Smart SpendingSmart Spending

It's a good idea to keep a stash of greenbacks handy.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 30, 2009 3:30AM

Hidden in my apartment is a slowly growing collection of small bills. I’ve been setting aside ones and fives toward the goal of having cash on hand for emergencies. 

Some Smart Spending message board readers do this, too. Whether they call it pin money, bail money, "gittin' out of town" money or just a collection of presidential quarters, having a little ready cash makes them feel, well, ready.

The U.S. government wants us to be ready. One of the Department of Homeland Security's Web sites,, recommends keeping some folding green on hand, right alongside the food, water and bucket toilet. 

After all, some emergencies mean power failures -- bye-bye, ATMs.


You never know who might be struggling financially.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 30, 2009 3:10AM

An old friend recently got a job after being first underemployed and then unemployed. One day at noon her new boss noticed she hadn't left her desk. "Aren't you going to have any lunch?" he asked. 

Well, no, she wasn't. There'd been barely enough in the house to make brown-bag lunches for her kids. My friend lied brightly about wanting to work through her lunch hour so she could finish on time for once. 

It's bad enough to be on the financial edge. It really stinks to be put on the spot, too. 

Some of us don't realize that anybody could be in financial trouble. That well-dressed middle manager might be about to lose her home. That seemingly carefree young co-worker could have two jobs and three roommates and still be sinking under the burden of student loan  debt.


Fuel economy is now buyers' top concern.

By Karen Datko Sep 30, 2009 1:34AM

As the price of gas goes up, many people's desire to own a big honking SUV heads south. And so may be the value of that SUV sitting in your driveway.

A growing number of SUV owners are finding that they owe more on their vehicles than they're now worth. And those folks are going to have a heck of a time getting rid of them at a satisfactory price.


Was it really worth 30 minutes of my time?

By Karen Datko Sep 30, 2009 1:30AM

This post comes from partner blogger The Dough Roller.

Would you cash a 35-cent check? Two days ago I wouldn't have known the answer to that question. Now I do, and, I'm sorry to say, the answer for me is yes. Yesterday I spent 30 minutes traveling to my bank and back to cash a 35-cent check.

Here's the story and what I plan to do with my spoils.


Prices aren't the only factors to consider.

By Karen Datko Sep 30, 2009 1:26AM

Is Sam's Club cheaper than Costco? Ashley at Wide Open Wallet wanted to know, so she did a price comparison of 33 items.

The result? The items, in total, would have cost $399.47 at Sam's Club and $406.41 at Costco. About a dozen of the items were cheaper or the same price at Costco. Otherwise, Sam's Club ruled. She also notes that Sam's Club has a cheaper membership fee and a clearance section. (Her Costco does not.)

Regardless, she still prefers Costco. Here's why:


Dress warm, turn down the thermostat and watch your bill shrink.

By Karen Datko Sep 30, 2009 1:18AM

Kate at Living the Frugal Life has some tips that remind us of a Montana winter years ago. Making little money early in our career, we set the thermostat at 60 degrees. That was that.

Years later, when hard times hit, we reverted to those frugal ways. To this day, the programmable thermostat never goes above 63 in winter. Do we sometimes get cold? Yes. Do we suffer? No. We know that Kate's advice works. 

We recently found Kate's blog and enjoy it because it's so real. Unlike personal-finance writers who assemble advice in the comfort of fine homes, she's living a sustainable suburban homestead life.


To put it simply, banks exist to make money off you.

By Karen Datko Sep 30, 2009 1:10AM

This post comes from partner blog Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

Credit unions exist to help their members. Commercial banks exist to enrich their shareholders.

You read that right. That's why credit unions often have better interest rates on both loans and deposits. Commercial banks are businesses. Their sole purpose is to figure out how to make more money from  customers (you). Interest rates on accounts are often very low (or nonexistent), and they always try to sell you new products. 

Credit unions, by law, have to have membership requirements. Credit unions are often tied to a geographic area or particular group, and as long as you qualify you can join. For instance, the Pentagon Federal Credit Union is one of the better-known credit unions, because of its once mighty CD rates (still competitive if you look at terms of three-plus years), and if you aren't active/retired military or work in defense, you can become eligible by joining the National Military Families Association. There are membership rules, but there are ways around them.


Living on the financial edge is tough, but it also makes you tougher.

By Karen Datko Sep 30, 2009 12:57AM

Many of you are wondering when the huge wave of economic woes will come crashing down on your head. For some of you, it already has.  

I crossed a financial minefield of my own in recent years -- sudden unemployment followed by working for near minimum wage -- and I'm prepared to do it again if I have to. Hopefully what I learned about getting by in difficult times can help you too. 

My story in brief: I lost a great job I had thought I'd enjoy for life when the ownership of my company changed. After six months of searching, I found a comparable job on the other side of the country. I lost that one too, sold off most of my things, and drove home with my computer, some clothes, a few dishes, keepsakes, and my three dogs.



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