Readers Want to Know the Best Inexpensive Appliances

DEAR MARY: What is the best refrigerator brand overall? We are ready to purchase a French-door style refrigerator with water and ice in the door. Thank you. Anne

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DEAR ANNE: When we did a major remodel of our kitchen, I went into hyper research mode to find the exact refrigerator you describe. I had one more requirement—reasonable price. It didn’t take long for me to scrub the Samsung brand from my list, due to the numerous poor reviews from buyers and feedback from the appliance repairmen I interviewed. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that we opted for GE Profile Series Energy Star 27.7 cu. ft. French-Door Refrigerator. I loved everything about that refrigerator for the six months I got to enjoy it before we sold that house—especially that lower freezer. Finding it on sale made the price right, too.

When we replace the 13-year old side-by-side refrigerator that came with our new home, I won’t hesitate one moment to buy that GE Profile again. Actually, I can hardly wait. Hope that helps.

DEAR MARY: I need a room humidifier. I’m sure you will have a good idea for me? What is a good one? What is a good price for one. Where is a good place to buy one? Your article in my newspaper is my favorite. You’re like a good friend with lots of great ideas. Thank you in advance. Blessings, Carolyn

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The Secret of Cheap and Healthy Meals

Want to keep your food costs low even during these times of rising costs? Stick to these rules: 1) Set a budget and 2) Never pay full price.

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I know you hate the word “budget.” So do I. And we need to get over it. All it means is that we decide ahead of time how much we will spend on food for the week (or month) and stick to it. And when that amount runs out, we stop buying.

The second rule means you must stop buying anything that is not on sale and I mean really on sale, not just labeled “Special” which means it might not be on sale at all. If you are careful to do this, you will easily bring your food costs down to what they were a decade ago. And you’ll eat well, too.

The first rule is easy. Do it now. Determine how much you will spend to feed yourself and your family per week. Now take the portion of that you are allotting to groceries (as opposed to fast food, restaurants, school lunches and so on) and place that amount of cash in an envelope marked “Groceries.” When it’s gone, it’s gone until the next fill up.

The second rule is going to take some work. You have a choice for how to find what’s on sale in your supermarket(s) before you get there so you can make a list. And don’t worry. If you shop at a typical U.S. supermarket there will be great sales in every category you can think of—healthy choices in the produce, dairy and meat aisles.

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A Simple Meal to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Twenty-four years ago on March 17, I surprised my DPL staff by bringing a homemade meal to the office to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It was such a hit, I’ve done a repeat performance every year since.

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The menu is simple and remarkably inexpensive: Corned Beef and Cabbage, Potatoes and Carrots, Soda Bread and lime Jell-O with Pears.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

  • 1 corned beef brisket or round (like Bill Bailey’s marinated ready-to-cook)
  • potatoes, peeled and halved
  • carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • cabbage, cut in narrow wedges

Cook’s notes: Corned beef that is already brined with just the right spices and seasonings is available in early March. I wouldn’t bother trying to do that myself. 

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Got Books You No Longer Need or Want? Turn ‘Em Into Cash!

DEAR MARY: I have a lot of books I’d like to get rid of—mostly on the subject of internet technology (IT). What is the best way to sell used books? Deborah

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DEAR DEBORAH:  There are multiple online sites that buy used books—each with a different criteria. And let me warn you that book buyers can be fickle about which books they’re buying on any particular day. It all depends on trends and what a particular buyer believes is hot for its particular audience.

Rather than try to find all of the individual companies that purchase used books yourself, I suggest you go to BookScouter. This is a one-stop shop that searches 55 different online book buyers with one click. You’ll quickly discover which book dealer, if any, is interested in buying the books you have. With that kind of an audience looking at what’s on your bookshelves, I think you have a decent chance to making quite a few sales. Most buyers make it easy to send the books, by paying for shipping and allowing you to simply print a prepaid mailing label. Just keep in mind that IT is a quickly changing field.

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Repair—Don’t Replace—and Pocket the Savings and More!

Not all companies are starving for business these days. In fact, some are setting records for increased business. Any kind of repair business and also thrift stores are doing great during these financial turbulent times. Makes sense. After all it doesn’t require a Mensa membership to know that most often it is cheaper to repair than to replace, and you can clean silver for a fraction of the price of a commercial cleaning product for a fraction of their new price tag. Which leads me to today’s first in a fun collection of random tips …

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WINDSHIELD REPAIR. Call your insurance agent to report a small crack in your car’s windshield. Many insurance companies will fix cracks or “stars” for free, provided they’re smaller in size than a quarter, in order to prevent larger claims in the future. Some companies will even send a repair person to your home or work to make it convenient for you.

CORD CORRAL. To corral a group of cords under your desk or behind a TV, buy a plastic shower rod cover. Cut it to your desired length. Then spread it open and enclose the cords. You can even match it to your carpet color to make the cords less visible.

