Ask Me Anything: Big Bulky Laundry, Cash for Text Books, Who Needs Life Insurance, and More

hands in air to ask questions


Large Blankets, Small Washer
Cash for Used Text Books?
Tennis Balls vs. Wool Dryer Balls
Who Needs Term Life Insurance, Anyway?

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Ask Me Anything: Baked-On Crud, Window A/C, DIY Floor Cleaner, Shrunken Wool, How to Get Out of Debt, and More!

I’ve been accused of thinking I have an answer for everything (you know who you are, my dear husband), and that kinda’ makes me laugh because I have to admit that maybe I do think that. For certain, I love to reach into the mailbag to find so many letters from my readers, many of which include questions.

Truth be told, when you send questions to which I do not have reliable answers, I set them aside pending further research. They say that “teaching teaches the teacher,” and I couldn’t agree more.

hands in air to ask questions


Oven Door Baked-on Crud
Best Inexpensive Window A/C
Homemade Floor Cleaner Recipe
How to Unshrink Wool
Whose Lien Is It Anyway?
Who Gets Husband’s Pension?
Countdown to Debt-Free
Help! Fruit Flies


Oven Door Baked-on Crud

Dear Mary: The self-cleaning function on my oven works great for the oven itself, but doesn’t get the glass door clean. I’ve tried to clean, but nothing works to remove the baked-on crud. Do you have a solution?

A: While you should never use oven-cleaning products on the self-cleaning oven itself, using an oven cleaner like Easy-Off Fume Free Oven Cleaner usually does the job. Unlike other oven cleaners, this one works on cold surfaces. Spray it on liberally, then leave the door open and allow to sit for several hours. That should soften everything that has become baked-on, allowing you to wipe all of that away with a scrubbing sponge.

DIY option: Make a thick paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Spread this all over the glass and allow to sit for a few hours. Wipe and scrub it away. This works in most oven door situations like yours, and it’s a lot cheaper than a commercial product.

Best Inexpensive Window A/C

Dear Mary: Do you have a Best Inexpensive window air conditioner recommendation for us? Please!

A: Since I don’t know the size of the space you need to cool, here are two options, both of which are great little workhorses:

For a small space of up to 150 sq. ft., the Frigidaire 5,000 BTU 115V Window-Mounted Mini-Compact Air Conditioner.

If you need to cool a larger space, up to 350 sq. ft., the Frigidaire 8,000 BTU 115V Window-Mounted Mini-Compact Air Conditioner will be the model you need.

Below are links to find these appliances online. Optionally, you may be able to find them locally at stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s. Hope that helps!



Homemade Floor Cleaner

Dear Mary: I would like the recipe and instructions for the solution to clean hardwood floors that doesn’t contain vinegar.

Yes, but first a quick review: You do not want to use vinegar on hardwood or laminate floors because it is highly acidic and used repeatedly will, over time, attack the finish on your wood or laminate floors, making them look dull. Vinegar can also soften the finish, making it feel gummy or sticky.

Instead, you want to use isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) because it cleans really well, but also evaporates quickly—and it has a neutral pH, which means it is not acidic.

Hardwood and Laminate Floor Cleaner

You’ll need:

✅  isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, 70% or 91%

✅  distilled water

✅  Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid

In a spray bottle, mix 1 part alcohol to 4 parts distilled water (example: 1/4 cup alcohol and 1 cup distilled water; or 1/2 cup alcohol and 2 cups distilled water) plus 3 or 4 drops Blue Dawn (more or less according to how much you are making, but go easy).

Mix this up in a spray bottle each time you clean the floors. Or if you make it up ahead, be sure to label it well and keep it out of the reach of children.

To use: Sweep or vacuum the floor. Spray the cleaner in a small area, scrub well with a cloth or sponge and immediately wipe the area dry with a microfiber cloth. The secret is to spray, scrub and wipe dry immediately.

If you do not want to do this on your hands and knees, I recommend this Spray Mop for both wood and laminate floors. It sprays the cleaner from its removable bottle that lets you make your own cleaner; a large surface mop with even bigger detachable microfiber cleaning pad that swivels for really easy handling. This mop makes scrubbing wood and laminate floors a breeze.



