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Magical Solutions for Challenging Situations


Sometimes it’s the most unusual thing that turns out to be the magical solution for a household problem — things like a hairdryer, tube of toothpaste or simple explanation.

Dear Mary: We had a very bad, dark pink, 7-foot stain in our white fiberglass whirlpool bathtub from previous antifreeze winterizing. I’d tried many things to remove the awful stain, including baking soda, soft scrub, bleach, scrubbing bubbles and mildew stain remover, among other things. I was about to give up and live with the long ugly pink stain when I tried non-gel toothpaste. It came off 100%! The tub is beautiful and sparkles again. I don’t know if anyone else might have this issue or a similar one, but I wanted to share this one with you. — Gail

Dear Gail: Wow, that’s amazing! Thanks for letting us know. For readers running for the toothpaste to treat their own similarly stubborn stains, let me caution to always test in an inconspicuous place to make sure you will not be making an already difficult situation even worse. That’s just a good idea. As always, I’d love to hear from anyone for whom this tip saves the day.

Dear Mary: I was given a beautiful wood pub table. It has wax stuck to it from people blowing out candles on it. How do I fix this without scraping it with a knife? Thank you. — Kathy

Dear Kathy: Try hitting it with a hairdryer set to low and hold it there until you can gently peel the candle wax away with your fingers. Once removed, use a soft cloth to buff the area. Wax is good for furniture finishes, so that should help it look even more beautiful!

Dear Mary: At the beginning of the year, you wrote an article about resolutions we will keep. I did not understand item No. 16: Write down your car’s mileage on Jan. 1. Can you explain how this will save me money? It was a great article, by the way. — Kristi

Dear Kristi: Writing down your car’s mileage forces you to focus on how many miles you have put on it, perhaps many of them mindlessly. The more you think about it, the more often you’ll find yourself thinking of ways to not run out for a minor errand. And next January, when you do this again and calculate how many miles you’ve driven in 2013, you’ll start thinking of even more ways to drive fewer miles to make your car last longer. Staying focused and paying attention gives us the freedom to make changes.

Dear Mary: The other day, I was filing copies of my latest tax return when I noticed that I had made a mistake adding up some deductions. When I told my brother, he warned me that I’d have a higher risk of being audited, so now I’m in a panic. Is there any way to fix the goof and avoid hefty penalties? — David

Dear David: Relax, you have nothing to worry about. The IRS has created a special form just for the purpose of correcting a return, which should tell you that filing a correction is a common occurrence. Go to www.irs.gov to get Form 1040X or call 800 829-1040 to receive it by mail.

This form is simple to complete. The fact that you file an amended return will not in itself increase your chance of being audited; it’s the nature of the change that could raise a red flag. But in your case, a simple mathematical correction should not cause you or the IRS a bit of concern. By the way, you have three years from the due date of your return to amend it.

Dear Mary: Last summer, I got a $3,000 bonus that my brother helped me invest in a couple of mutual funds. When my quarterly statements come in the mail, I’m totally confused by the pie charts and graphs and tend to toss them out. My brother says it’s really important to track my investments. Is there an easier way to do this? — Erin

Dear Erin: The idea behind a mutual fund is simple: Lots of small investors pool their money and hire a professional to invest and manage the fund. Reports can be confusing because you’re seeing details of everything your fund owns. The one number you need to keep your eye on is the net asset value (NAV) — the value of the fund’s assets on a specific date, minus liabilities, divided by the number of shares held by fund members. Compare the NAV each quarter with previous statements to see how the fund is doing. In the meantime, start following investing-related websites such as Kiplinger.com and ObliviousInvestor.com.

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