Just Maybe the Best Homemade Holiday Gift Ever

It happens every year about this time. I begin scrambling for the perfect Christmas gift idea for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues. My criteria is that the gift has to be homemade and easily mass produced. It needs to be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. It must be something that will survive the mail, and above all it needs to be affordable.

As of a week ago, I’d pretty much narrowed this year’s gift to one of the most decadent condiments on earth—Bacon Jam. I needed to make a test run to determine if the stuff is as outrageously delicious as is being reported and if it’s reasonable in terms of time and money to make it in mass quantities.

It’s been three days since I finished up the test run and the results are unquestionable: This stuff is crazy delicious. Like candy but more savory. The amount of Bacon Jam that fits into a half-pint (8 oz.) glass jar is quite generous because a little Bacon Jam goes a long way!

I have run into a challenge that could make the gift of Bacon Jam impossible for all but my local friends. I’ll let you know about that together with a possible solution for the problem. But first let me show exactly how to make Bacon Jam together with what I’ve decided is the perfect recipe.

What Retailers Don’t Want You to Know About Tap Water

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but sometime over the past decade or so, the general population of this country formed a belief that bottled water is better than tap water—safer and healthier, too. It is not difficult to figure out where this idea originated. It was with bottled water suppliers. It was pretty ingenious to convince otherwise normal people to pay between 240 and 10,000 times more to purchase water in a bottle than to get it from the supply we’re already paying for that comes out of the taps in our homes.

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TAP WATER IS CHEAPER

These days a 16-ounce bottle of “spring” water goes for about a dollar, which works out to about $8.00 a gallon–twice the cost of milk, and about par with bottled soft drinks. Home delivery of water in those great big, heavy bottles is less per gallon but still around $40 a month, according to online averages.

The average household cost for town water in the U.S. is $.66 per cubic meter, which is 265 gallons, or 4,240 eight-ounce glasses of water—enough to last the average person 530 days (consuming eight 8-ounce glasses per day). Another way to price it: Sixty-two 8-ounce glasses of water cost about 1 cent.

How to Get More of Your Favorite Fast Food for Less (Even Free)

In these days of rising food prices it’s fun to keep a bevy of money-saving tips and tricks up your sleeve. You won’t need a coupon a code or even a private word with the manager on duty to take advantage of these little-known hacks—all perfectly legal, morally ethical, too. As for the quality, nutritional value and taste for what follows? That’s where you’re on your own.

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CHIPOTLE

As fast food goes, it’s hard to beat Chipotle Mexican Grill. The food is fresh and quite tasty. Now boasting 1,142 locations throughout the U.S. and one (so far) in Canada, Chipotle is, in the opinion of your humble columnist, as good as it gets. Here are a couple of ways to make it even better.

Nachos. It’s not on the menu, but it’s easy to get nachos at Chipotle. Just order a burrito bowl and then ask if you can get chips instead of rice at the bottom. No extra charge.

Double-wrap. If you want a sturdier burrito, ask for two tortilla shells when you give your burrito order. Fans of this method say it keeps the burrito from bursting, which can be a problem with a well-packed Chipotle burrito. No additional charge.

How to Rescue Fabric and Clothes from the Stench of Mothballs

I love fabric and fine textiles of all kinds, but mostly I love cotton goods—cotton sheets, cotton quilts. You might say I am a collector, but only in the best sense of the word. My friends know me as a recovering fabricholic. That’s why I was particularly drawn to a letter that hit my inbox recently. When I read the sender’s dilemma involved fabric, I was on it.

Dear Mary: I was recently given some fabric that had been stored in mothballs. Any advice on how to get the smell out? I tried washing and ended up with a whole load of laundry that smelled of mothballs. Thanks, Lucille

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Dear Lucille: This a tough problem. So difficult, I called in the pros for advice on how to rescue your fabric and that load of laundry. Here’s what I learned:

Mothballs are small balls of chemical pesticide used to protect clothes from hungry moths and other insects while in storage. The active ingredient, depending on the age of the mothballs used, is either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, both of which are petroleum-based and toxic to both people and pets.

