This Is The Best Way To Get Cash Back When Shopping Online

I could teach you how to be an extreme couponer. I’ve had a lot of experience including the time I demonstrated how to do it, on location, live on national TV from a large supermarket! It’s a great way to save money but it’s a lot of work and limited mostly to grocery and drug stores. Earning cash rebates actually works so much better for me.

Imagine a world where you had the equivalent of a big stack of coupons for all the other places you spend money—like Target, JCPenney, Amazon, and Kohl’s; Groupon, Old Navy, even LifeLock.

You do and it’s called Rakuten.

James Z-Computer Guy sitting at a table

What are cash rebates?

At Rakuten, instead of presenting a coupon, you have a digital account that earns you cash. Think of it as the grocery store clerk handing you that 25 cents when you bought the can of soup with a $.25 coupon and you putting that quarter straight into a savings account.

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homemade crunchy croutons made from grilled buttered bread

7 of the Best Ways to Use Up Stale Bread

Who doesn’t wince at the thought of throwing out food that’s past its prime? Take bread for example. It’s no longer fresh. It’s hard and dried out. Tossing it in the garbage may seem like the only thing to do. But wait!

Provided it hasn’t begun to grow mold, you really can turn leftover bread, rolls, or baguettes into something deliciously awesome.

homemade crunchy croutons made from grilled buttered bread

Here’s the secret: Grilling, toasting, baking or frying gives the bread a second yummy life. In fact, the following are all best when the bread is not fresh. Prepare to be amazed.

French toast

  1. In a bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 2/3 cup milk.
  2. Soak 6 slices stale bread in the mixture, turning to coat both sides.
  3. Heat a lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Place bread in the pan and cook on both sides until golden.
  5. Serve with butter and syrup.

French toast with butter and maple syrup on the white plate

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A pizza sitting on top of a metal pan

How to Turn Your Barbecue Grill into a Baking Oven

If you have an outdoor barbecue grill with a cover that closes over the top of the grill, you can turn it into an outdoor oven. Why would you want to do that? To preclude the need to heat up your kitchen this summer to bake pizza, cookies, cakes, bread, and casseroles. And to expand your camping-out cooking repertoire.

pizza on an outdoor grill

General

You can bake nearly anything with a covered grill. If your grill doesn’t have a cover, improvise with a large inverted pot. The heat rises and circulates in the covered area just as it does in your oven. The heat source can be charcoal, gas, or even wood, however, gas is preferable because it is easier to control and does not transfer a smoked taste to the baked items.

Temperature

This is the challenge. The hardest part of using a gas grill as an oven is temperature control. A built-in accessory thermometer can be useful but these can easily be off by more than 50°F, which can really interfere whether you’re baking a great meatloaf, a whole chicken, or homemade bread.

If your grill has a temperature gauge installed, you’re in luck. If not, you’ll need to get a small oven thermometer so you can more accurately regulate the inside temperature of your grill when it is closed.

Pre-heat

Always fire up the grill for a few minutes to set the temperature before baking.

Get bricks

When baking, never set the baking pan directly on the grill. Instead, set a brick or two as necessary on the grill, then the banking pan on top of the brick(s).  Read more

How to Buy Carpet—What You Need to Know to Make the Perfect Decision

It’s not something you buy every day. But when it’s time to buy carpet, you’ll want to know your stuff. Make a bad decision and you’ll pay dearly for a long time, and I am not talking just about the money. You’ll pay a significant price in dissatisfaction and disappointment.

Carpet

First, decide the style of carpet and type of fiber you want, determined by where it will be installed, and how much money you have to spend.

Visit several retail carpet stores that will let you take carpet samples home for a few days. Walk on them, view them in a different light. Set a heavy piece of furniture on them to see if the fibers will “rebound” once removed.

No matter how much pressure the sales staff pours on, remember you are not obligated to purchase from any store even if you checked out samples from them.

Common buying mistakes

Not understanding weight

Don’t assume that weight determines quality,  that a carpet with a higher face weight is better than a carpet with a lower one. It is an easy mistake to make because it makes sense to equate weight with quality, but when it comes to carpet and quality, there are many other factors you should consider.

It’s important to do your own homework because many salespeople are just not well informed or maybe too indifferent to explain this properly to customers. It is easier to tell someone that 50 oz. carpet is better than a 40 oz. carpet than it is to explain all of the other considerations.

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Sink and Kitchen

15 Ways to Solve it With Salt

Sometimes the very thing you need to solve an ordinary household problem is sitting right in the pantry. Take salt for example. It’s amazing stuff! And it’s cheap, too.

Sink and Kitchen

I have a favorite little book, Solve it with Salt by Patty Moosbrugger. Just look at all the things Patty says we can do with good old ordinary inexpensive table salt to make our lives better. 

Clean disposal

Dump a bunch of ice cubes into the garbage disposal followed by about 1/2 cup table salt.

Turn on the disposal while running a small stream of water down the drain. Use a long-handled wooden spoon or similar, to carefully push all the ice into the running disposal. Keep it on for at least two minutes, which should be long enough for all the built-up gunk and grime to begin falling off the disposal’s blades. Turn off the water.

Set color

If the dye in a garment or household item is not colorfast, it’s going to fade the moment you put it through the laundry. Dark-colored jeans are notorious for this. Here’s a great way to set that color to make the item more resistant to fading.

Soak the garment for an hour in 1/2 gallon of water to which you’ve added 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup salt. Rinse. If rinse water has any color in it, repeat. Use only on single-colored items. If the item is multicolored, have it professionally dry-cleaned it to avoid the colors all running together.
Read more

A woman posing for a picture

How to Help Someone You Love Build Credit and Boost Credit Score

You can boost a young person’s credit by taking advantage of a little-known Authorized User provision, but credit issuer policies vary widely on how old the child must be.

A woman taking a selfie

Like it or not, ours has become a culture of credit. Good credit is necessary to get the best mortgage rates, a decent credit card, to qualify for an apartment; to get hired, or buy a phone. If you don’t have good credit you’ll be denied that apartment, lose out on the job, pay outrageously high fees, and be required to come up with a large deposit to secure a mobile plan.

Good credit is required to establish utility services like electricity, water, and cable. Just about anytime you need to borrow money or secure service, your credit is called into question.

One question that lands in my inbox regularly goes something like this: How can I help my son or daughter build credit? The reasons for good credit are myriad including renting an apartment, getting his or her own phone plan, getting a good job, and on it goes.

Credit, like job experience, presents a quandary: How can a young person have good credit if he or she has never had any credit?

One of the best ways is to take advantage of a little-known benefit most credit card issuers extend to their cardholders. Add this young person to your credit card account as an “authorized user.” Generally, this is how it works:

Contents: 

Authorized User benefits

Know this downside …

Must Authorized User know about this?

May I add a minor to my card account?

What information is required?

Managing your Authorized User

How long will it take?

Can I un-authorize my user?

 The Authorized User Provision

By adding a child (or any person for that matter) as an Authorized User to one of your credit card accounts, you are allowing him or her to benefit from your good credit. This is totally legal and a way to help this responsible young person build a good credit score.

As an Authorized User, he or she will be able to use your account according to your rules. Each month, as the activity on that account, is reported to the credit bureaus and added to your credit file, it may also go to authorized users’ credit file to build his or her credit history. Credit file history is used to calculate that all-important 3-digit number we call a Credit Score.

Surprisingly, perhaps, as an Authorized User your young person will have no legal obligation to make payments or repay the debt that he may run up on that account. He gets all the benefits and none of the requirements of repayment.

The way it should work is that you have great credit, you are not close to your credit limit and are never late with payments. So far so good. However, if you have lousy credit, continuously keep that account close to being maxed out and are late with payments—that terrible credit activity is going to be reported to his account, too, as your Authorized User.

Are you getting the picture here? It takes two great candidates for this method of allowing another person to piggyback off your good credit to work well—a financially mature accountholder and a responsible, trustworthy Authorized User.

It is ridiculously easy to add an Authorized User to a credit card account. Simply call the Customer Service number on the back of the card and make your request.

Authorized User Benefits

A parents’ well-aged credit card can help a young person’s “credit age”—the number of years that credit-card account has been in place. Credit age is a critical part of a credit history file, and your Authorized User will benefit by claiming your “credit age.”

An Authorized User is able to use the credit card account freely, which for a responsible user solves the problem of a young person finding it impossible to qualify for a credit card account on his or her own. Because the credit card issuer will send you a physical credit card in the authorized user’s name, he or she will be able to use it for emergencies.

Know this downside …

Most, but not all, credit card issuers offer the authorized user provision. Call and find out if yours does.

Another pitfall to watch for: Some issuers who allow an Authorized User to be added to the account do not report credit activity to that authorized user’s credit file. Bummer! Don’t worry, most do. But again, call to find out.

By authorizing this user on your account, you run the risk of him or her going nuts and actually using it without your knowledge—running it up to the max and thereby ruining your credit and costing you a fortune. It can happen! This provision should be reserved for only highly responsible and trustworthy individuals. Make sure you set up very clear guidelines and rules for your Authorized User. More on that in a bit.

Then there’s the other side of the coin, according to Credit.com: Should you as the primary account holder on this account run into tough times so that you cannot keep up with payments, run up the balance to near or past the credit limit, or God forbid default altogether, you will not only ruin your credit score, you’ll tank your authorized user’s credit history, credit score, and future too. It takes years and years of clean credit living to repair and reverse bad credit.

Must the authorized user know about this?

No. This may sound odd or at least manipulative, but you can add your young person as an Authorized User and not tell them. When the card arrives in your Authorized User’s name, put that credit card away in a safe place. Then sit back and allow your user-non-user to grow a killer credit score based on your credit activity on that card. Just keep in mind that good or bad, how you handle that account will go to either help or harm that person’s future.

May I add a minor to my card?

Each credit card issuer has its own minimum age rule from no minimum  (you could add an infant, but I wouldn’t advise it) to a specific age. Most, however, do allow minors to become authorized users. Here are a few examples of the minimum age requirement.

  • American Express, age 13
  • Bank of America, no minimum
  • Barclays, age 13
  • Capital One, no minimum
  • Chase, no minimum
  • Citi, no minimum
  • Discover, age 15
  • U.S. Bank, age 16
  • Wells Fargo, no minimum

Adding a very young child to your account would be, in my opinion ill-advised. There’s no reason to do that. It doesn’t take 18 years as an Authorized User to build a great credit score. You don’t know what may happen during those years that might backfire for the child, especially if you add him or her to your account and then forget. Should you run into a rough patch on the financial highway of life, you could harm that child’s future.

What Information is Required?

It varies from one issuer to another. Some, like Chase, ask for only the name and address of the user you want to add. Others don’t seem to verify age. Citi and Wells Fargo request the name, address, and date of birth of the authorized user. American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Discover, and U.S. Bank, at last check, require name, address, birth date, and Social Security number.

Pro-tip

It takes a Social Security number to report anything to credit bureaus. That should be your clue which credit card issuers will report to your authorized user’s account. Don’t assume, however. Check to make sure.

Managing Your Authorized User

As the primary cardholder, it would be foolish for you to adopt a hands-off approach. Your authorization for this person to piggyback onto your account should come with very clear guidelines and specific rules—from any actual use to the requirement that if you use it, you repay it. You’d be wise to set up the account with online access, then trust but verify. Daily.

Make sure your authorized knows what to expect if he or she violates your terms and conditions on this arrangement. The consequences should be swift and sure.

How long will it take?

Don’t expect your Authorized User to go from no credit history to having a credit score equal to yours overnight. First, your score reflects many years of credit history based on many things—not just this one account. Your authorized user should see some movement after 6 months of being an Authorized User, provided it is an account you use regularly, pay flawlessly, and never carry a balance of more than 30% of the available credit.

Can I un-authorize my user?

Absolutely. And it’s very easy. A simple phone call from you—or your Authorized User—will remove him or her from the account with no further consequences, at least not from the credit card company!


Up Next:

This Is What Happens When Financially Immature Students Get a Credit Card

How to Repair Your Credit and Improve Your Credit Score

Your Very Own Hedge Fund

Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do!

A plate of gourmet-quality Pasta Mama from Hugo's Restaurant, West Hollywood, Calif.

Pasta Mama: World-Class Gourmet Pasta on a Shoestring

A popular restaurant Hugo’s, in West Hollywood, Calif., has been critically acclaimed for one of its menu items, Pasta Mama.

The first time I heard about it, I thought it was a bit odd. Pasta with eggs? I couldn’t imagine what would prompt people to drive many miles to get Pasta Mama. But they do, insisting, it’s the best pasta they’ve ever eaten.

Hugos Restaurant and famous Pasta Mama menu item

I had to try it, and as you might imagine, I love it. I would describe it to you here, but it’s indescribable—indescribably delicious, that is.

But I don’t drive to Hugo’s to pay $15 (plus tax and tip) for this dish. Instead, I make it myself, from scratch, following my copycat recipe, which follows below. What a wonderful, simply satisfying dinner—or breakfast—entree.

Pasta Mama takes all of about 10 minutes from start to finish and feeds two for a total cost of about a buck. Don’t worry, the recipe can be doubled easily, with great results.



At that price, you have little to lose if you try it and don’t like it, and chances are really good that you’ll love it.

In fact, I won’t be surprised to hear that you’ve added Pasta Mama to your family’s list of favorite meals. Serve it once a week and your grocery budget will love you.

You’ll need:

  • pasta, spaghetti or fettucini
  • eggs
  • fresh garlic
  • garlic powder
  • ground oregano
  • onion powder
  • seasoning salt
  • fresh parsley
  • olive oil
  • pasta water
  • Parmesan cheese
A plate of gourmet-quality Pasta Mama from Hugo's Restaurant, West Hollywood, Calif.

Pasta Mama

People drive for many miles to enjoy Pasta Mama at Hugo's, the famed restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif. Here is a quick, easy and super cheap way you can save the trip and make it yourself in under 20 minutes.
4.56 from 9 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 2
Calories: 407kcal

Ingredients

  • 5 oz pasta dry or fresh, like fettuccini or spaghetti
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground oregano
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp seasoning salt
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 2 - 3 tbsp reserved pasta water or water
  • 1 tbsp grated Parmesan

Instructions

  • Prepare pasta according to package directions (or use any kind of leftover pasta).
  • While pasta is cooking, mix seasonings together in a small bowl and beat the eggs in another bowl. Set both aside.
  • Pour oil (or melt butter) in a 10-inch saute pan. Add minced garlic and the entire amount of seasoning mix (should be 1 teaspoon total).
  • Saute for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Add parsley; add hot pasta right out of the cooking water along with one tablespoon of hot water. (If you are using leftover pasta, make sure it is hot!)
  • Add the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly, tossing it in the pan using tongs.
  • Add Parmesan. Toss and allow to cook for an additional 30 seconds. Serve immediately.

Nutrition

Calories: 407kcal | Carbohydrates: 55g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 166mg | Sodium: 401mg | Potassium: 241mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 575IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 78mg | Iron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

Pasta Mama has as many variations as you can dream up. To make it Pasta Papa, add anything you would put in an omelet—other cheeses, sausage, bacon, chicken; adjust seasonings to taste. Enjoy!


Question: Is there a dish you make at home that’s a dead ringer for a popular, pricey restaurant dish? Oh, please share!

Next Up:

Muffins So Amazing, They’re Insane!

Homemade Flour Tortillas

The Secret of Cheap and Healthy Meals


Original 2-13-2015; Updated 3-29-2019

four kitchen appliances that are money savers

4 Kitchen Money-Savers That Pay for Themselves in No Time at All

I’m crazy about gadgets—everything from quirky can openers to smartphones. Hand me a Swiss Army knife and I’m in heaven—the more blades and utensils the better. And when that gadget is a true money-saver? Oh, be still my heart!

four kitchen appliances that are money savers

My favorite gadgets, of course, are ones that actually help me to save money and/or time. I’ve been fooled from time to time, spending good money on things that just did not perform well. Or the gadget turned out to be so cumbersome, using it actually complicated rather than simplified my life.

