It wasn’t our fault that a drunk driver plowed into our parked car in the middle of the night while we were on vacation more than 500 miles from home. The car was a total loss but no one was hurt; it could have been worse.

Our loss was insured and we got just enough money from the insurance company to pay off the loan. We wanted to replace that car anyway.

To buy a new car would have required borrowing the down payment and taking on bigger monthly payments. We could have financed a used car with lower payments, but that was beneath what we thought we deserved. A better option—or so we thought— was to lease a new car with nothing down and lower payments than we’d been used to making.

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It was a lovely meal. The conversation was engaging, the entrée delightful—a good time was had by all. The guests are long gone and now you’re stuck with an ugly red wine stain on your prized tablecloth. Is this linen destined for the rag bag? Not if you know this super simple solution:

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RED WINE STAINS. If you get red wine on a washable tablecloth or napkin, spread the stained portion over a bowl or your kitchen sink. Now liberally sprinkle ordinary table salt on top of the stain. Next, pour boiling water over the salt and through the cloth to take out the stain. Provided you can do this while that stain is still fresh, this works really well. Josie

SIMPLIFY STORAGE. Here’s my “simplify tactic” for those darn plastic storage containers we use for leftovers. I have three sizes, all the same—the cheap brand I find at the grocery store. Each size is stackable. I don’t save plastic butter, cottage cheese, and cream cheese containers for leftovers. I only use the three sizes. I add to the collection if needed, only the three sizes, only the same brand. That way I am not hopelessly looking for lids to fit whatever stray bottom I want to use, and they are easy to store in the fridge. Amazing. Val

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I got up very early on Groundhog Day so I could be among the first to know Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction for how many weeks of winter are still ahead. As I was waiting for the live coverage to begin, I got an email message that made my heart race. The message was from LifeLock, the identity protection service I’ve used for many years. The subject line was chilling: Dark Web Alert: Identity Information Detected.

I’d never heard of the Dark Web, but it didn’t sound good. Immediately, I logged into my LifeLock account and sure enough—that was not a spam email. The alert was loud and clear, printed in fire-engine red.

Not only had LifeLock detected my email address on the Dark Web—it was paired with my password—my correct and current password.

What on earth?!

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The year 2007 was a good one for me for lots of reasons. Here’s one: It’s the year I got good at baking homemade bread thanks to a simple discovery that would go on to revolutionize the world of home baking.

Presented in their book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, authors Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoë Franḉois stated that anyone with an oven, flour, yeast, salt, and water could make authentic, artisan bread in just five minutes a day.

fresh-yeast-bread

Within hours of getting my hands on that book, I was onboard. My first attempt was ridiculously easy. And so successful I shocked myself and my family! A more delicious loaf of bread I cannot buy anywhere. And why would I, when I could now make it myself for about $.40 a loaf in just five minutes a day?

I must admit that the exact terminology, “five minutes,” might be a stretch, but here’s how that term has come to be: Jeff and Zoë have honed this method to taking about 15 minutes to mix up a big batch of bread dough, which after it its first rise, sits in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

When you’re ready to bake a loaf, it takes all of about five minutes to reach into the container, tear off a pound or so of dough, shape it and get it oven-ready. That’s where the “five minutes a day” comes into play. It’s the amount of daily labor required.

I have used the method, but not baked every single day, since 2007. My husband could only dream of such a thing, that’s how much he loves this rustic, homemade French bread. It reminds us of our trips to Paris and the neighborhood bakeries where Parisiennes stop in every day to pick up fresh bread.

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For a good deal of my life, I lived under a dark cloud of fear that I would end up financially destitute—a bag lady. Studies reveal that I’m not the only one. Most of us have felt that way, not because we’re broke, but because we lack confidence. That makes us timid, worried and financially insecure.

Look, we don’t have to accept financial insecurity as some kind of life sentence. And that constant and gnawing fear of becoming destitute? Forget it! We can do something about this.

