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5 Routine Home Maintenance Tips to Save Money and Aggravation

Spring Cleaning Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds,

By MJ Plaster

No one wants to do it or pay for it, but a dollar saved on home maintenance is not a dollar earned; it can be many dollars lost. Follow along and mark your calendars while you learn a few tips the pros and salespeople would prefer you didn’t know.

  1. Keep drains clear – I recently had a clogged kitchen sink drain that nothing—from vinegar, baking soda and boiling water to sulfuric acid—would clear. After the plumber snaked the pipe for $80, he told me to squirt a little dish washing liquid into the drain and run hot water for a minute after I finish washing dishes every day to keep fats from solidifying and clogging the pipes. For a few pennies a day, it should keep the pipes clear indefinitely.One day I saw this odd-looking thing called a Zip-It at Ace Hardware. With $4 added to my tab, I headed home, squirreled it away, and forgot about it until my bathtub drain started to slow. I shoved the Zip-It down the drain into the trap. When I tried to remove it, it didn’t budge—not an inch. It was an OMG moment—what’s this going to cost when the plumber comes? So I pulled harder, and harder, until bit by bit, I removed the device along with a huge wad of gunky, shoulder-length, brown hair. The drain opened, and that $4 piece of industrial-strength plastic has removed the “same time next year” date with the plumber from my calendar now that I use it every month without fail.
  2. Change or clean heat and a/c intake filters – Bob Vila says, “The primary purpose of a filter is to protect HVAC equipment, not to improve indoor air quality, as many homeowners have been led to believe.” Vila also warned that filters that are “too good” at keeping the air clean can also damage HVAC systems. If you want cleaner air, buy an air filter, don’t upgrade your HVAC filters. To keep my intakes clean, I purchased one permanent filter and one disposable filter for each intake, and I use the disposable filters each month while I clean the permanent ones. Today’s permanent filters cost only about three time the cost of a disposable filter, so after three months, you’ve made your money back and eliminated monthly expenditures on filters. If you have pets, vacuum the grill covering the intake once a week. Flying fur from longhair pets can block the grill and obstruct the exchange of air in a week.
  3. Protect your water pipes – Invest a dollar in a Styrofoam cover for each outdoor faucet. Install them at the same time you disconnect and store your hoses for the season. And when you get a hard freeze, don’t even entertain the thought of saving a few cents by not letting your water drip indoors. You’ll be sorry when the pipes burst and flood your home.
  4. Replace fire alarm batteries – Many smoke detectors operate with 9-volt batteries. Who stocks those at home? No one! A few years ago, the battery in one of mine died during an ice storm—beep, beep, beep at an ear-piercing level—for days. But what if the battery is still good? Change it anyway. While you’re at it, change the batteries for your fan remote controls each spring and for your gas and electric fireplaces each fall.
  5. Clean you gutters and downspouts – Last fall, I didn’t have the gutters and downspouts cleaned. Big mistake—one day during a week long, below-zero-degree cold snap, I heard something that sounded like someone playing a xylophone on the patio. A huge icicle caused by runoff from the gutter had broken off and landed on a small table with a glass top and shattered the glass. I was lucky; it could have hit someone in the head and caused a bad injury.

Everything except cleaning your gutters and downspouts takes just a few moments of your time; there’s no excuse for letting these little chores go unattended. When you do need help on a major home maintenance problem, before you plunk down your hard-earned money, always fire up your favorite search engine to find out if there’s an easy solution. You might just get lucky.

From Nothing to Something: My Small Business Success Story

Small tree, plant  in the hand

Jurissa Ayala

Running your own show is no picnic. You have no one to report to, sure. You can work in your pajamas while eating too many pancakes. Any time you feel like it, you can take a yoga break. Or a Big Bang Theory break. I won’t lie, that’s all pretty awesome.

There are some downsides to owning a small business, however. When you are self-employed, you report to you. Which means that sometimes your boss is a lazy slob who won’t demand that much of you. Who might make excuses for your poor behavior or let you cut work more often than you should. Plus, your boss has only as much experience as you do, and that can really hogtie you.

It took me more than seven years after graduating college to consider myself a “success.” This is partially due to a lack of determination to get there, and partially to a number of mistakes I made. By sharing them with you, I hope to reduce the time it takes you to find your own success. Ready for a crash course in small business life? Put on your helmet and let’s get started.

Mistake #1: I Went to College Too Soon. Then I Did It Again

I was always a good student, and the occasional C in Chemistry didn’t stop me from getting into one of the top programs in my state. Because school came easy, I never really tried that hard. Nor did I question whether it was “worth it” to spend time and money on college when I was still finding myself. Too bad for me.

When I graduated with a degree I would never use, I shrugged my shoulders and found jobs that didn’t thrill me: first in insurance sales, then at a bank. I used the money to pay rent and party, and started looking for another path only when banking made me so miserable it was starting to ruin my life. I chose teaching, and got another expensive degree that didn’t pan out due to a bad economy. Then I went to school for journalism. Finally: something I loved. It only took me an extra four years and untold student loans to get there.

