Yes indeed, we’ve welcomed a hobbit into our home. Mr. FW is a well-known lover of The Lord of The Rings books and the main reason he wanted to have children was to one day read the series with them. He’s been working Kidwoods up to The Hobbit by having her first read the Fern Hollow books (by John Patience), next the Redwall series (by Brian Jacques) and finally, last month, she began reading The Hobbit to him.
To facilitate this love of literature, we purchased a gorgeous, illustrated, hard-cover copy of The Hobbit (affiliate link). Normally, we buy zero new books–they all come from the library or a yard sale, but this was a special one Mr. FW wanted to gift to Kidwoods.
This is now their daily afternoon habit–she sits in his lap and reads him books. It started out as an assignment from her fabulous 1st grade teacher at the beginning of this year and, wouldn’t you know it, her reading has advanced quickly and dramatically. Having her read aloud to him enables us to track her progress and ensure she’s nailing the pronunciations as well as internalizing the context and story line. She now delights in giving me the rundown on what the characters are up to each day!
I initially thought The Hobbit might be too scary for a seven-year-old, but she LOVES it and it provides a lot of opportunities to discuss when characters aren’t nice to each other. She can recognize bad behavior when it crops up in the story and is able to articulate why it’s bad. All in all, an adorable routine is cemented in our home. The only downside is that Littlewoods is FURIOUS she can’t read yet.
Yard Sale & Thrift Store Scores
The other notable line items this month are my yard sale and thrift store scores since it’s yard sale season here in Vermont! My yard sale buddy, RW, and I’ve been hitting it hard early on Saturday mornings and have made some excellent hauls.
As longtime readers are well aware, I utilize yard sales and thrift stores to procure the following:
- Birthday and Christmas gifts for our kids! No reason to buy new when there are so many amazing second-hand toys/games/books/puzzles available.
Birthday gifts for other kids! Anytime I find a new, unopened, tags-on, in-package toy/book/puzzle/craft kit, I scoop it up for one of the many kid birthday parties we attend.
- Household decor and furniture! I buy all of my seasonal decor, everyday decor, lamps, tables, picture frames and more from yard sales. Very occasionally I need to buy new, but I’m able to find just about everything I need/want from the cheap used market.
- Clothing and shoes for me and the kids! I get nearly all of our clothes second-hand, with the exception of things like: underwear, socks, swimsuits, running shoes and any other specialty items we need, such as ski goggles or ski socks (if I can’t find them used). I very rarely find anything used for Mr. FW–occasionally I’ll find a good insulated work shirt, but most men’s clothes seem to be torn to shreds so we usually have to buy his stuff new.
Why Buy Used?
I mean, honestly, why not? I’ve written tomes on this in the past, and for my longwinded thoughts, 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
- The Myth Of The Gross Used Things
More Than Money Saved: Other Benefits Of Buying Used
Beyond the astronomical amounts of money I save by accepting hand-me-downs and thrifting it up, I’ve discovered a slew of non-monetary benefits of the used market:
1. Buying used = fewer decisions, which makes us humans happier.
- More choices actually decrease our happiness and too many choices can push us into a paralysis by analysis spiral of doom:
Infinite choice is paralyzing… and exhausting to the human psyche. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them and blame our failures entirely on ourselves… Too much choice undermines happiness (source: NPR).
2. Used stuff is more environmentally friendly.
- Used stuff avoids the embodied environmental costs of new: packaging, shipping, manufacturing, etc.
- Plus, it keeps stuff out of the landfill!
3. Buying used allows for the experience of kismet.
- Oh yes, there’s kismet in finding great used deals. I love my garage sale scores and I delight in the sheer kismet of finding, for example, a $1 baby doll stroller that my girls ADORE.
- They adore it so much, in fact, that I was thrilled to find another ($2) used baby doll stroller so that they can each push a stroller around the house at the same time.
4. Buying used reduces the endowment effect.
Since so much of our stuff was purchased used at a deep discount, I’m not super attached to any of it. This allows me the freedom to let it go so that it doesn’t clutter up my life. This is also why I’m in favor of the Plan Ahead, Buy Ahead approach.
- Since I paid nothing, or very little, for our stuff, I don’t feel compelled to hoard it or sell it in an effort to squeeze out a return on my investment (which is unlikely to happen, based on depreciation).
- It relieves me from being held hostage by the endowment effect, which occurs when, “…an individual places a higher value on an object that they already own than the value they would place on that same object if they did not own it” (source).
5. Buying used is fun! So fun.
- Similar to kismet, I find second-hand shopping fun. It’s not stressful because if a yard sale doesn’t have anything I need? I just move on. Conversely, if I do happen to find a great deal, it’s cause for frugal celebration!
- Another reason I find garage sale shopping so delightful is that I have a BGSGP (best garage sale gal pal). With our forces combined, we are garage sale mavens. We plan which Saturdays we want to garage sale, we get up early those mornings, leave our husbands and kids at home, and quest forth for finds. Garage saleing–like most things–is better with friends.
