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If you’re in the path of the 'monster blizzard,' use these tactics to get ready.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 8, 2013 11:45AM

Logo: Cars on icy road (Don Hammond/Design Pics/age fotostock)The "monster blizzard" bearing down on the East Coast is already being compared to the Great Blizzard of 1978. That storm's swift, relentless drifts stranded thousands and killed several people, according to CNN,


Hey, East Coasters: How's your storm prep coming along?

Haven't done any? Get going. Yes, the store shelves are likely to be somewhat bare of basic supplies at this point. But there are workarounds for disaster supplies, and you probably already have some of what you need.

Start looking for supplies now, rather than stumble around in the dark and wonder where the extra flashlight batteries are stored. 

Figure it's all a bunch of hype? You may be right. You may also be wrong. Think about the people who struggled after Superstorm Sandy -- and they weren't facing subfreezing temperatures right away.


A new study indicates that buying stuff isn't as life-changing as we think it will be.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 7, 2013 12:08PM

Logo: Shopping (Corbis)This just in: Shopping doesn't provide lasting happiness. 

So all those commercials were lying to us? A new car/suit/brand of beer won't provide everlasting fulfillment?

Nope. In fact, you're more likely to be happy just before you buy something than after it's in your hands. According to a new study from the Journal of Consumer Research, "the positive emotions associated with acquisition are short-lived."

This isn't news to those who've found they need to keep shopping to maintain that happy mine-mine-mine buzz. Between trips, they probably try and keep the thrill alive by reflecting on their closets full of clothes, garages full of motorized toys or shelves full of collectibles.

"Thinking about acquisition provides momentary happiness boosts," says study author Marsha L. Richins, who calls these folks "materialists."


A new survey says that 26% of renters didn't get their deposits returned when they moved out. Don't let this happen to you.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 6, 2013 5:04PM
Logo: A rental agreement and two keys on a house shaped key ring (Epoxydude, fStop, Getty Images)When I was an apartment building manager, one of my least favorite duties was doing the "walk-through" when someone moved out. Every bit of damage and every still-dirty spot in the place meant more money taken from the departing tenant's security deposit.

As you might imagine, some of those people took that very personally. One tenant argued that red candle wax on the rug was just "normal wear." Another argued that the carpets -- new when he moved in -- "would have had to be replaced anyway," because he'd lived there for almost a year and a half.

Another renter swore he'd washed the kitchen linoleum, upon which swirls of dirt were clearly visible. He later admitted that his "cleaning" method was to wipe the floor with an old soccer jersey soaked in water.  

We pay a price for convenience. But come on, folks: How hard is it to wash a potato?

By Donna_Freedman Feb 5, 2013 5:17PM

Logo: Money (Corbis)Yesterday I saw two supermarket signs that reflect a popular attitude toward nourishment: "Grab & Go Meals" and "Convenience Breakfasts."

Hint: Any time you see the word "convenience," you're likely to pay a lot more.

Case in point: cereal cups. A cup of Special K from the Convenience Breakfasts section costs the equivalent of $16 a pound, vs. a box of Special K that goes for $5.33 per pound. A cup of Oatmeal Express sells for $14.33 per pound, whereas instant oatmeal in packets will set you back $4.77 per pound.

A few aisles over you can buy bulk oatmeal for $1.09 per pound. But don't get me started.

Seriously: Is a markup of 300% or more really worth it? Apparently so, or we wouldn't have such a thing as precooked rice.


If you're helping support grown kids and aging parents, what happens to your own finances?

By Donna_Freedman Feb 4, 2013 12:00PM

The Pew Research Center recently released some scary, scary stats about middle-aged adults:

  • 27% provide primary support for a grown child.
  • 21% have provided financial support to a parent aged 65 or older in the past year.
  • 38% say both their grown children and their parents rely on them for emotional support.

The challenges of the "sandwich generation" aren’t news per se. For several  decades I've been reading about how physically and psychologically exhausting it can be to see the needs of the older and younger generations (while putting your own needs on the back burner).

It's the monetary drain that concerns me. Specifically: If you're helping out parents whose retirement money doesn't stretch far enough, and picking up the slack for your under- or unemployed kids, what happens to your own finances?


A survey of auto mechanics reveals the most common mistakes we make with our wheels. Ignore them at your peril.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 31, 2013 2:22PM

A former co-worker noticed a funny noise in one of the family's two cars. His wife said she'd heard the sound, too, but "just turned up the radio." Problem solved.

Logo: Car being towed (Digital Vision Ltd., SuperStock)Here's hoping you aren't quite so dismissive when your own car tries to tell you something. There's a reason the "check engine" light was invented, and there's a darned good reason not to ignore it: Because when minor problems aren't addressed they can turn into huge, expensive problems.

Your best defense is a simple one: following the maintenance schedule found in your car's service manual. "Putting off recommended/scheduled maintenance" was the No. 1 mistake cited in a survey of 20 ASE-certified master technicians.


The second-biggest mistake was "ignoring the 'check engine' light." Mistake No. 3 was "not changing the oil, or not having it changed on time" -- however, that doesn't necessarily mean on an every-three-months schedule. In fact, some new cars can go up to a year.


A little creativity and organization can make this your most economical party of the year.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 30, 2013 12:01PM

Logo: Men watching television, holding beers (Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy, Cultura, Getty Images)Given that the cheapest available seat for Super Bowl XLVII is going for $1,580 on StubHub, watching the game on TV is definitely the frugal thing to do.

Not that the viewers at home won't be spending. The Retail Advertising and Marketing Association estimates we'll shell out $11 billion for one night of football. Some 5.1 million people even plan to buy a new TV just for the occasion. Retailers know this, and they're offering big-screen prices "as good as we've ever seen," says Brent Shelton of FatWallet.


Don't forget the noshes, either. Last year we gulped an estimated 1.25 billion chicken wings (which I don't understand -- there's hardly any meat on them!) and 15,000 tons of chips. Factor in the pizza delivery, the burgers on the grill or the pigs in the blankets and you'll see how we spent $55 million on food and $237 million on soft drinks for Super Bowl XLVI.

That said, the Super Bowl can actually be a pretty cheap date. If you've got a decent-sized TV, comfortable seating and a bunch of friends who can be counted on to do what they're asked, this could be the most economical party you throw all year.


Things going your way? They probably won't always. A little fear can be healthy.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 29, 2013 2:40PM

Logo: Paranoid man (Digital Vision Ltd./SuperStock/SuperStock)In one spectacularly awful two-month span, personal finance blogger Luke Landes lost his girlfriend, his job and his apartment. Initially he did what a lot of us would do: He looked for something or someone to blame.

Ultimately he was able to look at those two months with clearer eyes, understanding "the role my choices played in that mess." Our actions (or inactions) are "the biggest factor in success in life," he writes in a Consumerism Commentary post.


Landes acknowledges that some people start out in a better position to make good choices, and that some things (crime, severe weather) are beyond our control. However, we can choose to plan (e.g., get insurance), and we can choose the way we react to any challenges.

I'd go that one better: We can choose to stop thinking we'll always have the world on a string.



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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.