If you want to drive yourself nuts, go shopping for a new mattress. You’ll hear dozens of theories on coils, fabrics, stuffing, foam density and warranties.

What I know about buying a mattress I’ve learned from the best: Insiders now retired from the sleep product industry.

CONFUSION FACTOR

All of the major brands—Simmons, Serta, Sealy, etc., make decent mattresses but if you’re planning to go from one chain store to the next comparing prices, forget it. The major brands change the names of the same mattress for each of the stores so it is impossible to compare by make and model.

SHOP BY LEVEL

Each company makes “levels” of mattresses: Very cheap, decently cheap, good and best. That’s not what they call them, but you can tell by the pricing within each manufacturer’s line of products. Expect several models in each price level.

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You need more money. You need it now. So what are your choices? You have two: You can increase your income or you can reduce your spending.

INCREASE INCOME

Get a bigger paycheck. Ask for a raise, land a new job that pays a lot more than your current job or get a second (or third) job to supplement your current income.

Win a lottery. Do keep in mind when considering this option that your chances of being struck by lightning are much better than winning a lottery.

Sell assets. Finding a cash buyer for your grandmother’s sterling silver, the boat or other asset you own is another option for increasing your income. Read more

 

Friends. Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away. I know, I can’t believe it either. Before you begin to stress, let’s get a plan together.

The way I see it, you have four options:

  1. Ignore the day altogether and assume your spouse, kids and family will think you forgot and give you a pass.
  2. Get thee to the card shop and post office to pick up Valentine cards and postage stamps, then get them into the mail, pronto!
  3. Make sweet treats in your kitchen befitting the day*.
  4. Find that perfect something for that perfect someone in your life—there is still plenty of time.

Should you be leaning toward option #4, here are 24 great gift ideas:

GIFTS FOR HIM

1. MOSCOW MULE COPPER MUGS. These are gorgeous 100% copper mugs, each one in the set of 2 weighing in at 1/2 pound. If your guy is into home mixology and the classic Moscow Mule, this will make an amazing gift.

2. TACTICAL 300 LUMEN ULTRA BRIGHT FLASHLIGHT. This very cool, very bright flashlight runs off a single AA battery, for hours of use. Heavy duty, compact and tough as nails!

3. BEER CHILLER STICKS. Impress your guy with the newest way to keep beer at the right drinking temperature. Freeze chiller sticks for 45 minutes or leave them in until you are ready to open a bottle. Insert in beer and enjoy without having to worry about it getting warm. Comes in an impressive gift box with bonus bottle opener.

4. MAGNETIC WRISTBAND. Wearing the MagnoGrip magnetic wristband, he’ll keep tools on his wrist while he works. Ideal for holding nails, screws, fasteners, wrenches and small tools. Finish jobs in less time and with less frustration. Breathable lightweight design allows you to wear the magnetic wristband all day. Super strong magnets also provide therapeutic relief to the wrist.

5. DIGITAL TIRE PRESSURE GAUGE. The only gauge he’ll need. When he puts the Ionox Digital Tire Pressure Gauge in his hand, he’ll know right away he’s holding the best tire pressure gauge he’s ever used.

6. VEGETABLE GRILL BASKET. If your guy is into BBQing, he’ll flip for this large non-stick BBQ grid pan for veggies meat fish shrimp and fruit.

7. WHISKEY STONES. This set of 9 premium whiskey stones will ensure no more watered down whiskey! Easy to store in the wooden box, in the freezer! The stones substitute for ice cubes and keep a drink cold four hours! Use the stones over and over again.

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An automobile is a major purchase and the consumer purchase most likely to throw a major kink into your fragile financial situation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. What’s required is a little radical thinking and forethought.

Here are the three rules to follow when buying a car:

RULE 1. Pay cash. Hang on. I know you may not be able to do that right now. Just be patient and I will teach you how. This principle is so important that I will repeat it: Pay cash for your car.

RULE 2. Opt for a late model. Make sure you are not the first owner. Let someone else take that 20 percent depreciation hit. Your goal is to drive the best late-model, previously owned car you can afford paid for with the cash you have.

RULE 3. Always make payments. I hope that got your attention! On the one hand, I just told you always to pay cash for your cars. And now I am telling you always to make payments. Both principles are true. You must adopt the attitude that as long as you intend to own a car you must cover the the cost by making monthly payments to yourself ahead of time—in anticipation of your next car. This way you are always earning interest (because you hold that money in a savings account), not paying it.

Even if your current car is doing well I can promise you that car will not last forever. That’s why I want to challenge you to start today so you can pay cash for your next car.  Read more

Parents of adult children may believe it’s none of their kids’ business how they handle their finances and what they do with their money.

While that may be true, never forget that every financial decision you make has the potential one day to become either a burden or a blessing for your family.

Dear Mary: One of our friends suggested that we look into a plan called “Life Estate,” which would make sure that our home goes to our children no matter what.

We own our home and have no debt, but have no long-term care insurance either. Of course, we hope to stay well until we die, but in the event we would have to go to a nursing home and our monies run out, we understand this plan would preclude the nursing home from taking our home. Your thoughts? Tom and Jackie

Dear Tom and Jackie: I am not an attorney, but I do have experience as a real estate broker. Generally, I can tell you that “life estate” is a term used to designate the way legal ownership or title is held on real property.

To do this, you would deed your property to your children, who become the “remaindermen,” while you become the “life tenants.”

As the life tenants, you retain possession of the property including full costs of maintaining the property. The life tenants cannot sell the property without the consent of the remaindermen. Further, your children would receive full ownership (fee simple) immediately upon the death of the last life tenant, without the property going through probate.

There are advantages and also a few disadvantages for you to convey your property now to a life estate that you need to fully understand before making a decision. I suggest that you meet with a qualified real estate attorney.

