During these lazy days of summer I can imagine that Christmas is the farther thing from your mind! And why not? With thoughts of vacation, finding ways to keep cool and big family get-togethers filling these summer days, the sounds of jingle bells and carolers out in the snow are like ancient history.


I want to break this to you gently, but Christmas decor will be appearing in a store near you in only a matter of weeks—if you haven’t seen hints of that already. Devoting only a few minutes each day to getting started early with your Christmas plans will come back to bless you in money saved. And you’ll have beaten a lot of stress, too, come December.

Here are some quick and easy ways to get started now!

CRASH SAVE. Once each week put $10—or an amount you find appropriate—into an envelope for a service person you will remember with a tip during the holidays. Label and seal. Then make a note in your calendar so you don’t forget where you put it.

GROUP CRAFTING. Spend an evening with three or four friends making holiday decorations. Each brings an idea plus all the materials and supplies. By the end of a very fun evening everyone goes home with three or four new items. Read more

In these sizzling days of summer it’s tempting to load up the freezer with pricey frozen treats. Or to duck into a coffee shop or juice bar to grab one of those decadent blended coffee chillers or a fruit smoothie. But the big price tags can make even the creamiest concoction or slushiest treat hard to swallow.


Giving up favorite cold treats isn’t your only option. Make these yourself and you have great summertime treats at home for just pennies, not dollars.

Banana Berry Freeze

  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 ripe banana, peeled
  • 3/4 cup strawberry daiquiri mix
  • 1/4 cup Pina Colada mix
  • whipped cream

Place all of the ingredients, except the whipped cream, in a blender and process on high speed for 10-15 seconds until smooth. Pour into two wine glasses and garnish with whipped cream. Yield: 2 servings

Clone of Wendy’s Frosty

  • 1 cup milk (low fat okay)
  • 1/2 cup Nestle’s Quik powdered mix
  • 3 cups vanilla ice cream

Allow ice cream to soften in refrigerator for 1 hour. Mix all ingredients in blender. Yield: 4 servings Read more

Whether the flowers are from your garden, the market or you receive them as a gift, you can persuade cut flowers to remain beautiful for at least a week—maybe two or even longer, if you are careful to follow a few fabulous flower secrets. 

photo credit: calliope

photo credit: calliope

The two enemies of cut flowers are bacteria and drought. Defeat both and your flowers will last and last. You will be amazed! The two enemies of cut flowers are bacteria and drought. 

START WITH A CLEAN VASE. Scrub it with soap and hot water, rinse well and fill with tap water. Next, add 1/4 teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach for each quart of water. This will retard the growth of bacteria and fungus in the water but not harm the flowers.

REMOVE ANY LEAVES BELOW THE WATER LINE.  Submerged leaves will rot and promote bacteria and algae growth in the water.  

CONDITION THE STEMS. Flowers can die of thirst even when standing in water if the stems have not been conditioned to draw that water all the way to the blooms. That’s because when cut, a flower stem quickly seals its “wound.” That can prevent it from drawing water. Just before plunging the stems into the vase of water cut stems at a 45-degree angle to allow for the greatest amount of water to be absorbed. Read more

Whether it’s making sure a mailing label remains legible all the way to its destination or packing light for vacation, my readers have the best ideas, tips and tricks. Here’s a small sampling from my mail that is sure to both educate and amuse!


photo credit: dinner-mom.com

JUST LIKE GRILLED. If you want the same taste as grilled corn on the cob but don’t have a grill or the time, place one corn cob (do not shuck prior to cooking) in the microwave on high for exactly 3 minutes. Use a potholder to remove the corn from the microwave and while cutting through the entire cob and shucks at the bottom of the corn. The corn will slip easily right out of the shucks and it will taste just like grilled corn. Hmmm…good! Suzy

WATERPROOF LABEL. When mailing packages, I rub a candle across the mailing label to make it waterproof. There’s nothing worse than a package not arriving because the address label met up with a rainstorm en route. Macy

LOAD UP ON SAMPLES. All through the year I obtain samples from various websites or phone apps like SampleUp.com, FreeSamples.org, Hunt4Freebies.com and and FreebieFindingMom.com, then save them for vacation. Taking samples size containers of shampoo and other personal care products reduces the volume of stuff in our suitcases and leaves nothing to haul home. Carla Read more

Now that the summer heat is bearing down, millions of window-mounted air conditioners are getting a real workout. And many owners of said units are wondering why their air conditioners aren’t working properly.

