Posts

19 Clever Ways to Use Bread Bags that Have Nothing To Do with Bread

As you know—and only because I write about it so much—I may as well be president of the Artisan-In-Five fan club for how the book and method of making homemade bread have rocked my world.

2 loaves fresh homemade artisan bread

Back when I was first learning to make homemade artisan bread (it is so easy), I decided I needed bread bags not only to store partial loaves, but also for presentation. Let’s just say that when you bake bread, you have a lot of friends.

Turns out bread bags are quite inexpensive, purchased in bulk. And when I say bulk, I mean a case of 1,000 bread bags. I did. I bought a case of 18-inch, gusseted bread bags.

As I look back, I’m not sure what I was thinking. Apparently the idea of 1,000 loaves of bread ever coming out of my kitchen was overshadowed by a bargain-basement price of large bread and bakery poly bags when purchased in bulk. These slightly smaller bags are equally useful, for about half the price.

While I continue to bake bread as needed by my household of two people, I use one, maybe two, bread bags a week for bread. But for dozens of other uses around the house? These bags are the best thing since, well, sliced bread! Read more

Ask Me Anything: Smelly Sponges, Linx Stick Vac, Wood Cleaner, Kids’ Savings Accounts and More

Once again, it’s time to reach into my inbox and pull out a handful of questions from you my dear readers. Every day I get questions galore, great stories, lots of love, and tons of encouragement. Please, never stop writing to me!

A close up of a computer

While I do read every message, I simply cannot respond to all of them. And honestly, I don’t have specific criteria for which questions to answer in posts like this.

Generally, I select questions with universal appeal and a high likelihood that others have the same or similar questions. And here’s a hint: Well-written, complete messages with a clear situation and question get special consideration.

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 down to read all. Enjoy!

Contents

1. Smelly Sponge Syndrome

2. Which Hoover Linx?

3. Wood Floor Cleaner OK for wood cabinets?

4. Costco or Sam’s Club?

5. Kids’ Savings Accounts

6. Pesky Ant Invasion

 


Q1: Serious case of smelly sponge syndrome

Dear Mary: I was wondering if you had a quick and easy way to keep the dish scrubbers—like ScotchBrite with a sponge on one side attached to a pad for scrubbing pans on the other side—from smelling like mildew.

Mine is fine for a few days and then starts smelling. I try to run it in the dishwasher, but don’t always remember. I sometimes spray it with bleach and let it sit for a minute or two before rinsing, and that seems to work, but I was wondering if there was a better way. I tried microwaving a wet sponge, and that just created a hot smelly sponge. Bronson

woman smelling a spunge

 

Dear Bronson: First, let me congratulate you on discovering a popular cleaning hack that doesn’t work—sponges in the microwave. The theory is that high heat kills most bacteria. However, the amount of time needed in a microwave to reach the desired temperature to kill the bacteria and mildew harbored in the center of a sponge will result in a flaming, incinerated sponge. As reported in The New York Times citing this study, nuked sponges still harbor about 40% of their bacteria, some of which can be life-threatening.

Putting that kitchen sponge in the dishwasher daily, or as often as you run a load of dishes, is a better solution. The heat and detergent are sufficient to kill bacteria and mildew.

I’m going to assume that you use one sponge at a time, and that may be the problem. Let me suggest you have at least two sponges going. This way, one will always be available to wipe the counter and so forth, while the other is getting sanitized in the dishwasher. Do this without fail for a couple of weeks and soon it’ll become a habit.

All that being said, a better choice is to use cotton or microfiber cloths that can be tossed in the washer after every use.

Read more

7 Common Clutter Problems and How to Solve Them

I have a theory that most of us would be more than willing to let go of the stuff that’s cluttering our homes if we knew these things would serve a worthwhile cause or help someone else—the good things, kitchen things—the highly useful possessions that we just don’t use. Check out these worthwhile solutions for most households’ seven biggest clutter problems.

