Christmas gifts that keep on giving

Anyone who has lived on the margin has likely felt the anxiety that comes with having just about enough to get by. That's why I'd like to suggest a holiday present that can make a short- or long-term difference in someone's life -- the gift of breathing room.

Got a barely-afloat friend or family member or one who is inching toward the red side of the ledger? Even a small amount of leeway could be extremely helpful (maybe even life-changing) to unemployed or underemployed friends and relatives, single parents, retirees or recent college grads.

The freeing-up of even $20 from someone's budget could become seed money for an emergency fund, an extra payment toward consumer debt, the sneakers her kid needs for gym class.<

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More about...Budgeting

What to buy on Black Friday

Want to start a fight? Announce that you'll be shopping on Thanksgiving Day.

A whole bunch of folks will likely sigh and mourn the once-was-sacred Thanksgiving dinner with family. Why, they'll ask, would anyone want to shop on this day? Why would anyone force retail clerks into manning their posts even though they'd rather be home melting marshmallows atop sweet-potato casseroles?

One such pearl-clutcher, hearing that Macy's would open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, suggested to a Chicago-area newspaper that an obituary was needed. "I think this death needs to be acknowledged," she said. "It is the death of Thanksgiving."<

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Why I voluntarily slashed my salary

In January 2007, I wrote an article about being recently divorced, helping to support a disabled adult child and working toward a university degree in my late 40s. “Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year” went viral as readers (including J.D. Roth) demanded to know how, exactly, I could do that.

A new career - slashing your salary

This post generated more reaction than any other article published that year. The editor kept asking for more, and within eight months I was writing for MSN Money full-time.

Oh, the irony: Having barely enough to get by turned into a decently paid job. (Which was just as well, since I had legal debt from the protracted divorce.)

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What older children need to know about money

Post-secondary education has never been more important. Personal finance writer Liz Weston notes that “a college degree today is what a high school diploma was 60 years ago,” i.e., the bare minimum for remaining in the middle class.

Whether a teaching degree or HVAC certification, it's going to make a difference in your child's life. The big question is how to pay for that training.

Making college more affordable

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Why you must teach your children about money

While researching a magazine article on “raising money-smart kids,” I felt sorry for parents and terribly worried about their children. (Also greatly relieved that I am not raising kids today.)

The article, for Consumers Digest, ran to a few thousand words. Short form: Our children face serious money temptations and pressures, and generally receive very little useful info either from parents or schools.

They also face consequences more serious than their parents ever did. We're not talking about a few bounced checks or some other financial oopsie that you remember from your own early adulthood. An 18-year-old without sufficient financial savvy could within five years find himself:

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More about...Education

Don’t have savings? Quit making excuses

I'm back, and I sound just like your mom: Save that damned emergency fund, already.

This week (Feb. 24-March 1) is America Saves Week. And not a moment too soon: As a nation, we're losing ground. An ASW survey shows that just 51 percent of us have a savings plan with specific goals; four years ago that number was 55 percent. (Still too low, IMHO.) Just 40 percent of us have budgets that allow for savings at all, compared with 46 percent in 2010.

The ASW report notes several reasons (stop me if these sound familiar): relatively high unemployment and underemployment rates, stagnant wages and the struggle to pay off homes. (Hint: In the past four years, the number of homeowners who expected to pay off mortgages before retirement dropped 10 percent.)

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Stop Being the Person You Think You Are

How's your life going? Do dark nights of the soul outweigh the good days? Have you spent more time than you care to acknowledge wishing for something — anything — other than what you have?

Get over it.

It's not that simple, obviously. But in order to move in the direction you desire, you need to stop being stuck in the place where you are right now. Specifically, you need to stop being the person you think you are.

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More about...Career, Planning, Side Hustles

25 Ways to Give (Without Breaking the Bank)

In the past nine months I've found $12.89 in singles and specie. The cash has shown up in a number of places, but most of it is from coins I picked up.

As usual, I'll squirrel away the found funds until Thanksgiving, at which time I'll write a check to a food bank. I've been doing this for a couple of decades, including a span of several years during which I had neither a vessel into which to urinate nor a casement through which to dispose of it.

This was a painless way to help others at a time when I worried nonstop about my own ability to stay afloat. Giving to others got me out of my own head, reminding me that plenty of people lived with considerably fewer resources (financial, emotional, practical) than I had.

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The Power of Personal Responsibility

Last Wednesday evening I lost it, really lost it. Miserable heat and humidity, smog, too much walking on too little sleep, an asthma attack, dueling deadlines, and maybe just a smidge of menopausal mood swings had me alternately raging and sniveling in a borrowed studio apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

A magazine editor with whom I'd met earlier that day wanted more information so she could pitch my ideas more effectively. Due to a scheduling issue the MSN Money editor requested two posts instead of one. My usual Get Rich Slowly deadline is Sunday but J.D. had asked for the piece by Friday if possible. And I had an unbreakable, business-related appointment at noon the next day, which meant leaving by 11:15 a.m.

“I can't do this,” I wheeze-whimpered. “I'm so tired. And I'm in New York, dammit! I quit! I quit!”

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Review: How I Make Money Blogging

Let me say that initially, I was skeptical about both the size and cost of How I Make Money Blogging: The Beginner's Guide to Building a Money-Making Blog. The $27 freight seemed a bit steep for a 32-page e-book.

Then I opened the PDF and began to read.

Within minutes I realized that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover price: Reading is like a long, fruitful session with an Internet consultant. The difference is that a consultant might give you only part of the picture in order to guarantee a follow-up appointment. The author, Crystal Stemberger, holds nothing back and the reader benefits.

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More about...Books, Side Hustles