Spice Co-Op Saves Money, Builds Friendship

Sharing readers’ tips with you reminds me just how much we can teach each other. Just when I think I couldn’t possibly learn anything new, here comes another charming way to save time or money every day from readers just like you. You make opening my mail so much fun!

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SPICE CO-OP. My wife often ends up with spices she uses only once or twice before they go stale and she has to throw them out. Her solution? She formed a spice co-op with a close friend. Now whenever either of them buys a new bottle of spice they share half of the bottle. Both save money and end up with a great spice collection. They also have discovered that exchanging spices is a great excuse to get together for a gab session. Gil N., Texas

BULB NUTRITION. This fall resist the urge to remove the foliage after your bulbs have finished blooming. Let the leaves wither naturally so that the bulb has lots of time to manufacture nutrients and fatten up for the next year’s blossoming. Now your bulbs will perform as true perennials. Wilton M.

Rebate or Rip Off?

You know what irks me? Rebates. Take the vacuum cleaner for example. I bought it because with the $30 rebate, the final price beat all the competition. And I’ll admit I was quite proud of myself when I crammed the receipt and rebate form into my purse. The problem is I completely forgot about it.

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Just this morning I was looking for something else when I ran into it. I was stunned to discover I have only a tiny 30-day window of opportunity to claim my rebate–and 25 have passed. That got me thinking: How many people don’t remember just in the nick of time? How many $30 vacuum cleaner rebates will never be redeemed? Why are they making it so difficult for me to get my money?

The rebate theory is simple. Manufacturers and retailers offer rebates to stimulate sales. We buy, we mail and they send us money. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. But the conditions can be so rigid that it becomes nearly impossible for the average consumer to comply. And that’s exactly the way they want it.

Like It or Not, You Need a Good Credit Score

In my perfect world there would be no credit scores. And while I do not believe that credit is necessarily evil, in that perfect world of mine, there would be no need for any of that because it would be, well … perfect!

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Back to reality. There are myriad reasons we need to have good credit histories and excellent credit scores. 

Like it or not, lots of things are now predicated on one’s credit score. Take automobile insurance premiums, for example. Want the best rates? You’ll need a good credit score. 

Want to make sure that out of all the applicants, you get that really great apartment? You must assume that your potential landlord is going to look to your credit history to determine if you will make a reliable, on-time-paying tenant.

Stop Getting Scammed and Ripped Off!

This is a guest post by Bob Sullivan, an award-winning investigative journalist, author of the Red Tape Chronicles, two NYT bestsellers and founding member of MSNBC.com. You can visit him at his website, take a look at his new book Getting Unstuck and follow him on Twitter.

I have spent 20 years interviewing thousands of people who’ve fallen for scams and ripoffs. I’ve interviewed hundreds of criminals, too, not to mention pseudo-criminals who work at corporations that survive almost entirely on their ability to fool people. I’m frequently asked: what makes people fall for scams? What makes someone a good “mark”? 

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While I worked at NBC, I was always reluctant to give clear opinions on such things. Now that I’m an independent journalist, I feel more free to speak out. I have plenty of strong opinions on this one. 

But before I tell you what’s wrong with the tired old saw, “If it seems too good to be true, it is,” let me get this out of the way: I hate people who blame the victim. 

Yes, consumers can be dumb, foolish, and even greedy. None of these things should ever be construed as permission to steal from them. These are the kinds of excuses you hear from criminals and corporations all the time, and I hate them. It’s always clear who the bad guy is: The guy who walks away with the money. The test is easy: Any time you take someone’s money and that person is confused about why, you are wrong. Give the money back.

10 Last-Minute Gift Ideas for the Grad

I call it gift anxiety. It’s the uneasy feeling you get when you want to give a really nice graduation gift to special young person but no matter how hard you try, you come up blank. You don’t want to look like a dork, but writing a check doesn’t exactly ring your bell, either.

Graduates

Here we are in the throes of graduation season and I’m going to assume you still can’t decide what gift to give. Guess what? I’m in the same boat. How can I possibly figure out what’s hot with the 18-to-20-something crowd? My kids are older than that now and I guess I just might be a little bit out of touch. That’s why I sat down with my favorite 20-something person—a young man

Novel Ideas to Make Cooking Fun and Rewarding

There’s just something satisfying about knowing how to make perfectly uniform meatballs, chocolate mousse, or baked potatoes in half the time. Today I have a plethora of fun and easy kitchen tips that are sure to raise your Kitchen IQ, and make you smile at the same time.

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PERFECT MEATBALLS. When making a large batch of meatballs, the fast and simple way is to shape the meat mixture into a log and cut off slices. The slices roll easily into balls. Another option is to pat the meat into a large square and cut it into cubes which again easily roll into meatballs of uniform size.

YOGURT SUBSTITUTE. Have a craving for yogurt? Cottage cheese blended until smooth makes an excellent cup-for-cup substitute for plain yogurt. 

WINE COOK-ALIKES. To substitute for white cooking wine use 1/3 cup white grape juice plus 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar. For red cooking wine: 1 cup grape juice, 1 tablespoon strong tea and 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar.

GRATE THE BUTTER. When a recipe says to “dot with butter,” instead of cutting a stick of butter into small pieces, grab the cheese grater and “grate” the cold butter over the large holes right into the casserole, fruit pie or other baked dessert. This will make your butter last longer. 

My Four-Ounce Travel Buddy

Travel is not what it used to be. Having flown 1.5 million miles in the past 20 years, I’ve seen things go from enjoyable to downright challenging. I’ve had to learn a few lessons the hard way, but learn them I have. Because of the things I’ve witnessed on airplanes, in airports, taxis, subways and hotels, I’ve gone from being a passive passenger to a purpose-driven traveler. 

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My purpose is to arrive at my destination safe, healthy and happy. That’s why I always travel with an assistant–a travel buddy. My Buddy Nok-Out weighs just 4 ounces and travels in my handbag*. Buddy is with me wherever I go.

I have come to assume that my space on any airplane is a germ pit, due to what I have observed over the years. I have seen people change dirty diapers on the pull-down tray table. I’ve seen sick children sneeze and smear all manner of bodily debris on the seat, armrests and table.

I’ve seen people clip their toenails, gather up the bits and deposit them into the seat pocket. I’ve observed a seat mate using that throw-up bag for the purpose it was created, then stuffing it back into the seat pocket. Do I have your attention yet? Gross, disgusting! I’ve learned to never assume that a plane is cleaned and sanitized between flights. Never.  

Tax Refund: Not a Good Thing

A friend of mine is the comptroller of a small corporation. As such, she is required to handle all aspects of that company’s finances including payroll. She takes the opportunity to figure and tweak the withholding from her own paycheck to reach her goal of neither owing taxes nor being due a refund on April 15. 

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She’s really smart and fortunate to be able to track this so closely. Her goal is to always come within $100 of her total tax liability after itemizing her tax return. And she does.

I always wince with pain when a person tells me he or she is getting thousands of dollars in a tax refund. And it’s even worse when they do so with such gusto and pride–like it’s some kind of savings account. A righteous accomplishment. And invariably these are people who carry credit-card debt, convinced that they need it “just in case of emergencies,” followed by, “Hey, emergencies happen!”