Worry-Free is the Way to Be

Earlier this month, readers Mitch and Jenn had a string of bad luck. Mitch broke his leg in a skiing accident, Jenn’s car broke down requiring major repairs and their home’s aged roof decided to fail right in the midst of a major storm.

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The timing for all of this wasn’t ideal—just four weeks before Christmas. The financial and emotional tolls were huge, but nothing like it might have been if they hadn’t been diligently building their Contingency Fund—a pool of money every family needs when facing a dire emergency.

Mitch’s health insurance covered most of the costs of his surgery and follow-up therapy. Still they had to come up with more than $2,400 to cover his deductible, co-pays and prescriptions.

The car repairs were just shy of $2,700—not surprising given their Subaru’s age and 140,000 miles.

It was the roof that really threw them for a loop. The estimate to repair it—with no assurance that said repairs will last for longer than a few months—was $750, with a new roof coming in at $12,000. The roof failed because of its age, not because of storm damage which means no insurance coverage there.

Suddenly, their healthy $18,000 Contingency Fund didn’t look quite as massive as it did only months ago.

All of these financial emergencies were of top priority. None could be ignored.

So far, the medical bills and car repairs have reduced Mitch and Jenn’s CF to about $12,500. They opted to go for the roof repair of $750 to buy themselves time to save for a new roof.

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Three Generic Cleaners Same as Brand Names but Way Cheaper

NEWS FLASH! The Fed is expected to raise interest rates today, just as I’ve been predicting would happen in Dec. Should this happen, credit card interest rates will be the first to feel that hit. If history repeats, a second rate increase will follow shortly, and away we go. Time is of the essence! Read my Guide to Refinance Your Credit-Card Debt as soon as possible. Even if you can’t avoid this first increase, refinancing ASAP will save you a big load of money over the long term and get you debt-free in record time. Read the eBook for answers to all your questions. It’s FREE.

Most people are well familiar with the term “generic” when it comes to drugs, a term referring to any drug marketed under its chemical name without all the fancy packaging and advertising. We know that by law, for a medication to be labeled as “generic” for a name branded prescription, it must be chemically identical to its  branded cousin.

Today I want to offer you cheap generic alternatives for these three popular cleaning products—Bar Keepers Friend, Super Washing Soda and OxiClean.

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BAR KEEPERS FRIEND. It’s been years since I learned about oxalic acid. Sounds scary doesn’t it? Like something in the chemistry lab that could blow any second. Relax. It’s not what you might think. In fact, if you look on the back of a can of one of my favorite cleaners, Bar Keepers Friend, you’ll read: Contains oxalic acid.

That miraculous product, Bar Keepers Friend, that costs about $5.50 for a 12-ounce can is nothing more than generic oxalic acid. Are you familiar with Zud, another household and garage cleaner? It too contains oxalic acid.

The minute I learned this generic fact, I went online and ordered a 5-pound bag of oxalic acid for about $15 (price varies) and marked Bar Keepers Friend off my shopping list forever. I keep my oxalic acid in a well-marked little bucket that has a tight-fitting lid. I use a pint-size mason jar with holes poked in the lid as a dispenser. What an amazing and versatile cleaner. Caution: Keep in mind that a bag of oxalic acid is 100% oxalic acid, while Bar Keepers Friend contains oxalic acid (plus inert fillers). You can use a lot less oxalic to get great response than the amount of BKF you might use to accomplish the same result.

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ARM & HAMMER SUPER WASHING SODA. One of the ingredients in our homemade detergent for both standard and HE washers (get the recipe HERE), Super Washing Soda is not easy to find. And when you can find it, it’s pricey—$5.50 for a 55-oz. box is typical. You can stop looking for it. Super Washing Soda is a brand name for sodium carbonate (NOT to be confused with sodium bicarbonate, which is baking soda). 

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How to Rid a Car of that Stinky Smell of Smoke

As you know, I travel quite a bit, which means I have the need to rent cars. Most of the time that goes well, and by “well” I mean I land a fantastic daily rate and I get to test drive a nice new car. Other times? Not so well, and now I’m talking about the stench of stale, cigarette smoke made even worse by trying to cover it up with an equally stinky floral spray.

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I was reminded of my last bout with car odor when I heard from EC reader Neil, who inquires, “Will Nok-Out work on removing smoke odor from a vehicle?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” and one I wish I could also offer to every car rental agency. In fact, I know of no other way to truly eliminate that odor—not cover it up with another odor—than Nok-Out.

Let’s do a quick review for what makes Nok-Out so amazing: It’s hypoallergenic, non-toxic, non-staining and non-masking which means it leaves behind only a fresh, clean smell. I can’t guarantee Neil can achieve that “new-car” smell, but I promise that if he follows the following procedures carefully, that car will be free of the lingering smell of cigarettes.

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Nine of the Best Money Books for Kids and Teens

If I had a dollar for every person who has ever asked, “Why didn’t anyone ever teach me how to manage money when I was a kid?!,” I’d be a wealthy woman. If you have kids in your life age 3 and up to young adult, consider these excellent books to get those conversations started—discussions that will begin to open the doors to financial literacy.

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Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts. This book features a young boy, a pair of shoes and learning the difference between needs and wants. All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has—warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend—are worth more than the things he wants. Ages 5 to 8. About $7.

Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique, by Jane O’Connor. Fancy Nancy, a girl who enjoys turning even the most ordinary events into fabulous occasions, figures out how to earn money first then spend. Ages 4 to 7. About $12.

A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams. After the protagonist’s family loses its home in a fire, the family members decide to save coins to buy a new chair for their home. The mother is a waitress and tries to save all of the money she can to help out the family. The mother and daughter take all of the money they save it in a jar. When the jar is full they go out and buy a beautiful chair for the family to enjoy.A story of love and devotion. Ages 5 to 8. About $7.

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Fabulous and Fit for the Freezer

Ever had one of those days when you arrive home exhausted only to realize there’s nothing to fix for dinner? Happens to me all too often. I know, I’m supposed to be the quintessentially prepared person who never runs out of anything, always has a plan in place with menus and meals all ready to go. Don’t believe it. I struggle with overload and too-much-day-left-at-the-end-of-the-energy as much as anyone.

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And that’s exactly what happened to me not too long ago. Worse, I’d invited a neighbor for dinner. A recent widower, he didn’t hesitate to accept a home-cooked meal and the company. I’d had a busy day and about the only thing I could think of making for dinner was  “reservations” but eating out was the last thing any of us wanted to do.

I went to the freezer to see if anything had materialized in there since my last desperate search for dinner. Of course I knew better, but thought I’d peer into the frozen abyss anyway. And, would you believe, way in the back I found a dinner-sized portion of Baked Ziti? Eureka! I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

Last August 20 (I know because I wrote the date on the container), I made this pasta dish for the sole purpose of freezing it in one-meal portions to assess if it could hold up in both texture and flavor for a good, long time. It does, and I knew this because we’ve enjoyed it several times since I made it. And I was surprised out of my mind that we’d not eaten all of it. (Clearly, I need to make one of the freezer door Table of Contents lists one reader shared with us recently.)  

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Banana Sandwiches the Right Way

Quick and easy. That’s how I enjoy saving time and money. And every day I learn fun new ways to do that from you, my lovely readers. Check out this new batch of time- and money-saving tips:

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BANANA BUNS. Inevitably there are always hot dog buns left after a hot dog meal. My kids love to eat peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches on hot dog buns. Quick, easy and no banana slices fall out like they do on regular sliced bread. Carolyn

CHEAP CHICKEN. I love using rotisserie chickens when I am in a hurry—in pasta sauce or casseroles, they taste great and really cut down on prep time (especially when it comes down to eating in versus eating out). In my favorite supermarket, they sell hot rotisserie chickens for about $5 each. However, I have discovered that I can get a cold one (usually from the day before) for $2.50—half the price! Cold works great for me. We almost never eat them immediately upon bringing them home and had always been refrigerating them until use. The cold, cheaper ones can generally be found in the deli refrigerated area, that is near other prepared foods, salsas, and so on. Kerri

FILE AND FORGET IT. When I buy something that has a warranty, I save the receipt and staple it to the owner’s manual, then file it. Hillary

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A Gift Tradition to Simplify Christmas

Awhile ago, one of my awesome readers sent along an idea that has stuck with me for many years now. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, favorite aunt or in some other way find the names of special kids on your gift list this year, I think you’ll agree that this reader’s three-gift tradition is smart, practical and especially wise.

“Drawing inspiration from the Wise Men,” she wrote, “We limit gifts to three per child. Gold starts with G so one of  is a garment gift. Frankincense starts with F so we give one fun gift. Myrrh starts with M so give a gift that is mentally stimulating. Then we round out with smaller things in the kids’ stocking.”

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I love this plan because it’s easy. Affordable. The G gifts are easiest of all. But choosing gifts the kids will love that just happen to be mentally stimulating (meaning they won’t land in the back of a  closet never to be seen again) or downright fun, can be more than a little bit challenging.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a very good kid-mindreader. And I really hate having to guess what’s hot this year, what kids are into and what they will really, really love.

In preparation for this post, I’ve been doing a lot of research, interviewing, testing and reviewing. I feel confident in making a few solid recommendations, should this gifting idea appeal to you. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

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Readers Share Creative Holiday Tips and Tricks

I am enjoying the unique holiday tips and tricks readers are sending my way, to be shared with you. Over and again I find myself saying, “Wow! Why didn’t I think that?”

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Just this week, I was boiling mad at myself when I opened boxes marked “Christmas” to find supplies of cards, tags and gift wrap purchased on sale, then promptly forgotten. You can be sure this year I’m going to file all this stuff under “Halloween!” You’ll understand as you read on.

MAKE MEMORIES. Once Christmas is over for another year, I scrapbook all the photos and handmade cards we receive. It’s great to look back over the years at all of our friends and relatives as they grow. So much creativity goes into some of these cards. The scrapbook is with all of my other photo albums, so I don’t have to wait until the Christmas decorations come out of storage to see them. Vicky

CANNED BOWS. I use the large, Christmas popcorn tins (cleaned and dried) to store my Christmas bows. I use one for red, another for green and the other two for gold and mixed colors. I can stack them in storage and my bows stay new looking all year. I reuse these bows for several years. Gwen

TREE SKIRT. I purchased a round Christmas tablecloth at the local thrift store for 25 cents. I laundered it and have been using it for the past three years as a tree skirt. It is large enough that I just fold it in half and wrap it around the tree holder, meeting in the back. It is reusable, beautiful and easy to clean. Darlene

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