How I Inadvertently Saved the Day for One Historic San Francisco Hotel

In the two decades since founding Debt-Proof Living (formerly Cheapskate Monthly), I’ve logged more than 1.5 million air miles for book tours, speaking events and television and radio shows. It’s been and continues to be great fun and I have mostly loved every moment.

As you might imagine, many funny things have happened to me on my travels. But none can top what happened in San Francisco.

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The year was 1998. I was in San Francisco to appear on a local television show. The producer had asked me to bring props that would create some visual interest as I would be demonstrating some of the great tips I’d been publishing in my monthly newsletter.

I arrived the evening before and checked into one of San Francisco’s finest historic downtown hotels before taking a cab to a local grocery store to pick up the props I would need for the show. I wanted the biggest sizes I could find of things like baking soda and white vinegar. I figured that would be easier than trying to carry all of that on the plane.

Knowing I would need only visual reputations, I decided to empty all of the containers in order to lighten my load and make the trip to the studio the following day a bit more manageable. After all, I only needed the containers, not the contents.

Despite the fact that I would be wasting a lot of perfectly good stuff, in the interest of convenience and ease, I dumped the large box of baking soda into the toilet and flushed. A few minutes later, I poured a gallon of white vinegar down the toilet and flushed again.

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What to Do When There’s More Month Than Money

You’ve lost your job or for some other reason don’t have enough money to pay all of your bills. Which bills should you pay first and which ones can slide for a while?

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Here’s a basic rule of thumb according to the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center in its book, Surviving Debt:

“Always pay essential expenses and debts first. If any money is left, you can decide which nonessential debts, if any, to keep in your expense budget.”

An essential debt represents a serious obligation that if not paid could produce severe, even life-threatening consequences.

Do not make payments on nonessential debts when you have not paid essential ones even if your nonessential creditors are breathing down your neck.

Please do not misunderstand! I am not suggesting that you should just walk away from your financial obligations. You must pay your creditors, you must pay your bills. To not pay them is not an option. Of course it is not ideal to let some of your bills slide for awhile. But your situation is what it is. In time, as things improve (they will) you will be able to get caught up completely. But for now, you need to know how to get through this month.

Once you’ve determined which debts are essential, prioritize them according to the severity of the consequences you will suffer for non-payment. Here is a guide to follow, listed by priority.

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10 Ways to Say I Love That Don’t Cost a Dime

Long ago in my stupid days I went nuts with credit cards. I ran up a 6-figure debt over a 12-year period. I did pay all of it back plus interest and fees and it was anything but easy. I’m still shocked and embarrassed I let it happen.

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The funny thing is I didn’t make any really huge purchases. I didn’t max out a $10,000 credit limit with a single purchase or anything that extravagant. It was just a constant accumulation of smaller purchases exposed to double-digit interest rates and sloppy money management. The truth is I five- and ten-‘dollared’ myself and my family into a kind of financial death.

In love it’s the little things that add up, too. But in a good way. Sure the big efforts are appreciated, but quite frankly it’s the little day-to-day things we do that make a difference.

I’m not going to discourage you from buying your beloved flowers for Valentine’s Day or making his favorite meal and serving it by candlelight in the bedroom. Not me! But I do have a few suggestions for things you can do that will score big in the Little Things Do Count Department.

1. Get the kids dressed so your spouse can spend an hour in the bathroom by herself. Tell her at least a little bit ahead of time so she can enjoy the anticipation as well.

2. In an uncharacteristic move, take out the trash even though you’ve received no reminder and there’s still a little room left. Repeat often.

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Some Smelly Situations Require Extra Toil and Patience

It is rare, but now and then I hear from a reader who is frustrated using one of my all-time favorite products, Nok-Out. I love Nok-Out because it eliminates odors; it’s non-toxic, fume-free and kills bacteria, too. Awesome stuff.

The feedback I get is mostly filled with praise and gratitude. However, now and then I hear from someone like Linda, who is facing a tough, smelly situation that because of its  location, requires more toil and patience.

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DEAR MARY: I have been using Nok-Out [also known as SNiPER) very successfully for months. Thank you for the recommendation!

However, now I have cat urine odor on a sofa and a chair. She sprayed on them. (Did you know that a spayed female will spray under stress?) I cannot get the odor out. I have soaked the stains thoroughly, more than once. The stench might go away for a short period, or it might smell like a combo of urine and Nok-Out for awhile (a kind of soapy smell in this case). Then the full odor returns. Help! I can’t stand it! Linda

DEAR LINDA: Oh boy, this is bad! The offending odor (spray) soaked into the stuffing of those pieces of furniture. The Nok-Out has to penetrate successfully to reach every area that was infected. If it was a true “spray” is it possible that cat urine went in all directions, and that perhaps you need to expand the area of treatment?

