My Journey Into the Dark Web

I got up very early on Groundhog Day so I could be among the first to know Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction for how many weeks of winter are still ahead.As I was waiting for the live coverage to begin, I got an email message that made my heart race. The message was from LifeLock, the identity protection service I’ve used for many years. The subject line was chilling: Dark Web Alert: Identity Information Detected.

I’d never heard of the Dark Web, but it didn’t sound good. Immediately, I logged into my LifeLock account and sure enough—that was not a spam email. The alert was loud and clear, printed in fire-engine red.

Not only had LifeLock detected my email address on the Dark Web—it was paired with my password—my correct and current password.

What on earth?!


It’s a Smelly World Out There

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Nok-Out and I met quite by accident. In searching for ways my readers could deal with offensive odors, we found each other online. I’ve used it continuously in my home since then and have recommended it to readers facing serious and potentially expensive odor issues. Not everything in life can be doused in bleach. But Nok-Out (recently rebranded under the name SNiPER but only the name is different; still available under the Nok-Out label)? No problem!

So today I thought I would sum it all up by giving you my top eight reasons that I am hooked on Nok-Out. It’s a smelly world out there and I don’t want to live in it without Nok-Out.

1. Nok-Out is not toxic, and totally safe around pets, children, and anyone with allergies. Amazingly, the stuff looks like water and has no scent or fumes.

2. Nok-Out is anti-bacterial and anti-viral which means it kills H1N1, H3N2 as well as a long list of other nasty germs.


Out of the Red: How to Keep Your Finances and Attitude in the Black

When I am not writing about personal finance and consumer debt, I knit. Something about the gentle rhythm of yarn and needle calms my spirit and unwinds my brain.

I have managed to finish a few projects, not because I’m a great knitter but because I can tink almost as well as I knit (knit spelled backwards is tearing out). 

Because all knitters make mistakes, tinking is a required skill for those who take the craft seriously. It doesn’t take too many oversized sweaters or undersized hats to figure out that the smallest error at the beginning of a project can produce disastrous results if not found and promptly corrected.


No Truth to the Rumor that Metal Knives Make Lettuce Turn Brown

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Quite possibly one of my favorite aspects of writing this blog is the mountain of reader feedback it produces. I have the best readers in the universe, too. Nearly every letter turns into a love fest, which of course charges my batteries, making me love my readers all the more!

Do you recall the letter from Pat, who complained of her lettuce turning rusty? I responded that the rust colored stains on lettuce are harmless evidence of the natural breakdown process and indicates that the produce is not exactly fresh.

The parts that are turning brown can be cut away, while the rest of the lettuce remains perfectly edible.

Well, that question together with my response brought in a tsunami of input from readers insisting that Pat’s problem is that she is cutting her lettuce with a metal knife.

Jenny wrote, “While working in a restaurant, a decade ago, I learned to either cut the lettuce with a plastic knife or tear it. I do not know the science behind why metal causes the lettuce to brown but my lettuce stays fresher looking days longer since I stopped using metal knives.”

While this might sound like a plausible explanation for why lettuce turns brown, I’m sorry to tell Jenny and the dozens of others who wrote about using a plastic knife instead of metal to keep lettuce fresher longer—it’s a myth. There is no truth to the rumor.


Simple Strategies to Get Top Dollar When Selling Your Home

So you’re getting ready to sell your house. Just thinking about it can be an overwhelming experience.

Should you hire a Realtor? Do a FSBO (for sale by owner) to keep from paying that big commission? Should you spend a few bucks to paint and re-carpet—at least the front rooms? Where do you start and what can you do to make sure you attract a qualified buyer as quickly as possible?



A Realtor who is successfully moving properties in your neighborhood and comes with references will likely get you a better price for your home than you could get on your own. Most non-professionals (owner sellers) end up losing more in the transaction than the commission they would have paid a professional.


Should you remodel the kitchen? Replace fixtures in the bathrooms? Probably not, unless those fixtures are not working. Frequently, such updates and changes done to achieve a higher sales price don’t pay off. Almost anyone buying your home will want to make their own changes, so you are not likely to recoup that investment of time and money.

Unless your Realtor recommends major changes like a new roof or exterior paint job hold off and put your energy into other areas.


“Curb appeal” is the impression your home makes when a potential buyer sees it for the first time. Here are quick and easy ways make improve your home’s curb appeal:


A Simple Solution for Gross, Smelly Towels

If my inbox is any indicator of what’s going on in the world, and I believe it is, smelly towels are a growing problem for consumers—and for sure EC readers. And it’s a rather new problem, the result of modern things like front-loading high-efficiency washing machines, detergents, fabric softeners and damp conditions. If you’ve noticed the gross smell of stinky, albeit appearing to be washed, dried and ready to go, perhaps you’ve also noticed that your towels have begun to repel rather than absorb water.


