Kitchen Workhorse Is Multitalented
By Mary Hunt
The dishwasher in my house is a workhorse. It does a great job of doing all sorts of things, like cleaning dishes and baseball caps, de-crystalizing honey (yes, you read that right) and cleaning my dish racks. Now I can add cleaning refrigerator shelves to the list.
SPARKLING CLEAN SHELVES. When I clean my refrigerator I put all the shelves, including the door shelves, in the dishwasher. I run the short cycle, which saves time, and the shelves come out sparkling. — Em, EC Blog
TACO CASSEROLE TIME SAVER. To save time, money and even a few calories, I sometimes will make a taco or enchilada casserole rather than individual tacos or enchiladas. I roll out a square of tortilla dough to about 9 x 13-inches, stick it on my griddle to cook and then throw it into a prepared baking dish. I top with taco/enchilada fixin’s, place another tortilla on top, sprinkle with cheese, and then put it in the oven long enough to melt the cheese. This dish goes further and with less waste, and saves me time from making individual tortillas. — JK, EC Blog
DOG HAIR-REMOVAL GLOVES. My Labrador retriever frequently goes places with me, traveling in the back of my car. Needless to say, lots of dog hair gets stuck on the carpet. I’ve tried everything to remove it, including sticky roller tape and special sponges, but nothing has worked. Finally, I tried my gardening gloves. The palm of the glove has a rough, rubbery texture, and they work beautifully. I put on the glove and run my palm down along the carpet. The hair piles up in my glove. — Kathryn, EC Blog
GRIND THE BEANS IN A JAR. I buy coffee beans even though I don’t have a coffee grinder. I use a mason jar and my blender. I add the beans to the jar, and screw it into the blender. — Angela, Ohio
SWIFFER CLEANING TWO-STEP. I cut up old towels into pieces that fit as a cleaning pad on my Swiffer. When mopping, I use a spray bottle filled with water and a tablespoon of Murphy’s Oil Soap, spraying small areas and mopping as I go. The floor dries very quickly, too. — Jill, EC Blog
WRAP UP THE BREAKABLES. As a former Air Force wife and a quilter, I realized during my very first move that quilting fabric would make for good packing material. I was going to move it anyway, and if I used my own packing materials I wouldn’t have to purchase the moving company’s. I also used our towels, sheets, pillowcases, t-shirts and nightgowns to pack our belongings. It cut down on our costs during our many moves, it didn’t harm the environment, and the materials were still clean (although wrinkled) when I unpacked. I would suggest to those who want to cut costs from their move to look around their homes for soft things that can protect breakables. — Yvonne, Indiana
Simplify Your Life in 2013
November 21, 2012
Cranberries: More than Relish
Did you know that there are 440 cranberries in one pound? And 4,400 cranberries in one gallon of juice? And 440,000 cranberries in a 100-pound barrel? That Americans consume some 400 million pounds of cranberries each year? For sure they are delicious, but there are so many other ways you can use fresh cranberries.
Centerpiece. Start with Styrofoam balls, any size. Cut a bunch of wood toothpicks in half. Stick a pick into the ball so that about 1/2-inch is sticking out. Push a cranberry onto the toothpick until it touches the foam ball. Repeat until the ball is covered, placing the cranberries close enough so the white ball does not show through. Set your cranberry balls on candle holders of various heights, or pile them into a large bowl.
Glitter. In a medium bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon pasteurized egg white (or one raw egg white) until blended but not whipped. Coat raw cranberries with this mixture. Spread granulated sugar on a baking sheet and roll the cranberries in it until they are covered. Dry at room temperature for 2 hours. Use as garnish for desserts, or eat them plain. Sugared cranberries almost sparkle, they are so pretty.
Garland. Wash cranberries. Thread a large sewing needle with waxed dental floss. Secure the first cranberry on the floss by putting the needle through the cranberry twice, then making a knot in the floss. Continue threading the cranberries until the desired length is achieved to decorate the mantel, Christmas tree or banister.
Fun fact: If you strung all the cranberries produced in North America last year, they would stretch from Boston to Los Angeles more than 565 times.
Flower arrangements. Pour fresh raw cranberries into a clear glass vase. Add water. Now add a simple flower arrangement. The red berries in the water are stunning. Berries will last longer than the flowers, so don’t worry about them going bad.
Hint: You don’t have to add the water or even the flowers. Clear glass vases filled partially with red cranberries add a beautiful decorator touch to any setting.
Lip-gloss. Place 10 raw cranberries, 1 teaspoon honey and 1 tablespoon almond oil in a small bowl. Microwave on high for two minutes. Mash and stir up the mix. Allow to cool, then use a fine sieve to strain out the goop. Pour the mixture into a small container. Apply to lips as needed for a wonderful moisturizer and exfoliant.
Floating candles.Partially fill a clear glass bowl with water. Add fresh cranberries (they’ll float) and floating candles to make a pretty, colorful and simple holiday decoration.
Cranberry sauce. Here it is, the best recipe ever for cranberry sauce: Combine in a saucepan over medium high heat: 1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries, picked through and rinsed; 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup packed brown sugar. Cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Spoon off any foam that forms. Serve hot or cold. Yum.
Nov. 8, 2012
I Should Have Known That!
Sometimes the solutions to life’s daily household dilemmas are so simple I feel like slapping my forehead like they do on the V8 commercials. Today’s tips had me slapping my forehead many times and saying, “I should have known that!”
AIRLESS BROWN SUGAR. I’ve seen a multitude of hints about what to put in with your brown sugar to keep it soft, like bread and apple slices. But I’ve discovered that it’s not what you put IN the brown sugar, but what you take OUT that works. AIR. When I buy brown sugar, I immediately pour it into a zip-type storage bag, squeeze out as much air as possible, and roll it up before sealing the bag. I have not had to throw out any petrified brown sugar since I started using this method. — Bonnie, Wisconsin
PICKLED CUCUMBERS. Sometimes I get bored with eating plain cucumber slices, but I don’t want to add salad dressing because it ups the calories. Instead, I put the slices in a pickle jar, along with the pickles already in there. This gives them a dill, garlicky or other pickled taste. I leave them in the jar and fish them out when I want some. — Nellie, email
JANITOR’S SCHOOL SUPPLY BONANZA. My father worked as a school janitor, and at the end of each school year, students threw away notebooks, paper, pens, gym clothes and shoes. Dad would bring home these items for the four of us kids to use. One year, we had enough notebook paper to last five months, a supply of pens that lasted through the school year and enough notebooks for all of us to have at least three each. We also had gym clothes and shoes to outfit us for the year. Get friendly with school janitors, and enlist their help. The end of the school year is a great time to pick up tossed, useable items. — Debora, email
FROZEN BACON STOCKPILE. I have discovered what I think is the most effective way to fry up a lot of bacon for freezing. In a jelly roll pan covered with foil, I lay out the bacon strips in a single layer. I place the pan in a preheated 450 F oven and cook, checking after 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes I’ll turn the strips over. Once cooked, I drain on paper towels until cooled. I separate enough for a morning breakfast, dividing the batch into freezer bags and then tossing in the freezer. — Dick, Texas
DISPLAY RACK FOR SCARVES. Displaying scarves so they don’t get crushed is super easy. Simply take a tension rod and hang the scarves on the rod. I hang my scarves across the rod, loving the convenience of being able to see what I have and what matches different clothing combinations. — Paula, Wisconsin
D.I.Y. CHALKBOARD. The tip about chalkboard paint on plywood was a good one. I recommend getting precut pieces of MDF (medium-density fiberboard). You can get thin pieces and in various sizes. MDF is harder, smoother and cheaper than plywood. — Ed, Florida
Nov. 1, 2012
The Secret in Your Sugar Bow
One of the best ways to make your skin really soft is to use a sugar scrub. Sugar scrubs are available in a number of commercial skin-care products, used as an exfoliant in the tub or shower. The problem is that these scrubs can be pricey. That’s why today’s first great reader tip, recently posted at my blog EverydayCheapskate.com, caught my attention. I’d never thought about ditching the pricey scrub and going straight for the sugar. But I tried it, and it works.
JUST A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR. Instead of buying expensive skin and facial scrubs from the department store, I use plain, old sugar. I have it in a covered shaker container in my shower. I sprinkle some into my hand and gently scrub my face and neck with it, then rinse off. Works just as well as the store-bought scrubs, and I won’t run out because I always have it in the house. I also don’t have to worry about fragrance in my sugar scrub, which can be a problem with my asthma. — Maryann, EC blog
NO HASSLE FIRE STARTERS. I save empty toilet paper rolls and keep them by my dryer. I stuff dryer lint inside the cardboard roll and fold down the ends when they’re full of lint (like a roll of coins). These make great fire starters for the fireplace and for campfires, too. — Vicki, EC blog
CRAFTY LUNCH BAGS. I used to make fabric lunch bags from the bottoms of denim jeans (or other pants). A piece of velcro held the top folded down. My children enjoyed decorating their bags with puffy paints, and even my businessman husband used one. When the bags were soiled, I just threw them in the wash. My kids are grown, but the bags are still around! — Bev, EC blog
PIZZA-CUTTER MAGIC. I cut my kids’ pancakes into triangles or squares with a pizza cutter. I do this before the syrup goes on. It’s fast and easy, and it doesn’t tear the pancakes. — Caroline, EC blog
MORE PIZZA-CUTTER MAGIC. I use a pizza cutter to cut up a plate of spaghetti for my little ones. Just roll it through the pasta, and with just a few strokes, the pasta is in bite-size pieces, ready for a fork or spoon! — Michelle, EC blog
WARMING WITHOUT FOIL. I use our slow cooker or toaster oven to keep food warm when the entire meal isn’t quite done. It cuts down on aluminum foil since I don’t have to use foil to cover the dishes. — Sadie, EC blog
STAINS ARE MAGICALLY ERASED. I save on detergent by using Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to get rid of coffee and tea stains in my mugs and teacups. I simply swipe the stains away. Even the really cheap version at the Dollar Tree stores work well. I use them in my teapot, too. — Pamela, EC blog
Oct. 10, 2012
Who Knew You Can Use This for That!
By Mary Hunt
One day as I was hurriedly putting groceries away, the fruit bowl was not within reach, so I put the fruit into the colander. It worked so well, I’ve been using the colander in that way ever since. And when I need a colander, no problem. I turn the fruit onto the counter, drain whatever I need to drain, then replace the fruit. Giving one kitchen tool two or even three jobs, is a great way to simplify. Today’s first tipster, Patti, has come up with a “this for that” idea I’d never thought of. It’s a good one!
BAMBOO STORAGE CONTAINER. Bamboo steamers are airtight by design to allow air to circulate within the container while items are steaming. That makes a bamboo steamer an ideal storage container for onions, garlic and shallots, which should not be refrigerated. — Patti, email
THREDUP FOR NEW THREADS. I have saved a bundle of money getting gently used clothes for my kids at ThredUp.com. The process of “selling” clothes has changed a bit since Mary recommended this site years ago, but it’s still the same concept. The first thing you do is sign up for them to send you an empty bag to ship the clothes you’re selling. There is no charge for the bag, and the shipping costs are covered by the company as well. Once your items arrive on the other end, the company assigns a value to each of your items and then credits your account for that total amount. You use this credit when you shop at ThreadUp.com.
