I want to thank all of you who’ve taken up writing to me. I love to hear from you and I get a real charge out of the tips, questions and other fun stuff you send. Even though I cannot respond personally, believe me when I tell you that nothing goes unread.

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In an effort to respond to so many of you who’ve written asking for alternatives to high-priced protein bars and infant formula, I’ve come up with some cheaper alternatives for your frugal consideration.

First the infant formula. Without a doubt you will never find a more nutritional or economical formula for a newborn than mother’s milk. When that is not an option, commercial formulas should be your second choice, because they are highly regulated as to nutritional value for a baby’s developmental needs. Having said that, here is a recipe that goes back many years that may be appropriate as a replacement for commercial formula once Junior graduates to solid food.

Baby Formula
(as a supplement to solid food)

Place all ingredients in a very clean glass or stainless steel container and mix well. Pour into bottles that have been thoroughly sterilized. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 9 six-ounce bottles. Read more

Dear Mary: Twenty years ago I was lucky enough to receive a five-piece, service for 12, Spode Christmas Tree China (green band) from my mother. Since then I have filled out the set with many accessory pieces. When washing the china in the dishwasher I have been very careful to use the gentle/china cycle and cool dry. There has been no fading of the green band around the plates, cups, bake ware, etc., but the gold band around some of the glasses I bought only six years ago has washed away.  A friend said it wasn’t the cycle, but I needed to use a gentle dishwasher soap. However, no one knew or could agree on what was a gentle detergent. I’m hoping you can give me some help. Thank you. Susan.

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Dear Susan: First, let me say that I am so jealous. That is an amazing set—a wonderful treasure. The problem for any china, glassware or crystal that has gold, silver or platinum trim is the hot water. It will actually flake that fine metal trim away. And once it is gone, there’s nothing you can do to bring it back. That’s why I want to strongly suggest that from now on you hand wash these beautiful items  in mild soap and warm water. And I’m not alone in this. Spode recommends that any of its ware (china, imperialware, vitreous) not marked as dishwasher safe, be hand washed only. It’s an investment of your time that will come back to bless you with many years of enjoyment.

Dear Mary: I enjoy your daily emails a lot. Can you let me know what bedroom humidifier you recommend? Thank you. Maria Read more

They don’t call me the Queen of Costco for nothing. Truth be told, I love the place. And I buy large quantities of many items, but only because I’m also quite sneaky. I bring stuff home but then hide all but the minimal amount we need to get through the week, to create an atmosphere of scarcity.

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Human nature is such that in the face of an abundance of anything, we use it up quickly and with abandon.

Do you know that feeling of dread when you’re halfway through the laundry and discover you have about 3 ounces of detergent left? You kinda’ go easy, right? Same goes for anything that appears to be getting down to the end.

My favorite place to stash non-perishables is under the beds. Out of sight, out of mind. Even my mind! That’s why I’ve learned the value of keeping a secret inventory list, too. Read more

If you itemize your tax return, you probably know that you are allowed to deduct the fair market value of items you donate to charity. But what’s the fair market value of say a pair of shoes or a lamp? More than you might think.

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The law does not allow the charity to determine the value of an item you donate. The charitable organization gives you a receipt saying that you made the donation. You, the donor, must determine its value. And that’s the problem.

If you overstate the value you risk an audit, penalties and interest. If you underestimate you’ll pay more taxes than you should.

In the process of paring down and purging in anticipation of our big move to Colorado in the spring, my husband and I donated an antique pump organ to a church where it will be used in services and enjoyed by many.

The organ is more than a hundred years old so looking up the new price and depreciating it appropriately was not possible. Our accountant suggested we locate similar antiques that have sold in say the past year and then adjust accordingly for our specific situation. Right. Like there’s a brisk market for antique reed organs down at the mall.

