Custom Search

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Leftovers and Painted Cactuses

One of the challenges of frugal living is what to do with all those leftovers. Food isn’t a problem (at least for this family, although I’ll let Ms Dr. FS tell you why). But what about those bits of paint that are always left after a project is done? Of course one’s temptation is to put the lid on tightly and stow the can in the garage until . . . . well, usually until it dries out and gets thrown away. (Yes, I’ve tried caulking the top, and a dozen other methods, none of which has been foolproof.)

If you can’t save it, use it. (This is also the basic principle behind leftovers, by the way.) My late father-in-law Bert had a wonderful way of using up leftover paint which shows not only his own creativity, but proves that creative frugality can thrive in even the most hostile environments. By which I am thinking of the cookie-cutter communities of South Florida.

My in-laws’ development does not exactly encourage variety or distinctiveness; uniformity is not only expected, it is enforced. A few years ago a number of residents started to add little cutesy things to the tops of their mailboxes—gnomes, miniature golf bags, artificial flowers, etc.—a touch of the individual to make their condominiums easier to find among the proliferating sameness. This was ruled in contravention of the community’s rules, and now the mailboxes are all nice and clean and interchangeable again.

But Bert found a solution that not only made his condo easier to find, but beautified the landscape and used up all the bits of paint he’d accumulated: he painted the cactuses.

The result is what I think is a real work of folk art. (Note the strategic placement of unused nails.) How it has managed to survive the scrutiny of the powers that be is beyond me, although I suspect that they simply didn’t want to mess with anyone who paints his cactuses. He could be dangerous.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bernard Madoff and the Confidence to Be Frugal

The Confidence Man, Part 2, by Mr. Dr. Frugal. Eagerly awaited by a few. I THINK I understand what he's getting at. Let him know, dear Readers.


"We'll survive . . . despite all the polls and the rest, I think there's still a hell of a lot of people out there, and from what I've seen they're--you know, they, they want to believe, that's the point, isn't it?"
--Nixon to Haldeman, April 1973

George W. Bush, clearly, is one of history's great confidence men. That is not meant in the huckster's sense. . . . No, I mean it in the sense that he's a believer in the power of confidence. At a time when constituents are uneasy and enemies are probing for weakness, he clearly feels that unflinching confidence has an almost mystical power. It can create reality.
--John Suskind, The New York Times Magazine, 2004

A little while ago I wrote about “How to Pay for Your Entire Life by Mowing Your Lawn.” Of course I didn’t expect anyone to take the title literally (although I stand by my basic point.)

But now I’m worried. Did any of you quit your jobs to live off the savings from mowing your lawn? I hope not, but I’d forgotten how completely this is a nation is built on an overpowering need to believe, as Richard Nixon (rather hopefully) opined to Haldeman in 1973 (see above). And as John Suskind reminds us, it was the “mystical power” of “unflinching confidence” that kept George Bush afloat during his incredibly destructive eight years. Now we have a new example of someone’s alternative reality, and it’s based on a similar need to believe: Barnard Madoff, and his 50-billion Ponzi scheme.

Confidence is a good thing. In grade school, our children were told to shout out “I feel good about myself” each morning. Fine, but there has to be something tangible to feel good about; otherwise it’s just a moral Ponzi scheme. The same is true of economics, both micro and macro. Mowing my lawn saves me $40. Behind Madoff's investments there was . . . . nothing.

So what does this have to do with frugality? A whole lot. What makes frugality such a hard sell is the kind of confidence that has become common currency—and, to be absolutely historical about the matter, it’s been common currency since John Smith tried to recruit settlers to New England and John Law sold the French elite worthless stock in Louisiana land. So why mow the lawn when one can hang out with the guys in the pastel sweaters and sock-less penny loafers at the country club and realize millions?

I’m certainly not saying anything new here; you, I, Nixon, Bush--we all want to believe we can create some alternative reality in which bounty is everyone’s rightful destiny. As that great philosopher Bruce Springsteen puts it, “Mister, I ain't a boy, no I'm a man, / And I believe in a promised land.” But not all promised lands are the same, or are built on the same foundations. The frugal person’s promised land is fundamentally different from Laws, or Nixon’s, or Bush’s, or Madoff’s. Frugal people believe that small savings are real, are substantial, and that they add up: you believe because you see, day by day. One of the subtexts of our posts is that these real little things not only add up financially, but are valuable on emotional and interpersonal levels. If you live a truly frugal life—one that pays proper attention to value—you’ll never get conned, and you’ll never con anyone else either.

As my good but slightly eccentric friend Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Let us treat the men and women well; treat them as if they were real; perhaps they are.”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bernard Madoff and the Confidence Man

Everyone's been talking about the newest conman, Bernie Madoff. What some might not know is that the con man (con is from confidence) is a staple character of American culture. Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar is a scholar of, among other things, American literature. So I asked him for his thoughts on the confidence man. Here are his thoughts, Part 1.

We shouldn’t be too surprised at the revelation of Bernard Madoff’s “success” at bilking major institutions and well-connected, savvy individuals out of billions of dollars. As a number of observers have pointed out, the confidence man is something of a cultural icon in America, and has been around since—without much exaggeration—the European discovery of the New World. In about 1616 John Smith tried to recruit participants in his colonization scheme by selling New England as a sort of sportsman’s paradise, where one had to work “but three dayes in seaven.” (No mention of winter, ice storms, etc.) He wasn’t successful, but about a century later in our neck of the woods John Law managed to sell a whole lot of worthless stock in Louisiana land to the French merchant class and aristocracy—the famous “Mississippi Bubble”—ruining a lot of people who should have known better. So the pundits are wrong—it’s not just the poor and uneducated who get scammed.

In the late 1840s there was William Thompson, to whose escapades we owe the term “confidence man.” Thompson developed an ingenious and effective strategy: he’d engage prosperous looking people in conversation, lament the decline of confidence and trust in contemporary society, and then ask “Have you the confidence to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” A surprising number of his interlocutors did, and they never saw their watches again. It wasn’t just the mid-19th century popular New York press who found Thompson fascinating; the confidence man in one form or another has been a staple ever since. Just think of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man, published eight years after Thompson was arrested, or the King and the Duke in Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or--to bring things up to date—McMurphy in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dr. Gonzo in Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or a whole slew of movies like "The Sting," “Catch Me If You Can," "The Grifters," “Matchstick Men,” "The House of Games," “The Spanish Prisoner,” and on and on.

So Madoff is nothing new; in fact, he’s a familiar type. And that got me to thinking about the connections between confidence and frugality, and I wrote the little “meditation” below. In the spirit of economy (I can’t throw anything out), I’ll post it, even though it did not get the most enthusiastic reaction from Ms. Dr. FS (“what are you talking about?”). But I have full confidence in you, my trusted readers.

Part 2 will be posted later. Be on the look-out.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The One Luxury I Won't Do Without: Worth It

The “New York Times” today posted a set of short essays with this heading. The ones I read named tickets to the Nutcracker ballet (these are expensive) and a single oyster (this one cost $1.75). This reminded me of one of my favorite girlhood books, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” The main character Francie is bookish girl (like me!). The family lives in terrible poverty. Francie loves to hold a mug of hot coffee; when the coffee is cold, she throws it out. A relative chides the family for waste, but Francie’s mother declares that everyone should have one thing to waste. So, like the oyster or the mug of hot coffee, your luxury need not be expensive.

My luxuries? Besides travel and my house (small, but too expensive for us at the time, now paid off), it would be Cabot extrasharp cheddar. Real parmesan cheese. Decent pasta. Plugra butter. Oops, that’s four. Talk about abundance. I can have those every day. I’m so lucky

For Frugal Daughter, it’s Chinese mary jane shoes in a rainbow of colors. These have become her signature footwear.

For Frugal Son, it’s a subscription to Saveur magazine.

For Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar, it would be the complete set of Proust’s “A La Recherche…” in the leather-bound Pleiade edition. He bought this when he lived for two years in France after college. Hey! He already owns that, so he’s lucky too.

What’s it for you, dear readers?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Frugal Food: Louisiana Edition

Frugality involves getting the most for your resources—whether you think of resources in terms of money or of time. Therefore, one thing we try to do in our frugal family is to take advantage of whatever is best wherever we are. Hence, when we visit California, we take lots of nature walks. When we visit New England, we do the same. In Florida, we walk on the beach. In New York City and Boston, we go to museums.

In Paris, of course, we buy food. The French are different from Americans in their food purchasing habits, and we try to emulate those when we are there. So for lunch, we may stop at a cheese booth in a market. Thanks to Mr. Dr. Frugal’s excellent French, we will engage in a lengthy discussion of the merits of certain cheeses with the proprietor. This will culminate in the purchase of 3 small pieces of cheese. Then we do the same at a place that sells ham or pate; we emerge with 2 slices. These raw materials may cost, say, $20.00 for half a kilo, or even more. But we buy some bread, then some fruit, and head off to a park to eat our lunch. This is a time-consuming process, but fundamentally frugal, because we are taking advantage of what is best where we are.

Food is a strong suit in Louisiana. People here, I am convinced, spend a greater percentage of their income on food than most Americans, much as Europeans do. How could one not when you can buy shrimp hours off the boat (complete, with heads) at a hastily set-up stand on the side of the road? Ditto for crawfish, which you can buy at gas stations as well as in the grocery store. Frugal Son and I stopped at a new seafood shop today just to scope out the goods. Food may be the equalizer here, as one can tell from the range of cars parked outside the seafood shop.

