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7 Places to Look for Free Money

Recently, I read about a guy who has a hobby of looking for money in gutters, parking lots and other public places—and keeps a running tab. He routinely goes over $100 in a year. Not bad! Just imagine if he knew about other places that harbor free money just for the taking.

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VENDING MACHINES. Start paying attention to vending machine coin return compartments. Luckily, most of them are clear plastic so you can see into them without getting down and reaching to feel around. Winter is the best time to clean up on coins as people are often wearing gloves and don’t feel the coins they leave behind.

JUNK JEWELRY. Toured your jewelry box lately? Gather up all of the broken chains, mateless earrings, bracelets, rings—all of that gold from the ‘80s that you don’t wear anymore. If it’s at least 10k gold, it’s like cash. Go in person to three jewelry stores to see what they’ll pay you for it, then go with the highest bid. Never mail your junk gold to a “gold dealer,” and be wary of the popular gold parties.

PENSION FUNDS. If you or a family member worked for a company with a pension plan and were terminated because the company went bankrupt or was bought out by another company, you may be eligible to receive benefits from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Last year, PBGC held $133 million in unclaimed benefits for 32,000 people. That averages nearly $4,200 per person. To see if you have anything coming your way, search the PBGC database, https://search.pbgc.gov. “Finding a Lost Pension,” may also be helpful.

Get the Maximum Burning Hours from Candles Plus Other Great Tips

Am I the only one who didn’t know that there’s a definite protocol for how to burn  jar and pillar candles? I’ve made an ugly mess of so many candles in my life—only to toss them out long before their time.

But no more because I’ve learned the secret to keeping large candles looking good and  functional right down to the last bit.

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HOUR-PER-INCH RULE. Although it is absolutely counterintuitive, the fact is that burning a pillar or jar candle for at least one hour per inch of diameter each time you light up will give the candle many more burning hours over time. This way, the flame has enough time to melt the wax all the way to the outer edges so the whole candle burns down efficiently. Each time you cut short a burning session, the flame only burns the wax in the center, which wastes the outer wax at that level.

HOTEL TRAVEL TIP. If you’ve ever left something behind in a hotel room, you are going to love this tip. Make this the first thing you do when you walk in your room: Take a hand towel from the bathroom and spread it out on the desk or other counter top in the room. This becomes the de facto place for all of your things that you have a place for at home. Put your room key on the towel, your car keys, sunglasses, rechargers, wallet—everything. Now every thing is visible in one spot, rather than scattered about the room. As you come and go, return these items to their place on the towel. When you’re ready to check out, no searching, nothing left behind.

NONFOOD BARGAINS.  Do not buy nonfood items at the grocery store. Items like paper goods, garbage bags and cleaning supplies can all be purchased for lower prices at discount stores like Target, Walmart or Kmart. Grocery stores only sell them thinking the convenience of buying these items at the same time you buy your food will make you not mind spending twice as much.

Foolproof Plan for Saving $10,000

The most important thing you can do to make your personal economy strong is to have an umbrella—a Contingency Fund with at least enough money to pay all of your bills for three to six months without a paycheck. Call it $10,000.

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SAVE 10% OF YOUR PAYCHECK. It may sound like a lot, so if you can’t do 10, start with 5% or even 1% percent and build up. Deposit the money automatically into your Contingency Fund; you won’t miss what you don’t see in the first place. Okay, you’ll miss it for the first few weeks, but soon you really will not miss it.

GET RID OF NON ESSENTIALS. Give up the little things, such as cable TV, eating out, gym membership and entertainment.

CUT VARIABLE EXPENSES. You can’t cut off your utilities, stop eating or give up driving. But you can reduce the cost of the food, energy and fuel you buy. Opt for the cheapest supermarket and gas station. Turn out the lights; run only full appliances.

QUIT SMOKING. This suggestion requires no explanation. Although it does beg the question, who can even afford to smoke these days? At about $7 for a pack of smokes (U.S. average) that’s a $2,555-a-year habit. And in New York City it’s double that. Yeah, $14 a pack.

STOP PAYING BANK FEES.  If you’re paying a $7.95 (or higher) per month fee for the privilege of maintaining an account, stop! Open an account at an online bank (they pay better interest rates anyway), like Ally Bank, that doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee for checking or savings accounts. Or check with a local credit union for free personal checking accounts. Some banks even offer free business accounts.

PULL BACK.  Stop sending more money than required each month to your credit-card companies, mortgage lender or any other creditor. It’s admirable that you’re being diligent in repaying the debts, but if you continue to do this while living without money in the bank, you’ll be setting yourself up to fall even deeper in debt.

