I’m the proud owner of a lemon tree, which means that I have a LOT of lemons. I do use 3-5 lemons a week in cooking, but I’m going to have get much more creative to keep all that bounty from going to waste.

Fish: Fish and lemon just go together. Squeeze a bit over the top or add it to the pan juices for a lovely sauce.

Lettuce: Resurrect wilted lettuce by mixing a blow of water with the juice of one lemon. Place the lettuce in the bowl, then set in the fridge for an hour. Remove and dry the lettuce. It should be crisp again.

Lemonade: Is there anything better than fresh lemonade? You can be simple and make a basic lemonade with lemon juice, water, and sugar, or get fancy with this ginger-berry lemonade.

Lemon Curd: Make pies, meringues, shortbreads, a yummy topping, etc. Lemon curd is really easy to make.

Lemon Juice: Numerous recipes call for lemon juice in varying amounts. Squeeze several lemons into ice cube trays, then defrost one cube at a time for your recipe, and probably the rest of the week. Each cube equals about two tablespoons. If you live in an area where citrus trees go dormant during winter, you’ll have free lemon juice all winter long.

Garbage Disposal: My mom keeps lemon and lime halves behind the sink after she’s used them. If she gets a funny smell in the sink, she just shoves a lemon remnant into the disposal and flips it on. Instant fix.

Disinfectant: Lemon juice is a natural disinfectant, so pour it on counters and other surfaces that have been exposed to germs. Be sure to follow it with a clean sponge, so you don’t have sticky counters. Rub it into wood cutting boards to remove smells.

Rough Skin: Mix lemon juice and brown sugar, then scrub heels, elbows, knees, or any other spot where you have dry, cracked skin. Follow-up with an olive oil massage.

Limescale: You don’t need a fancy cleaner to get limescale off your faucets and fixtures. Squirt with lemon juice and scrub away.

Soap Scum: Spray lemon juice on soap scum to remove hard water stains and soap scum from shower doors and walls.

Sore Throat: Mix lemon juice and hot water for a nice, soothing beverage that will also help sooth your sore throat. The steam may also help your congestion.

Cut Fruit: Keep cut fruit fresh by adding lemon juice to water and soaking the fruit before cooking it. If you’re setting the fruit out to serve, sprinkle it with lemon juice to ward off brown spots.

Cut Potatoes: Sprinkle cut potatoes with lemon juice to prevent browning before you cook them.

Weeds: Rather than buying a weed spray, squirt lemon juice between the cracks on the sidewalk where weeds are springing up.

Highlights: Mix the juice of one lemon (usually ¼ cup) with one teaspoon salt and apply to hair. Go out in the sun for an hour or two for natural highlights. Make sure you wash your hair after that or it will keep working.

Laundry: Add lemon juice to the wash cycle to brighten whites and make your laundry lemony fresh without harsh chemicals. You can also use it to remove some stains, like ink. Pre-soak garments in baking soda and lemon juice for half an hour immediately before washing to remove tough stains.

Dishwasher: Add half a lemon to the top half of the dishwasher (spear it on a divider) for cleaner, fresh-smelling dishes.

Household Cleaner: Mix lemon juice, vinegar, and water for a multi-surface cleaner.

Metal Polish: Make a paste from salt and lemon juice, then use to polish copper, chrome, aluminum, brass, and stainless steel. Don’t use it on silver or gold.

Ants: Ward off ants by spraying lemon juice into cracks and gaps they may use to enter your house.

Grease: Get out grease stains or cut the grease on dishes with lemon juice. It’s a natural de-greaser.

Chicken: Mix herbs and lemon juice, then pour under the skin of a whole chicken to add flavor to the breast while you roast it. Also stuff a cut lemon inside the cavity for even more flavor.

Salad Dressing: Many dressings and vinaigrettes call for a teaspoon of lemon juice to add a bright, fresh flavor. Try it with your favorite homemade salad dressing to see what happens.

Refrigerator: If you have a bad odor in the fridge, first remove the offending item, then put lemon juice on a sponge or cotton ball and set it in the fridge for a few hours.

Scurvy: Obviously, this isn’t a major problem for most Americans, but it’s good to know that drinking lemon juice can prevent scurvy if you’re ever lost on a deserted island. Orange juice works just as well, and tastes better, but beggars can’t be choosers when stuck on deserted islands.

