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thSometimes I regret my habit of reading while I eat. When dining or even snacking alone I tend to reach for a book, a newspaper, a magazine or even the back of a cereal box.

Dietitians would probably say that mindless eating often leads to overeating. Slow-food movement enthusiasts would likely tell me that paying half-attention to a plate means I’m missing the full experience.

And anyone who’s ever tried a recipe from the back of a food product would almost certainly warn against baking Tic Tac Toe Cookies, a peanut-butter cookie recipe found on the Heinz ketchup bottle.


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thWhat’s the weirdest thing you ever did to save money? That’s a question that the GO Banking Rates blogger Christine Lavignia asked of me and 29 other personal finance writers. Here’s my answer:

“As a 21-year-old single mom, I was a clerk at a big-city newspaper, where an editor would ask me to run to the cafeteria for coffee for reporters, ‘and get something for myself, too.’

I would pocket the 35 cents it cost to buy an orange drink and purposely get more sugar packets than necessary; that way, I’d get an extra buck or so a week (these were 1979 dollars) plus sugar to take home for my oatmeal.

“I don’t know about ‘weird,’ but it’s certainly sad. … Just one more reminder that since I had very few resources, I’d better be creative about meeting needs for myself and my baby. My various hand-to-mouth coping strategies were pretty useful much later, when I was a mid-life college student and broke divorcee.”

Edited for clarity: I would get two or three sugars per cup of coffee. Some reporters used that much, others didn’t. At times certain writers would cut back to zero sugars for a while (maybe because they wanted to lose weight). No matter what, most weeks I brought at least a few sugar packets home.

The other answers can be seen at “The weirdest thing I did to save money.” In my opinion only a few of them are truly weird.

My favorite? “I scrounged in the Lost and Found for a free swimsuit.”


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th-1Because it was torn. Duh.

But seriously, folks: I had four pairs* of underpants with tears along seams. Side seams are especially susceptible. As the holes got bigger I’d stop using the garments.

But since I have enough for only about nine days, it bugged me that nearly half of my unmentionables were out of service. Naturally I kept vowing, “I’m going to fix those,” and just as naturally I kept putting it off.

Sometimes I’d wind up wearing the decommissioned drawers anyway due to laundry-day timing, and the stressed seams didn’t always appreciate it.

That bugged me even more. But as my friend SonyaAnn would say, it clearly it didn’t bother me enough. When it did, I’d do something about it.

Saturday was that day. I got out my sewing basket and spent just under half an hour repairing those seams. That included time to rethread the needle once.

Was it worth my time?


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IMG_20150503_130130A couple of weeks back I gave away a 2016 calendar created by “Tundra” artist Chad Carpenter. Or would have, if the winner hadn’t been from Canada.

Not that I have anything against our brethren to the north (or, in my case, to the east). It’s just that mailing the calendar would have been ridiculously expensive.

That’s why I note that winners from outside the United States will receive a gift card instead of mailable items. In this case, I sent the reader a $15 Amazon.ca card.

Which means, of course, that the calendar is still up for grabs. So is a $50 gift card of your choice from the Swagbucks shop. But first things first.


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thAt the end of April I got some unpleasant news concerning my teeth, news so unpleasant that it made me want to go out and waste money. Regular readers know that would indicate some serious upset.

As I explained in “How to avoid takeout,” the Maryland dental bridge I’ve had for 31 years needs replacing due to a cavity underneath it. The first stage — cutting apart the bridge, fixing the cavity and crowning the tooth — would cost approximately $1,222.

Today I had the first part done and the appointment revealed both very good and very bad news. Typical.


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The 876 scam is back.

thWhen the phone rang yesterday and caller ID noted an “876” area code, a warning bell dimly clanged in my head. Some kind of scam, I think. As I started to say so, DF answered the phone.

“Hello…Pretty busy, actually, what’s up? Oh, really? Well, send it to me.” He ended the call – and along with it, our chance to win $8.1 million dollars in a foreign lottery.

