Quick and Easy Ways to Do Stuff Cheaper Better Faster

If there’s one thing I love, it’s discovering a quick and easy tip that saves me time and money and also makes my life easier. And when that tip is doubly clever because I can use something I have already to get it done, well that makes me so happy!

Enjoy some of my favorite tips readers have sent in over the years. And get ready to say what I say more often than you can even imagine: Wow! Why didn’t I think of that?!

AUTO TRASH CAN. Repurpose a cereal canister as a trash can for the car.

DIY WATERING CAN. Make your own watering can by puncturing holes in the lid of an empty plastic container like a milk or juice bottle.

REMOVE PET HAIR. Use a squeegee with a rubber blade to remove pet hair from furniture and carpet.

Magical Solutions for Challenging Situations

Sometimes it’s the most unusual thing that turns out to be the magical solution for a  household problem. Things like a hairdryer, a bottle of essential oil or tube of toothpaste.

Dear Mary: We had a very bad dark pink 7-foot stain in our white fiberglass whirlpool bathtub from previous antifreeze winterizing. I’d tried many things to remove the awful stain, including baking soda, soft scrub, bleach, scrubbing bubbles and mildew stain remover, among other things. I was about to give up and live with the long ugly pink stain when I tried non-gel toothpaste. It came off 100%! The tub is beautiful and sparkles again. I don’t know if anyone else might have this issue or a similar one, but I wanted to share this one with you. Gail

Dear Gail: Wow, that’s amazing! Thanks for letting us know. For readers running for the toothpaste to treat their own similarly stubborn stains, let me caution to always test in an inconspicuous place to make sure you will not be making an already difficult situation even worse. That’s just a good idea. As always, I’d love to hear from anyone for whom this tip saves the day.

Make Your Own Safe and Effective Ant Spray

If you’ve ever had to deal with an invasion of ants, you may know the meaning of exasperation. While the kids think ants are so cute the way they march in formation, stop to help one another and work hard to prepare for their own particular set of life challenges ahead, it’s better to study these amazing creatures than to wake up to find a million or so feasting on that last piece of pie someone left out on the counter last night.

While there are dozens of homemade remedies for dealing with ants—from poisoning them with boric acid, borax, or ammonia—the ingredients can create toxic situations for crawling babies, pets and that salad you’re about to make on the counter where you just attempted to deal with an ant attack.

Other methods, like one that promises to blow up their digestive systems with cornmeal—while perhaps better to use than harsh chemicals—can create a new challenge when the solution turns out to be messier than the problem.

Today I want to tell you about an effective recipe for an ant spray you can make yourself from natural products that are toxic to ants but perfectly safe for pets and people. This recipe is safe, quick, natural (did I say that already?) and highly effective. And so handy. Just grab and go whenever you see a problem. You are going to love it.

14 Ways to Waste Money Without Even Trying

What would it feel like to check your bank balance and find a pile of money you didn’t know you had? That could happen and it doesn’t have to involve getting a second job or convincing the family how much fun it would be to fast two days a week.

Stop wasting money on goods and services that don’t matter in the long run. You just might see the equivalent of working a second job in your wallet.


Face it: Infomercial products are overpriced   and hardly ever turn out to be as wonderful as depicted. And those risk-free trial periods? Don’t believe it. You’ll have to pay the return shipping costs plus a restocking fee, if you ever get around to it.

Plug the leak: Whenever tempted by an infomercial product, take a second to look up the item on eBay. You’ll be shocked to find dozens at a fraction of the price because that’s where they unload all the “as seen on TV” products that get returned. Ask yourself, why so many returns? By then the infomercial should be over and you can get on with your day.

How much you can save: How about two easy payments of $49.95? Plus shipping and handling. And the shipping charges to return it during the “free” trial period.

Achieving Your Freezer’s Full Potential

Is your freezer a money-guzzling storage facility for mystery meats? An oversized ice maker? It’s time to learn how to turn that box of wasted cold space into the money-stretching, time-saving household appliance it was meant to be.


Temperature. Set it to the coldest setting so you maintain a constant temperature of 0 degrees or lower to ensure food will be safe to eat.

Efficient. A full freezer uses less electricity. When food inventory is low, pack it full by adding containers of water to fit the empty spaces.

Right wrap. Wrap food tightly to prevent moisture loss that causes food to become dry and discolored. Then, wrap it again in a thicker layer of foil, plastic or freezer bags. The second wrap keeps out odors.

No burn. Trapped air causes freezer burn. To prevent it, select a container small enough so your contents fill it. And skip the fancy sealing machine. Using a freezer bag, seal all but enough space to slip in a drinking straw. Inhale on the straw to pull out all the air, quickly seal the bag, and pop it into the freezer.

A Lightning Round of Solutions for Annoying Situations

Welcome back to Ask Mary, where I, your humble columnist, respond to your questions. Got a vexing issue? Send it over.

Today, in the Annoying Situations category we’re tackling white dryer lint on dark clothes, rust-stained marble, moss and mildew, and HSA fees—all in no particular order. Let’s go.

Q: I’ve given up laundry softening products by switching to wool dryer balls (thank you) but now I have a new problem. These white dryer balls are like little lint magnets. That’s a good thing when drying loads of whites, but not so good when it’s a load of dark items that come out with annoying white lint.