Tonight we are having gumbo made with the (frozen) stock from our Thanksgiving turkey, but tomorrow we will get some shrimp. As with our turkey, the best part of shrimp is the stock, in this case from the shells. The flavor comes from the heads.

People born and bred here will sometimes say,” I went to the North once, but I couldn’t eat the food!” Then they will go on to enumerate the indignities foisted on some ingredient or another.

They may have a point. As evidence of why native Louisiana folks are reluctant to leave, we reproduce one page of an ad from Rouses, a local grocery chain. Louisiana may be near the bottom in terms of education and health care. I once was lamenting the state of our school buildings (in contrast to the school board building, which cost many millions of dollars to renovate). My interlocutor said, “Well, at least we know how to have a good time.” So laisser les bons temps rouler! Et bon appetit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Frugal Son: Bowling Edition

I am as proud as can be because below is a post by my dear frugal son, who is home from college. After making us a meal of Thai shrimp curry for dinner (recipe on request), he wrote about his favorite leisure activity: bowling. He even wears the cool bowling shirt I bought at a thrift store a few years ago. Bowling is making a comeback! See below.


I have a friend from college, Ashley, who had been on her high school’s bowling team. For some reason, her bowling days were a frequent topic of our conversations during our biweekly plasma donations—another topic I’ll write about one of these days—and she told me that she had even been on ESPN once during a youth bowling tournament! I fondly reminisced about my last bowling experience some four years earlier at a sleep-away camp: for our group night out we went to the bowling alley and my counselor promised the highest scoring camper a free dinner at any of the local burger joints! I somehow managed to bowl a 105 which, while not particularly impressive, was quite a feat for me at the tender age of fifteen. More importantly, it was enough to win the meal!

This memory, along with the prodding of Ashley, was enough to make me want to go bowling again. Though I was initially hesitant about the idea, the more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I even surprised myself with how enthusiastic I was about our bowling adventure. When the planned day arrived, I rustled up a few more friends to come with us. The bowling alley was deserted—after all, it was the early afternoon on a weekday—and the woman working the counter was lazily examining her nails.

I put Ashley in charge of ordering the games and shoes because I was afraid I’d say something that would show I was a bowling rookie. Two games and a shoe rental came to a little over $10 per person ($2.99 per game and $3.50 for the shoe rental + tax); I later found out this was actually very expensive for the amount of bowling but at the time, I didn’t know any better. I was a little nervous as I walked up to take my first shot but I was confident that even if I didn’t get a strike I could at least pull off a spare. Step, step, step, release, CATASTROPHE! My wrist bent into an unnatural position; the ball barely dribbled out of my hand, and it promptly found its way to the gutter. I walked back to the ball return machine with a sheepish (or was it ashamed?) look on my face. Ashley helped me fix the way I was holding the ball so I was actually able to get it down the lane (most of the time) but my score for the first game barely broke 100. So much for being easy!

The second game I improved a lot (I may have got my score up to the 120s), but I was still surprised at how difficult bowling was! Ashley, of course, kicked my butt both games, but she played in high school and even had her own bowling shoes, so I didn’t feel too bad. Perhaps BECAUSE it was so hard, I was hooked. As we left, I was already talking about what I was going to do next time so I’d be even better. When I turned in my rental shoes, I noticed a flyer on the counter that listed the daily specials offered. The one that caught my eye the most was “Boot Scoot n Bowling” which was described as “Country themed music and 99 cent games from 9pm to 1am on Mondays.”

So began a (usually) weekly journey to the bowling alley every Monday night for four, sometimes five games of bowling. Sometimes we have only three people in our group and sometimes we have up to eight. We almost always run into people we know from school at the alley so it’s a definite social activity. If we have four people and bowl four games, it usually takes us at least three hours so for a little over $8 per person ($0.99 x 4 + $3.50 + tax) we got a full night of entertainment that is much more interactive than going to a movie. This year, the wait between Mondays became too much, so we started going to “Retro Night Thursdays” ($10 for one hour lane rental no matter how many people are on it) in addition to “Boot Scoot n Bowling.”

My game has been improving dramatically (I recently learned how to spin the ball!) but it killed me to shell out $3.50 every Monday and Thursday for a pair of crappy rental shoes. I checked on-line and bowling shoes could be had for as low as $35 + shipping. That meant that it would only take about twelve weeks for me to pay back my initial investment! In the end, I purchased some shoes at the pro shop in the bowling alley (it saved me shipping costs plus I got to try the shoes on before I ordered them…a good thing since I ended up needing shoes 1.5 sizes smaller than I normally wear) for $45 including tax. I’ve already worn them three times which means that if I wear them ten more times, they’ll have more than paid for themselves! Also, by not spending $3.50 on shoes, I can spend more money on bowling, which is what I really enjoy.

So, the lesson in all this is that sometimes you SHOULD buy things because in the end you’ll save money and get to enjoy what you do even more. As my frugal mama has said (or maybe not said but she should) frugality is not about depriving yourself of things; it’s about prioritizing and being able to spend—even extravagantly sometimes—on the things that you really care about. My extravagant spending is focused on travel, but bowling is something I do once (even twice) every week. It made sense from both a financial and fun standpoint for me to spend some extra cash on shoes so that I could have more money down the road to do other things I like.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Disney : Japan :: Not Worth It : Worth It

This post is a musing on “Not Worth It” and “Worth It,” a twofer, definitely “Worth It.”

Frugal people tend to be value-oriented. In other words, frugal people think of the value of an item or experience, rather than the cost. This is a concept that is mystifying to non-frugal folks. I know; I’ve tried to explain. The value-orientation is why I think it’s well worth it to buy a piece of furniture for over $1000.00 (a lot over in one case) and not worth it to buy a soda in a restaurant, even it is $1.00.

And, of course, the “Worth It” “Not Worth It” ratio differs from person to person and family to family. When I was in graduate student poverty, I spent about $8.00/pound on good coffee beans, which I ground every day. Now, 20 plus years later (and my salary is more than 20 times my graduate school stipend), I pay about $3.00/pound for New Orleans coffee with chicory. I wish I’d had this coffee back then. Besides, now I’m too lazy to grind coffee beans.

This brings me to the example I want to highlight: the ubiquitous Disney Trip for grades 6-12. At least this was ubiquitous for my children. When they hit sixth or seventh grade, every single class or subgroup at school featured a Disney Trip. The trip cost about $600.00; that covered bus transportation, a 3-day ticket to the theme parks, and 2 nights in a hotel. Breakfast and dinner were included but lunch, eaten in Disney World, was not. This grated on my values orientation. The parents of my children’s friends who generally agreed with my thinking—and certainly agreed that the trip was a major rip-off—all capitulated. “But Alexandra REALLY wants to go! All her friends are going.”

I was alone. I couldn’t argue that we didn’t have the money (we did) and I don’t like lying to my children. We said,”This is a rip-off. When there’s something that’s WORTH IT, even if it’s more expensive, you can go.”

We were hoping that a class or a club would sponsor a trip to DC or to Chicago—anything but the Disney Trip! Most of the kids had been to Disney numerous times anyway. But, in an appalling lack of imagination and initiative, every year my poor children had to opt out of a Disney Trip. Sometimes there were two or three: the Honors Club Trip, the Science Club Trip, and so forth. Some of these 12-17 year-olds went on two or more Disney trips each year, depending on how many organizations they were involved in. My children were disappointed, I suppose, but I think they trusted us when we said they could have something even better later.

Then, first my son and later my daughter went to a wonderful residential magnet high school in Natchitoches, Louisiana. When my son began in 11th grade, he announced that during winter break a teacher was leading a 10-day trip to Japan. He pointed out that the cost was equal to about three of the Disney Trips. He didn’t even have to remind us of the promise or to do the math for us: the minute he said it, we knew it was WORTH IT.

Ditto for my daughter, who went on the same trip two years later.

This might ring some chimes. It’s easier for parents to say “No” to their own desires than to the desires of their children. And we were up against peer pressure, from both the children and the parents of their classmates.

What say you, Dear Reader? What’s WORTH IT to you and yours? How do you decide?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sales of Luxury Goods Down

From the Wall Street Journal: “Double-digit declines in holiday spending continued in the first week of December in key categories, with luxury posting a startling 34.5% drop from year-earlier levels, according to new numbers from MasterCard Inc.'s SpendingPulse unit.”

As a life-long bargain shopper, this news should make MY spending pulse start to race. After all, I am the child of two black-belt shoppers, with a mother who trained me at Loehmann’s and at more obscure places like Al’s Outlet and Sam’s Discounts, and a father who could put his arm in a bin on Broadway labeled “SWEATERS $5!!” and pull out the one cashmere sweater in size XL Tall from among all the acrylic numbers. Bad economic news means good news for all the discount stores. There have already been stories about stores like Marshall’s and TJMaxx licking their chops, awaiting delivery of the REALLY GOOD STUFF.

Then, in the interest of research of course, I checked out the Saks sale on-line. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times have run stories about frenzied shoppers buying Prada bags for 75% off. Indeed, there are Prada shoes and bags and other status items at prices so low (relatively) that I realized that even I—the middle-income teacher—could have some iconic label if I so desired.

