The stock market continued its woeful September tradition today with another loss; the FOOL 50, for instance, dropped 1.8%. However, we prefer to accent the positive with two stories of stunning accomplishment.

On the individual side, mountain climber Erik Weihenmayer scaled Australia's Mt. Kosciuszko this morning. That made Weihenmayer one of only about 100 people to ever summit the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents -- and the first blind person to do so.

On the team side, the Oakland Athletics won their American League record twentieth straight game last night, in spectacular fashion. After blowing an 11-run lead to Kansas City, Scott Hatteberg hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the A's the win -- and the record.

You'll have to admit these stories are more uplifting than the one of Italian Giovanni Greco, who, while visiting his future grave in Lascari, climbed a ladder to get a better view of things. The 63-year-old slipped, hit his head on a marble step, and landed inside his own tomb with fatal injuries.

Truth, dear Fools, is stranger than fiction.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Great Ride for Auto Buyers

These are the best of times for prospective auto buyers. The Big Three car makers have been falling all over themselves since last September to maintain market share, and the result has been a constant stream of sweet financing deals and hefty rebates.

The tactics from General Motors(NYSE: GM), Ford(NYSE: F), and DaimlerChrysler(NYSE: DCX) have worked, as U.S. auto sales rose 18% overall last month compared to the same period last year -- the strongest August on record. In all, consumers snapped up some 1.7 million new cars and light trucks.

The Chrysler division took the checkered flag, tallying a remarkable 24% increase. Much of that is due to a good comparison to its relatively poor August in 2001, however. GM's sales revved up 18%, and Ford moved ahead 12%.

GM, which has pretty much forced rivals to follow in its footsteps the past year, was at it again yesterday -- extending its 0% financing offer for another two months to cover new 2003 models. Chrysler announced similar incentives, but Ford has not yet followed suit. Could its reluctance signal that we're nearing the end of the incentive wars? Perhaps, though Ford will have to come around soon to stay competitive with its 2003 lineup.

No matter what happens, it's been a great ride for consumers thus far.

Quote of Note

"History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we made today." -- Henry Ford, interview in Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1916

Shop 'Til You Comp

The back-to-school shopping season has come and gone, and now retailers are letting folks know how the critical month of August played out in the cash registers.

Why is August so important? Well, short of the holidays, it's a busy season for urban shopping malls and suburban strip centers. And since kids have more of a say in their fall fashions than gifts to follow later in the year, it's a great tell-tale sign of which retail concepts work and which need to go back to the drawing board.

Thrifty, in general, is still in. Ross Stores(Nasdaq: ROST) and Dollar General(NYSE: DG) saw its August comps shoot up by 6%, while TJX(NYSE: TJX) was up by 2%. Not all discounters did so hot, though. Target(NYSE: TGT) results clocked in flat, while Value City(NYSE: VCD) saw the top line shed 5% of its take in comparable stores.

The high-end didn't fare well, either. May Department Stores(NYSE: MAY) comps fell by a dramatic 8.6% last month. Saks(NYSE: SKS) and Abercrombie & Fitch(NYSE: ANF) suffered 3% slides. Federated(NYSE: FD) saw its same-store sales ease by 6%.

Traditional department-store chain Sears(NYSE: S) took one of the biggest hits. The company came to grips with its softer side, all right, posting an 11% decline in comps. Men's Warehouse(NYSE: MW), apparently stung by the soft economy where the unemployed aren't springing for new suits, saw a huge 12.7% drop in August. On the upside, Sharper Image(Nasdaq: SHRP) was sharp indeed, with a 15% spike in same-store sales. Pier 1(NYSE: PIR) kept riding the wave of refinanced renovations, jumping 8.6% for the month.

In sum, there weren't a lot of jaw-dropping surprises, here. Folks are still turning to the discounters for good deals, spoiling their homes with refinance savings, and, it seems, just can't get enough of Sharper Image's electronic gadgetry. Now it's time to go back to school to apply all the retailing lessons learned over the summer.

