Surviving and Thriving // Financial Literacy Chronicles, No. 10

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Please welcome Donna from Surviving and Thriving as our guest for today’s Financial Literacy Chronicles.  This is Day 10 of 30 in the Financial Literacy Month interview series here on Enwealthen.

Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your blog.

In January 2007 I wrote what I thought would be a one-time guest post for MSN Money, Surviving (And Thriving) On $12,000 A Year. This was before the term “viral” existed, but that’s what happened. The Internet lit up and MSN Money got more mail about the post than about anything else published that year.

The editor had me write some more articles about living well on less, and in September of that year hired me to create the Smart Spending blog. During this time I was also back in school, finally earning the university degree that had eluded me as a younger woman.

Future you is going to be judging current you. Harshly.

In May 2010 I started Surviving and Thriving as my playground for words – or, as I privately joked, “for all the s— I can’t say on MSN Money.” Ostensibly it’s a personal finance blog, but I write about all sorts of other things as well.

Can you share your most impactful money memory from your childhood?

It’s not a memory so much as a feeling: There isn’t enough money so be very, very careful.

Don’t mess up your school shoes, don’t break your glasses, don’t ask for anything special and for heaven’s sake please don’t get sick.

That’s not as awful as it sounds, since just about everyone we knew was in the same boat.

Everyone grew a garden, did their own home repairs and used things until they fell apart. Kids weren’t teased for wearing obvious hand-me-downs that had seen better days. No one expected vacations or elaborate Christmas celebrations. We never had birthday parties or even got birthday gifts, although my mom would usually bake a cake.

No one talked to us about college and how to get there.

The older I get, the more I realize that this created a scarcity mentality that caused me to be way too timid with money for most of my life.

Changing that!

We all receive financial advice from people in our lives.  What’s the most interesting or useful financial advice you’ve received from your community?

The feeling I got growing up and also from my social group is this: No one is coming to rescue you, so take care of business.

It’s made me careful (albeit too careful at times) about what I do with my funds.

On the other hand, I’ve never spent years in debt or had to declare bankruptcy.

I have several personal finance books I regularly give to friends and family.  What are your 3 favorite fundamental personal finance books you often gift to others?

I don’t often gift PF books to friends and family, although I give them away regularly on my website. Here are three of my favorites to recommend if someone asks.

The 10 Commandments of Money by Liz Weston. The New York Times calls this book “wonderful” and I agree. Liz understands that the old advice doesn’t always translate. Rather than offer the same old platitudes, she gives advice that fits our current money reality.

Living Large in Lean Times by Clark Howard. He offers tips for beginning, intermediate and veteran deal-seekers. Clark hasn’t lost touch with everyday people, and he gives advice that lets them stretch available dollars to the fullest. As with his popular syndicated radio show, it’s advice that can save you some serious bucks on things like insurance, utilities and other everyday necessities.

Your Playbook For Tough Times: Living Large On Small Change, For The Short Term Or The Long Haul – yeah, this one’s from me. It’s aimed at three groups: Those who are already in tough times, those who see hardship (layoffs, illness) on the horizon and those who want to live lean to realize a dream (early retirement, entrepreneurship, et al.). Playbook helps people live the best lives they can on what they currently have, but always with an eye toward a better future.

What financial literacy education did you receive in school?  If you had a magic wand, what would you change to improve that?

Zero, zip, zilch at school.

Fortunately I had some hands-on budgeting experience: When I was 16 my parents split up and I ran the household for my father and brother. Boy, could I stretch a buck!

What I learned came in handy a few years later, when I was a single mom, and also in my mid-40s, when I went broke during a protracted divorce.

If I could go back in time, I would make sure that Young Me did some research about how to make money grow vs. focusing only on keeping it safe.

A little risk is necessary but I didn’t see it that way.

There are so many blogs on the internet, what are 3 of your favorite blogs that instill financial literacy, either by word or action?

NerdWallet, which has tons of advice on current and future money topics; unlike most other PF sites, NerdWallet does original research and analyses.

Budgets Are Sexy, because author J. Money writes about all sorts of financial topics and also has built a savvy, responsive community – be sure to read the comments.

I Pick Up Pennies, which focuses on “frugality in an imperfect world.” Full disclosure: The author is my daughter, Abigail Perry, who has experienced disability since a rare neurological disease nearly killed her at age 19. She started the site because no PF blogs provided help to people who were sick or otherwise struggling. Typical financial advice doesn’t always apply to those whose lives aren’t typical!

Once you can afford anything, you may find you don’t want quite as much as you once thought.

I like to keep inspirational quotes around the house to remind me of what’s important.  Do you have a favorite money quote you use to inspire your financial life?

“Future you is going to be judging current you. Harshly.”

That’s from my daughter. It reminds me to think ahead vs. focusing only on putting out that day’s fires.

Is frugality the same thing as living intentionally? And why should I want to do either one when I could decide to be rich instead?

Some people think “frugality” really means “a one-way ticket to the Land Of No Fun At All.”

I think frugality and intentional living are the same thing because they’re both about deciding how you use your money. It’s possible to be both rich and frugal – ever hear of the millionaire next door?

Taking charge of how you use money is actually a power move. Knowing what you can live on – and live without – is incredibly freeing. You might find out that you don’t need things like designer clothing, constant electronics upgrades, two cars, even two incomes. You might decide to start a business, or travel the world, or stay home with a child, or retire early.

And if you do get to have both wealth and intentional living? Here’s a wonderful secret:

Once you can afford anything, you may find you don’t want quite as much as you once thought.

When you choose based on your heart vs. other people’s thoughts about what you “need,” you’re more likely to appreciate those things.

I don’t suggest that people spend without a care, but rather that they care about what they spend.

Thanks for contributing to Financial Literacy Month here on Enwealthen, Donna!

Donna Freedman has been a college dropout, a single mom, a newspaper reporter in Chicago and Alaska, and a late-in-life university student. She has also picked tomatoes, worked on a chicken farm, managed an apartment building, inspected and packed bottles in a glass factory, babysat, cleaned houses, mystery-shopped, set type, and sold doughnuts, movie tickets, fresh Jersey produce and, when things got bad, her own blood. Donna has freelanced for numerous magazines and newspapers, and her work has won regional and national awards. She is also a writing coach who created the “Write A Blog People Will Read” online course.  You can find Donna at (a.k.a Surviving & Thriving), on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Life is short. But it’s also wide.

Readers, please share your thoughts on Donna’s experiences, any additional questions you have, and suggestions for who else you’d like to see interviewed in the comments below.  And please do share this with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  Thanks!


  1. I really like what you said about intentional living. YOU are in control of YOUR life.

    My roommate was laughing at me one Saturday night because I wasn’t going out and I was reading. I said, so what, reading this book is going to improve me to make more of an impact on the world. It’s my life, I can spend it how I want it!

    Thanks for sharing Donna.
    Erik @ The Mastermind Within recently posted New! The Mastermind Within Debt Destruction Tool!My Profile

  2. I first discovered Donna Freedman via “Surviving (And Thriving) On $12,000 A Year.” It intrigued me so much I immediately web-searched her writings — and thus began my long-term addiction. I’ve read her — and learned from her! — for several years now. Donna’s writing style makes me feel like she’s a friend, and we’re catching up on life. It tickles me to pieces whenever Donna herself replies to one of my comments!

  3. I first saw Donna Freedman on Msn Money and came to love her articles. Frugality works wherever you live and I constantly apply her advice here in the Caribbean.Donna is funny and she is real. Surviving and thriving is my go to Blog ,who else talks about koolickle and makes me want to try it?


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