March 2020

March on the homestead: Mr. FW pruning the plum trees

Ahh, March 2020. You will live forever in our minds as the month of both the Before Times and the After Times. We started the month celebrating my birthday with dinners out AT RESTAURANTS and ended March ensconced in our home, regarding  restaurants as dangerous, forbidden places of the past. It was the longest month on record–proven by data–and combing through our expenses felt akin to the excavation of a past civilization.

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Groceries: So Many Groceries

As I predicted, we broke all previous records of grocery spending. I mean truly, it’s impressive. After schools (and daycares) here in Vermont closed and after statewide stay-at-home orders went into effect, we decided to limit our exposure as much as possible by curtailing our trips to the grocery store. In Normal Times, Mr. Frugalwoods goes to the grocery store once a week (on the same day every week) and buys everything we need for that week. In Pandemic Times, we made the decision to stop shopping weekly and to go as long as possible between trips. There’s no grocery delivery where we live, so we sent Mr. FW on a mega stock-up trip in late March. Armed with a printed and categorized list, antibacterial wipes and gloves, Mr. FW ventured out and shopped like he’s never shopped before (there’s a summary of what he bought here). We haven’t set foot inside a grocery store since and are instead eating through our stockpile of supplies and finding local, more socially-distant options for food procurement, as detailed below.

Mr. FW went on a second pandemic-themed grocery trip in late April and did the following:

  • Curbside pick-up of fresh produce from a local produce store
  • Went to a convenience store/gas station when it was empty of customers:
    • Since it’s a much smaller space, he waited in the parking lot until the store was empty (except for one cashier) and then went inside.
  • Curbside pick-up of flour and baking ingredients from King Arthur Flour
March hiking trail through our woods

Thanks to these new curbside pick-up options, he was able to minimize his contact and stay outside of the larger grocery stores. We’re also buying eggs and beef from our neighbors via porch/barn pick-up and ordering bulk raw foods online, including these grits, oats, dried beans, and these popcorn kernels (affiliate links).

Our goal in doing this is to limit our exposure, limit the chances of us infecting others, and to be one less person in the grocery stores. Plenty of folks don’t have the financial ability to stock up on a month’s worth of groceries, or they don’t have the space to store that much food, or they don’t have a car in which to drive the groceries home. Since we have the privileged ability to stock up, we did. Now, we are one less body in the stores and one less potential disease vector.

At this point, we’re almost out of fresh fruits and vegetables, but we have a bunch of frozen produce we’ll tap into next. We also have the stuff we canned and preserved from our garden last summer. And, we’ve started our vegetable seeds for this summer’s garden (although it’ll be months before we harvest anything, thanks to our freezing Vermont spring).

In general, as I outlined in this post, we’re following the frugal ethos of cooking from scratch as much as possible. Instead of buying bread, we buy flour and yeast and bake our own. Instead of buying hummus, we buy dried chickpeas and make hummus. Instead of buying cookies…. you get the picture. This isn’t always possible, but the more you can stock your pantry with bulk, raw ingredients, the longer you can go between grocery store runs and the more diverse foods you can prepare from scratch.

Easing Pandemic Pain with Frivolous and Luxurious Spending

To ease the stay-at-home pain and stress, we did some frivolous shopping. Not going to lie. These are total luxuries, these are totally unnecessary, I feel BEYOND fortunate we have the ability to treat ourselves during this time of global trauma. And I do not regret buying any of it:

  1. Littlewoods & me: frivolous AND luxurious

    Airpods: I’m in love with these things. They’re wireless earphones/earbuds that connect to my phone or computer via bluetooth and allow me to listen to podcasts, talk to friends, participate in Zoom calls and more without being attached to my phone or computer via a wire. IDEAL for this time of all-virtual living and IDEAL for multiple people doing different things all at the same time in the same house. My major mom hack of the week is that Kidwoods can watch her TV show while Littlewoods naps and Mr. FW works upstairs while I listen to the news via my Airpods and clean the kitchen. Restrain your jealousy over my glamorous life (affiliate links). I can also do yoga classes on YouTube with the Airpods in, which means the kids are (less) inclined to wander over and climb onto my stomach while I’m in bridge pose.

