Window air conditioner keeping things cool .

Window Air Conditioner: How to Fix It, Clean It, and Make it Like New

The heat of summer will soon be bearing down, giving millions of window-mounted air conditioners a real workout. That means many owners of said units are wondering why their air conditioners aren’t working properly. In most situations, consumers can fix a window air conditioner themselves provided they have the right information and a very inexpensive handy tool. If you have a window air conditioner in your home, here’s what you need to know to fix it, clean it and make it like new.

Window air conditioner keeping things cool .

An easy DIY project

More than any other household appliance, window-type air conditioning units are the most often neglected. This is a pity because they can be big energy users. A little maintenance means that homeowners can save money on both utility and repair bills.

With the right information and access to replacement parts, you should be able to repair a window air conditioner yourself, saving the cost of a service call or worse, replacing the unit altogether.

Basically the same

All residential window air conditioners have a cooling system consisting of four primary components: a compressor, an evaporator, a temperature-sensing device, and a condenser.

Air conditioner cooling systems are better understood if you think of them more as a device that removes heat and humidity from the air than a device that cools the air.

These are the essential maintenance steps you should take to keep your window-mounted air conditioning unit operating in tip-top condition while using the least amount of energy:

Monthly

Every month during the months of operation, replace (or clean) the filter located in the front grill. Cost to replace: About $20.

Annually

The condensing coils on an air conditioner get very dirty, and the dirt tends to accumulate on the inside of the coils, out of sight. Once a year, remove the entire cover of the air conditioner to gain access to the coils and then clean them by blowing compressed or “canned air” on them. Falcon Dust-Ofworks well.

Here are solutions for the top four repair dilemmas with window air conditioners:

1. Bent fins

Don’t despair if you’ve accidentally bent the delicate aluminum fins on the rear of the unit. They need to be straight for the best operation. This is not as tedious as it might appear. RepairClinic.com will send you a handy fin-straightening comb. Cost: $12.78.

2. A motor is running but no air is blowing

Air conditioners have two motors: the compressor and the fan motor. It is possible that only one is running. If, after removing the cover of the unit you discover the fan blade is very stiff and difficult to rotate, the fan motor may need oiling or may need to be replaced.

3. Water leaks from the front of the unit

This is normal. All air conditioners should be installed so they tilt slightly backwards to allow for proper removal of condensed water that accumulates.

4. The air smells musty

Air conditioners remove moisture from the air. Most of it is evaporated from the unit. However, it is possible for some water to stagnate in the base of the air conditioner. Also, dirt, lint, or dust can collect in the water pan at the base of the unit and absorb water, allowing mold and mildew to grow. All this leads to bad smells. Thoroughly clean the water pan each year when you clean the condenser coils.

Get help

Need more help with your window-mounted air conditioners? Check RepairClinic.com, where you can live chat with a repair technician, plus get the exact parts you may need. Super helpful site!

First published: 6-23-15; Revised & Updated 5-12-21


There are affiliate links in this post. If you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Credit report with score on a desk

3 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score

Your 790 credit score might not be as great as you think it is. It all depends on which credit score you’re looking about. If you’re referring to a FICO score of 790 out of 850, that’s excellent, but 790 is only so-so on the VantageScore 2.0 model, which tops out at 990.

Credit report with score on a desk

What credit score is good?

Sound like a super easy question. Well, it’s not. In fact, there is no single answer—not even a definitive range. That’s because you have many different credit scores—current estimates say you have at least 58. Yes, really.

Read more

induction cooktop GE-Cafe

Are You Ready to Make the Switch to Induction Cooking?

I have to tell you that receiving the message in today’s post put the biggest smile on my face. Induction cooking? Oh yes, I do know something about that! But I must confess that the prologue to Cathy’s question is what warmed my heart.

induction cooktop GE-Cafe

Dear Mary: First of all, I want to thank you, thank you, thank you for your years of advice and guidance! I have purchased your books, READ your books, and given them as gifts many times. I hardly EVER buy anything or try a new product without checking with you first. I know that if you have endorsed it, I can trust it. Thank you for promoting quality and value in all the products and ideas you share. Your work is amazing.

That being said, my husband and I just purchased a home. The gas stove and microwave oven are 28 years old. Although they both still work, (I know, they don’t make them like this anymore) they look their age and I question the safety of the microwave. I was all ready to purchase a mid-level free-standing gas range.

Read more

crispy orange chicken with rice

This is How to Make (Awesome!) Crispy Orange Chicken

Not long ago I got a desperate message from C. J. Coffman who lives in Michigan. It seems that he and his family are crazy about a certain item that mysteriously disappeared from the Applebee’s® menu a couple of years ago—Crispy Orange Skillet.

Coffman is not the first reader I’ve heard from about this turn of events. Early on, readers wanted to know how to make this entree at home, as it could become pricey to eat out as often as their cravings dictated. And then a couple of years ago, this hugely popular dish just up and disappeared from the menu! Applebee’s response to my inquiry explained that they appreciate customers’ feedback, but that they make changes to their menus from time to time and “We never know when customer favorites will make a come back.”

In the intervening years, and perhaps prompted by current events creating a new kind of eating out—curbside pickup—the popular dish has made a return, but with a different name. Crispy Orange Chicken Bowl offers a much smaller portion size, and as we might have guessed, an even higher price.

Coffman closed his letter by telling me what a big fan he is of this column, which was a good move on his part. I’m not above a little flattery from time to time.

So, for the C.J. Coffman family and all other Applebee’s fans too, here’s a fabulous (more than reasonable) facsimile of their favorite dish. Enjoy!

Crispy Orange Chicken

You’ll need:

  • 2 lbs boneless chicken pieces, skinned
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1/4 tspn pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 tbpn vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Oil (for frying)
  1. Cut chicken pieces into 2-inch pieces and place in a large bowl.
  2. Slightly beat egg, oil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl
  3. Pour egg mixture over chicken. Mix well and set aside.
  4. In another large bowl stir cornstarch and flour together and mix well.  
  5. Add chicken pieces to the flour mixture, stirring to coat each piece well.
  6. Pour enough oil to be 1/2-inch deep in a wok or heavy skillet and heat over high heat to 375 F (hot!).
  7. Carefully add chicken pieces in small batches and fry for 3 to 4 minutes turning until golden and crisp. Do not overcook or chicken will be tough and dry.
  8. Remove chicken from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels or similar. Continue frying the chicken in small batches until all pieces are nicely browned and crisp. Set aside.

Sweet ‘n Spicy Orange Glaze

  • 2 tbsp oil from skillet
  • 1 tspn minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tspn grated orange zest
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce*
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cool the oil in the skillet slightly, then remove all but 2 tablespoons of oil and set over medium heat.
  2. Sauté garlic in oil for 1 minute (if the oil is too hot the garlic will burn and become bitter).
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to boil. Allow boiling for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens to your liking, stirring frequently.
  5. Pour glaze over chicken.
  6. To serve: Place chicken on a bed of cooked white rice. Garnish with slivered almonds, crispy noodles and stir-fry vegetables like broccoli, snow peas and red peppers (optional). Serves 4 to 6.

*Hoison sauce is available in a can or jar in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets, close to the soy sauce. Also called Peking sauce, this thick, reddish-brown sauce is sweet and spicy and widely used in Chinese cooking. It’s a mixture of soybeans, garlic, chili peppers, and various spices. Hoisin sauce is mainly used as a table condiment and as a flavoring agent for many meats, poultry and shellfish dishes. Once opened, refrigerate bottled hoisin and it will keep indefinitely.

crispy orange chicken with rice

Crispy Orange Chicken

For many, Applebee’s® Crispy Orange Skillet has become a favorite. But it's pricey! More than that, it disappears from the menu and for long periods of time! Here's some good news. You can make this version that is a dead ringer for the Applebee's version, at home spending only a fraction of the cost. And quite possibly in less time than it takes to open an app, place an order, pay online, get in the car, drive to the restaurant, find a parking place, call the number to alert staff you have arrived, wait, accept order, drive home while food is getting soggy and cold, go in the house, open the bag, notice they forgot to include the rice, oh well, enjoy.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Entree
Cuisine: American, Asian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 331kcal
Cost: Varies

Equipment

  • deep skillet

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken pieces breast, thigh, leg
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 ½ tspn salt
  • ¼ tspn pepper or to taste
  • ½ cup + 1 tbsn cornstarch
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • oil for frying

Sweet 'n Spicy Orange Glaze

  • 2 tbsp Oil from skillet
  • 1 tspn minced garlic
  • 1 ½ tspn grated orange rind (zest) only the orange part, NONE of the white pith
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • ½ cup Hoison sauce see NOTE
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper optional
  • ¼ cup white granulated sugar
  • salt, pepper to taste

Instructions

Chicken

  • Cut chicken pieces into small pieces (about 1 ½ to 2-inches) and place in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg, oil, salt, pepper with a fork. Pour egg mixture over chicken pieces, mix well, and set aside.
  • Stir cornstarch and flour together in another large bowl and mix well.
  • Add chicken pieces to the flour mixture, stirring to coat each piece well.
  • Pour enough oil to be 1/2-inch deep in a wok or heavy skillet and heat over high heat to 375 F (hot!).
  • Carefully add chicken pieces in small batches and fry for 3 to 4 minutes turning until golden and crisp. Do not overcook or chicken will be tough.
  • Remove chicken from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Continue frying the chicken in small batches until all pieces are nicely browned and crisp. Set aside.

Sweet 'n Spicy Orange Glaze

  • Cool the oil in the skillet slightly, then remove all but 2 tablespoons of oil and set over medium heat.
  • Sauté garlic in oil for 1 minute (if the oil is too hot the garlic will burn and become bitter).
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Allow boiling for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens to your liking, stirring frequently. 
  • Pour glaze over chicken and toss lightly to make sure all pieces are well glazed.
  • To serve, place chicken on a bed of cooked white rice. Garnish with slivered almonds, crispy noodles, sesame seeds, and stir-fry vegetables like broccoli, snow peas, and red peppers (optional). Serves 4 to 6.

Notes

Hoison sauce is available in a can or jar in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets, close to the soy sauce. Also called Peking sauce, this thick, reddish-brown sauce is sweet and spicy, and widely used in Chinese cooking. It's a mixture of soybeans, garlic, chili peppers and various spices. Hoisin sauce is mainly used as a table condiment and as a flavoring agent for many meat, poultry and shellfish dishes. Once opened, refrigerate bottled hoisin and it will keep indefinitely.

Nutrition

Calories: 331kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 97mg | Sodium: 410mg | Potassium: 716mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 147IU | Vitamin C: 23mg | Calcium: 17mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!
Inflation is the culprit eating away at your budget

Make Sure You Have These 9 Essential Pantry Items

Have you been paying attention to what’s going on with the cost of food? I just read that the average cost of ground beef in the U.S. has once again hit an all-time high. I believe it, and not only beef. It is shocking how grocery prices are going up, which underscores the need for a kitchen that includes the essential pantry items.

Inflation is the culprit eating away at your budget

How to Fight Back Inflation?

  1. Buy groceries when they’re on sale
  2. Eat at home

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, it can be if you make sure your kitchen pantry is well-stocked. It’s annoying and expensive to not have basic items on hand. You don’t have what you need and don’t have time to go get it, which means, of course, you’ll just have to go out for dinner. Again. 

Taking the time and effort to make sure you always have the following nine essential pantry items will save a lot of money, provided you pick these items up as they go on sale. Think of this as a project. 

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Woman with a shopping list at a grocery store with people shopping in the background

8 Things You Can Do Now To Fight Price Inflation

Nearly everything at the store, from beef and cereal, to fruit and veggies, costs more than it did a year ago. Inflation is the culprit eating away at your budget

Woman with a shopping list at a grocery store with people shopping in the background

Food prices are through the roof—and continuing to skyrocket. The prices of the raw materials used to make almost everything are skyrocketing—oil, steel, copper, corn, lumber.

You may not have noticed yet because it takes a while for these changes to trickle down. But we need to be keenly aware of what’s going on to stay ahead of this. We need to know what to do now.

Read more

car trash can

This Really Is the Best Inexpensive Car Trash Container

Wouldn’t you think that if car manufacturers can perfect self-driving cars, they could also come up with a way to conquer the car trash problem? Maybe something in an attractive, solid, waterproof, discreet receptacle that could also qualify for Best Inexpensive?

trash in a car to highlight best inexpensive way to combat the litter

Photo Credit TheOnion.com

I’ve always thought that a built-in trash compactor would be great. Or even better, some kind of incinerator that sucks the accumulation of trash and garbage right out of the car and into a holding tank somewhere that magically converts it into purified drinking water. Or gasoline.

While waiting for that kind of invention to appear, I’ve tried plastic bags, plastic tubs, and every kind of frugal trick and tip you can imagine to handle the annoyance of car trash.

I’ve tested and tried. Some ideas are better than others, but nothing has ever proven 100% satisfactory. Until now.

Read more

female hand in yellow rubber glove holding spray bottle of homemade cleaning solution

5 Fabulous Homemade Cleaning Products that Use the Power of Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol, commonly known as rubbing alcohol, is extremely useful around the house because it acts as both a solvent and a disinfectant. Add to that, it’s relatively cheap! All of this makes isopropyl alcohol nearly magical as an ingredient in so many useful homemade cleaning products.

female hand in yellow rubber glove holding spray bottle of homemade cleaning solution

Rubbing alcohol comes in varying strengths from 70%, which is most common, all the way to 99% strength. While any of these strengths will work well in the five recipes I have for you today, 70% is most common and least expensive—$1.29 for a 16 oz. bottle is typical*. Always label homemade solutions clearly and keep them out of the reach of children.

Read more

oman shredding a piece of paper

How to Protect Yourself from ID Theft and Why You Should

Can someone legally dig through your trash looking for receipts, account numbers, or even your Social Security number?

In the decision California vs. Greenwood, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the “expectation of privacy in trash left for collection in an area accessible to the public… is unreasonable.”

oman shredding a piece of paper

In other words, when you throw something in your trash and then drag that container to the street for pickup, it is available to anyone willing to dig through your trash receptacles. Legally. Think that won’t happen? Think again, my friends.

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States today. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.

Why shred?

Identity fraud is a serious issue as it is responsible for the theft of $112 billion stolen from Americans in the past six years. That equals $35,600 stolen per minute, or enough to buy a house every 8 minutes.

Some of these victims could have prevented this from happening by simply shredding their uniquely identifying documents.

If you do not know how to effectively shred your most important documents, it’s time to learn.

What to shred

The rule of thumb is to shred any paper or document that contains personally identifying information for all member of your household—including the kids regardless of their age—such as your signature, name, address, phone number, Social Security number, account numbers, and any other information that is uniquely yours and theirs.

That means anything and everything from the address labels on junk mail and magazines to luggage tags, pay stubs, ATM receipts, and airline tickets; photocopies of birth certificates, medical prescriptions, school information;  expired passports and most tax returns older than three years.

When in doubt, always err on the side of shredding.

How to shred

As difficult as it is to imagine, some shredded documents can be reconstructed through painstakingly tedious work by motivated identity thieves with pressure-sensitive tape.

If the “shreds” a machine produces are fairly large strips, that becomes yet another potential hazard to your identity. That makes the idea of just tearing up your documents before you put them into the trash a total waste of time. Even a child could put them back together.

Strip-cut

Strip-cut shredders are the least secure, using rotation knives to cut narrow strips as long as the original sheet of paper. These strips can be reassembled, making a strip-cut shredder the least secure. If you are using a stripp-cutting, you need to consider upgrading to a more secure method.

Paper and Cross-cut

Cross-cut

Cross-cut shredders use two contra-rotating drums to cut rectangular, parallelogram, or diamond-shaped shreds. Much better because the shreds are much smaller pieces, which makes it unreasonable if not impossible to reassemble.