 

A cup of coffee on a table, with Kitchen and Bakery

Vases, baskets, containers

And anything else that held flowers you have received. If they’re cracked or broken, no one wants them. For the rest, take those which are in “like-new” condition to the closest flower shop to be recycled. You’ll be gratefully received.

Excess dishes and glassware

No matter how pretty or potentially useful, if you do not use those items at least once each year, sell them to an antique dealer, or give them to a local thrift shop or the church’s annual rummage sale.

Read more

These Puppies Detect Water Leaks (and More Great Reader Tips!)

My dear readers come up with the greatest tips, tricks, and ideas for how to save time and money every day. Today is no exception. From water leaks to puppy poop—all the way to phone chargers, tomato paste, and better space saver bags— fasten your seatbelts because we’re about to cover a lot of frugal ground.

A close up of a toilet and water heater

Cutest little leak detector

After dealing with a toilet leaking and causing $500 in damage because it went unnoticed for too long, my plumber told me about this ingenious little device called the Leak Puppy, which detects the smallest amount of standing water (as little as 1/32″)and alerts you to it with loud beeping sound, much like a smoke alarm. I purchased one for each of my bathrooms, under sinks, and next to the water heater. I’m finding that my peace of mind is well worth the initial cost! Mack

Tomato paste waste

Many times a recipe will call for a small amount of tomato paste. Often, this means that if you’re like me, what remains in the can is stored in the refrigerator for future use. It also means that months later I find it and toss it in the trash because it has now gone bad. But no more! Now, I take the remaining tomato paste and spread it out in a thin layer in a zip sandwich bag I store flat on a freezer shelf until it’s frozen. The next time I need tomato paste, I simply break off what I need, zip up the bag, and replace it in the freezer. Works great; no more waste! Karen Read more

7 Ways to Cut the High Cost of Prescription Drugs

These days the skyrocketing cost of some prescription drugs is enough to give you a heart attack. If medication drug costs have got you down, cheer up! Then check out these seven ways you can save money on prescription medications—plus where to get some medicines (antibiotics!) for free.

Company

GoodRX

What a fantastic resource. GoodRX is a website with no sign-up or credit card required. Just type in the drug name on your computer or download the mobile app for IOS and Android—to compare prices at different pharmacies in the area AND get coupons to cut the cost even further. It sounds like a hoax I know, but it’s not. This is one of the best reliable resources on the Internet. Drug prices vary wildly between pharmacies and GoodRX finds you the lowest prices plus discounts on top of the published price.

Click on “Get Free Coupon,” print it, then hand it to your pharmacist.

Examples

Here’s an example in the Los Angeles area, as I update this information, for 90 capsules of 300mg Gabapentin (generic neurontin) with the average price of $69.03: Ralphs: $9.98; Costco $13.36; Target $15.50; Rite Aid $11.66; Walgreens $14.65. Within just a few miles the price for that particular medication is all over the place. GoodRx.com makes sure you find the lowest price available.

Lipitor (generic atorastatin) 30 tablets of 40mg . The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of generic Lipitor is around $11.06, 87% off the average retail price of $87.16.

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) 10 capsules of 75mg (one dose pack). The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of generic Tamiflu is around $17.53, 85% off the average retail price of $123.34.

A note about Medicare

Medicare is supposed to make your prescription drugs affordable. But, as many seniors know, some drugs are still expensive, and some aren’t covered at all. And, of course, there’s the infamous “donut hole.”

GoodRx makes it easy to compare your Medicare co-pays against GoodRx coupon prices to see which can save you more. Keep in mind that you cannot use GoodRx and Medicare at the same time. However, you can use GoodRx instead of government-funded programs, such as Medicare or Medicaid, to pay for your prescription medications.

NeedyMeds

Another site you might want to check if you can’t afford your medications: NeedyMeds.org. The site lists programs that help people reduce their healthcare costs, including patient assistance programs and co-pay cards offered by drug companies. Coupons and rebates, too. NeedyMeds also offers a free drug discount card.