Take that One-Second Needle. It was a great idea, but sadly that is one gadget that needs to be put out of its misery, in my humble opinion.

But now and then I strike on a gadget that is so magnificent in its functionality and money-saving properties, I can’t wait to tell you about it.

Today, I want to tell you about four gadgets for the kitchen that I consider to be wise investments—money savers!

All four are inexpensive enough to pay for themselves in a short period of time—and then to continue paying off in food savings, which is saying a lot as food costs continue to soar. Read more

A woman sitting on a table

How to Make Homemade Natural Furniture Polish and Get Rid of White Rings

Years ago, I got a request from EC reader Kelly for a homemade furniture polish recipe. She said that she uses a lot of it and it’s getting so expensive.

A girl sitting on a table

My first thought was to quickly suggest that Kelly time her purchases for when furniture polish goes on sale, and then to stock up as a good way to save money. Economically, that’s is a good idea but that didn’t seem like the best response to her query.

Kelly didn’t mention environmental issues in her desire to make her own furniture polish, but after doing some research on the matter, I became convinced that is something all of us should consider—perhaps even more than the high price of quality furniture cleaners, polishes, and protectants.

Read more

eufy robovac 11S black vac on wood floor showing how it picks up debris

A Robot Vacuum that Really Works—and It’s Inexpensive!

Vacuuming sucks. Literally. One year, my idea of giving our adult sons robovacs for Christmas was intended to help them with that odious chore.

What a disappointment. I learned much later that both guys used their robots for only a few months. They were ridiculously noisy, needed constant supervision, did a lousy job 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:

eufy robovac 11S black vac on wood floor showing how it picks up debris

Read more

collage showing fresh basil being propgated in a paper cup then planted in a pot

How to Propagate Basil, Grow and Turn it Into the Most Amazing Pesto

While I came bearing gifts and lunch to celebrate my friend Sharon’s Birthday, I left with a surprise parting gift. She taught me how to propagate basil.

collage showing fresh basil being propgated in a paper cup then planted in a pot

How to propagate basil

As we were walking to my car, I casually reached down to admire her ginormous basil plant. Oh, that earthy, delightful fragrance! With that, she pinched off a couple of stems and suggested that I stick them in water for a few days. “They’ll grow roots and then you can plant them!”

And that’s exactly what happened just two weeks later, as you can see in the photos above. Yes, in a paper cup.

propagate:  to produce a new plant using a parent plant (of a plant or animal) to produce young plants.

Not only did the basil grow massive roots, those sprigs nearly doubled in size. That’s when I filled a pot with planting soil and gave my little crop of basil a  permanent place to thrive. Soon, I’m going to pinch off a few sprigs to propagate another pot of basil. And who knows? Maybe another and another.

From basil to pesto

If you’ve been around this blog for any time at all, you can predict what’s to follow. I’ve got Christmas on my mind. After all, it is July. It’s time to come up with yet another way to turn summer’s bounty into gifts for the Holidays.

Given how easy it is to grow basil, this year I’ll be making gifts of pesto—specifically Pesto Genovese (peh-sto geh-no-VEH-zeh).

Whether you grow it in your garden or in a container (it is so easy and probably not too late in the season to plant) or find it at a produce stand or farmer’s market, basil is the main ingredient in this gourmet food item. It is sure to please just about everyone on your gift list this holiday season. It’s consumable, unique, and absolutely the right size and color.

Homemade pesto sauce with basil and pine nuts in white mortar over old wooden table

Pesto Genovese

Traditionally, Pesto Genovese is made with a marble mortar and pestle because the steel blades of the food processor tend to bruise the basil, making it very dark green and slightly bitter. But it’s long and tiring work with the mortar and pestle. But not to worry! This recipe uses a food processor plus a few tricks involving ice. In 15 minutes you will have a very delicious pesto sauce, bright green and tasty—not at all bitter!
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Condiment, sauce
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Chill Tools: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 1 cup
Calories: 199kcal
Cost: $4

Equipment

  • Food processor (or in a pinch, a blender see Note 1)
  • large bowl

Ingredients

  • 60-65 small basil leaves (50 gr. or 2 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin oil
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (70 gr. or 2.5 oz. tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons Pecorino cheese cut into small pieces (30 gr. 1 oz.)
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts (15 gr., or 5 oz.)
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste (sea salt, kosher salt)
  • ice

Instructions

  • Place the bowl and blades of a food processor in the refrigerator or freezer until the tools are very cold, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, get the basil leaves ready by washing them in cold water.
  • Place the clean basil in a large bowl with plenty of ice for 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove leaves from the ice and dry them very well in a kitchen towel. Important: The basil leaves must be very dry.
  • Remove bowl and blades from the refrigerator or freezer and place basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, and grated Parmigiano in the food processor bowl.
  • Pulse a few seconds in the food processor.
  • Add salt and Pecorino cheese to the bowl.
  • Blend all ingredients in the food processor for about 1 minute.
  • Add olive oil to the bowl and blend for about 5 minutes at medium speed, and at intervals: blend a few seconds, stop and start again until you see a creamy green pesto sauce. Work quickly as you do not want the pesto to heat up.
  • Serve Pesto Genovese over pasta (you may want to add a tablespoon or so of the pasta water to the Pesto to thin it out a bit, as needed) or as a spread on toasted bread as an appetizer. Yield: About 1 cup; 6 servings. 33 cal per serving.
  • Store Pesto Genovese in the refrigerator, in an airtight container for 2-3 days, taking care to cover the sauce with a layer of extra virgin olive oil.
  • It's possible to freezer pesto in small jars, again covered with a thin layer of olive oil, and then defrost it in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

Notes

1. If you do not have a food processor you can make this recipe in a blender using the setting “puree.”
2. This recipe multiplies well, but do not try to make more than a double batch in a blender, or triple in a food processor.
3. This recipe multiplies well, but do not try to make more than a double batch in a blender, or triple in a food processor.
4. Pesto may be made several days in advance and kept refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use. If making in advance, be sure to cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent the pesto from darkening. Pesto may also be frozen in the same manner in small quantities for use at a later date.
5. Keep frozen at 0ºF or below. Frozen shelf life is one year. When thawed and kept refrigerated at 40°F, product has a shelf life of ten days.
 

Nutrition

Calories: 199kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 5mg | Sodium: 149mg | Potassium: 22mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 250IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 86mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

Gifts of Pesto

When preparing pesto for gifts, you’ll want to attach a tag with the following:

Pesto Genovese

This all-natural pesto was made in the Genovese style with fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino cheeses.

To Use: Toss with hot pasta, or use as a crostini topping, as a marinade for chicken or fish. Keep refrigerated and use within one week. Enjoy!

Now that I know how to propagate basil (so easy), I’m ready to try using this super fun technique with other herbs—perhaps even onions and garlic too!


Next Up:

Instant Pot Spaghetti with Meat Sauce—So Good, It’s Insane!

Secrets for How to Grow An Edible Garden Just About Anywhere!

12 Ways to Make it Christmas in July

A room with a sink and a window

Ask Me Anything: Vinyl Flooring Care, Healthy 5-Min Bread, Stubborn Water Spots

If you’ve ever dealt with vinyl flooring—especially in an older home where the flooring has not been well-cared for—you know the heartbreak of trying to clean it. The problem is tiny grooves and crevices, especially along the baseboards and thresholds where stubborn dirt has built-up over time and is now holding on for dear life.

But, truth be told, vinyl flooring is still alive and well—highly improved, and quite lovely. In fact, some brands of vinyl flooring have now entered the luxury lines of flooring.

A room with a sink and a window

If you have new vinyl, old vinyl, grimy vinyl, or shiny vinyl, it’s good to know how to care for it—what to do and what not to do.

Vinyl Floor Care

I just installed new vinyl flooring in my bathroom. What is the best way to care for it? Is it ok to use rubber backed bathroom rugs? Sherry

Dear Sherry: Congratulations! I’ll bet your new luxury vinyl flooring is as gorgeous as it is practical. And affordable, too. Vinyl flooring has come a long way. But the problem remains that petroleum-based products like rubber can, over time, permanently stain vinyl. On light colors that stain will be an ugly shade of yellow. On darker vinyl, over time, the stain may give a dark, shadowy appearance.

Rather than rubber-backed rugs for your bathroom, look for those made of or backed with polypropylene, which will not damage vinyl.

You could apply lines of silicone caulk (not latex or rubber) to the back of a traditional bath mat that has no rubber or latex backing, to create a non-skid surface.

Another idea would be to use bath mats that have no rubber backing over thick felt rug pads. As long as the pad is heavy and slightly smaller than the rug itself, it should stay in place and provide a luxurious cushion for your feet and protection for your floor.

As for the care and cleaning of vinyl flooring, here are some guidelines:

Preventing dirt and damage

Try minimizing dirt, stains, and abrasions before they occur. Dirt and dust, over time, can wear down and degrade the finish on any type of flooring, including vinyl tile or laminate. That’s why it is is always a good idea to locate a good-quality doormat or area rug in front of doorways so that grit and grime stop there and are not tracked into the house.

Another helpful hint is to use a sheet of plywood or paneling whenever you need to move furniture across the floor, or some other type of furniture “mover” that will help prevent scuff marks or tears in the vinyl. Use vinyl coasters under the feet and legs of your furniture to safeguard against permanent indentations.

Cleaning vinyl flooring

Vacuum and mop the floor often with plain water to remove surface dirt, dust, hair and product build-up that happens in a bathroom. For weekly cleaning and disinfecting of vinyl flooring, use plain white vinegar. The acidity helps removed dirt and grime without leaving a build-up of soap or wax.

To Use: Mix one cup vinegar with one-gallon hot water. Use a damp mop to clean, rinsing the mop frequently with hot water. If the floor is especially dirty, add a few drops of Blue Dawn liquid dishwashing soap to the mixture before mopping. Then mop once with the soap mixture, a second time with vinegar and water to rinse.

Super dirty, stained vinyl

This can be a problem, especially in older homes where dirt and grime have been allowed to build up over time; at doorways and along baseboards. The solution: Bar Keepers Friend cleanser.

The folks at BKF have confirmed that Bar Keepers Friend is excellent for deep-cleaning vinyl. Work in a small area, wetting the floor and sprinkling BKF as you go, scrubbing and cleaning as necessary to remove ground-in dirt, and making sure to rinse very well, before moving to another area.

What not to do

Keep these “Don’ts” in mind as you care for your new vinyl floor.

  • Do not use a “beater bar” attachment when vacuuming vinyl. This can damage the flooring surface.
  • Never use highly-abrasive scrubbers or steel wool.
  • Do not use detergents, abrasive cleaners, or “mop and shine” products, because these can leave a dull film on the floor.
  • Do not use paste wax or solvent-based polishes.
  • Do not use ammonia or ammonia-based cleaning solutions on vinyl flooring; these can break down the material and cause cracks in the flooring.

Hope that helps!

Healthy 5-Min Bread

Love, love, love all the advice and the warm and caring relationship you have with your readers. Any 5-Minute Artisan Bread recipes that use 100% whole wheat (or whole wheat with oats), please? Cristina

Dear Cristina: Yes! Jeff Hertzberg M.D. and Zoë François, authors and creators of the 5-Minute Artisan Bread method have published dozens of recipes like those you’re looking for in The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

This is a beautiful book with 33 new recipes as well as old favorites, including 100% Whole Wheat Bread, Whole Wheat Soft Pretzels, gluten-free breads, and other recipes showcasing whole grains and heirloom flours like spelt, sprouted wheat, and Khorasan.

Also new in this edition is a super-fast natural sourdough, using the quick and easy way to create breads that rival those of the finest bakeries in the world—with just five minutes a day of active preparation time! 

Your kind words mean the world to me. Here’s sending love, love, love right back to you!

Stubborn Water Spots

I’m an avid reader of your column but never thought I’d need your help. However, I made the mistake of letting the lawn sprinkler spray all over my large picture window this summer. I thought nothing of it and just expected to be able to clean off the water spots when I got around to it.

Well, first I tried my regular window cleaning solution of household ammonia in warm water using a squeegee to dry. That didn’t work at all. The water spots were still all over my window. Next, I tried an aerosol spray glass cleaner with ammonia and that also did not clean off the water spots. Help! It is a south-facing window so I suppose the sun just baked those water spots on good, but there must be some way to get   them off. Thanks for your help. LaVonne

Dear LaVonne: Have you tried plain white vinegar, straight up? I’d do that first, as vinegar is powerful to remove calcium and mineral build-up. This would be the simplest option, so it makes sense to try that first. If that doesn’t do the trick, read on.

Most tough hard water spots and build-up that sit on the surface of the glass in windows and shower doors need something more powerful, but can be easily removed using a mixture of vinegar and blue Dawn dishwashing liquid. But this can be tricky when working on an outside window because you do not want the mixture to drip onto plants or vegetation. And rinsing well, which is required when using this strong mixture, can make quite a slippery mess in adjacent areas if you have applied this heavily and do this with a garden hose.

Use your own judgment in trying the Blue Dawn/vinegar option, making sure you’re working on a cloudy day or when the sun is not beating down on that window. If you decide to give it a try, lightly spray the window surface. Allow this mixture to sit for a few hours, then rinse well.

If those spots still remain, most likely you have “silica stains.” Silica, which is found in all natural water in varying degrees, has bonded with the glass in your windows causing them to appear “etched.” The good news is that you may be able to remove these silica stains  yourself and bring your windows back to their original clean and sparkly condition, provided they have not become permanently damaged. Are you up for the challenge?

What you need to remove fine silica is a product that breaks the bond of the silica with the glass. Several very caustic chemicals will do that, but I won’t recommend you go that route because you would have to wear a respirator and heavy-duty gloves. And it could get pricey.

Instead take a look at a non-toxic, biodegradable product that has no acids, no bleach and no chlorides, that does the same thing as more caustic options on glass and other surfaces as well.

AMAZ Water Stain RemoverAmaz Water Stain Remover is, well … amazing! I’ve witnessed it remove tough silica stains with great success. It comes with a scrubber, so be sure to use it as you follow the label instructions.

I got a message from a reader not long ago who reported that he was finally successful in removing 5-years worth of hard water stains on shower doors with AMAZ, and now they look brand new!

Honestly, if I were you I think I’d try plain vinegar first and if that doesn’t work, I’d jump straight to AMAZ. It is quite inexpensive and has been proven to solve the kind of problem you’re dealing with.

We’d love to know how things go, and which method solved your problem.

Ugly, grimy, black lines on carpet that are from filtration soil

How to Clean the Dirty Edges of Carpet

Dark, shadowy, dirty lines on the carpet along baseboards, under doors and draperies, along the edges, and in the crevices of carpeted stairs are all visible signs of an aggravating problem called filtration soil. With the right tools and information, you can clean the dirty edges of the carpet, but first, it’s important to know what that dirt is and how it got there.

Ugly, grimy, black lines on edges of carpet that are from filtration soil

Photo credit: CandLFlooring.com

Basically, filtration soil is visual evidence that the air in your home is killing your carpet. It takes more than a vacuum to clean these filtration lines. A vacuum may remove some of the discoloration, but the smallest particles are electrostatically bound to the carpet fibers.

The key to cleaning these dirty edges is to agitate the fibers by scrubbing or scraping to loosen the dirt particles. This makes it possible to clean them with water and an appropriate cleaning solution.

Your carpet is the biggest filter in your home. Just like your furnace and air conditioning filter that filters out airborne soils that pass through it, your carpet does the same thing. That is the reason for dirty edges on the carpet, otherwise known as filtration soil.

