Credit cards can protect you and your money. But it’s so easy to get burned! Are you feeling more controlled by your credit cards than in control? You have legal rights that protect you, but loopholes give credit card companies an advantage. Consumer confusion can mean big profits for them. Here’s the insider info you need to take charge once and for all.


Freebies might not add up. Many credit cards offer enticements such as frequent-flier miles, cash rebates and purchase discounts, but may charge higher interest rates and big annual fees.

Insider tip: If you don’t pay your balance in full every month, chances are the heavy interest plus the annual fee will be greater than the value of any freebies you’ll get. When you roll a balance into the next billing cycle, you lose your grace period so every new purchase begins accruing interest the minute you leave the store. You may be better off switching to a no-fee, now-rewards, lower-interest rate card while you are paying off that balance. Read more


Money a little tight? The secret to getting the cash coming in to exceed the cash going out is to reduce your spending. It’s as simple—and as tough—as that.

But once you understand that cutting expenses is really like giving yourself a tax-free raise, the job gets much easier. The challenge is to find realistic yet painless ways to trim spending without taking all of the the fun out of your life.


Go on a cash diet. It’s best to spend only cash in order to curb mindless spending. Surveys indicate that cash customers are more mindful of what they’re doing, and therefore spend 17 to 23 percent less than those who pay with plastic.

Also, limit ATM trips to once a week. Develop an envelope system for areas that can get out of control, such as office lunches and entertainment. Take your ATM cash and distribute it among your marked envelopes. When you go to lunch or a movie, take the money from the corresponding envelope. When the money is gone, that means no more spending until the next fill-up.  Read more


I am excited to share this quite unusual recipe with you because, well, it’s just plain awesome. This is the recipe you want handy when you need to use up what you have on hand, don’t want to run to the supermarket to make something delicious and want even less to patronize some fast-food joint’s drive-thru for a quick breakfast.

This recipe is a bit more time consuming as you need to do a little prep work. But it is the perfect option when you have any number of “add ins” on hand, which makes this recipe so versatile. Read more


Dear Mary: Thanks so much for including the San Francisco Exploratorium in a recent column! We have changed our schedule of free days and are no longer free to the public on the first Wednesday of every month. However, the Exploratorium is free to everyone five days every year. Our Free Access Program includes these upcoming free days:

  • Mother’s Day (May 11, 2014)
  • Engineering Day (September 28, 2014)
  • Founder’s Day (October 12, 2014)
  • Groundhog Day (February 2, 2015)
  • Pi Day (March 14, 2015)

– Thanks! Jenny Slafkosky, Communications Manager


Dear Jenny: Thanks for the update. You had me going there for a few minutes with “Pi Day.” I was kinda’ hoping for cherry or apple, but then connected the date 3.14 with the mathematical pi. Now that is clever and a new bit of trivia I’m going to file away. As for “Founder’s Day,” should we assume that our buddy Christopher Columbus has been demoted to anonymous founder?

Dear Mary: I’m sure you must have an easy way to clean the soleplate of my iron.

I ironed a dark colored article of clothing with too hot of an iron, I guess, and the soleplate now has dark sticky junk stuck on tight. I tried cleaning it with white vinegar and that didn’t help at all.  I also tried rubbing it with with a damp cloth and baking powder. Didn’t do it either. Please help! Thanks much. Kathy M.

Dear Kathy: It sounds to me as if you may have ironed a synthetic fabric like polyester that turned into molten plastic upon contact with that way-too-hot iron! To remove it you’re going to need some kind of abrasive. Try this: Dampen a towel you don’t mind sacrificing for the job. Now sprinkle a good bit of table salt on that damp cloth. Turn the iron up to the highest temperature (no steam) and go to work “ironing” the salted towel. That should loosen the gunk without damaging the soleplate so that you can wipe it off and then buff the soleplate with a clean cloth. If that doesn’t work, don’t despair. you’ll need to purchase a commercial iron cleaner like Faultless Hot Iron Cleaner. It’s a miraculous cleaner for more challenging situations like you describe, but I also use it to maintain the smooth glide of my iron.  If you don’t want to get it online, you should be able to find it in larger fabric stores.


Secretly, I feel like a genius when I discover a secondary use for this or that—in case I run out of this, but have plenty of that. Like using a paper coffee filter to wash a glass top or mirror when I’m in a pinch for paper towels. Or using a paper towel to create a coffee filter when I discover at the worst moment that we’re out of filters! You’re going to feel like a genius, too, once you read today’s tips from ingenious readers about ways that they save time and money every day.


“OPEN FIRST” BOX. As a military family, whenever the movers arrived to move us to the next assignment, I always had one box I marked “Open First.” In it were bed sheets, towels, soap, coffee maker and toaster. No matter how late we arrived at our new home, we didn’t have to spend another night in a hotel. We could make our beds, get cleaned up and start the next day with coffee and toast, without having to open multiple boxes looking for stuff. Cindy, Ontario, Canada Read more


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.

stinky woman holding nose

SMELL. That moldy, mildewy, gross smell? It’s the result of the built 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.

Read more


Frugality. It’s a word that for many people screams deprivation and even poverty. I get letters from readers who say they’ve had it with trying to live below their means and never having anything they love. “What’s the point if all of this deprivation if it just makes me feel even more miserable?” was the way one woman closed her letter.

Look, I can’t know your particular situation. But I do know this: If you adjust your attitude, get a plan and then let nothing stop you from reaching it, you can have the things you love.


Frugality isn’t just about cutting costs. There has to be a specific reason involved. And it can’t be something nebulous like “Because I want to be rich.” Frugality is about scrimping and cutting like crazy on the things you really don’t care about so that you can the things you love. It’s a matter of deciding what’s really important and what’s not—and I mean on a daily basis, and as a way of life. You have to get out of your “coma spending” and into conscious spending where every expenditure counts and every dollar matters. Read more


Dear Mary: My young grandson is getting married soon, and neither he nor his fiance can cook. Could you please recommend a good all-purpose cookbook AND a microwave cookbook for newlyweds who will have a very tight and limited budget? I’m thinking this would be a useful and practical wedding gift. Thank you for your time in answering my question. It is appreciated. Connie R. 

Some rights reserved by Mel B.

Some rights reserved by Mel B.

Dear Connie: Oh, this is so much fun for me because I feel like I have a captive audience in your kiddos, and a willing giver in you. I love, Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen Cookbook: 100 + Great Recipes with Foolproof Instructions, by Nancy Mills and her son Kevin Mills. It’s written in college-student speak, so your kids should find it reader-friendly and not at all intimidating. And it hits on the basics like Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, French Toast, Baked Salmon with Garlic, Al Dente Asparagus, just to name a few. And the book teaches cooking “How Tos,” like how to peel garlic, how to get the whole meal on the table at once, what to do with leftovers, and on it goes. This book is a gem. It was first published in 1996, but has been updated and revised since. My original tattered copy is a testament to how I have used it myself, and learned a great deal. Perhaps my favorite chapter of all, “Food to Keep on Hand So You Won’t Starve.”  Read more