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If the high cost of restaurant meals is eating up your cash, here are some great ways to keep your tab lean!

Discounts. Many restaurants offer a reduced-price menu for seniors and children. If you or someone in your party qualifies be sure to inquire if this doesn’t show up on the regular menu. Typically these discounted menus offer smaller portions at significantly reduced prices.


Skip the sodas. Skip the pricey drinks and dubious “free refills” altogether and you’ll save at least $2 a person. Lisa B. rewards herself whenever she opts for water by stuffing two bucks into her savings account.

Share. Splitting a meal these days is socially acceptable and economically savvy. While some restaurants charge a minimal charge for splitting, most are very accommodating. Even if you have to pay a buck or two to split, it’s still better than paying for two meals you cannot eat completely. If you’re embarrassed about sharing, don’t be. If you must explain, say you are a light eater or that you’re doing your duty to the earth by not over-consuming. Many restaurants are so accommodating they’ll split the meal in the kitchen rather than handing you an extra plate.

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Dear Mary: Several years ago, I visited a friend and was introduced to an item that allows you to keep butter out of the refrigerator and on the counter to be nice and soft and fresh until consumed.

The butter somehow stayed in a top container that was then suspended over a container of water. I don’t know the name of this thing nor where to buy one. I want to get one as a gift, however, I have never seen one since my visit. Can you tell me what it is?  –Lyn, Pennsylvania


Dear Lyn: You are describing the Original Butter Bell Crock by L. Tremain. I have one and you are right to recall it as being quite ingenious.

Modeled after the original French butter crock, a Butter Bell keeps butter fresh and spreadable for up to 30 days without refrigeration; no odors or spoilage. Here’s how it works: You pack softened butter into the lid. Fill the base with cold water and place the lid upside down into the base. The unique design keeps butter soft and fresh using water as an insulator. The key is that you must change the water often, like every day or two at the most.

Other manufacturers have produced their own knock-off versions of the Butter Bell based on the same principal, some of which are cheaper, and I should add, to mixed reviews.   Read more

Today I am especially impressed if not excited by the cool and very useful money- and time-saving tips my EC readers send to me.

Not that long ago I stopped into a discount clothing store (Marshall’s to be exact) to get my husband a new belt. I enjoy the classy look of a high-quality leather belt and I know this store usually has a fairly decent selection. And they did. The problem was that not one of them was smaller than a size 52. What!? I walked out empty-handed. Then I heard from Reader Bob. Why didn’t I think of that?

Bargain belts

The discount clothing stores seem to frequently have a pretty good selection of high-quality men’s leather belts. The only problem for me is that the name-brand belts they carry are usually in sizes too big for me. I buy them anyway and take them to a shoe repairman near my home who removes the buckles, cuts off the extra inches and re-attaches the buckles. He charges me $3-$5 a belt. I spend on average $15 to $20 on a belt that retails in department stores for $50 to $80, or more. Bob W.



Frozen rice

I cruise through the frozen food aisles at my favorite warehouse clubs (like Sam’s and Costco) to see what’s new. I figure if they can freeze it, so can I. On a recent trip I saw a long line of people waiting for samples. I sneaked over to see what it was, only to discover rice! Frozen pre-cooked plain white rice. People seemed to think that was the greatest invention ever and they were all tossing it in their carts. I went home, pulled out the rice cooker, made my own and froze it in individual portions. Rebecca M. Read more


Never in my wildest imagination could I have predicted the response I would get to the column I wrote about the best thing I ever bought—a carpet cleaning machine. Trust me, it’s not just any carpet cleaner. My machine has a solid tank for hot water, not simply a “bladder.” Please, please do not do what I do if you have any other kind of carpet cleaning machine. You could ruin your machine and then I would feel terrible.

I’ve had so many letters about the challenges of cleaning carpet I think we have sufficient numbers to start a Carpet Anonymous group and also a Hoover Fan Club. And now I have more to tell you.

When we remodeled our home we replaced some of the carpet with hardwood. What a revelation. Now I could see the dirt and dust and honestly, I couldn’t believe what accumulated in such a short time on those wood floors. Of course I never saw it on the carpet, but have no doubt that it was there all along.

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Over the past months, I’ve been sharing an overview of my basic money rules. There are seven of them and today we look at the last one. Rule 7 insures you have a safety net when borrowing money.

It is unrealistic to flat-out ban borrowing money from our lives. I am grateful for a home mortgage. Without it, my husband and I would not have had a prayer of owning our home. And I don’t believe that financing an automobile is evil or that all student debt is toxic.


Borrowing money and the debt that creates should be taken on rarely, and then dealt with swiftly. Debt should be a means to an end. Borrowing money is a financial tool that improves your life if dealt with intelligently, not emotionally.

