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Friday, December 18, 2009

Regifting and Me: Tweed Jackets and Book Jackets

I read somewhere or other that yesterday was National Regifting Day. Could this be true? I also learned--via Wikipedia--that the term originated on Seinfeld. Is that true?

My first experience with regifting came--not, as one might expect, from my own frugal family--but from my in-laws. While they were horrified at my family's propensity for cash gifts, deeming them "vulgar," I think they saw regifting as as aspect of WASP-thrift. Seems somewhat paradoxical.

Many months ago, we posted a picture of one of my late mother-in-law's creations: a jacket made of ties. The ties had belonged to Henri Coulette, a poet of some repute, and my father-in-law's buddy. My father-in-law took some of the ties after Henri died. Another of Henri's legacies was a tweed jacket, classic professorial attire. The first holiday after his death, my husband received the jacket all wrapped up. Sadly, it didn't fit, because Mr. FS is pretty tall. My mother-in-law-to-be suggested that I take the jacket, since it went with the Annie Hall look. I declined, Annie Hall being somewhat out of date at the time. So the jacket went back to hanging on a hook in the garage.

Several years later, I was 7 months pregnant with Frugal Son. I found a big bulky gift with my name on it. You guessed it: inside was Henri's jacket! My mother-in-law said "I thought this jacket would be great because it will fit you for the next few months." I said--somewhat crabbily--that I still didn't want it. My mother-in-law had no recollection of the earlier efforts to give us the jacket. So back it went to the garage. I do wonder where it is now. Those tweed jackets never wear out.

As a footnote, let me add that one year I received in the mail a copy of Elizabeth David's book on bread cookery, which I had given to my father-in-law several years before. It was now inscribed to me. I knew it was the same one because it was sans jacket, as my father-in-law has the bad habit of throwing out book jackets when he receives a book.

As a second footnote, you may be interested to know that simply by reading my blog, you are a mere one degree (or is it two?) of separation from Jerry Seinfeld, since I went to school with him--elementary through high school. No, we are not in touch.

Any stories on regifting? the good? the bad? the indifferent?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thank You to the Universe for my Emergency Fund

So, the end of semester grades were turned in last night. Next comes the flurry of complaints and questions. Then...clean up the house, use up the stuff in the freezer, and reread War and Peace!

But then as I sat at the computer, a crown fell off my tooth!

Next morning, Mr. FS turned on his Dell computer. We hate Dell for its bad customer service anyway. Now we will put our vow to never buy anything from Dell again: Mr. FS was greeted by the dreaded blue screen. We took the computer to the Geeks at Best Buy and discovered that a diagnosis would cost $200.00. JUST SAY NO.

Back home, Mr. FS managed to turn the thing on again and backed up all the files just in case.

It turns out that putting the crown back on is no big deal. But we have to buy a new computer.

Tell me, is it good karma that the computer died after the semester was over? Or bad karma that it died at all? We had one computer that lasted for over 20 years. Now it seems that computers have become throwaway items with short life spans.

OMMMMMMMMMMM. We have an emergency fund for our new computer. OMMMMMMMMMM.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bad Customer Service: Example of Chico's

One reason I love thrift stores is that there is no customer service. I do not want sales people flattering me.

Every now and then, I do venture to a real store. Right now, I will vent my irritation at Chico's. Now I am not a great customer of that store. I bought one thing there this year. I find the quality very low for the price. And I hate that I am often the youngest person in the store. But some of their stuff has updated styling.

What I really hate is the customer service. Chico's sends me incredible coupons, probably because I don't buy anything. So I once ventured in to the one in Tuscaloosa Alabama, when we had a bit of time to kill. Miss Em sat in a chair and read a magazine. I tried on a shirt and, though I was pretty sure it was unflattering, I wandered out to show my obliging daughter. Before I got to her, I was intercepted by two beaming saleswomen. I said, "Please don't say anything. I want to get my daughter's opinion first."

They said, "Oh, we weren't going to say anything. We just like to look at the shirt on people who wear it well, so we can give ideas to other customers." OMG. Is that part of their training? Miss Em just shook her head. We left.

Then I succumbed again on Cyber Monday. There was free shipping and a discount, so I decided to try some skinny jeans. I got a confirmation, but then no shipping email. Finally, after more than a week, I called. The rep put me on hold and after about half an hour reported that the suppliers hadn't made enough. Oh. "Why wasn't I notified?" "We only just found out." Erghhhhh.

After a few days, I still hadn't received a cancellation so I emailed Customer Service, suggesting that they should officially cancel my order. I also suggested that they give me free shipping on another order. The response I got said (paraphrased) "Thank you for telling us about canceled order and free shipping. We will pass your concerns on to our production team blahblahblah."

I wrote back, saying that not a single one of my issues was answered. I got the SAME response again, with an added comment (paraphrased), "We are a specialty store and supplies are limited." Maybe it's a specialty store--whatever that means--but there are over 600 of them!

Once again, Aristotle comes to my rescue. The customer service in-store is too much; the email customer service is too little. And I still haven't received a cancellation!

To recover from my irritation, I went to Goodwill, where I found a new Chico's jacket. I decided all by myself that I liked it. Karma once more.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Great Gift for Kids: Klutz Shrinky Dinks Book

I've been plugging away at my end-of-semester work. Yesterday, though, I received another 60 exams and my energy started to ebb away. So--time for a last-minute post. Fittingly, the subject is a last-minute gift, which along with the clay book I mentioned a few days ago, is a fool-proof, bound-to-be appreciated present.

It is the Klutz Shrinky Dinks book. I figure Klutz won't mind if I paste their description.

The Shrinky Dinks Book

Shrinky Dinks is amazing shrinkable plastic. Draw or trace a design on it, color it, cut it out with ordinary scissors, bake it for mere minutes on a cookie sheet in your oven and, presto, your creation shrinks to 44% of its original size. You get six sheets of Shrinky Dinks® plastic in this book, along with a mind-boggling collection of ready-to-trace, ready-to-color, ready-to-shrink artwork.

For ages 6 and up
Written By: Sherri Haab & the Editors of Klutz

ISBN-10: 1-57054-407-7
ISBN-13: 978-1-57054-407-1

Like the Incredible Clay Book, this Klutz tome led to a group of kids of all ages--plus some adults--sitting around the table for hours. What could be better? Everyone has witnessed at least one post-gift meltdown. This, I believe, is the perfect antidote. By the way, I don't recommend giving both in one year. Give one book this year. Give the other next year. There aren't that many gifts of this caliber.

I must say that, though I rarely think anything is worth the money, Klutz books are generally worth the cost. Even at full price.

Do you have any "Worth It" gifts for kids?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Frugality and Education as Necessary Evils: Milton and Mascara

Part 2 of my meditation on this topic. I realized that I did not touch on the issue of education. "Education as necessary evil": that just makes my blood run cold.

Of course, I am a teacher, so my thoughts are probably self-serving. After all, I teach Milton and Shakespeare, Homer and Virgil. Useless stuff to many, to be endured rather than cherished.

What is education anyway? From the blog Word Power: So there you have it folks, the word educate is directly derived from the Latin word educare, which was constructed by combining the two words, ex and ducere. The literal translation of educate is to draw out of, lead out of, etc. The Romans considered educating to be synonymous with drawing knowledge out of somebody or leading them out of regular thinking. The Romans developed the noun, educatio from the verb educare.

To lead out or to draw out. We see an enactment of this concept in Milton's Paradise Lost, where education leads Eve out of narcissism. And we see it later with Adam, when he asks God for a mate. God doesn't simply give Adam a mate (and He could, because He's God; and He knows he will, because He has foresight). Instead, God asks Adam a series of questions about WHY he wants a mate. At the end of this process of education, it is not God who knows (since He already knew); it is Adam who knows.

Another great moment from Milton, this time from an essay called "Of Education." The end then of learning is to repair the ruin of our first parents... Thus education can lead us OUT of ourselves and help us attain what Milton later calls a"paradise within."

From these lofty heights of high art, let us return to Walgreens and mascara. What education might be involved in that frugal episode? What did my 18 year old daughter learn when she asked me to look for her mascara of choice on sale?

1. WAIT: delaying gratification can be a useful life skill (have your pizza AFTER you finish your homework).

2. ANTICIPATE YOUR NEEDS: My daughter had some mascara left when she asked; she did not wait for a mascara emergency.

3. MOMS WILL HELP YOU REACH YOUR GOAL: We are a family and on the same team.

4. FRUGALITY DOES NOT MEAN DEPRIVATION: You got your mascara and some cashews.

So how can education be evil?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Can frugality be a "necessary evil"?

If you are among the 70,000 or so subscribers to the uber-successful "Get Rich Slowly" blog, you may recognize my title: it was the title of a post a few days back. I read the post, which quoted approvingly some other writer who opined that "frugality and education" were "necessary evils" for the early part of life. Eventually, I suppose, you move beyond the need for either frugality or education.

Even now, typing these words provokes a physical response: I feel like I'm having a heart attack! I kept returning to the post, meaning to write a response, but remained so upset that I could only produce a single sentence. While a fair number of people disagreed with the premise of the statement, a surprising number of people persist in thinking that frugality has to do with deprivation.

Au contraire
. Frugality give you more of whatever you're after. It can be time, of course. But it can also be stuff.

Here is a real life example. A while ago, my daughter, at 18 in the frivolous accumulation stage of life, asked me to keep an eye out for her fave mascara. So I did. Here is a copy of the email I sent her, using the language of the crazed couponers: Wags has Maybelline on bogo. Do you want that mascara? To which: YESSSSSS. Brown and black.

So today I went to Walgreens (Wags) and got her two mascaras for the price of one (Buy One Get One). I spent around $7.00 for the two. For those who want two mascaras, here are the possibilities.

Profligate Person: Buy both for $14.00 on credit card. Pay minimum. Pay interest on mascara till paid off.

Normal Person: Buy both for $14.00. Whatever.

Frugal Person: Go to WAGS when they have a BOGO. Spend $7.00. Now you have $7.00 more.

Now, we can look at the options a Frugal Person has with the extra $7.00.

