Littlewoods learning something new: composting after cleaning the chicken coop!

My husband and I are committed to learning new things. It’s a goal of ours to consistently make ourselves beginners in different capacities. Putting ourselves in a beginner mindset enables us to keep our brains limber, opens us up to creativity and new experiences, keeps us humble and models lifelong learning for our kids.

It has been the catalyst for a number of conversations with our girls around the facts that you don’t get things right the first time, you have to work hard and be persistent and that it’s ok to make mistakes. Also, that you’re never too old to learn something new!

In the past few years, we’ve learned how to:

  • Downhill ski
  • Use a chainsaw
  • Paddle board
  • Grow and preserve fruits and vegetables
  • Raise chickens
  • Drive the tractor, plow the driveway, fell and skid trees for firewood and much more (this being Nate, not me)
  • Sing solos at church (me)
  • Do a ton of home and farm repairs, maintenance and upgrades (Nate)

And now, Nate has decided to learn how to play the guitar! He got a used guitar from Craigslist for $100 and is taking free online classes. He practices every day and he’s sounding pretty good.

For my new thing, I’m slowly learning French on the free Duolingo app. Not to brag, but, if I ever–and I mean EVER–see a cat eating a croissant, I KNOW HOW TO TELL YOU ABOUT IT IN FRENCH. Not sure why this was one of the first lessons, but I’m going with it.


Easter chicken

We celebrated Easter in fine frugal fashion with:

  • Hand-me-down Easter dresses for the girls and a thrift store dress for me
  • Garage sale-sourced Easter basket items
  • Re-used plastic eggs and decorations from previous years
  • Homemade pizza for our Easter dinner feast (the girls voted for pizza over ham, which is what we had last year)
  • An egg hunt, a visit to the Easter Bunny and egg decorating at our town Easter Party
  • And of course, singing in the choir at church!

A New Toothbrush!

My ten-year-old Sonicare toothbrush finally surrendered. It died valiantly and after serving me ably for lo those many years. The upside is that my new toothbrush is PINK (affiliate link)! Also it works a lot better… technology, I tell ya. We’re a devoted Sonicare electric brush family and–knock on wood–none of us has had a cavity since we started using them. There are things I am willing to pay more for and healthy teeth are decidedly one of them.

Potting Soil + Seeds

Littlewoods and me starting our garden seeds!

The girls and I started our garden seeds in April! They decided to each start their own flat of seeds to plant in their very own garden rows. I started a bunch more just in case! We used saved seeds from previous years and I bought some new things I want to try this year, including: GIANT sunflowers, a decorative squash/gourd mix and a different kind of pickling cucumber.

In addition to her vegetable seeds, Kidwoods elected to start her own flower garden, so we got her a wildflower mixed seed packet, which she planted all on her own.

Here’s what we’re (hopefully) growing this summer:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Bush beans
  • Snap peas
  • Ground cherries
  • Pumpkins
  • Kidwoods writing down everything she planted in her garden journal

    Decorative squash & gourds

  • Sunflowers
  • Wildflowers
  • Salad greens
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Picnic peppers (not hot per the kids’ instructions)
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary

I love how far the girls have come in their gardening capabilities. I’ve had them by my side for every year of gardening and it’s lovely to see them taking ownership of their own rows and plots. It’s also lovely that they’re no longer pulling my vegetable plants out by the roots. Ahh, memories.

Equipment Auction Previews = Excellent Free Entertainment

Mr. FW and Kidwoods at the equipment auction free preview!

Forget Touch-A-Truck, visiting a large equipment auction’s free preview is GOLDEN children’s entertainment. This is the second year in a row we’ve made a point of strolling the local auction field filled with ancient tractors, school buses, bulldozers, steamrollers, back-hoes and stuff I don’t even know the name of. The girls love sitting in the cabs pretending to drive and Littlewoods declared that she wants to be a back-hoe operator when she grows up.

