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Little Things Readers Do to Save Time and Money Every Day

If you are taking salad for lunch, pour the amount of dressing you will need into the bottom corner of a small plastic bag. Put a twist tie above the dressing and cut off the rest of the bag. When you are ready to eat, just snip off the corner and squeeze the dressing into your salad. Kristine

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MAC N’ CHEESE MY WAY. My toddler eats only a small portion of a box of macaroni and cheese. Leftover mac and cheese is never a hit and the individual packs are too pricey. Instead, I buy the boxes when they are on sale and store the cheese powder and noodles in separate jars. Then I can prepare individual servings as needed. I use 1/3 cup of dry noodles and one heaping tablespoon each of cheese powder, butter and milk. Michel

TOILET CLEAN.  To get rid of mineral rings in the toilet, drop in one or two denture tablets. Check its progress in 30 minutes—or go ahead and leave it overnight. Flush. The toilet should be sparkling clean. Amy

These Bugs Detect Water Leaks You Cannot See

My readers do come up with great tips, tricks and ideas for how to save time and money every day. Today is no exception. From bugs to puppy poop—all the way to phone chargers and tomato paste, we’re about to cover a lot of frugal ground.

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CUTEST LITTLE LEAK DETECTOR. After dealing with a toilet leaking and causing $500 in damage because it went unnoticed for too long, my plumber told me about this ingenious little device called the LeakBug, which detects the smallest amount of standing water and alerts you to it with loud beeping like a smoke alarm. I purchased one for each of my bathrooms, under sinks and next to the water heater. I’m finding that my peace of mind is well worth the initial cost! Mack

TOMATO PASTE WASTE. Many times a recipe will call for a small amount of tomato paste. Often, this means that if you’re like me, what remains in the can is stored in the refrigerator for future use. It also means that months later I find it and toss it in the trash because it has now gone bad. But no more! Now, I take the remaining tomato paste and spread it out in a thin layer in a zip sandwich bag I store flat on a freezer shelf until it’s frozen. The next time I need tomato paste, I simply break off what I need, zip up the bag and replace in the freezer. Works great; no more waste! Karen

Low and Slow on the Bacon Plus 7 More Useful Tips

FOOLPROOF BACON. The easiest mess-free way to cook bacon with the least amount of shrinkage is low and slow in the oven—365 F for 30 minutes.

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HEALTHIER, GREENER HOUSEPLANTS. Whether you’ve got a green thumb or not, you probably want your houseplants to thrive. Watering plants with club soda is better for them than plain water as it contains phosphate and other nutrients that enrich the soil and promote growth.

CLEAN A WINDOW BLIND CORD. The pull cord on your window blinds used to be white. Remember that? Here’s a quick and easy way make it that way again:

Raise the blind so that the maximum amount of pull cord is exposed. Next fill a strong gallon-sized zip-lock type bag about half way with a 50/50 mixture of water and liquid bleach (or liquid detergent if bleach makes your nervous). Gather up the pull cord and place it in the bag. Carefully twist the top of the bag and secure it closed over the cord using one or two clothes pins or chip clips. Allow to remain this way overnight. In the morning, carefully remove the bag and wipe down the cord with a dry towel.

Caution: This is likely a two-person job. Make sure you well protect the floor below this project just in case you encounter any spillage. This is a little tricky but works so well it’ll be worth the extra effort.

FREE FERTILIZER. Spent coffee grounds work great as fertilizer and insect repellent in the garden. Plants such as rosebushes, azaleas, rhododendrons, evergreens and camellias that prefer acidic soils will especially appreciate the leftovers from your morning cup—decaf or regular. Not a coffee drinker? Ask the baristas at that coffee shop down the street to save some for you.

DIY WRINKLE RELEASE SPRAY. You can spend $7.99 for a bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser, but why would you when you can make it yourself for a couple of pennies?

