BYOB Club Member in Good Standing — Getting Better Every Day

January 6, 2016  
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loaf of rye bread on a background of ripe rye field at sunsetBY MARY HUNT


For years, I’d had a love-hate relationship with baking bread. It’s a domestic skill I could never master, and that bothered me.

When I tried, four out of five loaves flopped. Then, in an act of mercy from the yeast gods, I’d turn out a specimen fit for judging at the Iowa State Fair. Eventually, the outrageous price of store-bought bread led me to a method and book with the same title: “The NEW Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.”

Sure. Like anyone in her right mind would believe that. Five minutes a day? If this book were touting some prepackaged mix or pricey piece of equipment, I wouldn’t be interested.

But in no time at all, the verdict was in. It’s true. Authors Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois have taken the home-baking world by storm, having created a method that takes out all of the variables of baking yeast breads: the time, the hassle, the waiting and the worrying. And the book includes gluten-free recipes!

I stand before you a changed woman, and a consistent home baker of artisan bread. It’s the rustic, beautiful kind of bread you see in a European bakery. It’s the kind of bread that is made once a day, consumed by the family and then replaced the following day. Every day.

I am as busy as I ever was, and even I have five minutes a day to bake bread. While I had to put my daily baking efforts on the shelf, so to speak, during the many long months of our out-of-state transition and move, gluten-free recipes: I’m back! I’m quite possibly the most enthusiastic member of the BYOB movement (bake your own bread). I’m toying with the idea of making 2016 the year that we don’t buy bread at all — and still have bread every day of the year.

Here’s my routine:

On Saturday, I take about 10 minutes to make up the master recipe. The ingredients are simple: water, flour, yeast and salt. That’s it. I measure the ingredients and mix to combine them. Then, I dump the dough into my “dough-rising box” (a 40-cup plastic container with a lid), leave it on the counter for two hours and then move it to the refrigerator. It makes enough dough for eight one-pound loaves. The dough will last for two weeks in the fridge.

When I want to bake a loaf, I open the box, grab a wad of dough, dust it with a little flour, shape it and set it on a wooden pizza peel. There it sits for 40 minutes to an hour as the oven preheats and I do other things. I pop it into the oven on a baking stone and 30 minutes later, we have fresh, European bakery-style bread. Did I say no kneading?

Since I became a BYOB-er, I’ve used the master dough to make breadsticks, soft pretzels, pizza and dinner rolls.

Here’s the best part: A decent loaf of bread at my store is now closing in on $4 per loaf. A loaf of my homemade artisan bread costs forty cents, one-tenth the cost and 10 times better.

There’s something more that comes with baking bread. It’s soul-soothing. I love knowing that I have yeast in the freezer and flour in the pantry. It makes me feel self-reliant. I like that.




Help! My Aluminum Cookware is Pitted and Stained!

January 5, 2016  
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THURSDAY, January 5

Dear Mary: Please tell me why my aluminum pans and cookware have turned dark and become rough to the touch. I believe it may be from the dishwasher. Other than these marks and stains, my 60-year old pans (I got them at my bridal shower!) look the same as new ones I see in the stores today. Only the price has changed. What can I do to restore my pots and pans? Love your column. — Etta

Dear Etta: Let’s start with the “pitting” — corrosion that creates tiny holes in the metal. Undoubtedly, this is the result of having put these pans through the dishwasher. Aluminum should never be put into a dishwasher, but rather be washed by hand in mild dishwashing liquid.

Most dishwasher detergents are extremely alkaline and readily pit and discolor aluminum. Dishwasher detergents can also create a kind of grey film on the surface of aluminum, which can become difficult if not impossible to scrub off.

I am afraid there may be nothing you can do to remove the pits. However, there is a rather simple way to remove the dark, ugly discoloration that often appears in well-used aluminum cookware.

You want to fill the stained aluminum pot with a highly acidic solution: For each quart of water you need add 2 tablespoons cream of tartar, white vinegar OR lemon juice. Any one of these items will create a highly acidic solution, which will reduce discoloration due to oxidation. If you have other aluminum items like flatware that has become discolored, you can add these pieces to the pot.

