The High Cost of Dirty HVAC Filters

Do I have a story to tell you—another lesson I’ve learned the hard way so you won’t have to. Truth be told, if this faux pas helps you avoid a huge expense, I’m happy to have done it.

While working on a recent post, What are Those Grimy Black Lines Around the Edges of My Carpet?, I casually asked my husband if he’d replaced the filter in our heating ventilation air-conditioning (HVAC) system recently. I got one of those blank stares I could easily translate: Nope, didn’t even think about it.

When we bought this house in January 2014, we had the HVAC system inspected, serviced and the filter replaced. Then we got busy with leasing the house and  planning our own move a year later. HVAC filter? Completely forgot about it. It’s been more than 2.5 years!


The scariest thing ever was to open that door on the HVAC system, dutifully labeled “Filter.” I cannot adequately describe it but I can tell you that it was nearly black and covered in what looked like fur. So gross. I’m surprised the entire system didn’t just blow up out of sheer rebellion for lack of attention.

Happy Birthday to My Workhorse, Hoover

I call him Hoover and he’s worked hard for me since the day I hauled his long, lanky self into the house back in 2008.

Agriculture et métier : paysan et cheval de trait au labours

My dear Hoover (not really a horse, but isn’t that a beautiful specimen) still holds the record for the best thing I ever bought. Not only did my Hoover SteamVac rescue me from the endless loop of worthless commercial carpet cleaning companies, he’s saved me thousands of dollars over these eight years. I paid $147 for Hoover, which is still cheaper than one visit from a carpet cleaning company.


While I enjoy hard surface floors in some areas of my home, I am not ready to give up on carpet. I love how it looks, how it feels under my feet and how it warms up a room. But I hate dirty carpet. Cannot abide a spot. The thought of what lurks between the fibers of poorly maintained carpet still gives me the heeby-geebies.

And so today, I want to give you an update on how my dear old Hoover is doing. But first a quick review on how Hoover and I partner up to keep my home and office carpet clean and pristine.

How to Do Christmas Without Debt—Plus a GIVEAWAY!

If you are, or ever have been plagued by consumer debt, I can nearly guarantee expenses related to Christmas have contributed greatly to that miserable situation. You know I’m right and unless we do something to stop that pattern, things are about to get much worse for you. Christmas is right around the corner.

48617473 - very upset woman holding credit card in front of christmas tree.

The problem is procrastination. Face it, when it comes to Christmas, the longer you wait, the more you’ll spend. The opposite is also true. The sooner you get started, the less you’ll spend.

There are simple things you can do to stop procrastinating.

Get started. Do something to get moving. Once you are in motion, it will be easier to keep going.

Write it down. Reduce your plans to paper. Seeing things in black and white eliminates the unknown and provides a realistic playing field. Set reasonable limits both in time and in money.

Work with the time you have. Make a simple time line, then break the project down into small, manageable parts. Even five minutes is enough time to get something done when you have a plan.

Best Inexpensive Sewing Machines

Turning 7 years old is a big deal on its own but for me it was even better because I would be old enough to join 4-H—America’s largest youth development organization, which is still alive and well after all these years, empowering nearly six million young people across the U.S. with the skills to lead for a lifetime.

13291919 - girl and mother using a sewing machine to make crafts

Unlike most 4-H Clubs these days, mine offered only one program—sewing—and that was just fine with me. I was so excited because I would learn to operate a real, full-size, electric sewing machine.

My first project was big square dish towel. My task was to turn and hem on the sewing machine, all the way around which seemed like miles at the time, without any stitches slipping off the edge. It took forever, but I did it. Every inch of that hem brings back a flood of joyful memories. What an accomplishment. Next up? An apron. I did that too, and with that I began to form a life-long love for sewing. 

Fabric Softener Products are the Problem Not the Solution

In the laundry room, most of us are prone to overkill. We want beautifully clean, brilliantly white, soft and fluffy laundry results. And we don’t measure. We pour stuff out of jugs, straight into the washer, often adding a second big glug just to make sure.


We use liquid fabric softener by the gallon and dryer sheets by the hundreds because there’s no such thing as too soft when it comes to towels and sheets. And when things come out looking gray and feeling stiff and crunchy, what do we do? More detergent, more softener and even more dryer sheets!

The problem is product build-up that never gets rinsed out. Every time you do the laundry, more and more product gets left behind. This build-up of detergent and softeners can make appliances stink, colors look dingy, whites gray and linens feel stiff and scratchy. But that’s not the worst.

The medical website,, reports that the perfumes and additives in laundry products may cause skin problems. Fabric softeners are very allergenic and can cause eczema, which appears as dry, itchy skin.

Dryer sheets contain volatile organic compounds like acetaldehyde and butane, which can cause respiratory irritation. Fabric softener chemicals known as quaternary ammonium compounds, have been linked to asthma. Acetone, also used in dryer sheets, can cause nervous system effects like headaches or dizziness.

Now, Let’s Take a Few Questions from the Audience

Have I told you lately about my email inbox? It’s a mess. And today I’m ready to clean it up big time by answering 11 questions, each one of them representing dozens more with substantially the same request.


Q: What is the best inexpensive double stroller that you recommended in a recent column? I read it, copied the information but now cannot find it anywhere! Thanks.

A: My pick for the best inexpensive double stroller is Graco Roomfor2 Click Connect Stand and Ride Stroller (about $140). It accommodates an older child who can either sit or stand at the back, plus a baby/toddler in the front. For two babies I recommend the Delta Children City Street Side by Side Stroller (about $60).

Q: I’m dying here in Atlanta. The humidity has been unbearable. I really need that inexpensive dehumidifier you recommend. Can I get those details again?

A:  That column brought a huge response, but none more glowing than from Will who wrote with the question originally. He wrote back once his FRIGIDAIRE FFAD7033R1 Energy Star 70-pint Dehumidifier, about $218, was up and running. He was so happy with the result. Be sure to review the original post as I offered two options, depending on the size of your space. 

A Dozen Painless Ways to Save $50 or More

Money may not grow on trees, but we can help it grow in our wallets. Recently I asked a group of readers to tell us how they make saving $50 (or more!)  a no-brainer.


Jennifer L. doesn’t spend any $5 bill that comes into her possession. “My husband laughed at me, but I did this for five months leading up to a vacation and saved $485,” says Jennifer. “And I didn’t have to let go of any favorite luxuries like manicures, pedicures or Starbucks.”

Lydie T. has found a way to make credit-card companies pay her. “I pay for every purchase (groceries, books, gifts) with a Visa card that gives me one reward point for every dollar I spend,” says Lydie. “I pay the balance in full at the end of the month, so I don’t pay any interest. Last summer, I saved $1,000 by using the points to buy my husband’s ticket to Europe to see our family.”

Do without just one luxury a month. It’s more palatable. Mary C. gave up taxis, eating out, clothes shopping and more—but only one at a time, and each for only one month.

Instead of searching her purse for the exact change, Lori G. makes sure she receives change. “Every few days, I put my change in a container. I average $10 a week. It’s so fast and easy, and adds up to $50 in no time.”

How to Create the “Dirty Denim” Look

Are your teens hounding you for the hot look known as “dirty denim?” Okay, so you like it too. I won’t hold that against you. But I might change my mind if I find out you or your kids spent $80 for a pair of dirty denim jeans (or $750) when the ones that look neat and clean are much less expensive.


I’m not a complete fashion fuddy-duddy. I like to stay current as much as the next person. And I suppose I am warming up to the dirty denim look. But I simply cannot bring myself to pay more for it. You don’t have to, either.