CLEAN OUT. Take a look through your cupboards and closets. Identify everything you haven’t used in the past six months. Turn what you don’t need into cash on a website like eBay or Craigslist or hold a yard sale. Or donate to an IRS qualified chartiable organization and take a tax deduction for each item’s fair market value when you itemize your federal tax return. You’ll maximize your deduction (which means you’ll reduce the amount of tax you owe) with “Money For Your Used Clothing,” a certified and guaranteed workbook that helps you determine the highest market values that the IRS will allow. You can order online or call 800 550-3502 Mon.-Fri., 8:30-5 MT.

ADJUST WITHHOLDINGS. Use the 2016 Federal Withholding Tax Calculator to make sure you aren’t having too much or too little income tax withheld from your pay.

INCREASE YOUR INCOME. Get a second job. Or third. Work more hours at your current one. Get creative by making money doing things you already love to do, like dog walking or selling handmade items.

GIVE UP YOUR LANDLINE. Over 38 percent of American adults have given up their land-based telephone service. Are you in that group? If not, why not? Basic service costs at least $25 per month in most markets.

TAKE YOUR LUNCH TO WORK. Have you figured out what you’re spending per year on eating lunch out? At $10 a day, you’re spending $2,500 after-tax dollars on lunch. Just think of all the dinner leftovers you throw out that could easily be tomorrow’s lunch.

STOP AT THE MATCH. If you are contributing to a retirement account like a 401(k) or 403(b), don’t stop now, but limit your contribution to the amount your employer matches. Ask your employer how to adjust your contribution. Once you have save to your goal, you can always change your contribution again.

The Wonders of Hydrogen Peroxide

A few days ago I got a message, which reminded me about wonders of an ordinary product most people have somewhere in the house.

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I had a cut on my hand that opened up while I was putting my expensive duvet cover (recent wedding gift!) on my comforter, now I have blood stains where I touched it. Is there any hope to getting these stains out completely? I tried using a carpet cleaning solution and washing it but, those stains remain. I’m worried these stains will be there permanently. Thanks so much for your help! Georgia

I responded immediately, directing Georgia to soak the stains with full-strength hydrogen peroxide, In hopes that she’d not set those stains forever. I heard back quickly. The hydrogen peroxide lightened the stains almost immediately, and within hours they disappeared completely. See what I mean? The stuff is downright wonderful.

Hydrogen peroxide is as harmless as it is powerful both as a household cleaner and all around remedy. It is non-toxic, safe, really cheap and available in any grocery or drug store in a food grade 3% dilution. It’s a wonderful cleaning product and reliable sanitizer. 

How to Unshrink Wool and Other Highly Useful Tips and Tricks

You know that beautiful sweater you accidentally laundered with the kids play clothes—and now looks as though it was made for your toddler. Today I have a trick for you for how you may be able to unshrink it back to its original size, shape and glory—plus a few more equally useful tips.

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UNSHRINK WOOL. 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 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.

LOST SAVINGS BONDS. Can’t find them anywhere? Provided you have a fairly accurate memory, you may be able to get the bonds replaced. The Bureau of Public Debt, the branch of the U.S. Treasury Department that issues all the various types of bonds and treasury notes, has come up with a simple system for replacing bonds. First you will need to get Form PDF1048. Fill in the approximate issue date along with your complete name (as it was then), address and Social Security number and if possible the bond serial numbers. Whomever gave them to you may have recorded those numbers so keep looking. Once the form is processed the Bureau will issue you a new set of certificates. You can get the form by writing to: Bureau of Public Debt, Parkersburg, WV 26106. Visit the Bureau’s website at www.publicdebt.treas.gov for more information. If you should find the original bonds in the future, don’t try to cash them. When new ones are issued, those originals will be cancelled.

Other Uses for Ordinary Dryer Sheets

Perhaps you’ve seen the list of uses for dryer sheets that’s floating around the Internet. Who knows where that list came from. What we do know is not all of the alternative uses can be verified as true. For example, we have no confidence that Bounce or any other brand of dryer sheet will repel mosquitoes. But spiders and flies? Read on.

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PESTS. Readers have confirmed that dryer sheets will repel both spiders and flies. Keep a few extra sheets in clothes hampers and around the laundry area and you can kiss all those spiders goodbye.

BURNT PAN. Fill that icky casserole pan with warm water and lay a dryer sheet flat on top to soak overnight. In the morning, the baked-on gunk will have either floated off or be loose enough to scrape off easily with a spatula.

TISSUE ROLL. Roll up a dryer sheet and stuff it inside the paper roll. Each time you spin, it releases a little freshness into your bathroom.

BLINDS. Wipe down your blinds with a dryer sheet to prevent static electricity and to keep dust from collecting.

No More Sleeping Through the Alarm and Other Favorite Tips

Surprise! Today, instead of sharing tips you’ve sent to me, I’ve decided to hog the entire column to share some of my own. Several of these are oldies but goodies, while some I have discovered recently. I do love great tips.