If you need to clean the outside of a pot as well as the inside, try submerging it in a larger pot (doesn’t have to be aluminum, as the acid solution will not harm stainless steel or other types of pots) that you have filled with this acidic solution.

Set the pot on the stovetop and bring the solution to a boil. Let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the burner off when the aluminum brightens, allowing the pot and its contents to cool. Pour the solution down the drain.

If any discoloration remains, gently scrub the pot with a scrubber sponge. Avoid using steel wool, which is too abrasive and could cause future problems on aluminum.

Another option: Use a gentle aluminum cleaner meant for cookware instead of the boiling method above. Our friends at Bar Keeper’s Friend have introduced a fabulous cleanser and polisher, Bar Keepers Friend Cookware Cleanser & Polish that does a great job cleaning up all kinds of cookware including aluminum. You might give this a try on the pitting. Provided the damage is not severe, you may be able to rub out the pitting enough to bring your venerable and well-loved cookware back to it’s bright and shiny appearance.

Dear Mary: I am totally baffled as to how to remove spots/stains from khaki colored items. It seems that no matter what I use, even plain water, I am left with a noticeably discolored area that is worse than the spot itself. Do you have any suggestions as to how I should deal with this situation? Thanks so much for all the advice you offer; you make being a cheapskate fun. — Kris

Dear Kris: I don’t know what you have tried to remove these stains, however, I am the world’s biggest fan of Soilove, (as in “soil love”) an inexpensive laundry stain remover I’ve been using for so many years I’m embarrassed to admit. I have never encountered the kind of problem you describe on colors or khaki items. Could it be that you are scrubbing some of the color away as you try to remove that stain?

I can still get a 16-ounce bottle of Soilove for $.99 at 99 Cents Only stores (located in only a few states), from Amazon or directly from the manufacturer (the owners have become dear friends of mine over the years and have set up a direct purchase option for my Everyday Cheapskate family). Soilove is a truly remarkable and cheap product!  Here’s the info to order direct:

Option 1: Three 16-oz. bottles Soilove: $9.95 including shipping and handling, delivered within continental U.S.

Option 2: Twelve 16-oz. bottles Soilove: $15 plus actual UPS shipping charge.

My second line of defense, because not even Soilove can remove every stain (for sure it will not remove yellow mustard), I rely on Lestoil, (as in “less toil”) which can be hard to find, but still available if you know where to look.

Dear Mary: Thank you for the great column on layaway. I remember that from when I was in college many years ago. While I used layaway and paid for the items in full, I have the vague recollection that by the time I picked them up, the bloom was off the rose. God Bless you for all you do! — Sarah

Dear Sarah: You may have just come up with another reason layaway is a good option: It nips impulsive shopping in the bud. With layaway you have time to rethink that purchase. With credit card shopping, by the time you get around to regretting the purchase, the deed has been done and the debt incurred. Thank you for being such a fun and loyal reader!

For more info on the products mentioned above please visit

Would you like more information? Log on to, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a personal finance member website and the author of “Debt-Proof Living,” released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



A New Addition to the Customer Service Hall of Fame

January 4, 2016  
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January 4, 2016

The way a company deals with its customers after the sale is as important as what happens to get that sale in the first place. I am quick to criticize companies who give poor customer service — and have done so right here. And when a company gives excellent customer service, I believe they should get equal billing.

Last March, I stopped by Babies R Us to purchase a gift card for a very special baby shower. Our second grandson would be due in only a few weeks; I was in a frenzy, packing and preparing for our big move to Colorado. Our son and daughter-in-law had created a registry at Babies R Us. I knew they would appreciate a gift card to get exactly what they needed, when they needed it, and I would appreciate saving a little time by not having to figure out exactly what that might be.

The store manager helped me with this purchase, which I recall specifically in that we had a nice chat about store managing stuff. Drawing from my best advice when purchasing anything that holds a promise, such as a deposit or tickets for something in the future, I paid for the $100 Gift Card with a credit card — on my way to the shower. I quickly signed the card and tucked the cute Baby Boy Gift Card inside.

Several weeks later, Wendy went back to the very same store to purchase baby items. At the check out the clerk regretfully told her that the card had no value on it. The clerk tried several times to input the card for payment, each time showing Wendy how it registered at $0.00. What?! The clerk mentioned that perhaps the value had been stolen, but offered no remedy.

