Readers' Tips

Resolving Online Consumer Complaints

Most of the time, if you threaten to contact the BBB, they wake up. Or if you used a credit card to make the purchase, call your credit card company and see if they can help. My husband had a similar situation and he contacted the credit card company and they placed a stop payment on the money going to the company. That woke them up! Something else that I've done is if the company has a Facebook page, post on their page what happened and often times that will get them to wake up because they don't want the negative feedback on their Facebook page for all to see.
Laura (via Facebook)

editor's note: For more on resolving online consumer complaints, please click here.

Feeding a Hungry Family

The easiest way to economize at mealtime is to add a soup course to every dinner. Making a pot of soup is trivial and uses up just about every left over vegetable from previous meals. If you start with the soup to calm appetites, then smaller meat portions will be needed. Soup also keeps well and a simmering pot can sit on a back burner for hours, making it easy to match different eating schedules.

With red meats, a small serving of very good quality meat is usually more satisfying than a big hunk of cheaper cuts. Carving the meat into very thin slices can increase flavor and make a modest portion seem to last much longer. Serving meats with rich sauces makes smaller volumes more filling. This works nicely with poultry. A split chicken breast by itself can seem like a meager portion, but when it is served with a pan sauce, it becomes a meal.

When the family does sit down together, plate the food in the kitchen and bring it to the table restaurant style. Without serving bowls on the table, a single plate of food is often sufficient. Finish dinner with a cheese platter. Cheese is very filling and healthier than most sweet desserts. A selection of your favorite cheeses and fruits make an economical, satisfying, and relaxing end to a meal.

Additional TDS Resource: More on how to feed a hungry family

Storing Christmas Ornaments

This year, while shopping the day after Christmas, I saw canisters filled with popcorn for a little over $2. I bought two of them to store my Christmas ornaments in. I layered pieces of extra fleece I had to protect the ornaments from breaking since they are stacked in the canister. This is a better storage option than what I had before (shoeboxes), and we got a lot of popcorn for the kids!

Heat and Humidity for a Dry Winter Home

In the winter months, we re-route the electric dryer vent hose to the inside and attach a water-filled dryer vent filter that can be found at a home improvement store for less than $15. So, when we dry our clothes, we get the heat from the dryer in our house. Plus, it humidifies at the same time. All the dryer lint gets caught in the water and can be tossed out and refilled with fresh water. We love it!

editor's note: This is only for ELECTRIC dryers. NEVER route a gas dryer exhaust indoors!

Easier Dish Washing

Not having a dishwasher, all our dishes and pans are washed by hand. My husband (a cook) taught me to think ahead and plate up the dinner, whether we plate individually or to a serving platter. Then I put 1/4 inch or so of water in the cooking pot and place it back on the stove top (with the burners off and the lid on). The residual heat will create a moist environment, make washing the pot easy, and will prevent those dreaded over-night soaks. Jessica W.

Winter Warmth

Keeping the furnace low to save energy is one of my wintertime goals. So, it is important to have throws for most seats in our home.

I sewed up some envelop pillow covers for cozy throws that match the room decor. When the kids are done snuggling under a cozy blanket, they fold the blanket and stash it in the pillow cover. The room stays tidy, and the blankets are right where they need them the next time they need to settle in.

These are also good for extra bedding on a single bed. For extra quilts, I make large pillow covers and prop them against a wall for a cozy daybed. Plus, this eliminates storage.

Replacing Juice Boxes

We all know how expensive boxes/pouches of juice can be and how many are not 100% juice. I purchase large multi-packs of eight-ounce water bottles and mix my own juice from generic concentrates to fill the bottles. They cost a lot less, hold more juice than the boxes/pouches, and can be washed and reused (though not a huge expense if lost or damaged on occasion).
Elaine in NJ

Easy Organized Clothing

When a new season arrives, I hang all the items with the hangers facing backwards. When I wear and wash the item, I return it to the closet facing the proper way. At the end of the season, it's super easy to tell which of the items I never wore, and those are the ones I donate for someone else to enjoy.

