th2 300x300 On the road to nowhere in particular. Last week DF and I took a four-day driving trip around rural Alaska, aka “1,200 miles’ worth of postcard views.”

Now that summer is pretty much gone, we decided to treat ourselves to the sights of our too-brief autumn. While we don’t have the scarlets and oranges of New England, the changing colors were still pretty heart-stopping.

Brilliant yellow birch and rich gold willows glimpsed against backdrops of spruce so dark they looked black. Here and there some in-between leaves that gleamed chartreuse in the nearly nonstop sun.

Splashes of red fireweed and redder berry bushes alongside the highway and also carpeting the hillsides. Mountains festooned with blindingly white new snow as well as the more somber ivory of alpine glaciers.

September is a well-kept secret in southcentral Alaska. Most of the tourists have gone home, although we did see some at Denali National Park. Buttoned up to their necks, they were, and seeming disappointed that they didn’t get to see all of Mt. McKinley (which we call “Denali” or just “The Mountain”) due to partly cloudy skies.

At least they got to see the first 10,000 feet of it. Denali is like a stripper who generally doesn’t show you all the good stuff at the same time.


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th 1 150x147 Let me buy you a coffee.It’s that odd time of the year: Sometimes chilly and sometimes balmy. Even here in Anchorage we’re feeling mood-swingy with regard to the weather: in the 40s and raining sideways one day, sunny and in the low 60s another day.

So what do we want: hot chocolate or fancy iced tea?

Whatever it is, I’m buying the next round. This week’s giveaway is $10 worth of Starbucks gift cards.


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th1 150x150 In which I reveal my paycheck.Almost four years ago I wrote a post called “I’ll show you my salary if you’ll show me yours.” In it I explained why I declined to reveal how much money I earned:

“Is there no such thing as privacy any longer? Are we required to tell everything? Myself, I’d sooner talk about my sex life than my salary – and I believe that either one would be an overshare.

“Maybe it’s because I’m in my 50s and am thus a couple of generations removed from the new tell-all culture.  I was raised not to talk about money and certainly never to brag about what you have.

“… Personal finance is exactly that: personal. No one needs to know what I earn or how much my 401(k) lost in the crash. It’s bad enough that people can Google my home address. I don’t want to give away any additional details of my private life.

Well, last week I had a piece up at Get Rich Slowly that revealed all. “Why I voluntarily slashed my salary” talked about my decision to downsize my worklife after Microsoft fired all its writers on the same day.

That decision represented a salary cut of almost 58 percent, possibly more. Would that be worth maybe eating cat food and saying “Welcome to Wal-Mart” when I’m 80? That’s all I could think of at first, but then I did the math and it’s not as scary as I’d feared.


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How spam is made.

th How spam is made. Apparently there’s a spam template floating around the Internetz. Anyone who blogs has likely seen its spawn, i.e., would-be “comments” that sound a lot like other “comments” you received that day. Or the previous week, or year.

That’s because they’re not comments at all. They’re camel noses.

Folks promoting their websites or who are being paid to promote other people’s websites cut and paste chunks of these templates and mass-mail them to every blog extant. Approve them once and they can get into your tent any time they want in the future.

Or, rather, their spam-mails can. If you’re new to blogging, be really wary about which comments you approve. Should the English seem very clunky or the comment off-topic (or a blatant non sequitur), check the return e-mail address/web page attached to the e-mail. You’ll almost certainly see something like “cheap retro Jordan size 8” or “teeth whitening” or “cheap FIF coins.”

Today I got an e-mail from a really clueless spammer who cut-and-pasted the entire freaking template: 2,828 words. Taken together they look like an English-as-a-second-language version of Mad Libs.


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guardians of the galaxy Guardians of the Galaxy and other PF topics.I had a blast watching “Guardians of the Galaxy,” so much so that I later took my great-nephews to see it – a second viewing for all of us. That time, though, I went with an eye toward superheroic money lessons.

Hey, if I can do it for “Parsifal,” “Godzilla” and “Gotterdammerung,” surely I can do it for comic-book heroes.

8 personal finance tips from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’” ran recently over at my day job, Money Talks News. Among them: “Classics endure,” “Good sense trumps sentiment (or should)” and “Judge performance, not appearance.”

Show me another job that lets you charge your movie ticket as a business expense. Other than movie reviewer, that is.


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Wth10 Giveaway: Business in Blue Jeans.ant to start a business? Already own one, but want to take it further? Susan Baroncini-Moe has written a book designed to help you achieve your goals without having to become someone you’re not.

The title says it all: “Business in Blue Jeans: How to Have A Successful Business on Your Own Terms, in Your Own Style.“After all, not everybody wants to wear a power suit.

Although the author acknowledges that “circumstance, life path or lack of skill” can make entrepreneurship harder for some than for others, she’s put together as many resources as possible to help just about anybody achieve just about anything.