It was weeks later that Wendy received a phone call from Babies R Us. We can only imagine that they connected the event with her registry to get her phone number. They explained that indeed that somehow between the moment that she activated the card and presented it for payment its value had been stolen. We’ve all heard about this happening, right? But this time, I’d already reimbursed her with cash and she no longer had the bad card. Thankfully, she’d given it back to me.

Now you’re probably way ahead of me. Yep, in the move and all, I totally misplaced that bad gift card. And could I find the original receipt? In your dreams. I wish I were more organized. But since I’d paid for it with a credit card, I had the transaction number. I had proof that I’d purchased it. Had I bought it with cash, I would have been out of luck without the original receipt.

With that transaction number, the Gift Card number and PIN (I did find it, whew!), I went online to Babies R Us. Using the live chat feature, I explained my plight. Wow! Such wonderful people work at this company. Within about 20 minutes, that kind chat person had the situation figured out, including how to fix it. In short order ,the company replaced the gift card in its full value with their kindest apologies. Impressive.

Babies R Us is the newest entry in the Everyday Cheapskate Customer Service Hall of Fame. I’m grateful and have a newly warmed place in my heart for the company. And an even warmer place for babies in general and our sweet Sam in particular.

Question: Who would you add to our Customer Service Hall of Fame?



Green Smoothies and Grateful Readers

December 30, 2015  
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kiwi juiceBY MARY HUNT

Some days I can’t believe how lucky I am. Not only do I get to communicate with this growing audience of readers, but many of you also reciprocate with lovely responses. Every single day I open my mailbox and out spills wonderful notes, letters — even an occasional multiple-page tome. Mostly, you send me questions, but now and then it’s just a wonderful thank you note. Always, I’m grateful for your feedback.

Dear Mary: I am marching in your army of green smoothie breakfasters! Is your recipe (see previous column, “Turns Out It IS Easy Being Green”) for one or two people? (Asked as she obligingly drinks the whole thing, which seems quite adequate!) — Christine

Dear Christine: You just made me laugh out loud envisioning you marching in your green uniform, smoothie in hand. It is a recipe for one single 16-ounce smoothie, and yes, it makes for a very adequate, healthy smoothie. You could easily divide this to make two smaller servings, but I do like your style. Happy to have you in the army, by the way.

Dear Mary: I just have to say Thank You! I recently purchased the Shark Navigator Life-Away Professional vacuum that you have written about — even though I have a good vacuum and am trying to minimize my possessions. Oh my! I have been vacuuming for a week straight and am still getting dirt out of my family room carpeting. What’s more, it even feels like new carpeting under our feet. Not to mention that this machine is also beautiful — white and silver! This is just indicative of the numerous ways your wisdom and insight has blessed my family and me. Hope I get to see you in person again sometime (I was in the audience when you spoke in Naperville, Ill., several years ago). — Nancy

Dear Nancy: Yours is the ninth message I’ve received just this week from readers who are also ecstatic over their Shark vacuums. I know the feeling — I get it every time I put my Sharky to work. I have moved from being embarrassed by what he gets out of the carpet to feeling kinda’ self-righteous, knowing that finally my carpeting is really clean. Now it’s easy to keep it that way. I try to stay on top of even the smallest spot so it doesn’t become a stain, using the spot treatment Spot Shot.

It was great to hear from you and to recall that evening in Naperville. When I walked to the podium, I was shocked nearly to tears to see my college music professor, Wilbur David Ellsworth and his wife Jean, sitting front and center. I had not seen them since graduation day. Knowing that you were there as well makes that memory extra special.


Getting Debt-Free Plus the Best Machine to Clean Tile Floors

December 21, 2015  
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Old calculator showing a textBY MARY HUNT


Dear Mary: After reading your books and columns for several years, I am ecstatic to report that I am almost debt-free; my credit card debt is history! I can’t thank you enough for your encouraging words and sage counsel.