  2. Historical fiction: I needed some escapist fiction and this series on queens of England is fabulous. I’m transported to the 1400s when things were, let’s be honest, a lot worse than they are right now. Nothing like some historical comparison to make you feel pretty darn good! Could I have checked these books out electronically for free? Probably, but I’ll be honest, I like to read from a real live book (affiliate links).
  3. Cheetos: let’s not discuss how many bags I’ve eaten by myself. In fact, forget I even mentioned this…
  4. Fancy drinks: As part of his massive stock-up trip, Mr. FW went to the liquor store for fun drinks ingredients and we’ve been trying out unusual cocktails that we don’t normally drink. He also stocked us up on local, fancy craft beers–we like to split a beer in order to taste test it together. Frivolous, fun, delicious.

Getting through this unusual, stressful, disruptive time sometimes involves giving yourself grace when you spend on luxuries. Everyone’s circumstances are different, everyone is impacted differently and, as I shared in this post:

Everyone’s ability to help during this time will be different and everyone has seasons of being able to help and needing to receive help. Please do not feel guilty for whichever group you fall into–we all experience both over the course of our lives. If you need help, please reach out. If you can offer help, please reach out. Now’s the time to set aside judgement, partisanship, and sanctimonious-ness and just help each other out.

This leads me to mention…

The Uber Frugal Week: A Pandemic-Style Series

As I’m sure you already know, I started an Uber Frugal Week series designed to help folks navigate their finances during the pandemic. The posts appear right here on the blog and you can start with Day 1 here.

So far in the series I’ve covered:

Credits Cards: How We Buy Everything

In the deep mid-winter… I mean, in mid-March…

Mr. Frugalwoods and I purchase everything we possibly 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 Personal Capital. I spend less money because I KNOW I’m going to see every expense listed at the end of each month. Here’s a more detailed explanation of how I use Personal Capital for my expense tracking (and other stuff too).
  2. We get rewards. Credit card rewards are a simple way to get something for nothing. Through the cards we use, Mr. FW and I get cash back as well as hotel and airline points just for buying stuff we were going to buy anyway.
  3. We build our credit. Since Mr. FW and I don’t carry debt other than our mortgages, having several credit cards open for many years helps our credit scores. By the way, 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 The Frugalwoods Guide to a Simple, Yet Rewarding, Credit Card Experience. I also wrote this guide on how to find the best credit card for you.

If you want a simple cash back credit card, here are two good options that don’t have annual fees:

If you’re more interested in travel rewards, a lot of people love the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

The best way to find a credit card that’ll work for you is to search for it yourself; I have a guide to help you do just that: The Best Credit Cards (and Credit Card 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 that using credit cards might prompt you to spend more money, then credit cards are not for you–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: $49.67

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 $2,483.86 on that card, which netted us $49.67.

Not a lot of money, perhaps, 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.

Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$e$

Mr. Frugalwoods and I use a free, online service called Personal Capital to keep track of our money.

Kiddos playing by the woodshed, so grateful for sunshine and grass

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. If you’d like to know more about how Personal Capital works, check out my full review.

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. No excuses. Personal Capital (which is free to use) is a great way for us 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 CapitalHere’s a more detailed explanation of how I use Personal Capital (note: these Personal Capital links are affiliate links). 

Yes, We Only Paid $22.40 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 $22.40 for both of our phones (that’s $11.20 per person for those of you into division). How is such trickery possible?!? We use the MVNO Ting (affiliate link). 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 basically the TJ Maxx of the cell phone service world–it’s the same service, just A LOT cheaper. If you’re not already using an MVNO, switching to one is an easy, slam-dunk, do-it-right-now way to save money every single month of every single year forever and ever amen. More here: My Frugal Cell Phone Service Trick: How I Pay $10.65 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.

Where’s Your Money?

Mud stomping: the preferred March activity

One of the easiest ways to optimize your money is to use a high-interest savings account. A high-interest savings account gives you money for nothing. 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 that–as of this writing–earns 1.70% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,085.67. That means you earned $85.67 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.

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. We also own a rental property 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.

But Mrs. Frugalwoods, Don’t You Pay For X, Y, Or Even Z????

Playing by the barn

Wondering about common expenses you don’t see listed below?

If you’re wondering about anything else, feel free to ask in the comments section!

