th-1When I started Surviving and Thriving back in 2010 my life was very, very different. I’d recently gotten a university degree (at age 52 – better late than really late) and was making a living as a full-time writer for MSN Money plus an every-other-week staff writer at Get Rich Slowly. I freelanced for other publications as well, and traveled a lot.

Now I live in Anchorage, Alaska with the love of my life and am back to freelancing full-time because MSN Money fired all its writers on the same day back in autumn 2013.

Earlier this year I started an online course called Write A Blog People Will Read* and also hung out my shingle as a writing coach.

Tired? You bet.

Grateful? Indescribably so.

read more

thA whole lot of U.S. residents are scared of outliving their money. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 57 percent of clients called it their biggest money fear.

That doesn’t surprise me. Although nearly 8 in 10 full-time workers have some money for retirement, 28 percent of them report that the total value of household savings and investments is less than $1,000 (not including primary residence and defined benefit plans).

Certainly I’ve had my own share of bag-lady dreams, so this topic really resonated when I researched it for a NerdWallet article called “7 steps to deal with our No. 1 money fear.”

Funding a retirement plan can seem daunting, but it’s not something you can put off. Even if your future is decades away, your new best friend compound interest is here right now.


read more

th-1We’re in a subzero cold snap that should last at least a few more days. The temperature was eight below when I got up and managed to make it only four degrees above the zero-mark before shivering its  way back down the thermometer.

But I don’t care (much), because the house smells so good.

After DF had his lunch he filled the five-quart West Bend slow cooker with the contents of the boiling bag, some vegetable cooking water from the freezer and the water left from last night’s boiled potatoes.

(That last included little bits of spud because I got distracted and let them boil perhaps a bit too long.)

This time around the boiling bag contained carrot tops, apple cores, the tough ends of romaine leaves, onion skins, potato peelings and a handful of very small, very green tomatoes from the greenhouse project. Although all of the bigger tomatoes and some of the smaller ones eventually turned red after we brought them indoors, the little ones were stubbornly bright-green and beginning to soften. Thus we sacrificed them to the soup and are already dreaming of next spring.


read more

sev_logo_tileBack in 2000, Scott Jordan got frustrated when trying to mix two of his favorite things: travel and tech. So he created what he called the “pocket revolution,” i.e., a line of clothing that would organize and protect his gadgets while leaving them easily accessible on the road.

Since then he’s sold more than 10 million pockets, in the form of “tech-enabled” clothing for men and women – everything from underpants to hoodies. Multiple pockets, some of them completely hidden, protect your gadgets, cash and other valuables.

Just for giggles and grins, here’s a video of best-selling author Amy Tan showing what she keeps in her SCOTTeVEST clothing:

The garment is a veritable clown car, isn’t it?

When a representative from SCOTTeVEST contacted me to offer a couple of samples, I jumped at the chance – and one reader will win two great-looking, comfortable and practical garments.


read more

thSo often we encounter lackluster, slipshod or outright lousy customer service. Not today, though.

I’ve had an AT&T Universal Mastercard since 1992. One of the things I appreciate is its connection to the Citi Thank You Rewards program. Since the holidays are approaching I checked today to see if I had enough points for a specific gift for my daughter and son-in-law.

Turned out that I needed 14,000 points for the item. I had 12,585 with 1,226 more points waiting to be credited on Nov. 21. In other words, I was 189 points short and the next batch wouldn’t hit my account until Dec. 21 — a little late for ordering the present.

I said, “Oh, well, I’ll give an IOU for the gift and order it on Dec. 22, then. Thanks anyway.”

The customer service rep said, “Let me talk to my supervisor.”


read more

thNorth Carolina photographer Eric Pickersgill was in a café when a family’s non-togetherness spooked him deeply.

The father and two daughters were on their phones while the mother looked out the window, seeming “sad and alone in the company of her closest family.” Ultimately she gave in and took out her own phone.

From this Pickersgill found the inspiration for a photo series called “Removed,” a series of pictures that were semi-staged, yet all too real. Pickersgill would ask device-users to hold their poses while he removed the tablets and cell phones from their grasp.