SAVER: Save the $7.00.
CRAZED MASCARA ACCUMULATOR: Buy another BOGO set, for a total of 4 mascaras.
CHARITABLE FRUGAL PERSON: Give the $7.00 to Habitat for Humanity.
FRIENDLY FRUGAL PERSON: Treat a pal to some coffee and a muffin.
SOCIABLE FRUGAL PERSON: Go out to lunch with a friend, Dutch treat.
NICE MAMA FRUGAL PERSON: Buy some cashews, also on sale, to give Miss Em as a treat.

Note that in all cases, the frugalista has MORE. So when people opine that frugality and education are necessary evils, to be endured when young, I must disagree. I think you'd be crazy NOT to be frugal.

So, what would you do with the $7.00???

Monday, December 7, 2009

Gifts I Think Are Good for Teachers

It's easy enough to give a great gift if you are willing to spend a bunch. Those snowman mugs with candy that I wrote about disparagingly come in at about $1.50 each. Are there any better gifts for the cheapwad parent?

How about a bunch of pencils, sharpened and tied with a ribbon?

How about some tea?

Sadly, I can't think of anything else. Gift giving is not my strong area. I still think a nice note is best.

Any other suggestions?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pumpkin Sausage Pasta Sauce: GOOD

I'm not sure if there is still a canned pumpkin shortage. If so, read no further. I still have loads of pumpkin from pre-shortage days. Yesterday I bought a bit of breakfast sausage and remembered the above recipe, which I've always wanted to try.

I first saw this in a Rachael Ray cookbook, which I'd checked out from the library. Easy enough to do a google search. I didn't follow the recipe, really.

First, I used about 1/4 of the required sausage (my usual sausage practice). Then I added some chopped onion and leek. After a bit, I added a can of pumpkin, some chicken broth, and some whole milk (no half and half in my fridge). I cooked for a bit and added some red pepper flakes.

Served on pasta with grated parmesan. Surprisingly delicious. And pumpkin is a superfood, so lots of vitamin A.

Try this if you see some marked-down post-Thanksgiving pumpkin languishing in your grocery.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Teacher Gifts Encore: Just Say No

A few days ago, I was waiting to check out at Dollar Tree. In front of me was a woman with, among other things, 8 snowman mugs. The woman in front of her commented on how cute the mugs were. And then the teacher gift conversation started.

Mug lady said that her kids had--between them--8 teachers. Each teacher would get a mug filled with candy. Admirer exclaimed over the idea--so cheap!--and said she would do the same.

Don't get me wrong. I think snowmen are cute. I do. But please don't give teachers mugs. First stop: Dollar Tree for a dollar. Next stop: Goodwill for whatever. At that point, another parent will probably buy the mug for a teacher gift, starting the whole process again. I guess this is recycling. But really, teachers have enough to do.

I don't receive many teacher gifts. So far this year, I have received an apple (we were doing Paradise Lost) and half a Hershey bar. These were much appreciated and will live forever in my memory. I know a lot of K-12 teachers and, trust me, all would appreciate a heartfelt note more than a mug.

Trust me on this.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Frugal Habit: Food Rescues

Our department party was canceled because bad weather is in the air. Yes, possible snow. Or sleet. Needless to say, I am disappointed because it's always fun to have a big potluck feast in the land of competitive cooking, Louisiana style. One colleague said, "Oh, I'll have to bring the crawfish dish I made to my church." Noooooooooooooooooo.

Next problem. What to do with the cream cheese laden wraps I made. I rolled up a cream cheese, feta, roasted pepper filling in a basil wrap. Then, you slice these on the diagonal and make these snazzy little pinwheels. I used to make these all the time, to great acclaim, but then forgot about them. They returned to consciousness when I noticed the frozen wraps and numerous rectangles of cream cheese in my fridge.

I am of the frugal genre that does not like to waste things. That is why I retrieved several soda cans out of the trash at work today and brought them to the recycling bin. That is why I once brought a big box of nice men's shoes that were awaiting trash pick-up down the street to Goodwill, where they were snapped up. Cream cheese doesn't freeze well, plus two people can't consume that much rich food without a crise de foie.

OK. Here's the brainstorm: cut them up and put them in soup where they will turn to cream cheese dumplings! I tried a few in some leftover soup and they were good! So I'll put them in soup today and tomorrow. I figure the richness is canceled out by the vegetables in the soup.

Then I'll make some more for the rescheduled party. Monday at school.

A cell phone and a bunch of cream cheese wraps. Two rescues in 3 days. Not too shabby.

What food rescues have you performed?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cell Phone and Rice: Further Instructions for the Frugal Cure

Mr. FS has some additions to my ecstatic rescued cell phone post.

It's not quite as simple as dumping the cell phone in a bag of rice--but it's still plenty simple. First, be sure not to turn the phone on, because you don't want to short out the circuits. Second, remove the battery. It doesn't hurt to put the battery in the rice with the phone. And that's about it. The little screen on our phone was full of water, but the rice got rid of it all, so this really works.

You can Google some variation of "rice dry cell phone" for more elaborate directions and discussions.

P.S. As per Shelley's query: I would wash the rice (as in the Asian tradition) and cook it!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wet Cell Phones and Rice: Cured!

Our trip to what we call the "dreaded WM" was prompted by washing our cell phone. Mr. FS found a tip on line: stick the phone in rice, which will absorb all the moisture. It was worth a try: it worked!!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Frugality 101: Keep your Eyes Open

This afternoon, Mr. FS and I took our dear daughter to a fried chicken place for a parking lot rendezvous. She met up with a friend for a ride back to college.

Moments before we left, Mr. FS noticed that he had left his cell phone in his cycling gear, which was floating in a bucket awaiting a wash. OOPS!!!

Since the fried chicken place was across the street from Wal-mart, we decided to get a replacement cell phone there. And pick up some tortillas.

I am usually not allowed to go to Wal-mart, since my trips there used to be followed by a lengthy comatose state and depression. No kidding. But we decided to take the chance. Of course, the cheap cell phone we wanted was out of stock. On to the tortillas.

To get to the bread area, we passed through produce. I stopped short: sweet potatoes at 15 cents/pound! I assigned Mr. FS the task of picking out some sweet potatoes. Then, after picking up the tortillas, I remembered another rule of Frugality 101: if one thing is marked down, so is another. Hence we discovered celery, string beans, and broccoli crowns, all for ridiculously low prices.

Total price for two packs of tortillas and assorted vegetables: $5.00. Mostly for the tortillas.

I asked Mr. FS if he would have noticed the sweet potatoes, since he goes to Wal-mart solo, on rare occasions. He said that he didn't bother looking when I was around, since he knew I would notice anything of interest.

So the third rule of Frugality 101: let the experts be experts.

That's the report on my post-Thanksgiving shopping. What could be better than vegetables?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ghosts of Black Fridays Past

I just finished consuming my traditional post-Thanksgiving breakfast: mashed potatoes and gravy. Sheer bliss. I added some braised greens to the bowl also. These were from the garden. More bliss.

Miss Em was lamenting that this was her very first Thanksgiving without her older brother, aka Frugal Son. I said, "For me too." To which she replied: "You had 34 Thanksgivings without him." So true.

To distract her from her sorrow, I said, "Remember our after-Thanksgiving tradition? When we went to the toy sale at the Junior League Thrift Store in New Orleans followed by a trip to the zoo?"

She drew a blank at first, but then she remembered. "They always had Santa and big cookies."

Right. What I remember: Whizzing by Lakeside Shopping Mall, with its full parking lot. Then, on to Freret Street for the thrift store, which opened a small annex full of toys just for the season. It was always packed, and probably as competitive as any Black Friday sale at a big box store.

I was serene and guilt-free. I was looking for wood toys and art supplies; these were usually kind of beat-up looking and the art materials were not complete sets. Since I was not going for the most-desired new-in-box items, I did not feel that I was stealing from the poor, who were there for gifts for their little ones. Meanwhile, the kids were talking to Santa and eating cookies. Mr. FS was--as is his wont--standing in a corner looking bored or irritated.

Then on to the wonderful Audubon Zoo, where we had a membership for many, many years. On the biggest shopping day of the year, the parking lot was usually almost empty. Since the weather was usually nice, we would have a picnic lunch. Then home.

And now I will commence my favorite part of Thanksgiving: turning my turkey carcass into stock!

What's cooking at your house?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More College Cooking in Nantes

And more mooching from Frugal Son's writing. It's good, non?

Anyway, the 28th was going to be the grand opening of a three-day convention and the main thing of the night was going to be the premier of a stage production of Jules Verne’s, Nantes’ most famous native son, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I told Baptiste I would love to go and, since I had a wealth of ingredients from the market, I invited him over for dinner.

On the menu that night was a starter of pasta with a tomato and vegetable sauce, boiled and butter-grilled salsify, and seared bavette de boeuf. I discovered salsify, as I have already mentioned, in the Restau. U one day when I mistook it for potatoes. It is a long white cylindrically shaped vegetable that comes from the root of a plant, which, I believe, is in the thistle family. The flavor of the salsify itself is mild and the texture is a cross between boiled potatoes and asparagus. I happened to find some at Talensac for 3.90€ / kilo so I bought some and was going to attempt to make it for the first time.

Bavette is a cut of beef that is known in English as the “flank steak.” I wish I knew more about meat so I could tell you where it is from but, alas, all I can say is that it is a relatively unknown cut in America but in Europe it is prized for its flavor and tenderness. Actually, there are three cuts of beef that I’ve heard many culinary figures I respect talk about but that are hard to find in the USA. They are the bavette, flank steak, onglet, hanger steak, and hampe, skirt steak. All are supposed to be very flavorful (especially the onglet, which is a piece of muscle from the diaphragm, near the kidneys) and very tender provided you cook them quickly.

