Review: Your Playbook for Tough Times, by Donna Freedman

I first came across Donna Freedman’s writing nine years ago, when I stumbled on an article called “Surviving and Thriving on $12,00 a Year.” I was experiencing a personal Upheaval that year, and this brave woman’s proclamation to the world of how she planned to address her own unstable circumstances looked to me like a letter from a supportive friend: “Things may be bad now,” she seemed to say, “but we can make them better if we hang together.” I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights found me re-reading her article, just to know that I wasn’t alone. I’ve read pretty much everything she’s written since then, and played the at-home game of the financial tips and tricks she’s tried in her own life, and do you know what? Things DID get better. Little by little, I managed to pay off all my debt (twice! I’m a slow learner), begin to save, and eventually get to a place of peace regarding my finances. During that time, I met and married my husband and moved halfway across the country where we bought our first house together and figured out a way for him to quit his job and return to school full-time. I even got to meet Donna in person and share a couple of meals and good conversations with her when she came to our new home town of Austin, Texas… Something my scared and overwhelmed Past Self could never have imagined in 2007!

So when her book Your Playbook for Tough Times came out, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! Fortunately, I didn’t have to: I was lucky enough to receive a copy to review. 

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One of the things that I have always loved about Donna’s outlook is her firm belief  that frugal living– even when things are at their tightest– doesn’t have to be miserable and that in fact, it can be quite lovely. Her book promises to show you what she’s learned about living on less whether you’re presently in dire straits, anticipating financial difficulties soon to come, or simply trying to squeeze the most out of your current lifestyle.

And she delivers on her promises in spades, with literally hundreds of solution-oriented tips, offering ways to find more budgetary breathing room that hit from all angles, such as how to earn more, how to spend less, and perhaps the most radical idea of all: how to live happily with less altogether.

The Great Recession of 2008 marked the beginning of an exciting time for the personal finance genre. Whereas historically, books on finance have been written by economists and titans of business, Post-Recession financial bloggers and authors are people from all walks of life,  sharing the daily unfoldment of their personal setbacks, life experiments, and successes. Donna Freedman is a shining example of this New Breed of personal finance writer: Just about everything she suggests in her book is something she has personally tried and found worthy of suggesting. Because learning the principles of real estate investing or restructuring corporations may be interesting, but sometimes, you just need someone to tell you how to keep your electricity on or make sure that your kids get dinner.

The book is an easy read, almost like an e-mail from a trusted friend. It’s peppered with personal anecdotes and loaded with concrete resources,  from money-saving websites to resources for healthcare and housing, to suggested scripts for negotiating better prices on purchases. If you need to streamline your financial situation today, this book can help you do it, because Donna has done a tremendous amount of thorough research for you so that all you have to do is get online or pick up the phone to start making your life better.

Overall, I think it’s a terrific resource for anyone looking to wrangle their financial situation into something more manageable. It’s the sort of book you’d want to keep around, so you can implement some of the suggestions and then come back for more once those have been mastered. And it would make a wonderful and sensitive gift for anyone facing some kind of financial upheaval.

The book is available as a paperback or an e-book, and over at Amazon, if you buy the paperback, you can get the Kindle version for $1.99, which makes it nice for sharing.

If you read it, I’d love to hear what you think… please come back and share in the comments!

 

Frugal Tuesday: Happy Hour Date Night

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Date Night isn’t just for married couples: BFF’s, creative partners, parents and children… just about any relationship can benefit from regularly scheduled fun time. I’ve got some friends that work non-traditional schedules that have had a standing coffee date on Fridays at noon for years. Around here, we try and shake off the work-week (and school-week) and reconnect with each other on Friday nights, before plunging into a weekend that may be filled with larger group activities, household chores, and homework.

When we can, we like to make it out early enough to catch a good Happy Hour somewhere… and in Austin, TX that’s not hard to do! Plenty of restaurants around here serve pared-down (but no less delicious) Happy Hour menus, and with careful selection, we can generally make a meal out of the offerings. Happy Hours also give us an opportunity to try new higher-end restaurants without the full commitment of dropping a day’s pay on a meal we might not enjoy!

You don’t have to drink alcohol to enjoy the food specials offered at local bars and restaurants, either. And other places like coffee shops and movie theatres have picked up on the concept with two-for-one afternoon coffees or twilight pricing at late afternoon movie times.

Whatever you’re into, consider going out before the sun goes down to spend time with someone you enjoy… when you can have all the fun for much less money!

Frugal Tuesday: Use the Scraps!

Not long ago, Mr. Vega spent some time screening in our back porch, and it came out beautifully. We used a heavy-duty pet-resistant screening on the bottom, because our cats sometimes get a little excited during their bird- and squirrel-watching time. The upper part of the porch was done with a less-expensive clear-view screening, and there was quite a bit of that left over when the project was completed.

When we bought the school bus that we’re converting into a recreational vehicle, we realized the same thing we already knew about the porch outside our house: the great outdoors is more pleasant without mosquitos in our immediate area!

