Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Each week Frugal Nation will feature a list of freebies. This week's offerings include batteries, photo books and kids' meals.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 20, 2013 11:17AM
Logo: Free sign (ThinkStock/SuperStock)National Battery Day was Feb. 18. Seems you can have a holiday about anything just by declaring it.

And just in time for Frugal Nation's new weekly freebies list, the Rayovac company is giving away batteries.

According to The Freebie Blogger, Rayovac will give away four-packs of alkaline batteries to the first 1,000 fans who enter on Facebook on Feb. 22.

Those aren't great odds -- unless you're one of the ones who wins. But even if you don't get the freebies you'll receive a coupon good for $1.75 off two packages of batteries. Combine that with a good sale price and/or a drugstore rewards program and you'll realize decent savings on the price of your next purchase.

Besides, batteries aren't the only things up for grabs.  

Limo rides? Live bands? $150 party favors? Resist the pressure to create bigger and better bashes each year.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 19, 2013 12:18PM
Logo: Birthday party (Bananastock/Jupiterimages)Show of hands: Who here remembers his first birthday party?

Yes, that does sound silly. But when Dr. Bill Doherty became a grandfather, he was startled to learn his daughter was being asked what kind of "bash" she would throw when the baby turned one.

A professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, Doherty visited a party store and saw "shelf upon shelf of first-birthday items." He also overheard this interaction between a woman and her son, who looked to be about 9 years old.
Boy: "This one's nice."
Mom: "That's not your color scheme!"
This led Doherty and others to create the Birthdays Without Pressure project, a series of conversations about and strategies to combat birthday-party madness.

Increasingly pressured to keep up with the pint-sized Joneses, parents are spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on fetes at commercial venues or home parties that feature live entertainment, pony rides, bounce-house rentals, and party bags crammed with toys and treats.

Do kids expect this? Too often they do. One child complained that her birthday party "just wasn't magic enough."  

Do the math: If it makes sense to pay a little more upfront, find room in your budget.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 18, 2013 12:58PM
Despite what some self-righteous frugalists would have you believe, not all money-saving tips work.

For example, "grow some of your own food" isn't possible for someone who lives in a condo. You can put a few things in pots, but that's not the kind of savings you'd get  from a backyard full of vegetables.

It also won't work for people who are physically unable to dig and delve, or for those who live in places inhospitable to gardens. I'm thinking about the town of Bethel, Alaska, with its near-constant wind, planting-season temperatures between 41 and 55 degrees, permanently frozen soil just 3 feet under the region's infertile soil and water that gets delivered by truck.

Another interesting thing about Bethel: It's cheaper to buy pre-bagged salad there, because the cost of the water to wash lettuce and other veggies more than makes up for the premium you pay for pre-cleaned greens.

Sometimes, you really do have to spend to save.  

Social buying vouchers and bargain sites can prop up your budget. They can also nickel-and-dime you to death.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 15, 2013 11:46AM
Image: Hands catching shopping coupons © Vstock LLC/Tetra images RF/Getty ImagesEvery day I get emails from at least a half-dozen daily deal and social buying websites. A glance at the subject lines ("auto detailing," "laser tattoo removal") lets me delete most of them unopened.

The ones I do open sometimes lead to purchases. More often, they lead to little internal tussles: Do I really need that? Don't my nephews already have enough toys? Yes, frozen yogurt is tasty, but more sweets are NOT what the doctor ordered.

That's why a post on the Moneycrashers website resonated with me. "5 questions to ask when buying from daily deal websites" is a good reminder that sometimes a "bargain" really isn't.

Used well, bargain/deal sites save you money. Used incorrectly, they wind up costing you cash.  

If money is an issue, try a little DIY. You'd be surprised how easy it is to make baby wipes or taco shells.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 14, 2013 11:42AM
Want to trim your household budget, reduce waste and be a little nicer to the environment? Stop letting other people do all the work for you.

In a recent article I noted that a "toddler pack" of Cheerios is something a busy parent might grab on the fly. But I did the math: Those Os cost $27.50 per pound when someone puts them in an easy-to-hold container for you.

