photo by zachklein
washing machine

DEAR SARA: I've heard I can use vinegar in the laundry as a fabric softener, but how much and how? -- Megareader, via e-mail

DEAR MEGAREADER: Distilled white vinegar can be used as a fabric softener. Simply add approximately 3/4 cup to the final rinse cycle. If you have a liquid-fabric-softener dispenser feature on your washer, you can add it there. Some people use a refillable fabric-softener/laundry ball and add vinegar instead of retail fabric softener. Once the laundry is dry, you won't smell the vinegar on your clothing. You'll discover it also helps keep colors bright, prevents lint, aids in odor removal and fights stains.

DEAR SARA: I know there are many things that are cheaper to make than to buy. Is there anything that isn't cheaper to make yourself? -- Early Bird, via e-mail

DEAR EARLY BIRD: I can't make homemade macaroni and cheese for less than it costs boxed in the store. I can't sew my own clothing for less than I can buy it secondhand. Although some frugal experts claim they can make pizza themselves for less, I can't, for some reason. We can get pretty cheap pizza here in the Midwest. That said, I still enjoy making homemade pizza sometimes.

DEAR SARA: Do you buy things at a secondhand or thrift store even if you have to alter them to make them work, such as hemming or taking in the waist? -- Pat, Virginia

DEAR PAT: I don't enjoy sewing and sometimes don't have time to make repairs, so it depends. I have bought clothes that only need a button sewn on or have slight stains. My children are growing so quickly that it's not worth buying clothes to which I would need to make time-consuming alterations. I have cut pants into shorts that don't require hemming. If I were at a fill-a-bag sale, I would consider tossing in quality clothing that needs zipper replacement.

DEAR SARA: What triggers spending for you? I wonder if you struggle with spending, too. -- Jennifer, Oklahoma

I don't really struggle with spending. Before my frugal days, I used to spend a lot on secondhand items for resale. That was difficult to stop even after I closed my resale business. I had to learn to stay away from garage and estate sales because buying had become a habit, and it no longer fit my lifestyle. Watching decorating shows on television would also get me twitching to shop, so I simply stopped watching them for a while. From time to time, I still get cravings for perennials, fresh flowers and houseplants. All of these spending triggers were habits that stemmed from my job. At one point, spending on these items made me money, so it was difficult to stop these habits once I changed careers and created new goals.

The turning point for me was when I recognized that all the small decisions I made prevented me from reaching my goals. Every financial decision either puts you closer to your goals or further from them. Once you focus on what you really want, it gets easier to combat spending triggers.