But then I got to thinking …. hmmm … eBay! Sure enough, several pump organs have sold in the past year. I printed the documentation and will attach that to our next tax return to back up the deductible value we assigned to the donation. Read more

When a University of Michigan survey asked people what they believed would improve their quality of life the answer given most often was, “More money.”

Couple-Reading

In their book The Day America Told the Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim asked, “If you could change one thing about your life what would it be?” The number one response at 64 percent was, “Greater wealth.”

A University of Southern California study found that greater wealth didn’t translate into greater happiness for many of the 1,500 people surveyed annually over three decades. USC economist Richard Easterlin said, “Many people are under the illusion that the more money we make, the happier we’ll be,” but, according to the study, that isn’t true.

We know from other well-respected studies that fewer Americans are “very happy” today than in the 1950s despite having far more money, bigger homes and more stuff. In 1950 there were 3,000 shopping malls in this country, by 2000 there were 45,025. We have more money, we have more stuff but clearly, greater affluence has not translated to greater happiness. Read more

What is your greatest financial temptation? That’s one of the question I asked in a poll at DPL Central. Answer choices: accepting more credit, vacation, clothes, new car, stuff for house, eating out or none-of-the-above.

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I enjoy predicting how my reader polls will turn out, but I was way off on this one. I thought “stuff for the house” or “clothes” would win. The runaway winner at 41 percent was “eating out.”

Whether eating out is your top temptation or it comes in second or third, you can deal with it more effectively if you make eating at home more convenient and more delicious than going out.

You know by now that I am a big fan of the slow cooker. Just throw the ingredients in before the demands of the day wear you down, turn it on and forget it. You’ll come home to the aroma of a home cooked meal. You’ll have it on the table and ready to eat in less time than it takes to drive-thru. Read more

It costs hardly anything ($2 a gallon on sale), it’s available in every grocery store in the universe and so useful around your home you are going to have a hard time believing it. That’s the power of vinegar. Yep, plain, cheap, 5 percent acidity, white vinegar.

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1. Instead of fabric softener or dry sheets, add 1/2 to 1 cup vinegar to last rinse in your washing machine (as you would liquid softener). Your clothes will come out soft because the vinegar helps to remove every trace of laundry detergent, which cause fabrics to stiffen.

2. Add 1/4 cup white vinegar to a quart of very warm water to make a good window cleaner. Wipe with crumpled newspaper or a coffee filter and your windows will sparkle.

3. Vinegar will dissolve hard-water marks like those on shower doors, faucets and in vases. If the vinegar is hot (heat in the microwave) it works even faster.

4. Instead of pricey commercial rinse agents, fill that little reservoir in your dishwasher with white vinegar. Your dishes will sparkle. Refill often. If your dishwasher does not have this feature, simple add 1/2 to 1 cup (depending on the hardness of your water) to the last rinse. Read more

Have I got a story for you about the Hubs and me. I don’t like to think that we cave easily to peer pressure, but apparently that is the case.

We have these friends who are way into healthy lifestyle—clean eating and extreme exercise. I call anything with the words running, jogging and cycling in it, extreme. They’re so into these things, they don’t even think about taking a short hiatus when we visit. Oh, no. We’re talking green smoothies all around, every morning. No question, no excuse.

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Let me just say right here that my husband has never met a vegetable he enjoys. He’s just not into them. Never has been. But he’s kinder than he is finicky, and so in the interest of friendship, he (OK, me too) would put on a happy face and down the green whenever we visited our friends Carol and Steve. And Harold would kind of shudder in a way that only I was aware—the way kids do when they have to eat something they think is really gross. This always made me laugh but I tried really hard not to show it.

I cannot fully explain this, but after several of these occasions, something went off inside of both of us suggesting that perhaps, just maybe we might think about doing this ourselves. At home.

One thing led to another—and by that I mean we started with bananas, apples and one teeny tiny leaf of baby spinach—until without quite knowing what hit us, we were actually making smoothies every morning that turned out the color of wet concrete. Read more