Read more

2019 Holiday Gift Guide — Mary’s Favorite Things

Gift and 2019

If you woke up this morning with a sense of panic realizing there are just two weeks left until Christmas, let me offer some sweet relief—a compilation of my favorite things that I have purchased from my own money, with all details updated and now gathered into one convenient place.

You’re about to discover that my favorite things are mostly practical, which could explain why I prefer practical gifts. A new vacuum for Christmas? I’d be thrilled and delighted. All that to say that no doubt, My Favorite Things seriously reflect that personal bias. Enjoy!

 

A group of items on a table

cont’d below … 

1. Rowenta Steam Iron

This is one amazing steam iron. It is affordable, reliable and gives me great results consistently. It is comfortable to use and has enough heft to give a good press, has a super shiny stainless steel soleplate. The high steam rate blasts away wrinkles through its 400 micro steam holes. Auto shutoff has saved my bacon on a couple of occasions.

Read more

7 Ways to Use Fresh Cranberries to Make the Holidays More Beautiful

The relatively short season for fresh cranberries (October through December) is now in full swing with bags of the ruby red tart fruit available in supermarkets and grocery stores everywhere.

 

A close up of a fruit

Here are some cranberry fun facts: There are about 440 cranberries in one pound, 4,400 cranberries in one gallon of juice, and 440,000 cranberries in a 100-pound barrel. Americans consume some 400 million pounds of cranberries each year. If you strung all the cranberries produced in North America last year, they would stretch from Boston to Los Angeles more than 565 times.

Cranberries are as delicious as they are nutritious, but there are other ways we can use fresh cranberries—to make the holidays even more beautiful!

Read more

A Mishmash of Christmas Ideas and Holiday Tips

As we face the crush of holiday prep, could you possibly use some help? Try these tips and ideas on for size—clever ways to do more while spending less.

Double up

When you cook, double your favorite meals and freeze the leftovers. Then, when you’re in a frenzy the few days before Christmas, you won’t have to fret about making dinner, too.

A living room with a christmas tree

Electronic cards

You can save a lot of time and money when you send electronic Christmas ecards. There are lots of free sites—DaySpring.com and BlueMountain.com offer the best selections.

Shop from home

Shopping online can save a lot of time, frustration and gasoline. Finding free or reduced shipping makes online shopping even better. Dec. 14, 2019 is Free Shipping Day. Check FreeShipping.com for retailers who will be participating—and to grab hundreds of coupon codes, too.

READ: How to Shop with CASH at Amazon

Get cash back

If you’ll be shopping anyway, you might as well get some of your cash back. Rakuten is by far the easiest and most efficient way to do that. A Rakuten account is completely free, easy to set up. Then every time you shop online, make sure you have your Ebates account activated (it’s so easy—you’ll see once you have an account). And you can use your Rakuten account in-store, too!

If you’re curious why I’m such a Rakuten fan, a few weeks ago I got another Rakuten check in the mail—cash back for things I would have purchased anyway, including the rental car Harold and I used on our recent New England getaway. I didn’t expect it, but I’ll take it!

The hardest part about using Rakuten? Remembering to use it! Ha. However, they do make it pretty easy to add a Rakuten button on your computer’s toolbar or the Rakuten app for your mobile device. I believe I’ll stop forgetting, now that Rakuten is putting money back in my pocket. Read more

11 Things You Should Never Burn in Your Fireplace

If you have a wood-burning fireplace, it’s likely that now and then you toss in things like cardboard, junk mail, and egg cartons. And why not? It seems like anything that burns should be able to go in because the smoke and fumes go right up the chimney. And that’s a really bad idea. In fact, each time you do that, you could be putting your home and your family at risk.

