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Are you always a little colder than the rest of your household? These tips keep your core temperature up and your heating bills down.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 13, 2012 1:23PM

Logo: Woman Adjusting Thermostat (Fuse, Getty Images)When I lived in Alaska years ago, I was always turning down the thermostat. My then-husband would turn it back up. This made no sense to me: Why didn't he just put on another layer?

When I moved back to Anchorage at the end of September, I discovered that eight years in the banana belt of Seattle had thinned my blood considerably. Now I'm the one who's always chilly -- and it's not even that cold yet.

So I wear a fleece layer or bathrobe over my shirt, and wool socks instead of cotton ones. If it's particularly nippy there's the option of thermal or polypropylene long-handles. (Frugal long underwear; more on that in a minute.)

Do you tend to be a little (or a lot) colder than your partner and/or family? Quit fighting the thermostat wars. All that does is raise your utility bill and make other people sweaty.

 

It's easy to trade in tablets, smartphones and the like for cash or store credit at major retailers or e-commerce sites.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 12, 2012 1:08PM

Frustrated woman with mobile device (Jacqueline Veissid, Photodisc, Getty Images)Are you a next-gen digital electronics user, nuts about near-constant upgrades? If so, you've probably got an old tablet, smartphone, game system or some other doodad that you keep thinking you'll put on Craigslist or eBay.

Here's another option: Turn them into cash or store credit at major retailers or "reCommerce" sites. You’ll cast a much wider net that way.

The term "reCommerce" refers to the recouping and reselling of products, especially electronics. As noted above, many people seek the latest and greatest versions even if what they have still functions just fine. Selling or trading in these items gives them money or credit toward the next iteration.

Meanwhile, buyers who don’t mind a refurbished product get below-retail prices on relatively recent models. Sometimes they're really recent. When Apple announced its fourth iPad just six  months after the third, trade-ins of the latter jumped more than 700% at Gazelle.com and more than 1,000% at the NextWorth site.

 

A small amount of work can net big rewards. But don't set yourself up for failure.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 9, 2012 2:54PM
Logo: Woman counting money (Jose Luis Pelaez, Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images)Manufacturers rebates were hot in the 1970s because they allowed companies to "discount"  products without actually dropping their prices. I remember those days: As a young single mother I boosted my budget by getting toiletries and household items for free.

A couple of decades later consumer electronics merchants started using rebates to hype frequently upgraded products. My daughter, though impoverished by chronic illness, got a desktop computer for free that way.

How can manufacturers afford to give away big-ticket items? They relied on human nature. Specifically, on the hope that lots of people would: 
  • Misplace the rebate form (aka "shoebox effect").
  • Fill it out incorrectly/neglect to include proof of purchase.
  • Forget to mail it on time (or at all).
  • Lose/fail to cash the check.
And they were right, because most of us aren't as organized as Jonathan Hood, a PhD student at Auburn University who used rebates to pay for almost an entire semester of study.   

Being careful with your cash means it goes further. But that just means you get more out of it.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 8, 2012 12:05PM
Logo: Clouds in a blue sky (Purestock/Getty Images)The first piece I ever wrote for MSN Money was called "Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year." Some readers responded with words like "hardship" and "deprivation."

I didn't see it that way. Although temporarily broke, I wasn't deprived. In fact, having relatively little made me that much more grateful for what I did have. In the grand scheme of things, I had quite a lot: food, clean water (hey, water-borne illnesses kill people all over the world), shelter, family, friends, a radio, a library card, a computer and, in midlife, a university scholarship.

You know what else I had? Peace of mind.

I was (and still am) aware of so many people constantly shopping, searching, seeking, coveting. They were always after the Next Big Thing, the newest gadget that would fix their lives and make them truly happy. What they often wound up with were empty wallets and a sense of being let down -- which they then tried to fix with more shopping.  

Keep these 7 basics on hand, and you'll always be able to whip up a quick, healthful meal.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 7, 2012 12:17PM
Logo: Home kitchen (Don Farrall/Photodisc/Getty Images)
A financial planner once told me of meeting with a couple of newlyweds who had more month than money. Housing was expensive, they both had student loans, and they still couldn't understand why their salaries weren’t stretching.

The planner had them track their spending. Guess what was eating into their paychecks? Restaurant meals.

Cooking at home is one of the easiest ways to shore up a sagging budget. Meals out can take a huge bite of your paycheck, a fact some people never seem to comprehend.

I know, I know: You're tired, you're hungry and there's nothing in the house. But don't automatically reach for the delivery menus. If you give your pantry the seven-can makeover, you'll always have something to eat.  

Some parents seem to think that driver's license = additional vehicle. Should it?

By Donna_Freedman Nov 6, 2012 12:03PM
Logo: Convertible (Carlos S.Pereyra, Pixtal, age)The anonymous author of the Squirrelers personal finance blog recently cautioned readers against spoiling teenagers with expensive automobiles. Having a luxury car, he said, could initiate a lifelong love affair with pricey rides.

"An old car is perfectly fine, as long as it’s safe.  It doesn't need to be cool, it doesn't need to look good.  All it needs to do is be safe, reliable, and get a kid from Point A to Point B," wrote the blogger, a father of two.

"I have no idea what the parents who are buying these kids expensive cars are thinking."

One commenter suggested that parents were buying their children's love. Another warned that getting too much too soon might kill a teen's motivation. A third suggested that youths be given "modest" cars, lest they develop a sense of entitlement.

Allow me to play devil's advocate: Why buy your kid any kind of car?  

Maybe it really does take every dime to make ends meet. Or maybe you're not holding yourself accountable.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 5, 2012 1:05PM

Logo: Man smoking (Steve Mason/Photodisc Blue/Getty Images)The U.S. personal savings rate dropped to 3.3% in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. This time two years ago, we were saving 5.6%.

Pick your reasons why: stagnant wages, rising costs of food and fuel, rent/property tax increases, utility price hikes, high student loan payments.

Or how about: frequent meals out, big televisions, expensive vacations, buying more car/house than you can afford, and our increasing national tendency to be smartphone rich and cash poor.

In some cases, it really does take every dime just to keep the lights on. The under- or unemployed truly may not be able to save, and even those who make decent money are increasingly pinched.

Be honest, though: Do you skip saving because you can't afford to, or because you don't want to do the hard work of holding yourself accountable?

 

Having friends over to watch sports? There's no need to break the bank feeding them.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 2, 2012 11:24AM
Logo: Potato chips (Image Source/Getty Images)I don't watch sports. But I recommend having friends over to watch the Big Game (college or pro) on your big TV because it's a fun, cheap afternoon or evening of entertainment.

People always seem hungry at these events, even if game time is right after lunch or dinner. Maybe that's because of all the food-related commercials shown during the games.

Or maybe we just associate food with sports. Even I have to admit that hot dogs taste better at a baseball game than just about anywhere else.

But stadium food is pricey. Home viewers, on the other hand, can get away with snacks whose savor disguises how cheap they were to prepare.  

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WHAT IS FRUGAL NATION?

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.

ABOUT DONNA FREEDMAN

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.

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