AmazonBasics 6-Sheet High-Security Micro-Cut Paper and Credit Card Shredder

Micro-cut

Micro-cut shredders create tiny square or circular pieces. Even better because the debris absolutely cannot be reassembled.

Paper and Micro-cut

Best Inexpensive Home Shredders

Of course, there are many clever ways that one can destroy paper documents. However, if finding a safe way to burn them, soak them in water in hopes of returning the remains back into wood pulp,  or some other creative effort takes more time than you wish to devote to protecting your personally identifying information, you should consider using a paper shredder.

Destroying identifying documents is something you need now and well into the future. The need will not go away until you do. That means you want a quality shredder that performs well, can handle more than a couple of pages at a time, shreds plastic credit cards, CDs, DVDs, and is convenient to use and to empty.

Amazon has come out with its own AmazonBasics brand of excellent home shredders, three of which are our Best Inexpensive picks, to help you match quality with need.

Updated and republished 5-4-21


Everyday Cheapskate participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn from qualifying purchases, at no cost to you.

dry clothes inside clothes dryer

15 Things That Should Never Go in the Clothes Dryer

Clothes neatly spaced on a clothesline held in place with wooden clothespins with those sheets, and clothes flapping in the breeze and drying in the sunshine is a sight we seldom see, but a visual that brings me back to my childhood. And oh, that amazing smell of line-dried clean sheets. Know what I mean? Modern-day clothes dryers have all but replaced traditional outdoor clotheslines in most urban areas.

fresh clean items drying on a clothes line rather than in a clothes dryer

Clothes dryers are convenient and home appliances that keep many homeowners in compliance with community standards that forbid the presence of outdoor clotheslines. However, in the same way that outdoor drying has its limitations (weather, effort), a clothes dryer does as well. It can ruin stuff.

While the effect may not be noticeable on the first time or two through the dryer, the destruction will build until that item comes to a tragic end, long before its time.

The solution is quite simple. Learn what can and cannot safely be put into your clothes dryer. Then make sure you keep a good indoor drying rack in a convenient place to ensure easy use—more on that in a bit.

Tennis Shoes, Sneakers

Pair of new white sneakers that should never go in a clothes dryerWhether made of canvas, leather, or other fabric, your tennis shoes will likely do very well in the washing machine. But the dryer? Not at all.

Sure they’ll tumble loudly and perhaps come out OK on the first trip, but what you won’t easily detect is that the glue that holds them together has been compromised. It melts in the dryer’s high heat, then resets but in a much different way than when the shoes were new.

And that canvas or other fabric? Plan on it shrinking and twisting out of shape. Put those two things together—glue melt and fabric shrink—and you get distortion and sole separation.

Now that you know what causes such early demise of sneakers and tennis shoes, know to air-dry your sneakers (typically it takes about 24 hours), you can stop blaming the manufacturer.

Bras, Lingerie

bras and lingerie in a drawer not in a clothes dryerAll bras have some spandex and elastic, which are synthetic products made to stretch and provide shape and comfort. Other lingerie items with the same type of fabric content as well. Heat is the enemy of stretchy things.

If you want your bras and other lingerie items to enjoy a long lifespan, maintaining their original shape and loveliness right to the very end, never put them through the clothes dryer.

Instead, wash bras and lingerie using good mesh zippered lingerie bags, then air dry.

This routine will make all the difference and give you the kind of results and longevity you paid for.

Reusable Fabric Bags

Backpacks, Lunch Bags, and Reusable Shopping Bags that should never be dried in a clothes dryer

Backpacks, lunch bags, fabric tote bags, and reusable grocery bags need to be cleaned frequently—especially if used to carry them for food items that are likely to leak onto the fabric.

More than likely, your washable bags will do nicely in the washing machine, provided you make sure your cycle settings for water temperature and so forth are compatible with the bags’ type of fabric. However, putting fabric bags through the clothes dryer is just asking for trouble. Plan on them shrinking at the least and falling apart at the most.

A much better idea is to allow bags, packs, and totes to air dry. To avoid wrinkles and for the best results, lay bags out on a flat surface so you can reshape them. As for backpacks, stuff them with wadded-up newspaper or clean, dry bath towels to return them to the original shape as they air dry.

Rubber-Backed Mats, Rugs

bathmat with rubber backing that should never be put into a clothes dryer

Have you ever wondered by the rubber backing of your bath mats, placemats, or other scatter rugs gets all stiff and crumbly and eventually peels away, leaving quite a mess?

More than likely, you’ve been putting those washable mats through both the washer and dryer.

The washer is fine, but it’s the heat of a clothes dryer that melts and soon ruins the rubber and other types of non-slip coatings.

This may not be noticeable on the first trip or two through the dryer. But when you continue drying them in the machine, the backing will fail. The crumbling rubber can create a fire hazard.

Instead, allow rubber-backed mats of all kinds to air dry.

Swimwear

woman's swim suit that should be air dryed, not put into a clothes dryer

Swimming suits, trunks, and other swimwear should be washed after every use to remove chlorine and salt, depending on where they’ve been swimming. And it’s only natural to throw these items into the clothes dryer as well. But no.

Really, the heat of the dryer will soon destroy the Spandex and other synthetic properties of great swimwear.

Your family’s swimwear will last seasons longer if you get into the habit of skipping the dryer and allowing these pieces to (you know what’s coming)—air dry!

Leather, Real or Faux

Mens brown leather gloves on white background

Even when the care tag on that beautiful leather jacket, those awesome gloves, or faux leather throw pillow clearly states “Washable,” don’t skip the part about drying! Don’t assume you can toss leather anything, real or faux, in the dryer.

The heat of a clothes dryer can cause these leather products, both fake and real, to crack and distort. That means one sleeve could get all wrinkled (permanently) while the other is stretched out of shape. It’s not worth finding out how your item will react.

Instead, hang leather jackets, pants, gloves, hats,  and other items in a dry area away from direct heat or sunlight.

Silk, Lace, Delicate Fabrics

silk delicate lace wedding gownWhile silk fabric and garments are hand-washable, silk should never go in a clothes dryer.

Silk is very delicate, and the high temperatures of the tumble dryer can shrink or damage silk. The chances are great that it will come out permanently wrinkled.

And lace? Whether a large piece or simply an embellishment, lace can get easily torn because it is so delicate.

Activewear

activewearWorkout wear typically contains a high percentage of Spandex and elastic. When these types of garments meet up with clothes dry heat, those fabrics and fibers are weakened.

These garments often include liners designed to wick away sweat and perspiration. Don’t take a chance by putting your workout clothes into the clothes dryer, which is sure to weaken those synthetics and destroy the wicking qualities.

Sweaters

sweaters in a stack

Whether a sweater is hand- or machine-knit, it is delicate—especially if made from wool or another natural product. And if made from synthetic or man-made fiber, the fact that it is knitted rather than woven makes it sensitive to a clothes dryer’s heat and tumbling action.

Tossing it into the dryer to be heated up and tumbled simultaneously increases the likelihood that it will come out of the dryer completely out of shape. And if that’s not bad enough, expect to see “pilling” on the sweater’s surface, which makes it look old, tired, and worn out.

Fur, Natural or Faux

fur trimmed sweater

I doubt that you’d toss your grandmother’s mink stole into the washer or dryer, but how about that fur trim on your favorite t-shirt hoody? Of the cuffs on your cool winter gloves?

Stop and think before you do that. While it’s true that real fur comes from animals who do survive wet conditions quite nicely, but the way that fur—whether it’s real or faux—has been attached to this garment presents trouble just waiting to happen in a hot clothes dryer. Whether it can be laundered at all is open to question, so follow the care label. Then air-dry.

Tights, Hosiery

You may assume that you can put tights, pantyhose, and other delicate hosiery into the clothes dryer, provided you place them in a mesh laundry bag first. But don’t believe it.

These items are very delicate, made from synthetic fibers. Heat is the problem, and not just very high heat. Once dried in this way, you will shorten that item’s useful life.

Another problem: Chances are also good that your delicate hosiery will get snagged by catching on a button, zipper, or another similar hazard in the dryer. Don’t take a chance. Always air-dry hosiery.

Sequins, Beads

beaded top

It never dawned on me that one of my favorite knit tops (not the one pictured) should not go through the washer and dryer—that I should be hand washing it. This top is beaded, which may sound super cheesy, but it’s not.

It’s not sparkly, and the beads are not particularly noticeable that they are beads!  The subtle design has been accomplished by gluing on hundreds of tiny beads.

Washing and drying this knit top wasn’t a problem in the beginning. But then, as if overnight, more than half of the design just disappeared and not in a good way.

I can only imagine that those tiny glued-on beads went down the drain or into the lint trap. Lesson learned: Never expose an item with sequins or beads to the heat of a clothes dryer. Instead, wash by hand, then allow to air dry.

Slippers, Slip-Proof Socks

Male home slippers and wool blanket on table. Home relaxing in wintertime concept

Fabric slippers appear to be washable, and most are. For sure, slippers should not be dried in a clothes dryer. You must assume that glue has been used to attach the soles and trim. And quite possibly to close seams.

The heat of a clothes dryer is likely to melt the glue, causing the soles on slippers and the non-slip coating on socks to separate. You may not notice this until you’re flat on your face having run down the stairs or moved a bit too quickly into the kitchen.

Wool

Stack of woolen plaid blankets

Wool requires special care when it comes to cleaning. Assume that it will shrink if exposed to hot water or heat.

Always wash in cool water and allow to air dry. Follow that rule, and you won’t have to deal with shrunken socks, sweaters, throws, and blankets.

Clothes dryers don’t have an adequate wool cycle, a pretty good indicator that they’re not equipped to handle wool. Wool sweaters, scarves, blankets, and throws should be laid flat to dry to prevent them from stretching or misshapen.

NOTE: If your socks are made of treated “superwash wool” yarns, they represent an exception to the foregoing. Generally, you can machine wash items made from superwash wool yarn with warm water and regular laundry detergent. And they can be tumble dried on low heat. Just don’t make the mistake of using a hot water wash cycle or high heat in the dryer, which can damage the protective resin coating on the yarn, which makes it “superwash.”

Oil, Grease Saturated Rags

mechanic holding greasy oily rag

Do not put oily rags or towels in a dryer—even if washed to be reused. When discarding oily rags, hang them outside to dry them before putting them in a trash bin or garbage receptacle.

Hotels and restaurants have reported incidents where rags or towels used to clean up oily spills (such as oil from deep fryers) were washed and then thrown in the dryer only to burst into flames due to “spontaneous combustion.” Clearly, the washing process did not remove all of that oil. These are considered flammable stains.

What I’m describing is not even close to the rags and towels we use in our kitchens. I’m talking about heavy-duty garage and mechanic use rags, saturated with grease, oil, and or solvents.

When oily rags are bunched up and piled on top of each other or placed in a dryer, heat can build to a point where it ignites an already flammable material. No matches, torches, or open flames required.

Bottom line: Never put oily rags in a clothes dryer. Spread them out to air dry before tossing them in the trash can or washing them to re-use. Even then, out of an abundance of caution, air-dry only.

Drying Rack

My idea of a great rack is collapsible, so I can put it away without requiring much effort or storage space; it allows air to flow through the wet items from both sides, is sturdy, and also adaptable to handle the size and weight of a variety of items to be air-dried. And it should be able to accommodate both hanging and laying flat.

Best Inexpensive Drying Rack

indoor drying rack

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closeup of female hands pouring hydrogen peroxide into a clean cloth

20 Amazing Ways Hydrogen Peroxide Can Make Your Life Easier

Some time ago I got a message, which reminded me about the wonders of hydrogen peroxide—an ordinary item that most people have somewhere in the house. Georgia wrote …

closeup of female hands pouring hydrogen peroxide into a clean cloth

I had a cut on my hand that opened up while I was putting my expensive duvet cover on my comforter. Now I have blood stains where I touched it. Is there any hope of getting these stains out completely? I tried using a carpet cleaning solution and washing it but those stains remain. I’m worried they’ll be there permanently. Thanks so much for your help! 

I responded immediately, directing Georgia to soak the stains with fresh, full-strength hydrogen peroxide. I heard back quickly. The hydrogen peroxide lightened the stains almost immediately, and within hours they disappeared completely.

I’ll be honest that for many years, removing blood stains was about all I ever used hydrogen peroxide for. And because it has such a short shelf life, I was forever throwing out old, useless hydrogen peroxide.

Since then, I’ve learned so much and done extensive research and wow. The stuff is downright wonderful from cleaning to mouthwash—so awesome in fact, I never throw hydrogen peroxide away anymore. It doesn’t have time in my home to age out. That’s how much I use it.

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sparkling clean dishwasher

How to Make a Dishwasher Perform Like New (Even If It’s Old)

There are many things in my life that I enjoy, but would not be completely devastated if required to give them up. My dishwasher is not one of them.

sparkling clean dishwasher

During our recent kitchen remodel, we got rid of the appliances, all except for my bare bones, no-bells-or-whistles, 14-year-old Whirlpool dishwasher.

Even though it was replaced, it has found a new home across town with our son and family. It continues to do a flawless job, not because it’s such a high-end machine (it’s not), but because I have learned the secrets of how to get any dishwasher to perform well.

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young casual woman with paint roller sitting on floor and looking at half yellow painted wall

How to Redecorate on a Dime

Changing your environment can greatly improve your outlook. And that doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

The key to great decor isn’t how much money you have to spend. More importantly, it’s about seeing possibilities in what you have already. You’ll be surprised at what you can do yourself for little or no cost.

young casual woman with paint roller sitting on floor and looking at half yellow painted wall

Use what you have

I have a friend who calls herself a Professional Arranger because people hire her to come to their homes and “redecorate” with the things they have already. 

She goes through every room, the attic, and basement taking inventory of everything available for her final designs. Then, she completely clears the room and starts from scratch to furnish and decorate with only the things that she found in the home. The results are absolutely amazing! I’m convinced that good design and decorating well requires creative talent and she’s got it!

If that triggered something in you that whispered, “I wish someone would pay me to do that,” think about it seriously! Offer to do this for a few friends, take before and after photos, and order business cards. You do not need a license or any particular certification to become a professional arranger.

Check out the International Association of Home Staging Professionals.

Paint is Cheap

Changing the color of one wall can change the entire mood and look of that room. One quart of paint is all you need. You can fool the eye with the way you use paint, therefore making a room appear larger or smaller just by the choice of color. 

Pick a spot

It doesn’t have to be an entire wall. Paint the inside of drawers, cupboards or closets a bright coordinating color, to give yourself a fresh reason to keep that space organized.

Cool off

Cool colors and lighter tints make walls look farther apart; rich, dark colors bring walls dramatically closer, creating an intimate look in a large room. Consider these tips to make the job much easier.

Goof Aisle

Every paint store, be it Sherwin-Williams, Home Depot, or Lowe’s and others, has a shelf or table where they sell absolutely excellent paint in colors that were mis-mixed or never picked up by the customers who ordered them. Or someone changed her mind—for whatever reason, the paint is now available at a super discounted price. One reader painted her entire house for just $45 using three super discounted five-gallon buckets of brand new but leftover high-quality construction paint she found in the “We Goofed!” aisle.

Cheap dropcloths

Use an old vinyl tablecloth as a drop cloth or spend a buck for one at a dollar thrift store. They are heavier than the plastic drop cloths at home centers like Lowe’s and Home Depot and will last for many rooms of painting. When you’re done, just hose it off and hang it over a clothesline or fence to dry before folding and storing.

Keep together

When you take off the outlet and switch covers, put the screws back into the holes so they don’t get lost. Or put the covers and screws in a sandwich bag.

