th3 Vortex, shmortex: Just stay cool.The other day I wished I could send some of our weather (52 degrees and raining) to the parched areas of the country, especially to farming regions. Turns out that the Gulf of Alaska was thinking along the same lines.

The Midwest and, eventually, the East Coast will be feeling the effects of “a poor man’s polar vortex” in the week to come. That’s what Washington Post weather editor Jason Samenow calls the “deep pool of cool air” that will dip down into the Great Lakes region in a day or so.

You’re welcome.

Before and after, though, U.S. residents worry about the cost of keeping cool. Nearly two-thirds of the 2,035 people surveyed by HomeServe USA are concerned about the hit that air conditioning will have on their budgets. Yet 55 percent will suck it up and pay whatever it takes to chill out.


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GetAttachment 2 e1405054770498 Win the medium flat rate box of Alaska.

Cheap-ass burn phone not included.

The tourists are back, pouring out of great big ships and tour buses and wandering the streets in their matching windbreakers. Although some people grumble, I say “bring it.”

As in, “bring your money and spend it here.” Tourism has added more jobs than any other basic industry since 1990, according to the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Besides, the annual visitors remind me what a fascinating (albeit cussed) place Alaska really is. They remind me to stop and take a closer look at the things I see every day but that other people save for decades to be able to afford to glimpse for a week or so.

And if you can’t afford your own Alaska visit just yet? Enter to win the medium flat-rate box of Alaska.


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th1 A simple price comparison can save you thousands.When it comes to saving money, pick the lowest-hanging fruit first. A new survey from Insurance.com compared the per-minute value of tactics such as changing cellphone carriers, carefully pricing new vehicles and seeking a better car insurance rate.

Shopping for insurance won quite handily, with a value of $54 per minute.

A cynic would call that pretty convenient, since Insurance.com has an auto-insurance rate comparison tool. But the fact is that consumers often benefit by using a tool like this.

In part that’s because a change in circumstances – reaching the age of 25, getting married, moving, taking a job with a shorter commute, even improving your credit score – can mean better rates. But it’s also because even reasonably intelligent people wind up overpaying from the get-go and fail to do anything about it.

I know this because I overpaid for car insurance myself. Way overpaid. For way too long.


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th 8 pointed questions to ask before you buy.A comment on a Get Rich Slowly article got my attention today. In “Four ways to make money with your old junk,” a woman posting as Winterlady noted one of the tactics she uses to prevent overbuying:

“I hold the item and think ‘How quickly will I want to garage-sale this?’”

Having seen more than a few like-new or still-in-the-shrink-wrap items at yard sales, I expect her comment is not particularly flippant.

I also liked another thing she said: “It is easier to control the purchases than figure out how to dispose of them.”

This.

I’m a big fan of informed consumerism, i.e., of asking the right questions before you decide to buy something. In a post on Wise Bread, I described the queries along the lines of, “Do I really need it? Do I already have something like it? Is there a way to get it for free? If not, what’s the most affordable way to get it?”

Yet even after applying this frugal filter, you sometimes just waaaaant something – right now. That’s when you ask yourself a question like the one cited by Winterlady.

I’ve got a few more to add. They’re not all questions as such, but they should encourage a little self-interrogation.


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DONNA F For the best FinCon14 price, book by Monday night.Once again I’ve been chosen to present a program at the Financial Blogger Conference, which takes place Sept. 18-20 in New Orleans.

According to the organizer, Phil Taylor, I’m apparently the only person who’s been involved all four years. So I guess it’s really not just me who likes to hear myself  talk.

The “early bird” pricing ends at 11:59 p.m. Monday, June 30. So if you’re a blogger or want to be one, sign up now for the best deal (more on that in a minute).

Or just attend because you’re intrigued by personal finance and/or would like to hear writers talk about what they do.


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th 1 Giveaway: $10 in Starbucks scrip.As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, I’m always bemused by the reaction when I offer Starbucks gift cards as a giveaway. The last time I did this I got 226 entries. For a $10 card!

Then again, it’s summer and even though I don’t care for the bean I do have to admit that the cold drinks at Starbucks are pretty refreshing and tasty.

That is, unless they trash them up with coffee.

Win this week’s $10 giveaway, though, and you can order whatever you like.


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th9 The call of the Koolickle.Recently DF came into possession of a special report from the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. “Land of plenty: Will food save the Delta or be its death?” is beautifully photographed and contains fascinating articles about the foods commonly consumed in the Mississippi Delta.

