Readers' Tips

Christmas Layaways

It may be wise to put gifts on layaway this year, but starting in January, put away 1/10 of the money each month that you will need for next year's gifts. By October, you will have the money you need and will not be paying layaway fees. Some banks still have Christmas accounts, which can be used for this or any other purpose. Also consider buying out-of-season gifts in the spring for next winter's giving.

Layaway costs extra money in some stores and that adds up. If there is a set fee for a layaway account, put as many items as possible in the layaway at one time to avoid additional fees. Be sure to pay in plenty of time for the holidays.

editor's note: For more on Christmas layaways, please click here.

Loves Vinegar

I put vinegar in the wash (using the bleach receptacle) when I'm washing dog and cat beds, and it gets rid of pet odors. The same goes with other washable fabrics that have strange smells.

I also pour some vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher with glassware, and it gets rid of hard water spots. Also, I use vinegar diluted in warm water on my hair in the shower to strip it of build-up. Be aware it will strip some hair dye from your hair too!
Tanya H.

Easy Freezer Meals

Instead of doing a month's worth of cooking at once, whenever I have the time/energy to make a nice meal, I double or triple the recipe and just freeze the extra. There is no extra stress and no extra time needed, and I still end up with a freezer full of fast meals.

Organizing a Messy Home

For many years, I was a single, working mother and learned this little tip, which saved me time and frustration. Each night after the children went to bed and I was ready for bed, I would go through the house and straighten up, pick up, and arrange things. Then when I got up in the morning, everything was neat and welcoming. I felt encouraged to start the day. I taught this to my children and they agree with me. It is discouraging to get up in the morning with the house a mess, and this method takes just a little time and leaves you facing the morning ready to start a new day.

Additional TDS Resource: More on keeping a messy home organized

Free Gift Boxes

Never use store bought gift boxes again. Use empty food boxes (cereal, granola bars, hamburger helper, etc.) to put your Christmas presents in before wrapping. When my kids were little, they would always figure out what their gifts were, so I started saving empty food boxes after Halloween to use for Christmas presents. Because the boxes had straight edges, they never again guessed what their presents were.

Helpful Baskets

In hard times, it would be a big help to some families to be given a "household" basket. Things that are actually needed but never bought for others should be included in the baskets.

This basket could include deodorant, shampoo, toilet paper, soap, liquid hand soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, feminine products, hand or body lotion, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, laundry soap, fabric softener, dish soap, and bathroom cleaner.

It doesn't have to be expensive to help someone. These items are often gone without due to a lack of money.

Removing Stains from Plastic

I have found that a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda removes stains from plastic. Using a scrub brush and this mixture, I have restored plastic play tables ruined with paint and marker stains and also bathroom shelves stained with make-up.

Swap Party

Get together with friends or family to see if they have things that they are tired of and ready to discard. Then see if anyone wants to exchange or trade things around.

When my sisters and parents have a big yard sale, we do this. We never charge each other, we don't expect to get equal value or quantity, and we give it without strings attached. Once the items have been exchanged, they are the property of the new owners to use as they wish. Why haggle over a few cents or few bucks? If you stick to these rules, you can get new things without spending a dime and get rid of unwanted stuff too!

Locked Out of Your Car?

When I was at the post office the other day, I was so distracted that I locked my keys in my car. When I told the postmaster what I'd done and was about to call a locksmith, he said, "Wait a minute, and I'll see if I can unlock it for you." He was a former cab driver and had an entire kit in his car for unlocking various kinds of vehicles.

He said that if it ever happens again, call a cab! They usually charge around $20 for the service, while locksmiths charge around $60.

Non-Toxic Housecleaning

I've run my own non-toxic housecleaning business for 16 years and have recipes to share. A good floor cleaner is simply a splash of white vinegar in a bucket of water. It's safe and deodorizing. All-purpose cleaner can be as simple as mixing a liquid castille soap with baking soda. Rub this mixture on surfaces with a sponge and rinse well. Shaking baking soda into the toilet followed by vinegar can clean and deodorize the bowl. A spray bottle of water with a splash of vinegar can be used to clean counters. Full-strength vinegar can be used to disinfect bathrooms and kitchens. Add a few drops of essential oil such as lavender or lemon to your cleaners for added antiseptic effects.