Pan liner

Line your roller pan with a plastic grocery bag (inside out if it has printing on it) on the paint tray. Then you can just invert the bag when you’re done and throw it away.

Useful dryer sheet

Clean your brushes with a dryer sheet. A glass jar works great for this. Stuff the dryer sheet into it then fill with warm water. Place brushes bristles down into the water and allow them to stand for 3-4 hours. Rinse brushes well and dry.

Strategic placement

The furniture you use most should be farthest from the entrance. If possible, avoid positioning couches, chairs, dining tables, or desks against walls. Give yourself at least three feet between the furniture and walls. Check out these no-fail tricks for arranging furniture.

Pictures and art

Most people hang pictures and art too high. The focal point for a single picture or the center of a group of pictures should be at eye-level for a person who is five feet and seven inches tall. If that’s not you, I’ll bet you know someone who is that height.

Groups of pictures, wall art

How you group and hang pictures on your walls makes all the difference between a room that is boring and one that is inviting. 

A bunch of furniture in it

Photo credit: Shelterness.com

Gather

Gather all the pictures and items you want in a particular grouping.

Big piece of paper

Next, get a large piece of paper the size of the area where you will hang these pictures, and lay it on the floor. 

Arrange

Place the frames and items on the paper the way you want them hung on the wall. Once you have it just right, Use a marker to draw around each item. Remove the pictures and tape the paper to the wall. Make sure it is straight!

Attach hangers

Now, you can easily see where to place each nail or hanger. 

Step back, enjoy

Once the nails are in place, carefully pull the paper away, and hang the pictures in their proper places.

Plants

Houseplants should be right for the light available in the area where you want to display them. Some easy growers that don’t require a lot of extra care include Philodendron and Boston fern.

A vase of flowers sitting on top of a green plant

Check out this how to for Philodendron houseplants—especially the part on breeding and you’ll understand how I’ve turned one fairly sick-looking little Philodendron that I rescued from Home Depot into four big, healthy specimens for my home. Easy peasy!

Read More:

Do it yourself

Whether it’s making slipcovers, painting a wall or ceiling, or laying tile, you’ll save a ton of money when you can do these things yourself. 

Find inspiration in a blog or website that reflects your taste. I have several, but my current favorite is Tidbits-Cami.com. This girl can turn trash into treasures and she’s telling all her secrets. While I haven’t jumped into all-white-with-touches-of-pale-pink in our home (she does that so beautifully) I just can’t get enough of Cami’s amazing photography. Her blog posts, projects, and photos inspire me to no end!

Learn from the pros

Search online or take a class at your local home improvement center. Typically these are free or you pay only for the cost of materials. Do a search of what you need to know. Watch YouTube videos—these days you can find one to show you how to do just about anything around the house! 

The parks and recreation departments of many cities also offer low-cost classes, as do community colleges and universities. 

Need an emotional pick-me-up? Change up your environment and see how good it feels. Then send me pictures!


crispy skin chicken honey garlic salmon

Two Recipes on the Menu Every Week at My House

There are the two meals I prepare nearly every week—Crispy Skin Chicken Thighs and Honey Garlic Salmon. They’re my go-tos because both are quick and easy—and so delicious they never grow old.

quick and easy crispy chicken thighs and honey garlic salmon recipes

Crispy Skin Chicken Thighs

This dish is perfect for a hectic mid-week dinner but sophisticated enough for company, too. Even my grandsons, ages 6 and 12, agree. You should see them dive into this chicken. They’d eat it every meal if they had their way. The ingredients are shockingly few. The secret for success and rave reviews from old and young alike is technique. It’s all about the technique! Get this right and you’ll have a new technique to use in other applications.

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The 1-Percent Savings Solution

Want a simple, pain-free plan to increase your savings in 2020? CPA, author, and blogger Mike Piper says to save 1 percent more. “Increase your savings contributions by 1 percent of your gross income,” suggests Piper. Just 1 percent—a good get-started savings plan!

It might be difficult to imagine how such a small change could make any difference at all, but according to Piper, this strategy can work wonders, especially if you are young. It’s so simple: Get a savings plan.

Anything you can do to become a consistent saver is going to come back to bless you in the future. A personal program of consistent savings does more than increasing your bank account. It changes your attitude. It quiets your insatiable desires and moves you away from the financial edge where it is easy to worry and panic.

Money in the bank changes everything. Read more

Frozen berries and vegetables in bags in freezer close up

Money-Saving Tips, Tricks, and Hacks to Put Your Freezer To Work

Whether yours is a stand-alone unit or it’s is part of your refrigerator, your freezer is either costing a lot in wasted energy or saving you a bundle in food costs.

Frozen berries and vegetables in bags in freezer close up

The day I discovered I could freeze certain fresh herbs in olive oil—sage, thyme, rosemary, and oregano do best using this method—I fell in love with my freezer all over again.

By preparing recipe-size portions to have on hand later for winter stews, soups, stews (recipes that typically call for oil to start with) we can enjoy the taste of fresh summer herbs all year round.

Just grab a cube of frozen oil and herbs to use as a base for the dish. Sautè the onions and garlic in this infused oil.

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7 Easy Ways to Give New Life to Leftover Rice

Instead of pitching the leftover cooked rice from tonight’s dinner, try using it in different ways in your next meal. Just don’t make the fatal mistake of calling it “leftovers.”

fried rice in a brown bowl with chopsticks

Provided you think of leftover cooked rice as an ingredient in a future meal, you’re home free and all your picky eaters will be none the wiser.

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A bowl of pasta sits on a plate, with Casserole

How to Make Fabulous Meals Using a Formula, Not a Recipe

Ever feel like a kitchen klutz? Wish you could take that odd assortment of stuff in the pantry and freezer, mix it with leftovers in the fridge to make something delicious without a specific recipe and without having to run to the market? That’s called cooking with a formula, not a recipe.

tasty pasta in baking dish, food italian

Well, grab your whisk and shout for joy! Thanks to this Fool-Proof 5-Step Formula you can create fabulous, original, homemade, delicious, and nutritious casseroles designed by You, using the items you have on hand—pantry, refrigerator, and or freezer!

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A bowl of fruit sitting on a table, with Pickle

16 Brilliant Reasons to Stop Throwing Out Pickle Juice

It was a weird request. My friend Mary Ann asked if she could borrow some pickle juice. Huh? Who keeps pickle juice? The purpose of pickle juice is to keep the pickles fresh and flavorful. And when the pickles are gone, out goes the juice, right? That practice makes Mary Ann cringe.

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

Here’s the deal: Mary Ann is famous for her potato salad. She makes ten pounds at a time and it disappears faster than homemade ice cream on a hot summer day. Her secret (which she confides to only a chosen few) is sweet pickle juice. Not pickles, not relish—only the juice. And lots of it.

So, I wondered if there might be other uses for the briny stuff? A quick search of the multiple thousands of tips readers have sent to me over the years plus research online came up amazingly positive!

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dust on a wood surface

How to Make Your Own Dusting Spray

Let’s talk about dust, shall we? I’m not fond of it. As I write, every surface in my home has a layer of the finest dust you can imagine. It’s so bad, I am tempted to adopt the philosophy that dust is a protective coating for fine furniture and just leave it be!

dust on a wood surface

Here’s what happened: We had the wood floors in our home refinished. That required one full day of sanding through all the layers of finish and stain, right down to the bare wood.

Even the biggest, best “dustless” sanding machine cannot boast 100% effectiveness. The machine’s collection system got most of the sanding debris; the rest has been uniformly distributed to every flat surface throughout the house.

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A close up of a persons hand

The All-Natural Way to Get Rid of Bedbugs, Insects, and Other Creepy Crawlies

Got crawling insects like centipedes, spiders, bedbugs, ants, silverfish, cockroaches, fleas, and all other creepy crawlies trying to take over your home or garden? Don’t call an exterminator quite yet. I’m confident this is a problem you can fix yourself with non-toxic, completely safe, natural diatomaceous earth (DE)—cheaper and faster!

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous Earth (DE), an off-white talc-like powder, is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton that have been ground to a fine powder. If you could take a look at it through a microscope you’d see that it resembles shards of glass. It comes in bags and is easily found online ,and in the garden department of stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart and Tractor Supply.

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wool dryer balls in a basket

How to Use Wool Dryer Balls and Why You Should

A previous post, on why laundry softening products are a real problem continues to strike a chord with thousands of readers. I know because you send me messages and letters, which I love—even ones from some who are not 100% satisfied making the switch from problematic laundry softeners to wool dryer balls. But first, let’s review the problem:

wool dryer balls in a basket

The trouble with fabric softeners

The medical website, WebMD.com, reports that the perfumes and additives in laundry products may cause skin problems. Fabric softeners are very allergenic and can cause eczema, which appears as dry, itchy skin.

Dryer sheets contain fragrance and volatile organic compounds like acetaldehyde and butane, which can cause respiratory irritation. Fabric softener chemicals known as quaternary ammonium compounds have been linked to asthma. Acetone, also used in dryer sheets, can cause nervous system effects like headaches or dizziness.

Fabric softeners are also known to reduce and finally eliminate the effectiveness of water-resistant materials and reduce the absorbency of terry cloth and microfiber towels.

If you find your towels aren’t drying as well after a few cycles with fabric softener—liquid softener in the washer and or dryer sheets in the dryer—it’s time to find a better alternative that will give great results without doing harm.

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pink tulip flower on wood background with copy Mother's Day Gift guide 2021

Mother’s Day Gift Guide 2021

pink tulip flower on wood background with copy Mother's Day Gift guide 2021

Enjoy this Mother’s Day Gift Guide 2021—a fun selection of gifts to delight every kind of mother, even those who say they don’t need a thing. But hurry. Some of these items are time-sensitive, which means you have no time to lose. Prefer to make a gift for Mom or Grandma? You’ll find lots of ideas and helps with that as well. One thing is for certain: Mother’s Day will be here before we know it!

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brown leather sofa with pillows of contrasting color

How to Clean, Condition, and Maintain Leather Furniture

When it comes to furnishing your home, it’s difficult to find anything more luxurious and elegant than fine leather. With that elegance comes the challenge of how to clean leather furniture, keeping it free of stains, and well-maintained so that it gets even better with age.

brown leather sofa with pillows of contrasting color

Photo credit: ter-burg

Improper attempts to clean fine leather can result in the heartbreak of permanent damage. If your leather furniture is stained or looking a little on the tired side, follow these suggestions to perk it up.

Type of leather

To get started, determine the type of leather you’re working with. Typically, this information will be found on the tags that were attached or the brochure you were given when you acquired the leather item. This written information will generally provide tips on cleaning your specific furniture and should be your first line of defense.

What if you don’t have any instructions? Generally, when dealing with leather upholstery, there are two types: aniline leather and top-coated leather.

Aniline leather

This is a type of leather that has been dyed with soluble dyes that are absorbed into the leather. The dye colors the leather without producing a heavy topcoat or sealant. Aniline leather has a very soft finish, is supple, very absorbent, and stains easily. Consider your leather piece extremely delicate.

If you are dealing with aniline, just one instruction: Do everything you can to keep it free of stains and spills. In an emergency, a clear, mild dishwashing detergent may safely remove a grease stain from this type of leather.

Top-coated leather

This is the most commonly used finishing technique for leather used to upholster furniture and automobile seats. The finish consists of an opaque base coat followed by a protective topcoat. Since the natural color of the leather is covered completely, the leather can be identified by its uniform color. Top-coat leather is known for its durability and protection from stains and spilling.

Most leather furniture these days uses top-coat protected leather, which is usually safe to clean by following these guidelines:

Vacuum

You need to remove all the loose dirt, dust, and debris from the item to be cleaned. A vacuum with the soft brush attachment is the best option as it will get into the seams and crevices. Be gentle, though. Leather is delicate and you don’t want to scratch it as you are vacuuming.

Treat stains

Before you do a general cleaning, you want to treat and hopefully remove, any stains on the leather.

Ink stains

Dip a cotton swab in rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol and rub over the ink stain. Dry with a blow dryer set on its lowest setting.

Dark stains

For food, blood, or other dark stains (even those whose origin you’re not sure of) make a paste of one part Cream of Tartar with one part lemon juice. Rub this paste on the stain and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Remove the paste with a damp rag and moisturizing soap (as described below) for general cleaning. Rinse, dry, and buff the leather dry with a soft cloth.

Grease stains

Apply a thick coating of white talcum powder to the surface of the stain. Allow it to sit overnight to draw the grease or oils from the leather. Gently wipe clean using a lint-free cloth or that handy vacuum.

Clean

Mix a few drops of a mild liquid facial cleanser or body wash such as Dove Body Wash, Neutrogena Facial Cleanser or any shampoo that does not contain Sodium Laurel Sulfate (a harsh ingredient that could dry out the leather) with one quart of distilled water (chlorine and other contaminants in regular tap water can damage the surface of leather) until suds form.



Test

Using a soft white cloth, test this cleaner in an inconspicuous place on your leather item by scrubbing a small area. Observe to see how the leather responds.

Dive in

Assuming the test gives a good result, dip the clean, white soft cloth into the soapy water and wring it out thoroughly. Working on a small section at a time, wipe the surface of the furniture with the damp rag.

Rinse

Dip another soft, clean white rag into clean distilled water, wring it out thoroughly then wiping away the soap residue.

Dry

Immediately, using yet another clean, soft white rag, dry the area.

Buff

With a fourth clean, soft white cloth, buff well to restore the luster.

Condition

Treat the surface with a non-toxic, high-quality leather protector/conditioner such as Leather Rescue Conditioner, following the label instructions. Trust me, this stuff is awesome because not only does it rescue and restore the appearance of leather, it covers scratches, too!

Maintain

Going forward, be sure to clean spills immediately. Consider a product like KevianClean Leather Cleaner & Conditioner,  Leather is porous. Assume that it will soak up just about anything.

Never use harsh cleaners or any kind of oil, furniture polish, baby wipes, household cleaners, or any product containing wax or silicone on your leather furniture. This could damage and/or leave the surface feeling sticky.

While you may be tempted, don’t use saddle soap, varnish, or any ammonia-based cleaners (like Windex) or bleach on leather furniture. Any or all of these methods could cause discoloration at the leas,t and serious damage at the most.



Position properly

To keep your fine leather furniture from fading, drying out or cracking, avoid placing it in direct sunlight. Keep it at least two feet from anything that produces heat like heating vents, fireplaces, radiators and also air-conditioning sources.

Test first, always

Again, be sure to always test any treatment in an inconspicuous area, especially with aniline. In an emergency, a clear, mild dishwashing detergent may safely remove grease stains from leather.


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First published: 6-27-16; Revised & Updated 4-19-21

A cat sitting in front of a window

7 Common House Plants That Are Pet Safe (and 12 That Are Not)

I love plants, especially beautiful house plants. Healthy, economical plants can make any space warm and inviting—not just for humans, but pets, too! Some cats and dogs enjoy taking a nibble or two and that’s a problem because some indoor plants are toxic to cats and dogs. If you have pets, check out these houseplants that are pet safe.

A cat sitting in front of a window

If you have pets and enjoy beautiful indoor foliage, you want to find a few plants conducive to your home and design taste, then stick to them.

With the exception of edibles like cat grass, it’s always better to keep house plants out of a pet’s reach if you can. The following options are recognized as non-toxic for pets, according to the ASPCA*.

African Violet

A vase filled with purple flowers

One of the most popular house plants, African violets (saintpaulia), are amazing indoors because they have the ability to bloom in low light and love the same kind of indoor conditions that humans enjoy, too—moderate temperatures and average humidity. These beauties, with their velvet-like leaves, are available in many varieties and colors.

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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.

