In the laundry room, most of us are prone to overkill. We want beautifully clean, brilliantly white, soft and fluffy laundry results. And we don’t measure.

We pour stuff out of jugs, straight into the washer, often adding a second big glug just to make sure.

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We use liquid fabric softener by the gallon and dryer sheets by the hundreds because there’s no such thing as too soft when it comes to towels and sheets. And when things come out looking gray and feeling stiff and crunchy, what do we do? More detergent, more softener—even more dryer sheets!

Grungy build-up

The problem is product build-up that never gets rinsed out. Every time you do the laundry, more and more product gets left behind. This build-up of detergent and softeners can make appliances stink, colors look dingy, whites gray and linens feel stiff and scratchy. But that’s not the worst.

Health and respiratory issues

The medical website, WebMD.com reports that the perfumes and additives in laundry products may cause skin problems—from itchiness to full-blown dermatitis. Fabric softeners are very allergenic and can cause eczema, which can appear as dry, flaky, chronically itchy skin.

Dryer sheets contain volatile organic compounds like acetaldehyde and butane, which can cause respiratory irritation. Fabric softener chemicals known as quaternary ammonium compounds have been linked to asthma. Acetone, also used in dryer sheets, can cause nervous system effects like headaches or dizziness. Read more

Last week I got a frantic letter from Lisa who’s facing an emergency dental situation with a $15,000 price tag on it. She is desperate for options that will let her keep her teeth while not plunging her into debt.

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Another letter from the Madison family related that their finances are so tight, they cannot afford the luxury of regular dental care—not even routine x-rays and cleaning. That letter ended, “Is there a dental plan for families in our situation? Please answer soon before our teeth fall out!”

While I am not a dentist, I know that dental care is not a luxury. It is essential to the good health of every family member. And the best way for the Madisons to avoid big dental bills is to practice regular preventive care. Even then, routine hygiene and x-rays should be seen as absolutely mandatory.

As for Lisa, she’s in a really tough situation. I’m not confident that dental insurance, if by some miracle she could get it now, would be that helpful. The problem is that typically you must wait six months to a year before certain procedures are covered. Her condition could be excluded completely as preexisting. Then there’s a maximum annual benefit of $1,000 to $1,500. And the annual premium on most individual dental plans? Typically half of the annual benefit. I’m not certain if any portion of her $15,000 dilemma would be considered cosmetic, but I hope not because most dental insurance does not cover cosmetic procedures.

I am excited because I have good news for Lisa and the Madison family—something I hope all of my readers will also consider seriously: Dental Savings Plans. These plans are not insurance, don’t work like insurance and do not carry the downside of most dental insurance. Read more

Whether you want to look good or just to feel better, reaching your goal traditionally comes at a significant cost. But not if you’re a dedicated cheapskate. While medications and beauty products you use must be safe, there’s no reason that you have to pay exorbitant prices to ensure such qualify. Here are some fascinating and functional tips for saving time and stretching costs on everything from deodorant to skin care and more.

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VISIT THE MEN’S DEPARTMENT. Buy mens toiletries if you have a choice when it comes to unscented deodorant, shaving foam and hair colorings, for example. Products manufactured specifically for men are significantly cheaper ounce for ounce than those made for women. Go figure.

SHAMPOO. With great confidence you can confidently stop being a shampoo snob. In a Consumer Reports test of 132 name-brand shampoos, the lowly cheap brands from the supermarket rated just as highly as the pricey salon brands. Just make sure you know how to read the product’s list of ingredients.

SUNLESS TAN. Smooth baby oil on skin and allow it to penetrate before applying sunless tanning lotion to achieve a more even, lighter tanning effect, especially on elbows and feet. Read more

Recently I heard from the McBrides who live in Pennsylvania. “We’re a family of five living on a single income. Things are very tight for us. We have no dental insurance and find we cannot afford the luxury of dental care. Is there a dental plan that caters to low income families in our situation? Please answer soon before our teeth fall out.”

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Dental insurance is not the answer for the McBride Family’s particular situation and that’s probably a good thing. Paying for dental insurance is a very expensive way to achieve good dental health. The only affordable dental insurance plans out there are those that are part of an employer’s benefit package. These days, even that benefit is becoming as scarce as, well, hen’s teeth.

