Dear Mary: Mary, thank you for your service to America. I’ve enjoyed your column and books for more years than I can remember. Unfortunately, I overlooked your advice on parents’ paying for a college education and we jumped in. Our daughter finished in 2007 and we’ve been paying ever since. She is working but not making much. We currently owe $26,000 on her education and are paying $347 a month, which will repay the debt in 10 years. Other than continuing the long haul, do you have any suggestions? Barbara B., email
Dear Barbara: I wish I had a great solution for you that would wipe out this debt much sooner and save you a lot of money. Had you written before your daughter enrolled in college, I may have suggested that you steer her into a school that offers loan repayment assistance for graduates when they come out with student debt but cannot find a job earning at least $38,000 a year. Houghton College and others are now offering this kind of safety net for both the student’s and parents’ college loans. And I’m a big fan. My best advice is that you do everything you can to increase your monthly payments on your loan. There is no prepayment penalty on parent (PLUS) loans. If you can possibly pay yours off faster, you’ll avoid paying a lot of interest. I wish you and your daughter well.
Whether it’s anticipating a backseat disaster, coming up with a quick dinner solution or keeping memories alive, our Readers have just the perfect solution.
TRAVEL KIT. I have a little kit I keep in the car. It contains gallon-size zip-lock bags, paper napkins, straws and antibacterial soap. It’s amazing how many times I use it. Once, my daughter became sick on the way home from an event. The zip lock bag and napkins came in very handy. Then there was the time my son had to pet a friend’s dog and then wanted to have a snack on the ride home. Antibacterial soap to the rescue. Having straws handy means I can keep my eyes on the road and take a swig of a can of soda at the same time. Mary Jo., Kentucky
SHOO FLIES. I’ve learned that keeping fresh rosemary around keeps the flies away. A growing plant in a windowsill is a great idea. Bud M., email
ROLLS LIKE BOB’S. Sometimes I forget to buy dinner rolls to go with the entree I’ve made for dinner. Then I remember what they used to do at Bob’s Big Boy when I went there as a kid. They toasted split hamburger buns and served them in place of dinner rolls. If it’s good enough for Bob, then it’s good enough for my family. They love it, too! Jennifer B., Wyoming
Surely the winter of 2014 will go down in the history books for breaking numerous records and for teaching us a new term: Polar Vortex. Sounds like the title of a Disney movie, doesn’t it?
Actually—and I had to look this up to be absolutely sure to get it right—the Polar Vortex is a prevailing wind pattern that normally keeps extremely cold air bottled up toward the North Pole. However, once in a rare while the vortex weakens, allowing the cold air to pour down across Canada and into the U.S. And that spells another term, and the subject of this column: snow. Cold, wet, heavy snow.
Although shoveling the stuff to keep driveways and walkways clear seems pretty straightforward, there’s a subtle art to the task. And it helps to have the right equipment.
But first a word of caution: Shoveling snow is not a task for the weak of heart. We know this because after a snowfall hospitals are inundated with heart attack victims and patients with wrenched backs. If you’re out of shape or suffer health problems, hire a local teen or befriend a neighbor with a snow blower instead.
If you are hoping that one day soon I, your humble columnist, will find the error of my ways and fall in love with debit cards, you can probably stop hoping. I doubt if that will ever happen. In fact, I’ve just discovered why I also am not a fan of the prepaid debit card.
First, a quick definition: A prepaid debit card, unlike a debit card that takes money directly from a bank account, draws from funds stored right on the card itself. Also called a reloadable debit card, a prepaid debit card appeals to a variety of users. The primary market for prepaid cards are unbanked people—those who do not use banks or credit unions for their financial transactions, for any number of reasons.
photo credit: nj.com
Prepaid debit cards appear to be all the rage these days. MasterCard and Visa market theirs as gift cards.
Government assistance is distributed in many areas via a prepaid debit card.
