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Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, February 28, 2008; 12:00 PM

Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary hosted an online discussion with Jeff Yeager, author of "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches."(Free Press, $21), on Thursday, Feb. 28 at Noon ET.

In her column from Feb. 3, Michelle wrote that Yeager -- the go-to-guy for NBC's "Today" show on cheapness -- honed his cheapness while working 25 years as a chief executive and fundraiser for nonprofit groups.

Read Michelle's past Color of Money columns.

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Michelle Singletary: Good afternoon all. The box is so full of questions already so let's get started.

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Washington, D.C.: Michelle, I have a question about paying back student loans. A lot of people in this chat often talk about student loans of smaller amount, but my husband has loans from medical school which amount to a HUGE sum. I hate carrying any debt and was lucky to come out of law school with none, but there is almost no way to get out of medical school without these kinds of loans.

He is currently a resident and making just about 50K a year and his hardship deferrals just ended. We are already paying off the highest rate (private) loans, but will have to start tackling the massive federal loans soon. Any tips on how to handle this daunting task? We have no other debt, rent an apartment, have no children yet, and live a frugal but comfortable life. I know his salary will shoot up once my husband goes into private practice, but I want to do as much as possible now while we are still young. Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: I really do wish I had some amazing wisdom to help you but you already know what to do. You are already living small (as in below your means). Just keep doing that. Keep the spending WAY down and use every extra dollar you have to get rid of the debt. But just know if you stick to the plan you wil get rid of it sooner than it looks now. And then keep living below your means so later you can live large.

Good luck.

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Laurel, Md.: Mr. Yeager, what's the best way to give to charity an amount larger than payable in cash (say, $100-1,000) and not get on a mailing list?

Jeff Yeager: Charities routinely receive - and should honor - requests from donors to NOT be placed on their mailing lists or have their names sold. When I worked in the nonprofit sector, some donors actually said up front that they would not give again if their names were placed on a mailing list - a tactic you might want to try. That said, charities are under a legal obligation to acknowledge to donors, in writing, gifts of $200 or more (I believe), so you should expect that piece of mail.

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Washington, D.C.: I thought the article about the home equity lines was interesting. It shows exactly why some people are in the financial trouble they are in. It is not all the fault of greedy/misleading/dishonest lenders! Here you have people who have lost income, or whose homes have declined in value, and they are upset that they are no longer able to borrow MORE money. One woman said if she'd known, she would have taken cash for the whole line and put it in another account--presumably to spend as she desired. No one in the article really seemed to understand that the reason the lines were cut off is because the homeowners were in danger of owing more than their homes are worth.

washingtonpost.com: Homeowners Losing Equity Lines" by Dina ElBoghdady.

Michelle Singletary: I totally agree with you. If any of you haven't read ths story, you should.

It never ceases to amaze me how people view home equity as "their" money.

Excuse me, it's not "your" money until you sell. Until then it's borrowed money. Not your money. Borrowed money. A Logn. Debt. Bondage.

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New York, N.Y.: My husband and I have talked about starting to tithe, except in our case it would be giving to causes not to a religious organization. We make a decent income and consider ourselves very fortunate to only have student loan debt. We save for retirement, put money in a 529 for our daughter and are saving for a home. Although we do give already we want to be more structured and give more but I'm nervous. Please tell me to just take the plunge and set it up already! I know we will feel good about it once we start and we can definitely get along without that money. Thanks for your columns and chats.

Michelle Singletary: No problem.

Set it up already.

Tithe.

And watch the blessings flow to you and the people you give to.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Michelle! I love your column. I am currently in a part-time masters program and while my employer will pay for part of my education, I will be paying about 10k myself over the next two years. I am currently saving $600/mo in my Roth 401k and $300/mo into a cash reserves account which I will plan on using for my wedding later this year. I also save about $300/mo into my savings account. I do not know whether to take out a Stafford loan (at 6.8%) or to lower my Roth 401k contributions for the next two years in order to have the money to pay for school. Are there other alternatives I should be considering? Thank you for your time!

Michelle Singletary: Cut your plans or expenses for the wedding.

Seriously.

You were so nice to say you love my column so then you know how I feel about debt. You do not NEED to borrow. So don't. If you have to, cut back on the Roth and use the wedding money/savings.

But please don't borrow, especially when you don't have to.

