Littlewoods’ Birthday And Other February 2023 Expenses
I promise I will talk about what we spent last month in a moment, but first I want to tell you that you can now…
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Ok Yes, Now I Will Talk About What We Spent Last Month…
I went to New York City! By myself! It was glorious! I mean, I missed my husband and children terribly… At any rate, I flew down to NYC in a station wagon-sized commuter plane–along with 4 other passengers and one pilot–in order to attend a wedding as the date of one of my college BFFs. She flew up to NYC, I flew down and we shared a hotel room in Brooklyn. We did our favorite things: walked for miles, ate amazing food, drank incredible coffee and imbibed lovely cocktails. I also had lunch with my financial BFF, Shannon McLay the Founder of the Financial Gym! Plus, I went to a Walgreens and bought a tube of red lipstick.
I’m now topped up on city experiences and happy to be nestled back into my rural enclave. Three days and two nights was just enough time for me to feel immersed in a place I used to live and also reminded of why I no longer live there.
I bought two dresses for the weekend–one thrifted and one new from a local boutique here in Vermont. Also purchased several very classy and not at all tacky I ♥ NYC souvenirs for the kids.
Littlewoods Turned Five!
Other than New York, Littlewoods made the month eventful by turning FIVE years old!!!! We celebrated on a Saturday per her precise specifications:
Went skiing in the morning
- Out to a restaurant for lunch
- Had friends over for a homemade pizza dinner
- Baked a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting and fresh strawberries on top
You’ll notice there’s no line item for birthday presents because we didn’t give her any. KIDDING! People, I’m joking. There’s no line item because…
All of her gifts were either hand-me-downs or purchased used over the summer at garage sales.
Yes indeed, the frugal gifter struck again and the birthday girl was thrilled. For decorations, I reused the stuff we bought for Kidwoods’ 7th birthday back in November.
If you want to know how I do 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
I Love the Free Money Tracking Tools from Personal Capital… now called Empower!
I use and recommend a free online service called Empower to organize our money. It tracks our spending, net worth, investments, retirement, everything. While the name is different, the free net worth tracking and money organization tools are the same!
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 Empower 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. Empower (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 Empower (note: the Empower 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 Empower. 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 $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.
- 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 card_name. You can earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, which is $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: $37.01
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 $1,850.67 on that card, which netted us $37.01
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-yield 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 3.75% in interest (affiliate link). In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,188. That means you earned $188 just by having your money in a high-yield 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 $28.41 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 $28.41 for both of our phones (that’s $14.21 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
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 and more recently, here too
- 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 February:
|Groceries||$536.68||Check out my NEW grocery post:|
|NYC||$447.47||Subway passes, hotel, restaurants, coffee and souvenirs|
|Gas for the cars||$378.37|
|Restaurants||$214.37||Including Littlewoods’ birthday lunch!|
|Preschool for Littlewoods||$200.00|
|Dresses for me!||$108.00|
|Beer & wine||$49.09|
|Health Insurance Premium||$41.74|
|Utilities: Electricity||$37.82||We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Cell phone service for two phones||$28.41||Thank you, cheap MVNO!|
|Ski lodge snacks||$6.00|
How was your February?
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How much is gasoline where you live? $378 for gas for one month seems very high considering you both work from home.
haha, yeah that’s mostly for driving to SKI!!! We really love skiing as a family, so it’s worth the cost of gas to us 🙂
Ahhh, got it! Have fun!
Gas is $3.20 per gallon where I live, which is one hour east of Lexington, Ky. How much is it where you live?
Holy cow that’s cheap! We’re about an hour north of Seattle, and gas is $4.49 a gallon.
We went to New England last summer, and I remember being surprised that gas was a dollar a gallon cheaper there than it was at home.
Actually it’s down a bit….just filled up and paid $3.16/gallon!
I just filled up at Costco and it was $3.099 per gallon (in Colorado)! I’m glad it’s going down again.
Oooo I’m jealous! Ours is ~$4.50/gallon.
I feel like this is one of your cheapest months in ages, even with a trip to NYC.
I can’t believe how old the girls are getting. I remember the “I’m pregnant” post and it feels like… not yesterday, but 🙈🙈🙈
Curious if you saw, and had a comment about, this piece in the New York Times?