ThredUp has a strict policy of no stains, rips or holes, and the clothes can be no more than a few years old. Personally, I love not having to go to a thrift or consignment store and sort through piles of clothes for my kids. I recently sent in a bag of clothes and got a decent amount of credit. Then I went shopping at ThredUp and was able to get 15 items and paid only $20 out of pocket! — Rachel, Wash.
HANDY WASHRAGS. Worn-out socks make fantastic washrags for young children during bath time. When my grandchildren stay over, I wash them by putting a cotton sock on my hand with a bar of soap inside. Neither the soap nor the washcloth gets lost in the water. — Jean, email
MIRACLE CLEANING REMEDY. I use a dab of Miracle Whip to remove tarnish from my copper-bottom pots. Just wipe on with a paper towel, let stand a bit and wash. I know, it sounds weird, but it works. — Thelma, Wyo.
SURPRISING STAIN REMOVER. I use glycerin to remove tea, coffee and cocoa stains from fabric. I apply the glycerin to a fresh stain and then gently rub it into the stain. If the stain is old, I let the glycerin soak into the stain for a while. — Roberta, Michigan
Would you like to send a tip to Mary? You can email her at [email protected], or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. Include your first and last name and state. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com and author of 22 books, including her recent release “Debt-Proof Your Christmas: Celebrating the Holidays Without Breaking the Bank.” To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Sept. 19, 2012
Recovering the length of shrunken jeans
If you’ve ever experienced the heartbreak of shrinking your favorite pair of jeans to a length that would make them perfect to wear in a flood, you’re going to be particularly fond of today’s first great reader tip. And like me, you’re probably going to wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that!”
NO MORE HIGH-WATERS. While doing the laundry one day, I got to thinking that if cotton shrinks it, probably stretches, too. I decided to experiment on my kids’ jeans, thinking that if I could make the legs longer we could squeak out more wear. After washing, I folded a pair of wet jeans in half lengthwise and laid them on a beach towel on the floor. Then I stood on the jeans and grabbed the hem of one of the legs. I carefully, but forcefully, began to pull up. I could feel the fabric stretching compared to the other leg. I flipped the pants over and did the same thing to the other leg. When I was done stretching the legs, I hung them up to dry.
After they were dry, I tossed them in the dryer for a couple of minutes to take away the stiffness. Jeans come out a couple of inches longer with this method than if I simply toss them in the dryer. — Sandy, Minnesota
SHAPED EGGS. When I’m making eggs for my grandkids, I pour the egg into a metal cookie cutter that I’ve spritzed with Pam and put on the hot frying pan. The egg cooks in the shape of the cookie cutter, and the grandkids love it! — Margie, New York
BABY POWDER FOR SPOTS. Baby powder is a great clothing saver. I use it to remove oily spots from silk and cotton sweaters. I cover the spot with baby powder and let sit overnight. In the morning, I brush off the powder with a towel. I have had several colorful silk suits last for years, thanks to this trick. And I always pack it when I travel. — Darcy, email
CAP THE BOWLS. When I stack bowls or kitchen equipment that I rarely use, they end up getting dusty before I use them again. To prevent this from happening, I take a shower cap and stretch it over the top of the items. The cap keeps the dust out. — Christy, Oregon
HERB CUTTER. When chopping herbs like basil, cilantro or parsley, I use a pizza cutter instead of a knife. It cuts a large amount of herbs quickly. — Sharon, Idaho
FRYING THE BEANS. Like Mary, I roast my own coffee beans. But I’m not ready to invest in a coffee roaster, and I don’t have an air popcorn popper. So, I roast my beans on the stove, in a cast iron frying pan (with the windows open and lots of ventilation!). Not only is the coffee delicious, but the frying pan loves it. The oils in the beans give my pan a beautiful, smooth, seasoned finish that it had never had before. — Rosie, Arizona
Would you like to send a tip to Mary? You can email her at [email protected], or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. Include your first and last name and state. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com and author of 21 books, including her newest release “Debt-Proof Your Christmas: Celebrating the Holidays Without Breaking the Bank.” To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM
p. — Kit, email
Dear Kit: While I know so very little about you or where you live, what I do know is that your situation has spun out of control. You embezzled money from your employer, which is a crime — a felony.
My best advice is that you immediately find a Debtor’s Anonymous meeting in your area and get there as soon as possible, if not sooner. There is no charge for this. Just go there knowing that you will be immediately overwhelmed by what you hear. Promise me that you will stay through the entire meeting. Then return tomorrow and the next day and every day until you begin to recover. Then keep going.
At DA, you will learn so much, but only if you keep showing up. Your life will change in ways you never dreamed possible. At some point, and sooner than later, you must go to your employer with all of the money that you stole, and you must confess what you have done. How this will be received is completely unknown, but something that you must do.
Please stop what you are doing right now and go to DebtorsAnonymous.org. Look on the left side of the webpage, and click on “Find a DA Meeting.”
Dear Mary: My two grandkids will be graduating from high school in a couple of years. Since they were born, I have put aside a small amount of money regularly. When they graduate, I will have about $6,000 for each of them. I’m wondering the best way to give it to them.
Should I give them the entire amount at once, or hold some in reserve to dole out once they are in college as a sort of “stipend” on a monthly or yearly basis? Both are very responsible kids who are doing well in school. — Bill, Minnesota
Dear Bill: Do you want to give the kids money to buy something like a computer? Or are you more interested in doing something that will impact their lives in a much bigger way?
One idea would be to use this money to open investment accounts in their names (go to a website like Vanguard.com or Fidelity.com for information and help with opening custodial accounts), then add to them each year, rather than give cash to the kids. This would be a great way to teach them about the risks and rewards of investing in a practical, meaningful way.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Kitchen Tips Will Inspire
By Mary Hunt
With the recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council that the average family throws out $2,275 in food annually, I’m being even more diligent about using up every ounce of food that comes into my kitchen.
SINGLE SERVING MAC ‘N’ CHEESE. My toddler eats only a small portion of a box of macaroni and cheese. Leftover mac and cheese is never a hit, and the individual packs are too pricy. Instead, I buy the boxes when they are on sale and store the cheese powder and noodles in separate jars. Then I can prepare individual servings as needed. I use 1/3 cup of dry noodles and one heaping tablespoon each of cheese powder, butter and milk. — Michel, New York
STEAM WARMER. To keep my mashed potatoes hot and fluffy while I finish the rest of my dinner, I just put them in a heat-proof bowl and place that bowl in a pot filled with a couple inches of simmering water. Cover the bowl with a lid or foil to keep the potatoes from drying out. — Doris, Nebraska
ANTI-STICKY MARSHMALLOWS. I had an open bag of marshmallows get sticky. I put them in a zip-type bag with cornstarch and stirred them. They separated. I tried some in hot chocolate, and it tasted just fine. — Cathy, Florida
SPICE FILE. If you don’t have a lot of kitchen space to devote to spice and herb bottles, make a Spice File. All you need are sandwich-size zipper bags and self-adhesive file tabs. Empty a spice jar into a bag, zip it shut, and stick on a file tab at the top. Write the name of the spice on the label, and slide it into the tab. Repeat for all of your spices. Arrange in alphabetical order, and place files in a shoebox or small container that will allow you to stand them up so you can see what you need. — Cindi, Arkansas
PAN LINER. To avoid cleaning a roller pan when I paint, I slip it into a large plastic department store bag and pour the paint onto the bag over the pan. After painting, I simply turn the bag inside out and discard it. I am left with a clean roller pan, which saves a lot of time and costs nothing! — Tony, Mississippi
NEAT FRIDGE. I just bought a new refrigerator, and I didn’t want the brand-new shelves to get dirty. When I store a bottle that tends to get messy, I put a sheet of plastic wrap down as a shelf liner. It works beautifully, and because it is tacked down to the shelf by the adhesive wrap, it is neat and tidy! — Cathy, California
CLOTH SHOPPING BAGS. I have accumulated many cloth tote bags over the years from different seminars I’ve attended or book clubs I’ve joined. Instead of purchasing reusable cloth bags for groceries, I use my tote bags instead. They are machine washable, and I can save money and the environment by recycling them! — Cindy, Missouri
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Blow Away That Dark Cloud
By Mary Hunt
Dear Mary: We are in progress with our Rapid Debt-Repayment Plan and at a point where we are now paying more than the minimum monthly payments on our unsecured debt. But we have no Contingency Fund. Fear and worry about what we will do if any little thing goes wrong is like a big black cloud that sits over my head. Should we pull back on our RDRP and save the difference? — Michelle, Ga.
Dear Michelle: Yes, absolutely. Building your Contingency Fund takes priority over speeding up your unsecured debt-repayment plan. Do this: Go back to your RDRP Manager at DebtProofLiving.com, and start a new Rapid Debt-Repayment Plan. This will give you a plan based on your current minimum payments. Of course, this is going to prolong your debt-free date, but it should free up some cash to stash into your Contingency Fund. I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is for you to be saving money every month. Money in the bank will calm your spirit and blow that dark cloud away.
Dear Mary: You are not only a cheapskate but you also apparently have no taste or appreciation of quality. You answered a letter from a reader asking about ideas for affordable family portraits. None of the photography “studios” you mentioned have EVER turned out a portrait that would qualify to be shown in a professional photographic association competition. They engage in false advertising and take people off the street and train them for two weeks and call them “photographers.” When you return, the order is made up, including the enlargements by some idiot on a computer who accidentally pushed a button to print. Some of them I have seen are atrocious. It makes me wonder why I attended a photography school for two years and studied under several Masters of Photography when anyone can become a “photographer” in two weeks. — Bill, Ill.
Dear Bill: I can see how you might have taken my advice as a personal insult, in that you are a professional photographer. I’m sure there are many people who can afford your higher-priced services, and you should build your business appealing to that group. However, there’s a much larger segment of the population who cannot. So how would you advise a family with $50 for a family portrait?
a. Don’t bother, because no portrait is better than one that is not of the highest professional quality.
b. Save $50 each year until you have $500 to pay for a good-quality portrait (of course that will take you 10 years, so hope the kids don’t change much).
c. Pay for a $500 portrait with a credit card and then pay it off over the next 20 years or so to the tune of around $1,200, including interest.
d. Use the cash you have to pay for the best quality portrait available.
I’ll stick with my original suggestion, which — surprise! — happens to be letter d.
Smiling All the Way to the Bank
By Mary Hunt
Sometimes the tips my readers send me just make me smile because they’re so clever or so fun! Who would have thought to hide their photograph in their bike as a way to ID it?