Strangely, instead of whetting my appetite for some status item, I just felt sad—because I realized I didn’t really want anything right now. So, in addition to being conflicted about college choices and Hermes ads (see my other posts on this), I am conflicted about bargains.

Levenger, the snazzy paper and journal store, keeps sending me emails: I got 3 in succession (there must have been a glitch), offering 20% off, 25% off, and 30% off. Note: I would pick the 30%. Even then I didn’t want anything. Some of these specialty stores may not be around much longer. It may seem trivial to be sad about the potential demise of Saks Fifth Avenue or other purveyors of luxury goods, especially since I have never spent a single cent there. Nevertheless, the prospect of a world without these places makes me uneasy.

These strange times remind of me Y2K, which in my area involved lots of people setting up their country property with water, food, and guns. An affluent neighbor, who bought a year’s supply of toilet paper, wanted me to chip in for a grain mill (I did not). We all went to bed on New Year’s Eve wondering if we would wake up to a world in which the survivalists were right.

When we wake up from the financial crisis, who knows how the world will be changed. I’m hoping that the denouement will be as anti-climactic as the morning of Y2K, when my wealthy neighbor sheepishly donated the toilet paper and grain mill and the newspaper did not carry a follow-up report on the people holed up with their supplies in a secret location in Folsom, Louisiana.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Your Money or Your Life: Downsizing Domestic Help

Many people who become interested in personal finance read “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. The basic premise is contained in the title: when you spend money, you are really spending “life energy,” because your life is finite. The authors have you figure out what your REAL wage is, by including not just your 40 hours per week, but also your commuting time, your unwinding time, and so forth. After adding it all up, many are appalled to discover they are making a pittance and that they are exchanging, say, six hours of precious life for a pair of shoes.

What the book really advocates, of course, is consciousness and intentionality. The impact of this book can be measured by the fact that when I googled the title (I swapped my book at paperbackswap a while ago), up came hundreds of blog posts. Many readers undergo, it seems, a kind of conversion experience.

With my decent but definitely middle-class salary, I discovered some time ago that, for many things, I might as well do it myself. My after-tax hourly wage doesn’t pay for someone to clean, for instance. And Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar pressure washes our house and even spent many weeks painting the exterior. My obstetrician, in contrast, told us that he never changed his oil; he would read medical journals while waiting at the service station.

So I had never thought about what it would be like to have such a high hourly wage that almost nothing would be worth doing yourself. In one of the recent articles about downsizing household help in the wake of the financial meltdown, a New York Times writer discusses a lawyer: “One employer, a lawyer who grew up “very middle class” in a household with few luxuries, said that she and her husband, also a lawyer, had taken on a lot of domestic help — a housecleaner, two part-time nannies, even a dog walker — because ‘our time became more valuable than anything’ when she went back to work after having children. But now that money has become more of an issue again, the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she pays her workers under the table, said cutting back on their hours was not so easy. “

While the lawyer’s concern for the financial needs of her household help is touching, we should note that by paying them “under the table,” she has saved herself the social security contribution. But I am more interested in the idea that “our time became more valuable than anything.” Do I even need to say that walking a dog is fun? Or that taking care of your children is fun? Do we even think of these things in terms of the wage we are giving up?

Amy Dacyczyn, the much-cited author of “The Tightwad Gazette,” muses on something similar. However, in addition to “hourly wage,” she factors “other values” and “enjoyment” into her equation. Thus, changing your oil nets you $28.00 an hour with low scores in the other areas. Making a Halloween costume for a child might net you only $2.00 an hour, but this activity rates high (for Amy! To me this would be a hated activity!) on both other values and enjoyment. See pp. 101-02 of the first book for the whole essay.

What Amy knows is that not everything gets a price tag. I suppose I’m lucky that I don’t make enough to turn over all the enjoyable and not-so-enjoyable tasks to hired help.

Here’s a favorite memory: Mr. DFS figured out that he could “pay for our whole life” by mowing the lawn. See his blog post on this important discovery. He used to put a child in one of those backpacks while he did this. Both children found this soothing and slept the entire time.
I’m not so productive: Do I have to give up sitting around and talking (favorite activity #2)? Or reading (favorite activity #1)?
Anyone want to chime in with what’s worth doing yourself? What’s not worth outsourcing?


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hermes and Domestic Downsizing: In the News

In lieu of opening my retirement plan statements, I’ve been reading The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times on-line these days. There have been several recent articles about downsizing domestic help. So Ms Real-Estate Broker must let her housekeeper go; Ms Botox-Addict chooses a session with her dermatologist over her daughter’s beloved nanny. (Note 1: why do all these articles feature women letting domestic help go? Many are married. Where are the men letting the help go?)

I suppose we are meant to exult in the misery of these people, who must make difficult choices. Indeed, many news stories invite us to bash the wealthy these days. This was certainly the common response to the recent New York Times Magazine article in which wife #5 (or 3, 4, or 6) of a money-man recounted her experience with hiring a surrogate to carry their baby. The article was accompanied by a now notorious set of photos: pregnant surrogate on her scruffy porch; author in elegant dress holding baby with “baby nurse” and elegant Hamptons home in background. Evidently the author was shocked by the mostly negative reactions to her essay.

But we are also reminded that in one sense (sort of), the ridiculous trickle-down economics theory worked (maybe). Because then the stories focus on the laid-off nannies, housekeepers, and so forth and we hear of the true misery that the economic downturn has caused them and their families.

So where does Hermes fit into this? Well, as I was reading one of these stories, I glanced at an ad, and my eye was caught by the depiction of falling snow. (Note 2: my area just had its third snow in 20 years! You could hear the children screaming in ecstasy.)

It was an ad for Hermes. Hermes, for those who don’t know, is the uber-luxury French brand known for the Kelly and Birkin handbags, which are so desirable that there is a waiting list for the privilege of spending many thousands of dollars. I clicked on the ad. There I saw that the iconic silk scarf I covet is now $375.00. Last time I looked it was $325.00. I guess Hermes is not having a 75% off sale this year.

Even though I am a middle-class teacher, I have had some dealings with Hermes. To wit: I have found 5 Hermes ties at thrift stores. I have also found a Hermes scarf, which I am 105% sure is fake. The ties are authentic, however. So one of my “goals” is to find a real Hermes scarf at a thrift store. (My family knows that if they bought me a real one, I would kill them.)

****I wrote this shortly after clicking on the ad. I was interested in the incongruous juxtaposition of stories about downsizing household help (i.e. people) and ads for luxury goods. But I couldn’t see what the point of this was. So I asked my husband to figure out what the point was. To my surprise (though I should have known), he sees my own implication in what I’m writing about here, as will be evident in his conclusions below.

Mr. DFS sez: I’m not entirely sure that there is one single point; I think that many dark secrets can be teased out of a Rorschach essay of this sort.. However, what I see in this particular blot(g) is that perhaps our schadenfreude--our fascination with and even pleasure in stories about the travails of the wealthy--reflects our own repressed desire for that worthless and showy life, or our discomfort with desires that we don’t really want to acknowledge. While we revile the wealthy 5th wife and her quest for a surrogate, we also, in the privacy of our own homes, click on the ad for Hermes, and dream of the $400 scarf. But the reality is that we actually get the scarf, if at all, in the thrift store. So there is some truth to the trickle-down theory: we get second-hand fantasies (of indulgence and revenge), and second-hand ties. And that’s what not only saves our souls, but keeps us fiscally sound. [If you think this explanation is over the top, let me know your interpretation.]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Worth It: Breakfast at the Hotel Verneuil

It is so easy (for me, anyway) to get overly caught up in frugality. After a while, almost nothing is “worth it.” Why go out to eat, when you can reheat leftovers? Why buy a nice couch when that old futon will do?

In fact, we eat very well, though we do like to reheat (good) leftovers. And we have a nice couch.

Frugality, as the experts will tell you, is not about spending the least, but about making the best use of your resources, to figure out what will add to the quality of your life.

So . . . what was expensive but has added much to your life? For us, it would be our old house with big windows and 12 foot ceilings, our big Le Creuset pot, Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar’s Lemond bicycle (used, from Ebay), and a few other things. Most of all for us it has been travel.

The first time we went to Paris together, our travel agent booked us in a hotel that she said was a little bit expensive (for us), but extra nice. We decided to do it. It was a beautiful hotel, with rooms recently redesigned by a famous Parisian decorator.

Our splurge within the splurge was the breakfast, which was in the cave, and cost an extra 50 francs (about $10; this seems so reasonable, but, in fact, was pretty expensive in those pre-euro days). At first we weren’t going to indulge in this luxury; after all, we could go out and get an espresso at McDo’s for about a dollar. But then we said, pourquoi pas? Let’s do it once. It turned out to be such a transcendentally blissful experience that we went down to the cave every morning.

For the next four days, we would go down to a beautiful room where we would be served some strong coffee (the best coffee we’ve ever had) and then go to the buffet and get a croissant, butter, and a small piece of camembert. We would never order the eggs or juice, which cost extra.

Also in the cave each morning: another American couple, with a husband fluent in French (like Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar), and a French mother – daughter pair (the daughter smoked and looked blasé while sipping her orange juice). We could tell by their clothes and general air that they were all far more affluent than we were.

