351095 Giveaway: Budget Bytes, a wonderful cookbook.I’ve often said that food is the budget category with the most wiggle room. After all, you usually can’t bargain down your car payment or your rent. Groceries, on the other hand, can be finagled.

That’s how Beth Moncel came to start a blog and later write a book. Her student loans were “eating her alive,” she said, so she had to cut spending. When a car repair knocked her budget sprawling, Moncel decided to spend no more than $6 per day for food in order to pay the freight.

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in nutritional science, she already knew how to make food healthy. Now she just had to make it affordable.

To keep herself on track she created a blog, BudgetBytes.com. Soon she developed quite the fan base, because plenty of us would love to eat well but also cheaply.

Now she’s also got a book, “Budget Bytes: Over 100 Easy, Delicious Recipes to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half.” Reading it makes me hungry, filled as it is with ideas like Huevos Rancheros Bowls (served over grits instead of wrapped in corn tortillas), Spinach & Artichoke Pasta, Curried Potato & Pea Soup, Chicken Tamale Pie, Teriyaki Salmon With Sriracha Mayo, Cumin-Lime Sweet Potato Sticks, Firecracker Cauliflower, White Beans With Spinach & Bacon, Savory Coconut Rice, and Southwest Veggie & Rice Casserole.

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th6 Cant get ahead? Try a savings challenge.Years ago I moderated MSN Money’s Smart Spending message board, on which people would post frugal hacks, recipes and other tips to stretch a buck.

The boards went away some years before the Smart Spending blog did; when that happened, some of the most loyal commenters created an alternative universe.

Not MSN Money Proboards” is a place for veterans of Smart Spending and other message boards to stay in touch and keep sharing the wealth. Or, rather, the road to wealth.

One post I checked in on today, “2014 Savings Strategies,” brought up the old custom of “savings challenges.” Those were popular during the worst of the recent recession; you couldn’t swing a virtual cat in the PF blogosphere without running into someone’s post on challenges.

Stuff like:

  • Spare Change Challenge – Every night put all your coins in a jar
  • Dollar Bill Challenge – Like the above, except with paper instead of specie
  • Five-Dollar Bill Challenge – Pretty ambitious, but a little too rich for some bloods
  • Random Number Challenge – Pick a number and every night check the bills in your wallet; if one has a serial number ending in the chosen digit, into the jar it goes

But the Proboards posting also mentioned a couple of new ones.

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th8 7 more kick ass spending tips.My non-traditionally coiffed blogging buddy J. Money applauded another writer’s “Two kick-ass spending tips” – or, rather, his non-spending tips, as they’re designed to curb impulsive buying.

The Stranger Test: Imagine a stranger holding the item you want to buy in one hand and its price – in cash! – in the other hand. Which would you choose?

The Urgency Test: You’re wondering whether to buy something. Ask yourself, “Would I wear this out of the dressing room right now if I could?” If the answer is “yes” and you can afford it, go ahead.

These are the “only two saving/budgeting ideas that I actually follow these days,” the anonymous blogger, Zee, notes on his site, Work To Not Work.

Good ideas both – although I do think the Urgency Test should be tempered with a bit more questioning, e.g., “How often would I actually use this?” (especially as regards things like hand tools and kitchen gadgets) and “Will this make a big enough difference in my life to spend the money?”

Put another way: There’s a reason you see new or practically unused stuff at yard sales. That reason is often, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

I do like Zee’s viewpoint, though — and I’ll see his two basic tips and raise him seven more ways to help avoid overspending.

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How I Make Money Blogging Picture 2 Help with starting your blog. Some people write for love. Others write for money. I say it’s possible to do both, by starting a blog and monetizing it.

Although I dislike that neologism, I do embrace its underpinnings, i.e., that the laborer is worthy of his hire.

This week’s giveaway, an e-book called “How I Make Money Blogging: The Beginner’s Guide to Building a Money-Making Blog,” can kick-start your own efforts to be rewarded for your thoughts.

Some people make a little money blogging. Some make a lot. The book’s author, Crystal Stemberger, is in the latter camp. She really works it, running a handful of sites and also acting as ad-sales goddess, mentor, consultant and freelancer. Apparently she is allergic to sleep, because she recently added yet another specialty: pet-sitting.

Not everybody wants to work 24-7. But if you want to start a blog or if you’ve got a site and want it to start paying its way, this e-book can help. A lot.

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th4 150x150 When it says check engine, believe it. Want to spend a lot of money? Ignore your car’s “check engine” light and cheap out on simple maintenance.

If money is tight, some people will stretch out the times between maintenance periods. Or they’ll ignore the manufacturer’s suggested timeline with an idea they’re being frugal.

Bad idea.

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th3 Blog roundup: Sick as a dog edition.Two weekends ago I came down with what seemed like an upper-respiratory virus: congestion, low-grade fever, and general aches and pains. In addition I felt sharp pain in my face whenever I coughed (which was often).

The fever disappeared within two days but everything else hung on, and dug in. After nine days of feeling that I’d been beaten with several efficient hammers, I reluctantly made an appointment at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.

