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Want to go car-free but worry you'll still need wheels from time to time? Auto- and ride-sharing companies can help.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 15, 2013 12:45PM

Logo: Los Angeles, Calif., traffic on Interstate 405 (VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm/Digital Vision/Getty Images)The Avis Budget Group's recent purchase of auto-by-the-hour company Zipcar moves the rental-car behemoth closer to a new market: people who don't want to own a car but sometimes need a set of wheels.

Avis now joins Hertz and Enterprise in offering "car sharing," shorter-term usage vs. daily rentals.

Zipcar was a fairly symbolic purchase, since it was the world's largest car-sharing service. Other companies like IGO, Timecar and City CarShare still exist across the country for people who can't afford, or simply don't want to own, a vehicle.

A more recent trend is peer-to-peer car sharing, i.e., renting out your car when you aren’t using it through companies like RelayRides and Wheelz. A third option is on-demand ridesharing, via sites such as SideCar and Lyft.  

All are alternatives to the high cost of private auto ownership, which MSN Money columnist Liz Weston says is "wrecking (the) retirement" of many Americans.


Apps and websites can find the best prices for everything from a root canal to the cost of health insurance.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 14, 2013 12:15PM

Logo: Dentist working on a computer (Andersen Ross/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)Nearly 50 million people in the United States have no health insurance. Those who do have coverage may still find it tough to deal with co-pays, deductibles and coverage caps.

Stretch your health care dollars with apps and websites that will help you save on everything from a root canal to the cost of health insurance.

Depending on your circumstances, some of these services can lead you to health care that's very low-cost or even free.

This isn't a comprehensive list, but it's a good start.


Is half the workforce sneezing and wheezing? Use these tips to avoid contagion.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 11, 2013 11:48AM
Man with bullseyeA recent study from Cintas Corporation noted that 84% of employed U.S. adults have gone to work while sick. Almost half of them neither warn co-workers about their illnesses nor avoid physical contact that could lead to contagion.


The result is often more sickness, which we're seeing right now in the form of seasonal influenza. An MSN Money article, "Flu outbreak is costing companies billions," reports that companies may spend up to $10.4 billion on hospitalization and outpatient visits.

Businesses take another hit, too, in the form of decreased productivity, as sick-but-ignoring-it workers struggle through their days.

Why do we do it?  

The influenza season is off to an early -- and nasty -- start. If you're without health insurance, try these tactics for getting vaccinated today.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 10, 2013 3:08PM

Person receiving a vaccine (Jeffrey Hamilton, Lifesize, Getty Images)As of earlier this week, eight Chicago-area emergency rooms weren't accepting new patients. The ERs went on "bypass" status, asking ambulance drivers to take cases elsewhere if it's safe to do so.

What was the cause of the patient overflow? The flu.


If you didn't get vaccinated last fall, it may be time to rethink that decision.

In Chicago and across the nation, the flu season is "off to its earliest and most active start in nearly a decade," according to the Chicago Tribune. Normally, the time frame is from mid-December through March, peaking during the second half of January.

But between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, nearly 100 flu patients were admitted to intensive care units in the Chicago area alone. In the same time period last year, one person was sent to a Chicago ICU.

At least the Chicago patients are still indoors. A hospital near Allentown, Pa., has set up a tent outside the emergency room for flu patients. Pennsylvania is being hit hard by the virus, with 11,327 laboratory-confirmed flu cases and 22 fatalities since Oct. 2, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  


A few simple fixes can save you money. Don’t get carried away, though.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 9, 2013 12:34PM
Logo: Man changing oil (Ron Chapple, Getty Images)Can you hang up a picture or drive a nail? If so, then you can do certain automobile fixes yourself -- and if you want to save money, you should do them.

Think of it as one more way to deal with the 2% you'll miss from your paycheck now that the Social Security tax has reverted to its old rate.

Seriously, the fewer things you hire someone else to do, the more money you keep in your pocket. The DIY route may also save time. You can drive to a shop and wait for someone to do a simple repair, or you can do it yourself in five to 30 minutes.

True, you may have to factor in buying parts. To save money, use a price comparison website to find the best price and have them shipped to your home.

According to AutoMD and, the average car owner should be able to handle one or more of the following chores.   

Our kids are among the most indulged young people in history. We may be setting them up for failure as adults if we fail to give them 4 essential life skills.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 8, 2013 12:17PM

Logo: Boy in bed (MM Productions/Jupiterimages)Are your kids prepared for life? Quite a few of our children aren't. Citing 8-year-olds who won't tie their own shoes and 20-somethings who stay up all night and sleep until noon, Elizabeth Kolbert suggests that we are raising "the most indulged young people in the history of the world."


(Well, except maybe for "the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France.")

"It's not just that they've been given unprecedented amounts of stuff -- clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. They've also been granted unprecedented authority," Kolbert writes in The New Yorker.

Specifically: These days parents want their kids' approval, whereas children used to seek their parents' approbation. That means Mom and Dad don't want to lay down the law. Kolbert cited a video study of Los Angeles families that recorded:

"No child routinely performed household chores without being instructed to. Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. In one fairly typical encounter, a father asked his eight-year-old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower. After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him into the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a video game.

"In another representative encounter, an eight-year-old girl sat down at the dining table. Finding that no silverware had been laid out for her, she demanded, 'How am I supposed to eat?' Although the girl clearly knew where the silverware was kept, her father got up to get it for her."
Here's a question: Will Daddy Dearest be around 20 years from now, still rushing to make things right for his pampered princess?

And another question: What are we doing to our children?  

Use these simple tips to reduce the pain in the checkout lane.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 7, 2013 3:16PM

Logo: Close-up of a person using a calculator in a supermarket (George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)Your grocery bill will likely be going up soon, thanks to the 2012 drought in the Midwest. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects food prices to rise 3.5% to 4% in the coming year.

Food is one of our largest fixed expenses, but it's also the one with the most wiggle room.

You probably can't negotiate lower rent or a lower car payment, but a little creativity can produce a lower grocer bill, especially if you follow the advice offered by Alea Milham on her Premeditated Leftovers blog -- a simple tip that can save you 50% or more.


Too often consumers use services and products that lose them money rather than improving the bottom line.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 4, 2013 12:03PM

Would you pay $1,900 for a $600 laptop? Lock up your money for 10 years at today's interest rates? Opt for $300 worth of credit with a card that will charge you more than one-third of that amount in fees the first month?

Logo: CEO (Roy McMahon, Corbis)I wouldn't. But plenty of others do, according to Paul Sisolak at


"Time and again, consumers fall for financial products that may actually lose them money instead of build it. And it's not just a penny here or a dollar there," he says.

"Some banking incentives can be downright dangerous to our financial well-being, causing us to lose out on thousands of dollars over the course of several years."

Sisolak's exhibit No. 1: the 10-year CD.

Yes, I said 10 years.



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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.