A close up of a computer keyboard

Contents

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Instant Pot New York

Instant Pot New York Cheesecake—Fast, Easy, Perfect!

You could have knocked me over with a feather as I was searching for ways to use my Instant Pot and locked eyeballs with—Instant Pot Cheesecake. What?! I can bake in this thing?

New York Cheesecake made in an Instant Pot

Every day, it seems, I learn something new that I can do with my Instant Pot multi-cooker. But cheesecake? I had visions of throwing cheesecake ingredients into a pot of boiling water and expecting some kind of miracle.

Well, I’m excited (and relieved) to report that I was way off base with the boiling water scene, but a miracle? Spot on! We’re talking silky smooth New York-style cheesecake that doesn’t come out dry or cracked—with a delightfully firm and crunchy crust—exactly the way it should be. Fast and so easy, too.

One time in my life, I’d attempted to make cheesecake long before I knew anything about pressure cooking. The results were less than stellar. I turned out a dry, rough-textured specimen with a big crack down the middle. It was quite awful. But that was then, and this is now!

There aren’t enough words to describe just how great this instant pot cheesecake recipe is. Instead, I’m going to show you. Prepare to be amazed.

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kitchen with green painted floor

What is the Best Way to Clean a Painted Wood Floor?

A message in my inbox this week came from Joan who asked, “What is the best way to clean a very grimy painted wood floor?”

kitchen with green painted floor

Before I get to an answer for Joan, let’s talk generally about wood floors and the difference between a painted wood floor and a finished wood floor. I would never suggest that anyone treat them as equals when it comes to cleaning.

Please, make sure you never use a painted floor cleaning formula on your finished hardwood or laminate floor because it will be too harsh and could cause damage.

Paint by definition is different than say a polyurethane finish, typically used on hardwood floors. Paint is tougher, especially latex enamel that has been formulated for wood floors.

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spring cleaning concept with tools and products

The Best Players For Your Spring Clean Team

There’s an illness that has been documented by poets for centuries and I’ve got it. It’s Spring Fever, that wonderfully amorphous disease we all recognize come April and May. Spring fever remains a fuzzy medical category, but there has been a great deal of research on how seasonal changes affect our mood and behavior. I know how it affects me—it makes me want to spring clean!

spring cleaning concept with tools and products

While I don’t invite all my friends over to help, I have built a cleaning team of DIY cleaners and equipment that make the job not necessarily fun, but at least enjoyable. Today, I’d like to introduce you to my spring clean A-team.

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Kitchen thumbs up

25 More Kitchen Hacks You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner

Here is a wonderfully creative collection of tips that spotlight my readers’ resourcefulness and intelligence in the kitchen and pantry. You’re about to learn how to make the most of your time and money in the kitchen. From clever tricks involving coffee filters, kitchen mallets, and shower caps (yes, shower caps!) to simple storage solutions for sugars and spices—get ready to take conventional wisdom to an unconventional level.

Kitchen thumbs up

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The One Quick and Easy Way to Slash the High Cost of Groceries

Have you noticed? The cost of everything is climbing and not just a little bit. Lumber prices are up 250% in just the past three months. The cost of gasoline is soaring, with the U.S. avg. hitting $2.87 per gal—nearing $6 a gal in Calif. Wholesale coffee prices have shot up 25% over the past few months. The cost of food is soaring in ways that are downright shocking.

What?! Apparently, food prices are soaring worldwide 😉

Inflation

What we’re experiencing is inflation—the cost of goods and services increasing faster than wages. The cost of the things you need to live is going up while your paycheck stays the same. That means you’re losing ground, Last month you could buy a gallon of gas for $2.25 but this month that same amount of money might get you only 3/4 of a gallon.

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before and after picture of getting clothes organized

14 Simple Organization and Storage Tips

“Sorry, my place is such a mess!” If you have to pull out that one every time you welcome friends or family into your house, it might be time to get organized. Marla Cilley, know as The Flylady, calls that C.H.A.O.S—can’t have anyone over syndrome!

before and after picture of getting clothes organized

Organization is an important aspect of any home. And we’re quite familiar with the rule: A place for everything and everything in its place. Right? The challenge is finding that place and then actually following through by making sure that place is regularly occupied!

What follows is a random selection of tips and tricks I’ve received over the years from my dear readers. Undoubtedly, some will have a ring of familiarity, while others will have you smacking palm to forehead wondering “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

Reading all the way to the end just might give you an uncontrollable urge to get started. Should come up with your own organization and storage tips and tricks, which we hope you’ll share!

Cord Corral

Computer cords and charging cables make homes and offices unsightly. Camouflage the cords by threading them through a length of 1/2-inch PVC pipe you’ve attached to the wall.

Drainer Do-Over

Take a forgotten dish drainer that’s most likely stashed under your kitchen sink and give it a new life in the office. Use it for organizing paper, pencils, pads, cards, and envelopes. It works great and will save you a few bucks from buy buying a desk organizer.

Earring Screen

Earring organizers are all the rage in stores and boutiques. You can make your own by removing the glass and cardboard backing from a picture frame and replacing it with a piece of vinyl window screen purchased at a home improvement center like Home Depot or Lowe’s. Cut it to the same size as the glass. Tack it in place in the same manner that the screen was secured. Now you can hang your earrings through the screening so they stay organized and easy to find.

Earring Holder

The next time you come across a piece of thin foam wrap (not bubble wrap) used to package fragile items, cut a strip that will fit nicely into a drawer or a compartment of your jewelry box. It makes a handy and convenient earring holder. Simply push the shank through the foam wrap and attach the earring back to the other side. The convenience of having all of your earrings secured and in the same place is well worth the few seconds it takes to attach them to a foam strip.

Earring Organization

Clearly, there is no single way to accomplish the matter of keeping earrings organized and not hopelessly orphaned! Here’s one more:

Are you always rummaging through your jewelry box in the morning to find a matching pair of earrings? Purchase a 28-day pill organizer from a dollar store to organize your earrings. The box is clear plastic so you can easily see all of your earrings at a glance. Now they’re all organized. No more rummaging.

Donate to Drama

If Halloween costumes (old prom and bridesmaids dresses) end up in boxes in your attic or garage, never to see the dark of night again, get all of them out and donate them to a theatrical group, school, or church drama department. You’ll get a tax recipe and free up some much-needed storage space, too.

Cabinet Storage Guide

Once you have your kitchen cabinets organized, take photos of every item that goes into each of our kitchen cabinets and drawers. Then print them in thumbnail view, one page per cabinet. Tape each handy reference guide to the inside of the cabinet door and now your family is perfectly clear about what goes where. It’s a quick guide to finding what you have stored in deep or low cabinets as well.

Golf Bag Revival

An old golf bag makes a great caddy for all of those long-handled tools in your garage or garden storage shed. It looks cool, too.

Safe Keeping

For things you would hate to lose in a fire or tornado but won’t fit into a safety deposit box, do this: Put them in freezer bags and store them in the freezer. Chances are they will survive a disaster quite nicely.

Storage Space Solution

If your storage space is limited and you have to stack several boxes on top of each other, make a diagram on an index card and keep it in a handy place. When you look for something, you’ll know exactly where it is. Store items that you’re more likely to use often toward the front with less frequently used items at the back.

Stored Cords

Tangled, unorganized cords can quickly clutter your space. But when you need to use that item, you need its specific cord, too. Use empty paper towel and tissue rolls to store appliance cords, It keeps them neat and you can write on the roll the appliance or item it belongs to.

The Law

To keep your possessions from overtaking your life and your space, declare a new personal dictum: For every new thing that comes in, something old must go out. You must obey The Law. It’ll work. In fact, there will be times that you’ll really want to bring home something new but the thought of getting rid of something of equal size or value will help you distinguish between a true need and a passing desire.

Flower Power

Use a terra-cotta flowerpot (super inexpensive in the garden department) to hold all your kitchen-cleaning tools under the sink. The terra cotta absorbs moisture, which will help to keep your tools dry and rust-free.

The Perfect Box

Buy milk from Costco, two gallons to a carton, and recycle the box they come in, which is perfect for storing 8-by-11 sized documents and magazines. These sturdy boxes are easy to manage because they are smaller and hold less than typical storage boxes.

chicken breasts on a plate ready to be cooked

How to Cook Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (No-Fail Secrets!)

They’re convenient and, we’re told, more healthy. But there are few things quite as boring or more difficult to prepare well than boneless skinless chicken breasts.

A plate of food on a table, with Chicken breast

Here’s the problem: Chicken skin helps to keep the chicken moist and the bones add flavor. Remove both and what do you have? The potential for dry, tasteless, tough chicken.

But not to worry. Here are two foolproof methods to prepare boneless skinless chicken breasts (BSCB) so they come out and tender and juicy every time—provided that you follow these instructions exactly.

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US Pennies shiny new

16 Facts and Uses for the One-Cent Piece That are Worth Every Penny

For some people, pennies are so annoying, they don’t even bother picking up strays that end up on sidewalks and streets. Then there are those who eagerly collect the copper coin, living up to the Benjamin Franklin quote that a penny saved is a penny earned.

Assuming that the rest of us fall somewhere between those extremes, today I thought it would be fun to take a look at a few facts and uses for the lowest value coin in the U.S. currency lineup—the lowly penny.

US Pennies in a pile

Four, no more

Carry four pennies with you at all times so you always have just enough to avoid paying the odd cents when you make a purchase. This way you avoid getting pennies back in change. Serious “change savers” save other coins but want to get rid of the pennies as quickly as possible. This method will do it.

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A close up of a metal pan on a stove top oven, with Dough and Yeast

Homemade Artisan Bread—Amazingly Easy and So Delicious!

The year 2007 was a good one for me for lots of reasons. Here’s one: It’s the year I got good at baking homemade bread thanks to a simple discovery that would go on to revolutionize the world of home baking.

Presented in their book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, authors Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoë Franḉois stated that anyone with an oven, flour, yeast, salt, and water could make authentic, artisan bread in just five minutes a day.

Within hours of getting my hands on that book, I was onboard. My first attempt at making homemade bread was ridiculously easy. And so successful I shocked myself and my family!

A more delicious loaf of artisan bread I cannot buy anywhere. And why would I, when I could now make it myself for about $.50 a loaf in just five minutes a day? Read more

How to Make Ketchup Just Like Heinz

So this is a first for me. Honestly, Heinz Ketchup is about as common a product as any in the Hunt refrigerator. So why on earth would I even think of making it myself? If you haven’t seen today’s headlines, brace.

The U.S. is experiencing a ketchup shortage. Not kidding. Ketchup! And specifically, our favorite brand, Heinz.

French fries with ketchup on wood tray

Packets, what packets?

Seems that manufacturing has not kept up with demand. With the pivot to drive-thrus and curbside pickup, Americans have fairly devoured the entirety of the national supply of those little packets of ketchup.

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Tired cleaning lady on white with spray bottle that won't spray!

Some (But Not All) Spray Bottles are Designed to Fail

Many commercial household cleaning products—glass and window cleaner for example—routinely come in a bottle with a hand sprayer. And we love that, as long as it works the way we expect that it should, which is not for long.

Tired cleaning lady on white with spray bottle that won't spray!

First, there’s the problem of a bottle design that makes it impossible to spray out every last bit of product because that tube doesn’t go all the way to the bottom. Or the mother of all frustrations: When the nozzle clogs up or for some other reason the thing just refuses to spray. Grrrrr!

There’s no way to fix that bottle design, but with a little diligence, you should be able to get the sprayer unclogged and working again for at least as long as it takes to use up the product (hot water, a paper clip to clear the nozzle, taking it all apart).

Meant to be disposable

The sad truth is the nifty sprayer that comes with that window cleaner or all-purpose cleaner is meant to be disposable. It was designed to die about the time you need to buy more cleaner. Think of these sprayers as you do cottage cheese containers and screw-cap soda bottles. They’re considered single-purpose, one-and-done. Know this going in and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration.

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Put a Big Smile on Your Face with a Dental Savings Plan

I opened my inbox and right near the top was a frantic letter from Lisa, who’s facing an emergency dental situation with a $15,000 price tag on it. She is desperate for options that will let her keep her teeth while not plunging her into debt.

Dentist

Another letter from the Madison family related that their finances are so tight, they cannot afford the luxury of regular dental care—not even routine x-rays and cleaning. That letter ended, “Is there a dental plan for families in our situation? Please answer soon before our teeth fall out!”

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Randy Quaid posing for the camera

A Gracious Guide for How to Be a Good House Guest

It was shocking if not surreal. The email message was from a woman I’d never met and whose name I recognized only because a few months earlier she mailed me a book she’d written.

The message announced that she and her family were planning a cross-country road trip to Disneyland and would just love to stay with us since (at the time) we lived nearby and oh wouldn’t that be so much fun. She gave a tentative date they would be arriving. 

Everything I know about what not to do as a house guest, I learned from that experience, from the moment they drove up to the time they finally departed—far too many days hence.

Randy Quaid posing for the camera

House Guests Cousin Eddie and Family from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

In the interest of full disclosure, because I have friends and relatives who read these posts, be it known that all other house guests we have ever had in all of our lives have been wonderful. Exemplary. Do not worry. This is not about you.

Invitation

It need not be engraved on parchment, but you do need some kind of indication that you are invited to be a guest in another’s home. Do not send a cryptic message (“Looks like we will be in your area in a couple of weeks!”), hoping that will wrangle an invitation. And for goodness sake, don’t just show up. That would forever designate you as either an interloper or freeloader. 

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Basket with easter eggs on white background

How to Cook Perfectly Boiled Eggs

Eggs. They’re nutritious, delicious, cheap and so beautiful when dyed and decorated for Easter. Cooking them properly is quite simple, provided you know a few secrets.

Basket with easter eggs on white background

A perfectly boiled egg has a yolk that is set all the way to the center and it is a clean, beautiful yellow color with no hint of ugly green where the yolk and white meet. A perfectly boiled egg slides smoothly away from the cracked shell.

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Hands of employees raising hands to ask question at business conference, focus on foreground

Ask Me Anything: How to Store Potatoes, Adult Children Money Matters, Shrinking Tuna, and More

It’s Mailbag day and time to reach in my a file named ECMailbag. That’s where I save all of the questions and letters that you, my dear readers, send to me. I don’t have the time to respond personally so I love it when I get to respond to your questions here.

Questions Mark ( ? ) word in paper note on blue background

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 through to read all. Enjoy!

Contents

1. Why not store potatoes in the fridge?

2. Lights: Turn off or leave on when leaving a room?

3. Should I rescue my adult child from her deep debt?

4. Let’s talk about that missing ounce of tuna

5. How to get out the Wite-Out?

6. How to deal with ugly baked-on crud on baking sheets?

Dear Mary: I just read your past column on keeping produce fresh longer. You said to not refrigerate potatoes. Why not? I have been doing this for several years. Dee

Dear Dee: When potatoes are stored below 40℉, the starch in them turns to sugar. This gives them an unnatural taste and you will also notice that refrigerated potatoes turn an ugly brownish color when cooked.

The ideal storage conditions for potatoes are places that are dark, cool, and well-ventilated—like the lowest shelf in a pantry. Too much light makes potatoes turn green. If that happens or if they spout, you can still use them. Just cut off the green spots and the sprouts before you cook them.

Next time you cruise the produce section at the supermarket notice how and where the potatoes are handled: They’re never refrigerated and kept perfectly dry.

Dear Mary: Is it better to turn off fluorescent lights when you leave the room? I was always told that it took more electricity to turn them on than to let them burn all day. Shirley

Dear Shirley: When it comes to residential use, the Department of Energy suggests generally that if you leave a room for more than 15 minutes, it is most cost-effective to turn all lights off whether fluorescent, incandescent, LED, or halogen, although you would be wise to turn off the incandescents the minute you leave. You can install smart timers that will do this for you. Check with your local home improvement center.

