Ask Me Anything: Mouse in the House | Sheets on the Bed | Interest on Credit-Card Debt

I will admit to having an extreme aversion to mice. They give me the creeps and just knowing one is in the house totally disrupts my life.

mouse-eating-bread

A tiny chill ran down my spine when I read Lucy’s letter. Been there, solved the problem and hope to never experience that again!

EEK! MOUSE IN THE HOUSE

It’s that time of year when mice invade our homes. I’m a pretty good housekeeper and we have two cats, but I just cleaned a disgusting mess of mouse tracks out of my pantry. Any suggestions on how to discourage mice for the future? I love your daily e-mails and read them all! Lucy

Dear Lucy: Oh, I feel your angst. I hate even the idea of a mouse in my house! As the temperatures start to drop in the fall, mice start looking for warm places they can settle in for winter and multiply. Any crack or crevice will do.

For me, it needs to be about preventing mice from getting in rather than finding ways to trap them once they’ve entered. That means we have think like a mouse!

Start with the exterior of your home. Look for tiny places mice can slip in through damaged weatherstripping, under doors and around pipes and vents. Seal every opening you find with a filler that mice cannot chew through (that eliminates spray foam) or will breakdown and rust.

An excellent choice is Xcluder Rodent Control Steel Wool Fill Fabric DIY Kit. It’s easy to use, resistant to critters’ attempts to chew through it, and will hold up and be effective for years to come.

To prevent mice from coming in under doors, Xcluder makes door sweeps and garage door sweeps DIY kits from the same type of material that is rust and chew resistant.

Closing up all cracks and crevices is going to take some time, but doing it right now will come back to bless you for many years to come. And as a bonus, you’ll be sealing your home from cold drafts, too. 

 

BEST INEXPENSIVE BED SHEETS

What kind and what brand bed sheets do you recommend? Your trusting friend, Janice

Dear Janice: I have to admit to being super picky when it comes to bed sheets. I need 100% cotton. And the fabric must have a smooth, soft “hand,” (the way the fabric feels to the touch). And sheets can’t come out of the dryer horribly wrinkled. And they must fit well (how annoying is it for a fitted sheet to pop off at the corners?).

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Ask Me Anything: Cost of Ice | DIY Whipped Butter | Elderly Turkey | Lost Insurance Policy | EC en Español

Can’t remember the last time I laughed right out loud while reading my mail the way I did today—not because an aged turkey is so funny or spending $2.00 to save half-a-penny is particularly hilarious.

It’s just that, well … both tickled my funny bone!

piggy-bank-surrounded-by-ice-cubes

Cheap Ice

My husband says that it costs more to make ice in the freezer than to buy it in bags. I find that hard to believe. Do you know the answer? J.M.

Dear J.M.: Let’s say a 10-pound bag of ice at the store costs $2. Two dollars’ worth of water from your tap would be nearly 350 gallons at the U.S. average price of about $0.0058.per gallon—enough to make a lot of ice!

You are already keeping the freezer at 0 F., so it will take no more energy to make ice in it than you’re spending now to freeze other stuff.

Your husband’s theory might hold water if he’s talking about buying a separate ice-making machine that will be an additional appliance in your home that draws its own electricity. Otherwise, I think he’s all wet!

RELATED: Tap Water: Good for Your Health and Your Wealth

 

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Ask Me Anything: Pay Down Debt or Invest? | Online Dating | Horrible Odor in Leather Couch

I love it when readers ask me questions. And believe me when I tell you the questions pour in and on every topic imaginable—even how to cut the cost of online dating. Today, I pulled the following three letters from the EC mailbag:

multi-ethinic arms outstretched to ask questions.

 

Dear Mary: We are better off than most. We have no credit-card debt, we have several hundred dollars in cash stashed away in a safe in our house and we have about $5,000 in savings. Our 401(k) accounts and Roth IRAs have a total current value of about $50,000. My husband is 41 and I’m 35. We have two kids and college 529 college savings plans for them. Our mortgage is our biggest payment. Should we pay down our mortgage with extra income or put the extra money into our retirement accounts? Peggy

Dear Peggy: Before you’re ready to do either—pay down debt or invest—you need at least enough money in your emergency fund that to keep all the bills paid and food on the table for at least six months without any income. That money should be in a safe place where you could get your hands on it in say 36 to 72 hours, which could be in your home safe, but I’d rather it be in a savings account in a bank or credit union. While your $5,000 in savings is a good start, it’s not nearly enough. I’m thinking more like $30,000. Am I right?

Once your emergency fund is safe and secure, it’s a tossup on whether you should aggressively invest in paying off your mortgage or invest in the market to build wealth for retirement. I’m sure we could find plenty of experts to argue both options.

I would advise you concentrate heavily on paying off your mortgage debt. There is no better investment than a repaid debt. Not only will you get a guaranteed rate of return, eventually you will pay it off completely. That house will be all yours. You can live in it mortgage-free, while that asset grow in value. As investments go, that’s hard to beat.

MORE: Invest in Your Debt—It’s a Sure Thing with a Solid Return

Dear Mary: I work hard every day and don’t have the energy to get out in the evenings. I spend my free time with longtime friends, so I don’t meet single men. I know several people who have found partners online. I’m determined to find a man for myself before the end of the year. Online dating services may be the way, but they can get pricey. Are there coupons online for special deals? Belinda

Dear Belinda: There are. Google “Online Dating Coupons” and you’ll turn up a love boat load of online coupon codes for any number of dating sites. Please do not take this as any kind of an endorsement from me. Be careful out there, hear?

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How to Clean Steam Irons and Granite Countertops—Cheap and Easy!

