3 Money Mistakes to Avoid


I’m going to guess you’ve made a financial mistake or two in your life. Who hasn’t? For some of us, it was more than an occasional late fee or random urge to overspend that brought us to our financial knees. But I’m not talking about the kind of blunders that got us into trouble—we could list those in our sleep. Instead, I want to focus on the mistakes people make while they’re working their way back to financial health. Avoid these goofs to make 2014 a year you make financial progress!


Mistake: Not saving. You’ve heard this plenty, and here it comes again: Jump to the front of the line—in front of your creditors—when you divvy up your paycheck. Get over feeling guilty about keeping money for yourself. You need a fat emergency fund, and the only way to build it is to pay yourself first. Stuff happens, and if you’re not financially prepared for those emergencies, you’ll keep falling back into debt. 

Gourmet Coffee on the Cheap


I must be the luckiest gal in the world. I’m the one who gets to look into the mail bag to find so many clever and entertaining time- and money-saving tips from so many nice readers. Take a look at today’s selection:


You can spend a lot on fancy flavored coffee or you can make your own. I own a Victorian Bed and Breakfast and here’s my secret recipe that brings raves from all who visit: Break up a cinnamon stick in coffee grounds before brewing. That’s it. I use ordinary supermarket variety coffee and no one is the wiser. Nellie B., New Hampshire

You will never have to worry about what to do with those soap slivers again if you do this: When a bar of soap reduces to between 1/2 and 1/3 of its original size, simply lather up another bar and attach it to that one. Once dry they’ll “glue” themselves together. Combine different bars of soaps for an interesting effect. For instance, stick Herbal Rosemary to Aloe Vera! Belinda B., Arkansas [Note: This will not work if either is Dove. -mh]

Get Paid to Donate Your Stuff


If you itemize your tax return, you probably know that you are allowed to deduct the fair market value of clothing and household items you donate to charity. But what’s the fair market value of say a pair of shoes or a lamp? More than you might think.

The law does not allow the charity to determine the value of an item you donate. The charitable organization gives you a receipt saying that you made the donation. You, the donor, must assign that “fair market value.” And that’s the problem.


If you overstate the value you risk an audit, penalties and interest. If you underestimate you’ll pay more taxes than you should.

Some years ago, my husband and I donated our antique pump organ to a church where it will be used in services and enjoyed by many. It’s more than a hundred years old so looking up the new price and depreciating it appropriately was not possible. Our accountant suggested we locate similar antiques that have sold in, say, the past year and then adjust accordingly for our specific situation. Right. Like there’s a brisk market for antique reed organs down at the mall.

But then I got to thinking …. hmm … eBay! Sure enough, several pump organs have sold in the past year. I printed the documentation and attached this to our tax return that years to back up the value we assigned and then deducted from our taxable income. 

Know Your Cleaning Products


Two women, different locations, same accident.

Both women using an ordinary commercial toilet bowl cleaner were not satisfied with the way it was removing stains. Each added household chlorine bleach and stirred with a brush.

One died quickly, the other spent a long time in the hospital.

Here’s the problem: Whenever chlorine bleach comes into contact with acid or an acid-producing substance like toilet bowl cleaner or vinegar, there is a sudden release of chlorine gas. This is not a good thing! A similar result occurs when chlorine bleach is mixed with ammonia, lye or other alkaline substances. Chlorine gas is lethal.

Now that I have your attention let me assure you: If you stay clear of chlorine bleach, you have nothing to fear by making your own cleaning products. But, you may be wondering, why should you even consider doing that? The cost, for starters.


You know that blue window cleaner sitting on your counter? You paid about 28 cents an ounce for it and it’s 95 percent water.

Your own products will cost only pennies to make and will not contain toxic chemicals that could be harmful to your family and the environment. 

What to Do When You’re Too Tired to Cook


If money is leaking out of your household and you aren’t quite sure where it’s going, I have an idea: Fast food. Busy households mean tired parents and that can easily result in getting take-out two or three times a week. Does anything about this sound familiar?


The last thing you need is for someone to tell you to get a grip and plan ahead! So I won’t. Instead I’m going to tell you what worked for me when I was in somewhat your situation (two boys 17 months apart) and a few things I’ve learned since.

Five-menu rotation. Come up with five simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. These don’t have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. Example: Monday: Spaghetti, salad and bread. Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans and so on. Ask your spouse to handle one weekend dinner and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner or let the kids give it a title. That leaves one Family Fun Night or some other reason to order in pizza. Post your weekly menu on the refrigerator. Now everyone knows what to expect, including you. This will simplify your grocery shopping, too. As the children get older and you get more courageous you can expand your repertoire, but for now stick to the five-menu rotation.

The 1% New Year’s Solution


Want a simple, pain free plan to increase your savings this year? CPA, author and blogger Mike Piper says save 1 percent more. “Increase your savings contributions by 1 percent of your gross income,” suggests Piper.

It might be difficult to imagine how such a small change could make any difference at all, but according to Piper this strategy can work wonders, especially if you are young. I could not agree more.


Anything you can do to become a consistent saver is going to come back to bless you in many ways in the future. A personal program of consistent savings does more than increase your bank account. It changes your attitude. It quiets your insatiable desires and moves you  away from the edge where it is easy to worry and panic. Money in the bank changes everything.

Confused in the Supermarket


Dear Mary: Can you clarify expiration dates on food products? When it says “Sell By 4/01/13″ does that mean it has to be used or just sold by that date? Others show a date of say 2/01/13 on canned or packaged goods. Does that mean you need to use it by this date or what? Some canned or packaged products don’t seem to have any date that I can find. Why is that? I’m so confused! Bob D., California


Dear Bob: Great question! The answer however, which I can promise you will be much longer than your question, may surprise you. While most food processors date and code their products, the Food and Drug Administration mandates dating only on infant formula and baby food. Everything else is voluntary. Still, the food industry generally follows certain guidelines suggested by the FDA.

Phrases like “Best Before,” “Better if Used Before,” or “Best if Used By” tell you how long the product will retain its best flavor and highest quality. They are found on products like baked goods, cereals, snacks and some canned foods. The food is still safe to eat after this date, but may have changed somewhat in taste or texture. 

How to Deal with a Holiday Hangover


Hangover. It’s such a descriptive word of the harsh reality one faces in the morning as a result of overindulging the night before.


If you went a little nuts with the credit cards over the recent holidays, you may know a thing or two about a different kind of hangover—debt hangover. I’d rather not make things worse by pointing out the fact that all the stuff you paid for with credit will be soon forgotten. Instead, let’s figure out how to get rid of your holiday hangover.

FACE THE FACTS. Stop beating yourself up for having overspent. Set your emotions to the side, and deal with just the facts. How much money are we talking about here? $800? $1,200? More? Whatever it is, face it head-on. Know thy debt.