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Fort Washington, Md.: The biggest cost saver I found was not making shopping a hobby and learning how to cook well and create a dining experience for my family.

Another cost saver was finding out what is offered free or inexpensive in my local area.

I visit the community arts center that has free art exhibits and superb inexpensive professional performances. I use the walking trails for exercise. The Prince George's Library is a treasure trove of lectures by famous authors and musical performances for free.

Jeff Yeager: Thanks for reminding us that the best things in life are free --- or at least two-for-ones. I'm a big proponent of what I call "life-crafts" - skills and activities like cooking, gardening, home repair, etc. that are not only fun but that save you big bucks at the same time. If you learn to enjoy these types of activities early in life, then going out to eat, or paying someone to fix your car, etc. isn't an issue --- you actually enjoy doing these things for yourself.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Hello Michelle, Thank you for a reality check presentation during Delta Days in D.C. this week. Your delivery was wonderful. You brought humor with a no-nonsese approach to financial freedom. I'm having difficulty locating the budget template you referred us to. Please help.

washingtonpost.com: Budget Template (pdf)

Michelle Singletary: What a wonderful group of women. I had a blast.

And see the link for the budget template.

Most important good for you for taking this step.

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Columbia, Md.: Given the current economy, what recommendations do you have in terms of savings? I have heard some say that you should have 6 months of liquid assets. What about 3?

Michelle Singletary: At a minimum strive to save three months of living expenses and by that I don't mean just rent and car payment. Save up what it cost to run your household for three months. If you are in a job or occupation in which it would take you a ong time to find a job, aim for six months of a rainy-day fund.

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Boston, Mass.: I am taking a new job that offers a 401k, but does not match. I am 40 and my wife will be going back to work full time next year. We also have 2 small children (2 and 6 mos). I would like to do some extra savings when she starts working again. Which would make more sense:

1. Starting an IRA (we have approx 275k in IRAs and Roths today)or

2. Add more to the children's 529 plans. I don't think we can do both.

Michelle Singletary: With $275,000 already saved why can't you do both?

If you have an extra $100, put $75 in retirment and $25 in colleg fund. Or something like that.

cut something esle out. But I bet you could do both. Because your kids are so small save whatever you can because you have time on your side.

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Washington D.C.: Hi Michelle, Going to try one more time--I'd love your advice! In brief, once I pay off my credit card (in 2-3 months, hopefully), I'll have an extra $400/month to save for retirement. Would it be better to increase my savings to my 403b (Currently I save 6% of my salary, the limit for a match, in an age-indexed account), or add it once a year to my Roth IRA? Or something else?

If it matters, I'm 30, have about $25K between the IRA and a money market account, another $3K in the 403b (new), a mortgage and student loans. Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: First, be sure you are saving toward an emergency fund too -- three to six months. It doesn't sound as if you have one if you've been paying down credit debt.

Also, put some money in what I call a Life Happens Fund, for the things in life that happen-- car repair for ex. That way you won't deplete your emergency fund.

After that go for the Roth. If will give you money at retirement that isn't taxed since you fund it with after tax money. Just make sure you still meet the income limits.

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Bev, Aurora S.D.: How can I get my husband to reduce his spending and buy into the frugal lifestyle? We should have a nice retirement nest egg, instead we are still dealing with debt. We are in our 50s.

Jeff Yeager: Sometimes I think us cheapskate's with spend-thrift spouses should form our own support group! I'm a big advocate of going on a "fiscal fast" - taking a week out of the year when you don't spend ANY money. Maybe you can convince your hubby to give it a try - "Come on! It's only a week and it'll be fun." What I like about fiscal fasting is it's a wake up call - it's "spending detox" - and it can awaken the Inner Miser in folks who habitually overspend without realizing it. You'll save some $, and at the same time realize how you/he spend - and probably waste - money during a normal week. Good Luck and Stay Cheap! - Jeff Yeager

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Virginia: Hi Michelle, Due to some health expenses last year we are getting a substantial tax refund. It will pay off 75% of our one and only credit card. Would you use the entire amount towards that, or put some towards our savings too? Just want to get that debt outta our house!!!

Michelle Singletary: If you don't have an emergency fund, hold back some of the money for that. After funding that --maybe one month's worth, use the rest to pay off the debt.

