Vicks, it's not just for ants anymore

Reader says ointment keeps squirrels from her bird feeders.

Last week, we shared a tip from an anonymous Cheapster who discovered Vicks VapoRub — that smelly ointment meant to relieve cough symptoms — is also pretty good at keeping ants out of her house.

That tip prompted a call from Lucy Tucker in Sellersville, who discovered yet one more use for Vicks.

Lucy loves birds and she has some feeders posted on shepherd hooks in her backyard. The problem is, squirrels and ants can climb up those shepherd hooks and get the seeds and sugar solution she puts out for the birds.

"I put Vicks on the pole and the squirrels don't go by," Lucy said. "Squirrels don't like it and ants don't like it."

If you didn't already last week, some of you are probably rummaging through the medicine cabinet looking for a little Vicks VapoRub right now. If you can't find any, don't worry. Lucy said another common household product has the same effect.

"A shot of WD-40 works just as well as Vicks to repel ants and to repel squirrels," Lucy said. "I just spray it on the metal."

Lucy said products designed to keep ants and squirrels away from her bird feeders range in price from $7 to $25, all way more expensive than a little Vicks or WD-40. She swabs a bit of Vicks on a paper towel to apply to her shepherd pole below the feeder. Or she just gives the metal a quick squirt of WD-40.

You can see Lucy apply the products in a demonstration video at http://www.mcall.com/onthecheap. She has some great looking bird feeders.

We did some number-crunching in the On The Cheap lab and figure Lucy's tip would save you $136.31 over 20 years if it prevents you from buying products specifically designed to repel ants and squirrels. And we didn't even consider what you'd save on bird seed by keeping the squirrels away.

Now we have some news for Barbara Isaacs in Easton. She liked a tip we shared in June about pouring cooking oil into a spray bottle rather than buying canned cooking spray, but she was worried about getting extra calories. PAM and many other cooking sprays boast 0 calories per serving on their labels.

We suspected trickery, and posed Barbara's question to readers. Once again, Cheapsters proved to be a resourceful bunch. Mike Korenich in Trexlertown sent us a "Wellness Letter" from the University of California, Berkeley that steered us to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit group that studies nutrition and food safety.

"Non-stick cooking sprays, like PAM, are made from 100 percent oil, so consumers may wonder how it can say fat free on the label," said Jayne Hurley, a senior nutritionist at the center. "The truth is that it's not fat free. According to FDA regulations, a food with less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving can list 0 grams of fat on its label. And a serving of PAM is just a quarter or a third of a second spray. If you hold the nozzle down for a more realistic three seconds, you end up with around 30 calories and 3 grams of fat. That's not bad compared with the 120 calories you'd get in a tablespoon of oil. If a consumer has a heavy hand on the oil bottle, it may be worth the extra cost."

Send your tips: spencer.soper@mcall.com, 610-820-6694 or P.O. Box 1260 Allentown, 18105

Facebook: Type "On The Cheap" in the Facebook search box and check under pages.

Videos: mcall.com/onthecheap

Rub out squirrels

Cheapster: Lucy Tucker

Tip: Use Vicks to keep squirrels off a bird feeder

Estimated savings: $136.31 over 20 years

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