Want What You Have, Buy What You Need

Years ago, I read in The New York Times that according to Yankelvich Research, the average American adult is the target of some 3,500 commercial ads in a single day. How outrageous is that? Sure, we live in a highly commercialized society but 3,500 ads? In a single day? I figured that had to be a gross exaggeration.

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I decided to conduct my own test. I would count the ads I heard or saw in my typical day. I knew it wouldn’t come anywhere close to 3,500.

The next morning the radio alarm sounded and before I could even open my eyes, I needed to put two hash marks on my score pad. So prolific were the ads on television I could barely keep an accurate count and get ready for the day at the same time.

Of course I had to count every message, banner, business placard, real estate sign, billboard, license plate frame, bumper sticker, commercial vehicle and bus I saw on the way to work all the while being careful not to miss any radio ads. Good thing I wasn’t driving.

Reading the newspaper boosted my count significantly as did flipping through a few magazines. Have you ever counted the ads in a typical magazine? Try it sometime.

A Flying Lesson

This is a guest post by Beth Lee Lundberg, MBA, AFC, Financial Coach, mom to two, and founder of The Yankee Saver. Visit Beth at her website to learn more about her financial coaching services. You can follow Beth on TwitterThe opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own and meant only for informational purposes.

When I was about six years old, I really wanted to fly. If there had been a school for flying, I would have been the first kid on the bus. So you can imagine my delight on that bright New England Saturday morning when, thanks to an episode of Superfriends, I finally learned what to do.

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I went outside on our front lawn and I began to spin around. Then, with my arms out and the wind in my face, I said these words:

Oh Zephyr winds that blow on high, lift me now so I can fly!

Since spinning around while reciting that chant made flying possible for Ms. Andrea Thomas, high school science teacher by day, goddess-empowered Freedom Force heroine by night, surely it could work for me! So I spun, spun and spun! I spent the morning spinning, falling down, and spinning again. I spun, I chanted, and in the end, I lay on the couch with the worst headache of my young life. The only time my feet left the ground was when my Dad carried me into the house because I was too dizzy to walk.

While I didn’t get to fly that day, I did learn an important lesson, which, as it turns out, is just as important in building wealth as it is in flying:

What works for one person will not necessarily work for you!

Imitating behavior is a natural part of learning. From playing peek-a-boo, to improving our back-swing, doing what “they” do can be a great way to learn. But when it comes to building wealth, imitation can get us into big trouble. Why? Financially speaking, we are all unique. We have different income levels, sources of income, lifestyles, debt levels, goals, responsibilities, legal obligations, earning potentials, work-related benefits, tax burdens, insurance coverage, health considerations, risk tolerance levels, financial behaviors, on and on and on. Every household has its own set of financial characteristics that each member’s path to success his or her own. In fact, what works for one could be downright detrimental to another!

Wasp Traps, Cheap Reads and More Great Reader Tips

There’s nothing I enjoy more than opening my mail to find it stuffed with my readers’ money- and time-saving tips. Sharing them with you is a close second.

Before I do that today, we need to go over a few things:

I may have not personally tested and vetted every tip, trick and idea that I share with you. Some I consider to be clever no-brainers that make me go, “Well, of course that works—and what a great idea!”

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Other tips just don’t lend themselves to being tested under my present circumstances, while some are just so “out there,” I wouldn’t know how to make 100 percent certain that they would work—even when they do make sense.

And then there are the tips you will never know about because they are so off-the-wall or downright ridiculous, I am not willing to waste my time or yours with them.

My Secret Financial Security Blanket

If I had a dollar for every stupid purchase I’ve made in my life, I’d be a wealthy woman. My financial faux pas have been remarkable in both quantity and quality. I’ve made some real doozies.

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Take the above-ground swimming pool. Its a la carte price was bad enough. Adding everything required but not included took it past barely reasonable to absolutely ridiculous.

First, there was the heater and filter. Then a cover, chemicals and test kit. Of course we needed search and rescue equipment (this was one monstrosity of a pool) and a few necessary pool toys. Oh, and let’s not forget the cost of eventually getting rid of the albatross. Let me put it this way: There is not a lively secondary market for this kind of thing.

If I’d had the courage to consider the consequences of such a major purchase first—before making the decision to buy, I am quite certain we could have avoided that  five-year industrial-strength headache and saved one huge pile of dough.

Using Regular Detergent in a High-Efficiency Washer is Risky Business

If you’ve ever wondered what’s the difference between regular laundry detergents and those designated as “High Efficiency” or HE, if they’re interchangeable and if you could possibly make your own to cut the cost, you are not the only one! Those are questions that frequently show up in my mailbox. 16788336_m

Dear Mary:  First, thank you for your column, I love it! I just inherited several bottles of regular laundry detergent. I have an HE front-loader washer. Is there a way to use or modify regular laundry detergent for HE use? Christin

Dear Christin: Standard washing machines that use traditional laundry detergent (the type of detergent you’ve inherited) use up to 23 gallons of water per load. Full-sized energy efficient top-loaders like my beloved LG High-Efficiency Top Load Washer (which I loved and gifted it to my son when we moved into a tiny apartment—another long and lovely story for another time), use about 13 gallons of water per load (a savings of more than 3,000 gallons of water per year!) operate much differently than a standard machine. This is one of the reasons that HE detergent is quite different than the standard type of detergent.