Now I need to know how to find a low-interest card — preferably a no annual fee type — to use mainly for online purchases, and which will be paid off monthly. I have absolutely no idea how to go about this and would appreciate any information you could provide. Thanks for everything! — Sherry

Dear Sherry: Congratulations on your amazing progress toward becoming debt-free. I am so very proud of you. This is an almost amazing accomplishment, so keep going and don’t ever give up. You’ll be there soon, and what a wonderful debt-free day that will be for you!

As for your question regarding a low-interest card, I would suggest that the interest rate not be your primary consideration. You will never carry a balance on it, so your primary consideration should be that is it has no annual fee. Second, it must have an excellent grace period of at least 21 days. Next it should be either a MasterCard or Visa and last you want to get the lowest interest rate you can.

Using a credit card as a tool, not a weapon with which to do yourself harm, will be a new way of life for you. Expect to face the temptation of allowing a balance to roll over. It will happen. However, I am confident that the hard work you have done and the financial maturity you have achieved will carry you through those moments of temptation, keeping you on the straight and narrow path to financial freedom!

I recommend that you go to This is a kind of directory of every credit card being offered, arranged by category. Plan to spend some time searching for the card that is right for you.

Dear Mary: Can you tell me which floor-cleaning machine you would recommend for tile? — Lou

Dear Lou: Now that I live in a house with some ceramic tile floors, I found myself wondering the same thing. But rather than only tile floor, I wanted to find the best inexpensive power machine to clean hardwood and laminate flooring, too.

About six months ago, following a good deal of research, I purchased the Shark Sonic Duo Carpet and Hard Floor Cleaner for about $115. I knew that it would do one more thing, but I wasn’t that interested in the carpet scrubbing option because as you may know, I am in love with my Hoover Steam Vac. But in an effort to give the machine a fair trial, I tested that feature as well. Honestly, I am thrilled with this little machine! It is truly remarkable. It is so really lightweight, and easily swivels under counters and around corners. And boy does it scrub! The manufacturer boasts 1,000 scrubs per minute.

My Shark Sonic Duo came with a remarkable supply of supplies: five different cleaning pads — one for each of the applications. All are very sturdy, and easy to wash and dry. And I got four different bottles of concentrated cleaners: Carpet cleaning, Pre-treater, Wood and Hard Floor Cleaning and Wood and Hard Floor Polish. All of these products are highly concentrated, with easy instructions for how to mix with water to fill the tank. After six months of active use, I haven’t come close to using up even half of these products. I will have no qualms about using our homemade hard floor cleaner in the refillable dispenser, and I promise to report back here.

So my response is that I would highly recommend Shark Sonic Duo machine for your tile needs — and all other types of flooring as well. However, if you prefer a single purpose machine to clean just your tile flooring, take a look at the Hoover TwinTank Steam Mop (about $70). Please understand that while I have not personally tested this machine, this steam mop gets many excellent reviews and that gives me confidence in suggesting it for your tile floors. I hope that helps — and no, I do not work for the Shark or the Hoover companies — to answer a question I do get from time to time.

To find more information and links to the products mentioned above please visit .


How to Get More of Your Favorite Fast Food for Less (or Free)

December 16, 2015  
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fast food collection on on white backgroundBY MARY HUNT

In these days of rising food prices it’s fun to keep a bevy of money-saving tips and tricks up your sleeve. You won’t need a coupon, a code or even a private word with the manager to take advantage of these little-known hacks — all perfectly legal and ethical, too. As for the quality, nutritional value and taste for what follows? That’s where you’re on your own.

CHIPOTLE. As fast food goes, it’s hard to beat Chipotle Mexican Grill. The food is fresh and quite tasty. Now boasting 1,142 locations throughout the U.S. and one (so far) in Canada, Chipotle is, in the opinion of your humble columnist, as good as it gets. Here are a couple of ways to make it even better.

Nachos. It’s not on the menu, but it’s easy to get nachos at Chipotle. Just order a burrito bowl and then ask if you can get chips instead of rice at the bottom. No extra charge.

Double-wrap. If you want a sturdier burrito, ask for two tortilla shells when you give your burrito order. Fans of this method say it keeps the burrito from bursting, which can be a problem with a well-packed Chipotle burrito. No additional charge.

