Readers' Tips

How to Clean a Stone Fireplace

I asked my hubby. He suggested a dry, stiff-bristled nylon brush. Wetting it could make the soot settle into the stone and make it tougher to get off.
Elaine in NJ

editor's note: For more on how to clean a stone fireplace, please click here.

When Smaller Is Better

Our refrigerator died recently. When we went to price new ones, they were out of our budget. We got a 4.4 cubic ft. compact refrigerator for under $150 instead. We already have a large freezer and there are only two of us living in the house, so we have more than enough space to store our cold food. Since we bought the small refrigerator, we have noticed several benefits. Our power bill is lower. We have less food waste because we can see everything in the refrigerator. It is easy to clean, and because space is limited, we no longer buy too much.

Keeping Dogs Out of Your Yard

Here in Australia, it's common to see water-filled soda bottles on lawns and in gardens. People swear that this keeps dogs away. (Don't ask me why, but I've seen it work.) Take the wrapper off of an empty 1 1/2 litre or 2 litre bottle (clear plastic) and fill it with water. Put it in a flowerbed (just lay on side) and see if it works on US dogs!

Additional TDS Resource: More suggestions on how to keep dogs out of your flower beds

Slow Cooker vs. Microwave

Slow cookers may save effort when one is tired, but they do not save time or money when compared to a microwave oven. Consumer Reports has said that the amount of electricity used by a microwave is far less than the amount used by a slow cooker.

I prepare what goes into the crock, put it into the fridge, and cook it in the microwave. I know some things taste better when slow cooked, but most meals are just as good, and the time and energy are really a lot less. Sometimes a slow cooker is another pot and lid to wash, and they don't fit well in my dishwasher.

Don't get mad at me. I do use one myself for a really tender roast. And, I'm not going to throw mine away.

Simple Stain Remover

I have five sons and a lot of stains to deal with. I went through bottles and bottles of stain remover and hours upon hours of work. Recently, on my monthly shopping trip, I forgot to buy stain remover. I decided to try adding some white vinegar to the load of laundry along with my regular detergent. I let it soak overnight and everything washed out beautifully, including grass stains. I am so pleased to find such a simple way to do the laundry! I just dump about a cup of vinegar in the washing machine. I've found that even if they soak for less time, the clothes still get clean.

Time to Buy Turkey

When turkeys are on sale, I buy a fresh turkey and have the butcher cut it up like a cut up chicken. They do not charge extra for this. I freeze the pieces individually on a tray that is covered with wax paper overnight. Then I put them in plastic bags, using one bag for several pieces.

When I want to make something with turkey, I just take out the amount I need. I love making turkey and noodles or even a roasted turkey just like at Thanksgiving, but I don't have all the leftovers to contend with.

Also, I buy a frozen turkey and have the butcher cut it into fourths or sixths. Then I have larger pieces for company. This saves a lot of money. You can always get turkey fairly cheap during the holidays.

When ham goes on sale for Christmas, I buy a large ham and again have the butcher slice it into ham steaks or in smaller pieces. I buy it with the bone in. I buy a second ham and have it cut into fourths or sixths and have small hams to bake. I freeze it all just like I do the turkey. The ham needs to be used up a little faster than the turkey. Use it within five months or so.

Cheaper Appliances

Look for appliance resellers. I bought my kitchen appliances from a place in MI called Ted's Appliance. This company buys used appliances and refurbishes them. They supply an 18-month warranty. I paid less than $1000 for a stove, dishwasher, and fridge. There is always many styles to choose from, and they have energy efficient products, too. Plus, they are right here if I need to have repairs done on my appliances or choose to upgrade.
Rochelle F.

Cheaper? Or Better?

Yes, sometimes "living better for less" means spending more initially. It's not being penny-wise and pound-foolish. If you buy better quality things, they last. You save by not having to replace over and over. This is especially true with items that are used daily like pots and pans. I have a Calphalon set (Analon), and I've had it almost 15 years. I have taken care of it and only use plastic in it. I also made sure to buy the set on sale in the first place.
Christina W.

Ready Mop Refills

Looking for cheaper refills for the 'ready mop' systems? I use baby shampoo (about 1 to 2 tsp. per gallon of water). This cleans really well. I learned this tip from a professional cleaner of a beauty shop chain.

Additional TDS Resource: More suggestions on conveninent, affordable floor cleaners

At Home Extra Income

I work at home. I do marketing and do this when the kids are napping or in the evening. I know they are always looking for part-time night and weekend people at Walmart, Target, etc. Also, after school daycare for the neighbors is good. I did this before my marketing job took off, and had 5 kids from 3:30pm to 5:30/6pm. I could still cook dinner, and they all played so well together. It was easy money.
Mary W.

editor's note: If you choose to take in kids, make sure you meet all necessary licensing and registration steps.

Easy Homemade Bread

I bought a bread maker from a thrift store for $7. I use it to knead the dough for me (takes about 45 minutes). Then I use the dough to make French bread, white bread, rolls, or pizza crust based on the recipe. I use regular all-purpose flour instead of the expensive bread machine flour and haven't noticed a difference in taste or quality. It does take some planning (I usually bake on the weekends), but it has more than paid for itself many times over.
Kelly J.

A Simpler Christmas

I know most kids have too many toys. Some moms can't even get their kids to pick up their toys because the kids get so overwhelmed. If you are a busy mom like me, then you don't have time to pick up the toys for them. I have decided this year there will be no inside toys for Christmas from us or Santa. I plan to purchase a trampoline along with a couple of other outside items.
Amanda Y.

editor's note: Good idea, but you'll want to check with your insurance company before buying a trampoline. Some will not cover accidents from a trampoline or will even cancel your coverage entirely.

Holiday Table Settings

If you are having a larger crowd for a holiday dinner, etc., having nice dinner plates for your table is possible. Just watch for pretty or bone china plates in thrift stores. Each can be purchased for about $0.50, and the different patterns will make your table look beautiful. This is a great idea for people just starting out with new households. Also, the plates can be used for gifts filled with homemade candies, baked goods, etc.
Dru T. in Gold Beach, OR

Affordable Boys Clothing

Boys will be boys! Whoever coined that phrase knew what they were talking about. Boys usually wear out their clothes before they outgrow them. I have found that the only way to find "good" used clothes for boys is to shop often. Stop in often and look for clearance sales. October and November seem to be a good time for this, as "start of school" sales are over. Making it known at thrift stores that you have several children is often a door to hand-me-downs. Some thrift stores are overloaded with clothes and weekly weed out clothes for the garbage man. Ask if you could dispose of them for them and then pick out what you can use and either pass the rest on or send them to a thrift store.

Additional TDS Resource: More on where to find cheap boys clothing

Before You Rent Equipment

I always talk to my neighbors when I am planning to rent a big piece of equipment, such as a rototiller or carpet cleaner. Two or three people can usually use the item in the time allotted (such as a weekend) and split the cost.

Grass Fed Meats

We have found a way to get free grass fed meat, which is very healthy and quite expensive in the grocery store. We're on a list with the county sheriff's department to be called when a car hits a deer. Rather than wasting the dead deer, they offer it to someone on the list if it is not too badly damaged.

Last year, we put 35 pounds of venison in our freezer. It does take some work to get from a deer on the roadside to meat in your freezer. Before you sign up for such a list, I'd recommend reading about how to gut, skin, and butcher a deer, so you know what is involved. You can read about my first experience and how I used online sources to learn how to butcher the deer here.

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