Repairman looking at washing machine to give woman an estimate to repair

You’re worried the washing machine may be on its last spin cycle. It makes a horrible screeching sound and needs a lot of coaxing to make it all the way through a full cycle. Should you spend $319 to fix this inefficient appliance or replace it with a $999 new model that will use less electricity and water? Deciding whether to repair or replace your broken appliance—especially when trying to discover which option will save money in the long run—can be challenging.

Here are some basic guidelines and suggestions to help you decide, based on costs for replacement and repairs and the advantages of new models.

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Learn to clean this tan leather sofa with two fabric pillows

When it comes to furnishing your home, it’s difficult to find anything more luxurious and elegant than fine leather. With that elegance comes the challenge of how to clean leather furniture, keeping it free of stains, and well-maintained so that it gets even better with age.

Learn to clean this tan leather sofa with two fabric pillows

Improper attempts to clean fine leather can result in the heartbreak of permanent damage. If your leather furniture is stained or looking a little on the tired side, follow these suggestions for perking it up.

Type of leather

To get started, determine the type of leather you’re working with. You want to know if it is aniline or top-coated. Typically, this information will be found on the tags that were attached or the brochure you were given when you acquired the leather item. This written information will generally provide tips on cleaning your specific furniture and should be your first line of defense.

What if you don’t have any instructions? Generally, when talking about leather upholstery, there are two types: aniline leather and top-coated leather.

Aniline leather

This is a type of leather dyed exclusively with soluble dyes. The dye colors the leather without producing a topcoat or sealant. Aniline leather is a natural leather that has a very soft finish, is very absorbent and stains easily.

If yours is aniline, just one instruction: Do everything you can to keep it free of stains and spills. In an emergency, a clear, mild dishwashing detergent may safely remove a grease stain from this type of leather.

Top-coated leather

This is the most commonly used finishing technique for leather used to upholster furnitured and automobile seats. The finish consists of an opaque base coat followed by a protective topcoat. Since the natural color of the leather is covered completely, the leather can be identified by its uniform color. This type of leather is most common on furniture or automobile seats due to its durability and protection from stains and spilling.

Most leather furniture these days uses top-coat protected leather, which is usually safe to clean by following these suggestions:

Vacuum

You need to remove all the loose dirt, dust and debris from the item to be cleaned. A vacuum with the soft brush attachment is the best option as it will get into the seams and crevices. Be gentle, though. Leather is delicate and you don’t want to scratch it as you are vacuuming.

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A familiar blue can of StarKist albacore tuna to feed

Are the popular “reality” television shows anything close to what you consider reality? Take the venerable hit show Survivor, getting ready to launch its 39th season, for example. To me, that seems more like fantasy than reality.  And, honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had to survive on approximately 14 grains of rice per day or think of multi-legged creatures in terms of grams of protein. Still, I think that borrowing a few basic “survivor” attitudes and skills could help us to look at some of the items in our freezers, refrigerators, and pantries—like that lone can of tuna—a bit differently.

A familiar blue can of StarKist albacore tuna

Let’s say that 6-ounce can of tuna in your pantry is the only scrap of protein in the house. You’ve got four hungry people to feed. A trip to the store is completely out of the question (did I mention we’re marooned on a deserted island?… wink, wink). What will you do? What WILL you do?!

That’s exactly the question I once posed to three frugal food experts. Their responses, while varied, prompted me to make sure I have canned tuna on my shopping list as soon as I return to civilization.

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Three smiling children back seat of car on family vacation

When I was a kid, vacation meant four kids crammed into the back seat of a sedan, poking and elbowing one another while counting the miles between rest stops.

Things have changed dramatically since then. But even with onboard DVD players, electronic devices, spacious minivans, air travel, cruises, and theme parks, family vacations can be either delightful or disastrous. It all depends on the care you devote to research and planning.

Three happy children back seat of car on family vacation

Adjust your attitude

Here is the first rule of family vacations: Parents on vacation really aren’t. If you can unload personal expectations that you will be relaxed and refreshed when it’s over, you won’t be disappointed when you’re not. And if you do get a little rest and relaxation along the way, consider it an unexpected bonus.


MORE: You Need a Vacation


Be realistic about cost

Decide ahead of time how much cash you have for this vacation. If you have, say, a family of five and $500 to spend, don’t even think about a couple of days at Disney World.

Always consider the money you have first and then design a vacation that will realistically fit within that financial boundary.

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Woman with hand to her chin wondering about no-interest no-payments retail offers

Have you ever wondered how retailers can possibly afford to offer the no-interest, no-payments, no money down kind of deals you see advertised? That was the subject of a question I received recently.

Woman with hand to her chin wondering about no-interest no-payments retail offers

Dear Mary: There are several appliances, electronics, and furniture stores in our area that run television commercials offering nothing down, no-interest, no-payments until 2022. It sounds like I can just walk in and take what I want and not pay for three years! How do these companies really make money? Kate

Dear Kate: First, these offers are on approved credit and come with a lot of other fine print.  You need pristine credit to qualify for those attractive terms.

Good luck qualifying

One retailer told me only about 25% of the people who apply for these amazing no-interest no-payments offers,  designed only to get buyers through the door, can actually qualify. The other 75% are offered some other deal with horrible terms. People often accept these terms because, by the time they fill out the paperwork, they’re so emotionally involved and have their hearts set on that “free” absolutely awesome deal, they’re anxious to sign anything.