Anyway, I started cooking a bit before Baptiste and I were supposed to eat because I was making a rather complicated meal, i.e. something that involves more than one pot or pan, which is always a juggling act. First I boiled some water for the pasta and chopped up bell peppers, onions, garlic, and mushrooms for the sauce. I began to sauté them in the pan and while they were cooking, I began to prepare the salsify. Salsify is a root so you have to peel it before you can use it. Since I didn’t have a peeler, I borrowed a sharp knife from Jessica W., who was cooking alongside me that night, and got to work. It actually wasn’t that hard, though I did worry about peeling off too much of the flesh along with the skin, and there is something satisfying about seeing a smooth white stalk emerge from what was once a knobby and dirt encrusted black tuber. As soon as I peeled the salsify, I washed it, cut it into pieces about five or six centimeters long and then placed them in a bowl of water so that it wouldn’t start to discolor. An interesting thing about salsify is that when it is raw, the juice has a very dry and sticky feel on your hands; almost like how your hands feel after you’ve touched sap or resin. By the time I finished with the salsify, I only peeled two stalks out of about twelve, the pasta water was boiling and my veggies were properly cooked. I added pasta to the pot and poured tomato sauce into the pan along with some herbes de provence. A few minutes later, when the pasta was cooked, I scooped out the pasta using a slotted spoon and placed it onto a plate. Using the reserved, and still hot, pasta water, I cooked the salsify. The pasta sauce was finished by this point as well so I poured it into the little plastic container that my pork cheeks had been in (washed of course), which serves as my only “Tupperware.” I quickly rinsed out the pan and put it back on a hot burner to heat up for the next part of the meal.

Baptiste had arrived and had brought a bottle of Breizh-Cola (Bretagne Cola) and half a loaf of bread. Jessica W., Baptiste and I chatted while I finished up the first part of the meal. In the hot pan, I put a few chunks of butter and let it foam and subside. The salsify had been boiling for quite a while now so I drained them, rinsed them and then immediately transferred them to the pan with butter. To this, I added a clove of roughly chopped garlic and then let everything cook unmolested for a few minutes. Once the salsify began to char and pick up some nice black grill marks, I rotated them and let them cook some more. Meanwhile, I plated the pasta with some sauce and as soon as the salsify was finished, I put it directly on the plate next to the pasta. This was our first course and it was very good. I may have cooked the salsify a bit too long; it had lost some of the firmness that gives it such a great texture, but it was still very good and the garlic and butter really went well with the delicate sweetness of the root. The pasta was, of course, good and by now I’ve pretty much perfected my sauce.

After we finished the first part of the meal, I hopped up to prepare the “main course:” the bavette. I had started marinating the bavette a few hours before I started cooking in a mixture of red wine, soy sauce, and one clove of chopped garlic. I had read that bavette requires either really fast cooking or really slow cooking to keep it from being tough so I decided to go with a sort of “sear,” which is hard to do when using the anemic electric burners at the dorm. I turned the knob all the way up the fearsome power of six and let the dry pan sit on the burner for five or so minutes before adding the meat.

That morning at the market, the butcher asked me if I wanted a piece for one person and, even though I said yes, he gave me a giant piece of probably about 250g (about 9oz). Fortunately, Baptiste was eating with me so I cut the steak in half to make the portion a more reasonable size. Baptiste taught me the varying levels of doneness, of which there are only three in French: saignant (lit. bleeding but equivalent to rare), mi-cuit (lit. semi-cooked = medium), and cuit (cooked = well-done). Jokingly he added that you could also order it carbonizer, which basically means burnt. I explained to him that in English, there are five levels of doneness: rare, medium rare, medium, medium well-done, and well-done. He told me that he likes his steaks mi-cuit and I, of course, like any real food aficionado, like my steaks rare. I joke a little, but Anthony Bourdain emphatically insists that rare is the only way to order a steak and that chefs save the worst pieces of meat for people who order steaks well-done since cooking it that much destroys most of the flavor anyway. Anyway, with the pan hot, I plopped the two pieces of meat down onto the pan and let them cook away. After a few minutes on one side, I poured some of the remaining marinating juices (though minus the garlic because I didn’t want it to burn and contaminate the flavor) over the steak and then flipped them. A few more minutes on the other side and I poured the rest of the juice over the steaks and then removed mine to rest before eating. I cooked Baptiste’s for a little bit longer since he wanted his mi-cuit.

I brought the steaks to the table and, before they got cold, we ate. The steak was AMAZING. Tender, juicy, and the marinating flavors weren’t so powerful and salty that they overwhelmed the meat. My steak was cooked to perfection, or should I say not cooked to perfection since the center was a beautiful crimson red fading to a rosy grey until reaching the seared-brown outside. Baptiste’s, being the thicker of the steak halves, was at the same level of doneness as mine even though I had let it sit on the stove for a few extra minutes; however, he didn’t complain and said that because my cooking was so good he actually liked it rare.

Above all, I was proud of the efficiency with which I cooked and the fact that in spite of limited utensils (one small pot, one skillet, one bowl, one plate, and one Tupperware tub) I was able to assemble everything and get it onto the plate in good time and before it got cold. I think the key was that I never let the skillet get cold. I didn’t really ever wash it in between uses, just wiped it with a nearly dry sponge until it was clean and then put it straight back onto the hot burner. With Baptiste’s help, I did the dishes and brought everything back up to my room and then we headed out to go to Utopiales.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pork Cheeks in Nantes

In a recent internet chat, Frugal Son averred that he liked the Korean custom, whereby each child gives a certain percentage of income to support aging parents! So to mooch off my child in advance, here is another installment of his adventures cooking in France.

****Note: Will be "Gone Fishing" for a few days. Back Monday.

Outside the skating rink, Farah and I agreed to meet back up at her house to cook dinner. I had bought joue de porc (pork cheeks) and I was itching to make an apple-pork stew. At Farah’s house, I started off by searing and browning the cheeks in a dry pot, removing the cheeks, and then adding some onion and garlic to the pot. Once the onions had gently browned, I put the cheeks back in the pot and added enough chicken broth—reconstituted from bouillon cubes of course—to nearly cover the cheeks. I added some cidre doux, which is only 2.5% alcohol by volume, a few pinches from my bag of ever-useful herbes de provence, and a sliced carrot. The rest of the cooking was just letting the mixture simmer and occasionally adding a little more cidre doux to keep the cheeks mostly under-liquid.

I don’t know if I ever wrote about my first oyster mushroom experience but in any case, while the soup was simmering away, I cooked up the remaining half of the oyster mushrooms. Raw, they have a mild mushroom taste differentiated from your typical white button mushroom only by a slight, peppery aftertaste. Quickly and lightly sautéed in a pan, however, with some salt and butter until they soften just a little bit and the flesh begins to glisten, they transmogrify (thank you “Calvin & Hobbes" for teaching me that word) into something completely different. Suddenly, they are bursting with a flavor at once meaty and buttery but also with an intensely concentrated earthiness that other mushrooms can only dream of achieving. One mustn’t cook them too long—lest they turn into slimy, flaccid, and pathetic slivers of mush—because the texture is one of the key parts of the experience. In spite of their name, oyster mushrooms, called pleurotes in French (something to do with tear-drop shaped?), taste nothing like their namesake shellfish to my palate. The pleurotes, which take only five minutes to cook and only slightly longer to devour, were a nice distraction from one of the hardest things about cooking: waiting.

And wait we did. Pork cheeks are a tough piece of meat and to ensure that the hog cheeks wouldn’t damage ours, you have to cook them for a long time to tenderize them. While we waited, Farah made some pomme de terres à la vapeur, that is to say, she chopped them and then microwaved them in a bowl with some water. After about an hour, I sliced open a pork cheek and took a sample bite. The meat was tender, but not mushy, so, to finish off the dish, I added two cubed apples to the broth and let the whole thing rest for a few minutes so that the apples would soften.

We brought everything to the table, nothing more than a coffee table, and began our meal. The pork cheeks were really good: succulent, flavorful and tender, but with enough integrity left in them that they didn’t just fall to shreds. The cheeks don’t have your typical bold porky flavor; I’m having trouble finding the words to explain it, but rather than having just the intense “pork” flavor on the tongue, which crescendos intensely and then quickly dissipates, the cheeks had a muted and more rounded flavor that lingered longer. The broth had thickened significantly and the savory sauce, with just a tinge of sweetness from the apples, was good when mixed with the potatoes. The richness of the pork was complemented so well by the sweetness of the apples, though I do wish there would have been a bit more acidity to add some depth to the flavor. Also, the texture of the apples was not great; they had been a bit mealy when raw and cooking did little to improve them. On the whole, however, the meal was very good and the flavors of the various components—meaty pork, light vegetables, and sweet apples—made each bite interesting.

To finish off the meal, I made a very simple dessert using two leftover apples, which I had sliced thinly. First, I put some butter in a pan and let it foam and subside before liberally tossing in sugar. I spread the sugar around, trying to distribute it evenly, and then immediately added the apple slices. I let them cook until they had browned and then flipped them. Once finished, they were a pale golden-brown and covered in a sticky caramel like sauce. Absolutely heavenly! Warm and soft, the slices were rich and sweet with a ring of chewy amber colored sugar around the edges. These were so easy and satisfying that I think they’re going to become my go-to dessert!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Wet Suit: The Ultimate in Prophylactic Shopping

Both Duchesse and Funny have questioned the purchase of a men's large brand new wet suit. Only $3.49, minus my senior discount of 15%.

What can I say? Well, prophylactic shopping is partly psychological: OMG! I am succumbing to the onslaught of tempting ads that come in my mailbox, both actual and virtual. We never watch television, so those ads don't come my way.

Or even, I'm so depressed. I need a retail pick-me-up.

But prophylactic shopping (should I copyright or trademark that term? I wonder....) is also totally pragmatic. It involves getting something that would cost a lot of money or bother ONE DAY if you will need it.

That's why I picked up copies of books like A Separate Peace, figuring that my children would need to read this high school classic.

That's why I bought not one but two tuxedoes for under $5.00 each, figuring that Frugal Son would need one for a prom. The back-up was for just in case, plus it was a lot better quality than the first I got.

The upshot of these ventures? Neither of my children needed A Separate Peace, but I gave a copy or two to other teens who needed it. Eventually, these wended their way to the used bookstore or My 20 cent investment was no biggie, anyway.

As for the tuxedoes. Frugal Son got two uses out of one of them. He lent the other to his friend Michael. So my $10.00 investment saved Frugal Son about $100.00 and his friend $50.00. Lending to a friend releases frugal karma into the atmosphere and benefits the universe, as far as I'm concerned.

