I couldn’t pass it up, and I mean that literally. Someone had dumped it right in the middle of my shortcut through the back of a neighborhood shopping center. I had two choices: Hit it head-on or stop to investigate.

Closer examination revealed a unique piece of furniture. It was a child-sized, solid wood, combination five-drawer-dresser-wardrobe. I dragged it to the side of the road and found it to be fairly intact. It would need a little work, but it had definite possibilities. Even in its needy condition, it was FREE!

Had this item appeared in the classified ads or at a garage sale with a price tag, would I have been so eager? Not likely. It wasn’t on my list of needs, or even my wants. But FREE? That’s different. I’ll take it!

Haven’t we always believed that FREE means we get something for nothing? That, if it’s free, it’s good? That there’s no obligation, no strings attached? Well, we shouldn’t believe that.

Rarely does anything really come for FREE. Before you accept anything that seems to be FREE, you should look for the hidden price tag.

Price Tag: A Purchase. FREE with purchase only represents something free to you if you would have made the purchase anyway. If the freebie is what closed the sale, you didn’t get anything for free at all. You only paid less than you would have otherwise.

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Last week we kicked off a new feature, Ask Me Anything, in which I invite you do just that. Lots of readers took me up on the offer.

UGLY TOILET RINGS

How can I remove the ring around the water line in my toilets? I have tried everything on the market and nothing removes this ring. I have well water and am wondering if you have any suggestions. I have tried many of your wide and various suggestions re other problems with excellent success. Barbara

 

Dear Barbara: Toilet bowl rings are the result of hard water and mineral deposits that develop from standing water in the bowl or from the toilet not being flushed multiple times during the day. No amount of scrubbing, harsh chemical cleaners or bleach will completely remove this kind of buildup—especially when it’s the result of very hard well water. The solution is to “sand” that ring away (and any other stains, too) using a pumice stone—the same thing that you might use for callused heels. Amazingly, pumice will not damage the surface, but those rings will be history. Any pumice stone will work, but I prefer one with a handle like Pumie Toilet Bowl Ring Remover, (about $9) designed specifically to reach ugly toilet rings and stains so you can scrub there away.

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As the story goes, the owner of a hair salon in a small town enjoyed the serenity of knowing that his was the only salon in town. He was responsible for cutting and styling the hair of just about every resident.

photo credit: gruntledemployees.com

His income allowed him to live comfortably and even send all of his six children to college.

Unfortunately for him, big business showed up one day. Right across the street from his busy little hair salon sprang up one of those new full-service franchises.

Immediately the media campaign began. Ads in newspapers, magazines, and billboards announced, “EVERYTHING FOR $6.00! $6.00 haircuts, $6.00 perms, $6.00 manicures, everything for $6.00.”

Soon all of his customers even his neighbors began visiting the salon across the street while his salon sat empty. Desperate, he hired an expensive consultant. “I’m finished,” he moaned. “It’s impossible for me, just one little business owner, to compete with that big, powerful corporation. I can’t match their prices and I sure cannot beat them. I might as well throw in the towel now!”

The consultant squinted at the salon across the street and took a very long pause. “Not just yet, not just yet,” he responded.

With that the consultant picked up the phone and dialed the town’s only billboard company. “Yes, on top of our salon … big letters: WE FIX $6.00 HAIRCUTS!” Read more

Any time I can eliminate or lower my stress level when traveling, I’m a happy camper. I am always on the lookout for travel tips and tricks. Now I can’t wait for my next flight, so I can try Gary’s tip. Read on.

ARRIVALS FOR DEPARTURES. I travel a lot and sometimes if I’m in a time crunch getting to the airport, I use the Arrivals level instead of the Departures to reach my terminal. This saves a lot of time, even though I may have to take my luggage up the elevator. I figure this is a viable option if the only other choice I have is to miss my flight. Gary

HOMEMADE CHOCOLATE “SQUARES.” Instead of buying expensive baker’s chocolate squares, I mix three tablespoons of baking cocoa with one tablespoon of oil to replicate one square. And since most recipes call for the squares to be melted, not only have I saved money, I’ve saved time, too. Helen

ABSORBENT TUB BACKREST. I have the best tub backrest. It’s more comfortable than the inflatable ones and it’s cheaper than the ones designed for spas. It’s a baby bath sponge! Designed for laying a baby on its back, it’s large enough for my entire back. It sticks to the tub and stays warm as long as the water does. I toss the sponge in the washer periodically to freshen. Lauren Read more

So, how are those summer vacation plans coming?

