Apparently, I’m a slow learner. I can’t think of another reason why it took years to associate my sons’ and husband’s itchy skin problems with the dryer sheets I used in the clothes dryer. While we didn’t experience respiratory problems that are often associated with fabric softeners, the medical website, WebMD.com, reports that the perfumes and additives in laundry products may also cause respiratory problems in some individuals.

box-of-dryer-sheets

One would expect that such a life-impacting revelation (all the skin problems disappeared once I stopped using any fabric softeners or dryer sheets) would have banned those pesky sheets from our home. But that’s not true.

Dryer sheets have so many other uses around that home—indoors, outdoors, and in the garage too—I keep a box of fragrance-free dryer sheets on hand for many other uses. (Even without fragrance, dryer sheets pose a problem for my family when used in the dryer with clothing, sheets and towels).

A used dryer sheet is ideal for many of the applications that follow. However, if you, like me, don’t end up with used sheets from the dryer, simply soak a new sheet in water and then wring it out. Most of the time you want to the sheet to be damp anyway. Hint: If you are sensitive to dryer sheets, be sure to wear rubber or latex gloves when handling a new sheet.

RELATED: Fabric Softener Products are the Problem Not the Solution

SCREEN CLEANER

Dryer sheets make great dusting and cleaning cloths for television and computer screens. Not only will they clean the screens, the antistatic properties will treat the screens to repel rather than attract dust. Dryer sheets are designed to reduce static cling, so they remove the dust, and help keep it from resettling from television and computer screens.

DRY-ERASE

To add luster and restore the surface of a dry-erase memo board, polish it with a dryer sheet.

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It’s been at least 30 years since my husband and I sat for hours with an attorney who specializes in estate planning. That was not the most pleasant thing I’ve ever done.

We were young and the idea of being old and planning for our respective deaths seemed ludicrous.

That meeting together with nearly $2,500 made us the proud owners of a Family Trust and Estate Plan, which includes the important legal documents that every adult needs.

Recently, a letter from Jenny reminded me that we need to update the documents in our Estate Plan because they may now be out of date. For sure they are “out of state,” due to our relocation to Colorado.

Thankfully, we now have an option to do this ourselves—legally and properly—for a whole lot less than it cost decades ago.

Jenny writes: I’m 50, married and have two adult children. Our financial life is not complicated. I do not have a Will and know that I should. Can I put faith in a simple Will done by one of the large online companies or is it in my family’s best interest that I hire a lawyer? I have read your work for many years and appreciate your advice. Thank you. Jenny

Thank you for the trust you put in me, Jenny. That is something I value highly. My quick answer is that absolutely you need a Will plus four other documents as well. I have an online source to recommend to you which will help you do this yourself—a reputable legal help organization you can trust and without reservation.

Will this preclude the need to hire an attorney? It could, but I cannot advise you on that because every situation is different. What I can tell you is that you can do this yourself and be well protected now with all of your information and desires written down in proper legal order—and have that to take to an attorney if or when you find that necessary.

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I really don’t know where I got the thing. It may have been a wedding gift. What I know is that I tried to use that cast iron skillet without success and I mean not even a little bit.

Food would become hopelessly stuck to it and burned beyond recognition. If it wasn’t turning out charred fare, it was growing a fine coat of rust.

Photo credit: WestChesterCycles c/o Flickr

In the interest of full disclosure, the shots above are not of my skillet. They are an apt depiction, however. Mine looked like all of the above. At the time, I wasn’t photographing my culinary disasters with hopes that one day I could share them with you.

Things got so bad, one day I threw that skillet and its sorry charred contents into the trash. What followed what a case of guilt that prompted me to dig it out, chiseled it down, put it through the dishwasher (the worst thing ever for cast iron) then banish it to the back of a closet.

Years later—OK decades—I pulled that skillet out of detention. I’d been learning that cast iron skillets are highly revered by experienced cooks. I was determined to take on the challenge of cast iron. I am proud to say I won that battle. 

This skillet pictured below—now more than 40 years old—is the skillet I abused and which abused me right back. It has become one of my most prized possessions. All is forgiven and now my skillet and I have quite a thing going on.

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I have to admit to being a bit of a gadget freak. I’m drawn to tools and devices that do cool things. And when I discover “cool” includes being a money saver, for me that turns a purchase into an investment with a guaranteed rate of return.

 hand with a calculator. money saving concept.

Here’s a list of eleven gadgets, tools and items I’ve found that can save a lot of money and generally recoup the cost in less than a year. That time frame will vary depending on your specific situation. Your mileage may vary.

You can count on this: Once you’ve recouped the purchase price, these items will continue to save you money—for free!

 

PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT

If you have a central heat and air conditioning system, you need  a programmable thermostat. There are less expensive options available, but a high quality programmable thermostat like the Nest Programmable Thermostat will result in very precise temperature control. You can program it (easy) to automatically lower your air conditioning and/or heat use while you’re not home. Just set it and then forget about it; Nest will automatically adjust things for you so that you aren’t wasting expensive electricity—without any noticeable changes for you and your family.

With just a few manual adjustments, the Nest Thermostat can learn your habits and immediately start saving you money by automatically adjusting the temperature. Nest works with Alexa, which means you have voice control capability as well as the ability to control Nest from your smartphone. Used well, Nest can easily return its cost to you in the first year—making the annual savings free from then on.  About $215.

Nest-programmable-thermostat

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It’s still summer, but not too early to start planning for Christmas. If you’re ready to make this year a debt-free Christmas, I’ve got three very useful ways to find the extra cash you’ll need to do that.