Discussion Board of the Day

If you're still looking for online deals, why not share some Internet coupons with your fellow Fools? Steals, deals, and trying to find Max. Who's Max? All this and more -- on the Coupons N' More discussion board. Only on

Work Those Reward Points

Hey there, player. We see you working it to your advantage, racking up points, transferring them to different accounts -- all so you can get the payout you've been eyeing all along. In the loyalty biz (credit card reward programs linked to airlines, hotels, and retailers), you, my friend, are a "swinger."

A new study by Six Continents Hotels Priority Club Rewards -- the first of its kind -- identifies six types of reward-card carriers and offers tips for managing points. At their best, card carriers hoard points, work the system, and get a lot of loot for free. At their worst, loyalty-card customers are less than loyal, only swayed by an instant payout, such as a free in-room movie.

Where do you fit in the "Priority Club Rewards" spectrum?

If racking up airline miles makes your heart soar, you are a "shepherd." According to the report, textbook shepherds "fuel their free-flight fixation" with everything from hotels to rental cars and credit card miles. Tip: Look for programs offering a large selection of hotel and airline partners.

"Stashers" meticulously save hotel receipts and boarding passes to make sure the miles are reflected on their statements. Most accumulate points for a dream vacation. Tip: Watch out for expiration dates (some programs wipe out points after 18 months). And don't let your accumulation frenzy creep into your habitat. Stacks of old newspapers are a fire hazard!

Roll out the red carpet, room with a view, and first-class seats for the "snob." Snobs use points to get the service to which they've grown accustomed. Tip: Look for reward programs where points get you elite status, not just a free night in a hotel, like the rest of the reward card riffraff.

No points? No purchase. That's how "sherlocks" play the game. These sleuths seek the biggest reward payouts for their purchases. Tip: Find a program linked to larger hotel chains and with multiple point-earning partners.

Dangling thousands of air miles in front of a "slacker" does no good. Slackers aren't wooed by distant payoffs. They're swayed by a program with immediate gratification. Tip: Next time you check into a hotel, see if there's an instant perk, such as a free in-room movie, extended checkout, or a weekday newspaper.

And finally, we come back to the "swingers." This savvy credit card customer prowls for free nights, flights, gift certificates, or whatever freebies they can find. They'll transfer points and cash in on instant redemptions, without breaking a sweat. Tip: Join programs that offer a wide variety of rewards -- from airline miles to merchandise.

To determine your profile, click here (registration required).

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Quick Takes

The Senate Banking Committee held hearings today on financial literacy among college students, touching on the marketing of credit cards to kids. We say hooray! It seems wrong for credit card companies to hand over millions of dollars to colleges for the right to get young people mired in high-interest debt. They should instead give students our new book, The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens. (Yes, that was another shameless plug).

Consumer products titan Procter & Gamble(NYSE: PG)has upped its earnings forecast for its first quarter, expecting a growth rate in the mid-teens, percentage-wise, over year-ago levels. Driving this rosy outlook is continuing strength in the company's health-care business and developing markets. P&G's brand names include Cheer, Bounty, Pampers, Crest, Tide, Cascade, and Secret.

Meanwhile, Campbell Soup Co.(NYSE: CPB), the global leader in savory potables, posted a modest 6% increase in earnings for its fourth quarter, on revenues up 5%. Revenues for the year came in around $6 billion, up 6% from year-earlier levels. Sales of ready-to-serve soups have been increasing, while sales of condensed soups have been falling. The company's brand names include Franco-American, Pace, Pepperidge Farms, Prego, Swanson, and V8.

In other earnings news, Tupperware(NYSE: TUP) expects lower profits in its third quarter, but a strong rebound in the fourth quarter. Telecom-equipment maker Tellabs(Nasdaq: TLAB) issued an earnings warning and reported plans to lay off 15% of its employees.

Siebel Systems (Nasdaq: SEBL) CEO Tom Siebel waxed bullish about the firm's fourth-quarter prospects -- unless there's a war with Iraq. Contract manufacturer Plexus(Nasdaq: PLXS) is on track to meet fourth-quarter earnings expectations, and its CEO plans to enter new markets and fuel growth via new customers.

And Finally...

Today on How to handle the market's toughest month.... The Drip Port swallows Pepsi Blue.... Life just isn't the same after Napster.... In Fool's School, teach your kids about budgeting... And is Costco the best retailer? Discuss!

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Tom Jacobs, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim