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Everyday Cheapskate: So, you’re getting a tax refund!

Discovering that you’ll be getting a tax refund is certainly not the worst news you’ve had in your life. In fact, it’s easy to see a tax refund as some kind of gift from the universe. But here’s the truth: It’s part of your paycheck that you should have been getting all along. Plan now for how you’ll manage it or your refund could evaporate into thin air. You have options. Choose well.

Everyday Cheapskate: You should give yourself a promotion

Worried about layoffs? You’re not alone. About 6-in-10 Americans worry that they will lose their jobs because of the current state of the economy, according a recent Pew Research poll.

Everyday Cheapskate: There are signs you might be a shopaholic

You can own 85 pairs of shoes and 100 DVD’s and not suffer from shopaholism. The test, experts say, is if you spend so much time and money shopping that it negatively affects your finances and your relationships.

Everyday Cheapskate: A robust idea for coffee lovers

It all started when my friend Rosalie told me she's going to start roasting her own coffee beans in her kitchen. In a popcorn popper. The motivation? First, quality and taste, but also to cut the high cost of quality coffee by at least half. That was enough to get my attention.

Everyday Cheapskate: Keeping money for mom

Dear Mary: My sisters and I have $10,000 we would like to invest to cover our mother's funeral expenses when they occur. She does not have life insurance or any savings. She is 62 and living on disability at this time. What would be the best investment strategy for us? She is not currently ill. Thank you. -- Bonita W., South Dakota

Everyday Cheapskate: Chicken in a bundt pan: best idea I’ve heard all day

Today's first great reader tip makes me laugh. Imagine a chicken standing to attention in a Bundt pan. This is the best idea I've heard all day, and I think you'll agree.

Everyday Cheapskate: 13 new uses for an old credit card

Before you cut up an expired credit card — or toss that silly fake one you got as junk mail — consider all the great things you can do with it! 1. Bookmark. It’ll keep your place and act as a handy straightedge for underlining or highlighting.

Everyday Cheapskate: How to get financially confident starting now

For a good deal of my life I lived under a dark cloud of fear that I would end up financially destitute -- a bag lady. Studies reveal that I'm not the only one. Most of us have felt that way, not because we're broke, but because we lack confidence. That makes us timid, worried and financially insecure.

Everyday Cheapskate: More money in your pocket

Want to stop spending so much of your hard earned money on utility bills? Check out these clever gadgets that will keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket — not your utility providers’ — year after year. Each of these projects can be completed in 15 minutes or less and requires no advanced skills or special equipment.

Everyday Cheapskate: If you don't use it, need it or enjoy it? Unload it!

What would you do if you had to actually use — or at least enjoy — everything you own?

Everyday Cheapskate: Here’s how you can deal with a holiday hangover

Hangover. It’s such a descriptive word of the harsh reality one faces in the morning as a result of overindulging the night before.

Everyday Cheapskate: Turning off the light can save

Just when I think I’ve heard every possible way to save time and money, I open my mail only to find new and clever ideas I’d never thought of. No doubt about it, I have the smartest readers in the world. (And good-looking, too!)

Everyday Cheapskate: Sneaky ways to save

Slip in without paying. Museum admissions can be pricey — $20 or more for an adult. But don’t sweat it. Many museums offer unadvertised free admission one day each month, and some have free evening hours on a designated day, too. Take the Chicago Children’s Museum where the first Monday of every month offers free admission for all kids ages 15 and younger. And every Thursday from 5-8 p.m., the museum is free to all. Admission to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is free every Friday from 4-8 p.m. San Francisco’s Exploratorium is free on the first Wednesday of the month. Remarkably, the world-class St. Louis Zoo is free to all, all the time. Check any zoo or museum’s website or call to find out about free but unadvertised admission times.

Everyday Cheapskate: There are reasons why we should ditch the water bottle

The trouble with bottled water, experts say, is not the water. It’s the plastic bottles the water comes in that are potentially harmful to our health and environment.

Everyday Cheapskate: The subtle art of shoveling

Surely the winter of 2014 will go down in the history books for breaking numerous records and for teaching us a new term: Polar Vortex. Sounds like the title of a Disney movie, doesn’t it?

Everyday Cheapskate: Here’s the trouble with prepaid debit cards

If you are hoping that one day soon I, your humble columnist, will find the error of my ways and fall in love with debit cards, you can probably stop hoping. I doubt if that will ever happen. In fact, I’ve just discovered why I also am not a fan of the prepaid debit card.

Everyday Cheapskate: Here it is ... another batch of really terrific reader tips

ONE HOT DATE. Our village does not offer garbage pickup as a municipal service, so residents can contract with whomever they desire. For years we paid about $25 per month for weekly pickup. Then a friend told us about a landfill 12 miles from our town that accepts bagged garbage for $1 per bag or just 50 cents for seniors. Because we recycle so much, we have very little true garbage. We drive to the landfill once every other week with our one bag and make it part of a day out doing errands and going out to lunch. After almost 30 years of marriage, we laughingly refer to this as a “hot date.” We kick ourselves when we think of how many years we paid so much for garbage pickup. — Carole C., New York

Everyday Cheapskate: Three helpful FREE websites to trust

With its incredible and constantly growing reach, the Internet has so much to offer. But beware. Not everything you find online is reliable. Not to worry. I spend countless hours researching and sorting out the good from the bad for you.