Filtration soil comes from airborne pollutants passing through the carpet as the air is drawn through the crack between the carpet and the baseboard, around the drapes, or under a closed door. It’s an accumulation of soot from dirty ducts, smoke from candles, and the fireplace; tobacco, kitchen grease from the oven and cooktop; smog, auto emissions, and pollutants from outdoors.

A home’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system is designed to filter out airborne soil, trapping it in the filter. But once the filter is full, the system will send the air pollutants back into the house through the ducts where all of that icky mess gets lodged into corners and crevices. And if that’s not enough, filtration soil makes your house smell bad.

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cheeses displayed on wood cutting board

Moldy Cheese: How to Prevent, Fix, and When You Should Toss It Out

Call me picky, but I prefer my greens to be those of the garden variety, not something growing on my cheese. Moldy cheese can be quite disgusting but tossing it in the trash is not your only or even the best option.

cheeses displayed on wood cutting board

Don’t you just hate when this happens? You buy a block of cheese and before you can use it up it turns into something that looks more like a science fair project than a tasty dairy product.

I’ll admit it. Back in my carefree spendthrift days, I’d toss the cheese in the garbage when it turned moldy—oblivious to the fact that I might as well be throwing dollar bills away.

True, we could opt for buying just a few slices at a time from the deli counter, but that’s too expensive. And unnecessary. I can save more than $2 a pound off the best price at the supermarket if I buy in bulk from a discount warehouse like Sam’s Club or Costco. And that presents a storage challenge.

Ounce of prevention

Whoever said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” must have been a deli owner. Think about it. With all that cheese in those cases, have you ever seen one growing green mold that looks like we can grow in our refrigerators? Never. 

All I know about the proper care and handling of cheese I learned from one such person. That kind deli owner introduced me to the two archenemies of cheese: bacteria and air.

Air

Limit exposure to air and you can greatly extend the useful life of any type of cheese. For hard cheeses like cheddar or Monterey Jack, make sure that you keep them tightly wrapped with plastic wrap.

Bacteria

We know that it takes bacteria to make cheese in the first place, but that is much different than the kind of bacteria on your hands.

Rule 1

The first rule of mold prevention: Each time you open it, reseal just as tightly and completely as possible. That takes care of the air problem.

Rule 2

The second rule of mold prevention: Don’t touch the cheese! Even when you wash your hands well, some amount of bacteria remains and while not at all harmful to you or the cheese, that’s what gets that green thing going.

Either wear food preparation gloves or make sure the plastic is always creating a barrier between your hands and the portion of the cheese that’s going back into the refrigerator.

Pro tip

Here is a bonus tip that will at least double the shelf life of cottage cheese. Once opened, stir in a pinch of salt. That retards the growth of bacteria without affecting the taste. Apply the lid tightly to the unused portion and then store it upside down in the refrigerator. This will seal out air.

Pound of cure

For a cheese that has already turned, there are remedies. You can fix that green, moldy cheese.

Vinegar

You can actually wipe the mold away with a clean cloth you’ve dipped into white vinegar. Not the most pleasant job, it does work to save the cheese.

Cut it out

Another useful technique is to simply cut away the moldy parts. Once all the green is gone, treat this as you would a new block of cheese by following the two rules above.

FAQs

Do you have to toss all moldy cheese?

What about cheese that I prepared for a cheese plate. It's been out for hours.

In general, says Liz, you can save the cheese and you can put it back into the fridge. Just do not touch it with your fingers. (See Rule 2 above.) There are a few exceptions: 1. If that cheese was next to say fish or meat, toss it due to the possibility of cross-contamination. 2. If it’s mozzarella or burrata (very soft cheese) that’s been sitting out at room temperature, give it the boot. 3. If it’s sheeps milk cheese, which because of the extra fat has turned “sweaty,” that does not mean it is bad. Just pat it off and then you can wrap it and keep it.

Up Next:

Florida’s Mold and Mildew No Match for Magic Tub and Shower Potion

How to Knock Out Serious Mold and Mildew Problems

Best Inexpensive Phone Charger Plus More to Keep You Powered Up

Woman unclogs a stinky toilet with plunger

How to Unclog a Toilet—Quick and Easy!

No one likes to talk about it, but truth be told it happens. Toilets malfunction. They get clogged. Sure, it’s inconvenient but more than that, downright embarrassing if you’re somewhere other than the privacy of your own home. Here’s a cheat sheet so you’ll know ahead of time how to unclog a toilet.

Woman unclogs a stinky toilet with plunger isolated on white

Quick! Stop it from overflowing

The moment you realize something’s wrong, and the water level is rising, you need to act fast to turn it off. There are two ways to do this. I’d do both just to be sure: 

  1. Remove the lid on the back of the toilet and set it on the floor.
  2. Reach in (that water is clean) and close the open flapper. 
  3. Bend down and reach behind the toilet near the floor and turn off the water supply by turning the handle clockwise.

toilet collage showing flapper and shut off valve

Now you can stop worrying about flooding the place and move on to freeing the clog using one of the following methods.

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open organized refrigerator

Best Ideas for Organizing a Refrigerator

Lately, have you cleaned out your fridge? Once the expired condiments and forgotten take-out containers hit the trash, and the shelves and walls get scrubbed clean, you might as well go ahead and organize the refrigerator. The way you do that matters.

woman with open refrigerator

How to organize a refrigerator

Here is a general strategy followed in professional kitchens based on the temperature the foods need to be for food safety:

Upper shelves

Leftovers, drinks, and ready-to-eat items like yogurt, cottage cheese, and so forth. This area of the refrigerator is slightly warmer than the lower areas, so keep that in mind as you decide what should go here.

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Hat

12 Ways to Make it Christmas in July

Ahhh, summer. The days are long, the grass is green, the livin’ is easy. And the last thing on your mind is Christmas in July.

While I hate to throw cold water on your barbecue, I need to warn you about something. The holidays are just a few short months away and if there’s anything we’ve learned in the past, Christmas can creep up on you like a too-tight swimsuit.

santa hat poolside christmas in july

Blame it on SSAS—Severe Selective Amnesia Syndrome. People who suffer from this condition fall into some kind of seasonal coma. And it’s little wonder. For many, Christmas is no longer the most blessed, but the most stressed time of the year. And expensive.

Somehow we all manage to get through it, many with a pile of new debt. And who among us hasn’t begun the New Year vowing: Next year I’m starting earlier—Christmas in July!

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young-woman-using-a-smartphone-as-it-is-being-charged

Best Inexpensive Phone Charger Plus More to Keep You Powered Up

It’s hard to imagine how we’d live our lives without all of the electronic devices we’ve come to depend upon. I’m talking about everything from mobile phones and phone chargers, to portable computers, watches, tablets, headphones, earbuds, fitness and GPS trackers; eReaders, too.

 young-woman-using-a-smartphone-as-it-is-being-charged

It’s not just an adult thing. These days, kids have their own bevy of electronics and learning devices that need to be powered.

The challenge is more than staying powered while on the run. The trick is to keep electronic devices fully charged and ready to go. The more people in the household, the greater the challenge and the greater potential for a big fat mess.

The best way to make sure you’re always powered up and ready to go it to make charging convenient. Not necessarily expensive, but well-thought-out.

Today, I thought I’d give you a quick tour of the phone charger and other charging gadgets I depend on and wouldn’t want to be without. Read more

Cooktop and Glass

How to Clean and Care for a Glass Top Stove Top

When it comes to kitchen appliances, nothing says modern and sleek like a beautiful new electric smooth top ceramic or glass top stove top. 

Frying pan on modern black glass electric stove, built in cooktop with ceramic top in white kitchen interior

While it beats a coil element type cooktop in the style department, a glass top stove top requires a different kind of proactive care to keep it looking good while at the same time preventing discoloration and scratching.

What NOT to do

With glass top stove tops, it’s all about prevention. If you think of your cooktop as a delicate possession that requires your utmost protection, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Cast iron or stone cookware

Cast-iron skillets are heavy, and glass stovetops are extremely delicate. With cast iron, your number one concern should be cracking or damaging the glass with that heavy skillet.

If you are used to sliding pans back and forth over the burners while cooking, you will need to break that habit with your glass cook top. It’s tempting I know, but just don’t do it. Period. The bottom of these types of cookware can be rough, even gritty like sandpaper. Any movement on that cooktop can leave permanent scratches. Instead, use an aggressive stirring method to move around the contents of the pan.



Heavy pots

Do not drag heavy pots across a smooth top cooktop. Always lift to another area of the cooktop to reduce the risk of scratching. Read more

Hinge

Household Substitutes: 11 More Ways You Can Use This for That

I was halfway out the door, car keys in hand, and on the way to the home improvement center when I remembered that I might already have what I needed. Cooking spray! That’s it. I’d heard that it is a terrific household substitute and that it just might work.

It did, and quite perfectly, too. No more squeaks and I saved a needless trip and a needless purchase, too.

household substitute cooking spray to fix a brass squeaky hinge

Squeaky door

Got a squeaky door or sticky drawer? Instead of replacing that squeaky hinge or just live with a sticky drawer, try this household substitute: Spritz a little cooking spray on the hinges or drawer slides then work it back and forth to distribute the “lubricant.” Wipe away any drips with a dry cloth or paper towel.

White water rings

Use mayonnaise to get rid of white water rings on wood furniture. Make sure the area is completely dry then spread enough full-fat mayonnaise on the spot. Let it sit for several hours, even overnight. Now wipe it clean, and buff with a soft clean cloth. Magical, right?

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Carpet surgery

When Carpet Stain Removers Fail, Carpet Surgery

Carpet stains are near the top of my personal list of pet peeves. I’m not talking about an accidental spill that when addressed quickly can be successfully removed with a good carpet stain remover. In fact, I get a lot of satisfaction from tackling a spill or stubborn spot on the carpet, forcing it to disappear never to be seen again.

What I’m talking about is an ugly stain that no matter what, absolutely will not budge.

Carpet surgery

Stephanie writes, “Is there anyway I can remove a rust stain from my carpet? We just moved into this house and the carpet is gorgeous—except for this fairly small spot that is so noticeable. It looks to me like rust. I’ve tried carpet stain removers, but they haven’t worked.”

It all depends on how long that rust stain has been there and other methods you have attempted to remove it. The problem is the harsher the treatment the more likely you’ll be to also remove color from the carpet, leaving you with an even more noticeable problem.

So let’s assume this rust stain is set for eternity and nothing is going to remove it. Here’s a last resort I’ve used with satisfactory results: carpet surgery.

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A man standing in front of a computer

How to Make Your Regular Vacuum Reach Into Tight Spaces

It’s been several years now since one of my dear readers told me about an inexpensive, super effective tool I could attach to my vacuum cleaner’s hose that would let me vacuum places no vacuum had ever gone before. Every time I use it, I wonder how I had lived so long without VaccuFlex.

A man standing in front of a computer

Meet VaccuFlex

Look. That’s it! Just a multi-piece kit that attaches to any vacuum cleaner that has a hose—like my Shark—which then turns it into a vacuum cleaner that can get into even the tiniest crevice, corner or space.

Hose and Vacuum cleanerWhat’s so ingenious about a VaccuFlex kit is that within those seven pieces—which are food-grade, which means safe to use in the kitchen—is the perfect combination to fit any size vacuum cleaner hose to get into any size space. And this is not like some little battery-powered mini vac. I have all of the power of my Shark behind VaccuFlex.

Clothes dryer

My first clue that things were not quite right with my clothes dryer was when suddenly it was taking forever to get anything dry!

I’d checked and re-checked the lint trap, so that wasn’t the problem. Turns out it was all kinds of lint that had been trapped behind the trap farther inside the machine. And in the dryer vent line.

My laundry appliances are stacked so pulling the dryer down to get into those areas from the back was not at all practical. That’s when in desperation I ordered a VaccuFlex kit.

I removed the lint trap and stuck that hose all the way into that area. It was amazing. Shark nearly filled itself before I stopped pulling out lint balls. Then I went outdoors to vacuum through the outside of the dryer vent. And that fixed the problem.

A man standing in front of a computer

Kitchen

I use a clean VaccuFlex tube to vacuum all the crumbs and bits out of my kitchen drawers. It’s super easy and so fast because there is no need to remove flatware, utensils, and so forth.

And that area around my coffee grinder? That thing is messy and throws fine coffee grinds into cracks, crevices, and drawer guides. VaccuFlex to the rescue for that and for reaching under the refrigerator, too.

A person preparing food in a kitchen, with Vacuum and Hose

Automobile

To me, car vacs can be troublesome. They’re either too wimpy and powerless or the cord is too short; or if cordless, lacking in runtime. Using a full-power vacuum cleaner with VaccuFlex is the way to detail the inside of a car.

See that tiny hose? That can get into the tightest spots to super-suction out all of the stuff that accumulates in car seats, floors, door compartments, center console, and dashboard. This is the way to vacuum tight spaces!

Hose and Vacuum cleaner

Door and window tracks

What is it about door and window tracks that they simply refuse to get clean? It’s the corners and that area right next to the tracks that can be absolutely impossible to keep clean!

The solution is to make sure those areas are perfectly dry, then put VaccuFlex on the job. I’ve discovered it’s a lot easier if I loosen the dirt and debris with a good brush first.

A man standing next to a window

Clogged sink

Warning: You must attach VaccuFlex to a wet-dry vacuum to perform this household rescue. Shark vacuums are NOT wet-dry! This Vacmaster is an excellent wet-dry vacuum, which would work well for this.

If you have a hopelessly clogged sink, it’s possible that you can quickly clear that clog with VaccuFlex attached to a wet-dry vacuum. Video demonstration.

A dirty plate on a table next to a sink, with Vacuum and Cleaning

 Photos: VaccuFlex.com

There are so many other ways VaccuFlex has made my life easier—cleaning out air returns, condensate lines, p-traps, and HVAC systems to name a few.

Such a great invention!


Up Next:

Absolutely the Best Window Cleaning Tips Ever

In a Pinch, You Can Use This for That

How to Make Your Own Powerful Tub and Shower Cleaners


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A person sitting at a table using a laptop computer

22 Legit Ways You Can Make Money at Home

For all the convenience and access to information that the Internet offers, the ability to earn money at home—honestly and legitimately—just might be one of the most useful. At a minimum, you need an Internet connection and computer. Or for some jobs, just a smartphone will do.

The challenge is to wade through all the muck and pitches for free get-rich opportunities to find authentic ways to make money.

The opportunities for online jobs are out there. But it’s not like winning the lottery. Most require hard work and dedication before you get paid for your time. But isn’t that true of just about any kind of job? None of what follows will make you an overnight millionaire, but each represents a legitimate way to earn extra money online.

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bowl of apple cider vinegar becomes trap for fruit flies

How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies Quick and Easy

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.

green fruit bowl filled with ripe fruit

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. They’re so small, they can get in through window screens or crevices around windows or doors. Unlike houseflies, which may spread disease, fruit flies are harmless.

Once inside, fruit flies reproduce like crazy. They lay their eggs near the surface of your ripe fruit—and they can lay up to 500 eggs at a time! About 30 hours later, tiny larvae emerge and feed on the fruit, eventually turning into pupae. A week later, they are ready to take to the air.

All it takes is one pregnant fruit fly to get in and before you know it, you’re dealing with a full-fledged fruit fly infestation. I know. I’ve been battling this problem, too!

If you’re tired of fruit flies taking over, start by tossing out anything fresh that is overripe. Next, clean the muck from your sink drains and eliminate wet sponges, mops, and the like. Then try one of these effective remedies to banish fruit flies from your home.

Those disgusting little flies are no match for these super easy traps and potent potions!

A bowl of soup on a clear day, with Fruit and Fly

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Mold and Mildew No Match for Magic Tub and Shower Potion

The only thing better than figuring out for myself how to do things cheaper, better, and faster is when I get to teach these tips and tricks to my readers. Teaching a simple DIY potion to treat shower mold and mildew to Mike was the best ever. His response just made my day.

beautifully clean white shower 083016

Dear Mary: I can’t thank you enough for telling us about your magic shower and tub cleaner. I live in moldy ol’ Florida and I have a tile shower in my older home.