When we returned home, we discussed what was our fondest memory of the trip. To our surprise, we both said it was the first sip of coffee each morning at the Hotel Verneuil.

Above is a photo of the beautiful cave from the hotel’s website.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

5 Reasons to Shop at Thrift Stores

In my effort to attract some readers, I did a search on “how to attract blog readers.” Evidently, blog readers like lists. A lot of bloggers must have read this advice because there are an awful lot of lists out there. So herewith is MY entry in the list sweepstakes: 5 Reasons to Shop at Thrift Stores.

No, I am not going to mention “saving money” or even “helping the environment.” I am not even going to mention that for me going to thrift stores is akin to a Zen experience: I leave relaxed and refreshed, whether I’ve bought anything or not. Oops: I forgot to mention another thing I refuse to put on my list: helping the worthy organizations that run the stores. OK, here goes. My first list.

1. At thrift stores you get an overwhelming sense of abundance. How can you feel deprived when you can buy not one but two pairs of Lilly Pulitzer pants ($3.00 each), a Chico’s travelers skirt ($1.50), a neat military-style sweater called a “Woolly-Bully” made in England ($1.00)? That doesn’t even go into the children’s department. Or mention the zillions of nice men’s shirts, loads of Liz Claiborne, or even the St John Sport jacket (see my other post on St John) that is so ugly that it has been rejected by thrift shoppers for over a month.

2. Because of this sense of abundance, you don’t actually NEED to buy anything. This is because you know that there will always be tons of stuff as good if not better next time.

3. On a practical note, you see what the item looks like after washing and wear. Aren’t you glad you didn’t have the $80.00 Banana Republic sweater pill after a month? If I paid $100.00 for a cashmere sweater and it got a hole, I would be desolate. As is, I can buy that same sweater for $1.00 and wear it as a luxurious pajama top. Even better, I can buy a perfect item, sheer bliss.

4. If you like something at a regular store like the Gap and don’t buy it, trust me, it will appear at the thrifts within a few months. The media is full of stories about frenzied shoppers taking advantage of 75% off sales at Saks. Why bother? You can get stuff for 99% off. A surprising number will have the tags in.

5. You will meet people of all socio-economic groups. This can only be a good thing. In my little town of 8500, there are some very rich people and some very poor people. The very rich people donate and the very poor, plus the middle class, buy their stuff. It is a perfect ecosystem. And you get a real appreciation of the different gifts people have. While I never find nice furniture, even if it is in front of my nose, I am very good at finding expensive clothes by touch! And some of the very poor thrift shoppers look like they walked out of Vogue Magazine. Sadly, they may also be walking out of some houses about 10 minutes from my home that look (I kid you not) like something out of a Walker Evans photograph.

So after a morning of giving final exams to my students, I took a brief research trip to the thrift stores. I bought a few books (5 for a dollar, including the Antonia Fraser book on Marie Antoinette I’ve been wanting to read). But even though I didn’t buy much, I talked to Celeste, who hangs up the clothes at Goodwill, and to Monique, the manager. At Habitat, Charlotte tried to get me to volunteer next summer (I will! I promise!) and a customer, whose name I don’t know, told me to go to the Food Bank Thrift across the street because “they just put a lot of good stuff out.” Thanks for the tip! A blissful Zen hour. I left relaxed and ready to grade all those tests.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Frugal Cooking with Beans: "Excuse the food of the poor!"

At some point nearly every blog on frugality has a post on beans. Usually bean cooking is presented as one of the miserable things you have to do as the cost of being frugal. Often one sees comments like “I’d eat beans before I’d give up … whatever. “ And doesn’t the famous Dave Ramsay, who tells you to attack your debt with “gazelle-like intensity,” advocate beans and rice…not because you want to, but because you have to, as penance for whatever debt you racked up.

Myself, I love beans. I did not eat them (with the exception of the occasional canned beans with hotdog dinner) till, besotted with Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar, I set out to learn to make the bean burritos he ate at Mijares, the Mexican restaurant of his California boyhood. This was in the mid-70s, before salsa was in every grocery. Yumyum: they were good! And, as an added bonus, they were unbelievably cheap (beans were about 50 cents a pound); we were poor graduate students at the time, living on a $3,000/year stipend (for teaching!), half of which went to rent.

I now think of beans with an aesthetic reverence (is there such a thing?). Almost all the cuisines of poor countries focus on wresting flavor out of the plainest and cheapest ingredients: think of Mexican, Indian, and African cooking.

One of my favorite bean recipes is MEGADARRA, which I first encountered in Claudia Roden’s masterpiece “A Book of Middle Eastern Food.”

Here is what she says:
“Here is a modern version of a medieval dish called mujadarra, described by al-Baghadi as a dish of the poor, and still known today as Esau’s favorite. In fact, it is such a great favorite that although said to be for misers, it is a compliment to serve it.”

“An aunt of mine used to present it regularly to guests with the comment: “Excuse the food of the poor!”—to which the unanimous reply always was: “Keep your food of kings and give us megadarra every day!”

The dish consists of lentils cooked with rice topped with caramelized onions. Serve with yogurt.

I had the book for years before I made this. It sounded so plain. Then I tried it: WOW!

This is the recipe as adapted from Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” Her version is easier (if that’s possible) than Roden’s. Madison calls this “one of best dishes there is.”

Slowly cook 1 large sliced onion in lots of (6 TBS) olive oil till golden. (Tip: mix olive oil with regular vegetable oil for frugality and to increase the burning point).

Meanwhile, cook 1 ¼ cups lentils in quart of water for about 15 minutes. Add ¾ cup rice. Cover and cook another 15 minutes or so. Add salt. Check the water and add some if necessary. Make sure you stir that onion.

Stir onion into lentil/rice mix when done.

Top with yogurt.

As you serve to your family, proclaim “Excuse the food of the poor.”

P.S. If you are out of yogurt, it's still good. It's the onion that makes the dish.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Frugal Garden Art

(By Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar)
My mother was committed gardener, and after her children left home she gradually converted most of our small front yard (the only place with sun) into a fabulous cactus garden. (You can see photos of the garden at its prime in Desert Gardens, text by Gary Lyons, and photographs by Melva Levick [NY: Rizzoli International Publications, 2000]])

Louisiana, of course, is very different from California in all sorts of ways. It is not, for example a good place to go surfing or grow cactuses. I discovered the latter when, at the age of eight or nine, our son developed a keen interest in cactuses and we began buying one every month or so—the kinds in teeny-weeny pots that cost about a dollar or two. When a few outgrew their pots I tried planting them in a raised bed--specially prepared and exceptionally well-drained--but after a few months they began to rot. Too much humidity, too much moisture.
Eventually I built a long, narrow planter to put on the front porch. I filled it with a mixture of compost, sand, perllite, and vermiculite. This became our own little memorial cactus garden, and it has flourished (slowly) for the past decade and more. Since the planter is sheltered I don’t have to worry about too much rain and they get enough sun. I eventually built another planter and the two extend almost the entire length of the south side of our L-shaped front porch.

These cactus gardens have also proven the perfect place for all those beautiful little objects that you can’t throw away, but know won’t be taken at Goodwill: marbles, little plastic fish the kids played with in the bathtub toy cars, seashells, rock collection, dolls, Mardi Gras doubloons, etc. If it’s small and interesting (or has sentimental value), and I can’t part with it, out it goes into the cactus garden. It’s become a sort of magical space, the sort of place that, when I was young, I could have invented stories about all day. Some of the objects are a bit scary—the diminutive blond-haired doll stuck to the side of a cactus, the hologram of a human brain, now thankfully faded--but most seem just fragments of some other, perhaps better, world. I like to think that some child will eventually stumble on the fragments of this world and try to put them together again, as I would have done when I was under ten. And I’d gladly let her take a memento.

So if you have any little things—anything, really, from marbles to scissors to old doorknobs--just make a little temporary alternative universe.

At some point I’ll write about the lattice-work fence to which I wire the larger objects (often our children’s old art projects) that won’t fit in the memorial cactus garden.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Danger: the “Frugal Halo”

(By Mr. DFS)
In a recent article in the New York Times, John Tierney speculates that one reason well-informed, health-conscious Americans put on weight is because of what he calls “the health halo.” I think that perhaps even we cost-conscious frugal people might be susceptible to a similar temptation, what I will call the “frugal halo.”

Tierney wanted to know why people have been putting on weight even while there’s more and more attention paid to eating healthy food. His explanation is that putting “low fat” or no trans-fat” on food labels causes everyone, but especially the overweight, to eat more. And he has some data to back this claim up. In one experiment, Dr. Chandon, a French professor of marketing, and Alexander Chernev, who teaches marketing at Northwestern University, showed 20 people a picture of an Applebee’s meal and asked them to estimate the calories. A different group of 20 people (but from the same neighborhood—what Tierney calls the “nutritionally correct” Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn) were shown exactly the same meal, but with the addition of two Fortt’s crackers prominently labeled “Trans Fat Free.” I’ll bet you can guess the result: although the crackers added 100 calories to the meal, their presence caused people to lower the estimate by an average of 176 calories. The first “non-halo” meal was estimated at 1,011 calories (more than the actual 934); the “halo” meal, with the crackers, was estimated at 835 calories, even though it was actually 1,034 calories.

