The Antidote for Holiday Dread: Start Early

As much as I love Christmas, I must confess there are some things about the holiday season I dread. I dread the pull of the culture that tries to manipulate me and my family. I dread that heart-pounding feeling that my feet are in the starting blocks and any second I’ll hear the signal to start running as fast as I can to make it to the finish line before midnight on December 24.


It’s easy to let the busy-ness of Christmas get the best of us. We feel obligated to meet the expectations of everyone—kids, friends, relatives, communities, even our employers. It’s enough to strip away the joy leaving guilt, disappointment and anger in its place.

The good news is that you can rise above the over commercialization of Christmas. You can bring back the joy.

START EARLY.  The sooner you start the better the outcome. The sooner you start the less you’ll spend. The sooner you start the less likely you’ll be to create a pile of new debt.

CREATE LIMITS. There’s something to be said for setting limits on how many gifts to give the kids and others. Fewer gifts mean less shopping, less wrapping and of course less spending. You may discover that less is more than enough. 

Of Pet Accidents and Malfunctioning Keurig Machines

Dear Mary: I saw in your column a long while back an article about the carpet scrubber (was it Bissell?) and I poopood it at the time. Now I am ready to cry UNCLE since I discovered to my horror that one of my cats got shut in a bedroom and peed on the carpet. The smell is so bad my eyes are watering. I have Nok-Out (I’m huge fan of that stuff—even though it is a bit pricey it is worth every penny) but I feel a deep cleaning is needed as well. I want to get the carpet cleaning machine you recommend so I don’t waste money on an inferior one. Help! Laurie

stinky woman holding nose

Dear Laurie: My eyes are starting to water just thinking about what you’re dealing with. But not to worry! You are certainly on the right track starting with Nok-Out. It really is the only product I know of that will neutralize and eliminate that pungent odor—provided you follow specific instructions for how to use it (don’t forget to use code DPL at checkout for 10% off). And I agree you need to power clean the carpet.

My Hoover SteamVac really is The Best Thing I Ever Bought. I use it rather unconventionally, which you can read about in the original column. My machine is quite a few years old now, but it works as well as ever. The current model, which is even better, has a “clean surge” feature. I suggest that you make full use of that feature as you undue your poor kittie’s unfortunate accident.

Like Finding Money You Didn’t Know You Had

You know the feeling when reach into the pocket of a coat or pants you haven’t worn for awhile and pull out a $20 bill? What would it feel like if you pulled out hundreds of dollars? And what if you found money like that month after month?

It’s not magic—it can be done. Pin holes in your financial life can turn into massive money-gushers. Patching these holes is the key to improving your income.

The problem is that it’s easy to ignore the tiny cracks. We’re busy—there’s the mortgage or rent, car payment, credit cards, insurance, college savings, carpools, vacation plans, retirement accounts, work benefits; kids, dog, guinea pig. So the little stuff happens without our noticing.

We think:

What’s the harm in picking up dinner from the drive-thru again? Our lives are so busy and we have to eat.

Microwave Popcorn May be Trouble in a Bag

This post is an Everyday Cheapskate favorite pulled from the archives. Enjoy this 2014 column that was a big hit among our readers.

When I first read about the possible dangers of microwave popcorn, I assumed I would read about issues having to do with sodium and trans fats. What I’ve learned is that the real problem may be with the bag.


The bag almost all microwave popcorn varieties come in is lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical, when heated, has been linked to infertility, cancer and other diseases in lab animals. No long term studies have been conducted on humans, but the EPA now lists this substance as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”  Holy moly! Likely to be? That’s enough for me to shun the stuff, but that’s not the only reason. Microwave popcorn is relatively expensive!

I’ll show you a cost comparison, but first, let me show you how to make popcorn in the microwave with no PFOA-laden bag, and no tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), annatto extract or propyl gallate added for flavor, color or longevity (ingredients copied from a bag of the stuff). I’m talking fresh, pristine, fabulous popcorn from start to finish in about 3 minutes.

Even Small Households Can Save Big at Warehouse Clubs

It’s been several years since my husband and I began talking about relocating to another state. At first it was only a dream but soon idle chatter turned to serious talk. That developed into a list of “must-haves”—things a new location would have to offer for us to even consider making the leap.


At the top of the list? Weather. Having lived in Southern California for most of our lives, we knew it would be impossible to beat the weather we’d come to love and pretty much taken for granted. Finding the next-best weather was at the top of our must-haves. Second on the list: Costco. You think I’m kidding? They don’t call me the Queen of Costco for nothing.

I believe that anyone—a household of one or a big houseful—can stretch the money by shopping at a discount warehouse club, like Costco. But only if you are willing to stick to a very strict list of rules, some of which may be unique to your particular situation.

SHOP WITH CASH. Having the complete contents of your checking account, overdraft protection plan and credit-card limit available to you in the form of plastic or a checkbook could easily enable you to pop one of those big-screen TVs into your cart, quite on a whim. Go with cash only and you’ll avoid many temptations.

Solutions for Stains on Shirts and Windows, Too

From time to time I reach into the proverbial EC mailbag and pull out a few of your questions to answer here. My goal is to select questions I believe the answers to which will have a wide appeal. But I can tell you for sure that when the question arrives with a photo showing me the problem, that gets my attention in spades.


Dear Mary: My husband wears white undershirts and no matter what brand or fabric content, they get gray blotches in the wash. Here’s a photo:


I typically use non-chlorine bleach and fabric softener but recently stopped those additions and that didn’t help. I use high efficiency detergent. The washer is set is “whites” and dryer to “cottons.” I changed detergent brands, switched from powder to liquid but still the blotches appear.

I wash my white t-shirts in the same load as his undershirts, and mine come out fine. I am including a photo from this last load of laundry so you can see this problem.

Any suggestions on why these blotches appear, how to remove existing ones, and how to avoid them in the future will be very much appreciated! Mona

The Cost of My Bad Habit

I did something really dumb that cost me $750. It’s so dumb I’m a little embarrassed to even tell you about it.


Seven-hundred and fifty dollars—that was the price tag on my fancy schmancy progressive eyeglasses. I went for the pricey frame and all the bells and whistles because I do enjoy seeing well. But if you’ve ever worn the “progressive” style of lenses, you know they are not 100 percent awesome for ever task. I have a second pair I call my computer glasses. That means I am switching back and forth quite often. 

The pair I’m not wearing I jam in my purse. I also enjoy carrying a fairly large nail file in there—the kind that has fine sandpaper on both sides. The kind that can sand the finish right off polycarbonate lens material used in eyeglasses.

Holiday Gift Ideas for Grandparents

As gifting seasons go, the biggest one of all is just around the corner. Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my readers are feeling somewhat irritated that I’m bringing up the holidays again while Christmas is still more than three months away. But I have a reason. The longer you wait to make or buy gifts, the fewer options you’ll have. Last minute shopping is a surefire way to run up mountains of unintentional debt. Been there, done that.

Girl giving grandmother Christmas gift

Gifts for grandparents don’t always require a trip down memory lane. Today’s grandparent is more likely to be tapping out e-mail on a tablet than pounding away on a typewriter. So with that in mind, and to help you get rolling early, here are some of my favorite gift ideas for grandparents, ranging in price from $9 to $150, that are sure to delight Nanas and Papas everywhere—even those who are hard-to-buy-for.