Dear Mary: Our water is very hard and as a result has created rust-colored stains in the fiberglass bathtub. I’ve tried to scrub it away with Comet, but that did nothing. How can I remove these terrible stains? MaryAnne

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Dear MaryAnne: I’m going to assume you have already tried applying a paste of baking soda and white vinegar to the stains, allowing that to sit for a few hours. If that or the Comet didn’t work, I have two options for you, starting with a product you may have already but never dreamed you’d use in a bathtub: Lysol Professional Toilet Bowl Cleaner. Cover the stains with it and allow to sit for an hour or so. You may need to scrub a bit with a Scotch-Brite or similar type scrubber. I am reasonably confident this may take those stains away, that’s how well it works to clean fiberglass, acrylic and porcelain tubs.

However, if your stains are really stubborn—or you would need to go out and purchase the Lysol toilet cleaner—I’d skip that and go straight for the big gun in rust-removers, Iron Out. I love this product because unlike other commercial rust removers, it contains no harsh or abrasive chemicals. And boy does it work well to remove rust stains from just about anything, including fabric.

Good luck and be sure to let us know how this works for you.  Read more

Dear Mary: You have written in the past that it’s important that we keep our credit cards “active” even when we keep them at zero balance. How often should we use them to keep them active? Does it matter how much we put on them? Can it be a small purchase that we pay off immediately? Thanks. Nancy

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Dear Nancy: Using a credit card twice a year is more than sufficient to keep the account active. The purchase amount is inconsequential. Use it to purchase a 99-cent app and you’ll accomplish the goal. Then pay it off right away—even on the very same day. That way you won’t forget or run the risk of allowing a silly small purchase to create a rolling debt.

The system isn’t looking at the size of the purchase or the amount of time between purchase and repayment—only that a transaction is recorded and payment is received according to the terms and conditions you agreed to when you opened the account.

These days it’s important for every adult to own one good, all-purpose credit card for the purpose of maintaining a high credit score. To do so does not require one to carry a smidgen of debt (it’s NOT a debt score), nor to use the thing habitually. You could use your card to purchase two apps a year ($1.98 total, paid off immediately) and build a killer credit score. I have a feeling that’s exactly what you plan to do. Good for you! Read more

Banks and retailers benefited greatly over the past decades by promulgating the cashless lifestyle. They convinced us that it’s much safer to carry plastic and more convenient, too. Cash, they declared, is old-fashioned and clunky. Plastic is hip and cool. Gradually, Americans fell for the pitch and, in turn, got more than we bargained for. Going cashless has turned us into a debt-ridden society.

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But things are changing on the consumer front. Cash is making a comeback.

Some people, like reader Martin B., are moving to cash to avoid credit-card companies, collection agencies and others. Susan J. and her husband wrote that they’ve closed their bank and credit accounts because of past problems with overdraft charges and identity theft.

Still others like Bill and Jan W. are using money orders to pay bills. They cash their paychecks at their company credit union because it doesn’t impose high fees like check-cashing stores.

All of these people have gone to cash to avoid specific problems. But there’s another reason—perhaps even more noble than any other—that individuals are making the shift to a cash lifestyle: To reduce spending and improve savings.  Read more

Somewhere in my life, I picked up the behavior of worrying. About money, mostly, but I can worry about anything, really.

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I don’t believe I was born worrying, so I must have learned to worry from past experiences and from watching people worry—probably my parents. Actually that’s good news. If you, like me, have struggled with learned worry, that means that we can unlearn this debilitating behavior.

I can’t report that I’ve completely won the battle against worry, but I have turned the corner where worry no longer controls me.  If worry is wreaking havoc on your life, there really is something you can do to put worry in its place.

Worry is useless. It doesn’t do anything. Worry cannot control the future or change the paste. It can’t pay a bill, solve a problem or cure an ill. But it can throw you into emotional paralysis.

Worry weighs heavily on your heart. And it is a very heavy, crushing weight.  Read more

It’s summer, it’s hot and the last thing you want to do is to heat up the kitchen. Going out is expensive and the family has threatened a mass uprising if they have to look at one more summertime salad bar. Don’t despair! That slow cooker you reserve for the cold winter months is a perfect solution for the summer, too!

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Your slow cooker creates very little heat and is amazingly cheap to operate. It costs only pennies a day to operate all day long and with energy costs skyrocketing, that’s good news for your electricity bill, too. But, you may protest, I’ve tried to use a slow cooker and the results have been disappointing at best. Pardon my saying so, but that’s likely because you don’t know what you’re doing. You need a crash course in Slow Cookery!