And keep in mind you are in the position of being able to reduce it greatly. Don't discount that. Feel good about that.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Michelle...can you help? My husband is military and has 2 cars both of which he is behind on the note and they are both in reposession status? He can't sell either car because he owes more on them than they are worth and we don't have the money ($20k +) to pay the cars off. (We have been married for 8 months...I just found out about the delinquent notes in late November for 1 car and in late January for the other) What are our options? I feel that he needs to file for bankruptcy but to be honest I don't know anything about that process other than it stays on your credit for 7 years. He is in the process of trying to give one of the cars back.....

Michelle Singletary: Since your husband is in the military run -- or call -- right after this chat the base/commander to get the number for a military-sponsored financial counselor or program. All branches of the military have such a service.

Bankruptcy won't really help with the cars and will wreak your credit for 10 years.

See if you can get a personal loan to make up the difference in what he owes on the two cars. Then sell the cars using the loans to help pay off the car notes.

Now don't think I'm crazy. But if you give back the cars they dealer may not try as hard to get the best price. The personal loans will undoubtly be less than the combined car loans/monthly payment.

If you can't get a loan, then you may have to let the cars go and you will owe the difference on what they are sold for.

It's a tough situation but not impossible to survive.

Just go get help from the military to explore all your options.

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Glenn Dale, Md.: Hi Michelle & Jeff....I liked your suggestion of not spending money for a specific period of time. I tried and I ran out of cash, I guess I didn't see how much actually goes out, and now I'm worried. I am a frequent ATM visitor, or simply via debit. I have the cash in the bank, so I figure: Why walk around with cash in my pocket when I could lose/drop it or miscount something? My question: With the economy going into such a rut, the US dollar quickly losing its value, and overall costs continually rising, what are some suggestions you have for me to get back on track. I believe its more about time management and budgeting for me. Whenever I try to keep track I fall off the band wagon by Wed/Thurs so please help. Looking forward to tips/suggestions, thanks.

Jeff Yeager: Well, at least you gave "fiscal fasting" - going for a week without spending ANY money - a try, and it sounds like it made you more aware of how much you typically spend. Try withdrawing a set amount from the ATM once a week and force yourself to live on that amount the entire week; don't go back to the ATM.

It's funny, everyone is concerned about the downturn in the economy (and it's truly a reason for concern), but during recent periods of peak prosperity, Americans went further in debt than anytime since the Depression and, by most measures, became less happy. So, maybe a little belt tightening will have just the opposite effect ... although we all wish it was voluntary rather than involuntary.

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Louisville, Ky.: What do I do with my money? I've got the basics down I'm just not sure what to do with my savings now that I've built up 6 months of living expenses. I'm expecting to save over $7,000 this year. I'm 25 and I look at this money as a someday I might have to pay for a wedding or a new car. Do I continue to keep the money in a high interest savings account or is there another account type I should be looking into?

Michelle Singletary: Keep the emergency money liquid in a high yiedling savings. Yes.

And this money SHOULD NOT BE used for a wedding or car, That's what a Life Happens Fund is for.

You always want to keep emergency money for an emegency -- job los, disability, etc.

A wedding, new car is not an emergency. Save separate for that.

Or be revoluntary and spend a tiny bit for a wedding and buy a used car (with cash).

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Reston, Va.: Michelle, how do you feel about online banks for holding your life happens or emergency savings accounts? Can you get to them quickly enough? I want to separate my life happens from my regular bank accounts, because I'm afraid it'll be too easy for me to take money out of it!

Michelle Singletary: I think that's a great idea to use an online bank, as long as its FCIC insured. And with today's technology you won't have to spend a week to get at the money. Many make it easy to transfer money to other bank accounts.

Also consider a credit union. That's where I keep my Life Happens Fund.

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Centreville, Va.: Hi Michelle,

Regarding the foreclosures and timetables, when will the loan company finally make the decision to foreclose on the home? In the article, it was mentioned that these companies are giving an additional 30 days for people who are 90 days past due so that they can find a cure. Do these lenders start foreclosures after 90 days or is it sooner? Thanks!

washingtonpost.com:" Delinquent Borrowers Get Extra Time, but the Problem Remains Massive" (Feb. 23).

Michelle Singletary: If you are in trouble of a foreclosure you NEED to talk to your lender about its time table. When things happen vary according to lender and local laws.

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New York, N.Y.: Yeager's fiscal fast involves not spending money for a specified period of time, usually a week or even longer. To those who think they can't live a week without spending any money, Yeager says: "If you can't, it should tell you something even more important about the life you're leading and how you're wasting money."