I wonder if perhaps frugal people need to beware of a “frugal halo” effect. If health-conscious people can be enticed to overeat by deceptive appeals to health, perhaps the fundamental values of value-conscious people can be subverted by appeals to frugality.

Some appeals are fairly easy to resist, and we shouldn’t worry too much about them: the 40% more free, the two-for-the-price-of-one, the once in a lifetime offer that won’t be available again until next year. These belong to the standard repertoire of the unsubtle advertising world, and the Frugals of this world have long ago developed effective resistance. We aren’t about to betray ourselves like this.

What’s more insidious is thinking that getting more for less is always getting more. In fact, sometimes it’s actually getting less. How many times have you bought a lot of something on sale, stashed it, forgotten it, and then rediscovered it months later all moldy or stale. Instead of contributing to financial health, the “halo” of perceived frugality can lead to financial obesity (so to speak). I’m sure it’s not a systemic problem for any truly frugal person, but it’s something to be on guard against. I’ve been guilty myself.

It seems to me there is a related but even bigger danger, though it’s confined to the fringe frugal population, that is, those obsessively in search of free stuff. According to Ms. DFS, who follows this group on line with a sort of morbid fascination, some will acquire (exactly how isn’t important here), twenty free blood-sugar monitors, or shampoos, or hair dyes. The monitors can be donated for a tax deduction; the shampoos and hair dyes can be hoarded. But it’s a waste of resources—one’s own and others’. And sending away for those small free samples can seem like a frugal quest, as indeed it is if one considers only the expense to oneself, which is about zero. But while it may not cost you anything directly, the mailing and processing are quite expensive and take energy and resources; this adds up and in the end we all “pay.” In this case the halo is certainly tarnished, even if it hasn’t morphed into a pitchfork.

I’m going to try to make sure that the gleam of that frugal halo doesn’t entice me into betraying my real values.

[See John Tierney, “Health Halo Can Hide the Calories.” New York Times, December 2, 2008. ]

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bargains and Special Offers: To Do or Not To Do

So many special offers are catching my eye. This is a holiday season thing; perhaps there are more than usual owing to the dismal economic news.

How to decide whether to do or not to do?

Here are a few recent temptations.

1. Coinstar—through December 9. No fee if you get coins credited to a gift card. If you get $40 credited, you can send for an extra $10 gift card. Stores include Amazon and Lowes.

I did this one last year when the bonus was applied to $25. So this year’s is stingier. Also, the close-by grocery no longer has a Coinstar machine (it has a different company’s). I would have to drive out of my way. I checked the weekly ads at the two out-of-the-way stores and nothing appeals. So NO—not worth my time for a $10 credit.

***P.S. Those coin changing machines take about (or as they say “only”) 8%-9% as a fee. The line is always long. That’s a big fee, folks.

2. I have a code from Garnet Hill for 25% off all full-price merchandise! Well . . . . I do crave some real Uggs, but will not do this. I filled my cybercart during the recent Thanksgiving sale when there was lots of stuff for under $10, but then emptied it. NO.

3. Sephora sent a coupon for $15 off an order of $35 and above. I’ll ask my dear daughter, the divine Miss Em, if she wants some perfume. She’s in a perfume addiction phase and that stuff never goes on sale. MAYBE.

All the other tempting offers that inundate my inbox? No. I figure if the sales are good now, they will be better post-Christmas. Also, by the time post-Christmas rolls around, I am so sick of the whole idea of stuff that I usually don’t want anything.

You don’t have to be an English teacher to know that “to do or not to do” is a play on Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. Though many people think Hamlet’s problem is inaction, I disagree. I think the play says that it’s good to wait until you are sure of what is true and what is not true. It’s better to think. And I think that I don’t really want anything right now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

College Savings: A Provocation

Even though I know a lot about colleges (being in the biz), I have trouble writing about the topic because I am so conflicted. Yet this is a potentially budget-busting item of interest to many.

Here are my conflicts: I LOVE the small liberal arts colleges (Oberlin, Grinnell, Kenyon, Reed, and the like), yet I am resentful of a number of things: of the fact that I am not in a tuition exchange (if I taught at a private college my kids could get free tuition at similar institutions), of the fact that if I quit my job, my kids could go virtually for free, but that if I keep working, our two-teacher family income keeps us from getting need aid …. STOP!!!!!

I am also conflicted because though I wanted my son to WANT to go to one of these schools, he didn’t seem to care that much, and eventually chose to go to the state university, which offered him a large scholarship.

Here is the controversial part: as compulsive savers, we created 529 accounts for each child. We funded them for the cost of four years of room and board at the state university (or the cost of one year at a private college). Luckily, as it happened, we did not choose a stock account, so the money remains safe in fixed income.

We told out son (our daughter’s decision is yet to come, but the same applies to her) that if the money wasn’t used, we would give it to him after college.

I’ve seen many discussions of college costs, agonized essays on “is it worth it,” comments like “since we can afford it, why not.” But I’ve never seen a student offered the choice:

Go to Grinnell and we’ll try to pay for it;
OR go to the less expensive school and YOU can have the college account.

Our son chose the latter, though he was not motivated by visions of future money. Rather, he wanted to be free of the pressure to work in the summers (though he did work) and he wanted to travel (he went to Korea for a month after his first college year). He also likes the idea that he’s not taking any money from us for college.

So far, we haven’t dipped into the fund at all and he will have enough money to travel the world for a year after college, return and buy a car, and have some left over for a down payment on a house.

What’s really important is that so far, he seems happy with his choice.

I am interested in what others think of this . . . not that we have many readers yet. Any comments? Is there anything wrong with offering our children the residue of the college savings account? Is there anything right with it?

I will be writing about more aspects of college—finances, quality, etc., in the future as soon as my heart palpitations subside!

Ask Dr Frugal: How do I Save Money

How Do I Save Money?

Another question from a college student. It seems so simple, but there are questions behind the questions.

So I said: “How much do you want to save?”
Answer: “I don’t know.”

“What do you want the money for?”
Answer: “I don’t know.”

“When might you need the money?”
Answer: “I don’t know.”

After some discussion, we discovered that she wanted an emergency fund (for car breakdowns and other unexpected expenses) and that she thought $1000 would be “awesome.”

So I said, “Well, each time you skip a fast-food meal and bring a lunch instead, you save $4-$6. In a year you could reach your goal.”

Then I said, “Each time you bring a lunch, you can count it as a small victory. Keep track of the number of times you do this.”

A listening bystander said, “Small victory! I never thought of it like that.”

These are good students! They have academic and professional goals. Yet they did not know how to set financial goals. They did not know how to break a big goal into small parts. They did not know how to see rewards along the way.

Now they do.

Monday, December 1, 2008

How to Pay For Your Entire Life by Mowing Your Lawn

(by Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar)

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, my mother learned how to cut hair. My brother and I were her guinea pigs, and even though we had crew cuts in those days—what seemed to be a very simple enterprise—my mother managed to do considerable damage her first few times. But eventually she became quite the expert. She cut her children’s hair until they left home (and even after), and my father’s until she died in 2003.

The consequence of this was that she saved enough to pay for almost everything we bought. If, for example, we bought a new television, she would comment that it had been more than paid for by all the years of hair cutting. Ditto a painting, a vacation, a dinner out. There were a few limits; hair cutting didn’t pay for my college tuition, although it paid for a lot of the extras.

I have been faithful to this lesson in my own life. In fact, I cut my own hair (more about this another time), but more importantly, I cut our lawn.

Most of the people in our neighborhood use a lawn service (the “mow/blow/go” crowd that my sister-in-law, a dedicated gardener, so despises). But this doesn’t come cheap—I priced it once and for us it would be $40 to $50 a pop. Figure that it’s a weekly expense for at least 45 weeks a year (in Louisiana), and that’s $1,800 minimum. One thousand, eight hundred dollars! Just for mowing the lawn! This doesn’t count any real gardening, the work that makes a yard look good--I can’t imagine what that would add up to.

A basic mulching mower costs about $225; gas about $12 for the season. Throw in a string trimmer for another $200 and it’s still only $425. Subtract that from $1,800 and there’s enough for a round-trip ticket to Paris and three or four nights in the Hotel Saint-Andre des Arts (great location; cool building; no elevator or air conditioning). And that’s just one year! If you’re creative, like my mother, you can use it to pay for your entire life. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Frugal Gardener: Compost 2 (Compost Wars)

Compost Wars

In my last post I wrote about the growing competition in my neighborhood for pre-bagged garden waste, especially the top-end stuff: leaves, grass, and pine needles. To most people all those plastic bags by the curb probably just look like more work for the waste management people, but to the frugal gardener each one holds the possibility of being pure compost gold. I mentioned that, in general, we’re a friendly bunch of competitors. I’m sure that if I’d hailed that elegant gentleman in his Lexus who was appropriating “my” leaves from the neighbor’s parkway he would have quietly withdrawn from my turf. No hard feelings.

Maybe there’s something about leaves, grass, and needles that inspires camaraderie rather than serious competition. Of course we’re being virtuous as well as frugal, and that creates a feeling of self-congratulatory solidarity.

But whatever it is about curbside compost that makes everyone soft and fuzzy doesn’t translate to coffee grounds (a great soil addition). Maybe it’s the residual caffeine, but in my experience coffee grounds are grounds for conflict. Let me explain.

