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Hostess bakery outlets have closed up shop, but there's more than one way to get marked-down breads -- and lots of ways to use them.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 27, 2012 1:16PM

Logo: Close up of fresh sliced loaf of bread (Adam Gault/OJO Images/Getty Images)When Hostess Brands announced the imminent shutdown of the Hostess bakeries earlier this month, people seemed to be more upset about a world without Twinkies than about the loss of 18,500 jobs.

Resellers were asking as much as $60 a box for the spongy little cakes. Anyone who paid that much may kick themselves later, since the Hostess brands could be acquired by other companies.

Frugalists also have reason to mourn: Hostess-affiliated bakery outlets will be closing, too. That means no more discounted sandwich breads, bagels, hamburger buns, English muffins and other cheap carbs.

Fortunately, there's more than one way to get marked-down bread -- and lots of frugal, tasty ways to use it.

 

Corporate policy or business etiquette may determine whether employees give gifts to a supervisor.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 26, 2012 1:32PM

Logo: Smiling lawyer sitting at desk in office (Chris Ryan, OJO Images, Getty Images)Thinking of buying your supervisor a holiday gift? Think again. Think very carefully, advises blogger Penelope Trunk. Her advice: "Don't give your boss a gift." 

 

Well, there's one kind of gift she recommends: a handwritten note.

This missive should explain your appreciation for what your boss has done for you in the past year, and explain how lucky you feel to be working for him or her.

"Give very specific examples," Trunk says.

Easier said than done if you’re in a job you dislike and/or have a creep for a boss. If that's the case, maybe you can skip the whole thing based on the etiquette-based or actual corporate policies mentioned by Trunk's readers -- specifically, that giving should be "down" (supervisors to employees) rather than "up."

"Giving the boss a gift can be either bribery on your part or extortion on the boss's part," wrote one commenter. "In either case, it's a terrible idea."

But what if you're in a work environment where not giving a high-profile gift is professional suicide?

 

Don't toss that celery end! It will grow again. So will green onions, ginger and other produce.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 21, 2012 12:33PM

Logo: Groceries (Tetra Images/Corbis)Recently I rescued the butt-end of a bunch of celery from my niece's kitchen. Alison had planned to compost it. I planned to try something I'd seen in an About.com article called "How to re-grow your groceries."

 

Erin Huffstetler had recommended sprouting the celery in water, but I put the stub directly into a pot of soil, gave it a drink and wished it well. Less than a week later a trio of teeny-tiny but heavily leafed stalks were growing from the old, dried-up part. Ultimately those leaves will flavor soup and the stalks will go into a stew or stir-fry.

Yes, I know it'll take quite some time. But my chilly Alaska day (7 degrees when I got up) is brightened by the sight of the new growth, which looks more vigorous every day.

Celery isn't the only grocery item to re-grow, according to About.com Frugal Living guide  Huffstetler.

 

Think beyond Christmas when checking out those unbelievable deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 20, 2012 12:55PM
Logo: Santa Claus (Corbis)Want to save money all year long? Build yourself a gift closet, i.e., a batch of "evergreen" presents that will see you through just about any occasion. My own gift closet contains journals, gift cards, small toys and good fiction.

I didn't pay much for any of it, because I tend to shop clearance tables, yard sales and thrift shops. The gift cards come from rewards credit card programs or from secondary market resellers; I usually have one or two cards on hand at all times.

Not everyone is comfortable giving gift cards or items that were bought secondhand. While I'd like to point out that some of those "used" gifts are still shrink-wrapped, I understand that this is an intensely personal decision.

There's another way around the issue: getting deeply discounted items from Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotions.

"This is a good time to fill up the gift closet," says Brent Shelton, spokesman for FatWallet.com and Ebates.com.  

