t have to spell crisis. If you plan for expensive months, if you calculate what you spend on something like Christmas and save up over the course of a year, you can conclude a month like December with satisfaction as opposed to regret. The goal in all of this–all of this money awareness and wise financial management–isn’t to NEVER spend money.
The goal (in my opinion, anyway) is to spend money:
- In alignment with your values and on what matters most to you
- In a planned, proactive way as opposed to an impulsive, reactive way
- To enhance happiness, not to create stress
- Only on things you can actually afford
How you articulate those four pillars of spending is up to you, and for me? Last month it was on food, wine and penguin stuffies.
Wine.com = My BFF for Christmas Gifts
This year I once again turned to wine.com to ship bottles of wine to our extended family (parents and siblings). I’m a fan of consumable gifts that don’t add clutter and are something I know the recipient will enjoy. For the two non-wine drinkers in our family, I sent gift cards to their favorite local restaurants. Another consumable that will get used!
I like wine.com because:
- The wine costs the same as it does in a store. I’ve price-checked the bottles and wine.com doesn’t mark them up.
- The selection is immense. They’ve got every kind of wine (also liquor and port) imaginable!
- It’s so quick and easy. I’ve saved my family member’s addresses AND their preferred types of wine on the site so I have an easy reference point each year. It takes me 15 minutes to order Christmas gifts for my entire family!
- FREE SHIPPING. I saved the best for last. I pay $59 per year to be a “Wine Stewardship Member,” which qualifies me for free shipping on all of my purchases. Free shipping! Crucial since bottles of wine are heavy and expensive to ship. This works out for me since I ship at least five cases of wine a year and each case would cost ~$20 to ship.
All in all, wine.com is the answer to my gifting prayers and these are affiliate links.
Christmas Gifts: for Teachers and the Angel Tree
On the astute advice several years ago from Frugalwoods readers who are teachers, we give cash to our kids’ teachers every December. I write a nice note and stick some cash in the card. Again, I want to give people something they can use. And everyone can use cash!
For the Angel Tree at church, we buy whatever the child has requested.
My Own Children Get Used Christmas Gifts
My husband and I don’t exchange gifts with each other–a choice we made almost a decade ago. We instead put money towards experiences we enjoy, such as: kid-free getaways, meals out at restaurants, visits to breweries and our ski passes! We both prefer experiences over stuff, so this works perfectly for us.
Our kids receive hand-me-down and garage sale finds! I scour thrift stores and yard sales all year long to collect things I know they’ll love. In our house, Santa shops used.
For more on how I manage really inexpensive gifting for my kids, check out:
- How I’ve Saved Thousands of Dollars on Clothes for My Kids
- How to Thrift Like a Rockstar: Plan Ahead, Buy Ahead and Focus on Depreciation
- How To Find Anything and Everything Used: A Compendium Of Frugal Treasure Hunting
…But I’m Not A Hardliner About It
While 95% of my kids’ gifts come from yard sales/hand-me-downs, I’m not a zealot. I think it’s all about balance. I don’t believe my children need hundreds of dollars worth of toys for every birthday and Christmas, but I also believe it’s lovely for them to receive a few gifts they’ve specifically requested. As our kids get older (they’re currently 7 and almost 5), they naturally have specific interests and specific gift requests for Santa. We decided this year that Santa would fulfill two of each child’s specific gift requests. The girls wrote letters to Santa back in November and my wonderful mom wrote them back as Santa (side note: this is AMAZING for kids who can read–I thought Kidwoods was going to pass out from excitement when she read her letter from Santa).
On Christmas morning, Santa delivered four gifts to each child, two used and two new, although the kids do not know the difference–I began the tradition of removing all packaging and tags from new gifts years ago so that everything looks the same when they unwrap it.
Here’s What We Purchased New:
Snow globes: both girls requested snow globes and so Santa Dada bought two at Walmart (affiliate link).
- One big penguin: for unknown reasons, Kidwoods wanted a “life-sized penguin stuffy” and Walmart delivered (affiliate link).. When she opened it, she announced, “All my penguin dreams came true!!!!” so I guess that was a good call on our part. Big penguin now gets paraded around the house nonstop, much to the chagrin of the dog who I think might think it’s real…
- Walkie Talkies: these are FABULOUS because they force the girls to play collaboratively (affiliate link). They’re pretty good about playing together as it is, but these bring their cooperation to the next level. After all, it’s not very fun to one-sided Walkie (as evidenced by the fact that Kidwoods bails every time Littlewoods reverts to breathing loudly into her Walkie… ). I really try to keep a straight face as a parent.
- Nail polish from Piggy Paint: The girls are obsessed with me painting their nails, but I had misgivings about all the chemicals in my adult nail polish (affiliate link). Enter: PiggyPaint. This stuff is non-toxic and water-based and has NO odor. Seriously. It’s also very easy to apply. Given these attributes, we let the girls paint their own nails with it. You’ve already accurately predicted the results of this activity: nail polish spilled on the floor, nail polish spilled on the table, nail polish on clothing, nail polish on the dog, and the worst manicures you’ve ever seen. But it doesn’t matter! The stuff is so easily removed, it’s basically like wiping up crayon marks. The downside is that it doesn’t last long on nails AT ALL, but the kids don’t care–they just repaint their nails the next day.
