Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Sticking with bills can help keep you on track.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 6:47PM

Last month my colleague Karen Datko linked to a post from personal finance blogger "Broke Grad Student." The short essay, "6 reasons why I hate cash," seemed at least partly tongue in cheek, especially since a couple of days later he followed up with reasons to love money. Yet the underlying sentiment -- plastic rules, cash stinks -- seemed genuine.

Broke Grad Student wrote his piece after making an ATM run to buy food at his workplace cafe. "Having to make the trip to get the cash (annoyed) me," he wrote. Good grief -- hasn't this man ever thought about getting cash back with a purchase from the supermarket or drugstore? Or, for that matter, about packing his own lunch

The blogger further groused that cash is "easy to lose." Just about everybody misplaces moola, he claimed, and afterward "you can't call an 800 number and have them cancel your $20 bills."

Yeah, and if you lose your credit or debit card and don't have any cash on you, good luck with that cab ride.


Packing your pantry can make financial sense.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 6:37PM

I have 29 cans of tuna, thanks to a really good sale at Albertsons. Last week's ad had a coupon for Chicken of the Sea tuna at three cans for 99 cents, limit six. 

The fine print said "one coupon per transaction," not "one coupon per customer." Some of my neighbors toss the grocery ads unread into the lobby recycle bin, so I wound up with a handful of coupons.

Guess which destination walk I chose a bunch of times in the past week? And guess what I had for lunch on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday?


Believe it or not, the IRS can be helpful.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 6:26PM

This post comes from Abby Freedman, a freelance writer and daughter of Smart Spending blogger Donna Freedman.

As an aspiring accountant, I am just odd enough to find income taxes fascinating. 

Still, I understand there are saner individuals out there who prefer to duck and cover until this season is over.

Generally, they cope by forking over $100 to $200 to have simple returns completed -- and not necessarily by a CPA -- at a "tax-in-the-box" establishment.

Or they plunk down (much less) money for tax-preparation software to guide them to their refunds. Better, but still not ideal.


My finances improved, but I'm still frugal at heart.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 6:22PM

When I wrote "Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year" in January, I promised to check in at the end of 2007 to let readers know how I was doing.

I could never have imagined how that article would change my life. It led to additional assignments for MSN Money, and eventually to hosting this blog, for which I earn a part-time salary.

My life changed. My lifestyle didn't.


Luxury goods' prices hard to swallow.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 6:15PM

Who's up for a $15 cup of coffee, a $35 movie ticket, an $81 burger and a $480 cocktail?

Oh, and I'm not buying.

I'd be awfully surprised if you were buying, either. Those who read this blog are not likely to want to spend $81 on a sandwich. 

Not that this is just any old burger. It's a 14-ounce Japanese Kobe beef patty formed around a quarter-pound seared Kobe medallion, according to an article at No plebeian Heinz or Hunt's for this sammich; it comes with house-made sake onion catsup and a miso and ginger aioli.

And if that doesn't fill you up? It also comes with a side order of Tater Tots. Honest.


Simple things (even the free ones) can make you feel rich.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 6:04PM

Last summer I found a cast-iron skillet in the "free" box at a yard sale. It was slightly rusty, but a little steel wool took care of that. I'd wanted an iron skillet and had been keeping my eye out for an affordable one. What's more affordable than free? 

Never having cooked in cast iron before, I'm really enjoying this pan. It's as useful as I'd hoped it would be. Having a new kitchen tool makes me happy.

Betsy Teutsch, who writes the Money Changes Things blog, had the same kind of skillet epiphany, except hers was a Teflon pan from the supermarket.


You can donate, re-gift or sell them online.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 5:57PM

Not all gift cards are welcomed by their recipients. Maybe you got a Nordstrom card although you're a thrift-store kind of gal. Maybe Uncle Fred gave you a Wal-Mart card, not knowing you're one of those folks who has problems with that merchandising giant's policies. Or maybe you, like MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam Weston, simply don't like gift cards. 

Remember that the giver meant well, and go ahead and write your thank-you note. After that, you're free to dispose of that gift card in any of the following ways. 

(How to write a thank-you note for something you're planning to ditch? Try this: "Many thanks for your generous gift. It was so kind of you to think of me. The gift card will come in very handy."

And it will come in handy, though not necessarily in the way the giver might have envisioned.)


When you save money, you are earning money.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 6, 2009 5:47PM

Some readers thought the headline on "Earn $50 an hour: Change your own car battery" was misleading. Their basic gripe was semantic: "You're not earning the money, you're saving it."

That's not how I see it. When you do a project, the money stays in your pocket instead of landing in someone else's. You are paying yourself. You are earning money.

But when I thought it, I realized that the headline is misleading -- just not for the reason those readers thought.



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