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How to avoid takeout.

thYesterday I woke up with this phrase in my head: “Something about the bridge.” Not the conveyance type of bridge, but the kind in my mouth.

Unfortunately, my dentist appointment proved that my precognitive flash was correct. The X-rays showed decay in a place that can’t be fixed unless the dentist removes the cantilevered bridge (aka a “Maryland bridge”) to do it.

That bridge was on borrowed time anyway. It was installed 31 years ago. When I said as much, the dentist’s eyes widened. It’s had an impressive run, but time for it to go. And for a crown to be placed on that tooth.

My self-funded dental insurance covers only preventive work like X-rays and cleaning. The work needed will run a little over $1,200 if I pay by check. Which I will, of course.

My decidedly non-frugal reaction was to say, “Let’s go out to eat.” You can see that I wasn’t thinking clearly.


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th-1The typical U.S. resident will pony up big-time on or around May 10. According to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation, we’re planning to spend an average of $172.63 on things like brunch, jewelry, gift cards and, of course, flowers.

That’s about $10 more than we spent last year. It isn’t clear whether that’s due to an improvement in the economy of just plain old guilt.

Or maybe the things we want to give (more on that below) are pricier this year?

My mother died in 2003. I never came anywhere close to spending an adjusted-for-inflation $172.63 for a Mother’s Day gift. If I had, she would have raised the roof.

On the other hand, I did visit her whenever I could – and since I was coming from Alaska those were some pretty pricey tickets. Travel definitely averaged out to more than $172.63 per year, especially when I brought my daughter and/or then-husband along for the ride.


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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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thIn honor of Valentine’s Day, a shout-out to all engaged couples: You don’t have to spend the alleged “average” of $30,000 on your nuptials.

In fact, I think it’s smart to consider what you can afford – on your own or with help from family – vs. what wedding planners are so eager to sell to you.

Holly Johnson of Get Rich Slowly agrees with me. “Thirty Gs is a lot of money to everyone I know, and the last thing most of us want is to start a new marriage off with tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt,” she said in an article called “Wedding savings accounts: How I saved for my wedding.”

Johnson’s wedding was low-key, with a total outlay of about $3,000. And guess what? They’re just as married as folks who plan to spend 10 times that amount.


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thOver 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 spent at places like Manhattan Bagel, McDonald’s, Tropical Smoothie, Chipotle, Texas Roadhouse and 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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