Everyday Cheapskate: Three money mistakes to avoid

I’m going to guess you’ve made a financial mistake or two in your life. Who hasn’t? For some of us, it was more than an occasional late fee or random urge to overspend that brought us to our financial knees. But I’m not talking about the kind of blunders that got us into trouble — we could list those in our sleep. Instead, I want to focus on the mistakes people make while they’re working their way back to financial health. Avoid these goofs to make 2014 a year you achieve financial progress!

Everyday Cheapskate: Know your cleaning products for safety and savings

Two women, different locations, same accident. Both women, using an ordinary commercial toilet-bowl cleaner, were not satisfied with the way it was removing stains. Each added household chlorine bleach and stirred with a brush.

Everyday Cheapskate: Simple menu rotation can help busy families cope

If money is leaking out of your household and you aren’t quite sure where it’s going, I have an idea: fast food.

Everyday Cheapskate: How a simple request turned into $1,000 savings

Dear Mary: In a recent column, a reader wrote saying it didn’t work to call her credit card company to ask them to lower her credit card’s interest rate. Your response reminded me that I had a 14.99 percent interest rate on a Visa card with a credit union to which I have belonged for 32 years.

Everyday Cheapskate: The secret in a great spaghetti sauce

Every week, reader tips arrive in my inbox and mailbox. Without fail, there’s always at least one that is so great, it makes me wonder why I didn’t think of it! Take today’s first tip for how to change homemade spaghetti sauce from ordinary to awesome. Who knew it could be this easy.

Everyday Cheapskate: New grocery shopping attitude

1. Exercise patience. Instead of buying items when you run out, watch for bargain prices on products you want, and buy them when they are on sale. As you are able, buy enough to last for a couple of weeks or until that product goes on sale again (probably about 12 weeks). Ultimately, the goal is to only buy things when they are sale and never at full price.

Everyday Cheapskate: Striving for conformity: the Diderot Effect

In her book, “The Overspent American,” Harvard economist Juliet Schor quotes an essay written by the 18th Century French philosopher, Denis Diderot, “Regrets on Parting with my Old Dressing Gown.”

Everyday Cheapskate: Some of the best gift ideas that won’t break the bank

Just when we thought that the season of gift-giving was over for another year, here comes the second gift-giving season: Spring.

Everyday Cheapskate: Tips for simplifying to save time and money

When our lives get chaotic, we pay dearly in terms of stress and money. There are hundreds of things you can do to simplify your life. Here are seven to help you get started ... one a day for the next week.

Everyday Cheapskate: Got airline miles? Think fast before they expire!

If you willingly pay an annual fee for a credit card that earns air miles (most reward cards do come with a hefty price), you might want to re-think that decision. The problem is airlines are changing the rules to shorten the time before miles expire. Several years ago I learned this the hard way.

Everyday Cheapskate: Rules of thrift: reduce reuse recycle... remake!

Have I told you lately how much I enjoy it when you fill up my inbox with your clever tips, tricks and solutions? Well, I do. It allows me to take a guilt-free break now and then to sit back, ponder and wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Everyday Cheapskate: You can use science to slash your home heating bill

Got big heating bills this winter, even though you keep the thermostat set at “Brrrrrr”? Science may be able to offer you a better and cheaper way to stay warm at home. But first, a few facts:

Everyday Cheapskate: The best kitchen gadget ever

I am so excited. Do you recall me telling you what a lousy cook my husband is? Well, thanks to today’s first tipster, he will not have to deal with sizzling skillets and burned grilled cheese ever again while I’m away traveling.

Everday Cheapskate: When you need a burst of steam and a cup o’ joe

When it comes to making coffee and pressing clothes, you know already that there are two appliances that get a daily workout at my house — the coffeemaker and steam iron. Over the years, I’ve tested many brands, models and options. My conclusion is that, for these two items, price does not always indicate a superior product. I prefer what I call the best inexpensives.

Everyday Cheapskate: How you can make a better fruit fly trap

In a recent column I showed you how to make a very effective fruit fly trap. I thought my trap was quite effective because I caught those flies that were driving me nuts. Then I got an email message from reader Betty, who offered a couple of improvements. I immediately upgraded my trap accordingly. So much better.

Everyday Cheapskate: How to pull the plug on cable or satellite

Want to put a thousand bucks back into your wallet in the coming year? If you’re paying around $100 per month now, pulling that plug would more than do it and without leaving you high and dry for TV entertainment.

Everyday Cheapskate: Who else could use a personal assistant?

Do you have any idea how much money you spend each month to feed your family? Even if you think you know, you may be shocked to learn the truth.

Everyday Cheapskate: Miraculous solutions for two of life’s little problems

Dear Mary: A red rag somehow managed its way into a load of what used to be white clothes. How can I get the pink tint out of the clothes and return them to bright white? —Anne P., email

Everyday Cheapskate: A clever knit bit and more great reader tips

Today’s first tip is going to make my fellow hand knitters wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Is this just the greatest idea ever? I couldn’t wait to share this and other clever tips with you today.

Everyday Cheapskate: How to make a simple fruit fly trap

Drosophila melano- gaster, the common fruit fly, and I go way back to my high school biology class and a unit on genetics. We raised fruit flies in little Petri dishes. Then we’d anesthetize them so we could look at them through the microscope to see how our genetic predictions sized up with the number and gender of babies born overnight. It was great fun.

Everyday Cheapskate: How you can make groceries last even longer

A recent column on the proper storage for fresh fruits and vegetables generated a lot of great reader feedback -- plus dozens of new tips and tricks to make all grocery items last longer. I love this stuff so much, I must admit to being slightly compulsive -- gathering, testing and assessing techniques. Here are a few of my new favorites:

Everyday Cheapskate: What about those check cashing fees: are they legal?