A fire place and a stove top oven sitting next to a fireplace

It seems like anything that burns should be able to go right in, as the smoke and fumes go right up the chimney. But the U.S. Fire Administration warns that some items can release toxic fumes into your home and neighborhood or become an out-of-control fire hazard. To keep your home and family safe, burn only dry, seasoned wood, never leave a fire unattended, and never put any of these items into your fireplace.

Wet wood

Wood that is wet, freshly cut or otherwise not completely dried out or “seasoned” can contain up to 45 percent water. When burned, wet wood is going to produce a lot more smoke than if it had been allowed to dry. That smoke can contain dangerous creosote, a substance the forms in your chimney as you burn fires, and it can pose serious threats to your health and household.

Painted or treated wood

When you burn painted, stained or varnished wood, the chemicals in those coatings produce toxic fumes. Pressure-treated lumber is injected with a form of arsenic to kill bugs. Set that on fire and you get a noxious burn-off.



Plywood, particleboard

These types of wood are manufactured with glue and resin, which release toxic fumes when burned. If that air fills the house it can be dangerous for you and your family and can corrode your chimney and fireplace. 

Wood pallet

Shipping pallets appear to be well-seasoned and easily broken down into kindling and indoor firewood. But no. These days, many pallets are built from wood that has been treated with methyl bromide, a pesticide to combat ash borer disease in forests of living trees.

While treated lumber is required to be stamped and marked with codes to indicate said treatment, don’t assume that if you can’t find that information on a pallet that it’s safe to burn it indoors.

Christmas tree

Every holiday season it seems, local fire departments demonstrate the foolishness of attempting to get rid of the family Christmas tree by stuffing it into a lit fireplace. If you’ve seen that, it’s likely no one needs to remind you to not do it!

Here’s the problem that can easily burn your house down: In addition to that tree not being seasoned,  the evergreen wood of the tree contains high levels of resin. These resins burn quickly and can pop, causing a risk of a chimney fire that can take the entire house down with it.

Cardboard

Once ignited, cardboard goes up fast—so fast, it can create an out-of-control situation in a big hurry. If that’s not enough to scare you, that if cardboard has any printing or labels on it, that ink and paint will release toxic fumes

Dryer lint

While an effective fire-starter for your outdoor firepit or campfire, dryer lint can contain a lot of chemicals left from the laundry products and softeners many people use. Once ignited those fumes have to go somewhere. Knowing this could be released inside your home if you were to put dryer lint in the fireplace should keep you from doing that in the future.

Driftwood

Even totally dried out and fully seasoned, driftwood can be filled with salt, which when burned can corrode the fireplace itself and chimney. That can lead to expensive repairs.

Trash

It’s tempting to just toss items like bubble wrap, paper cups, plates, egg cartons and other trash into the fireplace just to get rid of it quickly. Stop. Just stop doing that. You could be releasing dioxins, which can lead to respiratory problems, headaches, even cancer when inhaled in a closed environment.

Lighter fluid

It’s cold! You want a fire going in a big hurry. So, out comes the lighter fluid you use in your outdoor grill. That will do the job, but it’s not very smart to use it indoors. Any kind of charcoal starter fluid or another type of fire accelerant contain petroleum-based chemicals that produce toxic fumes—hazardous to breathe. They produce super hot fires, too, which can put your chimney in danger. Worse, that lighter fluid could set you on fire when used haphazardly and inappropriately.

Magazines and paper

The inks used to print in bright colors on paper of all kinds—junk mail, newspaper inserts, magazines, catalogs, gift wrap—can produce toxic fumes when ignited. Small bits of lightweight paper can float up and out of the chimney putting your roof and surrounding structures at risk of fire. These items should be disposed of properly in a recycle bin, not burned in the fireplace.

What can you safely burn?

While using a few sheets of black and white newspaper to ignite the kindling is just fine, remember this when building a cozy, crackling fire indoors: The best fuel for your fireplace is the fuel it was built for. Pellets for pellet stoves and dry, seasoned firewood or manufactured fire logs for a wood-burning fireplace. Burn other types of fuel and you run the risk of releasing toxic fumes or encouraging chimney fires.

