You Need a Vacation

Forget the excuses. You need a vacation and for more reasons that it’s just fun to get away. Research shows that regular getaways may increase longevity by preventing heart disease. In fact, men in a nine-year study who took at least one vacation per year were almost 30 percent less likely to die from a heart-related cause compared with the men who kept their noses to the grindstone. 

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Family vacations are one of my best childhood memories. Being together away from the normal routines of life creates an atmosphere just right for bonding and for making memories to last a lifetime. 

If you can manage the time, I’ve got some tips and ideas to make it happen:

Be realistic about the cost. Consider the money you have first and then design a vacation that will realistically fit within that financial boundary. If you have a family of five and $500 to spend, don’t even think about a couple of days at Disney World.

How to Break the Habit That’s Killing Your Finances

Let’s not beat around the bush. Eating out is eating up your future. It’s gobbling down your present and keeping you stuck in the past. That heavy debt you’re hauling around didn’t happen while you were asleep. Chances are pretty good that you’re eating your way into debt.

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Breaking the eating out habit isn’t easy to do, but it can be done. What it takes is motivation, determination and perseverance.  

Cost. Let this exercise act as a quick-start motivator: For one week, track your household spending on every form of eating out including coffee, donuts, restaurants, cafes, diners, street vendors, food trucks, fast food … all of it. Once you have that number, multiply by 52. But wait, there’s more. Estimate the cost of all of the food that you throw in the garbage every week because you buy it then eat out instead. You may be looking at the reason you aren’t saving for retirement, building an emergency fund or stuck in debt.

Gross factor. I don’t want to get too graphic here describing a negative motivation that might persuade you to eat at home more often, so let me allow the CDC to do that: Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in five restaurant workers admit coming to work while sick with diarrhea and vomiting–two main symptoms of the stubborn norovirus, which understandably is now running rampant. The problem lies with these sick workers who take a bathroom break, do not wash their hands with soap then return to prepare and serve our food. Not only is it expensive to eat out, your chances of getting sick are increasing as well.

Never Trust a Dark Restaurant

I should have known better. Of all people, I should not have trusted a menu that had no prices on it. But for some reason it just didn’t cross my mind that I needed to.

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Friends called asking us to go out to dinner. It was spontaneous so they looked to me, their fearless cheapskate, to come up with just the right choice. We were all game to try something different, so armed with my trusty two-for-one entertainment book, I led the way through the first 60 or so pages of this exhaustive resource. We eliminated the outrageously expensive and finally agreed on a Moroccan restaurant.

The menu was printed right in the book and indicated, “Dinners: $15 per person.” Assuming that we’d get four dinners for the price of two (that’s the point of this two-for-one book, right?), we figured this was a pretty good deal and a good way to try something new, just in case it was well, gross.

The “Valet Parking Only” sign should have been the first clue. Instead it ticked me off, but I figured an extra buck or two to park wouldn’t kill us. 

Big Artillery to Clean Gross Shower Floor

Dear Mary: I sure hope you can help me. I’m at the end of my rope with the floor of our fiberglass shower. It’s stained and gross. I’ve wasted a lot of money on fiberglass cleaners but nothing works. I cannot afford to replace the shower, which is in excellent functional condition. Any suggestions? Roy M., Utah

Borax is King

Dear Roy: Sounds like it’s time to bring out the big artillery. Make a trip to the grocery store for Twenty Mule Team Borax (you’ll find it in the laundry aisle) and on the way home stop at the home improvement store for FINE drywall “sandpaper” (it’s not really sandpaper, it looks more like window screening and is sometimes called a drywall sponge).

Mix 1 cup borax and 3 cups baking soda into a scouring powder. Dampen the floor of the shower, sprinkle on the powder generously then scrub the floor with the drywall sandpaper as you would a sponge. Rinse and repeat as necessary. Caution: This is for otherwise hopeless situations and textured fiberglass tub and shower floors, not smooth fiberglass surfaces.

Spice Co-Op Saves Money, Builds Friendship

Sharing readers’ tips with you reminds me just how much we can teach each other. Just when I think I couldn’t possibly learn anything new, here comes another charming way to save time or money every day from readers just like you. You make opening my mail so much fun!

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SPICE CO-OP. My wife often ends up with spices she uses only once or twice before they go stale and she has to throw them out. Her solution? She formed a spice co-op with a close friend. Now whenever either of them buys a new bottle of spice they share half of the bottle. Both save money and end up with a great spice collection. They also have discovered that exchanging spices is a great excuse to get together for a gab session. Gil N., Texas

BULB NUTRITION. This fall resist the urge to remove the foliage after your bulbs have finished blooming. Let the leaves wither naturally so that the bulb has lots of time to manufacture nutrients and fatten up for the next year’s blossoming. Now your bulbs will perform as true perennials. Wilton M.

Rebate or Rip Off?

You know what irks me? Rebates. Take the vacuum cleaner for example. I bought it because with the $30 rebate, the final price beat all the competition. And I’ll admit I was quite proud of myself when I crammed the receipt and rebate form into my purse. The problem is I completely forgot about it.

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Just this morning I was looking for something else when I ran into it. I was stunned to discover I have only a tiny 30-day window of opportunity to claim my rebate–and 25 have passed. That got me thinking: How many people don’t remember just in the nick of time? How many $30 vacuum cleaner rebates will never be redeemed? Why are they making it so difficult for me to get my money?

The rebate theory is simple. Manufacturers and retailers offer rebates to stimulate sales. We buy, we mail and they send us money. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. But the conditions can be so rigid that it becomes nearly impossible for the average consumer to comply. And that’s exactly the way they want it.

Like It or Not, You Need a Good Credit Score

In my perfect world there would be no credit scores. And while I do not believe that credit is necessarily evil, in that perfect world of mine, there would be no need for any of that because it would be, well … perfect!

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Back to reality. There are myriad reasons we need to have good credit histories and excellent credit scores. 

Like it or not, lots of things are now predicated on one’s credit score. Take automobile insurance premiums, for example. Want the best rates? You’ll need a good credit score. 

Want to make sure that out of all the applicants, you get that really great apartment? You must assume that your potential landlord is going to look to your credit history to determine if you will make a reliable, on-time-paying tenant.

Stop Getting Scammed and Ripped Off!

This is a guest post by Bob Sullivan, an award-winning investigative journalist, author of the Red Tape Chronicles, two NYT bestsellers and founding member of MSNBC.com. You can visit him at his website, take a look at his new book Getting Unstuck and follow him on Twitter.

I have spent 20 years interviewing thousands of people who’ve fallen for scams and ripoffs. I’ve interviewed hundreds of criminals, too, not to mention pseudo-criminals who work at corporations that survive almost entirely on their ability to fool people. I’m frequently asked: what makes people fall for scams? What makes someone a good “mark”? 

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While I worked at NBC, I was always reluctant to give clear opinions on such things. Now that I’m an independent journalist, I feel more free to speak out. I have plenty of strong opinions on this one. 

But before I tell you what’s wrong with the tired old saw, “If it seems too good to be true, it is,” let me get this out of the way: I hate people who blame the victim. 

Yes, consumers can be dumb, foolish, and even greedy. None of these things should ever be construed as permission to steal from them. These are the kinds of excuses you hear from criminals and corporations all the time, and I hate them. It’s always clear who the bad guy is: The guy who walks away with the money. The test is easy: Any time you take someone’s money and that person is confused about why, you are wrong. Give the money back.