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

Should I invest or pay off debt? That has to be at the top of the most common questions I have received over the years. And the answer is a solid—it depends! But only on one thing:

If you do not have an emergency fund saved and stashed in a safe place—and I’m talking about at least $1,000—you should save madly while you keep paying the minimums required on your burgeoning debt. Once you have an emergency fund in place, the answer to that question is clear:

Dear Mary: I have $13,000 in credit-card debt. I have designed a plan in which I would pay the amount of interest charged to me on my last statement plus $930 each month. The way I figure it, by doing this I will have this debt paid off in 15 months. I am going to have to dip into my investment account to come up with that additional amount each month, but I can do that. I could also just pay off the whole amount from my investment account (it is not a tax-advantaged retirement account), but I don’t prefer to do it that way. My investment account is at about $209,000 and I really don’t want to go under the $200,000 mark in that account. What is your suggestion? Anonymous

Dear Anon: You don’t say the interest rate you are paying on that debt, so I am going to assume it’s the current average rate of 17.55 APR. You don’t say how your funds are invested, so I will assume you are invested in the stock market (some equity stock, some bonds).

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Best Inexpensive Computer Printers

With so many technologies and capabilities available, choosing a printer isn’t easy. And don’t assume you’ll find the perfect printer anytime soon. No matter the cost, printers get paper jams. They run out of ink/toner. Network connectivity can be challenging. That’s just the nature of printers. I don’t know why, but it’s important to understand and accept.

Now that I’ve lowered your over all expectations, let me give you the good news: There are some great affordable printers out there, depending of course on exactly what you need a printer to do. Here are my top three picks for your consideration:

Best Inexpensive Black and White Laser Printer. The Brother HL-L2380DW 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. This printer handles automatic two-sided printing; it’s pretty speedy too, at 32 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. About $129.

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Six Simple Ways to Develop a Saver’s Attitude

Cutting expenses is the way to spend less so you have money to save. But unless you are actually putting that money into a safe place to be held for some future use, you’re not really saving at all. You’re just spending less.

Even if you cannot save a great deal of money right now, that’s okay. It’s not the amount you save that matters as much as the fact that you make saving money a regular habit.

Grab all the discounts. Many mortgage lenders and student loan companies offer incentives for their customers who set up automatic payments for their monthly payments. It’s worth knowing you’ll never be late, and if you can get even 1/4-point reduction in the interest rate over time that will really add up to be something significant. Automobile insurers give discounts to good drivers, non-smokers, good students, cars with particular safety-equipment and any number of other situations. But you have to ask. Make the call.

Set dollar limits. Okay, so this sounds curiously like “budgeting.” It is. Deciding ahead of time the amount you are willing to spend for anything is to impose important limitations on yourself.

Fee yourself. Banks and credit-card companies don’t seem to have much trouble socking us with unbelievable fees, so take a lesson from them and fee yourself. Every payday impose a self-tax equal to one-hour’s pay. Consider it the price for having a job and put it straight into your savings account. Give yourself ample warning that upon your next raise, the fee will jump to two-hours’ pay. Every time you make a withdrawal from the ATM or you write a check, charge yourself a set fee of $1 by recording the actual amount plus a buck. Deposits? A $10 fee for each deposit sounds about right. When you’ve collected $50 or $100 in fees from yourself, settle up and transfer the whole amount straight to your savings account.

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How to Clean Gunk and Grime from Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets are for storing dishes, not grease. Unfortunately, wood cabinets—painted or natural with a clear finish—are prone to all sorts of grease, grime, and gunk from simply being in the kitchen.

Depending on just how much grease and grime you’re looking at and the supplies you have available, here are several options for your consideration. At least one of these will help to get the job done—plus one final suggestion for how to keep your clean cabinets looking gorgeous!

BLUE DAWN. Apply a few drops of concentrated dish liquid like blue Dawn, into a bowl of warm water. Dip the soft side of a sponge in it. Squeeze the sponge until suds form. The cleaning agents in Dawn absorb grease just as well on kitchen surfaces as they do on dishes.
Apply to the dirty cabinet, wiping the grease with the soft sponge until it is removed. Immediately dry the surfaces with a clean cloth to prevent streaking. This will prevent streaking.

