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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mother's Sweaters: Art and Frugality 2

For all the many fans of my mother Virginia's sweaters, here's another in the series of her "fuzzy" constructions. I'll try to post one weekly, and then perhaps move on to her pillows, of which she had hundreds (literally).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Marmalade Magic

By Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar

I want to offer a brief follow-up of my earlier post on Meyer lemon marmalade. Although I can’t show you how great the marmalade tastes, I can document just how prodigiously economical it is to make. Contrary to the usual laws of kitchen physics, you actually end up with more than you begin with.

First, the documentation.

Here are the lemons I started with.

After squeezing, here are the peels, all nicely chopped.

Finally, here are the products: a half a gallon of lemon juice, and a half gallon of marmalade (yes, I measured).

Is there some sleight-of-hand involved here? It almost seems there must be, since the amount of lemon juice and marmalade appears to be more than the lemons could yield, whether reckoning by weight or by volume. This is in fact correct, and for a very simple reason: water. Since no part of the lemon goes unused, the total product is increased by the amount of water used to cook the peels (and I probably used more water than necessary).

Of course there’s also a little sugar involved, but not very much the way I made this batch. In fact, there’s just a little over two cups for the entire 64 ounces. I do like my marmalade on the bitter side, but in any case it’s easy to adjust the sugar content to taste.

So that’s why it’s magic marmalade: you get more than you put in.

Thanks to all for the comments and suggestions! This is a lot of fun.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Frugal and Fabulous

Since I had to go to Walgreens anyway to buy my daughter some hair dye on sale (Colorsilk for $1.99), I figured I might as well stop at Goodwill across the street for—ahem-- research purposes. There I got this necklace, i.e. an accessory. Michelle Obama, anyone? It was $1.99, $1.70, after my “senior discount.” Frugal AND fabulous.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Marcella's Cabbage Soup--the real recipe

Several readers say they want to make the soup, based on my haphazardly constructed recipe. A blogger named Wednesday Chef put Marcella's recipe up and I copied it (is this legal?). I generally use chicken broth. Apparently, Italian cooks are addicted to bouillon cubes, but it's really NOT the same. I also don't use expensive arborio. Truly a stone soup; I can't stop eating it.

I also use regular old white cabbage; it's hard to find Savoy in these parts.

Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup
Serves 2 if that's all you're having for dinner

Smothered Cabbage:

2 pounds Savoy cabbage
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon wine vinegar

1. Detach and discard the first few outer leaves of the cabbage. Shred the remaining head of cabbage very fine, either with your food processor's shredding attachment or by hand. Be sure to remove the cabbage's inner core.

2. Put the onion and olive oil and a large saute pan and turn the heat to medium. Cook the onion, stirring, until it's softened and taken on some color. Then add the garlic. When the garlic has turned a pale gold, add the shredded cabbage. Turn the cabbage over 2 or 3 times to coat it well, and cook it until it has wilted.

3. Add salt, pepper, and the vinegar to the pan. Turn the cabbage over once, completely, then lower the heat to minimum and cover the pan tightly. Cook for at least 1 1/2 hours, or until it is very tender, stirring from time to time. Add 2 tablespoons of water, if needed, during the cooking if the cabbage becomes too dry. When done, taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Allow it to settle a few minutes off heat before serving.


The smothered cabbage
3 cups homemade meat broth or 1 cup canned beef broth diluted with 2 cups of water or 1 1/2 bouillon cubes dissolved in 3 cups of water
2/3 cup Arborio rice
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the cabbage and broth into a soup pot, and turn on the heat to medium.

2. When the broth comes to a boil, add the rice. Cook, uncovered, adjusting the heat so that the soup bubbles at a slow but steady boil, stirring from time to time until the rice is done. It must be tender, but firm to the bite, and should take around 20 minutes. If while the rice is cooking, you find the soup becoming too thick dilute it with a ladleful of homemade broth or water. The soup should be on the dense-ish side when finished.

3. When the rice is done, before turning off the heat, stir in the butter and the grated cheese. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into individual plates and allow it to settle a few minutes before serving.

Mother's Sweaters: Frugality and Art

By Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar

My mother was an indefatigable and creative knitter. She grew up with the early notions of frugality, which emphasized making stuff one needed, rather than trying to find new, inexpensive things to buy. She made almost all of her clothes, though she let us buy ours, and she built all our brick walks and stone walls, among other things.

But one of her real passions was knitting. This was partly because she could do it while reading. She was a fast and voracious reader, but I think she always felt that she should be doing something else as well—that “just” reading wasn’t sufficiently productive. (She and Ben Franklin would have gotten along very well.) My father built her a beautiful book stand so that she could knit and read at the same time.

She mostly knit sweaters (though once she made a 35 foot scarf—“for a giraffe,” she insisted). Although she could and did execute complicated patterns, her real passion was for creative combinations of various textures and colors, and no two of her sweaters came out the same. She would hunt out balls of yarn that had been discounted because there were only a few left—not enough to make a sweater, and so not worth much to most knitters. (Dr. Frugal Scholar scouted for her in Louisiana, and we still have a box of yarn in our closet that we never brought her.) She would use these remnants to make sweaters that were real works of art.

She also made other objects of what I suppose one would call art clothing, including a jacket made from zippers that she got a great deal on, and another constructed from the dozens of silk ties no one claimed when a good friend of my father died.

But her real passion, as I said, was sweaters. I’m not sure how many she knit; I know that she donated about 30 to be auctioned off to raise money for the Bandon, Oregon library. Others were given away, or auctioned off to support other charitable enterprises. There were really many more than she could possibly wear, but I don’t think that “use” was the motivation; knitting satisfied needs beyond utility, even though this might have been her overt rationale, and probably appeased her frugal conscience.

I took photos of some of the ones that we still have, and I’d like to offer a sample here, as a record of what can be made with the orphaned balls of yarn no one else wanted. So when I try to use every bit of my Meyer lemons, in some way I’m following in the footsteps of my mother.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Foray into Fabulosity: The Accessories Issue

Continuation of previous post. It’s not like I have to search the blogosphere for help in achieving fabulosity. As I mentioned, my colleague Mary is fabulous (and scholarly too).

Another colleague, Dr. Z, in addition to being a wonderful writer and an untangler of the intricacies of literary theory, is very good at colors and proportions. In fact, the other day, she complimented me on my kelly green sweater (from Banana Republic last spring, marked down to $12.00 from $79.00. I should have seen the coming economic meltdown from the sale prices during that visit). She decided I was a “winter” and rushed to her computer to look up the other colors fitting my palette. She said that my course evaluations from students would go up if I wore less black and more color.

This advice goes along with Dr Z’s main criticism of me: that I am too melancholy, too negative. In fact, she and Mary had quite a laugh, when, in an effort to be upbeat, I said that something was a “no-lose” situation. I should have said “win-win.”

Perhaps this is why I enjoy teaching Milton, especially Paradise Lost. He is the master of the double and even triple negative. Here is a characteristic moment. When the Angel Raphael visits Adam and Eve to warn them about Satan (NOTE: this episode is not in your Bible, so don’t bother looking), he says “Know to know no more.” No. No. No.

Neither Mary nor Dr. Z hails from the South. I must admit that when I first came here, my clothes (mostly black, but I was younger then, so it was somewhat more flattering) caused some comment. Once, one of my students said, “Dr Frugal, why do women from the North look so plain and unattractive?” I replied that people from the North think that Southern women look too over-adorned. My students were shocked at that response. Perhaps this was their first lesson in multiculturalism.

I was discussing this issue years ago with my colleague and confidant G. He looked at me, and said—totally deadpan—“Perhaps you need to accessorize.”

I had forgotten this exchange until it was recalled by a witness, Bev, then an aspiring author and instructor, now a much-published author—with three novels so far and more to come. She said it was one of the funniest conversations she ever heard. Sadly, this episode has not made it into any of her books. Truly, I think it worthy of inclusion.

To continue with my use of the word “epitome,” Bev is the epitome of the Southern dresser. We both attended a conference a few years ago in Boston, perhaps the epicenter of the Northern fashion aesthetic. It was unseasonably cold. I felt right at home in my black ensemble and fuzzy boots. My hair, as always, was a mess.