Dog Hiking Booties
Gigi, for her part, received several toys for Christmas as well as a stocking stuffed with tennis balls. She was elated. She also received these hound hiking booties, about which she is demonstrably less elated. As temperatures dropped and snow cover ensued, Gigi began having trouble on our hikes with ice getting stuck between her little toe-sies. We tried applying Musher’s Secret (a wax that’s supposed to keep the paws ice-free), but it didn’t work. Next, we tried the booties we’d used for Gracie (Frugal Hound 1.0), but those weren’t durable enough and kept falling off. Since Gigi hikes twice a day (once with me and once with Mr. FW), we needed a way to keep her comfortable and so, we ordered sled dog booties. Of course, as soon as they arrived it warmed up and we haven’t needed to use them yet. But, they fit her securely and appear very durable.
Several years ago we bought a cheap, knock-off electric kettle, which we use daily to make our coffee, oatmeal and tea. Last month it broke. Mr. FW took it apart to see if he could fix it and discovered that on the main electrical leads inside the base, next to the heating element, the insulation had started cracking and flaking off the wires. This is a huge safety and fire hazard! Clearly one of the ways they cut costs on this knock-off kettle was by cheaping out on the heat insulation wires. Scary! In light of this discovery, we decided to spend more and get this Cuisinart kettle as a replacement (affiliate link).
We haven’t opened up the new kettle to check on the wire insulation, but our hope is that a brand name has a longer term stake in not burning down people’s homes. We hope there are better long-term safety choices being made in this kettle…. because YIKES.
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 one-on-one financial consultation. I also now offer hourlong video calls. You can:
To learn more about one-on-one consultations with me, 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: $62.18
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 $3,109.04 on that card, which netted us $62.18.
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 3.3% in interest (affiliate link). In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,165. That means you earned $165 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 few MVNOs to consider:
- Mint has plans starting at $15 per month!
- Twigby starts at just $10 a month!
- Gabb specializes in kid-safe phones (with no internet access or games) and has plans starting at $24.99 per month
- GenMobile starts at $10 per month AND has unlimited international calling plans at $18/month
- Tello has plans starting at $10 a month
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 December:
|Groceries||$939.03||Christmas feast foods!!! Including one bag of Christmas Cheetos for ME.|
|Truck repairs; Subaru tires||$840.45||The truck needed new struts and a tie rod end while the Subaru needed to have its new snow tires mounted and balanced (now that they’re mounted on their rims, Mr. FW will change them himself each season).|
|Gas for cars||$386.20|
|Christmas Gifts: extended family, teachers, angel tree child and our kids||$383.55||See full details above. Brief rundown (affiliate links):
Cash for teachers
Angel Tree gift
|Vet visit + prescription medications||$243.60||For doggo|
|Chicken food, larger chicken feeder, dog food, dog treats, dog toys for Christmas||$201.27||All from Tractor Supply|
|Round-trip flight to NYC||$153.08||I’m going to NYC next month for a wedding (I’m going to be my friend’s +1 as we leave our husbands and kids at home. We’re pretty excited about this.)|
|Beer, wine, alcohol||$151.86||For Christmas spirits!|
|Sheets: one set of king sized||$150.70||1 set of king-sized sheets from LL Bean.
We’ve always gotten super cheap sheets in the past and–unsurprisingly–they all rip and fall apart within a year. Our hope is that by spending A LOT more, these’ll last longer than a year.
|Electric Kettle||$99.64||Electric Kettle (affiliate link). Similar story as the sheets–we’ve always gotten knock-off kettles in the past and they’ve broken. Hoping that by spending more, this’ll last longer.|
|Oil change & check-up for Subaru||$78.54||We’re being very diligent about doing all the dealer-recommended check-ups on the Subaru.|
|Diesel & ethanol-free gas for farm equipment||$77.02||10 gals diesel, 5 gals ethanol-free gas|
|Thrift store||$45.00||A ski coat for me, an insulated flannel shirt for Mr. FW and some toys for the kids.|
|US Postal Service||$44.00||Stamps for our Christmas postcards|
|Dog booties!||$37.40||Dog booties|
|Walkie Talkies and rechargeable batteries||$36.76||Walkie Talkies and rechargeable batteries (affiliate links). The ultimate in sibling cooperative play.|
|Dog kongs||$35.93||2 XL dog Kongs for Gigi. She loves them! (affiliate link)|
|Lifetime supply of shear bolts for tractor snowblower||$34.51|
|Utilities: Electricity||$30.98||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Ski program for Kidwoods||$28.99|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$28.24||Thank you, cheap MVNO!|
|Tailgate handle||$22.25||The tailgate handle on our truck broke, so Mr. FW is going to replace it with this new one (affiliate link).|
|Torx bit socket set||$17.09||Torx Bit Socket Set for all your torx bit socketing needs (affiliate link).|
|Ski straps||$13.77||Ski Straps to hold our skis together (affiliate link).|