March 22, 2011

Tightwad Gazette I Refresher - Day 20 - March 22nd

As I am typing this, the tornado sirens are going off in our area. There have been several tornado sightings around the state along with severe thunderstorms. Ah, spring is here in Iowa and Tornado Country.

Let’s talk vacuum cleaner bags and diapers tonight and we will throw in some discussion on tax deductions and finish out with Senior Citizen discounts. Yeah, we will be all over the place tonight with a lot of great advice and information. My comments are underlined.  Here we go.

PAGE 172 – THE $64,000 QUESTION - How do you recycle vacuum cleaner bags?

Unroll the glued bottom to open it. Empty the contents. Take your garbage can or garbage bag outside to empty it. Then if any of the contents shift, and there is a plume of dust, you will at least be outside when this happens. Then roll the end back up. I fold it one additional time for some added strength. Staple it closed about 10 times to make an airtight seal.

Do not recycle a bag several times. A bag that is overused can develop a tear or hole and then the dirt could damage the motor. I never recycle a bag more than twice as I do feel that after that point a bag can weaken. I trust that I have gotten my money’s worth out of recycling a vacuum bag twice and then I use a new one. My vacuum bags cost about $2.00 apiece so they are really expensive and that is the main reason I reuse them.

I have an Oreck vacuum cleaner and I have never had a problem. You just have to use your judgment such as recycling a bag only once if the bag looks as if it is wearing out.


A reader wrote Amy to tell how they paid off their $30,000 mortgage in 4 years. However her story began by saying that after 5 years of marriage they had buried themselves in debt with the purchase of their second home. They decided that there had to be a better way to live their lives. They sold their house and moved into a 1 bedroom duplex with their two daughters. After a year of saving all that they could, they bought their third home.

This couple was determined to pay off their $30,000 mortgage as fast as they could. They posted an amortization schedule on their wall. They took all extra money from raises, Christmas bonuses, overtime, and tax refunds and dumped it all on the principal. They went on an austerity budget by only buying the essentials, shopping at garage sales, packing lunches and rarely eating out. They also didn’t buy gifts for each other. They accomplished their goal in 4 years. Then they went on to do some remodeling on their own which increased the value of their home. Just weeks after they paid off the house, a home on 9 acres came up for sale near them. This home had gone through foreclosure and was up for auction. They put their house on the market, sold it and bought their 4th house for only $43,000 with the cash from the sale of their 3rd home.

Even in this economy, this scenario can still be done. You can take extra money to put it towards your mortgage to pay it down.

My DH and I make one extra mortgage payment a year, and that is it. We don’t put every extra dime towards our mortgage as we have other goals that we have set. Many financial planners will tell you to put all of your money towards your retirement goals and to pay down your mortgage. They will also tell you to let your children pay for their own college education.

We have set different goals for our family. Our two goals right now are to only have my car and our mortgage as our only debt before the end of this year and to pay for the majority of our youngest son’s college education. He starts college in the fall.

This goes against what many financial planners tell people today, but then again I don’t believe in “cookie cutter” financial advice or “one size fits all” financial planning. The goals we have set for ourselves are the ones that we sat down and agreed upon. We are satisfied with these goals.

I am not against paying off your mortgage as soon as possible. We just have different goals.

That being said, if your goal is to get your mortgage paid off as fast as you can, then I encourage you to sit down and make a plan to put extra money towards paying off your mortgage as soon as possible. If you are disciplined enough to go through what our reader’s family went through, then go for it and really cut back so that you can put as much money towards your mortgage as possible.

I think there is one thing to keep in mind, if you are purchasing a home and want to pay off your mortgage really fast then perhaps you should take out a mortgage with a shorter term. After all interest rates are lower on a 5 year, 10 year or 15 year mortgage versus a 30 year mortgage. Just a thought.


1. An income tax refund is a good thing. Amy disagrees and says that instead of the government using your money interest free, you should declare fewer allowances on your W-4 and be more disciplined.

2. It’s foolish to earn more money because you’ll be in a higher tax bracket. Amy says that this is a fallacy and that you should earn to your heart’s content. The tax code has changed a lot since the writing of this book and I’m not exactly sure where things stand right now.  If you earn $100,000 you will be taxed at 15% up to a certain amount of that $100,000 and then anything beyond that is 28%. I’m not sure what that amount is, but let’s say it is $75,000 as an example. You would be taxed at 15% on income from 0 to $75,000 and then the other $25,000 would be taxed at 28%, as an example. The problem comes into play as to what you do with your money, in my opinion, beyond what you are earning and being taxed at. If you earn and save, that’s great. If you earn and spend, then it doesn’t matter how much money you earn, you will never have enough.

3. You should not pay off your mortgage because you will lose your tax deduction. Many couples only qualify for the standard deduction ($11,400 for 2010, married filing jointly) even if they own a home. Therefore, they cannot deduct their mortgage interest. Amy says it makes sense then to pay off your mortgage as soon as possible since the majority of couples can’t itemize. But we should also look at this in the reverse. They may not qualify for itemization, but if they were to add up all of their deductions they may only come up with, let’s say, $7,000. The IRS gives them a bonus of another $4,400 in deductions since the standard deduction for married filing jointly is $11,400. That’s a good deal. We itemize because we have more in deductions, mainly due to our charitable giving.