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A can-of-WD-40-sitting-in-the-garage-with-wooden-crates

It’s not new. The blue and yellow can is about as familiar as anything I remember from my childhood. Banished to a shelf in the garage, I assumed WD-40 was an automotive thing. Boy, was I wrong! This stuff is amazing. And cheap. Not long ago, I bought an 8-ounce can for $1.71 at Home Depot.

5 cans WD40 in different sizes for specific problems around the house

My recommendation is to apply WD-40, let the product do its work then remove it. Some say that a build-up of WD-40 can cause its own sticky mess over time. So here’s the deal: Use it then remove it.

WD-40 is a petroleum-based product (so is Vaseline). WD-40 comes in a tiny 3-oz aerosol can, larger 16-oz. or by the gallon, which you can pour into your own spray bottle. While the aerosol propellant is flammable, the product itself is harmless to humans, according to the manufacturer.

WD-40 gets things unstuck and a lot more. I know. I go through it like it’s water.  But don’t worry. It’s cheap. I once bought an 8-ounce can for $1.71 at Home Depot.

If it’s melted …

Have you ever opened the dryer to find a red crayon has ruined the entire load? The folks at Crayola offer this remedy for fresh heat-set crayon stains:

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Woman checking to make sure she has 9 essential pantry items on hand

Have you been paying attention to what’s going on with the cost of food? I just read that the average cost of ground beef in the U.S. has once again hit an all-time high. I believe it, and not only beef.  It is shocking how grocery prices are going up, which underscores the need for a well-stocked pantry.

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The way to fight back is two-fold:

  1. Buy groceries when they’re on sale
  2. Eat at home

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, it can be if you make sure your kitchen pantry is well-stocked. It’s annoying and expensive to not have basic items on hand. You don’t have what you need and don’t have time to go get it, which means, of course, you’ll just have to go out for dinner. Again. 

Taking the time and effort to make sure you always have the following 9 essential pantry items will save a lot of money, provided you pick these items up as they go on sale. Think of this as a project. 


MORE: 5 Fabulous Ways to Hack a Boxed Cake Mix 


Evaporated milk

I basically detest the stuff because I had to drink it as a kid. But used in cooking and baking, evaporated milk is fabulous! Keeping a few cans in your pantry ensures you’ll always have milk on hand when the recipe calls for it. Read more

Tax returns boxes of receipts and paper

If the paper monster has you buried under an avalanche of receipts, bank statements, ATM slips, investment records, paycheck stubs, and bills—the good news is you can probably throw most of it away without worry when you have a simple record keeping routine.

But before you fire up the shredder, you need to know what to keep and for how long.

tax-returns-piles-paper-records-paper-monster

Toss all you can

Monthly

Once you have recorded the amounts and reconciled your bank and credit card statements, you can shred ATM receipts, bank deposit slips, credit card receipts and sales receipts at the end of each month.

Exception: Keep receipts for purchases that may be tax deductible, those that involve a warranty and any item whose replacement cost exceeds the deductible on your homeowners’ or renters’ insurance.


MORE: Best Inexpensive Shredders


Yearly

Once you receive and reconcile your W-2 against your final pay stub you can toss your paycheck stubs for the year, along with monthly credit-card and mortgage statements, phone and utility bills and quarterly and monthly investment reports.

The same goes for other statements that detail the entire year’s activity on the final end-of-the-year statement.

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Rotten produce filling up garbage cans

I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around this documented fact: Half of all produce grown in the U.S. is thrown out, while at the same time there is growing hunger and poverty right here in America.

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As I read the first paragraph of this news story, I assumed naively that all U.S.-grown produce makes it to market. Then consumers like you and me get it home, let it go bad before we can consume it and into the garbage it goes. That is a factor, but not the whole story.

The truth is that vast quantities of fresh produce are left in the field to rot. It then becomes livestock feed or gets hauled directly to the landfill because of (get ready) cosmetic standards.

Not every potato, watermelon, strawberry or grape cluster turns out photo-perfect. Some are ugly.  And, unfortunately, that means they do not meet retailer and consumer demands for blemish-free, perfect produce.

Just imagine how the retail cost of produce might plummet if all that is produced—even the still-nutritious but ugly produce—were available for sale. More on that in a bit.

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Modern black smooth glass cooktop on white quartz counter

When it comes to kitchen appliances, nothing says modern and sleek like a beautiful new electric smooth top ceramic or glass cooktop. 

Modern black smooth glass cooktop on white quartz counter

While a smooth top beats a coil element type cooktop in the style department, it requires a different kind of proactive care to keep it looking good while at the same time preventing discoloration and scratching.

What NOT to do

With smooth top cooktops, it’s all about prevention. If you think of your cooktop as a delicate possession that requires your utmost protection, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Cast iron or stone cookware

Do not use cast iron or stone cookware on a smooth top cooktop or range. It’s tempting I know, because cast iron works so well on a glass induction cooktop. Just don’t do it. Period. The bottom of these types of cookware can be rough, even gritty like sandpaper. Any movement on that cooktop can leave permanent scratches.


MORE: My Hate-Love Relationship with a Cast Iron Skillet


Heavy pots

Do not drag heavy pots across a smooth top cooktop. Always lift to another area of the cooktop to reduce the risk of scratching. Read more

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