I don’t really have a mailbag but it would be fun if I did. What I do have is a file named EC_Mailbag. That’s where I save all of the questions and letters that you, my Dear Readers, send to me. I just don’t have the time to respond personally so I love it when I get to answer your questions here.
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!
Q1: Dear Mary: At a recent job interview, I filled out the application, which included a form asking for permission to obtain my credit report. I’ve fallen behind on a number of payments since I was laid off six months ago. Can my bad credit hamper my chances of getting the job? Is it even legal? Doug
Dear Doug: Yes it is legal. Federal legislation allows employers to conduct credit checks of potential employees. (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington all limit the use of employment credit checks.)
A credit report has become more than just a list of creditors. It’s a kind of character reference. Employers want to see how a potential employee manages his or her life. If you are sloppy with your personal affairs, can they expect the same kind of sloppiness on the job?
These days, a credit report shows lots of things other than late payments. If you’ve been evicted, had a judgment filed against you, a tax lien, or you have a civil action pending—all can show up. Does a potential employer have a right to know all of that about you? I guess you’d have to think like an employer to answer that question. At any rate, making sure you keep your credit report as squeaky clean as possible is beneficial for many reasons.
I suggest you get a free physical copy of your credit report (annualcreditreport.com, the only source for free credit reports, as authorized by federal law) to see exactly what’s on it. If there are negative, albeit true, entries (which cannot be removed from the report), write up your own simple explanation and have it available should a potential employer, landlord, or even an insurance agent (yes, they look, too) makes a similar request in the future. Offer a simple upfront explanation. This may help you to easily get past that issue. I know I would be impressed if I were the one interviewing you. I wish you well in landing the job of your dreams!
Q2: Dear Mary: I just read a past column on keeping produce fresh longer (How to Store Fresh Fruits and Vegetables) You said to not refrigerate potatoes. Why not? I have been doing this for several years. Dee
Dear Dee: When potatoes are stored below 40º F the starch in them turns to sugar. Consequently, this affects the taste and you will also notice that refrigerated potatoes turn an ugly brownish color once cooked. The ideal storage conditions for potatoes are a dark, cool, well-ventilated place 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 the potatoes are handled: Never refrigerated and kept perfectly dry. That’s always a good indication for how we should be storing produce at home.
Again, thanks for loving these articles [posts, columns]. Knowing you’re out there reading, learning, and enjoying is what keeps me going!–
Q3: Dear Mary: I love your daily posts, and have a request. Would you consider adding a Print button to your posts so we can easily print them out in a printer-friendly format? I would love that and I’m sure others would as well. Jenn
Dear Jenn: Thanks for your practical question. I’ve included a Print option for many years, now. It’s small and located at the end of every post before the comments section. It should show up as a big orange button that says PRINT.
If you do not see that, check your browser to make sure it is up to date. Or you may need to use a different browser to see it. I hope that helps!
Q4: Dear Mary: Last month, I lent my sister $500 to pay her rent since she said she was in a jam. She has yet to pay me back, but she eats out every day and gets weekly manicures. I’m seething. What can I say to get my money back? Christy
Dear Christy: The business side of my brain wants you to review the repayment terms in the Promissory Note she signed. The “sister” part of me says you probably didn’t think you would need that. A written agreement makes sure that everyone has the same expectations—even sisters. As it is, you expected her to pay you back complete with a mushy thank you note. Her expectations? Who knows. However, she may think you’ve got so much money you haven’t even missed it.
I don’t blame you for being upset, but is $500 worth destroying your relationship? That’s what will happen if you let your anger turn into bitterness. You need to accept that she may never pay you back. Once you stop seething, say to her, “Let’s figure out a repayment schedule that’s comfortable for you.”
In summary, do everything you can to work it out, and then write the terms you’ve agreed. If she ever pays you back, consider it a bonus. And the next time you decide to lend money to anyone, put your expectations in writing—before you write the check.
