Eat Together on Family Day

Good food, great conversations and loads of laughs—that’s what family dinners are made of.

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If busy schedules are making it hard for your family to all land at the same place at the same time, take a “time out” to consider all the benefits of gathering around the dinner table. Family dinners are about more than just sharing a meal.

The fourth Monday in September (this year September 28) has been declared “Family Day — a day to eat dinner with your children,” by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. Join more than 1 million families who have made a pledge to eat dinner together that day.

Trying to get everyone together for a meal, especially every day, can be difficult. But the benefits of eating together make family mealtime a tradition worth pursuing. Simply eat with your children whenever possible, even if it isn’t every day.

Surprising Ways Car Wax Can Make Your Life Easier

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there’s an old can of car wax hanging out in your garage or basement. Now would be the time to find it, dust it off and hope it’s not all dried out. Car wax is good for so many more things than just waxing a car. Prepare to be amazed.

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DE-FOG MIRRORS. There’s nothing like a nice hot shower to steam up bathroom mirrors. Car wax is the secret to make them fog-free. Apply a small amount to the entire mirror, allow it to dry then buff it away with a soft dry cloth.

TUB, SHOWER AND SINK FIXTURES. No matter how water spotted and dull your faucets and fixtures are, car wax will make them look like new—and help them stay that way. Rub a small bit of car wax into all of that metal and allow it to dry for a few minutes. Now just polish it away with a soft dry cloth. The wax will prevent new water spots and keep those fixtures sparkling.

TOOL CARE. Say good-bye forever to rust on garden, garage and auto tools when you apply a coat of car wax to all of the metal parts. Make sure you rub a little wax into the hinges and moving parts to keep them from jamming and sticking.

Crash Course for College Freshmen

All around the country, newly-minted high school graduates are heading off to college. They’ll be taking a lot of things with them, but we know that financial literacy is not one of them.

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If I could spend just two hours with these awesome students, this is what I would attempt to cram into their heads, then pray that it penetrates their hearts:

A BUDGET IS YOUR FRIEND. That means you 1) have a written plan for how you are going to spend your money 2) you use that written plan like you would a road map, consulting it often and 3) you use a site like Mint.com or a pencil and paper to record how you spend every nickel. SallieMae.com has a monthly budget worksheet to help you estimate your costs and keep expenses under control.

GET A FREE CHECKING ACCOUNT. It’s not easy these days to find free checking accounts with no strings attached—no monthly fee, no minimum balance requirement and no minimum deposit. But many banks such as US Bank, do offer free student accounts that fit this criteria.  Explore banking options in the city where you will be attending school or find out if the bank or credit union that your parents already use offers free student accounts and has a branch near the college campus.

Just Maybe the Best Homemade Holiday Gift Ever

It happens every year about this time. I begin scrambling for the perfect Christmas gift idea for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues. My criteria is that the gift has to be homemade and easily mass produced. It needs to be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. It must be something that will survive the mail, and above all it needs to be affordable.

As of a week ago, I’d pretty much narrowed this year’s gift to one of the most decadent condiments on earth—Bacon Jam. I needed to make a test run to determine if the stuff is as outrageously delicious as is being reported and if it’s reasonable in terms of time and money to make it in mass quantities.

It’s been three days since I finished up the test run and the results are unquestionable: This stuff is crazy delicious. Like candy but more savory. The amount of Bacon Jam that fits into a half-pint (8 oz.) glass jar is quite generous because a little Bacon Jam goes a long way!

I have run into a challenge that could make the gift of Bacon Jam impossible for all but my local friends. I’ll let you know about that together with a possible solution for the problem. But first let me show exactly how to make Bacon Jam together with what I’ve decided is the perfect recipe.

What Retailers Don’t Want You to Know About Tap Water

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but sometime over the past decade or so, the general population of this country formed a belief that bottled water is better than tap water—safer and healthier, too. It is not difficult to figure out where this idea originated. It was with bottled water suppliers. It was pretty ingenious to convince otherwise normal people to pay between 240 and 10,000 times more to purchase water in a bottle than to get it from the supply we’re already paying for that comes out of the taps in our homes.

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TAP WATER IS CHEAPER

These days a 16-ounce bottle of “spring” water goes for about a dollar, which works out to about $8.00 a gallon–twice the cost of milk, and about par with bottled soft drinks. Home delivery of water in those great big, heavy bottles is less per gallon but still around $40 a month, according to online averages.

The average household cost for town water in the U.S. is $.66 per cubic meter, which is 265 gallons, or 4,240 eight-ounce glasses of water—enough to last the average person 530 days (consuming eight 8-ounce glasses per day). Another way to price it: Sixty-two 8-ounce glasses of water cost about 1 cent.

This Year’s Homemade Holiday Gift: A Preview

A couple of weeks ago on the very same day I heard from two friends (you know who you are Andrea and Carolyn) letting me know that they’d made perfect homemade Christmas gifts of Homemade Madagascar Vanilla, and to rave reviews! Of course, I ate up all the love and great feedback. But I wasn’t surprised. I keep a big bottle of the stuff in my pantry and reach for it several times a week. It is amazing. And as a gift, homemade pure vanilla extract is elegant, unique, and simply lovely.

If you’re thinking of making gifts this holiday season, you’ll find complete instructions, links and labeling ideas below. Check the calendar and you’ll see that you have no time to waste. This high-quality pure vanilla extract requires time to brew.” But first, I want to let you know about the homemade gift I am auditioning for this coming holiday season.

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Slightly more complicated to make than Madagascar Vanilla Extract (which is ridiculously easy), I’m almost certain this year’s Bacon Onion Jam is going to hit it out of the ballpark. I’m still refining the recipe, figuring out costs and searching for the best resources for the ingredients plus jars and labels.

Don’t Let Lunch Eat a Hole in Your Future

If you were to be hit with a major economic crisis right now, would you be prepared? The vast majority of Americans admit they’d be in deep trouble. The sad truth is that most Americans are theoretically just one paycheck away from the street. Approximately 62% percent have no emergency savings. Nothing in the bank. Nada. Zilch!

Why aren’t people saving? They don’t believe they make enough to keep current on their debt, pay the rent, keep food on the table, gas in the car—and come out with anything left to save.

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While all of this is certainly plausible, another statistic kinda’ blows a hole in that argument: 70% of Americans spend $18 per week eating lunch out twice a week. At $9 per day, that’s $936 a year! And for those who eat lunch out five days a week the number jumps to $2,340 per year. Lunch may well be eating a huge hole in their finances.

The solution is not hard to figure out. Taking your lunch to work or school could easily recover $2,500 per year for savings, if we consider at least 2.5 lunch-eating people per household. And every time you are strategic with using last night’s leftovers to make today’s lunch, you’ll be saving even more. (Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?)

How to Set Up an Automatic Payment Plan

Creditors, especially banks and credit card issuers, are unbelievably sensitive to whether you pay your bills on time. So is your credit score. One slip-up could cost you dearly if that means you lose your low- or no-interest rate, or a late payment results in a big late fee.

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Late payments are reported to the credit bureaus and that can mean a serious blow to your credit score, which may result in higher insurance premiums now and higher interest rates on your next mortgage. If you’re thinking “domino effect,” you are exactly right. Bottom line: Do not pay late!

An excellent way to make sure you always pay on time—even when you’re on vacation, sick, or for some other reason suffer from brain freeze when it’s time to pay bills—is to automate. By putting as many of your payments on auto pay, you eliminate that monthly decision: Should I pay bills tonight or wait until Tuesday? Should I put money into savings this month or buy those cute shoes?