Mary’s Fun Friday: Pumpkin Spice Lattes and More

I was one of the lucky kids at Lowell Elementary School in Boise, Ida. Not only did my 3rd grade class get the best classroom with big beautiful windows just perfect for daydreaming—we got the new teacher, too.

Miss Jones wasn’t old like all the other teachers. She had shiny blond hair, wore beautiful clothes and makeup. (And, I noticed decades later, bore a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.)

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On the first day of school, Miss Jones let us in on the most wonderful secret that would go on to make it the best year of my life. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays we would work very hard on all the things that 3rd graders work on. But on Fridays, things would be different. In Miss Jones’ class every Friday was Fun Friday—no work, all fun.

What a clever teacher. Of course we had school work on Fridays, but she made everything fun. Reading turned into a game. She made arithmetic so much fun! She’d wear cute shoes and play with us at recess on Fun Friday.

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What are Those Grimy Black Lines Around the Edges of My Carpet?

Dark, shadowy, dirty lines on the carpet along baseboards, under doors, beneath draperies and along the edges and in the crevices of carpeted stairs are visible signs of an aggravating—downright gross—problem called filtration soiling.

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Filtration soil comes from airborne pollutants passing through the carpet as the air is drawn through the crack between the carpet and the baseboard, around the drapes or under a closed door.

Filtration soil is an accumulation of soot from dirty ducts, smoke from candles and the fireplace; tobacco, kitchen grease from the oven and cooktop; smog, auto emissions and pollutants from outdoors.

A home’s HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system is designed to filter out airborne soil, trapping it in the HVAC filter. But once the filter is full, the system will send the air pollutants back into the house through the ducts where all of that icky mess gets lodged into corners and crevices.

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From Student Debt Repayment to Dried Up Mascara

My cyber mailbag is like the proverbial box of chocolates. I never know what I’m about to get. And I love that. Take today’s offering for example—questions that run the gamut all the way from the dilemma of repaying huge student loans to the heartbreak of dried up mascara.

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Dear Mary: Fifteen years ago my husband finished medical school with $170,000 in school loans. While in forbearance, when we couldn’t afford the payments, it grew to $185,000.

We are back on track now and have paid the debt down to $160,000. That’s progress, but we have so far to go.

We have $90,000 equity in our home. Should we use that to pay down the student debt faster? We have no other debts. Denise

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How High the Catalogs

 LADIES! If you live in the Philadelphia/Baltimore areas, let’s meet up at Sandy Cove Ministries on the Chesapeake Bay, Oct 13-14 for “Girls Night Out and a Day Off!” Click HERE for  details including cost and overnight accommodation options. I would love to meet you (your daughters, mothers and friends, too) at this faith-based event, where I will be speaking at all four sessions. Check it out. I hope to see you there! 

Something is different this year. First, it seems like the holiday season is starting earlier than usual, which is just fine with me.

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I love Thanksgiving and Christmas so much, I like stretching the season a bit.  But an avalanche of mail order catalogs? Most of them arriving in late August? Not so much.

I’m kinda’ surprised that this year, more than recent years past, far more catalogs are arriving in the mail.

Here’s what I find puzzling: Given the popularity of online shopping, why are companies spending so much money on paper catalogs? These things in full-color are not cheap to produce. But I’m sure marketing geniuses have been paid plenty to figure out that we respond well to hard copy catalogs. And that scares me a little. My best intentions to not order my brains out can easily fall by the wayside once I flip open to see what’s inside.

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7 Ways to Cut the High Cost of Prescription Drugs

These days the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs is enough to give you a heart attack. If medication drug costs have got you down, cheer up! Then check out these seven ways you can save money on prescription medications—plus where to get some medicines (antibiotics!) for free.

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GOODRX.COM. What a fantastic website—no sign-up or credit card required. Just type in the drug name plus your zip code—or download the mobile app for IOS and Android—to compare prices at different pharmacies in the area AND get coupons to cut the cost even further. Drug prices vary wildly between pharmacies and GoodRx finds you the lowest prices plus discounts on top of the published price. Here’s an example* in Los Angeles for 90 capsules of 300mg Gabapentin (generic Neurontin): Kmart: $12.92. Rite Aid $55.49. Safeway: $13.17. Target $16.38; Walgreens $29.29. Within just a few miles the price for that particular medication is all over the place. GoodRx.com makes sure you get the lowest price available. Here’s another example:  30 tablets 20mg Lipitor (generic). The estimated cash price is $80.10. With GoodRx Coupon: $10.63. That’s a savings of 87%.