I used to bleach it every 10 to 14 days and by 14th day it would be pretty bad—I’m talking mold and mildew. Since using your magic formal, I’ve bleached only one time this whole summer.

I squirt the shower down two to three times a week and OMG! It’s so easy and well worth it. Love your articles. Please continue to keep us informed. Thanks again. You saved my life. Sincerely, Mike

Dear Mike: I am laughing because I’m tickled by your excitement. The stuff really is like magic, isn’t it! I know that so many readers are chafing at the bit to know more about this secret concoction that has saved your life (it saved mine too, so I know how you feel). I call it my Magic Tub and Tile Soap and Scum Remover but maybe we need to add Shower Mold and Mildew to that label as well. Whatever, it is truly magical.

I suggest readers read the original column to get the specific details. But for those who can’t wait, here’s a quick reminder of the recipe. Into a large spray bottle, pour 1 cup blue Dawn dishwashing liquid; add enough white vinegar to fill the bottle to within an inch of the top. Done.

To use: Shake to mix and spray away. Spray the walls, the floor; fixtures, glass doors, shampoo caddy, and every surface inside the tub and or shower.

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boxes of cake mix on marble counter

3 Easy Ways to Doctor a Cake Mix So No One Has a Clue

If I didn’t know better I’d swear that boxed cake mixes reproduce in the dark of night on the shelves of my pantry. One day not so long ago, I counted 18 boxes in my pantry.

boxes of cake mix on marble counter

Here’s how that happens: Cake mixes go on sale routinely. One week it will be Betty Crocker, then Duncan Hines takes its turn and so on. This week in my supermarket Pillsbury is on sale for $1.25—that’s a good deal and a good reason to stock up.

Because no one my family is fond of plain, boring cake made from a mix, my challenge has been to find better ways to use them than to simply follow the instructions on the box. Today, I’m sharing my favorite hacks:

Cake Mix Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • yellow cake mix
  • eggs
  • butter
  • vanilla extract
  • milk
  • semisweet chocolate chips
  • nuts
chocolate chip cookies

Cake Mix Chocolate Chip Cookies

Grab a cake mix to stir up great cookies in just a few minutes!
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Baking
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Servings: 42 cookies
Calories: 101kcal
Cost: $5

Ingredients

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • ½ cup butter or margarine softened or substitute with 1/2 cup vegetableoil
  • 1 to 2 tablepoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350F (325F for dark or nonstick pans)
  • In a large bowl, beat cake mix, butter, 1 tablespoon milk, vanilla, and egg with electric mixer set to medium speed. Continue until smooth. If dough seems too dry, add 1 more tablespoon milk.
  • Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.
  • Drop dough by spoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake cookie 10-12 minutes or until edges are set (center will be soft and cookies wil be very light in color). Remove from oven and cool 1 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. Store in a covered container.

Notes

1.  Because there are so many different kinds of cake mixes (with pudding, with double pudding, extra moist and so on), you may need to make slight adjustments to this recipe. For example, I’ve found that with some varieties of mix the dough is so stiff and dry it’s not possible to form the dough into cookies. When this happens I simply add one or two tablespoons of water until the dough is workable.
2. If you prefer a softer cookie, use only 1/3 cup butter and 2 eggs; omit milk.
3. If you need lots of cookies in a hurry, this recipe multiplies well. Just start with two cake mixes and double the additions.
4. If you want to cut down on fat, try substituting half the oil with applesauce (still 1/2 cup total—half butter, half applesauce).
5. Depending on the type of cake mix you use, these cookies may dry out after two days. To prevent this, store them in an airtight container along with a piece of bread. I don’t know why, but for some reason, this keeps the cookies just as fresh and moist as can be.
6. You can use just about any combination of cake mix and chips. Example: Carrot cake mix with white chocolate chips; chocolate cake mix with peanut butter chips; devils food cake mix with toffee bits chips; German chocolate cake mix with pecans and coconut.

Nutrition

Calories: 101kcal | Carbohydrates: 13g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 4mg | Sodium: 117mg | Potassium: 39mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 104IU | Calcium: 32mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

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DIY plant nanny in a big beautiful flower planter

Going on Vacation? Make Your Own Plant Nanny Plus More Great Reader Tips

Every day I get loads of mail including wonderful notes, letters, and email messages from my awesome readers.

Tucked into many of those messages are tips, hints, tricks, and great ideas for the ways you save time and money every day. I’m pretty sure I have the best job on earth!

DIY plant nanny in a big beautiful flower planter

Plant Nanny

When I go on vacation, I fill bottles with water and push them upside down into my plants—houseplants and outdoor plants as well. The water keeps the plants moist for days! Sophia

I’ve been using Sophia’s plant nanny tip for several months now, only I’m not on vacation! I fill bottles every couple of days in addition to regular watering. As you can see from the photo above (this is a $12 Walmart plant bowl that was tiny and pretty sick looking when I got it in May), constant watering must be the trick! Especially in the super hot Colorado sun. -mh

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The Easiest Summer Barbecue Ever— Ribs, Beans, Slaw, Dessert

Does your fear-of-ruining-a-pile-of-ribs keeps your backyard grilling events stuck in hamburger mode? If so, you can let those fears go with these easy barbecue recipes. You’re about to learn a fool-proof, easier-than-easy method for turning out perfect baby back ribs every time you give it a try.

delicious bbq ribs with beans, cole slaw and a tangy bbq sauce

Consider this easy summer barbecue menu: Easy Baby Back Ribs, followed by  Coleslaw, Baked Beans, and Grilled Peaches to round out any summer celebration. Read more

Close-up Of Female Hands Pouring homemade laundry detergent In The Blue Bottle Cap

Is Homemade Laundry Detergent Safe to Use in Today’s Washing Machines?

It’s been many years now since I switched from commercial laundry detergent to making it myself—both powdered and liquid homemade laundry detergent. The ingredients are simple, the process quick and easy. But the real reason I made the switch? Money.

It costs from $.30 to $.50 a wash using store-bought, name-brand laundry detergent—but only about a nickel per load to make it myself.

From time to time I’ll hear from a reader who has been warned that homemade detergent is not safe to use.

Close-up female hands pouring homemade laundry detergent bottle cap

Dear Mary: Today a Sears repairman came to put a new part in my washing machine. He saw soap residue on the inside and told me I was using way too much detergent. Also, he didn’t like that I was using a homemade detergent that contains Dawn liquid.

He said borax should never be used for laundry in modern washing machines. Mine is 10 years old. He also said dish detergents, especially Dawn, should never be used because they don’t rinse out completely. That leaves soap residue which becomes a medium for mold and microbial growth.

Modern detergents, he said, should be used at the rate of one tablespoon per load. The water level should be medium, large at the highest, and never the super or plus level I often used. That leads to spill over which results in soap residue in various unreachable parts of the machine (unreachable unless you take the machine apart, as he did).

He showed me all the mostly dried residue, which he cleaned and vacuumed out before putting the machine back together.

He also recommended a second rinse to get rid of soap residue. I had been using only one rinse on most loads. The repairman went on to recommend a product called Affresh, which is supposed to clean out residue.

He says you can tell if you’re using too much detergent or the wrong kind of detergent by filling the tub with water, adding nothing to suds and noticing if there are suds in the water.

Now I’m flummoxed as to whether or not I should continue to use your homemade washing machine detergent recipe.

Thanks for any advice you can give on the subject. Jean

Dear Jean: Using too much of any product in a washing machine is not good for it—and even worse for your clothes and other laundry items. So whatever product you use, you need to measure carefully, erring on the side of too little, not too much. So I absolutely agree with your repairman’s suggestion that 1 tablespoon of modern HE detergent is sufficient in most washers. That is exactly the amount of our homemade detergent that I use in my front loading washer.

I am curious about why a manufacturer would create a super or plus level if doing so is bad for the machine. But I’ll leave that decision up to you for whether to use that option.

I do take issue with some of the information he gave you. Dawn is a safe product for clothes washing provided you are not using too much!  So is borax. Occasionally, I get letters from readers saying that borax will ruin your machine, but I can find no credible evidence for this statement, nor for your repairman’s suggestion to not use Dawn!

I am convinced that our homemade HE laundry detergent is better than anything you can buy—and thousands of your fellow readers agree.

As for his recommendation for the Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner, it is an excellent product for washing cleaning. Some manufacturers, such as General Electric (I currently have GE front loading washer and steam dryer), have specific instructions in the manual for how to use chlorine bleach in a cleaning cycle, together with exact instructions for how to use the “basket clean” setting on the washer once every couple of months. I’ve been following this directive for years now, without any failures or problems.

I regularly use the extra rinse option along with 1/2 cup white vinegar, to make sure all detergent is getting removed, leaving clothes soft and fluffy without any softening products.

So there you go. Who can you believe? I guess in the end you must go with your heart. As for me, I’m sticking with the homemade laundry detergent recipes. It’s better than anything I’ve ever purchased and I’ve been using some version of homemade for many years. I haven’t seen a washing machine repairman in more than 30 years.

Thanks for writing, it was great to hear from you.

A cup of coffee, with Wax and Car

16 Surprising Ways Car Wax Can Make Your Life Easier

Chances are good that there’s an old can of car wax hanging out in your garage or basement. Now would be the time to find it, dust it off and hope it’s not all dried out.

Of course, car wax is good for waxing a car, but it’s handy in so many other ways around the house that really are quite amazing.A cup of coffee, with Wax and Car

Car wax, whether paste or liquid, is formulated to fill scratches and give a high shine to nonporous surfaces like glass or metal and leave them resistant to smudges and stains.

As for which car wax works best, I prefer Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax paired with a good microfiber cloth because it cleans, polishes and leaves a beautiful finish—all in one step.

Turtle Super Hard Shell Paste Wax is a fine choice too, just know that you’ll need to clean the surface first, then apply the car wax.

MORE: Best Inexpensive™ Microfiber Cloths

De-fog mirrors

There’s nothing like a nice hot shower to steam up bathroom mirrors. Car wax is the secret to make them fog-free. Apply a small amount to the entire mirror, allow it to dry then buff it away with a clean rag or microfiber cloth.

Granite and marble

Apply a coat of wax to granite and marble countertops to fill in fine scratches and restore the glossy finish and shine.

Shiny faucets

No matter how water spotted and dull your tub, shower, and sink faucets are, car wax will make them look like new—and help them stay that way. Rub a small bit of auto wax into all of that metal and allow it to dry for a few minutes. Now just polish it away with a soft dry cloth. The wax will prevent new water spots and keep those fixtures sparkling*.

Fight mildew

After using your regular cleanser, apply a layer of car wax to the inside and outside of a shower door and buff off with a dry cloth to discourage mildew growth and hard watermarks.

Fingerprint-free appliances

Tired of smudges and fingerprints all over your beautiful appliances? Apply a thin coat of car wax to your stainless steel refrigerator, dishwasher, stove. Wait a few minutes then buff clean. That surface will resist fingerprints and smudges.

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spray bottles in a bucket filled with cleaners you can make yourself that better than store bought and lots cheaper too

Here are the Best Homemade Cleaning Recipes

I pretty much hate to buy things I know I can make for less money—to say nothing of the time required to find them in a store. Take cleaning products for example. Knowing I can make homemade cleaners for pennies that cost dollars in a store just makes me happy. It’s a no-brainer.

Here are my top five homemade cleaning recipes to help you get started saving all that money you’ve been spending on cleaning products.

spray bottles

Eyeglasses Cleaning Solution

To make this homemade cleaner, you will need:

  • 70% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol**
  • Blue Dawn
  • distilled water

Fill a spray bottle of any size 3/4 full of  70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol (91% or 99% are fine to use here, but more costly and not necessary). Add 2 drops mild Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid and fill the rest of the bottle with distilled water*. Gently shake or roll the bottle to mix, so as to not create a lot of bubbles.

To use: Spray both sides of your lenses and gently rub them clean with a microfiber cloth.

NOTE: For years, my husband and I have been using this cleaner on our eyeglasses, which that have anti-reflective coating—without any issues. However, in an abundance of caution, please run this by your optician if you are at all hesitant.

More: Worst and Best Ways to Clean Your Eyeglasses

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A cat lying on a sofa

How to Completely Neutralize and Eliminate Pet Odors

It is rare, but now and then I hear from a reader who is frustrated using one of my all-time favorite, must-have products, Nok-Out. I love Nok-Out (its companion product is SNiPER) because it eliminates all odors including stubborn pet odors. Nok-Out is harmless for pets and children, not poisonous, fragrance-free, fume-free, toxic-free. Awesome stuff.

The feedback I get is mostly filled with praise and gratitude (see comments below). However, now and then I hear from someone like Linda, who is facing a tough, smelly situation that because of its location, requires more toil and patience.

A cat lying on a sofa

Dear Mary: I have been using Nok-Out very successfully for months. It is fantastic, thank you for the recommendation! However, now I have a horrible pet odor that I cannot get rid of. Cat urine. On a sofa and chair. She sprayed on them. (Did you know that a spayed female will spray under stress? )

I cannot get the odor out. I have soaked the stains thoroughly, more than once. The stench might go away for a short period, or it might smell like a combo of urine and Nok-Out for awhile (a kind of soapy smell in this case). Then the full odor returns. Help! I can’t stand it! Linda

Dear Linda: Oh no, this is bad! The problem is clear—the offending pet odor (cat urine) soaked way down into the stuffing of those pieces of furniture. The Nok-Out has to penetrate successfully reaching every area that was infected. If it was a true “cat spray” is it possible that cat urine went in all directions. Perhaps you need to expand the area of treatment?

I am going to send an SOS to Ted Price at Nok-Out Central asking him to respond with his best shot. I am certain I know why you’re having this problem, but I’m not fully confident of the specific solution for it. Mary

Dear Ted: Can you take a look at Linda’s cat odor problem, which I am including with this message, and then weigh in on how she can use Nok-Out to eliminate this horrible odor, once and for all? Mary

In no time at all, Ted responded:

Dear Linda: I feel your pain! But don’t worry, there is a permanent solution to this problem and I’m sure I can help.

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Bread and House

19 Clever Ways to Use Bread Bags that Have Nothing To Do with Bread

As you know—and only because I write about it so much—I may as well be president of the Artisan-In-Five fan club for how the book and method of making homemade bread have rocked my world.

2 loaves fresh homemade artisan bread

Back when I was first learning to make homemade artisan bread (it is so easy), I decided I needed bread bags not only to store partial loaves, but also for presentation. Let’s just say that when you bake bread, you have a lot of friends.

Turns out bread bags are quite inexpensive, purchased in bulk. And when I say bulk, I mean a case of 1,000 bread bags. I did. I bought a case of 18-inch, gusseted bread bags.

As I look back, I’m not sure what I was thinking. Apparently the idea of 1,000 loaves of bread ever coming out of my kitchen was overshadowed by a bargain-basement price of large bread and bakery poly bags when purchased in bulk. These slightly smaller bags are equally useful, for about half the price.

While I continue to bake bread as needed by my household of two people, I use one, maybe two, bread bags a week for bread. But for dozens of other uses around the house? These bags are the best thing since, well, sliced bread! Read more

Girls bedroom with many toys and purple bed.

How to Get the Kids’ Rooms Organized

With schools in the U.S. closing several months before the school year ended—and now summer—it does seem like the kids have been home like forever. And their rooms are starting to look like it!

Don’t make their bedrooms a battleground. Instead, grab this opportunity to help your kids organize their rooms and their stuff.

Get down to kid level

Look at your child’s room at kids-eye-level and you’ll get a new perspective. Their adult-sized dressers may have drawers that are too heavy for little hands to open, and closet doors are rarely designed for a child’s height.

To help, remove the closet doors and lids from all storage containers and toy boxes. In the closet, lower the clothes rod to your child’s height. Use child-sized hangers and get baskets to house socks and underwear.

