They're no substitute for insurance, but, for the uninsured, every little bit helps.
With so many people going without health insurance, why not give the benefit of health care via a gift card?
Tackle trouble BEFORE it begins.
Ron Lieber writes the excellent “Your Money” column for The New York Times. Recently, he shared a list of four money talks to have before marriage. Lieber writes:
Divorce tends to be emotionally gut-wrenching for the people who go through it (not to mention those around them). But most couples don’t realize that divorce can also be among the most ruinous financial moves anyone can make.
This article struck home for me. No, Kris and I are in no danger of getting a divorce (I love my wife!), but we’re at that stage in life where the people around us are passing through rocky stages of their marriage. Some are even getting divorced.
- Bing: The costliest divorces
I recently spoke with a friend -- let’s call him Mike -- whose marriage is floundering. Mike and his wife are wrestling with a variety of issues. The acute crisis was caused by infidelity, but the chronic crisis -- the ongoing problem -- involves a conflict over money.
Depression-era lessons aren't always applicable today.
When the going gets tough, it's tempting to invoke our grandparents and their tribulations during the Great Depression. A Smart Spending message board reader posting as "jestjack" started a thread called "Where are my grandparents when I need them?"
"These were some of the most thrifty, smart, industrious, hard-working, and honorable folks," he wrote. "Boy, could we use their wit and wisdom in these troubled times."
I'm about to commit cultural heresy: Not everything our grandparents had to offer would be helpful.
How to make your produce last a little longer.
Last week I noticed that some Braeburn apples I'd bought were getting kind of tired. I sliced one up and tried to eat it but the slightly softened texture made the fruit really unappetizing. Given how high food prices are getting, the idea of throwing out fruit really annoyed me -- and I had another five apples in the bag.
A childhood riddle popped into my head: How do you divide five apples among nine people?
The answer: Make applesauce. So I did: Peeled and sliced the other apples, simmered them with a little water, pulverized them with a potato masher, and added cinnamon and a tiny amount of brown sugar. The result was delicious.
Do middle class folks really need ostentatious displays of wealth?
Sam's Club thinks I deserve luxury. Specifically, the retailer thinks I deserve a pair of Granny Smith apples dipped in caramel, rolled in pecan pieces and drizzled with three kinds of chocolate. This particular luxury would cost me $18.22 -- plus shipping, since it’s available only online.
The two-piece treat was one of several items highlighted in an e-mail whose subject line read, "Luxury You Deserve At Sam’s Club." That got my attention because I’d just read a review of a new book called "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster."
Back in the 19th century, the "luxury" trade was small and aimed squarely at European aristocrats. Now it's big, big business and marketed to the middle class. For example, the author mentions a secretary who’s saving to buy her second Prada bag.
You might be able to score a deal.
Recently I called a regional pharmacy to take advantage of its generic prescription program. Thyroid medication costs me $10 a month at my current pharmacy, but at the other store that same $10 would buy three months' worth of pills.
The phone rang a few minutes later. It was my current pharmacist, asking for another chance.
He'd just heard from Fred Meyer about my plans to switch, and he offered to match the $10-for-three-months price. It would never have occurred to me to ask.
The fact that he did offer made me want to suggest this tactic to readers: If you're thinking about switching to a generic prescription program, don't do so without asking your current pharmacy to match the price.
Crock-pot meals fed my family when money was tight.
I remember when slow cookers first hit the market, back in 1970. To my cash-strapped family such things were luxuries, culinary toys for the rich. We felt the same way about popcorn poppers and the Fry Daddy.
But I don't know how I would have made it as a struggling single mother eight years later without the slow cooker. It made most of the meals on which the baby and I subsisted: primarily bean soup, with occasional forays into minestrone and spaghetti.
Americans won't give up their spendthrift ways forever.
Gas is expensive and food is going higher and higher. I'm not talking about today -- I'm flashing back to my teenage years. Times were tight between 1974 and 1976, when I ran the household for my father and younger brother. I remember how quickly the grocery money evaporated even though I made all our meals, desserts and snacks from scratch. Gasoline was not only costly but rationed during what was widely referred to as the "energy crisis."
People combined errands and stayed home a lot more. They cut back on nonessential foodstuffs, did without entertainment and new clothes, and generally tried to make their dollars go further. But this austerity didn't last. The age of conspicuous consumption cranked up in the 1980s, and cars seemed to get bigger each year. More than a few times I've said to myself, or to others, "Have we learned nothing from the '70s?"
Nope, we hadn't. The crisis was over. We had plenty of gas once more.
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ABOUT SMART SPENDING
Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
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