This is a guest post by Richard Syrop, which contains exciting new information that will help you even better manage your credit score. Richard is founder of the bill reduction website EffortlessSavings.com. You can take a look at his new book and follow him on Twitter.

There are more options than ever before to help consumers monitor their FICO scores and credit reports. Unfortunately, most of these choices have monthly fees, or hidden costs. Thankfully, a couple of new options have emerged that are truly free and do not require you to sign up for a free trial membership or subscription that may result in sneaky credit card charges.

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Free Monthly FICO Scores. Websites like Credit Karma, Credit.com, Credit Sesame and Quizzle all offer free credit scores to consumers who sign up for their services. 

However, none of these websites provide you with your genuine FICO score. Instead, they let you preview what have become known as “FAKO” scores. These scores are based on your credit history, but are often different from your actual FICO scores by wide margins.   Read more

Dear Mary: I have a young daughter who is almost three-years-old. Eventually, my husband and I plan on having more children. I have saved lots of baby things, clothing, toys and other items, but I am having trouble storing all of these things. They have taken over.

I cannot possibly take up any more space with these things. I have begun bags for donation and garage sales, but there are some things I need to keep for future children. I do not like the idea of paying for storage space elsewhere, but I am not sure what to do with growing accumulation. Can you help? Becky

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Dear Becky: Do you have friends or relatives with garage, basement or attic space you could use for a few years? If not, I suggest you decide what items you really need to retain, then plan to replace the rest.

For all of the clothes, blankets and other soft items, get a couple of Space Bags that are easily filled and then compressed using your vacuum cleaner that has a hose to suck out all the air. I used dozens of these to get all of my linens, blankets, pillows and clothing ready for long-term storage (my husband and I are still living in our seriously downsized tiny apartment as we wait to make a big move next spring) and I was surprised just how well they worked once I followed the instructions exactly. For the record: My method of overstuffing a bag before removing the air did not work. At. All.  Read more

Sometimes Home, Sweet Home can seem more like a money pit. But your house doesn’t have to cost you tons for upkeep when you ingenuity, creativity, shopping sense and savings sense to bring out the best without breaking the bank

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Enjoy these sensible tips for making your house a wonderful home, with time and money to spare.

DRY ERASE BOARD. Clean it with a dab of toothpaste on a clean, damp cloth. The board will be beautifully clean and minty fresh as well. And no more ghosting.

MAKE YOUR OWN. Extra pillowcases can be pricey, so consider making your own: When you buy your net set of sheets, buy an additional flat queen-sized sheet match (individual sheets are readily available online), regardless of the matching set. Out of the queen flat sheet you can make three pairs of matching pillowcases for a fraction of the cost of buying them ready made. By measuring a commercially made pillowcase, it is easy to create a usable pattern.  Read more

Have you been paying attention to what’s going on with the cost of food? I just read that the average cost of ground beef in the U.S. has once again hit an all-time high. I believe it, and not only beef. It is shocking how grocery prices are going up, which understandably is behind the soaring cost of restaurant food.

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The way to fight back is two-fold: 1). Buy groceries when they’re on sale and 2) Eat at home. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, it can be if you make sure your kitchen pantry is well-stocked. It’s annoying and expensive to not have basic items on hand. You don’t have what you need and don’t have time to go get it, which means of course you’ll just have to go out for dinner. Again. 

Taking the time and effort to make sure your have the following handy items in your pantry will save a lot of money, provided you pick these items up as they go on sale. Think of this as a project. 

Evaporated milk. I basically detest the stuff because I had to drink it as a kid. But used in cooking and baking, evaporated milk is fabulous! Keeping a few cans in your pantry insures you’ll always have milk on hand when the recipe calls for it. Read more

Money is the most difficult subject to discuss between two people in love. Why? Several reasons:

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It’s personal. We’re taught as children to never ask how much people earn, what things cost or how much money people have. It’s rude, it’s poor manners and it is just not done. 

We spend the first two decades of our lives keeping anything related to money hush-hush. We learn to skirt the truth in the interest of personal decorum.
We grow up, enter a relationship and find that it’s not easy to suddenly talk about such personal information. 

It’s not flattering. We wear clothes that flatter our good points and downplay our flaws. We snap a “selfie,” then retake as many times as necessary to get it just right.

We take great pains to present ourselves in the very best light. And when forced to talk about financial issues, well, we do the same thing. We bend the truth or we omit certain details that don’t make us look that great.  Read more

As you might imagine, I get a lot of mail. And since I could never respond to all your messages, questions and comments personally, I love to reach into the mail bag once each week selecting some of your letters to answer right here.  

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Dear Mary: Is it cheaper to wash dishes by hand since I wash most of my pots and pans by hand anyway, or use the dishwasher? Thanks. Audrey

Dear Audrey: According to the folks at EnergyStar.gov, using a dishwasher versus hand washing can cut your utilities bills by $40 or more annually. That’s because washing by hand uses more hot water, which is both a waste of the water (it takes 5,000 more gallons in a year to wash by hand) plus the energy to heat it. That’s just how efficient dishwashers are these days. 

But that’s not all. Using a dishwasher will save you about 230 hours of personal time in a year–nearly 10 days! And if your dishwasher boosts water temperatures to 140 F., (Energy Star rated machines do), you enjoy improved disinfection compared to hand washing. That means better health, fewer doctor visits.  Read more

Faithful readers know I’m crazy for a product, Nok-Out. I travel with it and live it with. Actually, I wouldn’t want to live without it. 

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Nok-Out is both an odor eliminator and germicide (bacterial and viral). The best thing: No fumes, no perfume—absolutely not toxic. It looks like water, safe for pets, home and even the kitchen. Nok-Out is not a room freshener that tries to cover up odors. It truly knocks them out.

As I would expect from something I use and suggest that you need to consider too, I get lots of feedback from readers and a question now and then.

“I’m traveling soon. so I eagerly followed your advice by ordering Nok-Out to take along.  But I’m puzzled because the product makes none of the claims you mention.  In fact there is no indication it has any disinfectant properties only instructs for use as a  deodorizer.  So what’s the deal with Nok-Out?” Ruth Read more

One of the toughest things I battle in my life is procrastination. My natural response is I’ll do it later. And there’s a part of me that despises that procrastinator and wages a daily war to defeat it. That’s how I’ve come to rely on the power of habits and routines. If I can avoid having to make a decision, I lose the choice to put it off until later.

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Habits are those things we do so often, they become automatic. Take my MacBook computer. You’d be shocked to know just how many hours a day I am on this thing. The keyboard is part of me. My muscles have totally memorized every stroke, the location of every key.  Until something changes. 

Due to a series of complications (Mavericks plus multiple monitors), I was forced to move my dock  from the bottom of my screen to the left side. We’re talking about a 90-degree relocation from horizontal to vertical. And I’m ready to be committed. 

Everything in me wants that dock at the bottom. Every muscle recalls exactly where each tool should be. For nearly three weeks I have battled this annoying change and it is driving me to the brink of insanity.  My routines are disrupted, my old habit is screaming in torment. My brain, muscles and fingers are  trained to reach effortlessly to get what I need. It was so automatic I didn’t have to think about it.  Read more