Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Starting Monday, this site is joining forces with MSN Money Smart Spending. Here's why.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 29, 2013 12:14PM
Logo: Clouds in a blue sky (Purestock/Getty Images)Almost six years ago MSN Money hired me and editor Karen Datko to start the Smart Spending blog. Personal finance blogging was still in the toddler stage, and our goal was to be unlike any other site: five or six posts each weekday, a mix of general financial info and "use this tip to save money right now" pieces.

In 2009 I was given a biweekly personal finance column, and in February 2012 I was asked to start the Frugal Nation blog. Now things are about to change again: Beginning Monday this site will go dormant and I'll be joining -- I should say re-joining -- Smart Spending.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.  

The carrier's new iPhone offer still means a long-term commitment, but it could save you money.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 28, 2013 1:11PM

T-Mobile this week rebranded itself as the "uncarrier" by doing away with cellphone contracts. The company also announced it will add the iPhone to its smartphone roster in April.

No contract? Really?

Sort of.

If you're buying the phone from T-Mobile then you are under contract, notes Jordan Crooks of TechCrunch, who called the announcement "a marketing move."


"By tying the contract to your phone and not the service, the carrier instantly differentiates itself from the competition," Crooks says.

One major difference: Once the phone is paid off, your cell bill will drop by $20 per month.


The CVS pharmacy chain offers a handful of free tests -- no appointment needed. Also: Free movies, paint, cat food and a warehouse club trial membership.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 27, 2013 10:45AM

Free sign (ThinkStock/SuperStock)Checked your cholesterol lately? Let CVS/pharmacy do it for you this week or next, for free. There's a free gift in it for you, too.

A nutrition assessment plus screenings for glucose, cholesterol, body mass index and blood pressure will be provided free of charge at CVS/pharmacy locations in 11 major U.S. metropolitan areas.

Offered through the chain's "Project Health" program, the screenings take place from 2 to 6 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday in March, April and May. After you've done all the tests you'll receive a $5-off coupon and a tote bag.

Where do you have to live to get a deal like that?


Some say games of chance are a waste of money. I can think of worse ways to drop a few bucks.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 25, 2013 10:10AM
Logo: Lottery Tickets (Scott Speakes/Corbis/Corbis)Someone in New Jersey purchased the sole winning Powerball ticket for the March 23 drawing. That person or persons earned $338 million -- or will, once the ticket is claimed.

I live in Alaska, one of seven states with no lottery. The closest thing to a Powerball or Pick 6 is the Nenana Ice Classic, an annual pool in which people guess when the ice goes out in Nenana, Alaska. It's $2.50 per guess and allegedly (perhaps apocryphally) some numbskulls write "April 31" each year.

But I did buy an occasional ticket when I lived in Washington, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois. I don't see the harm.

Before you kick me out of the frugal movement, let me say that yes, I have heard the horror stories about people who buy bushels of tickets every week because they just know they're going to win. Apparently some even consider it a valid retirement strategy, which is a little scary.

Clearly we need better math instruction in our schools, because when some people hear "odds are 1 in 18 million" they focus on the first number rather than the second. An article on the Daily Finance website puts those odds into depressing (though amusing) perspective.  

A nonprofit group funds 'pet food stamps' for lower-income animal owners. Other options exist, too.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 21, 2013 10:52AM
Logo: Dog (Alley Cat Productions/Brand X/Corbis)Yep, you heard that right: A nonprofit called Pet Food Stamps is taking applications to provide free supplies for low-income pet owners.

The U.S. government is not involved. Again: not involved. Your tax dollars are not supporting someone's right to own a calico or corgi.

The program is open to people already receiving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps) or who are living at or below the poverty level.

No money or electronic benefit cards change hands. If you're approved, pet products will be shipped to your home free of charge.

This begs the question: Should poor people even have pets?


Sign your children up now and let 'em knock down the pins during vacation. Also: Free magazine subscription, water ice, photo collage, dog food and game rental.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 20, 2013 10:59AM

Logo: Bowling balls in bowling alley (Doable, amanaimagesRF, amana images, Getty Images)School's out in just a couple of months. If you're looking to line up frugal fun for the vacation months, put this one on your roster: two free games of bowling every single day this summer.

The Kids Bowl Free program operates in all 50 states and eight Canadian provinces. You can search for bowling centers in your area by clicking on that link.


Register now so you can hit the local lanes as soon as school lets out. And if your kids have never bowled before? They could wind up being pretty good by the end of the summer, even if you go only once or twice per week.

Bonus: The shoes are so cool. 


Devices from SodaStream and SodaSparkle let you craft your own soft drinks or seltzers. Cost-effective? That depends.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 18, 2013 11:00AM

Logo: Piggy bank (Corbis)Homemade cold drinks are a hot business in the U.S. these days. We bought more than 1.2 million carbonating devices -- chiefly SodaStream and SodaSparkle -- last year, according to The New York Times


Making fizzy drinks at home is nothing new -- the out-of-control seltzer bottle was a staple of silent-film comedies -- but it's now a lot easier to craft your own bubbly water, all-natural sodas or knockoffs of popular pops like Coca Cola and Dr Pepper.

It's pretty simple: Pour water into the special bottle (it withstands the pressure), add carbonation and, if you like, flavor the result. Depending on which kind you buy and what's included (e.g., how many flavor mixes or cartridges), expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $170.

SodaStream cartridges are refillable and cost about $30; if you trade them in at the retailer a replacement cartridge will cost about $15. SodaSparkle's one-time-use cartridges cost anywhere from 53 to 70 cents apiece.

Can such devices save you money? That depends on whom you ask, and on what you want the machines to do for you. In fact, some people don't care whether they save moneyt.


Hoisting a pint (or more) in honor of St. Patrick? Your beer money goes further at a house party.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 15, 2013 10:37AM
Logo: Beer (Corbis)You don't have to be Irish to party on March 17. If you use the holiday as an excuse to sip some extra suds and want to do it frugally,, listen to Angie Picardo's advice: Beer money goes further at a house party.

How much further? For the cost of eight pints in a pub you could drink 14 pints at home, according to Picardo, a financial analyst for the NerdWallet personal finance site.

(One hopes those 14 would be shared among friends.)

"If consumers spend the projected average of $38 on the beer-heavy holiday, this extreme price gap could be costing Americans an extra $2.6 billion in a single day," she writes in this NerdWallet post.


The $38 figure comes from the National Retail Federation and includes all St. Patrick's Day expenditures: corned beef, green necklaces, et al. But for her article Picardo assumed that the entire $38 will be spent on beer.

After all, one or two pints into the evening some folks start proclaiming, "Next round's on me!" -- which could cost $38 all by itself.



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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.