How to Live the Life You Love on Your Current Income

I’ll never forget the time I asked one of my young piano students what he wanted for Christmas. It was a generic question, a pleasantry. I wasn’t looking for make, model, and serial number, but that’s what I got. He whipped out a 60-page list from his book bag. I gulped, checked to see if this child was serious (he was), and quickly proceeded with his music lesson.

Somehow I think that most of us have a bit of that kid in us. We want it all. And every bank and credit card company out there is affirming the notion and willing to make it happen.

In time, however, we reach the maximum level of satisfaction. And the more we attempt to increase that level, the more difficult it becomes to retain a sense of fulfillment. More becomes less as our feelings of satisfaction diminish.

By the looks of some of our closets and garages, we’ve been doing a pretty good job of trying to get it all. But how much of it satisfies? What portion of what we have is actually contributing to the quality of our lives?

This Year’s Homemade Holiday Gift: A Preview

A couple of weeks ago on the very same day I heard from two friends (you know who you are Andrea and Carolyn) letting me know that they’d made perfect homemade Christmas gifts of Homemade Madagascar Vanilla, and to rave reviews! Of course, I ate up all the love and great feedback. But I wasn’t surprised. I keep a big bottle of the stuff in my pantry and reach for it several times a week. It is amazing. And as a gift, homemade pure vanilla extract is elegant, unique, and simply lovely.

If you’re thinking of making gifts this holiday season, you’ll find complete instructions, links and labeling ideas below. Check the calendar and you’ll see that you have no time to waste. This high-quality pure vanilla extract requires time to brew.” But first, I want to let you know about the homemade gift I am auditioning for this coming holiday season.

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Slightly more complicated to make than Madagascar Vanilla Extract (which is ridiculously easy), I’m almost certain this year’s Bacon Onion Jam is going to hit it out of the ballpark. I’m still refining the recipe, figuring out costs and searching for the best resources for the ingredients plus jars and labels.

Don’t Let Lunch Eat a Hole in Your Future

If you were to be hit with a major economic crisis right now, would you be prepared? The vast majority of Americans admit they’d be in deep trouble. The sad truth is that most Americans are theoretically just one paycheck away from the street. Approximately 62% percent have no emergency savings. Nothing in the bank. Nada. Zilch!

Why aren’t people saving? They don’t believe they make enough to keep current on their debt, pay the rent, keep food on the table, gas in the car—and come out with anything left to save.

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While all of this is certainly plausible, another statistic kinda’ blows a hole in that argument: 70% of Americans spend $18 per week eating lunch out twice a week. At $9 per day, that’s $936 a year! And for those who eat lunch out five days a week the number jumps to $2,340 per year. Lunch may well be eating a huge hole in their finances.

The solution is not hard to figure out. Taking your lunch to work or school could easily recover $2,500 per year for savings, if we consider at least 2.5 lunch-eating people per household. And every time you are strategic with using last night’s leftovers to make today’s lunch, you’ll be saving even more. (Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?)

How to Set Up an Automatic Payment Plan

Creditors, especially banks and credit card issuers, are unbelievably sensitive to whether you pay your bills on time. So is your credit score. One slip-up could cost you dearly if that means you lose your low- or no-interest rate, or a late payment results in a big late fee.

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Late payments are reported to the credit bureaus and that can mean a serious blow to your credit score, which may result in higher insurance premiums now and higher interest rates on your next mortgage. If you’re thinking “domino effect,” you are exactly right. Bottom line: Do not pay late!

An excellent way to make sure you always pay on time—even when you’re on vacation, sick, or for some other reason suffer from brain freeze when it’s time to pay bills—is to automate. By putting as many of your payments on auto pay, you eliminate that monthly decision: Should I pay bills tonight or wait until Tuesday? Should I put money into savings this month or buy those cute shoes?