There was Bev, shivering. She was wearing a turquoise ensemble, with matching turquoise shoes. The shoes were adorned with sparkles. Lots of sparkly jewelry too. Her hair, as always, was neat and blonde. We compared our outfits and she told me that she had to up the Southern look when she did public readings and book signings. Her novels are set in small Southern towns; I guess her clothes are related to “branding.”

So, in honor of my many role-models and advisers here and in the blogosphere, my foray into the fabulous will be an accessory: a tote bag. I actually need one.

This may be a long process, since I am a slow and waffling decision maker. Be on the look out dear readers. I need some help.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Frugal vs Fabulous

Followers of my little blog know that I recently happened upon some bloggers who are fashionable and, quite simply, fabulous. Reading these blogs is a deviation from my usual blog itinerary, which for a while has stuck closely to the frugal. Even though I know many, if not most, of the frugal tips that are proffered, I derive comfort from my frugal soul mates in the blogosphere.

But when I read the fabulous blogs, I want to throw frugality out the window. Oh, I know these people shop for deals, but marked down stuff at Neimans or even Lands’ End is a far cry from my pathological frugality.

Something of my split personality was represented on my office door the other day. Hanging from the doorknob was a bag of fashion magazines (Vogue, Elle, and others), which, compliments of Anne, are for my daughter, but I take a look too. Stuck into the crack of the door was the weekly ad from Piggly-Wiggly, a grocery store which is on my way home. ( I want to assure any cosmopolites that I am not making up the name.) The ad was compliments of Mary, who is the epitome of fabulosity, but has a streak of frugality, and kindly indulges me.

As you might expect, we stopped at the Pig (yes, that is what people call it) on the way home. We bought a large number of Hass avocados (2 for $1.00, for guacamole) and some bell peppers (only 25 cents, for red beans and rice). We also bought 2 bags of shredded cabbage near the expiration date for only 39 cents each. When we got home, I made the great cabbage soup from Marcella Hazan, favorite frugal fare for more than twenty years.

I immediately thought of writing a blog entry on cabbage, the most frugal vegetable, and a superfood to boot. But then I got depressed: fabulous bloggers write about Hermes scarves and designer shoes and elegant restaurants. Cabbage is so plain.

So I have decided to dip my toe into fabulosity. I have not decided how, but stay tuned. Any suggestions in the meantime?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

While noodling around the blogosphere, I discovered two blogs by the most elegant women. And they are in my age bracket. And they are both Francophiles. And they are incredibly good writers. I will post at another time about how I strayed from my usual reading on frugality and happened upon these blogs. Meanwhile, I have affirmed the value of my liberal arts education.

I was reading a post by elegant blogger #1 (une femme d’un certain age; see my previous post inspired by her vintage mink purchase). She had put together a great outfit, topped by her specialty, a scarf. One of the comments asked if she had seen the Hermes pattern “Neige D’Antan.”

Well! This brought me right back to college. After checking out the Hermes pattern, I dreamed for a while about the poem by Francois Villon, which I read for the first time in the class of my beloved teacher M. Danon. Even though it’s in medieval French, it’s pretty easy to translate. There are zillions of translations on the internet, but, if you have any French, give it a try. The famous refrain means "Where are the snows of yesteryear?"

Ballade (des dames de temps jadis)

Dictes moy ou, n'en quel pays,
Est Flora la belle Rommaine,
Archipiades ne Thaïs,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine,
Echo parlant quant bruyt on maine
Dessus riviere ou sus estan,
Qui beaulté ot trop plus q'humaine.
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Ou est la tres sage Helloïs,
Pour qui chastré fut et puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillart a Saint Denis?
Pour son amour ot ceste essoyne.
Semblablement, ou est la royne
Qui commanda que Buridan
Fust geté en ung sac en Saine?
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

La royne Blanche comme lis
Qui chantoit a voix de seraine,
Berte au grand pié, Beatris, Alis,
Haremburgis qui tint le Maine,
Et Jehanne la bonne Lorraine
Qu'Englois brulerent a Rouan;
Ou sont ilz, ou, Vierge souvraine?
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Prince, n'enquerez de sepmaine
Ou elles sont, ne de cest an,
Qu'a ce reffrain ne vous remaine:
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Such happy memories! I had four years of high school French and my teachers must have been good, because I placed directly into upper-level literature courses in college. I sat in my first one in total and terrified silence. Nearly every other student was fluent in French, because Dad was in the foreign service, or Granny had paid for summer camp in Switzerland, or something like that. The middle-class student at a private college is often subject to such insecurities. I could do the reading, but I could barely string together a short sentence—and not about literature. M. Danon was intimidating, but, it turned out, incredibly kind. When I went to his office for a required conference, he looked over my paper (written in French!) and said “You are a smart cookie.” I was so thrilled and that was my mantra through many more insecure years in college: at least M. Danon thinks I’m a smart cookie.

On the way home from work, I said to Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar, “Did you know there was a scarf pattern called “Neige D’Antan?” And he said, “Ou sont les neiges d’antan.” Who needs fancy gifts when you can have a conversation like that?

As a footnote, I was reading a New York Times piece on Obama’s prose style. The author, Stanley Fish, is most famous in academic circles for his book on Milton’s Paradise Lost, but my favorite of his works is called Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Prose. Although this stuff is challenging, I am lucky enough to love the prose of Francis Bacon, Thomas Browne, and Robert Burton. Reading the Opinion piece was the occasion of another trip down memory lane, as I read Fish’s fascinating analysis of Obama’s style. Here’s one of Fish’s sentences, with a literary allusion tucked in:

“And if you look at the text – spread out like a patient etherized on a table – that’s exactly what it’s like.”

Fish made a little mistake (it should be upon, not on), but here was another bit of pleasure for me as I recognized a bit of another famous poem.

I have always thought that one reason that frugality came naturally to me was that all the things I most enjoy are cheap or free: reading, taking walks, chatting, cooking, listening to music. With the addition of gardening and bicycling, these are Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar’s favorite things too.

OK, we like to travel, but we have managed to do that in fairly frugal ways.

So maybe the value of a liberal arts education is not that it prepares you to make pots of money, but that it sets you up for a life of pleasure—much of which is free.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Frugal Meyer Lemon Marmalade

by Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar

A few years ago I planted a Meyer lemon tree; the first year it produced a few lemons, the second year over a hundred. This, its fourth year, wasn’t quite as prolific as last year, but I still have many more lemons than I can possibly use.

So what to do with them?

First: gifts and barter. For some reason no gift seems more appreciated than a lemon, or lemons. I’ve brought them to colleagues (one of whom is sending a gift box of lemons to her sister somewhere in the north), and I’ve given them to people who stop to admire my tree. (“Are those lemons?!) I even gave a bunch to the guy who came out to look at our roof. I had confused “gutter” with “valley,” so his trip had been in vain, but he seemed almost absurdly pleased with my compensatory gift of five lemons. And just the other day I traded some lemons for a beautiful organic squash that a colleague brought by hand (and car) directly from the countercultural paradise of Ithaca, New York.

But what to do with the rest? We drink ice tea year round (6 regular tea bags and one Zinger or berry tea of some sort per gallon), and lemon is an essential ingredient. So we squeeze and freeze the juice in empty water bottles or zip-lock freezer bags. A few years ago Dr. Frugal Scholar found a wonderful old juicer at Goodwill, which works perfectly.

And now nothing goes to waste. Last year Frugal Son spent hours making chocolate covered lemon peels (delicious!), and some of the unused peel concoction cooled into what was almost perfect lemon marmalade. So with this as inspiration I’ve made three different kinds of lemon marmalade.

First, I used just the peels—this is before I’d done any research, and was trying to approximate Frugal Son’s product. I removed the pulp from squeezed lemons, cooked the sliced peels, added sugar, simmered, and voila: a very nice marmalade (though it didn’t gel).

Then I followed an actual recipe (you can find a bunch on line), and with Frugal Son’s help, made a batch with whole lemons. Again, success!

Finally—and this is the one that really rings my frugal chimes—I made a batch with everything left over after juicing the lemons. I had to pick the seeds out of the rinds, but after that I just chopped everything up, and went through the same process: boil, then add sugar and simmer again. This time I even followed the recipe and put all the seeds in a cloth bag to extract the pectin. Again: SUCCESS.