Alright you frugal money voyeurs, feast your eyes on every dollar we spent in March:

Item Amount Notes
Groceries $1,475.10 Like I said, a massive stock-up
VT Mortgage $1,392.86
Daycare $880.00 Read about our childcare decision-making process in this post.
Beer, wine, and liquor $224.91 Another mega stock-up
Household supplies $202.87 Ditto. Thrilling items such as: toilet paper, shampoo, laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, over-the-counter medications, dental floss, and more.
Frivolous pandemic luxury items: Airpods and books $167.66 I got these Airpods and several books in this series (affiliate links).
20 lbs of local grass-fed, organic, free range beef $140.00 Purchased from our neighbor who raises cows; now in our chest freezer.
Gasoline for cars $137.07 The driving that occurred in the Before Times.
Birthday date night! $89.19 Our customary once-a-month kid-free date night happened to be scheduled for early March, so we were able to go (and celebrate my 36th birthday!) while our adopted grandma neighbor stayed with the girls (we put them to bed before we leave).
50 lbs of oats $76.98 50 lbs of oats
Internet $72.00 We really, really, really love our fiber internet.
Vermont DMV $51.00 To renew my driver’s license, which seems kind of pointless now… 😉
Tow truck $50.00 That one time I got our Prius stuck on our driveway and had to call our neighbor the tow truck driver to pull me out…
Canning jar lids $40.66 We reuse our jars and rings, but needed more lids for the impending canning season
Ladies’ Night Out $33.34 My monthly Ladies’ Night kid-free dinner was, fortuitously in early March, so we were able to squeeze in one last in-person dinner before moving to a weekly FaceTime happy hour.
We bought a pulse oximeter in the hopes that if one of us gets sick, we can monitor our oxygen levels and hopefully avoid going to the emergency room unnecessarily $31.69 We got this Pulse Oximeter (affiliate link).
Payment to daycare to hold Littlewoods’ spot for the fall term $25.00 Fingers crossed that daycare actually happens in the fall!
Flour $23.80 From King Arthur Flour via curbside pick-up
Birthday lunch and coffee $22.57 I’m really thankful this year that I have an early March birthday! To treat myself, I worked at a coffee shop ALONE all day on my birthday and gorged on lattes, pastries, and sandwiches. Glorious.
Cell phone service for two phones $22.40 This is so cheap because we use an MVNO called Ting (affiliate link). MVNOs resell wireless service at discounted rates (but it’s the same service).

MVNOs are basically the TJ Maxx of cell phone service.If you’re not using an MVNOcheck out this post to see if you can make the switch. The savings are tremendous

Utilities: Electricity $20.90 We have solar (which I detail here); this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
6 lbs of grits $19.59 Bulk buy of these grits (affiliate link).
Local eggs $16.00 We buy eggs from our neighbor every week.
Canning book $15.40 I’ve been meaning to get an actual canning book for years (we’ve been using online recipes from extension schools) and this year seemed like the year.

We got this Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (affiliate link).

16 lbs of popcorn kernels $11.65 Bulk buy of these popcorn kernels (affiliate link).
TOTAL: $5,242.64

How was your March?

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  1. YES! I am not even slightly exaggerating when I say that wireless headphones changed my life. I’m at home in a small Japanese apartment with a newborn and a husband teaching online and wireless headphones mean that I can listen to audiobooks and take care of the baby AT THE SAME TIME while my husband chats with students. Best $50 I’ve ever spent towards my sanity and overall wellbeing. Alas, we can’t get Cheetos here, but our grocery store had mint Oreos the last time I went shopping so I’m getting by.

  2. Grocery shopping last month was a reminder of how fortunate I am to be able to buy weeks worth at a time or do grocery delivery. I’m a social worker and was thinking of past clients waiting for their SNAP benefits and how their jobs might let them make enough to buy a week’s worth in a crowded discount store. Many of them relied on fast food. I hope they are all doing okay.

  3. Oh dear… now you have discovered Phillippa Gregory you will NEVER be able to leave that wormhole into the past alone. I like to collect the hard copies. I tell myself it’s because the spines are so lovely, they double as decor items. Frugal win…

      1. If you like Phillippa Gregory try Jean Plaidy (who is Victoria Holt who is Phillipa Carr) who did a whole queen of England series and compare. It’s mind candy but fun.

      2. I really do love Philippa Gregory and have read all of her books. If you feel like you can tackle something a bit more high-brow, Hilary Mantel’s trilogy on Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light- which just came out last month) is phenomenal. But it’s not light reading, and I really really struggled to get through the third volume during the pandemic. So it might be worth putting it on your TBR list for better days.