Mistake #2: At First I Didn’t Stick With Anything

Even after receiving my master’s degree in journalism, I found it hard to settle down. School was so easy for me: I got better grades than most of my peers with my eyes closed. Naturally I assumed this would translate to my career, and was spectacularly disappointed when it didn’t.

No one cared that I was smart, or that my teachers liked me. They just wanted to see results, and I didn’t have any. My dreams of being a world-famous writer and author soon evaporated. I was crushed and lost, and only after a year of soul-searching did I finally settle into the less-glamorous but better-paying world of freelance copy writing. I had finally found something I was good at and loved … and it paid the bills too. Add two years to the clock.

Mistake #3: I Thought Success Came Before Hard Work

At the beginning, I was convinced I had to find a glorious gig to in order to really apply myself. Once I took care of my ego, I reasoned, the hard work would feel natural and the success would come.

The opposite turned out to be true. Once I took a deep breath and accepted that there would be no glory for a long while – perhaps ever – I was able to settle into my day job with a joy and willingness I’d never before experienced in life. It came naturally, fitting into the flow of my life well enough that I was able to care for my tow children at home and keep up full time work. My world became perfect. It only took one more year.

Key Takeaways:

  • Consider waiting on college until you’re sure you know what you want to do
  • Prepare yourself for hard work at the outset, and do not expect success before you put in a lot of long, inglorious hours
  • Stick with it, even when it sucks
  • Consider talking to someone in the line of work you hope to go into to find out what it will be like and ensure you’re prepared
  • Have a positive attitude! No, really! It will totally help

As a small business owner, I now write for clients all over the world. I set my hours, I sleep in, I play with my kids … and I work hard. I’ve transitioned from the nothingness of endless ego drain to the true fulfillment of hard work and a quiet personal success.

Next up? I might take a sewing class. But it probably won’t be glorious.


Secrets and Tips to Save You From The Stress of Auto Maintenance


Auto Mechanic

By MJ Plaster

“A car is the most expensive purchase most Americans make. More Americans buy cars than buy houses. They feel like their car is a member of the family,” said Johnny Whitaker, retired auto-industry insider and consultant. He shares his top 15 tips below.

  1. Read the owner’s manual – “I’ll bet you’ve never taken the owner’s manual out of your glove compartment,” asked Whitaker. “This is the No. 1 mistake car owners make. Everything you need to know is in that manual, and you can save a fortune on car maintenance if you’ll just read the manual and do [with a few exceptions below] what it says.”
    When he set up Cadillac service departments at dealerships across the country, he saw mistakes everywhere that would have been avoided if car owners had read the manual.

What Everyone ‘Knows’ About Car Maintenance Might Be Wrong

Whitaker disagrees with some ‘conventional wisdom.’ He made no bones about saying that what he says might differ from conventional wisdom, but he’s not telling you anything that he doesn’t do with his own cars. For example:

  1. Oil Changes – Today’s manufacturers often suggest oil changes every 5,000 miles. Some new cars come with one or more years’ worth of free oil changes. “If you were a car manufacturer, would you want to eat the cost of oil, filters and labor every 3,000 or every 5,000 miles,” Whitaker asked. “I still change mine every 3,000 miles,” he added, “because the only change is that manufacturers are saving millions by raising the mileage.”
  2. Oil – “Never, under any circumstances, use 10W40 oil. It turns to a gel under heat.” He uses 10W50 year-round.
  3. Tuneups֪ – When I asked how often to get a tuneup, he said, “What’s THAT? What century are you living in?” Modern cars don’t require what used to be known as a tune up—tweaking the engine. Who knew!
  4. Tire rotation – “I always rotate tires back to front, not in the X formation. Once a tire starts to wear, you will not correct it no matter what you do. If you rotate in the X formation, you’re changing the direction the tire normally goes, and it could ‘sling a ply,’ which could cause more uneven wear. Tire places are in the business of selling tires, not rotating them.”

Common Car Maintenance Mistakes and Assumptions

  1. Car vibration – When a car vibrates, people assume it needs a front-end alignment. “It’s usually the wheels, tires and/or balance,” said Whitaker.
  2. Oil filters – People often try to save money by changing the oil without changing the filter. Whitaker’s standard reply: “Well, how about you just save your bath water, and bathe in that for a week?” He also cautioned against using generic filters because they can cause problems.
  3. Brakes –Most people think that when they hear a squeal as they apply the brakes, they need new brakes. That squeal indicates a glaze on the brake pads, and it does not mean you need new brakes. If you hear the squeal when you’re not touching the brake, and it goes away when you hit the brake, that’s the warning indicator that you need new brake pads.
  4. Brake pads – “Spend some money on brake pads. Don’t cut this corner. At a dealer, the standards are enforced, and the warranties are honored,” said Whitaker.
  5. Leaks – Did you know that leaks can be deadly? He said, “Think about it. What happens when oil hits a hot manifold? It can catch fire. Take care of leaks.”
  6. Air conditioning – If it sounds like your compressor has died, your air conditioner might just need some coolant and/or you might need some new hoses.

