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.

Clutter’s Last Stand

What would you do if you actually had to use everything you own, including all that stuff in the drawers, cupboards, closets, shelves and boxes in your kitchen, bedrooms, living room, basement, attic, garage, rafters, driveway, patio, side yard and cars?

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Could we do it? It’s not likely. Instead, we pack it, stack it and pile it away–even pay rent to store it–and keep accumulating even more. More stuff  dilutes the quality of our lives.

Every possession carries two price tags: the original purchase price and the continuing toll. That second amount is paid in upkeep, time, maintenance and storage. It can charge its toll in anxiety, depression, relationship conflict, financial distress and even impaired function.

Moving and storing clutter. I’ve done it. Perhaps you have, too. I’ve packed it all up and paid someone to move it to a new place. “I’ll sort it there,” I told myself. Years later, I’m still hounded by unpacked boxes which I’ve moved from one house, one floor, one room or just one side of the closet to another.

Remember the Best Inexpensive Stroller?

The following post got a huge response when it was first published. Still, nearly every week, I get messages asking for the details on that amazing inexpensive small piece of manufacturing awesomeness. In an effort to keep new readers up to speed and to revisit the details of my favorite stroller, here’s that post in its entirety. Just make sure you read all the way to the end so you don’t miss the critical update.

One of the best money management tools I know is this Rule of Thumb: Match quality with need. In other words, don’t buy quality beyond the need.

Sometimes the cheapest option is the best choice. Other times, you’ll regret having gone cheap when you have to replace that item well before your need for it goes away. In that case, you’d be better off going for a higher-priced option that promises to last longer than the cheaper alternative and its replacement.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? You’d think so, but I must admit that when it comes to this quality vs. need issue, I am not perfect. It can be a real challenge.

Case in point: When my grandson was born, I bought the cheapest umbrella stroller Target had to offer. My reasoning was that I would use it only occasionally. I didn’t need a big fancy model.

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Photo credit: Stopthegears Flickr Photostream

15 Minutes to Financial Freedom

The email message contained a single-word subject: Help! The sender, I’ll call her Emily, had been asked by her community group leader to give a 15-minute presentation on how to achieve financial freedom. She was honored to have been asked, excited to do it but also panicked by the thought. She asked if I would help.

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My first thought was I can’t even introduce myself in 15 minutes. How could I, Emily or anyone else tackle that subject in just 15 minutes? But then I got to thinking: If money management is, as I believe, not that difficult, why couldn’t she do it? Why couldn’t I do it? I decided to give it a try.

Save. Do not confuse saving money with spending less, as in “I save money when I buy things on sale.” You are not saving at all, you are spending less. Saving money means that you actually put money into a safe place for some future time. Do that. Starting right now and forevermore, make it a rule that you will put some amount of your paycheck into a savings account before you spend any of it. Make it automatic and you won’t miss what you don’t see. Goal: 10-percent of all you receive goes straight into savings.

Selective Focus Makes Life Good

I kinda’ let the cat out of the bag the other day, when I told you that the hubs and I sold our big house and are now living in a tiny apartment.

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But don’t cry for me. We are having the time of our lives.

Living in this tiny space is mostly tolerable because I know it is temporary. I know the exact day, date and time we’re moving out. I’m learning that I can handle just about anything challenging as long as I know it won’t last forever.

I’ve also learned the value and joy of choosing to focus on things that are positive for which I am grateful.

Kitchen. What’s not to enjoy about a kitchen (I use the term loosely) in which I can make dinner, rinse the dishes, load them into the dishwasher, put something into the fridge and move clothes from washer to dryer—without having to take more than two steps. That’s tiny. Amazing, too.

Every Kid Should Have a Real Bank Savings Account

Dear Mary: My son is saving cash in envelopes. That seems kind of cumbersome. What is your opinion? Why not in a savings account and keep tract of the amounts for each category? Dick

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Dear Dick: I agree. Kids need savings accounts. In my book, Raising Financially Confident Kids, I recommend that kids be required to save at least 10 percent of everything they receive in a real savings account, in a bank or credit union.

Of course your son could save more than 10 percent, and keep a record for how much in his savings account he is allocating for say “College Savings,” or “New Bike,” “Summer Camp” an so forth.

Since most banks now allow customers to track their accounts online, your son could watch his money closely via computer or other mobile device.

Tell him that I’m proud of him and those envelopes! Not many kids are aware of how important it is to take good care of their money. But now he needs to learn about a real, live bank, too, by keeping some of his money there.