Recently, a friend sent me an S.O.S. asking if I knew of any natural pest control to rid an apartment of fleas—a method that would not be toxic to small children.

Treating their pets and animals would be the first step, but surprisingly these folks have no animals. The truth is that flea infestations often occur simply because neighborhood cats or dogs like to lounge near their home or they have purchased an infested piece of furniture from a yard sale.

Illustration showing bugs and rodents that can be repelled with natural pest control

I headed right for my collection of pest control recipes and retrieved the perfect solution for fleas. I thought you might enjoy knowing that one, plus remedies for all kinds of home and garden pests.

All-purpose outdoor insect spray

Mix one chopped garlic clove, one chopped small onion, and one tablespoon cayenne powder with one-quart water. Allow to steep one hour, then add one tablespoon liquid dishwashing soap. This all-purpose insect spray remains potent for only one week, so use it up by spraying the exterior perimeter of the house.

Ants

Repel an ant invasion by with this natural pest control: Wash countertops, cabinets, and floors with equal parts water and vinegar.

MORE: 10 Quick and Easy Ways to Get Rid of Pesky Ants

Aphids

Mix 1-gallon water, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and 2 tablespoons liquid dishwashing detergent. Spray on plants where aphid damage is evident.

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You should see my email inbox. Yikes! It’s overflowing with reader questions, tips, stories, feedback, rebuttals, and all kinds of love from you, my dear readers. In this post, I’m making a tiny dent in the pile with these responses to a handful of your questions on auto leasing, homemade laundry detergent, and more.

 

Colorful graphic depicting Everyday Cheapskate readers with their hands in the air with their questions for Mary

 

Here is a quick summary of the questions answered in today’s post. You can click on one to jump straight to it or just scroll down for all.

1. Lease or buy a car?

2. Powder or liquid laundry detergent?

3. Good silver in the dishwasher?

4. Is my washer repairman right?

5. Daughter not going to college—now what?

Q1: Help! Should we lease or buy a new car?

Dear Cheapskate: My wife and I are disagreeing. I want to lease a new car now because ours is old and paying for repairs is like flushing money down the drain. She wants to keep it until we can buy a better car. I hate car trouble and think peace of mind is something to be considered. I’m sure we can afford the payment, but she’s not. What should we do? James

 

Dear James: I’d rather shove toothpicks under my fingernails than ever lease a new car again, which is another story, but enough about me.

Here’s my best advice: Do whatever you must to keep the old car running for now.

Then, for the next 12 months, live as though you are making $400 monthly lease payments—but make those payments to yourselves. Don’t even think about being late, just as if you were under a stern leasing contract.

At the end of a year will have two things: A good idea of your comfort zone for big lease payments and $4,800 cash. Now you’ve got options.

1) You can sell the clunker and together with the money buy a used car or 2) You can make a down payment on a newer car.

To me buying a car is far better than jumping into a lease where you will spend a fortune and have nothing, not even a car, to show for it at the end of the lease period.

Thanks for writing and for calling me “Cheapskate.” I love that because, as you may know, I used to be a world-class spendthrift and that nearly ruined my life.

Learning to live frugally turned my life around so I wear that cheapskate moniker with pride and joy.

MORE: My 22-Year Auto Lease Nightmare

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According to more than a few messages from you, my dear readers—and in the words of Ricky Ricardo—I’ve got some ‘splaining’ to do! Faithful readers will recall that over the past years, I’d received more requests for the best inexpensive cordless stick vacuum than all other such requests combined. I heard you loud and clear because I’d been hearing the same request from myself.

 

Ricky Recardo telling his wife Lucy that she's got some 'spaining to do

 

Twice now, I’ve pointed you to my Best Inexpensive Cordless Stick Vacuum, and twice things have not gone exactly as hoped.

Today I have good news, but first the background:

I’d been looking for my ideal stick vacuum for so long, I’d just about come to the conclusion that my expectations were completely unreasonable—my perfect stick vacuum did not exist.

My ideal stick vacuum

For me, a stick vacuum is NOT a substitute for a good, powerful household vacuum that can pull dirt, dust, and debris from deep within the pile of a carpet. Just so you know, I am not looking to get rid of my beloved Sharky. Never! A stick vacuum has a different purpose altogether.

It’s a simple tool designed for quick pick-ups; to clean up spills in the kitchen, tracked in sand, dirt, pet hair, cat litter, dust, and loose debris when you don’t have the time or inclination to haul out a full-size vacuum cleaner for such a small task.

A good way to think of a stick vacuum is that it’s an electric broom, dust mop, and dustpan in one. It “sweeps” up and then vacuums away debris in a single pass without the need for the user to bend over or get down on the floor.

In my dreams

I’d almost given up, concluding that my ideal stick vac didn’t exist—that my list of must-haves was beyond reality—nothing more than a pipe dream.

  • Cordless and rechargeable with a runtime of at least 25 minutes
  • Able to stand up alone—who wants to lay the thing down to answer the door or take a call?
  • Lightweight so I can easily carry it up and down stairs in one hand while carrying a load in the other
  • An On/Off switch so I don’t have to continuously hold down a trigger during operation
  • Generous size dirt and debris cup that is easy to empty
  • The dirt cup, filters, and brush roll need to be washable because I like my appliances to be nice and clean
  • Quiet while in operation

I’ll admit that’s a lot of must-haves, but if I could ask for just one more feature, I would want it to be nice looking in a subtle way so that if I were to ever leave it out, it would add a little beauty to the place, not stand out like a sore thumb.

