The Scoop on Free Ice Cream

Is there anything better than ice cream on a hot summer day? Well, yes there is—FREE ice cream! And I’ve got the scoop on where you can get free goodies like ice cream on your birthday and other times, too.

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Most of these stores and restaurants will require you to join a club or sign up for e-alerts. So do this: Create a free email account at Yahoo or Gmail exclusively for these kinds of special offers and freebies. That will help keep your regular email inbox free of all the notices and offers that are sure to show up.

Baskins-Robbins. When you sign up for Baskin-Robbins Birthday Club you get a free scoop of ice cream on your birthday and other special offers and coupons throughout the year.

Dippin’ Dots. When you join the Forty Below Club, you will get a free cup of Dippin’ Dots ice cream on your birthday.

Friendly’s. Once you join the BFF Club you’ll be eligible for a free three-scoop sundae with the purchase of an entree just for enrolling and a special treat on your birthday, too.

Dairy Queen. Join the Blizzard Fan Club to get a buy-one-get-one-Blizzard-free coupon. Kids also get a free ice cream treat with a kids’ meal.

Carpeted Stairs Challenge and Old Furniture Rescue

Dear Mary: I am going to have to buy a new vacuum cleaner soon and wanted to know your thoughts on the new Shark Navigator with the lift off container. Wanda

photo credit: HomeBunch.com

photo credit: HomeBunch.com

Dear Wanda: Oh my, you could not make a better choice than a Shark Navigator vacuum. For me, Shark Navigator needs to be added as another of the Wonders of the World. I’ve never known a vacuum cleaner that comes close to a Shark for extracting dirt from carpet.

It’s been 3 years now since I wrote about my first Shark (So Disgusting I’m Embarrassed To Tell). I couldn’t help myself and wrote about it again here.

If you’ve been following along for the past few years, you know that the Hubs and I have recently relocated (and by that I mean we’ve made the biggest move of our lives) and are now getting settled into our new home. This house has (count ‘em) … 29 stairs, each one of them carpeted. We love this house for its views and vaulted ceilings. However, I am not a fan of carpeted stairs because how do you clean them? I don’t mean sorta’ clean them, but really vacuum every bit of dirt, crud and grime out of that carpet.

Just a few weeks ago, I bought the new Shark Professional Navigator Lift-Away so I could deep clean all of these carpeted stairs. Wow! This thing is a miracle worker. It’s that lift-away feature that makes is to easy to vacuum stairs—every edge of the stair and riser—and even the difficult to reach crevice.  I’m in love.

The $150 Starter Kitchen

Know anyone getting ready to move into their first apartment? Whether it’s a  recent college grad, newlyweds or maybe it’s you … outfitting the kitchen can be a daunting, albeit essential, task. And it can get expensive. The problem is that as long as that kitchen sits idle, someone will be spending a lot of money eating out.

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For less than the cost of week’s worth of restaurant meals, I can show you how to set up a starter kitchen that will get that special someone in your life excited about cooking at home. Just keep in mind that these aren’t the highest quality items available. But for newly minted grads and couples, this will get them started cooking great cheap meals in the kitchen while they save to one day invest in higher quality cookware.

1. This 15-piece non stick cookware set from Cook N Home is a fabulous starter set, complete with four pots with lids, two skillets and a five-piece utensil set. As a bonus it comes in three colors, too. Quite amazing at less than $55.

2. When Kevin Mills moved into his first apartment, he soon realized he couldn’t live on just take-out food alone, so he called his mother, Nancy. She taught him to cook, and now the two of them have put together a collection of easy recipes (actually, they’re graded and most Very Easy or Easy, a few are Not So Easy) for inexperienced cooks, along with lots of “Mom tips” and “Mom warnings.” (Because Kevin’s girlfriend is a vegetarian, more than half the recipes are vegetarian.) “Help, My Apartment Has a Kitchen,” is fun and very useful! $12.

5 Moves to Simplify Your Spending

I know what you’re thinking: “simplify” and “spending” in the same sentence? Ha! Like that’s even possible when we have credit cards, bank accounts, bills, bill-paying options, fees, penalties and interest rates to keep track of.

