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Everyday Cheapskate: Ask Me Anything: DIY Watercolors, Free Credit Reports, Cosmetics' Shelf Life

Mary Hunt on

In the world of DIY, which these days is growing by leaps and bounds, I've taken on the pursuit of discovering, testing and relying on making household and grocery items myself rather than forking out the big bucks to buy things off the shelf. I can't say every trial has been a hit, but it is amazing to count up the successes! For example: laundry detergent. Then there's homemade dusting spray (fabulous), shower soap and scum remover (better than anything you can buy), and so many more, which you can find at But watercolor paints? I'd never thought about making them myself until I heard from Kerry.

Dear Cheapskate: My granddaughter loves to paint with watercolors, and it's costing us a small fortune in paint kits. Do you have any suggestions on how to make watercolors? -- Kerry R., email

Dear Kerry: I have a recipe for you that gets rave reviews, but I must confess I have not tried it. I'm hoping you'll do that and report back.

-- 1 tablespoon white vinegar

-- 2 tablespoons baking soda

-- 1 tablespoon cornstarch

-- 3/4 teaspoon glycerin (drugstore)

-- Plastic bottle caps or Styrofoam egg carton

-- Food coloring

Mix vinegar and baking soda together in a small bowl. When the mixture stops foaming, add cornstarch and glycerin, mixing well. Pour mixture into the bottle caps, egg carton or empty paint pallet tray. Add several drops of a different food coloring to each. Stir until the color is well mixed. Be generous with the coloring as the tint will lighten upon drying. Mix primary colors to make secondary colors. For intense colors, add unsweetened Kool-Aid powder. Allow to set overnight to harden. These paint "pots" will be a bit more powdery than their commercial cousins, but you should notice no difference in the paint they produce when touched with a wet paintbrush.

Thanks for letting us know how this turns out. I've got holiday gifts on the mind, so I'm thinking this could turn into a great gift idea!

Dear Cheapskate: Your column on credit reports was fabulous, but I can't get a report from any of the sites because I cannot seem to confirm that I am who I say I am. Security is very tight. I am also hard of hearing, so calling is not an option. How can I get my credit report? -- Ben J., email

Dear Ben: You can get free credit reports by U.S. mail. Go to and click on "Request your free credit reports." That takes you to the "All about credit reports" page. As you read this, you will come to "How do I request my free annual credit report?" Scroll down, you will see "Mail" as an option, along with clear step-by-step instructions for how to fill out the required form to have your credit report(s) mailed to you within 15 days.

Federal law provides that you can request your free credit report from each of the big three credit reporting agencies once every 12 months.


Dear Cheapskate: I wear contact lenses, so I am diligent to discard mascara after three months of use. What is the shelf life for other cosmetics? I want to make sure I don't throw away products unnecessarily. -- Reese L., California

Dear Reese: As a contact lens wearer, you are so wise to follow that three-month mascara rule. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises that all eye-area cosmetics have a shorter shelf life compared to other beauty products. Due to frequent exposure to microbes during regular use and the potential for eye infections, these items must be replaced every three months whether we wear contact lenses or not!

Liquid foundation can be used for up to two years, or until it begins to separate. Toss face powder and eye shadow after three years; lipstick is OK for three years, but discard it if oil beads up on the sides of the product.

As for sealed cosmetics, they have a shelf life of three to four years, so take advantage when you see a great sale. But no matter how great the bargain, don't buy beyond your ability to use within a reasonable period of time.

Dear Cheapskate: I am out of money -- there won't be a dime left after I pay my bills. I have been considering credit counseling to get some breathing room. My credit is shot, and I'm feeling desperate. By enrolling in credit counseling, at least the creditors would get regular payments and checks that don't bounce. Am I wrong to consider this kind of help? -- Sandy

Dear Sandy: You're not wrong at all; credit counseling could be the way out of your financial straitjacket. I am a big fan of credit counseling, but it is not for everyone. Nor are all credit counselors trustworthy. There are lots of sleazy groups masquerading as charitable "nonprofit" counselors. Make sure you are working with a reputable organization you can trust.

Expect an initial interview to determine if you are likely to be successful in their program (typically that means you are unable to meet your current minimum payments, are several months behind, employed and, if married, your spouse agrees to enter the program). The counselor will work with your creditors to come up with a payment plan you can handle, which could include lowered interest, waived fees and restructured payments. The tricky part is that instead of paying your creditors every month, you will write one check to the organization, and they will make the payments. The last thing you want is to give your money to a company that has not proven itself and you have not checked out. (Oh, the horror stories I could tell.)

Even reputable credit counseling does not come without side effects. Even though your creditors may agree to a scaled-down payment plan, they will likely report you as a deadbeat to the credit bureaus. That will blemish your credit report for at least seven years; it's a price you may have to pay to get yourself back on a good financial track.

I can recommend the National Federation for Credit Counseling as an organization you can trust. Visit or call 1-800-388-2227 for more information.

Credit counseling is not going to be a walk in the park. It's hard work to get out of debt. But doing the right thing by repaying your debts will make you a better person and give you hope and a future. And it won't cost you a cent to find out if it can help you.


Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.



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