I have to pay to ride the bus to get to work every day, because the bus company won't let me ride for free. How am I supposed to go on a fiscal fast without spending any money if I can't go to work? And don't tell me to walk to work, my office is over forty miles away from my house! So Jeff says that I'm wasting money. What does he know?

Jeff Yeager: As I discuss in my book, depending on your situation, you may need to make some exceptions during the fast, and I specifically mention commuting costs for working adults as a possible exception. I also suggest that before you throw in the towel, you consider, for instance, car pooling with co-workers for that week, if that's an option.

I've never suggested that all money we spend is wasted or spent unwisely, and you're to be commended for routinely taking public transportation when so many Americans drive. (FYI, Americans now own one car for nearly every man, woman and child in the country --- even though I don't know many kids who drive.) That said, the idea of the fiscal fast is to help identify those areas of your spending that MAY be wasteful/unnecessary. The fast also reminds most people that there are so many terrific things in life that don't cost a dine.

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Baton Rouge, La.: I bet your grandmother would even be surprised about the Freegan movement that was featured on Oprah this week. People with six figure incomes were going on trash tours to find food and furniture in trash bins. I don't think we in Louisiana throw all that much good stuff away, but of course, I haven't looked YET.

Michelle Singletary: I saw that show too. It was interesting.

Hey, I've found some great toys people were throwing out. Asked if I could have. They said yes. Kids played with the stuff. Then when they were done, I donated it to charity (still in good shape).

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Anonymous: I thought Jeff would get a kick out of this.

About three months ago, I replaced my old toilet (almost 40 years old) with a new, low-flow model, since I live in a desert area with high water prices. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the proper hardware to hook it to the old water line. I'm a girl who just bought her first home, and the technical details of toilets were never of interest to me before, but I discovered that if you put water manually into the toilet tank, it flushes just fine. (I know, normal people know this.) So I used a pitcher to fill the toilet tank until I got the right hardware to hook up the toilet.

The scary frugal thing? I still use the pitcher. I only turn the water line on when I have guests. You see, it takes a few pitchers of water before my shower is warm enough in the morning, and so I just collect that water and dump those three gallons into the toilet tank instead of wasting them.

Not quite on the level of the bike-only book tour, but definitely on the wacky end.

Jeff Yeager: A true Sister of the Cheaphood! I think I'm in love!

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San Diego. Calif.: Hi Jeff,

Please tell me how you're able to travel cheaply.

Nancy

Jeff Yeager: I talk about it quite a bit in my book, making the case that the BEST, most meaningful travel is that when you spend the least. Spend the big bucks on a package tour, first class accommodations, and you defeat the whole purpose of travel - i.e. meeting people and seeing real things.

Here's a good tip: check out www.couchsurfing.com, a next work of half a million people around the world who will let you stay with them for free. Also keep an eye out on www.WiseBread.com where I and others blog regularly on this and other frugal topics.

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Louisville, Ky. (Again): I wasn't clear. I have no plans to touch my emergency money. I'm just not sure where to save any additional money. Do I keep all my money in a high yield savings account (currently at 3.4%) or is there a better place for me to save the money?

Michelle Singletary: Oh, I see.

So for the extra savings depends on when you think you will need it. Five years or less keep in a the highest yielding savigs or money market account you can find.

For longer you might consider a growth or balanced index mutual fund.

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Weddingville: Hi Michelle, Some of your advice today talks about saving money on a wedding. How do you do that? I think spending 10k on one day is crazy. But how do I find a place and feed 100 people for less? I can't do pot luck, but I don't need anything super fancy (friends as dj and photographer, i can make my own cake, cheap invitations, etc.)

Michelle Singletary: Invite WAY less than 100 people.

Look, if you have the following:

-- emergency fund

-- life happens fund

-- saving well for retirement

-- no debt except a home loan (and one you can comfortably afford (that means no car loan, no student loans, etc.)

Then have a GRAND party.

If you can't check off the all the above, have a very, very small wedding. Because you can't afford more.

Then you can have a nice reception for 20 or less people in restaurant. Or have the wedding ceremony and invite the small party back to your home for cake and ice cream.

After all its about the marriage not the party leading up to the marriage.