Easy Car Detailing

When you're cleaning out your car and unable to get the hard-to-reach dirt and crumbs out of the cracks, just use an old makeup (blush) brush. It works like a charm!

Juicy Soda

Store-brand club soda is cheap and free of calories. By mixing it with fruit juice, I can save money and still enjoy the fruit juice I love without the high calories. It is also healthier and less expensive than soda, and I have a lot of variety of juices to choose from.
D.W. in Florida

Trim Painting

For painting along the edges and trim work, I use a piece of a plastic bottle that I cut approximately two inches wide, and slide it along as I'm going. I tried an "edger," and after a few strokes, it was useless.

Giving It the Brush-Off

I use a 2" cheap, clean, dry paint brush to clean hard-to-clean items. It works great on keyboards, plastic window shades, and furnace grates.

More Than a Condiment

I have discovered that cayenne pepper has some great benefits, aside from cooking! It is an inexpensive pest repellant. Put a couple of teaspoons of the pepper into a spray bottle, fill with water, shake, and spray. Specifically, animals, such as rodents, do not like it. Spray in suspect areas, including the garbage can. It's natural, inexpensive, and quite a deterrent.

Another use is to keep your feet warm. Sprinkle it in your socks before heading out skiing or snowboarding into the winter chill. You will see it doesn't take much and your toes and feet do stay quite toasty!
Jeanie W.

Making Cheap Shelving More Attractive

Particle board shelving units are easily fixed up. Before doing anything else to them, wash them down and dry them well. Then consider the following suggestions:

  • One of the telltale signs of cheap shelving units is the inset area (usually about 4" high) at the bottom front of the unit. Get a piece of lumber that fits into this area; glue and nail or screw it to bring the base even with the rest of the unit. Fill spaces with wood putty. Then apply some baseboard molding, mitered at the corners, to the bottom of the front and both sides of the unit.

  • If you really want to dress it up and feel like spending a little extra, add some decorative molding to the front surface of the sides and top of the unit. Get something wider than the front surface, and mount it, so the extra width extends over the inside of the shelves and the molding is flush with the outside. Again, fill in any spaces.

  • Depending on what's exposed to the rest of the room, you can dress up the side surfaces by adding molding, which simulates the panels on a door; use four pieces that are mitered at the corners to form a "picture frame" effect.

  • Paint every surface of particle board, inside and out, with BIN or some other primer, which is made to help additional coats of paint adhere to the surface. To make it easier to paint, first take out any removable shelves.

  • Paint the particle board. It can be very attractive to paint the interior a contrasting color or different shade of the same color. Several thin coats are always better than one thick coat. Seal with a few coats of an appropriate sealer.

  • If you have several short units that are the same width, consider stacking them. They must be well secured to each other and the spaces between the two units filled in. Then treat as one unit. From a decorating standpoint, a tall piece looks more like "real" furniture.

Linda in NYC

Additional TDS Resource: More on making cheap shelving look attractive

Removing Collar Stains

Do you have ring around the collar? Most people do at one point or another. Forget expensive store brand remedies. The simplest and best solution is to buy (or use what you have) the cheapest shampoo available. Make sure it is meant for oily hair. Mix it 50/50 with water. Put it in a spray bottle and saturate the collar. Scrub with a small brush or old toothbrush. After letting this sit for 15 minutes or longer, you'll have a clean collar!

The Right Colored Thread

Having two daughters in Girl Scouts, I find myself sewing patches on fairly often. Since each patch is usually a different color, I used to have to change the color of my thread in my sewing machine so my stitching wouldn't stand out. And I'd have to hope I had a color of thread that matched the patch!

This year, I realized that I could just use white thread for all of the patches, and then after sewing each on, I use a Sharpie marker to color the top stitches to match the patch. It works like a charm! I already owned an assorted set of Sharpie markers, and I discovered that there is always one that matches really well. Now my stitches disappear without having to a buy colored spools of thread. And I don't have to take the time to change the thread for each patch. Coloring the top thread (and even the under-stitching) works really well for any project that doesn't have to be too perfect!

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