Far better to pour some from the  box in your cupboard into a sippy cup or some other toddler-friendly container. Bonus frugal points if you bought the cereal on sale with a coupon, or in bulk at a warehouse club.

Any time a manufacturer prepares a sauce, a cleaner, a snack or an entrée for you, the cost will be considerably higher than if you did it yourself. While not everyone has the time or inclination to make everything from scratch, the Convenience Tax can take a pretty big bite from your budget.  

Sure, K-cups and other 'pod' brews are convenient. They also cost a lot more.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 13, 2013 12:02PM
Logo: Espresso machine with mug, close-up (nd61, SuperStock)About a year ago The New York Times reported on the cost of "K-cups,"  those coffee-and-filter pods that capitalize on a modern mindset: that we're in constant, desperate need of coffee yet far too busy to brew it ourselves.

Instead, you just plug in a pod and moments later get exactly one cup of your favorite joe. Faster than heading to a coffee shop, and you don't have to tip a barista. But while it may be cheaper than takeout, single-serve brew is considerably pricier than coffee by the pot or by the pound.

How much more expensive? It's hard to tell at first glance since pods are measured in grams rather than ounces. After doing the conversions on two brands -- 10-packs of Nespresso Arpeggio and 12-packs of Folgers Black Silk -- The Times provided a jaw-dropping reveal: Consumers were paying $50 to $51 per pound.

But that was last year. I redid the math and guess what? The price went up.  

Millions of tons of edibles wind up in the garbage each year -- and food thrown out means money thrown away. Reduce your 'foodprint' with these tactics.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 12, 2013 12:47PM
Logo: Family preparing food (ERproductions Ltd, Blend Images, Getty Images)Thrown out any leftovers lately, or cleared the freezer of dessicated meats you don't even remember buying? You're not alone. North Americans waste approximately 209 to 253 pounds of food per person per year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Worldwide, about one-third of all comestibles produced gets lost or wasted each year. A new U.N.-based campaign, "Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint," hopes to focus awareness on the reasons that about $1 trillion worth of food goes uneaten each year.

Some 35 million tons of food waste were generated in the United States in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Almost all of it went into landfills or incinerators -- and, more to the point, it didn't go to people who are hungry.

"Food rescue" programs, from local food banks to organizations like the Society of St. Andrew and the Food Recovery Network, are trying to change that. They pick up unused edibles from a number of locations -- colleges, businesses, sports arenas, supermarkets, farms -- and deliver them to food banks and shelters.

At the consumer level, keep this in mind: When you throw out food, you're throwing money away. According to Think.Eat.Save, some of the main reasons for food waste among developed countries are:

  • appearance-based food standards.
  • confusion regarding dates.
  • buying too much.
  • inappropriate storage.
  • meals that are just too big.

Any of that sound familiar?


Bouquets and chocolates are still popular on Valentine's Day, but there's increasing interest in tech gifts. Clothing is a hot gift trend, too.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 11, 2013 11:53AM
Logo: Woman Sitting in a Cafe Texting (Stephen Morris, Vetta, Getty Images)An interesting shift is occurring at the online coupon site  Normally the most requested coupons during the first couple weeks of February are for jewelry and flower merchants.

Not this year.

"Lands End coupons and Best Buy coupon offers have been trending the highest since Feb. 1," says site founder Kyle James.

So nothing says "romance" like a down coat or electronics?

Maybe. "Flowers die, candy is calories we don't need, and jewelry loses its luster," James says.

The deal-finding/cash-back shopping site has also registered some interesting February spikes in technology and clothing. Electronics have risen by 38% this month. Apparel sales have gone up noticeably in the past few years; currently they're more than 100% higher than they were in February 2011.

Consumer-friendly return policies have made shopping online for clothing much easier, according to FatWallet spokesman Brent Shelton. As for tech, "it's now a sexy gift that satisfies a couple of aspects of their lifestyle: It's something they want and it's within their budget."  


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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.