Updates on Einstein Coat, Household Inventory and That Urge to Quit

There are some people in my life who accuse me of having a short attention span. They don’t get much of an argument from me. It’s true; I do. That’s why I am grateful that so many of you keep me on track by reminding me to give updates and feedback on things I’ve written about.

Dear Mary: Just wondering how the Einstein Coat is coming. Please update. I bought the book, “The Knit Stitch” by Sally Melville.  The yarn to make it will come to about $60. I’m afraid of failure at such a high cost in both time and money. Jeanne

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Dear Jeanne: The lower portion of my coat (that very long piece that creates the entire bottom section of the coat) is nearly done. It’s beautiful but doesn’t look much like a coat yet. The Einstein Coat is rated as a beginner project, so relax! I don’t think you can possibly mess this up. And if you do, just rip it out and start again. I’m so good at ripping out, I can tink (that’s knit spelled backwards) just about as fast as I knit! I think it’s so much fun. Just $60 to make this coat is quite a bargain. I predict you will wear and enjoy your coat for many years! Keep in touch because I’ll want to know about your progress!

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The High Cost of Dirty HVAC Filters

Do I have a story to tell you—another lesson I’ve learned the hard way so you won’t have to. Truth be told, if this faux pas helps you avoid a huge expense, I’m happy to have done it.

While working on a recent post, What are Those Grimy Black Lines Around the Edges of My Carpet?, I casually asked my husband if he’d replaced the filter in our heating ventilation air-conditioning (HVAC) system recently. I got one of those blank stares I could easily translate: Nope, didn’t even think about it.

When we bought this house in January 2014, we had the HVAC system inspected, serviced and the filter replaced. Then we got busy with leasing the house and  planning our own move a year later. HVAC filter? Completely forgot about it. It’s been more than 2.5 years!

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The scariest thing ever was to open that door on the HVAC system, dutifully labeled “Filter.” I cannot adequately describe it but I can tell you that it was nearly black and covered in what looked like fur. So gross. I’m surprised the entire system didn’t just blow up out of sheer rebellion for lack of attention.

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To Your Stress-Free Holiday

Whether you are invited or doing the inviting this holiday season, throwing a potluck can relieve a lot of stress. When everybody brings something it takes a great deal of pressure off the host and offers guests the joy of contributing to the festivities.

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HOSTING DUTIES

If you’re hosting you need to …

  • Provide the main course (ham, turkey, roast beef for example).
  • Assign each guest a dish to bring like appetizer, side dish or dessert. You can even provide the exact recipe if you have a particular menu in mind.
  • Plan for seating, table settings, tasteful decorations and background music.
  • Clear space in refrigerator for cold dishes and schedule for arriving dishes that will require oven time.
  • Gather plenty of utensils and serving dishes. Buy small containers so guests can take home leftovers, if any.
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Extended Warranties Almost Always a Bad Deal

A couple of weeks ago I took my grandsons to Toys R Us just to look around. This would be an observation outing. And if you believe that, you don’t know me very well. We ended up with some Pokemon cards and a cute little mechanical hamster that fits perfectly in the chubby hand of a 17-month old.

At check out, the clerk dutifully offered an extended warranty on the $8 hamster. You’re laughing. So did I because it is funny. Who would pay $2.50 for an extended warranty on a toy that will get lost in no time and promptly forgotten? Not me, that’s for sure. I couldn’t help but think about the tiny toy hamster when I got the following letter from Lynn:

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Dear Mary: My son works for a large home improvement store. He said that because planned obsolescence is even worse than say 20 years ago it is now important to buy the extended warranties on products. I have always disagreed, thinking that they are a rip-off and created to prey on consumers’ fear.

My son purchased two extended warranties within the last five years on two major brand appliances (Whirlpool and Hoover) and he had to use both of them. Do you think he’s right? Knowing this, these days should we reconsider buying extended warranties? Lynn

Dear Lynn: It’s a matter of dollars and sense, no pun intended. I wish you’d given me the figures—the amount he spent for those extended warranties compared to the cost of repairs.

I won’t say that in every situation an extended warranty is a bad deal. But we have to deal with the law of averages. It’s like insurance. You consider your exposure, weigh the odds and react accordingly.

Keep this in mind: Sales commissions on extended warranties are quite handsome. Why do you think that is? It’s because extended warranties are a huge profit maker for retailers. People buy them and never use them. So retailers give sales people a big incentives to sell them because they boost profits. If retailers were losing money on these warranties, do you think they’d keep selling them at the current price? No way. They’d either stop offering them or boost the price. 

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Happy Birthday to My Workhorse, Hoover

I call him Hoover and he’s worked hard for me since the day I hauled his long, lanky self into the house back in 2008.

Agriculture et métier : paysan et cheval de trait au labours

My dear Hoover (not really a horse, but isn’t that a beautiful specimen) still holds the record for the best thing I ever bought. Not only did my Hoover SteamVac rescue me from the endless loop of worthless commercial carpet cleaning companies, he’s saved me thousands of dollars over these eight years. I paid $147 for Hoover, which is still cheaper than one visit from a carpet cleaning company.

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While I enjoy hard surface floors in some areas of my home, I am not ready to give up on carpet. I love how it looks, how it feels under my feet and how it warms up a room. But I hate dirty carpet. Cannot abide a spot. The thought of what lurks between the fibers of poorly maintained carpet still gives me the heeby-geebies.

