Mary Hunt is the award-winning and best-selling author of 23 books. She writes the Everyday Cheapskate column that appears in The Daily Journal.

I love it when readers send me their questions. Today, I pulled the following letters from the EC mailbag.

Dear Mary: We are better off than most. We have no credit card debt. We have several hundred dollars in cash stashed away in a safe in our house. We have about $5,000 in savings. Our 401(k) accounts and Roth IRAs have a total value of about $50,000. My husband is 41, and I’m 35. We have two kids and have 529 college savings plans for them. Our mortgage is our biggest payment. Should we pay down our mortgage with extra income or put the extra money into our retirement accounts? — Peggy

Dear Peggy: Before you’re ready to do either, you need to beef up your emergency fund so it’s at least enough to pay all of your bills and keep food on the table for six months — without any source of income. We all need to be prepared for that kind of emergency. Once you have that, I would advise you to make sure you are contributing to a 401(k), IRA or other type of retirement account, and then concentrate heavily on paying off your mortgage debt. There is no better investment than a repaid debt. Not only will you get a guaranteed rate of return, but you also eventually will pay it off completely. That house will be all yours. You can live in it mortgage-free while that asset grows in value. As investments go, that’s hard to beat.

Dear Mary: My mother-in-law has a leather couch that is only about two years old. Several months ago, her cat relieved itself on the sofa, and I mean more than once. Mom has tried everything she can think of to get the odor out. Most products that claim to take out odors don’t say whether they’re safe for leather, so we’ve been leery about using them. Can you recommend something that will help? Otherwise she might have to buy a new couch. — Suzanne

Dear Suzanne: Yes, I can. Nok-Out is an amazing product that eliminates odors without covering them up with fragrance. It is the only thing I know of that is completely nontoxic and truly eliminates animal odors — especially cat odors — and cigarette odor.

As for your specific problem involving leather, I asked Nok-Out owner Ted Price, and he responded: “Nok-Out does not harm leather at all. The one caution I always state is that because the pores of leather are so dense, it may take more than one application to penetrate to the site of the contamination and completely eliminate the odor.

“For leather furniture, spray until lightly moistened and then scrub the leather with a sponge dipped in Nok-Out. The scrubbing process seems to encourage penetration, rather than waiting for it to soak in. After about five minutes, wipe away any residual moisture and allow to dry naturally.

“It’s a good idea to upend the sofa, and spray the bottom of the furniture, skirting (if any), and all wooden surfaces. When buttons or other decorative touches are present, and along any seaming, spray carefully and thoroughly to enhance the penetration process.”

Nok-Out contains no fragrance and is nontoxic and hypoallergenic. Nok-Out acts as an oxidizer to eliminate difficult odors once and for all. To learn more and order online, go to

Mary invites you to go to, 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.”