Fortunately, my husband is pretty creative, and he figured out a way to create some removable window screens that we can mount inside of the open bus windows. Even more fortunately, our leftover screening was just the right amount for what we needed. A trip (okay, three) to the store my Cuban father in law calls “Home People” for framing material, and an afternoon of measuring, sawing, assembling, and splining yielded up  beautiful custom-made screens that will let us enjoy cooling cross-breezes in the bus without any pesky unwanted visitors.

With kitchen, bathroom and flooring projects in store for our little hippie house, we’re looking forward to using more leftover materials for the bus remodel as well.

When have you been able to use supplies left from one project to complete another?

Friday Focus: Creating Space

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Anniversary lilies.

Happy Friday! I hope it’s been a good week for you…. ours has been a flurry of work and cramming for summer midterms (which happen about once a week in summer school!). I don’t really know where the time has gone, and apparently my dislike of our busy-ness is reflected in my reading choices, because everything I’ve been drawn to is about slowing down and making room for what matters most:

Afford Anything posted a lovely piece last month about curating your life. I love the idea of carefully selecting what enters (and what stays) in our lives, as a way to avoid overwhelm.

An article at Be More With Less from last year addresses the how, of life curation, with  some creative and gentle suggestions for making cuts.

Wrapping up the theme, Mr. Money Moustache offers some less gentle but no less effective ways to make space for the badassity in your life.

Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to slow down a little bit this weekend, and put some of these ideas into practice!

Frugal Tuesday: Go Camping!

The weekend following Independence Day, we drove down to The gulf coast to help Burners Without Borders Corpus Christi do their annual beach cleanup and campout. In addition to about 150 Burning Man community members, who create a weekend “village”on the beach, complete with food, art, and entertainment, another 150 or so local residents pitched in with the Saturday cleanup to help remove about 4000 pounds of trash from the beach, most of it debris left by 4th of  July revelers.

It was our first outing in our bus, and there were a few other buses, RVs, and trailers present, but most people camped in tents. Overall it was a wonderful weekend, spent visiting with friends and making new ones, and other than the fuel to get there and the optional donation to help defray the event’s overhead costs, it hardly cost us anything.

It doesn’t have to be an organized event, but spending a couple nights under the stars makes for an inexpensive getaway. And sleeping in a screen-free environment  surrounded by fresh air is a sure way to smash some stress.

What are some of your favorite camping trips and tips? 

Frugal Tuesday: Lend a Hand!

Here at the Little Hippie House, we believe that frugality isn’t just about saving ourselves money… We’re part of a growing community of like-minded folks who want to live lightly on the planet, eschew indebtedness, and have fun doing it! So when a friend of ours bought a 40-year-old travel trailer to restore and convert into a mobile eco-boutique, we were happy to go pitch in with the work. We love helping our friends save time and money while keeping things out of the landfill, and pitching in on other people’s projects lets us practice skills and try out tools we can use for our own endeavors (like our upcoming school bus renovation) later. We never help out as a transactional thing– we do it for fun and for free (and maybe an occasional cold beer)– but being the kind of people who show up and help makes it more likely that our friends will want to come lend a hand when we need it, which is also nice.

Plus, being helpful just feels good! There are all sorts of studies showing that doing good for others benefits our mental health and self-esteem more than doing things just for ourselves, so it’s really a win-win situation. And if you’re really looking for the saving money angle, we got to spend a whole day yesterday hanging out with friends and we didn’t spend a dime!

Have you helped a friend with a project lately? Did you enjoy the time you spent?

 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Get Bumped!

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Life happens, and people sometimes miss their flights. The airlines know this, and so to ensure they keep their airplanes full, they sometimes oversell their flights. But if everyone happens to have a good day and arrive at the airport on time, the airline faces the problem of having more people holding paid-for tickets than they have seats to put them in.  Being willing to take a later flight saves the airline the trouble of having to deny passage to travelers who might not be as happy to wait as I usually am.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I visited family in Portland three times a year.  And every single time, my first order of business at the airport was to check with the gate agent to see whether the flight was overbooked and if it was, to volunteer to give up my seat in exchange for compensation. My preferred airline, Southwest, has a compensation policy of  giving you credit for your ticket price + $100 if you are delayed by less than 2 hours, or and additional $300 if you are delayed by 2 hours or more. The credit is good for travel within one year.

Within the last year, we’ve had some unexpected flights: Mr. Vega flew to another state for the funeral of a good friend’s loved one, and when we bought our bus, we traveled by plane to pick it up in Indianapolis. So even though we don’t have travel plans for the immediate future, I still volunteered to give up my seat when I had to travel for business last week, and my offer was accepted. I was put on a direct flight five hours later (we live 15 minutes from the airport, so I was able to go back home), and still reached my destination on time. Now we have a few hundred dollars in airline credit in case any emergencies come up, and if they don’t, we might finally take that weekend getaway to NOLA we’ve been talking about ever since we moved to Texas!

EDIT 6/21/16: AND I just got four drink tickets in the mail from Southwest, with a nice letter thanking me for being so accommodating! That never happened before! Our weekend getaway is looking better and better…

Have you ever volunteered to give up your seat on a flight? How was the experience for you? Would you do it again?