      3. C.J. Sansom’s series about a hunch-backed attorney forced to do investigative work for the Tudors is also wonderful—you get lost in the atmosphere and the mystery, so when you come up for air it takes a minute to realize what century you are in. The sentence structure is dense in the best sense of the word.

  4. Where do you order your dried beans from? I usually get them at Market Basket, but like you, I haven’t set foot in a grocery store in weeks.

  5. Wow, that’s some massive stock up on groceries! I don’t even think I have room to store so much food.
    P.S – super jealous of that grass fed beef. Not available where I live 🙁

  6. I find the Ph. Gregory Books to be a Little too inacurate for my taste, but I am ellbows Deep in the Dame Frevisse Novels by Margaret Frazer – they take place in the 14-hundreds too 😀

  7. Where do you get your bulk oats? We use a lot of rolled oats and I’d like to bulk buy if possible. Thanks

    1. Since early February I was watching the escalation of this pandemic and had started to buy a couple of extra tins and dried goods each shop, so when the crisis really ramped up, we didn’t have a big spike in grocery buying. We also started isolating well before our government decided to make the call, so we’ve been living the After Times a bit longer than those around us. We limit shopping for groceries to once a week or longer if we can, mainly for fresh veggies (living in a city apartment so can’t grow much of our own…and haven’t been here long enough to have got my balcony pots into production other than some herbs). We don’t have a big fridge / freezer either, but have stocked up on frozen veggies as much as possible (New fave is frozen kale for 99c). All in all our March spending was similar to other months, but we’re trying to cut where possible (We already live uberfrugal so not many places to cut) due to no work or money coming in for almost 2 months now (and still waiting on any stimulus options).

      Be safe xxx

  8. Have you managed to keep to your resolution to not drink alcohol Mondays thru Thursdays? Asking for a friend.

    1. Uh, no… whoops. This week we did dry Monday and dry Thursday, but you’re right that it would be good to get back into the full Mon-Thurs no-drinking groove.

  9. We’re also minimizing shopping trips, and we’re old enough to qualify for ‘senior hours’, so that’s when we go, as infrequently as possible.

    If you don’t read https://down—to— – she’s had some interesting comments on stockpiling in the past – https://down—to— and others. If you don’t think you have enough storage space for non-perishables, re-think – you can store those almost anywhere, including under the bed, and so on. She says the pantry needs to be in the kitchen, the stockpile does not.

    Credit cards – these may or may not be an option for specific users because of affiliation required, or credit rating, but here’s what we’re using. (P.S. I regard Wells Fargo as a bunch of crooks and won’t have anything to do with them.)

    American Express Blue Cash Preferred – 6% back at supermarkets, 3% on gas and other transit, a few others, all else 1%.

    Fidelity Visa – 2% on everything, not 1% now, 1% later, paid as transfer to Fidelity account

    Costco Visa (you need a Costco membership) – 4% on gas (up to $7,000 per year) wherever you buy it (only 1% at some other-affiliated stations), 3% on restaurants and some travel, 2% at Costco, 1% elsewhere. Rebate paid once a year as Costco check, but they will give you cash at the store. And if they are nearby, their gas prices usually beat others. (In Hawaii, people get Costco membership just for the gas.) No foreign transaction fees.

    If you’re a big Target shopper, which could include groceries, their own card gets you 5% off, applied as a statement credit. I’ve pretty much quit using mine because we don’t shop there for groceries, we don’t shop there that often, and it’s just another bill to pay. Similarly – Lowe’s hardware card, 5% I think – unless we’re buying another appliance, we don’t use it. We got that one when we were replacing the dishwasher.

    1. I’ll check the links, thank you.

      Brandy has precious information about setting up a rational pantry for months. Especially in using the stock in varied and delicious menus.
      For those with little space, she also shares garden tips, herbs, orchard and even cut flowers.
      It is not just these locked months. This type of information will be important for the future and in the months of recovery.

      1. Thank you for the links Neo, I can see there’s some further food for thought here (pun not intended) 😊

  10. I use American Express Personal Savings as I have found it to give the best return for your money. However, I did receive an email in the last couple of days saying that the percentage rate is now down to 1.50%. Phooey. Still higher than the national average.