ID YOUR BIKE. When buying a new bicycle (and for the bikes you have already), place a photograph of the owner inside the handlebar. Simply remove a handgrip, insert photo and replace grip. If the bike is stolen and later recovered, you have a positive ID of the owner. I suggested this when I worked at a store that sold bicycles. It saved many parents the cost of buying a new bike. — Ryan, Texas
QUICKLY CHILL DRINKS. If you need to chill wine, champagne, beer or other drinks quickly, salt and ice will do the trick. Place the bottle in an ice bucket or other tall plastic container. Add a layer of ice on the bottom and sprinkle it with a few tablespoons of salt. Continue to layer salt and ice until it reaches the neck of the bottle. Then add enough water to bring it up to the level of the ice. After 10 to 12 minutes, open and serve surprisingly cold beverages to your guests. — Monica, Calif.
SOAPY BUGS. I discovered the best way to stop the bug invasion on my flowers and veggies. It’s a solution of shredded Fels Naptha mixed together with water in a spray bottle. Shake vigorously and spray. It’s non-toxic, and it works. — Debbie, Tenn. [Fels Naptha is a bar soap found in the laundry aisle. mh]
BABY GATE BARGAIN. Instead of buying baby gates to keep the baby safe in the house, go to the pet store and buy pet gates. They are the same product, for a lot less money. — Brenda, N.Y.
RUST PREVENTION. I live at the beach where the salt air tends to rust anything made of metal. The technician at my bike shop told me to spray furniture polish on the gears, spokes and other parts of my bike to protect and prevent them from rusting. It’s fairly inexpensive and works like a charm. — Becky, Calif.
WATER CURE. I found a cheap way to cure my leg cramps, a problem that was so perplexing, even my doctor couldn’t figure out how to help me. A friend suggested I should give up my diet sodas and drink more water instead. I tried it, and it worked. — Margaret, Calif.
QUILT ROLLER. The long foam pool toys called noodles are great for storing quilts. Roll the quilt around the foam cylinder and slide it under the bed for storage. Your quilt will last many years longer without repeated creases from folding. The quilt also looks nicer when you go to lay it out on the bed. — Cheri, Ore. [To be on the safe side, wrap the foam noodle with acid-free tissue paper first to prevent any damage from long-term storage. mh]
Which Bills to Pay First
By Mary Hunt
If you don’t have enough money to pay all of your bills, which should you pay first, and which ones can slide for a while? Allowing bills to become delinquent is wrong, but available cash can be stretched only so far. You need to know how to prioritize in a way that will cause the least amount of long-term damage and keep you in the best position to eventually catch up.
Rule of thumb: Do not make payments on nonessential debts when you have not paid essential ones, even if your nonessential creditors are breathing down your neck.
Essential debts: If not paid, these could produce severe consequences. Determine which debts are essential and prioritize them according to the severity of the consequences for non-payment:
1. Family necessities. This means basic food and unavoidable medical expenses, including health insurance. These expenses should be kept to the absolute bare bones.
2. Rent or mortgage. Assume your landlord or mortgage lender will proceed to evict or foreclose if you are late. Home equity and other loans secured by your home are essential debts, too. Real estate taxes and insurance must also be paid.
3. Utilities. Pay the minimum required to keep essential utility services from being
4. Car payments. If a car is necessary to keep your job, making the loan or lease
payment is the next priority. You must also keep up to date with insurance.
5. Child support. Paying child support is absolutely essential. Not paying can land you in jail.
6. Other secured loans. You know a debt is secured if you signed a security agreement. If the property is something you cannot live without and the creditor might take it for non-payment, keep that debt current.
7. Unpaid taxes. If the IRS is about to take your paycheck, bank account, house or other property, you need to set up a repayment plan immediately.
Nonessential debts: These are lesser and have a significantly delayed effect if you’re late in paying. Your credit file will be affected, but a blemished credit report is easier to live with than being thrown out of your home or having your car repossessed.
8. Student loans. Delinquent student loans backed by the U.S. government bring collection remedies like seizure of your tax refunds and special wage garnishment.
9. Credit cards. Your accounts can be closed and, if the debt is unusually high, you may be sued.
10. Loans from friends and relatives. You have a moral obligation to pay. Have an honest talk; explain your situation and your repayment plan.
11. Medical, legal and accounting bills. These debts are rarely essential unless
you are receiving necessary treatment from the provider to whom you owe money. Keep up the minimum payments so these services won’t be cut off.
Your role: As a good steward, don’t allow your emotions to dictate how you handle your money. Do not hide, and do not lie. And do not take your situation personally. When things turns around, keep the promises you have made to your creditors, your family and to yourself.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Buy Now, and Pay Big Later
By Mary Hunt
Dear Mary: We bought a new home larger than our previous one. I’ve been furniture shopping and found a couch that is perfect for our living room, but it’s a bit out of our price range. The department store has a “pay nothing until February 2013″ offer, so I’m tempted to charge it and save over the next six months.
My mom says this is a bad idea, that stores lure you in with these offers knowing that you won’t be able to pay when it’s time. Is she right? I know I can pay it off by the due date, but should I give up my dream couch? — Deb, Alabama
Dear Deb: I know how tempting it can be to buy now and pay later. Oh, boy, do I know! To me, it always felt like I was pulling a fast one or getting something for free. But these “pay nothing” kind of offers can be risky.
First, you need excellent credit to qualify. If you are approved and then something happens where you can’t pay it off by February 2013, you’re stuck. The balance will automatically convert into big payments, and at the highest interest rate allowed in your state. And the interest will be retroactive to the day you signed the agreement. That couch will be old and tattered by the time you finally pay it off.
Better idea: Take a picture of the couch, and post it on the ‘fridge. Starting right now, put money into a New Couch account every week. In six months, take that photo along with your cash and go shopping. I’ll wager you’ll find your dream couch, and you’ll feel so much better knowing that you saved first and spent later.
Dear Mary: Our beloved dog, Bella, is getting older, and we’re concerned about safeguarding her health. She recently had surgery that cost us $3,000. While the vet assures us she’s fine now, we want to make sure we don’t get hit with another huge bill. Of course we’ll do everything we can to keep Bella healthy, but we simply can’t afford thousands of dollars’ worth of medical expenses. What can we do? — Pat, email
Dear Pat: Plan ahead, stashing money into a Bella Account. Call to learn your vet’s policy regarding emergency services like hours, fees and discounts for cash payments. Find out what constitutes a true emergency and what can wait until the office opens.
Look into alternatives such as the humane society or university vet clinics that offer thriftier alternatives for shots and routine care. For Bella’s wellness checks, keep an eye out for reduced veterinary-service clinics sponsored by government agencies or pet stores.
Should Bella face another serious situation, I hope you will have time to get a second opinion. You might want to look into pet health insurance, but keep in mind that most policies exclude pre-existing conditions. And they have high deductibles and co-pays, too. I wish you many more wonderful years with Bella!
Thursday, July 26, 2012
By Mary Hunt
Dear Mary: My husband and I have decided to buy a new car, but now we’re not sure what to do with our old one. Doing a dealer trade-in is the easiest option, but I know we could get more for it by selling it ourselves. What should we do? — Dora, Texas
Dear Dora: The difference between the amount a dealer will give you on a trade-in (the wholesale value) and the retail value (selling it privately) can be as much as 20 percent.
Let’s say in your case the difference is $2,000. Even if it takes 20 hours of your time to get your ready to sell, list and show — that’s $100 an hour tax-free money for the hassle. Something to consider, for sure. Visit the Kelley Blue Book website (www.kbb.com) to calculate both the retail and trade-in values for your specific area. Be sure to read their articles on selling a car. This will give you the information and confidence you need to make the best decision.
Dear Mary: Whenever I pay a bill, I keep the statement “just in case.” I’ve been doing this for years and now have a huge stack, including pay stubs. When can I toss these, and how should I do it? — Tom, Illinois
Dear Tom: Keep pay stubs for at least one year so you can reconcile them against both your W-2 Wage and Tax Statement and your Social Security Earnings Statement. If your records do not match theirs, you’ll be happy to have your pay stubs to prove your withholding.
As for receipts and records of bills paid, keep them only as long as the situation is active. A paid water bill is no longer active, but the receipt for your new water heater is. You can also confidently destroy statements for closed accounts, expired warranties and cancelled checks for items that are not proof of purchase. Remember that you’ll want to shred everything.
Dear Mary: My husband and I are going to Europe on vacation. Our travel agent has suggested we get traveler’s insurance in case any arrangements fall through. Is it really worth the expense? — Kelly, Florida
Dear Kelly: You need it, but “travel insurance” can be expensive and inadequate. Read the fine print. If you pay for your travel far in advance, consider trip cancellation insurance should you get sick or injured and cannot go.
Next, review the insurance you have already. Homeowners insurance typically covers the loss or theft of personal effects. Your auto insurance might cover your rental car. Review your health insurance for traveling abroad. You may be covered for travel by the credit card you used to buy your tickets, or you might be eligible for really cheap supplemental coverage through that company. Once you are certain of what you need beyond what you have already, supplement as necessary. Adding a short-term rider to your current insurance coverage may be much cheaper than buying a new policy from a travel agent.
Think Outside the Box
By Mary Hunt
I am reminded frequently by my readers that thinking outside the box can offer fun and creative solutions. I love how Beverly solved her problem — a problem that was odd, if you ask me. I mean, really, who would build a bathroom with no room for towel racks?!
HANGING TOWELS, NOT COATS. Our new home’s bathroom had no towel racks, and there really wasn’t a good place to mount one, either. I bought an inexpensive black metal, 6-foot coat and hat rack, and spray-painted it white. Now our towels have a place to hang, and it looks great! — Beverly, Colorado
BATH TIME MEETS BEACH TIME. When my kids were young, I purchased two beach towels for each of them to use at bath time. They loved the size, and two towels apiece worked well. While one was in use, the second was cleaned and stacked in the linen closet. — Karen, Virginia
TARPS FOR WORK AND PLAY. I use the big poly tarps — the ones you find at home-improvement stores — for collecting yard trimmings. The tarps are large enough to hold the clippings, and the debris slides easily off into a yard bag. I also use these as a “slip-and-slide” for my kids. We anchor the corners of the tarp with tent pegs and turn on the garden hose with a sprayer. Lots of fun! — Mike, South Carolina
WRAP UP THE CHEESE. We are cheese lovers, and I buy it in bulk. Often it starts to get moldy before we use it all. I started wrapping the cheese in wax paper and placing it in a zip-type baggie. Now it stays fresh without any mold. — Charlotte, Massachusetts
SHAKE THE SEEDS OUT. When planting small seeds, such as carrot or lettuce seeds, put them in an old salt shaker with holes large enough for the seeds to fall through. You can then just shake the seeds down your garden rows. — Yolanda, Ohio
CAKE DECORATING WITH SHAPES. My favorite way to quickly decorate a frosted cake is to take a cookie cutter, place it on top of the frosting, and pour sprinkles inside the cookie cutter. When I lift the cutter off, I have a perfectly sprinkled design. — Nancy, Illinois
YEAR-ROUND SANDBOX. For a year-round sandbox, buy two different-sized plastic kiddie pools. The sand goes in the smaller pool and the larger pool flips over to cover the entire thing. We did this last summer, and the sandbox sat outside all winter, covered in snow. When we took the cover off in the spring, the sand was just fine, and our daughter was able to play right away. — Beverly, New York
ICE CHEST ODORS. In the summer I use my ice chest a lot. Sometimes it starts to smell. When I’m not using it, I place a bowl of charcoal inside and close the lid. The next morning, I remove the charcoal and clean the ice chest with warm soapy water. No more smells! — Claudette, Minnesota
Thursday, July 19, 2012
The Real Deal on Free Credit Reports
By Mary Hunt
Dear Mary: When I heard that you now can get one free credit report every year, I was excited. But then I noticed a small disclaimer at the bottom of the page that said I’d be charged a monthly $10 fee for credit monitoring services. I cancelled the request. Is this legal? Is there a site that really is free? — Tami, New York
Dear Tami: Yes, the law that requires credit bureaus to provide one free credit report each year also grants permission to the bureaus to “upsell” or advertise other products and services to consumers. And you can say “No, thanks!”"