“Small business is, to me, the essence of the American Dream. Entrepreneurship is the backbone of our economy, and it offers virtually anyone unlimited opportunity, income and freedom. But like anything worth pursuing, it requires effort,” she writes.


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th9 How I saved more than $100 last night.We’re in the middle of a project to turn a giant three-sided building into a smaller shed, a greenhouse and a deck. When I say “we,” it’s the royal we. DF and one of his sons are doing most of the work.

He’s reusing wood from the original structure plus some boards another DIYer had given him. DF also found a great deal on paint at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and an even better deal at the “free” section of the city landfill.

Yet certain purchases — cedar boards for the deck and something called Suntuf clear PC roof panels for the greenhouse — can’t be scrounged. The roof panels are on sale at Home Depot but even so cost almost $25 a pop.

The final tally will be about $750, a figure that made us both gasp – and sent me straight to GiftCardGranny.com, an aggregator site for discounted gift cards.

Within three minutes I’d determined the best deal and ordered it. Total savings: $107.30. Wish I could earn at that rate every day.


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th8 Should you boycott restaurants?Over 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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The frugal state fair.

th7 The frugal state fair.The county or state fair is one of the biggest money pits in the world. These places exist to part you from your cash, whether it’s for food or rides (or both).

A partial solution: Be a judge at the chili cook-off. I promise you won’t want to eat another bite for the rest of the day, or possibly until the next afternoon.

It’s not that the chili and salsas were bad. Quite the opposite: All were good and most were excellent. But after you’ve had 70 or 80 spoons’ worth, with bites of tortillas and sips of water in between, you simply can’t face any other comestibles.

You might also be averse to any carnival rides that move faster than the average baby can crawl. At the end of the day I did manage one ride, the “1,000 Nights” – a large platform that rotates clockwise, very high and very fast. By the time the first full rotation had ended, I was second-guessing that decision out loud.


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s0660153 sc7 300x300 Want a $50 Staples card?I must have been one of the nerdiest kids in Cumberland County, NJ, because I looked forward to the first day of school.

The first hint was the mid-August appearance of school supplies at Woolworth’s, Mr. Big, Diskay and other stores in the small city closest to our rural township. While the other kids shrieked and grabbed their throats in despair, I secretly  loved the sight of all that notebook paper waiting to be filled with words.

Back when the Earth was still cooling, “school supplies” mostly meant a blue three-ring binder (but only if last year’s was completely kaput), yellow No. 2 pencils (no pens until at least fifth grade), wide-ruled paper and maybe, if you were lucky, a big pink eraser. We made bookcovers out of brown grocery bags. Only the teacher had crayons and Magic Markers.

If eight-year-old me had seen the box of school supplies Staples shipped last week, the sensory overload might have put me in the emergency room.

A composition book with a leaf-and-ladybug design in pale pink and orange. Refillable mechanical pencils made just for small children, i.e., with “break-resistant” lead. Two-pocket folders with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle motifs. A clipboard with an oh-so-cuuute of a beagle puppy. th5 150x150 Want a $50 Staples card?

Three-by-five-inch lined journals in bright florals and random, boldly colored patterns. Erasers that look like lipsticks, complete to the plastic top — and in patterns that match the journals. Pencils in patterns that match both the erasers and the journals, and a Spongebob Squarepants pencil sharpener to ready them for writing.

Want some of this for yourself? Or anything else Staples sells? Enter this week’s giveaway.


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Summer on the wane.

th6 150x150 Summer on the wane.The raspberries are winding down. I was picking from a pint to almost a quart every day for a while. Lately they’re ripening much more slowly and the ones that do ripen seem a bit collapsed and/or partly eaten.

Birds, I figured – until the day I saw wasps and honeybees landing on berries before I could get to them. They’d grab hold, lock on, and start sucking/chewing away.

This was so entertaining to watch that I had a hard time blaming them for bogarting the berries I really, really wanted for the freezer.

Can’t really blame them: I, too, want to extract every last bit of sweetness before the season ends.


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th 1 150x150 Thrift shops, free museums and a $100 Tweetchat. Today is Thrift Shop Day, and the Savers/Value Village folks say we’re all about saving the Benjamins. The company’s new survey revealed that 47 percent of U.S. residents shop at la segunda, and more than one-third of us say they shop secondhand more often now than they did three years ago.

Is it the economy? Or is it that more and more people are realizing how much fun it can be to prospect for marked-down items, some of which you won’t find anywhere else?

Well, 52 percent of those surveyed say “it feels like a treasure hunt” and 35 percent love finding “truly unique” items. If you’re a retro-fashionista, secondhand stores are the place to find vintage shoulder-pad suits, cargo pants or the perfect bridesmaid’s dress to wear to the prom or (with appropriate attitude) to a wedding.


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