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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thrift Stores, Armani Pants, Children's Clothing: Stress Relief

This is all one topic. I wish I were better at titles. This title problem has been a long-term affliction. Indeed, of all the papers I've written, only two titles were good: one for a graduate student paper on John Donne's poetry, the other an article on Edmund Spenser's sonnet sequence, the Amoretti.

I digress. With a pang, I just placed a pair of Armani pants in the donation bag. These are the real thing, Armani Collezione, beautiful olive wool crepe, fabulous detailing. Sadly, there are a few tiny moth holes.

Don't shed too many tears. I bought these a few years ago, with a new dry-cleaning label, at a thrift for under $3.00. These were for Frugal Son, in case he needed dress pants. As it happened, the only occasions where he wore dress pants were his proms, to which he sported a tuxedo and all the usual trimmings, all the booty of a year-long look-out undertaken by Frugal Mom (me). I have a post on this somewhere or other. Needless to say, the tux outfit required black pants.

Also needless to say, moths like the most expensive clothing. I keep things clean, and even brush items, but, like me, moths always choose the most exquisite fabrics.

The only reason I'm donating the pants is that someone--maybe--can use the fabric or the expensive zippers and buttons. Or even fix them--the holes are almost imperceptible.

Stress relief times two. First, because we had the pants in case Frugal Son needed them. It is SOOOO stressful to have to run to the store because of a sudden need: this is always expensive and often time-consuming. So this is another example of prophylactic shopping I wrote about a while ago: shopping to PREVENT shopping.

Second, because if the item gets ruined, no big deal. This was especially critical when my kids were younger. Although my fantasy was to have my children dressed in Euro-style clothing a la the Hanna Andersson catalog, they generally wore very nice clothing from various thrift stores. I usually went to the then-wonderful shop run by the Junior League in New Orleans, where I could find the occasional Petit Bateau item I craved.

What a relief though when the inevitable stain or snag occurred. I could just say (continuing the Euro-theme), "Tant pis!" Let's toss it. And I can pull out another backup item.

And it's not just children who stain and snag. Although I am often criticized for wearing too much black, I have noticed that when I wear a light color, especially white, I tend to spill an entire cup of coffee on my front.

Tant pis, I say once more.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


So was the message from my favorite store: United Apparel Liquidators. I TOLD you (in a prior post) that the BEST store in the world happens to be in my very town.

At UAL, we pride ourselves in our long-standing knowledge of chic-onomics.

We've known for a long time that it doesn't have to cost a lot of money
to have great quality, beautifully designed clothes.

In fact, we have plenty of items under $20!
Try our Blujeanious jeans. ALL STYLES just $9.99!
Many of our Hollywould shoes are on sale for under $10!
LnA tanks are just $5.99-$7.99!

And there's plenty more styles to choose from!

Hurry in to your favorite UAL for a lesson in chic-onomics!
2033 North Highway 190 in Covington, 985.871.0749
518 Chartres Street in New Orleans, 504.301.4437
1829 Hardy Street in Hattiesburg, 601.582.5141
2918 West End Avenue in Nashville, 615.340.9999

Connect with us on MySpace!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Angst of Actually Using the Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is a wondrous thing. Mr. FS and I have had a fairly hefty one for a long time. When we were in graduate school, we kept $1000.00 in a bank account--just in case. At that time, that represented 6 months rent! Then, when we finally were gainfully employed (sort of), we only had temp jobs for a while. In a panic, we put away enough to live on in graduate student poverty, JUST IN CASE we ever faced unemployment again. "We'll take a year off to write," we said. Thankfully, we never had to use it.

I am sitting here with a familiar ache in my gums that signals an eventual--and expensive--root canal. Evidently, the Baby Boomers, of which I am one, take out their stress in their mouths, by grinding teeth (NOT ME), thereby enriching their dentists and endontists. I did clench my jaw, however, through years of stress at work, to the same effect. I stopped that bad habit last year, after some expensive dental work and hoped that my root canals were at an end. Evidently not. So I suppose I will take some antibiotics to put off the inevitable for a bit, but I have learned to accept the eventual expense.

I guess that's why it's called an emergency fund: it's for emergencies. Emergencies are unpleasant, as a rule. This past year, in addition to my dental work, I experienced the even greater emergency of 3 expensive one-way plane tickets, first to see my father on life support after a blood vessel burst in his brain, then to Massachusetts where he was buried, and finally home.

It is so depressing to spend massive amounts on such awful stuff. I keep hoping that my emergency will consist of an unexpected $100.00 plane fare to Europe. So far that hasn't happened.

I try so hard to be Zen about all this. Thank heavens, I say to myself, that I didn't have to borrow the plane fare from my mother. Thanks heavens, I don't need to get a set of dentures. Thank heavens for my emergency fund.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Edmund Andrews: Still Leaving Out Pertinent Information

Please forgive me. This guy still annoys me no end. I noticed that his sales rank at Amazon had gone up dramatically, so I figured that he had gotten some recent publicity. Here is his response to those who thought his wife's bankruptcies--particularly the one DURING their marriage--were pertinent to his story.

