Help! Too Much Stuff for Too Little Space

Dear Mary: I have a young daughter who is almost three-years-old. Eventually, my husband and I plan on having more children. I have saved lots of baby things, clothing, toys and other items, but I am having trouble storing all of these things. They have taken over.

I cannot possibly take up any more space with these things. I have begun bags for donation and garage sales, but there are some things I need to keep for future children. I do not like the idea of paying for storage space elsewhere, but I am not sure what to do with growing accumulation. Can you help? Becky

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Dear Becky: Do you have friends or relatives with garage, basement or attic space you could use for a few years? If not, I suggest you decide what items you really need to retain, then plan to replace the rest.

For all of the clothes, blankets and other soft items, get a couple of Space Bags that are easily filled and then compressed using your vacuum cleaner that has a hose to suck out all the air. I used dozens of these to get all of my linens, blankets, pillows and clothing ready for long-term storage (my husband and I are still living in our seriously downsized tiny apartment as we wait to make a big move next spring) and I was surprised just how well they worked once I followed the instructions exactly. For the record: My method of overstuffing a bag before removing the air did not work. At. All. 

The Dirty Dishes Dilemma

As you might imagine, I get a lot of mail. And since I could never respond to all your messages, questions and comments personally, I love to reach into the mail bag once each week selecting some of your letters to answer right here.  

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Dear Mary: Is it cheaper to wash dishes by hand since I wash most of my pots and pans by hand anyway, or use the dishwasher? Thanks. Audrey

Dear Audrey: According to the folks at EnergyStar.gov, using a dishwasher versus hand washing can cut your utilities bills by $40 or more annually. That’s because washing by hand uses more hot water, which is both a waste of the water (it takes 5,000 more gallons in a year to wash by hand) plus the energy to heat it. That’s just how efficient dishwashers are these days. 

But that’s not all. Using a dishwasher will save you about 230 hours of personal time in a year–nearly 10 days! And if your dishwasher boosts water temperatures to 140 F., (Energy Star rated machines do), you enjoy improved disinfection compared to hand washing. That means better health, fewer doctor visits. 

Chicken: Pumped and Plumped to Look and Taste Better

Dear Mary: Thanks for your most informative recent column on poultry labeling. I have seen chicken in the supermarket that includes “enhanced” on the label. As nearly as I can figure this means pumping salty water into the meat. What is all this about? Thanks. Mimi

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Photo Credit: Getty Images/Adam Gault

Dear Mimi: You are smart to question that dubious description. The USDA allows meat products to include solutions that deliver ‘benefits’ such as adding moisture, tenderizing meat or add flavor. However, such additives must be fully disclosed on the label, which you know because you have seen this.

Turns out that a lot of our meat is enhanced. About 30 percent of poultry, 15 percent of beef and 90 percent of pork are injected with some kind of liquid solution before sale, according to the USDA, and it’s usually something high in sodium.

According to the American Meat Institute, the solution pumps up the meat’s volume and can “replace the flavor and moisture loss that results from raising leaner animals or from potential overcooking.” The process can increase the amount of sodium in chicken by five times or more. Enhanced chicken often costs the same as unenhanced chicken, so if you buy a 3-lb. chicken and it has 15 percent salt water in it, you’re essentially paying for a half pound of salt water.

What you figured is exactly right.

Credit Scoring is Complicated

Dear Mary: I am a retiree and maintain a good credit rating but it could be better. That being said, I discussed that with my insurance people who said having charge cards open with no balance is a strike against you in achieving that. That took me by surprise.  I currently have one active credit card and pay the balance each month. However, I do have  three charge cards from clothing stores, which are seldom used. Balances are always paid off each month.

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Are inactive charge cards keeping my credit score low even though they never carrying revolving balances? Joann

Dear Joann: I must take exception to what your insurance people told you. That information is not correct. Whoever told you that closing any credit card account will improve your credit score is misinformed. On the contrary, closing any credit card accounts will effectively lower your credit score. 