Additional TDS Resource: More on natural all-purpose cleaners

Another Use for Vinegar

My daughter works at a fast food restaurant, and her uniform stinks from the smell of grease when she comes home from work. In the past, no matter how I washed her uniform, the grease odor would not leave and would sometimes make the other clothes in the washer and dryer smell. I decided to add half to one cup vinegar to the wash cycle and the smell disappeared. Now, there is no vinegar odor, and all the clothes smell fresh.

Easy Heating Pad

For a fast, easy, and safe heating "pad," fill an old sock with two or three cups of dry beans. Close the end with a rubber band, and when needed for tired muscles or winter chills, microwave until warm (one to two minutes).

Party Clothing

Last year around Christmas, I went into a department store and was immediately drawn to the beautiful girls' dresses they were selling. They were special, glittery party dresses. I innocently picked up a tag only to be shocked at the prices. They ranged from $50-$80!

Since then, I have spent the past year on the lookout at thrift stores and yard sales where I have bought Christmas dresses for both my girls along with gorgeous birthday party dresses for a dollar each or less! These dresses are just as good as "new" dresses but at a huge price reduction, and I am sure whoever wore them before only did so once or twice at most. I know a lot of people already do year-round Christmas shopping, but don't forget to do year-round party dress shopping as well. You'll save yourself a bundle!

Old Is New Again

When you're at grandma or grandpa's house, go through an old closet or game room. We are showing a new generation old games, enjoy free entertainment, and often take a "new" recycled item home. Mom's old Scrabble set and the Erector set my husband played with as a child have become fun and frugal entertainment sources for our children. These items will never truly be collectibles, and they serve no purpose sitting on the shelf. But, an honest search and assessment can bring new life to old treasures.
Tamara W.

Finding Flexible Part-Time Work

I was a stay-at-home mom for nine years. Now my kids are 12 and 10, and I wanted to find something that would still be flexible with their activities and school functions.

I was out of the workforce for a long time, and it seemed like I would never find anything. So I applied with our local Board of Education as a substitute. I was just hired as a substitute cook and substitute custodian. And when they have another training class for an aide position, I will be taking it. You can work as little or as much as you want, and it is perfect with the kids. I don't have to worry about days that they don't have school, and I don't have to go if there are other things that I need to do.
Liz H. in WV

Additional TDS Resource: More on finding flexible part-time work

Chocolate Facts

Here are some basic chocolate and candy facts:

  • Per the manufacturers, candy and chocolates have a shelf life of 6-12 months.

  • Freezing enhances the flavor of chocolate.

  • Gum should not be frozen as this makes it stale tasting and hard.

  • The white on chocolate is natural. It is simply cocoa butter that has separated from the chocolate and does not mean that the chocolate is old.

The days following Halloween are the perfect time to stock up for your holiday needs. Over the next two months, I melt the chocolates down to use in my holiday desserts. Halloween lollipops can be melted down into "stained glass" cookies. I make all kinds of Christmas cookies and truffles. There are some fantastic recipes on the web. I then give these incredible cookies out to friends and co-workers as Christmas gifts (in tins purchased the year before on clearance).

Instead of a Health Club

For those of you considering joining a health club but are worried that you may not make full use of your membership, I'd like to suggest something that has worked great for me. Take adult education exercise classes at your local high school.

Not only are the classes very affordable, but they are also short-term (8-10 weeks), which is much easier to commit to than a year's membership at a club. Whenever I belonged to a gym, I wouldn't go because I could always go "tomorrow." However, if I miss an adult education class, there is no "makeup." Hence, I'm much more inclined to go!

I have taken several different classes from dancing to yoga, and I have always found the environment to be very encouraging and fun. If I get bored of one, I just sign up for another the next semester.

Look at the policy listed in the front or back of the catalog. Some of these schools offer a discount if you join with a friend.

These programs usually also offer a lot of great, fun classes, including ones about saving money and finances!

Do you have a money or time-saving tip you'd like to share? Just click here to submit your suggestion. If we use your tip in any of our publications, we'll send you the next three issues of our print newsletter as a thank you!

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