Dear Readers, save yourselves some time. What he leaves out is the fact that the second bankruptcy (during his marriage to the wife) involved discharging around $30,000 in debt to the wife's sister.

As every writing teachers says: if you are presenting an argument, you need to include--and to defuse--evidence that seems to go against your argument. You have to be a good writer to move up so high in journalism. So, Mr. Andrews, follow the rules for English 101.

Ok, folks. Here's the deal about the my wife's bankruptcies.
But first, I have to say that anyone who thinks I've glossed over the hard truth either hasn't read the book or isn't thinking straight.
As I've said before, the first bankruptcy was all the way back in 1998, when the IRS came after her then-husband, who hadn't paid his taxes in years. He'd actually have her sign the returns, but never filed them.
It was horrific, but what did it tell us about Patty, who was a stay-at-home mom and not earning any money at the time? More to the point, what did it tell us about our mortgage woes in 2009?
The second case was in 2007, but it was prompted entirely by debts Patty ran up in 2003 and 2004, when she was a single mom with four kids whose ex-husband (the aforementioned tax-challenged one) was a deadbeat dad.
Patty's problems weren't about wild spending. They were about poverty -- suddenly trying to support four kids while working for $10 an hour after having been a stay-at-home mom for 20 years.
I could have written a whole chapter on the deadbeat dad, who continues to defy one court order after another on child support.
But neither the bankruptcies nor the child support had any bearing on our mortgage problems.
What really did seal our fates -- and what I DO write about in detail -- was that Patty got fired from a well-paying job in 2006 and never came close to replacing that lost income.
Being fired was infinitely more agonizing and mortifying -- and relevant to our story -- than the problems caused by a deadbeat ex-husband.
All of this is somewhat besides the point. The whole book is based on a bad decision and an insane mortgage. I don't blame anybody else for our problems.
Those are the easy questions. The hard question is, why was it even possible?

Monday, June 22, 2009

$5.00 Grocery Budget aka Praise of Pantry

I fervently hope, Dear Readers, that you do not expect an explanation of how I combined coupons with store specials (a la The Grocery Game and free imitations thereof)to save 95% on groceries. Luckily, I was not in a financial bind either, forcing me to subsist on stale staples in my cupboard. In fact, my accomplishment was completely inadvertent: I got to the end of the week and realized that all I had bought was a gallon of milk and a few plums.

So, what did we eat this week?

2 dinners: I made a Greek macaroni and cheese that I retrieved from one of those Best American Recipes compilations. Basically, macaroni, sauce made just of milk and feta, cherry tomatoes, and spinach. I had the macaroni; the feta was from a large stash bought at Sam's Club (feta is an extremely good deal at the warehouse stores); cherry tomatoes were bought the previous week for $0.99; spinach was the last of our garden chard.

2 dinners: African peanut chicken soup. This is an Elizabeth Rozin recipe that I clipped from Gourmet more than 20 years ago. You can also find it in her Ethnic Cuisine. I had a bunch of chicken breasts on the bone (bought on sale natch) and I defrosted the lot and poached them. The soup consists of broth, onions (had) and peppers (garden), canned tomatoes (had), peanut butter and rice (had these). Oh, and some of the chicken of course. And red pepper flakes. This is soooooooo good.

1 meal: That Diana Kennedy Syrian chicken in yogurt sauce I posted a while ago. We make yogurt; had the onions. Used a bit of the chicken. Served with garden tomatoes.

1 meal: I found a single cup of lentils and so made that yummy "Food of the Poor" I posted about a while back. Needless to say, I had the rice. One truc involved roasting all our onions on that dread occasion when we had to turn on the oven. I used the onions in all the above concoctions. We had this with tomatoes too.

I can't remember what the seventh dinner consisted of. For lunch we had sandwiches made of tomatoes and our wonderful bread. Sometimes with cheese. Tomatoes are from our garden and will be kaput shortly. So we are living it up. For breakfast we had oatmeal, which we stock up on when we hit Whole Foods. We had some kind of fruit left from the previous week--can't remember what.

MY POINT? (That's what my dear children say). Cooking from the pantry and freezer (stocked with food on sale) is great--both when you are feeling poor and when you're not; when you are very busy or not; whenever. These meals would have been relatively cheap no matter when I bought the ingredients. They were very cheap because I had stocked up when the items were on sale!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two Frugal Recipes, Some Numbers, and Taxes

OK-it's absolutely PREPOSTEROUS*** that I haven't filed my taxes yet (for flip out of April 15 plus extension request, see earlier post). In honor of the preposterousness of the situation, I will do my topics from the end (post) to the beginning (pre).

