If you are generally wary of free stuff, I’m right there with you. Most of the time, I’ve found, free stuff is like bait. It’s a “tasty morsel,” a big tease with the clear intent of getting us to part with money we have no intention of parting with to get whatever it is that’s “free.”

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But now and then, free is truly free with no strings attached. And when it’s something I find useful in my life, well, that’s a happy find.

Today I have three truly free things for you to consider. Chances are good you’ll find them downright awesome!

KITESTRING

If you, your kids or parents are on a solo trip or even out for a walk alone at night, it’s a good idea to let a loved one know you’re safe (or possibly not). Kitestring is a simple web app that checks up on you and sends a text message to your emergency contacts if you don’t respond by a designated time.

Kitestring is an SMS-based service. If you can send text messages, you can use Kitestring. That spares you the trouble of downloading another app. You don’t even need a smartphone to use Kitestring. Read more

I have the most prolific mailbox in the universe—I’m sure of it. Just today I was responding to messages I received nearly a year ago, not that I can possibly respond personally to every message. But I do read all of them. Never forget this: You are the best part of what I do here—you make it all worthwhile.

DEAR MARY: Is there a way that I can remove a blood stain from my black and white floral Hawaiian print car seat slipcover? I hope I can do this without removing the slipcover, which was a bear to put on. Thanks for your help and your wonderful tips and columns. Leslie

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DEAR LESLIE: The best thing I know to remove blood even if the stain is very old, is Soilove Laundry Soil-Stain Remover. It is enzymatic, which means it attacks proteins, of which blood is one. You can get Soilove at 99 Cents Only Stores in California and Arizona; you can also get it online or directly from the manufacturer by calling 1-800-482-6555 M-F, Pacific time.

I can help you with that problem of getting well-fitting slipcovers back on after laundering: Put them on wet. They will stretch more easily and that will take all the struggle out of the process. And they will dry beautifully. I have a large white sofa with slipcovers. When I bought it the saleslady gave me that tip and I am so grateful she did. I wash those slipcovers so often you would be amazed— in the washing machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then I skip the dryer altogether and on they go and so easily, too. I smooth out the wrinkles with my hands and let them dry in place.

DEAR MARY: First off, let me tell you I’m a huge fan. I save almost every email, tip I need or think I will in a Cheapskate folder on my computer. My question: Can I straighten out a warped cast iron skillet? It’s eons old, belonged to my mother-in-law; she always cooked her holiday hams in it. I still do, but don’t like that it’s not flat. Any thoughts? Brenda Read more

My adult children are big on borrowing stuff from their parents. And from time to time they may fail (you know who you are, son) to mention having borrowed something like a Milwaukee Sawzall Reciprocating Saw in its big, bright red case, prompting that son’s father to assume said tool had been stolen after searching the garage high and low for it on a day he had an urgent need for it—further prompting said father to reluctantly make a trip to Home Depot to buy a replacement.

 

This little blast from my past illustrates in an odd way, how not everyone needs to own the same things.

My husband uses his Sawzall so frequently, he’s replacing the blade with abandon. But Jeremy? Hardly ever—like maybe once a decade. Harold needs to own this tool. Jeremy is better off borrowing (all is forgiven, by the way).

A story in TIME, Finally, an App That Lets You Borrow a Corgi, made me smile. Seems you can now borrow a dog (and in this case “borrow” means renting by the hour) if you can’t afford one, don’t have room for one, lack the commitment to own one or want to take a particular breed for a test drive as part of the decision-making process.

Many public libraries are becoming a fantastic source for borrowing unusual items you may need only once a year, or even less frequently. Why buy when you can borrow for free? Read more

A mid-west sewer authority did a study and came up with data suggesting that 19 percent of people admit to having dropped their phones in the toilet. I’m not sure why this fact would be of interest to a sewer agency, but it did come to mind when this letter washed up on my desk a week or two ago.

