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thWhat’s the weirdest thing you ever did to save money? That’s a question that the GO Banking Rates blogger Christine Lavignia asked of me and 29 other personal finance writers. Here’s my answer:

“As a 21-year-old single mom, I was a clerk at a big-city newspaper, where an editor would ask me to run to the cafeteria for coffee for reporters, ‘and get something for myself, too.’

I would pocket the 35 cents it cost to buy an orange drink and purposely get more sugar packets than necessary; that way, I’d get an extra buck or so a week (these were 1979 dollars) plus sugar to take home for my oatmeal.

“I don’t know about ‘weird,’ but it’s certainly sad. … Just one more reminder that since I had very few resources, I’d better be creative about meeting needs for myself and my baby. My various hand-to-mouth coping strategies were pretty useful much later, when I was a mid-life college student and broke divorcee.”

The other answers can be seen at “The weirdest thing I did to save money.” In my opinion only a few of them are truly weird.

My favorite? “I scrounged in the Lost and Found for a free swimsuit.”


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th-2Once upon a time people kept journals to deal with the tedium and trauma of daily living. These days the online world is a stage on which we can play out our lives in public, if we choose.

Not every personal website is about someone’s cute kids or cute shoes, either. Or even about a race to pay off student loans, learn a skill, start a business, homeschool their kids, buy a home or retire early.

Sometimes the poor players strut and fret some pretty intensely personal business: love, genderqueer politics, marriage, divorce, infertility, midlife reinvention, empty nests, aging, dying.

Writing helps us feel our way through chance, challenge and change. Or so I note in “When life hands you blog fodder,” a piece on the blog associated with my online writing course.

The Internet is crammed with the drab and the dramatic, adorableness and grotesqueries, rampant TMI and TL;dr. What makes for the most readable work, I think, is what one of my newspaper editors called “conflict.”


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th-1Recently I was quoted in a U.S. News and World Report article about affordable Mother’s Day gifts. My suggestion was, of course, writing-related: Buy her a journal.

A written account of your days on Earth isn’t just a chronicle of the way you work, eat, love, parent, spend, vote and play, however. It can also be:

A safety valve. Write down what happened at work/on that first date/as you walked past a construction site, or risk having your head ’splode.

A historical document. Some day your descendants will be startled that you once earned only $50,000 per year or that you had to hold your phone in your hand in order to communicate. Preserving these memories will add to your family history.

An intimate friend. You can tell your journal anything, although it might be wise to have a stout lock on the thing.


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thDuring a business-related trip to Texas last summer, I met up with a blogger who goes by the name “empressjuju” and blogs at (the) Vegas in Austin. Along with her husband we enjoyed a delightful regional brunch (think “breakfast tacos”) and talked about money and life.

Homeownership was definitely on their minds. But months went by and they kept discovering swell new restaurants and activities. Austin can do that to you.

This kind of overspending is insidious, she noted later, and it can feel oddly necessary because we’re all such busy people. In fact, her husband was inclined to think that it wasn’t really a problem.

The empress begged to differ. “How are we ever going to buy a house if we keep spending like this on food? We are eating our house!”


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thFrequent flier miles? Trading in hotel loyalty points? Those all work. So do the tips I offer in a guest post called “Destinations on a dime: 10 tips that will change your wandering ways,” a guest post over on The Real Deal, the house blog at Retail Me Not.

Anyone who’s read me knows that I’m more likely to go for hostels, museum reciprocity, buddy passes public transit and the Megabus.

Rewards programs, too; in fact, I recently cashed in points from a rewards credit card to get a Buffalo Wild Wings gift card for my trip to Phoenix next month (more on that in a minute), and will also cash in Swagbucks points for gift cards to Red Robin and Cracker Barrel. That way I can treat my daughter and son-in-law to a few meals out. After all, they’re getting me to and from the airport.

What else have I been writing lately? So glad you asked.


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