***From George Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie (1589): Ye have another manner of disordered speach, when ye misplace your words or clauses and set that before which should be behind & e converso, we call it in English proverbe, the cart before the horse, the Greeks call it Histeron proteron, we name it Preposterous, and if it be not too much used is tollerable enough, and many times scarse perceivable unlesse the sence be thereby made very abused (Poesie, 142).

TAXES: I retrieved the file box from its hiding place, and will attempt to do them myself. I will keep you posted. Wish me luck.

SOME NUMBERS: Talbots stock is $6.96. I was looking at it at $1.80. So, I would have almost quadrupled my money! Take that, Motley Fools (who labeled it their scary Halloween stock of 2008).

Edmund Andrews's Busted has an Amazon sales rank of 22,698. Did I tell you, Dear Readers, that I was so annoyed with the New York Times ombudsperson's defense of this guy that I fired off an email. Guess what: it was published online. Sadly, under my real name, rather than my blogger identity.

FRUGAL RECIPES: I hope some inexperienced cooks take a look at Burros's books. The commenters are all pros in the kitchen. Here's an easy one.

Chicken Oreganato: Rub 2 TBS oregano with some salt and pepper on 6 chicken thighs. Put on baking pan. Mix 1/4 cup olive oil with juice of 1/2 lemon. Drizzle half on chicken. Bake at 500 (what???seems kinda high, Marian) for 15 minutes. Turn thighs over; drizzle rest of stuff on and bake another 10-15 minutes, for 30 minutes total.

Marian provides recipes for side dishes (brussels sprouts and Greek salad), but those may be too much for beginners. I would just make rice to soak up all the yummy juices and have a salad of some kind. Or even just some sliced tomatoes.

FRUGAL RECIPE LAGNIAPPE. It is in the mid 90s here. Just miserable. So I am going to make granita. Coffee granita, which has the added bonus of using up all the leftover coffee.

All you do is take 3-4 cups coffee*, 1/3 cup milk or half and half, 1/4 cup sugar. Mix. Pour into a largish glass or metal baking pan. Freeze for about 30-45 minutes. Stir around with a fork to break up ice crystals. Return to freezer and repeat a few times.

*You're supposed to use espresso, but I'm going to stick to my coffee and chicory.

Maybe this concoction will see me through the misery of my taxes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Save Money and Time: Frugal Cooking with Marian Burros

The other day, Philip Brewer, one of my favorite finance bloggers, posted on how cooking at home saves time as well as money. This was not news to me or to others who love to cook at home. For those who do not like to cook--and I wrote an earlier post on my sister-in-law's inefficient and expensive shopping and cooking--Brewer's point might be as mystifying as vectors might be to me.

It is worth your while to learn, however. I am a ridiculously un-domestic person, whose cleaning, organizing, and laundry habits would horrify most (including my sister-in-law, who is a model of efficiency and skill in these other areas). Still, I have learned to do it, the slow and painful way, starting with Julia Child. I remember working for several hours and presenting Mr. FS with a zucchini dish. I was too exhausted to do anything else.

Brewer mentions learning to cook from books and mentions a few--such as The Joy of Cooking. Cooking from books can be frustrating: not all recipes are well-tested, for one thing, and, The Joy of Cooking and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything have thousands of recipes. Where to begin? The paradox of choice once more.

In my comment on Brewer's post, I mentioned one candidate for the cookbook to start with if you are totally clueless. Actually, I mentioned a cookbook writer: Marian Burros, who used to be the restaurant critic for the New York Times. The book I would start with is Keep it Simple: Thirty Minute Meals from Scratch.

This book is easy to find used, in your library, and even on

Burros is not kidding. She has an excellent palate. Her recipes always come out. In fact, two years ago, Miss Em decided to visit her food-loving grandfather a bit earlier than the rest of us. She wanted to cook for him. I gave her a pile of cookbooks from which to copy recipes and she chose many from this book. This is a book that will give you confidence for the future.

Burros gives you a list of pantry staples and cooking equipment. Each menu has a list of staples and a shopping list. She provides a "game plan."

Most of her menus include a main dish, two sides, and dessert. I confess I usually stick to main dish and one side.

Here are a few sample dishes: chicken in lime, cinnamon chicken,snapper in orange sauce, zucchini and rotini, pork chops with apple, cabbage, cumin.

There are fewer than 60 menus, thereby minimizing the paralysis of choice, and EVERYTHING IS GOOD. There's even a quickie Thanksgiving menu.

If anyone is interested, I'll post a few of the recipes.

What is your favorite learn-how-to-cook book?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Books from Thrift Stores and Some Numbers

Last I reported on The Brothers Karamazov, I was on page 14 and fully expecting to give up on the novel, yet once more. But I am happy to report, dear readers, that I am now on page 644, with little more than 100 pages to go. I persevered because, if I can't get through this novel, who can? I am highly educated and love reading more than almost anything else. Also, based on my experience teaching, I am fearful that the skill of reading complex literary works may be dying out.

