The Antidote for Holiday Dread: Start Early

As much as I love Christmas, I must confess there are some things about the holiday season I dread. I dread the pull of the culture that tries to manipulate me and my family. I dread that heart-pounding feeling that my feet are in the starting blocks and any second I’ll hear the signal to start running as fast as I can to make it to the finish line before midnight on December 24.


It’s easy to let the busy-ness of Christmas get the best of us. We feel obligated to meet the expectations of everyone—kids, friends, relatives, communities, even our employers. It’s enough to strip away the joy leaving guilt, disappointment and anger in its place.

The good news is that you can rise above the over commercialization of Christmas. You can bring back the joy.

START EARLY.  The sooner you start the better the outcome. The sooner you start the less you’ll spend. The sooner you start the less likely you’ll be to create a pile of new debt.

CREATE LIMITS. There’s something to be said for setting limits on how many gifts to give the kids and others. Fewer gifts mean less shopping, less wrapping and of course less spending. You may discover that less is more than enough. 

Even Small Households Can Save Big at Warehouse Clubs

It’s been several years since my husband and I began talking about relocating to another state. At first it was only a dream but soon idle chatter turned to serious talk. That developed into a list of “must-haves”—things a new location would have to offer for us to even consider making the leap.


At the top of the list? Weather. Having lived in Southern California for most of our lives, we knew it would be impossible to beat the weather we’d come to love and pretty much taken for granted. Finding the next-best weather was at the top of our must-haves. Second on the list: Costco. You think I’m kidding? They don’t call me the Queen of Costco for nothing.

I believe that anyone—a household of one or a big houseful—can stretch the money by shopping at a discount warehouse club, like Costco. But only if you are willing to stick to a very strict list of rules, some of which may be unique to your particular situation.

SHOP WITH CASH. Having the complete contents of your checking account, overdraft protection plan and credit-card limit available to you in the form of plastic or a checkbook could easily enable you to pop one of those big-screen TVs into your cart, quite on a whim. Go with cash only and you’ll avoid many temptations.

Know the Shelf Life of Holiday Baking Staples

Look up the word impulsive in the dictionary and prepare to see my face. As I cleaned out the freezer in anticipation of relocating to Colorado last spring, I found five big bags of chocolate chips to prove it. They are the ghosts of a Christmas past—the remains from my now famous Gifts in a Jar marathon project.


And have I mentioned the two containers of candied fruit that I picked up the year I knew I’d have all kinds of time to make fruitcake? They had to have been at least seven years old and curiously showed absolutely no sign of becoming stale, moldy or anything close to inedible.

Many supermarkets put baking supplies on rock-bottom sale starting about Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas. I still have four five-pound bags of flour from last holiday season, which I bought for $.99 each. Sugar is cheap during the holidays, too. Ditto for other holiday baking ingredients from marshmallows to sweetened condensed milk, dates to nuts.

Avoid These Home Buying Mistakes and You’ll Never Be House Poor

Buying a home is likely the largest purchase you will ever make. This is not the time to make mistakes that could easily plunge you into a financial situation you cannot afford. Here are five expensive home-buying mistakes you should avoid. Not only will you steer clear of becoming house poor, you’ll also save yourself thousands of dollars in the process.


MISTAKE: ALLOWING A LENDER TO TELL YOU WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD. When you meet with a lender to get pre-approved for a mortgage, that lender is going to tell you how big a mortgage the lender is willing to offer you. He (or she) is concerned about only two things: Your ability to repay the mortgage and the size of his commission. He wants to steer you into the biggest mortgage possible. Ignore whatever number he says you can borrow. It is not based on what you can afford because the lender has no idea what you can afford.  

You need to set your housing budget. And that housing budget should be low enough so that you can afford to make progress on all your other important financial goals like maintaining a healthy emergency, getting debt-free and funding retirement accounts.

Laundry Problems, Mistakes and Mysteries and How to Solve Them

Laundry challenges, it seems, come in every size, shape and intensity. Rather than thinking there is no solution for that stain, shrunken item or other laundry disaster, consider the ways your fellow readers have found to recover and renew situations gone bad.


