Great Reader Tips: Packing Cubes, Sink Clogs, Cooking Spray, BBQ Grill Cover

Over the years, I’ve done it a dozen times if I done it once—toss out the clear vinyl zipper bags that come with sheets and blankets. Today’s first great reader tip makes me wish I’d not done that. For sure, I’ll never do it again.

FREE PACKING CUBES. I reuse the clear vinyl zipper bags of various sizes, which come with blankets, linens and some sports apparel brands, to pack for travel. They work as well or better than the pricey packing cubes that are available since they offer a clear view of the contents. I’ve saved many over the years and can pack items by category or pack individual outfits. Packing in the vinyl bags protects the items, (moisture barrier) prevents wrinkles, facilitates potential security searches at airports, keeps the suitcase or duffle organized and makes it easy to find what you’re looking for, thus reducing stress during travel! My husband is a recent convert to this strategy, which made “luggage management” during a recent trip to Spain much easier! Alicia

Ask Me Anything: More Laundry Stains, Jewelry Cleaner, Ugly Toilet Ring

There’s an old proverb that says, teaching teaches the teacher. Not only do I believe this, it was proven to me once again only recently in a way that has me doing the Happy Dance! The best part? Now I get to teach this simple yet very useful tip to others.

Dear Mary: The Fuller/Stanley company recently informed me that after many years, they have discontinued their wonderful product, Original Degreaser. I use it mainly for laundry stains but is also wonderful for greasy spots in the kitchen. Do you have a recommendation for a similar product? Lisa

Dear Lisa:  I do, but first let me tell you a story ….

How to Maintain a Reasonable Toy Inventory and Other Great Reader Tips

If you have kids, you might be dreading how many new toys you’re going to have to find room for come next month. Reader Beth has a great toy inventory balancing system that’s sure to please everyone, even the kids.

Photo credit: Too Many Toys, by David Shannon

Family friends of ours have a great system that solves the problem of an ever-growing inventory of way too many toys—most of which the kids no longer play with. Their children know that each year after Christmas each child is required to count and create a list of new toys they received as gifts. Then the kids go to their rooms and find the same number of toys that are still in good condition that they no longer play with, which they need to give away to create space for the new ones. Of the toys they designate to be purged, they are allowed to select one to be put away and kept in a memory box.

As a family, they load up the car and drive the toys to a local charity that accepts donations (many churches, preschools, and shelters are grateful to receive toys). Doing this each year helps to keep their house less cluttered but more than that, the kids learn a valuable lesson about making choices and allowing other children to benefit from things they once enjoyed but have outgrown. Beth

Ask Me Anything: Concrete Stains, Yellowed Whites, Power Toothbrush

Every day when I open my inbox, I find dozens, if not hundreds, of questions from the audience. Want to know the most-asked-about subject? Stains. Nasty, ugly, stubborn stains on everything you can imagine from concrete to laundry, and teeth, too.

Q: Five years ago we replaced our entryway steps and now the concrete has developed green/brown stains from dead, wet leaves, etc. How can we remove these stains?

A: The leaf stains are caused by tannins, the same type of compounds that are found in grapes and make wine taste “dry.” Tannin stains on outdoor concrete may not permanent, but they can be difficult to remove. Fresh stains often go away on their own, provided they are exposed to the powerful bleaching action of the sun. Fresh stains are easier to remove than older stains. Powdered detergents that contain bleaching agents that remove organic stains like food, blood and plant material can effectively clean old, stubborn stains from concrete surfaces, according to Concrete Network.

Here are the steps to follow, making sure you have placed a tarp over nearby plants to protect them from cleaning products. Always test a small, inconspicuous area of the concrete before you apply the cleaner to the stain:

Money in the Bank is Frugality’s Reward

Living frugally does not mean choosing a life of poverty. Frugality is simply the act of avoiding waste. It means finding the most economical way to accomplish a task or project. Frugality doesn’t mean giving up, it means living better because when you have all that you need plus money in the bank, life becomes much easier.

Frugality is a state of mind, an attitude you choose for a way of life that is rewarding. Every day my mailbox fills with frugal tips from my loyal readers. Some make me laugh; others leave me wondering why I didn’t think of that. Still others have become such a common way of life for me, I’m grateful to have been reminded of what a great frugal idea it is. Enjoy this recent sampling:

$5 GIFT-GAME. Last year, all of our children were home for Christmas so my husband and I decided we would hand out $5 bills to each one, go to Walmart and set a time limit of ten minutes to find a gift AND get through a checkout line. Before we left home we drew names. The kids still talk about it. Sandy

Money-Saving Tricks to Put Your Freezer To Work

Whether you have a stand-alone unit or it’s is part of your refrigerator, your freezer is either costing a lot in wasted energy or saving a bundle in food costs.

