Medical – Hearing

I’ve known a couple of people who could suddenly hear just fine after a professional cleaned the wax out of their ears. Some home strategies for ear cleaning are likely to make a bad wax situation worse by pushing it further into the ear.

The drugstore kits with the little syringe bulb have worked well for some online posters. It’s important to soften the wax first, perhaps with olive oil or baby oil, and then wash it out with the syringe. It may come out more easily if you warm your ear first, whether with a hot compress or a heating pad. Sometimes you have to squeeze the syringe pretty hard to get enough force behind the water. It might be wise to boil the water first and let it cool, to prevent the admittedly minor risk of infection from the water.

Hearing aids make a world of difference to someone who has lost part of their hearing. It means a lot to their loved ones as well. They are also wickedly expensive. If you need hearing aids and can’t afford to buy them, check out Starkey Hearing Foundation’s Hear Now program. Contact them at /programs/hear-now/ and or (866) 354-3254. They also accept donations of used hearing aids.

Not all hearing aids are equally good for each person, and some are hardly any good at all. Don’t rely on a salesman; ask your doctor, ask AARP, ask the Better Business Bureau.

Something to know is that x-rays can damage hearing aids. Put them out of the room when having x-rays, including dental x-rays. Don’t leave them in a bag that will be going through the airport baggage scanner either.



Marie Brack is the author of Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely. It’s available on in both Kindle and paperback versions.


Communication: Video and Audio Calling


If you’d like to see the person you’re talking to, Skype will do that for you. It’s a more ‘real’ experience for grandkids, or for anyone. Skype is an Internet-based phone and video communication system that is free or inexpensive. You must have a computer and Internet service. It also works on mobile devices.  To use it, you download the software from their site. You need either a built in microphone and webcam in your computer or a separate microphone and webcam. To Skype for free, both parties have to communicate on computers. To learn more, go to

I downloaded the free Skype computer-to-computer software. It allowed me to remotely attend my book club that met too far away for me to get there when I didn’t have a car. To Skype with someone who is on a landline telephone there is a fee. Skype has very low international rates. If you want services like conference calling or overseas calling, you’ll need Skype Premium at $9.99 a month. Comb your hair and put your clothes on, it’s video too, just like in the old science fiction movies.

Caution: like any other connection to the outside world, Skype is susceptible to cheats and hackers. The second call I received came from an automated voice that wanted to scam me, claiming my computer was unprotected and I should log into its site. Rascals!



Marie Brack is the author of Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely. It’s available on in both Kindle and paperback versions.

Communication: Cell Phone Plans

Most single people I know who have a low income have a cell phone only, no landline. For one person the right cell plan can cost no more than basic landline service. And you can take it with you! I like having it with me in case I need to call for help in the car. It’s nice for calling manufacturers right there in the grocery store to be sure whether their product contains something to which I’m allergic.

Virgin Mobile’s Pay Lo plans start as low as $20 a month. The unlimited plan is $40. I suppose a couple or a family could share this if they left the phone at home–just like you leave the landline phone at home–and only took it with them when they went somewhere together. Usually, a family plan costs less than a separate plan for each person, but not always. It can’t hurt to do the math and compare different providers.

Walmart’s Straight Talk cell phone plan gets good reviews online. They give a fifteen-day trial period that allows you to see if the service and the phone will work for you in your area. Several sources say that the unlimited data plan may have some unstated limitations in practice.

Ask your provider–and competing providers–about special discounts. There may be discounts for educators, the military, seniors, any group of which you are a member. Not all discounts are widely advertised and it can’t hurt to ask.

If your data bill is higher than you expected, consider this. If someone on your plan doesn’t log out of Facebook, data will stream any time one of their friends updates their status. So make it a habit to log out of Facebook and similar sites to keep the data bill under control.


Marie Brack is the author of Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely. It’s available on in both Kindle and paperback versions.

52 Weeks: Communication – check the bill

When I handled landline phone bill paying for a national company, I saw four hundred phone bills a month for a year. In that time I saw a wide variety of scams, cheats, and errors. Until then I had never realized that scammers create fake companies and place charges for fake services on anyone’s phone bill they can. Sometimes they trick you – or your unsuspecting children – into clicking something on the internet that gives them access. Sometimes it just appears there. The charge looks like something real and it’s easy to go right past it, thinking it is real and someone in the household or organization ordered it. Double check, or you could be paying money for nothing for months. The phone companies know these scams exist, and should take the charge off your  bill without trouble.

Something else I saw was ongoing charges for something that used to be legitimate but was no longer in use. One location was paying monthly for a WATS line. WATS lines had gone out of service twenty years before. Could you still be paying rental fees on a phone you’ve since bought outright? Anything on the bill you can’t tell what it’s for?

It pays to ask questions.