From regular oil changes to changing furnace filters and annual trips to the dentist, smart consumers know that preventive maintenance can avoid costly repairs down the road. Insurance is another item that needs to go on your routine maintenance list.
None one wants to think about insurance unless forced to. But at least once a year, it’s important that you do a quick review to make sure you have the right amount of coverage at the best price.
Some of us have to learn these things the hard way. I really don’t know how many years we paid for a special rider to cover my husband’s photography equipment on our homeowner’s policy. Sure, it was a good idea when he was actually a photographer. But that rider rode on for many years after he’d sold the equipment.
And then there’s my friend Lucy who got tired of me nagging her and agreed to shop her car insurance. Within 15 minutes after calling an insurance broker, she had a quote for identical coverage at $500 less per year. Her problem was the loyalty she felt for the agent she’d been with for 13 years. But $500 is a lot of money so she called him to break the news that she would be moving on to cheaper pastures. “Wait,” the agent pleaded. “Give me one day to try to beat that quote.” He did, and rewrote her policy for $600 less per year with no changes in coverage.
As your policies come up for renewal, take a little time to shop around.
Perhaps you have noticed that some food products come with dates printed on them—”sell by Aug 01 14″ for example. Does that mean it has to be used by that date or just sold by that date? Or what about canned or packaged goods that show only a date like “2.01.14.” Does that mean you could end up in the E.R. if you consume it after that date?
Other food products don’t seem to have any date at all. Confusing, isn’t it. That’s why I thought today would be a good time to bone-up on food dating.
While most food processors date and code their products, the Food and Drug Administration mandates dating only on infant formula and baby food. Everything else is voluntary. Still, the food industry generally follows certain guidelines suggested by the FDA.
Phrases like “Best Before,” “Better if Used Before,” or “Best if Used By” tell you how long the product will retain its best flavor and highest quality. You will find these phrases on products like baked goods, cereals, snacks and some canned foods. The food is still safe to eat after this date, but may have changed somewhat in taste or texture.
For anyone wishing to study human nature, my mailbag would make an interesting research center. I get tons of mail. But rather than arriving in a steady flow it comes in waves. I’ve given up trying to predict which subjects will prompt responses from my readers.
photo credit: matt mcgee
Take the recent column on the inherent dangers associated with debit cards because of a relatively weak law that regulates them, as opposed to the much stronger law that protects users of credit cards. It was, in my humble opinion, empowering information worthy of some measure of positive response. Or at least a few angry challenges from loyal debit-card users. Surprisingly, responses to that column were nearly non-existent.
More than 15 years ago, I met William Lewis, CPA. I’d come across a book he’d written and it piqued my interest. I gave him a call.
Bill told me that for years he’d found himself frustrated that his clients who itemize and for whom he prepares their tax returns, were paying more in income taxes than required because they were not keeping track of what they donated to recognized charities like Goodwill and The Salvation Army.
Many clients would donate loads of stuff throughout the year, but then fail to deduct the fair market value of those times, as allowed by the IRS because they were uncertain of what their stuff was worth or how to determine those items’ market value.
Is it just me, or do you too love to discover something inexpensive that does the exact same thing as its pricey name-brand cousin? It’s not just the money-saving difference that pushes my buttons, it’s the “knowing” part. I’m not saying it makes me feel smarter, or even smug. On second thought, maybe that’s exactly what I’m saying. Ha.
Magic erasers. Have you ever wondered what’s the “magic” in Mr. Clean Magic Erasers? They are quite amazing, but expensive. Generally, the Mr. Clean brand erasers run $.87 to $3.50 each depending on where you find them and if you go for the original or magic erasers with fragrance. Generic versions of magic erasers are made of the identical same material for a fraction of the price. I have seen them as low as $.10 each when purchased in a pack of 200.
Here’s the secret behind that “magic.” These erasers are small cuts of melamine foam, which comes in big sheets and is used for insulating and soundproofing. Seriously true. Mr. Clean must have a big saw in his basement where he cuts it up into sponge-size pieces. So does that generic company that sells the identical same product for just pennies. Interested readers who want a 4- x 8-foot sheet of melamine insulating foam should Google “melamine foam.” Me? I’m thrilled with the erasers that cost a dime each. A box of 200 lasts a long time, although I have to admit to using them quite freely and for just about every household cleaning opportunity I can think of. Magic makes cleaning fun.
It’s October. And you’re reading an article about Christmas.
When it comes to Christmas prep, there are just two categories of people: Natural-born organizational types who have Christmas all shopped, wrapped and ready-to-go come Independence Day and the rest of us.
I’m not saying that The Rest of Us are just a pathetic lot of procrastinators. Okay, well maybe I am. But I prefer to think of it as patience—waiting until I have time. Or when I get in the holiday mood.
Those of us who tend to wait until the last possible moment to get things done do have our reasons. The biggest of course is that we don’t want to get started until we’re sure we can do it perfectly. Procrastination, I’ve been told, is only a hairsbreadth from perfectionism. And in that tiny gap lurks our worst enemy: paralysis.
It’s time to get unstuck. Time to, at the very least, start thinking and making a few plans for how we’ll handle the mother of all irregular expenses—Christmas. So, let’s get started, shall we?
Set a budget. You have to get a dollar figure in mind—the amount of money you will need to accomplish your intentions. Believe me, it’s a lot easier to do this now while it is a non-emotional issue. Determining what you’ll need to cover costs is more like a business decision that is easier to do while Christmas is still many months away. With no snow falling or malls calling, you are not feeling bombarded by guilt, fear or panic. And while you’re at it, remember the holidays also create non-gift expenses—parties, postage and pageants; travel costs, extra food for entertaining and all kinds of other expenses galore.
I don’t know about you, but when I learn some new and amazing household tip that promises to save me time and or money, well, it just makes my day. I love it! Not all of the tips I get from you, my faithful readers, are brand new. But since I am not good at keeping 20,000 or more of these delicious little tidbits cataloged in my mind, (yes, you’ve sent in at least that many over the years), even the ones I know already can become a new delight when you remind me of them.
I hope you enjoy today’s offering of great tips as much as I am.
Those pesky ants. If you have ants or other bugs taking up residence in or around the house, put 50/50 mixture of Blue Dawn dish soap and water into empty spray bottle and keep it handy. When you see the insects, spray them with the mixture. Provided you really saturate those little critters, the soap actually breaks down their exoskeletons and they die almost immediately. Cheap and easy clean-up, too. Lynda F.
Slippery clean-up. I enjoy baking, but don’t like measuring sticky ingredients like shortening or peanut butter. To avoid the mess that makes, I spray the measuring cup with a non-stick cooking spray and the sticky ingredient slides right out. I no longer have to spend time scraping the measuring cup or spoon. Joyce R.
This is not the first time in this column that we’ve visited the subject of how to get out of the supermarket with at least some money left in your bank account. Still, who doesn’t need an occasional reminder—a mental tune-up—to remain vigilant and razor-sharp when it comes to making our food dollars stretch until they scream.
Don’t go in hungry. You believe that you can simply dash in to pick up the infamous few things. But if you’re starving, you’re a dead aim for a couple of steaks and a load of snacks. You know what I’m talking about. This is because of Rule #1: Anything can happen when you are hungry.
Don’t try to remember. Sure, playing Brain Age on your kid’s Game Boy has revitalized your dead brain cells, rendering you the mental acuity of a youngster—but don’t push it. Without a list of the exact items you’ve come to purchase who knows what could happen? It’s normal for our brains to slip into neutral in the face of fabulous food. A written list is the crutch you need desperately to make sure you do not slip and fall, so to speak.