“Reluctantly” because I figured there wasn’t much to be done about a virus and that I didn’t have a full-blown sinus infection that could be treated. But I was so tired of hearing my own breath wheezing and clotting that I figured it was time.

Besides, my Aunt Elna was known to have broken ribs while coughing, and eeeewwww.

Professional demeanor prevented the doc from saying “You sound like crap” but I think that’s what she meant. No pneumonia (“although it could turn into that”) so just as I thought: no antibiotics.

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th2 150x150 Between the (budget) sheets.Recently Wells Fargo sent a study about how financial worries influence sex habits. An astonishing (to me) 48% of U.S. students over age 18 find that concerns about cash affect their intimacy with romantic partners.

In fact, more than one-third (36%) of people aged 18 to 34 said that money woes affect their sex drives.

And here I thought that sex was one of those inexpensive things that could help take your mind off your bank balance.

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th1 Tight belts, Capt. America and a Swagbucks promo.I’ve got two new pieces up at Money Talks News, one of which is serious and one of which has comic-book references. Both can help you marshal your finances.

How to survive when your income drastically drops” is an article some people would just as soon not read. After all, who wants to think about hours cutbacks or having a spouse lose a job?

But stuff happens whether you want to think about it or not. Put another way: You have the option of a little prep work now or a lot of regret later on.

8 personal finance tips from ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’” is another of my “PF is where you find it” pieces. Having done money-advice pieces based on “Parsifal,” “Gotterdammerung” and “True Grit,” I figured it was time to take on the latest in the Marvel franchise.

“The Winter Soldier” was great fun, by the way – as much political thriller as straight-up action flick. In fact, at least one reviewer warned fans of the first film that the sophomore effort contained less action.

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book 281x300 Giveaway: Couponing For The Rest of UsAnd now for something completely different: a coupon expert who doesn’t like coupons.

Kasey Knight Trennum, who blogs at Time 2 $ave/Time 2 Give, says that she’s never sung the praises of coupons. Ask her about “the joys of saving a ton of money,” however, and she’ll get pretty vocal.

More than vocal: Trennum wrote a book, “Couponing For The Rest of Us: The Not-So-Extreme Guide to Saving More,” that’s designed to help readers save money “without it becoming an obsession.”

The author offers information on topics like deciphering “sales cycles,” how to locate coupons for items your family actually eats, smart stockpiling, making the Internet do most of the legwork, and turning saving into sharing.

And again, a sane approach: “I can’t stress enough (that) balance is the key to making couponing work for you. You have to figure out how to make it fit into your world; it cannot become your world.”

In addition to the book, this week’s winner will also get a cute little green accordion-style folder. After all, some coupons are still made of paper rather than pixels.

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th2 Be yourself, and save. Frugality bloggers are all about the hacks, i.e., the conscious ways they stretch every dollar. My daughter recently wrote about unconscious savings – or, rather, savings she didn’t specifically pursue.

“I have an awful lot of unintentional frugality, just based on how I live my life,” Abby notes in a piece called “Life’s accidental savings.”

Among them: working at home (huge savings there), not having a pool (they’re fairly common in Phoenix), skipping manicured hands and a manicured landscape, not eating red meat or drinking coffee, having hermit tendencies, and laziness.

What she calls “laziness” has to do more with spoon theory than sloth. A near-fatal neurological illness left Abby with some permanent health issues, one of which is chronic fatigue. So when she says she’s sometimes “too lazy” to make a junk food run, it probably means she’s not sure she would be able to get back out of the car and into the house after the errand was completed.

(True story: Once when walking home from the bus in Seattle, Abby considered lying down on the public sidewalk because the two steps up to her front walkway seemed just too much to manage. She did make it into the house, but I expect she used her last spoon to do so.)

Judging from the comments sections, she’s not the only person accidentally saving money.

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th Welcome, Grandparents.com readers!I thought my website’s dashboard was playing an April Fool’s Day trick on me when I got up this morning: Not even 8:30 a.m. and I already had nearly 1,200 page views.

Nope: It was because more than 600 of you had read “6 everyday habits that are draining your wallet” in the Grandparents.com e-newsletter and then trotted over here to read my linked post, “14 ways to get off the kid-gift treadmill.”

Welcome to all of you, and I hope you stick around to read a little more. As noted in the “About” section of this site, Surviving and Thriving is my playground for words, a place to express ideas that don’t always fit neatly into other sites’ expectations.

Sometimes that’s in a fun way, e.g., “Midlife love rocks! (Ask me how I know).”

Sometimes it’s a midlife-musing way, as in “The bottle blonde at the DMV.”

And sometimes I just get really angry about something and need to vent, such as “Think you’re broke? You probably aren’t.”

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th11 150x150 Getting winter off your feet.When I was a kid we got one pair of sneakers each year – always in the springtime, and always a size too big so we could grow into them. Invariably they were either red or blue, because black was considered a “boy” color and white sneakers would get dirty too quickly.

While researching this month’s post for Retail Me Not, I learned just how big a fashion statement sneakers can be. To paraphrase the poet, April may be the coolest month when judged solely (pun intended) on the stylin’ sneaks of today – especially since they’re among the best deals of the month.

I also learned about the existence of vegan sneakers. And here I thought vegan condoms were startling.

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