COUPONS FOR KIDS. Turn grocery shopping into a game for kids. Pick out which coupons you plan to use and give them to the kids. Let them try to match the items from the coupons to the items on the shelf. Then, at check out let their reward be the money that you saved from using the coupons.

FRESH SCENT. Scented candle stubs from used candles will keep your car smelling fresh. Put the wax pieces in a can or a small container and leave them in your car. On a warm day, the wax will melt and fill the car with a nice fragrance. 

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Death by Clothes Dryer, One Load at a Time

You should see the big wad of lint I just plucked from the trap of my clothes dryer. Ack! Where does all of that come from? I know I emptied all pockets and I’m certain I did not wash a bag of pillow stuffing.

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I’ll tell you what it is, and I am not happy about this: It’s visual proof the dryer is killing my clothes. Those fibers were neatly woven into these clothes, towels and sheets only 30 minutes ago. For all the convenience a clothes dryer offers, it may come at the price of having to replace clothes much too often.

Drying clothes causes them the shrink and not only the first time they’re washed. Sleeves and pant legs continually get shorter and shorter when machine-dried improperly.

There are tactics to counteract the abuse suffered by a clothes dryer without having to revert back to the days of sheets and towels frozen stiff on the clothesline  (anyone else remember that?) and still end up with comfy jeans and fluffy, soft towels.

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When it Comes to Paying Federal Student Loans, Do Not Assume Anything

There is no doubt that student loans can be troubling for the debt that they create for both students and parents. And if you thought it was a pain to get those loans in the first place, just wait until you start making payments.

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DEAR MARY: We have Parent PLUS Loans that are currently in repayment, on which we are making the required payment each month plus an additional amount  which we have requested be applied to pay down the principal.

After reviewing the accounts recently, I noticed that some months all of my payments are being applied to interest only, other months they are applying various amounts to principal and interest.

For a second time I have called to have my account reviewed and corrected. The supervisor said it was due to how the automated system applies funds. If we pay ahead too far on one loan, it stops paying on that loan, which then allows interest to accrue. I am appalled how this lender is defrauding its customers. Can I report them to the BBB or the state’s attorney general? Holly

DEAR HOLLY: Of course you can report this lender to the Better Business Bureau and your state’s AG. But I wouldn’t waste my time going that route if it’s action you want on your account and your repayment plan.

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A Pizza Challenge

There are some who consider pizza the perfect food. It has complex carbohydrates, vegetables, dairy and protein. Okay, maybe “perfect” is stretching it a bit but I remember when pizza was something you shouldn’t eat too much of because it might spoil your dinner. Now it is dinner.

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Millions of families rely on pizza because it is quick and convenient. But is it? To find out, recently, I conducted a somewhat less-than-scientific test.

I ordered a large 14-inch thin-crust tomato cheese pizza from Domino’s for delivery. As soon as I hung up the phone I went to work on my homemade pizza with a no-rise crust.

Tomato Cheese Pizza

  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon cornmeal
  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 3/4 pound Roma tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425 F. Rub 1 teaspoon olive oil over a 14-inch pizza pan and sprinkle with cornmeal. Stir yeast and sugar into the warm water and let stand until foamy (2 to 3 minutes).
  2. Combine flour, salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil in food processor bowl fitted with metal blade*. Turn on machine. Pour yeast mixture through feed tube. Process until dough cleans inside of work bowl. If dough sticks, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time. If dough is crumbly, add warm water one teaspoon at a time. When you reach desired consistency, process dough until uniformly supple and elastic, about 40 seconds.
  3. Roll dough immediately on heavily floured board to a 14-inch circle. If dough resists, let rest 5 minutes to relax gluten, then try again.
  4. Transfer dough to pizza pan. Work the edge to form rim. Brush with remaining oil. Sprinkle on minced garlic and cover with an even layer of tomato slices. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15-18 minutes until crust is crisp and golden brown. Sprinkle with basil.

*This dough can be made with an electric mixer or in a bread machine, although a food processor is ideal.

My homemade was out of the oven, sliced and partially consumed before the doorbell rang. It’s difficult to give an unbiased opinion on the homemade versus the commercial product because, well, I am anything but impartial. Just let me say that there’s nothing like the taste of fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese on this freshly baked homemade dough. Note: You could use a bottled sauce, your favorite toppings and mozzarella cheese to customize to your taste and available ingredients.

As for the time factor, I beat Dominos by a full 20 minutes. And the cost? Mine: Less than $4. Dominos: $19.17 including tax and tip.

Here’s a tip for you: To make your own pizza stone, pick up one or two large unglazed terra cotta tiles at the home improvement store (less than $2 each). Move the oven rack to the lower position and place the tile(s) on the rack. Once hot, scoot the pizza dough from the greased/corn mealed pan right onto the hot pizza stone for baking.

photo credit: midnightzulu

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