How to Handle a Money Crisis

You know what to do in a medical emergency, but do you know what to do when faced with a big fat financial crisis?

Dear Mary: After 10 years of marriage and tons of unwise decisions, my husband handed the finances to me to handle. I have never done this before. We have mountains of bills and $900 in the bank. I don’t know where to start. Please help me. I feel like I am drowning. Gladys

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Dear Gladys: First you need to separate facts from feelings. There will be a time later to address emotional issues and how to develop financial intimacy in your marriage. But for now pack up your feelings and put them on a shelf. Develop a mindset that you’ve been called in to perform a financial rescue for a complete stranger.

Take a deep breath and write down all of your bills. Include the “bills” for basic food, gasoline and necessary medications, if any, to survive until your next payday. Divide these bills into two lists: Essential and nonessential. An essential expense is a serious obligation that if not paid could produce severe, even life-threatening consequences. Follow this rule to figure out which bills should get paid first:

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

Give Formica a Bright New Life

Recently, I reached into the pile known as my mail and pulled out a great question, “How can I restore the finish to an original, classic mid-century modern Formica top table that has some noticeable dull spots?” I have the answer, but misplaced the letter. So while I don’t know your name, you know who you are and that’s all that matters.

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Dear Reader: Don Aslett, America’s #1 Cleaning Expert says to brighten dull or scratched laminate, rub it down with Johnson’s Jubilee or a good paste car wax, Meguiar’s Gold Class Carnauba. Just follow the instructions on the package. By the way, Johnson’s Jubilee is for use on almost anything: cars, boats, bikes, countertops, skis, your glasses, but don’t apply it to floors. It’s too slick. As I recall you are very fond of your table, so if you don’t already have one of the recommended products, a $10 investment might be worth the price.

Dear Mary: I have a silverfish problem in my home. Nothing I have tried works. Please help. Helene

Dear Helene: Silverfish are such a pesky problem. They’re nocturnal, so you won’t see them much during they day. And silverfish are so hearty they can go without food for up to a year. When they do eat, they find cardboard and wallpaper to be quite tasty.

An excellent pesticide for silverfish is food-grade diatomaceous earth, available at garden centers or hardware stores. Make certain you purchase food-grade diatomaceous earth, not the variety for swimming pools which has been chemically altered and will not work as a pesticide. When silverfish and other crawling insects come in contact with the powdery substance they dehydrate. Even silverfish cannot live without water.

Don’t Rely on Vinegar to Disinfect

Dear Mary: What is a safe disinfectant for colored clothes, such as underwear and bath towels? I can’t use chlorine bleach, and since I usually wash my colored clothes in cold water, I do not feel like I am getting them sanitized enough. Thanks. Sherri

Photo Credit: Kasia

Photo Credit: Kasia

Dear Sherri: Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tested conventional household disinfectants, hospital disinfectants and natural alternatives to measure each product’s ability to kill specific hazardous microbes. Their results show that white vinegar killed 90 percent of germs without regard to the temperature of the water.

Sounds pretty good until you realize that leaves a 10 percent chance for Salmonella, Streptococcus and Staphylococcus viruses, Influenza A2 virus and Herpes Simplex Type 1 to live on. A product like Lysol disinfectant, on the other hand, kills 99.9 percent of those germs.

For fabrics that cannot be washed with bleach, add a liquid disinfectant according to product instructions, such as Lysol, NokOut (coupon code DPL for 10% off) or Mr. Clean Antibacterial to the wash.

Just a reminder that water at 120 F degrees water (hot) plus laundry detergent is sufficient to kill ordinary household germs without the need for an added disinfectant.

Help! My Fridge is Making Icky Ice

Dear Mary: I hope you can help me. My furniture was in storage for six months. Everything was fine before that but now the ice cubes from my ice maker taste stale. That’s the best description I can give. 

Photo Credit: MzScarlett

Photo Credit: MzScarlett

I have repeatedly washed the freezer and the ice cube container with vinegar. I’ve tried putting baking soda in the freezer. I cannot get rid of this taste. Other items in the freezer taste fine. I am embarrassed to serve my guests ice. Can you help? I love your column. Keep up the good work! Joanne

Dear Joanne: It sounds to me like the problem may be in the water coming into the ice maker. When did you last replace the system’s water filter? Most manufacturers recommend that we do this twice a year. Or if this appliance was in storage for six months, it’s also possible something has built up in the water line that connects the ice maker to the water source. You may need to replace that line as well. Take a look at your owner’s manual or visit the manufacturer’s website for specific information. This may be a simple do-it-yourself job. I sure hope that helps!

Dear Mary: Recently we moved from the big city with public utilities to a home that came complete with a septic system. In previous columns you’ve suggested using white vinegar in the laundry, as a cleaning agent and also to remove hard water buildup. Can you tell me if vinegar will harm the system or destroy the beneficial bacteria? Thank you in advance. Anne

Help! I’m Too Tired to Cook

Yesterday I got a letter that took my mind back to the years when our boys were small and I was too busy, too tired and too stressed to cook.

