November was packed full of outdoor activities, our new family fun night, and awesome cash back rewards. We actually had some nice fall weather this month, after a rather cold start to the fall season. So we headed outdoors.
Here are some highlights of our expenses for our family of 7:
Extra gas money: $135
We have been working on planning out 2017, and one of the things we are adding is Family Fun Friday and Weekend Adventure. These things generally made it into our week. But in 2017 they will become a non-negotiable. The kids are already over the moon excited about Family Fun Friday. It helps their excitement beings Friday use to be the day we cleaned the house. 😉 Now it’s how we kick off our weekend. From 4pm, when they get home from school, till 7pm, when they head to bed, the evening will just be quality family time. No cell phones. No checking emails. Only positive engagement. There might be board games, or an outdoor activity if the weather is nice. We might make playdough. So far we have done make your own pizza and nachos. We made our paper Christmas tree because I was quite certain the baby would knock a real tree over…repeatedly. At 11 months old, he only has a passing interest in walking, but mad climbing skills!
Hunting Tags (Misc): $40
Mr. Mt has started to refer to his hunting trips as long walks in the wood, with a gun. AKA, hunting not been very successful. He spent $40 on deer tags this year, but didn’t actually kill a deer. Part of the problem might be we didn’t allow for enough time. Most hunters in our area carve out huge chunks of time for this hobby. We don’t exactly have that kind of time. He also took one of the kids along for each trip. While it provided good quality time, I’m not sure it helped the actual hunting. I give the guy props. He grew up in Las Vegas, and has adjusted to Montana life quite well.
Thankfully, we did receive 4 deer from the game wardens. Montana has a program where deer that meet untimely deaths but are usable are given to military veterans. So far he has received 2 bucks, and 2 does. So Mr. Mt has been busy carving up deer meat. In total, there is about 120lbs. We don’t actually eat a lot of meat. We use about 1.5lbs for 7 people. And we only eat meat about 3 times a week. After we mix in a bit of chicken and fish, 120 lbs of venison will last us a long time. Considering ground beef runs $4 a pound, these deer will help keep the food bill low. In December’s expenses you’ll see, we finally broke down and bought a meat grinder. It will set the month back by $109, but save us .75 cents a pound for professional grinding. So we will almost break even within a month.
Holiday Gifts: $75 (-$170 redeemed cash back)
We use all our credit card cash back rewards towards gifts each Christmas. Our cash back this year was the highest yet. $1030! I haven’t ventured into redeeming points for travel yet. If we start flying with our crew of 7, I might look into it. For now it covers gifts. Most years it pays for Christmas. But this year, it is enough to cover our entire year of gift giving. I cashed in my Citi Double reward, which lowered the gift tag to $75. In December, I will cash out enough to cover all our gifts for 2016. Here is our break down:
Mr. Mt Discover $270×2 (they double the total reward for the first year!) = $540
Ms. Mt Discover $24 (We tried to put everything on Mr. Mt because of the extra cash back)
Amazon card: $33
Citi Double: $170 (cashed out in Nov)
New Costco card: $30
(In December USAA sent us a cash back reward check for $73, from a card I had stopped using due to the poor rewards program. And admittedly, I forgot that I still had this cash back coming! I cashed this out in December.)
New Total: $1030
We don’t put a lot of time into maximizing our cash back rewards. But here is how we organize it.
Our Credit Card Rewards Strategy
2 Rotating Category Cards:
Our 2 cards with rotating categories are the Chase and Discover.
When we activate the 5% rotating categories, we make a note on our family dry erase board. So with a quick glance we can see which cards have 5% back in what categories. If there is a 5% cash back, we use this card first. The Discover has a deal where they will double your points for the entire year. So the 5% became 10%. That alone added an extra $270 to our cash back this year, which is why it was our highest year yet.
Our Amazon offers 3% back on Amazon purchases. We will only use that card for Amazon unless one of the rotating is offering 5% back on Amazon, which is actually quite often.
Gas and Costco:
The new Costco card offers 4% back on gas anywhere, and an extra 2 % back in store. So that is our go-to gas card, and for shopping with Costco unless the Chase (which is a Visa) is offering 5% back at Costco.
We never signed up for the old Costco card, but this new one is awesome. We use the upgraded membership, so we earn 2% on every purchase with just our membership. That alone pays for the whole membership. Beings we were using our debit card and earning 0% back, I think this will put another $100-$150 our way each year. That money comes in the form of a store gift card, which is fine by us. We just signed up and have earned $30 so far. Our Chase card (which is a Visa and is now accepted at Costco) offered 5% back last quarter. Plus the 2% from our membership. An extra 7% back on Costco goods ain’t a bad deal.
Citi Double offers 2% back on everything. This is the catch-all for all our other purchases. All our recurring bills go on this card; cell phone, gym, utilities, Netflix, insurance.
This plan takes about 5 minutes to write down once every 3 months (when the rotating categories change) and another 5 minutes to remind Mr. Mt that the categories have changed. At one point I wrote the rotating category on a sticker on the credit card. Like on his Chase card, I wrote “restaurants” on a sticker and stuck it to the card if that was the category for the quarter. If you feel hopeless to remember what card to use for what, that is an easy 5 minute solution. I just had to switch the sticker 4 times a year. Easy peasy. All of our credit cards are paid automatically. We check the statements each month (in part to double check our expense tracking) and so I can make sure there aren’t any errors.
The Discover IT card doubling the rewards was huge help, when 5% back becomes 10% back, that adds up fast! The Discover link is my “friend referal” cause we are friends, right? So if you want to get that one, my little blog here will get a sweet $50 kick back. You also get $50 if you make a purchase in the first 3 months. See, aren’t you glad we are “friends.”
If the cash back seems high, it’s because we basically charge our entire life. About the only thing that doesn’t end up on our credit cards in our property tax. We earn a minimum of 2% back, but up to 10%. So beings we will spend about $33,000 in 2016, that means we averaged 3% back. We also have rentals that we charge a few thousand for each year (insurance, trash, maintenance), some being in the 5% back from home improvement stores.
Property Tax: $822
We pay our property tax twice a year and November just happens to be the lucky month. =) Our spending was actually rather low this month. Taking out the property tax and our charitable donations, we were at $2,080. And that includes one of our largest expenses for the month…
New Computer (home improvement): $360
I really dislike replacing electronics. I just wish things would live forever. But alas, they don’t. Perhaps because we have 5 little kids, who drop, sit on or spill things on them. I’m sure that doesn’t improve their life span. We generally opt for almost the cheapest option. Mostly because someone will knock it off the table… repeatedly. We’ve had our current laptop 3 years. It’s started doing this fun thing where it wouldn’t turn on. I would have a small panic attack thinking off all the blog posts I didn’t have backed up anywhere else. So, while I normally like to wait till something is dead-dead to replace it. With blog posting on the line, we opted for a back up. We looked for a few months, and $360 seemed the deal to beat.
November was a really nice month for the family. It marked 12 months since Mr. Mt put in his notice at work. It’s been an incredible year. Our expenses for the year are clocking in at $27,650 right now (not including our donations)! I’m excited to see where we end up for 2016. Having low expenses has created so many opportunities for us. That is the main reason we aren’t scrambling to head back to the 9-5 grind. Instead we get to custom pick the kind of work, hours, and vacation time we want in 2017. I’m so glad we made the leap last year, and really excited for what 2017 will hold!
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