So making lemon marmalade seems almost foolproof, and what I love is that if you use the third method you get juice and marmalade, and there’s absolutely no waste. (I have to admit I’ve had no luck getting the marmalade to gel, even when using the seeds, but to me this isn’t a big issue. The marmalade is thick, spreads easily, and tastes great.)

I’ll admit I’ve gone a bit overboard with the marmalade. I’ve even frozen the cooked but un-sugared lemon peels against a future date in the fall when I’m out of marmalade but the new lemon crop isn’t ready. This actually might not work—I’m not sure if the lemon base freezes well—but it’s an experiment worth making.

And I can always try to barter the marmalade

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Frugal Fun, Frugal Fan, Frugal Fur

What I really want to write about is a post on a 60s mink jacket by the blogger une femme d'un certain age, but I guess I have to do my frugal duties first.

Frugal Fun: Last night, we visited Frugal Son at college. We needed to bring him his French grammar book. Luckily, since we are in the biz, we were able to borrow this $150.00 tome. Merci bien! That's frugal right there.

Frugal Fan(s): Then,we were treated to dinner on his board card. In the cafeteria, we met two important people. First, we spoke to the manager of the cafeteria, an energetic and well-dressed fellow, who clearly adores his job (which is a big one, since several thousand people eat every day). Frugal Son had told him about my mention of the high quality of the food on this very blog. He shook my hand and said, "You said it was restaurant quality, not cafeteria quality." He was so happy. I am definitely a fan of this guy.

On our way out, Frugal Son said, "That's lleger!" A reader of this blog! Hi lleger and thanks for the tips.

Frugal Fur: I am a terrible typist and actually typed furgal fur. If I do that again, it's not because I think it's funny.

This morning, I checked out the blog of une femme, a stylish woman, who is a fantastic writer. She wrote about scoring a 60s mink jacket. Hey, I have a jacket that looks just like hers. I bought it a few years ago at Goodwill, where it was hanging with the regular old coats and not with the "Special Prices" stuff. I'm sure it had not been scooped up because it was about 98 degrees outside and so customers probably were not scoping out the coat racks.

I was going to send la femme a comment (and I will do that), but I wanted to mention my furry credentials. As la femme points out, this mink would have been dead long ago anyway, so don't get all righteous over this.

Besides, I have a certain fondness for fur. I strive to be PC in all things, but I have a reason for my fondness. My grandfather Harry came to the United States as a small boy with his mother and siblings. This was around 1910. At Ellis Island, they were met by the dad, Benny, who had saved for their passage.

Does this sound like the sequel to "Fiddler on the Roof"? Well, it is. Benny died in 1913, after the hospital botched up treatment for something relatively minor (or so the story goes). Harry, age 10, and his older brother, age 12, had to go to work to help support the family. They sold candy at factories. Their mother Rose, who was pregnant with her fifth child, opened a small grocery store with the proceeds.

A few years later, Harry and a friend, whose last name was Ferrara (as far as I know, he didn't have a first name), had an entrepeneurial idea. They went to the factories that made fur coats and asked if they could buy the scraps. Thus started their business of making fur collars, cuffs, and muffs from the scraps.

As a little girl in the 60s, when girls had to wear wool coats and dreadful leggings, I always had a grandpa-made fur collar. I had the best coats!

Mr. Ferrara retired, but into his 90s my grandfather continued with the business. The last time I saw him, he was gluing little fur mustaches onto Groucho Marx masks.

So it is no wonder that I bought that mink jacket at Goodwill. I am enough of my grandfather's granddaughter to know that there is good mink and not-so-good mink. You can tell when you touch it. My Goodwill find is not so good. But that's OK.

Anyway, please read the Fur Story on the blog of une femme d'un certain age:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Weekly grocery shopping for someone with a pantry

Just a footnote (or headnote?) to earlier posts, where I advocated setting up a pantry to keep food costs down. This week was perhaps the most unbalanced shop I have ever done.

We ate well this week--homemade pot pie with biscuit topping (2 days), bean and cheese burritos with garden greens on the side, FREE dinner after FREE concert. Tonight we are having minestrone, sort of, with various things in the house (beans, carrots, celery, onion, greens, mushrooms...may add tomato and other stuff.)

But all those ingredients were in the fridge, freezer, or pantry. All I bought was 1 gallon milk ($4.50), 16 jars of peanut butter at Walgreens ($32.00, which yielded 2 $10.00 coupons for future purchases), and some macademia nuts with chocolate (about $3.00--see earlier post on great deal at Walgreens).

Total: $39.00 and however you want to count the $20.00 for future purchases at Walgreens.

Tomorrow, we are being treated to dinner by Frugal Son. He is giving us 2 dinners on his board card (part of his scholarship!). We usually have pizza and a salad and whatever looks good. The cafeteria has excellent food. For dessert, we have ice cream made at the Ag School. A popular flavor is called Tiger something, in the purple and gold school colors.

After accumulating a full pantry, you too can eat well for very little.

Any tips, dear readers?

My Frugal Birthday

Happy Birthday to me.

Let's see, I got birthday wishes from husband and son. That's good, because husband sometimes forgets. Dear daughter called and sent TWO emails, one promising me a year of haircuts (she's very good at cutting). So the family part is perfect.

Banana Republic sent me my yearly $15.00 gift card. This is sent to all who hold the BR credit card. It does not seem to be linked to how much you spend; I spend less than $100.00 most years. I bought a sweater. The frugal forces of the universe gave me a birthday during the very month that things are marked down!

I am 55 and so am now eligible for the 15% senior discount at Goodwill. The paperbacks have just gone from 5 for $1.00 to 5 for .85.

For my gift to myself, I went to Habitat and bought 4 pairs of clip-on earrings for .50 each. Habitat has a half off sale for the month of January, which I believe is in honor of my birthday. Thanks Habitat.

And my best present of all came from Washington DC. Thank you America.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Franklin and Frugality

I’d like to offer a belated “Happy Birthday” to Ben Franklin, and add something to what Ms DFS wrote. As MDFS said, he was not interested in the ethics of Wall Street—the Madoff/Gekko idea that greed is good. (Remember Gordon Gekko’s speech in the movie “Wall Street”?). He not only became a vegetarian himself to save money for books—and incidentally to save time for study, and to preserve his clarity of thought—but he tried to convince others to pursue his frugal practices. Such concern for building a frugal community marked his entire career.

Franklin’s Autobiography is also extremely witty. And that brings me back to his vegetarianism. It’s true that for a while he ate no meat, but that resolution actually didn’t last too long. Here’s how he explains it:

“[On] my first voyage from Boston, being becalm'd off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion consider'd, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, "If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet.”

By way of comment, he adds: “So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”

Brilliant! You have to love the guy.

While it’s hard to fault old Ben for his episodic vegetarianism, I do have another . . . . well . . . reservation. Maybe it’s because I live in Louisiana, but I do like to eat. Greed may not be good, but food is. But Ben didn’t seem to think so: for him, food was just fuel—a frugal attitude, perhaps, but one that goes against the sort of epicurean frugality we advocate. He explains that when he was young his father would always introduce a topic of conversation at dinner. I’ll let him take over here:

“By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life; and little or no notice was ever taken of what related to the victuals on the table, whether it was well or ill dressed, in or out of season, of good or bad flavor, preferable or inferior to this or that other thing of the kind, so that I was bro't up in such a perfect inattention to those matters as to be quite indifferent what kind of food was set before me, and so unobservant of it, that to this day if I am asked I can scarce tell a few hours after dinner what I dined upon. This has been a convenience to me in travelling, where my companions have been sometimes very unhappy for want of a suitable gratification of their more delicate, because better instructed, tastes and appetites.”

That’s taking practicality a little too far, isn’t it? Enjoying good food can be a very inexpensive pleasure, and pleasure is important. (See Ms. DFS’s post on the food of the poor.)

In fact, that’s the objection that D. H. Lawrence made in 1919 in Studies in Classic American Literature.Lawrence, a great advocate of the passions, called Franklin that “snuff-colored little man,” to whom a person was a sort of “mechanical contrivance.” His point is that Ben is just too practical: he’s a precursor to Henry Ford, mass-producing morality, virtue, and economic sufficiency rather than Model Ts.