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Let the kids participate

Rather than using the bulldozer approach—where mom or dad comes through with a big trash bag and indiscriminately cleans up, get the kids involved. Help them survey and divide their things into categories:

  • use now
  • want to keep
  • don’t want anymore

Try to advise and suggest rather than control the situation by making all the decisions. Let the kids suggest ways to make a place for everything so everything can be in its place.

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Instant Pot with Beans Rice and Fresh Vegetables

Accessories, Tips, Secrets of Instant Pot Rockstars!

Everyone, it seems, is talking about Instant Pot—the revolutionary electric pressure cooker that for all the hype, promises to turn anyone into an overnight culinary rockstar. Well, bring it on!

Instant Pot with Beans Rice and Fresh Vegetables

The latest model (10-in-1, which means it does just about everything short of vacuuming the living room) is an egg-cooker, sauté pan, slow cooker, rice cooker, cake maker, yogurt maker, sterilizer, pressure cooker, food warmer, and steamer. Whew!

10-in-1-Instant Pot

Someone on Facebook may have even promised you the best Broccoli and Beef this side of Shanghai, from scratch, start-to-finish in just 15 minutes in your Instant Pot!

And the glowing reviews of IP Barbecue Short Ribs and Cheesecake (cheesecake?!) all from scratch in a matter of minutes at the hands of even a complete kitchen klutz seemed to be some kind of gift from the food universe. Read more

A person reading a book

Top 10 Student Loan Tips for Recent Graduates and Not So Recent Too

Whether you just graduated, you’re taking a break from school, or have already started repaying your student loans, these tips will help you keep your student loan debt under control.

By “under control” I’m talking about:

  • avoiding fees and extra interest costs
  • keeping your payments affordable
  • protecting your credit rating
  • paying those loans in full as quickly as possible

If you’re having trouble finding a job or keeping up with your payments, there’s vitally important information here for you, too.

A person reading a book

1. Know your loans

It’s crucial that you keep track of the lender, balance, and repayment status for each of your student loans. These details determine your options for loan repayment and possibilities for forgiveness.

If you’re not sure, ask your lender or visit StudentAid.gov. You can log in and see the loan amounts, lender(s), and repayment status for all of your federal loans.

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A book sitting on top of a wooden table

July is Best Time for Shopping Bargains on These 9 Items

Finding authentic hot bargains and deep discounts on the things you need often has more to do with when you shop than where. It’s all about knowing the best time to buy.  And the time is now for great July shopping bargains.

In the same way that cars are often discounted late in the season and just before new models are introduced, appliances, clothes, sporting goods, linens, home decor, and even travel deals are predictably discounted for a variety of different reasons. In fact, 4th of July sales are known as Black Friday in July—a chance to get a deal iPads, 4K TVs, outdoor grills, appliances, and sporting goods, too— at Black Friday-like prices.

As July temperatures soar, keep an eye out for these hot bargains.

A book sitting on top of a wooden table

Outdoor grills

July is smack dab in the middle of summer, and grill retailers are starting to sweat. They’re checking inventory. Most people purchase grills at the beginning of the season and traffic is starting to slow. What to do with all the inventory? Sell it, baby! As soon as the last fireworks display is packed up for another year, expect every kind of outdoor grill imaginable to go on sale.

Whether on Amazon or elsewhere, gas grills are a super smart buy in July because you still have plenty of choices, nearly everything available is on sale and lots of great grilling days still ahead.

A man that is standing in the grass cooking on an outdoor grill

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A glass bowl on a table, with Cleaning

14 of the Very Best Homemade Cleaners that Really Work

Items in your pantry like baking soda, vinegar, cream of tartar, lemon juice, and even tea bags, can work as effective cleaners. Even better, compared to pricey commercial products, homemade cleaners cost next to nothing.

So the next time you’re staring down a big mess but you’re out of your favorite product, don’t run to the store—open up the pantry and try mixing up one of these DIY cleaning recipes instead. Step back and enjoy the results and the savings, too!

A bowl of fruit sitting on a table, with Cup and Vinegar

Vinyl Siding Cleaner

In a two-gallon bucket, carefully mix together:

  • 2/3 cup Spic and Span Liquid All-Purpose Floor Cleaner
  • 1/2 cup Liquid Tide Laundry Detergent (do not use the Tide liquid that has fabric softeners added)
  • 1 quart liquid chlorine bleach*
  • 3 quarts hot water

Next, using a funnel, carefully pour into an ordinary hose-end wash gun or (garden sprayer) set to the highest concentration and apply to vinyl siding. Then you will see the dirt, film, and mildew just slide off. After five minutes, rinse with the hose and clear water. In all cases, label clearly and keep out of the reach of children.

All-Purpose Liquid Cleaner

  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup household ammonia*
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1-gallon warm water

Mix all ingredients together, label clearly, and keep out of reach of children. Then, use as you would any commercial all-purpose multi-surface cleaner such as pricey Formula 409 or Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner.

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A close up of a flower pot

19 Surprising Ways Epsom Salts Can Improve Your Life

I can recall vividly—and count on one hand—the migraine headaches I’ve had in my life, all of them before age ten. Once I turned double digits, I outgrew them. Until about two years ago.

With no warning at all, there I was back to my 8-year-old self, flat on my back with a raging migraine. Why then, after all these years?

A close up of a flower pot

In reading up on the latest findings on what might cause my migraine headaches, I discovered the importance of magnesium to overall health.

Turns out that an estimated 68 percent of the U.S. population suffer from magnesium deficiency causing all kinds of health issues—one of them being migraine headaches. One study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine concludes that all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. 

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned that common, ordinary Epsom salts is one of the richest sources of magnesium. Studies like this one offer scientific evidence that magnesium can be absorbed through the skin—by soaking in it. In a nice warm bath! Just make sure the bathwater is not too hot, otherwise your skin will eliminate rather than absorb.

You can be sure that Epsom salts soaks are now part of my routine to boost my magnesium and hopefully continue to avoid migraines in the future.

In the nearly two years since my recurring migraine experience, I’ve been working Epsom salt baths into my regular routine and I have not had even the hint of another migraine.

Epsom salts, also known as hydrated magnesium sulfate (not to be confused with table salt, which is sodium chloride and NOT even close to the same thing) is plentiful, inexpensive, and available at drugstores, supermarkets, and online. And it has dozens of other practical uses and health benefits, too!

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milkshake

Frozen Summer Treats are Cool

In these sizzling days of summer, it’s tempting to load up the freezer with pricey frozen treats. Or to duck into a coffee shop or juice bar to grab one of those decadent blended coffee chillers or a fruit smoothie. But the big price tags can make even the creamiest concoction or slushiest treat hard to swallow.

Giving up favorite cold treats isn’t your only option. Make these yourself and you have great summertime treats at home for just pennies, not dollars. 

milkshake on table

Copycat Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty

  • 3 cups vanilla ice cream
  • 1 cup milk (low fat OK)
  • 1/2 cup Nestle’s Quik powdered mix

Allow ice cream to soften in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Mix all ingredients in a blender. Do Wendy’s version one-step better by adding your favorite topping like sprinkles, crumbled cookies, whipped cream, or other yummy options. Yield: 4 servings

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A small animal in a field

How to Get Rid of Rabbits Ruining Your Lawn and Garden

As adorable as these creatures are, rabbits can wreak havoc on a lawn and garden. Garden centers, home improvement stores, and online resources offer commerical products to help gardeners protect their plants from rabbits.

But here’s the problem: commercial repellents are expensive, they require repeated applications, and some of them may contain chemicals that can pose health hazards to pets when ingested.

A close up of a small animal eating grass

The solution is to find cheaper options that are equally effective to get rid of rabbits that are ruining your lawn and garden.

Rabbit repellents basically work in two ways to keep rabbits out of your flower and vegetable garden and off the lawn—they produce a smell or taste that is repulsive for rabbits but without harm. Homemade repellents are not only less expensive, but a safe alternative to the commercial repellents.

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Gasoline

Your Very Own Hedge Fund

Several years ago, when gas prices were at their highest in Los Angeles, I paid $4.26 a gallon—$102 to fill my Chevy Silverado.

As I write, at $1.97 a gallon, the cost for a full tank of regular-grade gasoline for my truck has plummeted by half to $48. 

Regardless of where you live, it’s likely that you’re experiencing and enjoying the same thing—cheap gas. You’re saving a ton off the peak prices of past summers.

Price and Gasoline

It’s so easy to ignore it though and let that “saved” money stay in your bank account, where it will inevitably be spent on something useless. Or just evaporate unnoticed the way money in a checking account has a way of doing. 

However, the truth remains: Because fuel prices have dropped dramatically, all of us are spending a lot less on gasoline compared to what we were spending a year ago.

Now is the time, before you get too comfortable with the cheap prices, to create an automatic transfer of the money you’re not spending on gas, into a special account to protect you when the prices go higher. You cannot predict what prices will do, but you can get prepared.

Call it your hedge fund—a term that describes an investment position intended to offset potential losses/gains in the future. That’s what big shot investors do, they hedge against future losses. So can you. Here’s a painless way to do it...Click to Tweet

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A close up of a piece of paper

Food Shopping: The Jarring Truth

Why is it that the odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with ONLY a loaf of bread are about three billion to one?

Food prices in the U.S. have climbed so dramatically in recent months, a stroll through the aisles of a typical supermarket is enough to kill your appetite. If that were the only place we spent our food dollars that would be one thing. But most families these days spend as much eating out as they do for food to prepare at home.

A woman standing in front of a store

It’s no secret that supermarkets and grocery stores purposely design their layouts to entice us to buy lots more than we’d planned to purchase when we walked through the door, but shoppers are not victims. It all boils down to the choices we make—not just for what we buy but when we buy it.

There must be dozens of ways to shop for groceries, and I’m certain I’ve tried them all. But when it comes right down to it, every possible method falls into one of two categories—needs shopping or reserve shopping.

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A close up of a vacum

The Best Thing I Ever Bought—UPDATED!

Of all the columns I’ve written, the one on how to have perpetually clean carpet in my home has generated by far the most interest. And the most requests to reprint. Since you asked, here it is again, updated. Enjoy!


Okay, so maybe I should say, “One of the best things ….” but at this moment, as I write, I cannot think of anything I’ve ever purchased that can top my Hoover SteamVac. I bought it on Dec. 7, 2008, and I only know that because I kept the receipt.

All these years later —while still enjoying clean carpet for going on 12 years—Hoover is still performing flawlessly. I wouldn’t want to live without my workhorse Hoover, pictured below on the left.

On the right, is the current version, which replaces my model—Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe Carpet Cleaner Machine.

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Cucumber and Harvest

Cucumbers Galore? Enjoy Salad and Easy Pickles Recipes!

Today we celebrate cucumbers which will soon be in the peak of their season and dirt cheap! Cucumbers are not only delicious when prepared well, they are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Home gardeners would do well to anticipate and plan for a big harvest because cucumbers, like zucchini, have a way to multiplying beyond expectations. Then producing even more. Farmers’ markets are always evident in this truth, where recently I saw a full box for just $5.

A cucumber in a garden

One thing to know about cucumbers: When grown in extremely hot temperatures, the cucumber skin can get bitter. You can deal with this by either removing the skin prior to slicing or soaking the cukes in salt water to remove the bitterness.

Personally, I love cucumbers so much, I would be happy eating them in a salad, as pickles, in a sandwich or just straight up with a sprinkle of salt and I mean every day of my life.

A cucumber on a table

Today I have one recipe for you that may take you back to your childhood. It does for me because this is the way my grandmother made cucumber salad. Followed by the easiest refrigerator dill pickles ever!

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Mail and Box

Ask Me Anything: Tamari, Dishwasher Cleaner, Expired Sunscreen, Toilet Rings, and MORE

It’s time to reach into the inbox to answer more 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!

Box and Mail

Contents

1. What is tamari?

2. What happened to Glisten?

3. Secret in sunscreen

4. Stubborn toilet ring 

5. Shrinking tuna

6. Get out Wite-Out

7. Insolvent parents

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A woman standing in front of a computer

How I Curb the Urge to Quit

I wouldn’t tell just anyone what I’m about to tell you—and only because we’re like family. At least several times a week I want to quit. Seriously. The thought crosses my mind, and not when things are going great. It’s when I face a challenge: a tough writing assignment, a book deadline, an early morning interview, or a snarky message in my inbox.

A woman standing in front of a computer

The temptation to quit is a recurring theme. And if the voices in my head don’t give me enough trouble, the voices in the culture finish the job. “Quit already! There are so many others with fresher voices better able to reach the younger generation. You deserve a break! Take it easy on yourself, go and enjoy your life.”

This is nothing new. I’ve been dealing with the urge to quit for a long time. I can anticipate its arrival. And because of that, I’ve learned ways to deal with it before it drives me to the brink of resignation.

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women smelling a spung

Ask Me Anything: Smelly Sponges, Linx Stick Vac, Wood Cleaner, Kids’ Savings Accounts and More

Once again, it’s time to reach into my inbox and pull out a handful of questions from you my dear readers. Every day I get questions galore, great stories, lots of love, and tons of encouragement. Please, never stop writing to me!

A close up of a computer

While I do read every message, I simply cannot respond to all of them. And honestly, I don’t have specific criteria for which questions to answer in posts like this.

Generally, I select questions with universal appeal and a high likelihood that others have the same or similar questions. And here’s a hint: Well-written, complete messages with a clear situation and question get special consideration.

Here is a quick summary of the questions I’ll answer in today’s post. You can click on one to go straight to it, or just scroll down to read all. Enjoy!

Contents

1. Smelly Sponge Syndrome

2. Which Hoover Linx?

3. Wood Floor Cleaner OK for wood cabinets?

4. Costco or Sam’s Club?

5. Kids’ Savings Accounts

6. Pesky Ant Invasion


Q1: Serious case of smelly sponge syndrome

Dear Mary: I was wondering if you had a quick and easy way to keep the dish scrubbers—like ScotchBrite with a sponge on one side attached to a pad for scrubbing pans on the other side—from smelling like mildew.

Mine is fine for a few days and then starts smelling. I try to run it in the dishwasher, but don’t always remember. I sometimes spray it with bleach and let it sit for a minute or two before rinsing, and that seems to work, but I was wondering if there was a better way. I tried microwaving a wet sponge, and that just created a hot smelly sponge. Bronson

woman smelling a spunge

Dear Bronson: First, let me congratulate you on discovering a popular cleaning hack that doesn’t work—sponges in the microwave. The theory is that high heat kills most bacteria. However, the amount of time needed in a microwave to reach the desired temperature to kill the bacteria and mildew harbored in the center of a sponge will result in a flaming, incinerated sponge. As reported in The New York Times citing this study, nuked sponges still harbor about 40% of their bacteria, some of which can be life-threatening.

Putting that kitchen sponge in the dishwasher daily, or as often as you run a load of dishes, is a better solution. The heat and detergent are sufficient to kill bacteria and mildew.

I’m going to assume that you use one sponge at a time, and that may be the problem. Let me suggest you have at least two sponges going. This way, one will always be available to wipe the counter and so forth, while the other is getting sanitized in the dishwasher. Do this without fail for a couple of weeks and soon it’ll become a habit.

All that being said, a better choice is to use cotton or microfiber cloths that can be tossed in the washer after every use.

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A person standing in front of a store

The Top 12 Shopping Triggers and How to Outsmart Them

I blame my suspicious nature on my neighborhood grocery store. The store used to be a logically arranged market with bright lights and clean floors—a basic, friendly, functional place to shop.

A person standing in front of a store

Then the bulldozers morphed it into a big fancy schmancy supermarket complete with shopping triggers of mood lighting, Starbucks, Panda Express, and lots of comfy chairs.