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Become a saver. Saving money is like magic because it changes your attitude and calms your fears. I saved my way out of a six-figure pile of debt. Knowing I had cash tucked away in a safe place quieted my insatiable desires. That is where I found my determination to stick with repaying the debt. You must start now, today—no matter your situation. Even if you are in debt and struggling to catch up and even if you are already contributing to a 401(k) plan at work. This is different. You need money in the bank to boost your financial confidence.  Read more

Buying things when they’re on sale is a great way to avoid overspending. But unless you are diligent to take the difference between the regular price and the sale price and actually deposit that into a savings account, are you really saving money?

Nope. You’re just spending less. And you can “spend less” right through your entire paycheck. 

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While being careful to keep spending under control is admirable, it’s easy to fool yourself into believing that you’re a money-saving genius, when in truth you’re just spending all that you earn, wishing you made enough money to save some of it.

Getting started with actual savings—and by that, I mean money that is put away in a safe place—can be difficult if you have a spending habit, a small budget or some of each. The way to remove the pain is to trick yourself into thinking you’re not really saving that much. Check out these tricks and get started today.

Call it a bill. This may sound silly but just go with me here. Create a new monthly bill that you are obligated to pay and call it “Paying Myself First.” Make it look like an invoice of $5, billed to you. I don’t care how little money you earn or how poor you believe that you are. Anyone who really wants to start saving has $5 they can devote to the effort. Put this tiny bill at the top—ahead of the rent, food or phone bill. Your smallest bill will soon become your favorite. Read more

Even if you still have 5 or 50 teachers, students, neighbors, co-workers, family friends, kids’ friends, classmates, cousins, uncles, aunts, employees or service providers on your gift list—don’t panic! You still have time. And don’t worry: You do not need a lot of money nor must you the gift of craftiness to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen. Yes, even at this late date.

You’ll never go wrong giving a gift that is meant to be eaten or used up. That kind of gift does its job to convey your love and best wishes without increasing the recipients’ stuff-factor.

 Photo Credit: TasteofHome.com 

You will need containers for these gifts and the possibilities are endless. My favorite: Clear cellophane bags for 10 to 15 cents each (some are printed with holiday motifs). Find these at craft stores like Michaels, JoAnn’s and Hobby Lobby; at cake and candy supply stores. Think assembly line and you can turn out dozens of gifts in a single day. So gather your supplies, set up your production line and let the fun begin!

Santa Claus Cookies

  • 1 package Nutter Butter (or Vienna Fingers) sandwich cookies
  • 12-oz. white chocolate wafers or chips*
  • Red sprinkles or red-colored sugar
  • 32 vanilla or white chips, not melted
  • 64 mini chocolate baking chips
  • 32 red-hot candies

Melt the white chocolate. Dip one end of each cookie into melted chocolate. Place on wire racks. Quickly sprinkle red sugar on top part of chocolate. Press one vanilla chip off-center on hat for pom-pom; let stand until set.

Dip other end of each cookie into chocolate for beard, leaving center of cookie uncovered. Place on wire racks. With a dab of melted chocolate, attach semisweet chips for eyes and a red-hot for nose in the uncovered area. Place on waxed paper to set. Yield: 32 cookies. Read more

Most of us, when we think of the cost of Christmas, think gifts. But there are so many other expenses like travel, entertainment, decorations and mailing costs. And parties!

How can we be warm and generous hosts without breaking the bank? That the question today’s first reader asks.

Beautiful buffet set for Christmas

Dear Mary: This year it’s my turn to throw the family Christmas party. Last Christmas, my sister-in-law created a tough act to follow by having her party catered with expensive hors-d’oeuvres and top-shelf champagne. I can’t afford catering, but I want to put on a spread that’s as impressive as hers. How do I accomplish that without going into debt in the process? Natasha

Dear Natasha: Trying to upstage your sister-in-law puts you in a no-win situation. Turn your thoughts instead to making this your party—a special gift of your love to your family, not a competition to see who spent the most money.

Once you determine how much cash you have to spend, go online. Check out websites like FoodNetwork.com, RecipeTinEats.com, Epicurious.com, AllRecipes.com, and BarefootContessa.com. Do a Google search, typing in Top Recipe Websites or Top Recipe Blogs in the search bar. You will be amazed at the results. Pay particular attention to websites and recipes devoted to holiday fare, particularly hors-d’oeuvres. Read more