Lawrence takes things a bit too far. For one thing, he has absolutely no sense of humor, and so can’t understand Franklin’s. On the other hand . . . . what are the limits of practicality (which I take as a subcategory of frugality)?

So, I’m divided: the frugal, witty Franklin, or the passionate, humorless Lawrence?

Frugality [according to Ben Franklin]: "Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing."

Frugality [Lawrence’s revision]: "Demand nothing; accept what you see fit. Don't waste your pride or squander your emotion."

What do you think?

My day off: writing projects

Since I have the day off, I will be finishing up a proposal for a conference next fall.

In the meantime, I left comments on a few blogs. To one outlining how to save money on disposable diapers (using coupons, unit pricing), I urged CLOTH! This saves money, the environment, not to mention your precious little one's bottom (nice cotton rather than crinkly plastic).

Trust me, folks, I am the world's least competent domestic person: I don't fold; I don't iron; I can't keep things neat; I wrinkle every piece of paper I touch, but I used cloth diapers--on two children at once!

Also, I got a message on paperbackswap. There is a new message board category on saving money. I mentioned that I spend $50.00/week for a family of 4 (less, now that kids eat elsewhere most of the year). HOW, I was asked. Well, this is a long process, but the first thing is to 1.) know the regular prices of whatever you buy and 2.) start squirreling away bits of money so that when tuna, say, or canned tomato puree goes on sale, you can stock up. Even a little starts making a difference and sooner than you would think. I have an earlier post on this.

So: work writing and frugality writing. A good morning so far and it's only 9:17.

Plus, I advocated for cloth diapers.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

All the little things add up: A Frugal Maxim

Mr Dr Frugal Scholar said I should post today's shopping. OK.

I went to Walgreens and bought 8 jars of peanut butter for $1.99 each. With the purchase of 8 came a $10.00 Register Reward, which I will use to buy milk and other necessities.

***Note jars of peanut butter have not been implicated in the recent salmonella outbreak. I will return them if they are!

Then, I bought 6 packs of chocolate covered macademia nuts, for my dear children. These are regularly $3.80 EACH, but were on sale for $2.00. These was an in-store coupon for $3.00 off 2.

SO: about $16.00 for peanut butter and $3.00 for candy, with a $10.00 coupon for my next trip.

The MORAL is: it's not WHAT you purchase but WHEN and HOW you purchase.

Also on-deck for the weekend is a monthly free concert at a church. This month the performers are the Loyola Faculty Brass Quintet. The concert is followed by a wine and cheese (and more!) reception. Check for similar opportunities in your area.

The bonus for us is that the church is a short walk from our house. And it's a beautiful day!

Are you having a frugal weekend, ear readers? If so, share . . .

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What do MBAs in high finance do all day?

Just to show you all that I move in high circles, here I am in The Wall Street Journal! I posted my questions in response to a post by a laid-off MBA, age 40, who was a senior vp for Lehman Brothers. The responses ranged from helpful advice (network!) and pep talks (you'll get another job!)to sneering comments about overpaid MBAs. My response was a series of questions and, much to my surprise, I got an answer. Both are below. Honestly, I still don't know what those people do all day (the title of a Richard Scarry book much loved by children) and why they make so much. Nevertheless, for what it's worth:

I am a teacher and so naive about the high finance world. Here are 3 questions:
1. What exactly did all these vice-presidents DO?
2. What exactly does the MBA qualify you for? Why didn’t these hyper-educated people see problems brewing?
3. The RUDE question: how much money (salary PLUS bonus) did these vice-presidents earn?
OKAY, 4 questions: Did these people save any money? How are they living now?

I lost a big hunk of my retirement savings and I’m not too far away, so I am curious about the all of the above.
Comment by frugalscholar - January 17, 2009 at 8:42 am

To Frugal Scholar:

1. VPs tell their analysts what to do
2. An MBA qualifies you for many things — though not having an MBA doesn’t disqualify you either. As for the trouble, who’s to say these hyper-educated people DIDN’T see problems brewing? I’m sure many did.
3. VPs earn at least 120-130K. Senior VPs are about double that. That’s not including bonus either. Bonus? Well…let’s just say an Analyst’s bonus can be well towards 6 figures.
Comment by Gold Teef - January 17, 2009 at 12:51 pm

It's Ben Franklin's Birthday: Frugal, Frugal, Frugal

Ben Franklin is known for his thrift, but what many do not know is that he did not patent many of his greatest inventions: he sacrificed a potential fortune for the public good.

Here is a very nice essay written in honor of Ben's birthday:

I love Franklin's Autobiography, an early self-help book:

Franklin makes a list of 13 virtues in his effort of arriving at "moral perfection": one is "Frugality: Make no Expence but to do good to others of yourself: i.e. Waste nothing."

But he also attributes his success to reading and to learning how to write. So note what he spends his money on: "From a child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was ever laid out on Books."

He becomes a vegetarian to save money on food: "This was an additional Fund for buying Books."

While many may turn to Poor Richard's Almanack for pithy comments on frugality, such as the famous "A penny saved is a penny earned," I must say that The Autobiography is my favorite. If you don't want to buy it, check it out of the library, something for which we can also thank Franklin, who helped launch the Library Company in 1731.

Happy birthday!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cycling and Frugality: Lemond and Uggs

(a stealth post by Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar)

Being frugal doesn’t mean depriving oneself of pleasures small and large. In fact, as you know, frugality allows one to indulge in pleasures beyond the means of the non-frugal. This is the point that Ms. Dr. Frugal Scholar made so well in her recent post on indulging in a pair of Uggs (strange name!). As we know, sometimes it is hard to reconcile expensive purchases within the tenets of frugality.

But I can do her one better.

I have a road bike, and not an old clunker from Goodwill. (That one Ms. DFS bought for me 15 years ago for $100, and I rode it into the ground). I now have a Lemond Zurich, and it wasn’t cheap. The last year these were made (the company is temporarily out of the market, after being bought by Trek), the Zurich went for $2,600. Of course I’d never pay that much-- I bought mine used on Ebay several years ago for $775 plus $85 shipping. That’s still not cheap.

However, expense is relative, and depends mostly on how, or how much, one uses a purchase. A Wustof knife for $100 is a good deal for someone who really cooks: it will last a lifetime. But it’s a waste of money if it’s used only for slicing Domino’s pizza. Ditto any other purchase one can think of.

So let me do some calculations. (Are you listening, Ms DFS?) Over the past four or so years I’ve ridden my bike well over 13,000 miles. Let’s say that I average 3.5 minutes per mile. (That’s about 17 mph.) Over 13,000 miles that adds up to 758.3 hours. Divide this by the price of the bike, and you get just over $1.00 an hour. That’s well worth it, and the cost per hour will keep going down; in four years it will be close to .50 an hour!

Here’s another way of figuring cost: 13,000 miles for $860 is only about 6.6 cents a mile. That beats any hybrid, and I’m not even counting the health benefits.

OK, I admit that I’ve fudged the numbers somewhat, because there have been additional expenses. I bought some mid-level clipless pedals for about $90 (road bikes don’t come with pedals or saddles), a cycle computer (to register time, distance, speed, etc.) for about $25, aerobars for about $90, various tires, tubes, shoes and cycling clothes, and I have paid for a few repairs and tune-ups. Even so the cost per mile or per hour is relatively small, certainly no more than 12 cents a mile.

And let me point out that I come out far ahead of Ms. DFS in the luxury-frugality competition. More numbers: MS. DFS’s Uggs and shipping were $93. In order to get the same return on her investment she will have to walk 775 miles (at $.12 a mile) before she gets down to the cost of a mile on my bike with all the extras included. Let’s say one can walk three miles an hour; that makes 258 hours of walking.

OK, I admit that this is just foolish, but the underlying question is not. How does one assign a dollar value to pleasure? Certainly I could have gone the same distance on a $200 bike, or a $400 bike. It might even have been 70% as much fun. (And Ms. DFS could walk 775 miles in sneakers.) But I think that because we so frugal in most areas, we can indulge in the few that are important to me. It’s a matter of triage. (Ms. DFS, bless her heart, has never raised a peep about the cost of my bike.)

