Repairman looking at washing machine to give woman an estimate to repair

Should you Repair or Replace your Broken Appliances?

You’re worried the washing machine may be on its last spin cycle. It makes a horrible screeching sound and needs a lot of coaxing to make it all the way through a full cycle. Should you spend $319 to fix this inefficient appliance or replace it with a $999 new model that will use less electricity and water?

Deciding whether to repair or replace your broken appliance—especially when trying to discover which option will save money in the long run—can be challenging.

Set of household kitchen technics on yellow background. Set of a

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

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whole roasted chicken on wooden kitchen table

Smart Saving Tastes Like Chicken

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

whole roasted chicken on wooden kitchen table

Don’t pay full-price

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

Buy whole chickens

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

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

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

toothpaste tube and toothbrush on white terry cloth towel

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

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

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

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open dishwasher with clean plates in it, focus on dishwasher detergent

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

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

repairman and female homeowever looking into dishwasher

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

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

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

Can you help? Katherine

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

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

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

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

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

Hope that helps. Let me know …

Within only a few hours, I heard back!

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

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

What is borax?

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

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

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

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

borax in a box and in a white paill

Is borax safe?

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

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

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

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

Precautions to take

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

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

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

1. Clean carpet

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

2. Steam clean

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

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auto mechanic at work cleaning and repairing brakes

More Creative Ways My Clever Readers Save Time and Money

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

auto mechanic at work cleaning and repairing brakes

Cleans more than brakes

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

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

Nothing goes to waste

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

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garbage cans filled with rotten produce

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

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

garbage cans filled with rotten produce

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

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

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

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

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Photo of a flying bald eagle with a United States of American flag in the background.

Simple Ways We Can Celebrate Memorial Day

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

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

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

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

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

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Washing machine and 3 bottles laundry detergent

Using Regular Detergent in a High-Efficiency Washer is Risky Business

If you’ve ever wondered what’s the difference between regular laundry detergents and those designated as “High Efficiency” or HE or if they’re interchangeable, and if you could possibly make your own to cut the cost … you are not the only one! Those are questions that frequently show up in my mailbox.

Washing machine and 3 bottles laundry detergent

Dear Mary:  First, thank you for your column, I love it! I just inherited several bottles of regular laundry detergent. I have a HE front-loader washer. Is there a way to use or modify regular laundry detergent for HE use? Christin

Dear Christin:  Standard washing machines that use traditional laundry detergent (the type of detergent you’ve inherited) use up to 35 gallons of water per load. 

Full-sized energy-efficient top-loaders like my beloved LG High-Efficiency Top Load Washer (which I loved and gifted it to my son when we moved and our new laundry room configuration could not accommodate it), use about 13 gallons of water per load—a savings of more than 3,000 gallons of water per year—operate much differently than a standard machine. This is one of the reasons that HE detergent is quite different than the standard type of detergent.

So, can you use standard detergent in your HE machine? I must advise you that your owner manual is not likely to support such an idea, potentially putting your warranty at risk.

That being said, I will admit that I did use standard detergent from time to time in my LG top-loader that required HE detergent. But I used MUCH less per load because it uses so much less water.

Too much detergent will clog up the machine because the amount of water it uses is not sufficient to rinse it out. That build-up can cause the machine to malfunction and eventually will create an offensive odor.

Now, when I say “less” detergent I mean a lot less. Like one-fourth the amount you might normally use. I measured it in tablespoons, not capfuls. And I diluted it in a large container of water before pouring it into the machine.

Would I do that again? Yes, but not on a regular basis. I want you and all of my readers to know that to do so would be taking a potential risk should the machine require service under its warranty, as per the manufacturer’s guidelines,

Given the potential harm you could do to your machine, you might want to consider re-gifting the detergent to friends, family, or a shelter in your area that uses traditional washers. Then make a big batch of my homemade HE detergent. That way others win and you win, too. I hope that helps. And thanks for loving EC.

Up Next:

Stinky Laundry, Smelly Washer: How to Clean Your Washing Machine

A Simple Solution for Gross, Smelly Towels

5 Homemade Cleaners that Perform Even Better than Expensive Brands

First published: 7-7-15; Revised & Updated 5-17-20

Make It Better Yourself: Panera’s Mac n’ Cheese, Starbuck’s 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!

empty restaurant with tables set and ready to serve

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.

Copycat Panera mac n cheese in yellow bowl

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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empty grocery store shelves

Where to Find Basic Essentials When the Shelves are Empty

The disruption to U.S. food supply chains is now playing out in grocery stores and supermarkets across the country. It seems like shoppers empty the shelves just as quickly as supermarkets can restock, especially on high-demand items like non-perishable foods, cleaning supplies, and, of course, toilet paper.   empty grocery store shelves

Good news! Finding the essentials you need may not require you to stand in long lines or spend hours clicking through Amazon search results, only to be disappointed over and again.

Today, I have alternatives for you to consider plus options for where to find the essentials you need that are—surprise!—in stock.

Meat, poultry

While we’re being told there’s no shortage of food in the US—for whatever reason, fresh meat and poultry have pretty much disappeared. And when found you’ll discover shockingly high prices, at least for now.

Reasonable alternatives for fresh meat and poultry are canned options that are just as nutritious like tuna, albacore, salmon; chicken, corned beef, and …  Spam!  And don’t forget the frozen food aisle where meat, seafood, and poultry seem to be more plentiful.

Pro tip

Consider this challenge the perfect opportunity to try out more meatless meals, built around eggs, cheese and other non-meat protein.

Meal Kits

Home Chef meal kits with contactless delivery right to your front door are looking better than ever, starting at  $6.95 per meal—with no delivery fees or gratuities. You can still use this link to get $35 off your first order, and that looks like free food to me! Seriously, that is a great deal for excellent quality fresh food that is super easy to prepare.

Home Chef continues to be the cheapest and most family-friendly meal kit service out there—available for delivery in 95% of the US. And of course, you can cancel at any time. Might be time to give Home Chef a try.

Flour

While supermarket baking shelves continue to be cleaned out, online sources like King Arthur Flour and Bob’s Red Mill are fairly well stocked; however, that changes day by day. Keep checking.

Webstaurant is another online resource for flour. Just know you’ll be dealing with professional baker quantities in 25-pound or even 50-pound bags. An easy solution there is for family and friends to go in together on those large quantities.

Another option for flour is to call a local bakery. One reader reports that she called a local bakery in her city to inquire if they might be willing to sell flour. The answer was a resounding Yes! She picked up 25 pounds for just $18 and got to support a local business at the same time. It just might be worth your time to make a call.

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