As you can imagine, every week I get a lot of mail from my readers containing hundreds of questions. While I can’t respond personally to every letter, I select questions I believe will have a broad appeal to the greatest number of readers to answer in a future column, like today’s.
DEAR MARY: We love your Everyday Cheapskate column! I still have the article on the table about cutting the cable, but I wonder if you have a recommendation about recording once the cable box is gone? We’re not always home to watch live TV and there are some things we would like to watch at a more convenient time. Any suggestions? And thanks so much for all of your help over the years! Pat and Richard
DEAR PAT AND RICHARD: You definitely have options for recording capability without having cable TV service. But it’s not free. The most popular is TiVO Roamio, which is an over-the-air DVR that comes with two purchase options:
Salt. It’s mandatory in a human diet. But salt can be as destructive as it is needful due to its ability to eat holes through metal and leave ugly stains on footwear.
DEAR MARY: I have several pair of beautiful winter fashion boots in suede and leather. I’d like to remove salt stains from last winter’s misuse but don’t want to take them to a cobbler. Any advise on how I can do this myself? Maha
DEAR MAHA: We should be thankful for sidewalk salt in the wintertime, because it’s effective at helping us avoid injuries from slipping on icy surfaces. Of course, the downside is, these chunky salt particles get on boots and shoes causing damage and ugly stains.
Cleaning these stains from your leather and suede footwear regularly throughout the winter will help them last and looking good for many years to come.
What would you do this holiday season if you had absolutely no money to spend and no available credit, either?
That’s the question I ask this time of year, and the responses have been all over the map from all-out panic to excitement at the thought of taking on such a challenge.
I’m not suggesting this should be the case for anyone. I’m simply posing the question in the same way I might ask what you would do if you noticed your kitchen on fire or your child choking on a chicken bone. Knowing to call 911 is good, but so is having a fully-charged fire extinguisher handy and a working knowledge of the Heimlich Maneuver.
So, let me ask you, could you do it? Could you find ways to celebrate Christmas that would fill your heart with joy and create warm and lasting memories, even if you had no money and no credit?
You know, when you come right down to it, isn’t that what we really want for Christmas? Isn’t that why we work so hard and often spend so much, to find joy and make memories that will last for a lifetime?
Just as I was knee-deep in researching, testing and learning all I could about electric space heaters, this letter washed up on my desk.
DEAR MARY: I need your help to figure out how we can reduce our home heating bill. It’s killing us to pay so much to keep our house warm in the winter.
We have a gas furnace and where I live the cost of gas has gone up more than 10 percent, while at the same time the cost of electricity has gone down slightly. Our home is two story with a basement. Our kids are grown so it’s just the two of us. My husband travels for his work, so I’m the only one here most of the time. Thanks in advance for your help! Jeanine
DEAR JEANINE: The most efficient and easiest way to reduce your home heating cost is to heat only the rooms that are occupied, while keeping your furnace set very low to say 55 or 60 F. Then use space heaters to make occupied rooms comfortable, while they are occupied. You can rely on this method during the day as well as at night.
You could easily see your heating bill drop 35 percent or more by simply keeping the main source of heat set very low, supplementing with electric space heaters. It’s such a simple way to make a huge difference in your home heating costs.
I love to travel, which is my favorite unintended consequence of founding Debt-Proof Living. And, I’ve learned, travel always involves challenges. That’s why I have adopted an attitude that no matter how well I’ve planned, if something can go wrong it probably will. And if it doesn’t? That’s my travel bonus.
Over the years I’ve collected a bunch of really great travel tips—some fun, some crazy but all of them very useful if only to avoid a headache or two. Here are 10 of my favorites:
1. Before you leave, scan the front and back of every item in your wallet including your passport. Email the images to yourself. Now you’ll always have a digital copy handy in case you lose something. This will not substitute for your passport, ID or credit card, but you’ll have all of the pertinent information you need to keep going.
2. Instead of folding your clothes, roll them tightly. They’ll take up less space in your luggage and that can save having to pay extra baggage fees.
Are your storage areas overflowing? Do your children outgrow their clothes at the speed of light? Have you “outgrown” (or just grown tired of) some of your clothes and household items? Wouldn’t it be nice to receive some cash for those unwanted but perfectly usable items that overwhelm your storage space?
It’s a typical scene. You’ve cleaned out a closet or your garage and have a box full of items you no longer want. Maybe they’re left over from a garage sale. You’d rather give it to charity than send it to a landfill or maybe you just don’t want to have a garage sale.
You know you can deduct the value of the items on your tax return. (By the way your return for 2015 is due April 18, 2016 with thanks to Wash., D.C. for the gift of a 3-day extension. Washington will celebrate Emancipation Day on April 15 and the IRS will be closed. The next business day is Monday, April 18, 2016.) But the question is how are you we supposed to know the values of items in good condition that we donate to qualified charities?
The problem: If we overstate the values we risk an IRS audit, penalties and interest. If we underestimate, we could end up paying more taxes than required.
For many years the hubs and I have relied on William Lewis, CPA, who compiles one of the most valuable resources I know of for ordinary folks like us. “Money for Your Used Clothing” is an amazing resource that lists more than 1,300 values for commonly donated household and clothing items based on current prices of these items on the secondary market.
Encouragement. For me it is a basic need or perhaps a character flaw, I’m not quite sure. All I know is that I need encouragement, and I need it often. I have a feeling that you do, too. This matter of getting out of debt, living below our means and learning how to manage our money can be a very discouraging proposition at times.
I want to become one of the encouragers in your life—someone you can count on to cheer you on in the good times and help dust you off so you can get up and back on track during the bad times.
I want to be the one you can always count on to help you see the big picture, to point out the glimmers of joy in seasons of sorrow. I want to be there to help pull you up to the top of the mountain so you can see all the beauty below.
Over the years I have built up my own collection of “encouragers.” Some are people, but some are books, websites and activities like exercise and prayer. I know the people, places and things that are a source of encouragement for me. I count on them. They help me to focus and give me the confidence I need to keep going. I try to concentrate more on them than on those people and situations that tend to be discouragers.
Whether you have five or 50 teachers, students, neighbors, co-workers, family friends, kids’ friends, classmates, cousins, uncles, aunts, employees or service providers on your gift list this year—don’t panic! You do not have to be crafty or know how to cook to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen.
You’ll never go wrong giving a consumable (read: edible) gift. It does the job without contributing to your recipients’ stuff-factor.
You will need containers for these gifts and the possibilities are endless. Our favorite: Clear cellophane bags online for about 6 cents each (you’ll pay a bit more for bags like these that are printed with holiday motifs). Or find similar at craft stores like Michaels, Jo-Ann Stores and Hobby Lobby, and at cake and candy supply stores.
Think assembly line and you can turn out dozens of gifts in a single day. So gather your supplies, set up your production line and let the fun begin!