UP NEXT

How to Avoid Christmas Debt When You’re Short on Cash

Your Best Thanksgiving Feast Ever, Healthy, Delicious, and Cheap!

No Need to Shiver: Easy DIY Ways to Cut Heating Costs This Winter

 

 

A close up of a fire

How to Give Yourself a $2,000 Raise in a Hurry

If there’s one thing that I love about you, my loyal readers, it’s how responsive you are. Sometimes you like what you read, other times not so much. Now and then you simply need more information. But no matter what, I can always count on hearing from you. Which brings me to what I wrote on pulling the plug on subscription pay-TV. It brought a huge response.

According to this 2012 article from NPD Group, the average pay-TV bill was predicted to hit $123 per month by 2015—more than $1,400 a year—and will hit $200 ($2,400 a year) in 2020. So far the predictions are right on the money.

For many, that’s money that could be better used to build an emergency fund or pay off debt. No wonder that column struck a chord with so many readers.

A wooden cutting board, with Money

 

The most-asked question had to do with the need for an antenna to receive free, local HD broadcasting. Which kind? Which one works best?

As I was fielding your messages, my husband and I were in the process of relocating. In 2015, we moved from California to northern Colorado. What a change from big city life in Orange County to a little village boasting a population of just 18,000. And what a perfect opportunity to test antennas to find the best way to enjoy free TV and quality programming in our new location. Read more

5 Home Buying Mistakes That Will Make You House Poor

Buying a home is likely the largest purchase you will ever make. This is not the time to make mistakes that could easily plunge you into a financial situation you cannot afford. 

During my 18-year career as a real estate broker, I learned a lot of things but none as valuable as what not to do! I didn’t learn this in a seminar or while studying to pass the licensing exam. I witnessed real-life situations where buyers did really dumb things related to buying real estate—buyers who then went on to regret the decisions they’d made.

Avoid these five home-buying mistakes and you will avoid getting in over your heads with a house you cannot afford—and save yourself many thousands of dollars and heartaches in the process.

 

A man that is standing in the grass

Mistake: Allowing a lender to determine how much you can afford

When you meet with a lender to get pre-approved for a mortgage, that lender is going to tell you how much house you can afford and how much money the company is willing to lend to you. Understand this: He or she is concerned about only two things: 1) Your ability to repay the mortgage and 2) the size of his commission.

This lender wants to steer you into the biggest mortgage possible. Ignore that number. It is not based on what you can afford because the lender has no idea what you can afford.

You need to set your own housing budget before you ever sit down with a lender or other real estate professional, which is based on your specific financial situation and lifestyle. And that housing budget should be realistic enough so that you can afford to make progress on all your other important financial goals like maintaining a healthy emergency fund, getting debt-free, and funding retirement accounts. Read more

9 Surprising Things You Can Clean with a Clothes Steamer

A compact clothes steamer is handy for removing wrinkles and stale odors from fabric, but is that all? Just another single-purpose tool that sits on a shelf gathering dust? Don’t be so sure! I’ve been amazed to discover all the ways to use an ordinary clothes steamer to steam clean, sanitize, renew, and refresh all around the house.

 

A person wearing a blue dress standing in front of a curtain

Basics

Before we get started, let’s go over a few steam clean basics.

  • Always use distilled water in a steamer. The minerals in tap water can cause it to clog up and can also leave behind traces of minerals.
  • Never use steam on silk or other delicate fabrics. Always test first in an inconspicuous place for color-bleeding or spotting.
  • Do not use steam on freshly painted surfaces, vintage surfaces, waxed or polished wood or musical instruments.

Loosen carpet stains

A blast of steam can loosen a tough carpet stain that’s been difficult to remove. Hold the steamer a few inches away from the spot for at least 30 seconds, then blot it with a clean white cloth. Repeat until nothing more is transferred to the cloth. If you still see evidence of the spot, it should respond more effectively to a good stain remover like Spot Shot. Just make sure you follow the instructions on the label, which may require rinsing once the stain is gone.

