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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Things I no longer buy.

thLast 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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thSome 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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