Know your cooker. A traditional crock-pot where the heat surrounds the cooking insert is better than a slow cooker where the heat comes from underneath. The most common models have a removable pot insert. The two heat settings are low (200 degrees) and high (300 degrees). The slow cooker, or “multi-cooker” usually cooks from the bottom and might have a thermostat allowing a wide range of temperatures. The commonly used term Crock-Pot is Rival Manufacturing company’s trademarked name.

Curb the urge. Resist the impulse to peek inside the crockpot unless the recipe directs you to stir partway through. Every time you lift the lid, you add about 20 minutes cooking time.

Leave space. Don’t fill the insert so much that the lid doesn’t fit tightly. Without a tight fit a vacuum will not form, and that can dramatically affect cooking time

Vegetables on the bottom. They take longer to cook than meat. Root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and turnip, should be cut in small pieces, about 1-inch, and layered on the bottom of the crock so they will start to cook as soon as the liquid heats.

Read more

Dear Mary: My son is looking for an apartment near his new job in order to avoid a horrendous daily commute. He recently told me that each time a landlord/manager runs a credit check on him, his credit score drops 15 points. What recourse does he have?

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Dear Judy: Most potential landlords and their management companies do check a potential tenant’s credit history because it’s a good indicator of how a person lives his or her life.

Credit inquiries are classified as either “hard inquiries” or “soft inquiries”—only hard inquiries have an affect on one’s FICO score.

Soft inquiries are all credit inquiries where your credit is NOT being reviewed by a prospective lender. These include inquiries where you’re checking your own credit, and inquiries made by businesses with whom you already have a credit account.

Hard inquiries are inquiries where a potential lender is reviewing your credit because you’ve applied for credit with them. These include credit checks when you’ve applied for an auto loan, mortgage, credit card, insurance and a search for a rental property such as an apartment. Read more

Mostly, what I know about every way imaginable way to save time and money I’ve learned  1) out of sheer desperation or 2) from kind and clever readers who’ve taught me so much over the years. Today I can officially add three more such ways:

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Dear Mary: I have discovered a website, Skiplagged.com (also a companion smartphone app) for finding super cheap airfares. I have comparison shopped but have found nothing cheaper, and I fly a LOT! The secret: one way flights. Often you are skipping the second leg and your destination is actually the stopover city. It’s the best thing since sliced bread!

When I first started using Skiplagged, I booked a last minute trip to a football playoff city for a game. The best roundtrip fare I could find was $1,000. I got roundtrip at Skiplagged for under $300 (biggest savings so far). It was a weekend of storms in the east and many flights were canceled. The airline kept changing my flight because the storm was hitting the connecting city (my actual destination, but to them it was a connecting city). All I had to do was call each time (twice) and tell them I had a meeting at that airport and had to keep my layover city the same. The storm passed in time and I got in okay.

Not all of the amazing deals at Skiplagged.com involve skipping a leg of the trip you purchase (getting off at the layover city and not continuing on to the destination city on your boarding pass), when it does there is a very important thing to keep in mind when using this tactic: DO NOT check luggage or it will continue on without you. This is a tactic that requires carry-on only. Kasey

Dear Kasey: Great find. I just spent a little time comparing prices trips I have taken recently and also future trips I have booked and I’m amazed. This site really delivers. Thanks so much for letting us know about Skiplagged. I can’t wait to hear how others use this resource to figure out super cheap ways to travel.  Read more

If you’ve ever had a big ol’ ugly red stain on your otherwise beautiful carpet, you know the meaning of heartbreak. You’ve tried everything to get it out, but still it’s there. Big. Bad. Ugly.

What you wouldn’t give to find some kind of magic potion that would erase it once and for all. Right? Well, today is your lucky day because you’re about to discover just what that potion is.

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RED CARPET STAIN SOLUTION. Need to remove a horrible carpet stain left by a red drink? Or coffee? Try Folex, which is a clear spray in a non-aerosol bottle. Available online for about $10,  and also at some Walmart and Home Depot stores. Simply spray the stain and work the product into the stained fibers with your fingertips. Blot with clean cloth. No rinsing necessary. I’ve used Folex on dark red wine stains, on ivory colored carpet and also on the shadows of old stains like coffee in a couple of places. Folex removed every trace. I highly recommend! Rebecca

ABANDONED PHONE CHARGERS. Once on a trip, I forgot to pack a phone charger. I was so desperate, I asked at the hotel’s front desk if they had one that would fit that I might use. A security guard took me to the storage room where there were at least 12 large plastic bins full! I dug through the spaghetti-like mess and found one. When I offered to return it, he said, “Keep it, we probably have three hundred more just like it!” Somehow, someone needs to figure out how to get local hospitals that could really use phone chargers for their patients and nearby hotels (that have way too many) together on this phone charger issue! (see Donate Phone Chargers) I always enjoy your posts. Thanks! Deborah Read more