KITCHEN GUNK REMOVER. Bust through hardened, dingy layers of old, sticky, dust-grabbing grease with vegetable oil and baking soda. Mix one-part any vegetable oil to two-parts baking soda. Apply this oily paste to dirty areas using a soft cloth or paper towel. That ugly, greasy, dirty build-up on cabinets will begin to soften and start to disappear. Wipe clean and buff with a soft cloth.

WHITE VINEGAR. Vinegar is not just for making pickles or drizzling over French fries. It has grease-busting, cleaning ability. Dampen a clean, dry cloth with undiluted white vinegar, and wipe down greasy cabinets. Rinse your cloth with warm water, wring out most of the moisture, and use it to rinse the cabinetry. Dry the damp surfaces with a paper towel, but note any still-sticky spots that need a second attempt.

SOAP AND PAINT THINNER. This is a heavy-duty, industrial strength solution. Use it on the toughest, most stubborn grease and grime, knowing that it could remove a layer of the finish. Mix equal parts of paint thinner and a mild soap, such as Murphy Oil Soap. Apply with a sponge or paintbrush. Wipe the solution away with a rag to clear the dirt; you’ll likely remove a thin layer of varnish or shellac, because the grime may have melded with it.

WOOD POLISH AND CONDITIONER. After a rigorous cleaning, wood cabinets are thirsty for moisture and protection. But you want to be careful that you don’t make matters worse by using something that will create a new kind of build-up that becomes a magnet to kitchen grease and grime. You won’t find a better product to do that than Howard’s Feed-n-Wax Wood Polish and Conditioner. It contains beeswax, carnauba wax and orange oil to keep the wood from drying out, while at the same time repelling kitchen grease. Fantastic for all of the wood surfaces in your home—not only kitchen cabinets.

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Make Your Own Tub and Shower Cleaners—Cheaper, Better and Faster!

The only thing better than making things myself is when what I make turns out to be cheaper, better and faster than something I can buy in the store to accomplish the same goal. That makes me so happy!

Dear Mary: I love, love, love! the homemade Tub and Shower Soap Scum Remover. It works better than any product I have ever used. Our tubs and showers have never looked so good! Now, I would love to know how to make my own daily shower cleaner—the kind you just spray and walk away for daily tub and shower maintenance between cleanings. Any ideas? Polly

Dear Polly: Yes! I’m confident this is the recipe you’re looking for.

Daily Shower Cleaner

  • 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap (like blue Dawn)
  • 1 tablespoon dishwasher rinse aid (like Jet-Dry)
  • 2 cups water
  1. Pour all of the ingredients into a 24-ounce spray bottle. Mix gently. Each day before you step out of the shower, spray the walls then walk away.
  2. This no rinse, no wipe, no scrub shower cleaner spray is safe to use on glass, glazed tile, stone, tubs and shower curtains. The gentle formula contains no bleach, ammonia or harsh chemicals and it wont scratch surfaces or leave behind a dull residue.
  3. Store your daily shower cleaner in a dark cupboard, as hydrogen peroxide breaks down quickly in the presence of light.

Here, for readers who may have missed it, is that nearly magical cleaning potion you love so much (so do I!)

Tub and Shower Cleaner

Pour one cup blue Dawn into a 32-ounce spray bottle (1/2 cup Dawn if you are using a 16-ounce bottle). Fill the bottle the rest of the way with white vinegar. Apply sprayer top; shake gently to mix. To use: Spray liberally on the area to be cleaned. Allow to sit from 30 minutes up to overnight, depending on the severity of the problem. All of the offensive gunk and grime will break down and become soft and gooey. Simply rinse it away. For especially challenging situations—or if this is the initial treatment—use a sponge or brush to gently scrub the surfaces before rinsing. Caution: Do not use on stone, marble or granite.


