8 Things You Can Do to Beat Tough Times

Recent California wildfires serve as a grim reminder of how quickly ones personal economy can change. If the rain of an economic downturn were to fall on you tomorrow, would you know how to find shelter from the storm?


Troubles come and troubles go. Economic recovery is sure, eventually. In the meantime, if you play your cards right, you will not only survive a period of economic decline, you will thrive. Knowing how to survive will help you stave off potential disaster.

DEVELOP YOUR GREATEST ASSET.  Your attitude—the way you respond to life and all of its circumstances—is more important than anything. It is more important than the past, than struggle or success, than education or experience. It is more important than how much money you have, how much you owe, what you would like to do or where you would like to go. When you face tough times your attitude will be either your greatest asset or worst liability. The key to changing your attitude is reprogramming your mind. Whatever you choose to focus on is what you will move toward.

ASSESS YOUR RESOURCES.  Figure out exactly what you earn, what you own and what you owe. What insurance do you have? How long would it take your unemployment benefits to kick in? Do you have enough cash to bridge the gap?


Know the Shelf Life of Holiday Baking Staples

Look up the word impulsive in the dictionary and prepare to see my face. As I cleaned out the freezer in anticipation of relocating to Colorado last spring, I found five big bags of chocolate chips to prove it. They are the ghosts of a Christmas past—the remains from my now famous Gifts in a Jar marathon project.


And have I mentioned the two containers of candied fruit that I picked up the year I knew I’d have all kinds of time to make fruitcake? They had to have been at least seven years old and curiously showed absolutely no sign of becoming stale, moldy or anything close to inedible.

Many supermarkets put baking supplies on rock-bottom sale starting about Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas. I still have four five-pound bags of flour from last holiday season, which I bought for $.99 each. Sugar is cheap during the holidays, too. Ditto for other holiday baking ingredients from marshmallows to sweetened condensed milk, dates to nuts.


Avoid These Home Buying Mistakes and You’ll Never Be House Poor

Buying a home is likely the largest purchase you will ever make. This is not the time to make mistakes that could easily plunge you into a financial situation you cannot afford. Here are five expensive home-buying mistakes you should avoid. Not only will you steer clear of becoming house poor, you’ll also save yourself thousands of dollars in the process.


MISTAKE: ALLOWING A LENDER TO TELL YOU WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD. When you meet with a lender to get pre-approved for a mortgage, that lender is going to tell you how big a mortgage the lender is willing to offer you. He (or she) is concerned about only two things: Your ability to repay the mortgage and the size of his commission. He wants to steer you into the biggest mortgage possible. Ignore whatever number he says you can borrow. It is not based on what you can afford because the lender has no idea what you can afford.  

You need to set your housing budget. And that housing budget should be low enough so that you can afford to make progress on all your other important financial goals like maintaining a healthy emergency, getting debt-free and funding retirement accounts.


How to Not Go Broke on Birthday Parties

Back when I was a kid, birthday parties were mostly ho-hum consisting of a few rounds of Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Clothespins in a Bottle followed by Betty Crocker cake baked in a nine-by-thirteen with buttercream frosting. Back then going “all out” meant splurging on a pre-made cake from the local bakery.


These days going all out for a child’s birthday party means something a bit different. Some of the stories are mind-boggling.

Recently, I read about parents in one Minnesota town who rented a bar for a princess-themed party. Children and their parents were invited and instructed to come dressed in tuxedos and formal attire. Guests were picked up in limos. The party included live music and champagne for the adults. The birthday girl was turning 4.

Sure that was an extreme party, but there is no denying that birthday parties for kids are becoming more and more extravagant. You know what I’m talking about. And I get it.


Chips Gone Bad

Does your pantry, like mine, mysteriously accumulate nearly-empty bags of stale chips? I hate when that happens, and it nearly kills me to throw them out. But what on earth can we do with chips gone stale or bags where all that remains are broken pieces and crumbs?


Well, my frugal friends, I have a solution—two in fact: Recipes that call for crushed chips (stale chips work just great). I have a feeling you’re going to love these chicken strips and cookies so much you’ll be begging your friends and neighbors to send their stale chips your way. (How cheap is that?)

Taco Chicken Strips

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/4 cup crushed tortilla chips
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning*

Preheat oven to 425 F. To crush the tortilla chips, place them in a resealable plastic bag. Whack them with a rolling pin and continue rolling until the chips are fine crumbs. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Cut each chicken breast unto half-inch strips.


Purrfect Solution for a Stinky Cat Litter Box

Dear Mary: I am a new reader and I’m getting so many good ideas from your column. Thank you!  I believe I read in a recent column about a super litter box deodorizer. My interest is prompted by the fact that our daughter is moving in with us soon and she has two cats. Your new faithful reader, Heather


Dear Heather: There are few more difficult odors to control than those associated with a cat litter box. Until someone figures out how to successfully potty-train cats including teaching them to flush, the next best option is Nok-Out.

The location of the litter box is important. It should be away from doors and windows, as far from family and food activities as possible. Cats want privacy so this rules out the kitchen or other high-activity locations.

The size of the litter box and the emptying frequency are both important. If the bottom of the box becomes too soiled or the smell of urine too concentrated because the box has a cover; if the box is too small, or if there are too many cats per box, your new house guests may choose a spot near the box, avoiding the litter box altogether.


Triple Punch for Laundry Stains Plus DIY Coffee Creamer

Dear Mary: I read in a recent column that I could use Cascade automatic dishwasher powder in my washing machine to remove grease, ground in red dirt and even old stains not removed in previous washes. That sounds like just the ticket for me as I have a husband who can get his work clothes dirtier than any child I have ever seen. This begs the question though, and the reason for the email: 


First, can I use this powder in my high efficiency (HE) top load washer? Second, do I use it along with my regular HE detergent or instead of? Since I already purchased the Cascade powder, I am anxious to give it a try.  Thank you for your excellent column. I look forward to reading it every day. Suzie

Dear Suzie: The quick answer is, Yes! You would use Cascade powder (about 1/2 cup per load in the wash cycle) in addition to and right along with your regular HE detergent and the hottest water the clothes can handle. For an additional boost, add 1/2 cup Arm and Hammer Washing Soda as well. Now you’ve got a triple punch to attack those stains.


Laundry Problems, Mistakes and Mysteries and How to Solve Them

Laundry challenges, it seems, come in every size, shape and intensity. Rather than thinking there is no solution for that stain, shrunken item or other laundry disaster, consider the ways your fellow readers have found to recover and renew situations gone bad.


MELTED-ON CRAYON STAINS. With so many restaurants giving the kids crayons to keep them occupied while waiting for the meal to arrive, we have had to learn how to remove crayons from clothes that have inadvertently made their way through both the washer and dryer. Melted-on crayon can be removed by first applying WD-40 to the area working it into the stain with your fingers. Once the WD-40 has begun to break down the petroleum base of the crayon, apply concentrated detergent to remove both the stain and and the WD-40. Put back into the washer and launder as usual. It works like a charm. Andrea

UNSHRINKING WOOL. Don’t be too quick to toss out that favorite sweater that just got shrunk in the hot wash. Chances are good you can unshrink it if you move qickly: Mix a solution of one gallon lukewarm water and two tablespoons baby shampoo. Soak the shrunken garment for about ten minutes. Now the important part: Don’t rinse! Simply blot out all the excess water with a dry towel and very gently lay it flat on a fresh towel. Reshape slowly and carefully as you stretch it back to its original size. Dry out of direct sunlight or heat. This tip comes from the Wool Bureau who verifies this technique will work provided the fibers have not become permanently damaged. Mary