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Whenever I write about the benefits of using wool dryer balls in place of laundry softeners, I get a few responses gently raking me over the coals for suggesting we should spend money for commercially manufactured products when it’s so easy to make your own wool dryer balls.

Yes, I could do that and so could you. But unless you have a super cheap source of 100% wool yarn, it could cost more to make them than to buy them, which would be counterintuitive.

A basket of balls of feltable yarn in various colors to make wool dryer balls

 

 

100% wool yarn

First of all, wool dryer balls must be made from 100% wool that has not been treated with chemicals to make it “superwash” or “machine washable.” As a result, natural wool yarn will allow the dryer balls to become “felted.” Otherwise, they will just unwind and fall apart in the dryer. Take a look at these Smart Sheep 100% Wool Dryer Balls to see what beautifully felted dryer balls look like.

Felting is a process by which the tiny wool fibers are allowed to rub against one another vigorously.  As a result, the fibers become hopelessly entangled creating a type of stable “fabric.”

You’ll need lots of yarn

To make one dryer ball requires one skein of 100% wool yarn. Each dryer ball needs to be weighty. This is because each one needs enough heft to bounce around in the dryer as it fluffs and separate the folds of the wet laundry. One skein per dryer ball is the absolute minimum.

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All around the country, newly-minted high school graduates will soon be heading off to college. They’ll be taking a lot of things with them, but statistics tell us that financial literacy is not likely to be one of them. If I could spend a little time with these awesome students, I’d attempt to cram the basics for how to manage money into their heads, then pray that it penetrates their hearts.

 

A diverse group of college freshmen who need to learn how to manage money

A budget is your friend

That means …

  1. You have a written plan for how you are going to spend and manage money
  2. You use that written plan like you would a road map, consulting it often and
  3. You use a site like Mint.com or a pencil and paper to record how you spend every nickel.

Sallie Mae has a monthly budget worksheet you can print out to help you estimate your costs and keep expenses under control. Do not attempt to do this “keeping track” thing in your head. You are amazing, but don’t push it.

Live with cash

Your generation has been somewhat brainwashed to believe that plastic is the only safe way to pay for things. That may be true if you buy things online, but overall it is just not true. Even then, there is a really cool way that you can shop on Amazon with cash. Let me show you here.

I don’t have the time or space to get into a long dissertation on the subject, just believe me when I tell you that using cash—currency, greenbacks, dollars, coins—will simplify your life and it will keep you from overspending.

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If you’ve ever wondered if it’s okay to wash your down comforter instead of taking it to the dry cleaner, the answer is yes. You can absolutely wash a down comforter without spending upwards of $60 (depending on the size, where you live, and how dirty it is) to have it dry cleaned professionally.

You need a mild detergent, wool dryer balls (or tennis balls); a few hours to spend at a laundromat, and patience. And if yours is a king-size comforter, a lot of patience.

A row of industrial washing machines in a public laundromat.

To do this, you’ll need mild detergent (our homemade detergent is ideal, or Woolite), wool dryer balls (or tennis balls work as well), an extra-large front loading washing machine (most home models are too small for this task) and an extra-large dryer. Here are step-by-step instructions:

Step 1

Big machine

Load your down comforter into the largest extra large front-loading washing machine at your local laundromat. The less crowded the comforter is in the washer and dryer, the better the results.

Step 2

Detergent

Add a small amount of mild detergent. Be careful here as too much detergent will strip the down or feathers of their natural coating that makes down or feathers such a superb  thermal insulator.

Step 3

Warm and gentle

You want to wash a down comforter using these settings on the washer: Warm wash, cold rinse; gentle (delicate) agitation and two rinse cycles.  It is very important that the last bit of detergent be rinsed out.

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I wish I had all of the money I’ve spent over the years on salon manicures. It would be quite a tidy sum.  And perhaps I wouldn’t have had such horrible nails and even worse cuticles. Thankfully, after untold trials and errors, I’ve come up with the perfect home manicure routine that has turned my nail life around—and keeps me out of the pricey nail salon.

 

Finger nail paint with glass file

 

By way of a little history, over the years I’ve done the acrylic thing (don’t even get me started on what years of that did to my natural nails). I’ve endured wraps, gels, hot oil, dipping powder, and superglue. 

My cuticles have been snipped, nipped, ripped and clipped. I’ve purchased expensive lotions, potions and nail notions but to no avail. Nothing has ever worked long term. 

I’d just about given up completely on finding a reasonable and workable solution for my nails when finally, I put together a routine with specific products that have given my nails a brand new life. I’ve followed this routine for years and can report without hesitation:

This is it—the perfect home manicure and nail care program for dry, cracked, horrible cuticles and jagged, splitting, peeling nails.

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You’re worried the washing machine may be on its last spin cycle. It makes a horrible screeching sound and needs a lot of coaxing to make it all the way through a full cycle. Should you spend $319 to fix this inefficient appliance or replace it with a $999 new model that will use less electricity and water? Deciding whether to repair or replace your broken appliance—especially when trying to discover which option will save money in the long run—can be challenging.

 

Here are some basic guidelines and suggestions to help you decide, based on costs for replacement and repairs and the advantages of new models.

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