  11. Regarding your purchase of books by Phillipa Gregory, there’s a Starz channel series based on her books called “The Spanish Princess.” It focuses on the life of Catherine of Aragon. It’s a wonderful way to be transported!

      1. All of the queens are on Starz. Outlander is great too. For when the children are in bed asleep methinks.

        1. The Outlander series are very good – but the books are amazing! And very, very long… also on audio. I think mrs. Frugalwoods would enjoy them, the later novels take place on homesteads in New England.

  12. I spent a crap ton of money on groceries and I’m about to go again today. Store shelves are at times bare here in coastal Maine so I’m doing way more impulse buying than I ever have in my life. I’m very grateful that I’ve had the means to buy a lot of food–because we’ve eaten a lot of food. We have a 17 year old boy who can put away a pound of beef before I even realize he’s made himself lunch. I underestimated how much food the three of would put away being home 24/7 and not being out at an office or school-grabbing a cup of soup here or a bagel there.

    I’ve realized the importance of tasty frozen meals because I’m sick of my own cooking. Never thought I’d say that.

    When I go grocery shopping now, I tend to have the wild abandon of a five-year-old flinging bags of candy and boxes of fortune cookies into the cart. I’m going to have to curtail it but I keep thinking, what if there’s a really big disruption in the food supply chain–bigger than we’ve already had here. As it is, I can’t get my hands on a whole chicken.

    Plus, the stress of going to a grocery store is pretty awful right now, at least for me. I’m a pretty sensitive person and the sight of everyone, myself included, clad in face masks really disturbs me. Of course, I want everyone in a face mask but it makes me feel like I’m grocery shopping in someone else’s country.

    And then I look at our overflowing cart and I think about all the families who are struggling to feed their children and teens right now and guilt sets in .

    So, basically March was expensive and mentally I’m a bit of a mess. 🙂

    1. I had similar guilt at the checkout line when I looked at the employees and wondered how many of them would get sick. It led to some guilt driven donations.

    2. Don’t be too hard on yourself, Jennifer. I am having the same experience. I am eating things I would of never eaten in the past. I am now on a kick of Little Debbie Raisin pies? Really? Those would not of been a staple in my cart 2 months ago. I buying stuff I don’t normally buy, but have a longer shelf-life, like canned vegetables and fruit. I normally don’t buy canned goods. Luckily, I haven’t gained any weight, because on the opposite side, there are days I have no appetite. Like you said, I am so fortunate to be able to buy groceries. Hang in there. Someday, we will be normal again.

    3. Wow, Jennifer. I feel like you just described exactly how I feel… reckless abandon, no whole chickens, guilt, anxiety, crap ton of money….

  13. I loved reading those books! The White Queen was my favorite. I’ve always liked the Plantagenets better than the Tudors so I had an awesome time learning about women in history that don’t usually get much of the spotlight. For Pandemic Times a friend just loaned me The Other Queen (about Mary Queen of Scots) and I’m into that one too.

    Last weekend I read The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier about the tapestry of the same name, also set in the 1400s. No queens in that one but it was a great story.

    1. I love The Lady and the Unicorn!!!! So good. I agree, The White Queen was excellent–I’m reading The Red Queen now and I have to say, I’m still rooting for the Dowager Queen Elizabeth… Margaret just doesn’t inspire much sympathy (if any!).

      1. Should these be read in order? The Lady of the Rivers looks like the first book in the series, but my library doesn’t have it. However, they do have The White Queen. I’m not opposed to buying Lady of the Rivers if it should be read first. I love a good series!

  14. Don’t feel bad about increasing your grocery spending, I think that’s happening for everyone, especially with kids. My friends almost doubled their expenses, as their 3 kids used to get 10 meals each a week at school.

  15. While we don’t practice your frugality, we also try not to buy alot. I too splurged big, with a new ukulele, which I LOVE, right when this started. I should call her Corona!….Haven’t seen tp or paper towels for weeks, I actually ordered online from Walmart last night (in general I don’t support walmart, but it was the only place I could get what I needed)…..I am supporting my local grocery store, fresh produce market, and my local Walgreens. We live in a small rural town, most of these places are empty, no lines etc. Our local produce market supports/sells local produce/meat etc. I’m going to have to check out those Phillipa Gregory books once the library opens up. I too prefer reall books. You have the woods of Vermont, I have the waterways of the Eastern Shore of MD

  16. When we got wireless Bluetooth headphones for my husband, it literally saved his job, ha ha! (Or, I should say, it saved him from having to look for a new one because he was going crazy with solitude and boredom at his current one until he could listen to audiobooks.)