I have nothing against beautiful spaces and modern conveniences, but I’m no fool. I knew all of this effort was to one end—to get me to spend more of my hard-earned money. It was evident the moment I entered the all new, super modern, tripled-in-size, mega supermarket. Everything from the music to the colors, to the placement of the busy bakery seemed ultra contrived. 

Take the “3 for $6!” special of the week. Why not just say $2 each and drop the exclamation mark, I muttered to myself as I placed one jar of spaghetti sauce in the cart. 


Before I could wheel away I had my answer: I saw several customers dutifully place three jars in their carts. Not two, not four, but three jars. 

Educate yourself

That response was no accident. In fact, that’s a simple example of how retailers use tricks to persuade—dare I say manipulate—customers to buy more. Retailers hire experts like Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, and his company, Envirosell, to follow thousands of shoppers a year in person, on video, and online observing their every move. Underhill’s book is a fascinating read.

Using this information, the stores find ways to get people to shop longer, spend more, and return often. Underhill and his crew are so good at what they do, they can tell retailers what will entice people to enter the store, which way they’ll look once they’re inside, and a lot more. 

How important is consumer persuasion to the marketplace? “If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something,” Underhill to me in one of my favorite interviews of all time, “and if once there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse. Boom.” 

No one wants the economy to get any worse, but we don’t want to overspend either. And while much of our shopping has moved to online rather than in-store, the science of persuasion and the tricks retailers play to improve their bottom line have not changed—they’ve simply taken on a new appearance.

Our defense as consumers is to educate ourselves about shopping triggers. Here are the 12 tricks we need to know about. 

1. Inviting atmosphere

Retailers know that as much as 70 percent of all purchases are unplanned! They want you to linger as long as possible, so they create an atmosphere that’s inviting to the store’s target audience. The music, the lighting, the displays are all designed to pull us in. 

Take Costco, for example. It’s not due to lack of space that so many things you’ve not seen before are stacked at the entrance. That tactic is so strategic, management has even given it a name: Treasure Alley. It’s where the most impulsive decisions are made and if you don’t believe that, next time you’re in Costco—even Sam’s and BJ’s for that matter—and observe as people pour through the doors and stop short about 10 feet in, as they start loading their carts.

Outsmart it!

Don’t browse. Just get in, get what you need, and leave. Know before you go. True needs are not discovered while standing in a store aisle.  

2. Strategic colors

Stores use certain colors according to the audience they’re trying to reach: Younger people tend to like bold colors; older people prefer softer hues. Those colors may be on the walls of the brick and mortar store, or the online retailer’s website. It’s subtle. You may not be aware of how you’re being played to prompt a sale.

“Universally, a soft shade of blue creates a sense of calm, which makes people want to stay longer,” says Underhill. Meanwhile, most fast-food restaurants are decorated in vivid reds and oranges, which encourage us to eat quickly and leave—exactly what the fast-food operator wants us to do. 

Outsmart it!

Take note of a store’s colors or website, then smile knowingly. Just being aware of them helps you take control. 

3. Carpeting

Have you noticed more stores using carpeting? That’s because it can help influence patterns of travel around a store, starting just inside the shop entrance. Carpeting, used as a subtle shopping trigger, directs you deeper into the store by creating a defined path for you to follow. 

Outsmart it!

Create your own path. Step off the carpet and shop for the items you came to buy. Don’t fall for pop-ups on a website that want to guide you around to show you all the cool stuff you should add to your cart.

4. Strategically placed merchandise

“Some retailers insist on displaying their most expensive items in the front. It makes everything else seem inexpensive afterward,” warns Robert Cialdini, PhD, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. 

With sale items, it’s a kind of double trick. We get pulled in by the promise of a sale, but once we’re inside, those sale items often aren’t clearly displayed or as desirable as we thought. But, because we’ve already mentally decided to buy, we often buy something else. 

Outsmart it!

If the “buy” you thought you wanted turns out not to be what you were led to believe, take a moment to think about it. Don’t feel compelled to buy something else to make up for it.  

5. Easy access 

Research shows that if you touch something, you’re more likely to buy it. That’s why products like stuffed animals and candy are placed within easy reach of children at the grocery checkout, and soft blankets or cozy sweaters are positioned strategically on low tables at a store’s entrance. 

Outsmart it!

Hands off. Don’t touch the merchandise even to look at the price tag unless it’s something you’ve planned to buy. Don’t put it in your online cart with the plan to delete it later, before you check out.

6. Spacious shopping carts

A cart frees you to touch more things. “Stores that offer baskets or carts sell more than ones that don’t,” says Underhill. “And when stores increase the size of the baskets, they often find that shoppers purchase more items.” 

Outsmart it!

Forget the cart. Or at least opt for the smallest one. 

7. Shrinking products

This one often goes unnoticed. A “3-pound” can of coffee is now 28 ounces but still costs the same amount. And how about that “half-gallon” of ice cream that’s now 1.5 quarts? Though it’s not limited to food products, this trick is prevalent in supermarkets. 

Outsmart it!

Know your weights and measures as well as your prices. Pay attention to the unit price listed on the shelf (the cost per ounce, for example). 

If the item has shrunk, try a different brand or wait for a sale.  

8. Food court 

Of course, it’s convenient, but it also keeps you at the mall or big box store. Just think about how many stores like Walmart and Target have added a food type court to their stores. Yes, food courts are great shopping triggers. 

Outsmart it!

Leave the place once you have what you need. If you do eat at the food court, leave right after. 


Home ChefHow We Use Meal Kits to Cut Food Costs

Home Chef is like having your own personal shopper and sous chef. The meals are wonderful, so easy to prepare—and versatile. I have enjoyed your feedback, the ways you are figuring out how to enjoy Home Chef while at the same time make the service work to cut overall food costs …


9. Milk in the back 

This trick is as old as they come, yet it will get you every time if you’re not mentally prepared.

Supermarkets typically put the quick pickup items of milk and eggs way at the back of the store. This forces you to go through the store, exposing you to all kinds of other items that might grab your attention.

What was supposed to be a quick stop for milk turns out to be bags filled with other stuff you couldn’t resist. 

Outsmart it!

Make a beeline for what you want and leave. Or bring only enough cash for what you know you need. 

10. Cosmetics near shoes 

These are the two top purchase areas for female mall shoppers. Retailers know that while you’re waiting for the clerk to bring shoes to try on, your eyes will wander. Those two minutes are highly profitable, Underhill told me because many women will wander over to cosmetics afterward. And the more mirrors on the counter, the more likely you’ll be to buy. Why? 

Simply catching your image in a mirror reminds you just how much you need new lipstick, he says.

Outsmart it!

Buy the shoes and get out of there. Or the makeup. Rarely will you arrive needing both. 

11. Helpful salespeople

Who doesn’t like a helpful sales clerk or invitation to “live chat?” But just know that because, according to Underhill, “The more shopper-employee contact, the greater the average sale.” 

Outsmart it!

Seek help only if you really need it. 

12. Clever wording

Stores count on the fact that most people assume words like “Special!” or “Hot Deal!” mean the same as “On Sale!” Don’t believe it. A big display of picnic food items with a sign announcing, “Summer Blowout!” is not necessarily filled with great bargains. 

Outsmart it!

Keep track of the regular prices of the items you buy most often; you’ll know right away if it’s really a sale. 

If you’re not sure, check the shelf label for the regular price or ask a store employee. 

There you have it—12 shopping triggers you need to know and then keep at the front of your mind no matter where your shopping may be. Remember these are guiding principles—tactics you can easily translate to stores like Hobby Lobby, Home Depot, Walmart, and Target.

Once you cross the threshold into that store or make the first click on the website, you’re being targeted for persuasion. Get smart, stay fully aware!


Up Next

How to Remove Yellow Sweat Stains—It Really Works!

How to Make Your Own Swiffer WetJet Refills

25 Items Under $25 to Help Organize Your Life


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A person sitting at a table using a laptop computer

Questions: Mascara Renewal | Robot Vacuum | Ant Killer | Malfunctioning Oven

It’s time, once again, to reach into my virtual mailbag to read what a handful of my Dear Readers have written. I love to hear from you with your questions, feedback, thoughts, and ideas.

A person sitting at a table using a laptop computer

Dear Mary: I am an Ann Arbor News reader—especially on Sunday. Love, love your column. Thank you!

I lost the column from I think two weeks ago, regarding rejuvenating mascara. You used saline solution or something like that.

Please republish the formula if possible.  I have good, not great mascara and it does get clumpy, messy. I’ve thrown away soooooo many mascaras because of that. Sharon

Dear Sharon: First, I should explain to my online readers, that some of my blog posts are syndicated by Creators, and distributed to hundreds of local, independent newspapers such as The Ann Arbor News. I never know which post is going to show up in which newspaper, but I’m pretty sure I know the tip you’re referring to. Here it is:

Read more

A person preparing food in a kitchen, with Stain and Laundry

How to Remove Yellow Sweat Stains—It Really Works!

Yellow armpit stains on white shirts are a problem if my inbox is any indication, which I believe it is. And I’ve been avoiding the subject because honestly, it’s kinda’ gross.

A person preparing food in a kitchen, with Stain and Laundry

I can’t begin to estimate how many messages I’ve received asking for help with getting rid of these stains, but it’s a lot. And now it’s time. Today we’re hitting this topic head-on.

What are these stains?

Curious, isn’t it that ugly yellow stains show up only in the armpit area? Left untreated, these stains can cause the material to become stiff as if just being yellow isn’t disgusting enough. And crunchy.

Read more

A flock of seagulls are standing in the snow

11 Quick and Easy Ways to Get Rid of Pesky Ants

If the heat of summer is bringing ants into your home and yard, don’t panic. You may not require toxic pest control products or a professional service to take get rid of these pesky ants.

In fact, chances are good you already have everything you need to do it yourself. Or if you prefer a commercial product that is eco-friendly and really works fast, I’ve got that for you, too.

Ants getting into a house

Soap and water

If you have ants or other bugs around the house, pour a 50/50 mixture of Blue Dawn dish soap and water into an empty spray bottle and keep it handy. When you see the insects, spray them with the mixture. Provided you really saturate those little critters, the soap actually breaks down their exoskeletons, and they die almost immediately. Cheap and easy cleanup, too.

Mop and vacuum

To get rid of sugar ants, start by mopping the floor at least once a day. Mopping and vacuuming helps to remove the ants’ pheromone trails. Cleaning and mopping will also rid your home of the food and crumbs that attract the ants. Make sure you don’t leave any dirty dishes in the sink and empty the trash bin regularly.

Black pepper

To deter sugar ants, sprinkle ground black pepper around the home’s entry points to keep the ants from coming inside.

Read more

mop on the floor

How to Make Your Own Swiffer WetJet Refills

mop on the floorIf you own a Swiffer WetJet Spray Mop, chances are you absolutely love it. But let me guess: You’re not wild about how expensive it is to buy the refills—the cleaning solution and disposable cleaning pads. Read on for everything you need to know about Swiffer Wetjet refills!

Even more annoying, to the WetJet manufacturer “refill” means throwing out the empty dispenser bottle entirely and having to purchase the refill liquid in a new bottle. Know what I mean?

And just try to pry the lid off an empty bottle to refill it yourself. That thing is impossible to get off without destroying it and yes, I speak from experience. And those refill bottles can be as much as $7.50 each. And the disposable pads? At least $.50 each and that’s on a good (sale) day.

Well, you can forget all that bad news because I’ve learned how to get that bottle open making it totally reusable (it won’t leak!), and how to save money making our own Swiffer solution and reusable cleaning pads, too.

Read more

A piece of meat on a wooden cutting board

How to Roast a Cheap Cut of Beef

No matter how relatively inexpensive a chuck or round roast may appear, if it turns out so tough and flavorless it’s passed to the dog, that purchase was no bargain.  That’s why everyone on a food budget needs to know how to roast cheaper cuts of beef.  

And, finally, thanks to very extensive research and experimentation by Christopher Kimball, as reported in Cooks Illustrated magazine*, we can confidently purchase those cheaper cuts and expect perfect results every time.

A piece of meat on a wooden cutting board

These days, with beef prices hitting all-time highs, buying the cheaper cuts of beef is one way to make our food dollars stretch as far as possible. Just know that what follows is for those of us with more time than money.

When looking for inexpensive cuts keep these three words in mind: chuck, sirloin and round.  The chuck is fattier and more tender, the round is lean and relatively tough.  The sirloin falls somewhere between the two. Read more

iced tea

How to Make Perfect Iced Tea (plus Southern Sweet Tea Recipe)

The only thing more comforting than a big, tall glass of iced tea on a hot summer day is knowing how to make that perfect iced tea yourself. With confidence. Just pennies per serving.

Iced tea

Proper Iced Tea

My dear mother-in-law, a very proper Canadian, taught me the difference between proper iced tea and the “swill” most restaurants pour, which in her opinion was, at best, a very poor facsimile. And trust me, she knew her stuff—including the six rules for proper iced tea:

Read more

ATM

With ATM Receipts and Legal Guardians, Leave Nothing to Chance

Face it, life is uncertain. We cannot know the future, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw caution to the wind and let come what may. There are some areas of life where we can take steps to reduce certain risks by exercising good common sense.

Receipt and Bank ATM

Dear Mary: This has been bugging me: At my bank’s ATM, there is a big trashcan where everyone throws away their receipt/transaction slips. It seems like a bad idea to toss them away since they show the balance and transaction info. But being cautious means I end up with an overstuffed, cluttered wallet. Do I need to save them, and what’s the best way to get rid of them? Rob

Read more

Father day Gifts

EC Father’s Day Gift Guide 2020

Let’s start out with a quick history of Father’s Day, shall we?

It seems that we’ve been celebrating Mother’s Day since it was invented by a young girl and promoted by the Wanamaker department store back in 1908. A campaign quickly followed to create such a day to honor fathers, but it didn’t meet with the same enthusiasm–perhaps because, as one florist explained, “fathers haven’t the same sentimental appeal that mothers have.”

This did not sit well with a Spokane, Wash., woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by their father, a widower.

Father\'s Day gifts

Dodd set out to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents. She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers, and government officials to drum up support for her idea. She was so successful, Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on June 19, 1910,

I only tell you this because Spokane is where I grew up—where I spent my childhood years. And every year without fail, we’d hear the story about Mrs. Dodd. I’m sure it’s been embellished a bit, how she walked uphill in the snow going from house to house; to every church, store, school, you-name-it, imploring people to help her honor America’s fathers. But it worked and here we are 120 years later, about do it again.

Father’s Day, fewer than two weeks from now, is a fabulous, wonderful day to show Dads how much we love them, how special they are—and a great opportunity to poke a little fun, too!

Here for your consideration are 28 super cool ideas to help you come up with just the right gift for the Dad(s) in your life.

Read more

A cup of coffee on a table, with Bakery and Ceramic

7 Common Clutter Problems and How to Solve Them

I have a theory that most of us would be more than willing to let go of the stuff that’s cluttering our homes if we knew these things would serve a worthwhile cause or help someone else—the good things, kitchen things—the highly useful possessions that we just don’t use. Check out these worthwhile solutions for most households’ seven biggest clutter problems.

A cup of coffee on a table, with Kitchen and Bakery

Vases, baskets, containers

And anything else that held flowers you have received. If they’re cracked or broken, no one wants them. For the rest, take those which are in “like-new” condition to the closest flower shop to be recycled. You’ll be gratefully received.

Excess dishes and glassware

No matter how pretty or potentially useful, if you do not use those items at least once each year, sell them to an antique dealer, or give them to a local thrift shop or the church’s annual rummage sale.

Read more

An insect on the ground

9 Ways to Wage War Against Mosquitoes—and Win!

Mosquitoes are nasty creatures. They bite, they transmit terrible diseases to people and pets, and from what I read, have no redeeming value in the ecosystem.

An insect on an arm

Malaria, transmitted by the female mosquito, infects some 247 million people worldwide each year, and in 2018 killed 405,000 people. Mosquitoes spread yellow fever, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, Chikungunya virus, and West Nile virus.