Many years ago we had an office coffee machine, and since consumption was ferocious (this is Louisiana, after all) we would go through several pounds of Community Dark Roast with Chicory every week (with some CDM—Café du Monde—thrown in occasionally for variety). This, of course, produced a hefty amount of grounds, and as a frugal gardener I couldn’t stand to let it all go to waste. So one day I brought in a container and taped a note behind the coffee pot asking for drinkers please to dump the used grounds in the container.

This worked beautifully for a while, and I took home a plastic bucket of rich brown leftovers for my garden every week.

Then came the mutterings of discontent: Why should I get all the grounds? Shouldn’t everyone have a chance? After all, it isn’t every day, or every week, that one gets a chance to take home a nice big bucket of coffee grounds for the garden! It was clearly an issue of great importance. The wife of one colleague finally moved from muttering to action, and put another bucket next to mine, and another note behind the coffee pot, asking that drinkers distribute the grounds evenly between the two.

Until that point I had been pretty complacent. But even if this wasn’t war, it was a definite challenge, and I decided to outflank the competition. I went to the food services people and asked if I could collect their coffee grounds; I’d even supply the containers, I told them. I was sure I’d hit the mother lode.

I wish I could tell you that this was the beginning of a frugal composting empire, but it wasn’t. Bureaucracies make everything difficult—even recycling coffee grounds—and apparently there were health codes to take into account, and the problem of where to keep the bucket . . . and on and on. For a while I shared the grounds with my colleague’s wife, and then for some reason—I can’t recall now—the communal coffee pot disappeared, eliminating the occasion for further intradepartmental conflict.

There is a lesson here. The best way (as Tom Sawyer knew) to get others interested in something is to show (or feign) your interest in it first. If you want people to recycle leaves or coffee grounds, pretend they’re the most valuable commodity around. So even though I lost some compost, I feel that in some small way I may have helped inspire others to become frugal gardeners and environmentalists. I may have gone down a rung on the ladder of material gain, but have ascended several on the ladder of moral value, and I will not hesitate to claim credit for reducing landfills and energy consumption, improving general cardiovascular health (it’s hard work lifting those bags and tilling in those grounds), and promoting the great American values of entrepreneurship and competition

So go out there and collect those grounds. Just not on my turf.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Frugal Holiday Gifts—Teen Edition

Truly, my two children give the lie to the common lament: “Teenagers are so expensive!” They are frugal in their own wants. My daughter, the Divine Miss Em, is particularly gifted at frugal gift-giving.

My daughter attends a residential high school about 250 miles from home. Don’t gasp, frugal readers! This is a wonderful state-supported magnet school that costs only about $800/year for a truly superior education. If you don’t have the $800 (this includes room and board), there are scholarships available.

So … she had to get her holiday gifts for friends together over Thanksgiving break. Her gifts are great. These are creative and frugal gifts.

If you happen to be an intended recipient, read no further.

Friend 1: Nice razor set (regularly $7.99, but $3.99 at Walgreens yesterday, with a $3 in-store coupon = $0.99). Pinwheel pen in matching color (had this lying around the house).

Friend 2: Vera Bradley pencil and brush case (regularly $18, but on sale for $5, plus about $1 for shipping / tax). This was filled with some of the Snickers bars I bought for Halloween (but ended up not giving out).

Friend 3: Large stack of magazines for a magazine-lover with no subscriptions (we get these with unusable Frequent Flier miles) plus little bow (cost unknown) plus huge chocolate bar (free after rebate at CVS) plus a set of three small bubble blowers (90% off at CVS last September, maybe $0.40).

Friend 4: over-the-top large sword that shoots out bubbles (bought at 90% off CVS sale last September, for about $0.70) plus joke gift.

Friend 5: cute underwear ($0.99 at Ross Dress for Less) plus Cover Girl lip gloss ($7 at CVS, but free after rebate).

Wrapping paper: I never bought this when my children were younger, which caused them great embarrassment. (I used a roll of wallpaper someone gave me.) When we went to the closet, there, in addition to the wallpaper, were several rolls of very snazzy gift wrap. My admiring husband said, “Look! This was only $1!” I wandered over, saw the wrap I had forgotten about, and said, “No. It was 10 cents. I got it at the 90% off sale at Big Lots last year.”

You do the math. This was put together on Black Friday, in the comfort of our own home. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Children's Books and Frugality

As I surveyed the list of children’s books I posted yesterday, I was overwhelmed by emotion and wonderful memories of reading with my children. Then I was struck by how many of these books have to do with the very values we deem important: family, simple pleasures, and so forth. A sub-theme in many is frugality.

None of these books depicts a family in which each member is alone in his or her room watching tv. None of these books depicts a holiday scene in which children are overwhelmed by boxes and boxes of gifts.

Let me speak a little more specifically about some of these.

Oxcart Man: The family works together on a farm. The father journeys to the market, where he sells his ox and buys necessities and a few small gifts for his family. Beautifully written by a well-known poet.

Miss Rumphius: She travels the world and teaches. Then she has to decide how to make the world more beautiful. She chooses to scatter lupine seeds.

Roxaboxen: This tells how a group of children in Arizona made a whole world out of nothing.

Blueberries for Sal: Picking blueberries with mom. (Sal’s encounter with the bear will give a heart attack to many parents.)

Stone Soup. I remember this one from my own childhood. How with cleverness and creativity, soldiers get selfish villagers to make soup out of “nothing.”

One book is about gifts. Happy Birthday Moon is not about splurging on some extravagant item, but about how giving is a gift for the giver.

Two books are about “greed.” Strega Nona deals with a magic pasta pot; Anthony makes too much pasta and ends up with a tummy ache.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs presents every child’s fantasy: food falling out of the sky!

Two books that I would add to the list:
Something from Nothing: about how nothing is wasted as a boy’s jacket becomes a vest and eventually a button. At the end you have a story!
A Chair for My Mother: Mom works hard and is soooo tired, so the family starts a coin jar to buy mom a chair.

More to come! It says something about how often we read these books that I am speaking about them from memory—more than 10 yeaers later.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Top children's books...for holiday or any time

College Students at lunch: on children’s books

In time for the holidays, or any time really, a list of loved children’s books compiled by a bunch of college students in the cafeteria.

My son sent me this list in an email last year. Isn’t it wonderful to think of a group of 18-20 year olds discussing this? I must say that my son’s friends are a brainy and ambitious bunch, so these books are proven winners.

Frugal folk, of course, go to the library. They also go to thrift stores, where there are piles of children’s books, usually for the undignified price of 25 cents.

Any books I should add?

Abel's Island --- William Steig
Abiyoyo --- Pete Seeger
Apt. 3 --- Ezra Jack Keats
Baba Yaga --- ???
Blueberries for Sal --- Robert McCloskey
Burt Dow, Deep Water Man --- Robert McCloskey
Caps for Sale --- Esphyr Slobodkina
Chanticleer and the Fox --- Barbara Cooney
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom --- Bill Martin Jr.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs --- Judi Barrett
Doctor De Soto --- William Steig
Drummer Hoff --- Ed Emberly
Fantasia (Film) --- Walt Disney
Goodnight Moon --- Margaret Wise Brown
Grandfather Twilight ---- Barbara Berger
Grandfather's Journey --- Allen Say
Happy Birthday, Moon --- Frank Asch
Harold and the Purple Crayon --- Crockett Johnson
In the Night Kitchen --- Maurice Sendak
Katy and the Big Snow --- Virginia Lee Burton
Knots on a Counting Rope --- John Archambault
Lon Po Po --- Ed Young
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel --- Virginia Lee Burton
Millions of Cats --- Wanda Gag
Mirette on the High Wire --- Emily McCulley
Miss Rumphius --- Barbara Cooney
Napping House --- Audrey Wood
Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm --- Alice Provensen
Owl Babies --- Martin Waddell
Ox Cart Man --- Barbara Cooney
Paddle-to-the-Sea --- Holling C. Holling
Rainbow Fish --- Marcus Pfister
Red Balloon (Film) --- Albert Lamorisse
Roxaboxen --- Alice Mclerran
Silly Symphonies (Film) --- Walt Disney
Stellaluna --- Janell Cannon
Stone Soup --- Marcia Brown
Strega Nona --- Tomi dePaola
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble --- William Steig
The Amazing Bone --- William Steig
The Carrot Seed (+Record) --- Crockett Johnson
The Church Mice (not sure which one of the series) --- Graham Oakley
The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship --- Uri Shulevitz
The Little Engine That Could --- Watty Piper
The Little House --- Virginia Lee Burton
The Mitten --- Jan Brett
The Mountain That Loved a Bird --- Alice Mclerran
The Mountains of Tibet Mordecai --- Gerstein
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick --- Chris van Allsburg
The Polar Express --- Chris van Allsburg
The Snowman (Film) --- Raymond Briggs
The Snowy Day --- Ezra Jack Keats
The Stranger --- Chris van Allsburg
The Sweetest Fig --- Chris van Allsburg
The Talking Eggs --- Robert San Souci
The Treasure --- Uri Shulevitz
The Velveteen --- Rabbit Margery Williams
The Very Hungry --- Caterpillar Eric Carle
Tikki Tikki Tembo --- Arlene Mosel
Where the Wild Things Are --- Maurice Sendak
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears --- Leo and Diane Dillon


Monday, November 24, 2008

Tuscan Kitchen

After a few years of agonizing indecision, we redid out kitchen last summer. Very modestly. And with no regrets or cognitive dissonance, even though the remodel antedated the dreadful economic downturn of Fall 2008.