Remove labels and stickers

A blast or two from your trusty clothes steamer can soften and melt the adhesive that keeps a stubborn label or sticker stuck so you can easily remove it. Be cautious if you’re dealing with an unpainted surface.

Read more

How to Clean a Shark Vacuum and Its Filters

You know by now just how much I love my Shark vacuum cleaner. And given my readers’ letters and comments, I know that many of you have Sharkies, too. Now you need to how to clean a Shark so it keeps performing at top efficiency.

I love your messages. They make me smile because I understand the range of emotions that come from using a Shark vacuum for the first time—from amazement to flat out embarrassment.

Where on earth did all of this dirt and debris come from? I can’t believe what’s been lurking in my carpet!

 

A pot on the stove

With all of the miles I’ve put on my numerous Shark vacs over the years, I’ve never had one fail. And while the manufacturer boasts that Sharks never lose suction, that is predicated on regularly cleaning Sharkie’s canister, filters, and rotating brush.

It’s right there in the owner manual, which most of us don’t think to read until we have a problem. You need to clean your Shark every three months to keep it working at top efficiency—more often with heavy use. It’s easy.

Signs Sharkie needs a bath

  • loss of suction
  • dirt being left behind
  • sounds weird like Sharkie is gasping for air
  • an unpleasant, dirty odor

Read more

Simple Secrets to Make Clothes Look Better and Last Longer

You should see the big wad of lint I just plucked from the trap of my clothes dryer. Ack! Where does all of that come from? I know I emptied all pockets and I’m certain I did not wash a bag of pillow stuffing.

I’ll tell you what it is, and I am not happy about this: It’s visual proof the dryer is wearing out our clothes. Those fibers were neatly woven into these clothes only 30 minutes ago. For all the convenience a clothes dryer offers, it may come at the price of having to replace clothes much too often.

Overdrying clothes causes them to shrink and not only the first time they’re washed. Sleeves and pant legs continually get shorter and shorter when machine dried improperly.

 

A flag hanging on a tree

 

There are tactics to counteract the abuse suffered by a clothes dryer and you don’t have to go back to the days of sheets frozen stiff on the clothesline (does anyone but me remember that?). You don’t have to machine dry your clothes to death to end up with comfy jeans and fluffy soft towels.

Get the soap out

Residual detergent in fabrics causes them to feel rough. Measure carefully erring on the side of too little rather than too much detergent. Add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the last rinse. This will help remove the residual detergent from the fabrics. Even when air-dried, they will be softer.

Read more

Absolutely the Best Window Cleaning Tips Ever

I have this thing for clean windows. I love them, which means I have an equal but opposite disdain for dirty windows. And when I say clean, I mean the kind of clean that makes windows sparkle like diamonds in the morning sun. Some days I wish that by some miracle, a professional window-washing service would come to my home every week to clean windows—every single one both inside and out.

But I have a two-story house with a lot of windows—to say nothing of the time and money that would require to move everything away from every window to get ready every week!—so right there you know why I can’t and I don’t.

Instead, I depend on these great DIY window cleaning tips I’ve learned over the years—many of them from you, my awesome readers.

A person standing in front of a window

 

Dry, cloudy day

If you’ve ever tried to clean outdoor windows on a bright sunny day, you already know the problem. Your cleaning solution dries on the glass faster than you can turn around to grab your cleaning cloth. You’ll end up with a horrible streaky, muddy-like mess. Instead, wait for a dry, cloudy day.

Microfiber cloths

Paper towels and newspapers have long been touted as best for scrubbing and drying the glass (my mother-in-law Gwen swore by the New York Times as the only newspaper worthy of window-washing)—but what a dirty, icky mess they create! Paper options break down and leave lint behind. Besides, newspapers are not as available for recycling as they once were. If you’re interested in efficiency and clean, streak-free windows, forget the paper.