More for free. Here’s a great way to order for one but have more than enough delicious Chipotle fare for two (and even then you’ll have a hard time eating all of it). Order a bowl, which right there gets you more than if you order the burrito. Next, order half chicken and half steak. The way they portion it out, you’ll get at least 50 percent more meat. Ask for both types of rice and beans. Again, they’ll pile it on higher than if you’d selected a single option. Next add fajita veggies and corn salsa. To finish it off, order two tortillas on the side — all this for no additional cost.

–Single taco. If you’re on a diet or budget, you can get a taco loaded with all your favorite toppings for about $2.25.



Quesadillas and burritos. Prefer yours crispy? Ask them to double-grill your quesadillas and burritos, for no extra charge. They’ll come out extra hot and very crispy.

Lava sauce. The spicy cheese “lava sauce” is featured on several Taco Bell items. If you’re a fan, you can add it to virtually any item for free. But you have to ask for it.



Grilled cheese. You won’t see it on the menu, but McDonald’s grilled cheese sandwich is a bun with cheese in the middle. This is a great option for kids, light appetites or vegetarians. To get your grilled cheese sandwich at McDonald’s, do these two things: 1) Order a grilled cheese, and 2) Say you want the buns grilled. Now the cheese will melt and give you the maximum toasty flavor. At last check, this item costs around $1.

Mini Big Mac. McDonald’s Big Macs typically cost around $4.79. If this price is steep for you but you love the flavor, it’s easy to get something similar. Just order a McDouble without ketchup, then add lettuce and Big Mac sauce. You’ll have all the taste of a Big Mac for about $1.49.

Tasty fries. Ask for Big Mac Sauce with your next order of fries. No additional cost, and a fun new taste experience.


How to Beef Up Home Security on the Cheap

December 15, 2015  
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Home Security System being Tested



As a kid, I lived in a house with security that rivaled Fort Knox. Every exterior opening was fitted with an old-fashioned hook-and-eye latch, which my mother would latch from the inside each and every time someone left the house.

As one who would leave from time to time, I can report that it wasn’t easy to get back in. I would have to knock and wait for her to come to the door to unlatch it and let me in; then she would re-latch the door behind me. While my mother’s security system was never breeched, it made for an annoying way to grow up.

Thankfully, these days, there are much better ways to make our homes safe and secure — that are also friendly to all who live therein.

While it’s impossible to put a price on the value of protecting your home and family, there are inexpensive yet highly effective ways to beef up security to create a strong defense against intruders.

Door Stopper. Very much like The Club that millions use to keep their cars secure, The Club Door Stopper secures any exterior door in your home so that it will resist more than two tons of force. That’s a lot of security for less than $25. This device is easy to install, a cinch to engage and offers tremendous peace of mind.

Patio Doors. We recently installed Ideal Security Patio Door Security bars (about $18 each) on the three sets of sliders in our home. This system works like a dream, and the installation was easy, too. We can open a slider just enough to provide ventilation while it is in the fully locked position. The bar easily swings up and out of the way when we want to leave the door open all the way.

Window Locks. These days, local police typically advise homeowners to install secondary locks so windows cannot be opened by force. Good advice. The type of lock that qualifies is one with a metal clamp that attaches to the frame of the window above the sash. For about $8 per window, Prime-Line Window Lock more than meets the minimum standard. The lock is adjustable to fit up to one-half-inch thick rails. And you can lock it in “ventilating position” which allow the window to be slightly ajar, while completely secure against forced entry.

Firearm Safe. If you own firearms, safety should be your top priority. For the money (as low as $40), the Stack-On Drawer Safe with Electronic Lock is a great choice. It comes pre-drilled with the hardware required to bolt it to the bottom of a drawer. Now you can stack things on top of it and no one will be the wiser. The hinges are even concealed so no giveaways there. This compact safe is a winner in both functionality and price point.

Fake TV. One of the cheapest ways to make it appear that you’re home, even though you may be on a two-week Caribbean cruise, is to leave a television on. The flickering light is a dead giveaway yours is a house burglars don’t want to mess with. But here’s the problem with that: TVs consume a lot of power! A much better idea is to invest $30 in a FakeTV. It turns itself on at dusk and off at dawn. It consumes the power of a nightlight while filling a room with light just like a TV. It accurately simulates scene changes, and fades on-screen motion in thousands of colors just like a real TV. This gadget gives the impression that you’re home even when you’re away.