How to Unshrink Wool

Dear Mary: Thank you for your many helpful articles. In a past column, you wrote about how to unshrink a wool sweater. All I can remember is that it involved baby shampoo. Could you print the instructions again? Thanks!

Sure, here it is: Mix a solution of one gallon of lukewarm water and two tablespoons of any brand of tears-free baby shampoo. Soak the garment for about 10 minutes or until completely saturated.

Now the important part: Do not rinse! Simply blot out all the excess water with a dry towel and very gently lay it flat on a fresh towel. Reshape slowly and carefully stretch it back to its original size. Dry out of direct sunlight or heat.

This tip comes from the Wool Bureau who verifies this technique will work provided the fibers have not become permanently damaged from frequent washing. The baby shampoo releases fibers that have become “shortened” and that allows you to gently stretch the wool item back to its original shape.

Whose Lien Is It Anyway?

Dear Mary: We recently inherited our father’s property after he died and the title has been transferred to us, in our names.  A few months ago we discovered that there is a lien on the property for unpaid taxes. How do we resolve this situation? Are we obligated to pay the taxes to resolve the lien?

The property’s recorded owners of record of the property are legally responsible to clear that lien or suffer the consequences. With the asset comes all outstanding liabilities. That means that you, the heirs, received the property plus all liens and encumbrances, good and bad.

My advice is that you pay this lien in full to stop the fees and penalties that surely are accruing. As long as that lien exists, the possibility remains that the county or state in which the property is located has the legal right to sell it out from under you for the current amount of taxes owing. You don’t want that to happen!

Who Gets Husband’s Pension?

Dear Mary: Will I get my husband’s pension, 401(k), and IRA if he dies?

Yes, provided your husband named you as the sole beneficiary of those plans. Most plans have a stipulation that if the beneficiary is anyone other than the spouse, the husband or wife must consent to that in writing, to prevent any surprises.

Upon your husband’s death, the rules that applied to him for eventual distribution of his pension, 401(k), and IRA will now apply to his beneficiary, presumably that’s you.

For example, if your husband dies before the minimum withdrawal date (age 59 1/2), you will have to wait until that date to withdraw funds without a penalty, regardless of your age. Hope that helps!

Countdown to Debt-Free

Dear Mary: I am a 70-year-old single male with a decent income who faced the stark reality of bankruptcy. I have spent my entire life doing everything wrong when it comes to finances.

While rearing my family we lived well, but a lot of it on stupid, credit-card debt. I have never saved, seldom invested wisely, gave consistently―though at times very unwisely. My poor awareness of the proper way to handle money left this old man groping for a way out. With a debt load of over $36,000 on a fixed income, I entered a CCCS debt management program. Shortly after, I saw an ad for your book, Debt-Proof Living. I bought it and have read and re-read it. I wish that I could have been exposed to this wisdom as a young man.

To know that “money is not to spend, but to manage” has changed my life. If God allows me to live long enough I will be debt-free in 44 months. I can’t begin to express to you my gratitude. Thank you for giving me hope and God bless.

You have no idea how much you have encouraged me. Thanks for not only reading my story and book, but for putting the simple principles and instructions into action! You affirm what I so strongly believe and what I have heard from countless thousands who have discovered what you have—there’s always hope and a way out of debt.

Your story has encouraged me in ways I cannot adequately express, recharging my batteries and giving me a reason to keep going. I think you’ll be debt-free sooner than you think and I cannot wait to hear about that.

Now, my only concern is what I will do with all the letters I get from 70-year-old single females who want your address!



Help! Fruit Flies

Dear Mary: I have been having a real problem with fruit flies. I’ve tried numerous remedies and I get a few, but they’re still everywhere! I don’t have any fruit out. No open bottles of booze. I just can’t seem to get rid of them. PLEASE HELP!!!

Fruit flies can be a problem year-round but are especially common during late summer and fall because they are attracted to ripened or fermenting fruits and vegetables. That bait may not be in your house, but your neighborhood and community is likely enjoying a harvest of tomatoes, melons, squash, grapes, and other perishable items. Those are breeding grounds for these tiny critters.

