Today’s post is for the ladies. I hate clothes shopping. I don’t love spending money. There are many things on which I’m not willing to spend much money, but there are three items that I will absolutely not be skimp on: bras, annual exams, traveling alone at night.

Buy Well-Fitting Bras
I know, you can go to the drugstore and get a bra in a cardboard container for $15, but I don’t suggest it. I’m also not saying you need to spend $300 on the La Perla lace dream. However, you should make a point of visiting a store to be properly fitted at least once a year and plan on spending at least $50 on a good, basic, well-fitting bra. Trust me, it’s better for your body and your other clothes will fit better. Wearing an ill-fitting bra not only makes you look dumpy.

How to Get Fitted
You’ll have to comfortable having a woman measure you, but this is okay. I recommend visiting Nordstrom or a specialty bra store known for fitting women of all sizes. Nordstorm saleswomen go through extensive training before they start fitting bras. Victoria’s Secret says they fit bras, but they don’t carry all sizes, so they can’t truly fit you for the correct size.

Each brand will fit a little different, so you may have to go up or down one cup size for a proper fit. That’s fine. Don’t, however, buy the claim that you can wear a 36A if they’re out of 34Bs. The cup may be the same size, but the bra isn’t. Visit a store that has your size.

Get Annual Exams – Even If You Don’t Have Insurance
If you don’t have insurance, your annual pap smear can be expensive. Given the discomfort involved, you might see your lack of insurance as a boon and opt to skip the exam. Don’t. Most communities have low-cost women’s health clinics or you can visit Planned Parenthood (they provide all kinds of care involving reproductive health.)

You should get an annual exam even if you don’t need birth control, have been monogamous, or aren’t currently sexually active. A pap smear is still the only way to check for cervical cancer. Although most cervical cancers are caused by HPV, some aren’t, so you need to be checked even if you’ve never had HPV. You’ll also receive a breast exam while there, which is another key to maintaining good health.

Stay Safe When Traveling Alone at Night
When I’m in a big city, I don’t mind walking or taking mass transit, except at night. If I’m traveling alone at night, I opt for a cab. Yes, the subway is cheaper than a cab, but it’s not safe to ride alone late at night. You never know what might happen. You should be safe on the bus, but waiting at a deserted bus stop can be dangerous.

If you’re driving along the highway late at night, don’t stop at rest stops to use the restroom. Always wait for a restaurant or gas station with a 24-hour attendant. People have been murdered at rest stops during the night. Don’t take the chance. If you have to buy something in order to use the bathroom, do it. The cost of a cup of coffee or a candy bar is a small price to pay for safety.

I’ll admit that I’ve bought cheap bras and been tempted to ride the subway at night. Fortunately, I let my comfort and safety outweigh my desire to save money. Ladies, if there are three areas where you sacrifice frugality for your greater good, these are them.

Next in my series of posts about the documents you need is the advance directive. This basic document ensures that your wishes will be carried out if you become unable to make your own healthcare decisions. Although the documents have been available for years, they entered the mainstream during the Terry Schiavo case. If you don’t have one, you need one. They’re easy to complete and you can do it free.

How an Advance Directive Works
An advance directive is actually two documents: a living will and a power of attorney for health care. The living will states your wishes should be unable to make your own medical decisions. The power of attorney for health care names the agent authorized to make your decisions and grants them the authority to do so. In most cases, the directive comes into force if you’re unconscious, but it can also apply if you suffer dementia or are otherwise unable to make decisions for yourself. The authorized person can make decisions for you, within the bounds of your stated wishes.

The living will covers most forms of treatment, and allows you to decide in advance whether you would like your life prolonged or not. In addition, you can specify other aspects of your care. The California directive includes a specific form related to your decisions about dementia treatment. You should avoid making your wishes too limited because it could limit the ability of your doctors to care for you. Common decisions include:

  • Use of antibiotics
  • Provision of food or water
  • Dialysis
  • Blood transfusion
  • Artificial ventilation

You can change or revoke your living will and proxy at any time.