Pour 8 ounces distilled water into a spray bottle. Add 1 teaspoon liquid fabric softener and 1 teaspoon rubbing alcohol. Apply sprayer tightly, and shake well. Set spray pattern to fine mist. Spray the offending wrinkles with a fine mist then smooth out the wrinkles with your hand. This spray will dry quickly and wrinkles will be gone.

GENTLE SCRUBBING CLEANSER. Make your own gentle scrubbing cleanser that’s eco-friendly and costs very little, using just three ingredients.

Mix 1/4 cup baking soda, 2 tablespoons liquid dish detergent like blue Dawn and enough white vinegar to make a smooth paste. Use to clean the stove top, sinks, bathtub, shower walls—any place you need some gentle scrubbing power but do not want to run the risk of scratching the surface.

KIDS IN MUSEUMS. Want to visit museums with your children but avoid the boredom and tears? Head to the gift shop first and buy postcards of the museum’s most famous works. Create a treasure hunt in the museum for these masterpieces. Send the postcards or add them to your trip album.

FORMICA FACELIFT. If you can’t replace the Formica counters that you think are out of date, consider painting them. There are several methods that you can use.

Consult a good paint store or check your local home improvement center. Products such as Counter-top Transformations by Rust-Oleum or Giani Granite Paint will update your look for a reasonable cost.

Repair—Don’t Replace—and Pocket the Savings and More!

Not all companies are starving for business these days. In fact, some are setting records for increased business. Any kind of repair business and also thrift stores are doing great during these financial turbulent times. Makes sense. After all it doesn’t require a Mensa membership to know that most often it is cheaper to repair than to replace, and you can clean silver for a fraction of the price of a commercial cleaning product for a fraction of their new price tag. Which leads me to today’s first in a fun collection of random tips …

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WINDSHIELD REPAIR. Call your insurance agent to report a small crack in your car’s windshield. Many insurance companies will fix cracks or “stars” for free, provided they’re smaller in size than a quarter, in order to prevent larger claims in the future. Some companies will even send a repair person to your home or work to make it convenient for you.

CORD CORRAL. To corral a group of cords under your desk or behind a TV, buy a plastic shower rod cover. Cut it to your desired length. Then spread it open and enclose the cords. You can even match it to your carpet color to make the cords less visible.

COUPONS FOR KIDS. Turn grocery shopping into a game for kids. Pick out which coupons you plan to use and give them to the kids. Let them try to match the items from the coupons to the items on the shelf. Then, at check out let their reward be the money that you saved from using the coupons.

FRESH SCENT. Scented candle stubs from used candles will keep your car smelling fresh. Put the wax pieces in a can or a small container and leave them in your car. On a warm day, the wax will melt and fill the car with a nice fragrance. 

How to Squirrel-Proof a Bird Feeder

Recently, I had the occasion to shop for a bird feeder for a dear friend. I learned quickly that squirrels are nuts about bird feeders and can outsmart just about any design or effort to keep them out of the birds’ food. For me, that begs the question:  Why aren’t there squirrel feeders so squirrels can have their own filling stations and stop tormenting the birds? I’m sure if there’s an answer to that, I’ll be hearing from my readers very soon.

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In the meantime, enjoy today’s first tip from EC reader Marge, who discovered a cheap, albeit effective, way to deal with thieving squirrels in her yard.

SQUIRREL-PROOF. After watching squirrels hanging upside down on my bird feeders—sometimes one on each side of the roof—I finally found the solution: a jar of Vaseline. I put on a rubber glove and then smeared the pole from top to bottom with the Vaseline. In no time at all, I watched as one squirrel tried to climb the pole, but jumped off because it was too slippery. So far none, have been able to overcome Vaseline while I am enjoying many different birds at the feeder. Marge

CATCH MICE LIKE MAGIC. I have another use for Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. I bought a new one, and stored it under my kitchen sink. The next day I reached for it and something had been eating it. Pieces of white torn up sponge were around. A mouse, I thought. So I got out some handy mouse traps and as I was about to use peanut butter for bait, I suddenly thought, “If he likes the Mr. Clean Dry Erase Sponge so much…” So I cut off a piece and used it to bait the trap (so much less messy than sticky peanut butter). This morning there he was in the trap, having gone for it. Who would have imagined? Sharon

It Pays to Pay Attention

Do you know the scanning error policies of the stores and restaurants you frequent most often? If you’ve never thought about it, you are going to get a big wake-up call with today’s first great reader tip! These days, we just cannot be too careful.

