thI sure hope that this week’s winner never actually needs the prize. But we’re in the thick of the cold and flu season so it’s best to be prepared — and it’s even better when someone else buys your supplies.

The winner will receive a box full of things essential to someone who’s down with the sniffles or a full-blown influenza. Here’s what’s in the package:


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thFor at least 17 years I’ve been picking up change and saving it until Thanksgiving, at which point I donate it to the Food Bank of Alaska.

This year’s count-up was late, on purpose. I decided to wait until January because giving tends to slow way down right after the holidays. (Apparently people are hungry only from Thanksgiving until Christmas.)

Here’s what I accumulated between last November and yesterday:

  • 21 quarters
  • 62 dimes
  • 25 nickels
  • 157 pennies

A typical year’s take is usually no more than $20 and no less than $12, so $14.27 isn’t too bad. Notably absent this year was any denomination of paper money, which could mean that people are being more careful with their cash. Or maybe it means that another scavenger got there first.


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thI resist making resolutions at the ends of Decembers. The idea of “resolving” to do something doesn’t work for me.

Not because I’m too lazy. If there’s one thing that’s proved true over the years, it’s this piece of folk wisdom:


“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

Defeatist? Maybe. But not really.

That’s because time and again what I thought I would do/not do has been wrong, although not always in a bad way. In addition, things I knew were true turned out to be, um, untrue. A few examples:


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thAs I’ve said again and again, “food” is the budget category over which we generally have the most control.

You probably can’t talk your way into a sizable discount on your auto loan, mortgage or health insurance premium, but a little ingenuity and creativity can whack your meal costs way, way back.

Erin Chase can help. The frugal genius behind “$5 Dinners” and a series of cookbooks, and co-founder of “The $5 Meal Plan,” she has created a new service that combines all her superpowers. Registration for her Grocery Budget Makeover starts Sunday, Jan. 3 and ends Monday, Jan. 11.

Her goal is to “change your mindset and methods of shopping” in 10 weeks. Not just shopping, though; meal planning, couponing and cooking tactics also figure prominently.

This is not some talking-head gourmand who doesn’t understand how regular people (including picky children) cook and eat. I actually know Erin and she is a regular person – a mother of four who avoids most processed foods due to food allergies in her family.

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How to lose weight.

51V5skn-eJL._SX368_BO1,204,203,200_ “Lose weight” and/or “eat better” will appear on many a New Year’s resolution list — just as they did last year, and will again next year. Such plans often gang agley for a number of reasons.

We aren’t really invested in them. We miss our old comfort foods. We don’t know how to adjust the rest of our lives to support a new way of being in the world.

That’s why I’m giving away a Kindle copy of Victoria Hay’s “30 Pounds, 4 Months: How to Eat Well and Lose Weight – Painlessly.”

Her approach is fairly simple: Dieting isn’t something you do. It’s something you are.

“You change your way of looking at food, work light exercise – nothing extreme! – into your daily habits, and learn to eat better food, not necessarily less food,” says Hay, a former journalist and professor and current owner of The Copyeditor’s Desk writing and publishing service.

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th-1Seasonal affective disorder has hit hard this year. Despite the aptly named S.A.D. light I’ve been eyebrow-deep in doldrums.

Having battled depression and anxiety in the past I can say the past weeks feel both familiar and different.

The glumness is just as I recall it: a cement straitjacket that impedes my ability to move, let alone achieve much. What’s new, and worrisome, is that I’m having a devil of a time talking myself down from it.

In years past I got through the season – heck, through my life – thanks to the sheer number of Things That Must Be Done. Should those things not have gotten done I would have been letting someone down: my child, my then-husband, my employer, my friends.

Or I’d do what I privately think of as a Full Pollyanna and create my own personal glad game. Just look at what I’ve got going for me: a daughter I love, health (mostly), family, friends, a job I love (mostly), a roof over my head, plenty to eat, etc. etc.

