Best Inexpensive Sewing Machines

Turning 7 years old is a big deal on its own but for me it was even better because I would be old enough to join 4-H—America’s largest youth development organization, which is still alive and well after all these years, empowering nearly six million young people across the U.S. with the skills to lead for a lifetime.

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Unlike most 4-H Clubs these days, mine offered only one program—sewing—and that was just fine with me. I was so excited because I would learn to operate a real, full-size, electric sewing machine.

My first project was big square dish towel. My task was to turn and hem on the sewing machine, all the way around which seemed like miles at the time, without any stitches slipping off the edge. It took forever, but I did it. Every inch of that hem brings back a flood of joyful memories. What an accomplishment. Next up? An apron. I did that too, and with that I began to form a life-long love for sewing.  Read more

Best Inexpensive Vacuum Sealer and Best Room Humidifier for DIY Fumigation

What do vacuum sealers and apartments that smell like a stale ashtray have in common? Absolutely nothing other than these two messages showing up in my mailbox at the same moment—both of them in response to recent posts.

Dear Mary: Just a few days ago I purchased a Ziploc Vacuum Sealer. It’s still in the box, unopened. A couple of hours later I could have kicked myself when I opened the newspaper and read your column on the FoodSaver vacuum sealer. Now I’m thinking of returning the Ziploc machine and getting the FoodSaver. Before I go to the trouble, I wanted to know if the Ziploc sealer might be comparable to the FoodSaver, in your opinion. Patti

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Dear Patti: The Ziploc machine does not offer one of the most important features and reasons to have a vacuum sealing system—a jar sealer. I use the jar sealer (both the regular and wide mouth sealer because I have both kinds of jars) accessory more than any other feature on my FoodSaver because I love to store everything from popping corn to fresh fruit in glass canning jars.

Even perishables like strawberries and lettuce, when stored in a glass jar—and kept in the refrigerator—last so much longer than they would in other kinds of containers. I do love my FoodSaver for all of its features but would be lost if I couldn’t use it to vacuum seal jars and wine bottles too. FoodSaver also makes a set of canisters that are as useful as they are attractive—just make sure you never put them in the dishwasher. Read more

Best Inexpensive: Luggage

Over the past few weeks I’ve received an unusual number of requests for my take on the best inexpensive luggage. That suggests to me that many of my readers are making plans to travel over the coming winter holidays. How exciting! I am honored by the trust you put in me to help you identity your best inexpensive option.

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LUGGAGE. Over the years I’ve owned and beat up quite possibly every style and type of luggage out there. Hard-side made of polycarbonate (as opposed to soft-side made of canvas) with sturdy interior construction is my luggage of choice. For me, soft-side luggage doesn’t do a great job of keeping the contents neat and well-protected. Well-made hard side construction gives luggage the best chance of withstanding the rigors of airline and cruise ship baggage handlers, too.

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Best Inexpensive Kitchen Knife Set

If your kitchen is typical, it is likely furnished with a few pots and lids that don’t necessary match; a stack of baking and roasting pans that may or may not be the right size for the task at hand and a drawer crammed with utensils in a variety of conditions and configurations (some of which you don’t know how to use but some day you might) and several knives none of which are sharp enough to be of much good.

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I believe the ideal kitchen should be furnished minimally. By that I mean it should contain an adequate supply of excellent quality, highly useful pieces of cookware and utensils.

If that doesn’t describe your kitchen, it’s time to take inventory and dejunk your cupboards and drawers so that each piece of equipment you decide to retain is used often, performs adequately and has its own place. That’s the kind of simplicity that has a beauty all its own.

With that in mind, today I want to offer a little knife advice together with some points to follow when you’re ready to purchase for yourself or as a gift.  Read more

The Best Inexpensive Double Stroller

There are few joys in life that rival the joy that children bring. But nothing has surprised me more than how that joy is multiplied when we get to add the word “grand” to the children in our lives. Double joy!

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Dear Mary: Thank you for your column, I really enjoy it! Based on your recommendation, we purchased your “Best Inexpensive Stroller” hoping it would stand up against the cobblestones of Rome, Italy.

