Debt Consolidation Can Be Deceiving

 

To the person drowning in debt, a debt-consolidation loan looks a lot like a lifesaver. But reaching for it without knowing exactly what it’s made of could be a serious mistake.

The way it’s supposed to work: You pay off all your small high-interest consumer debts with the proceeds of a new low-interest loan whose payment is less than the total of the smaller payments.

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In theory, consolidation is a terrific solution for a burdensome debt situation. In reality, it can force you into even more treacherous waters.

The 7-Day All Cash Challenge

 

This morning while waiting for my car to fill up I put the time to good use. I read all the hazard warnings.

I couldn’t help but think how much better off we might be if there were similar warning signs posted in stores, restaurants and malls warning of the hazards of plastic. ATM, debit, and credit cards can be every bit as hazardous to our financial health as fumes and improper handling of gasoline fuel can be to one’s physical health.

The vicious cycle of plastic-induced debt begins subtly. Before you know it, you’re knee deep in the accumulation of things, all the while losing something precious called financial freedom.

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There is a cure for the plastic disease. Put yourself on a cash diet. Here’s my challenge: No plastic whatsoever for the next seven days. Of course you shouldn’t send cash through the mail, but I’m talking about day to day living. 

How to Prepare Perfect Salad Greens

 

I was way off base when I guessed “egg-gathering basket.” Leslie Hindman, host of the TV show,  Appraisal Fair, held up this round cage-contraption with folding sides and asked us to guess “What the Heck Is It?” Salad spinner was the right choice, but who knew people were wasting their money on needless pieces of kitchen equipment back in the 1880s?

I used to have a salad spinner. It worked OK, but not as well as the currently popular Oxo model ($30). Even it does not remove all of the water from a load of salad greens. And it takes up a lot of storage space.

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This does not mean I’ve abandoned my pet peeve for wet, soggy, limp salad greens. I’ve just discovered a better way to dry my salad greens for a lot less money and a fraction of the storage space required for a big bulky salad spinner.

Self-spinner. You need a clean cotton pillowcase. Wash your greens well, shake off the excess water and stuff them into the pillowcase. Gather the open end into your hand so that it is completely closed and step outdoors. With great gusto, swing it around in circles for a minute or two, windmill style. The water will be thrown to the edges of the pillowcase due to centrifugal force, then absorbed by the fabric. Your greens will be crisp and dry, you’ll get a little exercise and entertain the neighbors at the same time. (If stepping outdoors is not convenient just pin or tie the pillow case closed and toss it in the washing machine on spin cycle for a minute or two. Seriously!) 

Can Heirs Inherit Frequent Flyer Miles?

 

Dear Mary: I traveled for a living for many years and racked up quite a few frequent flyer miles with several different airlines. Altogether, I have close to a million miles sitting in various accounts. I watch these accounts closely and take the necessary steps to make sure the miles don’t expire, however it occurs to me that I will not live long enough to use them. Do you know if there is a method by which I can leave these miles to my heirs as part of my estate planning? They would be quite valuable, I imagine. Thanks for any help. Ben C.

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Dear Ben: You are right. Your miles are a type of currency and as such hold a great deal of value. Despite the fact that many airlines’ websites state clearly that accrued miles are not the property of the member to whose account those miles have been posted and that they cannot be transferred under any circumstance, most customer service agents when contacted and asked directly, respond that there is process that it can be done, and of course there are fees involved to do so. American Airlines will transfer up to 100,000 miles for $20 per 1,000 miles plus a $35 transaction fee. Ouch! 

Load up on Free eBooks for Your Digital Reader

 

If you’re confused by the world of digital books and eReaders, here’s a quick tutorial to get you up to speed: An “eBook reader,” also called an eBook device or eReader, is an electronic device that is designed primarily for the purpose of reading books and periodicals in a digital format, rather than flipping the paper pages of a book, newspaper or magazine. The most popular eReaders are Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s NOOK. Some smart phones like the iPhone and Droid can also function as an eReader, as can your computer, whether that’s a PC or a Mac.

Once you have the device, the software you need to read eBooks is free. You can go to Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com for free downloads of these companies’ particular eReaders. Once you are set with the proper software, you’re ready to download digital books, which are priced typically around $10 per book.

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But Before you start running up a big tab buying eBooks, check out free eBooks now available for your digital reader:

Project Gutenberg. This organization has been busily digitizing books with expired copyrights, making them free to the public. Currently more than 36,000 titles are available as free eBooks, just sitting there waiting for you to download them at Gutenberg.org.

Airfares and Frequent Flyer Programs Changing Rapidly

 

I travel a lot—nearly 1.4 million miles on American Airlines alone. I can’t claim to be an expert on how to earn, maintain and redeem frequent flyer miles, but I have learned a lot from those who are.

First rule of air travel. When it comes to travel by any mode by especially air, do not assume anything. Always check the fare you are quoted, then re-check. Fares change rapidly.

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Recently American Airlines, where I hold the bulk of my travel miles, merged with US Airways. For months now, as I am booking a reservation at AA.com, I can see which flights are US Airways and which are AA. Curiously, both airlines maintain their individual websites.

Today I needed to book a flight to Phoenix AZ. I started at AA.com. The best deal I could get: $332 round trip on US Airways flights. I put it on hold and opened a new browser window for Kayak.com, to search and verify that I had the best deal on hold at AA. The result: Not exactly. In fact, Kayak.com returned the identical US Airways flights at USAirways.com that I was holding at AA.com—same airports, same times, same flights—for a total of $138 round trip. Wow.

One Powerful Personal Finance Tool

 

The most powerful financial tool you have at your disposal is your ability to control and choose your thoughts. Your attitude is the only thing in your life over which you have complete control.

Your attitude is more important than anything–more important than education or experience. It is more important than how much money you have, how much you owe, what you would like to do or where you want to go.

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You cannot design the circumstances of your life. But you can tailor make your attitude in response to those situations. The way you choose to respond to your circumstances from the mundane to the major has the potential to change the course of your life.

Here are some ideas for how you can put your attitude to work for you. 

7 Fabulous Ways to Use Up Leftover Bread

 

Who doesn’t wince at the thought of throwing food in the garbage that is slightly past its prime? Take bread for instance. It’s no longer fresh. So what can you really do with leftover bread, rolls or baguettes that will turn them into something great, almost if by magic? Here’s the secret: Grilling, toasting, baking or frying will give bread a second yummy life. In fact, the following are all best when the bread is not fresh. You’ll be amazed.

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1. French toast. In a bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 2/3 cup milk. Soak 6 slices of leftover bread in the mixture, turning to coat both sides. Heat lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Place bread in pan and cook on both sides until golden.

2.  Croutons.  Rub 4 slices of stale bread with a clove of garlic that you have crushed. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add cubes and cook, stirring often, until crispy. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.