Fruit flies are also attracted to rotting bananas, potatoes, onions, and other unrefrigerated produce purchased at the grocery store.

All it takes is one pregnant fruit fly to get in and before you know it, you’re dealing with a full-fledged fruit fly infestation. I know. I’ve been battling this problem, too!

How to Make a Fruit Fly Trap

You’ll need:

✅  a small glass bowl

✅  plastic wrap

✅  apple cider vinegar (no substitute)

✅  Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid

Pour some apple cider vinegar into the bowl. Add a drop (no more, no less) of liquid dishwashing soap, like blue Dawn. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, pulling the wrap back just a tiny bit at one edge to allow for entry.

Don’t skip any of these steps. The apple cider vinegar by itself has significant “surface tension.” That means the fly can actually walk on the surface, take a sip and then use it for a runway to take off. The liquid soap breaks that surface tension and the plastic wrap helps make sure that sucker gets hopelessly trapped.

That’s it. Just set the bowl out on the counter and go about your business.

Got a question? You can submit it HERE (not in the comments area below, please). Mary receives hundreds of messages every day, so please do not expect a personal response. Questions of general interest will appear with answers in future posts. Thanks.


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Most Common Money Questions Women Ask

I recently asked a group of women of all ages to tell me the money questions they most wanted to ask. Because they could remain anonymous, the responses poured in. What I learned is that we’re all embarrassed to ask many of the same questions about debt, credit, budgets, divorce, and parent issues. These are the answers that most of you really wanted to know.

women asking common money questions

Social Security Benefits

Q. I’m a stay-at-home mom and haven’t had a paycheck since I was a teenager. Will I be eligible for Social Security benefits?

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Saving Money by Choice, Not by Chance

A question that I answered in a previous post brought a small avalanche of mail, mostly from readers who were aghast that I would suggest they save such a significant portion of their paychecks for retirement. It was money they insisted they could not afford to save.

hand with a calculator. money saving concept.

I can only imagine that for a person who saves nothing, suggesting they should be saving thousands every year can be shocking. Or perceived impossible. Here is one of those messages: Read more

Are You Ready to Make the Switch to Induction Cooking?

I have to tell you that receiving the message in today’s post put the biggest smile on my face. Induction cooking? Oh yes, I do know something about that! But I must confess that the prologue to Cathy’s question is what warmed my heart.


induction cooktop GE-Cafe

Dear Mary: First of all, I want to thank you, thank you, thank you for your years of advice and guidance! I have purchased your books, READ your books, and given them as gifts many times. I hardly EVER buy anything or try a new product without checking with you first. I know that if you have endorsed it, I can trust it. Thank you for promoting quality and value in all the products and ideas you share. Your work is amazing.

That being said, my husband and I just purchased a home. The gas stove and microwave oven are 28 years old. Although they both still work, (I know, they don’t make them like this anymore) they look their age and I question the safety of the microwave. I was all ready to purchase a mid-level free-standing gas range.

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Ask Me Anything: How to Store Potatoes, Adult Children Money Matters, Shrinking Tuna, and More

It’s Mailbag day and time to reach in my a file named ECMailbag. That’s where I save all of the questions and letters that you, my dear readers, send to me. I don’t have the time to respond personally so I love it when I get to respond to your questions here.

Questions Mark ( ? ) word in paper note on blue background

Here is a quick summary of the questions I’ll answer in today’s post. You can click on one to go straight to it, or just scroll through to read all. Enjoy!


1. Why not store potatoes in the fridge?

2. Lights: Turn off or leave on when leaving a room?

3. Should I rescue my adult child from her deep debt?

4. Let’s talk about that missing ounce of tuna

5. How to get out the Wite-Out?

6. How to deal with ugly baked-on crud on baking sheets?


Dear Mary: I just read your past column on keeping produce fresh longer. You said to not refrigerate potatoes. Why not? I have been doing this for several years. Dee

Dear Dee: When potatoes are stored below 40℉, the starch in them turns to sugar. This gives them an unnatural taste and you will also notice that refrigerated potatoes turn an ugly brownish color when cooked.

