Some of my most valuable life lessons I’ve learned from cars. From the outrageous monthly payments to ghastly repair bills and ridiculous insurance premiums, I know the dilemma of “Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em!”

young man having car trouble

While it didn’t cross my mind while going through so many car miseries that one day my experiences might help others, perhaps that day has come. Let’s just say that what I know about this subject, I’ve learned the hard way.

Dear Mary: I’m in desperate need of some advice. After losing literally everything in a divorce situation, I bought a car about a year ago that I could pay for with cash—a 2002 Camry with more than 200,000 miles.

In the past year, I’ve spent more on repairs than I paid for the car. Every few weeks I seem to have to pay $200-$400 for repairs and that trend continues. I just found out that I need new inner tie rods and struts for the front of the car to keep it drivable and safe. Looming on the horizon is the need to replace the clutch (it’s a manual transmission) and no doubt other things, too.

Related: How to Get Your Perspective Back on Track

At what point do you say enough is enough? I’ve been telling myself that there are only so many things that could go wrong on a car but I’m barely making it financially and if something more expensive happens that I can’t pay for with cash (I don’t even have a credit card) I’m in big trouble. I’m concerned it’ll leave me with no transportation to get to work and even worse, unable to see my kids. Thanks for what you do. Tim Read more

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It’s one of the worst odors a home can experience—that lingering, worsening, putrid smell of burned rice or popcorn coming from the microwave oven.

Unhappy young man looking at fire coming from microwave oven in kitchen

It happens and not because we’re ignorant or irresponsible. Well, maybe a little of the latter, but still—burning stuff happens. And when it’s popcorn, and the instructions say 3 minutes 45 seconds and someone, who shall remain nameless, unintentionally sets it for 30 minutes 45 minutes—I have learned that where there’s smoke there’s going to be a problem.

Dear Mary: How can I get rid of the smell of smoke in my microwave oven? I burned rice in it, and it really smoked. And now the smoke smell is nasty. I have tried boiling water with an entire cut-up lemon. That didn’t help. I’ve sprayed it with Clorox lavender kitchen cleaner and let it sit then wiped it and sprayed again. The oven still stinks. Please, HELP! Sheri

Dear Sheri: There is an effective rescue that will banish all of that horrible smell and not attempt to cover it up with fragrance. However, it is going to depend on the extent of the problem. If the oven got so hot that the smoke odor is now embedded in the melted plastic, probably not. But that would be extreme and something I’m pretty sure you would have mentioned.

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There is an old adage that warns, never lend money to family or friends. And if you’ve managed to adhere to such a thing when someone you love has been in a real bind, it’s possible that you’re much stronger than I am and I dare say, most of your fellow readers as well. The secret is to help if you can, but in a way that strengthens that relationship, not destroys it.

Lending money to a family member can get sticky

Does the Lender Get a Say?

Dear Mary: Last month I lent my sister $500 to pay her rent since she said she was in a jam. Well, it’s been months now and she hasn’t paid me back, yet she’s eating out every day and getting a weekly manicure! Needless to say, I’m angry. What can I say to get my money back? Seething in Seattle

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Perhaps it’s happened to you: A many-candled birthday cake or lovely candle centerpiece go awry, leaving you with a mess of melted candle wax, now hardened and hopelessly stuck to your beautiful wood table.

Can that table be saved?

Young girl blowing out the lit candles on her birthday cake

Coax Candle Wax Off Wood Surface

Dear Mary: I was given a beautiful wood pub table. It has candle wax stuck to it from, I am assuming, someone blowing out candles. How do I fix this without scraping it with a knife? Kathy

Dear Kathy: Soften the dried wax with a hair dryer set to medium heat, pointing the dryer to the wax while keeping it 3 to 4 inches away from the table.

Once softened, blot the wax with a soft, white cloth. Keep working at it by softening then blotting until you have removed all of the wax.

Next, mix 1/2 cup white vinegar with 1 cup of water. Dip the cloth into the vinegar mix and wipe away any wax that may remain.

Last, clean your table with furniture polish to restore the shine. That should do it!

Sanitize Laundry

Dear Mary: Thank you for all you do to help us save time, money and our planet. I have been following your advice for years, and eagerly pass on what I find helpful and the products that have become second nature in our home.