After the difficult beginning (and the novel is difficult all the way through), eventually one realizes that one is in the midst of a masterpiece. Truly breathtaking. And now, of course, I am reluctant to keep going, because I don't want the novel to end.

As I've said before I am lucky to like reading, and, certainly reading is a frugal pastime. My copy of The Brothers Karamazov is a nice one: it's the newish translation by the husband-wife team who also did the Anna Karenina that Oprah sent to the top of the bestseller list a few years ago. My book is the 2002 FSG edition that has a price of $17.00 on the back. Although I could get this from the library, it is a book I want to own. As it happens, I got it from the library book sale for $1.00. What a gift that someone donated this book!

Even better is the inscription inside the front cover in writing that looks a bit like engraving, a carefully scripted message to the next owner of the book:

Neal Pendleton Library

This book is the first that my beloved wife, Patricia, recommended that I read, after we first met in 1953.

What a wonderful message to me! And I just checked: Mr. Pendleton is listed in the phone book so he still lives nearby.

I love finding things in books. Mostly, I find boarding passes, usually stuck in an early page of an obviously abandoned book. Once I found a book inscribed to someone by the author, who was a few years ahead of me in college! I also found a cache of books that had been owned by a local author of some repute: in the books were photographs, receipts, and more. She was obviously a wealthy woman. Once, in the big Barnes and Noble in New York City (this was in 1977, before B and N stores were everywhere), I bought a used copy of The Crisis of the Aristocracy for a course I was taking. Out popped a receipt from the Reed College Bookstore from a few years before, when I had attended that college across the country in Oregon. And, one of these days, I may write about the inappropriate email sent by an English professor to a student, which she stashed in a book (Terry Eagleton's book on literary theory) that she donated to Goodwill.

Before I return to my book, let me share some other numbers.
Talbots stock: $5.43 (I would have tripled my investment!)
Edmund Andrews's Busted: Amazon sales rank of 63,459.

And so, Dear Readers, have you found anything interesting or surprising in used books?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What You Need to Know: Sunscreen with Paula Begoun

I just read the New Yorker article on health care costs that everyone is talking about. I feel my left-of-center heart start beating faster. Sooooooo. Let's move on to a healthcare issue everyone can agree on: sunscreen.

I have been getting my info on sunscreen from Paula Begoun's website. From Paula I learned, years ago, about the need to protect against UVA AND UVB rays. From Paula, I also learned that SPF just needs to be at 15 or above. Contrary to what many think, SPF 30 does not provide twice as much protection as 15.

A few years ago, I was talking to a colleague who had had skin cancer. I asked if her dermatologist had told her about the need for titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone (parsol) for full-spectrum protection. No, her dermatologist had only told her to get a high SPF. I looked at her sunscreen and, indeed, it did not have the critical ingredients. I gave her my sunscreen.

Now this information has made it to the mainstream press. And, when I look at sunscreen ingredients, I see more of the appropriate ingredients (there are others in addition to those I mentioned available now).

So, below, is a recent Paula Begoun report. You too can sign up for her free emails. Word of warning: Paula now makes her own skincare products. For many, this crosses the line. I have bought a few of her products and found them to be excellent. But she recommends other lines as well, both from the drugstore and from specialty stores. In the frugal department: it is good to know that there are excellent options among drugstore brands. And, needless to say, skin cancer is NOT a frugal choice!

This is long, but worth reading.

Summer Sunscreen Exclusive

Protecting skin from the sun has become an intense controversy for two major reasons. Number one is our basic need for vitamin D, which is produced by the skin's exposure to sun, meaning that it may be problematic to limit exposure or by some opinions, use sunscreen at all. Number two concerns sunscreens and the types of active ingredients used to create the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating which might have unwanted systemic consequences.

I know, just when you thought you had the sun protection concept down solid a curve ball comes straight across home plate!

Controversy aside, when it comes to skin, what is absolutely, 1000% certain is that the sun is a potent carcinogen and sun damage is by the far the most significant cause of wrinkling, skin "aging", and skin cancers.
Get Naked!

Aside from abundant studies proving how damaging sun exposure is to skin, you can do your own research by taking a test; I call it the "get naked test of aging". In other words, just compare the areas of your body that rarely, if ever, see the sun with the parts of your body exposed to the sun on a daily basis. If you are over the age of 30 you will notice the areas that get minimal sun exposure (such as your backside, inside of your arm, breasts, middle back, and thighs) don't appear dry, flaky, thin, show brown discolorations, have wrinkles, or any of the other signs of "aging". Meanwhile, skin chronically exposed to the sun without protection looks "older" and has more skin problems than skin that hasn't been exposed to the sun or hasn't been protected in some manner.
This report is to help you protect your skin from the negative impact the sun has on skin! For details on the other controversies surrounding sun protection click through to these links:

* Vitamin D and Sun Exposure
* Nanotechnology & Mineral Sunscreens
* Can Sunscreen Ingredient Affect Skin Negatively?

