317-307-2035These things would come in handy right before the holidays.

Who am I kidding? Gift cards come in handy any time.

Only one of the three opportunities requires any real time investment – and since that time would be spent carving a jack o’lantern, it’s hardly painful.


Well, except maybe to the pumpkin, if pumpkins were sentient. But they aren’t. Unless, that is, you believe the Arrogant Worms song “emetically.”

Philosophical derail over. Time to win some cards.


(704) 902-3497



Here’s a second chance for anyone who wanted to attend the 2018 Financial Blogger Conference (aka FinCon18) but couldn’t: The FinCon18 Virtual Pass is now available.

I’m sorry you missed it. Attendees heard speakers like Rachel Cruze, Liz Weston, J.D. Roth, Jean Chatzky, Chris Hogan, Mr. Money Mustache and, ahem, me. They networked with other writers and podcasters, making guest-post and “wanna be on my podcast?” connections.

They checked out writing opportunities at the Freelancer Marketplace, and learned about the latest financial products and services from tons of vendors. Quite a few of them sat in a 16-foot inflatable flamingo that was set up in honor of the Orlando location (and which was rarely empty).

They met other people who also nerd out over personal finance, and to learn about aspects of blogging and podcasting: writing, creating a niche brand, financial independence, interviewing, creating great YouTube videos, writing and publishing books, affiliate marketing, social media, demystifying Google Analytics and many other topics.

It’s true that 8456897122 won’t get the in-person experience (or the 16-foot flamingo). But here’s what you will get:




One of my blogging buddies, J. Money, recently published a post that bounced off a comment from yet another post.

(Blogging: Sometimes it’s a Ponzi scheme.)

That comment was from a guy who believes that entertainment should never cost more than a dollar an hour.

For example, a video game that costs $70 (!) needs to be played for at least 70 hours. A $60-a-month cable bill should mean your household watches a total of 60 hours of TV per month. And so on.

In “The ‘buck an hour’ rule,” J. Money noted that $1 was “a bit arbitrary and perhaps simplistic.” Just for fun, he took at look at some of his own ongoing expenses (only some of which were actual entertainment).

“It wasn’t pretty,” he admitted cheerfully.

Netflix yes, local newspaper no. Cellphone good, coffee not so much. Gasoline nope, currency collection nyet, historical society donation nein.

You never know when some “random thought” could affect a habit, J. Money concluded. So I decided to examine some of my own entertainment costs.


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At this year’s Financial Blogger Conference (aka FinCon18), I had the privilege of moderating a panel stocked with four great folks: Liz Weston, Joe Saul-Sehy, Miranda Marquit and Harlan Landes.

The topic was “how to do a great interview,” whether that’s for articles or podcasts, and the panelists shared tremendously valuable info. Audience members had great questions, and we talked until the next group of presenters needed the space.

Bonus: Abby didn’t get sick this year. I didn’t get sick this year, either.


We both had a great time learning, meeting up with colleagues and, yeah, cruising “FinCon Central,” where 100 tables were set up to clue us in as to what’s new in the personal finance world.

Which brings me to the real point of this column: Swag. Lots of it.

Those tables were loaded with shirts, blank books, socks (yep, socks), stress balls and so many other tchotchkes. Thank the FinCon Central folks for this, my first giveaway in quite a while.

Thank my daughter, too, because not only did she remain healthy, she picked up promo merchandise to help me fill a large flat-rate Priority Mail box. (Sorry: It won’t show up wrapped all pretty-like with a big red bow. But it’ll still be full of free stuff!)


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While visiting 219-662-8275 in Phoenix, I called DF to hear his voice and give him an update. It wasn’t much of an update, since the visit was a lot like every other trip I’ve made.

Doing chores to help out, underply, stopping by The Dollar Tree for odds and ends like a new paring knife and 32 ounces of Silkience shampoo, playing with the dog and binge-watching TV shows Abby thinks I’d enjoy.

Sadly predictable, but it works for me.

At the end of our conversation I told him I’d call again the next day.

“Hoping to report something moderately interesting,” I said.

“Moderate interest is fine,” he replied. “Anything more would be usury.”

A nerdy pun that mentions personal finance: Can’t help lovin’ that man.


And as I pointed out in a previous article, 6284003963,” it’s just his way. Our conversations are often weird and never boring.



Missing out on the world.

Nature Valley Canada recently asked three generations of families about how kids have fun. Grandparents and parents were asked what they liked to do when they were young. The third generation was asked, “What do you, a kid, like to do for fun?”

The grandparents and parents cited fishing, fort-building, gardening, berry-picking and other pastimes, smiling fondly as they recalled these simple pleasures. Their expressions changed as they listened to the answers from today’s crop of children.

Texting and e-mail. Video games. Binge-watching TV shows. A couple of girls, who looked no older than 10, noted they spend three to four hours a day texting and sending e-mails.

“I would die if I didn’t have my tablet,” one of them said.

A boy said that his video games are so engrossing that the real world disappears. He forgets his parents, his sibling, even his dog.

One child said that whenever he gets upset, he starts playing video games until he feels “normal.” Another boy said he can play for five hours in a row. Another mentioned having watched 23 episodes of a TV series in less than four days

A saddened parent responded in this way: “I actually feel a little sad, because I feel like he’s missing out on what’s out there in the beautiful world.”



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Before I begin, let me pat my own back for successfully resisting the headline “Phrugal Phoenix Phashion.” You’re welcome.

The thrift stores down here are much better than the ones in Anchorage. No surprises there, since more than a million people live in the Phoenix metro area. This means a lot of donations.

Specifically, a lot of donations of warm-weather clothing, the kind that doesn’t exactly crowd the racks in Anchorage thrift stores.