    Also, I’m feeling like we made it off easy with our gigantic (for us) grocery stock-up bill this month! We usually spend around $400-450 for our family of five (which includes our household supplies), but this month, we spent around $700. Then again, we don’t live in rural Vermont and have access to multiple grocery stores, as well as live in an area that has hardly been affected by the virus (yet, anyway).

    Stay safe, Frugalwoods! Thanks for all the (especially) good content you’re putting out in these uncertain times.

  17. It sounds like such an excessive amount of money to spend on food and supplies .. even if we try we cannot spend more than $300 for 3 people and that includes organic food and plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits plus personal and house supplies (how many tubes of toothpaste and cleaning sprays can you go through in a month?!). I think everyone should spend some time in a third world country, perhaps their perspective of “necessities” will adjust after that. We’ve been visiting India for some years now, and let us tell you .. from carts and pantry filled to the brim with “necessary stuff” we became a “back to healthy basics and no food hoarding” family. We are currently in India where only fruits, vegetables and basics such as flour, oats, legumes, milk, eggs and rice are available (due to the 6-week total lockdown), and we’ve been enjoying healthy cooked-from-scratch food for $1 a day; meanwhile we are getting very creative with how to cook it. I never spend more than $25 when I enter a food store in Boston (even Whole Foods) as I can’t find anything to spend more money on. And we love the farmers’ markets of which there are plenty in the Boston area.

    1. Anna, amazing. I cannot get out of Whole Foods, just outside of Boston, without spending a significant amount of money. Here in Wellesley, I am just back from turning around from the local Whole Foods as the line out the door was a good 50 yards long., they are appropriately limiting the number of folks inside. Interestingly, this and protective measures for staff, did not begin until the WF staff staged a walkout. We are IN the surge here in the Greater Boston area. But I am afraid I am in the camp of giving in to comfort foods, at Whole Foods Jenni’s amazing (and amazingly expensive but worth it) ice cream and Kettle Chips Himalayan Pink Salt potato chips. Both items do not lead or encourage frugality nor particularly svelte living. I have yet to get comfortable with on line fitness and yoga. Stay safe all and wash those hands. Mrs. FW, thanks for engaging prose and strong recommendations in this very challenging time.

      1. You are doing nothing wrong and must live the life you are in, according to the situation in which you find yourself. I happen to have lived, almost all my life, in a deeply third world country and one thing I have learnt is that each situation is different. Eat what makes you happy for now, within reason.

    2. I think it very much hangs on where you are and what season it is and how long you want to stretch it between shopping trips. I live in what is very much a 3rd world country and am quite well aware of what necessities are and are not, and the thing is, it varies a LOT between people and places and seasons.

      1. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I’m in Ireland, where I’ve lived for about twenty years, but we have been astonished when visiting our hometown in the States at ho expensive food has become since we left. How are we paying much less for things like peppers when they don’t grow here, not even in greenhouses? They’re imported from the Netherlands at the very closest. Why is it so expensive to buy American-grown peppers in the US (this would be in a chain grocery store)? Something’s not working. Obviously growing your own or buying local is optimal but those aren’t always options for some.

  18. I’m intrigued and stymied by the once or twice a month grocery trip concept, mostly because I eat an enormous salad every day for lunch, and frozen / canned veggies just have a weird texture. I know I could make a ‘hot salad’ from frozen or canned veggies, but ugh. I consume a fair amount of dairy and not just ice cream 🙂 I guess this is my chance to try it but grocery getting is the only reason to drive my car 1x/week. Plus I’m concerned that waiting too long to deplete your food stockpile leaves you exposed and too close to zero – what if there is a major disruption of food supplies – and what if it’ coincides with your restocking time frame? Better to have & not need than need & not have.

  19. We are actually spending less money these days on groceries. We are being conscientious about how much snacking we had been doing and not buying those products any more. Like Liz says, we’re making things rather than buying them. Just typing that out reminds me I want to get a loaf of bread going today. I’m making this: Also–Budget Bytes is an awesome resource for low cost recipes.