And so today, I want to give you an update on how my dear old Hoover is doing. But first a quick review on how Hoover and I partner up to keep my home and office carpet clean and pristine.

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Widen the Gap with Homemade Bread

If you’ve read my book7 Money Rules for Life, you know that Rule #1 is so simple it would be easy to overlook it as being too elementary. Here it is: Spend less than you earn.

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Now think about it … “spend less than you earn” is not the same as “don’t spend more than you earn.” That implies it would be okay to spend all that you earn, but no. The operative word is “less.” You need a gap between what you earn and how much of it you spend. That is the fundamental secret for living below your means.

It’s in that gap that financial freedom can grow. You really need to read the rest of the book, but for now let’s just say that growing the gap is the challenge.

Here’s an easy way to increase your gap this week—even if only by a few dollars, because it all adds up: Make your own bread. Wait! Hear me out. I have a recipe for you that is so amazing, so simple and so foolproof you’ll be tempted to call it Einstein Bread because it’s going to make you feel like a genius.

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Foolproof Plan for Saving $10,000

The most important thing you can do to make your personal economy strong is to have an umbrella—a Contingency Fund with at least enough money to pay all of your bills for three to six months without a paycheck. Call it $10,000.

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SAVE 10% OF YOUR PAYCHECK. It may sound like a lot, so if you can’t do 10, start with 5% or even 1% percent and build up. Deposit the money automatically into your Contingency Fund; you won’t miss what you don’t see in the first place. Okay, you’ll miss it for the first few weeks, but soon you really will not miss it.

GET RID OF NON ESSENTIALS. Give up the little things, such as cable TV, eating out, gym membership and entertainment.

CUT VARIABLE EXPENSES. You can’t cut off your utilities, stop eating or give up driving. But you can reduce the cost of the food, energy and fuel you buy. Opt for the cheapest supermarket and gas station. Turn out the lights; run only full appliances.

QUIT SMOKING. This suggestion requires no explanation. Although it does beg the question, who can even afford to smoke these days? At about $7 for a pack of smokes (U.S. average) that’s a $2,555-a-year habit. And in New York City it’s double that. Yeah, $14 a pack.

STOP PAYING BANK FEES.  If you’re paying a $7.95 (or higher) per month fee for the privilege of maintaining an account, stop! Open an account at an online bank (they pay better interest rates anyway), like Ally Bank, that doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee for checking or savings accounts. Or check with a local credit union for free personal checking accounts. Some banks even offer free business accounts.

PULL BACK.  Stop sending more money than required each month to your credit-card companies, mortgage lender or any other creditor. It’s admirable that you’re being diligent in repaying the debts, but if you continue to do this while living without money in the bank, you’ll be setting yourself up to fall even deeper in debt.

CLEAN OUT. Take a look through your cupboards and closets. Identify everything you haven’t used in the past six months. Turn what you don’t need into cash on a website like eBay or Craigslist or hold a yard sale. Or donate to an IRS qualified chartiable organization and take a tax deduction for each item’s fair market value when you itemize your federal tax return. You’ll maximize your deduction (which means you’ll reduce the amount of tax you owe) with “Money For Your Used Clothing,” a certified and guaranteed workbook that helps you determine the highest market values that the IRS will allow. You can order online or call 800 550-3502 Mon.-Fri., 8:30-5 MT.

ADJUST WITHHOLDINGS. Use the 2016 Federal Withholding Tax Calculator to make sure you aren’t having too much or too little income tax withheld from your pay.

INCREASE YOUR INCOME. Get a second job. Or third. Work more hours at your current one. Get creative by making money doing things you already love to do, like dog walking or selling handmade items.

GIVE UP YOUR LANDLINE. Over 38 percent of American adults have given up their land-based telephone service. Are you in that group? If not, why not? Basic service costs at least $25 per month in most markets.

TAKE YOUR LUNCH TO WORK. Have you figured out what you’re spending per year on eating lunch out? At $10 a day, you’re spending $2,500 after-tax dollars on lunch. Just think of all the dinner leftovers you throw out that could easily be tomorrow’s lunch.

STOP AT THE MATCH. If you are contributing to a retirement account like a 401(k) or 403(b), don’t stop now, but limit your contribution to the amount your employer matches. Ask your employer how to adjust your contribution. Once you have save to your goal, you can always change your contribution again.

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Would You Rather … ?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about (what else?) debt. It’s not the most joyous thing to have on one’s mind, but that’s what I do. I eat, think, write, breath and even sleep the subject of debt.

And yes, I have been in horrible, worse that debilitating debt where you feel like your creditor owns your soul and you are locked in the steel trap. I know what it’s like, and by God’s grace I am no longer there.

The best maintenance program for me is right here―in the work that I do (that eating thinking breathing sleeping thing I just mentioned). Maybe it’s like being a Weight Watcher lecturer. The work you do keeps you on track because your mind is always engaged in the subject matter, and you know everyone is watching.

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It’s been a few years since I asked you simply, “If all you had to do to be debt-free was to stay away from your family and friends for one year, would you do it?” It was a simple question, but boy did it bring on some heated responses, especially from our DPL Facebook fans.

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