So You Are Not Quite Ready to Live in a Cave

Would you walk into Home Depot carrying a big sign with your name, email address, your Social Security number, the name of your bank, account number and the amount of your last deposit? Probably not.


Yet, that is a fairly accurate picture of what happened recently when Home Depot suffered a catastrophic data breach. The company tried to assure everyone through the media that there was really no harm done because the stolen data did not include PINs. Security expert Brian Krebs doesn’t agree. He says HD customers have a lot to worry about.

Thieves rely on the banks’ “I forgot my PIN code” service. They call in and as long as they have some information like your bank account number, phone number or last four digits of your Social Security number, they can pretend to be you and get a new PIN on the spot. Presto! Now they can drain your bank account from anywhere in the world.

Krebs says this is not just a theory. Thieves have, in fact, done exactly as outlined above stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting HD customers by reaching into their accounts right through that little slot in an ATM.

Home Depot customers are not alone. Many large retailers have suffered similar customer breaches over the past months and there’s credible evidence this information is now for sale on the Internet. Yikes!

Keep Your Money and Your Attitude in the Black

When I am not writing about personal finance and consumer debt, I knit. Something about the gentle rhythm of yarn and needle calms my spirit and unwinds my brain.


I have managed to finish a few projects, not because I’m a great knitter but because I can tink almost as well as I knit (knit spelled backwards is tearing out). Because all knitters make mistakes, tinking is a required skill for those who take the craft seriously. It doesn’t take too many oversized sweaters or undersized hats to figure out that the smallest error at the beginning of a project can produce disastrous results if not found and corrected.

Money is a lot like knitting. By some miracle, all knitting consists of just two stitches: knit and purl. Likewise, with money you have two options: spend or save. And who among us can say they have never made a financial error? We all make mistakes but the secret to staying out of the red is correcting the little mistakes before they lead to disastrous results.

Every Busy Cook Needs This Go-To Recipe

I may be the only person in the world for whom this has happened, but I doubt it. On a whim, I invite a bunch of friends over for Sunday Dinner. Or the phone rings and just like that I need to get a meal on the table in a big hurry because company is on their way


Those are the occasions that I run to an amazing recipe that is easy to prepare, delicious to eat and quite impressive, too. Think: Italian restaurant in a pan. While it’s in the oven I make a big salad and we’re good to go.

This is a recipe that kids love as well as adults. It’s just amazing and I bless the day that the folks at Pillsbury came up with the idea. I, of course, have tweaked the recipe bit, but I give credit where credit is due.

Because life is uncertain, you will always find a bag of Italian meatballs from Costco and several loaves of Italian bread in my freezer, a big jar of marinara sauce in my grocery stockpile and cheese in the fridge.

How to Turn Your Electronic Stuff Into Cash

Trade in your phone. The average American gets a new mobile phone every 12 months. It’s a good bet you’ve got some old phones and other mobile devices lying around. Trade them in for cash at sites like Just input the brand and model to see what these buyers are willing to pay.

7806394_m offered one of my staffers $170 for his iPhone 5, 64gb in good condition. Amazing? Max thinks so!

The thing we like about Gazelle is that it is so easy to get an offer to sell a cellphone, iPad/tablet, Apple computer or iPod. Takes only a couple of steps online to get a trade-in price and shipping the device to them is free.

Gazelle offers multiple ways to earn money through a check, PayPal, or gift card. It is worth noting that selecting the Amazon Gift Card option will get you a 10 percent bonus over the quoted value. 

With expectations that the iPhone 6 is about to be released, lots of similar online buyers will be vying for your business. So far, my experience is that offers the best service and trade-in offers. But more than that, Gazelle is highly reputable, which counts for a lot.

Hope and Help for Troubled Debtors

Dear Mary: A year ago, I emailed you about the mess I was in with payday lenders. Although I had been a member of Debt-Proof Living for years and knew better—and I am a professional with a masters degree and excellent job—somehow, little by little, I got caught up in the downward spiral into payday loan hell.


I was so desperate, I was planning to use one of the companies that advertise as “helping” a person pay these off these loan sharks. Thankfully, I contacted you about this first, and you warned me not to use them.  I contacted, the organization you recommended, and found a CCCS office not far from my city (Graceworks CCCS in Dayton, Ohio).

It has not been easy, but I am thankful to report that I have paid off almost $10,000 in those loans and only have two more to go! I can’t begin to tell you the relief I feel.

Every time I drive by one of the lenders, I get a knot in my stomach and want to run into the store and shout a warning to the people who are borrowing. I keep my focus by remembering the horrible feeling at the end of each month, when I got paid, and then having to make my rounds to each of the companies, juggling my money so everyone got paid, and ending up with less money for bills every month.

A New Puppy? Woof! Woof!

Whether a new puppy makes your dreams of the perfect family dog come true or turns into a total nightmare could well depend on how well you’ve prepared for those first critical 24 hours. 


Once you have established the kind of dog and size that is best for your lifestyle (Breed Recommender will help you match your lifestyle with the right breed and size) you need to decide where to get the puppy. From a shelter or reputable breeder? Take the time to research this thoroughly. The shelter of course presents the most affordable choice. 

Now it’s time to set up a family meeting. Who will take the puppy to the papers or backyard and when? Who will be in charge of feedings 3- 4 times a day? Who will make veterinary appointments for vaccinations and de-worming? A new puppy should not be left alone for quite a few weeks, so make sure you have proper coverage. 

The Kid With a 60-Page Christmas List

I’ll never forget the day I asked one of my young piano students what he wanted for Christmas. It was a generic question, a pleasantry. I wasn’t looking for make, model, and serial number, but that’s what I got. He whipped out a 60-page list from his book bag. I gulped, checked to see if this child was serious (he was), and quickly proceeded with his music lesson. 


I don’t know how many toys, electronics, and gadgets he had on that list, but at five things per page that would be three hundred entries. I’ll admit to participating in a few overly indulged Christmases in my foolish past, but even I cannot imagine what that child’s dream Christmas would look like. 

No Lunch Left Behind

I’ve made my share of school lunches over the years. And just when I got really good at it (which means the lunches were deviously nutritious prompting the kids to actually eat everything I packed) my boys grew up and left home. How could they?!


Actually, that’s pretty much what parenting is all about: You work really hard to get good at it, and then your job up and leaves home without you.

Back to school lunches. How can you pack healthy lunches the kiddos will actually eat, without getting sucked into buying pricey junk food masquerading as nutritious fare? You have to refuse to be tricked by labels that promise health benefits, or fun, colorful packaging that gets the kids’ attention.