How to Automate Your Finances

I once flew in a chartered jet, not exactly like a rockstar, but I did feel quite pampered. The flight was awesome, but I have to admit to momentarily freaking out when the pilot unbuckled, stood up, left his pilot seat, and came back to chat with his three passengers over snacks and sodas.

While he sat with us for more than an hour, it took only a few minutes for me to relax, enjoy the company and the ride.

Relying on autopilot in both flying and finances is quite an amazing thing.

 

woman-laptop-setting-up-automatic-payment-online bill-pay

 

Creditors, especially banks and credit-card issuers, are unbelievably sensitive to whether you pay your bills on time. So is your credit score. One slip-up could cost you dearly if that means you lose your low- or no-interest rate, or a late payment results in a big late fee.

Late payments are reported to the credit bureaus and that can mean a serious blow to your credit score, which may result in higher insurance premiums now and higher interest rates on your next mortgage. If you’re thinking “domino effect,” you are exactly right. Bottom line: Do not pay late!

An excellent way to make sure you always pay on time is to automate (sometimes referred to as  auto bill-pay) even when you’re on vacation, sick, or for some other reason suffer from brain freeze.

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How to Get Sparkle in a Vase, Cheap into Pest Control and Piddle Out of Carpet

The longer I live, the more convinced I am that for every household problem, there are at least two possible ways to deal with it: One that involves calling out the professionals and another do-it-yourself option that’s cheaper, better and maybe even faster!

Crystal vase with fresh violet sweet peas

How to clean fine crystal

Dear Mary: I have a beautiful crystal vase that over the years has acquired a build-up of residue that I cannot remove. Do you have a suggestion on how to remove it? Pat

Dear Pat: That build-up is likely calcium, lime and other minerals from years of standing water. You may need to experiment a bit, but I’m sure you can return that vase to its sparkling beauty without damaging the vase. Here are three simple and completely harmless methods:

Method 1: Fill the vase with your hottest tap water. Pour in a few squirts of liquid automatic dishwashing detergent, or a single pod if that’s what you have, and allow it to sit for a few hours, or overnight. Empty the vase and use a sponge or bottle brush to remove any remaining film. Rinse, dry and look at that sparkle!

Method 2: Fill the vase with water and drop in one or two denture tablets, depending on the vase size. Allow to sit and work overnight. In the morning agitate the container gently to ensure all of the deposits and mineral build-up has come loose. Empty the vase and wash with mild soap and water. Rinse well and dry it completely.

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How to Unclog a Drain Yourself Without Caustic Chemicals

A plugged up sink, shower, or tub drain sends most people running for either a bottle of caustic drain cleaner or a plumber’s phone number. But wait.

This could well be a job you can do yourself successfully without chemicals or a big bill.

Store shelf of caustic drain cleaning chemicals

Assess the situation

Turn on taps to allow water down other drains in the house. If everything else is flowing freely, you can be fairly certain you have a localized clog—and probably near that clogged drain’s opening. If this is involving other drains, you could have a bigger problem that may well require a professional. Assuming it’s only the one drain, let’s move on.

High Angle View Of A Young Unhappy Woman Using Plunger In Clogged Sink

Boiling water

Get a large pot and boil up as much water as it will hold*. Now carefully pour boiling water down the drain slowly, in two to three stages so that the hot water can work for a few minutes in between each pour. This is the easiest and quickest way to unclog a drain if it works, which usually it does with a satisfying swoosh.

*Or your hottest tap water if you are dealing with a porcelain sink and/or PVC pipes, in which case boiling water could cause damage.

Blue Dawn

Pour 1/2 cup of Dawn detergent into the drain. For tough clogs, use a full cup of detergent.

While that sits, bring a half pot of water (about 4 cups) to boil. Pour this into the drain slowly but steadily to avoid getting burned by splashing water. Run water down the drain to check how freely water flows through.

If the clog remains or seems to be clearing, but the drain is still slow-running, repeat until the drain runs free.

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Zero-Interest Balance Transfer Has Its Reward but Riddled with Risks

Paying off credit-card debt is an uphill battle. If the majority of your minimum monthly payment is going toward interest, that makes the climb even more difficult.

Getting out from under double-digit interest rates with a zero-interest balance transfer can make a big difference provided you understand the risks.

Woman dealing with credit-card debt and in despair

 

Dear Mary: May I ask your advice? I have a credit-card balance of $4,500 at 18 percent interest. My FICO score is 700. I’ve been paying just the minimum monthly payment for too many years but I am determined to pay this off in the coming 12 months.

