January 10, 2013
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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To loosely assess your money temperament, consider the following premise, then choose the response closest to what you would do:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
DEAR MARY: I have a food vacuum sealer but find that it mashes and mangles delicate items, like cookies, bread and brownies.
Got plans for air travel this summer? Here are some handy tricks to land the cheapest fares possible. But first, a little story ...
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I want to tell you about a shocking encounter I had recently at my local Rite Aid pharmacy. But first, a little background information.
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.
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
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.
I have been told if you attempt to pop a frog into a pot of boiling water, he’ll jump out every time.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If the word budget is like nails on a chalkboard, you’ve got a friend in me. I know the feeling.
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?
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?”
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.
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
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:
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.
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.