From the white paper itself: “Comparing cards with and without rewards, we find that, regardless of income, sophisticated individuals profit from reward credit cards at the expense of naive consumers.” This seems to be important as well, which the NYT author doesn’t mention: “Indeed, credit card rewards are often framed as a ‘reverse Robin Hood’ mechanism in which the poor subsidize the rich. Our results, however, show that this explanation is at best incomplete.” The authors go on to explain high-income consumers with high FICO scores benefit from reward cards greatly at the expense of high-income consumers with low FICO scores.
I know my partner and I started digging into credit card rewards at the age of 24, when our combined income was $40K/year. I feel grateful I was taught financial literacy basics in high school, and later at the non-profit where I worked was able to teach other young people from humble beginnings (like me!) the same information. That’s of course not the case for many Americans, and greater access to financial literacy in public schools would help alleviate (at least somewhat) some of these disparities.
The Times story does mention the FICO disparity I believe. But this credit card set up that benefits the rich is just one of many, many financial privileges that people who are better off (and better educated, often) can take advantage of, including tax breaks from mortgage interest deductions, 401Ks, 529 savings, etc. all the way to banking without having to use payday stores. See “Poverty, by America” for more details. The author makes it clear that middle-class Americans prefer not to give up these privileges nor do the rich want to pay their share of taxes. There are many ways Congress could remedy some of these things, but it is unlikely to happen..
How did you pay for everything in New York City for only $447.47? How many nights in a hotel? But I would have thought even just one night in a hotel in NYC might exceed this amount.
Two nights in a hotel, but I shared a room with my friend and so the cost was split between us. I didn’t take cabs or ubers–I walked and took the Subway. We didn’t do any touristy things since we both used to live there and just wanted to hang out with old friends and eat good food :)!
She does say she shared a hotel room with her friend….but I agree the total still seems very low. Wonder what hotel they stayed in?
Ruth, thank you for sharing the eye opening NYT article on how credit card rewards add to the burden of lower income people. Decades ago I got one of the 2 credit cards in the US that does not enrich the big banks but instead invests in community and environment. Green America. But it is still a Visa card and has a modest points reward program (e.g. small appliances, suitcases insttof luxury shopping). But this new info on Visa is making me think again. I very much appreciate your concern for the broader impacts of our frugal choices.
Did you pay off your mortgage recently? I didn’t see it in your expenses.
They did, Frugalwoods posted in late 2021 about paying off their mortgage
Andrea is correct, we paid off our mortgage in 2021. Here’s the full post about it: Mr. FW Retired and We Paid off Our Mortgage: Frugalwoods FIRE is Complete
What about the cost for the flight to New York? Did I miss that part?
It was $153 and the cost hit in December and is in this expense report: Walkie Talkies And Other December 2022 Expenses.
I love this! My daughter wore my pumpkin costume for Halloween when she was 2 and then last year she basically forgot what she was the year before and wore it again 😀 😀 😀
Interested in how your health insurance premium is so low. We pay $700/month for a family of 4 😔 I wish we had other options to reduce this.
So with health insurance, it’s totally dependent upon the state you live in. We’re in Vermont, which is a state with very generous health care subsidies available. But, if you’re in a state with less generous subsidies, you’re unfortunately going to have to pay more. You can check out my post on health insurance here: How We Signed Up for Health Insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
Your family is awesome! Love how much fun you are all having together!
I just bought three second hand dresses and two second hand spring-summer weight cardigans to go over them for $108, and if feels good! Congrats on your new dresses!
The birthday day of fun sounds amazing. Happy fifth to Littlewoods!
Is it about time for syrup making?
Even with all the splurges it comes out lower than most people would due to your solar power and cell phone frugalness. It’s always nice to get away from it all and enjoy the big city once in a while!!
Thanks for this, always enjoyable to read your writing!
I understand who your readers are, but
I wish you would address, something like ……. frugality in old age. As a geezer, i have different needs and goals than most readers. I’ve never had a stock account, 401K, pension, etc and when my wife and i retired we were (or rather i was) panicked we didn’t have the million dollar retirement savings recommended by so many advisers. Now 6 years later and we’re doing fine, thanks. Social Security and some rental income is all we need – i guess we’re FRUGAL! – Ha!