These range from the expected (barbecue, greens, fried chicken) to the surprising (tamales, kibbeh, Italian, Asian, haute cuisine). A supermarket is the only one in the Kroger chain that grinds its own meat, because the kibbeh consumers demand fresh grind of a specific quality.

This isn’t just a travelogue, mind you. The writers focused on nutrition issues, food deserts and health problems. We also learn about prawn farming, soul food, family-run eateries, blues music, restaurants that turned dying cities into Saturday-night destinations.

And we learn about Koolickles, a Delta delicacy also known as Pickoolas: dill pickles marinated in brine, sugar and double-strength Kool-Aid.

This is the home of the fried pickle, so it’s no surprise that gherkins might receive unusual treatment. But Kool-Aid pickles struck me as both horrifying and fascinating. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

Reader, I made some.


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th8 The marvel of an Alaska summer.I am growing popcorn. Really. Last spring a company called Boom Chicka Pop offered free popcorn seeds. Knowing full well that you need either a greenhouse or floating row cover to grow corn successfully in Anchorage, I nevertheless requested seeds because hope springs eternal in the spring.

Ten corn plants are now flourishing in the heat sink that is the south side of our cream-colored home. In about a month’s time they’ve gone from sere seeds to six-inch green stems with multiple leaves, even though that month was marked by near-record amounts of rain and some very cool overnight temperatures.

Will they have sufficient heat and time even to set ears, let alone ripen them? Probably not. But I’m getting such a kick out of watching them grow that I don’t much care.


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th7 Want a chance at a decent old age? Have a daughter.When middle-aged sons live with their parents, it’s probably because they’re underemployed or unemployed. But middle-aged daughters are more likely to bunk with their parents in order to take care of them, according to a new survey from Yodlee Interactive.

Men ages 35 to 44 are more than twice as likely as women to receive economic support from their parents, and more than three times as likely than women to live at home.

Oh, and daughters are more likely to provide “emotional” support as their parents age, regardless of living arrangements. In fact, 20 percent of the men surveyed say they do not plan to call or visit Mom and Dad as they grow old. Nice.

Maybe it’s because women are socialized to be caregivers. Maybe it’s because they’re guilted into it. My best friend from childhood cared for her father during a long battle with dementia, and also dealt with her mother’s congestive heart failure, despite working and having two kids.

When she asked her older brother for help he told her that because she was the daughter it was her “duty” to take care of their parents.

I am not making that up. And yes, it happened fairly recently, vs. back in the 1800s.


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th4 Ally Bank might give you $100.I figured that would get your attention. The $100 in question comes in the form of Amazon scrip, and two such gift cards will be given away during Ally’s monthly TweetChat on June 24.

That’s tomorrow, in case you aren’t keeping track. The topic is one with which all of us could use some schoolin’.

“Protecting Yourself Online” is just what it sounds like: the latest on security and how to protect your identity and your digital assets. As the Ally wonks note, you wouldn’t give your car keys to a stranger or leave your home’s windows and doors open – yet plenty of us are fairly unguarded online.

According to Consumer Reports, 62 percent of U.S. citizens have done nothing to protect themselves when using the Internet. That’s understandable, since digital security can be a very confusing topic – and since well-publicized data breaches make it look as though no one can really guard against determined hackers.


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new book Giveaway: The Cheap Chicas Guide to Style.I like Liliana Vasquez’ style. Not just her sartorial sense, but her common sense. Here are a couple of examples of the blogger and author’s advice:

“Labels don’t define us – they’re just little pieces of cloth that tell you how to take care of your garment.”

“Remember: Style can’t be bought. It comes from confidence and creativity.”

“Age is nothing but a number, but our style has to evolve as we get older whether we like it or not.”

“You don’t have to adhere completely to the fashion world’s rules to curate your own style.”

Vazquez, who blogs at The Cheap Chica’s Guide to Style, from her smart, practical and, yes, thrifty advice. “The Cheap Chica’s Guide to Style: Secrets to Shopping Cheap and Looking Chic” is this week’s giveaway.


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th 1 One way to celebrate National Splurge Day.Yet another holiday invented to make you spend money! Just what we need, right? But I’m sorta-kinda okay with National Splurge Day, as long as the splurges are done frugally.

In fact, I think you should splurge on something today – but that you should do so in as cost-effective a way as possible, and with an eye toward postponing future splurges.

Does that mean you can never have nice things? Not at all. In fact, what it means is that you can likely get those nice things faster – but only if you’re willing to grow up, wise up and stop ignoring future goals in favor of fun-right-now stuff.


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