How to Create an Advance Directive
If you used a lawyer to create a will or trust, then a living will was probably included in the service. If you don’t have a will or didn’t use a lawyer, you can create an advance directive for free by visiting Compassion & Choices. Simply complete the request and you’ll receive an email with a link to download the form for your state. Review the instructions, and then complete the form. In California, you can either have it notarized or sign it in the presence of two witnesses. At least one witness must be a non-relative.

Before choosing your authorized agent, you should discuss your wishes with them and ask their permission. Most people designate a spouse, but you can designate a parent, adult child, unmarried partner, or even a very good friend. Before I was married, my parents were my authorized agents, and then I completed a new form designating my spouse after we were married.

If you move to a new state, you should complete a new directive because each state has its own requirements. If you’re not married, you should see if there is an additional form for unmarried partners.

Where to Keep Your Living Will
Like your will, you shouldn’t keep the advance directive in a safe deposit box except as a back-up copy. You should keep one copy in your home with your will and other documents. Your primary agent should receive a copy. You may also give a copy to your lawyer or doctor. If you’re entering the hospital for surgery or extended care, you should ask to file a copy with your records to ensure that your requests are met.

Tomorrow the series continues with a discussion of the necessary insurance policies.

Now that you know more about the shelf life of makeup, you may be regretting that $20 lipstick that came with a free gift. Odds are good that the lipstick is barely used and the free gift is just more clutter. Next time you hit the makeup, remember these suggestions about whether you should save or spend on makeup products.

Blush: Spend. Not only will you find a wider range of colors, but more expensive blushes blend better. More expensive brands also tend to be longer lasting.

Bronzer: Spend. The same rules apply – better range of colors and easier blending.

Brushes: Spend and save. You can save on some brushes, like lip brushes that gunk up quickly, but you should spend a little more for well-made synthetic powder, blush, and shadow brushes that are easy to wash and won’t leave bristles on your face.

Cleansers: Save. All cleansers are the same. Many dermatologists recommend Cetaphil because it’s cheap and gentle.

Concealer: Spend. Major brands have a wider range of colors, last longer, and are easier to blend.

Eye Liner: Go cheap. Not only do they wear out quickly, they’re often trendy colors that will look dated in a year.

Eye Shadow: Go cheap for trendy colors. This year’s “must-have” shade is next year’s “are you kidding me” color. For traditional colors you’ll wear more often, be willing to spend more for richer, longer-lasting color. Avoid those multi-shade palettes, though. At least one of them will look dreadful on you. Instead, buy single pots of color.

Foundation: Spend. Foundation should match your skin tone exactly, so you’ll have more options if you’re willing to spend more. Pricey brands also tend to have smoother coverage and last longer.

Hair Products: Save. Shamphoo and conditioner are generally the same no matter who makes them, so feel free to buy major drugstore brands rather than an expensive bottle from your stylist.

Lip Gloss: Go cheap here, too. They also tend to be trendy colors and are used up quickly. Most lip glosses are the same no matter whose name is on the label, so choose the color you want from the drugstore brands.

Lipstick: Save and spend. Go cheap for trendy colors that will only be hot this season. If you like to wear one classic color all the time, you might want to spend more for a richer lipstick that will last longer without drying out your lips.

Mascara: Save. Makeup artists go crazy for Maybelline Great Lash. It’s usually less than $7, and a tube lasts about three months.

Moisturizer: Save. I’ll be honest, I splurge on Kiehl’s moisturizer because it’s so light on my skin, but I could probably find a good drugstore brand, too. Like cleansers, most moisturizers are the same.

Nail Polish: Save. Not only are they trendy colors, but cheap nail polish is just as good as pricey polish. Sally Hansen is often considered the best.

Pressed Powder: Spend. Cheap powders aren’t as smooth and don’t last as long on your face.

If you have very sensitive skin or allergies, then you need to be more careful, but the average woman can easily save a fortune on makeup by opting for cheaper versions when possible. Just remember this rule – the shorter the shelf life or the trendier the color, the less you should spend.