Dear Mary: A friend repaid a personal loan of $900 by giving me his personal check, drawn on Bank of America. I took it to a local branch. They charged me $6 to cash it. Is this fee legal? Would it have been less had the check been for a smaller amount? — James, California

Everyday Cheapskate: Begin retirement planning

Women are most vulnerable to poverty in retirement because they generally live longer and earn less than men over the course of their lives, all the while caring for the needs of children and elderly parents around them.

Everday Cheapskate: Win the balance transfer game

There’s nothing fun about credit-card debt. An outstanding balance of $5,000 that is subject to 19.99 percent interest means you’re paying about $1,000 a year just in interest. Imagine if that $1,000 could go directly to repaying the balance instead. You could pay it off in record time instead of stringing it out for many years.

Everyday Cheapskate: Keep butter soft and fresh for days

Dear Mary: Several years ago, I visited a friend and was introduced to an item that allows you to keep butter out of the refrigerator and on the counter to be nice and soft and fresh until consumed.

Everyday Cheapskate: About my love-hate relationship with carpet

Never in my wildest imagination could I have predicted the response I would get to the column I wrote about the best thing I ever bought — a carpet cleaning machine. Trust me, it’s not just any carpet cleaner. MY machine has a solid tank for hot water, not simply a “bladder.” Please, please do not do what I do if you have any other kind of carpet cleaning machine. You could ruin your machine, and then I would feel terrible.

Everyday Cheapskate: Tips to avoid ‘turkey flu’ this holiday season

For years, Liz Tarditi’s mother tried to kill her family with turkey. Not intentionally, of course, but invariably sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas someone in the family developed flu-like symptoms. Mother blamed it on the weather and whatever influenza was going around, but the truth is they suffered from mild food poisoning that required weeks to fully recover.

Everyday Cheapskate: Last-minute holiday gifts

Whether “last minute” for you means anytime after Thanksgiving or 11:30 on Christmas Eve, it’s nice to have a repertoire of standby gifts that don’t require expensive overnight shipping. My standbys are edible gifts — decadent treats that offer my love and best wishes for the season.

Everyday Cheapskate: The logistics of saving your coins can be a royal pain

I am not one to spend coins. And I don't like carrying them around in my wallet, either. Every night both my husband and I dump the day's accumulation into a container to save for a trip or to buy something special. One year we saved $1,100 in coins, but I have to admit the logistics can be a royal pain.

Everyday Cheapskate: Cheapskate, Who Me?

Some people think the word cheapskate is an insult. Not me. I enjoy being called a cheapskate. It reminds me that I’m not what I used to be: a credit-card junkie. There was a time I used plastic to fill the gap between my pathetic income and the life I so rightly deserved.

Everyday Cheapskate: 5 ways to shrink cost of your car insurance

Automobile insurance. We spend thousands of dollars on it and then hope we’ll never need it. By law and common sense, we know that we must have it. But that doesn’t mean we should pay one dollar more for auto insurance than necessary.

Everyday Cheapskate: The very nature of investing, no risk means no reward

Dear Mary: This may be the ultimate in stupid questions but it’s been plaguing me for a while. Is there any value in converting my existing 401(k) into cash without removing the funds from my 401(k)? Do they even allow that? I hate losing all that lovely money as things dip and swirl. I would continue to contribute at my existing rate, 12 percent, including the company match of 3 percent for the 401(k). — Symantha

Everyday Cheapskate: Readers share their ways to use this for that

Eyeglass cleaner. If you’re out when you realize your glasses or purse mirror needs cleaning, try using a drop of hand sanitizer to give you crystal-clear results instantly. This works great on glass, but should be tested on plastic. — Angelique T.

Everyday Cheapskate: Money-saving for the kitchen

I’m crazy about gadgets — everything from quirky can openers to smartphones. Hand me a Swiss Army knife and I’m in heaven — the more blades and utensils, the better.

Everyday Cheapskate: I’d just rather have the money, Bob

Did you see us? My husband Harold and I were on TV with Bob Barker. Before you run to check your TiVo, I’d better tell you this was a while ago. Try 1971.

Everyday Cheapskate: Honey, how to unshrink your wool sweater

Dear Mary: Thank you for your many helpful articles. In a past column you wrote about how to un-shrink a wool sweater. All I can remember is that it involved baby shampoo. Could you print the instructions again? Thanks! —Linda L., IL

Everyday Cheapskate: Double your enjoyment with Cut Flowers 101

Whether your cut flowers come through the back door (from your garden) or the front (supermarket, Costco, florist-delivered), you want them to last as long as possible. With just a modicum of effort, as opposed to just sticking them into a vase of water, you can double the time you can enjoy your flowers.

Everyday Cheapskate: I have learned the power of scarcity

Years ago I had a frugality wake-up call -- something I admit to needing from time to time. It's so easy to get sloppy in a country where we are surrounded by abundance and a seemingly endless supply of everything.

Everyday Cheapskate: Why I’m crazy about Amazon Prime

It’s been more than five years now since I first looked into a membership service offered by Amazon.com called “Amazon Prime.” Being the frugalista that I am, of course I dismissed it out of hand for one simple reason: $79 annual membership fee. For what, I asked? Nothing tangible, that’s for sure.

