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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My wife locked her purse in the trunk of her car at the shopping mall before she went inside to walk around with a friend. When she was ready to leave, she opened the trunk to get her purse. It was gone! Both the car and the trunk had been locked, but a thief had opened her locked car and used the release lever to open the trunk.

She never locked the trunk release lever because it was so handy to use. (It was handy for the thief, too.)

Not only were her purse and its contents missing, so was the garage door opener she always left clipped to the visor. However, my wife didn't need it when she arrived home -- because the thief had left the garage door open for her. Our house had also been pilfered!

Many people leave the garage door opener clipped to the visor; it's so convenient. Since my wife had her keys with her, the thief did not get them, but he gained access to the house through the garage. (The thief got our address from the license registration in the glove compartment.) He parked in our garage, closed the door, and loaded the stolen items.

Several lessons can be learned from this incident: Always carry your garage door opener WITH you, as if it were the key to your front door, and install a deadbolt lock between the garage and living area. DO NOT leave the trunk lever unlocked, and if you are going to put your purse in the trunk, do it before you arrive at the shopping mall.

The scariest thing about the incident is that the thief or thieves could still have been in the house when my wife returned.

Please don't use my name. This is a sensitive issue because I had told my wife many times to carry the garage door opener with her, and I should have had the deadbolt installed sooner. -- POORER AND WISER NOW IN WASHINGTON STATE

DEAR POORER AND WISER: Your wife learned a very expensive lesson -- but it could have been far worse. Thank you for reminding my readers that the interior of their cars is vulnerable if a thief is serious about breaking in, and that a garage door opener in the wrong hands is as good as an "open sesame" for Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. (And that's no exaggeration!)

DEAR ABBY: I am writing on behalf of retired people in Florida, many of whom live on Social Security income. Every year we get winter visitors whom we love having, but we all have the same problem.

After the company goes home, we receive larger than usual utility and food bills. Meanwhile, our guests have saved hundreds of dollars in hotel or motel charges.

Taking us out for an occasional dinner doesn't pay our bills! Is there anything wrong with giving the host/hostess $100 or buying them something they need for their home?

Many of us have moved down south to conserve money. We want our friends to visit, but we need for them to contribute financially. Any suggestions, Abby? -- HAPPY IN FLORIDA

DEAR HAPPY: I'm sure that the visiting snowbirds would be pleased to contribute financially -- if they knew up front you could use the money.

The next time you get a call from potential houseguests, speak up and tell them that you'd love to have them -- but you are on a strict budget, and if they wouldn't mind reimbursing you for the extra expenses of their visit, they'd be more than welcome.

DEAR READERS: Do you have a bald friend? (Who hasn't?) If your bookstore doesn't have "Bald Men Always Come Out on Top" by Dave Beswick, ask them to order it (AMA Publishing, St. Augustine, Fla.). It's hilarious and should comfort even the baldest of men. Trust me.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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