The best place to get your free reports is at the official site, www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. Remember, you are entitled to one free report each year from each of the three credit bureaus. You are not required to get all of them at the same time. I recommend requesting a report from one of the bureaus every four months. By the end of one year, you’ll have the total picture from the credit bureaus.
Dear Mary: I’m throwing a party, and to ease some of the planning stress, I’ve decided to have balloons delivered instead of picking them up myself. The store where I ordered them charges for the service, which is fine by me. Should I tip the person who delivers them, too? If I do tip, should I take into account that I’ve already paid extra? — Nancy, Georgia
Dear Nancy: When you pay a delivery charge for non-food deliveries like furniture, flowers and balloons, a tip is not required. In fact, the Consumer Marketing of the Society of American Florists says flower delivery people do not expect to be tipped. However, if there are special circumstances or the driver has to return more than once, a small tip of, say, $5 is a gracious gesture.
Dear Mary: I just had my annual review at work. My boss told me I’m doing a good job, then gave me the option of taking my raise as a lump sum or a salary increase. Should I take the money all at once or spread it out over the entire year? — Ken, Ohio
Dear Ken: If you take the salary increase, how many months will it take to match the amount you would get in the lump sum? Are you fairly certain you will have this job at least that long? Of course, there are no guarantees, so you need to evaluate your tolerance for risk.
The safe decision would be to take the lump sum, pay taxes on it now and look forward to another merit increase in the future. However, if you are more of a risk-taker and believe you will be on this job for many more years, accepting the monthly option could net you more money over the long run. Sometimes the best way to make a decision is to take the “pillow test.” Consider which decision would allow you to sleep better.
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Saving Time Gives Peace of Mind
By Mary Hunt
Any time I can eliminate or lower my stress level when traveling, I’m a happy camper. I am always on the lookout for travel tips and tricks. Now I can’t wait for my next flight, so I can try Gary’s tip. Read on.
ARRIVALS FOR DEPARTURES. I travel a lot, and sometimes if I’m in a time crunch getting to the airport, I use the Arrivals instead of the Departures to reach my terminal. This saves a lot of time, even though I may have to take my luggage up the elevator. I figure this is a viable option if the only other choice I have is to miss my flight. — Gary, Oregon
HOMEMADE CHOCOLATE SQUARES. Instead of buying expensive baker’s chocolate squares, I mix three tablespoons of baking cocoa with one tablespoon of oil. Doing this gives me homemade chocolate “squares.” And since most recipes call for the squares to be melted, not only have I saved money, I’ve saved time, too. — Helen, Missouri
ABSORBENT TUB BACKREST. I have the best tub backrest. It’s more comfortable than the inflatable ones, and it’s cheaper than the ones designed for spas. It’s a baby bath sponge! Designed for laying a baby on its back, it’s large enough for my entire back. It sticks to the tub and stays warm as long as the water does. I toss the sponge in the washer periodically to freshen. — Lauren, Florida
HANGING SPACE. My laundry room is long and narrow. I put up a tension shower rod, and now I have the perfect place to hang clothes immediately after I pull them from the dryer. — Betsey, California
CRYSTAL CLEAN WINDOWS. I discovered the best window cleaner. I add 1 tablespoon of Cascade automatic dishwasher rinse agent in 2 gallons of water. I apply this with a new sponge that has no soap residue. Now my windows shine with no spots. When I first started doing this, my windows were really dirty, and it took two applications to get rid of the grime. — Debbie, Idaho
KEEP A SPARE. One year, after living through my first hurricane season, I decided to pay closer attention to nonperishable, essential items we need in our home. We make sure we always keep at least one spare in our home stockpile. Toilet paper, feminine products, dry pet food, paper and ink for our printer, essential school supplies and an emergency cash stash are just some of our stockpile items. — Maggie, Mississippi
PRACTICAL MOVING MATERIAL. We’re a military family and have moved several times in the last few years. After my first move where I purchased bubble wrap and saved stacks of newspapers, I got smart. Now I pull out the sheets, towels, tablecloths and T-shirts. I use these to wrap dishes, knickknacks and other fragile items. Everything is clean to begin with, so I just fold the linens and towels after I’ve unpacked. — Janice, Texas
Friday, July 6, 2012
Know the Five Shopping Triggers
By Mary Hunt
Don’t look now, but that man who just walked into the store behind you is not here to shop. He’s a shopping anthropologist. The store hired his employer to find out what makes you tick. Once they have this data, they’ll use it to improve their profit margins.
He’s watching your every move, taking notes, timing each of your behaviors.
You lingered for 7.37 seconds at the eye-level display strategically positioned 15 feet from the front door. Check.
You reached out to touch the bath towels on Aisle 7 but put them back. Check. Then eyed another set of towels on Aisle 8 but couldn’t reach them. Copy.
You pick up the sale towels of fine Egyptian cotton, put them in your cart and then picked up a second set. Duly noted.
On your way to checkout, a friendly employee offered to show you the matching bath mat and shower curtain. How lovely.
At checkout, coordinating candles and strategically placed bathroom accessories called your name. Bingo.
By the time you get to the cashier, you have unintentionally redecorated your bathroom. You came with cash to buy towels. Now you’re reaching for your debit card. Success recorded.
So, you think I’m kidding? Not at all. Chances are you’ve encountered an employee of Envirosell Inc., owned by Paco Underhill, author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” Envirosell has offices around the world. Their employees bring back valuable data used to advise retailer clients on how to boost profits. Tracking shoppers shows them what works and what doesn’t.
In an amazing twist, we can use what they learn to turn the tables right back on them. Here’s how:
- Plan. Data shows that 70 percent of all purchases are unplanned. Counterpunch: Do not browse. Make a list. Stick to it.
- Time. The longer you spend in a store, the greater your personal “conversion rate” — turning a looker into a buyer. Counterpunch: Take care of your business and then get out of there.
- Touch. Retailers know that if they can get you to touch something, chances skyrocket that you will buy it. Counterpunch: If it’s not on your list, do not touch it.
- Sound. Retailers are advised to identify their target audience demographic and play the music that was popular when that group was in high school and college. That music makes you feel happy, which makes you want to linger — which makes you buy more. Counterpunch: Listen to your favorite music in the car ride home.
- Contact. Most people are kind and do not want to be rude. When a store employee reaches out to help us, we feel the need to buy that item. Counterpunch: Do not speak or make eye contact with store employees unless you initiate the contact for a specific reason. Just say, “No, thank you,” when approached.
Remember the five shopping triggers whenever you are in a store — plan, time, touch, sound and contact. Enjoy the retailer’s attempts to improve its conversion rate, but remember why you’re there, get the job done and then get out.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Clever Readers Get Creative
By Mary Hunt
Sometimes I wonder how Everyday Cheapskate readers discover their handy ideas. I mean, who would have thought something that cleans brake parts would also remove stains from clothes? Go figure! Thanks for sharing, Cam.
CLEANS MORE THAN BRAKES. I have found that using my husband’s brake parts spray cleaner works really well on getting out grease stains. It doesn’t affect the color and works when other stain removers have failed, even if the item has already been washed and dried. — Cam, email
DOUBLE-DUTY SALADS. Mary’s tip about turning leftover salad into soup is genius. My Greek salad from a recent dinner did not end up in the disposal. Instead, it crossed the Mediterranean and changed nationalities — becoming Gazpacho the next night. I did what Mary suggested, tossing the leftovers in the blender and adding a little V8 juice. — Betsy, Kansas
(For more ideas on how to turn one night’s dinner into two, get my booklet, Double-Duty Dinners. Order online at www.DebtProofLiving.com, call 800-550-3502, or send $6 to Everyday Cheapskate, Attn: DDD, PO Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.)
M.O.M ELIMINATES ODORS. I have always had very strong body odor. It didn’t matter what kind of deodorant or antiperspirant I used, it never worked. Then I heard that regular milk of magnesia worked as a daily deodorant.
I tried it, and I’ve been using it for over a decade. I pour a little bit of the store-brand milk of magnesia on a cotton square and then pat it on my armpit, then repeat with the other armpit. A little bit lasts all day. Milk of magnesia can dry out quickly in the bottle, so just add a little water and shake well. — Lynda, California
PLASTIC CUTS PERFECTLY. When I bake brownies, I cut them with a plastic knife when they are still warm. The brownies don’t stick to the plastic knife or roll up when cut, but you have to cut them while they are warm. — Sally, email
QUICK TICK REMOVER. When my little ones get a tick while playing outdoors, I easily and painlessly remove it with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol. I place the cotton ball where the tick’s head appears, and the tick backs out. It’s fairly quick and definitely painless. — Dena, email
MUSIC’S SECOND LIFE. A friend of my husband passed away and left us many music CDs and DVDs. Some were in great condition; some not so great. Some popular (at one time, anyway); others not so much. I went through them all and was able to sell the majority of them on www.SecondSpin.com. They had the best offer prices, and I was not disappointed.— Linda, email
NOTHING GOES TO WASTE. Our town has two thrift shops that accept worn-out clothes. They remove the buttons and sell those. Then they bag up the clothes and sell them to a “rag man,” who gives them 7 cents a pound. So really, nothing has to go to waste. — Mary, Indiana
Achieving Your Freezer’s Full Potential
By Mary Hunt
Is your freezer a money-guzzling storage facility for mystery meats? An oversized icemaker? It’s time to learn how to turn that box of wasted cold space into the money-stretching, time-saving household appliance it was meant to be.
(SET ITAL) Temperature. (END ITAL) Set it to the coldest setting so you maintain a constant temperature of 0 degrees or lower to ensure food will be safe to eat.
(SET ITAL) Efficient. (END ITAL) A full freezer uses less electricity. When food inventory is low, pack it full by adding containers of water to fit the empty spaces.
(SET ITAL) Right wrap. (END ITAL) Wrap food tightly to prevent moisture loss that causes food to become dry and discolored. Then, wrap it again in a thicker layer of foil, plastic or freezer bags. The second wrap keeps out odors.