Everyday Cheapskate: Best overnight deal in The OC

I’ve traveled a lot in the past 22 years. My American Airlines account shows more than 1.3 million miles on that carrier alone. You can only imagine how many hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts and inns I’ve stayed in. While most have been adequate, a few were downright scary. And I can count on one hand those I would rate with five stars.

Everyday Cheapskate: How to afford big ticket items

Finally, you have a couple of months where things are going well. The bills get paid on time and you actually have money left at the end of the month. Then POW! The water heater bursts, the car breaks down and the first half of the property tax bill is past due — and you’re broke.

Everyday Cheapskate: Do some strategic packing for easy travels

It’s happened to us more than once. We’ll arrive at our destination, but not so for our luggage. On one vacation to Pawley’s Island, S.C., it was two full days before all of our luggage showed up. That was a miserable situation. The one bag that did arrive with us didn’t hold much of anything we really needed. But never again — thanks to today’s first tip. What a great idea!

Everyday Cheapskate: Here is the best thing I ever bought, again

Dear Readers: Of all the columns I’ve written, the one on the care and cleaning of the carpet in my home has generated by far the most interest and, shall I say, creative feedback! It’s also had the most requests to reprint. Since you asked, here it is again. Enjoy!

Everyday Cheapskate: Five common money blunders

I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess you’ve made a money blunder or two in your life. For many of us, it was a nonstop series of blunders that finally brought us to our financial knees.

Everyday Cheapskate: Hail, the return of the slow cooker

The slow cooker, aka Crock-pot, is back. If you have one (a recent study says 77.8 percent of us do) now would be a great time to drag it out and give it another chance.

Everyday Cheapskate: Teach teens the value of a dollar

DEAR MARY: As a teen, my daughter wanted name brand jeans, clothing, shoes — whatever she thought all of the “cool” kids had. She wouldn’t step into a thrift shop or discount store. It was a constant battle until I decided that she would have a clothing/necessity allowance.

Everyday Cheapskate: Shop twice, buy only once

Every week, I invite readers of this column to send me their clever tips for how to save time and money. Then, once a week, I open the Everyday Cheapskate mailbox to let you take a look. So many of you tell me this is your favorite day of the week. It’s mine, too!

Everyday Cheapskate: What you need to know to refinance your mortgage

Over the past several months, mortgage interest rates have begun creeping higher. It’s not too late to refinance to get a lower rate, but you need to move quickly, while rates are still in the 4-percent range.

Everyday Cheapskate: Repurpose over-cooked vegetables and worn socks

Choosing to live more frugally does not require that you abandon your personal standards for things like perfectly prepared vegetables or your impeccable style. It means you have a plan for how to repurpose over-cooked vegetables and a way to give a second life to socks that have worn thin. Is your curiosity piqued? Read on.

Everyday Cheapskate: Maybe you can fly for free

DEAR MARY: My husband and I own a small business, and we are looking for a credit card that offers reward air miles. Our plan is to pay it off each month but collect miles for travel to buy goods for our business. One of our sales reps told us that many small businesses pay for goods at gift shows with their credit card and use those miles to pay for trips to the next trade show. Do you know of a site where we can find a credit card for this purpose? Thank you so much. Your column is filled with wisdom and inspiration, and I really enjoy it. —Toni C., Wash.

Everyday Cheapskate: A clever way to bring bread back to an edible condition

I must admit that I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy that when a baguette or loaf of bread gets hard and stale, it’s toast (pun intended). Today’s first tipster has convinced me that there just might be a clever way to bring it back to a fully edible condition.

Everday Cheapskate: Reasons why you need to kick your credit card habit

There are lots of reasons to not carry credit card debt. The most obvious is that it’s really expensive. Here’s another reason that is often overlooked: It’s so much harder to work for money you’ve already spent.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Opting for the minimum payment a road to ruin

At the time, it seemed like good idea. But going for the minimum-payment option “just this one time” turned out to be the worst mistake of my life. The day I opened that door and walked through it, I altered the course of my life.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Your money temperament

To loosely assess your money temperament, consider the following premise, then choose the response closest to what you would do:

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Everyday Cheapskate: Talk to my spouse? Forget it!

DEAR MARY: I try to save some money out of every paycheck, but life happens, and I spend whatever is necessary on whatever emergency arises. My problem is that if there is any money left over, I feel compelled to spend it on myself. All of the arguments my husband and I have are over money. Because I make more than he does, he thinks I should pay all of the bills. I’m resentful, which also makes me want to spend money.

Everyday Cheapskate: From closet chaos to organized in five easy steps

What’s behind your closet door? Orderly rows of shoes, stacks of folded T-shirts and hanging clothes arranged by color and season? Or do you have a situation that could be declared a national disaster? If the latter, you might ask the president for federal disaster relief funds, or you could just get organized.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Cheaper alternative to the Magic Eraser

DEAR MARY: I read your advice to use Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to clean up dirty leather handbags. Apparently, those rather pricey erasers are made of something called melamine foam, a product that is readily available, which makes “erasers” pretty cheap if you order what they’re made of instead of buying them at the store. I hope this can help someone looking for an easy clean. — Megan S., email

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Everyday Cheapskate: From money pit to your home sweet home

Sometimes, home sweet home can seem like a money pit. But your house doesn’t have to cost you tons for upkeep when you use ingenuity, creativity, shopping sense and saving sense to bring out the best without breaking the bank. Check out all of these clever ways your fellow readers have discovered to make home a wonderful place, with money and time to spare.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Steps to take when you feel like giving up

Ever feel like you’ve reached the end of your rope and you just cannot hang on another minute? You’re not alone. Everyone goes through seasons of self-defeat, pain and anguish.