Dear Mary: I have two daughters in their twenties, both are married. One has a terrible credit score, and is diving deeper and deeper into debt. The other daughter and her husband have recently graduated from college and are very good money managers. They are budgeting, saving a down payment for a house, and paying off their college loans very quickly. I am afraid that my one daughter will become very jealous of her sister’s financial successes. Do I just stand back and do nothing? I see this as a disaster just waiting to happen. Cheryl

Dear Cheryl: You’ve got a sympathetic ear in me. We have two sons adult sons and I know how my mother’s heart wants to fix everything little thing in their lives. But we both know that’s about the worse thing we can do for our adult children. Our “brilliant help” is not always appreciated the way we think it should be. So I’m going tell you what I would tell myself if I were in your situation: Back off. If you are not a co-signer on your wild child’s debt, it really is none of your business.

Your children are adults with lives of their own. Both of your daughters are learning to live with the consequences of the choices they make, whether good and bad.

As tempting as it might be for you to give or lend money to your spendthrift daughter in an effort to level the playing field (I’m assuming that’s what you have in mind here), that would be a terrible mistake. It will only put a Band-Aid on the real problem and it could alienate the other girl.

I suggest that you focus your energy on coming up with a list of resources she’ll need, like credit counseling, books, and other resources so that if and when she does comes to you for help, you’ll be ready to give her what she really needs—and wants—to make a U-turn on her road to financial devastation.

Dear Mary: In response to your column in my local newspaper, “A Can of Tuna in the Real World,” where do you find 6-ounce cans of tuna? l have not seen a 6-ounce can of tuna in years. They’re all 5-ounces now! Ted

Dear Ted: You are mostly right, and my apologies for mistakenly referring to the out-of-date 6-oz. size. Many brands of canned fish and meat have joined a list of dozens of products that have downsized over the last decade with no price reduction, including cereals, coffee, toilet paper, and even mayonnaise.

I say “mostly right” because the only brand of tuna I buy is Kirkland Signature Solid White Albacore Tuna, 7-oz. cans in an 8-pack, for $16.99, available at Costco warehouse clubs and also online for members. It is the best canned tuna I know of as measured in both quality and value. Costco also offers an 8-pack Chicken of the Sea Solid White Albacore in 7 oz. cans, $16.49.

Dear Mary: I so messed up. I spilled a bottle of Wite-Out on my wood dining table. It’s not the finest table in the world, but still, I’m heartsick because low-quality or not I love the style. Ann-Marie

Dear Ann-Marie: There are two products that will remove the Wite-Out from finished wood or other surfaces. You may even have one or both in your garage. WD-40 or Goo Gone will work well. Both are available online or at your local home improvement store, in the paint aisle, or online.

Just spray either product on the Wite-Out spill and allow it sit for a few minutes until it begins to soften. Then gently scrape it off with a blunt object like a plastic knife edge. That should do it!

Dear Mary: Is there a way to remove baked-on grease on my favorite baking sheet pan? Love your column for all its great inexpensive ideas. Maggie

Dear Maggie: Yes, there are several. My favorite is with Dawn Dish Power Dissolver, a remarkable cleaner, albeit somewhat hard to find, that melts baked-on crud with no fumes, requiring little effort. It even leaves a pleasant fragrance.

A good oven cleaner like Easy-Off Fume-Free Oven Cleaner can be an effective oven crud cleaner, requiring more effort and elbow grease.

Here’s a DIY option, some readers have reported as being effective: Make a paste of baking soda and fresh hydrogen peroxide. Spread this over the problem area on that sheet pan. Let it sit for a while, then using a good amount of elbow grease and a scrubbing pad, go to work on it. This will work in most situations, leaving that pan looking nice and clean. I can’t guarantee it will look like new, but much better than it looks now!

We are a Everyday Cheapskate participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn from qualifying purchases, at no cost to you., an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon, at no cost to you.


gardening dirt and tools

How to Make Dirt: Compost 101

There is no doubt that this whole “cheapskate” thing can be taken too far. There are matters of time, if not personal dignity, that dictate for each of us to what extent we are willing to go to maximize our resources. That can change from time to time given the personal challenges that we face.

gardening dirt and tools

Take dumpster diving, for example. I draw the line at any activity that requires me to climb into and root around containers filled with trash destined for the landfill. I just don’t go there.

However, if my children were starving, I have no doubt that I would experience a miraculous change of heart. All that to say that, generally, I am not one who could easily be convinced to make dirt. The earth seems to be well endowed.

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A woman preparing food in a kitchen

17 Things You Need to Know About How to Use Your Garbage Disposal

I would like to personally thank the late John W. Hammes, an architect working in Racine, Wisc., who in 1927 invented the garbage disposal. What a brilliant idea. Is there anything more convenient in a kitchen than a garbage disposal? For me, it’s right up there with my dishwasher.

A woman preparing food in a kitchen

I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a lot we need to know about how to use a garbage disposal.

It took me a ridiculously long time to recognize the obvious connection between holidays, dinner parties, and emergency calls to the plumber due to hopelessly clogged drains. Why was it always on a holiday, always embarrassing with a houseful of company, always after hours, and always super expensive?

I’ll tell you why: Because that’s when I would do stupid things like peel ten pounds of potatoes, cram all of the peels into the garbage disposal and expect it to all magically disappear. Dittos with prepping artichokes. Or I’d throw a couple of whole lemons in there, thinking that would freshen up the thing before the guests arrive.

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You’ll Want to Make a Batch of This DIY Upholstery Cleaner

While we have lots of DIY cleaner recipes in our EC arsenal, a good quality, a good reliable upholstery cleaner was missing. And now we can check it off with this new handy, effective DIY recipe for homemade upholstery cleaner.

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Healthy Homemade Carrot Cake Ready for Easter

Einstein in the Kitchen or Let Them Eat (Carrot) Cake

I have a special treat for you today. It’s a recipe. Normally I sell this recipe for $1,000 but it’s your lucky day. OK, I’m just kidding about that, but honestly, this one is worth its weight in gold, which as I write is about $1,700 per ounce.

A piece of cake sitting on top of a table

In this world, there is carrot cake and then there is scrumptious absolutely to-die-for carrot cake—the kind of cake you’ve only experienced with a $200-per-person meal at a fancy hotel (you do that all the time, right?).

It’s the kind of carrot cake that would surely be named the Grand Champion in a competition at a fine culinary school like Le Cordon Bleu Baking and Pastry Arts Program if I’d ever had such an opportunity to compete.

This is the cake that’s going to make your friends and family think you’re a genius! And don’t be surprised when it becomes your signature cake—the one they request for their birthdays. Imagine how beautiful this cake might look on your Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter buffet table.



As you peruse this recipe, you may be tempted to make a few adjustments. Please do not do that. You’ll think 1 1/2 cups oil is excessive. It’s not. And the pineapple. Seriously? Yes. Do not doubt me.

This is the perfect recipe both in ingredients and proportions, so please follow it exactly. It’s the recipe you’ll be tempted to keep secret and good luck with that! 😉

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A green fire hydrant sitting on the side of a road

Yesterday I Turned Back Time

Yesterday I turned back time. Really! I reset my lawn sprinkler timer, which was more than an hour off. It was surreal to watch the numbers go backward — so much so that when I reached the desired time, I didn’t stop. I let it go back a full 24 hours, one hour at a time.

A fire hydrant sitting on the side of a road

As the numbers counted backward, I let my mind wander. If I could, would I want to re-live the time that has passed? Would I want to put my life on rewind?

At first, the idea was exhilarating. I would get another chance to accept or reject all those credit card offers that brought me to my knees. Having the chance to apply all that I know now to my life the way it was then—surely that would change the course of my life dramatically.

But the more I thought, the more I rejected the idea. If I couldn’t do things perfectly the first time around, would I get it right the second time? Or would I want a third, fourth, or even fifth try? Knowing me, that would be a real problem; I’d get stuck in an endless loop of trying to live life perfectly.

As ashamed as I am about all the boneheaded decisions I made and things that I did, and as much as I might want to have a chance to right those wrongs, everything that has happened in my life brings me to the place where I am right now.

While I may not be proud of each individual choice I’ve made, the choices are woven together into an intricate pattern, a tapestry that is my life.

Just like any piece of stitchery, a tapestry has a wrong side and a right side. The back is where all the knots and mixed-up threads hide. When you turn it over, it can be amazing to see how all of those random pieces of thread work together to become something beautiful.

I couldn’t help but think about the beautiful word ‘redemption’—the act of buying back or repurchasing something that has been pawned or mortgaged. As I repaid the horrific debt I ran up so many years ago, I got my life back one dollar at a time. I realized full redemption when the debt was fully repaid.

I finally got the sprinkler’s clock set correctly. With great relief, I shut the little door and walked away, in real time. I walked into a new day, an unspoiled 24 hours. It was an opportunity to do things right, to make good choices and wise decisions.

We don’t have to turn back time to clean the slate. That’s what we do every morning. Today, make your clean slate count. Make this a day filled with joy and wise decisions that never will make you wish you could turn back time.


Couple choosing washing machine, electronics store

Ask Me Anything: Washer Dryer Purchase, Christmas Cactus Care and Feeding

Time to reach into the mailbag to answer a few of the questions from my dear readers. It’s kinda’ my favorite day, which should give you an idea of how much I love to hear from you. While I cannot respond personally to all of your messages and letters, know that I read every one, selecting those to answer here which I believe will have a more universal appeal.

Couple choosing washing machine, electronics store

Replacing a washer and dryer

Dear Mary: The pump in our older washing machine has gone out so rather than the big repair bill to have it replaced we’ve decided it’s time for a new washer and dryer. Are high-efficiency models worth it? And which brands do you recommend? Ben

Dear Ben: High efficiency (HE) washers do a fine job of washing clothes. for normal home laundry use. The benefit over a typical top-loading machine is that they use a lot less water—the reason they’re labeled high-efficiency.

Another benefit of a front-loading machine is that it can be “stacked” with a dryer sitting on top of it. Of course, one would need to purchase the stacking hardware that securely attaches a dryer to sit on top of it.

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Why House Plants Turn Brown and How to Stop It

Not only do houseplants bring warmth and a sense of calm to a home, but it’s also an inexpensive way to decorate. Keeping your beautiful house plants looking healthy and green, is the challenge. The most common question is why do the leaves turn brown?

househplants in white pots

Why do plant leaves turn brown?

According to The Smart Garden Guide, there are many reasons why the leaves on your indoor plants may turn brown:

  • improper watering fertilizing
  • transplant shock
  • environmental causes due to lighting, heat, drafts, or humidity
  • pest or disease issues
  • natural causes such as acclimatization or age

The first step in solving the problem is to determine where on the plant leaf the problem is occurring. Is it along the edges, on the tip of the leaf or looks like brown spots?

Brown leaf tips

When the tips of the leaves appear dried out, thin like paper, and crumbly, that’s a good indication that you have a water or fertilizer issue going on.

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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.

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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woman distressed job loss

Practical Tips to Follow If You’re Out of a Job

These days it’s practically inevitable that you or someone close to you will face a period of unemployment. Consider these practical tips every unemployed person should keep in mind while dealing with the financial and emotional toll of leaving one job and searching for another.

Young dismissed female worker sitting near the carton box with her belongings in office not knowing what to do next. Getting fired concept.

Don’t take it personally

Losing a job can cause shame, humiliation, and embarrassment. You may feel depressed and lose your confidence. Yes, it’s a very stressful time, but don’t take it personally. Thousands and thousands of people have lost their jobs in this pandemic. Don’t hibernate, and be good to yourself. If you need it, seek emotional counseling. Let your friends and family be there for you.

Remember, time heals. This too will pass.

Collect your benefits

You may have unemployment benefits, a lump-sum payout from your ex-employer, a severance package, and options regarding health insurance. Find out exactly what you qualify for and the limitations and rules regarding each benefit.

The U.S. Department of Labor website has a handy list of all unemployment offices in each state. Some states now allow you to apply online or over the phone. Generally, it takes two to three weeks from the time you file your claim to receive your first benefit check.

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bird house in bottle

Rehab is for the Birds and More Great Reader Tips

If you’re planning a home rehab—or in the throes of that right now—just imagine how wonderful it would be if all it took to make the place like new was a spritz or two of our favorite odor-eliminating and cleaning spray. That’s all it took for some very lucky birds!

bird house in bottle

Fresh home

I have another use for Nok-Out. I have a gourd birdhouse and I thought it was getting too full of nesting material so I cleaned it out thinking the birds would start over the next spring building a nest in it. I was wrong. I went two years and still no bird nested. I decided to spray it with Nok-Out because maybe a bird could smell the prior resident, so to speak. I sprayed it; let it dry in the sun, hung it back up and now I have a new resident. Love your column. Kathy

Nok-Out is an amazing product, and proven safe for all things aviary! Something else amazing?  -mh

Cash iron restore

Just read your article on cast iron pans. These are better than any non-stick cookware on the market. An easier way to get rid of rust on an old cast iron pan is to fill the pan or pot with Coca-Cola and boil it. This will take the pan down to bare metal and ready to be properly seasoned. Jim Read more

man holding US cash in his hands

Your Money Temperament and Why it Matters

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you do have a money temperament. Everyone does. It’s the way you naturally think about, behave, or react to money. To loosely assess your money temperament and to have a little fun with this, consider the following premise then choose the response closest to what you would do.

man holding US cash in his hands

Your rich uncle learns that you are in desperate need of transportation. In a surprise move, he comes to your rescue with  a gift of $15,000 and the instruction to buy a car. What do you do?

a.) Make a $15,000 down payment on your dream car.
b.) Pay cash for a $15,000 previously-owned car.
c.) Exercise extreme patience, flexibility, consumer savvy, and negotiating skills to find a dandy used, late-model, low-mileage, well-maintained car for $7,500 then stash $7,500 into a savings account.

Putting aside your humble columnist’s obvious bias, let’s analyze the options.

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wool yarn balls in basket

How to Make Wool Dryer Balls

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

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

wool yarn balls in basket

100% wool yarn

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

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

You’ll need lots of yarn

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

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5 Ways a Tax Refund Can Make Your Life Better

Discovering that you’ll be getting a tax refund is certainly not the worst news you’ve had in your life. In fact, it’s easy to see a tax refund as some kind of gift from the universe. You might even be feeling kinda’ proud of your forced saving account to which you knowingly contribute every payday while living from paycheck to paycheck and relying on credit to make ends meet.

But here’s the truth: A tax refund isn’t a gift—it’s part of every paycheck you should have been getting all along. It’s not a saver’s reward. You overpaid your taxes. Plan now for how you’ll manage that check or your tax refund could evaporate into thin air.

Get smart

Change your withholding (use this calculator to determine the amount you should be having withheld along with instructions on how to change it). Your goal is to neither owe nor to be owed at the end of the year. A big tax refund is not a good thing! If you can come within $100 of that goal, you’re golden.

But wait, you’re not done. Lock eyeballs with the additional amount you see in your next paycheck—the amount you will not be sending to the IRS to hold onto for you. Do what good money managers do—create an automatic deposit authorization at your bank or credit union for that amount to be transferred into your savings account. Out of sight, out of mind. If you leave it in your checking account I promise it will simply evaporate in your routine spending. Now is your opportunity to act responsibly.

As for this tax refund, you have options—at least five that follow. The decision you make for what to do with that check could either make things worse or it could make your life so much better. Choose well.

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How to Get Out of a Supermarket Without Overspending

This is not the first time that we’ve visited the subject of how to get out of the supermarket with at least some money left in your bank account. Still, who doesn’t need an occasional reminder—a mental tune-up—to remain vigilant and razor-sharp when it comes to making our food dollars stretch until they scream.