(SET ITAL) No burn. (END ITAL) Trapped air causes freezer burn. To prevent it, select a container small enough so your contents fill it. And skip the fancy sealing machine. Using a freezer bag, seal all but enough space to slip in a drinking straw. Inhale on the straw to pull out all the air, quickly seal the bag, and pop it into the freezer.
(SET ITAL) Burgers. (END ITAL) Separate individual hamburger patties with squares of waxed paper or parchment, then stack in a freezer bag. You can do this with tortillas, too.
(SET ITAL) Bagels. (END ITAL) Bagels can go from freezer to toaster without thawing. Slice and wrap each bagel in plastic, slipping the wrap between the two halves first and then around. Store in a freezer bag.
(SET ITAL) Bacon. (END ITAL) Roll up the bacon in tight coils, each with two or three slices, and pop into a freezer bag. Remove, and thaw one or more coils at a time.
(SET ITAL) Cookie dough. (END ITAL) Divide the dough into balls, and arrange on a lined cookie sheet. Once frozen, place the balls in a freezer bag. Bake as many as you’d like without defrosting.
(SET ITAL) Casseroles. (END ITAL) Whether original or leftover, line a casserole dish with foil before filling it. Seal tightly, and freeze. Once frozen, remove the foil package from the dish and store in the freezer. When ready to bake, slip food from foil, place in the same dish and bake.
(SET ITAL) Freshly baked muffins. (END ITAL) Make your favorite muffin batter, and fill muffin pans lined with paper cups. Instead of baking, stick the pan in the freezer. When frozen, pop the muffins into freezer bags. When ready to bake, take the number of muffins out of the freezer, put them into the muffin pan, and bake according to the recipe, adding about 5 minutes.
(SET ITAL) Stock. (END ITAL) Pour stock or broth into a coffee mug lined with a quart-sized freezer bag. Seal the bag, and lay it flat on a cookie sheet. Freeze.
(SET ITAL) Nuts. (END ITAL) Sealed in a freezer bag. Nuts stay fresh-tasting for months. No need to defrost — frozen nuts chop just as easily as fresh.
(SET ITAL) Dry goods. (END ITAL) Stored in the freezer, flour, bread crumbs, cornmeal, oats and other grains — even potato chips and crackers — are protected from humidity, bugs and rancidity. Make sure bags and containers are closed tightly.
Holiday Gifts From Summer’s Bounty
By Mary Hunt
If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you know we’re celebrating Christmas in July. And I’ve got a great idea for turning summer’s bounty into gifts for the holidays.
Given how easy it is to grow basil, this year I’m making gifts of pesto — specifically Pesto alla Genovese (SET ITAL) (peh-sto geh-no-VEH-zeh). (END ITAL)
Whether you grow it or buy it, basil is the main ingredient in this gourmet food item that is sure to please just about everyone on your gift list.
Pesto alla Genovese
- 1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place pine nuts in a small skillet and heat over medium heat until they begin to turn golden. In the bowl of a food processor (or blender), combine the basil, salt and pepper, and process for a few seconds until the basil is chopped. Add the cheese, pine nuts and garlic. While the processor is running, add the oil in a thin, steady stream until a mostly smooth sauce is formed.
1. If using a blender, set to “puree.”
2. This recipe multiplies well, but do not try to make more than a double batch in a blender, or triple in a food processor.
3. Make sure all of your tools, equipment and hands are impeccably clean. The introduction of any bacteria may cause the pesto to turn dark.
4. Pesto may be made several days in advance and kept refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use. If making in advance, be sure to cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent the pesto from darkening. Pesto may also be frozen in the same manner in small quantities for use at a later date.
5. Frozen shelf life is one year. When thawed and kept refrigerated at 40 degrees, product has a shelf life of 10 days.
6. I am using small glass jelly jars with lids and rims. I’m storing in the freezer, making sure to leave about 1/2-inch head room for expansion.
Here’s a suggested tag to attach to your gift:
(SET ITAL) Pesto alla Genovese. This all-natural pesto was made in the Genovese style with fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. To use: Toss with hot pasta, or use as a crostini topping, or as a marinade for chicken or fish. Keep refrigerated, and use within one week. Enjoy! (END ITAL)
Turn your talents in the kitchen into gifts for the holidays with my handy booklet, Gifts in a Jar. It’s available as a printed booklet for $7 or an eBooklet for $5. To order either version: Visit our website at DebtProofLiving.com and click on bookstore; call 800-550-3502; or send your check or money order to Debt-Proof Living, Dept. JARS, PO Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
The Art of Negotiating
By Mary Hunt
Everything I know about the art and science of negotiating, I learned as a matter of survival.
Driven to save myself and my family from financial ruin, I jumped into the real estate industry. I knew nothing about negotiating. All I knew was that I had to find a way to bring interested parties together, get them to agree and make sure everyone walked away a winner.
While I no longer sell and lease industrial properties, I still rely heavily on the negotiating skills I learned. Every day I use them in one way or another. Sometimes it’s a complex issue, but most of the time it’s just a series of one-minute negotiations.
You are a negotiator, too. You negotiate with kids, your spouse, bosses, coworkers, employees — just about everyone. You negotiate using your words, your tone, your body language, even your silence.
Negotiating is the way you get what you want, whether it’s a major purchase or getting your teenage son to put the seat down. And learning to negotiate from strength is key. It will reduce tension, relieve stress and build your confidence.
Principle: Something for everyone. The goal is not that everyone comes out an equal winner, but everyone should walk away satisfied. Negotiating a deal that gives something of value to each party is the mark of a wise negotiator.
Principle: The one with the most knowledge wins. Never forget that knowledge is power. The more you know, the better your chances of getting what you want.
Principle: The least motivated party is in control. If the other party finds out how desperate you are to make the deal, you’ve just lost control. Anytime you can send non-verbal cues that you are not desperate — that in fact you are willing to walk away if you don’t get what you want — you retain control. This drives a desperate opponent crazy. No matter how anxious you may feel, never let it show.
Tip: The simple act of calmly and slowly closing (never slamming) a notebook, laptop, briefcase, purse — whatever is handy — is one of the most powerful tools a negotiator has. Without saying a word you allow the other party to fear you may not continue.
Six basic negotiating skills:
- Prepare. Do research. Carefully formulate exactly what you want.
- Set limits. Know exactly how far you are willing to go, and stick to that. This allows you to stay focused and keeps you from appearing desperate.
- Create emotional distance. Stick to the facts. Put your emotions away. Never utter the words “feel” or “feelings” in a negotiation.
- Listen effectively. You do know why you have two ears and one mouth, right?
- Communicate clearly. Choose your words carefully, and then be quiet.
- Know when to close. Perfect skills 1 through 5, and you will know instinctively how and when to close.
Negotiating has to be one of my all-time favorite activities. But I do have one tiny regret.
I just gave away all my secrets.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
By Mary Hunt
Dear Mary: We’ve been putting money in a 529 plan for our daughter’s college education for the past several years. She recently told us she wants to attend beauty school, instead. Now that the surprise has worn off, we’re concerned about penalties when we withdraw the money. How much will we lose, and is there any way to avoid it? — Rebecca, Illinois
Dear Rebecca: I’ve got great news for you! That money can be used at any accredited trade or vocational school — not only colleges and universities — to pay for tuition, room, board, fees, books and supplies. If you have more than the total cost of the vocational training and related costs, you can withdraw the balance. Federal law imposes a 10 percent penalty on earnings for non-qualified distributions. This means that you will get back 100 percent of your principal and 90 percent of your earnings.
Another option is to change the beneficiary to another child or qualifying family member to keep the account going and avoid (or at least delay) taking nonqualified withdrawals, if your daughter’s education doesn’t require those funds. Your particular fund may have additional provisions, so be sure to check with the fund manager. You can learn more about 529 college savings plans at www.savingforcollege.com.
Dear Mary: A couple months ago, I left my wallet on the bus. I immediately called the bus company and was told the driver had turned it in. When I got it back, I found everything in its place, including my cash. I didn’t think any more of it. Now my credit-card bill is two weeks late. Should I be concerned? — Brian, Washington
Dear Brian: Yes, you should be very concerned. With identity theft so prevalent, you should see this as an emergency. First, call your credit card company to learn why your statement is late. While you’re on the phone, report the incident. Request a new card and the old one reported as stolen. Verify that your mailing address has not changed.
Your next calls should be to the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian (888-397-3742), Equifax (800-525-6285) and TransUnion (800 680-7289). Tell them to flag your file with a fraud alert. Now all creditors will have to get your permission before opening any new accounts in your name. At the same time, request copies of your credit report. Review these carefully to make sure there are no new accounts in your name that you did not authorize.
If you have not already set up online access to your bank and credit card accounts, I suggest you do that right away. Now you can monitor your account every day. Even though I’m fairly confident that nothing is amiss (the mail is often delayed), you are wise to stay on top of things, if for no other reason than to make sure your credit card payment will not be late due to a late-arriving statement.
Tell Your Brain: Enough!
By Mary Hunt
The human brain is amazingly complex. The messages it receives and transmits have a real affect on our behavior — especially on how we consume. If our eyes see large quantities, our brain tells us to consume more. Whether it’s brownies, shampoo — oven money — what we see, we think we can have. An example of this is perfectly told in our first great reader tip. But Kay doesn’t just lament the problem, she’s found what I think is an excellent solution!
LESS CAN BE MORE. My husband is a great guy, but his motto is, “The more, the better!” I buy mouthwash and dish soap in big bottles, but he seems to use more than he did when I bought the smaller bottles. I decided to experiment and found that he is much more conservative when the bottles are almost empty. To capitalize on this, I switched to a small bottle of mouthwash and a 3-ounce “hotel size” bottle of dishwashing liquid. As both products run low, I refill from my larger bottles, keeping the levels very low so it always looks as though we are running out. It’s amazing the mileage we are getting from our mouthwash and dish soap. If only I could find a way to do this with toothpaste! — Kay, Delaware
ORGANIZING HELPS LIFE SKILLS. I homeschool our kids, and we completed the curriculum for the year, but we still had school days remaining. In response to Mary’s kitchen organizing challenge, I decided that the last week of school we’d study a section I titled Life Skills. Part of this section included organization. Except for the office and garage, which my husband needs to help with, we studied and organized the whole house. — Linda, email
HANDY FROZEN ONIONS. I love to cook with dehydrated onions, but the price is high for a small bottle. Now I make my own. I bought a 3-pound bag of sweet yellow onions on sale. I diced all the onions and placed one diced onion in a zip-type sandwich bag. I flattened the bags, sealed and stacked them in the freezer. When a recipe calls for onions, I take what I need from my frozen supply. It’s handy, and you sure can’t beat the price. — Tena, Missouri
SKEWER THE CLOGGED SINK. I have three girls, and their bathroom shower and sink drains get clogged with hair. I got tired of spending money on expensive drain cleaners and discovered this technique by accident: Remove the stopper from the sink drain and carefully insert a long bamboo skewer into the drain. Keeping a grip on the end of it with rubber-gloved hands, rotate the skewer (like turning a screw). The hair in the drain will wind around the rough wood of the skewer. Draw the skewer up and out of the drain.