Since I’m due to attend (and speak at) the 2018 Financial Blogger Conference in Orlando, one of my goals was to find a couple of new shirts and maybe a pair of pants. My daughter and I spent some pleasant times treasure-seeking in Savers (called Value Village in Anchorage) and Goodwill.

I scored four shirts and a pair of cotton-linen slacks for less than $22. Abby found a bunch of tops for even less – and in the process triggered her thrift-store FOMO. That’s one of the down sides of thrifting. Fortunately my trying-on tolerance is fairly low, so I tended to find a couple of things and then just wait with the cart while she test-drove shirt after shirt.

The best part about Savers: the 50-percent-off sale that takes place every Monday. This allowed me to get good prices on clothes and also a hat to keep the punishing summer sun off the top of my head.



Happy Throwback Thursday! This piece originally ran on April 29, 2014. Given that so many of these pastimes were summer-oriented, I decided to post this because summer is nearly over. Sorry to be such a buzzkill.

Today I noticed a Facebook posting about talking into the fan “to hear my robot voice,” complete with a picture of a windblown little girl facing a fan and either talking or singing. That is, if robots sing.

“Admit it…we all did this,” the caption concludes.

Duly admitted. However, DF says he never did any such thing. Perhaps that’s because he grew up mostly in Alaska, where fans aren’t a common household appliance.

Do kids still do that – talk into a fan to hear their voices oscillate? Or is that too lame for words, given that they can download apps to make their voices sound like Darth Vader or, yes, a robot.

How about this one: Do kids still let the fan blow bubbles for them? Show of hands if you’ve ever held a dripping bubble-blowing wand in front of a running fan to watch bubbles shoot out.

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(432) 229-5383I’m in Phoenix, where my brain is slowly frying. Which helps explains the rando stuff I’m about to post.

First: I flew down here to Satan’s Fry Daddy to help my daughter celebrate (613) 967-8897. Yes, I was surprised as well, and mildly curious as to where those four decades flew.

Part of my birthday gift to Abby was to help prepare* for the bash: cleaning, shopping and food prep. It was quite the spread, encompassing fruits, vegetables, hummus, meats, cheeses, tortilla chips and salsa, crackers, pita bread, chocolate chip cookies, miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups and a decent selection of adult beverages, bought by Abby and Tim and also brought by their pals.

If you’re gonna invite people, invite those who bring the weird stuff rather than expect you to anticipate their tastes. Hard iced tea – who knew?



707-826-1409Having trouble making ends meet? A beer income rather than champagne tastes could be the reason.

That’s because real average salaries – wages adjusted for inflation – today aren’t much bigger than they were in 1978, according to the Pew Research Center.

Lately we hear a lot of rah-rah about low unemployment (3.9 percent), and the fact that the private sector has been creating jobs consistently (101 straight months as of July). However, the Pew study indicates that not only has wage growth dawdled, most salary gains have gone to higher-paid workers.

Workers in the private sector averaged $22.65 per hour, a gain of about 2.7 percent from last year. That’s the new normal, according to the study; in the past five years workers have seen salary gains of 2 to 3 percent.

However, average hourly earnings tended to go up by 4 percent in the time period before the Great Recession. In the 1970s through the early 1980s, it wasn’t unusual to get wage increases of 7 to 9 percent. Those were high-inflation times, however, so the money was desperately needed.

Here’s where it gets depressing, though: Our inflation-adjusted salaries haven’t gone up by much. In January 1973, average hourly wage was $4.03. Today, that would be $23.68 – and as noted above, private-sector wages currently average $22.65 an hour.




I got a free mini-fridge yesterday. Not for me, for a friend. (Seriously!) While clearly secondhand, with a couple of scratches and dings, it smells freshly washed on the inside and will help someone out.

Helping people out is the stated purpose of the fridge’s source: a Buy Nothing Facebook group. Sort of an intensely local Freecycle, this page is a great way not just to keep things out of the landfill, but also to connect with your community.

I haven’t been a member for very long, but it’s already scored me free rhubarb, some baby formula for a family shelter and a cool birthday gift for a nephew. (Can’t say more, on the off-chance he’s reading this.)

It also helped me find an elementary school teacher who was delighted to take some empty Altoid tins off my hands. She’s also stoked about receiving fidget spinners, slap bracelets and any other fun items I bring back from the Financial Blogger Conference. (Teachers are always looking for things for their classrooms.)

My niece has been able to find new homes for some decorative items (she’s changing décor), some outgrown toys and a big bag of shredded bedding for pet cages (her snake died). Recently she picked up a big bag of clothing for her younger son, and also a major holiday gift (again, can’t say exactly what in case the kiddo is reading). She and I both check the page regularly, to see if anyone’s giving away something useful.

Or looking for something useful – the Buy Nothing group runs both ways. If you don’t see what you need, you can ask.



Wedding crashers.

(480) 760-8419The sun came out this evening, after five or six days of gloom and/or rain. DF suggested we ride over to Kincaid Park and enjoy a view of the water, or at least a view of anything other than our own yard and our own four walls.

The parking lot at the Kincaid Chalet (actually a former bunker for nuclear-armed Nike missiles) was fairly crowded. Not unusual, since a lot of special events take place there.

“I think it’s a wedding,” DF reported when I returned from getting my sunglasses from the car.

The chalet is probably the number-one place for wedding receptions in Anchorage. You get a great view Mt. Susitna (aka “Sleeping Lady”), Fire Island and Cook Inlet, plus tons of trees and, sometimes, moose and bears.

We heard music and laughter and a DJ’s booming voice, and saw nicely dressed people milling around outside the chalet, whose doors were open. We intended to walk on by. But then Louis Armstrong’s voice arose, singing “What A Wonderful World.”

I pulled up short. “Let’s dance.”