The ideal storage conditions for potatoes are places that are dark, cool, and well-ventilated—like the lowest shelf in a pantry. Too much light makes potatoes turn green. If that happens or if they spout, you can still use them. Just cut off the green spots and the sprouts before you cook them.

Next time you cruise the produce section at the supermarket notice how and where the potatoes are handled: They’re never refrigerated and kept perfectly dry.

Dear Mary: Is it better to turn off fluorescent lights when you leave the room? I was always told that it took more electricity to turn them on than to let them burn all day. Shirley

Dear Shirley: When it comes to residential use, the Department of Energy suggests generally that if you leave a room for more than 15 minutes, it is most cost-effective to turn all lights off whether fluorescent, incandescent, LED, or halogen, although you would be wise to turn off the incandescents the minute you leave. You can install smart timers that will do this for you. Check with your local home improvement center.

Dear Mary: I have two daughters in their twenties, both are married. One has a terrible credit score, and is diving deeper and deeper into debt. The other daughter and her husband have recently graduated from college and are very good money managers. They are budgeting, saving a down payment for a house, and paying off their college loans very quickly. I am afraid that my one daughter will become very jealous of her sister’s financial successes. Do I just stand back and do nothing? I see this as a disaster just waiting to happen. Cheryl

Dear Cheryl: You’ve got a sympathetic ear in me. We have two sons adult sons and I know how my mother’s heart wants to fix everything little thing in their lives. But we both know that’s about the worse thing we can do for our adult children. Our “brilliant help” is not always appreciated the way we think it should be. So I’m going tell you what I would tell myself if I were in your situation: Back off. If you are not a co-signer on your wild child’s debt, it really is none of your business.

Your children are adults with lives of their own. Both of your daughters are learning to live with the consequences of the choices they make, whether good and bad.

As tempting as it might be for you to give or lend money to your spendthrift daughter in an effort to level the playing field (I’m assuming that’s what you have in mind here), that would be a terrible mistake. It will only put a Band-Aid on the real problem and it could alienate the other girl.

I suggest that you focus your energy on coming up with a list of resources she’ll need, like credit counseling, books, and other resources so that if and when she does comes to you for help, you’ll be ready to give her what she really needs—and wants—to make a U-turn on her road to financial devastation.

Dear Mary: In response to your column in my local newspaper, “A Can of Tuna in the Real World,” where do you find 6-ounce cans of tuna? l have not seen a 6-ounce can of tuna in years. They’re all 5-ounces now! Ted

Dear Ted: You are mostly right, and my apologies for mistakenly referring to the out-of-date 6-oz. size. Many brands of canned fish and meat have joined a list of dozens of products that have downsized over the last decade with no price reduction, including cereals, coffee, toilet paper, and even mayonnaise.

I say “mostly right” because the only brand of tuna I buy is Kirkland Signature Solid White Albacore Tuna, 7-oz. cans in an 8-pack, for $16.99, available at Costco warehouse clubs and also online for members. It is the best canned tuna I know of as measured in both quality and value. Costco also offers an 8-pack Chicken of the Sea Solid White Albacore in 7 oz. cans, $16.49.

Dear Mary: I so messed up. I spilled a bottle of Wite-Out on my wood dining table. It’s not the finest table in the world, but still, I’m heartsick because low-quality or not I love the style. Ann-Marie

Dear Ann-Marie: There are two products that will remove the Wite-Out from finished wood or other surfaces. You may even have one or both in your garage. WD-40 or Goo Gone will work well. Both are available online or at your local home improvement store, in the paint aisle, or online.

Just spray either product on the Wite-Out spill and allow it sit for a few minutes until it begins to soften. Then gently scrape it off with a blunt object like a plastic knife edge. That should do it!

Dear Mary: Is there a way to remove baked-on grease on my favorite baking sheet pan? Love your column for all its great inexpensive ideas. Maggie

Dear Maggie: Yes, there are several. My favorite is with Dawn Dish Power Dissolver, a remarkable cleaner, albeit somewhat hard to find, that melts baked-on crud with no fumes, requiring little effort. It even leaves a pleasant fragrance.