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CELLPHONE ALARM VOLUME BOOSTER. If you’re a heavy sleeper and have trouble hearing your mobile phone’s alarm, you can boost the volume by setting it in a glass drinking glass. This works because the sound reverberates and intensifies inside the glass. It may not be the world’s most pleasant amplification technique, but it works great for an alarm. As an added benefit, to turn the alarm off you have to actually pull the phone out of the glass. This makes it a bit more likely that you’ll actually get up and not roll over to fall back asleep.

NEVER LOSE THE REMOTE AGAIN. The reason most of us misplace the remote controls to our TVs and other electronic devices is they don’t have a specific place to go. They might end up on a coffee table, an end table, slide behind the couch or, as I have experienced, right into a trash can to never be seen again. One person whose handiwork I find to be so clever, stuck his remote controls to a coffee table with hook and loop fasteners. Any fabric or craft store sells this stuff by the inch or in packages with the hook and loop fasteners outfitted with self-stick tape. His choice is black sticky-back VELCRO® Brand. He cuts off the amount of product he needs for the task at hand, removes the protective paper covering the sticky sides and affixes one side to the remote and the other to the table. It’s true: When a remote control device has a home, it’s more likely to go there regularly.

How to Child-Proof a Forbidden Door Plus More Great Reader Tips

If you’ve ever had the need to prevent children from closing a door and unwittingly closing themselves in a pantry or bathroom, you may know the old hand- towel trick: Throw the towel over the top of the door. That’s it. No matter how hard a child might try to close it, “no can do!” I’ve always loved that handy dandy tip. But I have to admit, I’d never thought about how to use a similar trick to keep a child from opening a door. Well, I hadn’t until I heard from today’s first great reader ….

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CREATE A TIGHT JAM. My 2 year-old grandson opened an outside entry door with a  lever-type handle and went outside while I was in the bathroom! I live in an apartment and am not allowed to install a chain or other hardware on the door. I searched for a portable lock and found several kinds—all about $15 to $25. I finally found a suggestion of closing a folded washcloth in the opening between the door and door jam. That effectively jams the door without harming it. Opening the door requires the strength of an adult to pull the cloth out. I’m so thankful to find this tip because it didn’t cost me a thing and it really works to keep a child from opening a forbidden door. Barbara

USE ‘EM UP TO THE LAST PEEL. Rather than throw out overly ripe vegetables, I simmer them in water to make vegetable stock*. I also keep a bag in my freezer where I add vegetable peelings and other vegetables odds and ends—even potato cooking water—  and potato cooking water until it’s full, then I make the stock. Cate

*Chop scrubbed vegetables into 1-inch chunks. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons oil in a soup pot.  Add vegetables scraps and pieces (onion, celery, carrots, scallions, garlic and herbs and so forth). Cook over high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add salt and water (more or less depending on volume of vegetables) and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain. Discard vegetables. Store covered in refrigerator or freezer. -mh

STACKED GRILLED CHEESE. My wife and I enjoyed your recent article on grilled cheese sandwiches. We may just try some of the suggested variations! We like to include pickle slices in ours. We typically use the pre-sliced Vlasic Stackers dill pickles. Timing is important with these. You really don’t want to heat the pickle itself, so you need to pull the sandwich apart right after it comes off the griddle, before the cheese-glue “sets,” to insert the pickle slice. An alternative is to incorporate a slice or two of deli ham next to one of the bread slices, so that this quick action isn’t needed. John

Your humble columnist, being a huge fan of pickles, found this idea to be a bit off putting, if not downright odd. Hot melted cheese and cold dill pickles?! I must apologize for jumping to conclusions. I tried it. Oh my! Absolutely delicious. Next, I’m going to try Vlasic Bread and Butter Stackers. Your instructions are spot on, John. -mh

RETIRED BUT NOT FINISHED YET. I have been reading your blog for years and have used so many of your fabulous tips and I would like to add one that I’ve never seen mentioned. As a dusting/cleaning rag, I have found nothing beats a good, old fashioned cotton diaper. I buy two dozen very clean (they’ll never be that white again!) “retired” diapers from Dy-Dee Diaper Service in Pasadena, Calif. for $22.90. They last an incredibly long time and I feel good about giving the diapers a second life and keeping them out of the landfill. Stacie

What a great idea. As I looked into this I find that mechanics, contractors and all kinds of service people buy up retired diapers just about as fast as they become available for purchase. Every diaper service I contacted across the country, including your Dy-Dee company, sells its retired stock as diapers are removed from service. Some sell by the dozen (as low as 50 cents per diaper), others by the pound ($3 to $5 per pound seems  standard). Some companies require local pickup but others will ship.

Rather than try to list all of the companies here, I suggest you search “diaper service” in your local area and then give that company a call. -mh