Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Some things in your medicine cabinet are superfluous -- and some could actually be harmful.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 7, 2012 3:09PM

Logo: Woman shopping at beauty store (Jack Hollingsworth/Brand X/Getty Images)How many bottles of lotions and moisturizers do you own? Too many, maybe.

In "9 unnecessary skin care products" on the website, Beverly Hills dermatologist Harold Lancer says that "what most people really need is a good face and body wash and moisturizing sunblock -- that's it."


This isn't some minimalist talking. It's a medical doctor who works with one of the richer (and vainer) populations on Earth.


Why do we think we need so many other products? Guess.

(Hint: It has to do with money.)

That's right: The same marketing forces that sell cupcake bakeries and greeting cards from pets would like you to think the moisturizer you put on your face isn't effective on your neck, or that you need a specialized unguent just for your heels or elbows.


Forget the latest gadgets and gimcracks. Make your presents count. Bonus: Some of these options cost little or nothing but time.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 6, 2012 12:02PM

Logo: Gifts (Image Source Black/Jupiterimages)A woman I know was recently given two kitchen gadgets: one that produces "cake pops" and one that promises shell-less hard-boiled eggs.

I looked up these "as seen on TV!" items online and found they both got fairly negative customer reviews. Yet they'll probably sell like gangbusters this Christmas.

And you'll probably see a lot of them at yard sales and thrift stores in the coming year.

Why just grab the first thing you see in the store? Forget the latest gadgets and gimcracks, and make your presents matter.

That doesn't necessarily mean "homemade," either.


This simple tactic will keep you at (or under) budget -- and move you closer to your dreams.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 5, 2012 5:16PM
Logo: Santa Claus (Corbis)Ben Woolsey of offers a tactic to keep you under budget during the holidays: Remember the money you already spent.

Specifically, he suggests putting a list of all current financial obligations in your wallet. "When tempted to overspend, remind yourself of what you owe," says Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research.

That's a good idea, but I'd like to take it further. In a post called "Goal-oriented groceries," I suggested a simple way to stick to your budget: Start each list with a dream.

Seriously: At the head of the list write some personal finance goal, such as "pay off consumer debt." Then write "bread, eggs, milk," and write the goal again. Add a few more grocery items, and reiterate your money ambition.

This will work in any store. Thus I propose "goal-oriented holiday shopping."  

The price can vary 400% or more even within the same market. Use these tips to save money and prevent waste.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 4, 2012 1:18PM
Logo: Grocery shopping (Jupiterimages/Jupiterimages)During the holidays, many of us prepare foods we don't cook the rest of the year. Just how old is that ginger, anyway? How long will it take you to use it up? Will it lose its potency before you're halfway through the bottle?

Most important of all: How much did you pay for it?

Take a look at the unit price label on the grocery shelf. At one market I visited the store-brand ground ginger goes for $3.33 per ounce, or $53.28 per pound.

That is, if you were buying it from the baking section. Just a few aisles over you could get ginger for $13.19 per pound -- and you could buy as much or as little as you needed.  

These simple tactics will help you ignore the 'buy! buy! buy!' hype.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 3, 2012 12:44PM
Logo: Piggy bank ( Bread blogger Mikey Rox promised "10 frugal tips you haven't already heard" in a recent post.

Some of those "new" tips are actually pretty well publicized throughout the personal finance blogosphere. ("Check your credit report annually," "Stop using disposable products" -- really, Mikey?)

However, he did list three shopping-related ideas that I think are pretty smart. Better yet, they're timeless.

Right now the Internet is awash in "how to get the best price" holiday articles. But this trio of tips is applicable all year long.  

Frugality can reduce your carbon footprint -- and increase control of your life. But a greener lifestyle doesn't have to happen overnight; small changes help, too.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 30, 2012 12:07PM
Logo: Recycle (Comstock Images/Jupiterimages)Some people are frugal for environmental reasons. Cooking from scratch, buying secondhand, learning handyman skills, growing some of their own food, doing without some of the things marketed as "necessities" -- all these practices mean less impact on the planet.

Others may feel vaguely guilty about their oversized carbon footprints, yet they are convinced they have neither the time nor the talents to take the greener path in life.

But it's not an all-or-nothing approach, says author Deborah Niemann. You don't have to give up all creature comforts in favor of outhouses and butter churns, or turn your front yard into the back 40.

What you do have to do, though, is quit thinking you're incapable of change.

"Start questioning things that you have always assumed to be true," says Niemann, the author of "Eco Thrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life."

What kinds of things? So glad you asked.  

Done right, the practice is frugal, eco-friendly and a great help in de-cluttering. Avoid these pitfalls, though.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 29, 2012 12:45PM

Logo: Gift (RubberBall, SuperStock)Have you ever received a regifted present? If you answered "no," I'd like to ask a follow-up question: How can you be sure?

Savvy regifters fly under the radar. They avoid giving presents that are obviously used, in poor condition or personalized to someone else.

If the practice makes you twitchy, perhaps you should move to Tennessee. That state was tops on the "no regifting" list in a new survey from

The cash-back shopping site surveyed 828 consumers about re-gifting. While 63% of all respondents believed that regift = thrift, some 70% of Volunteer State residents said "ho, ho, NO!" to the practice.


Want true savings? Use this simple trick to make rewards credit cards and other programs work for you.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 28, 2012 12:19PM

Teenage girl buying clothes at till, close-up (Lisa Stirling, Digital Vision, Getty Images)My daughter loves rewards programs as much as I do. While I tend to give the gift cards outright as holiday presents, Abby uses them to buy gifts for the folks on her list.

A frugalist's dream: Free presents! Think of all the money she's saving, right?

Not really.

"It's more a case of 'not spending' as opposed to 'saving.' Chances are (those) funds will still get sucked up in the whirlwind of random expenses that is life," she writes in this post on I Pick Up Pennies.


"To truly save money, it has to be . . . well . . . saved. Put away. Not spent."

Know anyone who actually does that?



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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.