Generally that worked, either because it made me realize how lucky I was or because it embarrassed me off the self-pity path. Hasn’t worked lately, even though I can add astounding midlife love to the plus side of the ledger.

In fact, it’s made me feel worse. To be clear: I’m fully aware of how blessed I am. It’s just that sometimes none of those blessings can get through the fog. As Sinclair Lewis put it, “It has not yet been recorded that any human being has gained a very large or permanent contentment from meditation upon the fact that he is better off than others.”


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Finishing your holiday buying in person? Get ready for warfare on wheels – and not just as regards scoping for prime parking spots.

Combat shopping can be murder on your ride. Whether you leave it in a garage, on the street or in a mall parking lot, you’re at risk of being tagged by a clueless driver and/or having your purchases stolen before you can even get them home to be wrapped.

While some consumers prefer to shop entirely online nearly six in 10 will do at least some brick-and-mortar visits, according to the National Retail Federation. Excited, distracted or stressed-out shoppers may dent your fender or scrape some paint on the way into or out of a parking space.

The honest ones will leave contact information on your windshield. The others just keep driving, which is not only bad manners but could also be a hit and run, legally speaking. Most states don’t define this as taking place on roads or highways, and many include parking-lot incidents in the hit-and-run definition.

One of my recent NerdWallet articles can help.

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thJust got a press release from a company suggesting “fun and affordable” stocking stuffers. What got my attention was how it defines “affordable”: items under $50.

Um…no. I don’t spend $50 altogether on the stuffers for five stockings. In fact, I generally don’t spend anything at all (more on that in a minute).

On what non-frugal planet is “under $50” considered a low price for a small item? And when did stocking stuffers graduate from candy canes and stickers to things like $50 iTunes cards, Sharper Image six-port USB charging hubs ($29.98) and $30 bottles of perfume?

Little things mean a lot, but they shouldn’t have to cost a lot. Thus I refuse to pay a lot. Here are some ways to save.


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IMG_20151210_113500This week’s giveaway achieves two of my favorite goals: supporting the local economy and helping readers finish up their holiday shopping.

I only wish that my meh-photography did justice to the two pendants up for grabs this week. They’re quite striking and hand cut- and hammered by my friend Linda B.

She started by cutting two disks of aluminum: one a deep maroon and the other a vibrant violet. Onto each she riveted a five-armed, gear-like circle that makes the pendants look, at first glance, like sheriffs’ badges or combat medals.

The colors below seem richer, possibly because you’re seeing them in concentrated glimpses. The overlays give a suggestion of motion that I like to think of as, “Hey — get your life in gear and start moving!”

Know anyone who needs an accessory with a built-in kick in the pants? Or maybe you need it yourself.

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thThis morning I indulged my inner frugal sybarite with a hot, hot soak. Unlike the man in the song below, I don’t limit baths to the end of a tiring day. Sometimes a good dunk is the right solution for mid-morning writer’s block or midday slump.

I pop an already-cold Diet Coke into the freezer for 15 minutes to create little fizzy icebergs or fix myself a glass of iced tea. Then I lower myself into water that’s as hot as I can stand.

Steam floats in the air, my toes crinkle and the cold drink provides a shivery shock, the perfect foil to the boil of the tub. As soon as the water cools even a little I hit the hot-water tap again.

Most of the time I rush from the shower to the day’s chores, or stumble from the shower to the bed. Tub ablutions are relatively rare, which makes them more luxurious.

They’re great attitude adjustments, too, as Flanders and Swann can attest:

I don’t sing in the tub, but I do talk. Yes, really.

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thA while back I put up a post called “Ask me (almost) anything,” in which I said I’d answer reader questions. Not all of them, mind you, but some of them.

I meant it, too. But you’ll notice I never said how soon I’d do it.

Now, three months later, I’m taking on three queries for starters. They’re fairly softball-ish questions, but I’m pretty tuckered out right now as I wind down the contracting gig.

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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.

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