Two women, different locations, same accident.

Both women using an ordinary commercial toilet bowl cleaner were not satisfied with the way it was removing stains. Each added household chlorine bleach and stirred with a brush.

One died quickly, the other spent a long time in the hospital.

Here’s the problem: Whenever chlorine bleach comes into contact with acid or an acid-producing substance like toilet bowl cleaner or vinegar, there is a sudden release of chlorine gas. This is not a good thing! A similar result occurs when chlorine bleach is mixed with ammonia, lye or other alkaline substances. Chlorine gas is lethal.

Now that I have your attention let me assure you: If you stay clear of chlorine bleach, you have nothing to fear by making your own cleaning products. But, you may be wondering, why should you even consider doing that? The cost, for starters.

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You know that blue window cleaner sitting on your counter? You paid about 28 cents an ounce for it and it’s 95 percent water.

Your own products will cost only pennies to make and will not contain toxic chemicals that could be harmful to your family and the environment.  Read more

 

If money is leaking out of your household and you aren’t quite sure where it’s going, I have an idea: Fast food. Busy households mean tired parents and that can easily result in getting take-out two or three times a week. Does anything about this sound familiar?

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The last thing you need is for someone to tell you to get a grip and plan ahead! So I won’t. Instead I’m going to tell you what worked for me when I was in somewhat your situation (two boys 17 months apart) and a few things I’ve learned since.

Five-menu rotation. Come up with five simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. These don’t have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. Example: Monday: Spaghetti, salad and bread. Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans and so on. Ask your spouse to handle one weekend dinner and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner or let the kids give it a title. That leaves one Family Fun Night or some other reason to order in pizza. Post your weekly menu on the refrigerator. Now everyone knows what to expect, including you. This will simplify your grocery shopping, too. As the children get older and you get more courageous you can expand your repertoire, but for now stick to the five-menu rotation. Read more

 

Want a simple, pain free plan to increase your savings this year? CPA, author and blogger Mike Piper says save 1 percent more. “Increase your savings contributions by 1 percent of your gross income,” suggests Piper.

It might be difficult to imagine how such a small change could make any difference at all, but according to Piper this strategy can work wonders, especially if you are young. I could not agree more.

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Anything you can do to become a consistent saver is going to come back to bless you in many ways in the future. A personal program of consistent savings does more than increase your bank account. It changes your attitude. It quiets your insatiable desires and moves you  away from the edge where it is easy to worry and panic. Money in the bank changes everything. Read more

 

Dear Mary: Can you clarify expiration dates on food products? When it says “Sell By 4/01/13” does that mean it has to be used or just sold by that date? Others show a date of say 2/01/13 on canned or packaged goods. Does that mean you need to use it by this date or what? Some canned or packaged products don’t seem to have any date that I can find. Why is that? I’m so confused! Bob D., California

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Dear Bob: Great question! The answer however, which I can promise you will be much longer than your question, may surprise you. While most food processors date and code their products, the Food and Drug Administration mandates dating only on infant formula and baby food. Everything else is voluntary. Still, the food industry generally follows certain guidelines suggested by the FDA.

Phrases like “Best Before,” “Better if Used Before,” or “Best if Used By” tell you how long the product will retain its best flavor and highest quality. They are found on products like baked goods, cereals, snacks and some canned foods. The food is still safe to eat after this date, but may have changed somewhat in taste or texture.  Read more

 

Hangover. It’s such a descriptive word of the harsh reality one faces in the morning as a result of overindulging the night before.

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If you went a little nuts with the credit cards over the recent holidays, you may know a thing or two about a different kind of hangover—debt hangover. I’d rather not make things worse by pointing out the fact that all the stuff you paid for with credit will be soon forgotten. Instead, let’s figure out how to get rid of your holiday hangover.

FACE THE FACTS. Stop beating yourself up for having overspent. Set your emotions to the side, and deal with just the facts. How much money are we talking about here? $800? $1,200? More? Whatever it is, face it head-on. Know thy debt.  Read more

 

Just when I think I’ve heard every possible way to save time and money, I open my mail only to find new and clever ideas I’d never thought of. No doubt about it, I have the smartest readers in the world (and good looking, too!)

DIM SEARCH. I learned this tip by accident and it has saved me a bundle. If your family is constantly in and out of the refrigerator eating the food faster than you can replenish it, remove the light bulb. If they are really hungry they will take the time to search, otherwise it won’t be worth the bother. Leslie M., Massachusetts

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SILVER CLEANER. To clean your silver without harsh commercial chemical products, use the miracle powder in your pantry: baking soda. I used it on my silver candleholders when I was in a pinch and it worked wonders. Make a thick paste of baking soda and water and massage in gently with an old toothbrush. Rinse under warm water, or if the piece is too big, wipe off with a wet cloth and buff to a shine with a clean cotton towel. I will never go back to $10 cleaners now that I’ve found the 50 cent solution. Angela H., California Read more

 

Slip in without paying. Museum admissions can be pricey—$20 or more for an adult. But don’t sweat it. Many museums offer unadvertised free admission one day each month and some have free evening hours on a designated day, too. Take the Chicago Children’s Museum where the first Monday of every month offers free admission for all kids ages 15 and younger. And every Thursday from 5-8pm, the museum is free to all. Admission to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is free every Friday from 4-8pm. San Francisco’s Exploratorium is free on the first Wednesday of the month. Remarkably the world-class St. Louis Zoo is free to all, all the time. Check any zoo or museum’s website or call to find out about free but unadvertised admission times.

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Before you go to the pharmacy, go to the website for that medication to check for coupons and rebates you can use to reduce your co-pay. Here’s an example: In the past Nasonex.com has offered a printable $10 coupon and you can come back every 30 days to print out an additional savings coupon for your refill—up to $120 per year. Each offer is different as is each manufacturer so read all terms and conditions. Check often as offers change frequently. Read more

 

The trouble with bottled water, experts say, is not the water. It’s the plastic bottles the water comes in that are potentially harmful to our health and environment.

The folks at the Mayo Clinic say we need to be concerned about BPA, often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles. Exposure to BPA, they say, is a concern because of possible health effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. The FDA suggests that very low level exposure to BPA is safe, however, the agency is engaged in ongoing research. Sounds scary to me.

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Health issues are one thing, but the effect on the environment is another. According to the EPA, in 2010 the U.S. generated 31 million tons of plastic waste. This is becoming such a problem that Concord, Mass. recently became the first municipality in the nation to ban the sale of single-serving water bottles. San Francisco, Calif. may implement one of the strictest bottled water bans in the country if the its Board of Supervisors approves a proposal to ban its sale on public property. Extreme reactions? Perhaps, but 31 million tons of plastic waste is no small matter. Read more