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How can we possibly make spending simple? By knowing the right tricks. Choose to become accountable, then use every tactic you can to streamline—and de-stress—your financial life. If you can pare things down as follows, you’re well on your way.

USE CASH. When it comes to paying for things like groceries, gas and other daily routine items, there is nothing easier than paying with cash. You can’t overdraft it and you won’t have to worry about fees and interest. Once it’s spent, that’s it. Done. So simple.

ORGANIZE WITH ENVELOPES. This is quite possibly the most effective money management technique. Get a stack of envelopes and label one for each of the ways you’ll be spending your cash (food, gas, and so on). Place the appropriate amount of cash in each envelope. There. You’ve got a spending plan. As a bonus, you’ll have a handy place to keep the receipts from each of those categories. And, they’ll be neatly organized by category if you need to return something in the future, or prepare your taxes.

Of Culinary Lore and Exceptional Marketing

Quite possibly my favorite thing about writing this column is the mountain of reader feedback it produces. I have the best readers in the universe, too. Nearly every letter turns into a love fest, which charges my batteries, making me love my readers all the more.

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Do you recall the letter from Pat, who complained of her lettuce turning rusty? I responded that the rust colored stains on lettuce are harmless evidence of the natural breakdown process and indicate that the produce is not exactly fresh. The brown edges and spots can be cut away, leaving the rest of the lettuce perfectly edible.

Well, that question together with my response brought a tsunami of input from readers insisting that Pat’s problem is that she is cutting her lettuce with a metal knife.

6 Ways Money CAN Buy Happiness

I believe it’s true that money cannot buy happiness. Think about all the miserable people you’ve read about—celebrities, professional athletes, perhaps friends or family who just happen to also be the rich. If money could buy happiness, wouldn’t they be the happiest people on earth?

While money can’t buy happiness, it can buy and do things for us that can make us happy.

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Recently, I read a fascinating book, The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does, by Sonja Lyubomirsky.

This book is a heavy-duty read, as one might expect from a psychology book. I found it to be thought-provoking. The author offers specific ways we can use our money to further our personal enjoyment and happiness.

Spend money on small pleasures. Small things like a good cup of coffee, a new DVD or a picnic can result in small boosts of happiness that accumulate to produce a large impact of longer-lasting happiness.

Spend money on fundamental feelings. When you spend your money on satisfying pursuits rather that stuff to impress others, the result is happiness without the addiction-like desire for more and more.

Spend money on others, not yourself. When we invest in others rather than ourselves, the result is a lasting sense of happiness.

Spend money to open up more free time. Spending money for a housecleaner, for example, frees up your time to do things you truly love.

Spend now but wait to enjoy it. There is something to be said for anticipation and delayed gratification. Together they can create happiness.

Spend money on experiences rather than possessions. The experiences don’t have to be a Caribbean cruise or European vacation. Family Game night can bring the kind of happiness that does not quickly fade the way a new pair of shoes might.

While this book offers an exhaustive study on what makes us happy (the author weaves extensive scientific research—more than 700 journal articles), it’s an easy read. And I came away from it with two things: 1) A clear-eyed vision together with practical tools and steps for how to build the healthiest, most satisfying life, and 2) A clear affirmation that despite everything, happiness really is a matter of choice.

The Most Critical Six Months in a College Grad’s Life

Graduating from college is one of life’s most thrilling events. Finishing my degree, walking the aisle and receiving a fancy document in a leather-bound case remains one of the high points of my life.

A diverse group of young adult graduates

Leaving college life behind, I was ready to live life to the fullest, whatever that meant. I was so over living under campus rules, grueling classwork, never-ending papers, mid-terms and finals. I was ready begin life in the real world.

Unfortunately, I still had a lot to learn about managing finances. I knew nothing and worse, wasn’t aware that I knew nothing. What was there to know, anyway?

Sadly, I am not alone. Today’s graduates are smart but generally financially ignorant. For college graduates gearing up to enter the real world, I offer the following for starting off on the right financial foot.

The decisions and choices you make in the first six months after graduation have the power to set the course of your life, for good or bad.