We walked the frugal path with the remodel, though it was hard, with numerous examples of “kitchen porn” available in books, magazines, and on such websites as Gardenweb, where the TKO (Technically [or is it Totally?] Kitchen Obsessed) assure each other that high five to six figure remodels are the norm.

How did we keep to the frugal path? We kept thinking of our wonderful trip to Italy, which was special in many ways. It was my first (and so far only) trip there. My husband and I were thinking of attending a conference in Prato, but were hesitant because of the cost. I mentioned this to a former student who was teaching Spanish part-time that semester, She said, “But I am moving near there this summer, to take care of some elderly people who helped me during a hard time of my life. Stay with us.”

So we went. We stayed in Orsigna, a tiny village at the top of a mountain. We took the bus, which ran twice a day, down to the train station, from which we would go to Prato, or Florence. These bigger cities were great, but Italy is so hot in summer! It was wonderful to return to Orsigna every afternoon and take our first breath of cool air!

We stayed with C (my former student) and J (her new husband). C had returned to Italy to care for an elderly couple who had served as her surrogate parents when she was in Italy many years before. Their only daughter had recently died.

While we were there, I got to do what I REALLY wanted to do, which was to look into private houses. These people were, I suppose, working class. But they lived in amazing beauty—in old stone buildings. In their small homes, along with the futon couch and little tv, were beautiful pieces of wooden furniture, made as wedding gifts from the local chestnut trees.

When agonizing over my kitchen choices, I came upon frequent pictures of so-called Tuscan kitchens. These consisted of loads of custom cabinetry (distressed) with loads of pottery. Lavish marble counterops. Enormous stoves.

Then I thought of the real thing: tiny spaces, a few cabinets (flat front laminate), countertops of formica. At the center of each kitchen was a smallish worktable with a worn marble top. Tiny stove (often 2 burner), tiny sink.

Favorite detail: over the sink is a drainer (sometimes with a cabinet front). You would wash the dish and then put it in drainer—it would drip into the sink. This is a lot less work than the American way: putting dishes in dishwasher, running cycle, putting away. Needless to say, this wonderful device does not exist in the US.

From these tiny and minimal kitchens came wonderful food, with little work. There was one store in the village, which carried local cheeses, good pasta. This was a life with few choices.

C told us that one of the few youngish inhabitants of Orsigna was a 40-ish fellow with a doctorate, who—Italian-style—lived with his mother and made money every now and then by foraging for mushrooms in the woods.

All so different from the “Under the Tuscan Sun” image of Italian life!

Frugal Formal, Frugal Prom

Although it is November, and proms are spring events, the frugal parent’s thoughts should turn to proms (or similar events) around now…if not sooner. My own thoughts never turned to proms, having skipped the prom in my countercultural high school days, but my children’s thoughts do tend in the formal direction at times. And since I still pay for their desires, and I have a daughter and a son, I have had to think about the dress and the shoes and…the tuxedo.

While one might think that it is the daughter’s prom that raises my frugal hackles, that would be a mistake. It is easy to have a frugal prom for the female: with stores like Ross and TJ Maxx and the other usual suspects, it is no hard task to find a dress for under $20, even cheaper than a thrift store price. So I let my daughter go her own way on this (last year a $12 dress with borrowed shoes; this year a borrowed dress with old shoes and new earrings from Target for $23, including shipping).

But the boys! No one thinks about them. But their prom is actually more expensive: more than $100 to rent with all sorts of add-ons. Answer: thrift store with large lead time. A few years before my son was of prom age, I noticed a tuxedo for $5 in my area thrift. It was a medium size (40R) so I bought it. So for the next year of so I kept the future prom in my frugal filing cabinet (i.e. my brain). But I didn’t stress about it because I figured that even if I had to buy the rest new I would still be ahead over renting. But eventually I found a silk bow tie (15 cents! In the Halloween costume section); we had some black pants. Only problems: shirt and cummerbund. Amazingly, I found a new tux shirt in the Food Bank thrift store ($2.00). Cummerbund…it was getting close. I looked on ebay and found them ridiculously expensive. Finally, at the Habitat for Humanity Store I found a cummerbund. Unfortunately, it was attached to a complete tuxedo set for $30.00. So, I begged the manager: “Please Ms. Charlotte, can I buy just the cummerbund?” YES! (I am a good customer and have even volunteered a few times).

So instead of renting for $100 plus, we “own” for under $20. This set has been worn twice.

Runner-up solution for those who don’t bliss out at thrift stores: JC Penney’s! A very nice wool blend tux is $100; accessories are reasonable too. If you wear it once, it is the same as renting. If you wear it twice…easy math.

A funny story: one of my students worked at a tux rental store and when I told her about my success she said “EWWWWWWW. You don’t know who wore that stuff.” To which I replied: “Probably some rich guy who gained weight. But lots of people wore those rental tuxes.” She agreed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blog Critique

Here is my son's critique of the blog, from a chat:
Son: for example instead of an article title being : Ask Dr Frugal: unwanted cds make it Ask Dr. Frugal: Unwanted CDs
6:09 PM me: yeah--you can edit for me
Son: just that little bit of capitalization makes it look more like a PhD did it and less like some 15 year old

OOPS! So my college-age son will henceforth edit my sloppy posts.
I'm off to a conference in San Antonio, a paradise for the frugal traveler, with great and low-cost food and sights.

Frugal Beginnings: Graduate School Poverty

Frugal Beginnings: Graduate School Poverty

My dear son says: Write an autobiography for your blog. Talk about how you were so poor in graduate school.

But that would be a long preamble to a tale (does anyone know the source of that quotation?).

So, a short preamble: 1970s graduate school poverty facts. My stipend was $300 per month and over half of that was tied up by necessities: rent was about $120, food was about $40, and our phone was about $20. No car. Luckily, utilities were included in the rent. Gee, that left $120 a month for everything else, including costly books, professional expenses, clothes, etc. Parents paid for plane trips home.

Then my stipend ran out. (Lest this seems too cushy, let us note that the stipend was pay for teaching 3 freshmen composition courses a year. We were limited to 4 years).

Luckily I hadn’t heard of loans. Really! So I started to improvise. I began to find vintage clothes at local thrifts and consign at the wonderful “Eye of Osiris.” While at the thrifts, I began to buy books (2 for a nickel at the Salvation Army) and swap for credit at the wonderful “Caveat Emptor.” (Perhaps these stores are still there…in Bloomington, Indiana). Thrift stores were great then and I discovered that then (as now) most of the customers were buying to resell—clothes, books, antiques. Hence, I learned to live without money. Then I learned to cook with beans to please my Cal-Mex-loving beloved who craved the burritos of his Pasadena childhood.

The down side was that all this was so much fun…and I had such poor time management skills…that I procrastinated on the dissertation. And it was so hard to find a job (then as now). But in the end it’s even MORE embarrassing NOT to finish your dissertation (because so many people don’t finish).

Fast forward, finished my dissertation, got a job. My new job was paying six times as much as I had been making in graduate school but I continued to live in much the same way that I had during graduate school. I was worried because jobs weren’t secure…out of habit I kept saving. It was easy because I had picked up no bad habits and I was spending only a little more money than I did as a graduate student! I wanted to have a full year’s salary saved in case I had to look for a job and my beloved did the same.

Now beloved and I have tenure, a house, two kids and enough saved up that, while I worry about retirement, I no longer worry about yearly expenses, including the massive emergency expenses that can hit a family.

Though we both come from frugal families, we are far more frugal than any of our siblings. I attribute that frugality to graduate school. And that’s how I started.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Frugal Gardener: Compost 1

Frugal Gardener: Compost 1

A contribution from my dear husband, also a scholar, lover of Proust and Emerson, cyclist and gardener. AND he does all the dishes, thanks to the training of his mother.

You would think that the soil of Southern Louisiana would be rich and fertile. But it’s not—or at least not where we live—and if I want to anything to grow I have to add lots of organic matter. During the first few years after we moved into our house I actually paid for loads of pine bark and manure. Then I wised up: there was lots of organic material all bundled up and just waiting for me. I’m talking about the organic garden waste that my neighbors so kindly package and put by the street.

Of course there is garden waste and garden waste, and it takes an experienced eye and an experienced foot (more about this in a later post) to distinguish between the deliciously compact and hefty bag of mower-mulched leaves and grass, and the asymmetrical and disappointingly light bag of miscellaneous sticks and branches. But a good bag of leaves and grass makes, after a bit of judicious aging, a wonderful addition to one’s garden.

And therein lies the rub.

When I began my compost foraging I had the streets to myself. I’d scout the neighborhood, note the promising locations, and then go out at night, before bed, when I didn’t have to worry about holding up traffic, and load the bags into the trunk and back seat of our Camry. (I put a mover’s blanket on the seat to keep it clean.) Then drive home, toss the bags someplace for later distribution, and go out for another load. The only minor crisis I had in the early days was late one Sunday night when a police officer saw me on my rounds and rightly thought I looked a bit suspicious. I had a hard time convincing him that I wasn’t trying to cover for some more nefarious activity, but he finally let me go. (He did follow me home to verify my improbable story.)