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CATCHING ERRORS PAYS. We just caught $80 dollars in clerical errors in two days. Three were at the grocery store. I got double charged for an item and an item on clearance was going to be charged full price because they forgot to black out the barcode. At another grocery store I was supposed to get a half pound of cheese if I bought a pound of meat. I bought the full pound, but they did not take off the cheese. Another error happened to my husband when he bought a two dollar measuring cup. The clerk did not give him a receipt, but did proceed to charge him $69. This was caught on camera. She put the next person’s purchase on his card. All these errors were corrected because we were paying attention. Lesson learned: Check your receipts immediately and online bank statements daily. These errors can add up quickly. Margaret

SECRET CODE. Do not carry your Social Security card with you. Memorize the number. If you don’t have confidence to do that, put it in code form, i.e. a long string of numbers where the individual numbers of your SS number are hidden in the 1st, 3rd, 5th or such places in the number chain etc, etc.  Do this on a 3 x 5 card with no title. Now anyone finding it will have no clue what significance this number chain has. John

Water Bath Keeps Lemons Fresh and Other Great Reader Tips

I’m a lucky woman. Once a month my husband and I make a quick trip to California to tend to business, see friends and visit our older son, who just happens to have the most prolific Meyer lemon tree on earth in his back yard.

I try to always bring an empty bag with me so I can load up with these beautiful, tree-ripened lemons. Many thanks to our first reader for her tip for how I can keep my lemons at peak long enough to use them up. I tried it and it works for me!

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FRESH LEMONS. if you like to keep lemons on hand even when you don’t have a specific need, submerge them (washed with peel on) in a bowl of water in the refrigerator. You will have fresh lemons for weeks on end. I currently have had a bowl in my refrigerator for two months, and they are beautiful. Wow. What a money saver, and I always have a fresh lemon when needed. Ashley

DRIVE-THRU FIRST. Taking youngsters to a fast food restaurant can be a fun treat, but standing in a long line with an active brood can be stressful. Solution: Drive through first, place your order and request the server put your food on a tray at the counter because you’ll be right in. By the time you park and get everyone inside, you can pick up the tray and go directly to a table. Rhonda

SUPER-QUICK DRY. Need to dry a pair of jeans or pajamas in a hurry? Put them and a completely dry bath towel into the dryer. They’ll be dry in a fraction of the time they would have taken on their own. Patsy

Banana Sandwiches the Right Way

Quick and easy. That’s how I enjoy saving time and money. And every day I learn fun new ways to do that from you, my lovely readers. Check out this new batch of time- and money-saving tips:

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BANANA BUNS. Inevitably there are always hot dog buns left after a hot dog meal. My kids love to eat peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches on hot dog buns. Quick, easy and no banana slices fall out like they do on regular sliced bread. Carolyn

CHEAP CHICKEN. I love using rotisserie chickens when I am in a hurry—in pasta sauce or casseroles, they taste great and really cut down on prep time (especially when it comes down to eating in versus eating out). In my favorite supermarket, they sell hot rotisserie chickens for about $5 each. However, I have discovered that I can get a cold one (usually from the day before) for $2.50—half the price! Cold works great for me. We almost never eat them immediately upon bringing them home and had always been refrigerating them until use. The cold, cheaper ones can generally be found in the deli refrigerated area, that is near other prepared foods, salsas, and so on. Kerri

FILE AND FORGET IT. When I buy something that has a warranty, I save the receipt and staple it to the owner’s manual, then file it. Hillary