Spotlight Motion Detector. Install this light on the outside of your house to kick your home security efforts up a notch. At less than $20, Mr Beams Wireless LED Spotlight turns on in the presence of any kind of motion, and will do more than just keep your home more secure. It will automatically light the way when you need to empty the trash or take the dog out. The LED light is extremely bright and fully weatherproof. Installation is totally wireless and the light gives 350 square feet of coverage. Awesome.

Home Security System Package. If rather than piecemeal your home’s security you prefer a complete system complete with optional monitoring, take a look at Simplisafe2 Wireless Home Security System and service offered by SimpliSafe. This is a wireless system that you order and install yourself in minutes. All the sensors arrive pre-programmed and ready to be mounted. No tools required, no wires and no hassles.

This system does not use phone wires that burglars can easily cut to disarm the house. The system offers monitoring plans starting at $14.99 a month with no contract, and there’s no phone line required. The system uses smart technology, including motion detectors, a panic button, carbon monoxide detection, wireless keypads and a keychain remote. You’ll even get a couple of window decals alerting all who might intrude that they need to get out — and fast!

For more information about the products mentioned above please visit .



Questions About Down Comforters and Inexpensive Vacuums

December 14, 2015  
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down comforterBY MARY HUNT


Dear Mary: I love your articles, and I have learned so much from you about which products to purchase. I don’t know if you have ever written anything about down comforters, but I am looking for one that is machine washable, not too expensive, can be used year round and has a lot of loft. — Jackie

Dear Jackie: I’m humbled by your trust in meato make a recommendation for an excellent down comforter. The first thing you need to know is how to rate “down.” Down is the layer of fine feathers found under the tougher exterior feathers of ducks or geese. It’s the good stuff! A down-filled comforter is, not surprisingly, filled with down and quite luxurious. Down is a very lightweight insulator against cold and also against heat. It is a natural wonder and makes for a fantastic blanket, year round.

Some “down” comforters are filled with a combination of down and feathers, while others are only feathers, which can be stiff and “pokey,” albeit less expensive because they are of a lower quality.

Then comes a new version known as “down alternative” comforters. These are filled with polyester and have no down or feathers in them at all. And as you would expect, the prices of these alternative models are considerably less. Make sure you keep your eyes open for that word “alternative.”

Given your requirements, I recommend that you go for a true down comforter that is duck-down filled. Provided you stick with real down, a comforter with up to 750 fill power (this refers to the amount of down inside the comforter) will be wonderful year round as it will be lightweight, keeping you cool in the summer and warm in winter.

Last, you should pay attention to the quality and thread-count of the comforter’s cover. This should be 100 percent cotton for its breathability and the fact that cotton launders well, with at least 200 thread count, to assure a soft and inviting touch.

As for it being machine washable, all down comforters that are made with cotton covers are washable, provided you follow the steps to do this correctly.

Given all of this information, I don’t think you could go wrong with comforters by Royal Hotel. For example, as I write this column you can get Royal Hotel’s very best queen-size Siberian goose down comforter online, with 100 percent Egyptian cotton, 500 thread count cover and 750 fill power in solid white for less than $200. This is a comforter that, when cared for well and always kept in a duvet cover, will last a lifetime.

Another option would be a comforter from the Pacific Coast Co., made in the USA with imported materials. By way of comparison, as I write, a Pacific Coast queen-size comforter filled with Pyrenees down, 650 fill power in a 420 thread count Egyptian cotton cover is the very same price as the Royal Hotel comforter mentioned above –about $200.

There is no doubt that a good down comforter is a luxury. However, if you make a wise purchase and care for it diligently, you will never have to replace it. And that’s what will make it a very smart purchase. Now that you know what to look for, give yourself time to find just the right comforter. You might even find it on sale. Then treat it with all of the respect and care you would give any highly valued possession.

I wish you well in making your decision.