Q5: Dear Mary: Now that schools are back in session, I dread the thought of clothes shopping for the kids. We don’t have unlimited funds and I won’t go into debt for new clothes. But my teenage daughters have very high expectations. They have certain brands they insist on and I just don’t know how to handle this. Any ideas you could offer would be greatly appreciated. Belinda
Dear Belinda: I have just the idea to answer your question. Go to the bank and withdraw the cash you have earmarked for school clothes. Get two envelopes and put half of the money in each. Now, tell your girls you’re taking them out to lunch. Really build this up, but don’t give away your secret. Act excited. They’ll be so curious to know what’s up with mom!
At lunch, explain to them that you are so proud of the way they are growing into young ladies, and that you trust them more than they might believe. In fact, you trust them so much you are going to allow them to do their own clothes shopping for school.
Next, reveal to them your shortlist of rules. These should include any dress codes their school enforces, as well as your own. Make sure they understand these rules completely. You will have to be very specific and very detailed because kids always look for loopholes.
For example, if you have a length requirement for skirts, state that in “inches from the floor” rather than saying “not too short.” Hand them their envelopes and tell them this is their money to spend on clothes. When it’s gone, that’s it until next spring (or next fall … whatever you decide).
Your girls will be in shock. Should they ask for guidance, be there. But don’t take over and for goodness sake don’t comment on their choices, provided they have not broken the rules. And if they do buy things that are not allowed, in the trash or back to the store they go.
Consequently, you will be surprised just how your girls change their standards when it’s “their” money they’re spending. Good luck. I think you are going to be pleasantly surprised by how well they will do.
There is so much more I would love to tell you about building financial literacy in children. That’s why I suggest you read my book, Raising Financially Confident Kids. Keep an eye on your mailbox because I’m sending you an autographed copy!
Dear Bud: The leaf stains are caused by tannins, the same type of compounds that are found in grapes and make wine taste “dry.” Tannin stains on outdoor concrete may not permanent, but they can be difficult to remove. Fresh stains often go away on their own, provided they are exposed to the powerful bleaching action of the sun. Fresh stains are easier to remove than older stains. Powdered detergents that contain bleaching agents that remove organic stains like food, blood and plant material can effectively clean old, stubborn stains from concrete surfaces, according to Concrete Network.
Here are the steps to follow, making sure you have placed a tarp over nearby plants to protect them from cleaning products. Always test a small, inconspicuous area of the concrete before you apply the cleaner to the stain:
- Start by washing leaf debris from the concrete with a power washer.
- Then apply Cascade powdered dishwasher detergent to the stain while the concrete is still damp. Let the detergent sit for a few minutes.
- Next scrub the stain with a stiff non-metal brush.
- Finally, rinse all the soap off the concrete with the power washer.
- If needed, add more detergent and repeat the cleaning and rinsing process if the stain is still there.
For extremely tough stains that cannot be completely removed following the steps above, continue to the next level:
- Mix 1 cup liquid chlorine bleach with 2 gallons of water in a bucket.
- Then apply the mixture to the concrete and let it sit without drying for five minutes.
- Finally, scrub the stain vigorously with the brush and rinse off the bleach mixture with a power washer.
- To avoid conspicuous bleached areas, clean the entire concrete surface instead of spot-cleaning the stain.
Caution: Never mix chlorine bleach with anything other than water.
Dear Linda: Great question and one I’m asked often. The answer: Laundry stripping.
Let me refer you to this EC post, Dingy Gray Laundry is the Problem—THIS is the Solution! for complete instructions plus a slightly embarrassing photo tutorial, which captures my first laundry stripping experience. Prepare to be shocked.
Laundry stripping is the process of removing all the buildup and getting down to the base fabric. It’s a specific process that removes all of the gunk that attracts more grime and residue that can remain even after regular laundry routines. The results are nothing short of amazing.
As wonderful as laundry stripping can be, you need to know that it is a powerful process that if overdone can be harsh on fabrics. It should be done only a few times a year, or when clothes and linens begin to show signs of getting stiff and dull.
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