Instead, use microfiber cloths (like these from Amazon) to clean windows. Microfiber grabs dirt and dust. Microfiber cleaning cloths are soft and non-abrasive. They won’t scratch glass or painted surfaces and you will enjoy the lint- and streak-free results you get with microfiber. And the best part? These cloths can be washed, rinsed and reused hundreds of times.

Read more

Outdoor Grilling on a Budget

Getting our outdoor grill cleaned, polished, and ready for summer got me thinking about how much fun it would be to celebrate. After all, the first day of summer comes but once a year, so why not do things up right with an amazing menu and a few good friends to kick off the season even if that means grilling on a budget.

A bowl of green grass

 

What happened next I can only attribute to a momentary lapse of good judgment.

I visited the website of Lobel’s of New York, “the best source for the finest and freshest USDA prime dry-aged steaks, roasts, specialty meats, and gourmet products that money can buy.”

Unveiling the mother of all outdoor grills seemed like an event worthy of a few high-quality American Wagyu steaks delivered overnight on a bed of dry ice. I checked the price. Gulp! One 20-oz Porterhouse steak: $159.95—plus overnight shipping.

Read more

Make Sure You Have These 9 Essential Pantry Items

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.

 

A person looking at the camera, with Kitchen Pantry

 

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

How to Make Ugly Soap Scum, Mildew, and Water Marks Disappear Like Magic

When all three messages landed in my inbox on the same day, the problem of soap scum, shower mildew, and hard water buildup grabbed my attention.

I’ve been told that if one person actually writes to me with a problem, that represents a thousand other readers with a similar situation. True or just slightly exaggerated, either way, three in one day tells me there’s a lot of this problem going on!

 

A bunch of items that are on display

How do you remove soap scum from shower walls and fl00r—and the hard water spots from shower doors? Diane

My shower mat has turned almost black. I have tried to clean it, but unsuccessfully. Can you help me? Ronnie

We recently remodeled our kitchen with stainless appliances. We have treated well water. The very first week we had a large water stain in the water dispenser area that I can’t get off. It looks terrible! Is there any way to remove it? Help! Pat

Quite possibly one of the best tips to ever land my mailbox came from a guy who is a professional property manager. He handles rental apartments and lots of them. As an apartment is vacated, his job is to see that it is thoroughly cleaned and made ready for the next occupants. 

This reader told me that the biggest challenge is always the bathroom, specifically the tub and shower. He kindly left specific details to my imagination but let me know that “gross” is not strong enough to describe what he often finds.

And that’s when he gave me his super magical potion—the only product he uses to return showers, tubs, tile, enclosures, faucets, and doors to their sparkling clean and sanitized selves.

Read more

Pay Down or Pay Ahead? It Can Be Confusing

Years ago I learned a lesson I won’t have to learn again. It was that poignant. It was during a time when mortgage interest rates took a nosedive and we benefited by refinancing our high-rate mortgage.

The transaction closed in late August with the first payment due in October. Rather than take a month off from making a mortgage payment we made an unscheduled payment in September to reduce the principal balance right off the bat. We sent a letter with the payment and wrote “Principal Prepayment” on the check.

A few weeks later we got a statement showing that the payment had been credited to the October payment, not to pay down the principal as instructed. The confused customer service rep was kind but hardly apologetic when she explained that someone must have assumed that we really wanted to “pay ahead” rather than “pay down.” It took a little persistence to convince her to the contrary.

A woman talking on a cell phone

Applying that payment to the principal balance was good for us because every penny of that unscheduled payment went to reduce the balance—no interest was due until October. That was profitable for us, but not for the lender.

By reducing the principal at the beginning of the loan, we would go on to save more than $4,000 in interest and cut three months off the term, which we did and oh what a happy day that was!

