Would You Haul a $750 Sofa to the Dump or Spend $50 to Fix It?

Try to imagine this scenario: You spend $750 for a new sofa and chair—not on a whim, but after saving and shopping; comparing and scrutinizing. Finally these beautiful pieces you’ve waited for arrive. The room looks better than you could have possibly imagined. Even your beloved cat seems to approve. Yes, I said cat.


Before the newness has worn off, the unthinkable happens. The cat becomes stressed (presidential politics, no doubt) and does what many cats do under stress—“sprays” both the sofa and chair. Argh!

Does any of this ring a bell? It was the subject of a recent post, “Some Smelly Situations Require Extra Toil and Patience.”  This little story is reality for Linda who wrote for help in getting rid of the smell of cat urine on her furniture—the kind of odor that brings tears to your eyes. She’d already given Nok-Out a noble try by spraying it on the affected areas, but the smell remained. 


What Would You Do with 35 Pounds of Lemons?

I kinda’ went nuts on my last trip to California. You’ll recall from a previous column we make that trip quite often for business but also to visit our son who has a Meyer lemon tree in his back yard. I have never seen such a prolific fruit tree in my life. It’s not on any kind of lemon steroids; it gets no preferential care like pruning or watering. Apparently, it thrives on on being left alone.


I always load up my suitcase with lemons but for some reason, this last trip I went crazy. How crazy? I arrived home with 35 pounds of gorgeous, perfectly ripened Meyer lemons.

My friends got lemons. I squeezed lemon juice for the freezer. This past month, I’ve made Lemon Chicken, Lemon Bars and “Lemons in a Jar” for gifts.

While I haven’t come up with a way to share lemons with you, I can gladly share my favorite recipes. Enjoy!


This Summer … Vacation at Home!

A cash shortage need not eliminate the idea of a family vacation. Clever and creative parents can turn several days off work into an amazing vacation experience—without leaving town.


MAKE A PLAN. Call it a Stay-At-Home Adventure. Create a schedule and itinerary that includes activities and meals. Make a big colorful chart and allow the kids to participate in the planning.

NOTIFICATION. Let everyone know the dates you’ll be on vacation. In the same way you would not be available if you were flying to another country, they need to know you will not be available during your vacation.

THINK LIKE A TOURIST. Google the name of your town plus the word “tourist.” You’ll be amazed what you discover. We’re talking hiking trails, bike paths, community events even museums and play grounds that you may not even know exist. Look for special deals, coupons and other goodies local merchants are offering.

CHANGE ALL THE RULES. This is the fun part. Break all the rules during your stay-at-home vacation—within reason. Sleep in late, stay up really late, watch videos, play games, go on bike rides, explore places you’ve never been. A few days of junk food is not likely to create any serious problems. 


Don’t Go Broke for the Wedding Gift

Wedding season is in full bloom and while tying the knot is getting more expensive for the bride and groom, attending a wedding is becoming costlier, too. In fact, a Market Watch reveals from a recent survey that the average guest will spend $673 this year to attend a single wedding—including but not limited to travel, accommodations and attire.


And then there’s the wedding gift. The average spending ranging from $80 to $150 per person, according to The Knot Registry Survey. Want to cut the cost while still giving a gift the couple wants and will appreciate?

COMPARE PRICES ON REGISTRY ITEMS. It’s wise to reference a registry to see what the couple wants, but it’s even smarter to compare prices among stores. Online retailers like Overstock sell popular registry brands for less than most high-end stores.

USE DISCOUNT GIFT CARDS. If you’re planning to give a gift card or you’re buying an item off a couple’s registry, save money by purchasing discount gift cards from GiftCardGranny.com. The site offers gift cards for less than face value, like a $100 Macy’s gift card for $80.

KNOW WHERE TO FIND COUPON CODES. Most stores offer coupons these days, you just have to know where to look to find one. By signing up to receive an e-newsletter from Pottery Barn or Williams-Sonoma, you’ll get a coupon code for 10 percent off a future order. 


Low and Slow on the Bacon Plus 7 More Useful Tips

FOOLPROOF BACON. The easiest mess-free way to cook bacon with the least amount of shrinkage is low and slow in the oven—365 F for 30 minutes.


HEALTHIER, GREENER HOUSEPLANTS. Whether you’ve got a green thumb or not, you probably want your houseplants to thrive. Watering plants with club soda is better for them than plain water as it contains phosphate and other nutrients that enrich the soil and promote growth.

CLEAN A WINDOW BLIND CORD. The pull cord on your window blinds used to be white. Remember that? Here’s a quick and easy way make it that way again:

Raise the blind so that the maximum amount of pull cord is exposed. Next fill a strong gallon-sized zip-lock type bag about half way with a 50/50 mixture of water and liquid bleach (or liquid detergent if bleach makes your nervous). Gather up the pull cord and place it in the bag. Carefully twist the top of the bag and secure it closed over the cord using one or two clothes pins or chip clips. Allow to remain this way overnight. In the morning, carefully remove the bag and wipe down the cord with a dry towel.

