DEAR MARY: After reading your books and columns for several years, I am ecstatic to report that I am almost debt-free; my credit card debt is history! I can’t thank you enough for your encouraging words and sage counsel.

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Now I need to know how to find a low-interest card—preferably a no annual fee type—to use mainly for online purchases, and which will be paid off monthly. I have absolutely no idea how to go about this and would appreciate any information you could provide. Thanks for everything! Sherry

DEAR SHERRY: Congratulations on your amazing progress toward becoming debt-free. I am so very proud of you. This is an almost amazing accomplishment, so keep going and don’t ever give up. You’ll be there soon and what a wonderful debt-free day that will be for you!

As for your question regarding a low-interest card, I would suggest that the interest rate not be your primary consideration. You will never carry a balance on it, so your primary consideration should be that is it has no annual fee. Second, it must have an excellent grace period of at least 21 days. Next it should be either a MasterCard or Visa and last you want to get the lowest interest rate you can. Read more

When did you last look at your kitchen cabinets? Not a passing glance, but an up-close visual study—paying particular attention to the areas around the knobs and handles that get touched thousands of times throughout the weeks and months? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about and what I’m pretty sure Reader Sandy is talking about, too.

Before and after photos of cleaning cabinets

Dear Mary: We’re moving into a new house and would like to know what kind of cleaner to use on the wood kitchen cabinets? Thank you. Sandy

Dear Sandy: If you are looking for a commercial product to clean those cabinets, you’ll never beat the effectiveness of real orange oil polish to melt away grease, grime, polish and wax buildup and leaving a fresh scent and beauty in its place. At about $12 for 16 ounces, it’s going to cost a bit to do your entire kitchen, should you decide to go the commercial route.

Or you can make your own cleaner that will be equally effective, for just pennies. That’s what I prefer and I’ll bet you do too.

I have two recipes for your wood cabinets, whether they have a natural finish or they’re painted.  The first is great if those cabinets just need some sprucing up to bring back the beauty and shine; the second is more powerful if you’re looking at years of built-up gunk and grime.
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I love fabric and fine textiles of all kinds, but mostly I love cotton goods—cotton sheets, cotton quilts. You might say I am a collector, but only in the best sense of the word. My friends know me as a recovering fabricholic. That’s why I was particularly drawn to a letter that hit my inbox recently. When I read the sender’s dilemma involved fabric, I was on it.

Dear Mary: I was recently given some fabric that had been stored in mothballs. Any advice on how to get the smell out? I tried washing and ended up with a whole load of laundry that smelled of mothballs. Thanks, Lucille

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Dear Lucille: This a tough problem. So difficult, I called in the pros for advice on how to rescue your fabric and that load of laundry. Here’s what I learned:

Mothballs are small balls of chemical pesticide used to protect clothes from hungry moths and other insects while in storage. The active ingredient, depending on the age of the mothballs used, is either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, both of which are petroleum-based and toxic to both people and pets. Read more

Ever leave the coffee pot on overnight only to wake to a blackened, burnt on mess? Can’t get rid of the gunky build-up in your favorite carafe or thermos—stuff you can see, but not reach? Don’t toss them out before you try a cool trick to get them sparkling clean.

Photo credit: milkallergymom.com

Photo credit: milkallergymom.com

Dear Mary: I have a big stainless coffee thermos. The opening makes it impossible to get in and clean. I have tried baking soda and vinegar, but that hasn’t worked to dissolve and remove the build-up of coffee stains. I can look in and see stuff I’d rather not see. How can I clean inside my thermos? Karen

Dear Karen: I have the perfect solution: Ice and salt. Fill the thermos about 1/4 full of pieces of ice just small enough to fit through the opening. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of ordinary table salt depending on the size of the thermos. Apply the lid. Now shake it up, baby! Swirl it round and round, first clockwise then counter clockwise; upside down, up and down. The salt will begin to melt the ice allowing the pieces to move freely. You’ll get a good workout, too.

The salt acts like little non-abrasive sanding blocks. You may have to do this for a few minutes if you have a nasty build-up, repeating as necessary. Rinse well with cool water. This old restaurant trick works with glass coffee carafes and glass-line thermoses, too. It‘s so much fun I almost look forward to a burned on mess in the bottom of our office coffee pot so I can amuse and amaze the staff.

Dear Mary: My husband contributes 8 percent to his employer’s 401(k) plan. Would it be wise to temporarily stop that contribution in that we have about $50,000 unsecured debt? Debbie

Dear Debbie: Yes, but only until your unsecured debts are paid. Putting your hard-earned money at risk is while you are carrying high-interest consumer debt is not wise. No matter how you cut it, money in a 401(k) is at risk. But investing in your debt carries no risk and offers a guaranteed rate of return. Here’s how that works:

Let’s say you have a $10,000 revolving credit card balance at 18% interest. Each month you are paying $150 in interest ($10,000 x 18% / 12 = $150). Great Aunt Gertie dies and leaves you $10,000. You can either pay off the debt or invest the money. Let’s say you invest it.

Things don’t go well and you lose some or all of it in the stock market. You still owe that $10,000 on the credit card and you’re still paying $150 interest each month. Now let’s say you go the other way and use the money to repay the debt in full. Every month you get to keep the $150 you were sending to the credit card company. That is your guaranteed 18% return on the $10,000 “investment” you made in your debt. It’s a sure thing regardless what happens with the economy. Now that’s a good deal! Caution: Even though you stop making contributions for a season, do not cash in his 40l(k) account. The penalties and tax consequence are too severe.