Book a Financial Consult With Me!

Money is terrifying for a lot of people and many of us don’t know where to start.

That’s where I come in.

I demystify personal finance and break it down into manageable steps. I explain where to start, where to go and how to confidently manage your money on your own.

My consultation sessions–and resulting written financial plans–are comprehensive, holistic, and all-encompassing of each person’s finances. I look at income, debts, assets, mortgages, expenses, investments, retirement accounts, anticipated social security, credit card strategy and more. I run through every aspect of a person’s financial life alongside their longterm goals and aspirations.

I help people figure out how to make their money enable them to live the life they want.

Need help with your money?

  1. Hire me for a private financial consultation here.
  2. Schedule an hourlong call with me here.
  3. Schedule a 30 minute call with me here.

→Not sure which option is right for you? Schedule a free 15-minute chat with me to learn more. Refer a friend to me here.

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. Littlewoods carefully planting her veggie seeds

    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: $57.17

The girls diligently misting their freshly planted seeds

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 $2,858.60 on that card, which netted us $57.17.

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 by putting it in 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 $28.24 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.

Kidwoods planting her veggie seeds

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

  • 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.
  • Want help with your money? Hire me for a financial consultation or call. Not sure what that means? Start with a free 15-minute call.
  • 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?

  • Seeds!!!

    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 April:

Item Amount Notes
Groceries $843.52
Restaurants $464.77 The girls had a week off school and we took them out for a few special “family date” lunches. And my husband and I took each other our for special “date date” lunches.
Preschool $240.00 Nearly done with this bill as Littlewoods starts Kindergarten in the fall!!!!!
Gas for cars $212.58
Household supplies $174.27 The thrilling ephemera that keeps a family going: toilet paper, dishwasher soap, toilet bowl cleaner, shampoo, floss, craft supplies for the kids, vitamins, sunscreen… you get the picture.
One used guitar $100.00
Utilities: Electric $86.45 Clearly we had some very un-sunny months this winter! It’s a bummer when your solar panels are covered in snow and ice (and yes, we have a roof broom, but no, it doesn’t always work). Looking forward to sunny days ahead!
Tractor parts and fluids $78.49 Gotta keep that tractor tuned!
Truck registration $76.00
Potting soil and seeds $72.12 Crucial to start with good soil
Internet $72.00
Chicken feed $65.52
An outdoor broom, buckets, etc… $62.45
Diesel for tractor $45.56
Beer and wine $45.00
Toothbrush $42.39 My new PINK toothbrush (affiliate link).
Health Insurance premium $41.74
LED Garage Lights $31.79 New LED Garage Lights for the barn and tractor storage area (affiliate link).
Patreon $30.60
Coffee shop dates $30.52
Doctor visit co-pay $30.00
Cell phone service for two phones $28.24
Maple syrup $28.00 From our neighbor
Storm Door Latch $26.37 Mr. FW replaced our broken storm door latch with a new storm door latch (affiliate link).Works great!
Guitar Picks and Strings $17.47 Guitar picks and strings for the guitar learner (affiliate link).
Medication co-pay $15.00
Spotify $13.77
Bead craft kit $10.57 Birthday gift for one of Kidwoods’ friends. I LOVE giving these craft kits a birthday presents–we gifted the headband making kits last year and this year, they’re all into BEADS!!! (affiliate link)
Ski snack $5.00
TOTAL: $2,990.19

How was your April?

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  1. My husband got a guitar that winter where we got a ton of snow. I was happy that was a short lived hobby.

    I love the garden and how everyone is involved.

    We need a dog update!

    1. I am curious as to why the guitar-playing was a problem for you. Did he enjoy it? Could you try a new hobby of your own while he was playing guitar?

      1. We were stuck inside a tiny apartment the year Boston got a ton of snow from multiple blizzards. He wasn’t very good at the guitar.

