More and more Americans are prescribing their own medicine without any help or interference from a doctor. The kind of pills, liquids and ointments you can get on your own without a prescription are officially called OTC (over the counter) drugs.

The Food and Drug Administration has been conducting a far-reaching "OTC Review" in order to weed out medication that is ineffective and/or dangerous.

The more you are able to adequately treat your own aches and ills without the need of a doctor, the more money you can save.

On the other hand, you might prescribe the wrong OTC medicine for yourself or not recognize a serious ailment by masking it with some temporary-relief drug.

Consumers spent nearly $5 billion on medications last year from a list of tens of thousands of products. There are more than 200 brand name remedies for relief of the common cold.

With so many products to choose from, how can you and I figure out what kind of pill or elixir to buy -- or even whether we should buy anything?

Lots of times we do it by trial and error. Something worked great last year, so we try it again this year. Or, we see some advertisement or commercial and give that a product a try.

Unfortunately, the advertising of non-prescription drugs may have led too many of us into becoming bathroom cabinet junkies.

Still, the more we can wisely diagnose our own minor ailments and treat them, the more money we can save. Some people, however, believe that no medicine is any good unless it is prescribed by a dctor. E. William Rosenberg, M.D., chairman, Division of Dermatology, University of Tennessee College of Medicine, says "some patients insist on a prescription for dandruff which costs $30 (combined doctor's visit and prescription) when they could get practically the same thing for less than $5 in an OTC product."

You can find an excellent appraisal of more than 2,000 highly used OTC products under 31 major categories (cold remedies, antacids, pain killers, laxatives and the like) in "The Handbook of Non-Prescription Drugs." It's published by: American Pharmaceutical Association, 2215 Constitution Ave., NE, Washington, D.C. 20037. The price is $20, but many libraries have it or can be persuaded to order it.

The New York Public Library says one of the five leading books in circulation is the PDR (Physicians Desk Reference). This massive volume has a detailed description of almost every type of medication available. It includes some pretty scary language on "contra-indications" (when you shouldn't take a specific drug) and all the potentially dangerous side effects.

When you prescribe for yourself, it's a good idea to check the product out with a pharmacist. You might be warned not to take the drug because it clashes with something else you're taking. Also, read the instructions carefully (few people do).

Two good books for people who want to do more of their own doctoring:

"How to be Your Own Doctor -- Sometimes," written by Keith W. Sehnert, M.D., founder of the Center for Continuing Health Education at Georgetown University (published by Grosset and Dunlap).

"Take Care of Yourself -- A Consumer's Guide to Medical Care," written by physicians Donald M. Vickery and James F. Fries (published by Addison-Wesley).

Q. With the cost of my home insurance going up every year, I learned that I could save money by increasing my deductible from $100 to $500 and by taking a policy that covered specific "perils" instead of "all risks."

A. Yes, you can save quite a bit of money by taking on some of the insurance risks yourself. Changing the deductible from $100 to $500 is an excellent idea and it should cut around 20 percent off your bill.

But, moving from an all-risk policy to one that's limited to specific risks might not be for everyone. Usually, the companies offer a choice of all-risk, some risk and more risk types of coverage. The more risk type spells out just what's covered and this includes fire, tornados and the like. But it doesn't cover the case where your plumbing (air conditioner, heating system, hot water tank) breaks while you're away on a weekend and several rooms are ruined.

But, if you're willing to take on these risks, which are admittedly rare, you can save quite a bit of money. Here's an example of how much is saved by bumping the deductible up from $100 to $500 and by taking the stripped-down risk coverage: On a $50,000 policy in my area the annual cost for all-risk coverage with $100 deductible is $165. With a $500 deductible and specified risk coverage the annual cost is $93.