Before: weird arched wall separating kitchen & dining room from living room

A menace wall in our home is gone! Longtime readers may recall that we’ve embarked on a slow, years-long renovation process, which we kicked off with a wall removal.

This erstwhile wall awkwardly divided the kitchen and dining room from the rest of the downstairs and, to make matters worse, had a weird, low archway door for egressing. Not great. Everyone who came into our home said, “why do you think they put a wall there?”

I will tell you why.

When our house was built–circa 1991–the builders utilized this wall for the following fairly crucial items:

  1. Load-bearing. It supports both the floor of the second story and also, a large amount of the roof load at intersecting roof angles (which means it takes a lot of snow load).
    1. They put the archway in to conceal the triple-ply 2×12 header
  2. Plumbing. The entire upstairs hallway bathroom plumbing stack (and vent) ran through this wall.
  3. Electrical. Electrical things also ran through this wall.

Essentially, we selected the most challenging, most expensive, most intricate wall possible in our entire home to remove. And it finally happened in June!

This was no simple knock-down-the-drywall and call it done project. First, yes, we did the easiest thing: the demo. Then, we hired a plumber to re-route the plumbing stack in an amazing zig-zag through the ceiling (as well as down one corner of our pantry). Then, Nate built a little wall around the plumbing in the pantry using leftover siding from the chicken coop. This was my idea and I am very proud of myself. It’s basically the biggest contribution I’ve made to this project… other than demo, which was FUN.

Next, we hired an electrician to re-route all the electrical and the box. He also added a recessed light over our dining room table, which has greatly improved our game nights–we can actually see our cards now!!! For some reason, the builders didn’t put any overhead lighting in the living room, so this one new light is doing a lot of work.

Next came the most challenging aspect: recessing a support beam.

Since this wall was load bearing, the solution was a work of art (and genius) created and executed by my husband.

  1. The man of my dreams first built a temporary bracing wall so that the house wouldn’t fall down–a real priority, let me tell you.
  2. Next, he removed the existing wall by holding a sawzall OVER his head for hours on end. He now has the shoulder muscles to prove it.
  3. Then, he removed alllllllll the pointy nails coming through the ceiling, which had been hammered in there with reckless abandon. These builders were NOT trying to save money on nails.
  4. AFTER!

    He cut the existing ceiling joists very accurately and removed the double top plate of the wall being removed from below. This was challenging since it’d been nailed in with 1M nails. It was also tough to extricate from its narrow space.

  5. Finally, he devised a contraption to lever the new several-hundred-pound three-ply LVL beam into place. He build a ladder system out of lumber on which he raised the beam one side at a time, resting it on each rung of the “ladder” as we went.
  6. When the beam reached the subfloor above it, he added posts on either side to support it. And then secured the floor joists to the new beam with the appropriate brackets. This recessed the beam, making the ceiling one flush, clean line!
  7. He took down the temporary wall and ladder system and…. voila! We have a totally open space now!!!!! And the house has not fallen down.

He’s waiting to do the final drywalling (and flooring) until we decide if we want to have the electrician come back and put in the wiring for the kitchen. We plan to redo the kitchen in the near-ish future and it would make a lot of sense to do the lighting now (while part of the ceiling is open) so that we don’t have to hack into the drywall again in the future.

Nate with the temporary support wall he built, as well as the new beam going up its “ladder”

Per our usual renovation style, we did everything we could ourselves, which was mostly the grunt work and the carpentry. We hired an architect to do the beam calculations (again: priority #1 was for the house not to fall down). And the plumbing and electrical were both beyond Nate’s capabilities. He can totally do basic plumbing and electrical, but this plumbing was INTENSE and I’m really glad we hired a professional.

Doing the demo, cutting out the drywall, disassembling the chair rail–that’s all stuff we did ourselves. It’s not technical or complicated, it’s just grunt work that takes time. The carpentry to build the temporary wall and recess the beam was advanced, but it was all stuff Nate was able to teach himself how to do. He’ll also do the final drywalling, the little section of flooring, and then we’ll paint together.

I’m always happy to pay people to do stuff I can’t, or don’t know how, to do. I’m equally happy to do stuff myself that I feel safe and confident in my ability to do.

This turned out to be a pretty massive project–and rather expensive–but, it dramatically improves the flow and openness of the main floor of the house. All in all, 100% worth it! Stay tuned for my next renovation update, which at this pace will be in five years.

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?

