I Know a Magic Trick and I’m Telling All

Is it just me, or do you too love to discover something inexpensive that does the exact same thing as its pricey name-brand cousin? It’s not just the money-saving difference that pushes my buttons, it’s the “knowing” part. I’m not saying it makes me feel smarter, or even smug. On second thought, maybe that’s exactly what I’m saying. Ha.

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Magic erasers. Have you ever wondered what’s the “magic” in Mr. Clean Magic Erasers? They are quite amazing, but expensive. Generally, the Mr. Clean brand erasers run $.87 to $3.50 each depending on where you find them and if you go for the original or magic erasers with fragrance. Generic versions of magic erasers are made of the identical same material for a fraction of the price. I have seen them as low as $.10 each when purchased in a pack of 200.

Here’s the secret behind that “magic.” These erasers are small cuts of melamine foam, which comes in big sheets and is used for insulating and soundproofing. Seriously true. Mr. Clean must have a big saw in his basement where he cuts it up into sponge-size pieces. So does that generic company that sells the identical same product for just pennies. Interested readers who want a 4- x 8-foot sheet of melamine insulating foam should Google “melamine foam.” Me? I’m thrilled with the erasers that cost a dime each. A box of 200 lasts a long time, although I have to admit to using them quite freely and for just about every household cleaning opportunity I can think of. Magic makes cleaning fun.

Time to Get Ready for Christmas

It’s October. And you’re reading an article about Christmas.

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When it comes to Christmas prep, there are just two categories of people: Natural-born organizational types who have Christmas all shopped, wrapped and ready-to-go come Independence Day and the rest of us.

I’m not saying that The Rest of Us are just a pathetic lot of procrastinators. Okay, well maybe I am. But I prefer to think of it as patience—waiting until I have time. Or when I get in the holiday mood.

Those of us who tend to wait until the last possible moment to get things done do have our reasons. The biggest of course is that we don’t want to get started until we’re sure we can do it perfectly. Procrastination, I’ve been told, is only a hairsbreadth from perfectionism. And in that tiny gap lurks our worst enemy: paralysis.

It’s time to get unstuck. Time to, at the very least, start thinking and making a few plans for how we’ll handle the mother of all irregular expenses—Christmas.  So, let’s get started, shall we?

Set a budget. You have to get a dollar figure in mind—the amount of money you will need to accomplish your intentions. Believe me, it’s a lot easier to do this now while it is a non-emotional issue. Determining what you’ll need to cover costs is more like a business decision that is easier to do while Christmas is still many months away. With no snow falling or malls calling, you are not feeling bombarded by guilt, fear or panic. And while you’re at it, remember the holidays also create non-gift expenses—parties, postage and pageants; travel costs, extra food for entertaining and all kinds of other expenses galore.

DIY Nontoxic Ant Spray and More

I don’t know about you, but when I learn some new and amazing household tip that promises to save me time and or money, well, it just makes my day. I love it! Not all of the tips I get from you, my faithful readers, are brand new. But since I am not good at keeping 20,000 or more of these delicious little tidbits cataloged in my mind, (yes, you’ve sent in at least that many over the years), even the ones I know already can become a new delight when you remind me of them.

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I hope you enjoy today’s offering of great tips as much as I am.

Those pesky ants. If you have ants or other bugs taking up residence in or around the house, put 50/50 mixture of Blue Dawn dish soap and water into empty spray bottle and keep it handy. When you see the insects, spray them with the mixture. Provided you really saturate those little critters, the soap actually breaks down their exoskeletons and they die almost immediately. Cheap and easy clean-up, too. Lynda F.

Slippery clean-up. I enjoy baking, but don’t like measuring sticky ingredients like shortening or peanut butter. To avoid the mess that makes, I spray the measuring cup with a non-stick cooking spray and the sticky ingredient slides right out. I no longer have to spend time scraping the measuring cup or spoon. Joyce R.

Six Ways to Get Out of a Supermarket Without Overspending

This is not the first time in this column that we’ve visited the subject of how to get out of the supermarket with at least some money left in your bank account. Still, who doesn’t need an occasional reminder—a mental tune-up—to remain vigilant and razor-sharp when it comes to making our food dollars stretch until they scream.

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Don’t go in hungry. You believe that you can simply dash in to pick up the infamous few things. But if you’re starving, you’re a dead aim for a couple of steaks and a load of snacks. You know what I’m talking about. This is because of Rule #1: Anything can happen when you are hungry.

Don’t try to remember. Sure, playing Brain Age on your kid’s Game Boy has revitalized your dead brain cells, rendering you the mental acuity of a youngster—but don’t push it. Without a list of the exact items you’ve come to purchase who knows what could happen? It’s normal for our brains to slip into neutral in the face of fabulous food. A written list is the crutch you need desperately to make sure you do not slip and fall, so to speak.

A Plan to Repay Your Credit-Card Debt

Facing your debts can be depressing for several reasons. First, all the stuff that caused the debt is not so wonderful and new as it used to be. And the interest rates … Yikes! But the worst, the all-time most horrible thing about facing debt is the realization that given the present rate of repayment, that monster is going to hang around and invade your life like a huge family of free-loading relatives, for a very long time. That’s the bad news.

Photo Credit: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Photo Credit: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

The good news is that you don’t have to spend the rest of your life aimlessly chipping away at that mountain of credit-card debt. You can fast-track your  debt repayment and get out in record time. It takes a plan, a good strategy and determination.

A “Unitasker” by Any Other Name is Still a Waste of Time and Money

Celebrity chef Alton Brown contends that a kitchen tool that does only one job is mostly useless. He calls anything like a garlic press, strawberry stem remover or hot dog steamer a “unitasker.”  His advice? Don’t waste your time and money on any kitchen tool if it is only good for one thing.

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It sounds a bit like Alton spent time with my grandma who was big on buying a sack of flour to bake bread, then sewing the sack into a dress, and when the dress wore out she would cut it into rags for a rug, or scraps for a quilt.

You Asked for It … with Tutorial!

Back by popular demand … my most-requested tutorial. Enjoy!

I was going to begin today’s column by apologizing for yet another update on how to make homemade laundry detergent. Then it struck me. These aren’t really changes … they’re improvements. Look, if Gain and Tide can produce “New! Improved” versions of their laundry products, so can we.

But first, let’s have a quick overview:

First, and I’m talking about years ago, I gave you a liquid laundry detergent recipe that required grating, cooking, stirring and storing a thick gel-like substance in a 5-gallon bucket. I believe at one point I suggested keeping a baseball bat handy to stir the stuff before each use.

Then came the New! and Improved! powdered version where you could pretty much grate, mix and be done with it. Storage was quite simple and the results were pretty good, provided you could find the right bar soap to grate and you weren’t opposed to dedicating one cheese grater for soap only (the stuff would be nasty in mac ‘n cheese).

The Best $10 Gifts

Check the calendar. We’re moving into “Crunch Time”—those three months before Christmas when some of us have a tendency to panic over gifts. This condition can easily lead to frantic overspending or worse—grabbing a bunch of $25 gift cards, putting them on an already overloaded credit card and just calling it a day. Anything to just check a bunch of names off a list.

But wait! You have time to come up with a plan to not go into debt and still give thoughtful gifts to those you love.

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Let’s say you are committed to a $10-per-gift limit. There is no doubt that you will need to use your imagination to stick to that budget, but I know you can do it. There’s lots you can do with ten bucks! And you still have plenty of time to do it.

Have no idea where to begin? Let me help. Here are 16 of my favorite $10 gifts for kids, babies, men and women.