THE DOC TALK. Usually doctors don’t keep up with the retail price of medications they prescribe—they’re thinking in terms of successful treatment not dollar signs. A pharmacy tech told me recently that routinely she recommend  patients call ther doctor for a cheaper option once she shows them what the medication prescribed will cost. Don’t be afraid to make that call. More than likely there is a less expensive option that will be just as effective. 

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Free Gift Cards for the Holidays: Join Swagbucks

From the Everyday Cheapskate Archives: This is a guest post by Abigail Perry, a freelance writer whose work has appeared on MSN Money, Wise Bread, Insurance.com and CitiBank’s Women & Co. blog. In her spare time she blogs at I Pick Up Pennies. Originally published in 2014, this is one of our most popular posts.

Some of the presents I’m giving this Christmas won’t cost me a cent: Amazon will deliver them and Swagbucks is buying.

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This online rewards program gives users points (“Swag Bucks,” or SBs) for various tasks, from online searches to watching movie trailers. Those points can be traded in for e-gift cards.

Amazon, Target, Starbucks and Walmart are the most popular rewards, but more than 150 popular merchants are available.

Don’t want gift cards? Redeem your points for cold, hard cash via PayPal.

Incidentally, those gift cards aren’t necessarily just for giving. My husband and I cash in for Amazon cards that we use for everyday needs like toiletries, paper products and pet food.

You can win anywhere from six to as many as 59 points at a clip just by using the Swagbucks search engine instead of Google’s. Since joining the program there’s never been a day when I didn’t win at least one search. Even getting the lowest award once a day would earn you 180 SBs in a month, or 2,160 per year. That’s enough for almost $25 worth of Amazon credit.

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It’s Only Too Late to Save for Retirement if You Don’t Start Now!

Does the dreaded question, “How much money will I need in retirement” tie your stomach in knots? Millions of your peers are in the same boat having saved precious little, if anything at all, to supplement their Social Security benefits during retirement.

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Waiting until age 50 or 60 to start saving for retirement is not ideal. It’s late but not too late. Anything you do now can improve your future.

DIVE IN. You don’t have the luxury to gently ease into retirement savings waters. Forget about the mistakes you’ve made in the past and dive in. Focus your full attention on the years ahead that you have to save.

KEEP WORKING. Every situation is unique but generally as long as you are healthy, you need to keep working. You may be tempted to hang it up on the first day you can draw Social Security benefits, but do you really want to join the 10 million American retires who are currently struggling to live on Social Security alone? Enough said.

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The Five Legal Documents Every Adult Needs

It’s been at least 30 years since my husband and I sat for hours with an attorney who specializes in estate planning. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve ever done. We were young and the idea of being old and planning for our respective deaths seemed ludicrous. That meeting together with nearly $2,500 made us the proud owners of a Family Trust and Estate Plan, which included the important legal documents that every adult needs.

Recently, a letter from Jenny reminded me that we need to update the documents in our Estate Plan because they may now be out of date. For sure they are “out of state,” due to our relocation to Colorado.

Thankfully, we now have an option to do this ourselves—legally and properly—for a whole lot less than it cost decades ago.

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Dear Mary: I’m 50, married and have two adult children. Our financial life is not complicated. I do not have a will and know that I should. Can I put faith in a simple Will done by one of the large online companies or is it in my family’s best interest that I hire a lawyer? I have read your work for many years and appreciate your advice. Thank you. Jenny

Dear Jenny: Thank you for the trust you put in me, something I value highly. My quick answer is that absolutely you need a Will plus four other documents as well, and I have an online source to recommend to you which will help you do this yourself—a reputable legal help organization you can trust and without reservation.

Will this preclude the need to hire an attorney? It could, but I cannot advise you on that because every situation is different. What I can tell you is that you can do this yourself and be well protected now with all of your information and desires written down in proper legal order—and have that to take to an attorney if or when you find that necessary.

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