A: I know what you’re talking about and that’s the reason that I have a set of black wool dryer balls that I use only in dryer loads of dark-colored items. It’s easy to switch back and forth as long as the dryer balls are handy—black dryer balls in dark loads, white ones with white loads. Problem solved!

Q: Do you have any idea how to remove rust stains (possibly from hard water) from my marble shower stall? I tried lemon juice and baking soda and scrubbed for a long time but not much was removed. Any help you can give me will be appreciated.

A: Marble maintenance is a tricky topic because it is soft and porous as natural stone products go, making marble surfaces an easy target for all kinds of stains. You need a “poultice” which is a paste you apply to the stain that you allow it to sit for many hours to draw out the stain. And it needs to be made from ingredients specific to that particular stain or nothing will happen at all. That could explain why your lemon juice baking soda scrub did exactly that–nothing. 

My best advice is to invest twenty-bucks in a commercial product especially formulated to remove rust stains from marble and granite. I’m confident that TeRust Poultice Powder, (about $20) will do the job provided the stain has not been permanently set, which I doubt. Be sure to follow the instructions exactly and keep in mind that it may require multiple treatments to achieve full success.

Q: I know you have informed your readers about a thousand times on this, but please indulge me again. What is the name of the moss spray you’ve written about in past columns? As I recall you said you can just spray it on and it does all the work for you.

A: The product you’re referring to is Wet & Forget Moss Mold Mildew & Algae Stain Remover. It really is the most amazing outdoor product because it removes moss, mildew and algae stains  from just about any surface. 

Dilute with water per instructions, apply using a garden sprayer (or a high-quality, professional, hose end sprayer like this one that will spray up to 28 feet to reach areas liking siding, walls, awnings, etc) and forget it. The product goes right to work to removal stains on any exterior surface—no scrubbing or rinsing necessary. Then each time it rains, it continues to gently removes the moss, mildew and algae. Wet & Forget is non-caustic, non-acidic and contains no bleach. It can be used on ANY outdoor surface materials including roofs, siding, decks, walkways, driveways, brick, RVs and boats; awnings, fences, fountains, gazebos, greenhouses, hammocks, lanais, patio furniture (all types); outdoor rugs, pots, patio umbrellas, play equipment, pool liners, retaining walls, shades and storage units. The list goes on and on—and on. Great stuff.

Q: I recently retired from a job where I had and health insurance with an HSA (health savings account) plan. I opted to leave the HSA account undisturbed until needed sometime in the future. I no longer contribute to it, however. The new company holding this HSA is wanting to charge for statements and also a monthly fee to hold my account. Do you know of any companies that I could transfer my HSA money into that would not charge me a monthly or annual fee?

A: Many credit unions offer fee-free HSA accounts. Check with yours or if you are not a member of a credit union, look around in your area for one that you can join. Also, read “How to Join a Credit Union” by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). Provided it is simply an HSA savings account—not an investment account—chances are very good it will be free of fees and miscellaneous charges. Credit unions are like that.


Simple Tips to Stretch the Food Budget

My grandmother always used to say, “If we didn’t need food, we’d all be rich!” This may be true. But then a life without food would be a little less pleasurable. Still, there are ample ways to make great food cheap, make perishable food last, and make the grocery budget stretch like nobody’s business.

The tips in today’s post are filled with practiced wisdom for practical solutions novel ideas and inspiring concepts that make cooking fun and rewarding for you and your family.

GRATE SAVINGS. You pay a lot to have someone else grate your cheese for you—at least two bucks a pound more than if you buy it by the block. You’ll also save by cutting up whole chickens, slicing your own pickles, slicing meat for cold cuts, and using a blender or rolling pin to make your own bread crumbs.

FOUND FOOD. You know that last slice of bread? Often it’s dry, past its prime and not enough to make a sandwich, so into the garbage it goes. Well, not so fast! Making your own breadcrumbs is as simple as whirring a few slices in a food processor blender until the bread becomes fine textured crumbs. Bake the crumbs on a baking sheet; 350 F stirring every 10 minutes. Depending on how much moisture you’re dealing with and the depth of the crumbs, it should take about 20 to 30 mins. Make Italian-style seasoned bread crumbs by adding 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning blend to every 2 cups to crumbs before baking. Cool completely then store in an airtight container.

VEGGIE BOUQUET. Store asparagus in the fridge in a glass of water (like cut flowers in a vase). It will stay fresh for a couple of weeks. Works with celery, too.

The No-Scrub Method for Sparkling Clean Coffee Carafes and More Great Reader Tips

There exist all kinds of methods for cleaning glass coffee carafes—most of them brought to us by hard working, super experienced restaurant servers. Who better to know how to get things done fast and efficiently?

I thought I’d heard every method, too—that is until I heard from Laurie. I’ll be the first to say she’s right on. I love it—and would add caution that you make sure you don’t  splash bleach on that cute apron or beautiful kitchen towels. That’s the challenge with bleach in the kitchen.

SUPER CLEAN. After years of scouring, scrubbing and scratching hundreds of coffee carafés, I have discovered an absolutely miraculous cleaning method that you will not believe. Fill coffee carafé a few inches from the top with water. Add 1/4 cup liquid chlorine bleach. Add exactly 2 drops of blue Dawn (no more, no less). Top it off with water so it’s all the way t the top. Do not scrub. Within 10 minutes your pot will be sparkling—like new. Rinse well with clear water. This would have saved me lots and lots of time, many pounds of salt, bushels of ice cubes and endless elbow grease if I had come across it sooner. Laurie