Readers Weigh in on Bananas, Buttons and Brown Sugar

Not long ago, the produce manager at my supermarket noticed me putting a bunch of bananas in my cart and offered this bit of handy information: When you get home from the store separate the bananas from the bunch and they won’t ripen as fast. 

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Good to know! But will that make them last 7 to 10 days? I doubt it, which is why I’m glad I heard from reader Barb. Read on …

BANANA LONGEVITY. If you will not be able to use those bananas with a day or two, put them into the refrigerator. They will turn black and ugly on the outside, but inside–even after seven to ten days–they will be fresh, firm and delicious. Barb

BROWN SUGAR SUBSTITUTE. To make your own (and much better) brown sugar, mix  1 cup white granulated sugar with 1 to 2 tablespoons molasses, depending on if you want light or dark brown sugar. Mix thoroughly with a fork. This is so much better than commercial brown sugar, you’ll be tempted to make a permanent switch and never again have to deal with hard brown sugar. Melanie

WASHCLOTH ICEPACK. When I need an icepack for my face, I take a face cloth, wet it, fold it lengthwise into thirds and place it in a small plastic bag. Then I place it in the freezer. In just a short time, my freezer pack is ready and on my face. The small size of the facecloth is just right for your face, and when it is no longer needed, you have your facecloth back.  Pat

Everything is Negotiable

What I know about the art and science of negotiating I learned as a matter of survival. Driven to save myself and my family from financial ruin, I jumped into the deep end of the real estate industry. I knew nothing about negotiating. All I knew was that I had to find a way to bring interested parties together, get them to agree and see that everyone walked away a winner.

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While I no longer sell and lease industrial properties, I still rely heavily on the negotiating skills I learned. Every day I use them in one way or another. Sometimes it’s a complex issue, but most of the time it’s just a series of one-minute negotiations.

You are a negotiator, too. You negotiate with kids, spouse, boss, co-workers, employees, creditors, vendors, friends, clerks and salespeople. You negotiate with telemarketers, credit-card issuers, mobile-phone providers, repair people, teachers and neighbors. You negotiate using your words, your tone, your body language—even your silence. 

Negotiating is the way you get what you want, whether it’s a roof, a new car or your teenage son to put the seat down. 

Danger Signs You’re Headed for the Debt Trap

Debt. It’s a four-letter word and certainly not ideal under any circumstances. Being debt-free is always better than being in debt. But not all debt it created equal. Generally, debt comes in two flavors: Secured and unsecured.

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Secured debts are “collateralized”. That means the borrower pledges something of value to the lender that acts like a security deposit. If the borrower defaults, the lender gets ownership of that valuable asset. A home mortgage is probably the best example of reasonably safe, secured debt. In a mortgage the property becomes the collateral. The lender can take it if the borrower doesn’t perform as required.  

To-Die-For Gluten-Free Muffins

I thought this matter of gluten-free was pretty solid–that some people are truly allergic to gluten, others have celiac disease for whom gluten is a serious health issue, while others are simply gluten sensitive. Now I learn there is a growing school of thought that unless a person is diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s all a big hoax. 

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Here’s what I know for certain: My husband had an annoying cough for at least 20 years. He visited every kind of doctor and to no avail. His symptom was unexplainable and about drove me nuts. About six months ago we decided to remove gluten from his diet, and I agreed to go along as well. Within days, his cough began to wain. It’s completely gone, and my sanity has returned. 

A hoax? I say no and here’s my proving ground: Now and then Harold will fall off the wagon, either knowingly but often times not (gluten is in a lot of things these days). Sure enough, I start to hear that low-grade cough. He can’t help it, he can’t hide it. 

Insuring Youthful Drivers

Dear Mary: Our 15-year-old daughter recently got her learner’s permit. I called our auto insurance agent about how to handle this and she told us to add our daughter to our policy, which we did. Then we got a bill for an additional premium and paid the bill. 

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Later, we heard that a teen driver with a learner’s permit is already covered under a parent’s (or guardian’s) policy. 

Do you think we are being charged an additional premium for coverage we have already? I can’t seem to get a straight answer from the company.

Barbara, California

Dear Barbara: According to the Insurance Information Institute most insurers extend coverage for learners on the customer’s existing policy. However, this is not required by law, so it is difficult to say if your company does or not. However, if they are vague when you inquire, I’d be a little suspicious, myself. 

How to Get All Kinds of Free eBooks

A recent column on where to find free books for today’s popular digital readers brought a flood of responses, a few questions and a bit of a scolding. It seems I overlooked public libraries as a potential source of free ebook downloads. Given the popularity of the subject, I thought it would be wise to revisit this very popular subject of free eBooks.

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By way of review, ebooks, which you download to read on any number of digital readers outfitted with specific software–a computer, iPad, Android, iPhone or other smartphone–are all the rage. Remember: You don’t need a Kindle device, Nook reader or smartphone to download ebooks created for those readers. The software is free to download to your computer. And if you know where to look, you can get an endless supply of ebooks absolutely free, as well.

Libraries. Check with our local library to see if they offer ebook checkouts. As long as you are a library card holder, you may be able to login from home and download ebooks for free. The way it works in most cases is that you check out or put ebooks on reserve, as the number of copies available are limited, and for a specific number of days.

How I Stopped the M.A.C. Attacks

My frugality philosophy is that I scrimp like crazy on things that don’t matter to have the money for things that do. Makeup is important to me. I’ll forego other things that aren’t that important to me so I can afford quality makeup.

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For years, my makeup of choice has been M.A.C., sold online, at cosmetics counters in high-end department stores and in exclusive M.A.C. stores, worldwide.

My big news is that M.A.C. and I have parted company and for one reason only: the ever increasing cost was enough to give me a heart attack. It’s taken awhile, but with considerable research and many trials (and errors), I have now replaced each of my M.A.C. items with a drugstore product. My criteria was that the replacement had to be cheaper, but of an equal or better quality.  

Keeping Up with the Joneses is a Loser’s Game

We all know the Joneses, that family with the perfect home and cars, the perfect kids and marriage. And tons of money. Admit it. You’ve been trying to keep up with them, haven’t you. You want to be like them because they have it all, without any of the stress or pressure that the rest of us have to put up with.

Green Eyes Envy

There’s a Jones family on every block, in every neighborhood, church and community. Your “Joneses” might be a neighbor, friend or relative. While some may find it easy to shrug their shoulders and say they don’t care, the truth is that many people feel compelled to not only keep up with their Joneses, but to outdo them.