With ATM Receipts and Legal Guardians, Leave Nothing to Chance

Face it, life is uncertain. We cannot know the future, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw caution to the wind and let come what may. There are some areas of life where we can take steps to reduce certain risks by exercising good common sense.

Dear Mary: This has been bugging me: At my bank’s ATM, there is a big trashcan where everyone throws away their receipt/transaction slips. It seems like a bad idea to toss them away since they show the balance and transaction info. But being cautious means I end up with an overstuffed, cluttered wallet. Do I need to save them, and what’s the best way to get rid of them? Rob

From Credit Counseling to Contaminated Mascara—Readers Want to Know

There are so many things I love about my job, and right at the top is that my readers trust me to help them with everything from figuring out if they could benefit from getting professional help with their debt situation to figuring out when to toss the mascara.

Dear Mary: I am out of money—and I mean not a dime left after I pay bills. I have been considering credit counseling to get some breathing room. My credit is shot and I’m feeling desperate. By enrolling in credit counseling, at least the creditors would get regular payments and checks that don’t bounce. Am I wrong to consider this kind of help? Sandy

Fire Extinguisher Safety Zone, Super Useful Website and Handy Vacuum Tool, Too (with UPDATE!)

What do fire extinguishers, hard-to-find phone numbers and handy dandy cleaning tools have in common? Nothing other than the subject lines of three messages that recently washed up in my email box!

Dear Mary: Your recent column on fire extinguishers and the P.A.S.S. system got me thinking about my home fire extinguisher. Like yours, mine has been there so long it’s blending in with the decor and that prompted my question: Do fire extinguishers expire? How can I know it is still good? When should I replace? Janine

Dear Janine: Fire extinguishers do not have an infinite lifespan. They will expire. The typical portable extinguisher that has not been opened remains in good condition between 5 to 15 years. But you don’t have to guess or wonder if it’s fully charged and ready to go. Look for the pressure gauge on the extinguisher itself. Check to make sure the needle on the gauge is in the green zone. That indicates that it is still good. Once that needle moves into the red zone it should be replaced or recharged. (Small extinguishers for home use are often “single-use” products and cannot be recharged.)

Wool Dryer Balls: Safe for People and Dryers—Plus Privacy Trick

A couple of days ago I got multiple letters with questions about wool dryer balls. Are they safe? What if I’m allergic to wool?!

Honestly, I had opinions but not definitive answers and that sent me into research mode. I learned some very cool stuff I think you’ll enjoy knowing as well:

Dear Mary: The wool dryer balls sound interesting but what if a person is allergic to wool?  I am allergic to wool and avoid it at all costs. Do the wool dryer balls transfer allergens to items while drying? I would love to have my sheets, towels come out without being all balled up.  Thanks for any help you can give on this. Joyce

Dear Joyce: You may be allergic to the natural lanolin found in sheepswool, but that would be very rare. Only about 6% of those who are tested for lanolin allergy turn up positive. It’s more likely you, like many people, are sensitive to the short bristly fibers that irritate your sensitive skin and make you feel itchy.

Either way, lanolin is washed away during the manufacturing process of wool dryer balls. Even if trace amounts remain and you are one who does have a lanolin allergy (you’d know this because you are also allergic to all skin care and makeup products that contain lanolin), it will not transfer to your clothes. As for those short bristly fibers in the sheepswool, the only way the dryer balls could cause an irritation is if you rubbed them on your skin.

Neither lanolin nor bristly short fibers are an issue when using wool dryer balls in your clothes dryer. Use them well and enjoy the results!

When Money is at the Root of Marriage and Family Squabbles

Disagreements over money can tear marriages and families apart. In fact, unresolved money conflicts remains the number one for divorce. But it doesn’t have to be that way. More often than not, the solution can be found in this single word directive: communicate!

Dear Mary: My husband always insists on balancing our joint checkbook, and I recently found out why. The last statement came in while he was away on business so I decided to deal with it. Well, I was astonished to see a check to his parents for $250. I went through a couple prior statements and found the same thing. I figured out he’s been doing this ever since his parents retired last year. Besides being shocked, I was hurt. We’re not exactly rolling in dough. We have three kids and a hefty mortgage, but I wouldn’t have outright refused to help my in-laws. How should I broach the subject with him? And shouldn’t I be acknowledged for my contribution to this little retirement fund? After all, I work too! Christina

Dear Christina: Skimming money is a real problem for any partnership, especially a marriage. But money problems in a marriage are rarely only about the money. There’s usually an underlying issue. If he’d asked, I would have told him that as noble as his intentions might be, his commitment to you and to his marriage trumps his relationship with his parents. It’s wrong to do this behind your back. 

Credit Cards and Credit Scores: It’s Complicated

Opening a credit-card account these days is ridiculously simple. But not so with closing an account. For sure the bank doesn’t want to lose a good customer. But it’s more than that. Closing accounts can mess with your FICO score, big time. You need to be strategic.

Dear Mary: I am going to be terminating my checking, savings, investment and credit-card accounts with a bank that backs social issues I strongly oppose. How can I do this without adversely affecting my credit rating? Valerie

Dear Valerie: Of the types of accounts you mention, only credit-card accounts could negatively affect your FICO credit score, if closed. Closing checking, savings or even investment accounts would not affect your credit score because none of those are credit related.

To understand how much closing a credit-card account will negatively affect your FICO score, you need to understand something called “utilization rate,” which contributes heavily in determining your FICO score. This will help you devise a plan to close the accounts strategically—spreading your closures over a period of 6 months to a year.

Why a Pressure Cooker May Be Better Than a Slow Cooker

I’m still slightly stunned by the response to a post from last week, in which I touched briefly on the subject of Instant Pot. Let me just say that a lot of people are going to be very happy on Christmas morning!

Instant Pot is a gift you will never regret giving. And should you be on the receiving end, for a brief moment or two you may be able to identify with Taylor who wrote …


Dear Mary: I recently received a pressure cooker (Instant Pot) as a gift and have been scared to try it. Maybe it’s my grandmother’s tales of kitchen explosions and food on the ceiling. I’m hesitant because I really love my slow cooker and use it several times a week. But the combination of fast and space-saving is starting to gin up my courage. Can you help me get started? Taylor

Mistakes We Make and the Courage to Fix Them

My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Migaki, taught us it’s important to learn from history so we don’t have to repeat mistakes made in the past. He made that lesson real when he said that last year counts as history, and so does last month and last week.

cheerful elementary school teacher and student high five in classroom

Mr. Migaki said that something is only a mistake if you can’t fix it. Sometimes he would let us retake our tests to fix our mistakes. We got do-overs! He’d grade our papers with a red pen, but if the do-over fixed the original mistake (he never, ever gave us the right answer) he would applaud the success by crossing through the bad grade, turning it into an A.

I couldn’t help but recall this wonderful teacher and give thanks for that life lesson when I got this message from Jenny …

Dear Mary: I have to tell you, in response to 3 Simple Ways to Beat Retailers at Their Own Games, how I fell victim to a good salesman the other day. Fortunately, there’s a happy ending.

I was shopping for groceries and the announcement was to gather around at the end of Aisle 2 in two minutes for an unadvertised giveaway—if you got there right away, you got an eyeglass cleaner cloth, which was promised to be your ticket to something special later, as it was first-come, first-served. You know the drill, I’m sure!