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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.

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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!

Best Inexpensive Instant Pot, Smart TV and Recipe for Vinyl Siding Cleaner, Too

Dear Mary: I have always valued your comments about various products and can honestly say that I have never been disappointed in anything I bought after reading your recommendations.

Have you done any research on the Instant Pot Multi-Functional pressure cookers? With Christmas around the corner I was thinking that might be a good gift. Thank you so much. Conni

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Dear Conni: Thank you for your kind words and your trust. That means the world to me.

Yes I am very familiar with Instant Pot, a single electric appliance that functions as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, saute/browning, yogurt maker, steamer and warmer—seven appliances in one! What makes Instant Pot so amazing is that is has a micro processor (think: computer) and comes with 14 built-in programs that offer adjustable cooking modes, up to 24 hours of delayed cooking and automatic keep warm for up to 10 hours, to name a few. Instant Pot has all of the features we wished our slow cookers and pressure cookers had.

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This appliance can turn out perfectly poached eggs in 2-3 minutes, baked potatoes in 12 minutes. I don’t want to get too dramatic here, but I really believe that Instant Pot has the power to change a home cook’s life.

I can’t say too many good things about Instant Pot and agree with you that an Instant Pot would make a wonderful gift for a very lucky foodie on your Christmas list.

While there are a number of different Instant Pot models, my pick for the best inexpensive option is Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi Functional Pressure Cooker 6 QT/1000W. It is sweet! About $120. 

Here’s How to Turn a 15-Minute Phone Call Into $555 Cash

Generally speaking, I pretty much detest talking on the phone. But if a 15-minute phone call could net the kind of financial reward Matt writes about, I could manage a change of heart.

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Dear Mary: I don’t have cable TV in my house but I do have Internet. I’m one year into a two-year contract (which is fine with me since I’m happy with the service) and noticed this month’s bill went up $20 since I’m no longer in my first year promo period. I called the company and told them I was looking to cancel because “I found a better rate.” I must have said the magic words because the rep forwarded me to the retention team.

After speaking with the retention team member I was able to negotiate my Internet bill at the original monthly promo rate for the next two years (I did have to agree to extend my contract for two years from that day, which really is fine with me). And they also gave me a $75 credit spread over the next three billing cycles.

So all in all, that 15-minute phone call saved me $25 over the next three months plus $20 a month over the next two years, for a total savings of $555 over the two year contract period!

I am pretty proud of myself. It just feels good to take control of my expenses as opposed to feeling like a pawn on my service-providers’ chess board.

Now I’m thinking about ways I might be able to use this tactic to rein in other expenses. Matt

Upgrade that Wobbly, Hard-to-Read Oven Thermometer Plus More

I’d had the same oven thermometer for at least a hundred years. The thing had been splattered on and dropped more times than I could count. If that wasn’t bad enough, the splatters had become hopelessly baked on, making the thing nearly impossible to read. When I got a message from Naomi about her oven thermometer, I knew exactly what she was talking about—and the upgrade she should make to fix the problem.

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Dear Mary: Every oven thermometer I have ever had was difficult to use. The base was always too small, and they tipped over. It was difficult to set it upright when it was hot, and using hot pads or tongs or whatever was mega-frustrating. In the past, you have recommended a model that has a hook at the top but then that would mean the rack is above it thus making the thermometer difficult to see. Can you recommend a decent oven thermometer that has big numbers and won’t tip over? Naomi

House Rules for Cleaning Silver in the Dishwasher

I grew up being fearful of the oddest things. I wasn’t bold enough to question why, so I just did as I was told. Here’s one: Never, ever put good dishes or silver flatware in the dishwasher. Ever! I didn’t know what would happen if I did, but you can be sure that my fear of the unknown made certain I didn’t come close to finding out. Until my rebellious years.

