I cannot begin to tell you all that I’ve learned over the last few months about kitchen appliances—both major and small. My husband is remodeling our kitchen (yes, lucky me). Now, wouldn’t you assume that selecting new appliances would be the easy, fun part of the planning process? It’s not! In fact, it’s been rather mind-numbing.

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Oh, what I have learned—and do intend to share with you in the very near future—is epic. Let me just say that I’m more convinced now than ever that determining the “best inexpensive” option in every category is the way to go; that “most expensive” does not guarantee better longevity or trouble-free performance.

For today, and due to popular demand, let’s tackle basic countertop appliances that toast, roast, bake and broil.

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TOASTER. The goal here is to find the Best Inexpensive traditional toaster where you put slices of bread in the slots and in a few minutes up pops toast that is perfectly toasted on both sides. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not really because there are so many options and many of them not good. That’s why you need me to test, research, review and narrow this down to the best, which in this case is also the most inexpensive.

My pick is Cuisinart Compact Plastic Toaster, which comes in a 2-slice option and also 4-slice. The slots are wide enough to accommodate bagels, English muffins, Texas toast but also regular-width slices of bread.This toaster is just the right size, toasts effortlessly and looks nice in any decor. Don’t let the “plastic” part scare you. The toaster remains cool to the touch and is super easy to clean. Cuisinart Compact Plastic Toaster, 2-Slice, about $30; 4-Slice, about $40.

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It was a lovely meal. The conversation was engaging, the entrée delightful—a good time was had by all. The guests are long gone and now you’re stuck with an ugly red wine stain on your prized tablecloth. Is this linen destined for the rag bag? Not if you know this super simple solution:

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RED WINE STAINS. If you get red wine on a washable tablecloth or napkin, spread the stained portion over a bowl or your kitchen sink. Now liberally sprinkle ordinary table salt on top of the stain. Next, pour boiling water over the salt and through the cloth to take out the stain. Provided you can do this while that stain is still fresh, this works really well. Josie

SIMPLIFY STORAGE. Here’s my “simplify tactic” for those darn plastic storage containers we use for leftovers. I have three sizes, all the same—the cheap brand I find at the grocery store. Each size is stackable. I don’t save plastic butter, cottage cheese, and cream cheese containers for leftovers. I only use the three sizes. I add to the collection if needed, only the three sizes, only the same brand. That way I am not hopelessly looking for lids to fit whatever stray bottom I want to use, and they are easy to store in the fridge. Amazing. Val

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If the paper monster has you buried under an avalanche of receipts, bank statements, ATM slips, investment records, paycheck stubs and bills—the good news is you can probably throw most of it away without worry when you have a simple recording keeping routine. But before you fire up the shredder, you need to know what to keep and for how long

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TOSS ALL YOU CAN

Monthly. Once you have recorded the amounts and reconciled your bank and credit card statements, you can shred ATM receipts, bank deposit slips, credit card receipts and sales receipts at the end of each month. Exception: Keep receipts for purchases that may be tax deductible, those that involve a warranty and any item whose replacement cost exceeds the deductible on your homeowners’ or renters’ insurance.

Yearly. Once you receive and reconcile your W-2 against your final pay stub you can toss your paycheck stubs for the year along with monthly credit-card and mortgage statements, phone and utility bills and quarterly and monthly investment reports. The same goes for other statements that detail the entire year’s activity on the final end-of-the year statement.

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Don’t assume your kids are going to learn about how to manage money well in school. There is a growing recognition of the need, but few children are fortunate enough to learn money matters in school—solid foundational principles they’ll hold onto throughout their lives.

If you have kids, teaching them about money rests squarely on your shoulders.

So how are you doing with that? Don’t know where to start? Today, I’ve prepared an important but simple lesson for you to teach to the kids:

Principle: The secret to reaching your goals in life is to make good choices with your money.

If you spend your money without thinking about your choices, you will probably make bad decisions. A wise person considers three important things before making a spending decision:

1. VALUES

What causes someone to go on a hunger strike or to climb a tree and not come down until “they” promise not to cut down any more trees? What causes someone to host his own 13th birthday party at a homeless shelter where he gives gifts to 300 children he’s never met? What causes a 16-year old girl to skip lunch every day in order to pay for a tattoo? What causes you to do the things you do? The answer is values. Values are things like kindness, love, self-worth, spirituality, respect, fairness, compassion, creativity, thrift and faith. Make a list of your top seven values.

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It’s time to reach into the inbox and pull out a few questions from my loyal readers—answers to which I suspect might be of interest to others.

I love receiving your questions, by the way, so keep them coming!

Dear Mary: What is “tamari?” It is an ingredient in a recipe I would like to make for Spiced Hazelnuts. Where can I find it? Thanks for any information you can give me. Catherine

Dear Catherine: Tamari is a type of soy sauce, usually used in Japanese food. You can easily substitute with Chinese light soy or regular Japanese soy sauce. You should be able to find tamari in the Asian section of a good supermarket or for sure in a Japanese food store. 