You still have to decide if you’re going to make use of your bike. I see often see two-year-old bikes auctioned off on Ebay with only five or six hundred miles and for a $2,000 or $3,000 or $4,000 loss. (Yes, some of these bikes cost upwards of $7,000.) A common explanation offered is “I don’t have time to ride.” Of course it’s a good idea to sell something you aren’t going to use, but it’s even better to make sure you really like an activity before investing heavily in equipment.

So before you spend wads of cash on a good bike and all the extras get one from Goodwill (or a yard sale—or even a new one on-line for $200 as our son did) and use it for a few years. It will work just fine and you’ll discover just what place cycling occupies in your life. And you may never want a better bike, but if you do at least you’ll be sure it will get a lot of use.

So I think my bike was worth it, but am I fooling myself?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Shakespeare vs the French Intellectual: Luxury and Humanity

There is a somewhat amusing essay in the New York Times about the French response to the economic downturn, especially as it pertains to the luxury industry. As might be expected, the French are having une crise, c’est à dire, a crisis.

After discussing how some French people are calling for a re-examination of values in the wake of hard economic times, the writer continues: “Some French intellectuals want to go much further, calling for the death of the entire luxury industry as a sort of national ritual of purification. ‘Since the ancient Greeks, luxury goods have always been stamped with the seal of immorality,’said Gilles Lipovetsky, a sociologist who has written several books about consumerism. They represent waste, the superficial, the inequality of wealth. They have no need to exist.’”

Mon dieu! This is going very far! Let’s put William Shakespeare up against the French . Or not Shakespeare, because, owing to his “negative capability” as identified by poet John Keats, we really don’t know what Shakespeare thought about anything. So how about the character King Lear instead?

Quick recap of play. Lear has decided to give up his power and live with his daughters. While dividing up the kingdom, he gets angry at his only good daughter, Cordelia, disinherits her, and divides the kingdom between his two other daughters, Goneril and Regan, both very bad. The deal is that he is to retain a hundred of his knights. But, of course, once he gives up his power, his bad daughters don’t have to honor the deal.

This is Lear’s response to his daughter’s suggestion that having a hundred of his knights around is a big pain for her and totally unnecessary anyway. He doesn’t NEED a hundred knights, she says. To which Lear exclaims:

O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man's life is cheap as beast's. (2.4.264)

Yes, King Lear has made a lot of mistakes. Yes, he is difficult. But, according to the play, he is right: we NEED more than mere necessities. That is what makes us human.

For the full NYT essay:

So, dear readers, do you agree with the French philosopher or with King Lear?

And, dear readers, Mr. Dr. F. wanted to title this post "Lear-ning from the French," but I said "NON." What do you think? Good title or bad title?
Merci to all.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

But that’s not frugal!

Today was our first day back at school after break. It’s a lot of fun to chat with students and colleagues in between interesting tasks and dreary paperwork. Since it was on the cold side today (cold for this area, I hasten to add, not compared to the upper midwest), I wore boots. Since it’s too early in the semester for much intellectual content or conversation, some students admired my boots. After saying thank you, I said “Oh, wait till I wear my Uggs. I wrote some blog posts about trying to get Uggs on sale.”

To which the students exclaimed, “But Dr. F, Uggs aren’t frugal.”

This scenario was repeated several times through the day. So let me take this as a “teachable moment.” My students equate frugality with not spending money. No. No. No. Frugality has to do with getting good value for your resources (money, time, stuff) in accordance with your values.

So, just to be totally transparent here, I will admit that in addition to my Uggs ($78.00 plus a ridiculous shipping charge), I bought a neat pair of black boots (from Garnet Hill, on sale for $49.00) and a memory foam mattress pad (around $100.00 from Costco).

I think these purchases are totally frugal and the boots, in fact, constitute ALL my clothing purchases this year, except for a jacket my mother bought me at Forever 21 and a few items from thrift stores. And when I say “this year,” I mean my school fiscal year, which started mid-August.

Besides, my birthday is January 20, Inauguration Day, so Happy Birthday to me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Frugal Tips = Guaranteed Investment Returns

For me, the only good thing about the economic meltdown is that there’s a lot more to read about frugality. Even the Wall Street Journal, which heretofore chronicled the lavish lifestyles of Wall Street titans, now presents the humble frugal tip, although there is something incongruous about an essay in WSJ that earnestly exhorts you to use a bread machine.
Here’s a list from a recent column called ROI (Return on Investment) by Brett Arends. These provide “sure returns” that “will produce a greater return on investment than Wall Street's greatest boom year.” Each tip is followed by my own situation.

1. Buy a bread maker.
ME: Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar has been baking bread for 30+ years. We have a bread maker for “just in case.”
2. Get a credit card with a sign up bonus. Arends recommends a card that gives you a free flight; after you fly, cancel the card.
ME: We thought about getting the one from USAir, but realized we have tons of frequent flier miles already.
3. Get a Library Card. Use it!
ME: We are already big library users.
4. Use Netflix instead of cable.
ME: We’ve never had cable and already use Netflix.
5. Buy seeds and grow herbs.
ME: We have a garden and I don’t buy fresh herbs at the grocery anyway.
6. Use prepaid cellphone instead of expensive plan.
ME: We already do this.
7. Bring coffee to work instead of buying en route.
ME: We already do this.

The problem for long-time frugalities is that we already do many of these things. The nouveau frugal are, in a way, lucky. They can do all these things and save a couple of thousand dollars and get returns of up to 1000%. But the only thing I DON’T do is something I don’t want to do: I’m happy with my American Express rebate card. I already have tons of frequent flier miles from flying.

So dear readers: Help me find some guaranteed return on investment habits. Can you think of any sure things that are out of the ordinary? What are your sure things?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kimchi and Me: Part II (with recipe!)

This is the final installment of my two-part kimchi post. If you haven't done so yet, check out Part I and then try out the recipe I've included at the end of this post.
--Frugal Son

Kimchi was originally developed as a method of preserving fresh produce through the winter and many Koreans—including Julie’s grandmother—continue to make it today much as it was made hundreds of years ago. Traditionally the kimchi was made in ceramic pots that were then buried for as few as three days in the summer when fermentation was rapid or for many months in the winter when the cold ground slowed the process. In Louisiana, however, where it is warm even in the winter and ceramic kimchi pots are nowhere to be found, I still found a way to capture the essence of Korea in a homemade kimchi.

While kimchi is certainly not a staple food in the United States—and I’ve also noticed that Korean cuisine in general is conspicuously absent from the landscape of restuarants in America—it is something that I think is inherently appealing to almost everyone: it’s like a pickle but with way more character.

My long awaited opportunity to make kimchi finally presented itself shortly after New Years when cabbage went on sale for $0.25 a pound. An interesting side-note: the cabbage was so cheap because it is a Louisiana tradition to eat black-eyed peas and cabbage on New Years for good luck. The kimchi preparation was simple and took only about five minutes of combined effort by my father and me. In addition to the cabbage we added some scallions, turnips, and hot peppers from the garden while sugar, salt, fish sauce, soy sauce, and garlic rounded out the potent brew.

After letting it sit overnight and stirring it around a few times to make sure the brine reached every crevice, we took off the plastic bag covering the top of the bowl and lo! Kimchi! Enjoying the kimchi took the combined effort of the whole family and under such an assault, it was gone within a day. Next time, I’ll make more so that I can see how it changes taste and texture as it continues to ferment—in this respect kimchi is a living, evolving organism—and maybe there will even be enough left for me to incorporate old kimchi into some dishes.

Making kimchi really encapsulates everything that I love about cooking: it brought together the family, transported me to another place, and allowed me to enjoy the ethnic foods I so enjoy for a pittance. Even if kimchi isn’t the kind of thing you’d want to eat, there are so many amazing and simple dishes which are a lot cheaper, better, and family oriented than eating out.

The recipe for kimchi, which is very flexible, is one that I created by combining the aspects I liked of three different recipes. Also note that none of the quantities below are set in stone...adapt the recipe as you like: make a smaller amount, use different vegetables etc. Kimchi is a food that is meant to be played with!