A new study says 60% of us want to find plastic scrip under the tree. No need to pay full price, though.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 19, 2012 1:03PM
Logo: Gift (Thinkstock Images/Jupiterimages)Some people love gift cards, and some people hate them. I've got a foot in both camps, for several reasons: 
  • Gift cards let the recipient choose what he wants.
  • The cards go further when redeemed during post-holiday clearance sales.
  • I don't need/want bath salts or a cheese board, whereas getting a card to a useful store (Walgreens, Safeway) boosts my budget.
  • If I'm given a card I don't want/can't use, I can sell or trade it on the secondary market (more on that below).
  • Sometimes I pass along cards that I receive -- in effect, someone else doing my shopping for me. (Re-gifting is also a controversial subject, but that's for another column.)

That said, I also see the drawbacks:

  • They can seem awfully impersonal.
  • I'm a little glum about the way some people use gift cards to avoid the botheration of shopping. ("Convenience" cited by 20% of the shoppers surveyed by the National Retail Federation.)
  • I often find very nice presents (yay, thrift stores and clearance sales!) for well under the cost of a $20 or even a $10 card.
  • Personally, it can feel odd to have someone know how much I spent on him.

Not that I always pay full freight for gift cards, mind you -- or pay at all.

 

Drop that to-do list and make time for someone special. Single? Plan some R&R with a BFF.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 16, 2012 11:32AM
Logo: Couple in love (Vladimir Godnik/Jupiterimages)Find yourself sniping at your spouse or partner at this time of year? Wouldn't surprise me. As I noted in "Why we lose it on Black Friday," the holidays can be emotionally hectic. It's easy to feel steamrollered by social, familial and commercial pressures to create the perfect celebration.

Your regular to-do list is probably long enough already. When you add decorating, shopping, school holiday programs, preparation of traditional foods, gift-wrapping, and maybe even travel or hosting the visiting relatives -- well, it's enough to make anyone a little tense.

Plus: A lot of these things cost money. Bonus tension!

The folks at the Daily Worth website suggest a simple coping mechanism: date night.  

A new survey says 47% of us spend more than we can afford during the holidays. Examine your motives before you open your wallet.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 15, 2012 2:05PM
Logo: Gift (Brian Hagiwara, Brand X, Corbis)The holidays are emotionally fraught. From holiday carols in the stores to one-upmanship at family reunions, the personal and commercial pressures can make the weeks between Thanksgiving and Dec. 24 pretty ho-ho-horrific.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to buy gifts for family and friends, but there's a whole lot wrong with going into debt to obtain them. We do, though: A new survey from the Oxygen Network indicates that 47% of adults spend more than they can afford and 36% will incur credit-card debt while doing so.

Think about that for a moment: Almost half of us acknowledge upfront that we are going to bust our budgets. Probably more than half: We tend to underreport things that are "moderately shameful," according to psychologist Ramani Durvasula of Oxygen's "My Shopping Addiction" (Mondays, 11 p.m. ET/PT). 

Turkeys are more expensive this year. Here's how to make Thanksgiving dinner more affordable.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 14, 2012 1:31PM
Logo: Pilgrim hat (Siede Preis / Photodisc Green/Getty Images)It's not your imagination: Turkeys are pricier this year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gobblers are 6% more expensive than they were in 2011.

We have the Midwest drought to thank for the increase, and for increases for several other traditional T-day foods and ingredients as well:
  • Ice cream (0.9%)
  • Breads (1.2%)
  • Processed vegetables and fruits (2.3%)
  • Fats and oils (3.8%)
On the bright side, some items are cheaper than last year: Butter is down by 8.2%, and on average fresh fruits and vegetables are down 1.1% and 4.9%, respectively. However, certain individual items are actually costlier; for example, the apples for your pie went up 5.9%.

The turkey is the biggest-ticket item, though. Last weekend I bought one for a food drive and was surprised to see the birds retailing for $1.49 per pound. (I actually wound up paying less; more on that in a minute.) Someone in the market for a 16-pounder would have spent almost $24 without a single side dish.  

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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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