Got more uses for lemons? Share them in the comments. I’ve got a lot of lemons to use up, and I only have so many friends I can pawn them off on.

Most people have a few basic tools, even if they live in apartments, but once you move into your first home, you may find yourself needed a lot more tools. Here are the basics we’ve needed in our first two weeks in our new home.

Screwdrivers: We needed Phillips and Flat head screwdrivers in several sizes. Fortunately, we have a multi-bit screwdriver set. It has one handle and several bits in different sizes and shapes.

Level: It’s difficult to hang pictures or towel rods properly without a level. You can get a laser level, but bubble levels are cheaper.

Cordless Drill: You can spend a fortune on a drill, or you can pick one up at Costco for $40-50. We got our drill at Costco a few years ago and it was helpful in the apartment. Now it’s indispensable. We needed it to remove old screws before painting, anchor new furniture into a stud, fix the gate, and make other minor repairs.

Crescent Wrench: Consider getting two crescent wrenches in different sizes. They’re great for tightening bolts, but sometimes you have a tight space where only a small wrench will do. Other times you need the leverage a large wrench provides.

Hammer: Do I really need to explain the necessity of a hammer?

Allen Wrench Set: My husband used to have a motorcycle, so we also have an Allen wrench set, with wrenches in different sizes. This was very helpful for removing towel rods and toilet paper holders before painting. You can buy one, or simply start saving the various Allen wrenches that come with DIY furniture.

Screws and Nails: I have quite a collection of these. Usually DIY furniture comes with extras, and of course you can’t buy them just one a time when you need just one screw for a job. I have a toolbox full of different types and sizes of screws and nails. If you live in apartment, just put the leftovers in a Ziploc and toss them in the toolbox for later.

Socket Wrench: Sometimes a crescent wrench just won’t get the job done, and that’s when you need a socket wrench. On the other hand, some bolts can’t be tightened with a socket wrench, so you need a crescent wrench.

Stud Finder: If you need to anchor furniture to the wall or hang heavy pictures or mirrors, then you need a stud finder. If you have an older home with lath and plaster walls, you’ll need a metal stud finder, because traditional stud finders don’t work. We learned that the hard way.

Measuring Tape: No home should be without one.

Pliers: Grab things, pull things, pinch things, tighten things, loosen things. Pliers are very useful devices to have around.

Ladder: If you plan to paint, you need a ladder. If you have recessed lights, you’ll probably need a ladder to change the bulbs. We have one sloped ceiling, so we bought a ladder that adjusts to multiple sizes up to 15 feet. It was expensive, but now we only ever need one ladder. We have a stepstool for small jobs around the house.

Toolbox: You don’t need one of those monster tool trays they sell at Sears. Just a simple plastic toolbox. We have two – one for our collection or baggies filled with nuts and screws, and another for the actual tools.

If you’ll be doing a lot of painting and have enamel or oil-based paint on the walls or cabinets, you might need a vibrating sander to knick it up so you can paint over it. Our paint peeled right off, so ended up not needing the sander we borrowed from my dad.

These tools should get you started. Eventually you’ll probably build a collection that rivals the one your dad had when you were growing up. Start with the basics, and then add items once you realize you’re going to use them more than once or twice. Before that, borrow or rent needed tools.

My yard is 75% dead, if I’m being generous with my estimate. We’ve also discovered that most of the sprinklers are broken. One has a broken sprinkler head, and I think the control box is broken for the front set.

I’ve chosen to see this as an opportunity to replace a lot of the dead plants with native, drought-resistant plants and plant a vegetable garden on the sloped portion of the yard. However, as I begin my project I’m realizing I have only a few basic garden tools. So I’ve been trying to figure out what I really need. Here’s what I’ve come up with. Gardeners: what else do I need as an absolute minimum?

Hose: Since 2/3s of the sprinklers aren’t working, obviously I need a hose. I have a lemon tree that’s starting to brown and I want to save it.

Trowel: This is the one thing I have, and it seems essential for digging holes for my plants.

Rake: We have this, too. Also essential for raking up the masses of dead leaves in the yard.

Gardening Gloves: I have these, although they’re also work gloves. I’ll have to see how that works out. I might need specific gardening gloves.