2 cabbages
1-2" of ginger root
10-12 cloves of garlic
Scallions (quite a few, at least 8 bunches I'd say)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup fish sauce
about 1 tbs sesame oil
2 tbs sugar
1/2 to 3/4 cup pepper flakes (I used 1/2 cup of pepper flakes for the 1.5 cabbage batch just to give you a reference point)
Salt for brine
2 – One gallon glass jars with plastic lids.

Chop up the cabbages into chunks about one or two inches long. To brine them you can put the chopped cabbage in a large mixing bowl or pot and add enough water to cover. Alternately, you can stuff the cabbage into the jars as tight as you can and then pour water over them. Whichever method you use, add salt and mix it up so that the salt dissolves. I don't have an exact amount of salt to use but the brine should be about as salty as tears. Let the cabbage soak in brine for at least 24 hours.

Next, drain the cabbage but do not rinse it. Try to get as much water off as possible. Shake it out, or transfer it to a large, dry pot, let it sit for 10 minutes and then scoop it out by hand which should leave most of the water behind. At this point, mince the garlic and ginger into fine pieces about the size of a grain of kosher salt. If all that chopping sounds too tedious or if you are too pressed for time to do it by hand, you could just put the ginger and garlic into the food processor with the red peppers and blend it into a paste / flakes mix. That is a totally acceptable method. Also, cut your scallions into pieces about one inch long. Pour the fish sauce into a mixing bowl and add the sesame oil, ginger, garlic, pepper flakes, and sugar and mix it all up.

Add scallions to the cabbage and then divide the sauce amongst your chopped cabbage and jar it. Make sure the brine / paste mixture is evenly distributed on the cabbage chunks. You will probably want to toss it around with your hands but either wear gloves or wash your hands afterwards because the red pepper flakes can cause painful burning if you touch your eyes or nose long after you are done cooking. Push the cabbage / sauce mixture into the jars, stuffing it as tight as you can because the cabbage will shrink during the fermentation process. Now all you have to do is let the jar(s) sit for at least 24 hours and resist the urge to snack.

This recipe is really quite flexible. I think the main things I would fool with are the amounts of fish sauce and pepper flakes (especially for non-Louisianans the amount of pepper I added might be too much). The fish sauce gives the kimchi some of its pungency and salt but I'm not sure what the proper amount is. The pepper flakes obviously add heat but NOTE that the pepper flake sauce seems (to me at least) hotter when it is first made but it then mellows out as it is aged and fermented. Thus, a pepper sauce that is the right heat at the time of jarring may be too mild after fermentation. Experiment!

The finished product:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Upscale lives; humble financial lessons

More from the New York Times on Wall Street types coping with unemployment and other woes. No, I'm not referring to the media circus on Alexandra Penney, who made her money with bestsellers like How to Make Love to a Man and is now blogging on losing all to Bernard Madoff. I am referring to an article yesterday on a family much downscale from Penney, but much upscale from me.

Read it here:

The essay is about the stress on marriages during financial meltdowns. Featured is a family from tony Darien CT, where Dad, formerly of a "boutique investment firm," is now unemployed. Mom, who left a fancy job to stay home with the kids, has gone back to work, though she doesn't make as much as Dad did. They have downsized from a nanny to an au pair, but are continuing with expensive kids' sports and lessons. Their relationship has its moments of tension (Mom wants to buy kids clothes from Ralph Lauren, rather than from Walmart), but is basically strong.

Why am I writing about this? Because in this article is some very humble financial advice. In spite of working for a "boutique investment firm," Dad paid off the house and put aside a substantial sum in a college fund. Paying off the mortgage has been generally touted only in the "frugality press"; mainstream financial advice has always been that you can make more by investing your money.

Ditto for college funds. Dad said that he once had enough to send both kids to Harvard. Not bad, considering kids were 5 and 6 when he lost his job 2 years ago. Two sets of Harvard tuition would have totaled about $360,000 2 years ago. Presumably, this is a cash account (I assume this because the family is dipping into this money to maintain their current lifestyle).

So: a paid off mortgage and a substantial cash fund, for emergencies or college or whatever. You can go a long time with one person working, no mortgage, and 8 years of Ivy League tuition payments.

Dear readers: what do you think of all these articles on the woes of the formerly wealthy?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Finance at Habitat and Leftovers and Uggs

Overheard at the Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store:

Well, not overheard, because the fellow was shouting for all to hear, "I went to college. I've been a junkman all my life. Now frugality is in style for rich people. Like those who were cheated by Bernard What's-His-Name."


As everyone knows, eating leftovers is a frugal habit. Many approach this prospect with dread. But my frugal son went into a kitchen frenzy over the last few days. He wanted to eat a few things before he went back to college. This is not because the food at college is bad; the cafeteria food is, as might be expected in this food-obsessed state, excellent.

Today Mr. Dr. Frugal and I dined on homemade chicken liver and mushroom pate on country bread (the latter made by Mr. Dr. Frugal himself); then we had the last of our first lasagne made with homemade pasta (it's as amazing as everyone says); then, since we were still a little hungry, we ate some of the kimchi mixed with rice as described in yesterday's post. Not the most coherent meal, but all parts were good.

My Uggs showed up today! Very nice, but Saks charged $15 for shipping. Of course, it was 78 degrees outside. I would gladly give up wearing my toasty boots in exchange for a warm winter with low heating bills. But a cold front may be coming....

Any favorite leftovers, dear readers?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Kimchi and Me: Part I

Following the naming convention of my Frugal Mom's post "Madoff and Me," I would like to present the first of a two part homage to one of the greatest frugal foods on the planet.

One of the things that I enjoy the most is food, and especially ethnic cuisine. While many people might assume that enjoying exotic cuisine is incompatible with a frugal lifestyle—even eating out in a mediocre restaurant regularly adds up to a substantial sum—nothing could be further from the truth. Though I have been an adventurous eater since an early age, one of my first major forays into food came while I was living away from home during high school. While there, a surprising number of my friends were Korean and in addition to being great friends, they also had great moms who would send them back to school with plastic containers filled with succulent beef, pungent fish, and spicy orange strips of dried squid. Many a night was spent with ten people packed into an already small dorm room passing around a pair of communal chopsticks, a bowl of steaming rice, and the plastic containers of delicious Korean dishes while we played tien-len (a Vietnamese card game to add to the diversity). Just so it’s clear I wasn’t a total mooch, every now and then I would cook up some couscous which we would then top with Rooster Sauce, a spicy yet sweet chili and garlic sauce of South Asian origin.

One Korean dish, however, was clearly the king of dishes: the ubiquitous kimchi. This is the Korean national dish, a simple blend of cabbage, fermented fish paste, garlic, and copious quantities of red pepper. The flavors kind of sum up the tenets of Korean cuisine; left to ferment for a few days before serving the cabbage softens—but still retains a distinctly fresh crunch—and takes on a complex flavor that is sour, salty, spicy, and most of all, deeply satisfying. Kimchi is also versatile: it is served as a side dish at every meal but also lends itself to many dishes. Mixed into stir-fried rice it adds body and flavor and when the kimchi gets too old (soft and too powerfully fermented to eat by itself) it is thrown into pork broth with bits of tofu, pork, and potatoes to make kimchi jiggae, an incredibly delicious stew.

While in school, I relied on my Korean friends for a steady supply of this incredible dish and during breaks from school, I would have to live without or drive to the Westbank (across the Mississippi from New Orleans) to buy 5 gallon jars of kimchi from the Asian groceries. All of this kimchi love (and friendship of course) culminated in a month long trip to Korea during the summer of 2008 with two of my best friends from high school. For thirty days I ate kimchi breakfast, lunch, and dinner and I learned that I had merely sampled the tip of the kimchi iceberg; while in Korea I ate regular cabbage kimchi, daikon radish kimchi, green onion kimchi, bok choy kimchi, fried kimchi pancakes, kimchi omelettes, kimchi served hot and cold, spicy kimchi and sweet kimchi. There is a kimchi for every occasion, season, or palate.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why I Love John Bogle

Lots of people have linked to today's Wall Street Journal column by the great John Bogle of Vanguard.

Bogle offered some wise advice and perspective on the current economic downturn. Here's the link if you haven't seen it:

But here's a statement from Bogle that I love even more and that I have recited many a time over the past few months. This is, I believe, from his book on mutual funds. I took a copy of this book from my father's shelf after his recent death. I am not ready to open the book and get the exact quotation, but it runs something like this:

"Everything tends to the average." This was part of Bogle's advocacy of index funds. But what this also means is that, just as we shouldn't trust the market highs and assume they will go on forever, so we shouldn't trust the market lows and assume they will go on forever. Here's hoping that's right.

