Death by Clothes Dryer, One Load at a Time

You should see the big wad of lint I just plucked from the trap of my clothes dryer. Ack! Where does all of that come from? I know I emptied all pockets and I’m certain I did not wash a bag of pillow stuffing.

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I’ll tell you what it is, and I am not happy about this: It’s visual proof the dryer is killing my clothes. Those fibers were neatly woven into these clothes, towels and sheets only 30 minutes ago. For all the convenience a clothes dryer offers, it may come at the price of having to replace clothes much too often.

Drying clothes causes them the shrink and not only the first time they’re washed. Sleeves and pant legs continually get shorter and shorter when machine-dried improperly.

There are tactics to counteract the abuse suffered by a clothes dryer without having to revert back to the days of sheets and towels frozen stiff on the clothesline  (anyone else remember that?) and still end up with comfy jeans and fluffy, soft towels.

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When it Comes to Paying Federal Student Loans, Do Not Assume Anything

There is no doubt that student loans can be troubling for the debt that they create for both students and parents. And if you thought it was a pain to get those loans in the first place, just wait until you start making payments.

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DEAR MARY: We have Parent PLUS Loans that are currently in repayment, on which we are making the required payment each month plus an additional amount  which we have requested be applied to pay down the principal.

After reviewing the accounts recently, I noticed that some months all of my payments are being applied to interest only, other months they are applying various amounts to principal and interest.

For a second time I have called to have my account reviewed and corrected. The supervisor said it was due to how the automated system applies funds. If we pay ahead too far on one loan, it stops paying on that loan, which then allows interest to accrue. I am appalled how this lender is defrauding its customers. Can I report them to the BBB or the state’s attorney general? Holly

DEAR HOLLY: Of course you can report this lender to the Better Business Bureau and your state’s AG. But I wouldn’t waste my time going that route if it’s action you want on your account and your repayment plan.

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A Pizza Challenge

There are some who consider pizza the perfect food. It has complex carbohydrates, vegetables, dairy and protein. Okay, maybe “perfect” is stretching it a bit but I remember when pizza was something you shouldn’t eat too much of because it might spoil your dinner. Now it is dinner.

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Millions of families rely on pizza because it is quick and convenient. But is it? To find out, recently, I conducted a somewhat less-than-scientific test.

I ordered a large 14-inch thin-crust tomato cheese pizza from Domino’s for delivery. As soon as I hung up the phone I went to work on my homemade pizza with a no-rise crust.

Tomato Cheese Pizza

  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon cornmeal
  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 3/4 pound Roma tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425 F. Rub 1 teaspoon olive oil over a 14-inch pizza pan and sprinkle with cornmeal. Stir yeast and sugar into the warm water and let stand until foamy (2 to 3 minutes).
  2. Combine flour, salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil in food processor bowl fitted with metal blade*. Turn on machine. Pour yeast mixture through feed tube. Process until dough cleans inside of work bowl. If dough sticks, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time. If dough is crumbly, add warm water one teaspoon at a time. When you reach desired consistency, process dough until uniformly supple and elastic, about 40 seconds.
  3. Roll dough immediately on heavily floured board to a 14-inch circle. If dough resists, let rest 5 minutes to relax gluten, then try again.
  4. Transfer dough to pizza pan. Work the edge to form rim. Brush with remaining oil. Sprinkle on minced garlic and cover with an even layer of tomato slices. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15-18 minutes until crust is crisp and golden brown. Sprinkle with basil.

*This dough can be made with an electric mixer or in a bread machine, although a food processor is ideal.

My homemade was out of the oven, sliced and partially consumed before the doorbell rang. It’s difficult to give an unbiased opinion on the homemade versus the commercial product because, well, I am anything but impartial. Just let me say that there’s nothing like the taste of fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese on this freshly baked homemade dough. Note: You could use a bottled sauce, your favorite toppings and mozzarella cheese to customize to your taste and available ingredients.

As for the time factor, I beat Dominos by a full 20 minutes. And the cost? Mine: Less than $4. Dominos: $19.17 including tax and tip.

Here’s a tip for you: To make your own pizza stone, pick up one or two large unglazed terra cotta tiles at the home improvement store (less than $2 each). Move the oven rack to the lower position and place the tile(s) on the rack. Once hot, scoot the pizza dough from the greased/corn mealed pan right onto the hot pizza stone for baking.

photo credit: midnightzulu

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10 Things You Need to Know About Life Insurance

A couple of weeks ago I received a message from one of my readers that sent a chill down my spine.

DEAR MARY: Recently I switched my life insurance from term to whole life. Now I am not sure I made the right choice. Which one is better? I am in my early 60s.

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With so little to go on, I had to read between the lines and here’s what I came up with. This reader had a term life insurance policy. Someone, and I am going to assume it was an insurance salesman, advised her to switch to a whole life policy. Given her question, “Which one is better,” together with her admission, “I am not sure I made the right choice,” I do not believe this was her idea.

Given no information to the contrary, I am convinced she he had no idea what she was doing. Whoever advised her did not educate her to the level that she would be able to make her own informed decision—one that she would not doubt as soon as she’d written the check and the salesman was long gone.

I responded privately to the reader, and as yet have not heard back. In the meantime, I have compiled this list of things everyone—regardless of age—needs to know about life insurance.

1. All life insurance policies fall into one of two categories. Term insurance is pure life insurance coverage. If you die with the policy in force, it pays out the face value to your beneficiary. Whole life policies (there are many varieties) combine an investment product with pure term insurance and these policies build cash value.