Hand Pruner/Garden Shears: To cut back the dead stuff and keep my healthy plants properly pruned. I used to have some of these and I have no idea where they want. I shall have to search the tool box and a box of garden pots to make sure I didn’t get rid of them. I don’t know why I would have done that!

Big Shears/Lopper: To cut down some of the bigger branches. We have a hacksaw, but I think that will be less exact and more difficult than using a tool designed for the job.

Big Shovel: For cleaning up the land, digging out big rocks, filling big holes with fresh soil, etc.

We’re going to have to hire a tree trimmer to take care of the big overgrown trees hanging over our roof and possibly remove two dead trees. I don’t mind paying someone to do the big jobs that could result in a damaged fence or roof, but I want to take care of most of the rest of the maintenance myself.

Obviously, we need to replace the broken sprinkler head and the sprinkler control box that doesn’t work. When I plant the vegetable garden, I’ll need to install a drip irrigation system. For now I just want to cut back the dead and overgrown stuff to see what’s left of my yard.

Any tips for other tools I should have to get started? Any advice on watering my lemon tree?

Before my honeymoon, my dad gave me great advice for avoiding hefty foreign transaction fees and ATM charges. The advice has served me well, and served several friends well. Now I’ll share it with you.

Best Places to Get Foreign Currency
You’ll need some cash while traveling in a foreign country. If you’re traveling in the Caribbean or parts of Central America, you can usually use US dollars without trouble, but you’ll need the local currency in most other places.

ATM
The very best place to get local currency is an ATM. Before you leave, call your bank to do two things:
1. Inform them of your destinations and travel dates so they don’t lock down your card for suspicious activity.
2. Ask if they have any agreements with banks in your destination country that will let you use the other bank’s ATMs without a foreign ATM fee. You’ll still have to pay a foreign currency conversion fee (usually 1-3%), but at least you’ll avoid the extra $3-$5 fee. The list of countries varies by bank, and changes regularly.

If your bank doesn’t have agreements with other banks, take out cash in larger increments to avoid racking up too many ATM fees.

Hotel
If you’re using US dollars, your hotel can change your money, but you’ll receive a poor exchange rate and they may charge you a fee.

Currency Exchanges
These should be your last resort. They charge high fees and offer poor exchange rates. If you must use them, get just enough cash to get your from the airport or train station to town where you can find an ATM.

Using Credit Cards in Foreign Countries
You should always take 1 or 2 credit cards with you when traveling abroad, even if you don’t like to use credit. You never know when you’re going to be in a jam and need money instantly. Even though debit cards can be used like credit cards, I’d feel more secure with the flexibility a real credit card offers. Recently, I’ve seen several horror stories of people having their cards locked or closed while traveling. Always bring a back-up just to be safe. Even if you don’t use it, you’ll have peace of mind.

If you primarily use an American Express or Discover card, you can take those with you, but always bring a Visa or MasterCard, too. What the commercials say is true – not everyone takes American Express, but they all take Visa or MasterCard if they accept credit cards.

Before leaving for your trip, call your credit card companies to do three things:
1. Notify them of your destinations and travel dates so they don’t lock your card.
2. Get their toll-free foreign number in case something goes wrong with your card. American Express also gave me an emergency number in case we had a non-credit-related emergency, but most other issuers don’t do that.
3. Ask what their foreign transaction fee is. Fees are typically 1-3%. One of my cards had a 1% fee, one had a 2% fee, and one had a 3% fee. I brought the 1% and 2% cards and used the 1% card most of the time.

Some hotels and stores will offer to process the charge in US dollars. Ask to have it charged in local dollars. Some banks will charge you the foreign transaction fee even if the charge is in US dollars, and the store or hotel usually uses a less favorable exchange rate than the bank will.

Finally, know the exchange rate so you can do quick calculations in your head. For example, the pound is usually double the dollar, so a $30 item in the UK, is $60 US dollars. On the other hand, Brazil’s currency is roughly half the dollar, so a $30 item there is $15 US dollars. Fix those figures in your mind to keep track of the amount you’re really spending.

Now that you’re in a fee-avoiding frame of mind, check out my tips for packing a suitcase so you can avoid baggage fees.