Close your eyes because you won’t believe what’s on the skewer! Finally, flush the drain with hot water. — Pamela, California
Thursday, June 7, 2012
No Shortage of Clever Reader Tips
By Mary hunt
Texture can sure affect people’s tastebuds when it comes to food. If only changing the texture of things we don’t like was as easy as our first reader suggests. What a clever idea!
DE-STRING THE CELERY. While celery might be a dieter’s friend, the strings are a nuisance. My husband suggested using the vegetable peeler to remove the strings, and it worked. Not only does it vastly improve the taste and texture of the celery for snacking, it makes chopping a breeze. — Carol, Oregon
REFRIGERATOR WHITE BOARD. Our new refrigerator has a smooth finish, and we started using the top area as a dry-erase white board, keeping track of our shopping list and writing notes. Somehow a permanent marker got used, but I didn’t know it. I tried just about everything, but nothing worked to erase the marker stain. Finally, I grabbed the bottle of liquid Bar Keeper’s Friend that we use for the glass on our wood-burning stove. It took a few applications, but it worked! We still use the fridge as a white board, but I’ve hidden all the permanent markers. — Pamela, New York
RIP OFF THE CELLOPHANE. When trying to open a cellophane wrapper on an item, I use a seam ripper. It works better than using a pair of scissors. — Joy, Virginia
DAWN RISES ON STAINS. I discovered recently that Dawn with bleach alternative removes many stains. I spilled red wine on a new yellow top and it had dried before I was able to treat it. I put the top in a bucket of cold water with a squirt of the detergent and let it stand overnight. Voila! No more wine stain. — Laurel, email
COMPACTOR BAGS REALLY SAVE. The Space Saver Bags that are advertised on TV are nice, but they don’t last long. Within a year, the bags began to break down and tear. I found that plastic trash compactor bags are a great replacement. I put my items in the bag (making sure nothing sharp is sticking up), wrap the opening around the vacuum hose and vacuum the air out. I twist the hose and bag as I pull out the hose, and tie the bag closed with twine. These bags are thicker, hold up longer and cost a lot less. — DebbiSu, West Virginia
NO STICKY MESS. I really like coconut macaroons, but they are too sticky to work with. I spray a 1/4 cup measuring cup with Pam, pack it half full of dough, turn it upside down and tap it onto the parchment paper. Perfectly formed macaroons and no sticky mess. — Nancy, Wisconsin
TIDE FOR THE TOILET. We have well water, and I have tried everything to clean my toilet, but nothing cleaned to my satisfaction. Out of frustration, I tossed in the solution of Tide detergent that I had left over from cleaning my deck. Imagine my surprise when the Tide left a sparkling clean bowl behind. — Mary, Pennsylvania
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Save Money in Everything You Do
By Mary Hunt
It’s amazing how saving a little here and little there can add up to big savings. Each of these tips on their own doesn’t save much. But added up over time? It can really make a difference.
Don’t believe me? Think about the amount of cosmetics you’ve tossed because of an allergic reaction or it just wasn’t the right color. And don’t get me started on buying or making decorations for a child’s party — that can be a real money drain. Let these tips get your creative juices flowing on how you can substitute, reuse or repurpose what you already have. And send them to me at [email protected], I’d love to include them in a future column.
EYELINER TRICK. My eyelids swell when I use eyeliner pencils, and liquid eyeliner looks too harsh. Instead, I take an eyeliner brush or Q-tip, dip it in water and then into a dark shade of eye shadow. Then I apply it to my eyelid with the same results. This has saved me money, since eye shadow is less expensive than eyeliner. — Tania, email
FLOWER POTS FOR STORAGE. Instead of purchasing expensive containers for bathroom supplies, we invested in different sized clay flowerpots. My children painted them, and we filled them with all kinds of personal hygiene products and cosmetics. There is even one for an extra roll of tissue at the back of the toilet. — Patti, Washington
COLD HANDS DON’T STICK. When making Rice Krispies treats, rinse your hands with cold water before pressing the treats into the pan. This will eliminate all that goo on your hands. And the treats stay in the pan, not on your hands. — Robin, Kansas
PERFECT BROWNIES. Tired of baking brownies in a 13-by-9-inch pan and having to cut them into equal squares, hoping they won’t fall apart? Instead, use a mini-muffin pan, and you can avoid these problems. Simply spray the tins to make sure that the brownies don’t stick. Fill the pans two-thirds with batter and bake approximately 12 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Cool, and enjoy! — Betty, South Carolina
RETAILER’S DECORATIONS FOR HOME. The theme for my daughter’s recent birthday party was ‘Hearts.’ I usually make her party decorations, but in February I was in Target and just loved the in-store decorations. Knowing that stores often throw out their promotional decorations, I decided to ask the manager. He talked to the person in charge of taking them down, and she saved the decorations for me. I received so many compliments on how nice the decorations looked, so I shared this tip with everyone who commented. — Debbie, Texas
FLAGS FOR HANGING AND STORING. For those who hang flags for the holidays and the change of seasons, I’ve found a great way to store them. I use the empty cardboard rolls from wrapping paper, roll up the flag, slide it inside and use a big marker to label the roll for finding it easily. Works like a charm, and they unroll without any wrinkles. — Bonnie, California
How to Get a Cheap Loan From the IRS
By Mary Hunt
Dear Mary: I’m self-employed and need to borrow money for a short-term expense. Using a credit card for this expense would be astronomical, and a bank won’t lend me money for only a short time. A loan through a family member isn’t possible. Do I have any other borrowing options? — Kathy, California
Dear Kathy: It all depends on how disciplined you are. If you don’t have the money you need now, but know for sure you will have it in a relatively short period of time to repay a loan, there is a pretty clever way that you can do this. Basically, you are going to treat the IRS as you would a credit card.
As you know, because you are self-employed you must make quarterly estimated tax installments, based on what your business is projected to bring in during the year. Because you have this current urgent need, go ahead and borrow the money you would normally send to the IRS for your next quarterly installment and consider it a loan from the IRS. There you go.
You won’t have to fill out an application, authorize a credit check or pay any loan origination fees. In fact, you don’t even have to get IRS permission. You can make the transaction on your own. Of course, you will still owe the money, and it will not be without cost. But currently the IRS charges a 3 percent “penalty” on tax underpayments. If that’s a penalty, I wonder what they would call the 29.99 percent many banks charge on their credit cards?
You will not find a 3 percent loan anywhere these days, so the IRS option looks quite affordable as loans go. As soon as you can, get caught up with the amount you owe the IRS — and in the meantime, enjoy the ease with which you can manage this short-term fix.
Just to be clear, you will be charged interest (they call it a penalty) based on the difference between the amount you should have paid for each installment and the amount you actually pay for as long as the underpayment remains outstanding.
Borrowing from the IRS in this way is only a short-term fix. If you cannot guarantee that you will get caught up before April 15, 2013, please do not even think about using the IRS as a credit card. Please. You need to know that if you are not caught up by tax day 2013, the IRS will start charging an additional 0.5 percent interest per month on the shortfall, which is 6 percent annually. That’s on top of the 3 percent rate, so you could be looking at 9 percent or even more if the IRS ups the rate. Suddenly, this option becomes less attractive as a short-term solution and more like a long-term problem.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Five Clever Ways Readers Stretch a Buck
By Mary Hunt
Sometimes the best way to save a buck is to look in the most unlikely places. I’m a huge fan of the fresh produce at my local 99 Cents Only store. And milk, as compared to the price at my supermarket, is a bargain at the Walgreens across the street. But who knew we could decorate our homes from places like Dollar General? Our first reader discovered that, and I think her tactic is simply brilliant!
- ALTERNATIVE DECOR. My husband and I recently repainted our living room for a fresh, new look and then realized our curtains no longer worked with the new color. We couldn’t find anything that we both liked. To our surprise, we found fabric shower curtains at Dollar General that worked perfectly and were only $10 each. Because of how wide our window is, we needed four of them, but for only $40 we have a totally new look in our living room and we love it. — Trish, email
- MAGNET RECYCLE. I display photos on my fridge without the heavy magnets covering part of the picture. I use the magnetic business cards from advertisers, cut them in half lengthwise and tape one half of the magnet on the upper third of the back of the photo. Double-sided tape works the best, but I’ve also just taped the ends of the magnets with regular tape, and that works, too. One strip is fine for a 4×6-inch photo, but a larger photo may need two strips. — Ethel, email
- DIY BATH POWDER. I love scented bath powder, but at $17 to $25, it is simply too expensive. I took an empty container of my bath powder and layered it with unscented baby powder and cotton balls that I had sprayed with my favorite perfume. I gave the powder puff from the original container a few spritzes of perfume, put it back in the container and closed it overnight. The scent was distributed evenly, and once again I can indulge myself with scented bath powder at a fraction of the cost. — Barbara, Massachusetts
- OIL SQUEEZE. When my kids were younger and just learning to cook, they had many mishaps with the bottle of vegetable oil. Often they poured too much because the opening of the bottle was so large. As I was cleaning out a squeeze ketchup bottle, it occurred to me that it could be a great solution to the oil spills. I filled the flip-top squeeze bottle with oil, and now the kids use it with ease. It even helps me use less oil when sauteing. And the bonus is that the bottle fits better in my cupboard, too. — Nancy, email
- POISON OAK QUICK TREAT. When it comes to poison ivy, time is of the essence in treating it. Fels Naptha works great, but so do most soaps. I’ve even used horse shampoo. One of my trail buddies soaps her forearms with Fels Naptha before heading into the woods and then rinses it off after the ride. — Joan, California
Thursday, May 10, 2012
How to Find a Financial Advisor You Can Trust
By Mary Hunt
Dear Mary: My husband has been handling our finances, but he was recently diagnosed with dementia. I feel so overwhelmed with everything. He has already forgotten to pay some bills, so I have gotten involved with our finances. My husband wants to sell our home, but houses aren’t selling in our area — and I really don’t want to sell. We’re looking into refinancing. We need to get out of debt. I don’t know where to start with all this. — Rhea, email
Dear Rhea: It’s time for you to step in and take over the household finances. If you have not been involved all along, just plan on it being daunting. Make an appointment with a fee-only financial advisor, who will charge you a flat fee based on an hourly rate, rather than try to sell you financial products to earn a commission.
Once you have this appointment, gather together all of your financial information that you can find or know about, and take it with you. Go alone to this meeting so you will be free to speak openly with this counselor. You may also need to speak with an attorney who can work with your husband’s doctor to give you power of attorney over future legal and financial matters.
I am so sorry that you are facing this situation, but now is not the time for a pity party. You need to move into the role of family decision-maker, diplomatically and lovingly. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors has a list of fee-only advisors in your area on its website, www.NAPFA.org.
Dear Mary: After my children left for college, I decided to go back, too. I am getting my education paid by financial aid, but I also qualify for student loans at a very low interest rate. I don’t need the loans for tuition, but wonder if I should use them to pay off my car, and then use the car payments to pay off the student loans? It makes sense to me, but what do you think? — Pamela, email
Dear Pamela: This might look like a good idea on paper, but be very cautious. Unless you have demonstrated a high level of financial maturity and personal discipline in the past, you could be stepping into a trap. Will you really make the same car payments you’re making now to your student debt, even though not required? Should something happen that prevents you from working now (I assume you have a job), finishing school or working in the future, how will you make those student loan payments?
