Save Money on Paint, Cheap Pilot Holes, Throw Pillows on a Budget, and More!

Today’s batch of great reader tips cover everything from cutting the cost of cat care to turning “goofs” into gorgeous, and lots more. Enjoy!


Here are two tips we cat breeders rely on:

No. 1: Plastic cat box liners are a waste of money. Cats tear them to shreds. We use paper grocery bags (still available in many areas) because they are tough and absorbent. Use a fresh one with each litter change.

No. 2: To reduce cat dander that can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people, we sponge down our cats with a solution of 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon liquid fabric softener. It’s good for the coat and cheaper than shampoo. — Gina R., Georgia


I wanted to paint our basement floor to cut down on the dust from the unsealed cement but didn’t want to spend the $100 or so that the paint store quoted. Instead I asked for their oil-based goofs (paint tinted the wrong color). I collected five gallons for less than $25 and had more than enough. Of course it is a dark shade of gray as a result of mixing odd colors. But hey, it’s a basement floor! — Connie H., Pennsylvania


Professional woodworkers drill a “pilot hole” before nailing molding or floor base in place to prevent the wood from splitting. When I couldn’t find a bit small enough to match the nails I wanted to use for such an installation, I came up with this solution: With a pair of nippers I cut off the head of one of the nails. Then I placed it in the chuck of my power drill just as I would a regular drill bit. The nail easily cut through the molding and made the correct size hole for the finishing nail. — Jack W., Oregon


I love the bed-and-breakfast “cottage” look with lots of throw pillows. Here’s how I get that look on a budget: I make simple throw pillow covers with the fabric overlapping on the back side secured with a button. Then, instead of buying costly pillow inserts, I neatly fold my winter blankets and slip them inside. This solves the problem of where to store the blankets during the summer months and provides an abundance of inexpensive and decorative throw pillows. An added bonus is that the covers are very easy to clean. Just remove and toss in the washer. — Linda S., Alabama


Purchase a very inexpensive brand of liquid fabric softener (the cheaper the better as this doesn’t work really well with the concentrates). Mix equal portions with hot water in a bucket and add cheap sponges cut into small pieces. Leave the bucket next to your dryer and squeeze out sponges to add to your dryer load. Your clothes will smell great, be soft and you can use the sponges over and over for years. — Jody N., Michigan


We have a gorgeous floor made from paper grocery bags. Tear the bags into pieces and apply randomly to a level, clean, smooth floor with wallpaper paste (printed side down, if any). When dry, apply stain (golden oak works well). This will be absorbed in varying degrees to produce a leather-like look. Apply multiple coats of polyurethane designed for wood floors, sanding between coats. We used six coats and it wears beautifully. Install molding around edges (quarter round works well) to ensure the edges stay down. What a gorgeous yet inexpensive floor. — Tammie B., Texas


My husband and I use dry erase markers to leave messages for each other on our bathroom mirror. We love the idea so much we put a mirror by the telephone for messages, too. — Lori T., Ohio


Bottled spices can be very expensive, up to $10 a bottle at some grocery stores. For a better deal, look for bulk spices packed in plastic bags. Look for this alternative packaging with prices up to 50% less than the bottles in the aisles where you find Asian, Middle Eastern, Mexican and other ethnic foods. — Kevin P., Colorado


Before making a major purchase, check with your company’s management. My employer offers discounts to employees of 10% to 40% off products from various companies with which it does business, such as Dell Computer and Budget Car Rental. — Valinae S., Georgia

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Mary Hunt

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." Tips can be submitted at . 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."

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