- Plus we now have some hilarious stories, like the time a guy tried to convince us VERY EARNESTLY that his old, small cooler was worth $40…
6. Buying used and handing stuff down creates community.
- When I shop at a garage sale, I’m giving money to my neighbors, which I love. Their stuff gets a new life, I get a great deal, they make a few bucks, and everyone is happy.
- My cycle of receiving and giving hand-me-downs further enhances a community mentality of sharing, lending, borrowing and just generally taking care of each other.
- I was over at a friend’s house last week and saw our old high-chair (which was handed down to us) in her kitchen. I hadn’t passed it along to her, so I asked her to relay the chain of events:
- A few years ago, I gave the high chair to friend A, who handed it down to friend B, who handed it down to friend C (who is currently using it). That made me SO SO SO HAPPY!!! It’s a fantastic high chair that’s now been through ~7 kids and is still going strong!!!!!!
7. Buying used takes less time than buying new.
- It takes drastically less time than shopping new. There’s a misconception that it’s more time consuming, but that’s a fallacy if you do it the right way.
- My BGSGP and I don’t go to garage sales every weekend–that would be far too time consuming! Garage sale season in Vermont is confined to the summer months, so she and I scout out the most likely goldmine sales in advance and do strategic strikes. We go early for the best selection and are usually home by late morning.
- Note: we are not always successful, but then we have great stories including, but not limited to, the $40 nasty old (and small) cooler. P.S. I just looked it up and that cooler is currently $22 new… LOL
I Still Spend Plenty Of Money
…on other things (such as restaurants and coffee shops!). From my perspective, if I can get perfectly good stuff used for cheap, why buy it new? I can’t get perfectly good used lunches out with my husband, but I sure as heck can get fantastic used bikes for my kids. It’s all about saving where it’s easy to save so that you can spend in other areas.
Want Help With Your Money? 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?
- Hire me for a private financial consultation here.
- Schedule an hourlong call with me here.
- Schedule a 30 minute call with 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:
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: $81.64
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 $4,081.76 on that card, which netted us $81.64.
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 4% in interest (affiliate link). In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,200. That means you earned $200 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.
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.
- 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?
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 May:
|Household supplies & home improvement materials & some clothing||$469.98||Thrilling items such as: toothpaste, shampoo, laundry soap, dishwasher detergent, socks for both kids, socks for me, craft supplies, and home improvement supplies.|
|Preschool||$420.00||One of the final preschool payments of our lifetime!|
|String trimmer||$293.15||This Battery String Trimmer for cutting down all the small trees and large bushes trying to eat our house (affiliate link).|
|New summer/fall wardrobe for Mr. FW||$223.91||Shirts, shorts, pants, swim trunks and more!|
|Beer & wine||$204.54|
|Gas for the cars||$181.69|
|Annual family pass to our local beach||$150.00|
|Vermont DMV||$140.00||Annual Registration for the Subaru Outback|
|Pole Saw Attachment||$126.94||This pole saw attachment for pruning our fruit trees (affiliate link).|
|Coffee shops & several lunches out with friends||$118.54||Coffee shops & several lunches out with friends|
|Dentist appointment for me||$114.00||We don’t have dental insurance so we just pay out of pocket.
This was for my regular 6-month cleaning and check-up.
|Cash||$100.00||For garage sales, baby!|
|Gym Rings and mount||$71.99||To improve our upper body strength, Gym Rings and a Mount (affiliate link).
Currently installed in our basement and used daily by Mr. FW. I need to start as well…
|Thrift Store scores||$62.89||Clothing for me and the girls, shoes for the girls, bikes for them and some household decor/supplies.|
|Tools||$57.88||A new sillcock to replace our broken one as well as some tools for job: this tool and also this tool (affiliate link).|
|Liz dinner out with ski ladies||$52.84|
|CO2 canister||$44.62||20 lbs of C02 for our hacked Sodastream, seltzer-on-tap device.|
|Health insurance premium||$41.74||Through the Affordable Care Act|
|Oil filter for mower||$39.27||This oil filter for our mower (affiliate link).|
|Utilities: Electric||$36.59||We have solar; this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.|
|Cell phone service for two phones!||$28.24||Thank you, cheap MVNO!|
|More guitar strings!||$27.55||Mr. FW is sounding seriously good! More guitar strings (affiliate link).|
|A hobbit||$22.78||A gorgeous copy of The Hobbit (affiliate link).|
|Replacement cabinet hinges||$17.71||Something no one told us about having kids: you will have to replace the hinges on all of your low cabinets (affiliate link). Often.|
|Replacement toilet paper roll holder||$12.71||Something no one told us about having kids: you will have to replace your TP holder after the kids knock the old one off the wall so many times that it simply can’t be screwed back in (affiliate link).|
|Writing tablet||$12.55||This thing is worth its weight in gold. My in-laws gave one of these writing tablets to Littlewoods for her birthday a few years ago and the girls had been sharing it (mostly successfully), but it was time to give one to Kidwoods to preserve familial unity (affiliate link).|
|Rechargeable batteries||$10.99||AAA rechargeable batteries (affiliate link).|
|Replacement doorknob||$10.50||Something no one told us about having kids: you will have to replace doorknobs periodically after your kids twist them so hard they no longer function (affiliate link).|
|Parking||$5.00||In the big city!|