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DEAR MARY: A week ago, I dropped my smart phone in the toilet. I tried to rescue it but had to get a new phone. The salesman said every day, someone comes in with the same problem. Now I’m wondering if there is some kind of waterproof case I can get to protect it in case this happens again. And, by the way, how do you fix a wet phone? My method (I immediately cleaned it, took it apart and then stuck it in a bag of rice to dry out) didn’t work. Bev

DEAR BEV: There are steps you can take to try to rescue a waterlogged mobile phone, but there are no guarantees. Read more

They’re big, they’re filled with temptation and millions of people shell out fifty bucks a year on average to be card-carrying members of the big three warehouse clubs: Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s.

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While the whole idea is to save money by shopping at a warehouse club, membership alone does not guarantee that will be the result. In fact, just the opposite is as likely to happen, where members end up spending far more than they imaged they would because they just don’t how to make a club work for them.

As a long-time warehouse club member, it’s taken years for me to really figure out how to win the warehouse club game.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO. It is really dangerous to your wealth to cruise into the club without a clear idea what you are going to buy. The way to know before you go is with a written shopping list. If you need it, you know it before you arrive. If you discover things you need that are not on your list, make a second list—things you will buy on your next trip to this club. Make sure to check the monthly ads for your specific membership club for items with instant savings or discounts.  Read more

It’s easy to see a tax refund as some kind of gift from the universe. It’s not. It is a chunk of your annual income you should have been seeing all along in your paychecks. Plan now for how you’ll manage it, or your refund could easily evaporate into thin air!

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1. Treat it like a paycheck. Give away 10 percent, save 10 percent and put the rest into your household account. This would be especially advisable if you are having trouble keeping up with your current financial obligations.

2. Stash it. Put it in your Contingency Fund or Freedom Account. Don’t think twice. Just get it into the bank quickly before you are tempted to pick out a new TV or book a vacation trip abroad. Money in the bank lets you back away from the “edge” in ways that buying more stuff cannot.

3. Open a Roth IRA. Talk with your bank or go to Vanguard.com to discover your options. Provided your Contingency Fund (a pool of money you keep in a safe place for serious emergencies) is well-funded and you are not drowning in credit-card debt, this may be the perfect opportunity for you to boost your retirement funding. Read more

In my mind as a fifth-grader, Mr. James M. Migaki was the smartest man to have ever lived. Every day was special in Mr. Migaki’s class. He taught us the importance of learning history so we would never have to repeat its mistakes. He made that lesson real when he said that last year counted as history, and so did last month and last week.

Mr. Migaki said something is only a mistake if you can’t fix it. Sometimes he would let us re-take our tests to learn from history and fix our mistakes.

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Speaking of lessons we can learn from things that went wrong in the past, how about that Bernie Madoff character? He’s the guy who, for decades, was ripping people off, claiming to be investing their fortunes, paying them inexplicable returns on their money, and all the while stealing from them blind with his $50 billion ponzi scheme. There are several important lessons that all of us need to learn for good. Following are my top five:

1. Know what you own. No matter what you have or the investments you own, make it your business to know what you own and where your money is. If your fund manager or broker cannot give you an explanation you can understand, that is not a reflection on you. It could be that person is more unsure than you are. Keep asking questions, keep researching, keep digging and don’t stop until you describe each of your assets and investments in 25 words or less. Read more

In just a bit I am going to give away all my secrets for how to make muffins that are so great your friends and family will call you a genius. But first, I want to show you what happened one Saturday morning as I was in the middle of making a fabulous—if I do say so myself—brunch.

I was all ready to fill the muffin cups with batter when I remembered that I’d used every last one of my cupcake paper liners. I was in no mood to go to the store. Muffin batter is not kind to those who do not move it quickly to the oven once the wet ingredients have been stirred in.

I wanted to kick myself because I’d planned to splurge and order these very nice Tulip Muffin Papers online …

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… but at the last minute felt myself choking at the price: $6.95 plus $6.00 shipping for 24 elegant muffin/cupcake papers—about $.54 each.

How dumb would that be to spend twice the cost of the muffin just to bake it in a very cool looking throw away “paper?” Don’t answer. And don’t hate me when I tell you how much I wished that I’d ordered them anyway because at that moment I really needed them. Read more