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Everyday Cheapskate: A wish list is the secret to your heart’s desire

Feeling down in the dumps because you don’t have an iPad or a pretty new sofa? Wish you could take your hubby to a nice restaurant for his birthday, but alas, you are broke? Turn around your attitude and cancel your pity party with a simple tool: a wish list.

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Everday Cheapskate: Great tips for summer

If you could stand a little cooling relief now that summer is in full swing, today’s great reader tips just might do the trick.

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Everyday Cheapskate: How I dry-cleaned my windows in less than 5 minutes

I have this thing for clean windows. I love them, which means I have an equal but opposite disdain for dirty windows. And when I say clean, I mean the kind of clean that makes windows sparkle like diamonds in the morning sun.

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Everyday Cheapskate: A letter from 13-year-old Abby

Dear Mrs. Mary Hunt: My name is Abby. I am 13 years old. So, my mom got your book, “Raising Financially Confident Kids.” She is on Chapter 9, and she wants to do that — give your kids money and make them buy their clothes, shoes, etc., each month.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Pay-as-you-earn may offer relief

DEAR MARY: At age 46, I went back to school and chose University of Phoenix because I could go to school online and continue to work full time. Five years later I received my bachelor’s degree at age 51.

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Everyday Cheapskate: How to keep lettuce fresh for weeks

Some tips that land in my email box are instantly recognizable as winners. But some leave me wondering, will that really work? Today’s first tip falls into the category, forcing me to test it out. Just to be sure. And guess what? It really does work. I don’t know why, but it does. Try it!

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Everyday Cheapskate: Secrets to getting the right hotel room at a great price

The secret to grabbing a great hotel accommodation at a price far less than the company’s “rack rate” is to understand these simple truths: Hotels are bound to have nights when they have empty rooms. Empty rooms do not generate cash flow. Someone in that establishment is directly responsible to see that as many rooms as possible are generating some amount of income, every night.

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Everyday Cheapskate: The great mystery of household accumulation

Have you ever noticed that no matter the size of your apartment, condominium, house, garage, drawers, closets, hard drive, handbag or briefcase — it mysteriously fills to capacity?

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Everyday Cheapskate: Vacuum sealer pays for itself quickly in food savings

DEAR MARY: I have a food vacuum sealer but find that it mashes and mangles delicate items, like cookies, bread and brownies.

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Everyday Cheapskate: How you can bag the cheap seats this summer

Got plans for air travel this summer? Here are some handy tricks to land the cheapest fares possible. But first, a little story ...

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Everyday Cheapskate: Just what do you need to be happy?

In a University of Michigan survey, interviewers asked people what they believed would improve their quality of life. The answer given most often was “more money.”

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Everday Cheapskate: Social lending good for borrowers and investors

DEAR MARY: My wife and I inherited a small printing business 40 years ago and have run it successfully ever since. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, but we continue to survive. Now we need to upgrade our equipment to remain competitive. With supplies, training and shipping, the digital production press we need will cost about $20,000.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Great ideas to help you beat the high cost of beef

Just as summer grilling moves into high gear, herecomes news that the cost of supermarket beef has hit an all-time high — up at least 5 percent so far this year, and still rising.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Why a $25,000 dinner is hard to swallow

I don’t consider myself a complete stranger to high-priced gourmet fare. After all, I did enjoy a lovely $100-per-person meal once. But even that experience in my semi-impressive culinary repertoire did not prepare me to handle gracefully the idea of a 10-course dinner complete with a price tag of $25,000 per person. And it wasn’t a political fundraiser. Just a fancy meal in an exotic location — Bangkok, Thailand.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Learn how to budget on a roller coaster income

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 can we possibly live on a budget? — Jenn P., Texas

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Everyday Cheapskate: Home remedy to keep cats out of your kids’ sandbox

Pop Quiz: What looks like water, is certainly inexpensive, has a pungent odor but is not toxic (in fact, you can drink it if you like), is biodegradable, serves as a useful disinfectant and will repel kitties from your kids’ sandbox? Give up? Read on to learn the answer in today’s first great reader tip.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Homemade laundry detergent improvements

I was going to begin today’s column by apologizing for yet another update on how to make homemade laundry detergent. Then it struck me. These aren’t really changes — they’re improvements. And with that, I’m excited to share the my Newest! and Most Improved! version of my Quick ‘n’ Easy Homemade Laundry Detergent.

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Everyday Cheapskate: The impact of positive emotions can change your life

A while ago, you may recall, I challenged my readers to dump their negative thoughts, which can so easily lead to negative and destructive behaviors. The assignment was simple: Write down 10 things for which you are grateful. I even suggested that they send me their lists. My mailboxes were sizzling for days. Weeks later, lists are still trickling in. The responses were all heartwarming, but perhaps none as poignant as the one from Allie, a high school student.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Cool freezer tip that saves time and money

I had this great idea, years ago, to buy a ton of ground beef (OK, more like 10 pounds) and then brown all of it — all at once. That way I could divide it up into 1-pound portions, freeze it and have it all ready to go when a recipe called for ground beef. Great idea! Did it work? Well, sorta’ — if by “working” you mean taking a long time, making a huge mess of my stove and kitchen, and having to do it in batches because who has a frying pan that big — and basically vowing to never do THAT again.

