Frugal NationFrugal Nation

You can make yogurt, bread, even laundry detergent and cat litter. And you'll have a greener lifestyle and save money in the process.

By Donna_Freedman May 16, 2012 5:03AM

Image: Cleaning products (© Burke/Triolo Productions/Brand X/Corbis)Frugal bloggers often write about making certain household essentials themselves, to cut grocery costs. The decision may be about health and/or the environment as well as dollars.

For example, vinegar is a healthful alternative to commercial cleaning sprays, especially if someone in your house is chemically sensitive. Homemade yogurt is much cheaper than the commercial kind -- and it sends fewer small containers to garbage dumps. (It's also delicious. I haven't bought ice cream since I started making yogurt at home.)


Counting in lattes is passé. Calculating your savings in the gallons of gasoline you can now afford will get you further down the road.

By Donna_Freedman May 15, 2012 5:51AM
Image: Filling fuel tank (© Corbis)The phrase "latte factor" sets my teeth on edge. Its premise is that cutting one fancy brew a week saves you $250 or so per year.

But the assumption is that everyone reading the advice can afford multiple lattes per week, which is why it irks me.

Suppose it were called it the "free gasoline factor"?


Companies like Habitat for Humanity's ReStore shops sell building materials, hardware, furnishings and appliances at amazing discounts.

By Donna_Freedman May 11, 2012 6:54PM

Image: Young man and woman holding power tools, low section (© Thomas Barwick/Photodisc/Getty Images)On Monday, I saw a man buy a door for $7.50. He said "Jackpot!" several times while waiting to pay. Given that interior doors go for $40 and up at nearby hardware stores, he really did hit the jackpot.

Welcome to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where DIYers, small-business owners, contractors and found-materials artists locate the means to turn their dreams into reality. It's one of a number of organizations working to keep building materials, furnishings, hardware and appliances out of landfills.

Since all materials are donated, it's like shopping at a thrift store -- you never know what you're going to get, but you do know that it'll be cheap.


The go-to protein for vegetarians can also work miracles for a carnivore's food budget.

By Donna_Freedman May 10, 2012 5:40PM

Image: Woman with empty plate (© Tara Moore/cultura/Corbis)I'm not the first frugalist to sing the praises of beans, beans, the frugal fruit. Even though their price has risen along with just about every other foodstuff, dry beans can still be had pretty cheaply, especially if you hit warehouse clubs or ethnic markets.

Beans are the go-to protein for vegetarians but they can work miracles for a carnivore's food budget, too. As John Steinbeck wrote: "Beans are a roof over your stomach. Beans are a warm cloak against the economic cold."

A big chunk of the world's population relies heavily on the lowly legume, which can be made delicious in endless ways. With so many recipes online, there's no reason not to eat them.

Well, there's one reason, but you can always try Beano. Or leave a window open.


Don't want to drop a grand or more on a school dance? Try these tips from the high school trenches.

By Donna_Freedman May 9, 2012 11:44AM

Image: Prom couple (© Digital Vision/Digital Vision Ltd.)Last week, "The shocking cost of the senior prom" revealed an average expenditure of $1,078. I wasn't the only one startled by that figure. A number of readers left some fairly pointed comments.

One parent, however, defended a $900 prom tab: "We feel she deserves to celebrate the end of her childhood and the beginning of the next chapter of her life."


You might find exactly what you need in the giveaway box. I certainly have.

By Donna_Freedman May 8, 2012 5:24PM

Image: Home garage sale (© UpperCut Images/SuperStock)I don't believe in "The Secret" -- the notion that if you visualize what you want it will come to you. But I've sure had decent luck with the "free" box at yard sales.

In the past five or six years I've wished for certain items, including a spoon rest, a small saucepan, an apron, a biscuit cutter, food storage containers and a cast-iron skillet. Sooner or later they all showed up -- for free.


Choose a present that gives Mom more time to herself -- or more time with you.

By Donna_Freedman May 7, 2012 3:17PM
Image: Stopwatch (© Steve Allen/Brand X/Getty Images)According to a survey from, almost half of us shop for Mother's Day gifts a week or less in advance of the holiday.

(It's May 13 this year, so you'd better get cracking.)

The survey noted that 43% of shoppers buy flowers. This year, why not surprise your mom with something other than a bouquet?

Here's an idea: time.  

These institutes for higher learning will offer gratis instruction online. Other colleges and organizations already do.

By Donna_Freedman May 4, 2012 10:52AM to go to Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for free? They're partnering on a nonprofit called "edX," which will create online classes as early as autumn 2012.

"MIT's and Harvard's mission is to provide affordable education to anybody who wants it," Anant Agarwal, the president of edX, told the Los Angeles Times.


The classes will confer knowledge, not actual college credit. Some might result in a certificate of completion, which would require a fee.

But edX isn't the only way to get free education online.



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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.