Tips for Saving Money on Car Maintenance

With labor costs running around $100 an hour, here are a few simple preventive steps:

  1. Air Conditioning – Run your air conditioner during the winter once a month for 20 minutes to lubricant through the system.
  2. Windshield washer fluid – It’ll cost you an hour of labor plus parts when the tank is full of fluid but it doesn’t spray on your windshield. Add 1 teaspoon of powdered laundry detergent to each tank of fluid.
  3. Gas – If your car requires premium, use it. Shell and Amoco have an engine-cleaning additive in their premium gas.
  4. Windshield wipers – When you think you need to change your windshield wipers, try this first: If the wipers are still soft, spray a little household ammonia on a paper towel and clean the wipers. Then clean your windshield with some ammonia to remove road grime.

Whitaker said, “Unlike home maintenance, you can’t use a calendar for car maintenance. Treat your car with care, but don’t go looking for trouble [like flushing fluids] unless there is a problem. When you try to fix a nonexistent problem, they will break something 90 percent of the time.”

How I Made $30,000 in One Day by Mistake

valuable papers, charts and diagrams - a collage

It was the go-go 90s and the stock market was on fire. In those days it was easy to make money in the market. It was a great time for momentum stocks and if you could get your hands on some shares of an IPO you had a chance to make a big score. From amateur investors to the most sophisticated traders on Wall Street, everyone was caught up in the exciting world of IPOs and short-term trading. I wanted to be part of that world!

TIP: Short-term trading carries higher risk than long-term investing. Traders can make a lot of money and also lose a lot of money.

Before I go any further let me just say that I have gone through different investment phases over the different stages of my life. Out of college, I preferred mutual funds and had my money invested with Fidelity, T.Rowe Price and Vanguard. In my early 30s I built my own portfolio of stocks. I invested some money in gold and silver bullion and I kept my retirement money in mutual funds. For a few short years, roughly from 1995-2000, I became a more aggressive investor. These were the years I got into day trading. They were also the years when I made the best investment of my life.

TIP: Base your investment strategy on your stage of life, tolerance for risk, and investment goals.

Online discount brokerage firms were in their infancy during the last decade of the twentieth century. Stock trading software was not nearly as sophisticated as it is today. However, it made it possible for people to trade frequently because you could buy or sell a stock for less than $10 per trade (a full service broker might charge $100 for the same trade). I opened a discount brokerage account and learned how to place market and limit orders. I eventually opened a margin account and it was nothing to buy or sell $10,000 worth of stock three or four times per week.

TIP: Open an online discount brokerage account and make your own trades. You’ll save on transaction costs, have a universe of stocks, bonds, ETFs and mutual funds, be able to view live quotes, do research, and track performance.. 

I am not going to lie and say I always made money on my trades, but I did make more good trades than bad ones. Most of the time I would make $200 – $300 on a stock I bought on one day and sold several days later. Sometimes the stock would go down and result in a loss. One thing I quickly learned was that you have to recognize when you made a wrong pick. I swallowed my pride, sold the loser, and went on to another stock.

TIP: Don’t ride a bad stock all the way down. Even Warren Buffet makes an occasional bad stock pick. When he does, he accepts a small loss (relatively speaking) and moves on. Limit your losses!

My best day ever in the stock market was the day I decided to buy into the IPO of a new stock called Books-a-Million (BAMM). The new issue was in great demand and I knew that it would immediately surge when the day’s trading session began. I got to my computer, proceeded to my online discount brokerage account, and placed an order for 2,000 shares at the market price (I wanted to make sure I was not shut out by a limit order).

TIP: Be ready when a great opportunity comes up. An IPO or a promising quarterly report can result in a rapidly rising stock price. Don’t be 100 percent invested. Have some cash on hand to take advantage of “special” situations.

For some reason, I thought that the market order had not been transmitted so I re-entered it. As you know, once you place a market order it is almost impossible to cancel it. A few minutes later I checked my account to see if my 2,000 share order had been executed. It had, and a second 2,000 share order also was executed. The IPO was priced at $12 and my two orders were filled at $17 and $20 as millions of shares traded in the first five minutes after trading began. It was not long before BAMM got very close to $30 and I was ecstatic. Then, reality set in and the stock sold off. I sold 2,000 shares at $27 and the remaining 2,000 shares at $25, netting me a one-day gain of $30,000. Although I did not sell at the very top I was still thrilled about being 30,000 richer!

TIP: Sometimes lucky is better than smart. If you buy a stock and it takes off, don’t be too greedy. Take some profits while it is going up and maybe hold on to some shares in case the stock continues to rise.

I would hardly call myself a brilliant investor, but I have been fairly successful over the last 30 years. Getting lucky is not an investment strategy. Sticking with some proven investment principles has helped me profit over the years.  

  • Define your investment goals.
  • Know your investment time horizon.
  • Never buy on impulse.
  • Always do your research before investing.
  • Create a risk-adjusted portfolio
  • Periodically review, adjust, and rebalance your portfolio.
  • Be diversified. 
  • Don’t invest under pressure.