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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that elegant gentleman in his Lexus who was appropriating “my” leaves from the neighbor’s parkway he would have quietly withdrawn from my turf.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.