MELTED-ON CRAYON STAINS. With so many restaurants giving the kids crayons to keep them occupied while waiting for the meal to arrive, we have had to learn how to remove crayons from clothes that have inadvertently made their way through both the washer and dryer. Melted-on crayon can be removed by first applying WD-40 to the area working it into the stain with your fingers. Once the WD-40 has begun to break down the petroleum base of the crayon, apply concentrated detergent to remove both the stain and and the WD-40. Put back into the washer and launder as usual. It works like a charm. Andrea

UNSHRINKING WOOL. Don’t be too quick to toss out that favorite sweater that just got shrunk in the hot wash. Chances are good you can unshrink it if you move qickly: Mix a solution of one gallon lukewarm water and two tablespoons baby shampoo. Soak the shrunken garment for about ten minutes. Now the important part: Don’t rinse! Simply blot out all the excess water with a dry towel and very gently lay it flat on a fresh towel. Reshape slowly and carefully as you stretch it back to its original size. Dry out of direct sunlight or heat. This tip comes from the Wool Bureau who verifies this technique will work provided the fibers have not become permanently damaged. Mary

How to Clean and Care for Wood and Laminate Floors

Taking care of hardwood or laminate floors can be challenging given the everyday conditions of a family and pets. But keeping your home looking good is crucial to maintaining its value.


Generally there are two types of residential wood flooring: real wood (solid or engineered) and laminates that are man-made to look like wood. 

Solid hardwood floors are made of planks milled from a single piece of timber. Engineered hardwood is made from layers of material that have been glued together, with a layer of hardwood on the top. Laminate flooring is similar, however the top layer is photographic material that is made to look like wood. Both engineered wood and laminate come with a clear protective coating or finish.

Don’t know what you have exactly? No worries. When it comes to cleaning wood floors (solid, engineered or laminate) the only thing you need to figure out is whether or not your floors have a finish. You don’t really need to know the type of finish, just that the floors have been treated in some way to make them resistant to standing water, which is the enemy of all wood and wood-like floors.

To find out if your flooring is finished, drop a single drop of water on the floor. If it beads and just sits there, the flooring has been finished. If the drop of water soaks in and disappears leaving a dark spot, the wood it not finished.

What follows is for finished solid or engineered wood and laminate flooring only. Unfinished hardwood CANNOT be mopped since it will damage the floors. 

Dental Care is Not a Luxury Item

Recently I heard from the McBrides who live in Pennsylvania. “We’re a family of five living on a single income. Things are very tight for us. We have no dental insurance and find we cannot afford the luxury of dental care. Is there a dental plan that caters to low income families in our situation? Please answer soon before our teeth fall out.”


Dental insurance is not the answer for the McBride Family’s particular situation and that’s probably a good thing. Paying for dental insurance is a very expensive way to achieve good dental health. The only affordable dental insurance plans out there are those that are part of an employer’s benefit package. These days, even that benefit is becoming as scarce as, well, hen’s teeth.

Dental insurance is designed to cover unexpected occurrences—not the routine preventive maintenance required by a family with young children.

Let me suggest several ways families not covered through employee provided dental insurance can begin to see dental care as absolutely essential and something they can fit into their already strained budgets.

Ten Changes to Save $500 Per Month

Ignorance may be bliss in some areas of life, but your money is not one of them. You need to know where your money goes and then a strong will and determination to take control of it.


Today I want to show you ten simple changes the typical reader can make to recover more than $500 in this month and every month in the future, too.

CUT OUT NEEDLESS TRIPS. It’s the short spontaneous unplanned trips to run errands that suck the gas tank dry. Cutting out five needless trips a week will reduce your gasoline consumption by five gallons per week ($15) and add up to monthly savings of $60.

DOWNGRADE TO BASIC. Have you noticed your premium cable package creeping toward $100 a month? If you’re not there now, you will be in time. Change your cable package from premium to basic and expect a net per month savings of $60. Or better yet, cut the cord completely

D.I.Y. LATTES. Instead of handing over $3 every work day for a fancy coffee drink, make your own at home or at your desk. After paying $7 twice a month for a pound of coffee and $3 for a gallon of milk, you’ll realize a net savings of $40.