These days its nearly certain that there’s a pricey product available to clean just about anything. But why spend the money when you can make your own homemade products that perform just as well from ingredients you may have already in your cupboards and pantry? I’m talking cheaper, faster and quite possibly better!

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What is the best and most effective way to clean a steam iron?

You need to clean both the inside and the sole plate of a steam iron regularly to keep it in tip-top condition. Before you proceed with my cleaning suggestions, make sure you read the owner manual that came with your iron to make sure there are no instructions or cautions that might preclude the following.

INSIDE: To remove build-up from the inside of the iron, which over time can really clog things up, pour equal amounts of white vinegar and water into the iron’s water chamber up to the maximum fill line. Turn the iron on to “steam” setting and iron a soft clean cloth to clean out the steam ports. 

Depending on how clogged up the iron is, it make take several attempts for the steam to bust through. It’s the vinegar that will break down all of that hard-water scale and buildup inside the iron. Read more

Ask Me Anything: Best Vacuum | Best Blow Torch | Best Meat Thermometer

My mail doesn’t arrive one message at a time. It comes in piles. Think: avalanche. While I have recently hired an assistant (yay me, and welcome Suzanne), the piles remain deep and wide. But I have big plans and high hopes.

office-worker-with-mountain-of-mail

I must have the most patient readers on earth, understanding, too, because while I read every single message, I am unable to reply personally. That’s why I look forward to Ask Me Anything day.

Today I reached in and pulled out these questions…

Barbara writes: We need a new vacuum that is lightweight and easy to carry. We have three flights of stairs in our townhouse and our current vac is super heavy and difficult to navigate—and it doesn’t do a very good job. My new vacuum needs to have attachments including a long wand to dust door frames, drapes and artwork. A bagless vacuum would be ideal. We have a dog and a cat, so cleaning pet hair is an almost daily requirement. My husband and I always read your hints for saving money and we’re confident you can point us in the right direction!

You won’t find a better vacuum than a Shark. I’ve tried just about every vacuum out there, so I say this with supreme confidence.

There are several Shark models available currently, and my recommendation for you is this Shark Navigator Upright Vacuum for Carpet and Hard Floor with Lift-Away for deep cleaning stairways and carpeted steps. But there’s more.

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Ask Me Anything: Best Inexpensive Printer | Stain Recipe | Insurance Claims | Hair Products

I have a friend who chides me from time to time that I ask too many questions (you know who you are, Duane). I’m sure it’s true but only because I am the inquisitive type. I have that the need-to-know gene.

But do you know what I love more than asking questions? Answering them! And that’s a good thing because I do get a lot of questions from you, My Dear Readers. Oh, boy do I!

 

Lori writes: I am looking for a good reliable computer printer. I do not need color—just a super reliable, well-functioning black and white printer for home.

The Brother Compact Monochrome Laser Printer, HLL2395DW is a great choice for people who need to print, scan, or copy term papers, tax forms, concert tickets and other black and white documents from home, home office or dorm room. It is my pick for Best Inexpensive™ Black and White Laser Printer.

This printer handles automatic two-sided printing; it’s pretty speedy too, at 36 pages per minute, with a cost-per-page of about 2.3 cents which includes wear and tear on the drum.

This Brother model is quite easy to set up and will be a reliable addition to your home’s computer network. Expect this printer to work well with any current laptop, desktop, smartphone or tablet including Chromebooks.

The paper tray holds 250 sheets of paper and the printer itself has a draft or “save more” setting that allows you to conserve toner when the document you print does not require professional quality. But when that is needed, this printer outputs sharp, professional black and white pages at up to 2400 x 600 dpi resolution.

Gayle writes: I have been going through baby clothes that have been stored for many years and some items have yellow stains on them. Can you recommend a product that might get these old stains out? I have no idea the source of these stains. 

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Ask Me Anything: Toys R Us Gift Cards | Percale Sheets | Best Upright Vacuum

Everything is different when you’re a child: The trees are taller, colors are brighter, and every new day is more exciting than the last. And some things stay in our memories for a long time—in fact, sometimes they end up being with us forever.

 

Dear Mary: The sad news that Toys R Us is closing all of its US stores not only has us nostalgic for childhood memories, but it also has me wondering: what should they do with their Toys R Us gift cards? Michael

Dear Michael: This is a very sad topic in my family. My adult kids and grandsons too, are going through a kind of grief as thoughts of Toys R Us flood them with wonderful memories. 

As for Gift Cards—there’s one important thing to remember: Gift cards are not the same as cash. They represent store credit. One of the dangers of holding onto Gift Cards is that the store will file for bankruptcy or some other event that causes those Gift Cards to become virtually worthless without notice. My advice is that you use Gift Cards as soon as possible—never hold onto them for the long term. 

Get thee to the nearest Toys R Us store you can find that is still open to buy some Christmas gifts! Don’t assume you’ll be able to use those Gift Cards at ToysRUs.com as the online store has been closed. Only a sweet, tearjerker message remains with a reminder me that deep down inside, we’re all Toys R Us kids. 

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Ask Me Anything: How to Unshrink a Sweater, Do We Have to Pay Taxes? and More

I love it when I open my email to find a question that makes me go, Oh boy, do I know about that feeling! That’s exactly what happened to me—been there, done that!

Today’s first great reader question is a perfect example. Yep, done that and have gone on to get rid of the shrunken items because I didn’t know there was a possible remedy! But now I do, and you’re about to know, too!

Man's navy blue sweater shunken to the size of a toddler

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! Linda

Sure, here it is: Mix a solution of one gallon of lukewarm water and two tablespoons baby shampoo. Soak the garment for about 10 minutes. Now the important part: Don’t 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.

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? Julia Read more