Dear Mary: I know where the money is leaking out of our household: Fast food. We are expecting our fourth child and I am so bushed at the end of the day, we get take-out 2-3 times a week. What can I do? It gets to be dinnertime and out comes the phone book. It’s all I can do to just get through the day. Carly

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Dear Carly: The last thing you need is for someone to tell you to get a grip and plan ahead. So I won’t. Instead I’m going to tell you what worked for me when I was in somewhat your situation (two boys only 17 months apart) and a few things I’ve learned since.

Five-menu rotation. Come up with five simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. These don’t have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. Example: Monday: Spaghetti, salad and bread. Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans and so on. Ask your husband to handle one weekend dinner and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner or let the kids give it a title. That leaves one Family Fun Night or some other reason to order in pizza. Post your weekly menu on the refrigerator. Now everyone knows what to expect, including you. This will simplify your grocery shopping, too. As the children get older and you get more courageous you can expand your repertoire, but for now stick to the five-menu rotation.

It’s Best Not to Mess with the IRS

Today I thought I’d reach into my bulging mailbag to respond to a few of your questions. I love to get mail from you, my lovely readers. Even though I cannot personally respond to every message, I read them all. Keep them coming.

Dear Mary: For the first time in my life, rather than getting a tax refund, I owe the IRS. I’m talking about a lot of money, too.

Should I use my savings to pay my taxes, or is there a way to make payments that will not be overly taxing? I’ve been planning to use that money to pay off my high-interest credit cards. Phyllis

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Dear Phyllis: While the IRS purports to set up payment plans in certain situations, I would not advise that you go that way if there is any way you can avoid it. The interest rates are high, and in my opinion, not reliable.

I’ve seen numerous cases where a payment plan was set up and going along fine when out of the blue, the IRS slaps a lien on the taxpayer without rhyme, reason or explanation. You can have a plan all worked out, and BAM! without notice they can just change it. I’ve concluded that the last person on earth you want to owe money to is Uncle Sam.

My advice is that your taxes should take top priority. If you believe you are in a position to handle monthly payments to the IRS, great. Begin making those payments to yourself instead to restore your savings account once you have paid your debt to the IRS. Once you have your savings built up, then you need to aggressively attack that killer credit-card debt.

Dear Mary: How can I get the hard water marks off my glass shower doors? I’ve tried vinegar and that helped some, but the marks remain. Thanks! Julie

Dear Julie: There’s a slight chance the glass has become permanently “etched” over time by minerals in the water, but I’d give it one last try using the mother of all hard water mark removers: oven cleaner. I’m not kidding. I’d go with something like Easy-Off Professional Fume Free because you don’t want to introduce fumes into an open area of your home if you can help it. Be sure to put on rubber gloves and then apply with a sponge. Leave it overnight and rinse in the morning. Expect magic! That’s how well oven cleaner works on shower doors.

A Look Behind No-Interest! No-Payments! Come-Ons

Have you ever wondered how retailers can possibly afford to offer the no-interest, no-payments and no-downpayment kind of deals you see advertised? That was the subject of a letter I received recently.

Dear Mary: There are several appliance, electronic and furniture stores in our area that run television commercials offering no money down, no payments and no interest until 2016. It sounds like I can just walk in and take what I want and not pay for a year! How do these companies really make money? Kate

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Dear Kate: First, these offers are on approved credit and come with a lot of other fine print. It takes pristine credit to qualify for those attractive terms. One retailer told me only about 25 percent of the people who apply for the amazing offers that get people through the door, can actually qualify. The other 75 percent are offered some other deal with horrible terms, which they usually accept because by the time it gets to filling out the paperwork, they’re so emotionally involved and have their hearts set on that “free” big screen TV, they’re anxious to sign anything.

How to Knock Out Serious Mold and Mildew Problems

Dear Mary: Here’s the short version of a long story: Due to an undetected slowly leaking pipe in our home, the basement got very wet over a period of time. The leak has now been fixed and the basement has mostly dried out. But I’m detecting mold and mildew. The smell is awful.

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We called the pros to get a price on treating this smelly situation. They are estimating between $1,800 and $2,000 to kill the mold and mildew. Do you think we could do this ourselves for less using the product you recommend for smelly situations? Thanks, Hank

Dear Hank: Before I answer your question, I want to make sure that all of my readers know that mold is a serious situation, and can have adverse health ramifications for humans and animals alike. Mold is not something you want to live with.

Now to your question: Yes, I believe you can do this yourself.

Most people—myself included, until I did more research—assume that household bleach will kill mold completely. We assume that because it bleaches the dark color. Not so.

Even freshly manufactured household bleach is unable to kill mold. Bleach that sits around store shelves or in your home continually gets weaker over time. Even the manufacturers’ usage directions do not recommend using it to kill mold. If you want effective mold kill, I absolutely recommend that you use Nok-Out (use code DPL for 10% off any order). And not to get too technical, Nok-Out is guaranteed to maintain its efficacy within a two year shelf life, when used according to the manufacturer’s directions. It is effective against mold spores because it structurally disassembles the cell so that it cannot revive to re-infest. Nok-Out does indeed kill spores.