In many instances consumers can fix the problem themselves—if they have the right information. If you have a window unit in your home, here’s what you need to know:

photo credit: rusty_clark

photo credit: rusty_clark

More than any other household appliance, window-type air conditioning units are often neglected. This is a pity because they are big energy users. A little maintenance means that homeowners can save money on both utility and repair bills. In fact, with the right information and access to replacement parts, you should be able to fix this appliance yourself, saving the cost of a service call.

All residential window air conditioners have a cooling system consisting of four primary components: a compressor, an evaporator, a temperature sensing device, and a condenser. Air conditioner cooling systems are better understood if you think of them more as a device that removes heat and humidity from the air than a device that cools the air.

These are the essential maintenance steps you should take to keep your window-mounted air conditioning unit operating in tip-top condition while using the least amount of energy: Read more

Some days I sit down to write this column and the words pour from my mind through my fingers and onto the keyboard. Other times, like right now, all systems go blank—one big expansive, frustrating void.

Just as I was about to run outdoors and bang my head on my new stone wall, I got that little ding letting me know I had mail—this time from Nancy.


Dear Mary: I’m interested in signing up for LifeLock. Do you feel it would be better to take the LifeLock Ultimate Plus (the most expensive) or the LifeLock Advantage plan and why? Thank you for your help. Nancy

That’s when I remembered that I wanted to tell you what happened to me a few days ago. (Oh, this is so good!)

Due to the fact that we have just recently relocated from big city life in Southern California to laid back country life in Northern Colorado (we do have a stone wall), my husband and I needed to open a bank account in our new village (not a city or a town … we live in a village!).

The bank employee handed us a keypad and asked us to input our Social Security numbers into the bank’s system. That’s it. Nothing else. In about two seconds flat, she had on her computer screen all of our personal information including banking history, all previous addresses and phone numbers for the past 40 years. That was a sad confirmation for me that personal privacy has become a thing of the past. To tell you the truth, it was creepy. Read more

This is a Guest Post by Nick Bautista, licensed independent insurance professional, soccer player and former member of the Debt-Proof Living staff. Nick, his wife Lauren and Siberian Huskies Zeke and Zara live in California where Nick continues to brew his own beer and blog at BareFinance.com

There are many things we all hate paying for. Insurance is one of them. Worse than paying for it is having to talk to the insurance agent who will try and sell you all kinds of things that may or may not fit into your financial plan.


Because I used to work for a company whose main focus was life insurance, I quickly caught on to the ideas and themes that life insurance agents don’t tell you. By the way, yes I still sell life insurance but now as an independent agent.


How else do you think they get paid, and why else would they try to sell you products you don’t need? Commission! As most of us understand a salesperson who gets paid a commission will tend to lean towards the product that makes them the most money. There are agents who don’t operate by this idea, but working on commission, is an eat what you kill world. Don’t be afraid to ask multiple questions when they try to sell you something, my favorite being “so when would this not be a good idea?” Read more

These days its nearly certain that there’s a pricey product available to clean just about anything. But why spend the money when you can make your own homemade products that perform just as well (maybe better!) from ingredients you may have already in your cupboards and pantry? I’m talking cheaper, faster and quite possibly better!

Dear Mary: What is the best and most effective way to clean a steam iron? Bev


Dear Bev: You need to clean both the inside and the sole plate of a steam iron regularly to keep it in tip-top condition. Before you proceed with my cleaning suggestions, make sure you read the owner manual that came with our iron to make sure there are no instructions or cautions that might preclude the following.

INSIDE: To remove build-up from the inside of the iron, which over time can really clog things up, pour equal amount of white vinegar and water into the iron’s water chamber up to the maximum fill line. Turn the iron on to “steam” setting and iron a soft clean cloth to clean out the steam ports. Read more