Summer Shopping Sanity

Now that longer days and warmer weather is settling in, the other obvious signs of the season are also brightly shining in news stories about sun protection, fashion magazines filled with ads for sunscreens, self-tanners, bronzers, and drugstore shelves lined with all manner of sun-care products. You would think there was no daylight any other time of the year!

The fact that sunscreen tends to be promoted seasonally doesn't do much to reinforce the need for every day protection, 365 days a year. Yet sun damage is about naked skin seeing daylight, and sun damage begins within the first minute that skin is exposed to the sun.
Sunburn Surprise

Recently, I've even seen some drugstores set up sunburn stations, where all manner of products (many of which contain irritants) sold to relieve the sting and redness of sunburn are promoted. Of course, the goal is to avoid sunburn but, as it turns out, getting sunburned is surprisingly common. Based on the most recent statistics from the United States Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 3 adults said they got a sun burn in the last year. Now that's bad news.

Even worse, 2/3 of adults who suffered sunburn admitted to enduring several sunburns in the past year. But what really has me concerned is the fact that 61% of people aged 18-24 reported getting sunburned in the past year. People in that age group tend to be more willing to tan than older adults, likely because the long-term damage they're doing is 10 to 20 years away from showing up (well, that and the mistaken, lingering belief that a tan is healthy and pale skin is unattractive).
Sun Safety Essentials
Here are some basic points to keep in mind before you venture out to shop for sunscreens and before you slather it on:

* Application
* You must apply sunscreen liberally on all parts of your body that will see daylight! A study published in the Archives of Dermatology (October 2002, pages 1,319-1,325) said, "Sunscreen users are only applying 50 percent of the recommended amount, so they are only receiving 50 percent of the SPF protection." Because of the need for liberal application, expensive sunscreens can be dangerous to your skin's health. After all, how likely are you to liberally apply a sunscreen from Lancome that costs $48 or, even more absurdly, a sunscreen from La Prairie that costs $170 for 1 ounce?
* There are brilliantly formulated sunscreens in all price ranges, but because how you use it is so important, expensive absolutely doesn't mean better in the world of sun protection.

* Tanning Isn't Pretty
* There is no such thing as a safe tan, whether it is from the sun or a tanning booth. Even if you tan slowly without burning (what many people refer to as "developing a base tan"), the damage is hazardous to the health and long-term appearance of your skin. What gets put on the back burner, so to speak, is that sunburn at any age (or latitude, meaning you're not safer in Boston than you would be in Orlando) increases the risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
* UVB radiation is the sun's burning ray and has an immediate, harmful impact on skin. Damage from UVB rays takes place within the very first minute (yes, 60 seconds) of walking outside.
* UVA rays are the sun's silent killers. You don't feel them but they are the primary cause of skin cancer, wrinkles, and a weakened immune system.
* Even on a cloudy or hazy day, the sun's rays are present and impacting the skin. Sun damage is about naked skin seeing daylight.
* Sitting in the shade or wearing a hat only protects against a portion of the sun's rays. Plus, other surrounding surfaces such as water, cement, and grass reflect the rays from the ground to your skin giving you a double whammy of exposure.

* Getting Wet
* If you're swimming or perspiring, you must wear a water-resistant sunscreen which provides 40 (labeled as "water-resistant") to 80 (labeled as "very water-resistant") minutes of protection before you need to reapply it to maintain a sufficient level of protection. Sunscreens labeled as "waterproof" are not really waterproof (which is why the FDA is urging manufacturers to stop using this term). No sunscreen is "waterproof." If you do not reapply a sunscreen after swimming, perspiring, or toweling off, expect sun damage up to and including sunburn.

* SPF by the Numbers
* According to the FDA, the U.S. regulatory body that monitors SPF ratings, a product's SPF (sun protection factor) number tells you how long you can stay in the sun before getting burned. To find out your own personal SPF number click here: Your Personal SPF: Determining Your Number