SMELL. That moldy, mildewy, gross smell? It’s the result of the build-up of detergents and fabric softeners that have not been rinsed out properly, together with damp, moist conditions. What you have there is a breeding ground for bacteria. No wonder you’ve got a big gross smelly laundry problem.

ABSORBENCY. If your towels have stopped doing what they’re supposed to do well—absorb water—that problem stems from the same source: Detergent and fabric softener build up. Seriously! With detergent and laundry, more is decidedly not better.


Ask Me Anything: Toilet Paper Pricing, Rust Spots on Linens, Rusty Lettuce

Over the years I’ve received thousands of money-saving tips from readers—many of which I’ve shared in books, newsletters, and this column. And there are plenty that I’ve not shared for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they don’t work. Some don’t work so poorly, they actually end up costing time and money, not saving a thing!

Today’s first question reminded me of that useless tip. It still makes me laugh. It goes like this:

Start with two empty toilet paper tubes and a new roll of 2-ply toilet tissue. Carefully separate the two layers of toilet tissue, re-rolling each of the layers onto an empty tube to create—ta-da!—two rolls of paper for the price of one.

Not only does this take an unbelievable amount time, unless you own a toilet tissue rolling machine of some kind, the result is a ginormous, ridiculous mess of toilet tissue that is so thin, it takes at least twice as much to get the job done.
Don’t do that, OK? Instead, learn how to comparison shop for toilet tissue. And when you find it on sale, stock up.

Dear Mary: Is there a reliable way to compare prices on toilet paper? It should be easy, but so far I haven’t figured out how to do it. There has to be a way, and I’m going to bet you know it. Thanks! Darryl


All You Need to Know to Make Your Own Wool Dryer Balls

Whenever I write about the benefits of using wool dryer balls in place of laundry softeners, I get a few responses gently raking me over the coals for suggesting we should spend money for commercially manufactured wool dryer balls when it’s so easy to make them ourselves.

Yes, I could do that and so could you. But unless you have a super cheap source of 100% wool yarn, it’s going to cost more to make them than to buy, which would be counterintuitive.

Wool dryer balls must be made from 100% wool that has not be treated with chemicals to make it “superwash” or “machine washable.” Natural wool yarn will allow the dryer balls to become “felted.” Otherwise, they would just unwind and fall apart in the dryer.

Felting is a process by which the tiny wool fibers are allowed to rub against one another vigorously so that they become hopelessly entangled so they become a type of stable “fabric.”

To make one dryer ball requires one skein of 100% wool yarn because to be effective each dryer ball needs to be weighty. It needs enough heft to bounce around in the dryer as it fluffs and separate the folds of the wet laundry. One skein per dryer ball is the absolute minimum.

What’s more, you need a set of six dryer balls to be effective in softening a dryer load of laundry. At anywhere from $7 to $15 per skein for wool yarn that can be felted, that pushes the cost just for materials to $42 to $90 for one set. That doesn’t make sense to me when an excellent set of solid 100% pure wool dryer balls costs less than $20!

All that to say, I’d never found the idea of making my own dryer balls from 100% wool yarn to be a reasonable activity given the reasons above, until just recently when I watched an online video, The Man Who Knits. He doesn’t get his wool yarn from his local yarn shop—he recycles wool sweaters from thrift shops.

By unraveling a quality wool garment, he ends up with enough beautiful yarn to knit new garments. And what a craftsman he is. As a knitter myself, I stand in awe of his work. But I digress.

Typically, a man’s sweater requires 6 to 8 skeins of yarn. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Bingo! Wool dryer balls, right? All right there in one sweater.

Now, there is a process and steps one must follow for do-it-yourself dryer balls. They must be wrapped very tightly. And they must go through a specific process which forces them to become properly felted and ready to go to work in the clothes dryer. You can follow the directions and steps clearly described HERE, which also includes a photo tutorial.

Should you find success with making your own dryer balls from recycled 100% untreated* wool yarn, you may want to make two sets—one light colored, the other black or dark colored to head off that problem of transferring white lint to your dark clothes and vice versa!

*You can quite easily test yarn to see if it will felt by cutting two small lengths, then rubbing them together, vigorously between your hands for a few minutes. Look closely to see if they are becoming connected as the tiny fibers become hopelessly intertwined; if not, you can assume the yarn is either not 100% wool or other suitable natural fiber, or it has been chemically treated.