The rule is to borrow only what you know you can repay. When I use the word “know,” I do not mean with-absolute-certainty-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt know. I mean to know as in having a reasonable certainty based on credible information. Read more


What’s for dinner tonight? I’ve get a great suggestion: How about a yummy, creamy, casserole? Come on. You know that sounds just perfect, because now that the weather is getting chilly who doesn’t want to come home to the sight and smell of a delicious meal  that’s hot and ready to serve.


Thankfully, our friends over at eMeals just sent over this recipe for me to share with you. It’s from the eMeals Classic menu and I promise that even your pickiest eaters are going to love it. I’m going to pair this with a green salad with fruit and cheese for dessert.

Note: While this is a freezable meal that can make ahead, you can easily adapt the instructions to make it for dinner tonight.

Green Chile Chicken and Rice Casserole

  • 2 bone-in chicken breasts, skinned
  • 1 (6.9 ounce) box chicken-flavored rice and vermicelli mix (like Rice-a-Roni)
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 (8 ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chiles
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 (8 ounce) package pepper Jack cheese, shredded


  1. Place chicken breasts in a large saucepan; add water to cover.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30 minutes or until done.
  3. Cool; shred meat and discard bones.
  4.  Prepare rice mix according to package directions.
  5. Line a 13×9-inch baking dish with heavy-duty nonstick aluminum foil, allowing several inches of foil to extend over sides.
  6. Spread rice in prepared dish.
  7. Combine shredded chicken, soup, water chestnuts, green chiles, and sour cream in a large bowl; stir until blended.
  8. Pour soup mixture over rice; top evenly with cheese.
  9. Cover and freeze 2 to 3 hours or until firm.
  10. Remove from baking dish by holding edges of foil; fold foil over casserole.
  11.  Wrap in additional foil, making sure it is tightly sealed.
  12.  Freeze up to 1 month.
  13. To serve, thaw in refrigerator overnight.
  14. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  15. Place foil-wrapped casserole in a lightly greased 13×9-inch baking dish.
  16. Uncover top, and bake 40 to 50 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

If you’d like to have recipes like this one all figured out for you every night of the week that call for items that are on sale this week in your your favorite supermarket, go to eMeals. Just choose a meal plan based on your eating style (there are 14 to choose from including Classic Meals, Paleo, Gluten Free, Vegetarian, Low Carb and Slow Cooker), your family size and even your favorite grocery store.

For about a buck a week you will get a weekly email with your specific shopping list for your supermarket of choice, plus all of the recipes designed for your family. If you use coupon code debtproofliving you even get a special 20% discount on your membership.

If you’re struggling to stay out of the drive thru or popping into a restaurant way too often, eMeals could be the solution you’re looking for. Just imagine—home cooked, delicious meals, every night of the week. Kinda’ sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?


Updated 8/21/2018


Dear Mary: I am retired and my son wants to give me money to buy a house as a gift. Will I be taxed on the money? If so, are there ways to avoid or reduce the amount I will be taxed? Lucy, email

Dear Lucy: How lovely is this? And I have good news for you: Gifts between individuals are tax-free to the recipient. Only the gift giver—in this case, your generous son—is responsible for taxes. How much? Well, that depends on the size of the gift.

Your son will not likely have to pay taxes on his gift unless he has exhausted his lifetime gift-tax exemption. Under current law, each of us can give away or leave up to $5.25 million over our lifetimes without owing federal gift and estate tax.


Your son will have to file a gift-tax return if the amount is more than the annual exemption limit ($14,000 in 2013). The amount of the gift that is over the limit will be deducted from his lifetime gift-tax exemption amount.

Only two states, Connecticut and Minnesota, impose their own gift tax. Connecticut gift tax is owed when the value of all taxable gifts made by a resident since 2005 (not counting out-of-state real estate) reaches $2 million. Minnesota has a $1 million gift tax exemption. Read more


For years, Liz Tarditi’s mother tried to kill her family with turkey. Not intentionally, of course, but invariably sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas someone in the family developed flu-like symptoms. Mother blamed it on the weather and whatever influenza was going around, but the truth is they suffered from mild food poisoning that required weeks to fully recover.

Tarditi, a professional personal chef, says the way to avoid “the flu” and make sure the holidays are as healthy as they are happy is to practice safe food handling techniques when preparing the Thanksgiving turkey.

Roast Turkey Dinner

Conquer the bacteria. Most poultry contain small amounts of salmonella bacteria that, when ingested, can result in a variety of afflictions all the way from slight illness to death. The way to kill the salmonella in food is with heat and on surfaces with an antibacterial agent.

Make it yourself. Every kitchen needs an effective antibacterial solution. But don’t spend $6 for a 12-ounce bottle of cleaner. Make it yourself: One gallon of 70 F (cool) water plus one teaspoon of liquid bleach. Any warmer and the bleach evaporates; more bleach will harm some surfaces and fabrics. Don’t get obsessive, just measure carefully and stick with this perfect, dirt-cheap recipe that will not harm wood, paint, marble or fabric. Read more