How to Handle a Money Crisis

You know what to do in a medical emergency, but do you know what to do when faced with a big fat financial crisis?

Dear Mary: After 10 years of marriage and tons of unwise decisions, my husband handed the finances to me to handle. I have never done this before. We have mountains of bills and $900 in the bank. I don’t know where to start. Please help me. I feel like I am drowning. Gladys

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Dear Gladys: First you need to separate facts from feelings. There will be a time later to address emotional issues and how to develop financial intimacy in your marriage. But for now pack up your feelings and put them on a shelf. Develop a mindset that you’ve been called in to perform a financial rescue for a complete stranger.

Take a deep breath and write down all of your bills. Include the “bills” for basic food, gasoline and necessary medications, if any, to survive until your next payday. Divide these bills into two lists: Essential and nonessential. An essential expense is a serious obligation that if not paid could produce severe, even life-threatening consequences. Follow this rule to figure out which bills should get paid first:

Do not make payments on nonessential debts or expenses when you have not paid essential ones—even if your nonessential creditors are breathing down your neck. 

Give Formica a Bright New Life

Recently, I reached into the pile known as my mail and pulled out a great question, “How can I restore the finish to an original, classic mid-century modern Formica top table that has some noticeable dull spots?” I have the answer, but misplaced the letter. So while I don’t know your name, you know who you are and that’s all that matters.

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Dear Reader: Don Aslett, America’s #1 Cleaning Expert says to brighten dull or scratched laminate, rub it down with Johnson’s Jubilee or a good paste car wax, Meguiar’s Gold Class Carnauba. Just follow the instructions on the package. By the way, Johnson’s Jubilee is for use on almost anything: cars, boats, bikes, countertops, skis, your glasses, but don’t apply it to floors. It’s too slick. As I recall you are very fond of your table, so if you don’t already have one of the recommended products, a $10 investment might be worth the price.

Dear Mary: I have a silverfish problem in my home. Nothing I have tried works. Please help. Helene

Dear Helene: Silverfish are such a pesky problem. They’re nocturnal, so you won’t see them much during they day. And silverfish are so hearty they can go without food for up to a year. When they do eat, they find cardboard and wallpaper to be quite tasty.

An excellent pesticide for silverfish is food-grade diatomaceous earth, available at garden centers or hardware stores. Make certain you purchase food-grade diatomaceous earth, not the variety for swimming pools which has been chemically altered and will not work as a pesticide. When silverfish and other crawling insects come in contact with the powdery substance they dehydrate. Even silverfish cannot live without water.

How to Buy Carpet

It’s not something you buy every day. But when it’s time to buy carpet, you want to know your stuff. Make a bad decision and you’ll pay dearly for a long time, and I am not talking just about the money. You’ll pay a significant price in dissatisfaction and disappointment.

First, decide the style of carpet and type of fiber you want, determined by where it will be installed and how much money you have to spend. Visit several retail carpet stores that will let you take carpet samples home for a few days. Walk on them, view them in different light. Set a heavy piece of furniture on them to see if the fibers will “rebound” once removed.

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No matter how much pressure the sales staff pours on, remember you are not obligated to purchase from any store even if you checked out samples from them.

STYLES

Plush. Usually one solid color with even, smooth pile height. Varies from light weight (apartment-grade) with fewer tufts per square inch to heavier weights that are very dense. Comes in a vast range of colors. Shows footprints and vacuum marks.

Textured Plush. Two shades mixed with varying pile heights that reduces vacuum marks and footprints. About the same price as plush.

Frieze. Very tightly twisted tufts of yarn. More expensive than plush but wears much longer—15 years is not unusual. Durable, holds up to heavy use without matting or showing traffic patterns. Rebounds well.

Sculptured. Has two types of tufts—loops and cut pile in varying heights. Often called high-low. Doesn’t show much dirt. Often used in apartments.

Simple Rules to Live By

I have a quirk, a kind of brain glitch that annoys me to no end. I cannot easily distinguish left from right. My brain locks up and gives me that infamous “404 Page Cannot Be Displayed” message.

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Of course, I blame this on Mrs. Sailor. It goes back to that day in First Grade when she called on me to answer a simple “left or right?” question. I froze. I did not know the answer.

This was not good for a child who feared punishment for even the slightest infraction. Worse, I didn’t know how I would ever figure it out. No one else in the class had a problem with left and right.

My six-year-old reasoning concluded that the class had learned left from right on a day I was home sick. She forgot to get me caught up when I returned. I would go thirty-five years attributing my problem to a missed lesson. Imagine my relief the day I learned the whys and wherefores of my personal struggle. I have directional dyslexia type of learning disability that can be treated quite successfully with a series of simple exercises.