Time is of the essence because Christmas will be here before we know it!

christmas-money-in-red-boot

Rather than choose one of the following options, I suggest you consider doing all three. Don’t let that intimidate you.  And don’t worry about having to start up a side business or make any kind of upfront investment, either. The options that follow are all free and require nothing but your spare time to begin racking up extra cash.

SWAGBUCKS 

Swagbucks is an online rewards program that gives users points (“Swag Bucks,” or SBs) for various tasks—100 points = $1.00. Points can be traded in for eGift cards for more than 1,500 popular merchants like Amazon, Target, Starbucks and Walmart. Don’t want gift cards? Redeem your points for cold, hard cash via PayPal.

Swagbucks rewards members for the everyday things they already do online like shopping, answering surveys and polls, watching entertaining videos, discovering videos, searching the web and even playing games. 

Members can earn SBs using the mobile app and from their computers. 

To get started, create your free Swagbucks account. Once verified (you’ll get a verification email message) you’ll get your first 5 SBs. Then take a quick survey or watch a 5-minute video. The opportunities to earn SBs will be endless. Do as little or as much as you want. 

Swagbucks is super easy to use and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can earn SBs. We have EC readers who earn hundreds of dollars every year that they earmark for Christmas shopping!

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There’s only one thing I love more than readers asking for my opinion on stuff.  It’s when they act on my advice and then write back to tell me how happy they are. I don’t boast 100% success, but getting close 😉

Today, enjoy two inquiries and one follow-up report.

graphic word cloud for questions

Wesley writes: Which home security system do you recommend, both for economy and efficiency?

The company SimpliSafe has revolutionized the home security business, in my opinion, for these reasons:

  1. It is a system you own and can easily install yourself—designed to be DIY.
  2. It’s wireless, which means no drilling in window and door frames, no need to fish wires through tiny holes.
  3. Includes a back-up battery that kicks in and protects you for a full 24 hours in the event of a power outage.
  4. It’s a system that can be expanded easily, which means you can start with basic and then expand it with additional sensors, a camera, etc., later.
  5. Monitoring (optional) is $14.99 a month, which is a real bargain.

The SimpliSafe Alpha (basic system) is my pick for Best Inexpensive™ home security system.  About $200. 

Tom asks: What is your opinion of a wireless charging pad for mobile phones? I have a Samsung Note 8 but don’t want to shell out Samsung’s hefty price to try it out. Any thoughts? 

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Everyone agrees that we should change the filter in our home heating ventilation air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Actually doing that may be something else altogether. It’s all about the where, when and how of doing it that leads us to procrastination and selective amnesia.

It’s not difficult. The problem is in making it a priority. It’s not that big of a deal, right? If the thing still turns on and cools and/or heats the place, who cares?

male-arm-and-hand-replacing-disposable-air-filter-in-residential-air-furnace.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Consider these three unintended consequences, which should help push this simple home maintenance task up to a respectable place in your list of things that are important.

High energy bills

When the heat, ventilation or air-conditioning is running, 100% of the air in your home passes through a filter, typically twice every hour. When the filter is clean, the air passes through easily. When the filter gets clogged up with all the stuff it’s filtering out, the system has to work much harder to keep air moving.

The dirtier the filter, the less efficient the system can be—and more likely to develop problems. According to the Department of Energy, regular filter changes can reduce your energy bill by 5% to 10%. Conversely, a super dirty filter will send that bill through the roof!

Family health

A quality filter captures the harmful bacteria typically found in sneezes, coughs, viruses, and molds, as well as pollutants like dust and car fumes. If you have allergies or asthma, indoor air pollution can trigger your symptoms.

Most people don’t realize that indoor air pollution levels are actually much higher than those outdoors—two to five times higher, according to medical professionals. When particles become airborne, you can breathe them in and experience an allergic reaction. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in your home can harbor and then spread mold and other allergens.

Grimy carpet stains

It’s called filtration soiling and shows up as dark, shadowy, dirty lines on the carpet along baseboards, under doors, beneath draperies and along the edges and in the crevices of carpeted stairs.

filtration-soiling-resulting-in-ugly-grimy-stains-on-carpet

Filtration soil is as ugly as it is gross and comes from airborne pollutants passing through the carpet as the air is drawn through the crack between the carpet and the baseboard, around the drapes or under a closed door.

MORE: What are Those Grimy Black Lines Around the Edges of My Carpet?

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It’s been a few years since I’ve endured back-to-school shopping, all-school fundraisers, and parent-teacher conferences. Still, for me, the end of summer brings a sweet sense of excitement over September’s promise of a clean slate.

I can only assume that having spent so many years in school myself and then doing it all over again with my kids—and now my grandsons—my inner clock is stuck on the school, not the calendar, year.

Gone are the days when back-to-school meant a new pair of shoes. Nowadays, that simple three-word phrase is tantamount to the first domino that starts a chain of reactions into clothes, backpacks, supplies, fundraisers, after-school care, sports, clubs, school parties, nutritious breakfasts, loads of laundry, carpools, mobile phones, parking passes, lunch bags, teacher gifts and on and on it goes.

The challenge for all of us is to find practical ways to save time and money every day in all areas that relate to our kids, school and family life.

MORE: Back-to-School Clothes Shopping

Today, I want to share a story with you to demonstrate a way that you can get your kids’ clothes (yours, too!) and or school uniforms at huge savings—not from the thrift store and not the clothes your kids don’t want but they’re going to get, just because they’re on sale! I’m talking about the stores and style you and the kids love.

Here’s what happened: I asked my daughter-in-law if Eli (the cutest newly-minted fourth grader on earth) needed any school clothes. The answer was “Yes, please!” which gave me a wonderful reason to go shopping. Online. At home from my computer. Eli’s school requires uniforms—for the boys, it’s basic polo shirts and slacks.

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