With ATM Receipts and Legal Guardians, Leave Nothing to Chance

Face it, life is uncertain. We cannot know the future, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw caution to the wind and let come what may. There are some areas of life where we can take steps to reduce certain risks by exercising good common sense.

Dear Mary: This has been bugging me: At my bank’s ATM, there is a big trashcan where everyone throws away their receipt/transaction slips. It seems like a bad idea to toss them away since they show the balance and transaction info. But being cautious means I end up with an overstuffed, cluttered wallet. Do I need to save them, and what’s the best way to get rid of them? Rob

Good Reasons to Pay Off Your Mortgage

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that the website featured in yesterday’s post,, while a free site that links to a lot of very useful information, is riddled with ads. These ads, which make it appear that you must pay a fee to perform a search, are cleverly embedded into the site so as to make them not appear as ads. Very deceitful. As I used and tested this site, I’ve had my ad-blocker enabled, which means I never saw the ads. They are blocked for me. ADVICE: There is a simple way you can use this site without paying or even giving your email address. Make sure you have installed an ad-blocker before attempting to use Rest assured that the site itself remains very useful and is completely FREE. If you see something else you do not have an active ad-blocker; you’re being manipulated. I use AdBlockPlus, which is free. There are others, so make sure you find one that is compatible with whichever web browser you are using. -mh

Mortgage-burning parties, like the Pony Express and covered wagons, are from a bygone era.

There was a time when mortgage-burning parties were common. It was like putting the cherry on top of the American Dream. And this burning thing was not figurative.

Once that last house payment was made, the mortgage company would send the Mortgage Agreement to the borrower stamped, “Paid in Full.” This would be such a cause for celebration, the new homeowners would invite everyone over to watch them set the document on fire, all the while cheering while it went up in smoke.

Things have changed, especially in recent years as mortgage rates have dropped so low. There are some financial advisors who actually advise their clients to not pay off their mortgages, and invest the money instead to build greater wealth. Of course, this action provides a healthy income for the advisor who collects commissions when a client takes that advice.

You may be tempted to follow that advice, refinancing and stringing out your mortgage for as long as possible—even well into your retirement years—while you try to eke out a higher return on your investments. 

From Credit Counseling to Contaminated Mascara—Readers Want to Know

There are so many things I love about my job, and right at the top is that my readers trust me to help them with everything from figuring out if they could benefit from getting professional help with their debt situation to figuring out when to toss the mascara.

Dear Mary: I am out of money—and I mean not a dime left after I pay bills. I have been considering credit counseling to get some breathing room. My credit is shot and I’m feeling desperate. By enrolling in credit counseling, at least the creditors would get regular payments and checks that don’t bounce. Am I wrong to consider this kind of help? Sandy

Fire Extinguisher Safety Zone, Super Useful Website and Handy Vacuum Tool, Too (with UPDATE!)

What do fire extinguishers, hard-to-find phone numbers and handy dandy cleaning tools have in common? Nothing other than the subject lines of three messages that recently washed up in my email box!

Dear Mary: Your recent column on fire extinguishers and the P.A.S.S. system got me thinking about my home fire extinguisher. Like yours, mine has been there so long it’s blending in with the decor and that prompted my question: Do fire extinguishers expire? How can I know it is still good? When should I replace? Janine

Dear Janine: Fire extinguishers do not have an infinite lifespan. They will expire. The typical portable extinguisher that has not been opened remains in good condition between 5 to 15 years. But you don’t have to guess or wonder if it’s fully charged and ready to go. Look for the pressure gauge on the extinguisher itself. Check to make sure the needle on the gauge is in the green zone. That indicates that it is still good. Once that needle moves into the red zone it should be replaced or recharged. (Small extinguishers for home use are often “single-use” products and cannot be recharged.)

Food Cost-Cutting Strategies for Every Lifestyle

Ever wonder why you never have enough money to save? I’m talking about consistent, regular deposits out of every paycheck that go straight into a savings account. Maybe it’s time to consider that you’re handing over your savings to local restaurants, drive-thrus, diners and coffee shops. Think about it.

What if you didn’t eat out so often? What if you were strategic in buying basic ingredients and then cooking great meals at home? What if you had all of that money tucked away in a savings account rather than the coffers of local eating joints?

No matter your lifestyle, I am confident that with the right strategies, you really can reduce the amount of money you’re spending on food.


If yours is a single-income household struggling to survive in a two-income world, keeping food on the table and the bills paid can be quite a challenge. The good news is that time is on your side. The one not working outside the home has the time—it takes time to carry out the best strategies—to keep the cost at rock bottom without sacrificing quality.

Make-It-Yourself Furniture Polish Cheaper, Better, Healthier

Not long ago I got a request from EC reader Kelly for a make-it-yourself furniture polish recipe. She said that she uses a lot of it and it’s getting so expensive.

My first thought was of course to suggest she time her purchases for when furniture polish goes on sale, and then to stock up. I recently purchased a can of Pledge aerosol polish (reg. $5.49) for $1.50. I was harboring a $1 coupon and when Pledge went on sale for 2/$7, I used my coupon (my store doubles), bought one can and enjoyed a great bargain.

Kelly didn’t mention environmental issues in her desire to make her own furniture polish, but after doing some research on the matter, that may be something all of us should consider and perhaps even more than the high cost. I was amazed to see what goes into a can of spray furniture polish. Many contain synthetic ingredients like silicone, solvents, petroleum distillates and artificial fragrances to mask the chemical smells.

Everyday Cheapskate Greatest Hits 2016

As we bid a fond farewell to the year 2016, I thought it would be fun to review the posts and products that were so popular they made it into Everyday Cheapskate Greatest Hits 2016.

Enjoy this trip down EC memory lane and the opportunity to revisit something you may have missed or forgotten about. Hint: The #1 post has enjoyed more than 337,000 views in 2016 … and counting.

A Number as Useful as Your Credit Score

Whether you know your credit score or not, by now you are aware that you have one and that potential lenders, insurance providers and others use that 3-digit number to evaluate your creditworthiness.

portrait of a worried couple calculating financial budget

There’s another number that is just as important for evaluating your financial situation. In fact, it’s a number that you can calculate yourself anytime.

Your debt-to-income ratio—expressed as a percentage—is a simple way of showing how much of your income is available for a mortgage payment after all other continuing obligations are met. This ratio is one of the many things a lender considers before approving a home loan.

If you’ve shopped for a mortgage loan, you have likely noticed loan debt limits referred to as the 28/36 qualifying ratio. Those numbers refer to two percentages that are used to examine two aspects of your debt load.

The first number (28%) indicates the maximum percentage of your monthly gross income that the lender allows for housing expenses. It includes payments on the loan principal and interest, taxes and insurance (often referred to by the acronym PITI) plus private mortgage insurance (typically required if you will start with less than 20% equity in the home) and homeowner’s association dues.