Of course, you’ve been a poor starving student long enough. You deserve a new car. And certainly you need a better apartment. And some decent clothes. Oh, and who could possibly deny you a European vacation to celebrate this amazing achievement? Followed by a couple of weeks’ vacation to rest and relax. You’ve been through so much.

You reason: Things are looking good in the employment department, you’re only young once, it makes sense to do this now before you’re tied down with a job, a home and kids. I could go on, but I’ll stop. And you should too. Stop thinking like that!

Taking on a car loan, the obligation of a lease on an apartment or condo, climbing credit-card balances—all of that may seem innocuous, given the great job you plan to land somewhere, somehow. And that will backfire on you. Instead of launching you into the real world, it will send you into a downward spiral that collides with unpaid student debt, negatively impacting your life for many years to come.

STOP, DROP AND ROLL. You learned it in elementary school for fire drills. Now apply it to your financial life. If anyone offers you a contract to sign—for a car, an apartment, a credit card or other legal obligation—Stop! Drop the pen and then roll out of there fast.

KEEP DRIVING YOUR CLUNKER. Yes, it’s embarrassing. That car you had to drive while in college is a pile of junk. It’s just not you! And those are exactly the kind of thoughts you need to get rid of. First, you are not what you drive. Your car is simply a means to get from here to there. Keep it. Love it. Be grateful.

MOVE HOME.  Whatever it takes, do not create any new debt during these critical six months, and possibly much longer. If that means moving back with home for a while, do it.

TAKE A JOB, ANY JOB.  You need cash flow, so take the first job you can get. Then keep looking. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “stepping-stone?” There is nothing wrong with this. Keep your eye on the goal and get to work reaching it. Stop whining and feeling sorry for yourself.

MAKE PAYMENTS. You need to immediately begin paying back your student loans, whether a little or a lot. Do not luxuriate in the six-month grace period. That is not some kind of gift. Interest is accruing every day (unless you have subsidized loans, which almost no one has these days). That means every day your debt is growing because the interest you owe—but are not paying—is being added to your principal balance. Next month you will pay interest on that interest, too. Ever heard the word “compounding”? Bingo. My best advice is to create a payment plan to do it in five years or less. Then just do it. Get it done!

AUTO SAVE. Even though in debt, you need to save money. You cannot continue to live on credit. I am a big fan of any kind of auto pay or auto save. When you set this up, you eliminate the need to make a decision every payday. “Should I save money this week or go to a movie?” “Should I save this week or get those really cute shoes that are finally on sale?!” If you have to make that same decision over and over, pretty soon you won’t. You’ll get lazy, you’ll stop saving and just keep spending.

But if you are auto-saving even $25 a week, you’ve eliminated that irritating decision. You’re on autopilot and that’s a nice way to roll.

Soon, you won’t miss the money. It will be out of sight, out of mind. I cannot stress just how important this is. If you master this concept and turn it into a lifelong habit, you will be thousands of miles (and dollars) ahead of your peers.

Finally, please accept my heartfelt congratulations on a job well done. You made it—not to the finish line but to the starting gate!

Salad in a Jar—Good for Health and Wealth

If you’ve been hanging with me for any length of time, you know I’m pretty wild about making Gifts in a Jar, which is now a downloadable ebooklet. I’m talking about glass canning jars with screw top lids. Seriously, you can stuff just about anything in one of these amazing containers and come up with a unique, lovely gift.

Over the years we’ve made Cookies in a Jar, Light in a Jar, Garden in a Jar, even a Journal in a Jar (instructions for all in the ebooklet). I have no idea why I’ve never embraced what is quite possibly the most practical use of a jar—Salad in a Jar.

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I didn’t think of this, but I’m pretty much in love with the person who did. Simply brilliant and so practical.

Basically, you assemble the ingredients for a fresh, healthy salad by layering them in a wide-mouth glass canning jar. If you do it right, you can make up a bunch of jar salads on Sunday, put them in the refrigerator and having your lunches made up for the entire week. Prepared well, a jar salad kept in the refrigerator will be as fresh up to a week later as it was the day you assemble it. And no vacuum-sealing necessary.