So John Bogle, an early Valentine's card for you. Thanks for your good sense.

Uggs and bowling

Two newsflashes:

Saks has RAISED the price of the very Uggs on sale yesterday to their historic high levels. UGG indeed.

"Wall Street Journal" announces in its lifestyle section that bowling is making a comeback. It is a cheap activity for hard times. Cf. the dire assessments of the book "Bowling Alone," which is about the loss of community. Perhaps we are in for a resurgence of community.

I want it ON THE RECORD that my frugal son wrote about bowling before the WSJ. Read his post about fun and the frugal purchase of bowling shoes.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Frugal Consumption: Uggs, Sanitas, All-Clad, ASK

I have a host of posts in process, many in a philosophical vein. But I will delay these a bit owing to the flurry of interest in shoes on sale. The frugal moral of all these stories is ASK. Or OFFER.

So even though my Uggs (60% 0ff) order vanished as I entered my credit card info, I called Saks and ASKED why. The nice rep looked around and found me a pair in Boston, which is (I hope) en route.

When I read Funny About Money extolling the comfort of (gasp! full-price) Sanitas, I remembered a neat website with well-priced models and shared the information.

For some Louisiana lagniappe, I'll share a source for All-clad seconds: This kind of information used to be hard to access before the internet. Indeed, it took me ages to find my All-clad saute pan years ago. Over the years, I shared the info with many of my acquaintances; I figured I was amortizing my time investment by telling others.

And, as with all things, it all comes back. So Anabelle, for whom I used to lug huge bags of specialty flours from my local food coop, now gets me 50-lb sacks of King Arthur flour from the area wholesaler. When my frugal pal George buys reduced bacon at Winn-Dixie, he picks me up a few packages.

So, dear readers, what are you looking for? What sources do you have?

Sale alert: Sanita shoes cheap(er)

Is everyone buying shoes? I was just reading the Funny About Money blog, where the writer talked about Sanita shoes as being expensive, but comfy.

So I replied with the info that you can get Sanita seconds from a very cool website: The fellow who runs this must be wonderful. He has some fascinating essays as well as good prices on his shoes (also Birkenstocks, Danskos, Camper, Haflinger).

I thought I'd also mention the site here, since I don't know how many people read comments on blogs. I was alerted to this site by my colleague Annabel, who knows where to find anything!

Uggs on sale: Update

See yesterday's post on Uggs on sale at various upscale department stores. So this morning, following my own advice, I checked all the recommended venues. There were the very ones I wanted! In my size! At over 50% off! I did the order and it would not go through. In the time it took me to get my credit card, my size sold out! I called the tollfree #, and a nice woman said there were 11 left in the stores (nation-wide) and she would try to have me sent a pair. Who knows?

So check out yesterday's mentions as new styles WERE available earlier today. Also, REI had some at 50% off this morning, but all seem to be gone.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January Sales: Uggs, Levenger, Talbots

Lest it seem that I only buy five for a dollar books or St John jackets for 3.50 at thrift stores, let me ‘fess up with the truth. I love to check out “real” stores, though I mainly do it on the internet. And, since as I explained in an earlier post, I am the child of black-belt sale shoppers, I really can’t buy anything at regular price.

I find that I haven’t really wanted anything this season, in spite of the fabulous and well-publicized pre-Christmas markdowns.

So even though I’m not buying the following, I thought I’d save you—dear readers—some legwork and alert you to 2 good sales—and one bad one.

UGGS—I mentioned that I wanted some Uggs earlier. My son is so scornful of this desire. Honestly, it’s because my feet always hurt. I had a pair of Uggs a few years ago. They were $14 at Marshalls. Right before I got there, someone bought 40 pairs to sell on ebay! Sadly, these were light blue. I couldn’t bring myself to wear them, so I sold my single pair.

This year, Uggs have been the one item that seemed immune from the rampant markdowns. Even now, the markdowns are not great. But every day or so a new style has been marked down on the sites of the upscale department stores—Neimans, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Saks. Even Bergdorfs (a store very intimidating to enter, but where I used to stop and use the ladies’ room en route to my orthodontist!). Sometimes there are only a few sizes left. Markdowns are only between 30-40%. The deals disappear in the blink of an eye, so I won’t link you. But do check them out.

Levenger—I love this upscale stationery and office stuff supplier, especially their Circa notebooks, but it really is ridiculously expensive. They have one great deal: a sampler Circa notebook for $40, which comes with a $40 gift card. I got this last year and eventually used the gift card to buy 4 circa notebooks with refills (compact size) that were marked down to $9.95. This deal is back and is even better if you can find one of the 20% off deals floating around on the net. These little notebooks make very snazzy graduation gifts. (Note: you can’t use the 20% off on the sampler kit, but can use it on the sale notebooks.)

Talbots—This company has snazzed up its style this year. It is also one of the companies in big trouble. Sales have been good. Before Christmas, Talbots had an additional 40% off sale items; the sale continued after Christmas. Great!!! Then I checked the site today to see if a certain jacket was still there …and guess what? The 40% off is OVER and the prices went up! What kind of thing is this???? So the question is: did I save $65 by NOT buying the jacket at its lowest point, or did I save $101 by not buying it today? I leave you with this Zen question.

UPDATE: Talbots sent me an email announcing 50% off sale IN STORE ONLY. So sale items are a bit less than they were before Christmas.

Frugal Families Aggravate Nation's Woes

Frugality is bad for the economy

“Frugal Families aggravate nation’s woes”: so trumpets the Wall Street Journal, with a picture of a middle-class family at their kitchen table. Read it here!

Honestly, I can hardly see how learning to live responsibly can, in the long-term, hurt our country’s economic health.

My personal situation: as I said in an earlier post, I am trying not to be embittered. I have always been pretty responsible, yet I too lost about 40% of the equity portion of our retirement accounts. So (in the bitter mode), I missed the good times of consumption, but am subject to the same downturn as everyone else!

Would it be true that the habitually frugal (like yours truly) would NOT be aggravating the nation’s economic woes? I am going to be spending the same as last year. Plus, we’re planning on the following: some new slipcovers for chairs, a family trip somewhere, perhaps Boston and New York City, an expensive implant for my tooth (that should help the oral surgeon from his downturn), and Mr Frugal Scholar is itching for a new-to-him expensive bicycle (that should help someone who wants to/has to sell his bicycle).

Dear readers: no doubt this will be picked up by all the big blogs. But let this little blog know what you think!

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Modern John Henry Takes on the Dishwasher

The overwhelmingly positive response to my “Frugal Saint or Frugal Fanatic” post has prompted me to forgo modesty and reveal one of my other secret, but perhaps excessive, virtues: I wash dishes using fewer natural resources than anyone else in the world.

I’ve heard the argument from the pro-dishwasher camp: it uses less water than traditional hand washing, and is therefore more economical than washing by hand. I believe this argument is dangerously flawed because it ignores the whole picture to focus on a single component. Water itself is inexpensive and not very energy intensive. But the electricity one uses to power the dishwasher is, relatively speaking, substantial. So I may use 20 gallons washing dishes by hand, when the dishwasher can do it with 10, but the dishwasher will use .5 kilowatts of electricity, while I use none at all. So who comes out ahead?

In addition, how many people run the dishwasher when it’s not entirely full? We actually do have a dishwasher, and even run it occasionally, but only when it is absolutely full. In fact, I have a system for arranging dishes—based on cutting-edge string theory--that is so sophisticated that only I am allowed to do the loading. For a variety of sins, both venial (leaving more than ½ inch between plates) to mortal (placing cups upright), Ms. Dr. FS has been banned for life from loading dishes. Of course our children think that the proper place for dishes is on the nearest surface, so they are no threat.

