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All it takes is a little scrounging.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 30, 2009 3:49AM

After a year without going to a movie theater, I'd pretty much forgotten how expensive tickets are. That's why I was shocked to pay $10.25 to see "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" earlier this summer. I'm not alone in my dismay; plenty of those who commented on a Smart Spending post about sneaking candy into the movies groused about ticket costs along with the price of Jujubes.

I paid cash to see "Kit" because I was writing about the movie, so the cost of the ticket was a business expense. However, I've seen several movies since then and haven't paid a dime. 

Instead, I use movie tickets that I ordered through the My Coke Rewards program, which offers vouchers to AMC Theatres. I live two blocks away from an AMC theater here in Seattle, and others are a bus ride away. If I have to use public transit, I wind up spending just $1.50 to $3 for an afternoon at the movies. When fall quarter starts, I'll get a free bus pass as part of my tuition, bringing the cost of my entertainment to exactly $0.


Am I really a 'sucker' for helping another human being?

By Donna_Freedman Sep 30, 2009 3:42AM

As I walked home from doing errands on Monday, I saw an older man standing near the entrance to a shopping center parking lot. He looked wrinkled and weary and underfed, and he held a cardboard sign: "Homeless, anything will help." I put a dollar in his hand and said, "Take care of yourself. I wish it could be more." He replied, "God bless you." 

Then a silver SUV roared up, sunroof open to let the summer rays strike the male pattern baldness within. The driver wore pale blue sunglasses so I couldn't see his eyes, but I could read the sneer on his face. "Sucker!" he yelled as he drove by. 

Maybe I am a sucker. I didn't know the backstory of the man to whom I'd given that dollar. He could have been a drug addict or a Level 3 sex offender.

He could also have been a disabled veteran, a downsized executive, a laborer who aged out of his profession, an uninsured guy who lost everything after catastrophic illness.

His past didn't matter to me. His present did: He was a human being in need. I had a dollar to give, so I gave it.


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.



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