As you might imagine, I get a lot of mail. And since I could never respond to all your letters, questions and comments individually, I love to reach into the mail bag, selecting some of your letters to answer right here.

Dear Cheapskate: Is it cheaper to wash dishes by hand since I wash most of my pots and pans by hand anyway, or use the dishwasher? Thanks. — Audrey

Dear Audrey: Yes. And that’s my final answer. OK, just kidding. Here’s why: According to the folks at, a new ENERGY STAR certified dishwasher uses less than half of the energy used when washing dishes by hand — and it saves more than 8,000 gallons of water each year. That’s because washing by hand uses a lot more hot water, which is both a waste of the water (on average it takes 5,000 more gallons in a year to wash by hand than would be used by the typical dishwasher) and the energy to heat it. That’s just how efficient dishwashers have become.

But that’s not all. Using a dishwasher will save you about 230 hours of personal time in a year — nearly 10 days! And if your dishwasher boosts water temperatures to 140 F (most these days do), you enjoy improved disinfection compared to hand washing. That means better health, fewer doctor visits.

Dear Cheapskate: I love some of the products you recommend in your makeup regime you posted at Everyday Cheapskate in “Best Inexpensive Makeup to Replace M.A.C. Favorites.” I purchased the Prestige Eyeliner and love it but I can’t figure out how to extend it (sharpen?). I would appreciate your help. — Doris

Dear Doris: Prestige Waterproof Eyeliner comes in two versions. The pencil version can be sharpened with a standard-size pencil sharpener. The “automatic” version, which I use and recommend, is retractable and never needs sharpening. Just twist to roll the product up as you would a mechanical pencil. When there’s no more product to roll up, it’s time to replace. Glad you’re enjoying this eyeliner. It really is a fabulous, inexpensive alternative for much more expensive brands.

Dear Cheapskate: How can I stop buying stuff I can’t afford? Honestly, I can go to Target determined to buy only a few things I need, and end up with $100 of stuff in my cart. I am disgusted with myself, like I need to turn myself in to the shopping police. Thanks. — Jennifer

Dear Jennifer: Well, you have a friend in me. I know exactly what you’re talking about because I have that same “gene.” Here’s how I got that little monster under control. 1) Cash only. Do not go to Target (or any store) with any plastic in tow. Unless you plan to rob the place, you can’t spend more than you have allocated. 2) Don’t wander. Plan your route so you go directly to the location of the items you need. 3) Wear sunglasses. Seriously. Indoors, nothing looks that great through sunglasses. 4) Make-a-wish. Take along a small notepad. If despite items 1-3 above you happen to see things that are not your list — things that you really want, need or must have — put them on the list. When you get home, you can make plans for how to save for those items.

Funny, once you’ve saved for the things on your make-a-wish list, you may discover you can live without them. That’s cool. You’ll have a little cash stashed for something more important.

Dear Cheapskate: I recently found a website that promises to take our credit card debt and have it erased. They can do this because it’s technically illegal for banks to issue credit cards. So this company takes your debt and challenges it in court, legally dissolving the credit-card debt. I am skeptical, but hopeful. Do you know, is this truly legal? — Nick

Dear Nick: I don’t know which is more shocking: That anyone would suggest such a thing, or that you would entertain for even a moment that it might be legitimate. Of course this is not legal. Of course they will require you to start making your monthly credit cards payments to THEM to hold for you and to cover negotiations and court costs. Don’t believe any of that, not even for one second.

It is another in a long list of internet scams that will hit you up for a big fee and leave you holding the bag. By the time they’ve fleeced your finances, you’ll be in default on your payments and then you’ll be in worse trouble than ever.

Stop looking for loopholes and shortcuts. Get busy getting out of debt the right way.

Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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Mary Hunt

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