From Credit Counseling to Contaminated Mascara—Readers Want to Know

There are so many things I love about my job, and right at the top is that my readers trust me to help them with everything from figuring out if they could benefit from getting professional help with their debt situation to figuring out when to toss the mascara.

Dear Mary: I am out of money—and I mean not a dime left after I pay bills. I have been considering credit counseling to get some breathing room. My credit is shot and I’m feeling desperate. By enrolling in credit counseling, at least the creditors would get regular payments and checks that don’t bounce. Am I wrong to consider this kind of help? Sandy

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Fire Extinguisher Safety Zone, Super Useful Website and Handy Vacuum Tool, Too (with UPDATE!)

What do fire extinguishers, hard-to-find phone numbers and handy dandy cleaning tools have in common? Nothing other than the subject lines of three messages that recently washed up in my email box!

Dear Mary: Your recent column on fire extinguishers and the P.A.S.S. system got me thinking about my home fire extinguisher. Like yours, mine has been there so long it’s blending in with the decor and that prompted my question: Do fire extinguishers expire? How can I know it is still good? When should I replace? Janine

Dear Janine: Fire extinguishers do not have an infinite lifespan. They will expire. The typical portable extinguisher that has not been opened remains in good condition between 5 to 15 years. But you don’t have to guess or wonder if it’s fully charged and ready to go. Look for the pressure gauge on the extinguisher itself. Check to make sure the needle on the gauge is in the green zone. That indicates that it is still good. Once that needle moves into the red zone it should be replaced or recharged. (Small extinguishers for home use are often “single-use” products and cannot be recharged.)

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Best Inexpensive Small Kitchen Appliances

Recently, I heard from EC reader Douglas who wrote, Would you please repeat your column that describes the best inexpensive small kitchen appliances? I want to replace my mixer and small food chopper. Thanks. Your column is great. I look forward to it every day.

After a few moments of non-productive searching, my confused self realized that while I’ve included a small kitchen appliance in a “best inexpensive” column from time to time, the column Douglas was looking for didn’t exist. Now it does. Thanks Douglas for that kick I needed and your nice comments, too.

1. FOOD PROCESSOR. The Hamilton Beach 8-Cup Food Processor is simple to use offering 2 speeds, a powerful 450-watt motor and large feed tube. Just the perfect size, too. About $22.

2. HAND MIXER. When selecting an electric mixer, consider carefully your specific need. If you use a mixer only occasionally for small jobs, my pick for best inexpensive is the KitchenAid KHM512ER 5-Speed Ultra Power Hand Mixer. About $38.

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Quick and Easy Designer Muffins

Tired of high-fat, high-cost fast-food breakfasts? I’ve got a fantastic solution: Quick and easy designer muffins.

With a little improvising, you can make and serve scrumptious muffins in a variety of flavors to make use of (and use up) ingredients you have on hand. Use this basic muffin recipe to get started then refer to the options that follow.

ORANGE MUFFINS

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce
  • 1/2 cup peeled and chopped fresh orange

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick spray or with paper liners. (Look HERE to learn how to make your own Tulip muffin papers from parchment paper.) In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well.

In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, honey, butter and applesauce. Mix well. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, add the oranges and stir to combine. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Yield: 12 muffins.

Optional Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, or as needed

In a small bowl, whisk sugar with orange zest and orange juice until smooth. Spread on muffins while still warm.

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Food Cost-Cutting Strategies for Every Lifestyle

Ever wonder why you never have enough money to save? I’m talking about consistent, regular deposits out of every paycheck that go straight into a savings account. Maybe it’s time to consider that you’re handing over your savings to local restaurants, drive-thrus, diners and coffee shops. Think about it.

What if you didn’t eat out so often? What if you were strategic in buying basic ingredients and then cooking great meals at home? What if you had all of that money tucked away in a savings account rather than the coffers of local eating joints?

No matter your lifestyle, I am confident that with the right strategies, you really can reduce the amount of money you’re spending on food.

MORE TIME THAN MONEY

If yours is a single-income household struggling to survive in a two-income world, keeping food on the table and the bills paid can be quite a challenge. The good news is that time is on your side. The one not working outside the home has the time—it takes time to carry out the best strategies—to keep the cost at rock bottom without sacrificing quality.

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Make-It-Yourself Furniture Polish Cheaper, Better, Healthier

Not long ago I got a request from EC reader Kelly for a make-it-yourself furniture polish recipe. She said that she uses a lot of it and it’s getting so expensive.

My first thought was of course to suggest she time her purchases for when furniture polish goes on sale, and then to stock up. I recently purchased a can of Pledge aerosol polish (reg. $5.49) for $1.50. I was harboring a $1 coupon and when Pledge went on sale for 2/$7, I used my coupon (my store doubles), bought one can and enjoyed a great bargain.

Kelly didn’t mention environmental issues in her desire to make her own furniture polish, but after doing some research on the matter, that may be something all of us should consider and perhaps even more than the high cost. I was amazed to see what goes into a can of spray furniture polish. Many contain synthetic ingredients like silicone, solvents, petroleum distillates and artificial fragrances to mask the chemical smells.

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Wool Dryer Balls: Safe for People and Dryers—Plus Privacy Trick

A couple of days ago I got multiple letters with questions about wool dryer balls. Are they safe? What if I’m allergic to wool?!

Honestly, I had opinions but not definitive answers and that sent me into research mode. I learned some very cool stuff I think you’ll enjoy knowing as well:

Dear Mary: The wool dryer balls sound interesting but what if a person is allergic to wool?  I am allergic to wool and avoid it at all costs. Do the wool dryer balls transfer allergens to items while drying? I would love to have my sheets, towels come out without being all balled up.  Thanks for any help you can give on this. Joyce

Dear Joyce: You may be allergic to the natural lanolin found in sheepswool, but that would be very rare. Only about 6% of those who are tested for lanolin allergy turn up positive. It’s more likely you, like many people, are sensitive to the short bristly fibers that irritate your sensitive skin and make you feel itchy.

Either way, lanolin is washed away during the manufacturing process of wool dryer balls. Even if trace amounts remain and you are one who does have a lanolin allergy (you’d know this because you are also allergic to all skin care and makeup products that contain lanolin), it will not transfer to your clothes. As for those short bristly fibers in the sheepswool, the only way the dryer balls could cause an irritation is if you rubbed them on your skin.

Neither lanolin nor bristly short fibers are an issue when using wool dryer balls in your clothes dryer. Use them well and enjoy the results!

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When Money is at the Root of Marriage and Family Squabbles

Disagreements over money can tear marriages and families apart. In fact, unresolved money conflicts remains the number one for divorce. But it doesn’t have to be that way. More often than not, the solution can be found in this single word directive: communicate!

Dear Mary: My husband always insists on balancing our joint checkbook, and I recently found out why. The last statement came in while he was away on business so I decided to deal with it. Well, I was astonished to see a check to his parents for $250. I went through a couple prior statements and found the same thing. I figured out he’s been doing this ever since his parents retired last year. Besides being shocked, I was hurt. We’re not exactly rolling in dough. We have three kids and a hefty mortgage, but I wouldn’t have outright refused to help my in-laws. How should I broach the subject with him? And shouldn’t I be acknowledged for my contribution to this little retirement fund? After all, I work too! Christina

Dear Christina: Skimming money is a real problem for any partnership, especially a marriage. But money problems in a marriage are rarely only about the money. There’s usually an underlying issue. If he’d asked, I would have told him that as noble as his intentions might be, his commitment to you and to his marriage trumps his relationship with his parents. It’s wrong to do this behind your back. 

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