  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. 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: $88.90

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 $4,445.10 on that card, which netted us $88.90

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:

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 June:

Item Amount Notes
Groceries $1,147.44
Lumber and Drywall $703.53 For the temporary wall & “ladder” plus the beam itself and new drywall
Home Improvement Tools & Supplies for wall removal 2023 $600.61 Misc tools for the wall removal project including a bottle jack, huge hammer, enormous square, drywall stuff, fasteners, simpson brackets, drywall mud, etc.
Electrician $494.98 To re-route the electrical and put in a new recessed light.
Household Supplies $302.53
Restaurants $251.94
Doctor visits $250.38 Co-pays, mostly for lab work
Gas for cars $194.85
Season pass to our local beach $150.00 Worth every penny. We spend HOURS there with the kids all summer long
50lb bag of oats & other misc groceries $134.48 50lb bag of organic rolled oats (ordered in bulk)
Beer & wine $132.28
New hiking boots for Mr. FW $85.06 His previous pair had literal holes. This pair is working out so far! We put a lot of miles on our shoes, so hopefully he’ll get good life out of these (affiliate link). Free Shipping Club Annual Membership $73.14 I give wine as holiday and birthday gifts to our family and so, I pay this annual “membership” fee to in order to get free shipping on all of my orders. It totally pays for itself since wine = expensive to ship!
Utilities: Internet $72.00
New leggings for me $59.95 I’ve been rocking the same Felina leggings for ~6 years and, after daily use, a few pairs are getting stretched out. Also, there are a few holes. And so, time for new leggings for me! I swear by these things. So soft, so comfortable, so not saggy or stretchy. Also, cool new colors! (affiliate link).
Annual inspection for the Subaru $59.50
Fuel Club $50.00 Our local oil & propane fuel club, which gets us lower prices on both.
Health Insurance Monthly Premium $41.74
Utilities: Electric $36.42 We have solar; this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
New wireless computer mouse for me $33.39 My previous wireless mouse (an ancient hand-me-down from my husband) died spectacularly in the middle of a meeting. Got this cute new pink replacement! (affiliate link).
Booster seat for Kidwoods $30.73 Our almost-second-grader is finally ready for a booster seat! I am a firm believer in carseats for every car, so this one went into the truck (affiliate link).
Cell phone service for two phones $28.24 Thank you, cheap MVNO!
Shelburne Museum $23.00 Went to the very cool Shelburne Museum using a pass checked out from our library. This was the price for the four of us with the pass discount.Highly recommend visiting this museum if you’re in Vermont!
New set of impact bits $21.19 For anytime you need to impact bit (affiliate link).
Fairy lights $18.17 Previous fairy lights burned out (after 7 years of continuous use). We string these lights around the living room on account of the lack of overhead lighting (affiliate link).
Firecracker Lights $15.44 Very cool spray of lights, which I initially wanted around the entire living room, but then I realized each strand is only 10 feet long, which sounds long, but is not long at all. So, I just got one strand and put them over the kitchen sink. They look rad! (affiliate link).
Spotify $13.77 Music
Mason jar soap pumps & lids $10.06 Three of my soap pumps broke down last month, so I got these pumps and lids, which screw onto regular Mason jars—something we have tons of. They look good and are quite durable. Very happy. Will probably purchase more as our other soap pumps bite the dust (AKA when our kids break those too). (affiliate link).
Coffee Shops $9.81
TOTAL: $5,044.63

How was your June?

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  1. Looks wonderful!! SO much more open and breezy. Also, I am HERE for the kitchen renovation – so curious to see how you end up breaking it down in terms of spending! We would love to do ours next year but I am really stumped as to the process – do we use a big box store? Private cabinet maker? Ikea?? So many options.

    1. We used Home Depot and it was a PROCESS. From conception to finish was from February-end of November. I was without a completely functional kitchen for about five of those months. Definitely get the working sink so you have access to a sink during that time.
      We got new cabinets, both upper and lower, new sink, new disposal, new faucet, new lighting, new microwave, new electrical with RFIs, and new backsplash for $12,000. Hell of a deal.
      Okay, the backsplash installation was free because I asked for it due to the immense amount of time we were out a kitchen.

      1. Is the $12000 include labor from Home Depot or is this just for the materials? When we got our quote from Home Depot, they came back with $35K-45K so we decided to hold off on the kitchen reno. T

  2. Great decision on taking out that wall. Looks great!! Impressed that Nate was able to do beam install solo!!

    Don’t see any mention of plumber $$ in your expenses. Oversight?

  3. Sounds like a well-thought-out and executed approach for your reno.

    Was recently in a computer store, and saw a pink keyboard (not my thing). Sold out. Barbie anyone? Also pink Hello Kitty headphones, with ears that stick up from the band. Cute, but also not my thing.

    Has the bill for the plumbing not come in yet?

  4. We recently hired an electrician to do a few repairs and splurged on recessed lighting for our living room and it is such a game changer! He even added a dimmer switch so it can be as bright or dim as the occasion requires. After 11 years of no overhead lighting it’s so great on our middle aged eyes, enjoy your upgrade! The open wall looks fantastic and so functional for you guys!