Yep, the 876 scam is back. Previous scammers have claimed to be associated with Publishers Clearinghouse, UPS, loan originators or credit repair agencies.

The crooks explain that once they’ve received a wire transfer or prepaid card to cover “taxes and fees,” their prizes will be sent along.

Of course that sounds ludicrous. But people fall for it all the time – especially the elderly.


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thWant a $50 head start on your summer fun? Let the Swagbucks rewards site give it to you.

The program, which is my favorite rewards site, is sponsoring a “Gateway to Summer Fun Giveaway.” The prize: a $50 card from its Rewards Store.

Normally you get up to five ways to enter my site’s giveaways. This time it’s different: Only one entry per person is allowed, and you have to do a little work to get it.

The good news? Some of this “work” will actually benefit you – that is, if you like earning free gift cards year-round.


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thRecently I flew from Anchorage to Las Vegas to give a talk at the New Media Expo. Going from a chilly climate to a potentially blast-furnace-hot one meant I’d need nothing but sandals, so why bother wearing shoes on the plane?

But this was an overnight flight and I can’t sleep when my feet are cold. Sighing, I made a sartorially awkward choice: gray wool socks with my Teva sandals.

And yes, I know how fugly that looks, but I’m built for comfort, not for speed. Besides, it wasn’t wearing the socks with sandals that left me feeling embarrassed. It was the removal.

The terminal in Los Angeles made my feet feel overdressed, instantly. Yet I felt it absolutely necessary to remove the socks in the ladies’ room. Doing so in the waiting area – even an empty one – seemed indecent somehow.


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thAlaska is full of kick-ass women, and I was privileged to meet a bunch of them during my 17 years of working for the Anchorage Daily News. That’s because I wrote for the features section, which meant getting sent out to interview women who’d either suffered great losses or done something intriguing. Sometimes both.

I learned something from all of them, and was fortunate enough to get to know some of them better. When I met Dana Stabenow she was at the tail-end of a carefully chosen yet potentially disastrous decision: to quit her lucrative job, get a master’s degree in creative writing and become an author.

She went broke in the attempt, but that’s not the end of her story.


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thMemorial Day weekend is coming up, as is a summer full of potential getaways. If the idea of paying $1.59 for a one-ounce tube of toothpaste irritates you as much as it does me, then you need this week’s prize.

These TSA-friendly travel bag giveaways are always insanely popular. The price of that toothpaste probably has a lot to do with it.

In addition, you won’t have to refill travel bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Plus: A free Ziploc freezer bag!

This time around, we’re looking at toiletries both luxurious and mundane:


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th-2Once upon a time people kept journals to deal with the tedium and trauma of daily living. These days the online world is a stage on which we can play out our lives in public, if we choose.

Not every personal website is about someone’s cute kids or cute shoes, either. Or even about a race to pay off student loans, learn a skill, start a business, homeschool their kids, buy a home or retire early.

Sometimes the poor players strut and fret some pretty intensely personal business: love, genderqueer politics, marriage, divorce, infertility, midlife reinvention, empty nests, aging, dying.

Writing helps us feel our way through chance, challenge and change. Or so I note in “When life hands you blog fodder,” a piece on the blog associated with my online writing course.

The Internet is crammed with the drab and the dramatic, adorableness and grotesqueries, rampant TMI and TL;dr. What makes for the most readable work, I think, is what one of my newspaper editors called “conflict.”


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th-1Recently I was quoted in a U.S. News and World Report article about affordable Mother’s Day gifts. My suggestion was, of course, writing-related: Buy her a journal.

A written account of your days on Earth isn’t just a chronicle of the way you work, eat, love, parent, spend, vote and play, however. It can also be:

A safety valve. Write down what happened at work/on that first date/as you walked past a construction site, or risk having your head ’splode.

A historical document. Some day your descendants will be startled that you once earned only $50,000 per year or that you had to hold your phone in your hand in order to communicate. Preserving these memories will add to your family history.

An intimate friend. You can tell your journal anything, although it might be wise to have a stout lock on the thing.


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