Readers' Tips

Cheap Halloween Costumes for a 6-Year-Old Boy

I know of a kid that went as a box of macaroni and cheese. His mom saved toilet paper cardboard rolls, spray painted them an orange/yellow color, and glued them to a big box the kid could fit in. She then spray-painted the box to look like a box of macaroni and cheese. I thought it was pretty creative.
Katherine (via Facebook)

editor's note: Visit here for more on cheap Halloween costumes for a 6-year-old boy.

I Can Make That!

My niece recently bought her first home, and I saw an adorable item for a housewarming gift. It was a pillow with the word "NEST" on the front, but it was in a little boutique shop and cost $34.99, which I just couldn't spend on a pillow. So I went to a local home goods store and bought a plain canvas pillow for $7.99 and used my existing stencils and navy blue fabric paint (leftover from previous craft projects) and made the pillow myself. It came out great! Even the "imperfections" look professional since the pillow was intended to look sort of "rustic" in the first place. Most importantly, my niece loves the pillow. It sits front and center on her sofa in the living room, and she says that she's received a lot of compliments on it. We can't always replicate every item we see in the store, but if you see one that looks fairly easy, take your time and give it a shot. I'm so glad I did!
Ann in NJ

Ant Invasion

When we lived in Florida, we had problems with "sugar ants." They were tiny critters that invaded our kitchen constantly. With three cats and a dog, we were hesitant to use pesticides. I found that white vinegar worked wonders. I filled a spray bottle with white vinegar, and every night before bed, I would liberally "mist" the countertops, floor around the garbage can, etc. and let it dry. (I suppose you could just wipe it on with a rag if you preferred). The vinegar smell disappears quickly, and it's non-toxic and cheap.
Becki in Indiana

Additional TDS Resource: More on winning the war with invading ants

Wrinkle Free Clothes

An idea for wrinkle free clothes is to simply plan ahead! The day before a difficult piece of clothing is planned to be worn, simply soak it in the sink or with the shower spray. Hang the item appropriately and allow it to drip dry. By the following morning, the item will be dry and wrinkle free, as gravity pulls on the weight of the water and "pulls" the wrinkles out. I haven't ironed in almost 20 years.

Purchase Calculation

Whenever you make a purchase, mentally (or with a calculator) figure out how many hours you would have to work to make the purchase. For example, a $100 pair of jeans is looked at in a completely different light if you get paid $10 an hour and would have to work for 10 hours to earn the money to purchase the jeans. Suddenly, the $25 pair looks really good.

This tip benefits in a lot of ways. First, it makes you aware of the true cost of an item, because every hour at work is an hour away from your friends, loved ones, and hobbies. Second, it makes you stop and think about how badly you need an item, or if it can be found somewhere else cheaper. It also cuts down greatly on impulse purchases. This tip allows you to save money in other areas as well. Once I realized that I was spending the money from one hour of work every day just on a quick lunch, I started packing my own lunch, and it's been great!

Washer Maintenance

Recently, I noticed that the flow of water coming into my machine was decreasing in strength. I also noticed a lack of hot water. So, I began looking through the owner's manual in the "trouble shooting" section. It mentioned clogged filters.

Having extremely hard water, I thought that was a real possibility. So I turned off the water and disconnected the hoses at both the faucet and at the machine. Both of the hoses were full of sludge (you have to remove the little screen filter to get at it). Now, I have full strength with both my cold and hot water!
Judy S

Before You Check Out

Before you pile groceries on the checkout counter, stop and look in your basket. Did you pick something up on impulse or just because of a sale price? Did you buy "Two for $5" when one would cost just $2.50? There's nothing wrong with putting items back before you pay for your food. Be sure you either return the item to its proper shelf or hand it to the cashier to re-shelve. A simple, "I've changed my mind. Thank you." will suffice.

Leather Furniture Care

We have a lovely leather couch and loveseat set. We have two kids and a large dog, so the furniture does not stay clean long. We have found that baby wipes are great for cleaning leather. It is very gentle, and the amount of dirt that ends up on those baby wipes is unbelievable! It keeps the leather supple, too.

Seasoning Mixes

I started searching for seasoning mix recipes when I was told to reduce my salt intake. (Most commercial mixes are loaded with salt.) These have worked very well for me, and my family likes them as well as or better than the commercial ones.