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Gainesville, Fla.: Michelle, While I won't argue with you about your prediction that Tonya and Robert Harris will be dimeless in 10 years, I do think it will be for other reasons than that they would like to have a new home and a couple of new vehicles. As one who advocates a low or no debt lifestyle, it would seem to me that you would approve of their purchase of a home. Their 167 million very conservatively invested at 4% will yield over $18,000 a day, so their intended purchases, a $30K to $40K new truck, a $100K new Mercedes and say, a $600K new home represent less than 6 weeks income, hardly an extravagant expenditure, given their fortunate circumstances. Even if you double the prices of their desired purchases, the new figure is less than a quarter of their annual income, which for many people, represents the annual expenditure for just rent; the Harris' will at least be acquiring some equity for their money. I think "spending spree" is perhaps an unfair characterization of their stated plans. Is there any couple out there who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to acquire two new vehicles and a new home for less than a quarter of their annual income and wouldn't such a great deal assuredly qualify such a couple as cheapskates extraordinaire?

Michelle Singletary: You missed my entire point. Sure they can afford the home and cars but lottery winners end up broke because they continue to spend.

Resonable people who know this will take their time before making ANY purchases. They spent the night before they collected their money at the Ritz. They didn't even have the money yet. It was a sign for me. They were spending before they had the money. Big red flag for me.

How do you go broke on $167 million. All you have to do is spend $168 million. And it starts with your state of mind.

And I don't care what you say, spending $100,000 on a car no matter how much money you have is just plain wasteful at any income level.

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Warren, R.I.: Do you know of any programs that exist to mentor young people who need help in starting out (as in a low-paid profession like reporting) and just can't seem to get their financial act together? As a single parent, I don't seem to be the one that has enough influence or objectivity. Thanks for all your wonderful advice and realism!

Jeff Yeager: You might want to check out the organization "Save Share Spend" (I think that's the correct name - just Google it). They provide programs for young people and families about money.

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Austin, Tex.: Does it ever worry you that the system sometimes seems to be set up to reward irresponsible behavior? Credit cards with ridiculously low introductory and balance-transfer interest rates. ARMs that were apparently way to easy to get. And now talk of some sort of bailout for people who got in over their heads. And yet basic savings accounts pay very, very low interest.

None of this excuses irresponsible individual behavior. And I'm not saying that I want people with mortgage trouble thrown out on the street. But as someone who saves and who didn't buy a house when everybody else did because I knew I couldn't afford it, I can't help but feel frustrated.

I guess I figure that while it's not society's job to save people from themselves, it's also not helpful to society to actively encourage people to do dumb things.

Could this be changed somehow? Your thoughts?

Jeff Yeager: Yes, it worries this old cheapskate a lot, but of course that's how our consumer-oriented society is designed to work, so it just didn't happen. But here's my contention: For many Americans at the present time, the quality of their lives and their happiness will actually INCREASE if they spend and consume less, not more - as 3,000 commercial messages tell us every day. Stay Cheap!

Michelle Singletary: And may I add that this "bailout" or bailouts that are frustrating so many people isn't letting people off easy.

These folks still have to pay a mortgage. They aren't getting free homes. And many wont qualify for the help anyway. Many will still lose their homes or have to sell.

They aren't being bailed out. They are being helped out. Bailout is the wrong word and the wrong attitude. It's about giving people breathing room. And frankly it's better for ALL of us -- our economy, our communities, our home values.

And trust me they are not kicking back laughing at us poor smucks that live below our means. These people are hurting, stressed and many of their marriages and kids will suffer.

So be thankful that you did the smart thing because that ALWAYS pays better dividends than living above your means.

Less debt or no debt is priceless peace.

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Dating into Debt?: Hi there, I am dating a guy who is a consumer at heart. He's very techie, he'll find a way to get the latest and greatest, not often, but noticeable. Now he wants to spend a large sum to take me on a mini vacation. How do I tell him to slow down on the spending? My girlfriends think his spending is terrific. I might actually wanna marry him (for all other qualities besides his finances) but not with this type of perspective. We've already spent a weekend away already. I don't have the funds to pay my own way. Any suggestions? Michelle, I know you have something to help, and Jeff, I'd love the male perspective for this one.

Jeff Yeager: Well, advice #1: Don't marry him until/unless you reconcile your differences re: money. You know, more people divorce over money than any other reason. I think that's because money differences are really just a reflection between bigger differences in values and priorities. Of course you might want to ask my poooor wife: We've been married 24 years, or as she says "Nearly 3 good years" ;)

Michelle Singletary: And if you go on a trip you know or suspect he can't afford what does that say about your values?

