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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Never Again: A Story to Read

Last summer, my family met up in Belgrade. Miss Em had been teaching English on a Fulbright in Novi Pazar , Serbia. It was an emotional trip for me. My mother and her family had passed through Belgrade in 1938 on their way to the United States from Vienna. In Belgrade lived one of my grandmother's sisters, who had married a Serbian man, Nicky Petrovic.

We met one of our few relatives there: Ildi Ivanji, the widow of my mother's first cousin George. Amazingly, she still  lives in the same house once owned by Nicky and Julchi Petrovic (my grandmother's sister). Though somewhat decrepit, it is an elegant home with still elegant furniture.

 Ildi is in her 80s. She had a distinguished career as a journalist and writer. She was imprisoned  in two concentration camps as a child, Terezin, which had a large population of artists and children, 90% of whom died there, and Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died. Her parents--both doctors--were shot by the Nazis in mass killings.

 Ildi's brother Ivan Ivanji, also survived the war. He too was in two concentration camps. He is quite a distinguished writer and was Tito's translator. 

We met Ivan and his wife at Ildi's house. Communication was difficult because he speaks German and a number of East European languages, but not much English or French, the languages of our family. 

Ivan is a survivor of Auschwitz, whose liberation is being commemorated today. Little of his writing has been translated into English. I found only a very short piece, which is autobiographical. It doesn't read like a translation and is both beautiful and painful to read. Please read Games on the Banks of the Danube.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Thanks to all who replied to my panicky call for help in coming to terms with my mother's broker. It is painful to witness the process whereby she has been--and is being--manipulated by this man. 

I am amazed that my little blog, which has a very small footprint in the big world of blogging, should attract people so willing to share their expertise. It means a lot to me that my misgivings and suspicions have been corroborated by others.

My father, whose death propelled my mother within a few weeks into the "arms" of a broker to whom she gave total control of her assets, would, I am sure be horrified. I began this blog a few months before my father's sudden and unexpected death. In rather ironic timing on the part of the universe, my father died in November 2008, in the midst of panic about the Great Recession, revelations about Bernard Madoff, and an uncertain future for many.  My father and I had, to be plain, a terrible relationship, which still pains me to  contemplate.  But he was very good at finances and enjoyed managing his money. I learned a lot from watching my frugal dad. 

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Friday, January 16, 2015

"Answers" from Mom's Broker:?????

Finally got answers from the broker. I'm not sure if they are answers. They seem rather vague. The item that gives me pause is that he engaged in 188 trades in 2014. That seems excessive, no? Any purpose beyond generating fees?

Anyone with any expertise: I would appreciate advice. I tend to be a suspicious person. Still, one investment trade every two days. My mother mentioned that his trading "went down" this year.

Thanks for any help!

My initial questions:

1. What specifically are xxx 's holdings? For instance, there is a category TIAACREF--what are the specific holdings under that rubric?


1) TIAA Cref account is a moderate aggressive allocation which is composed of equities diversified across and within asset classes .
     Also diversified across sectors and industries . Many of the holdings have dividends of 2-5 percent to add to the total return. The account
     typically has 50k-150K set aside in order to buy stocks when the market drops abruptly while hedging the portfolio .
 Not very specific imo

2. What isxxx's asset allocation? 

 The overall asset allocation is a moderate allocation. Typically 20- 35 percent in cash . With the remaining portion in equities and
     closed end bond funds. The equity trading takes place in the IRA accounts for tax efficiency. The Taxable accounts are passively
     managed to avoid short term capital gains. Of the  65-75 percent invested in equities there is about 10-20 percent Fixed income or
     stocks with high yields.

3. For stock holdings: what percentage is in mutual funds and what percentage is in individual stocks?

4. What percentage of xxx's assets is in IRAs and similar pretax vehicles? What percentage is in post-tax?

5. What kind of turnover does her portfolio have? How many sells/buys have been engaged in?  What are her total transaction/investment expenses for 2014? 2013? 2012?

 2014 there were about 188 trades which was less than xx percent of the total portfolio or approx. 9,500.

This seems INSANE TO ME. Does this amount of trading constitute CHURNING?

6. What is her total return for 2014? 2013? 2012?
 2012 net return 12 percent. ( This includes xxxwithdrawn)
    2013 net return 14 percent ( This includes xxxx withdrawn)
    2014 net return 6  percent ( This includes xxx

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

You Want to Watch My Daughter on Serbian Television, Right?