Dear Mary: We live with extremely hard well water. Given this challenge, can you recommend a brand of laundry and also automatic dishwasher detergent that will suitable for hard water? Thank you! Jeannine

Dear Jeannine: Rather than changing products, I suggest you supplement what you are using now—in both the clothes washer and automatic dishwasher—with Super Washing Soda, also known as sodium carbonate. It’s a natural product (read more about it HERE including ten other ways to use washing soda around the house) that looks just like white powdered detergent. Super Washing Soda boosts the power of soaps and detergents because it instantly softens the water. I’d start by adding 1/2 cup Super Washing Soda to every laundry wash cycle and the same amount to each dishwasher load. You can just toss it into the machine before you close the door. As a bonus, sodium carbonate (Super Washing Soda) will clean out the hoses and pipes in your appliances to keep them from mineral build-up that can wreak havoc on a household appliance. 

Most supermarkets and discount stores carry Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, or you can easily order it online through Amazon. It comes in a 55-ounce box for about $5. Good luck and be sure to let us know how that works for you! 

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Why I Can’t Bring Myself to Buy Salad Greens in a Bag

I don’t buy bagged double- or triple-wash or any other variety of prepared salad greens that come in a plastic clamshell or bag. But not be for the reasons you might assume.

It’s not because I’m overly concerned that bacteria might make it through all that pre-washing in a chlorinated bath (although tests conducted by Consumer Reports did find bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination, when they tested 4,000 samples of all kinds of packaged greens from baby greens to spinach, traditional and organic). As creepy as that is to think about, the report assures that the contamination falls within the FDA’s acceptable levels.

It’s not even my concerns about just how long ago these greens were cut and washed. Granted, I am not a fan of limp, tired-appearing romaine, iceberg lettuce or cabbage. And even though I am a believer that once you wash, cut and prepare any kind of fresh produce—be it fruit or vegetables—the flavor and quality begin to degrade, that’s not it either.

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Reader Feedback on Cordless Hand Vac, Instant Pot Single-Serve and Fresh AIR

Did you notice or read about yesterday’s massive Internet outage? As I fumbled and fumed over a variety of websites being down, I had to laugh at myself.

Here I was upset with a delay that would be measured in minutes when not that many years ago, I had to wait days—even weeks—to get responses. Back then, your responses and feedback came in envelopes with stamps attached.

Whether I hear from readers via the U.S. mail or through my inbox, I love it. But I have to admit that I am impatient. When it comes to hearing from you, the sooner the better!

Dear Mary: The first time I used my new handheld vacuum (see Best Inexpensive Cordless Handheld Vacuum) I discovered another great feature. With other handheld vacuums the bulk of the vacuum’s weight is generally in front of your hand. You need a bit of strength to hold it for long. But this specific new Dustbuster model has the weight balanced right under the handle (which is better designed than the Dirt Devil, in my opinion ) so you can manipulate it with ease and hold it longer than the others. Thanks for the heads up on this vacuum. Linda

Dear Linda: I couldn’t agree more. Finally, Black and Decker got it right with this Dustbuster redesign with a mighty 16v lithium battery.

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The Peaceful Easy Feeling that Comes with Decluttering

A few weeks ago I got a wake-up call that wasn’t exactly intended for me. Our friends Matt and Sharlene got the call that his 92-year old aunt had died. As the executor of her estate, this did not catch them by surprise. The surprise came after a long flight when they opened the door to their late-aunt’s home.

As they described what they were facing in a home stuffed to the brim with stuff, vicariously I was right there with them—overwhelmed by the enormity of the accumulation of clutter. What to do? Where to start? At that moment in my heart (and now publicly) I renewed my pledge to my husband and children: To the very best of my ability and as God is my witness, I will never leave a mess for you to deal with.

Admittedly, I am a clutter bug and I know why. I believe that everything I own has value. That means I must keep it. The struggle is real. Those books I’ll never open again or my old mobile phone that won’t hold a charge—they have to be worth something to someone. Right?

Or how about that box of video games? They still look good even though we don’t have the game station that goes with them. And that computer monitor. Sure, it’s small-ish and old, but it still works (I think). I can’t throw it out. All those movie DVDs! They cost a lot of money. And on and on it goes from the garage to the basement—every room has the potential to become a clutter magnet. 

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