        1. Getting good with an instrument takes a lot of practice. If playing made him happy, then I am sorry that you couldn’t be supportive.

  2. Just a note that you should really try POLE green beans, with the shortest season time as possible—this is what we had to do in Seattle. They take longer to get established, but once they start flowering, give them a little fertilizer and they’ll provide loads of beans to harvest until frost! Just keep them harvested and don’t let them get bumpy with seeds—this signals the plant they don’t need to keep producing flowers/beans! I used to grow bush beans all around, in fun colors (yellow/purple speckled) in repeats all season as they really only put out one crop with a few extras. Pull them out and plant again. Bonus is the kids finding they got the “lucky” yellow bean in their meal. Also fun: bean leaves stick like velcro to fabric, so you can give your daughters a “pat on the back” and they’ll be wearing bean leaves all day long—and will soon learn to do that to mom and dad!😆. You can also grow the climbing beans in a teepee shape, super fun for the kids and makes them easier to pick and see, honestly. Cherry tomatoes like Sweet 100 or Sweet Million and Yellow Pear are totally worth planting, and are super sweet like candy, and the perfect size for kids to pick. It will keep them busy, in good years I’d have to harvest twice a day between green beans, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini! Best of luck, love reading your blog, I remember when it was just your first daughter and your dog!🥰

  3. Expenses seem really low for the past month, job well done!

    Would it be possible to provide a YEARLY report as it smooths out the extremes?

    Perhaps not now but maybe every January?

    Also, how do you account for the rental property expenses as those aren’t ever detailed, or is it kept separate and any expenses simply are less than income, always?

    1. I like these ideas and often wonder about the rental property expenses too. In her write-up about the rental property, it only mentions that it hasn’t needed anything major yet. But surely there are several smaller expenses for it.

  4. Where is Mr. FW finding free online classes for guitar and does he like them? Sounds like a great frugal hobby!

  5. The guitar is great cheap entertainment. I taught my 2 daughters who still play. Paige is into Taylor & Phebe songs. She’s doing finger picking and strumming a beautiful soprano voice. Jamie is an alto singer with more soul. I had 3/4 sized guitars but sold them as they grew up. Paige has a guitar with
    a 1/4 jack so she can play through a small amp or PA if the need so arises. She was also into the weekly open mics at the youth center.

    You don’t need an expensive Gibson or Fender.. a fretboard that fits your hand well and you are comfortable playing is all you need. And of course the action needs to be comfortable. ( string height from fretboard w/o ‘buzz’.

    We play in winter and during CV19. Fiddle and harmonica… The “new’ Carter Family!

  6. You made a great point on learning new things for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious. Like how it keeps you humble and broadens your thinking. But it also opens up new doors that you’d never even know are there until you start on something new.

    Being in a routine has its benefits also, but it stifles your ability to create, and go in other valuable or personally meaningful directions. Picking up a guitar can be gratifying by itself, but it also can lead to other things. Like discovering new music, meeting new people, and even getting new sources of income if you’re unique or good at it (ala YouTube).

  7. I am so impressed at how your girls have really embraced ownership/caretaking/planning their veg gardens. Well done! I love the photos and when I saw the last one, I wondered how warm/cold it was that day 🙂 I look forward to these posts! We’re FIRE, both retiring in mid-50s and now working on many home projects as well as trying to cull household items and finding that balance between thrifty (might need this!) and less clutter/items held onto. Certainly not minimalism, but that appeals to me in certain areas.

    To those who have vegetable gardens, how do you manage them if you travel at all during the summer for watering? Drip system on timer? My pet caretaker will water for me but that’s a quick hit with the hose

  8. You are so right about needing good soil for gardening! We had a bit of trouble getting our seeds going with the first soil we tried so my hubby got a different soil he read about online and it seemed to do the trick. Who knew?

