th-1I’m doing almost all of my holiday shopping with free gift cards from MyPoints, Swagbucks and a couple of rewards credit cards.

That’s not due to my recent personal economic downturn, however: I always shop this way. If I can get promissory scrip by using a particular site, search engine or credit card, why wouldn’t I?

If you’re starting to wonder how much you can afford to spend for the holidays, this might interest you: My favorite rewards program, Swagbucks, has offered me a special signup code for new referrals (more on that in a minute), and a chance for both new and old referralss to win a $50 gift card.

Interested? I thought so.

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thLast spring I turned down a writing job that would have paid $450. The piece would have been long but not particularly hard to do, as I’d covered the topic before. In fact, I did a pretty good outline in several back-and-forth e-mails with the editor.

(Note to self: Don’t do that again. Ask what the job pays before you do anything else – and especially before you spend half an hour of your day e-mailing back and forth.)

Some of you are probably thinking, “Is she nuts? She turned down an easy $450?”

But that’s not really what I turned down.

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MedLetThemSpeakA giveaway from last March, “The large flat-rate box of Alaska,” drew 122 entries. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since a lot of people are interested in the Last Frontier and a lot of people like big boxes full of little things.

It’s an odd mix this time around. Then again, Alaska is a pretty odd state.

Among the offerings:

Music: “Icy Grooves,” a CD from local jazz favorite Rick Zelinsky. (He was the guy we were listening to when those people decided to yammer through jazz night.)

Video: “Big Wild Anchorage,” hosted by Mr. Whitekeys (of the late, lamented Fly By Night Club). This particular video is a family-friendly look at Alaska’s largest city, from float planes to glaciers to sled-dog races that begin downtown (where they put snow on the streets).

Bags: A large, reusable shopping bag imprinted with “MTA: Celebrating 60 Years” (that’s the Matanuska Telephone Association, for all you cheechakos), plus another large bag with the logo of “The Vampire Assassins League,” a paranormal romance series (yep, that’s an actual genre) written by Alaska author Jackie Ivie

More Jackie Ivie stuff: A Vampire Assassins League coffee mug and two VAL temporary tattoos, plus a copy of “Knight Everlasting,” a novel from her historical romance series about a stalwart clansman in the Scottish highlands. (Och! What does he wear under the kilt, is what I want to know.)

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14 ways to get off the kid-gift treadmill.Last week I went to a nearby Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft to buy a book of brain teasers from the dollar section (60 cents with coupon – an inexpensive stocking stuffer for a young relative). An older woman was visibly fretting as she picked things up and put them down.

“What do you buy for someone who already has everything?” she asked me.

Seems that her two granddaughters, ages 4 and 6, drop by fairly regularly.  Some time ago she started buying little gifts for each visit, and now she’s wishing she hadn’t. Although the first thing they want to know when they cross the threshold is what they’re getting, they often don’t even bother to take the items home.

I gently asked if it were stressful always to have to come up with a new and exciting gift. She nodded, then shrugged and said, “But they expect it.”

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Message in a virtual bottle.I’m tossing this post out there on faith, because I’m not sure how many people will actually be able to read it. That’s because the site continues to flutter and flicker.

My web goddess is ferreting out the gremlins responsible for the past few days’ worth of aggravation. It’s not an easy task, so please hang in there if you get “site down” or, worse, “fatal error” messages over the next couple of days.

Honest: I’m not quitting the business, even though part of the business quit me (and an unknown number of other writers).

Today I put my final MSN Money post into draft form. After almost seven years of contract work it feels odd to be a free agent once more. Not unpleasantly odd, mind you: I’m looking forward for a clear space in which to breathe.

I’ll still have to work, but I’ve lined up just enough to pay my basic expenses. I don’t want to dip into savings, but neither do I want to go back to being just as busy as I was before.

In other news…

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