Well, after three months of living in Rome with our two-year-old little girl, I can tell you the stroller did fantastically! It held up great over miles and miles of walking, cobblestones, was simple for travel within airports, and perfect for tight squeezes onto buses, trams, and trains! It was an ideal investment, so thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom. You truly bless the lives of those you reach. With gratitude, Barbara.

Dear Barbara: I’m both excited and jealous: Excited that you love that stroller as much as I do and jealous because I would love to spend three months in Rome with my grandsons, over miles and miles of cobblestones.

Did you notice? I said grandsons! Eli age 7 is now big brother to Sam, age 1. The fun in my Fridays has doubled now that Sam is old enough to join us. Catch up for recent readers: Since Eli was six-weeks old, I’ve cared for him on Fridays. My original intent was to gift my Fridays to my kids to give them a day to breathe. But as it turns out, this has become the greatest gift they could have ever given me. Read more

Readers Want to Know the Best Inexpensive Appliances

DEAR MARY: What is the best refrigerator brand overall? We are ready to purchase a French-door style refrigerator with water and ice in the door. Thank you. Anne

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DEAR ANNE: When we did a major remodel of our kitchen, I went into hyper research mode to find the exact refrigerator you describe. I had one more requirement—reasonable price. It didn’t take long for me to scrub the Samsung brand from my list, due to the numerous poor reviews from buyers and feedback from the appliance repairmen I interviewed. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that we opted for GE Profile Series Energy Star 27.7 cu. ft. French-Door Refrigerator. I loved everything about that refrigerator for the six months I got to enjoy it before we sold that house—especially that lower freezer. Finding it on sale made the price right, too.

When we replace the 13-year old side-by-side refrigerator that came with our new home, I won’t hesitate one moment to buy that GE Profile again. Actually, I can hardly wait. Hope that helps.

DEAR MARY: I need a room humidifier. I’m sure you will have a good idea for me? What is a good one? What is a good price for one. Where is a good place to buy one? Your article in my newspaper is my favorite. You’re like a good friend with lots of great ideas. Thank you in advance. Blessings, Carolyn Read more

Best Inexpensive Way to Reduce Home Heating Bill

Just as I was knee-deep in researching, testing and learning all I could about electric space heaters, this letter washed up on my desk.

DEAR MARY: I need your help to figure out how we can reduce our home heating bill. It’s killing us to pay so much to keep our house warm in the winter.

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We have a gas furnace and where I live the cost of gas has gone up more than 10 percent, while at the same time the cost of electricity has gone down slightly. Our home is two story with a basement. Our kids are grown so it’s just the two of us. My husband travels for his work, so I’m the only one here most of the time. Thanks in advance for your help! Jeanine

DEAR JEANINE: The most efficient and easiest way to reduce your home heating cost is to heat only the rooms that are occupied, while keeping your furnace set very low to say 55 or 60 F. Then use space heaters to make occupied rooms comfortable, while they are occupied. You can rely on this method during the day as well as at night.

You could easily see your heating bill drop 35 percent or more by simply keeping the main source of heat set very low, supplementing with electric space heaters. It’s such a simple way to make a huge difference in your home heating costs. Read more

Remember the Best Inexpensive Stroller?

 Update: The Ignite has been discontinued, and after thorough research we have replaced our top pick with the Summer Infant Stroller — which is even better and cheaper than the Ignite.

The following post got a huge response when it was first published. Still, nearly every week, I get messages asking for the details on that amazing inexpensive small piece of manufacturing awesomeness. In an effort to keep new readers up to speed and to revisit the details of my favorite stroller, here’s that post in its entirety. Just make sure you read all the way to the end so you don’t miss the critical update.

One of the best money management tools I know is this Rule of Thumb: Match quality with need. In other words, don’t buy quality beyond the need.

Sometimes the cheapest option is the best choice. Other times, you’ll regret having gone cheap when you have to replace that item well before your need for it goes away. In that case, you’d be better off going for a higher-priced option that promises to last longer than the cheaper alternative and its replacement.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? You’d think so, but I must admit that when it comes to this quality vs. need issue, I am not perfect. It can be a real challenge.

Case in point: When my grandson was born, I bought the cheapest umbrella stroller Target had to offer. My reasoning was that I would use it only occasionally. I didn’t need a big fancy model.

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Photo credit: Stopthegears Flickr Photostream

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