A growing number of American companies are replacing paychecks and even direct deposits with prepaid debit cards. Employees can used these cards, which work like debit cards, at an ATM to withdraw their pay.
And what’s so wrong about that? I’ll tell you with one little word: FEES!
If your refrigerator is at all like mine, it harbors an odd assortment leftovers and “almost gones!” So what on earth can you do with that? Try some of these suggestions on for size:
Salad dressing. It’s a rare refrigerator that doesn’t have an assortment of almost-empty salad dressing bottles. Here’s what you can do with any oil and vinegar dressings like Caesar, Italian or other vinaigrettes–even the low-fat varieties: Mix them together for marinade for beef, pork, chicken. The oil adds flavor, the vinegar (or other acid like lemon juice) tenderizes. You need enough to coat the meat or poultry, then cover and refrigerator for at least an hour before roasting, grilling or baking.
Applesauce. That last bit of applesauce in the jar will make a wonderful coleslaw dressing. Make sure you have about 1/2 cup applesauce left in the jar and then add 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/3 teaspoon celery salt, 1 teaspoon prepared mustard, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 tablespoons water. Apply the lid, shake well and toss with 4 cups shredded cabbage or packaged coleslaw mix. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to meld. Yield: 8 servings.
Dear Mary: Could you tell me how to remove non-skid appliqués from the surface of a bathtub? They were applied at least 20 years ago and they are chipping off due to age, but leaving a residue of adhesive behind. What can I use to remove the adhesive layer? Carole K., E-mail
photo credit: www.theartofdoingstuff.com
Dear Carole: Try WD-40, the well-known lubricant that comes with a red straw. It works incredibly well to remove old glue left behind by non-slip decals in a tub or shower. It has a number of unique uses, and the ability to remove old adhesive from a shower or tub is just one of many.
Begin by drying the area thoroughly. Apply a liberal amount of WD-40 to the old adhesive, and allow it to soak in for at least ten minutes. Use a plastic scraper to gently scrape away the old non-slip decal adhesive. Apply more WD-40, if necessary, and continue scraping until the area is clean and free from decal adhesive. It should be easy to remove, but the longer it has been in place, the more difficult it will be to scrape away. Normally, they will dissolve that kind of sticky residue on porcelain surfaces.
ONE HOT DATE. Our village does not offer garbage pick up as a municipal service so residents can contract with whomever they desire. For years we paid about $25 per month for weekly pickup. Then a friend told us about a landfill 12 miles from our town that accepts bagged garbage for $1 per bag or just 50 cents for seniors. Because we recycle so much, we have very little true garbage. We drive to the landfill once every other week with our one bag and make it part of a day out doing errands and going out to lunch. After almost 30 years of marriage, we laughingly refer to this as a “hot date.” We kick ourselves when we think of how many years we paid so much for garbage pick-up. Carole C., New York
TIE-BACK HOOKS. I was revamping my children’s bedroom. I made curtains, and really liked the simplicity and look of “holdbacks,” decorative hardware that holds the curtain to one side. But I was shocked when the least expensive set I could find was $12 a pair, and I needed two. No way was I going to spend $24. I found, instead, that bike screw hooks used to hang a bicycle up out of the way ($5 for a package of two) were just the right size. These steel hooks are plastic coated and come in a variety of bright colors—the perfect custom holdbacks that match my children’s room perfectly. Karin G., Texas
With its incredible and constantly growing reach, the Internet has so much to offer. But beware. Not everything you find online is reliable. Not to worry. I spend countless hours researching and sorting out the good from the bad for you.
You can rely on these very useful websites—all of them free—to help you and your family preserve your precious cash while improving your lives. Enjoy!
Feed the Pig. Saving consistently has become a rarity in America, and this was true even before the Great Recession hit back in 2008. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has taken a proactive approach with a certain segment of the population: Teens. FeedThePig.org is a personal finance site created to educate and inspire teens to take control of their money by learning the benefits of saving.