Try saying that fast three times! This weekend we went to buy a sofa bed for our guest room. I’d researched possible stores and narrowed it down to two options. We decided to go with one from Jennifer Convertibles. The price was $599, which was within our budget. We liked the color it came in, so we didn’t go for a custom fabric. I’m not sure if that would have raised the price or not, and I actually forgot to ask about other colors when I was there. However, once we settled on the sofa we wanted, my frugality fell apart.

Taxes and Delivery
These were unavoidable, and I had factored them into the budget. However, I live in California, so that tax was nearly 10% of the price! Still, a big tax and a delivery fee aren’t frugal. If I were going to get uber-frugal, I’d borrow a friend’s truck and tote that thing home myself.

Sofa Bed Sheets
These are $69.99. I probably don’t need them, but I let myself be talked into them. When compared to regular Queen-sized sheets, that’s a reasonably-priced set. However, it’s $20-30 more than sofa bed sheets available online, and has a lower thread count. I didn’t even think to research sheets before I walked in that store, and I should have.

Fabric Protection
Now for the worst failure: fabric protection. I let the saleswoman talk me into buying the $99 fabric protection plan, which they claim covers stains, tears, etc. My husband left the showroom when she came to write up the order, and let me make the call. I reasoned that we have two cats with a penchant for vomiting, but I could have just Scotchguarded the sofa myself. I also hadn’t researched the program, and there have been complaints about making claims. I guess we’ll see what happens.

I still came in under my budget, but if I’d been more careful and thought things through, I could have saved $185 on the purchase. I’m sure this isn’t my worst frugal failure ever, but it’s certainly not a high point for me.

I’m usually a more careful shopper than this, but for some reason I let myself be led by a salesperson, something I try never to do. Maybe it was just because I was frazzled. We had a lot more unpacking to do and I wanted to get home. Next time I’ll give myself more time and even be willing to return later to complete an order after I’ve had time to do some research.

David at Money Under 30 is getting married. Congrats David! While preparing for their marriage, he and his fiancé wisely discussed their finances and chose to keep their spending accounts, emergency funds, and debt payments separate. While I can certainly understand the reasons behind wanting to keep pre-marriage debts and post-marriage finances separate, I don’t agree with it in practice.

Combining Finances Made It Easier to Agree on Goals
My husband and I both entered this marriage with debt. Some of it was credit cards from grad school, much of it was his student loans, and another portion was my student loans. He also had some medical loan debt from the period when he didn’t have insurance.

When we got married, we decided to merge everything, except student loan accounts which can’t, and shouldn’t, be consolidated together. Then we created a joint budget and set our financial goals together. We probably still would have set joint goals if we’d had separate accounts, but we would have to divide our paychecks into different accounts and debate about who would pay for what.

Working Down Debt Jointly Paid It Off Faster
I’ll be honest, we would not be living in our new house if we hadn’t agreed on a debt repayment plan and thrown ALL of our excess income at it. Rather than paying some of my money to one of my debts and a portion of his money to his debts, we put everything we could toward one debt and paid the minimum on the rest. By doing this, we made larger payments that reduced the principal faster, resulting in less interest accumulation and a faster pay-off. Then we moved on to the next debt. Each paid off debt snowballed into a larger amount for the next one.

I believe it would have taken us much longer to pay off any one debt if we hadn’t been working on it together.

We’re Better Aligned as a Couple
It helps that we’ve become more financially similar during our marriage, but I really do think that merging our finances completely helped us to align our financial goals and plans. If we were each managing money separately, we might not be working towards our goals as a team.

When We Invest, We’ll Be Better Diversified
Money Magazine frequently presents this problem in couples who have separate finances. They choose their investments separately, but often end up choosing similar mutual funds that leave them overinvested in one sector and underinvested in another. By investing jointly, you can make sure that you’re properly diversified.

Some studies show that couples who merge their finances have happier marriages, other studies show that couples with separate finances are happier. I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way. Both require good communication. Only you can decide what’s right for you and your spouse.

Where do you stand on the issue? Is your money merged or separate? If you want to merge them, see my complete list of everything you need to combine.

Just two carnivals to share this week.

First, the Carnival of Personal Finance #218 hosted by Budgets Are Sexy. In addition to my post about avoiding overdraft protection fees, I also recommend Fiscal Fizzle’s 55 ways to simplify your finances. Maybe then you won’t get hit with overdrafts.