Thanks to all for helpful comments on my latest crisis, Mom's broker. The situation is getting closer to resolution. I HOPE.

And here, apropos of nothing relevant to this blog, is a clip from Mondo Television, featuring my artist daughter, who was supposed to return from Serbia  at the end of January, but has now decided to stay till the end of July.

So not one, but both my kids have been on television this year. That's really weird.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Question About Mom's Broker...Help!

I know I usually write about thrift shopping, so the readers out there might not have any answers. But  you had such good advice about my dental woes (actually dentist office woes) that I am back with a bigger issue.

Backstory: After my father died unexpectedly in 2008, my mother gave her taxes to an 80 year old accountant recommended by a neighbor. (Note: the accountant is recently deceased. He understated my mother's income in 2012 by about 75%--less than the lowest social security--which has made her liable for huge penalties and interest fees.)

The accountant recommended his broker. Within a day, my mother had given the broker part of her money to manage. He now has 100%. At our initial (and only) meeting, he was very evasive about compensation etc.

I have been worried about this guy over the years since my mother has no idea what her holdings consist of, what her rate of return is, etc. I spoke to him on the phone last summer and asked him a few questions and he told me "Your ego is too involved." He didn't answer the questions.

Luckily, my brother who has been uninvolved now ways we should look over the broker's records. Since my mother likes and trusts men more than women (she says this! to me!), this is good.

So, with her permission, I sent the broker these questions.

1. What specifically are xxx 's holdings? For instance, there is a category TIAACREF[note, the broker had my mother remove her TIAA money; it is now under the broker's mangement)--what are the specific holdings under that rubric?

2. What is the asset allocation? 

3. For stock holdings: what percentage is in mutual funds and what percentage is in individual stocks?

4. What percentage of assets is in IRAs and similar pretax vehicles? What percentage is in post-tax?

5. What kind of turnover does her portfolio have? How many sells/buys have been engaged in?  What are her total transaction/investment expenses for 2014? 2013? 2012?

6. What is her total return for 2014? 2013? 2012?

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to hearing from you.

Here is the reply: Good questions.  I think it is time to reevaluate the portfolio.

Any suggestions about how I might reply to this? Anything I should do?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Do You Watch DIY? Big Job in the Big Easy

If so, Frugal Son's house makeover has a date and time!  This was the most amazing opportunity. We were so nonchalant about it, since the producers asked us to apply. In hindsight, our nonchalance was completely ridiculous.

We've never watched DIY shows. We don't get cable. Luckily, we will be visiting family with cable on the air date. Hoping we can figure out how to access the show.


Episode DARN-106H


  • December 27, 2014
    10:00 PM e/p
  • December 27, 2014
    1:00 AM e/p
  • December 28, 2014
    2:30 PM e/p
  • January 21, 2015
    7:30 PM e/p
  • February 03, 2015
    7:30 PM e/p
  • February 21, 2015
    3:30 PM e/p
Albert and Leon head down south to renovate a historic New Orleans double-shotgun home. The guys set out to do a major update to the house to increase the space's functionality while preserving the home's character and history. They swap the entryways, turning an underused foyer into a bold library and dining area; tackle an outdated kitchen and give the living room a serious facelift. While in the Big Easy, the guys experience all the city has to offer; taking their first taste of an oyster and alligator, and jumping in with a brass band parading through the streets of New Orleans!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gift Giving Experts: Here's a Tough One

OK. Here's a gift-giving quandary. Frugal Son wants to buy a gift for his across the street neighbor (the grandmother of the young fellow who will be getting the computer). She is on public assistance.  Frugal Son's go-to gift has been homemade bread plus some cheese from a fancy cheese store.

But--said Frugal Son--while the bread seems good, the cheese seems superfluous to someone who has plenty of food (and often brings a covered dish over to him). The neighbor has enough of the necessities but has NO MONEY. Seriously. He has no idea of what she might want or need. He is thinking of BREAD a basket. PLUS WHAT?

P.S. Thank you readers for your comments on my sporadic posts. While I think of responses to each and every one, I have had a hard time actually typing them up. This is perhaps because I have spent the past few weeks grading papers, writing comments on the work of the 109 students who remained in my care, AND sending email responses to queries about final grades. These last, as one might expect, are often heart-rending. So thank you, one and all. Maybe I'll attempt a few today...