Caution: This is likely a two-person job. Make sure you well protect the floor below this project just in case you encounter any spillage. This is a little tricky but works so well it’ll be worth the extra effort.

FREE FERTILIZER. Spent coffee grounds work great as fertilizer and insect repellent in the garden. Plants such as rosebushes, azaleas, rhododendrons, evergreens and camellias that prefer acidic soils will especially appreciate the leftovers from your morning cup—decaf or regular. Not a coffee drinker? Ask the baristas at that coffee shop down the street to save some for you.

DIY WRINKLE RELEASE SPRAY. You can spend $7.99 for a bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser, but why would you when you can make it yourself for a couple of pennies?

Pour 8 ounces distilled water into a spray bottle. Add 1 teaspoon liquid fabric softener and 1 teaspoon rubbing alcohol. Apply sprayer tightly, and shake well. Set spray pattern to fine mist. Spray the offending wrinkles with a fine mist then smooth out the wrinkles with your hand. This spray will dry quickly and wrinkles will be gone.

GENTLE SCRUBBING CLEANSER. Make your own gentle scrubbing cleanser that’s eco-friendly and costs very little, using just three ingredients.

Mix 1/4 cup baking soda, 2 tablespoons liquid dish detergent like blue Dawn and enough white vinegar to make a smooth paste. Use to clean the stove top, sinks, bathtub, shower walls—any place you need some gentle scrubbing power but do not want to run the risk of scratching the surface.

KIDS IN MUSEUMS. Want to visit museums with your children but avoid the boredom and tears? Head to the gift shop first and buy postcards of the museum’s most famous works. Create a treasure hunt in the museum for these masterpieces. Send the postcards or add them to your trip album.

FORMICA FACELIFT. If you can’t replace the Formica counters that you think are out of date, consider painting them. There are several methods that you can use.

Consult a good paint store or check your local home improvement center. Products such as Counter-top Transformations by Rust-Oleum or Giani Granite Paint will update your look for a reasonable cost.


Half-Price State of Mind

The data is in and it’s not pretty: The average overspending American spends $1.22 for each $1 of income. If you’re “average” you’re in trouble. You are digging yourself into a horrible pit of debt.


Let’s say you’re below the average and spend $1 for every $1 you earn. That’s a lot better. Still, you’re living from paycheck to paycheck. If one thing goes wrong, you’ll be in trouble.

The key to achieving financial freedom is to live below your means—you limit your spending to $.80 for each $1 you earn. That leaves $.10 to give away and $.10 to save for the future. That’s called balance and I promise if you live by that formula you will never be broke. Impossible? No. It takes skill, effort and determination. It takes desire and commitment to live below your means without giving up your style and your quality of life.

The first step is to adopt a new attitude, a simple personal standard: I do not pay full price for anything. It is not realistic to think you will never pay full price for anything or that everything is available somewhere for just pennies on the dollar. But if your goal is half-price, it will average out over time. This is a mindset, an attitude. 


Storing Onions, Making Beef Jerky

I recall the event as if it happened yesterday. I purchased a beautiful bag of sweet white onions (10 pounds for an economical $2.98). I stood the bag on the floor of the pantry. Within a few short weeks I expectantly reached in to pull out a perfect specimen only to find the entire lot had gone soft and were more black than white. I hate when that happens.


A few days later I was reading one of my prized possessions, Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. Right there on page 25 is Julia illustrating the way to store onions. She doesn’t come right out and describe the method, but careful inspection of that picture reveals one leg of a pair of pantyhose (impeccably clean, you can be sure) holding the onions and hanging from a hook. You can see where she dropped one into the toe and then carefully tied a knot then another onion and another knot until the tube if filled, tying it off again at the top.

Pretty ingenious if you ask me. By tying off between each one, the onions are not touching another and the hose material allows air to circulate. Doesn’t look too bad, either. I don’t hang mine right out there in full view, but it’s great hanging from a hook in the pantry.

Now I just cut off one onion at a time and feel quite culinarily chic in the process. Onions and garlic (I store them the same way) seem to last forever with this method.


Three Free Life-Improving Resources

If you are generally wary of free stuff, I’m right there with you. Most of the time, I’ve found, free stuff is like bait. It’s a “tasty morsel,” a big tease with the clear intent of getting us to part with money we have no intention of parting with to get whatever it is that’s “free.”


But now and then, free is truly free with no strings attached. And when it’s something I find useful in my life, well, that’s a happy find.

Today I have three truly free things for you to consider. Chances are good you’ll find them downright awesome!


If you, your kids or parents are on a solo trip or even out for a walk alone at night, it’s a good idea to let a loved one know you’re safe (or possibly not). Kitestring is a simple web app that checks up on you and sends a text message to your emergency contacts if you don’t respond by a designated time.

Kitestring is an SMS-based service. If you can send text messages, you can use Kitestring. That spares you the trouble of downloading another app. You don’t even need a smartphone to use Kitestring.