If you decide to deed your property to a life estate it should be as simple as completing forms and having them properly recorded in the county where the property is located.

Dear Mary: I have been reading your books, newsletters and this daily column for years. You have really helped me a lot. Thanks! I have passed along everything that I could to my parents, but evidently they haven’t read a thing.

A year ago, my brother bailed our parents out from foreclosure and they are still so far in debt they can’t see even a glimmer of light.

Now they want to come for a visit and I want to tell them not to come because I know they can’t afford it. If you ask them if they can afford it they will laugh and tell you they can’t afford anything, but that doesn’t change anything. They have nothing in savings, and spend money (credit cards) like they have all the money in the world, trying to keep up appearances.

Should I tell them that they can’t come visit until they get back on their feet again, or just let them come and continue to flounder and get more in debt than they already are? I’ve been able to put them off for a couple of months, but I don’t know how much longer I can. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. Debbie

Dear Debbie: There is a reason I have NOT written a book, How to Manage Your Parents’ Money. That’s because you can’t control your parents or make any useful demands on them.

My advice is to back off. Call and invite them to come and visit at the earliest possible time. Do everything you can to make their visit enjoyable including not talking to them about their financial situation. Let the way you live and manage your finances speak louder than anything you can say.

Should they die broke leaving all kinds of debt, you will not be liable for any of it, provided you have not added your name to any of their accounts.

Please, just love them and allow them to have a warm and loving relationship with you despite your differences.

Saving money is a curious term with two meanings: 1) To spend less, as in “I buy things on sale to save money” and 2) To physically place money where it is safe from being spent.

Okay, that’s fine. But here’s the problem. It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that 1) and 2) are the same. They are not, unless of course you stop by the bank to deposit the difference between what you would have spent had the item not been on sale into your savings. That would be a clever way to boost your cash stash this year and at the same time adjust your mindset on what it really means to “saving money.” Here are eight more:

TAX YOURSELF. Determine right now that you will assess yourself a specific “tax” each time you make an ATM withdrawal. It might be $5 or $10, you decide. Whatever the amount, make sure you become a tough tax collector. No slacking, no IOUs.

IMPOSE A MORATORIUM. Select a specific denomination of currency, like the $1 or $5 bill that you will no longer spend, but save instead. Forbid yourself, and get very strict. Why not go with the $5? Your stash will grow so much faster if you absolutely refuse to spend any Abe Lincolns.

HOARD COUPON SAVINGS. Starting today, here’s the plan: When you grocery shop, ask the clerk to total your order and then pay for it. Then hand her the coupons and watch your total plummet. Since you’ve already paid, the clerk should hand back the cash equal to your coupon savings. If available, open a savings account at the bank branch located in the super-market. It’s easy to stop on your way out to make a savings deposit—even if it’s small. It all adds up.

RACK UP REBATES. They’re coming back in a big way as retailers want to make their products appear cheaper without actually reducing the price. They offer a rebate, knowing full well only a small percentage of consumers who buy the item will ever carry through. No matter how small the rebate or complicated the process, promise you will not be among the lazy bunch. Apply for, follow up and then stash those rebates as they arrive!

DRINK WATER. Pay yourself a bonus, like a dollar or two each time you eat out and opt for water instead of a pricey beverage. Don’t be a slacker in your obligation to pay up. And remember, no IOUs allowed.

MAKE A SWITCH. Opt to exercise outdoors instead of paying a gym fee. Or, determine you’ll ride the subway instead of jumping into a cab. Identify a name brand you will leave on the shelf this year in favor of its store brand equivalent. Then stash what you would have spent.

GIVE IT UP. Pick one thing that you will sacrifice for a specific period of time, like the coming year. Just cut it out. Stash the amount you would have spent on whatever it is—regular manicures, French fries, gourmet coffee, cigarettes—into your savings container or account. You could always do your own manicures, swear off the junk food, or brew your own coffee. As for that smoking habit, just imagine all the dough for your stash if you give that up.

TRICK YOURSELF. Whenever you write a check or take an ATM withdrawal, record the amount rounded up, to say the next dollar in your checkbook registry. Then deduct that amount from the balance. At the end of the month, reconcile and stash the “oops!” overage.

I love gadgets and apparently I’ve not kept that a secret from my friends and family. I’m still excited about these five new gadgets I got for Christmas—each one amazing and fun to use.

THE KNIT KIT. What a cool little gadget. It contains the nine essential knitting tools every knitter needs to have handy at all times—all of them excellent quality and cleverly tucked into this handy gadget. No more having to dig and search for a stitch counter, tape measure, crochet hook, yarn/thread cutter, stitch markers, point protectors, darning needle, needle gauge and collapsible scissors. All nine essentials are in there and part of The Knit Kit. What a brilliant and clever gadget. I love it so much I just can’t stop knitting. About $30.

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It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but sometime over the past decade or so, the general population of this country formed a belief that bottled water is better than tap water—safer and healthier, too.

It’s possible that the trend started in 1976 when the chic French sparkling water, Perrier, was introduced to the world. There it was elegantly bottled in its emerald green glass in an era of glitz and excess. Who could resist? What could be more blatant than to package, sell and consume what most of us in the western world consider a basic human right easily supplied through the convenience of a home faucet?

It is pretty ingenious how the bottled water industry has convinced millions of people to pay between 240 and 10,000 times more to purchase water in a bottle than to get it from the supply we’re already paying for that comes out of the taps in our homes!

TAP WATER IS CHEAPER

These days a 16-ounce bottle of “spring” water goes for about a dollar, which works out to about $8.00 a gallon—twice the cost of milk, and about par with bottled soft drinks. Home delivery of water in those great big, heavy bottles is less per gallon but still around $40 a month, according to online averages.

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