The kids had the last week of February/first week of March off school, so we went on a few local family day trips!

First up: Skiing at Burke Mountain

The happiest little skier at Burke Mountain

We’d never been to this ski area before and figured vacation week was the perfect time to try it out. The mountain has a “Wicked Wednesdays” special where it’s $45 for three day passes!!!! This is a phenomenal deal and one we plan to take advantage of next year too. Since ages 5 and under ski for free, we only had to pay $45 for a full day of skiing for all four of us!

With all the money we saved on lift tickets, we treated the girls to lunch at the ski lodge restaurant, which I have to say was better food with more reasonable prices than I expected. It was really fun to ski in/ski out of the restaurant and the girls were thrilled. Burke has several beginner runs that Littlewoods adored and everyone enjoyed trying out a J-bar for the first time–plus high-speed detachable lifts! A very fun day indeed and definitely something we’ll do again next year.

Next up: The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium

Located in St. Johnsbury, VT, this eclectic museum has an enormous collection of taxidermy specimens, archival materials, random historical objects, artwork made out of bugs… like I said, eclectic is the operative word. We were able to borrow a pass from our library for free admission, which was wonderful! The museum also houses a planetarium and we bought tickets to the show, which I do not recommend. But the museum itself was fantastic and we will definitely go back! The girls didn’t want to leave, but we enticed them away with promises of pizza at…

Schilling Brewery in Littleton, NH

Littlewoods + a polar bear at the Fairbanks Museum

Littleton is an adorable little town with cute shops and restaurants. We had lunch at Schilling and then let the girls explore this mythical place with sidewalks! And traffic lights! Plus a pedestrian bridge!

Day Trips = Success

We briefly considered doing an overnight ski trip during the girls’ school vacation, but the prices were astronomical. While it would be fun to do that one day, we also observed that the kids were exhausted after each day trip and needed to rest at home the next day. I think we’ll wait a few more years to do a proper vacation trip. But, day trips work really well for us right now!

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:

  1. Kidwoods at a coffee shop in St. Johnsbury

    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.

  2. 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.
  3. 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, and a list of the best rewards credit cards on the market now, check out:

The Best Credit Cards (and Credit Card Rewards)!

 (note: the credit card links are affiliate links

Cash Back Earned This Month: $89.30

Exploring the fun steps in downtown Littleton, NH

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 $4,465.22 on that card, which netted us $89.30.

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)

The four of us skiing at Burke

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:

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

  • The very cool upstairs of the Fairbanks Museum

    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?

  • The girls racing each other at Burke

    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 March:

Item Amount Notes
Four Ski Season Passes for Next Year $1,097.00 Our local ski mountain ran a special in March where you could buy season passes for next year at this year’s early bird price. We jumped on it and bought four passes.
Groceries $803.01
Gas for the cars $410.48
Doctor visit co-pay $379.76 Including labs, etc
Restaurants $319.06 Dates with my husband!
Preschool $280.00 For Littlewoods
Family restaurant dates! $239.86 Three family lunch dates with the kids
Household supplies $166.27 The thrilling items of life: toilet paper, laundry detergent, shoelaces, toothpaste, craft supplies for the kids, etc
Short Boots $109.95 Nate needed a new pair of short boots and is very happy with these (affiliate link). He previously had the Muck Boots brand version, but felt that those wore out too quickly. He’s hoping this brand will last longer!
Trash Punch Cards (for 100 bags of trash) $100.00 We take our trash & recycling to the town transfer station once a week and pay $1 per bag of trash. Hopefully these 100 punches will last us awhile!
50lbs of Oats $89.55 50lbs of bulk, raw, organic oats from our local co-op.
Oil change for the Subaru $77.56 We’re being very diligent about taking care of our hard-working Subaru Outback
Internet $72.00
Chicken feed and coop shavings $69.86 Bah-GOCK!
50lbs of flour + some salad $61.24 50lbs of bulk organic white whole wheat flour from our local co-op. Also some salad greens
Utilities: Electric $52.66 We have solar; this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
CO2 $52.46 20lb CO2 tank for our custom hacked Sodastream seltzer system
Liz dinner out with ladies $48.16 I went out to dinner with some ski ladies!
Diesel $45.51 For the tractor
Burke Mountain day pass $45.00 Nate took a solo day trip to ski at Burke
Burke Mountain day pass (Wednesday’s Buy 1-Get 2 free deal) $45.00 We took the girls for a family ski day too!
Health Insurance Premium $41.74
Beer $34.32
Ski snacks $32.78 Because sometimes I do not pack enough snacks…
Home phone (7 months worth of service) $30.00 Re-up for our VOIP home phone service. This should be around 7 months’ worth of minutes.
Cell phone service for two phones $28.41 Thank you, cheap MVNO!
Maple syrup (primarily for bread baking) $28.00 Purchased from our neighbors
Coffee shop with the kids $22.50 We split two pastries and they were in heaven!
Museum planetarium show $21.00
Spotify $13.77 Music
Yeast for bread making $9.74 1lb of yeast (affiliate link)
Olive oil bottle $6.00 Our previous olive oil dispenser bit the dust after 10+ years of hard service. This replacement is working well so far (affiliate link).
TOTAL: $4,832.65

How was your March?

