Let’s Take a Few More Questions from the Audience

I don’t mention it as often as I should, but the truth is that I’d be lost without you, my loyal, encouraging and responsive audience. Thank you for being there every day and for filling my email inbox to overflowing with your comments, questions and outpourings of love and gratitude. Please don’t stop. Ever.

Speaking of questions, let’s take a few from the audience …

Q: I am having a problem with slow-cooker cooking. I got a new cooker and now everything—even pot roast—is turning out dry! Any ideas on what I’m doing wrong?

A: Slow cookers cook at a much higher temperature now than they did say 20 years ago. It is due to food safety concerns, but in reality and in my opinion, that has taken the advantage of the slow cooker away—the advantage for working families to start meals before work and come home to tasty, properly cooked food even if it’s been cooking for 8 hours or longer. All too often results are mushy, dry and flavorless.

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A Short Message for College Students and Those Who Soon Will Be

It was an honor to be invited to spend a few days on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University to speak to the students on money matters—specifically the student loans many students will take with them as part of their college experience.

Remember the days when to get a loan you had to qualify and prove you had the capacity to repay the debt? Well, for college students those days are history. They do not need to have a job or a co-signer to get huge amounts of money both in federal student loans. From what I discovered on my visit, students (and their parents in many cases) are more than willing to accept as much as they can get in federal student loans because these days that’s just the normal way to pay for college.

But here’s the good news. These young adults are willing to listen to advice from someone who’s been around the block with debt. Seizing the moment, I told them:

Accept the least amount of help possible not the most available. Just because you can borrow enough money each semester to pay for tuition, room, board and books doesn’t mean you should. You’ll never believe how difficult it is to pay back. Check yourself out of governmental outpatient care. Get a job. And in the summer get two jobs or three. Finish your degree as soon as possible instead of taking it slow and easy. Make your own way as soon as possible and you’ll reap the benefits for the rest of your life.

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Handling an Inheritance Requires a Game Plan

While not always easy to think about, inheritances are a part of the financial picture for many baby boomers—and just one of the topics that popped up as I reached into my mailbox this past week.

Dear Mary: Before reading your book, Debt-Proof Living I believed we were doing just fine with our money. Recently, my husband’s father died and we received a small inheritance. We sat down to decide how to handle this money. I pulled out the book and showed my husband the chapter on the 10-10-80 formula and the information about the Freedom Account.

We sat there and figured out our expenses. We were shocked to discover we’ve been spending almost $1,800 more than we make each month. I guess we didn’t notice because we would take a
“little” out of savings to cover expenses as needed. At this rate, all

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Best Headphones for Every Budget and Kids, Too

Several readers have asked recently about the best inexpensive headphones and earbuds both for themselves and their kiddos—and today seems like a great day to respond.

Generally these are the best values, price points and styles of headphones for adults and kids, too:

Best inexpensive wired headphones. Panasonic ErgoFit In-Ear Earbuds are smartphone compatible with integrated microphone and remote for Apple (iPhone* / iPod / iPad), Android and Blackberry Audio devices. Tonally balanced audio with crisp highs and deep low notes. Wider frequency response for musicians and fuller listening enjoyment . Lively sound quality for recorded audio. Comes with small, medium and large earpads to ensure a perfect fit for adults and children. Your choice of several beautiful colors. About $13.

Best mid-level wired headphones. 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones have two balanced armatures and a separate dynamic driver to deliver an extremely accurate music-listening experience with unsurpassed dynamic power and clarity from deep bass to sizzling highs. The built in microphone and remote are Apple and Android compatible. About $99.

Best value for high quality wired, noise cancelling headphones. Bose QuietComfort 20 is the Cadillac of smartphone replacement earbuds. These are only for those with discriminating hearing and music appreciation to go along with it. Available in two models: one for Apple devices* and one for Samsung/Android devices. Features noise cancelling that reduces surrounding distractions, letting music stand out. Many other high-end features. About $250. 

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How Long to Keep Important Papers?

Every year about this time my mailbox tells me it’s time to review the general guidelines on how long to keep statements, paid bills and other important paperwork.

Today’s quick review should help you get your paper work in order just in time to file your Tax Year 2016 return.

Here are the general rules for how long to keep important household papers:

ONE YEAR. Keep pay stubs for at least one year so you reconcile them against both your W-2 Wage and Tax Statement (this is the form from your employer that shows how your annual earnings were allocated that you attach to your tax return) and the Social Security Earnings Statement you receive once each year in the mail (you can request a copy any time from www.ssa.gov). If your records do not match the entries on these forms you’ll be happy to have your pay stubs to prove your earnings and withholding.

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Great Dates for Couples on a Tight Budget

Wallet a little thin this Valentine season? That shouldn’t mean you cancel all dates until things begin to look up in the finance department. The solution is to get creative, to find reasonable and fun alternatives that require only pocket change and the right attitude—or with any luck, some that are absolutely free.

Here are nine ideas to get your creativity going:

VOLUNTEER TOGETHER. Find a local charity that meets the needs of some area of life you are passionate about, such as a soup kitchen or pet shelter. Volunteer for the day—together!

FREE DAY. Most art galleries and museums have a free day or hours each month or have gone to a “pay as you wish” policy. Here’s an example: Los Angeles County Museum of Art is free after 3pm Monday-Friday for L.A. County residents; also free on the second Tuesday of each month. Also in Los Angeles, The Getty Center is always free. Check those in your area.

KARAOKE. Just hear me out. Karaoke is guaranteed to be a fun night, even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Let your hair down, spring for a few drinks and have a ball.

STAR GAZE. When is the last time you lay down on a blanket and stared at the stars? Grab some hot chocolate, warm blankets and your best gal or guy, then try to find your favorite constellations. If you need some guidance, you can download apps like Star Tracker (Google/Apple).

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How to Buy a Mattress

If you want to drive yourself nuts, go shopping for a new mattress. You’ll hear dozens of theories on coils, fabrics, stuffing, foam density and warranties.

What I know about buying a mattress I’ve learned from the best: Insiders now retired from the sleep product industry.

CONFUSION FACTOR. All of the major brands—Simmons, Serta, Sealy, etc., make decent mattresses but if you’re planning to go from one chain store to the next comparing prices, forget it. The major brands change the names of the same mattress for each of the stores so it is impossible to compare by make and model.

SHOP BY LEVEL. Each company makes “levels” of mattresses: Very cheap, decent cheap, good and best. That’s not what they call them, but you can tell by the pricing within each manufacturer’s line of products. Expect several models in each price level.

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How to Have More Money

You need more money. You need it now. So what are your choices? You have two: You can increase your income or you can reduce your spending.

INCREASE INCOME

Get a bigger paycheck. Ask for a raise, land a new job that pays a lot more than your current job or get a second (or third) job to supplement your current income.

Win a lottery. Do keep in mind when considering this option that your chances of being struck by lightning are much better than winning a lottery.

Sell assets. Finding a cash buyer for your grandmother’s sterling silver, the boat or other asset you own is another option for increasing your income.

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