Dear Mary: I have read a couple of times about your love for Shark Navigator Pro Lift-Away vacuum. My home has all bare surface flooring. Is it just as good for these kinds of floors as for carpet, or do you recommend another vacuum? — Shirley

Dear Shirley: My Shark Navigator Lift-Away Pro is like Houdini! It transforms itself from a vacuum for carpet to one for drapes, stairs and also hard surface floors — almost like magic. The hard surface floor attachment uses a microfiber pad that takes care of even the smallest dust particles. I just love that feature. Given that the machine has anti-allergen HEPA technology, I think you and your floors will be very happy with it. You can just leave it in hard surface mode, knowing that should you opt for area rugs in the future you’ll be all set.


Dear Mary: Two or three years ago, based on your high praise, I bought a Shark Navigator vacuum. I’ve been so pleased with it that I bought one for my daughter-in-law, too. I did have one issue in that my vacuum would not stand upright. We called Shark, described the problem, and they said they would send a new part at no charge. We expected a little plastic ring but instead received an entire new lower head. Such great service!

Subsequently, we were silly enough to buy a $1,800 new vacuum from a door-to-door salesman. But after vacuuming with it and then doing a follow-up with my Shark, we realized we were getting as much dust and debris with the Shark as we did with the expensive one. We returned the new one and are again happy with the Shark. I love your column. Thanks! — Sandy

Dear Sandy: Happy you’re happy with your “Sharky,” Sandy. I am not at all surprised that it won the competition against that pricey vacuum cleaner (which I’m going to bet starts with the letter K) — and at one tenth the cost! I love my Shark, too!



Seven Ways to Stay Below Your Cap on Smartphone Data Usage

December 10, 2015  
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Unlimited data plans for smartphones are nearly a thing of the past. Even if you’ve managed to hang on to your unlimited data plan, there’s a good chance it’s not truly unlimited. Your carrier probably throttles your data speeds if you exceed a certain amount of downloaded data in a given billing period.

Data usage per smartphone is growing like crazy, which is prompting the typical smartphone user to buy bigger data allowances as they sign up for shared data plans and add other devices, especially tablets. Ka-ching!

There are things that you, as a socially connected, tech-savvy person with a smartphone and a limited data plan can do to stay below your limited data plan cap. Follow these tips to cut back on your data habit, track and monitor your usage, and stretch your data plan — so you never have to pay overage charges again.

CONNECT TO WI-FI. This might seem like a no-brainer, but all of us need a good reminder from time to time: Being connected to Wi-Fi (as opposed to using your service provider’s cellular network to access the Internet) does not require and therefore eat up your data plan. If the places you frequent most — home, work, friends’ places, bus stops, train stations, cafes, coffee shops — have open connections, use them.

MIND THE STREAMING. Streaming video is the worst culprit when it comes to burning through your monthly data allotment. A five-minute YouTube video sucks up 5-10 megabytes. A single 22-minute TV episode on Netflix blows through at least 100-megabytes; movies, even more. Don’t do it. Wait to watch those cat videos until you have a Wi-Fi connection.

MUSIC CHOICES. The music you listen to when you’re not on Wi-Fi can make a huge difference in how much data you’re using. If you’re listening to Pandora or Spotify while connected to your cellular network, an hour of music will eat up 50-70 megabytes of data. But you have a better option. Save music to your phone by downloading albums so you can listen locally. You’ll enjoy better quality without ripping through tons of data, saving services like Pandora for when you’re on Wi-Fi.

BE SOCIAL, BUT JUDICIOUSLY. If you’ve become a habitual social network checker, stop and think: Am I on Wi-Fi or data plan? What seems like a fairly lightweight activity like running through Facebook or Twitter can actually consume 5 to 10 megabytes of data each time you check — especially if you’re clicking on links and photos. Do that a few times a day over a 3G or LTE data network, you could be wasting a couple of gigs of data on this alone. Constant use of multiple social networks or even high volume of emails may slowly and steadily put data use at dangerous levels.

DISABLE “WI-FI ASSIST.” With iOS 9, Apple introduced a new feature, Wi-Fi Assist. It’s actually very cool, but could cost you hundreds of dollars if you are not aware of what it is and how it works. This feature arrived in the “enable” position when you upgraded your iPhone 5. It tells your iPhone to automatically seek a cellphone network if you are connected to a weak Wi-Fi signal. Here are the steps to disable Wi-Fi Assist: Go to “Settings” then click on “Cellular.” Scroll all the way to the bottom — past all of your apps — and you’ll find “Wi-Fi Assist.” Turn it to the off position.