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Everyday Cheapskate: The art of consignment shopping

Everything I know about buying and selling clothes on consignment I owe to my friend Kathleen, a remarkably well-dressed woman. She shops in consignment stores located in upscale areas. And, boy, can she dress. She’s a consignment seller, too. I’ve known Kathleen to buy an outfit from one of her favorite consignment stores for a special occasion, then turn around and sell it back into consignment the next day. See what I mean? She’s very clever.

Everyday Cheapskate: A wish list is the secret to success

Feeling down in the dumps because you don’t have an iPad or a pretty new sofa? Wish you could take your hubby to a nice restaurant for his birthday, but alas, you are broke? Turn around your attitude and cancel your pity party with a simple tool: a wish list.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Cosign a loan? Never ever.

Dear Mary: About 10 years ago, my daughter cosigned on an automobile loan for a friend. The “friend” skipped out on payments and left town, so they came after my daughter for payment. All these years later, she still has not paid anything on the loan. Is there a time limit for how long they can keep after her to pay? Is there anything that she can do to get out from under this problem? Thanks. — Jeanie H., North Carolina

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Everyday Cheapskate: A nappy solution for a common household problem

I love to discover a second use for something most of us have around the house or can easily find. Today’s first tip may give you a big surprise, but for sure a big laugh.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Magic of missing sewing kit

It wasn’t that big of a deal, really. Still, I felt a twinge of sadness whenever I thought about it because it’s something I really liked a lot.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Never be late with rent

Dear Mary: In one of your columns that I read years ago, you recommended paying your rent (or mortgage) first, because landlords are quick to evict. I just wanted to confirm this point, but also say that I wish I would have taken that advice to heart.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Salad plates chilled and ready

You know what I really like — OK, pretty much love? A perfectly chilled salad plate and salad fork. That to me is the height of culinary perfection. The problem is I hardly ever remember to chill the plates and forks in time. Picture me doing the Happy Dance when today’s first tip popped out of my email inbox.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Three ways to save your family household big money

Think you’ve cut your expenses all you possibly can? You might be wrong. Check out these simple ways you can keep more of your hard-earned money over the next 12 months.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Six ways to jumpstart your retirement savings

If the question, “When can I retire?” ties your stomach in knots, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. Millions of your peers are in the same boat with little, if any, savings that will one day supplement their Social Security benefits during retirement.

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Everyday Cheapskate: ‘High-yield’ means slightly better than nothing

There was a time when it was routine for banks and credit unions to pay 6 percent on savings accounts. Remember that? And if you were willing to commit to an extended period of time in a Certificate of Deposit (CD), you could get 10 percent, maybe more. Those good old days are gone, at least for now. Still, the term “high-yield” remains and refers to the handful of FDIC-insured online banks that continue to pay three to four times the amount of interest you’ll earn in a traditional bank or credit union.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Store lettuce in a glass jar, not a bag

The saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come,” popped into my mind this week when I received today’s first tip in my email box. I was certainly ready to learn, having just experienced the heartbreak of tossing a hopelessly spoiled head of romaine into the garbage. I hate when that happens, so you can be sure there’s now a 2-gallon-sized Mason jar in my refrigerator.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Guarantee a fabulous family vacation

When I was a kid, vacation meant four kids crammed into the back seat of a sedan, poking and elbowing one another while counting the miles between rest stops.

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Everyday Cheapskate: With generic drugs, you gotta speak up

I want to tell you about a shocking encounter I had recently at my local Rite Aid pharmacy. But first, a little background information.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Create a product that your wallet likes and tastes prefer

I encourage readers to be diligent about reading product labels and unit pricing. Being a smart consumer means being informed about ingredients and costs. Aubrey’s tip combines both, creating a product that her wallet likes and her taste buds prefer.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Is your collection worth anything?

Dear Mary: I have many complete sets of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, all of them in their original sealed packaging. How do I value this collection to sell? — Stan, email

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Everyday Cheapskate: Identity theft is hilarious, but it’s no laughing matter

Stealing someone else’s personal information to commit theft or fraud — also known as identity theft — has exploded into the national consciousness. Credit card companies now market their security features, and consumers warily guard their Social Security numbers. And it doesn’t stop there. The use of stolen Social Security numbers allows thieves to steal tax refunds, open bank accounts and do all manner of illegal operations using another’s identity.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Shed your frog mentality and get out of the boiling water

I have been told if you attempt to pop a frog into a pot of boiling water, he’ll jump out every time.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Whether online or in-store deals, be a smart shopper

Dear Mary: I do a lot of online shopping. My sister, on the other hand, refuses to buy anything online because of the extra charges, like shipping and handling. Her position does make sense, but I’m not ready to abandon the Internet forever. Are there ways I can be sure I don’t overpay? — Barbara, email

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Everyday Cheapskate: Kitchen workhorse is multitalented

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.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Here are my favorite do-it-yourself household recipes

Just imagine you could actually make all kinds of household products equal to (maybe better) than the window cleaner, chlorine bleach and all-purpose cleaner you’re buying now — and make them for pennies, not dollars. You can if you have the right recipes.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Emotional intimacy counts

Emotional intimacy is the key to a healthy marriage and necessary for developing financial harmony. The secret to creating emotional intimacy is for each of you to meet the needs that are most important to the other. Emotional intimacy is key because it produces authentic trust and respect.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Brighten up dingy linens without bleach

Dear Mary: While my sister was on staff at a summer camp last year, she did not launder her bedding frequently. Now that the bedding has been washed many times since being home, I’ve noticed that the pillowcases and comforter are dingy and do not look clean even though they’re fresh from the dryer. Is there anything that will brighten these dingy items? — Lexi, email

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Everyday Cheapskate: Laundry detergent’s cleaning power

I know I go on and on about my laundry detergent recipe (find it at EverydayCheapskate.com), but I get so excited when a product does a great job and costs just pennies. What I’m really loving now is hearing from readers with their feedback.

