This month marks our sixth anniversary of moving to our homestead in Vermont and, coincidentally, the month we start renovation projects! When we first saw this house seven years ago, we knew there were a number of things we’d like to eventually change. But, we waited.
First we waited because we’d just moved in and I think it’s smart to live in a space for awhile before embarking on renovations. I wanted several years of data on how we use the house, what works for us, what we want to change and what we can live with.
Then we waited because we were pregnant with Littlewoods. Then we waited because we had a newborn and a two-year-old. Next up, we waited because it was a pandemic. The waiting ends now!
In the fall, we hired an architect and designer to map out all the changes we’ve been dreaming of for seven years (our first payment to them is in December’s expense report). During the first 20 minutes of their first visit to the house, they came up with a completely different and completely better design concept than we’d managed in seven years of conversations. I am SO GLAD we hired experts!!! Our plan is to rely on our architect and designer (who also happen to be a wife and husband team) for the design and layout work and then rely on our own selves to do the labor.
I am GREAT at executing simple brute labor and my husband is very good at executing more complicated brute labor, so we are optimistic. Perhaps most importantly, we both enjoy this kind of work and, with Mr. FW now retired, he has the time to project manage the whole thing. My job is to scurry around carrying tools, carting off trash bags of debris and removing nails from wood. Someone should hire me.
These home renovations/remodels are likely to take several years (at least), but we’re in no rush. Our home is comfortable and safe and there’s no urgent need to get this stuff done. But, we would like to do it now so that we can enjoy living in our home for decades and not feel the need to update it just to sell it in the distant future.
Since we’re doing the work ourselves, since we’re still in a pandemic, since the supply chain is bananas, since materials are nowhere to be found and since we work very carefully (some might say slowly), don’t hold your breath for a big reveal anytime soon. Rather, this’ll be a slooooow drip of expenses and improvements over the coming months (years? TBD).
The Grand Plan Is To:
- Build a garage for the cars (we don’t have one and after six winters of cleaning snow and ice off our cars, we’re over it). Side note: our barn is a woodworking shop/tractor storage area, which isn’t constructed to hold cars; hence the need for a dedicated garage.
- Relocate the mud room and front door to connect to the garage via an outdoor breezeway.
Move the laundry into the new mud room.
- Turn the erstwhile mudroom into a library nook/room.
- Completely redo the kitchen and change the entire layout.
- Add overhead lighting in the living/dining room (for some reason there’s none in this room, which makes it really dark, despite several table lamps and five strands of fairy lights).
- Reduce the size of the downstairs half bath to accommodate a new kitchen pantry (made possible in part by moving the laundry out of there).
- Replace the windows with more efficient, modern windows that don’t leak heat all winter causing actual ice to form on the interior of the glass…
- Paint the interior and exterior.
- Other miscellaneous aesthetic things.
Like I said, this is going to be a long, slow remodel. This month we kicked things off by working to remove the half wall separating the living/dining room from the kitchen and family room. That’s in progress as I type and progress feels soooooo good. After living in the house for six years and not doing a single thing to the interior (not even painting or patching holes!), we are ready to go! Woohoo! Wish us luck.
Side note: a number of readers commented on the dangers/challenges of renovating an old farmhouse and, while our house looks old, it’s actually not! It was built in 1991 in an old farmhouse/victorian style. One of the reasons we bought this house is that we get the best of both worlds: antique character AND new construction!
Oh Yeah, Easter!
I almost forgot Easter happened last month! My bunny cake made its first post-pandemic appearance as did in-person church. Kidwoods sang with me in the choir! We had Easter dinner at a friends’ house, which is the perfect venue for the bunny cake, seeing as it is essentially TWO cakes…
I learned that four jelly beans apiece is the number required to bribe a non-combative sibling photo. Hand-me-down dresses and Easter baskets–plus gifts from the thrift store–equaled a single digit holiday expense.
Frugal will take you far. As will jelly bean bribes. All of these expenses were grocery-related as I purchased their little gifts months ago at the thrift store and at garage sales last summer.
I Love the Free Expense Tracker from Personal Capital!
I use a free online service called Personal Capital to keep track of our money: our spending, our net worth, our investments, our retirement–everything.
Tracking expenses is one of the best–and easiest–ways to get a handle on your finances. You absolutely, positively 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 Personal Capital works, check out my full write-up.
Without a holistic picture of how much you spend every month, there’s no way to set savings, debt repayment, or investment goals. It’s a must, folks. Personal Capital (which is free to use) 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’re not tracking your expenses in an organized fashion, you might consider trying Personal Capital (note: the Personal Capital 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 Personal Capital. 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 just 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 right now that offer pretty good cash back percentages. Here are a few I’ve found that I think are a good deal:
- 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
- 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations.
- 1% cash back on other purchases.
- Earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months.
- 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. You can earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, which is $1,000 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: $56.83
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 $2,841.50 on that card, which netted us $56.83.
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 to use a high-interest 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 just 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 0.60% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,030. That means you earned $30 just by having your money in a high-interest account.
And you didn’t have to do anything! I’m a big fan of earning money while doing nothing. I mean, 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. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.
Yes, We Only Paid $28.03 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 $28.09 for both of our phones (that’s $14.02 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–it’s 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 great 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 to what we use. Imagine that! We only pay for what we use! Will wonders ever cease.
Note: 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.
- 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 there once or twice 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 April:
|Groceries||$899.65||Yikes, inflation! This despite reducing our meat consumption to almost zero!|
|X-ray||$317.95||Deductible for an x-ray. Nothing’s broken, thank goodness!|
|Gas for cars||$208.04|
|Home improvement supplies||$202.80||And the expenses begin!|
||$160.10||Bulk, raw ingredients for the win.|
|Fancy beer||$141.75||Ooo la la!|
|Kindling Cracker (affiliate link)||$89.99||A supposedly easier way to make kindling and–crucially–one that is supposedly easy enough for a child to use…. in particular a certain Kidwoods who is bent on doing chores.|
|Chicken food, grass seed, shavings for the chicken coop||$87.40|
|Truck registration||$76.00||One year of registration for our truck|
|Utilities: Electricity||$71.65||Higher than normal this month because we didn’t make as much solar this year as we have in past years. Thus, we didn’t have enough credits banked to make it to the spring, when the sun starts shining again.
Hopefully this drops back to normal next month!
|Health insurance monthly premium||$52.43|
|CO2 swap||$38.37||For our DIY hacked Sodastream system|
|Service for two cell phones||$28.03||Thank you, cheap MVNO!|
|Water filter wrench (affiliate link)||$27.51||Oh yeah, I almost forgot that Mr. FW replaced our old well pressure switch and cleaned and replaced the element in the whole house sediment filter, for which he needed this wrench (affiliate link).
The fun times of maintaining one’s own rural systems! Thank you, handy husband!!!
|Coffee Shops||$13.75||Coffee date with my man|
|Doctor visit co-pay||$10.00|
How was your April?
Never Miss A Story
Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.