Dear Mary: It takes about two weeks after I mail my mortgage payment for the check to clear my bank. My sister says my lender is making me pay more interest by delaying depositing my check. Is it true? Mary S.

Dear Mary S: No. Your sister may be confusing your mortgage, which is a “closed-end contract” with an open-end contract like a credit-card account. The law treats the two differently. A closed-end contract has a fixed payment schedule. The interest portion of your monthly mortgage payment is the same whether you pay it early or at the last minute. A credit-card or revolving open-end contract works differently. Making your payment early allows more of it to go to the principal because interest is figured on the average daily balance. Federal law stated in “The Fair Credit Billing Act” requires open-end lenders to credit all payments on the date they’re received, unless no extra charges would result if they failed to do so. But with your mortgage payment it doesn’t matter on which day during the month it is processed, provided of course it gets there by the due date.

Hope that helps!

Dear Mary: Here’s the short version of a long story: Due to an undetected slowly leaking pipe in our home, the basement got very wet over a period of time. The leak has now been fixed and the basement has mostly dried out. But I’m detecting mold and mildew. The smell is awful.

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We called the pros to get a price on treating this smelly situation. They are estimating between $1,800 and $2,000 to kill the mold and mildew. Do you think we could do this ourselves for less using the product you recommend for smelly situations? Thanks, Hank

Dear Hank: Before I answer your question, I want to make sure that all of my readers know that mold is a serious situation, and can have adverse health ramifications for humans and animals alike. Mold is not something you want to live with.

Now to your question: Yes, I believe you can do this yourself.

Most people—myself included until I did more research—assume that household bleach will kill mold completely. We assume that because it bleaches the dark color. Not necessarily so.

Even freshly manufactured household bleach is unable to kill mold. Bleach that sits around store shelves or in your home continually gets weaker over time. Even the manufacturers’ usage directions do not recommend using it to kill mold. If you want effective odor kill, I absolutely recommend that you use Nok-Out. And not to get too technical, Nok-Out is guaranteed to maintain its efficacy within a two-year shelf life, when used according to the manufacturer’s directions. It is effective against mold spores because it structurally disassembles the cell so that it cannot revive to re-infest. Nok-Out does indeed kill spores.  Read more

It costs hardly anything ($2 a gallon on sale), it’s available in every grocery store in the universe and so useful around your home you are going to have a hard time believing it. That’s the power of vinegar. Yep, plain, cheap, 5 percent acidity, white vinegar.

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1. Instead of fabric softener or dry sheets, add 1/2 to 1 cup vinegar to last rinse in your washing machine (as you would liquid softener). Your clothes will come out soft because the vinegar helps to remove every trace of laundry detergent, which cause fabrics to stiffen.

2. Add 1/4 cup white vinegar to a quart of very warm water to make a good window cleaner. Wipe with crumpled newspaper or a coffee filter and your windows will sparkle.

3. Vinegar will dissolve hard-water marks like those on shower doors, faucets and in vases. If the vinegar is hot (heat in the microwave) it works even faster.

4. Instead of pricey commercial rinse agents, fill that little reservoir in your dishwasher with white vinegar. Your dishes will sparkle. Refill often. If your dishwasher does not have this feature, simple add 1/2 to 1 cup (depending on the hardness of your water) to the last rinse. Read more

Two women, different locations, same accident. Both women using an ordinary commercial toilet bowl cleaner, were not satisfied with the way it was removing stains. Each added household chlorine bleach and stirred with a brush.

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One died quickly, the other spent a long time in the hospital.

Here’s the problem: Whenever chlorine bleach comes into contact with acid or an acid-producing substance like toilet bowl cleaner or vinegar, there is a sudden release of chlorine gas. This is not a good thing. A similar result occurs when chlorine bleach is mixed with ammonia, lye or other alkaline substances. Chlorine gas is lethal.

Now that I have your attention let me assure you: If you stay clear of chlorine bleach, you have nothing to fear by making your own cleaning products. Why should you even consider doing that? The cost, for starters. You know that blue window cleaner sitting on your counter? You paid about 30 cents an ounce for it and it’s 95 percent water. Your own products will cost only pennies to make and will not contain toxic chemicals that could be harmful to your family and the environment. Read more

It pretty much kills me to spend money to pay for things I know I can make myself for less. Take cleaning products for example.  Knowing I can make specific cleaners for pennies that costs dollars at the store just makes me happy. It’s a no-brainer.

Here are three handy recipes to help you get started saving all that money you’ve been spending on household cleaners.

DIY Household Cleaners

Granite Cleaner

Countertops made of granite, marble, and stone are tricky because these materials are porous and stain easily. You never want to clean them with anything acidic, which means vinegar and lemon juice are both out.

Here is a homemade granite cleaner that will not stain nor is it acidic. It works like a champ to clean and shine these natural counters. 

Pour 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol into a 16-oz. spray bottle. Add 3 drops (only 3) Dawn liquid dishwashing detergent, 5 to 10 drops essential oil (this is optional, but will add a nice fragrance) plus enough distilled water to fill the bottle. Apply the spray top and shake to mix. You can use this cleaner to clean and shine your appliances as well. Read more