How to Do Christmas Without Debt—Plus a GIVEAWAY!

If you are, or ever have been plagued by consumer debt, I can nearly guarantee expenses related to Christmas have contributed greatly to that miserable situation. You know I’m right and unless we do something to stop that pattern, things are about to get much worse for you. Christmas is right around the corner.

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The problem is procrastination. Face it, when it comes to Christmas, the longer you wait, the more you’ll spend. The opposite is also true. The sooner you get started, the less you’ll spend.

There are simple things you can do to stop procrastinating.

Get started. Do something to get moving. Once you are in motion, it will be easier to keep going.

Write it down. Reduce your plans to paper. Seeing things in black and white eliminates the unknown and provides a realistic playing field. Set reasonable limits both in time and in money.

Work with the time you have. Make a simple time line, then break the project down into small, manageable parts. Even five minutes is enough time to get something done when you have a plan.

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Wallpaper Removal—It’s a Messy Job!

A letter in my inbox this week sent me into hyper memory mode. For a few minutes I re-lived that day, back when wallpaper was all the rage; when I decided to paper our dining room in a lovely orange and yellow floral stripe. I know. But it was right in vogue at the time.

Anyway, it took me all of one Saturday to get the job done, but I did it and it looked fantastic. The next morning I rushed in to admire my handiwork only to find every lovely floral square inch of paper on the floor.

I raced to the home improvement store to get the strongest, heavy-dutiest, waterproof, wallpaper paste I could find. This was not going to get the better of me. I was determined to make that paper stick both now and for all eternity. While I had no intention of ever removing it, I do feel bad for the people who bought the place. Orange and yellow floral stripes are not exactly a timeless decorator look.

Dear Mary: Is there any easy and quick way to remove wallpaper and the paste from bathroom walls? Mickey 

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Dear Mickey: The answer to your question depends on how the wallpaper was applied. If it was pre-pasted paper, it should come off quite easily. However, I’m going to guess that since this is a bathroom and a bathroom can get hot and humid, your wallpaper was applied with heavy-duty paste, which could present a big challenge.

Perform a test using a strong solution of white vinegar and water (say, 2 cups of vinegar to a quart of hot water) in a spray bottle. Spray this on a small section of wallpaper and really saturate it well. This will soften most pastes so you can easily scrape the paper and backing from the wall. Work in small areas, removing the paper and paste completely, then moving on to another small area. But again it depends on the type of glue that was used and how old the wallpaper is.

If a strong vinegar solution doesn’t work or you find it just too tedious, a wallpaper steamer like this Wagner 1-Gallon Wallpaper Steamer may do the trick. If this is a one-off kind of job and you don’t see any point in owning a wallpaper steamer, you should be able to rent a steamer from a tool rental company in your area.

If you want to get this job done quickly with minimal mess, I’d spend a few bucks for a product called DIF Wallpaper Stripper by Zinsser. DIF comes as a concentrated liquid, a gel and also a fast-acting spray. You can find DIF at stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s and online.

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Best Inexpensive Sewing Machines

Turning 7 years old is a big deal on its own but for me it was even better because I would be old enough to join 4-H—America’s largest youth development organization, which is still alive and well after all these years, empowering nearly six million young people across the U.S. with the skills to lead for a lifetime.

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Unlike most 4-H Clubs these days, mine offered only one program—sewing—and that was just fine with me. I was so excited because I would learn to operate a real, full-size, electric sewing machine.

My first project was big square dish towel. My task was to turn and hem on the sewing machine, all the way around which seemed like miles at the time, without any stitches slipping off the edge. It took forever, but I did it. Every inch of that hem brings back a flood of joyful memories. What an accomplishment. Next up? An apron. I did that too, and with that I began to form a life-long love for sewing. 

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How I Curb the Urge to Quit

I wouldn’t tell just anyone what I’m about to tell you—and only because we’re like family. At least several times a week I want to quit. Seriously. The thought crosses my mind, and not when things are going great. It’s when I face a challenge: a tough writing assignment, a book deadline, an early morning interview or snarky message in my inbox.

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The temptation to quit is a recurring theme. And if the voices in my head don’t give me enough trouble, the voices in the culture finish the job. “Quit already! There are so many others with younger, fresher voices better able to reach the younger generation. You deserve a break! Take it easy on yourself, go and enjoy your life.”

This is nothing new. I’ve been dealing with the urge to quit for a long time. I can anticipate its arrival. And because of that, I’ve learned ways to deal with it before it drives me to the brink of resignation.