  9. I recently learned my city has free soil for residents – they bring it from the plants that process our municipal compost and you just scoop it up from a heap near a park. Not sure how common this is, but I wanted to share because it’s saved me lots of money, and I only learned about it by coincidence.

  10. If you ever visit the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and need to know how to say this in Gaelic, I’m your go-to person: ‘A chicken driving a tractor? Is that sensible?’

  11. Are you still processing maple syrup? Just wondering as I noticed you bought some from a neighbor. My husband keeps bees and we joke sometimes that we’d be better off just buying it from someone else.

  12. I want to hear more about learning how to use a chainsaw. If my memory is correct, I think I remember you saying some time ago that you were going to take a chainsaw safety class. How did it go?

  13. I always enjoy seeing your kids gardening and learning new things around the homestead. It’s always a win-win when you have Easter and don’t end up spending hundreds of dollars on clothing, egg-hunting, and other odds & ends that usually end up in the trash. We went to church, had the traditional ham for lunch, and finished celebrating Easter by painting FREE smooth rocks I got from one of our local gravel & rock wholesalers…I just wanted to buy a bucketful and they said “no charge” which is one of the nicest gestures a business can make to ensure I will be back when I’m buying a larger quantity. We are all plopping our decorated rocks at locations around town for people to unexpectedly find…always a small bit of excitement when I see a brightly painted rock in the middle of a sea of gray and brown ones.

  14. Come Une Française is a great site with tons of French language/culture videos. Lots of free content in addition to paid options.

  15. Liz, you’re going to need to address the gaping hole in your posts that is the DOG. Did it bite someone? See, that’s how rumors get started…

  16. I received notification that I will get the big scholarship I’ve applied for. This is $9600 and renewable next year! I’m so excited as this will pay for a semester and a half of my PhD program, which I am surviving (year 1 down) but it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my 22 years as a nurse.
    Into the HYSA it will go as soon as I receive it.
    To date, I have received $5000 for research assistant work, $3000 per year for tuition reimbursement. And $2000 from AORN, which I promptly reapplied for. I have other scholarship applications out there, fingers crossed! All to my HYSA.
    Hopefully, this will more than pay for the program. I have a grant that will pay 85% of my overall tuition bill if I teach nursing for 4 years after I graduate. However, I am squirrelling the money away in case I can’t fulfill the grant. And if I can, vacation anywhere we want! Not going back to London though, last time it took me 4 planned trips and 3 years because of Covid.

  17. Omg not to be awkward but what’s your Duolingo username? I’d love to follow you! I’ve been following your blog for years!

  18. Great post as always, but literally just here to agree that we Need. A. Dog. Post. 🙂

  19. I’d also be interested in a dog update if Liz is willing to share. We’ve had five dogs over the last 25 years who lived between 9-14 years. They have all been lovely, wonderful and cherished family members but, Oh My! the vet expenses over the years which adds to every family’s budget.

    1. I was thinking this same thing, my pet budget is my worst line item due to things that are usually entirely out of my control… am I just that unlucky?

  20. Good soil is indeed important. Perhaps start making your own compost so it’s ready for planting season. I’m not sure about composting in the snow (I’m in South Africa). I love compost and, even though we’re in the suburbs, we make humanure compost (which, as you might surmise from the name, is made from human waste and sawdust). We also make normal compost from our garden and kitchen scraps. So fun and worth while.

  21. I finally bit the bullet and got a credit card to use for everyday… my husband has some bad history with credit cards so I didn’t feel we should for awhile, but I think we are finally in a good enough place with budgeting to start experiencing that cash back life!

  22. My cat loves croisants! They are very rare splurge for me, but when I have one she is insistent that I give her a piece.

    Lifelong failing, learning, and growing is so important. From a fellow Jill of all trades, it’s always fun to see what you and you family try next.

  23. Hello I am recently starting to grow my veggies at home so far i have bananas, small mango tree, ginger, water melon I try strawberries but have not been so lucky I dont know if you have any tips or post where to start

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