Don’t go in hungry

You believe that you can simply dash in to pick up the infamous few things. But if you’re starving, you’re a dead aim for a couple of steaks and a load of snacks. You know what I’m talking about. This is because of Rule #1: Anything can happen when you are hungry.

Don’t try to remember

Sure, playing Brain Age on your kid’s Nintendo Switch has revitalized your dead brain cells, rendering you the mental acuity of a youngster—but don’t push it. Without a list of the exact items you’ve come to purchase, who knows what could happen?

It’s normal for our brains to slip into neutral in the face of fabulous food. A written list is the crutch you need desperately to make sure you do not slip and fall, so to speak. Read more

Collage depicting many uses for baking soda

36 Clever and Frugal Uses for Baking Soda

You’ll find it in small boxes in the supermarket aisle next to flour, sugar, and cake mixes. It comes in 10-lb. bags at Costco, shelved next to the pancake and waffle mix. It’s a key ingredient in light, fluffy biscuits. But baking soda is not just for baking.

Collage depicting many uses for baking soda

What is baking soda, anyway?

Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda or bicarbonate of soda is a chemical compound with the formula NaHCO3. It is a salt composed of a sodium cation and a bicarbonate anion. This simple chemical compound is found in nature, harvested, and ground to a fine powder for household use.

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Ants getting into a house

Quick and Easy Ways to Get Rid of Pesky Ants

If the arrival of Spring is ushering an ant infestation 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 creatures.

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

Knowing how to get rid of ants around the house is important. But it’s also fun to know just how fascinating these creatures are.

Some ants can support up to 50 times their own weight while upside down on glass. Most of the ants we see are workers. They are female, but they cannot reproduce.

Queen ants, sometimes living for up to 30 years, give birth to millions of babies! Male ants’ only job is to mate with the queen. (You’re chuckling.)

Ants are found almost everywhere on Earth. The largest ant colony ever found was over 3,750 miles wide. And you think you’ve got problems?

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Ask Me Anything: Help! Rust Stains on My Fiberglass Bathtub and MORE

Every day when I open my inbox, I find dozens, if not hundreds, of questions from the audience. Want to know the most-asked-about subject? Stains. Nasty, ugly, stubborn stains on everything you can imagine from concrete to laundry, and teeth, too.

Dear Mary: Our water is very hard and as a result has created rust-colored stains in the fiberglass bathtub. I’ve tried to scrub it away with Comet, but that did nothing. How can I remove these terrible stains? MaryAnne

Dear MaryAnne: Does your tub look similar to anything pictured above? If so, you have several options, starting with pantry items and a specific commercial product you may have already:

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mac n cheese from Panera and Lemon Loaf from Starbucks

Make It Better Yourself: Panera Mac n’ Cheese, Starbucks Lemon Loaf

According to a Reuters news story that ran long before we had to teach our kids the meaning of “quarantine,” one-third of U.S. adults are eating out less frequently than three months prior. The reason? Mostly the cost. No surprise there. Not even drive-thru fast food or curbside pick-up is inexpensive these days.

In the same survey cited by Reuters, two-thirds of the respondents said they consider eating at home to be very or somewhat cheap. And that’s because … it is!

A dining room table

Now, somewhere in between not-eating-out because it’s too expensive and eating-at-home because it’s cheaper there has to be a solution that makes eating at home not only cheap, but satisfyingly delicious, too.

Copycat Panera Mac & Cheese

Everyone has their weakness—mine happens to be macaroni and cheese and in my opinion, it’s hard to beat Panera’s signature Mac & Cheese. But that $9 price tag is hard to swallow.

Everything in me has been determined to figure out how to make this myself at home, and for more like $.80 a serving. And now that’s exactly what I do—as often as I dare.

A bowl of Macaroni and cheese

This Copycat Panera’s Mac and Cheese Recipe is, in my opinion even better than Panera’s. It’s smooth and creamy thanks to a secret ingredient that may make some of my dear readers wince.

In a word: Velveeta.

I know what you’re thinking, but if an ingredient or technique makes a dish taste better and gives it a heavenly texture, I am all for it. The key lies in how much Velveeta you use—only a very small amount.

I promise you, people will go nuts for this Mac & Cheese. Just don’t mention the V-word. It’ll be our little secret.

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cleaning supplies equipment

Spring Cleaning Mistakes You Want to Avoid

The sun is shining; birds are chirping, daffodils and crocuses are pushing their way out of their long winter slumber. Suddenly you feel that familiar urge to spring clean everything in sight. But before you get started, do yourself a big favor and consider these spring cleaning mistakes you definitely want to avoid.

cleaning supplies equipment

Mistake: Starting Out Too Big

Who among us has never undertaken the proverbial biting off more than we can chew? Just as I thought, and you sure didn’t see me raise my hand on that one! I’m talking about deciding to dejunk, clean, paint, and reorganize the garage. In one day.

Here’s what happened: Ended up just shoving everything back in about dinnertime, with plans to “finish up tomorrow.” It’s clear to see why that project turned into one big fail. It was too large, too nebulous, absolutely impossible.

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daffodil collage

Lessons from a Daffodil Garden

I love the story author Jaroldeen Edwards tells (Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner) of the trip she took with her daughter one bleak and rainy day. She wasn’t thrilled to drive more than two hours to see flowers some woman had planted. But her daughter insisted. “You’re going to love this, Mom!” Tell me what mom could resist going along with that kind of enthusiasm.

Mountains in fog
They drove along the Rim of the World Highway, inching their way toward Lake Arrowhead through fog and drizzle in the San Bernardino Mountains, north of Los Angeles, Calif.

By now, Jaroldeen was so agitated, she was certain she was being kidnapped by her daughter. Still not convinced this could be worth the trouble, she kept her mouth shut while Carolyn parked next to a small stone church and announced they would need to walk along a path, through huge, black-green evergreens and over a thick blanket of old pine needles.

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Homemade Corned Beef and Cabbage with Carrots and Potatoes

A Simple Meal to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Years ago on March 17, I surprised my DPL* staff by bringing a homemade meal to the office to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It was such a hit, I’ve done a repeat performance every year since.

Homemade Corned Beef and Cabbage with Carrots and Potatoes

The menu is simple and remarkably inexpensive:

Corned Beef and Cabbage with Potatoes and Carrots*

Irish Soda Bread*

Lime Jell-O with Pears

*Printable recipe cards follow

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These Cheap and Useful Items Will Make Your Life Easier

Stainless Steel Spoon Rest and Pot Holder

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Rechargeable Flexible Wand Lighter

collage showing uses for rechargable wand lighter

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

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money down the drain

Stop Paying for Things You Don’t Need

A big coordinated garage sale in my neighborhood gave me a surprising wake-up call. It’s one thing to see a family’s stuff spread out in the front yard, but quite another to see a whole neighborhood’s castoffs at one time. All I could think of as I walked from one yard to the next was all the dumb decisions that led to this colossal display of stuff— purchased with dollars, now offered for pennies. 

money down the drain

Imagine how much cash you’d have right now if you could get a do-over on all the thoughtless purchases you’ve made in your lifetime. Me? I’d be one wealthy woman! 

I can’t tell you what those little money wasters are in your life (the five pairs of black shoes in your closet? dozens of owl figurines for your collection?). All you have to do is take a walk through your house to see what you’ve been throwing away your money on.

Me, I’ve learned that there are a lot of “conveniences” I don’t really need. Once you put an end to them, it’s like giving yourself a raise. Just think about it. If you can cut out the stupid stuff, you may have the money you need to start a serious savings program or to pay down your debts. Read and learn from my mistakes. 

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The credits cards and the bills on the table. The number and personal ID of the credit card has been removed or replaced from the original one to prevent unnecessary things.

How to Improve Your Credit Score

A credit score is a 3-digit number between 300 and 850, generated by a mathematical algorithm (a mostly secret formula) based on information in your credit report, as compared to information on tens of millions of other people. Like it or not, the resulting number is said to be a highly accurate prediction of how likely you are to pay your bills.

The credits cards and the bills on the table. The number and personal ID of the credit card has been removed or replaced from the original one to prevent unnecessary things.

If it sounds boring and unimportant, you couldn’t be more wrong. Credit scores are used extensively these days. If you rent an apartment, get braces, buy cell phone service, apply for a job, or call to get utilities connected, there’s a good chance your report and score will be critiqued to qualify.

If you have a credit card, the bank or issuer of that account is likely to regularly look at your credit score and payment history to decide whether to decrease your credit limit or charge you a higher interest rate.

The higher your score, the better you look to lenders. People with the highest scores get the lowest interest rates. And they’re getting the jobs.

Know Your Score

You know you can get our credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. Now you can get your credit scores for free, too. Check your credit scores anytime, anywhere, and never pay for them at CreditKarma.com. You will need to create a simple, password-protected account. No credit card required. Plan to get hit up to buy all kinds of things and apply for all kinds of new credit. Just be strong, get your free score if that’s what you’re there to do, and move on.  Read more

Credit cards. Financial business background.

When Breaking Up (with a Credit Card) is Hard to Do

Reaching into my virtual mailbag for today’s post, I found a number of questions on the same general subject—credit cards—how to manage them and even how to close a credit card account.

Credit cards. Financial business background.

Boy, does this flood my mind with memories of not dealing well with credit myself. As you may know, my trip into the pit of credit card despair and the long but glorious journey out—all the way to debt-free!—not only changed the course of my life, I’ve had the joy of leading thousands of others out of that debilitating lifestyle as well. For that, I will be eternally grateful.

Slammed by a rate increase

Dear Mary: We have only one credit card with a balance of $18,000. The bank just gave us 45-days notice that our rate is going from 9.9% to 22.9%. I called to find out why and learned the bank pulled our credit reports that showed too much credit with balances that are too high. We have no late payments and decent credit scores. They will do nothing unless I can prove the credit report they pulled months ago had incorrect information on it. It was correct at the time. Is there anything we do? Donna

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apple cider vinegar small image

11 Surprising Ways to Use Apple Cider Vinegar in the House and Garden

We cannot yet declare apple cider vinegar to be a miracle cure. However, according to WebMD.com, Apple cider vinegar has a long history as a home remedy used to treat everything from a sore throat to varicose veins.

Vinegar has been used as a remedy since the days of Hippocrates. The ancient Greek doctor treated wounds with it. In recent years, people have explored apple cider vinegar as a way to lose weight, improve heart health, and even treat dandruff.

apple cider vinegar and ways to use it

The right choice

When choosing apple cider vinegar, make sure you get one that includes the “mother.” The mother of vinegar is used to accelerate the fermentation process and ensure an effective product. Bragg’s is considered by many to be the gold standard for high-quality vinegar that is packed with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Be sure to shake it well before use.

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text home sweet home in a house-shaped signboard

Simple Ways to Keep Your Home Smelling Clean and Fresh

When it comes to housekeeping, there’s nothing quite so lovely as the smell of nothing. That’s the way clean is supposed to smell—like absolutely nothing!

Clean is the absence of odors from animals, people, garbage, rot, mold, mildew, smoke, dirt, grease, and grime—not the presence of spray fragrance on top of odors. Check out these simple ways to keep your home smelling clean and fresh. And for those who love a scent, I have some ideas for that too.

Abstract white room with white bed, waving curtain on window. White room minimal interior

Deal with moisture

Moisture the number one cause of household odors. If you suspect this may be the source of that sour smell when you walk into a room, wonder no more.

  • Invest in an inexpensive hygrometer that measures specific humidity. Test every room, including the basement and attic. If you discover humidity levels above 60%, consider using a dehumidifier.
  • If you live in a humid climate, avoid wall-to-wall carpet and rugs that can trap moisture, especially in bathrooms.
  • Place moisture-absorbing crystals like Damp-Rid in closets and bathrooms.
  • Don’t allow wet things like towels to sit in hampers for any length of time.
  • Run sponges through the dishwasher at least every couple of days.
  • Hang bath mats over the towel bar or shower rod following every use so they can dry out.

MORE: Best Inexpensive Home Dehumidifiers and How to Choose

Address the obvious

The more time you spend around them, the less likely you may be to realize the offensive odors radiating from litter boxes, dog beds, animal accidents, trash and garbage cans, diaper pails, clothes hampers, pillows, and mattresses. You may have nose blindness, known as sensory adaptation, according to Leslie Stein, Ph.D., director of science communications at the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

Just because you can’t smell your stuff doesn’t mean your home smells clean and fresh. The longer you allow those odors to linger, the more difficult it will be to get rid of them.

Soft surfaces

Carpet, rugs, pillows, upholstery, bed linens, drapes, and curtains are magnets for dust, dirt, and funky smells. Once a spill dries or dirt and dust settle in, odor-causing bacteria find a home and that can lead to something even worse—mold and mildew.

If you haven’t done this in a while, start by washing all of these items that can go through the laundry (pillows, blankets, bedding, curtains, and so forth). You may need to call in professionals for big jobs like carpet and draperies. Invest in a gallon of Nok-Out then use it the way it is meant to be used!

Become proactive

Once there’s a spill or accident—especially biological accidents such as urine and vomit—don’t wait! Clean it immediately with a good enzymatic cleaner, then follow with Nok-Out.


NOK-OUT GIVEAWAY!


Refrigerator

Once a month, Melissa Maker of Clean My Space, advises us to deep-clean the refrigerator. If you do that consistently, it’s super quick and easy!

First, remove everything to a  counter so you can see what you have. Next, throw out everything that’s past its prime.

Give the inside of the fridge a thorough scrubbing with an all-purpose cleaner.

Follow that with a second scrubbing using vinegar. If it’s still stinky, spray it down—even the vents—with Nok-Out, and do not rinse, allowing Nok-Out to air dry completely.

Bring in the fresh air

The easiest (and cheapest) way to freshen any space is to open the window. Let mother nature help out with those leftover cooking smells or lingering odors. If possible, open windows in opposite areas of the room or house to create cross ventilation. Even during the winter when it’s super cold outside, just cracking a window for a short period of time can make a huge difference.

Neutralize

Odor neutralizers can go a long way to create the lovely smell of nothing and keep your home smelling fresh and clean. Activated charcoal filters that hang from a hook or tossed in a drawer or cupboard are a great way to neutralize the air in bathrooms, closets, and other areas prone to stinky situations.

Scented candles

Don’t expect that fresh-baked-cookies scented candle to eliminate the odor coming from the litter box. That will only turn the smell of cat pee into cat pee with an overtone of fresh-baked cookies!

But once you have achieved the smell of nothing (aka clean!), scented candles or essential oil diffusers can create a wonderful ambiance. Just don’t go overboard.

One candle (maybe two) can fragrance an entire home. Or one diffuser is likely all you need. Remember that sensory adaptation thing that could prompt you to over scent.

DIY home scent

Here’s a DIY air freshener you may want to try: Mix 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and 20 drops of your favorite essential oil in a small spray bottle. Shake well before every use. Lightly mist over carpet, upholstery, pillows, blankets, and clothes. Go easy to allow the mist to dry quickly.

The next time you replace your furnace filter (you do that religiously, every three months , right?), spread 20 drops of that essential oil on it. When the fan is running it will disperse the scent throughout the home.


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4 Reasons to Kick the Credit Card Habit

There are lots of reasons not to carry credit card debt. The most obvious is that it’s really expensive. And here’s a reason often overlooked: It seems so much harder to work for money you’ve already spent.

But what if you do not carry any credit card debt at all? There are some who would say it is perfectly reasonable to use credit to pay for everything provided you are able to pay it back down to $0 during the grace period.

Sure, that makes for easy record-keeping plus all those points, miles, and cash rewards that many credit card issuers offer. Even so, it’s a habit that can have a negative effect on your financial situation.

