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Got a wallet full of promissory plastic, or a handful of half-used cards in your desk? Technology can help.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 2, 2013 4:04PM

Logo: Woman sitting on steps with smartphone (Image Source, Image Source, Getty Images)Did you get any gift cards for Christmas? Lucky you. Maybe you ran right out and spent them, or traded them for cold, hard cash.

But maybe you consigned them to a wallet that's already bulging with partially used and/or forgotten plastic scrip. Or maybe you tossed them in a dresser drawer for "later."

(You wouldn't be the only one: My daughter found several such cards almost a year after I put them in her Christmas stocking  -- and she found them purely by chance.)

 

Unused cards are at risk for two reasons: 

  • Spillage. That's the industry term for cards that get lost or forgotten. Of course, you can carry them with you but that makes your wallet kind of unwieldy. It also subjects you to . . . .
  • Theft. "If you lose your wallet or it's stolen, there go your gift cards," says Scott Gamm of Help Save My Dollars.  

Should your cards go missing, there’s only a 33% chance of their being replaced by the retailer, according to this MSN Money article. No law requires issuers to offer compensation -- and many of those who do require a receipt or other proof of purchase.

A simple solution exists.

 

You may have all the best intentions. But some of those well-meaning ideas for 2013 could end up costing you big-time.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 2, 2013 11:18AM

Logo: New Year celebration (Stan Fellerman, Corbis)At the end of December we're ready to believe that new year = clean slate. We just know can change our lives by approaching the next 12 months with a new mindset.

Plenty of people make resolutions, but only 8% follow through, according to The Journal of Clinical Psychology.

If you're the kind of person who makes resolutions, try to be among that 8% -- but don't sabotage yourself by making the wrong financial resolution(s).  

"A reality check" is essential for anyone vowing to do things differently in 2013, according to Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

 

That includes "being honest about your limitations," she says -- and about any limiting situations. Some of the boilerplate promises we make -- "This year I'll pay off debt/increase job skills/save an emergency fund" -- can actually be counterproductive.

 

The loss of ID, credit cards and health insurance info can cause major hassles. Reduce the risk by doing a 'wallet audit.'

By Donna_Freedman Dec 28, 2012 11:56AM
Logo: Man taking money out of wallet (Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty ImagesThe other night a young woman I know set her keys and purse down on a store counter while she looked at some jewelry. You can guess what happened next.

In the bag were her debit card, driver's license, about $20 in cash and a health insurance card. I suppose she's lucky that the opportunistic thief didn't take the keys, too. Otherwise the family would have had to change the home's locks and rekey her automobile.

She called the bank immediately to freeze her account. Fortunately she has no credit cards, so she won't have to explain to Visa's fraud department that she really didn't buy $6,000 worth of computer equipment.

No one can protect her from the dreaded driver's license photo retake, though.

It could have been worse, and she knows that. She also knows that the aggravation won't end with a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Because her personal information is now out there somewhere, she faces the possibility of identity theft.  

Milk could soon cost $7 a gallon if Congress doesn't fix an expiring dairy subsidy. These tactics will minimize the impact on your budget.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 27, 2012 11:57AM
Logo: Bowl of Spilled Milk and Cereal (David Arky/Corbis)An agriculture subsidy that expires on Jan. 1 could result in milk prices almost doubling in 2013.

That's scary news to consumers, who already devote more than 10% of their grocery budgets for milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products.

"If you like anything made with milk, you're going to be impacted by the fact that there's no farm bill," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said on CNN.

"Consumers are going to be a bit shocked when instead of seeing $3.60 a gallon for milk, they see $7 a gallon for milk," he added.

According to this MSN Money article, the price difference wouldn't be noticed for a few weeks into January. That means there's time for Congress to extend the current farm bill or draft a new one.

Do you want to gamble on Congress getting anything done that quickly?  

Whether your sitter is a live-in or drop-in, a vigilant pair of eyes on your home can prevent serious problems.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 26, 2012 1:18PM
Logo: House with bills (Creatas/age fotostock)Planning a trip? It's not enough to stop the mail and board the dog. You need a house sitter.

You might not even have to pay for this service: 
  • Maybe a friend with three roommates would appreciate a week of privacy and peace.
  • Perhaps a trusted neighbor will pop in for a daily walk-through, as a frugal act of kindness.
  • Have a recent-grad cousin who had to move back home? He'd probably pay you for a chance to pretend he has his own place.
Whether your sitter is a live-in or a drop-in, you need a vigilant pair of eyes on your digs. Even for a long weekend, you really do. Here's how I know. 

Don't want that promissory plastic? Gift Card Exchange Day may be the answer.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 23, 2012 6:35PM

Logo: Ornament and credit cards (Tom Grill/Corbis)An estimated $110 billion worth of gift cards were sold this year in the United States, according to research from CEB TowerGroup. That's a 10% increase over 2011.

In other words, you might very well be among the millions of Americans finding  promissory plastic under the tree.

But suppose you unwrap a 'meh' or downright unusable gift card -- a steakhouse scrip although you've gone vegan, say, or credit at a movie theater chain that doesn't operate in your city?

Here's what you do: You smile, thank the kind giver and then trade the card for cash on Dec. 26 -- Gift Card Exchange Day.

 

Several technologies exist to monitor newbie motorists. This can save money on your insurance -- and it might save your kid's life.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 21, 2012 12:10PM

Logo: Woman with license (Blend Images/SuperStock/SuperStock)You've had the talk with your teen about texting and driving. He or she knows better than to try such risky behavior. Right?

Maybe.

A new study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute indicates that while only 1% of parents believe their teens would read or send texts while behind the wheel, 26% of newly minted drivers admit to doing so -- and they do it at least once per trip, every trip.

Scarier still: One in five teens cop to "multi-message text conversations" while driving, according to this article in the Christian Science Monitor.

 

Suddenly an onboard camera doesn't sound like such an invasion of privacy. But cameras are just one way for you to keep track of Junior's highway antics. Smartphone apps and GPS-based systems can do everything from blocking incoming calls/texts to keeping the audio system turned down.

Sure, he'll feel spied-on. Wouldn't you? But technology will save you some money and it might even save a life -- your kid's, or someone else's. 

 

Maybe you want to join the '#26Acts' movement. Maybe you already help others. Either way, stretch your giving dollars with these tips.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 19, 2012 5:26PM
Logo: Adult with elderly parent (Digital Vision/SuperStock)After the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., NBC News reporter Ann Curry sent this message out on Twitter:

"Imagine if all of us committed to 20 acts of kindness to honor each child lost in Newtown. I'm in. If you are RT. #20Acts."

The hashtag was modified later to reflect the six adult lives lost. Since then the #26Acts movement has spread across the country, with acts as simple (and profound) as buying meals for the homeless, paying tolls for others and supplying classrooms with books.

This way of honoring the memory of the murdered is greatly preferable to leaving a balloon or flowers at a vigil. The money and effort you'd have spent will go toward making someone's life a shade better.

But the people you help aren't the only ones who benefit. You will, too, because it's through giving that we receive.  

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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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