Women who take money from men used to be called something else.

I know that's harsh but when dating you should pay for big things like this yourself ALL the time. You don't have to take the money and go.

Your girlfriend is wrong. This is a big red flag. Don't ignore it.

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"freegan": The new, trendy, Ophrah term for dumpster diving. I've been dumpster diving, though never for food, for 15 years now (I'm only 34). Its not a new concept. The best place for good stuff, college towns in May.

Jeff Yeager: I prefer what I call "curb shopping" - roaming up scale residential neighborhoods on trash collection days for "drive buys"

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Los Angeles, Ca.: What is the best way to avoid peer pressure to spend?

Jeff Yeager: One tip: When you shop with friends, always shop responsibly and appoint a Designated Cheapskate. (i.e. someone whose job it is to be the voice of not-spending reason)

Michelle Singletary: Or just don't shop as a form of entertainment. That means don't shop with friends. It's too easy to get caught up in conversation and fun and forget to be frugal.

Make shopping a chore not an outing.

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St. Louis, Mo.: Hi Michelle, I love your show! I'm a new fan so excuse me if you've covered this topic before. As interesting it is to read the stories about people getting out of debt I would love to see stories about people that are actually making it. We all know it's not about how much money you make it's about the choices you make with your money. My favorite phrase is "we work too hard not to get ahead". My husband and I get ahead a little each year only because we budget and plan. Despite his six figure income we ourselves feel the pinch of this economy. I really don't know how middle America is making it! I think it would interesting to hear how much people spend a month at the grocery store, and what are their monthly expenses? I spend about $800 a month at the grocery store for a family of 5. Is this a lot to America? All my utilities run about $550 a month. I do not live an extravagant lifestyle and our only debt is our mortgage. I would really love to hear how other Americans are making it.

Jeff Yeager: All good questions/concerns. I think one thing that really helps people get on top of their finances is sharing ideas and experiences with others. There are many great websites that offer forums, blogs, etc. that might help you. Two of my favorites are www.strecher.com (The Dollar Stretcher) and www.WiseBread.com.

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Savage: Jeff, what are some things NOT to skimp on? I'm thinking of things like dental visits, oil changes; anything else you see your fans trying to get a false savings out of?

Jeff Yeager: Yes, there are some things where you'll be wasting dollars in the long run if you pinch pennies, but only a few. In general, it's worth investing in maintenance (of your stuff and your health) rather than paying later for benign neglect. Best of all, learn how to do the maintenance on your car, home, etc. yourself - expand your mind and your pocketbook.

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Anonymous: Is there a quick route to becoming a 'cheapskate'? I'm frugal, but not like you two, and I'd like to be, but there's debts to pay and incoming bills, how can I also focus on savings, retirement, kids, etc??

Jeff Yeager: Being a "cheapskate," in my opinion, is a life style, not a check list of ways to save money. It's about spending more time taking stock and less time buying stock. Start by trying a "fiscal fast" as I discuss elsewhere.

Michelle Singletary: Amen!

Totally agree.

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Washington D.C.: Michelle, My wife and I are paying off our law school loans ($300k) as fast as possible (6K a month). We currently have a 3.7 year repayment plan. But that does not leave a lot of cushion. We are fully funding our 401(k)'s, have an 11K emergency fund, and are saving another $500 a month. As our income goes up we are planning to increase our savings and debt repayment. I think this all makes sense, but would appreciate your opinion.

Michelle Singletary: Totally, totally makes sense.

You rock!

Keep going. You are on the right track.

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Baltimore, Md.: Michelle, Can you provide some information about how to donate a house that is paid for to a non-profit organization. Thank you

Jeff Yeager: Contact the qualified charity and they should be able to help with the transaction. There are laws about getting an appraisal, etc. and regulations that the charity needs to honor regarding their freedom to sell the property for less than the appraised value within a given period. Find a charity that specializes in gifts of real estate, and they should be able and willing to help effect the transaction.