The day I discovered I could freeze certain fresh herbs in olive oil—sage, thyme, rosemary, and oregano do best using this method—I fell in love with my freezer all over again. By making recipe-size portions to have on hand later for winter stews, soups, stews (recipes that typically call for oil to start with) we can enjoy the taste of fresh summer herbs all year round.

Just grab a cube of frozen oil and herbs to use as a base for the dish. Cook the onions and garlic in this infused oil.

Great Reader Tips: Recycle Home Chef Packaging, Laundry Stains, Remove Stuck-on Stuff

Just when I think I’ve heard every possible tip and trick for how to do things cheaper, better and faster, here comes the email from my awesome readers with their favorite tips, hints, and ideas. Some are old, lots are new and every single one is so much appreciated and enjoyed— by me!

Take a look and just see if you don’t agree with me.

NO STREAK FLOORS, BRITE LAUNDRY. I have two products that I cannot do without. I’d tried Bona on my hardwood floors and found it left streaks; tried extra rinsing, still streaky. So, I tried my trusty Murphy’s Oil Soap (about $7) following the label instructions. It works great. No streaking, leaves a beautiful shine plus smells extra clean. I use it with the Hardwood Floor Spray Mop (about $40) you recommend. Perfect! Second, I have white capris, tees, etc. which needed a brighter look. I tried White Brite Laundry Whitener (about $10 for a 22 oz. jug). It makes everything so white and bright—like new! Nell

HANDY SCRAPER. In response to a recent post about finding something to use for scraping away oven crud, we use a Lil’ Chizler Vinyl Label Scraping Tool ($4 for a 2-pack) all over the house to scrape paint, oven doors; to lift labels, decals, stickers and remove just about everything you can imagine—all without scratching. It’s amazing. Kaki

RECYCLE HC ICE PACKS. I posted my Home Chef freezer packs on Quite a number of people wanted them. One hunter took two boxes full. Barb

RESHIP IT. In response as to what to do with the Home Chef package material, we have a Going Postal Shipping Store that is happy to reuse all the packaging material for their clients’ shipments. Dawn

NO MORE SKANK. I drop a denture tablet in boiling water in hubby’s thermos and let it sit overnight. I use a bottlebrush in the morning and all the built-up coffee stains (disgusting) come right out! Joannie

DAWN RESCUE. I have a way of removing stains (especially grease) from washable fabric that I never hear anyone suggest. I put Blue Dawn Dishwashing Liquid on the stains, let them sit for a minute and 99% of the time the stain comes out completely. A friend even used it on a pair of her husband’s jeans that were stained and had been washed several times.  All the stains came out. Blue Dawn is easy to get at any grocery, drug or hardware store. Rita

STAIN RECIPE. Here is the recipe I use to make my own Laundry Stain Remover. Mix together in a one-quart jar: 1 cup water, 1 cup household ammonia, 1 cup white vinegar and 1 cup liquid laundry detergent. I apply the lid to the jar and then use this to fill a spray bottle that I keep handy next to the washer. I spray stains generously, allow the item to sit for about 10 minutes, then wash as usual. It really works for me! Ginny

Thanks a million to all of today’s “tipsters!”

Got a great tip you’d like to share? Send it to me. Then sit back and watch for it to show up in a future post.

Top 10 Student Loan Tips for Recent Graduates—and Not So Recent, Too!

Whether you just graduated, are taking a break from school, or have already started repaying your student loans, these tips will help you keep your student loan debt under control.

By “under control” I mean avoiding fees and extra interest costs, keeping your payments affordable, protecting your credit rating and paying those loans in full as quickly as possible. If you’re having trouble finding a job or keeping up with your payments, there’s important information here for you, too.

1. Know your loans. It’s important to keep track of the lender, balance and repayment status for each of your student loans. These details determine your options for loan repayment and forgiveness. If you’re not sure, ask your lender or visit You can log in and see the loan amounts, lender(s), and repayment status for all of your federal loans. If some of your loans aren’t listed, they’re probably private (non-federal) loans. For those, try to find a recent billing statement or the original paperwork that you signed. Contact your school if you can’t locate any records.

2. Know your grace period. Different loans have different grace periods. A grace period is the time between leaving school before you must make your first payment. It’s six months for federal Stafford loans, but nine months for federal Perkins loans. For federal parent or PLUS loans, it depends on when the loans were issued (see details). The grace periods for private student loans vary, so consult your paperwork or contact your lender to find out. Don’t miss your first payment.