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A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your Money

Join us in welcoming avid reader and reviewer, Jeff Tompkins, Jr. Jeff’s thoughtful yet entertaining Book Reviews will appear on selected Fridays, starting today. You can meet Jeff up close and personal in his biography, below. 

The One-Page Financial Plan (Portfolio / Penguin 2015) by Carl Richards
Reviewer: Jeff Tompkins, Jr.

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My mother often describes my personality as microwave. I have little patience for the slow cooker; I want it now and with as little effort as possible. And by it I mean anything that is important at the moment.

When a book touting a “one-page financial plan” was recommended to me, you have to know it sounded like a match made in heaven. What I got from The One-Page Financial Plan wasn’t a magic key to a life of champagne and caviar. I got a very smart and simple reminder of the first step we all have to take as we wade into financial planning: relax.

Walk through Barnes & Noble, browse Amazon or even turn on any number of cable TV shows and you will quickly see what the author refers to as the massive financial entertainment industry—the countless “experts” barraging us with hot stock tips, the smartest money moves; the fool-proof places to put our money.

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Fabric Softener Products are the Problem Not the Solution

In the laundry room, most of us are prone to overkill. We want beautifully clean, brilliantly white, soft and fluffy laundry results. And we don’t measure. We pour stuff out of jugs, straight into the washer, often adding a second big glug just to make sure.

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We use liquid fabric softener by the gallon and dryer sheets by the hundreds because there’s no such thing as too soft when it comes to towels and sheets. And when things come out looking gray and feeling stiff and crunchy, what do we do? More detergent, more softener and even more dryer sheets!

The problem is product build-up that never gets rinsed out. Every time you do the laundry, more and more product gets left behind. This build-up of detergent and softeners can make appliances stink, colors look dingy, whites gray and linens feel stiff and scratchy. But that’s not the worst.

The medical website, WebMD.com, reports that the perfumes and additives in laundry products may cause skin problems. Fabric softeners are very allergenic and can cause eczema, which appears as dry, itchy skin.

Dryer sheets contain volatile organic compounds like acetaldehyde and butane, which can cause respiratory irritation. Fabric softener chemicals known as quaternary ammonium compounds, have been linked to asthma. Acetone, also used in dryer sheets, can cause nervous system effects like headaches or dizziness.

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Now, Let’s Take a Few Questions from the Audience

Have I told you lately about my email inbox? It’s a mess. And today I’m ready to clean it up big time by answering 11 questions, each one of them representing dozens more with substantially the same request.

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Q: What is the best inexpensive double stroller that you recommended in a recent column? I read it, copied the information but now cannot find it anywhere! Thanks.

A: My pick for the best inexpensive double stroller is Graco Roomfor2 Click Connect Stand and Ride Stroller (about $140). It accommodates an older child who can either sit or stand at the back, plus a baby/toddler in the front. For two babies I recommend the Delta Children City Street Side by Side Stroller (about $60).

Q: I’m dying here in Atlanta. The humidity has been unbearable. I really need that inexpensive dehumidifier you recommend. Can I get those details again?

A:  That column brought a huge response, but none more glowing than from Will who wrote with the question originally. He wrote back once his FRIGIDAIRE FFAD7033R1 Energy Star 70-pint Dehumidifier, about $218, was up and running. He was so happy with the result. Be sure to review the original post as I offered two options, depending on the size of your space. 

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A Dozen Painless Ways to Save $50 or More

Money may not grow on trees, but we can help it grow in our wallets. Recently I asked a group of readers to tell us how they make saving $50 (or more!)  a no-brainer.

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Jennifer L. doesn’t spend any $5 bill that comes into her possession. “My husband laughed at me, but I did this for five months leading up to a vacation and saved $485,” says Jennifer. “And I didn’t have to let go of any favorite luxuries like manicures, pedicures or Starbucks.”

Lydie T. has found a way to make credit-card companies pay her. “I pay for every purchase (groceries, books, gifts) with a Visa card that gives me one reward point for every dollar I spend,” says Lydie. “I pay the balance in full at the end of the month, so I don’t pay any interest. Last summer, I saved $1,000 by using the points to buy my husband’s ticket to Europe to see our family.”

Do without just one luxury a month. It’s more palatable. Mary C. gave up taxis, eating out, clothes shopping and more—but only one at a time, and each for only one month.

Instead of searching her purse for the exact change, Lori G. makes sure she receives change. “Every few days, I put my change in a container. I average $10 a week. It’s so fast and easy, and adds up to $50 in no time.”

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