Lest this sounds as though I have an unerring sense of what to purchase in my shopping ventures, let me assure you, I do not. Many of my just-in-case items have languished unused. Eventually, these go to Goodwill. But that releases some karma too. If I buy something for $3.00 and don't use it, it can then sell again for $3.00. So my $3.00 investment yields $6.00 for a charity. 100% appreciation. There must be something wrong with my math here.

OK. Back to the wet suit. It is a size that would fit the two men in my life. We did go to Hawaii once, where the brother of Mr. FS indeed wore a wet suit for snorkeling. We snorkeled sans wet suit.

We also go to Florida each winter. So we are around the water now and again.

If we ever want a wet suit, it would take time and money to get one. This one was acquired for little time and the investment was not much. It is now in the box where we store our snorkeling equipment, which we purchased for our trip to Hawaii because it was as cheap to buy as to rent. We've used it several times since.

That explains my wet suit logic. The down side of buying it is less than the down side of NOT buying it in the event we need one.

And perhaps I can take it to Buffalo Exchange as a Halloween costume.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Need for Prophylactic Shopping: ALERT and RESULTS

Even though i unsubscribed to email announcements, I continue to get offers. 20-30% off at Bnana Republic, Lands End, Gap, Chicos, and so on.

At school on Friday, two students handed me Banana Republic Friends and Family coupons. These used to be hard to come by. A few years ago, I was offered one by a student, and my Department Head said that it could be perceived as a bribe, so I couldn't use it. But I guess with business so bad, shops need all the friends they can get. So I got one of my very own in my inbox.

My mantra ("it will be more on sale in 6 short weeks--40 days") wasn't working too well. So on to my next step, writing down all my desired items. The list was short(comforter set, 2 pairs of pants, all from Lands End, my new favorite store now that they are offering free shipping), the total was about $140.00 (not that bad) and I started to succumb.

I know! On to Goodwill for some prophylactic shopping (shopping to prevent shopping, naturally). What should I find?

A Peacock Alley comforter with mtching shams.
A Garnet Hill colorful quilt.
A couple of books.

Then universe has spoken! But then I added some questionable items.

A new with tags wetsuit in a size that would fit Mr. FS and Frugal Son.
A new underarmour underarmour.

Total: about $18.00.

Weighing need, desire, danger, finances, clutter: I'm not sure if the trip was a victory or a defeat.

What do you think?

What do you think?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Moments of Panic: Budget Shortfalls for Education

I had a day of panic on Friday. Mr. FS and I have been cruising through the recession, secure in our tenured--albeit low-paying--positions. Then I woke out of my stupor. My state is facing a continued budget shortfall, and since the only areas not protected are (you guessed it) education and health, well.....

So, of course, I jumped to the worst case scenario: what if they close our school? Our students are the lowest "completers." What if--at age 56 and 58--we are cast to the wind, with our still-decimated retirement accounts.

Well, Mr. FS said, "It's too much trouble to shut down a school. This is a short-term problem. BlahBlahBlah."

My mind started racing nonetheless. Can't be an on-line bookseller, because there are at least 20 in my area. The other day, I saw a guy with one of those phone pricers that TALKED. He must have had it set to a floor price, because the gadget said, "No." No. No."

So we decided that we could rent out our house and stay in the little back house behind my father-in-law's house in beautiful Northern California. We could-probably for a low rent-help in his care. OR we could go to Costa Rica or Mexico for a while, as per my previous fantasy.

As Funny About Money--who has been living a real-life version of this scenario--has shown in her blog, planning ahead of the dire event helps reduce stress. DOESN'T IT????"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Frugal Mom, Frugal Son: Report from France

Frugal Son turns out to be more pathological than his pathological mom. Perhaps the paternal genes exacerbated the pathology factor. He does spread sheets. In fact, he offered to send a spread sheet that is even more detailed, separating cash from credit card etc. Here's his email.

Just to shock you and keep you updated on the massive amounts of your 401(k) I've been blowing through here are the latest stats up to and including Nov. 13th.

Including pre-Nantes expenses (plane tickets, visa cost, hostel in Paris etc.): 3,900.32 euros (~$6,240.51)
Excluding rent, flights, week in Paris, health insurance: 1,468.32 euros (~$2,349.32)
Total cost minus my stipend (so I guess this is the "actual cost"): 1,820.32 euros (~$2,912.51)
Average cost per day (including everything): 45.89 euros / day (~$73.42 / day)
Average cost per day including stipend: 21.42 euros / day (~$34.26 / day)

My average cost per day has fallen from 73.63 euros / day (~$117.81 / day) on Sept. 15th (day 26) to 45.89 euros / day (~$73.42 / day) as of today (day 85).

These recent figures are a little bit inflated because my Amsterdam trip happened so recently (347.84 euros over the course of five days).

At least I'm not paying $25,000 a year in tuition somewhere!

So, Readers, is this TOOOOOO frugal for a 20 year old?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Frugal Fatigue vs Abundance

I was reading something in the New York Times a few days ago. Evidently, though sales of many things remain DOWNDOWNDOWN, sales of shoes remain unaffected by the exonomic down turn. The author opined that many are experiencing frugal fatigue.

I love being frugal, but I have succumbed to a few items of late: the tote bag I wanted from Lands End, which was on sale for $12.00 as a St Nick's Pick (!); while I was at it, I also got some jeans that seem to fit from the same place (Audrey skinny jeans). Thanks Lands End for offering free shipping to frugal girls like me.

The offers keep coming in to my inbox: 20-30% off at Garnet Hill, Chico's, Banana Republic (and others under the Gap umbrella), Talbots, and on and on.

Having long experience of frugality, I still intone to myself: WAIT. Everything will be on sale in about 6 weeks, by which time you probably won't want it anyway.

And just to remind us of all the abundance out there in the universe, here's a passage from Paradise Lost, which is about abundance in nature.

# in all thir vast survey
# Useless besides, reasoning I oft admire,
# How Nature wise and frugal could commit
# Such disproportions, with superfluous hand
# So many nobler Bodies to create,
# Greater so manifold to this one use,
# For aught appeers, and on thir Orbs impose
# Such restless revolution day by day
# Repeated, while the sedentarie Earth,
# That better might with farr less compass move,
# Serv'd by more noble then her self, attaines
# Her end without least motion, and receaves,
# As Tribute such a sumless journey brought
# Of incorporeal speed, her warmth and light;
# Speed, to describe whose swiftness Number failes.

Love when authors contemplate frugality.

How are you dealing with temptation and abundance? Are you experiencing frugal fatigue?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who will speak for me? Banking and Finance Regulation.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Dodd and his staff had held regular meetings with Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the banking committee, but those talks recently broke down. Mr. Shelby is said to be opposed to major provisions of Mr. Dodd’s bill, most notably the creation of an agency to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive mortgages and credit cards. Mr. Dodd has yet to produce a Republican who supports his plan. Moreover, several provisions will probably be opposed by moderate and conservative Democrats with ties to various industry groups that have raised objections to the measure.

OK: I have been called out on being naive more than once. But can someone explain what is wrong with an agency to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive mortgages and credit cards?

Monday, November 9, 2009

For Fashionistas Only: Yes, I am a Label Whore

I try not to be, because sometimes the label is the best thing about the item. In such cases, I wander around the thrift store with the item in my cart. Then I put it back. Never do I have any regrets. That Carlisle jacket I tried on a while back is still there, for instance.

Today, I found a Dries Van Noten sweater! Black, cashmere, V-neck. If the truth be told, the cashmere isn't any better than that of the Lands End turtleneck I got (at Goodwill!) last year. I succumbed anyway.

My question is: how did this sweater wend its way to my little town? I could see if my town were, say, Wellesley MA or the like. Such is not the case.

What's the most unlikely item you've ever found?

P.S. Miss Em, If you read this, do not heap too much scorn upon me.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Holiday Gifts for Children: The Invention of Tradition

Since I come from a family that was--to put it mildly--lackadaisical about gifts and gift-giving occasions, it is hard for me to understand the pressure many people feel. There's a famous book called Unplug the Christmas Machine that deals with these issues. Evidently the book alone does not suffice: there is also a workbook to use in support groups. One of my friends used to clutch a heavily annotated and dog-eared copy of this tome to her bosom year-round. No wonder: between her and her husband, the siblings numbered 10. Her husband's family of seven children each produced--on average--five a piece.

So here is the first of my modest proposals: little traditions are more important than gifts, large or small. I'm not talking about your family traditions necessarily. I'm talking about traditions you invent. If this seems like a paradox, let me defend myself by pointing to a famous academic book called precisely The Invention of Tradition.

One tradition we invented--by accident--was the little poem attached to the gift. Even though we are English teachers who love poetry, WRITING poetry is not one of our strong--or even weak--suits. Here is an example. One year, we gave Frugal Son a can of sardines and Miss Em Swedish Fish. (I know these gifts seem ludicrous, but they were much appreciated! No, this was not all they got!)

Noticing the fish theme, we wrapped them together with this poem: "Here are two gifts that come from the sea/One's sweet, one's not: what can they be?"

Well, of course, the little poem was recited with great excitement to friends and family. And thus began a "tradition" (now we HAVE to do it) whereby we must attach a poem to every gift.

Do you have any little traditions that are valued as much as fancy gifts?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

At St Paul's Cathedral: Bankers Speak!

When I visited St Paul's Cathedral in London, I headed for the basement, where I could see the famous statue of poet John Donne. This statue survived a fire at the original St Paul's.

Reading the financial news is causing me a lot of stress these days. And I really shouldn't do it. But I can't resist this tidbit from a brief article in The New York Times. Apparently a bunch of bankers were speaking at (??) the cathedral. I wonder if this was open to all worshipers or only for other bankers.

While not exactly Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech from the movie “Wall Street,” Brian Griffiths, an adviser to Goldman Sachs International, said during a recent panel discussion at St. Paul’s Cathedral on “the place of morality in the marketplace,” that bonuses would encourage charity and lift the economy.

“We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all,” Mr. Griffiths said.

What would John Donne say? Well, he was the one who said "No man is an island."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Potato Leek Soup: Even better in Nantes

Frugal Son is in France. Though he occasionally mentions his language classes, he mostly talks about his adventures in cooking. He's bought such expensive treats as chanterelles and fancy shellfish. Today, he wrote ecstatically about his cooking of the iconic French soup, potato-leek. I've made the soup a number of times; I don't remember the ecstasy.

