November Expenses

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.

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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:

Chase: $160

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

Total: $957

(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.

Amazon Purchases:

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.

Everything Else:

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.

Time Commitment:

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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30 thoughts on “November Expenses

  1. Great month! It blows me away that all 7 of you live on slightly more than just me.

    At some point, I actually consolidated my Amazon Visa into my Chase Freedom card. I think I usually just use the Discover there year round. I think it was 5% for two quarters this year?

  2. FOUR deer? That’s absolutely amazing!! I’m glad you splurged on the grinder, with that many deer the savings will be realized next year (or sooner, if you get more deer!).
    You also gave me the idea of asking for one for ourselves for Christmas. We’ve been using the Kitchenaid attachment and it is *painful* to utilize.
    Your cash back numbers are impressive, way to go!

    • And they just keep calling! I think early in the season, all the veterans wanted one. But now everyone on the list has gotten one or two and their freezers are full. This last deer, the guy was almost begging. I had Mr. Mt call him back to confirm and he was like, “Oh, thank goodness, I can stop making calls now!” I’m a little tired of the constant deer carving. So I would love to wait a month or two till we accept another one. I’m excited for the grinder, partly because it is a hassle to drive to the meat processing plant. =) I’m pretty sure you gave me the idea to buy one!

  3. I love that the 4th largest category/color is ‘giving’. Props to you and your family on making that a priority last month. If we all made it a priority to do more in our giving, the world would be a much better place! I am going to try to increase my giving next year! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Giving has always been a priority for us. It’s really an act of gratitude. To say, “We have enough, actually we have MORE than enough.” Plus when I think about all the “stuff” I could have bought with that money, but instead invested it into people. When people are more important than stuff, you will never feel poor. We are actually thinking about doing a big end of year gift. Lots of conversations happening in the house about it. =) We shall see!

  4. I love Family Fun Friday! We usually eat dinner with my father-in-law, who lives three houses down the street. I started leaving my cell phone at home while we go eat dinner. It has forced me to be more engaged and relaxed.

    Great news about all of that deer meat! I would love to pick up some for our family, but Mr. Smith doesn’t have any interest in hunting. I do know a few friends who hunt, maybe if they do well this year they would be willing to give us a good deal.

    Congrats on another great month!

    • As it’s become so much easier to be “on line” over the years, I find I have to put in more and more effort to be “off line.” And on the deer front, there are a few people who love to hunt, but don’t actually like to eat venison. They could be your new best friend. =) A box of bullets for Christmas every year.

  5. I love Family Fun Friday and Weekend Adventure! Making them non-negotiable is a great way to ensure family time.

    The stickers! Oh my…how I needed that tip! It seems like at least once a month, as I’m checking the credit card statements, I find myself gently remind my husband that he needs to be using a different card for gas. Stickers to the rescue!

    • Stickers are a lifesaver! I use the little blank ones for garage sales. The little neon dot will catch their attention just before they mindlessly swipe the first card they see. Let me know if it works out for you!

  6. Wow, I’m so impressed with the CC rewards maximization! On my vague list of 2017 to do’s is figure out if it’s more beneficial to open a couple and put all spending on those for the initial bonuses, or maximize the ones we have for cash back. My parents live on the east coast, so we’re guaranteed to make a couple of trips out there each year, so those miles are always tempting.

    I love how the last couple posts show your priorities…in the toy post, you emphasize that you’re willing to spend money on quality toys that are multi-age and will last a long time. But then when it comes to electronics, you know that with five little kids, more expensive does not mean longer-lasting! I often get wrapped up in the “I’ll spend less money if I make one good purchase now versus three cheap purchases as they break” mentality, but there are items where that just doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, cheap is best 🙂

    • I just can’t see how a $1500 laptop could end up being worth it. That is 4 cheap computers. Even if they only live 3 years. Only single people can get a laptop to live 12 years. They are like bears in captivity. Our house is bears in the wild! Last year I did by a waterproof, shock resistant, freeze capable digital camera. So if they throw it down a hill, drop it in the lake, or hide it in the tollette: we’re good. Oh wait, not “if”, “when.” 😉

  7. Impressive credit card rewards! We have a similar rotation – Amex Blue to get 5% on gas and groceries, recent Capital One Venture addition to get $200 bonus dollars and no foreign transaction fees for our upcoming Ireland/UK trip, and Citi Double Cash for everything else.

    On the property tax bill, I think we need to move to Montana 🙂

    • Our is actually higher because we are considered “in town.” One of my rentals is just outside of town and the bill is under $500 for every six months, although I pay trash separate for that house. I don’t mind the amount at all. I think the town (and state for that matter) manages the money very well. Plus we have great schools. There are a fair amount of expensive vacation homes in the area which helps. They pay a good amount in property tax but don’t use many services.

  8. Nice side hustle money with the cash back rewards! Discover 2x rewards for the first year is an awesome perk!

    Chase Freedom is one of my favorite cards due to it being a free card and the 5x categories. Currently, I have chase freedom and freedom unlimited and they work great for travel hacking when paired with Chase Sapphire Reserve card if you consider travel hacking in the future :).

    Looking forward to your next expense report!

    • Yeah, we have never paid for a card (yet.) I really like the Citi double because of the 2%. Then I use the higher rates for other things. But that guarantees us at least 2% back on all our expenses. Really the only thing we don’t put on the credit card is property tax. So we get at least 2% on 30k. Between the Discover bonus, and rotating categories, it pushed us up to 3% back overall. 3% back isn’t all that impressive, but even just on 30k gives us $1,000.

  9. Way to go with the cashback covering your entire year of gift giving! I’m really glad that you explained how you pay your property taxes twice a year. My eyeballs were popping out of my head looking at that $822 as a monthly figure.

    • Ha! If it were $822 a month I might move! It averages to $137 a month, which is super reasonable for such a nice community. We have a small and modest home, which helps. And there are quite a few 1-10 million dollar homes in our area, which help pull a lot of weight for the tax base. If someone wants to spend 10 million on a home they visit 2 weeks a year, I won’t complain. Our local library appreciates the funding. =)

        • Wowza. I think both for us average out to about $200-$250 a month. And it’s an awfully nice place to live. =) I don’t know why but I find property tax endlessly fascinating. How much places charge vs. services provided for that price. Thanks for sharing!

          • Oh my gosh, thank you! I had to google it. This might be a weird and offbeat thing to find interesting, but I do! Especially with the tax rates/services so varied in Montana. We actually live in high tax rate/service area, compared to most cities/counties. During our 6 week road trip this summer, I asked everyone about their property taxes/services received (which is much more weird to ask in person). I also find folks feelings about that cost/benefit really interesting. Thanks for the info share!

          • No problem. You might be interested in the study of Public Finance Economics more generally. My students usually find that section of public finance really interesting when I teach it.

            For us, our property taxes are high because our income taxes are low and our sales taxes are average. Service provision is also low.

  10. Sighing over your prop tax bill and reminding myself that losing PiC’s salary to reduce our property tax by $4000 (while increasing the cost to visit family four times a year by $1000 each visit) is actually Very Bad Math. If I ignore those details, though… ??

    I’ve been a bit lazy about our credit card rewards because we focus on travel money and points but I might take another look at our cards in rotation now that you’ve got me thinking about it.

    • It has to be simple for me to do it. Even for $1000 a year, if it took too much time or focus, I wouldn’t mess with it. But it really takes about 5 min 4x a year. That is a good ROI. =)

  11. Hi. I just found your blog and am binge reading the archives. 🙂 I found out that you can actually get cash for that check Costco sends you for your rewards. You just have to go to the membership desk and ask them to cash it.