My husband is a plumber, and to say that his work clothes get nasty is an understatement. Recently we bought Lysol Laundry Sanitizer—two large bottles for $16. I make our laundry detergent, add white vinegar to the final rinse, and have two sets of wool dryer balls. Was I already sanitizing his clothes with that vinegar?  Nancy

Dear Nancy: Lysol Laundry Sanitizer has been around for years. If you check the ingredients, you’ll see that it contains mostly water with  small amounts of ethanol and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides (basically alcohol and “salt”). I’m not saying those two ingredents together don’t kill some bacteria but why pay $8 a bottle to do what you can, and are already, doing yourself?

Detergent and hot water kill most bacteria. Acetic acid (white vinegar from the supermarket is 5% acetic acid) is a great disinfectant. It also acts as a deodorizer and cuts grease.

You can tackle salmonella, E. coli and other “gram-negative” bacteria with vinegar. Gram-negative bacteria can cause pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream, wound or surgical site infections.

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Money matters can affect every area of life, often stirring up emotions of worry, fear, anger, and resentment. If not dealt with swiftly, those feelings can turn to bitterness, which can eat a person from the inside out.

How to avoid that bitterness thing from taking hold? Talk it out. Ask for help. Get advice from someone you trust.

fright-and-wonder-woman-with-newspaper at home

Dear Mary: I just read that the company that holds my home mortgage is under investigation by the Feds, has a net worth of negative 63 million dollars and is expected to file for bankruptcy. This company holds title to my house. If it goes bankrupt, am I at risk of losing my home, even though I’ve never been late on my payments?

I don’t want to refinance with another company because I am locked in at a great rate for the life of the loan and refinancing would cost a lot of money. Angela

Dear Angela: From what you’ve told me, I don’t think you have a thing to worry about. I do believe you have stated incorrectly that the lender holds title to your home. I am quite certain the title is in your name, with the lender having a lien on the property secured by a note and deed of trust.

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Few things in this world are more confusing than credit cards—how they work, what they really cost and how to manage them responsibly. While it’s only my opinion, I think credit-card issuing banks are just fine with that.

But I’m not fine with that and you shouldn’t be either! When it comes to credit cards, ignorance is not bliss.

Woman-with-credit-card-woes.

What’s the solution? Stop being ignorant. Learn all you can. Ask questions in order to grow your financial intelligence. That’s the way to win the credit-card game.

Dear Mary: I am on the fast track to paying off my credit-card debt in full and forever. I’m like a racehorse heading into the final lap. Here’s my question: Does it matter when I make my monthly credit-card payments? Would it make any difference if I paid earlier in the billing cycle rather than just before the due date? Kevin

Dear Kevin: Wow, this is great news and I’m out here cheering you on. The answer to your question is Yes, it does matter. Here’s why:

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If I were keeping track of the number of responses from my readers that are filled with praise and gratitude, there would be thousands of hash marks next to Tub and Shower Soap Scum Cleaner. And the word used most-often to describe it? Magical!

But now and then a response will report problems having to do with allergies and, well … that smell!

Dear Mary: I love your homemade formulas for how to make our own cleaning products But a lot of them use the blue Dawn dish soap. I am allergic to Dawn soap, all fragrances, and citrus, among other things. Do you have a suggestion of what else I could use as a substitute? Peggy

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It’s time to reach into the inbox and pull out a few questions from my loyal readers—answers to which I suspect might be of interest to others.

I love receiving your questions, by the way, so keep them coming!

Dear Mary: What is “tamari?” It is an ingredient in a recipe I would like to make for Spiced Hazelnuts. Where can I find it? Thanks for any information you can give me. Catherine

Dear Catherine: Tamari is a type of soy sauce, usually used in Japanese food. You can easily substitute with Chinese light soy or regular Japanese soy sauce. You should be able to find tamari in the Asian section of a good supermarket or for sure in a Japanese food store. 

Dear Mary: Could you please tell me where I can purchase Glisten Dishwasher Cleaner? I used to get it at the grocery store, but they don’t carry it any longer.  It is really wonderful for cleaning my stainless steel dishwasher and also glassware. Peggy

Dear Peggy: Your favorite Glisten Dishwasher Cleaner and Hard Water Spot Remover is available at Amazon, about $7 for two single-use packets. You might want to consider a cheaper alternative that gets even higher raves and reviews, Lemi Shine Multi-Purpose Appliance Cleaner, which comes with three single-use packets for about the same price—and a more far-reaching availability. Both produce the same result, in my experience, which I would rate as excellent!

Dear Mary: I have four bottles of sunscreen that have expired. I know that they have lost their full effectiveness as sunscreen, but is there another use? I hate to throw them out. Dorothy

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