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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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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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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th8 9 smart ways to use all that extra cash.Over at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, Crystal writes about a friend with a problem that plenty of people wouldn’t mind having.

“They are now earning more than they need to pay their bills, and they wanted my advice on what to tackle next.  I love those kinds of conversations!” says the blogger.

Among her suggestions: emergency fund, retirement, various types of insurance, paying down existing debt, and health savings and/or flexible spending accounts. All good choices.

What would you do with extra cash? Maybe you haven’t thought about it, being too focused on keeping the books balanced or paying down debt. But there could come a day when you either get more money (a raise, a windfall, a side gig) or need less money (debts paid off, kids leave home).

Start thinking now about what you’d do with it, for two reasons:

  • It helps keep you focused on your goals (prepaying a mortgage, helping a child through college), and
  • It will help you spend when the time is right.

You might think that second one sounds silly. “Help me spend? I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to agonize over every dime!”

Then again, you might be surprised.

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