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True Wealth: Hi, Michelle -

According to today's paper, the relatives of those four little girls who were murdered by their disturbed mom want to sue D.C. for not protecting their family members. Let's look at this from a money standpoint, okay? Even if they each get $500,000, it won't work! I mean, they think that money is going to lift them up out of where they are, is going to solve their problems overnight, but it won't! Why? Because they have been negligent as a matter of course, with their own flesh and blood. When negligence is that habitual, money ain't gonna fix anything! In fact, the one thing I've learned about money is that you've GOT TO pay attention.

Isn't it ironic that their accusation against the city - negligence - is the thing that's going to boomerang on them regarding all this money that they'll probably get? Is it possible to waste half a million dollars through negligence? You bet. Money doesn't play, you know?

All that time and energy for lawyers and court and media, but no time and energy for those girls, and I predict there'll be no time and energy for managing the money properly. It's all karma, you know?

washingtonpost.com: D.C. Could Have Done More To Help 4 Sisters, Families Say

Michelle Singletary: You make some good points. I do wonder how hard they tried to help.

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Baltimore, Md.: For New York, NY: It's called a bus pass, that you purchase once a month for an average of less than your daily one way or round trip fare. Here in Baltimore it's $64.00, and the MTA has a program where your employer can subsidize some of the cost for a tax break. If you purchase a pass at the beginning of the month, then start your fast in week 2 or week 3, so you don't spend any extra money.

Michelle Singletary: LOL

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Another suggestion for the 100-person wedding: If the date hasn't been set in stone yet, they should look into having the wedding at an off-time (i.e. not Saturday and not during prime wedding season). Facility costs can be much, much cheaper that way.

Michelle Singletary: Or don't invite 100 people.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Michelle, I value and applaud the service of the military members you are currently making over. As a former Air Force member, I know that financial responsibility was valued and instilled in me by my superiors. I can still remember getting the skunk eye from my First Sergeant who saw me spending quite a bit of money in the BX. Have things changed so drastically since 1992? Unsolicited credit card applications are really no excuse. I found it shocking that one of the couples added an additional $12,000 to credit cards that they had freed up by rolling the balance on to a parents credit card. If these folks are deployable, I think it behooves them to get their affairs in order.

washingtonpost.com: Enlisting Help In Financial Boot Camp (Feb. 17)

Michelle Singletary: Thank you!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Michelle, I have been renting my townhouse because I don't want lose it or my credit go bad. My salary is 50K with a mortgage payment of $1800. The housing market isn't getting any better and I really want to move into my house because my apartment is just to small, but I am afraid to move into my townhouse. I am paying all of my debt off and getting ready for my daughter to go off to college. Current apartment rental payment is 1250. What is a single mom to do?

Michelle Singletary: Get a roommate.

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Bowie: There's a series of books I've read that employ a synonym for "cheapskate" in their titles. I picked one up looking for hints, and it had a section making your own envelopes using paper and glue. I don't need to push it THAT far. Could you just list what are some of the most common money drains that seem so entrenched in our society that many people don't even question why they routinely spend that way?

Jeff Yeager: As I discussed a minute ago, I think of "cheapskates" as the polar opposite of "conspicuous consumers". Those were folks who spent and consumed to impress others; we are folks who are too self-confident - and too smart - to let others convince us that we need to spend money on things we don't want or need.

I think the place to start is with discretionary spending - things other than food, clothing, and shelter (although there's usually plenty of waste there as well). For example, establish a Mandatory Waiting Period of at least a week between the time you see something (discretionary) in a store, and the time you go back to by it. I'll bet that more than half the time you never go back to buy it, which isn't surprising since 80% of what we buy we regret within the first year.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Michelle! I'm a big fan and follow your advice strictly. My question is in regards to engagement rings. My honey and I are ready to take the next step and there is so much pressure out there to get her a nice ring. I make $45K a year, have about $6K in student loans, but other that, I am debt free. How much should I spend on the ring? I am so conflicted. I was thinking $12K. I want this to symbolize the start of our life together, and want everything to be perfect.

Michelle Singletary: Really, you want to spend $12,000 on a ring and you have $6,000 in student loan debt?

That type of spending with that debt symbolized that you need to go back to school to get some common sense.

My husband spent a fraction, fraction of that. Been married 16 years. Buy a much less expensive symbol.

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Michelle Singletary: Well all good things have to come to an end. I'm sorry we ran out of time. Great guest, questions, comments.

As always, look for answers to questions we couldnt' get to in my online eletter or in my print column.

Thanks to all you joined me today.

Now go save!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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