READ, SNAP AND SEND LATER. When you’re on your cellular data connection and you come across a link that you don’t have to read that second, bookmark it or favorite it for later and you’ll save a few megabytes. Same goes for photos if at all possible. Uploading photos and videos to social sites or — even email in real time — while not connected to Wi-Fi can use up tens of megabytes! Stop it. Acquire this new habit: Snap now, upload later.

MONITOR YOURSELF. Monthly data limits are every smartphone user’s enemy. A small download at the wrong time may send your bill skyrocketing. Your iPhone has built-in tools that allow you to track your data usage, although free reports from your carrier give you a more accurate picture. To track on your iPhone, go to “Settings” then “Cellular,” and look for Cellular Data Usage. On your Android smartphone go to “Settings” and tap “Data Usage.” To change the cycle date to match the start date of your monthly plan, check the “Set Mobile Data Limit” box (or “Limit Mobile Data” on some phones) if you want your phone to block you from using any mobile data after you exceed your limit

If you follow most of these tips, chances are good that you can cut your monthly data use in half. For sure this will cripple the full potential of your smartphone while not connected to a Wi-Fi network, but given the high cost of going over on data usage — and the potential for rates to increase in the near future — that sounds like a great idea to me.


How to Cut the Cost of Owning a Pet

December 9, 2015  
Filed under Blogs

Neapolitan Mastiff dogBY MARY HUNT


No one was more surprised than I when my first granddog, Sir Boddington, nuzzled a place in my heart. I knew I was smitten the day I loaded up on toys, milk bones and other doggie delights. I blame it on “Boddie” that I so willingly became a member of the U.S. population that spent $58 billion in 2014 on food, supplies, services such as grooming and boarding, and medical care for their 358 million pets.

So how can you afford to care for your furry friend — in sickness and in health? Make prevention maintenance your top priority as a pet owner and you’ll save later on.

RESTRAIN. A fence or some other reasonable restraint is the best way to avoid big vet bills, says David T. Roen, D.V.M., board-certified veterinarian and owner of the Clarkston Veterinary Clinic in Clarkston, Washington. “I see more dogs in my office because of injuries sustained while unrestrained than for any other reason. Dogs should always be leashed, fenced or supervised.”

CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOOD. Dr. Roen advises pet owners to skip all the fancy premium foods sold by vets. Use name-brand pet food from the supermarket labeled “complete and balanced.” Or look for the seal of approval of AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials). Stick with the same brand. Switching abruptly can cause health issues for some animals. And less is better, as slightly underweight pets have fewer health problems.

SPAY AND NEUTER. Reproductive issues aside, spayed and neutered dogs have fewer health and behavioral problems.

MAKE WELLNESS ROUTINE. Some pet supply stores offer in-store clinics and special events. Humane societies and veterinary schools offer low-cost clinics where inoculations and wellness exams are administered by professionals. Keep good records of the inoculations and treatments your pet has.

FORGET HEALTH INSURANCE. Pet insurance will probably cost more money than it saves, says Dr. Roen. But you should anticipate future medical bills. “Instead of sending premiums to an insurance company, put the amount you’d pay in premiums into a savings account.”

GET SECOND OPINIONS. Even if it’s an emergency, if the estimate is for more than a few hundred dollars, get a second opinion. If the estimate is for $800 and you can only afford $400, speak up, says Dr. Roen. There may be less aggressive and cheaper alternative treatments.

SHOP AROUND FOR MEDICATIONS. Ask your vet for prescription drug samples to get started. Then call around to retailers such as Wal-Mart or Costco pharmacies (many meds are the same for humans and animals) to compare prices. Search websites like or, too.

CREATE AN ACCOUNT. Seriously, you need to establish a savings account just for your pet’s care, into which you regularly deposit money. Even $10 a week will turn into $520 in one year. Earmark that account for pet emergencies only, then congratulate yourself on being a responsible pet owner. Woof!



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