So, can you use standard detergent in your HE machine? I must advise you that your owner manual is not likely to support such an idea, potentially putting your warranty at risk. That being said, I will admit that I did use standard detergent from time to time in my LG top-loader that required HE detergent. But I used MUCH less per load because it uses so much less water.

Too much detergent will clog up the machine because the amount of water it uses is not sufficient to rinse it out. That build up can cause the machine to malfunction and to eventually create an offensive odor.

When I say “less” I mean a lot less. Like one-fourth the amount you might  normally use. I measured it in tablespoons, not capfuls. And I diluted it in a large container of water before pouring it into the machine.

Would I do that again? Yes, but not on a regular basis. I want you and all of my readers to know that to do so would be, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, taking a potential risk should the machine require service under its warranty.

Given the potential harm you could do to your machine, you might want to consider re-gifting the detergent to friends, family or a shelter in your area that uses traditional washers. Then make a big batch of my new and improved liquid homemade HE detergent (read on to learn more about that). That way others win and you win, too. Hope that helps. And thanks for loving EC.

Dear Mary: I made up the laundry soap recipe that you published back in 2012. It seems like there is way too much Fels-Naptha soap for the recipe. I bought a similar jar of laundry soap mixture at the local Farmer’s Market and the vender did not have nearly as much soap in it. It did quite well in my HE washer. I just want to make sure there wasn’t a misprint in your article.

I look forward to your articles each time they are in my local newspaper. Thank you for your diligence and pithy advice. Cheryle

Dear Cheryle: The recipe for powdered laundry detergent you refer to (1 cup grated Fels-Naptha soap, 1/2 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda and 1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax) is correct. It may seem like a lot of Fels-Naptha but keep in mind, you use only 2 tablespoons of the final product per washer load.

This recipe is suitable to be used in any clothes washer including those designated “high efficiency” or HE, as this detergent does not create suds. You would want to use a bit more in a standard washing machine, however.

Since that column ran more than three years ago, I’ve discovered what I believe is a much improved  recipe for homemade liquid laundry detergent; one that does not require Fels-Naptha soap (somewhat difficult to find these days plus all that grating!) and is also HE compliant. I find it performs better, too.

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Questions About Shrimp Sauce, Cloudy Glassware and Tire Inflators

Dear Mary: Recently you gave us some fantastic recipes to make our own sauces at home (It’s All About That Sauce!) But you missed one! How about the Shrimp Sauce that only Japanese restaurants seem to have. Got a recipe for that? Matthew

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Dear Matthew: You’ve put me through my paces since receiving your message. And I have good news! I found it—Shrimp Sauce just about as close as you can get at home. When you try this, let me know how it rates as compared to the sauce in your favorite restaurant.

Shrimp Sauce

  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic juice
  • 4 teaspoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Place all ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together. Allow to sit in refrigerator for a few hours before serving.

In a Pinch You Can Use This for That

Have you ever discovered you’re all out of a certain ingredient just when you’re in the middle of preparing a recipe? I hate when that happens. And I know myself well enough that I don’t want to run to the store. For me an unscheduled trip like that could easily cost $40, maybe more. That’s just how impulsive I can be. I’ve learned that when I’m in a pinch— I need a pinch-hitter!

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NEED AN EGG:  Combine two tablespoons of water, two tablespoons of flour and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.

THICKEN GRAVY: If you’re out of flour, you can substitute pancake mix up to three tablespoons. It works well, just don’t go over three tablespoons or your guests will be looking for the maple syrup.

BREADCRUMBS: Crumble 1/2 slice of bread and mix 1/4 cup broken crackers to substitute.

BAKING POWDER:  For each teaspoon of baking powder, substitute: 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch

BUTTERMILK: Combine one cup of fresh milk and one tablespoon vinegar.

Every Home’s Most Overlooked (Free!) Heating and Cooling Devices

Who doesn’t love learning about a money-saving tactic or investment that result in a net savings of thousands of dollars a year? I sure do! And I can count on maybe two fingers how many of those I’ve managed to deploy in my home in the past decade.

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It’s easy to think that the tiny things we can do to save money just aren’t worth the time and trouble. But they are because of the cumulative effect. Small things repeated often bring huge results. I call them little ways to save big.

OPEN OR CLOSE YOUR WINDOWS. Your house or apartment is full of free heating and cooling devices. They’re called windows. Using your windows for more than letting in light is a great way to save some serious scratch. If you live where it’s cool at night and warm during the day open your windows at night to let the cool air in and close them in the morning to keep the warm air out.

Use your curtains and blinds to block out the sun and keep daytime cooling costs down. Of course, if you live in a colder climate throwing your curtains and blinds open when the sun is shining can easily raise the interior temperature of your house a few degrees.

UNPLUG IT. Time it, sensor it, put it to sleep and smart power strip it. One way or another, drive a stake into the heart of phantom power drains. You could enjoy a decent dinner and movie for you and someone special once a year (including a generous tip) with money saved by unplugging unused devices.