10 Ways to Say I Love That Don’t Cost a Dime

Long ago in my stupid days I went nuts with credit cards. I ran up a 6-figure debt over a 12-year period. I did pay all of it back plus interest and fees and it was anything but easy. I’m still shocked and embarrassed I let it happen.

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The funny thing is I didn’t make any really huge purchases. I didn’t max out a $10,000 credit limit with a single purchase or anything that extravagant. It was just a constant accumulation of smaller purchases exposed to double-digit interest rates and sloppy money management. The truth is I five- and ten-‘dollared’ myself and my family into a kind of financial death.

In love it’s the little things that add up, too. But in a good way. Sure the big efforts are appreciated, but quite frankly it’s the little day-to-day things we do that make a difference.

I’m not going to discourage you from buying your beloved flowers for Valentine’s Day or making his favorite meal and serving it by candlelight in the bedroom. Not me! But I do have a few suggestions for things you can do that will score big in the Little Things Do Count Department.

1. Get the kids dressed so your spouse can spend an hour in the bathroom by herself. Tell her at least a little bit ahead of time so she can enjoy the anticipation as well.

2. In an uncharacteristic move, take out the trash even though you’ve received no reminder and there’s still a little room left. Repeat often.

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Some Smelly Situations Require Extra Toil and Patience

It is rare, but now and then I hear from a reader who is frustrated using one of my all-time favorite products, Nok-Out. I love Nok-Out because it eliminates odors; it’s non-toxic, fume-free and kills bacteria, too. Awesome stuff.

The feedback I get is mostly filled with praise and gratitude. However, now and then I hear from someone like Linda, who is facing a tough, smelly situation that because of its  location, requires more toil and patience.

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DEAR MARY: I have been using Nok-Out [also known as SNiPER] very successfully for months. Thank you for the recommendation!

However, now I have cat urine odor on a sofa and a chair. She sprayed on them. (Did you know that a spayed female will spray under stress?) I cannot get the odor out. I have soaked the stains thoroughly, more than once. The stench might go away for a short period, or it might smell like a combo of urine and Nok-Out for awhile (a kind of soapy smell in this case). Then the full odor returns. Help! I can’t stand it! Linda

DEAR LINDA: Oh boy, this is bad! The offending odor (spray) soaked into the stuffing of those pieces of furniture. The Nok-Out has to penetrate successfully to reach every area that was infected. If it was a true “spray” is it possible that cat urine went in all directions, and that perhaps you need to expand the area of treatment?

I am going to send an SOS to Ted Price at Nok-Out asking him to respond with his best shot. I am certain I know why you’re having this problem, but I’m not fully confident of the specific solution for it. Mary

Hang tight while I get the ultimate expert directive on this! 

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Water Bath Keeps Lemons Fresh and Other Great Reader Tips

I’m a lucky woman. Once a month my husband and I make a quick trip to California to tend to business, see friends and visit our older son, who just happens to have the most prolific Meyer lemon tree on earth in his back yard.

I try to always bring an empty bag with me so I can load up with these beautiful, tree-ripened lemons. Many thanks to our first reader for her tip for how I can keep my lemons at peak long enough to use them up. I tried it and it works for me!

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FRESH LEMONS. if you like to keep lemons on hand even when you don’t have a specific need, submerge them (washed with peel on) in a bowl of water in the refrigerator. You will have fresh lemons for weeks on end. I currently have had a bowl in my refrigerator for two months, and they are beautiful. Wow. What a money saver, and I always have a fresh lemon when needed. Ashley

DRIVE-THRU FIRST. Taking youngsters to a fast food restaurant can be a fun treat, but standing in a long line with an active brood can be stressful. Solution: Drive through first, place your order and request the server put your food on a tray at the counter because you’ll be right in. By the time you park and get everyone inside, you can pick up the tray and go directly to a table. Rhonda

SUPER-QUICK DRY. Need to dry a pair of jeans or pajamas in a hurry? Put them and a completely dry bath towel into the dryer. They’ll be dry in a fraction of the time they would have taken on their own. Patsy

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Take Your Closet from Chaos to Calm in Five Semi-Easy Steps

What’s behind your closet door? Orderly rows of shoes, stacks of folded t-shirts and hanging clothes arranged by color and season? Or do you have a situation that could be declared a national disaster?

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If the latter, you could ask the President for federal disaster relief funds. But knowing you would feel guilty taking funds from hurricane and tornado victims, here are simple steps to find calm in all that chaos. By the way, these same principles for organizing a clothes closet apply to linen and utility closets, too.

STEP ONE: Remove everything. This lets you see exactly the space you have to work with. Prepare to be shocked by the pile of stuff that came out of that closet. Dust, scrub, clean, vacuum—even paint as necessary and appropriate.