Would it be wise for me to transfer this to a new CHASE Slate credit card that offers zero-percent interest with no fees for 15 months? Or should I keep what I have, bite the bullet and just pay it off over the next year? Mary Beth

Dear Mary Beth: Let’s look at the numbers. If you keep what you have and pay off the $4,500 at 18 percent interest over 12 months, you will make 12 payments of $412.56 each, for a total of about $4,950, of which $450 will be interest.

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How to Remove Salt Stains from Leather and Suede

Salt. It’s mandatory in a human diet. But in other situations, salt can be as destructive as it is needful due to its ability to eat holes through metal and leave ugly stains on footwear.

Staind tan cowboy boots on worn stairs

Dear Mary: I have several pairs of beautiful winter fashion boots in suede and leather. I’d like to remove salt stains that have built up but don’t want to take them to a cobbler. Any advice on how I can do this myself? Maha

Dear Maha: We should be thankful for sidewalk salt in the wintertime because it’s effective in helping us avoid injuries from slipping on icy surfaces. Of course, the downside is, as you know, these chunky salt particles get on boots and shoes causing damage and ugly stains.

Cleaning these stains from your leather and suede footwear regularly throughout the winter will help them last and looking good for many years to come.

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One Pound Ground Beef Makes a Meal

Recently, I had the perfect opportunity to test this tip sent in by a reader: “Before you pay full price for ground beef, look at other cuts of beef that might be on sale. If the price is better, ask the butcher to grind that roast or steak.”

plate of raw ground beef with raw onion garnish 

This particular day 80-percent lean ground beef was $4.99 a pound, but boneless flank steak was that week’s loss leader at $2.47 a pound. Wow! What a difference.

I selected three large flank steaks that had the best marbling and the butcher was more than happy to grind them. Just like that, I saved $2.52 a pound. When I got home I broke it down into six packages of about one pound each and froze them. 

So what can you do with just one pound of ground beef when you have many mouths to feed? Check out three of favorite family-friendly, comfort-food meals, just perfect for a cold wintry day!

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25 Items Under $25 to Help Organize Your Life

Getting organized isn’t easy. But staying organized can be even harder. A place for everything and everything in its place. That’s the mark of an organized home.

Woman buried in cluttered closet.

As a natural-born messie with a bent toward hoarding, I know the struggle. But I’ve learned the joy of decluttering and gaining control over my disorganized self—one drawer, cupboard, closet, and room at a time.

Today I want to tell you about 25 of my best organizational helpers—all of them less than $25 as I write—that can help organize your bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, handbag, and car, too.

These organizers can quickly turn chaos to calm.

 

Organizers 1 - 7

 

1. Makeup Organizer

This professional vanity makeup organizer rotates 360-degrees so you can see exactly what you have and exactly where everything is because it is large enough for everything to be assigned a place!

Holds at least 30 makeup brushes, 20 skincare products with lots of room for lipsticks, eyeliners, shadows, powders, and more. Easy to assemble. Adjustable shelves.

 

2. Classic Shower Dispenser

This Classic Shower Dispenser is perfect for eliminating shower bottle clutter. Fill the chambers with your shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. Pumps pre-measure just the right amount, eliminating waste and saving money. Installs in minutes without tools, using silicone.

RELATED: Homemade Tub Tile n’ Shower Cleaner Makes Soap Scum Disappear Like Magic

 

3. Hair Styling Tools Organizer

This compact Style Station holds a hairdryer plus two more tools such as a flat iron and curling iron—or brushes and other tools.

Designed for safely cooling down and storing styling tools. Can hang on a towels bar, sit on the countertop or store in a cabinet or drawer.

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How to Beef Up Home Security on the Cheap

As a kid growing up, I lived in a house with security that rivaled Fort Knox. Every exterior opening was fitted with an old-fashioned hook and eye latch, which my mother would latch from the inside each and every time someone left the house.

01_latch

As one who would leave from time to time, I can report that it wasn’t easy to get back in. I would have to knock and wait for her to come to the door to unlatch it, let me in, then she would re-latch the door behind me. While my mother’s security system was never breached, it made for an annoying way to grow up.

Thankfully, these days, there are much better ways to make our homes safe and secure that are also friendly to all who live therein.

While it’s impossible to put a price on the value of protecting your home and family, there are inexpensive yet highly effective ways to beef up security to create a strong defense against intruders.

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Door Stopper

Very much like The Club that millions use to keep their cars secure, The Door Club secures any exterior door in your home so that it will resist more than two tons of force. That’s a lot of security for less than $30. This device is easy to install, a cinch to engage and offers tremendous peace of mind.

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