It is important for you to understand that Insurance companies use a different credit score when determining premiums than the score a bank will use to issue a credit card account or mortgage. 

Your “insurance credit bureau score” originates using the same information (from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) used by financial services, but also considers information on previous insurance claims. If you filed an auto claim or a claim against your homeowners insurance, for example, that is considered and can lower your insurance credit bureau score. 

This will explain why your insurance credit score may be lower than say the score you received from MyFico.com or one of the credit bureaus. 

There is one thing I’m sure we can all agree on: credit scoring is complicated!

Grab a Can of This to Get Out Ink Stains

Dear Mary: HELP! I just pulled a load of dried, white clothes out of my dryer and discovered a blue ink pen was in that load. How do I get blue ink out of already dryed white clothes? Thank you, Jenny

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Dear Jenny: Go to the drug store and buy the cheapest can of hairspray you can find. Cheap is the operative word because the cheaper it is the more acetone it will contain. That’s what you want here. Aqua Net is one example of a very cheap hairspray product. Saturate the ink stains with that cheap hairspray. If those stains can be removed, you will see the ink begin to dissolve and run. Great. Let it sit and soak for a bit then hit the stains with your regular laundry detergent, and launder as usual. 

On a personal note, I was ready to walk on stage to speak at a large convention many years ago, wearing a pale blue wool blazer. I didn’t realize the Sharpie pen handed to me did not have a lid attached and you guessed it–somehow I laid a big black permanent-ink mark right across the lapel. 

Retailer Discounts Can Have Strings Attached

Dear Mary: Recently we purchased a new stove at Sears. My husband agreed to sign up for what we thought was a Sears credit card to save 15% on the price. I was surprised by his decision because that’s not our normal practice. We use credit, but pay the bills in full every month. What arrived in the mail was a CitiBank MasterCard, not a monthly statement from Sears. 

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We do not want this card and will not use it again, so what’s the best way to handle it? If we ask to close the account, will it hurt our credit rating? Laurie

Dear Laurie: Buyer beware! Any time you agree to put an item on credit with a retailer, whether it’s to achieve monthly payments or to get a 15% discount, you can be pretty sure that retailer is very happy. Can you say, “Gotcha!”? 

Parents: Cover Retirement First then Pay for College

Dear Mary: We recently read a short article you wrote on common money mistakes to avoid. One of the mistakes was “Paying for college.”  Unfortunately, this article came about three years too late. 

Worried Mature couple doing paperwork with a calculator

No one told us when our daughter went to college three years ago, that we shouldn’t pay for her college. When we started, we thought we were helping her out but as it turns out, we have been carrying the majority of the load. 

Just recently, we informed her that we would not be paying for her senior year she is on her own because we have gone into debt further that we will ever be able to get out of.

So, because we are now three years in debt, do you have any advice for us as we strive to pay it off? David and Joanne

Put a Teenager In Charge of the Family Vacation Budget? Seriously?

Dear Mary: I wanted to tell you the secret of sticking to a budget on our family vacation–something we’ve had a hard time achieving in the past. This year, we let our teenage daughter plan the vacation. Seems too simple. 

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We told her the amount we had to spend beyond the cost of overnight accommodations. We told her she could spend the money any way she wanted. We could eat out every night or cook dinner in our kitchenette. She could spend it all on the Boardwalk.

My spendthrift daughter became Ms. Frugality. She wanted to parasail. So she had us eat every single meal in the room and spent less than twenty dollars at the Boardwalk. We parasailed and had the best time ever. We came home with cash in our pockets. Best of all, we are enjoying the priceless accomplishment of teaching our child the value of money. Madeline

Dear Madeline: Wow, way to go! What a great idea and I am so proud of your sweet daughter for accepting the challenge of such a big task.  I’m going to predict that this event  will stay with her for a lifetime and will begin to shape her money life. Never again will she think you have unlimited sources of money. She’s experienced how making good choices with a limited amount of money can result in positive outcomes.

You gave your daughter the opportunity to make her own independent financial decisions, and she scored. Please give her my heartfelt congratulations and a big frugal high five!