Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Church, courthouse and Vegas aren't your only choices. Here are some innovative ideas on places to tie the knot.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 30, 2012 2:29PM
Image: Las Vegas wedding (© PNC/Brand X/Corbis/Corbis_)Once you've established a time for your wedding, you need to find the place. Have you considered an art gallery, farm or summer camp?

Yes, camp. Emma and Kyle Klues met as counselors at Camp Ondessonk in Ozark, Ill. The rental fee was not only very affordable ($250), but it helped support a small business they both love.

Bonus: Their wedding cake looked like a giant s'more. Scroll down in this blog post for a look.  

You won't get rich, but you can bring in a little (or a lot) of extra cash this way.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 29, 2012 2:03PM
Image: Woman with laptop (© Noel Hendrickson/Digital Vision/Getty Images)Online surveys can pay off, but you need to pick your spots. Personally, I'll pass on any "opportunity" to earn 50 cents for a 45-minute questionnaire.

You're not going to get rich, or even earn a living wage, by taking online surveys. But you can bring in a little (or a lot) of extra cash and/or free gift cards. You might also get the chance to test new products.

I qualify for at least a dozen surveys a week even though I'm not in a hot demographic, such as "new mom" or "person who uses a lot of convenience food." I never know what's going to pop up, though: Recently I was paid to cook tacos and talk about doughnuts.  

Daily deal sites can mean innovative, inexpensive outings -- and sometimes you can get a discount on your discount.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 28, 2012 2:02PM

Image: Man feeding woman © Jack Hollingsworth/Brand X/Getty ImagesOver at Budgets Are Sexy, blogger "J. Money" offers a tip for frugal romance: Use daily deal sites such as Groupon or Goldstar for interesting (and discounted!) dates.


Since January, he's taken his grad-student wife out on three surprise dates. They weren't surprises because he never takes her anywhere, but because he didn't tell her where they were going.

She certainly didn't expect to be squired to a professional magic show, a modern-day "freak show" or the "Into the Wild" animal production with Jack Hanna


So how much did J. pay?


I've saved a bundle on clothes, housewares, office supplies and furniture. I draw the line at used undies, though.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 27, 2012 12:46PM
Image: Man handing cash to a woman (© Image Source/Getty Images)Some people consider thrift stores low-rent. Others tout the designer labels found for a song at charity shops.

If the idea truly bothers you, don't go in. But your mindset may be out of date. Along with sketchy T-shirts and weird ceramics, you'll find rare books, supercheap housewares and, yes, designer clothing.

Would I shop there myself?  

Short-term room rentals via Airbnb or similar sites offer a way to make extra cash -- or, maybe, to make the mortgage payment.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 26, 2012 1:37PM
Image: Family vacation © Bounce/Uppercut RF/Getty ImagesAfter spending 16 years in arts administration, Michael Beard got laid off. Fortunately, he and his wife already had a side business in place: renting rooms through Airbnb, an online company that matches travelers with short-term accommodations.

The former side hustle is now his full-time gig. "In this present economy, making a job for yourself is probably a lot more productive than looking for existing jobs," says Beard, of Silver Springs, Md.

Can a B&B biz really pay off? 

The humble, indispensable slow cooker lets you bake bread, roast meat, simmer stew, make yogurt and even fix dessert -- frugally.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 23, 2012 5:44PM
Image: Woman with empty plate (© Tara Moore/cultura/Corbis)Some people still have the idea that slow-cooker recipes invariably involve cream of mushroom soup. It ain't necessarily so. There's a slow-cooker approach to just about every kind of food you can imagine: meat-and-potatoes, Asian, low-fat, Italian, Mexican, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free.

I haven't found recipes specific to the slow food movement, but I bet they're out there.

For as little as $20 -- and sometimes for a lot less -- you can get a machine that cooks for you during the day or while you're sleeping. Some life partners won't even do that.  

Trade in My Coke Rewards points for movie tickets, magazines, gift cards, electronics and other goodies. Or just get more soda.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 22, 2012 12:23PM
Image: Hollywood (© Comstock/SuperStock)Diet Coke is my caffeine of choice. I see no reason to pay retail, though, so I use the My Coke Rewards program. Although I could cash in for premiums as varied as garden tools, an MP3 player and a retro toaster, I tend to focus on vouchers for free 12-packs.

Here's how a frugalist does it:
  • Collect points, mostly from other sources (more on that later).
  • Trade them in for a "free 12-pack" voucher (two of them, if I have enough points).
  • Watch for a "buy two 12-packs, get three free" sale.
  • Cash in, and drink up.
In other words, I pay for one (or none) of the 12-packs and wind up with five, which can last me a couple of months. Since each box has a 10-point code, it means an additional 50 points toward my next 12-pack.  

Cash-back shopping sites pay rebates on the stuff you want to buy. It's not a license to overspend, though.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 21, 2012 12:40PM

Image: Money (© Corbis)Need to buy clothes, rent a car, send flowers, subscribe to a magazine, book a trip, order a computer, look for a soul mate, stock up on kitty litter or research your family history?

Make sure you get a discount when you do it, by using a cash-back website.

Cash-back sites are affiliate marketers. They get a finder's fee each time they send a new shopper to an online merchant and split that money with the consumer. In other words, you'll still be buying Fido's kibble from Petco. You'll just be getting an 8% rebate to do so.

Which are the best cash-back sites? So glad you asked.



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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.