Arms and hands outstretched to ask questions

Ask Me Anything: Pay Down Debt or Invest? | Online Dating | Horrible Odor in Leather Couch

I love it when readers ask me questions. And believe me when I tell you the questions pour in and on every topic imaginable—even how to cut the cost of online dating. Today, I pulled the following three letters from the EC mailbag:

multi-ethinic arms outstretched to ask questions.


Dear Mary: We are better off than most. We have no credit-card debt, we have several hundred dollars in cash stashed away in a safe in our house and we have about $5,000 in savings. Our 401(k) accounts and Roth IRAs have a total current value of about $50,000. My husband is 41 and I’m 35. We have two kids and college 529 college savings plans for them. Our mortgage is our biggest payment. Should we pay down our mortgage with extra income or put the extra money into our retirement accounts? Peggy

Dear Peggy: Before you’re ready to do either—pay down debt or invest—you need at least enough money in your emergency fund that to keep all the bills paid and food on the table for at least six months without any income. That money should be in a safe place where you could get your hands on it in say 36 to 72 hours, which could be in your home safe, but I’d rather it be in a savings account in a bank or credit union. While your $5,000 in savings is a good start, it’s not nearly enough. I’m thinking more like $30,000. Am I right?

Once your emergency fund is safe and secure, it’s a tossup on whether you should aggressively invest in paying off your mortgage or invest in the market to build wealth for retirement. I’m sure we could find plenty of experts to argue both options.

I would advise you concentrate heavily on paying off your mortgage debt. There is no better investment than a repaid debt. Not only will you get a guaranteed rate of return, eventually you will pay it off completely. That house will be all yours. You can live in it mortgage-free, while that asset grow in value. As investments go, that’s hard to beat.

MORE: Invest in Your Debt—It’s a Sure Thing with a Solid Return

Dear Mary: I work hard every day and don’t have the energy to get out in the evenings. I spend my free time with longtime friends, so I don’t meet single men. I know several people who have found partners online. I’m determined to find a man for myself before the end of the year. Online dating services may be the way, but they can get pricey. Are there coupons online for special deals? Belinda

Dear Belinda: There are. Google “Online Dating Coupons” and you’ll turn up a love boat load of online coupon codes for any number of dating sites. Please do not take this as any kind of an endorsement from me. Be careful out there, hear?

Dear Mary: My mother-in-law has a leather couch that is only about two years old. Several months ago her cat relieved itself on the sofa and I mean more than once. Mom has tried everything she can think of to get the odor out. Most products that claim to take out odors don’t say whether they’re safe for leather, so we’ve been leery about using them. Can you recommend something that will help? Otherwise, she may have to buy a new couch. Suzanne

Dear Suzanne: Yes, I can. Nok-Out is an amazing product that eliminates odors and does not just cover them up with fragrance. It is the only thing I know of that truly eliminates animal odors—especially cat odors—and cigarette odor, too.

As for your specific problem involving leather, I asked Nok-Out owner Ted Osburn, and he responded:

Nok-Out does not harm leather at all. The one caution I always state is that because the pores of leather are so dense, it may take more than one application to penetrate to the site of the contamination and completely eliminate the odor.

For leather furniture, spray until lightly moistened and then scrub the leather with a sponge dipped in Nok-Out. The scrubbing process seems to encourage penetration, rather than waiting for it to soak in. After about five minutes, wipe away any residual moisture and allow to dry naturally.

It’s a good idea to upend the sofa, and spray the bottom of the furniture, skirting (if any), and all wooden surfaces. When buttons or other decorative touches are present, and along any seaming, spray carefully and thoroughly to enhance the penetration process.

RELATED: 8 Reasons I’m Hooked on Nok-Out

Nok-Out is the only thing I know of that works on difficult odors, one of the worst being cat urine. Nok-Out contains no fragrance, is non-toxic and hypoallergenic. Nok-Out acts as an oxidizer to eliminate difficult odors once and for all. Learn more at

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2 replies
  1. Sue in MN says:

    In the matter of paying down debt (mortgage) versus investing, here is another thing to consider: car replacement. If you drive, the need is inevitable. We always have a “car account” – it can be used for major/off-budget repairs, or for replacement. When we started, it was to purchase a specific vehicle in the future for cash. We estimated when we wanted to buy, then made monthly “car payments” into a designated savings account. When we bought that car, we continued the payments so that by the time our second car required replacement there was enough cash to do it without a loan or dipping into our investments. We have two adult daughters who do the same, and have never had a car payment. Works for new or used vehicles, makes the buying process simple because you don’t have to play the finance game with the dealer or bank. And saves a lot of money since car loan interest is not deductible on your taxes like a home mortgage is (and the rates can be much higher than your mortgage, especially on a used car.) The other upside is that if you ever have a period of reduced income, you don’t have to dip into your emergency savings to pay the car note. Also, by having the cash in hand, you are super-aware of the total cost – much more resistant to costly add-ons like “upholstery protectant”, window tinting and “paint sealer” – if you really want them, search out the best price and provider on your local market – you’ll be surprised how much cheaper they are than at the dealer.


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