* UVA vs. UVB
* SPF is crucial, but it is only a measurement regarding sunburn (UVB) rays. It is dangerous for your skin to not have UVA protection and many sunscreens do not have ingredients that can provide true full-spectrum (both UVA and UVB) coverage. In most countries, including the U.S. and Canada, there are no numbers to tell you about protection from UVA radiation. For that protection you have to check the active ingredient list to see if either zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone (which may also be listed as Parsol 1789 or butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane), Mexoryl SX, or Tinosorb (Tinosorb is only available in products sold outside the U.S.). If one of those isn't part of the active ingredient list (it doesn't count if it is just part of the regular or "other" ingredients) you are not applying adequate UVA protection and that is dangerous for your skin.
* The SPF number does not tell you anything about a product's quality. The SPF number is just a time limit number. A sunscreen rated SPF 2 blocks about 50% of UVB rays; an SPF 10 filters out about 85% of UVB rays; an SPF 15 stops about 95%; and an SPF 30 stops about 97%. An SPF that's higher than 30 does not provide any more UV protection, it just offers more time that you can stay in the sun without burning.
* Even if the SPF number on your sunscreen's label is an SPF 50, it still has limitations and can let approximately 3% of UV rays penetrate your skin. This explains why you still might get some color after prolonged exposure to the sun despite slathering sunscreen on your skin and reapplying as directed.
* As a general rule it is best to apply sunscreen at least 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure. This gives the sunscreen time to absorb and to spread over and into the uppermost layers of skin. You never want to wait until you get to your destination to apply sunscreen.

* Ouch!
* Getting sunburned is bad enough, but what you may not know is that sunburn continues to develop for 12 to 24 hours after the initial burn takes place! Treat sunburn the way you would treat any other burn. Do not cover it with thick salves (greasy, balm-like moisturizers are the worst). These will trap the heat and cause more damage. Get the skin in contact with cool (not cold or icy) water or pure aloe vera immediately (do not put ice directly on the skin—that's too much cold and can cause a different kind of burn). Then keep applying the cool water or pure aloe vera on and off for several hours. You may also want to take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, such as aspirin, to reduce pain and swelling. If you are unsure of which medication to take, consult your physician.

* Special Concerns
* If you are using AHA, BHA, Retin-A, Renova, Differin, or any topical pharmaceutical retinoid, it can make your skin more vulnerable to sun damage due to the surface exfoliation and changes (removing the top layer of sun-damaged skin) caused by using these products. If you are not being diligent about sun protection, your skin is even more at risk for sun damage and sunburn, even with minimal sun exposure.

* Adding Up Different Sun Products
* If you are using more than one product that contains sunscreen, the two sunscreens do not add up to one SPF number. In other words, an SPF 8 and an SPF 15 do not add up to an SPF 23. Though you would absolutely get an increased SPF value for protection (and layering isn't a bad idea at all), there is still no way of knowing what that increased protection would be. If you want to count on getting an SPF 30's worth of protection, then that is the number you should look for in one product.

* For the Kids
* If you have babies or small children, sunscreen protection should be of primary concern. Their delicate skin is even more sensitive to the sun's damaging energy. Regardless of the claim on the label, SPF formulations don't differ in any way because of the age of the intended user. Of greater concern than the cute packaging on kids' products is that the formulation is best for a child's sensitive skin. That means you should choose one that contains only pure titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as the active ingredient. These mineral-based active ingredients have almost no chance of causing a reaction on skin and they pose a low risk of casing stinging if the product inadvertently gets into your child's eyes (think how often kids use their hands to wipe at their eye area).

* The Only Safe Tan
* If you're determined to get a tan, the only safe way to do it is with self-tanning products such as Paula's Choice Almost the Real Thing Self-Tanning Gel or the many other options available at the drugstore, from Neutrogena to L'Oreal or Coppertone. You can also go to self-tanning booths offered in many tanning parlors (such as Mystic Tan®) that spray a uniform layer of self-tanner from head to toe. The results can be very impressive, assuming you follow all the pre-spray directions. Your self-tan can be enhanced with carefully-applied bronzing products (creams, gels, and powders).


The sunscreens on the list below are divided into options for skin types, product type, and, where applicable, Point-of-Sale. You'll find inexpensive options from the drugstore and mail order companies like Avon as well as pricier but still worthwhile options sold at the department store and in beauty emporiums like Sephora. Every SPF-rated product on the list not only provides sufficient UVA-protection as discussed above, but the skin-care products with sunscreen contain antioxidants and other ingredients that help boost skin's defenses in the presence of sunlight.

Antioxidants are a key component of a well-formulated sunscreen, especially for the face, hands, and chest that get hammered by the sun more than just about any other part of the body. When skin isn't damaged by the sun's rays (which generate free-radical damage), it contains a natural supply of antioxidants. With ongoing, unprotected exposure to the sun these vital elements are depleted and don't regenerate. Supplying your skin with antioxidants in a product you leave on provides your skin with what it needs to function normally and "act younger".

Simply put, not using a sunscreen with antioxidants is cheating your skin for no good reason. Why settle for just sun protection when sunscreen plus antioxidants can help your skin defend itself much better?

Note: for ongoing reviews of sunscreens from over 250 cosmetic lines, visit my extensive database of product reviews at

Reminder: The list of products below is current as this report is prepared for publication online. Cosmetic companies can and often do discontinue products at their discretion. Please contact the cosmetic company in question if you're unable to find a particular product on this list.