If things aren’t looking so good for you to get away from home this year, it’s probably not because you don’t have the time. According to a survey by Harris Interactive Inc. for Glassdoor, American workers, on average, take only half of their earned vacation time.

Photo Credit: REI.com

More likely, you keep pushing a vacation to the back burner because you just don’t have the money. After all, a vacation can be very expensive. These days, you’ll spend thousands for a family trip to Disney World—plus airfare if you don’t happen to live in Orlando.

Of course, there are any number of ways to cut the cost of a vacation, but could you get that cost down as low as $150 per adult? You just might be able to pull it off if you change your expectations a bit and adopt a new kind of vacation attitude.

Volunteer vacations are not new, but they’ve received more attention since Americans are no longer flushed with a lot of discretionary income.

For the cost of getting there, and a reasonable amount to cover the cost of your food—like $150 to $300 for a week—you throw your sleeping bag in the car, drive to a nearby park, and for as little as $150, spend a week in the wilderness rebuilding trails with other nature-lovers.

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Fruit flies are amazing and by that I mean amazingly annoying! These tiny creatures can detect the smell of ripe fruits and vegetables from miles away. If there’s a bowl of fruit on your kitchen counter, there’s probably a fruit fly or two looking for a way into your home to get to it. Because they’re so small, they can get in through window screens or crevices around windows or doors.

Once inside, they reproduce like crazy and not only in overripe fruit. They love the slime that collects in a drain or the nice, cozy bed of a sour mop or sponge. Add the heat of summer to any of those situations and before you know it, you’ve got yourself a full-fledged, annoying fruit fly infestation.

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Vacuuming sucks. Literally. My idea of giving our adult sons robot vacuums for Christmas one year was intended to help them with that odious chore.

What a disappointment. I learned much later that both robots got thrown out after only a few months because they were ridiculously noisy, needed constant supervision and just more trouble than they were worth. They were annoying and couldn’t do the job.

But that was then and this is now: There’s a new robot vacuum in town and Eufy RoboVac II+* is his name.

From the same folks who make the Eufy Stick Vac (which we love around here), this robot has renewed my faith that robotic vacuuming is not only possible—it can be amazing.

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Want to improve your financial situation? There are only two ways to do that:  1) Decrease your expenses or 2) Increase your income.

It should come as no surprise here that decreasing expenses is the overarching theme of this blog—as well as just about everything else I’ve written over the past decades.

When you reduce the grocery bill, it’s like giving yourself a raise. Refinancing your mortgage to get a lower rate of interest has the next effect of more money in the bank. It’s a solid principle, but cutting expenses does have its limitations.

You can only cut so far without cutting into basic needs and compromising quality of life.

If you are still unable to make ends meets, only one choice remains: Increase income. Theoretically, there are myriad ways to do that, most of which come with their own challenges. Especially for families with young children.

Today I want to introduce to you a very useful book on the topic that offers realistic, practical tools and advice for women—specifically moms with children in the home—for how to make additional money regardless of experience or education.

I love this book so much because it is as practical as it is empowering. Think you don’t have the time, talent or ability to bring an additional source of income into your home? You might be wrong about that!

Believing this might be a book with the potential to change the lives of so many of my readers, I asked our resident book reviewer to give us his thoughts.

Money Making Mom: How Every Woman Can Earn More and Make a Difference, by Crystal Paine

Reviewer: Jeff Tompkins, Jr.

Call it bravery, call it stupidity. But yes, as a 40-something male, I am about to review a book aimed at women, moms in particular. My experience? Well…I was born to a woman, and have been married to one for almost 15 years now so practically an expert right? Of course I realize that my understanding of this book might be different from those in its intended audience, but fortunately Crystal Paine’s Money Making Mom brings some basic ideas and strategies that are very applicable to just about everyone.

Money Making Mom is aimed at moms who want to raise supplemental income, whether they are looking for part-time ideas while raising their children, are single and needing full time income, or maybe have a creative idea budding that needs help getting to the next level.

Paine makes it clear from the very start of the book though that her intent is not to provide a cheat sheet full of “get rich quick” schemes. Instead, she provides her thoughts to help others attain financial freedom, to grow a new mindset when it comes to money as well as potential new ways to obtain that money. Read more