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How to Beat the College Debt Trap Plus a GIVEAWAY!

Over the holidays, I was chatting with my sister-in-law, a financial advisor with a highly respected Fortune 100 financial services organization.  We were talking about the value of a college education as weighed against the outrageously high cost to go to college these days.

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She asked me to recommend a book or resource that she could offer to her clients that would help them navigate the whole topic of student loans, college educations, savings, scholarships, savings programs—everything in one, neat package that would also be easy to read and even easier to understand. Sadly, I couldn’t give her even one resource to consider.

But that was last fall, and this is now. I am very excited that now there is such a source—a brand new book, Beating the College Debt Trap: Getting a Degree Without Going Broke, by Alex Chediak.

I was hopeful when the publisher asked me to read the manuscript—hopeful that finally someone would nail this difficult topic, offering realistic solutions for ordinary people.

Once I got into the manuscript, I was doing the happy dance. Chediak spares no punches, coming at the subject both as a student and college professor. He knows his stuff. He dives right into the nitty-gritty of how to pay less for college, get meaningful work during college (while setting yourself up for success after college); how to pay off any loans quickly (he recommends never taking on more than a total of $10,000 in student debt, which I agree is reasonable); spend less, save more and stay out of debt for good. Honestly, reading this book is like hearing myself talking. 

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How to Squirrel-Proof a Bird Feeder

Recently, I had the occasion to shop for a bird feeder for a dear friend. I learned quickly that squirrels are nuts about bird feeders and can outsmart just about any design or effort to keep them out of the birds’ food. For me, that begs the question:  Why aren’t there squirrel feeders so squirrels can have their own filling stations and stop tormenting the birds? I’m sure if there’s an answer to that, I’ll be hearing from my readers very soon.

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In the meantime, enjoy today’s first tip from EC reader Marge, who discovered a cheap, albeit effective, way to deal with thieving squirrels in her yard.

SQUIRREL-PROOF. After watching squirrels hanging upside down on my bird feeders—sometimes one on each side of the roof—I finally found the solution: a jar of Vaseline. I put on a rubber glove and then smeared the pole from top to bottom with the Vaseline. In no time at all, I watched as one squirrel tried to climb the pole, but jumped off because it was too slippery. So far none, have been able to overcome Vaseline while I am enjoying many different birds at the feeder. Marge

CATCH MICE LIKE MAGIC. I have another use for Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. I bought a new one, and stored it under my kitchen sink. The next day I reached for it and something had been eating it. Pieces of white torn up sponge were around. A mouse, I thought. So I got out some handy mouse traps and as I was about to use peanut butter for bait, I suddenly thought, “If he likes the Mr. Clean Dry Erase Sponge so much…” So I cut off a piece and used it to bait the trap (so much less messy than sticky peanut butter). This morning there he was in the trap, having gone for it. Who would have imagined? Sharon

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Sparkling Clean Windows—Cheaper, Better, Faster!

You may recall (because I can’t seem to stop talking about it) that my husband and I moved into our new home in April 2015, just in time to experience our first Rocky Mountain spring. There are no words than can describe it adequately, but this picture does a great job.

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The first thing I noticed as I walked into the house were the windows—tons of windows and every one of them dirty. It looked to me as if no one had ever washed these windows.

I did my due diligence in researching professional window washers. For sure we would have to pay to have them cleaned properly. But it would be one and done. We would keep them clean and that would be an easy task. Of course.

The price was ridiculously high, but the job got done and the windows sparkled. That’s when I set out to discover the best (read: easiest, fastest, cheapest, sparkly-est) way to keep these windows clean—not only dust-free, but also clean.

Surprise. It’s not with Windex, paper towels, newspaper or other methods I may or may not have recommended in the past, which produce a big mess: dripping, soggy, dirty paper towels and windows with streaks that can be difficult to remove.

THE RIGHT TOOLS. I have invested (actually very little compared to the cost to have our windows professionally washed just that one time; or the cost of window cleaner and paper towels you may have used in the past to clean your windows) in the right window-washing tools. You need the right tools, too, or you are going to waste a lot of time and money trying to get your windows streak-free and sparkling like diamonds.

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Who Else Remembers Having a Savings Account Passbook?

I must be feeling especially nostalgic today because I want to talk about bank accounts. And the passing of passbooks. I’m going to bet that you remember having one.

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It’s not that long ago that anyone, even a kid, could walk into a savings bank, open an account and be issued a cute little navy blue book about half the size of a passport, in which to record deposits and withdrawals.

The way it worked was that whenever you wanted to put money into your savings account, you’d go to the bank, hand the teller the little passbook where he or she would write in the amount deposited, the date and then seal the deal with the official stamp.

Even better, there was a column where, from time to time, the teller would add interest to the account balance. Yes! Interest. Banks actually paid handsome rates of interest (by today’s standard) on basic savings accounts. You could see compounding interest* in action. The whole process was so satisfying. That little passbook was proof positive that you had money in the bank and were being rewarded for it.

While things have certainly changed in the world of consumer banking, I’m pretty excited to tell you that at least one bank out there is doing all it can to bring back the features of saving and earning interest that we found so satisfying in years gone by.

I can’t promise you a cute little navy blue passbook, but I think that if you are saving money and are also a devoted debit-card user, you are going to be very interested in what follows.

Northpointe Bank, based in Michigan, is offering one of the best bank account deals that I’ve seen in a very long time. 

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