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Everyday Cheapskate: How to enrich your lifestyle without spending

It’s no secret that Americans are in debt up to their eyeballs. And to what can we attribute this colossal “living beyond our means” phenomenon? I don’t think it’s because we’ve had so many emergencies. It’s because we don’t ever want to feel poor.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Settling can be bad for you

Dear Mary: What do you think about settling a debt with a creditor? I recently agreed to one for a credit card, and the bank did notify me that the forgiven debt will be considered income by the IRS. I will have to file taxes on this amount using form 1099C. The bank will report the zero balance to the credit agencies, my credit report will read “settled, zero balance” and the account closed. Was this a bad move on my part? — Cindy, California

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Everyday Cheapskate: Freezing food doesn’t guarantee a tasty preservation

With food prices going up faster than you can get through one grocery shopping trip, it’s more important to your wallet now than ever to prolong the life of your food. Unfortunately, freezing food doesn’t always guarantee a tasty preservation, so I was thrilled to read Natalie’s tip.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Debit cards and motorcycles just aren’t that safe

For decades, I’ve pleaded with you to not use debit cards because they are not safe. And for years, I warned my sons about the dangers of riding motorcycles because they are not safe.

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Everday Cheapskate: Overloaded? Relief is here in a daily dose of margins

Bill Smith sits down to his most dreaded chore — paying bills. Every month, it’s the same story: Pay the most urgent, and leave the rest. There’s never enough money, no matter how hard he works.

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Everyday Cheapskate: With greater knowledge comes greater savings

Many things that we buy are simply not negotiable. The salesperson at Macy’s won’t negotiate with you over the price of that newly arrived collection. The supermarket checker won’t haggle with you over the price of eggs. But a ring at your local jeweler or produce at the farmer’s market? Well, that’s a different story. And once you read today’s first great reader tip, you can add magazine renewals to the list.

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Everday Cheapskate: Secret insider savings for the patient buyer

I enjoy discovering secret information — stuff most people don’t know about. And I love spreading the word. Here’s an example: My supermarket, like most, offers a “rain check” if it runs out of a product that is on sale. This is really great, in my opinion, because my store’s rain checks have no set expiration date.

Everyday Cheapskate: Crash through — don’t quit

All of us have quitting points in our lives — those times or situations that become so overwhelming or challenging that we simply quit. No matter what you call them — brick walls, insurmountable obstacles, predictable or complete surprises, financial crises — things will never change if you don’t acknowledge they’re real. A key to overcoming the desire to quit is to identify those “brick walls” and then figure out how to crash through them.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Make your money count and get back on that wagon, Now!

Dear Mary: I’ve read your books and am a member of DebtProofLiving.com. My husband and I were excited to start our Rapid Debt-Repayment Plan and did well the first month. Now we have fallen off the wagon and are behind on payments again. We haven’t used our credit cards, but we feel discouraged. Now what? — Teresa, California

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Everday Cheapskate: A sampling from my clever Everyday Cheapskate readers

Every Wednesday on my blog at EverydayCheapskate.com, EC readers share their favorite tips. Some weeks there’s a theme — like kitchen tips or winter tips — and every week I know I’m going to learn something new, something clever. Here’s just a sampling of recent tips that readers posted. If you have a favorite tip that will save your fellow EC readers time or money, share it with me using the address below. Then watch for your tip to show up in a future column.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Reduced washing costs can help fill the gap

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that last minute congressional decisions in 2012 resulted in a 2 percent cut in everyone’s take-home pay beginning 2013. That hurts! I immediately began thinking where ordinary households could cut the cost of goods and services they’re paying for now to make up for the loss of income. You may already know what I’m thinking: laundry detergent. No, really. Laundry detergent! By reducing your per-load cost for detergent from $.35 or more to just $.03, you’ll have made a good start in recovering the lost income.

Everyday Cheapskate: The wealth of a frugal lifestyle

I’ll admit I used to think frugality was a distasteful lifestyle forced upon the poor. I believed “frugal” was synonymous with never buying new clothes and dumpster diving under the cover of night. Boy, did I have a lot to learn. And learn I did — and continue to learn — that the frugal lifestyle is the path to building wealth on any income.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Choose wisely when building credit

Dear Mary: I am 24 and will be a senior in college next year. I plan to apply for my first credit card to start building credit. I am also planning on traveling, so I would like a card that can be used abroad.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Creative substitutions that can save money

When Swiffer WetJet hit the market several years ago, consumers went wild for it. I loved my Swiffer, but I did not like the price of the cleaning pads. And my readers didn’t like it, either. They sent me their tips on what they used instead. Some were clever, some too complicated, and some I just can’t repeat.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Is Angie’s list worth paying for?

You’ve seen the ads, received emails and perhaps even visited the website, but do you know who Angie is and why she has a list?

