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I hate to admit it, but I bought dollar-store underwear.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 3:46AM
I've gone about as low as frugal can go: I bought underwear at the dollar store.

It was name-brand, though "slightly irregular" merchandise, a three-pack of Hanes Her Way briefs. Three-for-a-buck drawers are a good reason to love the dollar store.


These emporia have had some negative press lately, notably the tainted toothpaste scare. Another potential problem with dollar stores is that you might buy stuff you don't really need because, well, it's only a dollar. I’ve been miserably tempted by flavored potato chips, for example.


And of course you sometimes do get what you pay for -- but really, how much do you want to pay for a dish drainer? 

 

Contacting companies directly can be rewarding.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 3:40AM

Got coupons? Maybe not. Maybe your local paper includes few or no Sunday inserts. Maybe you're feeling so squeezed by the economic downturn that you can't afford new printer cartridges -- or for that matter, a Sunday paper. 


Stephanie Nelson of CouponMom.com suggests a way to get free coupons. It takes very little work and is paying off for one of Nelson's co-workers. 


First, write up a boilerplate note: "Your (insert product name here) is a terrific product. It (gets my whites whiter/makes my house cleaner/tastes much better) than any other products on the market. I've been using this product (for years/for decades/forever) but lately money has been tight and I have had to switch to store brands. Do you happen to have any coupons that you mail out to loyal customers?" 

 

She instilled the value of hard work and self-reliance.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 3:30AM

Yesterday would have been the 73rd birthday of the person who probably should be writing this column: my mother, Geneva Hanes. 


She was the youngest of 10 kids born to an uneducated Tennessee couple who eventually pulled up stakes and moved north for opportunity -- that is, for the chance to work in South Jersey factories and vegetable fields. 


Despite hunger, poverty and violence, my mother became the first in her family to finish high school. She owned two dresses ("one on, one off") and never had a square meal or a bath in a real tub until she married my dad right after graduation.


They had four kids in five years, which sounds impossibly grim by today's standards. But we didn't seem to notice that we were poor. Everyone we knew pinched pennies. Nobody did it like my mom, though. 

 

Save electricity -- and money -- by air drying.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 3:18AM

Tired of putting quarters into the dryer? Save two bits and do your bit for the environment by getting a drying rack. 


According to a group called Project Laundry List, electric dryers amount for 5% to 10% of residential electricity usage in the United States. Racks are the green/frugal solution for apartment dwellers who don't have access to outdoor drying. 


They're also useful to homeowners in places where housing covenants ban clotheslines. Apparently the sight of damp clothing flapping in the breeze brings down property values. A Boston Globe article quoted Frank Rathbun, a spokesman for the Community Associations Institute: "If you imagine driving into a community where the yards have clothes hanging all over the place, I think the aesthetics, the curb appeal, and probably the home values would be affected by that."


I wonder if he means all clothes, or just boxers and briefs?

 

Finally becoming free of debt is a huge emotional relief.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 3:12AM

A month ago today, I became debt-free – made the last payment to a relative who had lent me some money. This loan had allowed me to throw a big chunk of cash against credit card debt accrued during divorce proceedings. (Lawyers bill by the hour, you know.) 


Once the credit card was paid in full, I started repaying the family loan. As money came in through diligence or chance, I’d let it build to $300 and then write a check. I'm not sure why $300 became the magic number; it just sounded good.

Now I'm debt-free: no student loans (I'm blessed with a scholarship), no car payment (please let it last another six or seven years), no credit card debt (and there won't be any more).


It feels about how you'd think it would: pretty darned great.

 

Plenty of cheap entertainment options abound.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 3:02AM

A good time doesn't have to cost a good piece of your paycheck. Some readers of the Smart Spending message board listed scores of ways to enjoy life on the cheap -- specifically, for $1 or less. 


Although some of the pleasures on this thread are best enjoyed by families with young children, many will also translate to singles or couples. Unleash your inner kid by flying a kite. Invite your significant other to a picnic in the town park when there's a free evening concert. Walk your new girlfriend from gallery opening to gallery opening -- you get props for having an artistic soul, and the two of you can enjoy the free snacks that many galleries offer. 

The point is that you don't have to give up having fun just because the economy is dicey. The best things in life are free, but the addition of as little as 19 cents can make the best things even better.

 

Occasional indulgences will keep your finances on track.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 2:03AM

Scared that your money won't keep pace with rising food and energy costs? You may be tempted to cut to the barest of bones, buying nothing nonessential and pinching every penny twice before putting it under your mattress.


I have a better idea. Spend a little money. And spend it on something that isn't strictly necessary. 


Seriously. I believe that allowing for the occasional indulgence, whether it's a new book or a meal out or a carousel ride, will keep you on budget in the long run. 

I'm not telling you to trash your spending plan. I'm just suggesting that you say "yes" to a little splurge here and there. Having something that you want every so often makes it easier not to have it the rest of the time.


Just ask personal-finance blogger "Story Girl." She bought herself a chocolate croissant when she should have been saving for retirement.

 

Benefits of eating home-cooked meals together are numerous.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 1:55AM

Americans not only need to be reminded to eat with their families, they have to be told how to do it. At least that’s the impression I got from radio spots touting "Family Dinner Night" as a way to, among other things, keep our kids off drugs.


Then there's the print ad for a brand of frozen entrees: mom, dad and two kids enjoying lasagna from what looks like a glass dish, not a microwave tub. "Real dinner and great conversation any night of the week," the ad copy exults.

It goes on to say, "Get your family talking!" -- and provides a Web site to help the conversation along.


Let's see: We don't seem to know that families are supposed to eat together. Once at the table, we need cue cards to help us talk. Oh, and a frozen dinner is helpful, too.

 

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