Prep Steps for First-Time Home Buyers


Buying a home can be exciting and terrifying, all at once. And for first-time buyers, you can probably multiply those feeling by a hundred.

According to Wendy Highfield, of Innovative Real Estate Group in Denver, Colo., “Now is such a great time to purchase a home, especially with the low rates and personalized loan programs available to help families with unique financial backgrounds.”

rent buy house real estate blank sign

My best advice for any homeowners, but especially first-timers, is to take the time to prepare. Not only will you be ready when the time is right, you’ll be more confident.

1. Boost Your Credit Score. Your credit score(s) will play a key role in your mortgage approval and and the interest rate you’ll pay. Order your credit reports now  from, a free service authorized by federal law. Go over each report, dispute any errors, and pay off as much debt as possible. You want to create a big gap between your overall available credit and the amount you are using at any given time. Continue reading

Posted on by Mary Hunt in Home & Family, Mary's Perspective 2 Comments

What’s for Dinner? How About Chicken Pot Pie!


I love chicken pot pie, and so does my family. We like it with a flaky light pastry, not puff pastry. It has to have a smooth, velvety gravy and the vegetables must play a secondary role—more chicken than peas and carrots.

Thanks to our friends at eMeals, I’ve pretty much given up ordering chicken pot pie in a restaurant. It’s just not worth the disappointment now that I’ve learned to make it myself—and I’m talking about making it a lot better and in less time than it takes to drive to a restaurant, wait to be seated, scan the menu, wait to have the order taken and then wait even longer for the meal to arrive.


Plus, I know exactly what’s in my pie and I get to decide how fresh those ingredients will be. And if that’s not reason enough to make it myself, here’s the bonus: I can make an entire pie to serve six for less than the price of one chicken pot pie dinner with tax and tip, at the typical restaurant. Continue reading

Posted on by Mary Hunt in Food & Recipes 5 Comments

How to Safely Get Rid of Expired Medications


Every day my email box loads up with messages—many of which contain questions from you, my dear EC readers. And if you’ve sent a message, you are aware by now that while I read my mail and keep it filed, I just do not have enough time in my days to answer every message personally. However, once each week I reach into that file and select questions I believe will have a wide appeal for readers.

Dear Mary: What is the best way to dispose of expired medication and old household cleaners? I want to do this in a safe manner. Chris, Virginia


Dear Chris: Call your local refuse company to inquire about the disposal of hazardous household items. Or visit Earth 911 to find convenient recycling locations by ZIP code for various material types.

Most have an accommodation center where you can drop off cans of paint, cleaners, medications and other such items that should not end up in the regular landfill. A couple of times a year on a Saturday morning, I load up potentially hazardous items that have accumulated around our home and drive over to our recycling center. It’s quick and easy.

You might learn that once a year, or so, the company will pick up hazardous waste provided you have followed the proper guidelines for setting it out for pickup.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) regulates the generation, treatment, storage, transportation, and disposal of hazardous waste. Visit their website for additional information.

Dear Mary: I own a four-year-old Lexus that I bought new. The dealer just offered me a four-year extension and I accepted. Now I’m having second thoughts. I’m retired and drive the car about 10,000 miles a year. The current mileage is 42,000. The new warranty runs through 2018 or 91,000 miles. This will cost $3,000 at $200 a month for 15 months. I’m 62 and on a fixed income. I can pay my bills but I have trouble saving money. Is it wise for me to purchase this warranty? Alma, California

Dear Alma: Given your circumstances, I would advise against buying this extended warranty.

Your Lexus is a well-made automobile. At 10,000 miles a year, your usage is relatively light. Statistically speaking, if you are careful to have the oil changed regularly, you will experience no breakdowns or mechanical difficulties that would be covered by the extended warranty. My advice is to cancel it. But don’t stop there. Go directly to your bank or credit union and open a savings account. Instruct them to transfer $200 from your regular account into your new savings account once each month. After all, if you can scrape together $200 every month to throw away on this warranty, you should be able to do the same, but for your own good. See this as a non-negotiable expense. Once it is an automatic transfer, you won’t miss the money so much.

If you take my advice, I wager that at the end of 2018 you’ll be driving a trouble-free car and you’ll have at least $3,000 in savings, too—or $9,600 if you make this $200 a month savings a regular habit. If by some fluke you do need to pay for a car repair, you’ll have the cash in your savings to cover the bill.

Posted on by Mary Hunt in Dear Mary 8 Comments

Stop Making These Costly Hair Mistakes


No one knows your hair better than you do. But is it possible that in your efforts to keep it healthy and looking good, you are washing money down the drain needlessly? Consider these mistakes many people make.

Some rights reserved by Bellafaye Garden

Some rights reserved by Bellafaye Garden

Mistake: Expensive shampoo. Come on … ‘fess up. You feel guilty using $.99 shampoo because it’s really bad for your hair. And anybody knows the $24 salon variety is so much better especially for chemically treated hair, right? Wrong! Price has nothing to do with it.

The secret to shampoo intelligence is to know your detergents. Look at the list of ingredients. Water (or some fancy name for it) will always be the first ingredient. Next comes the detergent. It’s tricky, so keep this list handy.

  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate – very harsh
  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate – harsh
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) – still harsh
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) – mild, great choice
  • TEA Lauryl Sulfate – gentle, good choice
  • TEA Laureth Sulfate – gentle, also a good choice Continue reading
Posted on by Mary Hunt in Tips 10 Comments

How I Gave My Small Desk a Big Makeover


If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s this: I don’t work well in chaos. Recently I came to terms with my office. Specifically, my desk.

I have a fairly small desk, by design. I have just enough space for my computer and a couple of monitors. The desk has only three small drawers that are so full of clutter, I can barely coax them to open. Upgrading to a larger desk with great big drawers is not a solution for me because I know myself. Without intervention of some kind, I’d manage to load up that big desk, fill up all of those drawers and end up with an even bigger dilemma.


I think I’ve figured out why this happens. When I’m working and I need something like a pen (or perhaps the phone?), I need it now. This moment. I don’t have time to rummage through stacks of paper, books and manuscripts or these minuscule drawers to find a pen that actually works. When I can’t find what I need when I need it, it makes me want to chew my hair.  Continue reading

Posted on by Mary Hunt in Best Inexpensive, Home & Family 5 Comments