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
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
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:
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 Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. 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: $89.30
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)
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 March:
|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.|
|Gas for the cars||$410.48|
|Doctor visit co-pay||$379.76||Including labs, etc|
|Restaurants||$319.06||Dates with my husband!|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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).|