Dear Mary: Could you please tell me where I can purchase Glisten Dishwasher Cleaner? I used to get it at the grocery store, but they don’t carry it any longer.  It is really wonderful for cleaning my stainless steel dishwasher and also glassware. Peggy

Dear Peggy: Your favorite Glisten Dishwasher Cleaner and Hard Water Spot Remover is available at Amazon, about $7 for two single-use packets. You might want to consider a cheaper alternative that gets even higher raves and reviews, Lemi Shine Multi-Purpose Appliance Cleaner, which comes with three single-use packets for about the same price—and a more far-reaching availability. Both produce the same result, in my experience, which I would rate as excellent!

Dear Mary: I have four bottles of sunscreen that have expired. I know that they have lost their full effectiveness as sunscreen, but is there another use? I hate to throw them out. Dorothy

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Some years ago, I asked members of my Debt-Proof Living website this question: What would you do with an unexpected windfall of $10,000?

Responses ranged from saving every penny to giving all of it away to using all of it to get caught up on bills. This got me thinking: What fascinating response would I get if I changed the word “windfall” to “expense” as in, “How will you respond if tomorrow you get clobbered with an unexpected expense of $10,000?”

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Suddenly, my mind races back to any number of old western movies where the wounded cowboy bites down on a bullet while doc performs some off-camera surgical procedure with the aid of a red-hot Buck knife and a bottle of whiskey.

Now, I’m not suggesting that getting socked with a big unexpected expense causes pain anywhere close to surgery without the benefit of anesthetic. What I am saying is how we respond to financial challenges says a lot about our character. We can take cover and hide behind fear and denial or we can bite the bullet, face the problem head-on and do what we have to do.

Take the couple profiled on an early episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. They bit the bullet when they sold their house and possessions and lived in their car for two years to get their finances straightened around. I don’t recall exactly how they worked this out—small details having to do with showers and running water escape me. However, their delight with having done such a difficult yet noble thing to get their lives back on track was compelling.

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It’s reader response day when I take the opportunity to report back with a few of the comments I get from you, my Dear Readers, every single day of my life.

And you wonder why I keep doing this? It’s no secret that I thrive on your feedback and kind comments. Please, don’t stop.

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Comment on: Best Inexpensive™ Heated Mattress Pad

Dear Mary: I have been reading and enjoying your column and advice for years. You have saved us a ton of money and made us healthier with tips on non-toxic cleaning products, dryer balls, and getting out stains. But I’m truly most grateful for your recommendation for heated mattress pads. I have mild arthritis and winters are hard for these reasons: It’s cold, my bed is cold, my husband can’t tolerate it if I turn up the thermostat. But even if I turn up the heat, the bed is still cold and takes forever to warm up. Arthritis seems to hurt more when I’m cold and trying to get to sleep.

I got the queen sized heated mattress cover with dual controls. I’m so very happy with it. It’s like a giant heating pad for arthritis. I turn it on to heat a few minutes before crawling into bed. It puts me to sleep without meds. Thank you, thank you! You are a huge blessing to us. Anne

Comment on: 8 Wedding Gift Hacks

Dear Mary: I love these suggestions for wedding gifts but if you choose an idea from the couple’s registry and buy it elsewhere it remains on the registry and you take a chance that someone else buys the exact same item. D.J.

Some wedding registries, Amazon, for example, allow you to mark the item as purchased but from another source so that it comes off the list in order to avoid duplication. -mh

Comment on: How to Make Ugly Soap Scum Magic, Mildew and Water Marks Disappear Like Magic

Dear Mary: I just want to let you know how much I appreciate the recipe for the shower cleaner with vinegar and blue Dawn. I am amazed how it’s taken care of my soap scum buildup. None of the other cleaners I’ve tried work half as well as this does. Thank you. Julie

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Every year, says the Center for Disease Control, nearly 48 million people become ill from foodborne contamination, including sickness caused by fresh produce. To avoid this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends washing produce thoroughly with a fruit and vegetable wash to help kill bacteria and ensure produce is safe for consumption.

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Walk into any grocery store these days, and more than likely you’ll find more than few choices of commercial fruit and veggie “washes” displayed between baskets of kumquats and kiwis, all promising to save your family by making produce safe for human consumption.

Stop! Before you spend even a few bucks for a fancy container with glowing promises, consider that you can make your own highly effective fruit and vegetable wash for just pennies.

While buying a commercial product to do this might sound great because it’s convenient, check the ingredients. You’re likely to find an ironically high number of chemicals with a price tag to match.

Mixing up your own fruit and vegetable wash is not only cheap—it’s also ridiculously easy. As a bonus, you’ll always know exactly what’s in it.

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