You need to kick the credit card habit for these simple reasons: Read more

Modern luxury kitchen interior with stone countertop and stainless steel appliances

How to Heal the Heartbreak of Scratches on Stainless Steel

As sleek and sturdy as it is, stainless steel is not immune to picking up unsightly scratches in everyday household activities. They show up on sinks, appliances, cabinet hardware, and stainless counters, too. There’s a good chance you can remove scratches on stainless steel surfaces, provided you use the right tools and closely follow these tips.

Modern luxury kitchen interior with stone countertop and stainless steel appliances

Coated or uncoated?

Some stainless steel appliances and products these days are finished in the factory with a protective synthetic clear coat to reduce fingerprints showing up on the surface.

While subtle, I can tell the difference between coated and uncoated stainless steel simply by looking at it. If you are not sure if your stainless is coated or not, check with the manufacturer or Owner Manual.

Caution

 DO NOT use any of the following techniques on coated stainless. You will end up with a much worse problem than you have already. Sadly, if your stainless is coated and scratched, you may have to learn to live with it. The following techniques are for uncoated stainless steel only.

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handwashing vs dishwasher

Washing Dishes By Hand vs. Dishwasher—Which is More Effective?

It’s an interesting question and one that comes up every time I write about how to use and maintain a dishwasher: Which is more cost effective: Handwashing dishes or using the dishwasher?

handwashing vs dishwasher

For many readers, handwashing dishes just feels better and something that’s hard to let go of, especially for those who don’t use enough dishes to fill the dishwasher more than a couple of times a week.

But is low-tech handwashing just as effective as a high-tech dishwasher? All things considered, the answer might surprise you.

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Fluffy white towels on table with shutter doors

How to Wash White Laundry to Keep It Looking Brilliant

Just as there are rules in life for things like how to drive a car, how to cook a meal, or how to manage your money, there are a few simple rules for how to wash white clothes to keep them looking brilliant and clean. And, if they happen to get a bit dull, gray, or yellowed, there are rules for how to restore the brightness of washable white clothing, too.

Fluffy white towels on table with shutter doors

Separate whites

Sort dirty laundry very carefully. Never allow items of color—any color, no matter how pale—to sneak into a load of white laundry. Washing white clothes separately prevents the dye from colored items bleeding and transferring to white things. Even though the effect may not be noticeable at first, this is how white things begin their journey to become dull and dingy eventually.

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cooked bacon on a plate

The Best Way to Cook Bacon (Easiest, Too!)

I must admit to a kind of love-hate relationship with bacon. On the one hand, my family loves bacon, which means I cook it often. And until I discovered the best, easiest way to do that, I dreaded having to fry bacon!

cooked bacon on a plate

The problem in two words: splatters, smell. I’m not a fan of splatters all over the cooktop. And that lingering smell of stale bacon throughout the house for hours and beyond? That nearly knocks me out.

Then there’s the problem of keeping the first batch hot and crispy when only about 1/4 pound fits well in a stovetop skillet.

Trust me, I’ve tried all the methods—stovetop, microwave, griddle, and outdoor grill. The outdoor grill has been mostly my go-to method, but when it’s 10 F. with a foot of snow out there, not so much.

And all that is history, now that I’m hooked on the absolute best way to cook bacon—in the oven. It’s easy with minimal if any splatters, the smell of bacon is all but limited to the baking time, I can cook an entire pound of bacon at one time, and clean up is a cinch!

Why is oven-baked the best method?

Until I tried it, I assumed cooking in the oven would make an even bigger mess than using my cast iron skillet on the stovetop. And time-consuming. Just the opposite is true. I can prepare an entire pound of bacon without having to baby it and tend to it. Oven-baked, it stays flat with no splatters. Even better? The “fragrance” of bacon is short-lived.

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makeup collage

Best Drugstore Makeup Brands

My frugal philosophy is pretty simple: Scrimp on things that don’t matter to have the money for things that do. Makeup is important to me. I’ll forego other things that aren’t that important to afford quality makeup.

For years, my makeup of choice was M.A.C., sold online; at cosmetics counters in high-end department stores and in exclusive M.A.C. stores, worldwide.

It’s been some time since M.A.C. and I parted company and for one reason only—the ever-increasing cost of the M.A.C. line of cosmetics is enough to give me a heart attack!

It took a while, but with considerable research and many trials (and errors), I replaced each of my M.A.C. items with one of these best drugstore makeup products. My criterion was that the replacement had to be cheaper, but of an equal or better quality.   Read more

How to Make DIY Dry Shampoo

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Natural woolen yarn and knitting on vintage wooden background.

The Secret to Keeping Your Finances in the Black

When I am not writing about personal finance and consumer debt, I knit. Something about the gentle rhythm of yarn and needles calms my spirit and unwinds my brain.

Natural woolen yarn and knitting on vintage wooden background.

I have managed to finish a few projects, not because I’m a great knitter but because I can “tink” almost as well as I knit (knit spelled backward means tearing out).

Because all knitters make mistakes, tinking is a required skill for those who take the craft seriously. It doesn’t take too many oversized sweaters or undersized hats to figure out that the smallest error at the beginning of a project can produce disastrous results if not found and corrected.

Just two options

By some miracle, all knitting consists of just two stitches: knit and purl. Likewise, with money you have two options: spend or save. And who among us can say they have never made a financial error? We all make mistakes but the secret to staying out of the red is correcting the little mistakes before they lead to disastrous results.

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2002 Chevy Silverado

10 Things You Can Do to Make a Vehicle Last Twice as Long

In September 2021, it will be 20 years ago that my husband and I bought a new Chevy Silverado.  For 14 of those years, it was our only vehicle. Our goal from day one has always been to make it last longer than any vehicle we’d ever owned—maybe even twice as long.

As I write, we still own this truck. It’s closing in on 275,000 miles—and still running great on its original front brakes.

2002 Chevy Silverado

This truck has turned out to be really cheap transportation. And the longer we drive it, the cheaper it gets considering its per-mile cost.

Most cars and trucks are built to last far longer than we can imagine. And when all is said and done, the difference between a clunker and a cream puff comes down to how well its owner has taken care of it. 

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How to Clean and Sanitize Your Washing Machine

If you assume the inside of your washer is the cleanest place in your home because you put detergent through it with every load of laundry, join the club. Most people think that. 

So why is there dirty residue on the agitator? Why do washed clothes sometimes come out with stains they didn’t have before they went in? Why do towels and the washer get stinky?

woman peering into stinky washing machine

The answer is germs. According to a study by Dr. Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, if you wash a load of just underwear, there will be 100 million E. coli in the wash water, which can be transmitted to the next load of laundry.

However, and this is good to know—of the more than 60,000 kinds of germs, only one to two percent of them are potentially pathogenic. But the other 98 percent, when allowed to accumulate, can produce a terrible odor in clothes, towels, and linens—and inside the washer, too.

If you rely on laundry detergent alone to get rid of all the dirt and germs but are not occasionally using bleach and very hot water, you’re not killing the bacteria. In fact, they’re getting on your hands when you remove the wet laundry and also staying behind in the washing machine.

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How to Clean, Restore Dirty Stained Leather

I love learning insider secrets. I’m not talking tabloid headlines, fake news, or conspiracy theories—I work hard to avoid that—but solid, authentic, and reliable insider trade secrets. I’ve got two of those kinds of secrets for you today for how to clean leather.

products to clean stained dirty leather

Dear Mary: I recently purchased a late-model, previously owned vehicle. The dealer tried to sell me a package where they treat the leather seats. Because of the cost, I opted not to make that purchase.

My question is, do you know the type of treatment car dealers use to treat leather seats? Is it even necessary to do this? The car is an expensive purchase for me and I need to know how to take good care of the interior to make it last. Thank you for your very enjoyable column. I read it from top to bottom and always learn or find something I can use daily. Jan Read more

empty wallet - woman with no money in purse shopping. Female

Yes, You Can Save Money!

How’s your health? Not your physical fitness but your financial well-being. For most of us, how much we earn tells us how we’re “feeling” financially. But your income is only one part of the equation. How much of your income do you actually keep?

empty wallet - woman with no money in purse shopping. Female

Not very much, I’ll bet. Your income is low, you say; you’ve got bills to pay. Rents are sky-high, grocery costs are through the roof—who can possibly save?

My answer: You can. Yes, you can save money!

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How to Spring-Clean (Wash and Detail) a Car

When you think of spring cleaning, you probably think of your home. But what about your car? It has served you well all winter long. It’s been through the mud, the snow, sleet, sand, and salt. It needs a good spring clean, too!

young woman washing her car

You could take your car to a professional car detailer and spend $150 or more to get it cleaned up for Spring. Or you can keep the cash and do it yourself.

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Milk and dairy products on a wooden table

Eggs, Milk and Cheese … in the Freezer?!

I’m sure my supermarket is not the only grocery store with an area in the back similar to the one I call My Bargain Bin. It’s refrigerated and almost always features some dandy bargains, especially on perishable items approaching that sell by” date. There are no limits on the number of items I can load into my cart—all of them with ridiculously low, rock bottom prices.

Milk and dairy products on a wooden table

You may be asking, but Mary what can we do with all of these perishables to make sure they don’t, well … perish! The answer of course is to freeze them. Yes, even the eggs, milk, and cheese.

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kitchen magician female chef

18 Kitchen Hacks You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner

Regardless of skill level—whether you’re a novice, naturally gifted in the kitchen, or simply blessed with many years of experience—these quick and clever kitchen hacks are sure to change how you cook for the better. Or at the very least make you smile and shout, “Wow! What a great idea!

kitchen magician female chef

Super slick

When you’re measuring sticky ingredients like honey or molasses, spray your measuring tool with cooking spray first. It will help the honey slide right out, giving you the most precise measurement. Or, If the recipe includes a large amount of oil, measure that first in a measuring cup. Then, add the molasses or honey right into the same measuring cup with the oil and voila! No more sticky residue left behind.

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Homemade Poo-Pourri Toilet Spray

I have something really fun to share with you today about fragrance, but first a story. About my friend, Herta. It’s been quite a few years now since she and Al came to visit. In their graciously kind manner, they brought gifts. I thought I’d heard of everything, but one of these gifts left me wide-eyed and sputtering to find a good response, which I am not sure I did.

Privately, I concluded that this small, supremely elegant spray bottle that Herta was visibly so excited about must be something special in their country—to me it was oddly foreign.

The name on the bottle left me stuttering: Poo-Pourri Before-You-Go Toilet Spray. Herta took me into the powder room to demonstrate. “Look, you just spritz the surface of the toilet water before you go. It stops bathroom odors before they ever begin!” Herta was so excited to show me this fabulous new product. Me? I was like … whaaat?

I have to admit that I couldn’t wait to try it, and I did. You know what? It really worked. The product is oily. When you spray Poo-Pourri into the toilet (before … not during or after), it sits on the surface of the water and creates a kind of sealant against, well …let’s just say it—fumes. It traps the odors, sending them down the drain, not out into the room. Get it? Read more

Simple 15-Minute Projects to Slash Your Utility Bills

By now, at least 120 utility companies have voluntarily lowered electric, gas, or water rates due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which cut the corporate rate from 35% to 21%. Many continue to pass on the tax savings in the form of lower rates for many customers. But for many of us, it’s not enough!

So exactly how can you lower your utility bills? Check out these six projects each of which can be completed in 15-minutes or less, requiring no advanced skills or special equipment. Soon you’ll be keeping more of your hard-earned money in your pocket—not your utility providers’.

Ready? … Set … Go!

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Budget

How to Live on a Budget and Love It

For many years I wouldn’t have anything to do with a budget because I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone—or anything—telling me how to spend my money. And where did that get me? Into one big financial mess.

Income and Budget

Every month, when I ran out of money, I would turn to MasterCard and Visa for a bailout. To me, any available credit was the same as income. It was my money to do with as I found necessary. Really bad idea.

What I learned from going through that experience and finding my way back to solvency is that, as much as we may loathe it, a budget is the ticket to financial happiness―not the straitjacket I feared it would be. I’ve come to prefer calling this a “spending plan” rather than a  budget, but honestly, the terms are interchangeable. It’s just a way to pre-spend your income on paper first.

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a-man-shovelling-snow-in-winter-

7 DIY Ice Melt Recipes for Snowy Steps, Walkways, and Driveways

Got ice and snow on top of super cold temperatures this winter? EC Reader Jennifer does, and wrote: Do you have a solution for melting ice and snow on walkways, driveways, steps, and windshields? 

At least one of these homemade recipes is sure to come to Jennifer’s rescue and quite possibly yours too.

a-man-shovelling-snow-in-winter-

All of these recipes and methods use ordinary household items most of us keep on hand. So grab a bucket and a spray bottle and let’s get mixing!

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money with stethescope

Give Yourself an Extreme Money Makeover

There’s nothing like a job-layoff notice, getting a call from the bank saying you’ve bounced your account to the moon—or in my case back in the ‘80s learning that our home was about to be foreclosed—to tell you that you need an extreme money makeover.

11867031 - stethoscope on money dollar cash currency banknote background using for healthy financial and insurance concept

How to Give Yourself a Money Makeover

What follows is a simple overview of how to get started conducting your own money makeover. These are examples and suggestions that may or may not apply directly to your situation, but can give you what you need to get started.

Before picture

Any makeover worth its salt needs a great before picture. A personal financial snapshot is called a Statement of Net Worth—a realistic estimate of how much money you would have left if you sold all that you own and paid off all that you owe. It’s a picture you need no matter how dire your situation may seem to be.

Your attitude

Face it. The only thing you control absolutely is your attitude—the way you choose to respond to life and all of its challenges. This is a season in your life that has come and will go. It’s not forever. You can handle anything as long as you know it will end. Choose to face your extreme situation with an equally intense response.

Get a plan

Write a simple plan for how you will reach your goalkeeping in mind that a good plan is specific, reasonable, realistic, finite with a way to measure results. Give yourself a date by which you plan to have this makeover complete. Now create stepping stones so you can measure your progress.

Freeze spending

Yes, it’s extreme but so is your makeover. Imposing a spending freeze for the next week or two will give you the jumpstart you need. Then move into a non-essential spending freeze for the foreseeable future.  Read more

supermarket case filled with chicken

Supermarket Chicken Labeling—What Does it All Mean?

If you’ve ever stood in the supermarket wondering if paying more for chicken that is free-range, antibiotic-free, no hormones added, farm-raised, natural, and organic, makes you a better person, you are not alone. 

supermarket case filled with chicken

Recently, as I was doubting myself on my chicken choices I decided to get to the bottom of what all of this really means. It’s not at all what I thought.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a cabinet-level agency that oversees the regulation of food-grade chicken and is responsible for the claims on packaging and labels. And despite all of the hype and fluff, there is only one label (“organic”) that guarantees specific standards and for which you might consider paying more. 

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toilet tissue

Here is a Super Reliable, Easy Way to the Compare Toilet Paper Prices

Over the years I’ve received thousands of money-saving tips from readers—many of which I’ve shared in books, newsletters and this column. And there are plenty that I’ve not shared for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they don’t work.

Some don’t work so poorly, they actually end up costing time and money, not saving anything. One of those tips still makes me laugh. It goes like this:

toilet tissue

“Start with two empty toilet paper tubes and a new roll of 2-ply toilet tissue. Carefully separate the two layers of toilet tissue, re-rolling each of the layers onto an empty tube to create—ta-da!—two rolls of paper for the price of one.”

Not only does this take an unbelievable amount time, unless you own a toilet tissue rolling machine of some kind, the result is a ginormous, ridiculous mess of toilet tissue that is so thin, it takes at least twice as much to get the job done.

