Know anyone getting ready to move into their first apartment? Whether it’s a  recent college grad, newlyweds or maybe it’s you … outfitting the kitchen can be a daunting, albeit essential, task. And it can get expensive. The problem is that as long as that kitchen sits idle, someone will be spending a lot of money eating out.

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For less than the cost of week’s worth of restaurant meals, I can show you how to set up a starter kitchen that will get that special someone in your life excited about cooking at home. Just keep in mind that these aren’t the highest quality items available. But for newly minted grads and couples, this will get them started cooking great cheap meals in the kitchen while they save to one day invest in higher quality cookware.

1. This 15-piece non stick cookware set from Cook N Home is a fabulous starter set, complete with four pots with lids, two skillets and a five-piece utensil set. As a bonus it comes in three colors, too. Quite amazing at less than $55.

2. When Kevin Mills moved into his first apartment, he soon realized he couldn’t live on just take-out food alone, so he called his mother, Nancy. She taught him to cook, and now the two of them have put together a collection of easy recipes (actually, they’re graded and most Very Easy or Easy, a few are Not So Easy) for inexperienced cooks, along with lots of “Mom tips” and “Mom warnings.” (Because Kevin’s girlfriend is a vegetarian, more than half the recipes are vegetarian.) “Help, My Apartment Has a Kitchen,” is fun and very useful! $12. Read more

I know what you’re thinking: “simplify” and “spending” in the same sentence? Ha! Like that’s even possible when we have credit cards, bank accounts, bills, bill-paying options, fees, penalties and interest rates to keep track of.

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How can we possibly make spending simple? By knowing the right tricks. Choose to become accountable, then use every tactic you can to streamline—and de-stress—your financial life. If you can pare things down as follows, you’re well on your way.

USE CASH. When it comes to paying for things like groceries, gas and other daily routine items, there is nothing easier than paying with cash. You can’t overdraft it and you won’t have to worry about fees and interest. Once it’s spent, that’s it. Done. So simple.

ORGANIZE WITH ENVELOPES. This is quite possibly the most effective money management technique. Get a stack of envelopes and label one for each of the ways you’ll be spending your cash (food, gas, and so on). Place the appropriate amount of cash in each envelope. There. You’ve got a spending plan. As a bonus, you’ll have a handy place to keep the receipts from each of those categories. And, they’ll be neatly organized by category if you need to return something in the future, or prepare your taxes. Read more

Quite possibly my favorite thing about writing this column is the mountain of reader feedback it produces. I have the best readers in the universe, too. Nearly every letter turns into a love fest, which charges my batteries, making me love my readers all the more.

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Do you recall the letter from Pat, who complained of her lettuce turning rusty? I responded that the rust colored stains on lettuce are harmless evidence of the natural breakdown process and indicate that the produce is not exactly fresh. The brown edges and spots can be cut away, leaving the rest of the lettuce perfectly edible.

Well, that question together with my response brought a tsunami of input from readers insisting that Pat’s problem is that she is cutting her lettuce with a metal knife. Read more

I believe it’s true that money cannot buy happiness. Think about all the miserable people you’ve read about—celebrities, professional athletes, perhaps friends or family who just happen to also be rich. If money could buy happiness, wouldn’t they be the happiest people on earth?

While money can’t buy happiness, it can buy and do things for us that can make us happy.

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Recently, I read a fascinating book, The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does, by Sonja Lyubomirsky.

This book is a heavy-duty read, as one might expect from a psychology book. I found it to be thought-provoking. The author offers specific ways we can use our money to further our personal enjoyment and happiness.

Spend money on small pleasures. Small things like a good cup of coffee, a new DVD or a picnic can result in small boosts of happiness that accumulate to produce a large impact of longer-lasting happiness.

Spend money on fundamental feelings. When you spend your money on satisfying pursuits rather that stuff to impress others, the result is happiness without the addiction-like desire for more and more.

Spend money on others, not yourself. When we invest in others rather than ourselves, the result is a lasting sense of happiness.

Spend money to open up more free time. Spending money for a housecleaner, for example, frees up your time to do things you truly love.

Spend now but wait to enjoy it. There is something to be said for anticipation and delayed gratification. Together they can create happiness.

Spend money on experiences rather than possessions. The experiences don’t have to be a Caribbean cruise or European vacation. Family Game night can bring the kind of happiness that does not quickly fade the way a new pair of shoes might.

While this book offers an exhaustive study on what makes us happy (the author weaves extensive scientific research—more than 700 journal articles), it’s an easy read. And I came away from it with two things: 1) A clear-eyed vision together with practical tools and steps for how to build the healthiest, most satisfying life, and 2) A clear affirmation that despite everything, happiness really is a matter of choice.

