Frugal NationFrugal Nation's new contest offers a $4,000 scholarship for the wildest money-saving tip. What's yours?

By Donna_Freedman Mar 4, 2013 12:45PM

What's the most bizarre thing you ever did to save a buck, or even a dime? If you're a student, wants to know: The site is offering a $4,000 scholarship in its "the craziest thing I ever did to save money" contest. 


It's part of a financial education campaign launched by the nonprofit, which focuses on young people and social change. Nearly seven out of 10 youths surveyed by say that they’ve never had "a meaningful conversation" with their parents about personal finance, and that their top fears are about paying for college and having enough money. will be adding real tips and tools on saving money. Good thing: While some of the student-contributed tips are creative and useful, others are actually false economies.

A recurring one is "I keep extra napkins/condiments from restaurants." Um . . . if you're broke, what are you doing in restaurants? How much did you spend on food so you could get a few cents' worth of "free" ketchup or taco sauce?

Some of the best are the tips I mentally grouped under two general categories: "Points for creativity" and "Desperate times call for desperate measures."

And among those two groupings, my favorites are:


Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has come down hard on the company's work-at-home policy. She risks losing some good employees.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 1, 2013 11:32AM

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently announced that as of June all employees would be required to work on-site. A huge howl arose on behalf of location-independent workers everywhere: If it works, why fix it?

Except that at long-struggling Yahoo perhaps it isn't working. Business Insider recently interviewed an ex-Yahoo engineer who talked about remote workers who put in minimal effort and were regularly unavailable when needed. The source said Mayer's decision was needed to deal with "Yahoo's huge, bloated infrastructure."

Specifically: Slackers who don't want supervision will quit, which keeps the company from having to lay them off.

While I understand Mayer's need to prune dead wood, I think she'll damage some perfectly healthy branches in the process. Luke Landes of Consumerism Commentary said it quite well: 

"Voluntary attrition always backfires.


Itty-bitty burgers, 2-bite tacos and teeny-tiny pizzas are a long way from the 'supersize it' era. But what are you paying for cuteness?

By Donna_Freedman Feb 28, 2013 5:13PM
Logo: Family eating burgers (Bananastock/Jupiterimages)How do you sell a small product for a large price? Give it a cute name. For example, pubs and restaurants sell itty-bitty burgers for surprisingly non-itty-bitty prices by calling them "sliders."

The baby burgers are generally adorable. But while some are gourmet, others aren't much different from White Castle or Krystal burgers -- and no one but hipsters would pay extra money for a two-bite snack. (Irony is the best sauce.)

Now comes Pizza Hut with a new product, "Big Pizza Sliders" -- downsized personal pan pizzas that measure 3½ inches across and weigh slightly less than a slice from a large pie. You can buy three for $5 or nine for $10. Pizzas the size of hockey pucks are a great way to hit "target price points," as Vanessa Wong of Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported
"Pizza Hut isn't entirely focused on helping diners eat less -- sure, you can get a modest order of three, but the sliders also come in boxes of nine.

"Sizing down does help the chain control costs amid rising commodities prices. 'The cost of sale for this product is better than a large pizza,' says spokesman Doug Terfehr.

"Terfehr says, however, that the main consideration behind the sliders is not cost but providing more customization, as customers can choose up to three different combos with up to three toppings each per order (a pie can have different toppings only on each half)."
You may feel that $10 isn't too much to pay for snacks for your crew. However, you're spending the same amount of money and getting a little less food.  

Entertain yourself with these and other freebies, including a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime and its assorted video content.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 27, 2013 12:06PM
Logo: Zombies (Renee Keith/Vetta/Getty Images)Given that this is America Saves Week, why not entertain yourself for free and send a few extra dollars to your bank account?

While not a gamer myself, I know that plenty of people find endless enjoyment in smartphone games (and are grateful for the way such games distract their offspring when stuck in long lines). A member of's "Free Stuff" forum has posted a link to free iPhone and iPad downloads of "Plants vs. Zombies" and "Plants vs. Zombies HD."