Second, the Festival of Frugality #191 hosted by Frugal Upstate. In addition to my post about how much house you need, I recommend Mrs. Bankrupt’s post dissecting the difference between being cheap or being thrifty when it comes to charity.

I think I just need to start covering my ears and closing my eyes anytime anything involving AIG is on the news. Yet again, they’ve managed to make me stabby. Unfortunately, their latest infraction is evidence that the very companies that brought down our economy STILL haven’t learned from their mistakes, and probably never will.

They’ll Pay Us Back – Someday
In a talk to employees, he said “When we get the fair value for those businesses, that’s when we’re going to sell them; it’s not going to be before.” And apparently, that’s when we, the taxpayers, will get our money back. He also reportedly said that he “had the luxury to say to the government, I’m not going to rush to do this. I’m appalled at how much pressure has been put on all of you to just sell it no matter what, because the Fed wants out, or the Treasury wants out. If they want out in a hurry, they shouldn’t have come in in the first place.”

Shouldn’t have come in in the first place. There’s a word for that type of comment, but it’s not appropriate on a family blog. I’ll be honest, I didn’t agree with the bailouts, but our government believed it was saving our economy from an even worse collapse than the one we experienced. Maybe it did save us. We can’t know for sure. Apparently this new CEO would have preferred that we just let AIG fail. Of course, if we’d done that he wouldn’t have a job, but his thinking didn’t go that far on the issue.

It’s Not Their Fault
And now we get to the part that nearly made my skull open and fire erupt from it. Do you know why AIG failed? Do you know why our economy was driven to the brink of collapse? You’re probably thinking, “because financial companies bought and sold imaginary products based on made-up numbers.” Yes, a reasonable person would blame the financial companies for taking bad risks and making poor decisions in the name of greed, however, the new AIG CEO has a different viewpoint. “It’s time the people in Congress stopped talking about you as the problem, because you’re the solution,” he said. “It’s not your fault, it’s their fault, it’s the regulators’ fault.”

It’s the regulators’ fault. Yes, to some extent that’s true. But he’s also abdicating corporate responsibility. If our government doesn’t explicitly ban a practice or explicitly regulate a practice, then corporations are just going to go hog wild. They’re not going to think about repercussions or responsibility. Money is money no matter how they get it or what the repercussions are.

At this point, I imagine AIG is a pack of unsupervised two-year-olds in a candy store. They’re just going to eat and eat and eat until they get sick because Mom isn’t there to make them stop, and then they’re going to blame Mom for not stopping them before they got sick.

I do realize this was an internal pep talk meant to motivate employees because AIG is losing staff, however, the CEO should have been wise enough to know that this speech would leak to the media. Everything leaks to the media, especially if it’s juicy.

I’m now sad to admit that I was once a shareholder in this company. Of course, that was 10 years ago when they were still honest and reliable. At this point, I don’t know that I would be willing to buy their stock again because I can’t trust them to be financially responsible. Comments like the above are only hurting their case.

As an aside, what do you want to bet that they have lobbyists in Washington actively campaigning against increased regulations, you know, because if the regulators are at fault for not regulating them, then the solution couldn’t possibly be to be regulate them. His comments are proof that we do need more regulation – effective regulation – because we can’t trust financial companies to do the right thing.

Sigh.

I know, I know, it’s still summer. But it’s already time to start planning for the holidays, especially if your holidays involve travel by air. Thanksgiving is 14 weeks away. In airline speak, it’s just around the corner. That also means Christmas is just 18 weeks away.

Planning Thanksgiving Travel
You don’t have to book your flights now, but you should plan to book them in early September before flights start selling out.

Research Airfare Prices
What you can do now is research current fares to get a feeling for average prices. You could save some money if you can travel Tuesday through Monday rather than the more popular Wednesday through Sunday, but you’ll need to coordinate your travel schedules and confirm you have enough vacation time for three days rather than one. Use Farecast.com to see whether prices to your destination are likely to rise or fall in the near future. Sign-up at Yapta.com to track prices by email. Then book directly with the airline to save money.

Request Time-Off
You may also need to submit a time-off request now to secure your dates if you’ll need extra vacation time beyond the usual Thursday/Friday office closures.