If I’d only had the courage to say I didn’t understand and to ask for help back then, I might have spared myself a lot of grief.

Perhaps you feel this way when it comes to managing your money. It can’t be that difficult because everyone around you seems to handle their money just fine. It’s as if you were out sick the day everyone else learned the rules of personal finance.

How to Feed a Crowd and Not Go Broke

Graduation parties, rehearsal dinners, family reunions—it’s the season for large gatherings. If feeding lots of people has you in a panic, relax. I’ve got you covered with great big recipes for enough fabulous food to feed a crowd that won’t bust the budget.

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Crockpot Chicken BBQ

  • 4 pounds chicken breasts (skinless, boneless)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar (any type)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 28 ounces (3 1/2 cups) bottled
  • barbecue sauce
  1. Place chicken, water, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and cumin in slow cooker set on “Low.” Cook for 6 hours. Drain juices. Shred chicken right in the slow cooker using two forks to pull it all apart. Pour in barbecue sauce, stir to combine. Cook on “Low” for an additional hour. Serve on buns with coleslaw. Serves 16.

Don’t Rely on Vinegar to Disinfect

Dear Mary: What is a safe disinfectant for colored clothes, such as underwear and bath towels? I can’t use chlorine bleach, and since I usually wash my colored clothes in cold water, I do not feel like I am getting them sanitized enough. Thanks. Sherri

Photo Credit: Kasia

Photo Credit: Kasia

Dear Sherri: Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tested conventional household disinfectants, hospital disinfectants and natural alternatives to measure each product’s ability to kill specific hazardous microbes. Their results show that white vinegar killed 90 percent of germs without regard to the temperature of the water.

Sounds pretty good until you realize that leaves a 10 percent chance for Salmonella, Streptococcus and Staphylococcus viruses, Influenza A2 virus and Herpes Simplex Type 1 to live on. A product like Lysol disinfectant, on the other hand, kills 99.9 percent of those germs.

For fabrics that cannot be washed with bleach, add a liquid disinfectant according to product instructions, such as Lysol, NokOut (coupon code DPL for 10% off) or Mr. Clean Antibacterial to the wash.

Just a reminder that water at 120 F degrees water (hot) plus laundry detergent is sufficient to kill ordinary household germs without the need for an added disinfectant.

More Little Ways to Save Time and Money

CLOG-FREE PET WASH. When giving your dog or cat a bath in the sink, cut a circle the size of your drain out of a green scrubbie pad. Place the pad in the drain to keep it from clogging with animal hair. Mary

Photo Credit: Qwen Wan

Photo Credit: Qwen Wan

BOOK BARGAINS. Look in the For Sale section of your local library for inexpensive books. We find books for adults and kids for $2 or less. I always look there for a book I am interested in before spending a lot at a bookstore, and sometimes I get lucky.  Sommer

ONLINE THRIFTING. Goodwill is no longer just a chain of walk-in thrift stores. They now have a website, Shopgoodwill.com, an Internet auction site operated by a nonprofit organization. It’s a great place to browse high quality donation items from across the country. You can find designer items like purses or shoes that are in great condition for a fraction of the retail price. Brenda

NOT JUST FOR TEETH. To remove pen or magic marker from nearly any hard surface—stained wood, plastic, baby doll faces, walls, flooring—use toothpaste! It works better than anything I’ve ever tried. Just don’t use whitening varieties on colored surfaces.  Jennifer

Satisfaction: Your Basic Consumer Right

Statistically speaking, chances are slim-to-none that you consistently avail yourself of the most fundamental of all financial principles—to get what you pay for.

According to Donna McCrohan, author of Get What You Pay For or Don’t Pay at All, only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers let a business know when they are unhappy with a product or service and then follow up effectively until they are satisfied.

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One can only conclude that the rest of us throw good money down the drain for clothing that doesn’t fit right and appliances that don’t live up to their promises. We prefer to cram the stuff into closets and cupboards rather than take the time and effort to request a refund or satisfactory replacement.

When the dry cleaner ruins a favorite shirt we gripe to a friend instead of the dry cleaner’s owner. Or when the coffee grinder doesn’t grind, we mumble under our breath and don’t even look for the customer service 800 number, which might well be printed right there on the infuriating little monster.

I can only conclude from all of this that 96 percent of us complain about shoddy workmanship or inferior service but never get around to requesting the work be redone or negotiating a fair and reasonable adjustment. We give up too soon—or more likely, don’t even get started.