Below is our on-line chat, slightly edited, with a frugal ending.

8:36 PM me: hi mon fils
8:37 PM FS: holy sh**
me: what
FS: leek soup is so good
me: did you make the easy or the super-easy?
8:38 PM it's also amazingly cheap--called soupe bonne femme-housewife soup
FS: holy god it's just perfect in every way
first I gently cooked the leeks in butter (without browning)
me: Americans goop it up w/ chicken stock, bacon, sour cream, etc
FS: and I added a little bit of garlic
8:39 PM then I put in potatoes, water
and at the end, milk
salt, and pepper
I will admit I put in a tiny tiny tiny bit of chicken bouillion
but seriously
just a tiny tiny bit
don't hate me!
me: only a tiny bit
8:40 PM FS: ok :(
but still
it was super super good
8:41 PM I would estimate a meal for 2 - 3 "MOIs" would cost about 4 euros to make
maybe less
no no definitely less
maybe 2.50 euros

It's soooooo good. And, with the money you save on dinner, you can start your Paris fund.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Overheard at Target and Pumpkin Shortage

I had an early appointment with the oral surgeon (see earlier post about ethical dilemma; I will NOT return to this guy) and, on my way home, I decided to go to Target. I seldom go there, but I wanted to check out the window panel selection. It was right on my way.

Well, window coverings were a dud, but I meandered over to the candy section where the signs said "75% off Halloween." I always scan the items before checkout to prevent problems. I picked up a big box of Snickers for my beloved chocoholic daughter and three boxes of granola bars. The Snickers scanned at the sale price; the granola bars did not. I inquired of the manager, who said they were not on sale, even though they were under the sign! She said "Just this once you can have them."

All the women within earshot converged on the granola bars in ecstasy! One said to me, "Yesterday the sign said 50% off, but they wouldn't let anyone have them at the sale price." The others agreed.

This exchange made me realize that some people go to Target EVERY DAY in order to hunt for bargains. Some had entire carts filled with the cheap candy.

I made for the check out, where the front manager called the back manager to check out the veracity of my claim. I guess lots of people lie.

So perhaps I am not as pathologically frugal as I thought, since I am horrified by the idea of daily Target visits. Even weekly ones. Plus I only bought one box of Snickers and three boxes of granola bars.

Speaking of Halloween: I hope I did not entice anyone with my pumpkin soup. I was itching to use up the 5 or so cans of pumpkin that have been languishing in my cupboard. I bought them last year, probably for a quarter. Unlike my other investments, the pumpkin proved to be a good one, since there is evidently a PUMPKIN SHORTAGE this year. Who knew?

By the way, don't try to cook your Halloween pumpkin; it is not the right variety. Instead, substitute acorn squash, which tastes about the same as pumpkin (i.e. not much taste). Because of the shortage, I will not tempt you with tales of the delicious pumpkin strata I have made or the pumpkin pasta sauce I am thinking of making.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cheap, Easy, Quick, Healthy Pumpkin Soup

Note: I did not say "delicious." I'm not sure about the flavor.

This soup, from Ronald Johnson's Simple Fare, is based on an Elizabeth David recipe. The ingredients are: onion, canned pumpkin, cabbage, white beans. I've been meaning to make this for years, but the planets did not align till today. I had all the ingredients, plus we were still recuperating from an overnight trip to Alabama to see our dear daughter.

Here's how to do it: saute an onion in butter (or lard!), add some garlic, shredded cabbage, and water (or stock). Add the pumpkin too. You're supposed to cook dried beans with this, but I had some already cooked, with only about a day left of their lifespan.

This took a ton of salt. And I added some butter in at the end to try to coax out more flavor. We had it with salad (also near the end of its lifespan) and good bread.

I'm not sure if I love this, or even like it, but I'm sure the combination of superfoods has added at least a little to my lifespan.

While I'm not sure if I like the soup apart from its intrinsic virtues, I LOVE the cookbook, which is too little known, I'm sure. I will have more to say about the book apace.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Holiday Freebies and Invitations: I'm So Popular

It all started last week when I went to Banana Republic to use my about-to-expire $10.00 gift card.

There, I was invited to a special holiday sale on November 5, featuring live music, catered food, and 30% off. Should I go? It might be worth it if we could get dinner out of it.

Then, in my email box, I received an invitation to Talbots this week. No mention of food or entertainment, just 20% off. It is unlikely that I will go just for a little discount.

A postcard arrived announcing that Fresh Market (kind of like Whole Foods, only smaller) is having their holiday tasting, which amounts to a whole meal. This Friday and Saturday.

Also this Saturday, my local grocery--Rouses--is having a Thanksgiving tasting.

I only avail myself of these opportunities if I can accomplish another errand or two en route.

I have never recovered from graduate student poverty. Free food opportunities are nirvana to the impoverished student. Somehow, even after more than 25 years post-school, my antennae are still on constant alert.

Basking in my new-found popularity....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What to Do: Unsatisfactory Upholstery Job

Some help needed Readers. As you may recall, I paid a woman my mother knows for advice on fabric and paint color. I could not be happier with her work. Then I needed to get the sewing done.

I got a recommendation from a neighbor. Careful me: I had some chairs done first. Good job. The second phase involved 5 pillows and ottoman reupholstery, in a stripe.

The stripes on the ottoman are rather askew. A far cry from my previous slipcover, which was beautifully done--also in a stripe--by a friend.

I already paid and all. I was in the midst of dying my hair (huge money saver for the frugal) when she arrived. So I didn't really look over the work, because I was afraid I'd get hair dye on the fabric.

So, Readers. Do I call her and state my dissatisfaction? If so, what should I say? What should I expect?

Or should I let it go? I don't see that it would be possible to fix the work, but, then, I'm not a sewer.

Advice appreciated. As well as a script, if you think I should call.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Good Deed: Chicken Pot Pie

It's hard to admit this, but, like many teachers of my acquaintance, I don't really do enough extra for others. I think this may be because we are in a GIVING profession. So we feel excused from all the extra stuff that others do. That's not a good excuse. Today, however, I am going to bring dinner to a chemo-weakened acquaintance. This woman is my age and is on her second cancer experience.

I volunteered to make chicken pot pie. My partner told me to just make the creamed chicken and veggie part, because Mary can't chew very well. My partner will bring mashed potatoes and vanilla pudding. This seems like the ultimate comfort food.

There's often a component of selfishness in many good deeds. Mine is that I am keeping half the chicken stuff so I can have some! I love chicken pot pie, but seldom made it. It is a time-consuming business, involving stock, bechamel or veloute, chicken (hopefully, you have left-overs), individually prepped and steamed veggies. What a pain. And, finally, my bete noire, pie crust. And don't tell me it's easy. It's not easy for me. In fact, it's impossible.

Then I read a quick and easy cookbook and discovered liberation. The author said to just make 2 cups of white sauce and throw in a package of frozen mixed vegetables. So that's what I do now. I also poached some chicken breast and cut it up and added to the other stuff.

I also picked up some bisquick at Big Lots for a mere dollar and hope that I can produce an acceptable biscuit for my own dinner. Yes, I know that women in the South can whip up biscuits without a recipe. In 5 minutes. I have seen it done many times. But even after 20 years here, I am still referred to as a Yankee. Yankees can't make biscuits. Everyone knows that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Clutter and Bargains: The Example of Babysitting

1968: I am 14 years old. My father is self-employed and his business is doing pretty well, so my mother is also working full-time. This is why I am going to buy my back-to-school clothing myself. In those days, a teenager could proffer a store credit card (visas et al were in the future for most families) and say "My mother said I could use this." In those innocent days, the teenager would be believed.

However, I tried to pay for as much as I could with my babysitting money. I had just raised my price from 50 cents an hour to 75 cents. I had lost a few customers to the price increase, including one family that fired me for not cleaning the house while I was there, but there were lots of children. Even at 75 cents, babysitting was so cheap that many of the moms left for hours on end on school days, often telling me that they were taking a course in "crafts." Or the couples went out at night for 8 or more hours. Little did I know that for some of these families, the 60s had arrived, with a full complement of John Updike-style infidelity during the day and "swinging" at night.

Anyway, I took the bus to A & S, a mid-priced department store that is probably no more. In fact, that whole genre seems to have disappeared. There I bought 4 items: a tan corduroy skirt, a tan and brown diagonal plaid skirt, a cream fisherman style sweater, and a brown v-neck sweater. You can tell that I was trying to mix and match, having probably read an article to that effect in Seventeen. So proud was I of my self-sufficiency that I remember the prices: $6.00, $8.00, $10.00, $6.00, for a grand total of $30.00. Except for the corduroy skirt, these items were probably synthetics, since the natural fibers movement of the 60s did not really hit till the 70s.

In other words, 40 hours of babysitting, which probably took me 3 or 4 weeks.

My daughter was 14 in 2005, owing to my late start on children. There are not too many kids around, so babysitting is in short supply. Happily, some children appeared across the street and Miss Em walked over to announce her availability. We wondered what to charge and guessed that $6.00 an hour would be the going rate. Much to her surprise, before she could announce her rates, she was given $60.00 for her 6 hours. We learned that $10.00 an hour was standard!

If Miss Em went to Target or Ross, she could buy clothing for about what I spent so many years ago. But her 4 items would only have taken 3 hours of work. Is it any wonder that our closets are overflowing and that the floors of most teenage rooms are dotted with clean and dirty piles of clothing?

Is it any wonder also that thrift stores are filled with near-new clothing? When I first went to thrift stores many years ago, the pickings were indeed slim. Now, I must keep myself from overbuying.

Sadly, the things that are really important, education and, most important, health care, are out of reach for many. These don't mess up your house either. Both have risen way faster than inflation, while clothing, plastic toys, and other junk are so cheap that it's easy to accumulate.

Last summer, Miss Em was asked to babysit for two kids while she was staying with my mother in Massachusetts. The east coast rate is even higher: she was paid $15.00 an hour and netted $120.00 for 8 hours of work.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Frugal Fieldwork: At Barnes and Noble

Our Frugal Friday entertainment began with a stop at an art opening. Our friend Peg had a show of pencil drawings of her trip to France at a coffee shop owned by another friend.