If that’s not reason enough to hate them, they can turn a beautiful backyard, deck or patio into a nightmare area not fit for humans during mosquito season. But it doesn’t have to be that way provided you are diligent to take control of your home and property.

Mosquito trap

When I discovered we’d be dealing with mosquitoes here in northern Colorado, my research led to purchasing a Dynatrap.

This insect trap is engineered for 3-way protection. First, a UV fluorescent bulb generates a warm light, attracting insects.

Then a second lure, an exclusive Ti02 titanium dioxide-coated surface, produces harmless CO2, which mosquitoes find irresistible (no wonder they love you so much—you emit CO2, too).

Third, a powerful, whisper-quiet vacuum fan sucks insects into the retaining cage where they dehydrate and die.

Every few weeks I empty my mosquito morgue, I mean trap. A full trap is proof-positive that this thing is very effective. I’ve inspected carefully to see what’s getting trapped and while there are lot of moths, wasps, and flies, mosquitoes win the highest population prize. Dynatrap is definitely not a bug zapper. No sizzle noises, odors or other annoyances. I give Dynatrap two thumbs up and five stars, too.

DON’T MISS: Make Your Own Safe and Effective Ant Spray

Read more

A kitchen with a large window

Make Your Kitchen Look Like New for Around $400 and Some Sweat

When I walked into Amy and Justin’s kitchen, my jaw dropped. It was like I’d stumbled into the wrong house. The gorgeous new cabinets and countertops made it look brand new.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when these friends told us they weren’t new cabinets and counters at all. They performed their kitchen makeover themselves—all for less than $400.

A kitchen with a large window

You may think that kitchen projects need to be left to the professionals, which of course is fine provided you’ve got thousands of dollars to work with. But if your budget is slightly under that—and you’re willing to contribute some sweat to the project—new products and methods now available can bring do-it-yourself options to any kitchen makeover.

Cabinets

Our friends refinished their existing cabinets (the doors and face frames) with Rust-Oleum Cabinet Coating Transformations Kit that covers 100 square feet, available online and at home improvement centers like Home Depot.

The thing that gave Amy and Justin the courage and confidence to tackle this project themselves was the Rust-Oleum promise of no stripping, no sanding, no priming, and no special skills required. While their cabinets are made of wood, this product will also transform melamine, metal, and laminate cabinetry.

Read more

A bunch of fruit sitting on a table

Join a CSA for Your Health and Your Wealth

Being a savvy consumer means a lot of things. It can refer to a person who knows how to get the lowest price on whatever he or she is buying. It can also mean finding the best value—the highest quality product for the most reasonable price. Or, it can refer to someone who shops ethically, according to his or her values.

A bunch of fruit sitting on top of a wooden table

However you define “savvy consumer,” becoming one requires research and education about the products that you buy, in keeping with your individual priorities. When it comes to shopping for food, today’s savvy consumers know where their food comes from, and, if they do things right, they save money, too.

The locally grown food movement has been gaining momentum. At the same time, the high cost of food is challenging all of us to find new ways to cut costs without sacrificing healthy eating.

Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) are popping up all over the country. Through a CSA, consumers can choose to buy shares in a local farm and then receive portions of the farm’s produce once it is harvested. In some areas, CSAs have become so popular, there are waiting lists to join.

Go local

Food that has not been genetically altered, harvested prematurely or infused with chemicals to be able to withstand a 1,000 mile or longer journey from the farm to your table tastes better. Members of CSAs tend to eat seasonally. And they eat very fresh produce, which has been proven to be much more nutritious. Read more

A cooked chicken

Rotisserie Chickens to the Rescue

If you’re fresh out of ideas (let alone desire) to make one more home-cooked meal, but even the thought of another take-out or curbside pickup leaves you cold during these days of uncertainty and angst—I invite you to embrace these two words: rotisserie chickens.

A cooked chicken

Not exactly take-out, not completely home-cooked, think of a well-seasoned, perfectly cooked rotisserie chicken as your ace in the hole; a kitchen assistant with an extra pair of hands to help you get delicious, home-cooked meals on the table in a flash.

These days, nearly every grocery store or supermarket—even warehouse clubs—offer fully roasted, hot, and ready-to-go rotisserie chickens for around $5. In fact, rotisserie chickens are so readily available, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued safety guidelines for selecting and storing* them.

Today, I want to give you basic guidelines for what to do with a rotisserie chicken as soon as you get home. 

Read more

A close up of a piggy bank and a clock

A New Chapter of Money-Saving Tips, Hacks, and Ideas

From its birth in 1992, the mission of Everyday Cheapskate has been to provide practical information to help people save time and money in order to get out of debt and save for the future.

A close up of a stuffed toy and a clock

A Brief History

January 1992 saw the premiere issue of Cheapskate Monthly, a thrift newsletter I created, which was delivered via U.S. Mail for a subscription rate of $12 annually. Subscriptions exploded as the country was beginning to recover from a severe recession and people were still unemployed and worried.

The newsletter quickly grew in popularity offering hope, help, practical information for how to stretch a buck, and a lot of fun, too. By the end of that first year, it had been mentioned and reviewed in every major U.S. newspaper in the country, and promoted on lots of radio and television shows, too.

In 1997, we tip-toed onto the Internet with a subscription “bulletin board.” Within no time thousands of people were trying to post their messages all at the same time (argh!)—a clear indication that CM was ready for its own website—dial-up modems, and all—making the newsletter available both online and in print.

Read more

A clear glass shower door, with Leak and Toilet

These Puppies Detect Water Leaks (and More Great Reader Tips!)

My dear readers come up with the greatest tips, tricks, and ideas for how to save time and money every day. Today is no exception. From water leaks to puppy poop—all the way to phone chargers, tomato paste, and better space saver bags— fasten your seatbelts because we’re about to cover a lot of frugal ground.

A close up of a toilet and water heater

Cutest little leak detector

After dealing with a toilet leaking and causing $500 in damage because it went unnoticed for too long, my plumber told me about this ingenious little device called the Leak Puppy, which detects the smallest amount of standing water (as little as 1/32″)and alerts you to it with loud beeping sound, much like a smoke alarm. I purchased one for each of my bathrooms, under sinks, and next to the water heater. I’m finding that my peace of mind is well worth the initial cost! Mack

Tomato paste waste

Many times a recipe will call for a small amount of tomato paste. Often, this means that if you’re like me, what remains in the can is stored in the refrigerator for future use. It also means that months later I find it and toss it in the trash because it has now gone bad. But no more! Now, I take the remaining tomato paste and spread it out in a thin layer in a zip sandwich bag I store flat on a freezer shelf until it’s frozen. The next time I need tomato paste, I simply break off what I need, zip up the bag, and replace it in the freezer. Works great; no more waste! Karen Read more

A plate of food on a table, with Blue cheese dressing

Cheapskate Gourmet: Salad Dressings

If you think eating well means eating out—home delivery, pick-up, or dining-in—you may be feeling the effects of restaurant dining in your wallet as the cost of restaurant meals is now soaring in ways we’ve not seen before.

Yesterday, I was shocked to read the new (disposable) menu at a small local hamburger joint in our town. The same classic hamburger that was $7.95 pre-virus, is now $11.95. Will prices decline as this thing settles down? I wouldn’t bet on it.

It’s time for us to change our thinking and start digging in to find every realistic way imaginable that we can save time and money every day.

A plate of food on a table, with Blue cheese and Salad

If I can make the leap from being a diner-in-debt to making irresistible meals at home that often taste even better than those from a restaurant—at a fraction of the cost of eating out—you can, too.  One way to do this is to learn how to make gourmet salad dressings at home.

For many years ( before there was a Food Channel), I was uniquely privileged to sit under the personal tutelage of world-famous gourmet cooks the likes of Julia Child, Christopher Kimball, Martha Stewart, Martin Yan, and Jacques Pepin.

Every weekend I had standing appointments with one or more of them. They came right into my home and demonstrated unique techniques while I assumed a prone position, curled up in my favorite blanket, first-row-center in front of the television. They sparked confidence in me. From that start, my love for making great meals economically has grown.

Today, I want to share my basic recipes for what I consider to be gourmet salad dressings. So fresh and easy. Tasty, too.

Read more

A box filled with different types of food on a plate

Orange Chicken, Three Ways—Kitchen Friendly and Easy on the Wallet

For years, I’d been searching for the perfect recipe for one of my family’s favorite dishes, Orange Chicken. And then wouldn’t you know it, within a very short period of time, I found not one, but three recipes that are quite different from one another, but all of them simply too yummy for words! All of them kitchen friendly and easy on the wallet.

A box filled with different types of food on a plate

The first of these recipes is for an elegant country French entree prepared in the oven. If you need to impress, this one’s for you! Just don’t blow your cover by telling your guests just how easy it is.

The second and third recipes both have an Asian bent—one prepared in a slow cooker, the other on the stove top or grill.  Read more

A close up of a dirty pan

How to Clean Cookie Sheet Pans So They Look New!

They come in sizes big and small, rimmed or without sides. We use them to bake just about anything, but mostly cookies. And they can get super grungy with layers of baked- and burnt-on grease resulting in ugly stains and residue build-up.

A close up of a dirty pan

Does anything here look familiar to you? If so, I have good news. Your cookie sheets can be cleaned and restored, even back to the way they looked when new.

What follows is a relatively quick and easy way to get rid of baked-on grease, stubborn food residue, and even rust on any type of cookie and baking sheets—aluminized steel, aluminum, and non-stick—and then to clean and maintain to keep them sparkling clean.

Read more

I’d Rather Have the Money, Bob

Did you see us? My husband and I were on TV with Bob Barker. Before you run to check your DVR or YouTube, I’d better tell you this was a while ago. Try 1971.

Truth_Consequences_Barker

We were plucked from the live audience of that old favorite, Truth or Consequences along with two other couples. Ours was a kind of “newlywed game” stunt. They put the guys in a sound-proof booth and we ladies had to predict how our husbands would answer questions.

Of course, the hubs and I won. And a mighty fine prize it was: $50 in prize money and a blender!  Read more

How to Remove Years of Kitchen Cabinet Grit and Grime

When did you last look at your kitchen cabinets? Not a passing glance, but an up-close visual study—paying particular attention to the areas around the knobs and handles that get touched thousands of times throughout the weeks and months? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about and what I’m pretty sure my dear reader Sandy is talking about, too.

before and after proper cleaning of filthy kitchen cabinet

Dear Mary: We’re moving into a new (to us) house and would like to know what kind of cleaner to use on the wood kitchen cabinets? They’re pretty skanky and feel sticky to the touch!

I hate to think how many years of dirt have built up on them. But I don’t want to remove any finish that is on them. How can we clean the years of dirt without damanging the finish?  Sandy

Natural Orange Oil

Dear Sandy: If sounds to me as if your challenge is greater than simple maintenance of kitchen cabinets to keep ahead of sticky build-up, the result of cooking. Anyone who has a kitchen and actually cooks in it knows this just happens!

Your situation may call for a good commercial product for the simple reason that you don’t know how old this dirt is, or what kind of finish is hiding beneath it. It’s quite possible the cabinets are in great shape and can be restored to their original beauty. You really can remove years of grit and grime from any wood surface. And you have options—use a commercial product or make your own wood cleaner.

Should you prefer a commercial product, you won’t find anything more effective than Howard Real Orange Oil products. You can depend on the effectiveness of real orange oil polish to melt away grease, grime, polish, and wax buildup, leaving a fresh scent and beauty in its place. It’s going to cost a bit to do your entire kitchen, should you decide to go the commercial route.

Your other option is to make your own highly effective cleaner, for just pennies.

I have two recipes for you and any readers with wood cabinets, regardless if those cabinets have a natural finish or they’re painted.

The first is for cabinets that just need some sprucing up to bring back the beauty and shine; the second is more powerful if you’re looking at years of built-up gunk and grime.
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A stack of flyers on a table

17 Favorite Things I Use (Almost) Daily

I wonder how well I’d do as a contestant on the hit TV show, Survivor. Have you seen the rules for what contestants are allowed to bring? Basically, it’s the clothes on your back, sunscreen, and one luxury item.

For example, a toothbrush is considered an acceptable luxury item; a hairdryer is not. Paper and pen—yes; Macbook Pro—no.

A group of people camping

While I’m certain I could survive in my life with far fewer things than I do (I have in the past, trust me on that), there are things that I depend on heavily and use nearly every day—17 to be exact. These are things I love because they bring efficiency, joy, and beauty to my life.

I’d need to be granted some kind of immunity to allow me 17 rather than one luxury item on Survivor Island. Shouldn’t be a problem, right?

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A plate of food on a table, with Chicken breast

Fabulous Slow Cooker Summer…Salads! Plus My Salsa Recipe

I have to admit it. Just the idea of a slow-cooked salad makes me queazy. Thankfully, that’s not exactly it.

It’s a little-known secret that your slow cooker has a hidden talent for making incredible salads. Let it slow-cook the main ingredients for a creative salad while you’re away. Then toss in a few fresh additions just before it’s time to serve. I know! What a great idea.

A plate of food on a table, with Salad and Feta

Orange Chicken Spinach Salad with Feta

To make this you’ll need:

  • chicken breast
  • bone-in split chicken breasts
  • garlic
  • thyme, salt
  • orange juice
  • balsamic vinegar
  • baby spinach
  • cherry tomatoes
  • Kalamata olives
  • feta cheese
  • bottled vinaigrette salad dressing
a plate of sliced chicken

Orange Chicken Spinach Salad with Feta

The tender, yummy, orange chicken is prepared in your slow cooker then assembled into an awesome summer salad (or any time of year!).
4.2 from 5 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Slow cooker: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 459kcal
Cost: $8

Equipment

  • Slow cooker

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds bone-in split chicken breasts
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme, crushed
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 10 ounces baby spinach, more or less
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • ¼ cup kalamata olives, halved
  • 3 tablespoons cumbled Feta cheese, more or less
  • ½ cup bottled vinaigrette salad dressing
  • 1 10.5 ounces mandarin orange segments, drained

Instructions

  • Remove and discard skin from chicken and sprinkle with garlic, thyme, and salt. Place chicken in 3.5- or 4-quart slow cooker. Add juice and vinegar. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, or on high for 3 to 3.5 hours.
  • Remove chicken from cooker; cover and keep warm. Discard cooking juices.
  • In a large salad bowl toss together the greens, tomatoes, olives, orange segments, and Feta cheese. Slice chicken from bones; discard bones Arrange sliced chicken on salad. Drizzle with dressing. Servings: 6.

Nutrition

Calories: 459kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 41g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 123mg | Sodium: 341mg | Potassium: 723mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 4725IU | Vitamin C: 22mg | Calcium: 116mg | Iron: 3mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

Green Beans and Petite Reds with Albacore

To make this you’ll need:

  • fresh green beans
  • small red skin potaotes
  • onion
  • mayonnaise
  • sour cream
  • milk
  • Dijon-style mustard
  • lemon juice
  • tarragon
  • salt, pepper
plate of food

Green Beans and Petite Reds with Albacore

This unusual "salad" is bursting with flavor and nutrition. Makes the perfect entree or side dish at the end of a hot summer day!
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Slow cooking: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 176kcal
Cost: $5

Equipment

  • Slow cooker

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed t
  • 1 lb. tiny new red skn potatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ tspn salt
  • ¼ tspn pepper
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 to 2 tblspn milk
  • 1 tblspn Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 tblspn lemon juice
  • ½ tspn dried tarragon, crushed
  • ¼ tspn salt
  • 2 5 oz. cans solid white albacore, drained and flaked or any tuna
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach

Instructions

  • Lightly coat 3.5- or 4-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. 
  • Combine the beans, potatoes, onion, water, salt and pepper in cooker. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours or on high for 2 hours.
  • Meanwhile, for sauce, in a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, milk mustard lemon juice tarragon and salt. Cover and chill until needed.
  • To assemble, using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetable mixture to a large bowl. Pour sauce over vegetables. Add albacore and spinach. Toss gently to mix. Sprinkle with additional black pepper and serve immediately.