A good oven cleaner like Easy-Off Fume-Free Oven Cleaner can be an effective oven crud cleaner, requiring more effort and elbow grease.

Here’s a DIY option, some readers have reported as being effective: Make a paste of baking soda and fresh hydrogen peroxide. Spread this over the problem area on that sheet pan. Let it sit for a while, then using a good amount of elbow grease and a scrubbing pad, go to work on it. This will work in most situations, leaving that pan looking nice and clean. I can’t guarantee it will look like new, but much better than it looks now!


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Help! I’m Drowning in an Upside Down Car Loan

It’s time once again to reach into my virtual mailbag to pull out a few questions from you, my dear readers!

A recent opportunity for readers to weigh in on what they like best and want they want to read more of here at Everyday Cheapskate revealed that answering reader mail is right up at the top of your favorites! (It’s mine, too!)

Dear Mary E-mail icon pattern cloud shape.


1. Upside down in a car loan 

2. Kiddy credit files

3. What are U.S. 801(k) plans?

4. Slammed by a tax bill

5. No shortcuts for quality suede

6.Get out of debt first

Read more

Ask Me Anything: Plastic in the Oven, DIY Spreadable Butter and More

I love my overflowing inbox filled with questions from my dear readers. What I don’t love is not being able to respond personally to each and every one!

So today, rather than trying to decide which ones to answer, how about I just reach in and let’s see what comes out.

Question and Family

Oven: Hot Mess

Dear Mary: I have a big problem. I turned on my oven without removing a Tupperware container of cookies and the plastic melted all over the bottom of the oven. I was able to scrape some of it off, but a lot still remains. Do you have a solution for me? Lorna

Dear Lorna: Tupperware is made of low-density polyethylene, which is resistant to any kind of solvent. Don’t even waste your time with oven cleaners.

Instead, put ice (in a bag) on it to make it brittle, and chip it off.  Scrape off the residue with a putty knife or similar flat edged blade. It’s a lot of work and a real pain, but not the end of the world.

DIY Spreadable Butter

Dear Mary: I love the soft texture and spreadability of whipped butter, but the stuff in the tubs is to me questionable nutritionally and costs more when compared to stick butter.

My favorite is the butter that is whipped with olive oil. Do you have any suggestions on how I can make my own whipped butter? I have no idea what type of proportions I would need, or if a third ingredient is necessary so it will easily spread. Sara

Dear Sara: Yes, you can do this yourself and quite easily! You’ll need two sticks of real butter (that’s one cup, and please do not substitute with margarine), 1 cup of canola or olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and an electric mixer.

Allow the butter to come to room temperature in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Mix it with the electric mixer on low speed for about 30 seconds or until it becomes creamy. Keep the mixer running and add the oil in a small, steady stream. Add the salt. Keep mixing until it looks very light and fluffy.

Store the whipped butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Enjoy its spreadability even straight from the refrigerator.

By the way, despite rumors to the contrary, canola oil is not toxic according to Berkeley Wellness (see Canola Oil Myths and Truths). And while it is more cost effective to use canola oil, research from Livestrong (Is Canola Oil More Healthy Than Olive Oil?) reports the nutritional value of canola oil and olive oil are almost identical.

FREE: Make Your Own Mixes eBook

Dying Car? Maybe It’s Only Sick

Dear Mary: My car is dying after 10 years. I’m now stuck with trying to come up with financing for another car. Any extra money I have after bills and rent goes towards savings and credit-card debt.

To afford payments on a car I will probably have to reduce the amount I have going to my retirement account and cut back on the extra payments on my credit card. Would it be better for me to lease a car or buy a late model used car? Paula

RELATED: 25 Ways to Save $1,000 a Month

Dear Paula: I’m not convinced that your old car is terminal. Repairs—even expensive repairs—are cheaper than big new car payments every month.

Find a good mechanic who will do what needs to be done to keep your car running for a few more years. Use the tactics you mention to pay cash for the repairs.

Then start saving by cutting out all unnecessary spending so you can pay cash for a replacement car in a couple of years. And good luck!