When Expensive Spray Bottles Refuse to Spray

Dear Mary,
I have several bottles of perfume and cologne that I cannot use anymore because they no longer spray. How can I clear the tube so I can spray the scent? Margie, California

alot of perfume on a table

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Dear Margie,
Cologne and perfume are by nature somewhat sticky. If a bottle sits unused for a period of time, the tiny opening in the sprayer can clog so it will not spray. Try this: Remove the sprayer pump from the top of the cologne bottle. Run the spray pump under hot water. Place the sprayer pump back on the cologne bottle and test to see if it is unclogged. Another option is to force a needle into the hole of the spray to break through the sticky residue that is clogging it. If these methods don’t work, as a last resort, remove the top altogether and transfer the balance of the cologne to a new spray bottle. Read more

When Parents Cosign Student Loans

Dear Mary,

We made a big mistake cosigning for our children’s college funding. Now, years later, we owe so much on their loans. And the worst part—they didn’t even graduate! We are trying to survive on one income. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Anna, email 

Dear Anna,

The sad truth is that you are not alone. Much of the $3 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is being shouldered by parents, and it could be affecting their retirement. I assume that your children have defaulted on these loans and now the lender is coming after you as cosigner for payment. I hate to sound harsh, and truly wish I had better news, but only the death of the student for whom you cosigned will make this go away. Not even filing for bankruptcy will relieve you of these debts.  Read more

How to Revolt Against Spouse’s Money Rules

Dear Mary,
My husband and I don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to spending. Basically, he feels that I should run every purchase I make by him, no matter how big or small. It’s gotten so bad that he now highlights the “questionable” purchases on our Visa bill and leaves it for me to explain. I really can’t stand being treated like a child. I work hard, and I’m not a spendthrift at all. In fact, my friends marvel at what a great bargain shopper I am!


I have become resentful of him, and it’s starting to creep into other areas of our marriage. What can I do to get him to see how unreasonable he’s being? Doreen, Maine Read more

Can Bad Credit Hurt My Career?

Dear Mary,
At a recent job interview, I completed the application, which included a form asking for permission to obtain my credit report. I was hesitant to sign because I’ve fallen behind on a number of payments since I was laid off six months ago. Can my bad credit score hamper my chances of getting the job? Is it even legal? Doug, Indiana


Dear Doug,
Yes, it is legal for prospective employers to request your credit report as part of the interview process. A credit report has become more than just a list of creditors. It’s a kind of character reference. Some employers want to see how a potential employee manages his life. If you are sloppy with your personal affairs, can they expect the same kind of sloppiness on the job? Read more

College-Dough, Oh-No!

Dear Mary,

We’ve been putting money in a 529 plan for our daughter’s college education for the past several years. She recently told us she wants to attend beauty school, instead. Now that the surprise has worn off, we’re concerned about penalties when we withdraw the money. How much will we lose, and is there any way to avoid it? Rebecca, Illinois 


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Dear Rebecca,

I’ve got great news for you! That money can be used at any accredited trade or vocational school—not only colleges and universities—to pay for tuition, room, board, fees, books and supplies. If you have more than the total cost of the vocational training and related costs, you can withdraw the balance. Federal law imposes a 10 percent penalty on earnings for non-qualified distributions. This means that you will get back 100 percent of your principal and 90 percent of your earnings. Read more

The Real Deal On Free Credit Reports

Dear Mary,

When I heard that you now can get one free credit report every year, I was excited. I went online and was all set to order a copy of mine when I noticed a small disclaimer at the bottom of the page that said I’d be charged a monthly $10 fee for credit monitoring services. I immediately cancelled the request. Is this legal, and can you recommend a site that really is free? Tami, New York

Credit Report

Dear Tami,

Yes, the law that requires credit bureaus to give us one free credit report once each year also grants permission to the bureaus to attempt to “up sell” or advertise other products and services to consumers at the time they request their reports. And you can say no thanks!  Read more

Rules of Money Management Haven’t Changed

Dear Mary,
I love your “Everyday Cheapskate” newspaper column. You’ve changed my life! Now I need help. My house is worth half of what I owe on the mortgage. Is it still considered a secured debt? I would love to sell it. I’ve even tried to give it back to the bank, but they won’t take it. Many people are in my situation. I’m trying to play by the rules, but I feel they keep changing. Laurie, Michigan

Dear Laurie,
Thanks for your kind words. Many people tell me they’re getting the equivalent of a degree in personal finance just by reading “Everyday Cheapskate.”

The housing crisis in this country is a tragedy, and one that way too many people didn’t see coming when they mortgaged their homes so heavily. However, I do not see where the rules are changing, as you suggest. In fact, I see the opposite. Many people now want lenders to change the rules based on the economy. Read more

The Front-Loader Debate Continues

Dear Mary,
In a recent column you said you didn’t buy a front-loading washing machine, as you learned from others’ mistakes. What are the pros and cons of a front loader, and what’s your opinion of the top-loader machines without the middle agitator? Pat, email

Dear Pat,
Front-loading washers suffer from a unique set of technical problems, due to the drum lying sideways. If the clothes are out of balance or there are too few items in the load to properly balance it, many front-loaders will just shut down, or rock slowly until time runs out. I have received myriad of comments from readers with front loaders who complain about water left behind at the end of the wash cycle, bleach spotting, long wash cycles, excessive vibrations and other complaints.

One issue unique to front-loaders is most troubling of all: mold buildup in the rubber gasket of the door and the resulting odor on clothes, especially towels.

If all of this is not enough, recent studies of consumer-reviews posted across the Internet show a trend of U.S. front-loading washers to have problems with bearing failure usually within the first six years, with the repair costs close to a replacement cost. Read more