Nutrition

Calories: 176kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 9mg | Sodium: 157mg | Potassium: 612mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 1519IU | Vitamin C: 21mg | Calcium: 65mg | Iron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

Quinoa Salad with Beets, Oranges and Fennel

To make this salad you’ll need:

  • fresh beets
  • olive oil
  • orange
  • honey
  • quinoa
  • canned mandarin oranges
  • fennel
  • green onion (optional)
  • salad greens (optional)
A plate of food on a table, with Salad

Quinoa Salad with Beets, Oranges, and Fennel

This superfood salad is far from a boring bowl of leafy greens. Tender slow-cooked beets and quinoa served up with oranges and fennel are great any time of year, but especially nice on a hot summer day.
4.34 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course, Salad
Cuisine: American, Mediterranean
Prep Time: 20 minutes
slow cooking: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 202kcal
Cost: $7

Equipment

  • Slow cooker

Ingredients

  • lb. medium-size fresh beets
  • 3 tblspn olive oil
  • 1 orange
  • 1 tblspn honey
  • ¼ tspn salt
  • tspn black pepper
  • cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 15 oz can mandarin orange sections, rinsed and drained
  • 1 fresh fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 3 green onion, sliced optional
  • salad greens optional

Instructions

  • Place each beet on a piece of foil. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over all of the beets. Wrap each beet tightly in the foil and place in a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or until beets are fork-tender.
  • Remove beets from the slow cooker. When cool enough to handle, peel or slip the skin off each beet. Cut beets into thin wedges and place in a medium bowl.
  • For the dressing, remove 1 teaspoon zest and squeeze 2 tablespoons juice from the orange. Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, the orange zest, orange juice, honey salt, and pepper. Remove 1 tablespoon of the dressing and drizzle over beets; toss gently to coat.
  • In a bowl combine mandarin oranges and fennel, and drizzle with another 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Add quinoa to the remaining dressing; toss to coat.
  • To serve, top quinoa mixture with beets and mandarin orange-fennel mixture. If desired, sprinkle with green onions and (optional) serve on a bed of salad greens of your choice. Servings: 6.

Nutrition

Calories: 202kcal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 129mg | Potassium: 666mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 199IU | Vitamin C: 23mg | Calcium: 58mg | Iron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

And now in follow-up to an earlier post, Compulsive Chopper. Many of you request my recipe for salsa that you see in the photos, made using my lovely Chop Wizard. Here you go …

Pico de gallo fresh made from the garden

Pico de Gallo

To make this you’ll need:

  • Roma tomatoes
  • red onion
  • garlic
  • cilantro
  • lime juice
  • fresh jalapeno
  • garlic powder (optional)
  • cumin powder (optional)
  • salt & pepper

Pico de Gallo

And now in follow-up to an earlier post, Compulsive Chopper. Many of you requested my recipe for salsa that you see in the photos, made using my lovely Chop Wizard. Here you go …
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 54kcal
Cost: $5

Ingredients

  • 12 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 green bell pepper (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • fresh cilantro
  • 1 lime, only the juice and zest
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, seeded, chopped to taste
  • 1 pinch garlic powder optional
  • 1 pinch ground cumin optional
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1 tspn ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Put all of the ingredients in a bowl. Stir. 
  • Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
  • Serve. Repeat often. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Calories: 54kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 108mg | Potassium: 498mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1587IU | Vitamin C: 37mg | Calcium: 33mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

First published: 7-15-16; Revised & Updated with Recipe Cars 5-27-20

A person standing in front of a refrigerator, with Red Fire Extinguisher

The One Simple Thing You Must Have in Your Home

My heart was pounding, the smoke alarm was screaming and I was in full-on panic mode. Flames were reaching toward the upper kitchen cabinets. It happened so fast! I didn’t have time to run to the pantry to search for baking soda.

I had a rip-roaring fire on my hands and I was in slow motion thinking about how sad it would be to be homeless for Christmas.

I’d turned my back for a few seconds to find a utensil. When I returned, small flames were shooting from the burner. My quick thinking told me to smother a grease fire, so I grabbed a pot lid to do that, but it wasn’t airtight and soon the flames were double the size and spreading.

That’s when I locked eyeballs with the fire extinguisher that had been sitting on the counter for so long it blended into the décor.

I’d never engaged a fire extinguisher before. I read the instructions once but that’s about it. Not knowing what to expect, I grabbed that thing, jerked out the red plastic ring (it came out easily), pointed the nozzle, and pulled the trigger. It put out the fire with one mighty blast of fine yellow powder so strong and powerful it nearly knocked me off my feet.

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Garden in a box

Grow Your Own Food One Square Foot at a Time

For years I’d tried to grow a decent vegetable garden. It was the high cost of fresh basil—$3.50 for a few measly, wilted basil leaves, ditto for a pound of somewhat reddish tomatoes, and mostly pink strawberries—that prompted me to try.

I started with tomatoes, basil, and peppers (a salsa garden!). In no time, I added zucchini and cucumbers to my repertoire—even corn ane strawberries one year.

A bunch of different types of vegetables

But I have to be honest. My harvests ranged from disappointing to mediocre. Only that one year did my garden produce so well, we had enough to share with others. I’m still trying to remember how I did that.

Uniquely talented

One thing I do quite well is weeds. I try not to take too much credit here, but I have to tell you I’ve never seen anyone else grow weeds quite as successfully as I do. And I can take them right through the season until they actually re-seed themselves for the next season!

Oh, the effort

While I love the concept of a garden that’s not only nice to look at but actually produces the food we enjoy eating. I’m not 100% in love with the anxiety, pressure, guilt, backaches, leg cramps, and fear of needing hip replacements.

There has to be a better way

While in the past my efforts to grow a garden have been more of a hobby than a serious endeavor, I feel that changing. The high cost of food—specifically, produce—tells me it’s time to get serious. We need to become more self-sufficient, but in a cost-effective way.

True cost? Yikes!

While I feel that I’ve mastered weeds, I’ve failed miserably in cost-effectiveness. I shudder to imagine the true cost of the pathetically tiny bounty I’ve garnered over the years. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up on vegetable gardening, only that I’m ready for a new way to do it.

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repairman

Should you Repair or Replace your Broken Appliances?

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.

A microwave oven sitting on top of a wooden table

Consider these 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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A plate of food on a table

Smart Saving Tastes Like Chicken

With the price of beef skyrocketing, now more than ever, chicken is becoming the backbone of the frugal kitchen. And why not? Chicken is much less expensive than beef or pork and useful down to and including the bones. 

A plate of food on a table

Don’t pay full-price

Chicken is always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store-hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish, and poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale and if it’s a loss-leader (that means priced dirt-cheap to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks.

Buy whole chickens

The most frugal way to use chickens is to buy them whole and cut them up yourself. You’ll not only save money, but chicken tastes much better when cooked with the skin and bones. A whole, organic bird usually costs less per pound than precut, skinned, and boned parts—and it tastes so much better. It is not difficult to cut up a chicken once you understand the simple steps. Here is a video tutorial or if you prefer written instructions with pictures.  Read more

Toothpaste

Magical Solutions for Challenging Situations | Stained Tub, Home Chef, Spiders, Candle Wax

Sometimes it’s the most unusual thing that turns out to be the magical solution for a  household problem. Things like a hairdryer, a bottle of essential oil, or a tube of toothpaste.

Toothpaste

Dear Mary: We had a very bad dark pink 7-foot stain in our white fiberglass whirlpool bathtub from previous antifreeze winterizing. I’d tried many things to remove the awful stain, including baking soda, soft scrub, bleach, scrubbing bubbles, and mildew stain remover, among other things.

I was about to give up and live with the long ugly pink stain when I tried non-gel toothpaste. It came off 100%! The tub is beautiful and sparkles again. I don’t know if anyone else might have this issue or a similar one, but I wanted to share this one with you. Gail

Dear Gail: Wow, that’s amazing! Thanks for letting us know. For readers running for the toothpaste to treat their own similarly stubborn stains, let me caution to always test in an inconspicuous place to make sure you will not be making an already difficult situation even worse. That’s just a good idea. And, as always, I’d love to hear from anyone for whom this tip saves the day.

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Dishwasher and Detergent

13 Reasons to Keep Borax in the House (and Why It’s Safe!)

Recently this desperate message with a subject line Dishwasher Disaster! washed up in my inbox.

Dishwasher and Machine

Dear Mary: My dishes have accumulated a coating of grit due to the fact that someone (who shall remain nameless) insisted on rinsing the dishes before loading them into the dishwasher.

After a $59 service call which enlightened the guilty party as to the folly of his ways, I am now faced with futile attempts to remove said grit.

I have had only marginal success with Blue Dawn, a Magic Eraser, and much elbow grease.  I can’t help thinking there must be an easier and more effective way to accomplish this.

Can you help? Katherine

I came this close to ignoring that message because I didn’t have much to go on. There are so many variables like:

Is the water especially hard where Katherine and nameless live? Is Katherine using a rinse aid along with her detergent? Did what’s-his-name unwittingly double up on the detergent? Was the the water coming into the dishwasher hot enough from the first moment?

But then I stopped short, knowing the first thing I’d try if this were a problem in my kitchen.

Dear Katherine: I can’t be sure but it’s possible the surfaces of the dishes and glassware have become permanently etched. Just one theory, hope it’s not true.

Here’s what I would do: Fill your sink with HOT water. Add about 1/2 cup of borax (20 Mule Team is one brand, most supermarkets). Put the dishes in to soak. That should loosen the grit if indeed it is “grit” that is clinging to the surface. I’d be OK with using a scrubber (ScotchBrite BLUE option) to speed things along.

Hope that helps. Let me know …

Within only a few hours, I heard back!

Dear Mary: The Borax did the trick! Thanks for your help.

That got me thinking about the all the ways I use Borax to clean and fix problems around the house.

What is borax?

Borax’s chemical name is sodium tetraborate. Sodium tetraborate is a salt compound from boric acid, but it is not an acid. It is a salt that is found naturally in evaporation lakes. It is mined mostly Turkey and the U.S., with the most commercially important deposits found in Boron, California.

There is a difference between boron, borate, boric acid and borax. Boron is an element that exists in nature. Borax is a combination of sodium, boron and oxygen and can be mined from the earth in its crude form.

Powdered borax is white, consisting of soft colorless crystals that dissolve in water. Borax is an ingredient in many detergents, cosmetics, and enamel glazes. 20 Mule Team Borax is a trademark, named for the method by which borax was originally hauled out of the California and Nevada deserts. Borax is readily in supermarkets  in the laundry or cleaning aisles and online under a number of different brands including generically.

Borax is used in many different commercial applications, including as an ingredient in household cleaning products, as a buffer in chemical laboratories, to help extract gold in mining operations, and as a component of glass and ceramics.

Borax and Cleaner

Is borax safe?

As I have researched borax, I’ve come acoss some very misleading information regarding about the white powdery stuff. I thought I would clear that up today together with unique ways to use borax around the house that can make our lives easier. But let’s answer the big question first. Yes, borax is safe.

Borax, or sodium tetraborate is a salt compound from boric acid, but it is NOT an acid. It is a salt that is found naturally in evaporation deposits of lakes. It is mined in the U.S., mostly in southern California.

Borax is alkaline and has a pH of about 9, which is the same as baking soda. Chemically speaking, borax has a crystalline structure that dissolves well in water. It’s the boron in borax that makes it an excellent pH buffer to aid in cleaning and soap dispersion.

All the studies on borax that refer to cancer or fertility are based on rats who consume or ingest an incredibly large amount of borax for an extended period of time. You should never EAT borax! And let me be clear that none of those studies impact in any way how borax is used to clean.

Precautions to take

Generally, and this is true of ANY salt (baking soda, table salt), be careful about dumping large amounts into a container and breathing in the dust. You should never do this with anything that is a fine powder and not just with borax. Always be cautious about dust from salts— even flour, too.

Keep borax in a sealed container away from children just as you do with ANY cleaning agent, even natural ones. Natural cleaning agents are safe to use around pets and children, but you don’t want them getting into the container.

Do not use borax for skincare or topical use. It is really for cleaning only. And remember this: More is not better. You only need a small amount of borax to get any number of jobs done.

1. Clean carpet

Borax is a natural odor neutralizer, which makes it a perfect option for boosting the cleaning power of your carpet machine. It will make those carpets smell even better. Whatever the solution you’re using—even if only hot water—add 1/2 cup borax per gallon before filling the machine’s reservoir.

2. Steam clean

Steam all by itself is a fairly powerful cleaner, but adding borax to the process does an amazing job of pulling up dirt and debris. Great for killing odors, too. Add 1/2 cup borax to 1 gallon hot water to help dissolve the borax. Use this to fill the steam cleaner reservoir.

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A man working on a car

More Creative Ways My Clever Readers Save Time and Money

Sometimes I wonder how Everyday Cheapskate readers discover their handy ideas. I mean, who would have thought something that cleans brake parts would also remove stains from clothes? Go figure!

A man working on a car

Cleans more than brakes

I have found that using my husband’s brake parts spray cleaner (there are many; currently Brakleen is sitting in the garage) works really well for getting out grease stains. It doesn’t affect the color and works when other stain removers have failed, even if the item has already been washed and dried. Cam

(You should always, without fail, test any stain treatment in an inconspicuous place first to make sure your fabric is colorfast. These days, most are but please, do not assume anything. -mh)

Nothing goes to waste

Our town has two thrift shops that accept worn-out clothes. They remove the buttons and sell those. Then they bag up the clothes and sell them to a “rag man,” who gives them 7 cents a pound. So really, nothing has to go to waste. I’ve begun doing this myself. My kids love the buttons for craft project, I make good use of the rags, too. Marcelle

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A trashcan of spoild food

Stop Throwing Rotten Produce in the Garbage (How to Make Fruits and Vegetables Last Longer)

I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around this documented fact: Half of all produce grown in the U.S. is thrown out, while at the same time there is growing hunger and poverty right here in America.

A trashcan of spoild food

As I read the first paragraph of this news story, I assumed naively that all U.S.-grown produce makes it to market. Then consumers like you and me get it home, let it go bad before we can consume it and into the garbage it goes. That is a factor, but not the whole story.

The truth is that vast quantities of fresh produce are left in the field to rot. It then becomes livestock feed or gets hauled directly to the landfill because of (get ready) cosmetic standards.

Not every potato, watermelon, strawberry, or grape cluster turns out photo-perfect. Some are ugly. And, unfortunately, that means they do not meet retailer and consumer demands for blemish-free, perfect produce.

Just imagine how the retail cost of produce might plummet if all that is produced—even the still-nutritious but ugly produce—were available for sale. More on that in a bit.

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A close up of a flag

Simple Ways We Can Celebrate Memorial Day

For many, Memorial Day has pretty much morphed from a day of remembrance to a much anticipated three-day weekend with exciting outdoor events that officially welcome the start of summer. But it’s more than that.

A close up of a flag

In fact, it’s not really about a big blowout holiday weekend at all. It’s about remembering our history and those who’ve gone before. Memorial Day is for honoring and mourning the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country—who gave their lives to protect our freedom while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

U.S. history was not something stressed or even talked about in my family growing up. I possessed a general timeline of events but that was about it. All of that changed for me when I married a man for whom our American history is more than a few facts memorized to get past a final exam.

My husband Harold lives and breathes our nation’s history. He planned our honeymoon around visits to Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields, culminating with an all-day visit to Gettysburg National Military Park.

I was gobsmacked by what I didn’t know. Such an emotionally packed tour I’d never experienced. I learned more day at Gettysburg than I’d learned about our nation’s history in my 16 years of formal education.

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