I am going to send an SOS to Ted Price at Nok-Out asking him to respond with his best shot. I am certain I know why you’re having this problem, but I’m not fully confident of the specific solution for it. Mary

Hang tight while I get the ultimate expert directive on this! 

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Water Bath Keeps Lemons Fresh and Other Great Reader Tips

I’m a lucky woman. Once a month my husband and I make a quick trip to California to tend to business, see friends and visit our older son, who just happens to have the most prolific Meyer lemon tree on earth in his back yard.

I try to always bring an empty bag with me so I can load up with these beautiful, tree-ripened lemons. Many thanks to our first reader for her tip for how I can keep my lemons at peak long enough to use them up. I tried it and it works for me!

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FRESH LEMONS. if you like to keep lemons on hand even when you don’t have a specific need, submerge them (washed with peel on) in a bowl of water in the refrigerator. You will have fresh lemons for weeks on end. I currently have had a bowl in my refrigerator for two months, and they are beautiful. Wow. What a money saver, and I always have a fresh lemon when needed. Ashley

DRIVE-THRU FIRST. Taking youngsters to a fast food restaurant can be a fun treat, but standing in a long line with an active brood can be stressful. Solution: Drive through first, place your order and request the server put your food on a tray at the counter because you’ll be right in. By the time you park and get everyone inside, you can pick up the tray and go directly to a table. Rhonda

SUPER-QUICK DRY. Need to dry a pair of jeans or pajamas in a hurry? Put them and a completely dry bath towel into the dryer. They’ll be dry in a fraction of the time they would have taken on their own. Patsy

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Take Your Closet from Chaos to Calm in Five Semi-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?

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If the latter, you could ask the President for federal disaster relief funds. But knowing you would feel guilty taking funds from hurricane and tornado victims, here are simple steps to find calm in all that chaos. By the way, these same principles for organizing a clothes closet apply to linen and utility closets, too.

STEP ONE: Remove everything. This lets you see exactly the space you have to work with. Prepare to be shocked by the pile of stuff that came out of that closet. Dust, scrub, clean, vacuum—even paint as necessary and appropriate.

STEP TWO: Now that you can see the light of day, give that closet a good cleaning from top to bottom. Follow with a fresh coat of white paint.

STEP THREE: Separate the items you removed. Most people hate this step because it means getting get rid of everything you do not use or wear. But there’s no way you could get all of this back into the closet, so buck up and let’s get this job done. Label three containers:

Keep: Put only items into this bin that you have worn or used at least twice in the past year. Be brutally harsh. If it doesn’t fit today, it’s not likely to fit any time soon. Get rid of it. If in doubt, do not put it into this bin. 

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On Saving Money and Spreading Manure

As you may know, the mission of this blog is to discover ways to save time and money every day. You help me by sending me your great tips, tricks and ideas—I help you by boiling it all down for you here. That answers the “what,” but what about the “why”?

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Why should anyone be concerned about saving money? Have you ever thought about that? Why do you want to save money? Who cares?

While you’re pondering that for yourself, I thought I’d share with you the ultimate reason that saving money is so important to me, personally.

But first let’s define terms.

“Saving money” has two definitions, which some people use interchangeably:

1) Spending less than I would have because an item is on sale or it’s a particularly good deal as in, “Wow, I just saved $37 on these really cute boots that were regularly priced $225 but we on sale for just $188!”

2) Accumulating money in a safe place as in, “I save $100 a month by having it automatically transferred to my savings account.” 

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Cheapskate Gourmet: Salad Dressings

If you think eating well means eating out, you may be feeling the effects of restaurant dining in your pocketbook as the price of restaurant meals continues to soar.

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The truth is if I can make the leap from being a diner-in-debt to making irresistible meals at home that often taste even better than those in a restaurant—at a fraction of the cost of eating out—you can, too.

For many years (long before there was a Food Channel), I was uniquely privileged to sit under the personal tutelage of world-famous gourmet cooks the likes of Julia Child, Christopher Kimball, Martha Stewart, Martin Yan and Jacques Pepin. Every weekend I had standing appointments with one or more of them. They came right into my home and demonstrated unique techniques while I assumed a prone position, curled up in my favorite blanket, first-row-center in front of the television. They sparked confidence in me. From that start, my love for making great meals economically has grown.

Today, I want to share my basic recipes for what I consider to be gourmet salad dressings. So easy! Tasty, too.

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