If you own a Keurig coffee maker and if it started out brewing a full cup of coffee then turned to a half cup and is now on its way to the landfill—you are not alone. There are many disgruntled Keurig owners out there. That makes me wonder how many people have actually tossed a perfectly good Keurig coffee maker into the trash, when 30 minutes of their time, a slosh of white vinegar and a paperclip could have put that thing back into ttip-topshape.

photo credit: IFixIt.com

photo credit: IFixIt.com

Hopefully, if you have a Keurig that’s giving you fits because the thing just will not work [read: turn on, pump water, make a full cup], you haven’t given it the ol’ heave-ho. I’m pretty sure it will be worth your time to get it back up and working.

Before I go on, let’s cover some disclosures: I do not own a Keurig. I roast my own coffee (the freshest, best coffee in the world) and brew it in this Bunn Coffee Brewer. I find the Keurig machines to be inadequate due to the single-serving feature and the disposable K-cups required to make the thing work are pricey.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to Keurig business. Read more

Dear Mary: I enjoy your column every day and love the tips and tricks to save and spend less. I read the question about finding “rust” on lettuce only days after purchase and I have found a great solution. I’ve started using glass jars—Mason jars, old tomato sauce jars, any jar with a tight fitting lid will do. I clean and store my lettuce, cut bell peppers, cucumbers, just about anything that I’d normally put in Tupperware or plastic bag. The filled jars keep the contents fresh and yummy for days, even as long as two weeks. It’s amazing, I couldn’t believe the difference. Thanks for doing what you do. Stacie

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Dear Stacie: Thanks for the reminder! Canning jars are useful for so many things. Filled with fresh salad greens and vegetables, I think they look pretty, too.

Dear Mary: This year, I am growing my garden in 5-gallon buckets. My problem is all the weeds that grow everywhere in the yard. I’ve put landscape fabric in the bed where my buckets are located, but the weeds still persist. What can I use in the realm of homemade weed/grass killer that’s effective? I don’t want to go the commercial route (Round-Up), for fear that might also kill my wanted garden plants. Thanks ever so much for your advice. Sherri Read more

Recently, I wrote about simple things you can do to slash the high cost of gas. One of those tips was to make sure your car’s tires are always properly inflated because underinflated tires cause the engine to work harder than necessary, which wastes fuel, while overinflation causes tires to wear prematurely. 

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I went on to tell you how to discover the psi (pounds per square inch) inflation recommended for your tires. And with that I kinda’ started a firestorm! My email box fairly sizzled with responses from readers who were not happy—some demanding an immediate retraction, others insisting I was putting the lives of my readers in serious danger.

The problem? I told you to discover the proper psi by looking for that information on the tires themselves.

“You’re wrong!” informed a few readers, many of them citing their qualifications as authorities on tires and proper inflation.

I learned quickly that the psi number on the tire indicates that tire’s maximum safe psi, as determined by the manufacturer. But the recommended psi, which is typically a bit lower, is found printed or stamped on a metal tag affixed to the edge of the driver’s side door jamb on newer cars or inside the glove box on older vehicles. Read more

I’m going to guess you’ve made a financial mistake or two in your life. Who hasn’t? For some of us, it was more than an occasional late fee or random urge to overspend that brought us to our financial knees. But I’m not talking about the kind of blunders that got us into trouble—we could list those in our sleep. Instead, I want to focus on the mistakes people make while they’re working their way back to financial health.

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Whether you’re recovering from a season of unemployment or from a financial mess you created on your own, avoid these goofs and you’ll get where you want to go much faster.

1. Not saving. You’ve heard this plenty, and here it comes again: Jump to the front of the line—ahead of your creditors—when you divvy up your paycheck. Get over feeling guilty about keeping money for yourself.

You’ll need enough in your fund to pay all your bills for at least six months. But don’t let that big number discourage you. Start by saving enough to live on for two weeks, then up it to one month, and so on until you reach goal.

Put your savings on autopilot—you won’t miss what you don’t see. Commit to saving 10 percent of every paycheck. If you can’t start there, start with 2 percent. Then in a few weeks, change it to 5 percent, then 7 and so forth until you reach at least 10 percent.

2. Paying for college. If you must make a choice between adequately funding your own retirement and paying for your kids’ college education, put retirement first. The best gift you can give your kids is to make sure you won’t become a financial burden to them in your sunset years.

Kids have far more options for funding their college education than you have for your retirement. They’ve got scholarships, grants, financial aid, student loans, work-study programs and the not-to-be-forgotten method of working their way through college. Once your own future is secure and you’re out of debt, that’s when you’re in a position to help pay for education.

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