Research Hotels and Car Rentals
Most hotels and car rentals won’t book up until a month or two before Thanksgiving, but start investigating local reviews, tracking down discounts through your memberships, or finding out whether you can stay with friends or family.

Make Restaurant Reservations
If you typically eat at a restaurant on Thanksgiving, you may actually want to make the reservation now, or at least by late September. The best seatings at the best restaurants tend to book up fast.

Planning Christmas Travel
You definitely have time left to book Christmas travel. Unlike Thanksgiving, there isn’t a rush on one particular day of the Christmas season. They’re all busy. However, this year might be an exception because Christmas falls on a Friday, which means people who have to work on Monday will want to fly back Sunday.

Book Awards Travel Now
If you want to use miles to travel for Christmas, book it now. Already the most popular dates are filling up. Be prepared to be flexible in your dates or spend more miles if you have specific travel dates.

Research Airfare Prices
If you’re paying for your flights, start researching the best travel times and prices now, but wait to book. Fares often come down in the fall and winter, so you could see some reductions. However, there are fewer fights and more people competing for seats as the airlines cut costs, so don’t wait too long.

Request Time Off
Submit time off requests as soon as possible. Christmas is one of the most popular times of year to take vacation and some employers have policies restricting the number of people who can take time off at once. If your company has this type of policy, make sure you submit your request early.

Make Special Reservations
One year, my mom decided to take my sister and me into the city for high tea, but we called the hotel only to discover they’d been booked solid for a month. If you plan to attend any special events around the holiday season, find out if reservations are required and make them now to ensure you’ll be able to enjoy them.

It’s a drag to start thinking about the holidays already, but you’ll be thankful when you score a great travel deal and have your plans sewn up while your friends and co-workers are scrambling to make theirs at the last minute. The holiday season is supposed to be about peace – so do the stressful stuff now and be peaceful this Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I’m a planner. I love lists. I love checking things off lists. So, the day our offer on a home was accepted, I created this detailed moving checklist. Then my real estate agent emailed me a few more things that I added to the list. Now, at a reader’s request, I’m including my entire moving checklist in the approximate order they happened or needed to happen. This is also an escrow checklist, so if you’re not buying a home as part of your move, disregard that part.

Modifying the Moving Checklist to Your Needs
This is just a starting point in case you don’t have a checklist. For example, you might not need to buy appliances. We did, so that’s on my list. I also included vital phone numbers so they were in one place. Review the list and then add or delete items as you think of them. You could get really detailed and list items/rooms that need to be packed, but I did that as a separate packing list.

How I Used the Checklist
I printed the moving/escrow checklist and kept it on my desk, in the center where it wouldn’t get buried. Each week I copied the items for that week into my to do list and then marked them off as they were completed. I didn’t pack the list, but carried it to the house in my purse and now it’s back on my desk again so we can finish checking off the items now that we’re in.

The Complete Moving Checklist
Now, without further delay, here is my entire moving checklist:

Choose lender
Order appraisal – bank
Sign contract
Order inspection  – realtor
Provide deposit funds
Inspection
Apply for insurance
Remove contingencies
Give 30 days notice
Make vet appointment
Mover estimates/scheduling
Measure for painting, estimate needs
Inform painters of timing
Verbal estimates for floor refinishing
Choose paint colors
Schedule time off for close/move
Arrange for power/water/gas
Arrange for phone/DSL
Arrange for garbage pickup
Arrange cable/Directv
Apply for appliance rebates – power/gas utility
Buy appliances
Arrange for appliance delivery
Pets to vet for check-ups/shots
Wire funds to escrow
Find locksmith and schedule for closing
Confirm power/water/gas transfer date
Close loan
Rekey locks
Schedule floor estimates
Hire refinisher
Schedule refinishing
Paint
Refinish floors
File change of address with: post office, credit cards, banks, subscription services, magazines, newspaper, student loans, 401K, work, dmv, club cards, cell phones, professional memberships
Confirm appliance delivery
Appliances delivered
Have phone/DSL turned on
Have cable/DirecTV turned on
Confirm movers
Finish packing
Freeze blue ice
Move
Turn off phone, water, power, cable, DSL at old address
Clean/patch old residence
Unpack
Roof repairs
Electrical work
Plumbing repairs
Stop junk mail/no call list
Update budget with new expenses

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