From time to time I reach into the proverbial EC mailbag and pull out a few of your questions to answer here. My goal is to select questions I believe the answers to which will have a wide appeal. But I can tell you for sure that when the question arrives with a photo showing me the problem, that gets my attention in spades.


Dear Mary: My husband wears white undershirts and no matter what brand or fabric content, they get gray blotches in the wash. Here’s a photo:


I typically use non-chlorine bleach and fabric softener but recently stopped those additions and that didn’t help. I use high efficiency detergent. The washer is set is “whites” and dryer to “cottons.” I changed detergent brands, switched from powder to liquid but still the blotches appear.

I wash my white t-shirts in the same load as his undershirts, and mine come out fine. I am including a photo from this last load of laundry so you can see this problem.

Any suggestions on why these blotches appear, how to remove existing ones, and how to avoid them in the future will be very much appreciated! Mona Read more

I did something really dumb that cost me $750. It’s so dumb I’m a little embarrassed to even tell you about it.


Seven-hundred and fifty dollars—that was the price tag on my fancy schmancy progressive eyeglasses. I went for the pricey frame and all the bells and whistles because I do enjoy seeing well. But if you’ve ever worn the “progressive” style of lenses, you know they are not 100 percent awesome for ever task. I have a second pair I call my computer glasses. That means I am switching back and forth quite often. 

The pair I’m not wearing I jam in my purse. I also enjoy carrying a fairly large nail file in there—the kind that has fine sandpaper on both sides. The kind that can sand the finish right off polycarbonate lens material used in eyeglasses. Read more

As gifting seasons go, the biggest one of all is just around the corner. Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my readers are feeling somewhat irritated that I’m bringing up the holidays again while Christmas is still more than three months away. But I have a reason. The longer you wait to make or buy gifts, the fewer options you’ll have. Last minute shopping is a surefire way to run up mountains of unintentional debt. Been there, done that.

Girl giving grandmother Christmas gift

Gifts for grandparents don’t always require a trip down memory lane. Today’s grandparent is more likely to be tapping out e-mail on a tablet than pounding away on a typewriter. So with that in mind, and to help you get rolling early, here are some of my favorite gift ideas for grandparents, ranging in price from $9 to $150, that are sure to delight Nanas and Papas everywhere—even those who are hard-to-buy-for.

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I can’t believe that until just recently I’d never heard of a Dutch Baby—a wonderful culinary offering that is a regional staple in the Seattle area. The irony is that I grew up on Spokane, Wash., a mere 400 miles to the east.


Another regional favorite I’ve discovered is the a popular dessert, Texas Sheet Cake that feeds a crowd.

Charleston, South Carolina is famous for its She Crab Soup. Fantastic!

Oh my, you are going to love all of these fabulous recipes—each one easy to make right in your own kitchen.

What’s the favorite in your region? If you send the recipes, I’ll do all I can to let the secrets out of the bag so we can all enjoy, no matter where we live. Read more

Recent California wildfires serve as a grim reminder of how quickly ones personal economy can change. If the rain of an economic downturn were to fall on you tomorrow, would you know how to find shelter from the storm?


Troubles come and troubles go. Economic recovery is sure, eventually. In the meantime, if you play your cards right, you will not only survive a period of economic decline, you will thrive. Knowing how to survive will help you stave off potential disaster.

DEVELOP YOUR GREATEST ASSET.  Your attitude—the way you respond to life and all of its circumstances—is more important than anything. It is more important than the past, than struggle or success, than education or experience. It is more important than how much money you have, how much you owe, what you would like to do or where you would like to go. When you face tough times your attitude will be either your greatest asset or worst liability. The key to changing your attitude is reprogramming your mind. Whatever you choose to focus on is what you will move toward.

ASSESS YOUR RESOURCES.  Figure out exactly what you earn, what you own and what you owe. What insurance do you have? How long would it take your unemployment benefits to kick in? Do you have enough cash to bridge the gap? Read more

Look up the word impulsive in the dictionary and prepare to see my face. As I cleaned out the freezer in anticipation of relocating to Colorado last spring, I found five big bags of chocolate chips to prove it. They are the ghosts of a Christmas past—the remains from my now famous Gifts in a Jar marathon project.


And have I mentioned the two containers of candied fruit that I picked up the year I knew I’d have all kinds of time to make fruitcake? They had to have been at least seven years old and curiously showed absolutely no sign of becoming stale, moldy or anything close to inedible.

Many supermarkets put baking supplies on rock-bottom sale starting about Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas. I still have four five-pound bags of flour from last holiday season, which I bought for $.99 each. Sugar is cheap during the holidays, too. Ditto for other holiday baking ingredients from marshmallows to sweetened condensed milk, dates to nuts. Read more

Buying a home is likely the largest purchase you will ever make. This is not the time to make mistakes that could easily plunge you into a financial situation you cannot afford. Here are five expensive home-buying mistakes you should avoid. Not only will you steer clear of becoming house poor, you’ll also save yourself thousands of dollars in the process.


MISTAKE: ALLOWING A LENDER TO TELL YOU WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD. When you meet with a lender to get pre-approved for a mortgage, that lender is going to tell you how big a mortgage the lender is willing to offer you. He (or she) is concerned about only two things: Your ability to repay the mortgage and the size of his commission. He wants to steer you into the biggest mortgage possible. Ignore whatever number he says you can borrow. It is not based on what you can afford because the lender has no idea what you can afford.  

You need to set your housing budget. And that housing budget should be low enough so that you can afford to make progress on all your other important financial goals like maintaining a healthy emergency, getting debt-free and funding retirement accounts. Read more

Back when I was a kid, birthday parties were mostly ho-hum consisting of a few rounds of Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Clothespins in a Bottle followed by Betty Crocker cake baked in a nine-by-thirteen with buttercream frosting. Back then going “all out” meant splurging on a pre-made cake from the local bakery.

These days going all out for a child’s birthday party means something a bit different. Some of the stories are mind-boggling.

Recently, I read about parents in one Minnesota town who rented a bar for a princess-themed party. Children and their parents were invited and instructed to come dressed in tuxedos and formal attire. Guests were picked up in limos. The party included live music and champagne for the adults. The birthday girl was turning 4.

Sure that was an extreme party, but there is no denying that birthday parties for kids are becoming more and more extravagant. You know what I’m talking about. And I get it. Read more