Readers' Tips

Should We Use a Realtor to Buy Our First Home?

Yes, you should use a "Realtor" (a trademarked name). First note that there are two kinds of licensed real estate people, namely real estate agents and brokers. Real estate agents and brokers who belong to the Association of Realtors can use the term Realtor. The differing characteristic is a non-association member is held to the letter of the law under his/her license while an association member is also held to a standard of ethics. This is one reason you should use a Realtor

There are several other important reasons. There are many, many laws these days governing the buying and selling of real estate and they vary from state to state even city to city. The last I knew there were 14 pages of areas of concern in a California listing and/or buying contract. Failure to adhere to any of the provisions therein could result in the loss of dollars or even a lawsuit. There are all sorts of things you must disclose and failing to mention them might result in a lawsuit. Knowing how to apply a bandage to a wound doesn't one a doctor. It is much the same in real estate and the rules of the game change almost monthly. I was an executive of a real estate association and had a close relative who was a real estate broker and I would never buy or sell a property without a licensed real estate broker/agent.

For the same reason you may hire a plumber, accountant, attorney, roofer, or doctor, you should hire a broker/agent. The risk of not doing so could mean millions of dollars.

Finally, a licensed real estate person can expose you not only to properties advertised and/or in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), but also "pocket listings," which are listings held close to the heart and only shared agent to agent.

editor's note: Visit here for more on using a realtor when buying a first home.

Pet Food

We all love our pets, but feeding them can be expensive even if the food is purchased at a big box store. I adopted two strays and they are not picky about what they eat, so I'm always on the lookout for "closeout" cat food. After doing a little research and making a few calls, I found out that when a new product from one company is coming on the market, they will close out and markdown one or two that are already on the shelf. By watching, I have been able to stock up on cat food and save a ton! It doesn't go bad and my cats love the variety of flavors. I have spent as little as a dollar a bag!

Additional TDS Resource: Homemade cat food recipes

Receipt Protection

Your article on how to win a consumer complaint was informative. The one thing I have found out the hard way is that receipts seem to fade and vanish within a year or two and sometimes sooner. I suppose it depends on what type of paper and ink the company uses. I say that I learned this the hard way because after completing a major house remodel, some items failed before the warranty ended. Although I had kept meticulous records, when I went back to get a receipt, it was as good as useless. It was faded badly. Now I keep a folder on my laptop for scanned receipts for almost all of my purchases. I haven't had an issue pursuing a claim in years because of those scanned receipts. I also scan warranty terms and conditions. I just thought this tip might benefit someone else.

This Christmas

Last year, my brother, sister, and I decided that we wanted to make Christmas easier and spend less. I think I've come up with a solution. With so many people suffering because of hurricane Harvey, instead of buying each other things we don't need, I'm going to suggest that we each make a donation now to a charity that's serving hurricane victims. We'll save time near Christmas and do some good now when people really need the help.

editor's note: We won't suggest any specific hurricane relief organization, but we do suggest that you check out any organization you're not familiar with before donating. One place to do that is

Kids Clothing

If you're looking for kids clothing deals, check eBay. Search for "Boys size 6 Lot" for example (LOT is the important word here). It'll be a big jumble of clothes. Instead of going through consignment stores piecing it all together, you can get a ton of pieces for about $20.
Melanie via Facebook

Additional TDS Resource: How to start a kids clothing exchange

Reduce Drying Time

Everyone knows that an electric clothes dryer is an energy hog. One way to reduce the cost is to cut down the amount of time that it runs. There are a couple of things you can do to reduce drying time. First, when your clothes are through the wash cycle, run an extra spin cycle. That will ring more water from your clothes. Next separate out some clothes that don't or shouldn't go in the dryer. For instance, your delicates should be hung to dry. And t-shirts can be hung to drip dry.

How to Start Meal Planning

Don't try to plan for a whole week or month at first. You don't want to get overwhelmed. Instead, just try to plan for perhaps three to four days. Note those meals on index cards. Plan on a leftover day and then plan different meals for another three to four days. Repeat the whole process until you build up your stock of menu cards. Then you can begin planning for longer blocks of time.
Claudia via Facebook

Additional TDS Resource: 6 things you need to know about grocery store aisles

Easy Decor Trick

Ever feel like you want to change up your decor but don't have any big inspiration or a big budget to do the job? Try this. It costs about $5! Remove your wall light switch covers and spray paint them a color that contrasts or compliments your room color. It doesn't seem like much, but it can give the room a different vibe. If you find that you don't like the change, you can replace the covers for about $1 each.

Additional TDS Resource: Should I use a HELOC for home remodeling?

Win/Win Losing Strategy

I've been unhappy with my weight and my credit card balances. Both went up after my daughter (now 6) was born. I had trouble losing the weight I had put on during pregnancy and the cost of daycare wasn't helping our budget. Here's what I did. I promised myself that I'd use my elliptical trainer every other day for 30 minutes. For every calorie I burn (it's displayed on the trainer), I add to my debt loss fund. On the same day that I go online to pay my bills, I add the money from my fund to my minimum payment. Most days that I exercise, I add between $3 and $4.50 to the fund. It's not so much that it pinches my budget, but it is enough to make a difference to the account balance. Also, it's a great motivator to help me lose the weight! It's also a whole lot cheaper than buying $300 worth of food every month from one of those weight loss programs.

Additional TDS Resource: How to pay off your debts

Fresh Tomatoes All Fall

If you live up north, you're always expecting an early freeze. For years, I lost nearly ripe tomatoes to that frost. Then a neighbor told me that he had a method to save them. He uproots the whole plant and hangs them upside down in his basement. The plant shouldn't touch the ground. The tomatoes will continue to ripen gradually. It's not unusual for us to have tomatoes six or even eight weeks after the first frost!

Instead of Dryer Sheets

If you don't want to spend the money on dryer sheets or you are sensitive to the fragrance, you can take a piece of foil and ball it up to about golf ball size to get rid of the static without fragrance. And, it'll last you all year.

Additional TDS Resource: Don't miss these frugal laundry tips and tricks

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