STEP TWO: Now that you can see the light of day, give that closet a good cleaning from top to bottom. Follow with a fresh coat of white paint.

STEP THREE: Separate the items you removed. Most people hate this step because it means getting get rid of everything you do not use or wear. But there’s no way you could get all of this back into the closet, so buck up and let’s get this job done. Label three containers:

Keep: Put only items into this bin that you have worn or used at least twice in the past year. Be brutally harsh. If it doesn’t fit today, it’s not likely to fit any time soon. Get rid of it. If in doubt, do not put it into this bin. 

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On Saving Money and Spreading Manure

As you may know, the mission of this blog is to discover ways to save time and money every day. You help me by sending me your great tips, tricks and ideas—I help you by boiling it all down for you here. That answers the “what,” but what about the “why”?

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Why should anyone be concerned about saving money? Have you ever thought about that? Why do you want to save money? Who cares?

While you’re pondering that for yourself, I thought I’d share with you the ultimate reason that saving money is so important to me, personally.

But first let’s define terms.

“Saving money” has two definitions, which some people use interchangeably:

1) Spending less than I would have because an item is on sale or it’s a particularly good deal as in, “Wow, I just saved $37 on these really cute boots that were regularly priced $225 but we on sale for just $188!”

2) Accumulating money in a safe place as in, “I save $100 a month by having it automatically transferred to my savings account.” 

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Cheapskate Gourmet: Salad Dressings

If you think eating well means eating out, you may be feeling the effects of restaurant dining in your pocketbook as the price of restaurant meals continues to soar.

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The truth is if I can make the leap from being a diner-in-debt to making irresistible meals at home that often taste even better than those in a restaurant—at a fraction of the cost of eating out—you can, too.

For many years (long before there was a Food Channel), I was uniquely privileged to sit under the personal tutelage of world-famous gourmet cooks the likes of Julia Child, Christopher Kimball, Martha Stewart, Martin Yan and Jacques Pepin. Every weekend I had standing appointments with one or more of them. They came right into my home and demonstrated unique techniques while I assumed a prone position, curled up in my favorite blanket, first-row-center in front of the television. They sparked confidence in me. From that start, my love for making great meals economically has grown.

Today, I want to share my basic recipes for what I consider to be gourmet salad dressings. So easy! Tasty, too.

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Scared and Learning the Hard Way

Recently, I received a heartbreaking letter from one of my readers, which resulted in back and forth messages. She’s given me permission to share our conversation.

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DEAR MARY: I have been a Debt-Proof Living member for more years than I can remember. I own every book that you have written. Sadly, I ignored your advice about how easily thieves can steal your debit-card information and use that to hack into your bank account.

Recently, we went on a cruise. Not wanting to use a credit card for our travel and vacation expenses, we carefully set aside the cash we would need in our checking account. Much to my horror, five days prior to departure I discovered that someone had stolen our personal and private information and used it to get into the account, totally draining every last cent. We couldn’t even buy groceries, let alone pay for the cruise. When will I learn? Just call me Learning the Hard Way

DEAR LTHW: Oh, I am so sorry. Where do you bank and have you reported this breach? Please don’t beat yourself up. We all learn from our mistakes, and I’m sure this is an important lesson you will not have to learn a second time.

DEAR MARY: Our bank is Regions Bank in North Fort Myers, Fla. The employee we worked with advised us to file a police report, which we did. She also provided us with information on what to do when your identity is stolen. Knowing that we were planning to leave on a cruise, she jumped through hoops to see that the bank replaced the money in our account. I can’t say enough good things about this bank. And you are absolutely right that this is a lesson that I won’t have to learn twice.  LTHW

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How to Clean and Maintain Fine Leather Furniture

When it comes to furniture, it’s difficult to find anything more luxurious and elegant than fine leather. With that elegance comes the challenge of keeping leather clean and well-maintained so that it gets even better with age.

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Improper attempts to clean fine leather can result in permanent damage, a little something I do know about from personal experience.

To get started, determine the type of leather you’re working with. Typically, this information will be found on the tags that were attached or the brochure you were given when you acquried it. This written information will generally provide tips on cleaning your specific furniture. If you can find this, follow those guidelines and instructions (in which case you probably do not need what follows).

Most leather furniture these days uses top-coat protected leather, which is usually safe to clean by following these suggestions:

VACUUM. You need to remove all the loose dirt, dust and debris from the item to be cleaned. A vacuum with the soft brush attachment is the best option as it will get into the seams and crevices. Be gentle, though. Leather is delicate and you don’t want to scratch it as you are vacuuming.

TREAT STAINS. Before you do a general cleaning, you want to treat and hopefully remove, any stains on the leather.

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