th8 Should you boycott restaurants?Over at Midlife Mom Musings, a blogger named Sharon wrote about an unpleasant surprise. The July food budget for her family of four was supposed to have been $700. Instead, they spent nearly $1,700 on groceries and meals away from home.

“I just don’t remember spending that much,” Sharon said.

(Few of us do.)

More than $400 of that was on meals away from home. Manhattan Bagel. McDonald’s. Tropical Smoothie. Chipotle. Texas Roadhouse. Ciros.

“Not even nice restaurants,” she lamented.

They ended the month with a $1,000 negative cash flow — which she freely admits could have been avoided if they’d just stayed within their food budget. To help make up for that loss, Sharon is boycotting all eateries in August.

A no-restaurants month is a common meme in the personal finance blogosphere. Just like “no-spend week” and “cash-only quarter,” it works if you work it – and if you do, you can learn a lot.

Like, say, how to cook with what’s on hand. How to pack a lunch. How to say “no,” whether that’s to kids who want to stop for a smoothie or to yourself when you really, really want a blueberry bagel.

Hey, I love a serving of McDonald’s fries as often as I can get away with it. But eating them every day would torpedo my budget and, maybe, my arteries.


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Things I no longer buy.

th4 150x150 Things I no longer buy.Last year I voluntarily downsized my salary, i.e., I decided not to rush to replace all the income lost when MSN Money kicked all its writers to the virtual curb.

Since then I’ve had to make some very conscious choices about what – and whether – to buy. Less money = fewer expenditures.

News flash, right? But what surprises me isn’t that I’m spending less. It’s that I don’t miss any of those things very much.


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th3 Smartphones: As important as deodorant?Some people are a bit too e-connected: carrying their smartphones around like fifth limbs, endlessly checking their screens, ignoring their children in favor of cat photos or an updated Facebook status.

The recent Bank of America “Trends in Consumer Mobility Report” indicates just how wired some of us have become. Nine out of 10 respondents said their smartphones are just as important to their daily lives as deodorant and toothbrushes.

I see a distinct difference: If you forget to use the phone your coworkers won’t look trapped when you enter their cubicles.

Just 7 percent of respondents find it annoying when someone checks a phone during mealtime. Personally, I think that unless you’re waiting for the transplant center to call about that kidney, you should back away from the phone now and then. Meals eaten with other people are an excellent place to start.

If they had to give something up to be able to get access to a cellphone, the majority of respondents (45 percent) said “alcohol.” Which, of course, would solve the problem of drunk-dialing.


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th1 Wealthy people think you could live on less. Here’s a piece of advice from the rich: You ought to be able to live comfortably on $25,000 to $50,000 per year.

This was one of the takeaways from the Country Financial Security Index, a survey of about 3,000 U.S. residents published a few months ago. More than half (55 percent) of the respondents consider themselves “middle-class,” even though some of them made incomes of as much as $200,000 a year.

Depending on where you live, $200k might not be enough to live on, at least comfortably. Which brings us to another result, something called the survey authors call the “comfort gap.” Nearly half of the respondents believe that $50,000 to $100,00 is enough to live comfortably. Yet only 34 percent consider the people who earn such incomes to be “financially well-off.”

Sure, they may have nice stuff. But actual security? Not gonna happen on that salary.

And here’s the part that concerns me: More than half of the respondents who described themselves as “wealthy” believe that an individual could live comfortably on $25,000 to $50,000 a year.


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th 1 How much underwear do you have?While chatting with a relative recently about small vs. large savings, I mentioned that I wasn’t interested in making my own laundry soap. The money saved would amount to about 8 cents per load, and DF and I generally do no more than six loads of laundry per month (and usually fewer).

The relative was shocked: “We do two or three loads a week for just the three of us.”

Then again, one of those three is a very active 8-year-old – in other words, lots of dirty clothes. That also means an extra set of sheets each week. And for all I know, that family uses a bath towel only once.

That’s how I grew up; my mom didn’t think it was sanitary to reuse a towel. Boy, did I get over that idea when I moved out on my own.

But that got me to thinking: Are we really grimy people for not caring whether the towel gets used, reused and re-reused?


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