Then, since we had already made the arduous journey to the next town (no kidding! endless roadwork makes for an unpleasant drive), we headed to Banana Republic, where my mission was to use a $10.00 gift card that was about to expire. Mission accomplished, I went to Barnes and Noble, where Mr. FS was waiting for me. There we ran into two former students now all grown up, one of whom works as an instructor in my department.

I mentioned that Banana Republic had a 25% off special for those who used their credit card. They said they were planning to go there but did not have a credit card. I offered them the use of mine and they declined. When I suggested that they get a credit card if they wanted to buy something, they looked at me in horror: We can't get another credit card. It seemed that for them--as for others--possessing a credit card constitutes an irresistible temptation. That's why even among the frugal and newly frugal, there are two opposed credit card philosophies: Use them for everything and get the rewards vs. Cut them up and never use them again. I am lucky to be in the former category. And those in the latter category are lucky to know their weaknesses.

As we headed to our car, we ran into the husband of the artist whose show we had visited. He was going to Barnes and Noble to buy a book-on-tape for a 10 hour trip to a new vacation house in North Carolina. Again, I was struck by the differences. I would have gotten a tape at the library.

In fact, we have been listening to Dickens's Hard Times on our way to work. Truly a sentimental journey. And certainly a reminder to be thankful in the midst of hard times for so many.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

St John Dilemma: Keep or Sell?

As I've said before, thrift store zen experiences lead to clutter. If I could achieve the highest level of zen, of course, I could wander through thrift stores without buying anything. As is, however, I am only a lowly disciple on the parth to enlightenment.

Mostly, I donate the excess. Good excess, I try to swap at Buffalo Exchange, giving my dear daughter the proceeds. Really good stuff, of which I have little, presents a problem.

Anyway, I have two St. John suits. The first is cobalt blue, trimmed with sequins and rhinestones. Quite an over-the-top specimen of the genre. This is a size 2. Strangely, the jacket fits me. Sort of.

The second, more recently acquired, is pink with (thank heavens) black trim. This is a 6 and it really fits me. When I put it on, I look like a somewhat flaky and disheveled society lady. Of course, I could never wear this AS a suit, with the pink skirt. I would have to take it down a notch and wear it with my regular old black pants.

There is an on-line consignment venue--Rodeo Drive Resale--that specializes in St. John. I knew about this place from reading an article about the women of Congress, some of whom patronize the site. Suits like mine go from $400.00 to $600.00, and consignors get half! I would have to dry clean (even though I am philosophically, financially, and ecologically opposed to the process) and ship. So trying to sell these would require a cash outlay of sorts, especially for the sequin jacket, which probably requires special treatment.

And of course--like my acquaintance who broke her engagement 30 years ago, thinking she would find Mr. Right-er (and never found anyone)--I may never find another St. John.

So, ladies of the internet, sell or keep?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Yo Yo Ma vs New Orleans Black Chorale: Frugal Choices

Not only has summer turned into autumn over the past few days, but our frugal lives have been filled with free entertainment. More on all the events at a later date.

We just got back from the monthly concert at the church down the street from us. Tonight's concert: the New Orleans Black Chorale. A wonderful concert, followed by a reception, which amounts to a free dinner.

The woman who introduced the singers mentioned that Yo Yo Ma was in town, playing with the New Orleans Philharmonic. Well, we didn't know, so we didn't have to make a choice. And a search did not tell me what the tickets cost. I wonder what we would have done.

Local concert: free, a 5 minute walk away, free dinner.
New Orleans concert: a world famous player, at least 2 hours in the car, maybe $100.00 for mediocre seats. No free dinner, obviously.

It is a measure of the frugal calculator embedded in my brain that I run the numbers even on hypothetical situations. What would you have done?

Two other factors.

We heard Ma play at Tanglewood quite a few years ago. The only spots on the lawn that were available by the time we showed up were in the blazing sun. After a valiant effort, I dozed off.

Also, the post-concert food tonight included a favorite from last year: roasted tomato soup with basil. Reader, I had two cups.

So how do you decide between two desirable events? When is money no object?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Little Clutter Victory and a St John suit

I took a peek at some of the retirement statements that have been rolling in. This is the first time I've peeked in about a year. Things are still very depressing. Those who started saving a year or so before the meltdown have pretty much recovered. People like me--and it seems unfair that diligent savers should be more penalized--are still far out of whack. That coupled with the news that various Wall Street companies will be paying out record bonuses . . . well, it does tend to promote anger and depression.

So does clutter! So in order to feel that I am in control of at least a tiny portion of my life, I resolutely bagged up some clothing and took it off to the Food Bank Thrift. When I dragged it inside, I was told "No Clothing." GRRRRRR. Of course, I had to take just a peek anyway. And then I found a quintessential rich lady suit: a St John! Pink with black trim. I couldn't find the tag and when I asked the price, the manager said $8.00. Then I found the tag: $4.00. (Because of my middle class aura, I am charged more than others at thrifts. I'm not sure if this is fair....The manager was embarrassed when I discovered the tag, probably because she had just marked the suit). Reader, I backslid.

So then I had to go to Goodwill so I wouldn't return home with even more than I set out with. Donation completed, I took a peek inside. I found another rich lady item: a Carlisle jacket. Plus some nice Talbots pants. Reader, I put them back! Give me a cyber pat on the back!

Then I stopped at the recently-opened used bookstore, where I exchanged 5 paperbacks that I didn't want for one hardback that I do want: The Commander's Palace Cookbook.

MINUS about twenty items of clothing and five books
PLUS one suit and 1 book

Hmmmm. Maybe I will do this every week.

And now I have the recipe for the famous bread pudding souffle with whiskey sauce!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How Many? How Much? Request for Help.

Readers, I have long been aware of my clutter problem. I am also aware that my clutter problem is exacerbated by my zen hobby of frequenting thrift stores. For some karmic reason, this is the only area where I have good luck, nice clothing and desired books falling into my hands with scarcely any effort.

So what I want to know is: what is a normal amount of clothing to purchase in a year? Like everyone else, it seems, I aspire to a French woman's closet, with a few really nice items. I have a French size closet, in fact, since I live in an almost 100 year old house.

Unlike a lot of the frugality people, my issue is not HOW MUCH I spend, since I spend very little on clothing each year. The issue is HOW MANY things are in the normal range for yearly purchases.

The math is obvious: since the average price of an item is $3.00 at my preferred sources, if I buy even 4 items a month, by the end of the year, I will have spent only about $150.00, but accrued about 50 items.

Too many! So, like people who don't know what a normal amount of food is, I need to know what a normal yearly accumulation looks like.

Any help appreciated.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Politics at the Oral Surgeon's Office

This is a "What would you do" post. I am not asking whether you are for or against a particular issue. I am asking whether political material in a professional office merits a response or action. Help me out, folks.

Last week, after paying $2000.00 for the first phase of my tooth implant (no dental insurance at my job, btw), I noticed a stack of cheaply put together pamphlets. There was a little handmade sign over the stack saying "What Mr. Obama's Plan Means for You." The pamphlet itself was a low quality production, full of comments like "forced family planning," "illegal aliens covered," "government will tell you what you can eat." Etc.

Anyway, as a left of left of center type 9not a typo), I started shaking. It was especially ironic that there was a stack of shiny "What Medicare Can Do for You" brochures right next to the pamphlets.

Here's my issue. I felt that the oral surgeon, to whom I have given vast amounts of my paltry pay over the years, was politicizing his office. Because of that, I felt that I was tacitly supporting his political view by patronizing his business.

Now, given that residents of my state are overwhelmingly against any health care reform, and that those of my race, education, and general socioeconomic status are overwhelmingly conservative in all things, I expect to be out of step with many people whose businesses I frequent. So the issue is the stack of pamphlets, not the doctor's beliefs.

So, I said to Dr. W. that I didn't think it was appropriate to have the material in the office. The doctor then calmly went into why "well-meaning" reform was a bad idea, based on his 40 years in the field. So he didn't respond to my point, which was that he was politicizing his office space.

I gave up--since I am not too good under pressure--and asked him where he got the pamphlet. He said it was endorsed by the "society for maxowhatever surgeons." I could hardly imagine a professional society putting out such a cheap looking rag. When I got home, I looked more carefully and discovered that the source was someone's conservative blog.

Next day at work, I decided to consult with my colleagues. One, from a Detroit unionista family, wasn't there. So I consulted the more temperate types who were present. Every single one--even the most mellow--said that I could not patronize this doctor once he had politicized his office. (Of course, if I agreed with him, I would feel great about supporting him.)

Those of you who have read this far, what do you think? Both about politicizing an office space and then about patronizing a business that advertises views with which you do not agree? If frugality is about getting one's finances in alignment with one's values, then this seems to be a frugal issue.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Frugal Karma: Two Episodes

You never know. Mr. FS and I have been walking on the Tammany Trace every day. Yesterday, he suggested that we walk in the neighborhood instead, even though we sometimes dawdle. OK.

So we set out and passed a yard sale. Now I don't do yard sales--too much driving and too much time wasting with uncertain outcomes. Too much stress as people watch you reject the junk they spent so much on. But this was KARMA.

First, Mr. FS declared that he would wait in the street, but eventually he sidled over and found just what he wanted: a SONY discman. $3.00!

Then I kind of wafted over to a table where I found a package of 7 yards of fabric cording. In the exact colors I needed. This was even more karmic because the roadblock to my getting some pillows re-covered has been choosing the cording. I tried two fabric stores and even with TLC customer service at the second one, I almost passed out from the "paradox of choice." Strangely, this cording is nicer than the ones at the store. And, even though the seller was asking for too much money for her clothing (some from Paris!), the cording was only $1.00.

Then we continued on our walk. We had to walk back to the yard sale because we had not a penny on our persons when we went on the walk.

Today, I wended over to Goodwill. There I found just the book I've been wanting to read: Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihakyi. Of course, I had to buy 4 additional books, since books are $0.39 each or 5 for $1.00. In one of the books I found a wedding invite to the fancy (Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara) nuptials of Danielle Trober and Alexander Vouvalides. Also in the book was a card listing hotels with space reserved, helpfully listing the price range, from $$$ to $$$$$.