On the other hand, applying it to the October payment would have put almost the entire amount into the lender’s pocket in the form of interest.  Read more

How to Leave a Fragrance, Not an Odor

I have something really fun to share with you today about fragrance, but first a story. About my friend, Herta. It’s been quite a few years now since she and Al came to visit.

In their graciously kind manner, they brought gifts. I thought I’d heard of everything, but one of these gifts left me wide-eyed and sputtering to find a good response, which I am not sure I did.

A man standing in front of a flower

Privately, I concluded that this small, supremely elegant spray bottle that Herta was visibly so excited about must be something special in their country—to me it was oddly foreign.

The name on the bottle left me stuttering: Poo-Pourri Before-You-Go Toilet Spray. Herta took me into the powder room to demonstrate. “Look, you just spritz the surface of the toilet water before you go. It stops bathroom odors before they ever begin!” Herta was so excited to show me this fabulous new product. Me? I was like … whaaat?

I have to admit that I couldn’t wait to try it, and I did. You know what? It really worked. The product is oily. When you spray Poo-Pourri into the toilet (before … not during or after), it sits on the surface of the water and creates a kind of sealant against, well …let’s just say it—fumes. It traps the odors, sending them down the drain, not out into the room. Get it? Read more

For the Love of a Good Steam Iron

While it’s true that life is uncertain, there’s at least one thing of which I am very sure: I will never be held hostage for refusing to iron.

Unlike Mrs. Tyrrell whose son Robert, according to police, held her at gunpoint for six hours because she refused to iron his clothes (reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), I love to iron with a good steam iron. I’m not saying that I would be that thrilled to do it for a 29-year old son who refused to leave home, but I would do it.

A bedroom with a bed and a mirror

 

I know that my love for ironing is a little odd. It’s just that I find the process to be soul soothing. It gives me instant gratification. I love the sound of a good surge of steam over an ample ironing board that is positioned in good, natural light. More than that, l love ironing for the fact that it helped me get out of debt. I’m not kidding.

Years ago when I came to terms with the fact that I have a serious shopping problem, I sat down one day to analyze it. I figured out that I just love the emotional sensation of buying stuff. And being able to get the feeling even though I didn’t have any money (buying stuff on credit made me feel like I had money) was a kind of emotional high that defied description. I loved the feeling and I wanted to repeat it as often as possible.

I’m no therapist, but I figured that if I could find something less damaging that would produce a feeling at least equal to my shopping rush—and was easily accessible on a moment’s notice—maybe I could use it to modify my behavior. I knew in a heartbeat what that action would be. Ironing.

Giving myself permission to iron whenever I got a sudden urge to respond to an infomercial or head for the mall (this was somewhat prior to the advent of online shopping) was like giving a kid the key to a candy store. And you wonder why I didn’t tell a soul about this for so many years? Because I feared they would think I’m nuts the way you’re thinking right now.

My secret plan worked. And better than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t realize how quickly my urge to spend would vanish once I could successfully distract myself.

Over the years my ironing has taken on a more serious tone. I have possibly the world’s finest home ironing system for which I make no apologies. It was pricey, granted. But compared to multiple sessions with a therapist, untold thousands in credit card debt or the heartbreak of divorce, my venerable and rather noisy IronMaven* has turned out to be quite a  bargain.

The fringe benefits are myriad. I have all but eliminated dry cleaning bills from my life. I realized that I can hand wash just about anything that would normally be dry cleaned. What I was paying for in the past was the professional press. I can do that myself now and I get to enjoy doing it, too. My husband’s clothes, even his jeans, are always freshly ironed. Guests in my home sleep on fine, ironed linens.

There are some who might believe I’ve just traded one obsession for another. Could be. But I’m happy with the results.

And I never fear being held hostage for lack of a good iron.

*While my old IronMaven is no longer available, in a recent column I responded to a reader asking for the best inexpensive steam iron out there. I responded with three options  here together with my brief reviews.