Dental insurance is designed to cover unexpected occurrences—not the routine preventive maintenance required by a family with young children.

Let me suggest several ways families not covered through employee provided dental insurance can begin to see dental care as absolutely essential and something they can fit into their already strained budgets. Read more

I wish I had all of the money I’ve spent over the years on manicures—both professional and do-it-myself. I’d have quite a tidy sum and still be stuck with these horrible nails and even worse cuticles.

Thankfully, after untold trials and errors, I’ve come up with a six-part manicure routine that has turned my nail life around—and keeps me out of the pricey nail salon.

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By way of a little history, over the years I’ve done the acrylic thing (don’t even get me started on what years of that did to my natural nails). I’ve endured wraps, gels, hot oil and superglue.

My cuticles have been snipped, nipped, ripped and clipped. I’ve purchased expensive lotions, potions and nail notions but to no avail. Nothing has ever worked long term.

I’d just about given up completely on finding a reasonable and workable solution for my nails when finally, I put together a routine with specific products that has given my nails a brand new life. I’ve been testing this for about six months now and can report without hesitation: This is it—the best do-it-yourself manicure and nail care program for dry, cracked, horrible cuticles and jagged, splitting, peeling nails. Read more

It had to be a typo, even though I know that national magazines have proofreaders so they don’t release issues that include typos. But that was the only thing  I could come up with to explain why a new skincare product costs $1,095 for a small 1.7 oz. jar.

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I did a quick search only to discover it was no typo at all. 111Skin Celestial Black Diamond Cream retails for $1,095. All I can say is at that price, it better contain a miracle. Seriously. It almost most makes Lancome’s Hydra Zen cream ($56) and Le Lift Firming Anti-Wrinkle Cream by Chanel ($105) look cheap!

Okay, back to reality: High-quality and effective skincare should not be considered a luxury available only to the wealthy. If you are diligent, you can find high quality, reasonably priced skin care products that are equal, if not superior to their department store cousins—right in your drugstore or discount department store.

Cetaphil makes is an excellent line of affordable skin care products. For example Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser is less than $10 for 8 oz. and Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream is priced about the same. (See Cetaphil.com for more detailed information.) Tip: Walmart sells a generic version under their brand name Equate for about $6.50. I’ve had reports from several readers who insist it’s just like the real thing for a lot less.

Other cleansers that receive high marks with my dermatologist are Pond’s Cold Cream Cleanser Moisturizing Deep Cleanser ($6.99, 6 oz.); Basis Sensitive Skin Bar ($3.99, 4 oz. bar); Lever 2000 ($.89 per 4 oz. bar) and Dove for Sensitive Skin ($.98, 4 oz. bar). Read more

Considering the huge reader response on a past post on how to know which cheap shampoos are actually good for your hair, it seemed only right to follow with a similar piece on conditioners.

Unfortunately, conditioners are not quite as simple as shampoos.

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First, we need to demystify the term “conditioner.” It is a vague term that refers to a wide range of hair products designed to make hair more manageable and also treat common hair problems.

Conditioners fall into general categories according to what they do and the problems they solve.

Using the wrong product for the specific condition of your hair will produce disappointing results. For example, if your hair is thin and fine you are not going to be happy with my industrial-strength conditioner for thick, coarse, frizzy, color-treated hair.

Read more

What would you pay for a good night’s sleep? I just read about a soccer club in England that spent £150,000 on special mattresses and pillows for the 80 luxury bedrooms at the club’s £200 million soccer training base where players sleep the night before home matches.

The rooms even have wallpaper with a special sleep-inducing pattern. I think it’s pretty safe to say these people think good sleep is important!

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So how are your sleeping conditions? Getting a good night’s sleep, we’re learning, is not only a lovely thing, it’s mandatory for good health and a productive life.

Even if your mattress is lumpy, bumpy and in the fast lane to saggy, there are a few things you can do it get it back to comfy with a minimal investment. The best part? This could buy a few more years, giving you the time you need to save up for a new bed. Read more