The juxtaposition of my budget blissful thrifting and the fancy route to (I hope) wedded bliss was interesting. Back to grading papers. Seldom is this an activity conducive to flow. But perhaps after reading the book, I can achieve this blissful state.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Elizabeth David's Mushroom Soup: For the Frugal, Lazy, Even the Post-Dental

I shall have more to say at a later date about the political and ethical crisis attendant upon my dental visit. Right now, I would like to share a recipe for those who must eat "soft food." Oh, that's not you? How about for the lazy? How about for the frugal? How about for the SUPER frugal who pick up all the "reduced for quick sale" mushrooms at the grocery?

I am generally in at least two of the above categories. When the mushrooms are reduced to 79 cents a pound, I am in three. And, this past week, I have been in all four.

My little Penguin paperback of Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking was bought at a wonderful Bloomington Indiana institution: the used bookstore Caveat Emptor. A search suggests that it is still there, presided over by some of the same motley crew that founded it, lo these many years ago. No doubt I acquired the book via trade-in credit. I discovered, way back then, that you could buy books at thrift stores and trade them for credit, magically transforming books that you spent perhaps a dime for into nice poetry books published by Oxford University Press or literary criticism left by some disgruntled grad school dropout or cookbooks! How to live without cash is a lesson from those days that has stayed with me, in addition to my critical reading and writing skills.

Since, as noted above, I am lazy, I am presenting this not as David wrote it, but as a lazy and error-prone typist (moi) would:

Saute 3/4 lb. sliced mushrooms in butter. Add some sliced garlic and salt, pepper, nutmeg. (David adds parsley, but I seldom have any.)

Add in some dried bread. (This is the thickener! So much easier than the usual roux. I always have dried country bread. This is a good time to use all the "artisan" bread ends you may have. David says to soak the bread in some stock and then squeeze it out. Not going to happen in my kitchen. But go right ahead.) Stir till all amalgamates. (I just move immediately to the next step.)

Add about 1 1/2 pints of stock. (Good idea! Sometimes, I don't have stock. So I've done this with good old water, but then I add extra garlic.)

When all seems done, you're supposed to put this through several thicknesses of sieve several times or put into a blender. Then you're supposed to return to rinsed out saucepan.

What I do: use my trusty stick blender and blend right in the pot.

Stir in a little cream. I seldom have this, so I stir in little milk, plus some butter. I figure that will turn into cream.

I've eaten so much of this in the last few days that I need a long vacation from it. But it was good for the first three days, along with my other staple: mashed potatoes.

What do you eat post-dental work?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Student Life in France: Cafeteria Food

Recovering from a visit to the oral surgeon. Luckily, I can steal a post from Frugal Son's emails from Nantes. Not exactly on frugality, but a glimpse into French student life. His meals are about 3 euros (obviously, these are subsidized), which means they cost about half of what a meal goes for on an American college campus. So, to continue with my cafeteria theme.....

After the tour it was lunch time and since we were already on campus, we decided to eat at the Restaurant Universitaire for the first time. The line for tickets was HUGE so one of us waited in line to buy a carnet of 10 to split amongst the group. Once we got our tickets we went upstairs to the dining area and I WAS IN HEAVEN. Remember that up until this point I had only been eating two small meals per day, usually bread and cheese, so I was craving a big warm meal. I chose the “Cuisine Traditionelle” line, which featured a pork chop, couscous, and steamed string beans. On the side I had a plate of sliced, dried sausage products, a petit pain, and a little salad. Ohhhh it was so good.

At each meal you are allowed to get bread, two side dishes (like a cheese plate, pate plate, cold salads, fruit, etc.) and a main hot dish. In addition to “Cuisine Traditionelle” there were also lines for Pizza and Pasta, the Grill (steak hachee), Cuisine du Monde, and Poisson. Since my first lunch, I’ve eaten things like ray, paupiettes de saumon, paupiettes de veau, lamb moussaka, gigot d’agneau with couscous, caramel pork, saumon “americaine”, brochette de dinde, and ratatouille to name a few. The side dishes are equally exciting and almost every day I have a little plate of pate de campagne or a cheese plate. The French are obsessed with thinly grated (julienned?) carrots and other vegetables and at first I was confused by this obsession with a seemingly boring item. One day, however, seeing no more exciting side dish options, I took a small plate with julienned carrots, celery (or maybe celery root?), and red cabbage. It was so good and now I eat it almost every day! The carrots are served with no topping but the celery (or celery root) has a sort of mayonnaise sauce mixed on top of it and the shredded red cabbage is in a bit of vinegar.

Continuing in the vein of food, after lunch I went to the little grocery store by my dorm. There I bought a few necessities like cornichons, mustard, bread and chocolate. I found an 86% cocoa chocolate bar here and it’s really good. I already had some meat, cheese, and tomatoes (tomatoes are oddly cheap here, one euro for a kilogram) from my trip to Leclerc the day before so I was all set to make sandwiches.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cafeteria Ladies and Other Ladies: A Frugal Resource

After my post about recognizing an old friend in a book, I had to take a few days to recover. it is truly awful to re-experience all the conflicted feelings--pleasure, affection, anger, insecurity and so on--that emerge when reading about an unresolved relationship from college days. Not that I knew it was unresolved.

Now on to my next topic: cafeteria ladies. There is a wonderful cartoonist--Lynda Barry--who has a cartoon somewhere or other that shows two scornful high school students on line in the cafeteria. They look upon the ladies dishing up the food and one says "She coulda been a brain surgeon."

Doesn't that just capture the scorn of high school students and their assurance that they will get what they want--and that people who don't just didn't want it.

I do try to be mindful of the complex interplay of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and so forth in the pursuit of happiness and prosperity. I must be doing something right (in the mindfulness department), because several times at school open houses over the years, Mr. FS and I have been approached by cafeteria ladies. They wanted to thank us for the fact that our children thanked them. They would beam, "Your kids are among the few who say 'Thank you.'"

So even though my sense of etiquette is shaky (to put it mildly) and I violate many rules written and unwritten, I at least encouraged my children to thank cafeteria ladies.

And, now that I think of it, you do get something back. Not from cafeteria ladies, though a good relationship might assure you of getting lots of crusty top on your macaroni and cheese. No, from other ladies.

Like the lady who puts out the food at Big Lots, which, of late, has been a key component of my frugal life. She always points me to the best deals. She also told me that a BIG shipment will be coming in next week.

Now the Goodwill ladies are not allowed to do special favors for customers. But Donna, who puts out the books, is always happy to see me. She said, "I put out a lot of books yesterday. I wondered where my little friend was." That's me, by the way, even though I am about 5 inches taller than she is.

The lady at Walgreens always helps me figure out the proper order of checkout, when they have those confusing Register Rewards.

My late father, with his PhD, always had long chats with cafeteria ladies and other ladies. I guess that's where I get this predilection.

So let's all remember to appreciate cafeteria ladies and other ladies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Things Found in Thrift Store Books: An Old Friend (?)

I have this plan--so far unrealized--to write a whole series of posts on "things found in thrift store books." I am always amazed at how I often find JUST the book I want to read, if not now, then in a month or so. Or even a year or so. Often, this is a book I never would have heard of. That's how I found The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, some time before it was made into a film.

Then there are the physical objects I find: airline boarding passes, notes, receipts, photos.

But recently I found a book that--fortuitously--bought to me someone I haven't seen in about 30 years. The book is called French Lessons. Published by the University of Chicago Press, it was written by a professor of French--Alice Kaplan--who is about my age, but is a fantastically successful academic, with a position at Duke University. The book, with ecstatic blurbs by reviewers in highbrow media outlets, is autobiographical: the author's father was involved in the Nuremburg Trials; the author meditates on such subjects as language, identity, and academic politics, ambition, and success--all things I would find rather interesting.

How could I resist? Especially since Habitat for Humanity was having an "all books 25 cents sale." Also, who else who frequents the Habitat for Humanity thrift store would buy this book? It was positively my duty to purchase it.

As it turned out, I found the book kind of a letdown. In spite of the author's interesting life and topics, the book was kind of boring. Oh well. I did read through the sections on her time in the graduate program at Yale, where she was involved with a fellow named Bill Golden, and suffered through the anxieties and politicking of a small and very political department. So I wended through the book in a rather desultory way. (Sorry about my poor review. Maybe it's me. The blurbs really ARE ecstatic, e.g. "most engaging Bildungsroman" blahblahblah)

Then, I perused the Acknowledgements, in this book at the end, rather than the beginning. There, in the middle of the top line of a page was a name that jumped out at me: Nicholas -------. Oh my: an old friend from college, who had gone to Yale in French, and who had--so I heard--left academics. We did not part under pleasant circumstances.

So, of course, I returned to the Yale section to see if there were any references to him. After a while, I realized that Bill Golden (whom she also calls Guillaume
Dore), the sometime love interest of the author, MUST have been Nick. Who else was "painfully thin," aggressively workaholic, had a New York father who had mysteriously lost all his money, had a beautiful French mother, who left her very young son with his father, so eager was she to get a divorce and return to France. Oh yeah--and who else also went to the Lycee Francais in New York City.

So I found out that Nick, who, last I saw him was in graduate school desperately desirous of becoming a protege of the famous professor Paul De Man (who was later revealed to have written for pro-Nazi newspapers in Belgium), wrote an overly detailed and lengthy dissertation,quit a teaching job mid-class, was doing something with computers, married someone who "understood" his complete self, and had an indeterminate number of children. And apparently was wearing overalls as he surveyed his yard post-academics.

Well, I'm not sure why I wrote all this down, except that it was a weird experience. I almost emailed the author to ask if Bill Golden was Nick! Then I realized the book was published in 1993--more than 15 years before I read it.

Of all the things I've found in thrift store books, this was the strangest. Perhaps my next installment will detail the inappropriate email a professor sent a student, that was folded into Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory.

So Readers: any interesting finds in books?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Could We Stop Working RIGHT NOW?: Financial Independence

Those of you looking for facts and figures for the goal of EARLY RETIREMENT: this is not the right place. That's never been my goal. But I've always been attracted to the idea of FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE, a la Your Money or Your Life, not so I could quit my job, but so I could say every morning: I'm going to work because I WANT to, not because I HAVE to.