A traditional car loan could be repaid or discharged through a variety of methods, from selling the car to voluntary repossession or even bankruptcy. If you move that debt to a student loan, you will lose all of those options. Before you know it, you’ll be tempted to consolidate the student debt to a 10-, 15- or 30-year payment schedule, which would be a terrible mistake. I wish you well in making this decision.
Money in the Bank Is the Reward for Frugality
By Mary Hunt
Living frugally does not mean choosing a life of poverty. Frugality is simply the act of avoiding waste. It means finding the most economical way to accomplish a task or project. Frugality doesn’t mean giving up, it means living better because when you have all that you need plus money in the bank, life becomes much easier.
Frugality is a state of mind, an attitude you choose for a way of life that is rewarding. Every day my mailbox fills with frugal tips from my loyal readers. Some make me laugh; others leave me wondering why I didn’t think of that. Still others have become such a common way of life for me, I’m grateful to have been reminded of what a great frugal idea it is. Enjoy this recent sampling:
CHEAPER AIR. Last summer, it got so hot where we live, many nights it was nearly impossible to sleep. We have central air in our home, but to make the room comfortable for sleep would require cooling the entire house — and that gets very expensive. We decided to buy an Energy Star window unit for our bedroom, that we run just long enough to cool the room before we go to bed. Our electric bill increased by only a few dollars. — Marielle, Florida
DOWN MEMORY LANE. To celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my siblings and family members took them on a scavenger hunt. We split up into two groups and took them out separately. The hunt included places and events from their marriage. We took digital cameras for each team and an empty anniversary card that had to be signed by 20 strangers. The last stop, which was the church where they were married, we downloaded the photos, had dinner and enjoyed the day’s events. — Jenny, Arizona
TENDER MEATBALLS. To make the lightest and fluffiest meatballs, I use club soda in place of the milk or water called for in the recipe. The difference is remarkable. — Rose, New Jersey
BACON FLAT OUT. When I make BLT sandwiches, I like my bacon to be flat. Here’s how I manage that: I lay the bacon strips out on a cookie sheet (with sides) and cover the bacon with foil. Then I lay a second cookie sheet on top to keep the bacon strips from curling while they bake for 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven. This simple trick produces perfectly cooked, flat bacon every time. — David, Minnesota
CONDITION YOUR LEGS. I use inexpensive generic conditioner to shave my legs. My skin is silky soft, and I rarely need to use additional moisturizer. — Sharon, Texas
FACIAL CARE ON THE GO. When I travel, I don’t like to pack all of my regular-size toiletries. Instead of my tube of facial cleanser, I make my own cleansing cloths. For each day I’m away, I take squares of quality paper towels, dampen them with water and put a dollop of cleanser on each towel. I fold the towels and place them in small, sandwich-size zip-type bags. — Carrie, Nebraska
The Best Online Budgeting Tool Ever — and It’s FREE!
By Mary Hunt
Years ago, a reader introduced me to budgeting software called Mvelopes. Honestly, when I read her email I was pretty sure she made a typo. Mvelopes? How would I pronounce that? But she was right, and I learned quickly: EM-vel-opes.
Being such a fan of the envelope method of managing money, I was intrigued by anyone who could take my archaic method of divvying up cash into paper envelopes marked with spending categories like “groceries” and “gas,” and turn it into computer software. That’s exactly what Mvelopes accomplished, and I was impressed.
Immediately, I was onboard and began recommending Mvelopes to anyone who would listen. I don’t recall the exact cost at the time, but I remember thinking it was quite reasonable. I loved it because it allowed me to keep the simplicity of envelope budgeting while using my computer to keep track of everything. As downloadable software went at the time, it was quite cool.
Over the years, Mvelopes has grown and developed into the most effective online personal finance and spending management system out there, bar none.
News flash! I am excited to tell you that Debt-Proof Living and Mvelopes have recently teamed up to offer DPL/Mvelopes Online Envelope Budgeting to all Everyday Cheapskate readers for free. This is not a free trial. It is a basic DPL/Mvelopes online account that lets you set up electronic envelopes, fund them just as you would paper envelopes and then keep track of where your money goes.
Here’s how it works: DPL/Mvelopes pulls all of your financial accounts into one place. You create your budget, track your spending and take control of your money. With DPL/Mvelopes, you instantly understand the impact of every spending decision and you always know exactly how much you have left to spend in each of your electronic envelopes.
Once you have your account set up so that your financial information is in one place, you will have access to your DPL/Mvelopes account from any computer or via mobile apps, which are also free.
To get started, go online to www.mvelopes.com/DebtProofLiving. Follow the prompts to open your new, fully secure DPL/Mvelopes account. The wizard will walk you through adding your bank and credit-card accounts to your DPL/Mvelopes, and assist you in creating your own uniquelylabeled envelopes.
Additionally, once your account is active, you can take advantage of a one-on-one “Jumpstart” coaching session via phone with a live coach who will help you unlock the potential in DPL/Mvelopes and accelerate your success with the envelope budgeting system. I suggest that you take full advantage of this opportunity.
If you’re at all like me, you’re thinking about friends and family members who might also like to know that DPL/Mvelopes is now available for free. Feel free to share this offer with them.
I can’t wait to hear from you to learn how this excellent money-management tool helps you in your journey to financial freedom.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
The Infamous Mystery Means
By Mary Hunt
Dear Mary: My husband has two jobs — he is an artist and a salesman. He earns commissions from both jobs, so we never know what our income will be. I work part-time and am paid hourly. How do we go about setting up a budget? — Carol, Maine
Dear Carol: Having been self-employed most of my working years, I know all the excuses for being unable to plan ahead, create a budget or stick with a plan.
The mistake many who live on “mystery means” make is to spend whatever amount of money they earn as they earn it. They multiply a good month’s income by 12 and figure that’s their annual income, setting their lifestyles accordingly. Then they starve during the lean months, allowing all the bills to go past due hoping a good month will follow soon.
Your husband needs to consider himself a small-business owner. As such, he needs to become a strict and unbending employer. Those of us in this position must wear two different hats — employer and employee.
As the employee, he needs to determine the lowest reasonable salary your family can live on. No matter what comes in during any month, pay yourselves only that set amount. Now you know exactly how much your income will be in any given month so you can budget. Allow any overage to sit in reserve, since it might be needed to cover your salary during coming lean months.
Being self-employed (or commission-based, which to me is about the same thing) can be either rewarding or horribly debilitating. It all depends on your willingness to be disciplined and to exercise great restraint when one month it appears that your ship has come in. Don’t believe it.
Your husband’s self-employment success lies in his willingness to be a strict employer and at the same time a grateful and humble employee.
Dear Mary: Recently, I took a loan from my 401(k) retirement account. I’m paying it back with interest. Now I’m wondering if I’m doing the right thing. In essence, I’m repaying myself. I have no savings at all. Should I stop repaying the loan and use that money to begin building an emergency fund, instead? — Ellen, Georgia
Dear Ellen: If you stop making the payments, the balance owing will be considered a withdrawal. The IRS does not take kindly to that, so expect to get socked with a big penalty. Plus, you’ll immediately owe taxes on the amount you did not repay.
Bottom line, you’ll owe an amount equal to 40 percent or more of that remaining balance. Ouch! My advice is to repay it as quickly as possible. However, you should think about reducing or discontinuing your regular 401(k) contributions. No penalties there. You can begin that emergency fund with the additional funds you’ll see in your paycheck. You can always resume contributing to your 401(k) in the future.
Handy Tools Ease the Pain
By Mary Hunt
Manufactures have been making a name — and a profit — for themselves creating tools and gadgets to help consumers get a “better grip” on countless household tasks. And I’m not knocking it. But I love it when I don’t have to purchase something when I already have something that will work just as well. I think you’ll agree when you read our first reader tip. And if you have a tip on “using this for that,” email me at [email protected]
PLIERS BREAK THE SEAL. I have arthritis in my hands, and it’s hard for me to open things with tabs or containers with aluminum or cellophane seals. My son suggested I use pliers. What a wonderful solution! Pliers are now part of my utensil drawer. — Bev, email
D.I.Y. GARMENT BAGS. I got such a kick out of Shellie from Texas, who wrote about using aluminum foil and an iron to seal plastic bags. My mom taught me that trick when I was a kid, and I’ve been doing that ever since — I’m almost 76 years old, so it’s been a long time. We used the same iron and foil method to make our own garment bags, similar to the ones the cleaners used. We folded the corners on an angle and left a small opening in the middle for the hanger to slip through. – Priscilla, email
HEAT FRIES THE LICE. Reading the tip about using mayonnaise to get rid of lice brought back memories. My daughter has thick, naturally curly, long hair. About 10 years ago, she got lice, and I thought we would never get rid of them. In desperation, I took my Chi flat iron, turned it up to the highest temperature of 356 degrees and straightened her hair. I thought this would help with the combing out. To my surprise, it killed the lice, nits and all. The heat from the flat iron melted whatever it is that holds the eggs to the hair, and they literally fell out. I was amazed and so happy. Now, when friends complain about their children and lice, I suggest the flat iron. — Lisa, Tennessee
FISHING LINE FOR REPAIRS. We live in Chicago and often have strong winds. My husband has repaired our awnings several times over the years. Last year, he sewed all the seams with fishing line. This year, when the wind gusts came, there was not a single tear, and we saved hundreds of dollars! — Charysse, Illinois
COOKWARE CLEANER GOES THE DISTANCE. Cameo Aluminum and Stainless Steel Cleaner works great on cleaning burnt stains from stainless cookware. I’ve had my cookware for over 50 years, and it still looks great. — Sarah, Minnesota
FREEZE TAKEOUT RICE FOR LATER. Whenever we order Chinese food, we get white rice even when we order fried rice, too. I put the white rice in zip-type freezer bags to use later. I have kept the rice as long as three months in the freezer, and it still heats up tasty. — Joanna, email
Let the Decluttering Begin
By Mary Hunt
I know it’s time. It’s been time for at least five years, possibly longer. I need to clean my kitchen. Now, before you send the Health Department to my address, let me explain. What I mean by “clean” is that I need to clean out and organize my kitchen pantry, cupboards and drawers.
If you walked into my kitchen, you’d see a tidy and sanitary place. But don’t walk into the pantry or open a cupboard too hastily. Something might hit you on the head. At this moment, a bottle of Advil has been tossed on top of cereal boxes, which are resting on pudding boxes that have long ago expired.
Cynthia Ewer, editor of www.OrganizedHome.com says the first thing I need to do is harden my heart. An efficient, convenient kitchen, she says, must be pared to the bone. I must dare to dump anything and everything that is not absolutely necessary and useful.
