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For as little as $150 a year, you'll be covered. You can't afford not to have it.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 28, 2013 1:11PM

Recently, I read an interview with a local man who had been displaced by an apartment fire. He wasn't sure where he would go once the temporary Red Cross housing ran out or how he would replace his belongings.

If he'd had renters insurance, he would have known exactly where to go: to a hotel paid for by the policy. He'd also have been able to shop for clothes, furniture and other items lost in the blaze.

Unless you own the place where you live, you need renters insurance. This kind of coverage is essential for anyone renting a home, apartment, dorm room or space in a senior living complex.

Policies cost as little as $150 a year. If you think you can't afford it, consider this: How would you afford to replace some or all of your belongings due to fire, flood or theft?


Discounts can be had if you're willing to speak up, and to do a little homework.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 25, 2013 12:43PM

Unless you're supremely healthy and/or supremely lucky, you'll probably face medical bills in the coming year. That slip and fall on the ice, a bad case of the flu or a simple strep throat can dig deeply into your wallet.

Here's a frugal tip: Right now, while you're not sick or injured, is the time to work at reducing medical costs. That goes for annual exams and any tests that accompany them as well as for that bronchitis your kid brings home from school.

For example, you might be able to save 30% off the cost of an appointment right off the bat, just by offering to pay upfront and in cash.


Scared to open your January credit card statements? Use these tactics to get out of the hole faster.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 24, 2013 12:05PM

Got bills? Plenty of us do, if the National Retail Federation is to be believed. According to the NRF, we spent $579.8 billion during the 2012 holiday shopping season.

I'm guessing it wasn't all done with cash.

The arrival of the January credit card statements is one of the factors in the pseudo-science surrounding "Blue Monday," allegedly the most depressing day of the year. That makes sense, given how often those bills are larded with overindulgence.

Sound familiar? Then it's time to look your debt in the eye. But that doesn't have to be as scary as it sounds.


But make your buying a choice, not a reflex. This simple tool can help.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 23, 2013 1:58PM

Woman with a Bunch of Shopping Bags (Fuse, Getty Images)Recently, I was one of six personal finance writers participating in a Google Hangout on the Air. The theme for the live video presentation was "Spend Less, Save More in 2013." (View the archived program on YouTube here.)

During the discussion, Melissa Tosetti, who blogs at The Savvy Life, suggested a strategy that I think makes a lot of sense: Use a "spending book."

This is not the same as a price book, which frugalists create to determine grocery prices. A spending book is a small notebook in which you write down things you need to buy (graduation gift, 50 pounds of rice) and also things you want to buy (new bestseller, trip to Hawaii).

At once a reminder and a disciplinary tool, the spending book helps aim your dollars in the direction you desire. Specifically, it helps you focus on what you need right now, versus being distracted by bells and whistles.


If your life seems crowded and your budget feels tight, take a look at the stuff you own. How much are you spending on items that rarely -- if ever -- get used?

By Donna_Freedman Jan 22, 2013 12:12PM

Unorganized items in garage (image100, SuperStock)Recently, an executive from GE sold her home and almost everything in it. In a post called "Wishing you a simpler New Year" on the LinkedIn networking site, Beth Comstock wrote that she'd started to think her possessions owned her.

It took more than a year to divest, based on a single, simple rule. "What was left had to be extraordinary or essential," says Comstock, the company's CMO.

A cynic would say that a high-level exec's decision to embrace voluntary simplicity would simply mean fewer things for the housekeeper to dust.

After all, a wealthy person has the option of simplifying -- and of re-buying all that stuff if it turns out she misses it. Someone with little money doesn't have many options: It's simplify or die.

I'd have said that myself if I hadn't recently seen an odd little implement in a relative's kitchen.


Retail therapy is not the answer. Banish midwinter blahs with a frugal mood enhancer.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 21, 2013 11:49AM
Today is "Blue Monday," allegedly the most depressing day of the year. It's become an annual meme even though it’s not scientifically based. Cliff Arnall, the man who came up with the "formula" for figuring the deepest emotional trough of the year, apparently did so as a publicity stunt for a travel agency.

Even so, the idea makes sense. Mix together consumer debt from holiday spending, reduced light levels, cold weather (in many places), post-holiday letdown and failed New Year's resolutions, and you've got a formula, all right -- a formula for winter blues that could send you to the fridge and then to the couch. 

While college may be 'the ticket to the middle class,' it might not be the right choice -- right now.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 17, 2013 12:57PM

Image: College graduate (Corbis)Paula Wethington, who blogs at Monroe On A Budget, made a pretty bold statement recently: "If you have no idea what to study, do not sign up for college classes."

I agree.

But my kid's guidance counselor said everyone should go to college! And MSN Money columnist Liz Weston calls college "the ticket to the middle class." 


Won't my kid be doomed to a lifetime of financial struggle if he doesn't get a degree?

Relax. Wethington isn't saying kids shouldn’t go -- only that they shouldn't go without a plan.

Flailing around aimlessly means extra time in school. It may mean lots of extra time, according to Complete College America

  • Associate-degree students take an average of 3.8 years full-time and five years part-time to finish what should be a two-year program.
  • Bachelor's-degree students take 4.7 years full-time and 5.6 years part-time to finish what should be a four-year program.

In part that's because some students are juggling work and/or family responsibilities with classes. Another part of the equation, Wethington notes, is "a lack of academic direction that result in students taking too many unrelated classes," and a lack of support for at-risk enrollees.

More time in school means scholarship and grant sources getting used up and maybe extra loans taken out. Students are on the hook for those loans whether or not they have jobs -- or even degrees -- when they stop attending.


Financial fibs can derail your efforts to pay off debt and save money. It's time to stop rationalizing, justifying and shifting blame.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 16, 2013 12:31PM

Image: Dishonest man (Halfdark/fStop/Getty Images)A personal finance blogger named Serena recently listed the "Top 5 lies we tell ourselves about our money."

Only five?


Compared to some people she's doing pretty well. But comparison isn't a good idea, as Serena notes with Lie No. 3: My $5,000 credit card debt isn't that bad -- some people's debt is $30,000.

"Why not compare (yourself) to people doing better?" she asks.

Excellent question.

Obviously the reasons for consumer debt vary. Someone who can't afford insurance could wind up hospitalized by a fall on the ice or a bad case of the flu. Others can justify anything with a bit of financial fibbing:

  • Charging a pricey treat whose cost you're sure you can cover on payday (Lie No. 1).
  • Buying something you've wanted forever because it just went on sale (Lie No. 2).
  • Reasoning that most of your debt comes from buying necessities rather than "frivolous" stuff. (Lie No. 4).
  • And when unpayable bills show up? That's not your fault, either -- it's that your paycheck isn't enough (Lie No. 5). 
Serena says these lies come from two places: "fear and laziness." To which I say: Yes and no.  


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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.