    1. Amen, isn’t Budgetbytes fabulous!!!! I discovered Beth years ago based on a funny story I read in the Times Picayune( Her recipes are the best. They are clear, tested, easy, and so incredibly affordable. She clearly lays out the cost of each recipe. The costs certainly are different depending on your locale. Beth’s background is also as a trained nutritionist. So you get healthy, affordable, and usually quick and easy menu items. I have been benefiting both budgetarily and gastronomically from Beth for I believe 3 years. She offers a wide array of recipe’s and her site is easily searched. She has deep strength as you might imagine in healthy food of the South and Southwest.

  20. March was fine but April has been ridiculous. We had a baby in late March and had all of the basics for infant care but it turns out we need quite a bit more and the secondhand market isn’t available to us right now so we’ve had to order new. We also can’t get any help or support at home so we’ve had to buy some conveniences to help us through.

    My husband goes every 10 days or so for groceries and we have a solid disinfection system for when he comes home. I used to make a lot of things from scratch but I don’t have the time or free hands now as we have a fussy baby who needs constant attention. When she is sleeping, you bet I am, too. So it’s store bought bread and prepackaged items for us right now.

    1. Do whatever you need to do to be properly fed and comfortable. This is the ideal time for that ”newborn housebound” stage to be honest. No one, no matter what kind of world situation, when they’ve had a new baby, is out on the party much! Lean into sleeping and eating and not much else for a while, it will be summer soon and all will be well!

      1. Thanks! Yeah, I feel like we’d be mostly shut in for the first couple of months anyway. It just sucks we can’t have visitors, especially my parents. As far as getting out, we take daily walks, which does wonders for the soul. And aside from doctor/pediatrician visits, the hospital, and one trip to the grocery store, I haven’t been in public in two months.

  21. Thank you for yet another fun-to-read post! I’m SO glad to learn that your «frivolous» pandemic spending went beyond just the big latte or bag of cheetos… (when even you indulge in airpods, I don’t feel so bad about my own spending, LOL) We ordered a new outdoour lounge set for our veranda, seeing as we probably will be spending a lot of time there this summer. I’ve also bought more canned goods than ever before, so our grocery spending went way, way up last month. But on the other hand, I’ve used next to nothing on gas… If you’re into historical british fiction, I can also reccomend C.J. Samson’s Shardlake series. The novels take place in Tudor England and revolve around a barrister, so there’s a “whodunnit” angle as well. The author is a professor in history and writes really good.

  22. I am curious, I am not sure if you have mentioned how much you pay in taxes for your property. I didn’t see that in the calculation above. Do you pay yearly?

  23. Cecilia Holland is a great historical fiction writer – don’t know if they are on audio books since most of them were written 30 years or more ago. We are going to lifted from our stay at home order on Monday and I am looking forward to just going to my weekly Bible study (we have less than 10 members). Still having church and Sunday School via Zoom and Youtube.

  24. Ok, one last comment. I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Lacuna. It is not only a fabulous read, but disturbing in it’s insight into tone deaf politics of the 1930’s and struggles around identity, fitting in, and finding one’s voice. I find the tale unsettling in a good way relative to these times we share.

  25. I love to read everyone’s ideas on getting by these days. My husband and I are in our 60’s so we have taken advantage of the grocery store ‘senior’ hours. Most paper products are delivered in the very early morning hours in our area (Raleigh/Durham, N.C.) and our state farmer’s market is open as well as many mom & pop produce/meat farms in the more rural areas. They are all practicing precautions for distancing with online ordering and pickup available. We are grateful for the options in our areas. BTW, the Phillipa Gregory books are indeed entertaining but they are novels loosely based on accurate facts. The Spanish Princess on STARZ was the least accurate of anything I have seen so far. The biographies written about these historical figures are incredibly accurate and extremely entertaining. All can be bought on Amazon.

  26. Did your husband buy any luxury items for himself in March, and did you buy any for your kids? I have a 16-year-old, and I’ve been spending more than usual on him. He’s pretty much a homebody, but he misses his friends and is bummed that he can’t finish out the school year (track season, prom, etc.), plus he is having to wait to take his test for his driver’s license. So I think a little spoiling and extra spending is well justified!