* Best Sunscreens for Normal to Dry Skin:
* At the Drugstore:
* Alba Botanica Facial Sunscreen SPF 20 ($9.95 for 4 ounces)
* Alba Botanica Kids Sunscreen SPF 30+ ($9.95 for 4 ounces)
* Alba Botanica Sport Sunscreen SPF 30+ ($9.95 for 4 ounces) Eucerin Everyday Protection Body Lotion SPF 15
* Aveeno Continuous Protection Sunblock Lotion SPF 30, for Face ($10.49 for 3 ounces)
* Eucerin Everyday Protection Body Lotion SPF 15 ($10.29 for 13.5 ounces)
* Kiss My Face Sun Screen SPF 18 ($11.95 for 4 ounces)
* Jason Natural Sunbrellas Active Sunblock SPF 40 ($11 for 4 ounces)
* Jason Natural Sunbrellas Family Sunblock SPF 36 ($9.49 for 4 ounces)
* Jason Natural Sunbrellas Kids Sunbock SPF 46 ($11.49 for 4 ounces)
* Kiss My Face Face Factor Face + Neck SPF 30 ($11.95 for 2 ounces)
* Neutrogena Active Breathable Sunblock SPF 30 ($9.99 for 4 ounces)
* Neutrogena Age Shield Face Sunblock SPF 55 ($10.99 for 4 ounces)
* Neutrogena Ultra Soft Hydrating Sunblock SPF 45 ($13.99 for 6 ounces)

* At the Department/Specialty Store:
* Cellex-C Sunshade SPF 30+ ($45 for 2 ounces)
* Clarins Sun Care Cream Ultra Protection SPF 30, for Children and Sun Sensitive Skin ($27 for 4 ounces)
* Clinique Sun SPF 30 Body Cream ($20 for 5 ounces)
* Clinique Sun SPF 50 Body Cream ($20 for 5 ounces)
* Clinique Sun SPF 30 Face Cream ($17.50 for 1.7 ounces)
* Clinique Sun SPF 50 Face Cream ($17.50 for 1.7 ounces)
* DDF Moisturizing Photo-Age Protection SPF 30 ($32 for 4 ounces)
* fresh Sunshield Face and Body SPF 30 ($48 for 5.1 ounces)
* Good Skin All Bright Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 30 ($12 for 1.7 ounces)
* MD Skincare by Dr. Dennis Gross Powerful Sun Protection SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion ($42 for 5 ounces)
* MD Skincare by Dr. Dennis Gross Powerful Sun Protection SPF 30 Sunscreen Packettes ($42 for 60 packets)
* MD Skincare by Dr. Dennis Gross Powerful Sun Protection SPF 45 Sunscreen Cream ($42 for 4.2 ounces)
* Nu Skin Sunbright Body Block SPF 30 ($15.20 for 3.4 ounces)
* Nu Skin Sunbright Body Block SPF 15 ($15.20 for 3.4 ounces)Paula's Choice Ultra-Light Sunscreen Spray Lotion SPF 55
* Paula's Choice Extra Care Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 30+ for Normal to Dry Skin ($14.95 for 4.2 ounces)
* Paula's Choice Ultra Light Weightless Finish SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray for All Skin Types ($15.95 for 4 ounces)
* Paula's Choice Pure Mineral Sunscreen SPF 15 for Normal to Very Dry Skin ($15.95 for 6 ounces)
* Paula's Choice Ultra-Light Sunscreen Spray Lotion SPF 55 for All Skin Types ($15.95 for 4 ounces)
* Peter Thomas Roth Uber-Dry Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 ($26 for 4.2 ounces)
* Peter Thomas Roth Oil-Free Sunblock SPF 30 ($26 for 4.2 ounces)


* Best Sunscreens for Normal to Oily Skin:
* Neutrogena Age Shield Sunblock SPF 30
* At the Drugstore:
* Jason Natural Sunbrellas Sun Care Complete Block Spray SPF 26 ($9.75 for 4 ounces)
* Neutrogena Active Breathable Sunblock SPF 30 ($9.99 for 4 ounces) SPF 45 ($10.69 for 4 ounces)
* Neutrogena Age Shield Face Sunblock SPF 55 ($10.99 for 4 ounces)
* Neutrogena Age Shield Sunblock SPF 30 ($9.99 for 4 ounces)
* Neutrogena Age Shield Sunblock SPF 45 ($9.99 for 4 ounces)
* Olay Age Transform Intensive UV Defense Serum SPF 15 ($10.99 for 5.9 ounces)