In short, those who argue that they are saving water by using the dishwasher are sometimes correct, but they ignore the whole picture. Notice that I said “sometimes” correct; that’s because I can wash dishes with less water than even the most efficient mechanical dishwasher. I learned this skill when,, for five summers, I lived out in the woods on my family’s undeveloped land on the Oregon coast. During the first two we didn’t have a well, and since there wasn’t a road that went all the way to our ten acres, I had to hand-carry water in five gallon containers for all my needs. Five gallons of water weighs about 40 pounds, and that gets heavy very quickly. Even when we put in a hand-pumped well, getting water was fairly energy intensive.

So we developed a dishwashing system that employed four plastic buckets. The first was for the initial washing, and on down the line until the last for final rinsing. When the rinse bucket got even a little dirty it would be moved up a position, the first bucket would be emptied into the bushes, refilled with clean water, and returned to begin its life anew as the final rinse stage. The dishes might not have been sterile, but they were sure clean, and no one ever got sick or complained. And now that we actually have a generator, an electric pump, and a tank (made from a hot water heater scavenged from the town dump), we still stick to the old ways.

My techniques were refined during a stay at my parents’ house in southern California during one of the water shortages, during which we actually lowered their water consumption by half, in spite of having to wash our infant son’s cloth diapers. (No, not by hand; we’re not that fanatic.)

So now I use all of these accumulated skills when I do dishes at home, carefully monitoring the water volume, always shutting the water off when not in use, using successive rinses, etc. Does it save a huge amount of energy, or money? Probably not. But I’ll bet the discipline carries over to other activities, whether consciously or not. And anyway, it’s kinda fun!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Job Loss and Mortgage Mess: Two Stories

Today, I would like to juxtapose two stories.

The first, from the Wall Street Journal, presents one instance of the housing bubble. The essay presents (with pictures) the tale of a house, 500-plus square feet, unfit for habitation, being appraised at over $100,000. The owner received a mortgage for the full "value."

The occupant, a 61 year old woman, with a history of alcoholism, used the money to pay off debt. She eventually moved out, leaving the home to be occupied by her son, who could not afford the mortgage.

The part of the article that aroused much outrage was the mention that the owner has not worked for many years, but lives on $3,000/month from various sorts of assistance. Also arousing outrage was the army of “professionals,” including the appraiser, who participated in (and profited from) the mortgage industry.

Story #2 is from the CNN site. It presents quite sympathetically the tales of two young men, who lost their $100,000-plus/year jobs. Both had to take jobs paying substantially less.

Here are two vignettes.
Vignette 1: “Shaun Chedister, 30 . . . was laid off from his job at Washington Mutual at the end of last year. After eight months of actively looking for work to help support his wife and four children, he accepted an offer from Ernst & Young even though the new position as an executive administrator paid less than half of what he was making before. . . . . But the adjustment to making $66,000 a year from $125,000 has been hard. 'For the last four to five years I'd been making six figures,' Chedister said. ‘My lifestyle had been at a certain level.’”
Number 2: “After Jarrod Posner, 34, was laid off from his $110,000-a-year job as a mortgage lender for D.R. Horton, he had to change careers to find employment. After months of looking he took a job as an enrollment counselor at the University of Phoenix - a position that paid $33,000…’I was actually thankful because I was getting a job, but at the same time my wife and I realized we had to make a lot of lifestyle changes,’ Posner said. “

OK. Maybe I am embittered. But does anyone else see the connection between the stories? Those salaries of the CNN story are awfully high for people in their early 30s, especially since the jobs don’t require much specialized training or education. One worked in the mortgage industry and the other worked for WaMu, the bank that represents, if I’m not mistaken. the largest bank failure in US history (a function of those irresponsible loans).

Weren’t those big salaries dependent on lending a la the WSJ story? Did the housing bubble prop up the whole economy? Someone: please explain!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Madoff and Me: A Personal View

In the titling tradition of “Marley and Me” (about a dog) and “Roger and Me” (about the economy in Detroit, via the auto industry), I bring you “Madoff and Me.” Not the real me, of course; I am definitely not well-connected enough to have even gotten a chance at one of the feeder funds in the news. I am referring to a Wall Street Journal essay by a college professor, whose area of specialization is gullibility. He has a sister who lives in Boca Raton and was investing in one of the now infamous feeder funds. She got him in.

I am also a teacher and even have relatives who live NEAR Boca Raton. So I have a certain feeling for this fellow. I am not being facetious.

Anyway, in his WSJ essay, he outlines some historical scams (see Mr Dr Frugal Scholar’s related post on this). Then he outlines how he got snookered. Evidently, Madoff’s genius lay, in part, on his promise of good, but not great, returns. He also offered a “history” of absolutely steady returns, with no losses.

This is, in my opinion, a “must-read.”

Books at Thrift Stores: Episode 1

I have been buying books at thrift stores for many years now. I came to the game late. When I was in graduate school, I went to the Salvation Army. Their store was in a damp basement. There I saw Danna, the owner of a recently-opened used book store. She must have had 50 books on the counter (they were 2 for a nickel). When she saw me, she said, “Oh, I hardly ever come here. This is the first time I’ve found any books. Usually, they don’t have any good books.”

Needless to say, I became a regular. As far as I could tell, we were the only people who bought books there. I bought some for me and the rest to trade for credit at the other used bookstore. I’m sure Danna was relieved when I moved.

It’s harder to find good books now because many people sell them on-line. If you ever go to a book sale and see people waving a cell phone over a book, you can be sure they are subscribing to “Scoutpal.” The isbn number links to Amazon and tells the person what the book is going for. Last time I went to a Friends of the Library Sale, I was the only person of 11 customers who did not have one of these.

I wish the people who run the sales would get one of these. The resellers only buy those books that can be sold. The library retains all the books that the resellers might have taken a chance on in the years before Scoutpal.

In fact, you don’t even have to know how to read to benefit from one of these. You can just scan or key in the numbers. I see teenagers in Goodwill methodically using Scoutpal on every book, including the tomes of John Grisham. I always want to tell them that they would save a lot of time if they would just eliminate the Grishams, which make up the bulk of books in any thrift store. My guess is that a parent is sending off a teenager to help with the family income.

So while it’s hard to find good academic books (my favorites!), or cookbooks, there is an overabundance of good fiction and children’s books. These have very little resale value, so it is easy to get that Oprah book you missed, any best seller of recent vintage, or wonderful Scholastic books for kids of all ages.

Just a few I’ve gotten recently:

“The Paradox of Choice”: I read a library copy a while ago. The premise is that too much choice does not increase happiness. My son read my library copy. He is going to give this book, which looks unread, as a gift to a friend who has too many choices.

“Girl, Interrupted”: I had this book years ago and probably traded it in at a used bookstore. My daughter saw the film of this book when we were in Florida. I told her I would get her a copy of the book. Second day back, there it was!

“Beasts of No Nation”: My son will be taking a course on African fiction. This is on the reading list. A very lucky find.

Total cost: 60 cents.

Dear readers: What books have you found at thrifts? What do you do with them when you are done? Anything you're looking for?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Frugal New Year

We got back from a trip to Florida a few days ago. After a 14 hour drive, we needed tranquility. Here is our low-key a frugal day, the last day of 2008.

Frugal Scholar: Even though I still count as a Yankee after 20 years here, I made the classic meal of black-eyed peas for the last day of 2008 and, for good luck, the first day of 2009. This is a totally flexible dish. I cooked up a pound of dried peas, sautéed some sausage and green onions from the garden and added to the peas. With a dash of hot sauce, it’s a favorite. How can anything so easy and cheap be so good? We had this with some of the greens that are proliferating in the garden. Also served with mashed potatoes (my favorite!) and some cranberry sauce bought very cheap at Big Lots.

Mr Frugal Scholar: He spent the day gardening and doing various chores around the house.

Frugal Son: Unlike his mother, he likes tedious cooking tasks. So he made up a bunch of tiny meatballs. Really tiny! These will be frozen and thrown into soup later.

Frugal Daughter: She sewed on a button for me (yes, I am the proverbial “can’t sew on a button” person). Now I can wear the great jacket I got at Banana Republic that was reduced to $17.00. She also offered to wax my eyebrows! What a great kid! This would have cost me $10 at the local beauty school and at least $20 in a salon.

Frugal Children went away for New Year’s Eve: Frugal Daughter to Lafayette and Frugal Son to New Orleans. Frugal Parents watched “Burn After Reading,” which was lent by friend of Frugal Son.

What a frugal day! Happy New Year!