Don’t do that, OK? Instead, learn how to comparison shop for toilet tissue. And when you find it on sale at a great price, which means much lower than its regular price, stock up.

No standard

Comparing prices on toilet paper is confusing because no two rolls or packages are alike. There are no set standards for toilet paper (and I’m not suggesting there should be). We can’t compare roll-for-roll because roll sizes vary from one manufacturer to another.

Some companies offer double-rolls, jumbo rolls or even 1000-sheet rolls—all of which are pretty meaningless when trying to make a reasonable price comparison. Same with comparing the number of sheets per roll.

There is no set size for a sheet of toilet paper! To make things even more confusing, some rolls are 2-ply (layers), super ultra-plush with 3-ply while others a skimpy 1- or sometimes referred to as single-ply.

We are a Everyday Cheapskate participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn from qualifying purchases, at no cost to you., an affiliate advertising program. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases by linking to Amazon affiliated sites.

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Homemade Pot Roast with Gravy—Quick and Super Easy!

What’s for dinner? How about Pot Roast that makes its own gravy? That takes only a few minutes to prepare, then on the table in an hour? That’s what I’m talking about!

sliced pot roast beef dinner with peas mashed potatoes and gravy

Homemade Pot Roast with Gravy

Pot Roast is economical, classic comfort food, and a quintessential family favorite. Bonus: leftovers are even better the second day. What’s not to love?

Get ready for fall-apart beef that’s tender, flavorful, and smothered in a rich gravy. This recipe is mouthwateringly good, yet insanely simple to make. Use a slow cooker or Instant Pot. Pick the method that works best for you!

And now get ready for a quirky recipe—nothing to measure, no chopping, cutting, or browning. Just three seasoning packets, a roast (or chicken or pork!)—and you’re good to go.

A close up of food, with Pot roast and Beef

Variations

A close up of many different types of food, with Gravy and Pot roast

Spice mixes are available in just about every supermarket and grocery store. You’ll save quite a bit if you can find the bulk containers of the same products. Or you can order online, links below.

Individual packets

Brown Gravy dry mix

Chicken Gravy dry mix

Pork Gravy dry mix

Italian dressing dry mix

Ranch dressing dry mix

Bulk containers

Brown Gravy dry mix

Poultry Gravy dry mix

Ranch dressing dry mix

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A close up of a plate of food, with Pot roast

Three Packets and a Roast

Get ready for fall-apart beef that's tender, flavorful, and smothered in a rich gravy it makes itself. This recipe is mouthwateringly good, yet insanely simple to make. Use Instant Pot or slow cooker—the method that works best for you!
4.54 from 15 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 314kcal
Cost: Hard to determine, just try to buy your meat on Sale!

Equipment

  • Slow Cooker OR
  • Pressure cooker (Instant pot)

Ingredients

  • 1 3 - 4 lb. beef roast chuck, London broil, round—you name it!
  • 1 packet Brown Gravy dry mix
  • 1 packet Italian dressing dry mix
  • 1 packet Ranch dressing dry mix
  • 1 cup water

Instructions

  • Place beef in Instant Pot or slow cooker (no need to brown, but you sure can do that if you want!).
  • Pour contents of the three seasoning packets over the raw meat.
  • Pour water over the top. Cover with lid.
  • Instant Pot: Set to high pressure (or 'meat/stew' if your IP model has that setting) for 60 mins. Quick release.
  • Slow cooker: Cook on Low for 8-10 hours for a very large roast, fewer hours if smaller, or on High for 5-6 hours. Check for doneness after 4-5 hours, as time will vary depending on the cut of beef, size and so on.
  • Optional: Add cut up potatoes and carrots during the last hour of cooking; frozen peas during the last 10 minutes in slow cooker. For Instant Pot, remove roast, add cut up raw potatoes and carrots to the gravy, then high pressure for 4 to 5 minutes, quick release.
  • Expect beautiful, rich, dark brown gravy and the best Pot Roast ever.

Notes

Three Packets and a Chicken
1 whole chicken with Chicken Gravy Mix, Italian Dressing Dry Mix, and Ranch Dressing Dry Mix and 1 cup water.
Three Packets and a Pork Roast
1 pork roast with Pork Gravy Mix, Italian Dressing Dry Mix, and Ranch Dressing Dry Mix and 1 cup water.

Nutrition

Calories: 314kcal
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

Best Inexpensive Cordless Handheld Vacuum

To say that for many years I had a love/hate relationship with handheld vacuums would be to put it mildly. I love the idea of a cordless handheld vacuum that is charged up and always ready to make a quick pick-up—in fact, it is on my list of household must-haves.

generic handheld vac in use

But I hate when the thing runs for only a few minutes before it needs to be recharged, is heavy and awkward to use, and has such weak suction it really doesn’t do a very good job of picking up anything.

Backstory

It’s been more than 30 years since I got my first handheld Dustbuster. It would hold a charge for maybe two minutes if all the stars were properly aligned and I held it in just the right position. And the thing completely failed after only a few months—refusing to hold any charge at all. Rubbish!

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A bowl of fruit sitting on a table, with Vinegar

How to Use Castile Soap to Make Natural Cleaning Products

From time to time I hear from readers who have sensitivities or allergies to our beloved Blue Dawn. Is there something all-natural we can use that will not trigger these reactions but still work well? There is and it is pure Castile soap. While olive-oil based Castile soap has been around for centuries, Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap, itself dating back to 1858, is making a big, glorious, all-natural comeback.

Castile soap

Available in several versions including one that is unscented, this organic castile soap is available online as well as in grocery, health food, and discount department stores. Dr. Bronner’s is not the only pure Castile soap out there—other brands of Castile liquid soap are equally suitable for the following cleaning recipes and household and personal uses, such as Almona, St. Clare, and Seven Minerals.

All-Purpose Cleaning Spray

Add 1/4 cup pure Castile liquid soap to one-quart warm water and mix gently. Pour into a 32-ounce spray bottle and use it as you would any spray cleaner around the house. Safe on granite and quartz counters and laminate surfaces. Optional: A few drops of lemon or orange essential oil will give this cleaner a fresh, pleasant fragrance.

Degreaser Cleaning Spray

  1. Add 1/4 cup pure Castile liquid soap into a 32-ounce spray bottle.
  2. Then fill with warm water.
  3. Fill a second 32-ounce spray bottle with 1 cup white vinegar and warm water to fill.
  4. Spray greasy kitchen surfaces with the soap-water solution and clean them well with a soft cloth. Then spray the same surface with the vinegar-water solution to rinse, followed by another round with the soft cloth.

Caution: Rinsing granite or other natural stone surfaces with vinegar may, over time, dull and damage the stone’s sealant. If cleaning stone, use this rinsing method sparingly.

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US coins and bills

7 Places to Look for Free Money

It’s been several years now since I got a super fun letter from a reader who has developed a hobby of looking for money in gutters, parking lots, streets, sidewalks, and other public places. And he keeps a running tab. He included a copy of his free money journal for the previous year.

US coins and bills

It was amazing to see how his finds often exceed $50 in a single month, available to him just for the taking. Not bad! But I couldn’t help wonder how his payoff might climb if he knew about other places that harbor free money.


Jewelry Box

Not long ago, I toured my jewelry box. What a hoot! I found one gold chain now in pieces, a bracelet, and several orphaned earrings—all of it gold from the ‘80s that I don’t wear anymore. Something tells me you might find something similar if you go through your drawers and old jewelry boxes.

Not sure if it’s real gold? Follow these simple steps to find out.

Provided what you have is at least 10k gold (but not gold-plated), it’s like cash—free money. Go in person to three jewelry stores or local coin shops to see what they’ll pay you for it, then go with the highest bid. Never mail your junk gold to a “gold dealer.”

Vending Machines

Start paying attention to vending machine coin return compartments. Luckily, most of them are clear plastic, so you can see into them without getting down and reaching to feel around. Winter is the best time to clean up on coins as people are often wearing gloves and don’t feel the coins they leave behind. Because there is no way to find that unfortunate person, it’s finders keepers—free money. The same goes for ATMs.

Pension Funds

If you or a family member worked for a company with a pension plan and were terminated because the company went bankrupt or was bought out by another company, you or your relative (or his or her estate if deceased) may be eligible to receive benefits from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which is a U.S. Government Agency.

The PBGS is currently holding about $200 million in unclaimed benefits for more than 36,000 people. That averages nearly $5,500 per person. To see if you might have anything coming your way, you can perform a search at Finding a Lost Pension.

The PBGC helps locate people owed pension money and help them get it back. They do this with the Missing Participant Program, which finds people owed benefits from fully funded, PBGC insured defined benefit plans that have ended.

Junk Drawer Purge

If yours is like 99% of all the homes on earth, you have at least one junk drawer. Go through it on a gift card hunt. Call the number on the back of the card to find out how much value remains. That’s free money being held hostage in plastic. Use it, or you may lose it.

Matured Bonds

More than $15 billion worth of U.S. Savings Bonds have matured and are sitting unclaimed by their owners, according to the U.S. Treasury. The department’s Treasury Hunt search engine allows you to search for matured bonds using your Social Security number.

Unclaimed Assets

You or someone in your family may be missing money because you lost track of a refund, a rebate, security deposit, insurance dividend, or proceeds from a class action suit. It happens. To search online, check out this U.S. government site as well as Unclaimed.org (scroll down to find the U.S. map, then click on individual states to go to that state’s unclaimed property web page) and MissingMoney.com. You should not have to pay any fees to reclaim assets, so should you click on an ad that requires payment, don’t let that tempt you. You can do this search on your own without paying others in the process.

Treasure Hunting

Now might be a good time to dust off that metal detector you got for your Birthday (how many years ago? Ha!). If you were not that fortunate, don’t worry. For under $75, you can pick up a decent metal detector.

We are a Everyday Cheapskate participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn from qualifying purchases, at no cost to you., an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon, at no cost to you.

Metal detecting is a fun hobby where the more you participate, the luckier you’ll get. Want to get serious about it?  Join a club. Find other enthusiasts. And make sure you keep a journal of your successes. Check out the Kellyco Detectors site. There, you’ll find a treasure trove of community and detecting how-tos, where to hunt, forums, and just plain free-money fun for metal detectors. Make sure you don’t miss 25 Best Metal Detecting Sites.

Question: What is the most significant amount of “free money” you’ve ever found if any? What were the circumstances? We’d love for you to share in the comments below.


woman-shopping-online-deals

11 Ways to Get the Best Online Deals and Discounts

Just about everyone who shops online knows to look for online deals—a discount, promotional code, or coupon of some kind–before hitting checkout. According to Statista, in 2020 142.3 million U.S. adults redeemed online coupons, a number that’s projected to grow to 145.3 million users in 2021. But digital coupons are only one of 11 ways to get the biggest discounts and best deals this holiday season.

woman-computer-laptop-shopping

Make the Best Online Deals

Coupon codes

Making it a personal commitment that you won’t buy anything online without a coupon code is something you’ll be able to carry out, almost flawlessly. Coupons and codes are out there if you know where to look.

A simple online search is one way. Another is to visit sites like RetailMeNot and Coupons.com. Totally stumped? Contact customer service or the online chat feature and kindly ask for a code. A simple “Is there anything you can do for me?” has been known to work very well!

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A little girl sitting on a wooden surface

Best Ideas and Gifts to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is just days away, I know. Bless you, if you are prepared and way ahead of the game. For the rest of us, it might be tempting to just ignore the day altogether and assume our spouses, kids, grandkids, friends, family, and co-workers, will think we forgot and give us a pass, but I do not recommend that! The way I see it we still have time, and that means options:

A person posing for the camera

Last-Minute Ideas

Make sweet treats

You have plenty of time to make these sweet treats in your kitchen befitting the day. Check out Yummy Sweets to Make for Valentines Day.

Date night

Plan a date with your love, even if your wallet is a little thin. Get creative to find reasonable and fun alternatives that require only pocket change—or with any luck, some that are absolutely free. I have a few ideas for you in Great Dates for Couples on a Tight Budget.

Plan a Fun Family Party

Here are 8 Fun Family Games for Valentine’s Day to get you started.

Give a gift

Find the perfect little something for those special someones in our lives—there is still plenty of time to do this, too.

What follow are great gift ideas that are sure to please but won’t break the bank, divided into three categories. You can click on one to jump to that category or read straight through. Enjoy!

Best Valentine Gifts for Kids

Best Valentine Gifts for Her

Best Valentine Gifts for Him

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A boy lying on the grass

Great Dates for Couples on a Tight Budget

Wallet a little thin this Valentine season? That shouldn’t mean you cancel all dates until things begin to look up in the finance department. The solution is to get creative, to find reasonable and fun alternatives that require only pocket change and the right attitude—or with any luck, some that are absolutely free.

A boy lying on the grass

9 ideas to get your creativity going

Volunteer together

Find a local charity that meets the needs of some area of life you are passionate about, such as a soup kitchen or pet shelter. Volunteer for the day—together!

Free day

Most art galleries and museums have a free day or hours each month or have gone to a “pay as you wish” policy. Here’s an example: Los Angeles County Museum of Art is free after 3pm Monday-Friday for L.A. County residents; also free on the second Tuesday of each month. Also in Los Angeles, The Getty Center is always free. Check those in your area.

Karaoke

Just hear me out. Karaoke is guaranteed to be a fun night, even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Let your hair down, spring for a few drinks and have a ball.

Stargaze

When is the last time you lay down on a blanket and stared at the stars? Grab some hot chocolate, warm blankets, and your best gal or guy, then try to find your favorite constellations. If you need some guidance, you can download apps like Star Tracker (Google/Apple). Read more

Portrait Of A Worried Couple Calculating Financial Budget

What is the Real Hourly Wage of Your Second Income?

Most families these days assume it takes two incomes to survive. And many would be shocked if they just took the time to figure out the real hourly wage in that second paycheck.

Portrait Of A Worried Couple Calculating Financial Budget

Dear Mary: With two toddlers, my husband and I are paying through the roof for daycare. It seems like almost all the money I earn goes to childcare, so I’ve been thinking of quitting my job and staying home with the kids. I’m excited at the thought of being home with our boys, but I also want to be sure my family will be okay financially. Is there an easy way to make sure the decision is right for us? Bethany

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Football party food, super bowl day, nachos salsa guacamole

Yummy Snacks and Appetizers—Quick & Easy!

The Super Bowl is this Sunday. I know. I can’t believe it either. Even if you’re not aware who’s playing, knowing that kickoff is set for 6:30 pm ET and stands will be semi-filled with 25,000 masked fans (not to be confused with an additional 30,000 unmasked cutouts) signals party time!

Football party food, super bowl day, nachos salsa guacamole

For those of us for whom Super Bowl is more about the snacks than the game itself (someone had to say it), you’re going to love these appetizers that are quick, delicious, and easy on the budget.

Hint: Chiefs and Buccaneers

Pico de Gallo

This is my recipe from a previous post Confessions of a Compulsive Chopper. It’s the best … not too spicy; so fresh and lovely. So delicious served with fresh, crunchy tortilla chips!

Homemade Pico De Gallo Salsa and Chips Ready to Eat

You’ll need:

✅ tomatoes
✅ onion
✅ green bell pepper
✅ garlic, fresh
✅ garlic powder
✅ lime
✅ jalapeno
✅ cumin
✅ salt and 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 4 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!

Guacamole

The best guacamole keeps it simple—not too spicy to make sure avocado remains the star. Make it smooth or chunky, exactly as you desire. This is the recipe you’ve been looking for and will soon become your #1 go-to.

You’ll need:

✅ avocados
✅ lime juice
✅ salt
✅ onion
✅ cilantro
✅ garlic
✅ cayenne (optional)

Guacamole