The result is, well, the same sort of thing we see all the time in public places: People ignoring everything around them to fixate on handheld pixel-makers. But its static nature – men, women and children staring blankly into empty space – makes the exhibit deeply unsettling.

A few examples:


read more

Frigid frozen feet.

Recently DF and I attended “My Fair Lady,” the frugal way: I was reviewing, so we got two free tickets. (You can read the review at the Alaska Dispatch News if you like.)

When we finally went to bed my feet were, as usual, freezing. The rest of me felt fine but my toes were 10 little icicles. This led to us joking about a rewrite of “The Street Where You Live,” one of the more romantic songs from the musical.

In case you don’t know the tune, here’s a clip from the film version:


Got it? Now, on to the DF-written parody, “The Sheets At the Foot of the Bed”:


read more

th-2Conferences are always good for odd bits of swag: mouse pads, Post-It notes, bathtub toys.

I was a little more selective at this year’s Financial Blogger Conference, because my suitcase wasn’t very big.

Too, I kept a couple of items for myself:

RepayDebt.org’s “Slash Debt” T-shirt, which bore a piggy-bank head with long black curls and a top hat. (Get it? I didn’t, either, until my daughter reminded me of the existence of the Guns ’n’ Roses musician Slash.)

A squeezable foam “stress bull” – not because I’m stressed, but because I thought it might amuse DF’s granddaughter. He looks a bit incongruous in the cloth Noah’s Ark, since he’s twice as big as the other critters, but I’m sure they’ll work something out.

Purple socks printed with stylized pennies, from Pennyhoarder.com. They’re reversible to plain purple if you care what people think about your accessories. (Hint: I think they’re cool.)

But I still came away with a few things someone will want.


read more

thThe other day I had a massage, my last one with this practitioner because she’s moving out of state. On the landing by her door was a small stack of cinder blocks. I asked if she’d found a buyer and they were waiting to be picked up.

No buyers, she replied. “I’d give them away at this point, just to get rid of them.”

Guess who now has eight cinder blocks, even though she has no particular plan for them? Not right away, that is. But I figured you can never be too rich, too thin or have too many cinder blocks.

Part of me wondered whether this were a hoarder’s rationale. It could be.


read more

thA blogger I know recently hit a run of bum luck, including but not limited to car repairs, house issues, a utility rate hike and medical bills.

Depressing, right? Except that Christina, who writes the Northern Cheapskate website, decided to take a different look at the situation. Specifically, she looked at recent bank statements and her annual credit report.

The sight of paid-off debt and gradually rising balances cheered her and her husband considerably.

“Even though we felt stuck, we were moving – albeit ever so slowly – in the right direction,” she wrote in a post called “The importance of seeing your hard work pay off.”

I strongly recommend running the numbers, for two reasons:

  • To see where you need to make adjustments/get creative, and
  • To discern and celebrate any improvement, no matter how small.

Recently I ran my own numbers – and I liked what I saw.


read more

thI’ve taken a two-month contract job and my head, she is spinning. At 8 a.m. Monday I had my first conference with the editor and by 9 a.m. I had four assignments, all due within one week.

The articles are all based on insurance, a topic about which I know as much as any other freelance personal finance writer. Translation: I’ve spent a lot of time researching this week.

By the end of the first day I was utterly wrung out and wondering just what I’d done. The only thing that kept me going was the memories of my first day at The Chicago Tribune and the first few weeks at MSN Money. In both cases I felt completely at sea but I managed to survive, and to thrive.


read more

Frugal re-entry.

thMy trip back from a couple of conferences and family visits took some 17 hours from door to door, thanks to the first plane leaving almost two hours late. Boy, was I ready to be home.

And boy, was I glad that we live only about six minutes from the airport. A guy with whom I chatted during the delay told me he still had to drive to Ninilchik, Alaska, after we landed. That’s more than 180 miles south of Anchorage. All I had to do was look for DF’s car outside the baggage claim area.

Thursday found me somewhat punchy, since long trip + fewer than five hours of sleep = dormant brain cells. But I made it a point to get back on track, money-wise. 


read more