"Yes, plants killing zombies does not make much sense, but neither does flipping birds at pigs," the poster writes. "Some fun for free is never bad."

My sentiments exactly, which leads me to this week's other examples of gratis entertainment.


Does your bundle of joy have to cost a bundle? Three frugal bloggers say 'no.'

By Donna_Freedman Feb 26, 2013 11:59AM
Logo: Family (Big Cheese Photo, PictureQuest)Nothing tests your commitment to frugality like the presence of a baby. The exhaustion, disruption and general chaos surrounding the birth or adoption of a child can wreak havoc on your budget.

"It's hard to resist temptation because you want your child to have the best of everything. Plus you're exhausted -- you want to throw money at a problem and have it go away," says Julia Scott of Bargain Babe, whose daughter was born in January 2012.

In a post called "My new baby is making me spend more. Help!," Scott details how the exhaustion and disruption associated with new parenthood temporarily affected the family finances.

"Before my daughter Lucy was born, I scowled at people who paid a premium for what I considered unnecessary luxuries,” she wrote. Post-baby, she found herself paying for things like curbside check-in at the airport and store gift wrapping: "I'm tired, pressed for time and I've been bleeding money where I never would have before."

Scott is now back to her frugal ways. She and two other personal finance bloggers/new parents with whom I spoke all say the same thing: Your bundle of joy doesn't necessarily have to cost a bundle.  

Some tips on tucking it away -- even if you think you can't -- just in time for America Saves Week.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 25, 2013 1:03PM

Logo: Couple counting money (Jose Luis Pelaez Inc, Blend Images, Getty Images)One of the most common pieces of personal finance advice is to have some money in the bank, both for potential emergencies and future goals.

Sounds great. But the personal finance gurus don't always tell you how to do this on the money you have right now.

Maybe rising food and energy costs have a stranglehold on your wallet. Some months it seems that just paying your bills on time is a major achievement. How can you possibly save?

Sneakily, that's how. Just a little budget-tweaking, and maybe a few mind games, will boost your savings account.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:


Inspection could be slowed or temporarily halted if the government sequester takes effect. These tactics will minimize the impact on your food bill.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 22, 2013 11:54AM

Logo: Close up of steak and salad (Image Studios, UpperCut Images, Getty Images)Reports of possible furloughs for all U.S. meat inspectors have meatpackers and processors very, very nervous. This MSN Money article quotes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as saying that while temporary layoffs would be "the least desirable option," the law does not include exceptions for members of the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The U.S. government sequester means automatic spending cuts as of March 1, unless Congress finds a way around it. Vilsack has previously mentioned furloughing meat inspectors for up to 15 days.

That could lead to shortages of certain products and/or higher prices, according to the American Meat Institute, which estimates that the nation has an eight-day supply of meat and poultry products in cold storage at any given time.

This does not necessarily translate to widespread shortages of animal protein. What's more likely is that "something you particularly care for may not be as available," says Tom Dopp, the AMI's senior vice president of regulatory affairs.

If that product is one your household uses lots of, that could mean groceries will take an even bigger bite of your monthly budget.


That's the mantra of Frugal Nation, which marks its first anniversary today. (We won't overspend on the celebration.)

By Donna_Freedman Feb 21, 2013 11:38AM

Logo: Multi-colored ceramic piggy banks (Andy Roberts, OJO Images, Getty Images)One year ago MSN Money published the first Frugal Nation post. The site had two objectives: to save readers money and to make them think differently about that money.

"It's a useful tool," I wrote. "It is not a religion."

What's changed since that first post? For starters, gasoline prices (up 16 cents per gallon from this time last year) and the size of your take-home pay (down 2% due to the payroll tax increase).

In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts an increase of up to 4% in food prices in 2013.


What probably hasn't changed: your ability to keep up with those costs. According to a report cited by The Wall Street Journal, people who get pay raises in 2013 will see only a 2.9% increase -- just 0.2% higher the average raise in 2011.

That's why frugality isn't a trend. It's a necessity. But it's also a great way to live.



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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.