Instead of commercial taco seasoning:

1-1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 small can (8 oz.) tomato sauce (I use "no salt added")

Add these ingredients to a pound of lean ground beef (which has been browned for about 10 minutes with a medium chopped onion and two cloves of minced or pressed garlic and then drained); stir and simmer for about 5 minutes until thickened.

Additional TDS Resource: More suggestions for homemade seasoning mixes

"Loaded" Pizza

We love pizza with a lot of toppings, but each topping adds to the total price. Now we order pizza with sausage and cheese. While waiting for our pizza delivery, we cut up and saute onions, peppers, mushrooms, and broccoli (this can be done in the microwave). When the pizza arrives, we add these toppings, have a healthy meal, and save a bundle. I like to let them add the sausage since I can't see very significant savings by buying my own. I also feel the flavor of the pizza is better if the meat is cooked with it. If you prefer pepperoni, add it with the other toppings.

Home Manicures

I was never one for nail polish, but I recently discovered that a good manicure is a real boost for a woman no matter what her age or condition. If a woman has nails and she can hold still, she can have this. I always preferred gardening, pottery, and playing with my dogs and horse. But nail polish has come a long way since I last gave it any attention. The colors and finishes are endless. Now we do nails when my daughters visit or while we watch a movie. We have learned some special techniques and have even shifted from fattening snacking to doing nails. The benefits? I get compliments in my regular life, share a new interest with old friends and new ones, get to brag about my loving daughters, have stronger nails (that never look dirty), and get help managing my weight.

For best results and a great finish that lasts for at least a week, use a base, thin coats, and several top coats, so it is hard and glassy. To save even more money, develop a wish list of colors, so you can suggest nail polish(es) as a gift when people ask what you would like for your birthday or holiday.
Janet in California

Easy Slow Cooker Clean-Up

I used to buy those bags to put in the slow cooker for easy cleanup. They are expensive, and I didn't feel comfortable cooking my food in plastic, so I stopped using them. Now I spray the bowl of my slow cooker with cooking spray before adding the ingredients, and even after long hours of cooking, the residue comes right off. There's no more soaking or scrubbing, and it's much cheaper.

Replacing Expensive Activities

I like to host a soup and salad night and have a fun movie on hand to watch after the meal. It gives us time to chat and catch up and then relax. I might even ask the women to bring their favorite movie and then we vote.

Another thing I've done is to invite a Mary Kay representative over to do facials and nails. I usually buy a bottle of nail polish for each participant if it's not too expensive. That way, people don't feel obligated to buy anything unless they want to and the rep does get a sale. Everyone has fun, and this also helps the rep to get the word out.

Additional TDS Resource: More on dealing with an expensive friend

Eliminating Head Lice

I have been working with children of various ages in our local school district for almost 15 years. I have seen it all when it comes to head lice. The first thing I do is sit in very good light and pull the nits out one by one. This takes a while. If you want to get rid of them for good, there are no fast fixes. Dispose of them in a plastic bag as you are pulling them out. Remove any live ones. Shampoo the child's hair and then coat with a lot of Vaseline®. Cover with a plastic bag. Most people do this at night. It will take several shampoos to get the Vaseline® out of the hair. Wash everything that is washable. If it is not washable, put them in garbage bags and secure the top tightly. Put outside and leave for two weeks.

Change sheets and wash daily each time the child has slept on them. You will need to get a spray. There are several on the market. Spray couches, carpets, cars (most people forget them), and any other item that can't be washed. I know this sounds like a lot of work. If you do not do this, you will have the lice back in two weeks. It's an endless cycle. Make sure you wash the things in the hottest water possible. Don't give up! There is an end in sight.

Additional TDS Resource: More on eliminating head lice

Double Duty Packing Material

On our recent move, I purchased inexpensive paper towels from a chain store to wrap breakables. While unpacking in our new home, I asked everyone to save the paper towels by placing them in garbage bags. We spent hours cleaning the woodwork in our new home, using the paper towels from the move. I discovered that paper towels were much better and cleaner than using newspaper to pack and could be used again for cleaning cabinets, floors, windows, etc.

Baked on Pots & Pans

Instead of scrubbing a dirty pot or pan, whether it is baked, fried, or burned on, rinse it out, put it on the stove with some water and a very generous amount of baking soda, and boil it for a while. What doesn't wipe right off will come off with minimal scrubbing, using a bit more baking soda like scouring powder. This works on the biggest messes like a slow-acting and safer version of oven cleaner. It eats right through the grease and grime.

Additional TDS Resource: More on cleaning in the kitchen

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