Clear the decks. Ewer instructs me to prepare four boxes with these labels: Put Away (Kitchen), Put Away (Elsewhere), Give Away (or Sell) and Storage. Now I am to tackle one shelf, drawer and cupboard at a time, putting each item into its proper box.
Kitchen keepers. Once everything has found its box, send three of the boxes out of the kitchen. Now comes decision time. Ewer is ruthless in suggesting I need to just get rid of the electric french-fry fryer, that strange gelatin mold in the shape of Mount Rushmore and the odd collection of sports bottles from all those walk-a-thons. Ditto for pans I don’t use, dishes I don’t like and specialty cooking tools that I never use because they’re too much trouble to clean.
No more stalling. I’m going to follow the Organized Home kitchen decluttering plan starting at the top — the top shelves, which Ewer says resemble an unknown landscape at the back of the moon. (I keep wondering when she’s been sneaking into my kitchen because she seems to know this place quite well.)
Here’s the rule: If I’ve used it in the last month, it’s a candidate to stay. If I used it yesterday, that will be the backbone of my newly organized kitchen.
I am committed; I am determined. I will box and banish. I will not stop until every shelf, every cupboard, every nook and cranny of my kitchen is cleared, cleaned and organized.
I don’t think I’m alone in this need for kitchen organization, so I’m extending an invitation for you to join me. Let’s call it the EC Spring Clean Kitchen Challenge. All who dare are invited to join me in this marathon event. Actually, I could use the company. Somehow knowing others are participating in the same drudgery will keep me on track and moving forward.
The only requirement to join is a willingness to get your kitchen organized. And to send me a message at [email protected] when you’ve finished so I can celebrate your success.
A Glimmer of Hope to Cling To
By Mary Hunt
Think back to a low point in your life. Don’t struggle with this, just try to recall when you were going through a difficult season and life seemed bleak. Now recall that first glimmer of hope you clung to as you could see that things were beginning to turn around.
Sometimes, it’s good to look back to see how things worked out. It’s encouraging to recall the results of the difficult decisions we had to make and the hard work we had to do. It reminds us that no matter what, things do get better, eventually.
Recently, a national headline caught my attention: “Americans’ Income up Strong 0.5 Percent, Consumer Spending Flat.” Here’s what I took from this: Don’t get too excited. Headlines are not always the gospel truth. Even if this one is totally reliable, one half of one percent isn’t much. However, something has changed to prompt this statistic. It’s that bright light of hope, a first step. Which brings me to something very important we need to talk about.
Many of you have been reading this column since the beginning. And many have joined my DPL family, too. I am grateful for your loyalty and commitment. But what have you done with what you have learned?
Statistically (meaning what’s in my inbox), a relatively small percentage have done well with what they’ve learned. Many have gotten out of debt and gone on to do extraordinary things with their ordinary incomes. Many have survived long seasons of unemployment.
In a recent appearance on a national radio talk show, Jerry called in to speak with me. He recalled that 12 years ago, while waiting to board an international flight, he picked up a copy of my book, “Debt-Proof Your Marriage.” He said he read it cover to cover on that long flight. He went on to recount that he and his wife began following the DPL principles, and continue to this day. He says that their lives and marriage have been transformed because they took control of their money and debt-proofed their lives.
It pains me to tell you how many messages I get that are not quite so glowing. This is typical: I’ve been following you for X-number of years. I keep planning to get started, but stuff happens. It’s so hard. Now I am in worse shape than ever. And on and on it goes. Seriously? You know what to do, but you can’t get yourself out of your recliner and off your 500 channels of cable TV to get serious about your finances?
Look, this economy will turn around. Your income will increase. But until you get out of your comfort zone and say enough is enough, nothing will change. More money will only make things worse. How badly do things have to get for you to wake up?
You must get started today. If you don’t do it now, when? You need to do this. Once started, that first glimmer of hope will be there for you to cling to.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
By Mary Hunt
Homemade Solutions Are Budget-friendly
Dear Mary: Do you have a homemade recipe for bathroom air freshener refills? I have Air Wick brand, and I’m wondering if there is an easier and cheaper way to refill it when it runs dry. — D.R., California
Dear D.R.: Four to eight drops of essential oil (lavender, for example) in 1 quart of water makes a wonderful air freshener when sprayed lightly into the air. If your Air Wick dispenser is refillable, filling with this mixture should work quite nicely. Essential oils are highly concentrated. A small bottle lasts a long time. You can find essential oils and fragrance oils in craft stores, candles shops and online in a wide range of grades and prices.
Dear Mary: I know the importance of exfoliating regularly to keep my skin looking younger. Do you have any suggestions for how to make a homemade recipe? — Mercedes, email
Dear Mercedes: There are several, but this is my favorite because it is so quick and easy: Once a week or so, make a paste from granulated sugar and fresh lemon juice. While showering, invigorate your skin with the paste. Use the inside of the lemon rind to soften heels and elbows. Rinse off, and your skin will be smooth and silky. Lemons contain powerful glycolic acid, one of the key ingredients in pricey skin-care products.
I’m sending you a copy of my booklet, “Cheapskate Solutions,” that’s filled with recipes, formulas and instructions for making your own housecleaning, garden, and health and beauty products. You might want to try other exfoliating recipes you’ll find in the health and beauty section. Cheapskate Solutions is available in print or eBooklet formats. The print booklet is $7, and the eBooklet version is $5. To order, go to www.DebtProofLiving.com and click on Bookstore, call 800-550-3502, or send a check or money order to Debt-Proof Living, Attn: CS, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.
Dear Mary: We have health insurance through my husband’s company. The cost for our family of five has risen dramatically. We have been researching obtaining our own insurance directly with the insurance company for myself and three children. My husband would continue to be covered by his company’s plan. It appears that we could get the same insurance coverage with the same insurance company for much less than we would pay through my husband’s employer. Is this a good idea? Are there any risks? — Jan, Illinois
Dear Jan: It never hurts to compare and shop your insurance coverage, and I suggest you do that. Just make sure you don’t cancel what you have until you have something better in place. You don’t want any gaps in coverage. Make sure you are comparing like-for-like, paying attention to every aspect of the coverage. You could get a cheaper premium but end up with a huge deductible, a long list of exclusions or a weak list of service providers. Just keep in mind that generally it’s pretty difficult to beat a group plan.
Creativity Saves Time and Money
By Mary Hunt
I should add Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to the list of products that Everyday Cheapskate readers use creatively. Magic Erasers will join such amazing products as Original Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid, baking soda and vinegar, to name a few. If you have a trick for using a common household product in a slightly different way than its intended use, I’d love to hear about it. Email me at [email protected]
ERASE THE RESIDUE. I use Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to clean the black residue from my candleholders. It works great. — Cindi, email
ORGANIZED GIFT CARDS. To keep track of my gift cards, I use a permanent marker to write the value on the front of the card. Then I put the cards in an envelope, listing the stores and restaurants and the amount of each card on the outside of the envelope. When I use a card, I note the balance on the envelope and write the new value on the card. Many restaurants offer buy-one-card, get-one-free deals, and I take advantage of those special offers. My husband and I purchase cards for our favorite restaurants to use ourselves. Last year, we had more than $50 in bonus cards that enabled us to dine for free! — Pat, email
WOOD STOVE FIRE STARTERS. My husband and I live in the mountains and heat our house entirely with a wood stove. We have no natural gas or propane expense for warming our home, and the heat from the stove is so comforting. Because we use our stove so much, I make my own fire starters. I stuff dryer lint into empty cardboard toilet paper or paper towel rolls and store them by the stove. My husband loves them and says they work great. How’s that for using two items you’d normally throw away! — Jean, California
PLANTING THE WATERING SYSTEM. When I do my planting in large containers, I also incorporate my own watering system. I take an empty plastic soda bottle, toss the lid, poke holes in the bottle’s shoulder and cut off the bottom. I turn it upside down and actually stick it in the dirt, “planting” it along with the plant or seeds. As the plants grow, they grow around the bottle. This makes it simple to water without the water running off the sides of the container. — Bea, email
LAUNDRY BASKET OF GIFTS. Instead of placing a baby gift in a gift bag or basket, I use a laundry basket decorated with ribbons and bows the colors of the baby’s gender or the nursery. I have received so many positive comments about the laundry basket idea. Everyone loves the practicality of this additional gift. — Lorrayne, email
BABY WIPES FOR MAKEUP REMOVAL. Baby wipes (unscented and hypoallergenic) work wonderfully to remove eye makeup. My daughters ruined so many washcloths until I had them try this. Eye makeup remover works great, but it’s more expensive than generic baby wipes. — Maggie, email
An Hour and Ten Bucks to Give Your Home a New Look
By Mary Hunt
Been putting off updating a room in your home until you can figure out where to get thousands of dollars to redecorate? Look, if you’ve got $10 and a little time, you can get started right now. Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks for how to decorate on a shoestring.
Wall Art. Take pretty sheets of scrapbooking paper, mat them, frame them and then hang them as a grouping. You’ll be amazed by the stunning result.
Dollar Frames. My secret is out for how much I love the 99 Cents Only stores. I can usually find a big selection of frames that come with mats and glass in random sizes and classy looks. Fill the frames with fabric, pretty paper, food labels, vintage photos, collectibles like baseball cards, cigar bands or tickets stubs. Ten frames of random shapes and sizes from a dollar store can quickly become a gallery in a hallway, a grouping over a mantel or a splash of delight to an eating area.
Fat Quarters. A fat quarter is a quarter yard of fabric that measures 18 inches by 22 inches, sold either singly or in a coordinated bunch in fabric stores. Typically, fat quarters are about $2 each. Use fat quarters to make new tops for tired, dismal throw pillows. Or piece them together to make a fun new throw for the back of the sofa. Fat quarters are great for creating wall art, too (see above).
New Floor. This is totally amazing, and you may think I’ve lost my mind, but you really can create a beautiful new floor with ordinary paper bags from the grocery store. You’ll end up with a faux leather or concrete look that is durable and drop-dead gorgeous. This project requires paper bags, polyurethane and hard work. Any crafter or decorator can do it. For step-by-step instructions go to www.TheBudgetDecorator.com, then type “faux leather floor” in the search box.
Flat Sheets. Look in the closeout bin for random flat sheets. Any size will do. Even a twin size contains yards of fabric you can use for any number of home-decorating projects. Pad and cover an old headboard. Cut it up to make a new tablecloth and matching napkins. Thread the wide hem onto a curtain rod for an instant new window treatment. The possibilities are endless.
Paint. There’s nothing like a freshly painted wall, cabinet, bookshelf or table to make everything feel clean and new. All you need is a quart, and you can get it in your choice of hundreds of colors at any home improvement store for less than $10. Tape off and paint a “panel” in a contrasting color on the wall where you will be hanging your new wall art. Paint the inside of a cabinet, especially one that has a glass front door. Or go crazy and paint your front door red. You’ll smile every time you come home.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
By Mary Hunt
Are store ATMs safe?
Being Creative Saves Money
Master Mix Helps Lower Your Food Bill
- 5 pounds all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup double-acting baking powder
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 2 1/2 cups powdered milk
- 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 pounds (4 cups) solid vegetable shortening