A few years ago I was watching Clean Sweep when I made a horrifying discovery: makeup lasts a maximum of three years. Most products don’t last nearly as long as that. Shortly after that, I started to clean out my makeup case. Some of my products had been there for more than ten years.

Here’s a quick review of the shelf lives of various products. Remember this next time you shop – unless you can use it up within the allotted time you’re better off opting for a cheaper drugstore version. That way you won’t waste as much money when you have to throw it away with half left in the container.

Makeup Shelf Life Times
The following list reviews major product categories with shelf life times and info on how to find out how long it’s been in your makeup box.

Mascara: 3 Months
Mascara is an ideal environment for bacteria, which can easily be transferred to your eyes. Throw out your mascara every three months to avoid eye infections.

Liquid Eyeliner: 3 Months
Once again, liquid eyeliner is moist, which makes it prime territory for bacteria that can transfer to your eyes.

Moisturizer: 12 Months
Some of the essential oils or natural components break down quickly, so moisturizer that’s more than a year old may not be as effective.

Nail Polish: 12 Months
The chemicals start to break down after about a year, which could cause the color to change. You’ll also notice that the polish doesn’t hold together well or apply smoothly.

Oil-Free Foundation: 12 Months
These foundations tend to dry out faster than cream or powder foundations. The oils on your fingers can also introduce bacteria into the liquid. Use a sponge or brush to preserve it. Storing it in the fridge can also extend its life. When the color changes, it’s past its prime.

Concealer: 12-18 Months
Stick concealer lasts longer than liquid concealer, but both become lumpy after 12-18 months. Lumpy concealer won’t cover as well, and may contain bacteria from your blemishes. You may also notice color changes.

Cream Blush: 12-18 Months
Cream blush will dry out after about a year. It may also start to change color or not go on as smoothly.

Cream Eye Shadow: 12-18 Months
Like all other cream products, it dries out over time. It may also harbor bacteria. Never use it while you have an eye infection to avoid contamination. You should apply it with a clean brush to extend its life.

Cream Foundation: 18 Months
Cream foundation will dry out after about a year and a half. It may also start to change color or not go on as smoothly. If you apply it with your fingers, the oils on your skin could also introduce bacteria into it.

Lip Gloss: 18-24 Months
Lip gloss dries out fairly quickly because it’s thinner and contains less fat than lipstick. If it becomes clumpy, dry, or changes color, throw it out.

Blush and Bronzer: 2 years
Powders last longer, but the oils in your skin will alter the texture and make it more difficult to apply after a couple years. You may also notice changes in color.

Lipstick: 2 years
After two years, the fats in the lipstick will start to break down, which will make it dry, crumbly, and probably change the color. To make it last longer, apply it with a clean brush. Never use lipstick when you have a cold sore or share it with someone else.

Lip Liner: 2 years
Lip liner can last up to two years if you sharpen it regularly to prevent bacteria build-up and avoid using it when you have a cold sore.

Powder: 2 years
Powder tends to get clumpy after more than a couple years because it mixes with the oils in your skin over time. If you take excellent care of it, it can last up to three years.

Powder Eyeliner: 2 years
Powder eyeliner will last longer than cream or liquid liner because it doesn’t dry out, but you should always use a clean brush to avoid contaminating it with bacteria. If they’re in stick form, sharpening them regularly prevents bacteria growth. If the color changes or it becomes hard to apply, throw it out.

Powder Eye Shadow: 2 Years
Powder eye shadow lasts as long as powder eyeliner if you always use a clean brush and avoid using it while you have an eye infection.

Perfume: 3 Years
Cheaper perfumes and eau de toilettes may only last two years, but good perfumes should last up to three years. You can extend the life slightly by storing them in the fridge. If the color or scent changes, throw it out. If you’re not sure how old it is, check the stamp on the bottom. The number at the end is the year it was bottled, for example, a number ending in 6 means it was bottled in 2006.

If you’re not sure how old your makeup is, check the consistency. If in doubt, throw it out and start fresh. Mark the date on the label with a Sharpie so that you always know how old your makeup is.

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