Fighting lifestyle inflation: Hopping off the hedonic treadmill

Frugalists aren't averse to spending. They're just canny about how they buy, or whether they buy at all.

That's a tough sell, so to speak, in a country where we're persistently pressured to keep up with the Joneses (or the Kardashians). Flash sales, one-click shopping apps, deal websites, and near-weekly sales at brick and mortar stores make it soooo easy to buy.

Haul photos on social media, hot deals shared by friends, clothing or cosmetics worn by favorite celebrities, that bling your sister-in-law sported at Christmas – spending triggers, every one of them. Continue reading...

More about...Psychology

11 frugal ways to prepare for an emergency

According to the U.S. government, all citizens should have enough supplies to survive for at least three days in an emergency. Depending on where you live, "emergency" could mean tornado, earthquake, blackout, flood, wildfire, hurricane, ice storm or zombie apocalypse.

How ready do you feel?

It is possible to put together an emergency kit without breaking the bank. In fact, you may already have some (or much) of what you need already.

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More about...Frugality, Home & Garden, Planning

Keeping a Pet Healthy on a Budget

There's no such thing as a free puppy. Or kitten. Or hamster, lizard, fish or rabbit. Even if someone hands you a critter outright, you can expect to spend between $580 to $875 a year for basic expenses, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Oh, and that doesn't count things like purchase price/adoption fees, collar, leash, crate, spaying/neutering and other "capital costs." Or for any of the myriad (and sometimes silly) ways we profess love for our animals. The American Pet Products Association says that U.S. pet owners spent a little over $58 billion last year on our critters; this year the estimate is $60.59 billion.

Who says you can't put a price on love? But keep in mind that:

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More about...Frugality

35 tips for packing a lunch your kid will eat

About four in 10 elementary school students bring lunch from home. But it's not likely to be a good one, according to a 2014 study from Tufts University.

Not one of the lunchboxes examined met all five National School Lunch Program standards, and only 27 percent of the meals met at least three NSLP recommendations (fruits, vegetables, low- or nonfat dairy, whole grains, and meat or meat alternatives).

Almost 25 percent of the brought-from-home meals lacked an entrée and, instead, were made up of packaged snack foods and desserts. Only 5 percent of the meals contained any vegetables.<

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More about...Food

Strategies for an affordable college education

As you gaze at your newborn or newly adopted son or daughter, one of these thoughts may run through your head:

Time has a way of sneaking up on us. Seemingly overnight, that gurgling infant morphs into a 12th-grader looking at college or vocational education.

According to The College Board, tuition and fees (but not housing) at U.S. colleges in academic year 2014-15 ranged from $9,139 (state residents at public college) to $22,958 (out-of-state residents at public universities) to $31,231 (private colleges).

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More about...Education, Planning

Alternatives to the multi-generational survival tool

A whole lotta folks are way too comfortable with credit card debt, according to the "Generations Apart" study from Allianz Life. Nearly half of the Generation Xers and Baby Boomers surveyed consider plastic to be "a financial survival tool."

Guys, guys, guys: The credit card is not a superhero. Sure, one swipe saves the day, but it's only that day. What will you do on the day the bill arrives? Or on all the days you carry a balance?

Oh, wait. That doesn't bother some people, either:

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More about...Debt, Retirement

What will you do when your debt is paid off?

I've been in debt just once: during and after a two-year-long divorce, a time during which I was also a midlife university student. Good times!

Nineteen months after the divorce decree, I zeroed out my legal debt. I also took a deep breath for the first time in years. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do with the extra money each month.

What I should have done: Visit a fee-only financial planner.

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More about...Budgeting, Debt

Pay what you want — and get what you need

Looking for a cheap date, some budget-friendly culture, or ways to make your next vacation more affordable? Four words: "Pay what you want," or PWYW.

Theaters, museums, comedy troupes and other organizations may offer PWYW days or nights, where you hand over only as much as you can afford. Think of it as happy hour for entertainment -- a way to get out of the house without your budget going off the rails.

How far does it go?

The lively arts aren't the only PWYW option out there.

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More about...Food, Frugality, Travel

We’re eating our house!

A blogger who goes by "empressjuju" thinks she and her husband spend too much on restaurants. "Every month we find ourselves rushed, or tired, or invited out with friends and there goes the budget," she wrote in a post on her website, (the) Vegas in Austin.

Her husband wondered whether it is unreasonable to spend less. Given that they want to be homeowners, she took a different view: "We are eating our house!"

Her words reminded me of an interview with personal finance expert Mary Hunt. On the subject of giving college students credit cards for emergencies, here is what Hunt thinks: Young people rarely encounter true emergencies. "If you can eat it, drink it, wear it, watch it or listen to it," she said, "then it's not an emergency." Continue reading...

More about...Home & Garden

How to save money from falling gas prices

The price of gasoline in the U.S. dropped for 97 days straight beginning in late September 2014. According to the American Automobile Association, the gas we buy today costs an average $1.11 per gallon less than this time last year. Averages are great liars, of course. The average cost of gas in Anchorage, Alaska, right now is $2.87 while folks in Columbia, Missouri, are filling up at $1.80 per.

How this all shakes down for you depends on the length of your commute (five miles each way or 50?) and/or the rigidity of your current budget, as well as how long prices stay at these levels. But an article in Business Insider notes that if gas prices remain low, the average American household should save about $42 per month in 2015.

The savings might be considerably higher if your household's driving habits add up to mucho miles. (Hello, Californians!) Yet even that "average" $42 per month could do your budget some good as, say, seed money for an emergency fund savings account.<

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More about...Budgeting