Dollars & Sense columnist John Ewoldt searches the Twin Cities and beyond for bargains and strategies to spare you time, money and hassles.
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Posts about Home Security

Free tips from a local manners expert during National Etiquette Week

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: May 14, 2012 - 4:03 PM


 National Etiquette Week (May 14-18) seemed the perfect time to take a look at how Minnesotans stack up on the politeness meter.
Local business etiquette expert Liz Taylor said some behavior here is “less than graceful.”
“Manners aren’t about being stuffy. They’re about making people more respectful,” said the Wayzata resident and business advisor of Taylor made some tactful suggestions to help us clean up our act.

The flu is no excuse for bad manners. Minnesotans feel they have to go to work even when they’re sick. Go home when not feeling well. Until then, cough or sneeze into a sleeve, not the hand.

Why are we so afraid of commitment? A lot of Minnesotans fail to show up to social functions after making a commitment to show. Or they fail to RSVP. The worst offenders are those who cancel when a more desirable invitation comes along. “Show up if you said you will,” Taylor said.

The more the merrier, but only if they’re invited. Check the names on an invitation before deciding to bring your posse. If a wedding invitation is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, it’s not OK to bring the kids or friends.

Clip those social butterfly wings. Texting when you’re in a conversation is a blatant interruption, whether it’s with one person or in a group. “It makes the other people in the conversation feel less important. Check your phone in private,” Taylor admonished.

For more free tips, check Taylor’s blog posts at


Forgot your phone on the plane? A simple call usually works.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: April 27, 2012 - 4:10 PM


Scott McCartney, a Wall Street Journal travel columnist and editor, wrote a very helpful article this week on getting back a piece of personal electronics left on an airplane.

When I saw the headline "Oops! I forgot my new iPad on the plane. Now what?" I felt as if he were writing about me. I had just gotten back from a trip to Florida where my I left, not my iPad, but my iPhone charger in the hotel.

I'd been home three days before I discovered it was missing, but I immediately called the hotel and asked for lost and found. I spoke to a person in housekeeping who asked the day of checkout and the room number. I could only remember the floor number, but after rummaging around she found a white charger and mailed it to me at no charge. 

Quite amazing, but in my experience, not unusual. I have left behind personal calendars and items of clothing, called to inquire if they were recovered, and rarely have gotten bad news. At the risk of sounding too Pollyanna-ish, I have never had the hotel or airline call me before I had a chance to discover I had left it behind but that's going above and beyond. 

If you're as likely to leave an item behind as I am, McCartney makes many helpful recommendations for retrieval. Check the end of the article linked above for those tips.  


Free paper shredding events at Office Depot, Cub Foods

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 22, 2012 - 11:26 AM

Somewhere in my house I have one, maybe two, perfectly good paper shredders collecting dust. Both can shred two, maybe three pages at a time, but they're slow and they jam all the time.

I finally gave up and have been taking grocery sacks full of "sensitive info"  to free shredding events instead.


If you haven't collected reams of paper that need shredding, take them to any Office Depot through April 16. They will shred up to five pounds free at any retail location. Five pounds is about one full grocery sack. (The Depot is also offering up to 25 free black and white, single-sided copies.)


Cub Foods also sponsors free shredding events throughout the year, sponsored by Shred-It. The next one is March 31 at Cub Foods locations in Arden Hills, Champlin, Chanhassen, Eagan East (1020 Diffley Rd.), Fridley and White Bear Lake. Bring up to two bags of paper per person to be shredded while you wait. A non-perishable food item is requested but not required.

Check the Shred-It calendar for upcoming paper shredding events in Chaska (April 7), Moose Lake, Burnsville, Fridley, Minneapolis, Bloomington, and Lakeville (April 21), Brooklyn Park (April 23) and White Bear Lake (April 28).

The next event at various Cub Foods stores will be Saturday, May 5 in Blaine east, Lakeville north, Minnetonka, Maplewood west, St. Paul Midway and St. Paul Har Mar.