Now I don't actually know how much is in our retirement accounts, because I only glanced at a statement once over the past year. (Surely, I'm not alone in this possibly self-destructive behavior). Following the laws of averages, I know I was WAY down, and now am part-way up.

Yesterday, while taking a stroll through the neighborhood, I saw a yard sale sign by a pretty house with a FOR RENT sign out front. I wandered in and overheard the discussion: tenant is not owner, but renter. She's moving to Baton Rouge because she lost her job here and just got one in Baton Rouge. The reason she's renting is that she and her husband still own a house in Arkansas that they cannot sell. She and her husband live separately because of jobs.

Obviously, this is a snapshot of the upper middle-class version of the financial meltdown.

But here's the part of interest to ME. The house is owned by the Poole family, an old money family that owns a lot of the prettiest houses in the neighborhood. So it will NEVER be for sale. At least not for many years. If then.

The rent is $1800.00/month! Sorry New Yorkers: that sounds like a lot. The house is about 2/3 the size of mine, with a smaller yard, though with updated bathrooms.

Let's say we could rent our house for around that much. We OWN it free and clear. Hey! We could live in Costa Rica, where many Americans are now retiring, for between $1500.00 and $2500.00 a month. We would barely need to touch our emergency fund, though we would use it for family visits to and fro.

Then in 10 years or so, we could start tapping our retirement accounts, which surely would have recovered somewhat.

Mr. FS thought for a minute after my report. He queried, "What would we do in Costa Rica?" Well, take walks, appreciate beauty, cook. Sounds good.

But what would we do ALL DAY? Read. Walk. Talk to people.

That's kind of what we do now, though not in such beautiful surroundings. Plus, who would listen as I hold forth on this or that literary work? Could I find someone in Costa Rica who would want to know how beautifully constructed is a poem by George Herbert?

Isn't it nice to know we COULD do it? That, even now, we are going to work because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Beggarman, Thief?: Updates on Numbers

I did "Rich Man, Poor Man" yesterday and so have to finish the rhyme. I'm not sure if what follows is a good fit, but....

Talbots: Do you people remember when I thought about buying Talbots stock at around $1.80? I was struck by the divergence between the mainstream "male" view (Motley Fools named it their "Scary Halloween Stock") and the upstart "female" view (women bloggers "of a certain age" started admiring the new styles and the new president). Well, shoulda done it. As of yesterday, the stock was $9.25. A quintuplement!

Edmund Andrews: Remember him? Author of a book on HIS mortgage crisis within the context of the financial meltdown? Only he neglected to mention crucial financial information? I thought of him again because i saw his book at the public library. It's been checked out 4 times. I'll probably read it one of these days. Sales rank on Amazon: around 29,000. I'm not sure what these numbers mean, in terms of royalties etc.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggarman, Thief: Update on Frugal Favors

Update of Frugal Favors: The "poor woman" from Goodwill pressed a $20.00 bill in my hand the other day. "I couldn't live with the stress," she said. So I gave her the leather jacket that has been residing in the trunk of my car.

Duchesse noted in a comment that she would have taken a check for $8.00 from my "rich[er]" co-worker. Well, I don't know. New bank fees often involve a punitive charge to the depositor as well as to the writer of the bad check. And I had heard many a discussion of creditor calls and hidden shopping bags and multiple accounts and post-dated checks from this person. Having over a month to come up with $8.00 in cash seemed like easy "terms."

I don't have a moral to draw from this, except to say that some people--like my Goodwill pal, and like me, for that matter--find indebtedness intolerable.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Credit Card Perks

I'm writing on this topic because a commenter on a previous post marveled at my receiving $20.00 in gift cards from the LL Bean Visa.

I have plain vanilla rebate credit cards. The American Express has a sliding scale of rebates and gives me back a few hundred dollars a year and the Chase Freedom Card gives me 1% back. Then I have the LL Bean card, which I got to get free shipping and monogramming on the de rigeueur backpacks when my kids hit middle school.

I charge just about everything because I am lucky to have a built-in limit (built in, that is,to my brain or consciousness or something). So I never have a finance charge. I did a rough calculation and decided that airline miles linked credit cards were not better than what I already have. Plus, I figure that anything hawked with such enthusiasm by the purveyors (car leases, variable rate mortgages, variable annuities, whole life insurance) must be better for the purveyor than for the consumer.

As an amusing sidenote, a person I know slightly exclaimed that she and her husband had earned 2 tickets to Europe with a frequent flyer card in just one year. She was "playing middle-middle class," because she and her spouse had gone to Europe the previous year, also, she said, on frequent flyer credit card miles. When I said, "Wow! That's a lot of miles," she said, "I charge everything. Even groceries." Little did she know that she was revealing yearly spending on her card of perhaps $80,000.00, since you need about 40,000 for a plane ticket. A lot of groceries.

Anyway, I tend to ignore the various offers that arrive with my statements. So how did I acquire the $20.00? I bought my parents some luggage on sale. I got a few other things. I think LL purchases earn 3% back. Other purchases earn only 0.5%. I used the card a lot in Europe, since many places only take Visa, and that's my only Visa card. So somehow, I got $10.00!

Then, out of the blue, I got a $10.00 just because credit. I assume this was just because business this year, as my children would say, sucks. So it is to encourage spending. Hence, my $29.00 tote bag purchase.

If you don't have the card already, I think you get a $20.00 gift card just for applying. Then you get free shipping, returns, and monogramming. I seldom use the card, but even these little freebies are fun, pure lagniappe.

A few years ago, I earned a lot of credits and rebates when we were buying our Honda Civic. I put half on the American Express and half on the LL Bean Visa. We had saved up enough to pay cash since our previous car was 14 years old. But we figured, Why not get the rewards?

I was so scared that the bills would arrive late or that I would forget to pay, incurring a huge finance charge, that I sent the full payments to the companies that very day. And checked to make sure they got there.

So my story of credit cards involves paying them off in full and using them lackadaisically to get rewards now and then.

Do you make wise or clever use of credit card rewards? If so, how?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tick Tock Tote

Long ago, I mused on my quest for a tote bag. Even the slightest whiff of the paradox of choice paralyzes me. Luckily, my local Goodwill had two of the classic LL Bean canvas totes with monograms. For $1.99, Readers, I bought both. Needless to say, the monograms are not mine. Strangely, no one who knows me has ever mentioned the initials. Perhaps monograms read as monograms--preppy, whatever--and no one ever checks out the initials. Or perhaps no one wants to embarrass me by mentioning the initials that are not mine.

But the pressure is on, dear Readers. Last year, I acquired a $10.00 LL Bean credit from the use of my credit card. This expires in October. Then, I acquired another $10.00 credit---just for having the card! Neat! Thanks, LLB. This expires at the end of September. Sadly, there's nothing I really want.

Well, I do want some wheeled luggage. On our last trip, because of my weak arms, Mr. FS had to carry MY bag plus HIS bag. He looked like the Michelin tire man, only with a backpack and a front pack. He scorns wheeled luggage. Decent wheeled luggage is expensive, and only seems to work in airports and not on cobblestones.

So, as I did with my stove purchase, when I gave myself permission to buy a Wolf faux pro for $5000.00 and eventually worked my way down to a Frigidaire for $700.00, I gave myself permission to buy a Baggallini wheeled tote for $150.00 or thereabouts.

Then I worked my way down. First I'll try REALLY underpacking and carrying my own bag. Back to the LL Bean Hunter's tote for $29.00! Comes in black, olive, and--for a true classic--two camo patterns.

Interestingly, fashionista readers, when I did a search on camouflage totes I discovered that Tory Burch, the reigning queen of postmodern prep (maybe it's not postmodern, just overpriced) was giving out camo totes as gift with purchase. These had the Tory monogram in purple, red, or orange.

Maybe I'll get the LL bag and have it monogrammed Tory Burch. Just kidding, Tory. No need for a copyright lawsuit.

When I was last on this topic, my blog galpal Duchesse suggested that if I get camo, I should do an orange monogram. She and Tory think alike.

What think you dear Readers. Olive or Camo? What color monogram? I have till September 30 to decide.

Tick Tock Tote

Monday, September 14, 2009

Frugal Favors: Foolish?

I was thinking about this common issue because, just yesterday, someone at Goodwill, who begged me to buy her a leather jacket last week, which I did (with misgivings), did not have the $20.00 to pay for it. Instead, she offered me her pay card as hostage. Of course, I don't want to be holding someone's pay card (whatever that is).

I had a feeling this would happen. And Mr. FS could wear the jacket if she doesn't come through. Or I could take it to the Buf, as we call Buffalo Exchange. Last year, I bought two tops on sale at Banana Republic, one in small and one in medium, because I didn't have time to try them on. An instructor in my department was wearing the same top in black. When she heard I was returning the brown, she said, "Bring it in. They were out of the brown when I was there." I said, "OK. It was $8.00."

So I brought the top in the next day. Even though she is a low-paid instructor, she has a husband who is an accountant, who has scornfully said, apropos of departmental fights, "I can't believe people get so upset over a $60,000 job." But I am pretty sure she has a shopping disorder. So I specified that I wanted cash.

She offered a check. I declined, because 1. it's a pain to go to the bank, and 2. if the check bounced, I have to pay a fee, right? I reminded her many times. She never had $8.00, but begged me to wait another week. I stopped reminding her because she starting looking at me with hostility. So I took the top back to Banana only to discover that I was one day past the return deadline!!!!

I was reminded of all this because I read on another blog (can't remember which one) a cry of distress from a woman who has just paid off her credit card, only to have her husband put on their card the hotel reservation for 5 people! Because the other people have no "room" on their cards.

I was going to comment with the above stories, as well as the story of how my husband and I paid for a dinner for a class we were teaching (the "students" were teachers who were paid for taking the class, which was funded by a grant we wrote.). Not only did they not pay for our lunch (even though each one made money plus got several graduate credits for free), they reimbursed us ONLY the cost of the meal, conveniently leaving out tax and tip--i.e. 25%. This was for 20 people!

The above scenario has happened to Frugal Son too. On MY Amex. He said he got reimbursed. I hope he's telling the truth.

I love to spread the frugality around, but really it incurs resentment. YOU become the villain. I didn't comment on the other blog, because there were already zillions of comments with similar tales of woe.

Have you ever done a frugal favor with a happy ending?