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Once I had my own china and my own silver, I was reckless enough to believe I wouldn’t go to jail if I violated this particular “Thou shalt not!” I was reminded of what I’ve learned about putting silver in the dishwasher when the following question showed up in my inbox:

Dear Mary: I have a set of silver flatware that I use daily. I notice that after a few times through a normal cycle, the pieces become very tarnished. It is not a particularly good set, just a nice set of flatware for daily use. Do you think that the dishwashing detergent is tarnishing the silver? Anne

Dear Anne: Your silver plate or sterling silver pieces can go in the dishwasher and come out beautiful as long as you follow a few specific guidelines. Case in point: The small pie server in the photo above is one of my favorite things. I love it for its size and just the way it feels in my hand. I use it daily and it goes in the dishwasher every evening—by itself in its own little compartment so that it is not touching any other type of metal. Since I inherited it many years ago I have done nothing to it but use it, clean it and enjoy it.

How a Simple Solution Changed Everything for One Family

Congratulations to Tom P. and Barbara B. for winning copies of Debt-Proof Your Christmas from our recent giveaway!

There are two main types of illness: acute and chronic. An acute illness doesn’t last very long. It goes away either on its own or in response to treatment, such as taking medicine or having surgery. A chronic illness or condition is ongoing. It affects your health over a long period of time—possibly your entire life. That’s the kind of situation EC Reader Gina’s family was dealing with. Then lo and behold ….

Dear Mary: My husband and both of my children have chronic skin problems. One doctor diagnosed them with eczema, but curiously nothing, including prescription medications, have brought lasting relief. We have spent a small fortune going from one dermatologist to another not to mention all of lotions, potions and other medications prescribed. Not once did any of these professionals suggest they might be allergic to laundry softeners. When I read  “Fabric Softeners are the Problem, Not the Solution,” a lightbulb went on.

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I’m a serial softener user. For years, I’ve used liquid softener and dryer sheets just to make sure. How could I have not thought about this? It made a lot of sense that they could be allergic to this stuff. I wasted no time getting the wool dryer balls you recommend. I gave up softener products cold turkey and began using the dryer balls instead. I was like a crazy woman washing and re-washing clothes and bedding. I got three gallons of white vinegar to make sure I had enough to add to every rinse cycle. 

Let’s Talk Induction Cooking, Shall We?

I have to tell you that receiving the following message put the biggest smile on my face. Induction cooking? Oh yes, I do know something about that! But I must confess that the prologue to Cathy’s question is what warmed my heart.

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Dear Mary: First of all, I want to thank you, thank you, thank you for your 20 plus years of advice and guidance! I have purchased your books, READ your books, and given them as gifts many times. I hardly EVER buy anything or try a new product without checking with you first. I know that if YOU have endorsed it, I can trust it. Thank you for promoting quality and value in all the products and ideas you share. Your work is amazing.

That being said, my husband and I just purchased a home. The gas stove and microwave oven are 28 years old. Although they both still work, (I know, they don’t make them like this anymore) they look their age and I question the safety of the microwave. I was ready to purchase a mid-level free-standing gas range and looked back on your recommendations of the GE line.

However, on a recent shopping trip we were introduced to electric induction ranges. Wow, was I impressed! The convenience and control of a gas stove top with the an easy-to-clean smooth top. This has totally confused my decision. Induction cooktops are still quite a bit more expensive, so it’s a big choice. The salesperson was unable to identify any drawbacks to these ranges at this time—other than the fact that we may have to purchase new cookware, which he said can be purchased for around $300 for an adequate set. 

Updates on Einstein Coat, Household Inventory and That Urge to Quit

There are some people in my life who accuse me of having a short attention span. They don’t get much of an argument from me. It’s true; I do. That’s why I am grateful that so many of you keep me on track by reminding me to give updates and feedback on things I’ve written about.

Dear Mary: Just wondering how the Einstein Coat is coming. Please update. I bought the book, “The Knit Stitch” by Sally Melville.  The yarn to make it will come to about $60. I’m afraid of failure at such a high cost in both time and money. Jeanne

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Dear Jeanne: The lower portion of my coat (that very long piece that creates the entire bottom section of the coat) is nearly done. It’s beautiful but doesn’t look much like a coat yet. The Einstein Coat is rated as a beginner project, so relax! I don’t think you can possibly mess this up. And if you do, just rip it out and start again. I’m so good at ripping out, I can tink (that’s knit spelled backwards) just about as fast as I knit! I think it’s so much fun. Just $60 to make this coat is quite a bargain. I predict you will wear and enjoy your coat for many years! Keep in touch because I’ll want to know about your progress!