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The Conspicuous Consumer

Paper Trail: Where's a Free Shred Day when you need it?

During a move to a new house last fall, I had an unpleasant epiphany: I've been a pack rat when it comes to old checks, bank statements, credit card receipts and more. I had carton upon carton documenting my ancient financial history.   Ever since, I've been on the lookout for free "shred days" - events, often sponsored by local businesses, where people can bring personal papers to have them sliced beyond recognition (or at least beyond the recognition of identity thieves looking to co-opt account 0

Rust Buster: A solution for soap pads that self-destruct

Awhile back I got so frustrated with steel wool soap pads that would disintegrate into a rusty pile of nothingness after just one or two uses (even the ones advertised as "Won't rust!) that I gave up using them altogether and switched to scrubby sponges. But they simply don't clean as well as steel wool soap pads - and require a lot more time and elbow grease. So when I came upon this helpful hint I paid attention:  Don't store a wet steel wool soap pad 0

Dent-al Care: Should you opt for car rental insurance?

It's the standard question at car rental counters: Do you want to buy insurance? I've always thought that either my regular auto insurance or the insurance provided by my credit card would cover me - I read that somewhere long ago, and never actually bothered to investigate - so I always decline the coverage.  But recently a rental agent's hard sell pulled me up short.  She explained that personal insurance might cover certain damages if the car was in an accident. But it wouldn't cover loss of 0

Down(y) for the Count? Why I stopped using fabric softener

It was laundry day, and I discovered I was out of fabric softener. So I decided to go ahead and do the wash without it. I figured I could deal with a couple of loads of scratchy towels and clingy socks until I got to the supermarket to buy more.  Except … I never did buy more.   That was at least three years ago. I discovered that my clothes, sheets and towels didn't feel all that different without fabric softener - in fact, I liked the 0

Tops of the Morning: Don't forget to save labels and box tops for your school

When my children were little, I obsessively saved Campbell's soup labels and General Mills cereal box tops for their elementary school. Once the school acquired a critical mass of the labels and box tops - thousands of them - it could redeem them for playground equipment like big red kickballs.   That was 25 years ago - but old habits die hard, and I've continued to peel off labels and clip box tops somewhat obsessively. Since I rarely drive by the local school, every so often 0

Tow, Tow, Tow Your Boat: Unloading old motorboats, cars and campers

Our little motorboat - 14 feet long, and more than two decades old - had sat unused for the past couple of years. When my husband decided it was time to get it back in the water this summer, he discovered that the motor was immovably frozen in place. No amount of elbow grease, WD-40 or hearty heave-hos with the help of neighbors could budge it. So we called in professional help, and got a reality check courtesy of the local boatyard: The repairs would 0

Unappetizing: Why restaurant specials can be dangerous (to your wallet)

Awhile back, David Segal, who addresses consumer gripes in his role as The Haggler at The New York Times, got a letter from a reader detailing a dismaying visit to a well-known Manhattan restaurant. The man had ordered one of the specials of the day - pasta with truffle sauce - and when the bill came it was jaw-dropping: That single dish cost a whopping $275. The reader said he knew the restaurant was expensive … but $275, for one entree?  Segal contacted the restaurant owner, 0

"Secret" Savings: Searching out extra deals at outlet malls and more

If you're planning an excursion to the outlet malls in Lee or Wrentham (or anywhere else) soon, be sure to check the mall's website before you go - because in shopping, as in many other ventures, timing is everything. Look under the "Sales and Events" section to find a list of current deals.  Just a couple of examples:  At Lee Premium Outlets, the American Eagle store is offering 40 percent off its usual prices through Aug. 28. At Wrentham Village Premium Outlets, nearly everything in the Tommy 0

Bank On It: Taking care of business before you go globe-trotting

I rarely use my ATM card, but since I was spending a week in Ireland for a family wedding I decided I'd better do a test run so I could get euros once I arrived. The card - once I remembered my PIN - worked fine, with the ATM spitting out cash on cue. But then it dawned on me: Do I need to tell my bank I'll be using my card overseas?   The answer was a most definite yes, according to the bank representative 0

Meal Ticket: Tracking down restaurant deals for kids

When my kids were little, our go-to restaurant was Abdow's Big Boy in Northampton, where they could load up their plates from the salad bar for $1.99 (or maybe it was just 99 cents - it was so long ago that the details are fuzzy). In any case - such a deal!   Abdow's is long gone, of course, but low-cost kids' meals are still going strong. When I was checking my F.L. Roberts gas card account I spotted a banner on its website flagging a 0