If you know of any other shredding events, please share. Just curious, has anyone else given up on their impossibly slow shredders and gone to these free events instead?


Today's forecast: a snowy winter. Daily deal: Snowplowing 50% off

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: November 3, 2011 - 9:10 AM


Chicken Little here, reporting that the sky is falling. Or at least that snow is expected to fall from the sky in large amounts this winter, according to recent extended weather forecasts. It's reported to be a snowier and colder winter, very similar to last year's.


If last year's snowfall amounts overwhelmed your back or your snowblower, consider a snowplowing service. They are not cheap. A friend who used one last year started with a per snowfall service each time it snowed. That works well enough if you watch weather forecasts and can give a 2-day notice. If you wait until the snow flies, you may be shut out if the business is overwhelmed.  At Uptown Lawn and Snow service, a Minneapolis resident with an average lot would  be charged about $48 to $58 per snowfall for a residence with a 2-car driveway. The higher amount is if you live on a corner lot.


If you want continuous service from November through April, Uptown Lawn charges $1,056 or $176 a month. Call around to get several bids if you'd like to find something for less. Click on this list of Better Business Bureau accredited snow removal services to start.

Today the Blind Squirrel daily deal site is offering 50 percent off deals from Blizzard Plowing in Little Canada. the offer is only good for homes in Ramsey County and Oakdale, St. Anthony and Columbia Heights.

1. $20-$25 for plowing a single 2-car or 3-car driveway (up to six inches of snow) once.

2. $99 for plowing a driveway the month of December 2011 (regularly $199). 

Who's used a snow service and would like to share your experience and costs?

And by the way, isn't it great to not have snow in the Twin Cities forecast yet?


Save on chimney and dryer vent cleaning, firelogs and your safety too

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: October 24, 2011 - 10:20 AM



Over the weekend I had my fireplace chimney cleaned for $45, thanks to The Blind Squirrel deal-of-the-day coupon (since expired). If you need to have yours cleaned and want to pay less, check the daily deal sites, where they have been fairly common. If you're an Angie's List subscriber, check the list. Plus, there is a a daily deal today (Monday, Oct. 24) if you are an Angie's List subscriber.  It's $109 for the cleaning, regularly $219.


In my experience, chimney cleaning prices vary dramatically, so even if you can't find a coupon, it's worth calling around. Checkbook has had its subscribers rate local sweeps if you want to get a jump on where to call.  To know you are getting a quality cleaning, ask for a level one cleaning and deal with a CSIA certified chimney sweep.

Conventional wisdom says to have your chimney inspected every year for safety, but it may not need need to be cleaned every year, depending on the fire, said Ashley Eldridge, director of education at the CSIA.

 Manufactured logs such as Duralog firelogs may burn cleaner, but their usage does not decrease any need for cleaning, said Eldridge. Some sweeps believe that the manufactured logs create a waxier buildup, but CSIA-certified sweep Victor Skelley of Copperfield Chimney Sweep in Minneapolis said that occasional but not exclusive use of the manufacturered logs is acceptable.


If you like buying the Duralogs for convenience and longer lasting fires, Target has them on sale this week. through Saturday, Oct. 29. A 6-pack of 6-pound logs that are normally $20 are on sale for $17. But you save $10 more if you buy two cases with this coupon from Duralog. You have to register to get the coupon.



Here's one more important tip: Ask the chimney sweep if they also clean dryer vents (not all of them do). Buildup of lint in the dryer vent is a frequent cause of home fires. I had my cleaned for an additional $45. Then I did a load of laundry after the cleaning. My clothes were completely dry after 25 minutes when it used to take an hour. According to the CSIA website, sweeps can get a separate certification for dryer vent cleaning. Two certified cleaners include London Aire Services in Forest Lake and Dryer Vent Wizard in St. Paul.


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