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  1. These monthly posts have always been my favorites. It’s fascinating to see the difference in prices/costs depending on where one lives. I’ve followed your posts almost from the very beginning. I love seeing how your budget has changed through the years…as has mine. Keep writing 🙃

  2. Curious: doesn’t breaking out your eating out category into so many sub-categories kind of obfuscate how much you guys are really spending eating out (I don’t actually take any issue with your eating out budget)? I count 6 categories:

    1 – restaurants – date with husband
    2 – family restaurant dates
    3 – dinner out with ladies
    4 – ski snacks
    5 – beer (not sure if this is groceries or bar)
    6 – coffee shop with kids

    Similar with the groceries, separating out all the oats, yeast, maple syrup, beer(?), flour, and groceries. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great you’re buying in bulk from the co-op. I personally would only break out a category like that if I felt like it was a problem area that needed to be watched, but I’m curious about your rationale.

    1. I wonder if she breaks it down because of the different situations where they ate out. If she lumped it together she might be like, woah, what did we do that month? Whereas, she can see each breakdown. And I don’t think the bulk items are every month, she might be tracking how long they last from previous purchase? Just guessing here of course.

    2. I am thinking similar to Jane that the categories may be based on different scenarios or budget categories. For me this would make sense if you have for example a grocery budget, a date night budget, and a family entertainment budget. Or maybe Mr & Mrs FW have their own separate “fun money” budgets and so the money for dinner out w/ the ladies comes out of that for her? These are just guesses!

      In terms of the food – my thought is that it may be broken out for our benefit as her readers as much as for her own budget? For readers who don’t buy in bulk it may be interesting or helpful to get better ideas of how much those things cost. I agree w/ you that if something isn’t a problem area to be watched I don’t always break it down so specifically but I sometimes do in light of other goals as well – for example, one of my goals is to purchase the majority of my food locally so I like to track grocery vs. local farm purchases separately as part of that goal.

    3. I can definitely see the advantage of both, breaking it down further means readers get a better idea where the spending is coming from but rolling it up into one category would make for better month to month comparisons.

    4. I agree with Natalie & subsequent posters.

      I actually counted 13 different food/beverage expenses: groceries, restaurant dates, family restaurant dates, bulk oats, bulk flour/salad, CO2 for Sodastream seltzer, Liz dinner out with ladies, beer, ski snacks, maple syrup, coffee shop with kids, yeast for baking & olive oil bottle.

      Perhaps categorizing all food/beverage related spending ($1,746.68) together with breakdowns underneath of each sub-category would provide a beneficial way of considering the overall category, as well as individual items for further analysis.

      First time poster & love the website!

  3. Just wanted to ask a quick question on your cell phones. I too am with Ting but my bill is still over $30 a month. Do you guys have mobile data switched off as this seems to be the area that is contributing most to the cost? Or did you move from Ting as I know their costs went up recently? I would like to get my bill reduced.

  4. I never knew you could bake bread with maple syrup! Just did a quick search and I see King Arthur has a recipe I’ll have to try.

  5. This is a trip down memory lane for me. I spent one year of high school in St. Johnsbury, loved the Fairbanks Museum! (Though it’s probably changed a lot as that was a gazillion years ago.) Littleton is a neat town too…..did you show the girls The Worlds Longest Candy Counter in the drug store? I also have friends in the area that ski at Burke Mountain every year….their favorite spot! Thanks for making my day with memories!

  6. As soon as you mentioned St. Johnsbury, I thought, “Oh, the Frugalwoodses love beer, I have to tell them to go to Schilling.” And you went!!!

    I have a New Hampshire travel site and I write a lot about NH breweries. Schilling is my favorite brewery in the entire state! Such awesome beers and pizza and great people!

    Now, if you ever head toward southwest NH, highly recommend Branch & Blade in Keene as well as Post & Beam in Peterborough!

  7. We have totally stopped all eating out at restaurants. We are into making our own food together and picnicking. Remember back in the 70’s? Our family went out ONCE a month and that was special!

  8. Hi Liz! I loved your book and enjoy your blog for inspiration! I was curious if you have thought about the fact that your winning with credit cards, i.e. cash back is an easy give for the bank because they are making so much money off people who are the victims of credit cards. Does this give you pause? Thanks for considering.

  9. We just completed a 3 day family trip with a 4 year old and we are all wiped out! Next year we’ll try the day trips with a rest day in between approach, I think that will work better for us, too. We’ve done that for similar school breaks, but thought we’d be ready for a longer trip. Luckily we were at a hotel with a pool, so we had a place to hang out for down time.

  10. Thank you for sharing! When you say “pay your CC bill in full each month” are you referring to the statement balance or total as of the 30th (or 31st)? Our cc closing date is the 25th and it always throws me off because we inevitably have more charges between that date and the last day of the month so it feels like I’m never starting the first day of the month at 0.

  11. We visited the Fairbanks Museum when visiting Santa’s Village in Jefferson, NH. It was AWESOME! Hidden gem in VT.

  12. I love to read your updates. What a lovely family you have there, raising your girls in a fantastic way. Hugs from the UK!

  13. Does Azure Standard deliver to y’all’s area? You might want to look into it, because they sell 50lb bags of organic oats for $56.15.

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