Amy writes a clever article. She pretends she is an interviewer and she is talking with a mom who uses disposable diapers. The mom’s identity has been concealed. Amy interview’s the “fictitious” mom. The mom explains that she used disposable diapers as they were having washing machine trouble. She also was working nights and her husband didn’t want to change a cloth diaper. Later on she changed to day shifts and the day care center did not allow cloth diapers. Then the discussion turned to the cost of the disposable diapers and the amount of extra garbage that they generated in a week. This mom then had twin girls so she gave up work and to save money she switched to cloth. In the end she was happy with using the cloth diapers and the money they saved along with feeling better about not putting disposable diapers into the landfill.

For me, disposable diapers were perfect when our sons were newborns, especially our first son. He was the first child we brought home from the hospital and I often refer to him as the one we were trained on. It is such an adjustment to bring home a baby and since the mother is recuperating from child birth, disposable diapers are a nice convenience for the first few weeks. I switched to cloth as soon as I was feeling better and wasn’t so overwhelmed.

I used a combination of cloth and disposable diapers for both of my boys. I used disposable diapers at night and when we were travelling and such. The biggest help in using cloth diapers was what was referred to as a diaper liner. It looked a lot like a fabric softener sheet. When the baby had a bowel movement, you could simply lift out the liner and flush it. It was so easy. I would toss the diapers in a diaper pail that I set in the bathtub and I recall adding some borax to the pail of water. The diapers were washed every day. I never let the diapers sit in a pail until they were full to overflowing. Since my washing machine had a low water level option, I was able to wash them as a small load.

I would dump the diaper pail into the washing machine and spin out the water. Then I would set the machine to wash on hot water in a very mild detergent. In the rinse cycle I added some vinegar to cut out any remaining detergent residue on the diapers. I would toss them in the dryer with a small piece of a fabric softener sheet.

Twenty-six years ago when my oldest son was born, diapers came in three sizes. Small – 66 count, Medium – 48 count and Large – 32 count. I remember at the time paying around $5.00 or $6.00 per box of diapers without a coupon. My food budget was $37.50 a week so you can see that diapers would take a big chunk out of my grocery budget. I wasn’t working and money was very, very tight. So I would buy 1 box of disposable diapers and I would make them last by only using them at night or when we went to church. If I couldn’t afford that 1 box of diapers, then my son wore the cloth diapers even away from home. At night I would “double” diaper him. Even so, he would leak through the diaper some times in the night.

Here is what we would do to accommodate this. While my husband bathed our son, I would go into his bedroom and “triple” sheet his bed. The bottom layer was always a water proof mattress pad along with the main sheet. I had more waterproof pads given to me. I would put another pad down on top of the first sheet, and then I would place another sheet on top, along with another pad and the third sheet on top. Then if he leaked through his diaper and it got on the sheet, I simply had to take off the one sheet and pad and there was another sheet underneath. It was a quick and easy fix in the middle of the night.

Yes, you have to change cloth diapers more often than disposable ones, but let’s think about that for a moment. If your baby has a wet diaper, why do you want them in a disposable diaper that tries to “pull the moisture away” from the baby? I decided that putting them in a nice dry cloth diaper was better than sitting in a wet disposable diaper for a while and was better on their skin.

When money is tight, you have to save anyway you can and you do have the option of cloth diapers. I have seen websites that sell fitted cloth diapers and they are really pretty. There are also patterns to make your own. It is very trendy to “go green” so using cloth diapers nowadays is quite fashionable.

In the end, every mom has to decide what is best for her and her baby. I would never judge if someone has chosen disposable diapers. But if that same person was struggling with finances and asked me for a way to save money, I would suggest switching to cloth diapers.


Amy suggests planting gourds in your garden (those large, round gourds with short necks) to be used for birdhouses. Let them dry on the vine til midwinter. Pick and cut a hole on one side. Let it dry another day and sand the doorway’s edges smooth. Clean the inside with a spoon. Drill holes in the bottom for drainage. Cut two more holes in the top of the neck to run a nylon cord through to hang the birdhouse.


A reader wrote in to say that she purchased a hot glue gun and has used it to make gifts. She spent on the glue gun, to save on gift giving. This reader purchased shells at a craft sore and she glued magnets on the shell. The result was pretty little magnets to be used as a gift. A glue gun is an a valuable tool in our house for repairing things and for using in craft projects. I always keep a small bowl of ice water near me when I am using a glue gun in case I get any hot glue on my fingers. I can simply dip my fingers in the ice water to prevent burning.


Make the first pot of coffee the usual way. Then to make the second pot add only 1/2 the amount of grounds you would normally use to the grounds that are already in the filter. In this way you can make 2 pots of coffee and only use 1 1/2 the amount of coffee grounds.

I have done this before when money was really tight. I could tell the coffee tasted a little different the second time around, but It didn’t bother me. However, my husband noticed the difference and didn’t like it. We decided that we would rather drink 1 good cup of coffee than 1 good cup and 1 not as good cup of coffee. So we cut back on our coffee consumption during the lean times.

I love a good cup of coffee and it is my one big indulgence during the day.


Amy wrote this article about all of the resources and discounts that are available to Senior Citizens. Most of the information that she gave was outdated, so I would direct you to AARP to see all of the resources available. We are members of AARP at the ages of 52 (me) and my DH who will be 53 next month. We get great discounts on hotels, insurance and other services.

When we were in our mid forties we would go to McDonalds for Sunday breakfast when there wasn’t Sunday School at our church. We would get the Senior Citizen discount on coffee automatically, even though we were under the age requirement. Evidently 14 year old kids see some gray hair on someone and they automatically think they are Senior Citizens.

Tomorrow read pages 183 through 192. We will talk about teenagers, potatoes, thrift shop shopping, trash picking and more. Stay safe and God Bless.

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