  27. Question for you: why parse out separate grocery items (grits, eggs, oats, etc.)? Doesn’t this make it difficult to compare total grocery expenses month to month? How do yo utrack trends over time when so many expense line items are one-off items (e.g. I would put pulse oximeter in our “medical” category, airpods and books under “her personal spending”, birthday date night/your birthday lunch/ladies night out under “dining out”, etc.

    On a more substantive note, I’m curious if you continued paying for daycare even if your kids weren’t going. My husband and I chose to do this because we have both kept our jobs through this COVID-19 debacle. If daycare opens back up to taking children of non-essential workers, will you send them back right away, or keep them home for a bit longer? That is what we are currently debating in our house…

  28. You buy grits! We love grits, but on a trip to Vermont (granted, back in 2001) my daughter and I were told that grits were hard to find in Vermont. That must have changed.
    My grocery budget went over the top, too. I find I’m not comparison shopping at different stores, I’m buying more of the expensive products from local farmers (they put it in my trunk for me, so nice) and I have to change my meal plans frequently when I get to the store, because some crucial ingredient won’t be there, so I have to grab something else and try to figure out how to adjust my plans. Often, the most expensive version of X is the only one left on the shelves. But, I’m still drawing a paycheck so I’m grateful I CAN buy the more expensive stuff, and my gas budget is no less than $200 lower so far this month than usual, so I hope it all evens out.

  29. If you enjoy Sara Donati you will enjoy Diana Gabaldon, and vice versa. Both have series, and lots of lovely, big ,fat books .Here in Aus we are social distancing,(1.5 m), and can only have two non resident visitors to our homes (this means family get together soon are, sadly, out) We probably have some of the world’s strictest rules regarding interaction, boiled down, only leave home for work (if working from home isn’t possible) and essential medical needs. Grocery shopping as infrequent as possible, schools open for children of essential workers only , online at home schooling for all others. Even the libraries are shut, but we were allowed up to 60 books out before they closed. I’m rationing myself , will need to resort to e-books, have tried a variety(kindle etc) but my eyes object after a couple of hours. Still, the results of this all have been better than expected, and along with New Zealand, our very strict enforcement (BIG fines!!) are really rewarding, and most people have been surprisingly good about protecting the community by sacrificing anything with the potential to spread the disease. Sounds like your state is also very socially responsible, and,as homesteaders, you are well set for isolationism.
    Wishing you all good health!

  30. Ok, you didn’t ask for it but anyone with flour and 50 pounds of oats needs this recipe!

    Oatmeal Dinner Rolls from My Aunt Janet.

    2 cups water
    1 cup quick oats
    3 TBS butter or Margarine
    1/3 cup brown sugar
    1 TBS Sugar
    1 ½ teaspoon salt (Don’t forget the salt!) They’ll be flat tasting.
    1/3 cup warm water
    1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast

    4 ½ to 5 ½ cups better for bread flour

    Bring water to a boil. Add oats and cook for one minute. Time it, don’t cook longer than one minute or you’ll have less liquid for your flour. Remove from heat and add butter, sugars, and salt. Let cool to lukewarm before adding yeast – water mixture. Add the flour one cup at a time (usually 4 ½ cups is about right. You may need more using the mixer. Knead for 5 minutes or use a fancy mixer. Put in warm oiled bowl, cover and let rise for about an hour or until doubled in bulk. Punch down and let rest for 10 minutes – time this also – very important. Form into balls and place into two 9” greased pans, this usually makes 16 balls of dough. Cover pan and let rise or ½ hour or 45 minutes. Bake at 375 in oven for 15-20 minutes or until brown and done.

    (This dough also makes good cinnamon rolls.)

  31. If you’re into historical fiction, I suggest Ken Follett’s The Pillars Of The Earth. It covers life centred around the construction of a cathedral, from the everyday folks constructing it up to the political machinations and world events that influence the budget and materials available. It’s a ginormous book, and very popular, so second hand copies should be easy to find

  32. Hi Frugalwoods! Thank you for all the great content. I’ve been very lucky this year coming across 2 bread makers at estate sales for $5 each. I bought the second bread maker too since it bakes a larger loaf. Funnily enough, we’ve been using the same whole wheat recipe by King Arthur, based on one of your recent posts. What do you use to keep your bread fresh? I’m trying to decide between a linen or cotton bag or a plastic vented one like the one on the King Arthur website. I’m hoping to keep the larger loaf fresh for as long as possible, without any freezing.


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