And then I began to notice that some of the especially good pickings would disappear before I could get to them. Sometimes I’d see them in the afternoon, waiting calmly for my later visit, and in the evening they would be gone. Competition! We have a friend who is also a compost bandit, but he insisted he was limiting his forays to his own neighborhood, and in any case preferred pine needles, whereas I leaned toward a nice leaves/grass mixture.

One afternoon I was distributing some of my composted leaves when the mail carrier stopped to compliment me on my garden. “Hey,” he said. “You can get some great bags of leaves around here. There’s one place on 15th—they have great stuff!! I just got five great bags last night.” Wait! That’s my place! And he had a pickup truck he used to gather the loot—much easier and faster than a Camry.

Just the other day I saw a dignified middle-aged man in his Lexus (I am middle-aged and undignified, and my Camry is ten years old) open his trunk and fill it with my neighbor’s three bags—unquestionably my territory.

So the golden age is over. Now I have to scramble to get my leaves. But I don’t mind: there’s still plenty to go around, and it makes my frugal green heart sing to see all of that wonderful organic matter going into gardens rather than landfills. Those who are frugal by conviction love to spread the word. So go out tonight and get your own bags of compost. You’ll be doing yourself, your garden, the waste-management people, and the environment a service.

Just prepare a story for the police officer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ask Dr Frugal: unwanted cds

What do I do with my unwanted cds?

Now that I am getting slightly famous at work for my frugal tips (mostly because I have been telling people I have lots of frugal tips), students have been asking me questions.

Question #1 is from Alexandra: “Dr Frugal, what should I do with cds I don’t want?”
Answer: Check on Amazon to see if they have any value. If so, sell them there! It’s so easy. You can get little padded envelopes when they are on sale at Walgreen’s for 3/$1. Or make your own.

For those that don’t have enough value for Amazon, list on Also easy. You can set up a wishlist of cds you want.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My frugal Dad: wastepaper basket

My frugal Dad

In Memoriam: BG 1928-2008

My father died unexpectedly last week, just a few days after a doctor told him that, with his strong heart, he could look forward to 10-15 good years with my mother.

My dear and difficult father taught me to be frugal, though I probably surpass him in the pathological department. There are many ways to be frugal: save money on things you need, don’t buy things you don’t need, make things yourself, make do, and many more. My dad was also a fearless manager of his own money, and it is a tribute to his skills that, after years of owning a small business, followed by 12 years of teaching, and NO pension or inheritance, my mother is OK for money, even after the dreadful downturn of late.

My first tribute will be a small one. Although it was not his strongest frugal suit, my father did have a streak of creative frugality. When my husband and I were helping out my mother by emptying a small trashcan by my father’s desk, we discovered that he had lined the mesh trashcan with….a collage of used tyvec envelopes from priority mail. That’s creative, and frugal, and good for the earth…all at once.

Thanks for the unexpected moment of pleasure in the midst of sadness.

Carlisle suits

My Carlisle suits

St John update. Took jacket to school where it was met with some acclaim. No one will ever take me for a dress for successer because I am a well-known thrift shopper. But my frugal pal George kept saying to all colleagues who came down our hall, “Do you want to see a $1000 jacket?” One of my colleagues (not someone who likes me) said, “Oh, is it a Chanel?” She looked at the label and sniffed, “Oh, a St John.”

Couldn’t resist adding a comment on jacket to the Wall Street Journal discussion on luxury labels. No response to my comment.

Some other responders mentioned the Carlisle collection as a worthy brand. This brand is sold in people’s houses; my research revealed that the wife of Trent Lott is a seller. The sales are by invitation only; the jackets seem to go for $300 and up. I know I’ve seen some at the thrifts. In fact, at a fairly upscale abode a few blocks away, I’ve seen the living area set up as a clothing store, so perhaps the resident is a Carlisle seller. Love the fact that there are pockets of rich people here because the clothes end up at the thrifts.

I was kind of blue over all the work I have to do, so I set out to the thrifts for my morning break, secretly hoping for another St John. First I hit Goodwill, where there was nothing of interest. So I headed (as a treat for myself) to Habitat (zip) and then crossed the street to the Food Bank thrift, where there were TWO Carlisle suits in my size The thrift store force seems to be with me. Of course I had to get them. The pants they came with seem rather outdated (pleats), so I’ll probably wear the jackets with jeans.

I put the suits on the counter and continued to look around. A person with a clothing voucher came in and wanted my suits! Luckily, the cashier said they were mine! It is neat to imagine this needy person in a Carlisle suit. Oh well, lots of other nice stuff for her.

Then I ran into a fellow thrifter, with whom I share size 6 ½ feet. She saw the suits and said they had been there a few days. Most of the people who shop at thrifts in my area don’t need suits like that. I don’t either, but I can wear them to teach.

In the space of a week I’ve acquired (for 13.50) three upscale items. Now I can put to the test the theory that these brands (quietly) scream luxury. That is, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Frugal Fashion: St John Jacket

My St John Jacket
November 2008

There was a fashion essay in a recent Wall Street Journal about the “value” of a St John suit. St John, in case you don’t know, is a super-expensive, conservative knitwear line, sold at Saks, Nordstrom and the like. On the practical side, they are wrinkle free, at least if you get the signature Santana knit. I always thought the clothes looked like what I call “rich lady clothes.” Certainly too old for me (yet I’m 54!).

According to the WSJ writer, the St John suit will elicit great tables in expensive restaurants, immediate help from sales associates. The author even had her picture snapped while wearing her suit.

I was determined to put this to the test. So I checked out ebay (too expensive), Nordstrom (those babies cost over $1000!). Yes, expensive. I read a while back that many women in congress wear St John; one even said that she bought suits on ebay or in consignment stores.

I decided I would devote a year to checking thrifts (sporadically, not obsessively) before I thought about buying one in more expensive venues. That was on Wednesday. On Saturday, I headed out to my therapeutic thrifts. Habitat for Humanity (donated all my plastic bags to them, no purchase). Food Bank Thrift (right across the street; I walked, saving gas). There I bought 5 books for $1, including Harold Bloom’s study of Wallace Stevens. The other 4 will probably go to

Since I hadn’t wasted much time, I decided to drive the mile or so to Goodwill. I had to go to the grocery next door to mail a package (they have a little post office) and I wanted to buy some satsumas. These are a citrus fruit, kind of like tangerines (maybe they ARE tangerines). Anyway, these are locally grown and are only 79 cents a lb at the grocery.

Goodwill. Checked books first. Rien. Then I kind of casually walked through. Corner of eye—spotted a knit jacket. YES! A St John, and of recent vintage…and my size. The only flaw was a stuck zipper. I bought it anyway ($3.80 with tax) and took it home to show dh. He couldn’t unstick the zipper.

Checked out stuff on internet and discovered St John will repair items for minimal charge. So I call Saks (with my rich lady voice—I only slipped a few times) and asked. YES! Bring it in. Their alteration dept will fix for free. If the seamstresses can’t do it, the jacket can be sent to St John for repair.

Who knows when I will leave my pastoral town for the big city? I realize that to bring the jacket into Saks will require my getting dressed a bit.

The great New Orleans Aquarium is near Saks. We used to park there and walk through en route to the Aquarium. Believe me, my scruffy family stood out!

To be continued…

Frugal Fun: Fall Weekend

Weekend : Fall 2008

Usually, we don’t do much on the weekends: dh gardens, I putter around…We have vowed to do more fun stuff now that dd and ds don’t live at home most of the year. Usually, we just stay home….This weekend, we have had an embarrassment of fun activities.

Friday: went to FREE Sunset at the Landing Concert. The New Orleans area has so many fabulous musicians. This series is in a beautiful spot by the Bogue Falaya River. We heard some instrumentalists and singer Topsy Chapman. Bonus: we can walk to this spot from our house.

Saturday: we were invited by Mark and Peggy, a creative, smart duo we know, to an evening of music at their home. Mark and Peggy love music and were regular patrons of the jazz dinner at the Mandalay Café, which went kaput post-Katrina. They had the idea of hosting musicians at their house, with everyone chipping in to pay ! What a great idea! So for about $30 we got to listen to a wonderful performer and to partake of a potluck meal. The musician was very funny. I was determined to remember some of his great moments, but all I can remember is that he rhymed “anguish” and “language” in an anti-Bush tune and sang a funny/poignant song about NOLA (New Orleans LA) to the tune of Lola. Mentions of Katrina will forever be a bonding device for those of us in the “Katrina area.”

Sunday: if dh ever gets back from his bike ride, we will go to a FREE concert at the church down the street. This is a monthly series. Tonight it is classical string trio from Loyola University. Followed by free food! Vow not to eat too much.

Minor victory: did not go to Goodwill today! Went to CVS to get free candy corn (for students) and milk. Also bought some 90% off sunscreen and sports drinks. Spent around $10, $5 of which was a soon-to-expire ECB. Other victory: forwent some “free after rebate” items, which I didn’t need, as well as 90% off soda (10 cents!), which I don’t want to have around.
It is a beautiful day, so dh and I walked to little grocery. We didn’t really need anything, but bought a plantain (our weekly purchase) and a bottle of wine for dh. His favorite is Carbanere (???). Spent around $8.

Total spent this weekend: $30 for entertainment; $18 for food and sunscreen.