Store Fresh Produce in Glass Jars and Other Cheapskate Solutions

Dear Mary: I enjoy your column every day and love the tips and tricks to save and spend less. I read the question about finding “rust” on lettuce only days after purchase and I have found a great solution. I’ve started using glass jars—Mason jars, old tomato sauce jars, any jar with a tight fitting lid will do. I clean and store my lettuce, cut bell peppers, cucumbers, just about anything that I’d normally put in Tupperware or plastic bag. The filled jars keep the contents fresh and yummy for days, even as long as two weeks. It’s amazing, I couldn’t believe the difference. Thanks for doing what you do. Stacie

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Dear Stacie: Thanks for the reminder! Canning jars are useful for so many things. Filled with fresh salad greens and vegetables, I think they look pretty, too.

Dear Mary: This year, I am growing my garden in 5-gallon buckets. My problem is all the weeds that grow everywhere in the yard. I’ve put landscape fabric in the bed where my buckets are located, but the weeds still persist. What can I use in the realm of homemade weed/grass killer that’s effective? I don’t want to go the commercial route (Round-Up), for fear that might also kill my wanted garden plants. Thanks ever so much for your advice. Sherri

Getting Soaked: Good for Bedspread, Bad for Retirement Account

Dear Mary: I have an heirloom bedspread that is about 60 years old, embroidered with wool yarn by my grandmother. There are some brown spots on it, of unknown origin. Can I hand launder it after spot treating? What would be the best thing to treat the spots? I love your column. I’ve gotten so many good tips from it. Thank you. Marian

photo credit: make-it-do.com

photo credit: make-it-do.com

Dear Marian: Because of this item’s age, it’s difficult to know if it is colorfast. That would be my biggest concern, not the fact that embroidery is done with wool. If the bedspread has bright and or contrasting colors, test an inconspicuous edge or corner of the bedspread in warm or tepid water and mild soap to see if the colors start to bleed or run. If they do, you should take this bedspread to a dry cleaner that specializes in cleaning delicate and vintage textiles.

If not, and provided the bedspread itself is washable (I’m going to assume that it is), treat those stains with Soilove (you can read more about Soilove and where to find it HERE). Spray Soilove on each stain until saturated, then allow the bedspread to sit for awhile— 30 minutes, or so.

Try This Old Restaurant Cleaning Trick

Ever leave the coffee pot on overnight only to wake to a blackened, burnt on mess? Can’t get rid of the gunky build-up in your favorite carafe or thermos—stuff you can see, but not reach? Don’t toss them out before you try a cool trick to get them sparkling clean.

Photo credit: milkallergymom.com

Photo credit: milkallergymom.com

Dear Mary: I have a big stainless coffee thermos. The opening makes it impossible to get in and clean. I have tried baking soda and vinegar, but that hasn’t worked to dissolve and remove the build-up of coffee stains. I can look in and see stuff I’d rather not see. How can I clean inside my thermos? Karen

Dear Karen: I have the perfect solution: Ice and salt. Fill the thermos about 1/4 full of pieces of ice just small enough to fit through the opening. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of ordinary table salt depending on the size of the thermos. Apply the lid. Now shake it up, baby! Swirl it round and round, first clockwise then counter clockwise; upside down, up and down. The salt will begin to melt the ice allowing the pieces to move freely. You’ll get a good workout, too.

The salt acts like little non-abrasive sanding blocks. You may have to do this for a few minutes if you have a nasty build-up, repeating as necessary. Rinse well with cool water. This old restaurant trick works with glass coffee carafes and glass-line thermoses, too. It‘s so much fun I almost look forward to a burned on mess in the bottom of our office coffee pot so I can amuse and amaze the staff.

Dear Mary: My husband contributes 8 percent to his employer’s 401(k) plan. Would it be wise to temporarily stop that contribution in that we have about $50,000 unsecured debt? Debbie

Dear Debbie: Yes, but only until your unsecured debts are paid. Putting your hard-earned money at risk is while you are carrying high-interest consumer debt is not wise. No matter how you cut it, money in a 401(k) is at risk. But investing in your debt carries no risk and offers a guaranteed rate of return. Here’s how that works:

Let’s say you have a $10,000 revolving credit card balance at 18% interest. Each month you are paying $150 in interest ($10,000 x 18% / 12 = $150). Great Aunt Gertie dies and leaves you $10,000. You can either pay off the debt or invest the money. Let’s say you invest it.

Things don’t go well and you lose some or all of it in the stock market. You still owe that $10,000 on the credit card and you’re still paying $150 interest each month. Now let’s say you go the other way and use the money to repay the debt in full. Every month you get to keep the $150 you were sending to the credit card company. That is your guaranteed 18% return on the $10,000 “investment” you made in your debt. It’s a sure thing regardless what happens with the economy. Now that’s a good deal! Caution: Even though you stop making contributions for a season, do not cash in his 40l(k) account. The penalties and tax consequence are too severe.

Dear Mary: It takes about two weeks after I mail my mortgage payment for the check to clear my bank. My sister says my lender is making me pay more interest by delaying depositing my check. Is it true? Mary S.

Dear Mary S: No. Your sister may be confusing your mortgage, which is a “closed-end contract” with an open-end contract like a credit-card account. The law treats the two differently. A closed-end contract has a fixed payment schedule. The interest portion of your monthly mortgage payment is the same whether you pay it early or at the last minute. A credit-card or revolving open-end contract works differently. Making your payment early allows more of it to go to the principal because interest is figured on the average daily balance. Federal law stated in “The Fair Credit Billing Act” requires open-end lenders to credit all payments on the date they’re received, unless no extra charges would result if they failed to do so. But with your mortgage payment it doesn’t matter on which day during the month it is processed, provided of course it gets there by the due date.

Hope that helps!

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.