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Everyday Cheapskate: Shopping retail mall versus online

Are you more apt to overspend at the mall or online? Can’t decide? While you’re thinking, I’ll go first. I am more likely to overspend in a store. Without a doubt.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Encouraging a kid-sized financial plan at home

If you’ve been reading this column for long, you know that I am passionate on the subject of kids and money. In addition to the many articles I’ve written, my book, “Raising Financially Confident Kids,” has been revised and updated several times. This subject is obviously important to my readers, too.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Riding the ups and downs of life

Imagine for a moment that I’m standing in front of a gigantic chart that tracks the movement of the stock market from almost the beginning of the last century. You see a series of peaks and valleys corresponding to various historic events. There is a serious downdraft during the Depression of the 1930s. But look. It goes back up. It invariably goes up.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Condensed soup recipes that can really save you money

Dear Mary: I am trying to find recipe substitutes for the popular creamed soups, like cream of celery, cream of mushroom, etc. These condensed soups are killing my budget. I don’t even want to pay a buck a can for the generic option at Walmart! — Nikki, Colorado

Everyday Cheapskate: EC mailbag reveals great ideas

Each week, I rummage through the mailbag at DPL Central and find all kinds of things from my dear readers. You’d never believe some of the letters and messages I find in there. Some are silly, others mind-boggling but always I find great new ideas, tips and tricks that will either save me time or money

Everyday Cheapskate: You can feel good about vacationing

So, how are those summer vacation plans coming? If things aren’t looking so good for you to get away from home this year, it’s probably not because you don’t have the time. According to a survey by Harris Interactive Inc., the American worker left an average of 9.2 days of vacation unused in 2012. That’s up from 6.2 unused days in 2011.

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Everyday Cheapskate: It helps to think of debt as a rope

Pop quiz! Is there a difference between borrowing and financing? No need to stress — I’ll tell you. There is, and understanding the difference is very important to your financial health.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Dear Mary: My credit card company raised my minimum payment from 2 to 5 percent of my outstanding balance each month and added a $10 monthly administration fee on top of interest.

Dear Mary: My credit card company raised my minimum payment from 2 to 5 percent of my outstanding balance each month and added a $10 monthly administration fee on top of interest. I complained. They offered to let me keep my lower minimum payment, but they would raise my interest rate from 5.5 percent APR to 7.99. I used the calculators at your website at DebtProofLiving.com to see what interest I would pay with each scenario.

Everyday Cheapskate: One of the best moisturizers could be sitting in your pantry

If I could magically recover all the money I’ve wasted on skin care products in my life, I’d be a wealthy woman. Who knew that one of the best moisturizers is likely sitting on my pantry shelf? That’s just one of the great tips submitted by Everyday Cheapskate readers.

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Everyday Cheapskate: Update on favorite detergent

Some of the strangest looks I get are from people who just don’t get why I would make my own laundry detergent. I’ve written about this before on my blog at EverydayCheapskate.com, but for those of you who aren’t convinced, I’d like another chance to change your mind.

Everyday Cheapskate: Tell your money where to go

If the word budget is like nails on a chalkboard, you’ve got a friend in me. I know the feeling.

Everyday Cheapskate: Don’t break rules of self-employment

Dear Mary: My husband and I have really gotten ourselves in deep this time. At the time, we thought starting a franchise using our personal credit cards was a good idea. The manager we hired was inept and untrustworthy. Now we are in credit-card debt to the tune of $250,000. We are trying to crawl out from under this problem and are out of working capital to keep things going. We can’t find anyone who will make us a consolidation loan. We are sinking fast! — Name withheld, Texas Dear Nameless: I wish you’d written before you headed down such a dangerous path. Instead, you violated nearly every rule of self-employment: You went into business with borrowed funds. You hired employees before you were profitable. You thought of credit as “working capital.” Need I go on?

Everyday Cheapskate: Just cover up your cooking mistake

As the story goes, the local inventor invited the town’s pastry-makers to observe his latest invention: an automated pastry-making machine. To his dismay, the bakers deemed it unfit because it could not consistently turn out perfect pastries. Not one to give up easily, the inventor took one of the chefs aside and asked, “What do YOU do when you make a mistake?”

How you can tear down those attitudes of entitlement

It is strangely ironic that the freedoms and affluence we enjoy in our society are the very things that stand to ruin our children if not addressed early and effectively.

Let’s talk about some of those confusing insurance policies

Dear Mary: I read your column all the time and can’t thank you enough for all the helpful money-saving hints you print. My mom bought 20-year term life insurance policies for my two sons when they were young in the 1970s. I know she finished paying on them, and I know she didn’t cash them out. When my kids were in their late 20s, Mom told me she was going to give the policies to them so they could put whatever beneficiary they wanted on them. After she passed away, I found that neither of my sons even knew these policies existed. Now what do I do? — Judith, email

Everyday Cheapskate: Do things cheaper, better and faster

I’m very excited about the recent release of my book, “Cheaper, Better, Faster: Over 2,000 Tips and Tricks to Save You Time and Money Every Day.” I love tips, and having them in one place sure is handy. Here are some of my favorites:

Menu planning is the answer for saving on groceries

Is coming up with a consistent monthly food budget making you crazy? Or guilty? Or hungry? Jane DeLaney, the founder of eMeals.com and a friend of this column, puts things in perspective by sharing her experience with food budgets: “People often ask how much I spend on groceries each month. As you can imagine, my food budget has changed over the years. But one thing that hasn’t is the fact that if I don’t stick to a fixed amount for groceries, my good intentions will quickly fade away.

Everyday Cheapskate: YouTube demo videos are a big hit with consumers

It’s hard to remember a time when YouTube wasn’t a part of our lives. It seems like every day I receive a link from a friend or family member sharing something fun, poignant or thrilling on YouTube. My friend Lou at NokOut.com is a YouTube star. She has a series of videos that show her demonstrating the uses of her amazing product, Nok-Out. Looks like Lou is on to something.

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