  5. we are all on the edge of our seat for any and all details on the remodel. massive improvement. my wife and i buy and remodel houses for a living so appreciate what a complex job it was. especially with the snow load the roof must hold. one glaring item never mentioned on the SLOW multi-year remodel approach is living in the midst of the semi-controllable chaos during the project. we did a massive job with two small kids redoing our entire first floor and kitchen (prior to COVID thank god) and it was a true test. if i asked my wife to live through that again with small kids i would need to add a line for divorce attorney!! you are a brave family to sign up for that. best of luck and keep the updates coming.

  6. Congratulations on a challenging project! As a side note in the era my dad built our house (1970s) overhead lights were in the kitchen, dining, and bathrooms. Otherwise you used lamps. It was some strange decorating trend. We had hanging lamps with chains dangling from the ceiling, floor lamps, table lamps, beside lamps, etc. We did have a very cool hanging lamp in the middle of the dining room. It had a strong cable that you could slide the lamp up or down and made game time a lot better with the light closer to the giant dining room table….giant…you could easily seat 12 or more people and we only had 6. My sister had 7 kids and she inherited that table.

  7. The opening looks good, and good job on it, too. My daughter and her husband are remodeling their badly outdated1952 house, and it’s slow-going as well. Much of what they need done requires a professional, though, as they have some major stuff to be replaced, moved or added. They’ll do the things they can, but with a passel of young kids, that won’t be much.

    I’ve been to the Shelburne and LOVED it! I’m glad you enjoyed it, too!

    Side note – I’ve taken a sledgehammer to an old porch and an old chicken coop in my past. Isn’t destruction, when appropriate, fun?

  8. Nate’s skill is impressive!!
    I must have overlooked this in previous expense reports—how is your monthly health insurance premium so low??? Is it for emergencies only?

  9. Tips for hand soap. I buy the Bath and Body Works foaming soap. Once the soap is done I use the soap dispenser and place 3 squirts of the Dr. Bonners and mix the rest with water to make my own foaming soap.

    1. I love foaming hand soap! I make it last a long time by adding water once it gets down to the halfway mark. I swear I’ve had the same bottle of Bath and Body Works soap in my upstairs bathroom for months.

  10. Great job on the wall! Maybe Nate can be our next Bob Vila. We need a good building show without all the “cutesy” around it. Can’t wait to see updates as you go along. Best of luck. It will all be worth it.

  11. I love that you do a combo of experts+DIY. Such a great method. My husband is a literal engineer, and he gets light ribbing from family when we hire out some things, but he tells them that he knows *exactly* the potential ramifications of trying to wing what he doesn’t know, and the results are much more costly! (Possibly even deadly, depending on what you are trying to MacGyver!) It looks great and you will enjoy that space for years to come.

  12. Isn’t the grocery cost evolution/inflation terrifying? My kids are growing too (just a couple years behind yours) and staying below $1,000 a month (here in San Francisco) feels less and less realistic even with trying to economize.

    1. I’ve had to really change my menu by shopping online (ordering products by lowest unit price) and only once per week. I also do a bulk food delivery order once every six weeks for rice, coffee etc

  13. Nice job. I didn’t see the cost of the plumber in your monthly breakdown. Maybe I missed it?

  14. When was your last grocery-related post? Your grocery line actually made me feel much better, I’m constantly kicking myself when we surpass $1000 every month, but we buy mostly whole foods and still seem to barely make it last.

      1. I re-read your “Six things we never buy at the grocery store” post. I would be interested in reading an updated version sometime. I am curious if the list has changed, due to Covid-19, supply issues, etc. There are some items that I don’t see nearly as often anymore.

  15. I think we are on par with our food spend. I’ve started buying clothes second hand online. Definitely a good time of year to sort through household items and fix, sell or minimise. We had about $3,500 of breakages and repairs so far this year. I’ve also switched to using my second hand electrical appliances for cooking instead of gas and the oven. Just too expensive to run and inefficient. Nice diy job.

  16. My grandchildren are at an age where they have summer jobs. I want to match their salaries and set up Roth IRAs for them. Say I start a Roth for them at age 15 that they won’t tap until they are 65. What is the best way to “set and forget” that investment? It’s not something I want to actively manage.

    1. My first thought for “set it and forget it” would be a target date index fund (and pick a date as far out as possible to try to match your grandchildren’s retirement path). If you want to go even simpler than that, try an S&P 500 index fund. Then, either set up an automatic contribution that matches your grandchildren’s earnings, or do a single, manual deposit once a year with the matching amount.

      Anyone else have any good suggestions?

      1. Thank you for this good advice. I’ll likely use the S&P 500 and do an annual deposit once they’ve added up their earnings for the previous year.

  17. Off-topic, but if it’s okay, I want to remind everyone of the streaming apps that have free movies and shows: Tubi, Crackle, FilmRise, Roku Channel, Pluto, Plex, and Freevee. You need a smart TV or a streaming device (Roku, Fire Stick) for a standard TV.

  18. My first thought on seeing the before picture was that the wall was there because open floor layouts weren’t much of a thing back then. 🙂

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