Our expenses are quite different from yours – like for Medicare, Medicare Supplement, and drug coverage we’re paying about $1,000/month, which turns out to be a bargain compared to uninsured costs. But we are planning a month in Mexico! It’s what you make of it i guess.
Would like to see older adults and frugality included as well
I would also appreciate seeing more frugal content geared toward older adults, including living on limited solo income.
Check out my Reader Case Study series as that’s the place where I feature different people’s financial lives and questions. I’ve done 94 Case Studies to date and there’s no end in sight! You can also feel free to apply to be a Case Study participant here. Hope that helps :)!
I live in Arizona and pay nothing for my Medicare supplement and drug plan.
As a single for life, +65er, I am so proud of you. I also lived a frugal life and am living well in retirement. I wish more young people made parenting decisions like you and plan to use their money frugally. I would like to remind your readers that frugal means to use something wisely, it does not mean cheap. Like you when the time call on you to purchase with money you can. As a teacher I was never dressed poorly and always purchased things for my classroom.The new Principal when I retired divided my classroom library into four groups and put them in the new teachers rooms so they all would start the year with a good size library. Live the best life, not the most expensive.
“Live the best life, not the most expensive.” Love this, Teresa! 😃
No dog costs? Or was food paid for in previous month.
My gas costs are fairly cheap in Missouri, where we have low gas taxes (not necessarily a good thing regarding roads). For my Prius, I pay maybe $60 a month.
Thank you for the interesting post! I was curious about the Frugalwoods practice of paying bills like car insurance in full when the bill comes out. I can think of 2 bills I have that I could pay in full like that, but I’m wondering about the benefits.
For me it’s less mental energy to just get it done.
I personally just like to get that stuff off the books and taken care of. But, there’s also an argument to be made for meting payments out over the course of a year in order to take advantage of, for example, the interest in a high-yield savings account.
If you check your car insurance bill closely, you’ll likely see a small fee for paying in installments vs. paying in full. I use the sinking fund method for this type of expense – set aside one twelfth of the annual amount each month in a high interest savings account. This allows you to earn a bit of interest along the way and accumulate enough to pay in full when the bill comes due.
Always love reading how you spend…it’s so fun! Two questions….do you have TV at all? Satellite? Cable? Or none at all? Also, your NYC trip was quite the bargain! I’d love to hear more. I’ve always heard food alone is off the charts expensive. And your airfare? I didn’t see how much it cost to get there…thx!
The airfare cost hit in December ($153) and is in this expense report: Walkie Talkies And Other December 2022 Expenses. We have a Roku for TV, so no satellite or cable. And since it was just me in NYC, I was only buying food for one person, which was a lot cheaper than for the whole fam 🙂
Mrs. Frugalwoods mentioned their Roku here. Those streaming devices are great. You will only need a Wi-Fi Internet connection. Many streaming channels/services are free with ads: the Roku app, YouTube, FilmRise, Tubi, Plex, Fawesome, Pluto, FreeVee/Amazon Prime (FreeVee has the same free stuff from Amazon Prime).
Or get Amazon Firestick or Apple TV…but, personally, I think Roku is the best for a low price. It does the job.
Wasn’t there a cost for the airfare?
Yep! That cost hit in December and is in this expense report: Walkie Talkies And Other December 2022 Expenses.
Thank you for sharing! I am making my way through your blog, I particularly like the case studies. Something I haven’t really come across is life and disability insurance advice. Do you have any articles on your advice?
Littlewoods is adorable. Both girls are. Thx for breakdown of food.
Curious if there was a cost for a wedding gift? (Maybe not since it sounds like you were a plus one for the guest who was invited?) I feel like there’s an expectation to either buy off the registry or give cash for weddings. And an expectation to give cash as a graduation gift. I’m curious about what your philosophy is for wedding and graduation gifts.
I’ve been obsessed with replacing my old bath vanities in my condo bought less than two years ago. But under the mentoring of the Frugalwoods I’ve changed. I would look countless times on websites ready to drop almost 1000 on one vanity but something said no…go cheaper! Tonight I drove by a bath vanity on a curb….I knew I had to go back. In the drizzling rain…I stop…the sink with faucet was perfect and modern. The base I left…and took the sink. It’s perfect. The base was missing a lot and not quite salvageable for my skill level. But now I’m looking for a good inexpensive base. Thank you for your example!