* At the Department/Specialty Store:
* Clinique Sun SPF 15 Face/Body Cream ($20 for 5 ounces)Clinique Sun SPF 15 Face/Body Cream
* DDF Matte Finish Photo-Age Protection SPF 30 ($32 for 4 ounces)
* Good Skin All Bright Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 30 ($12 for 1.7 ounces)
* Good Skin All Bright Oil-Free Sunscreen SPF 30 ($12 for 1.7 ounces)
* Mary Kay SPF 30 Sunscreen ($14 for 4 ounces)
* Paula's Choice Extra Care Non-Greasy Sunscreen SPF 45 for Normal to Oily/Combination Skin ($14.95 for 5 ounces)
* Paula's Choice Ultra-Light Sunscreen Spray Lotion SPF 55 ($15.95 for 4 ounces)
* Paula's Choice Ultra-Light Weightless Finish SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray for All Skin Types ($15.95 for 4 ounces)
* Paula's Choice Essential Non-Greasy Sunscreen for Normal to Oily/Combination Skin ($14.95 for 5 ounces)
* Peter Thomas Roth Uber-Dry Sunscreen Cream ($26 for 4.2 ounces)
* SkinCeuticals Physical UV Defense SPF 30 ($34 for 3 ounces)
* SkinMedica Solar Care Daily Sun Protection SPF 20 ($33.15 for 2 ounces)


Paula's Choice Pure Mineral Sunscreen SPF 15

* Best Sunscreens rated SPF 15 of Greater for Sensitive Skin:
* Alba Botanica Aloe Vanilla Mineral Sunscreen SPF 18 ($9.95 for 4 ounces)
* Avon Moisture Therapy Mineral Sunscreen Cream with SPF 28 ($9.99 for 3.4 ounces)
* Jason Natural Fragrance-Free Hand & Body Lotion SPF 15 ($12.99 for 8.5 ounces)
* Obagi Nu-Derm Physical UV Block SPF 32 ($40 for 2 ounces)
* Paula's Choice Pure Mineral Sunscreen SPF 15 ($15.95 for 6 ounces)
* Physician's Formula Sun Shield for Faces Extra Sensitive Skin SPF 25 ($8.95 for 4 ounces)
* Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunblock Stick SPF 60+ with PureScreen ($8.99 for 0.47 ounce)
* SkinCeuticals Physical UV Defense SPF 30 ($34 for 3 ounces)



* Best *Foundations with Sunscreen for Normal to Dry Skin:
* Revlon Age Defying Makeup with Botafirm SPF 15At the Drugstore:
* Cover Girl AquaSmooth Makeup SPF 15 ($9.99)
* L'Oreal HIP Flawless Liquid Makeup SPF 15 ($13)
* Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Custom Face Perfector Cream Compact Foundation SPF 18 ($7.99)
* Revlon Age Defying Makeup with Botafirm SPF 15 ($13.99)
* Revlon ColorStay Makeup with Softflex for Normal to Dry Skin SPF 15 ($12.99)
* Revlon New Complexion One Step Compact Makeup SPF 15 ($12.99)

* At the Department/Specialty Store:
* Chanel Mat Lumiere Long Lasting Soft Matte Makeup SPF 15 ($54)
* Cle de Peau Beaute Refining Fluid Foundation SPF 24 ($115)
* Clinique Repairware Anti-Aging Makeup SPF 15 ($28.50)
* Dior DiorSkin Compact SPF 20 ($41)
* Estee Lauder Resilience Lift Extreme Ultra Firming Creme Compact Makeup SPF 15 ($34.50)
* Giorgio Armani Designer Shaping Cream Foundation ($65)
* Guerlain Terracotta Ultimate Bronze SPF 15 ($42.50)
* Lancome Absolue BX Makeup Absolute Replenishing Radiant makeup SPF 18 ($57)Tarte ReCreate Anti-Aging Foundation with Wrinkle Rewind Technology SPF 15
* M.A.C. Select SPF 15 Moistureblend ($29)
* M.A.C. Studio Sculpt SPF 15 Foundation ($28)
* M.A.C. Studio Stick Foundation SPF 15 ($29)
* Paula's Choice All Bases Covered Foundation SPF 15 ($14.95)
* Prescriptives AnyWear Multi-Purpose Makeup Stick SPF 15 ($35)
* Prescriptives Flawless Skin Total Protection Makeup SPF 15 ($39.50)
* Quo Cosmetics Optical Illusion Foundation SPF 15 ($20)
* Shiseido Dual Balancing Foundation SPF 17 ($37.50)
* Shiseido Stick Foundation SPF 15 ($37)
* Tarte ReCreate Anti-Aging Foundation with Wrinkle Rewind Technology SPF 15 ($37)
* Tarte Smooth Operator Oil-Free Foundation with SPF 20 ($35)


Almay TLC Truly Lasting Color 16 Hour Makeup SPF 15

* Best *Foundations with Sunscreen for Normal to Oily Skin:
* At the Drugstore:
* Almay Nearly Naked Liquid Makeup SPF 15 ($12.99)
* Almay TLC Truly Lasting Color 16 Hour Makeup SPF 15 ($12.99)
* Boots No7 Stay Perfect Foundation SPF 15 ($13.99)
* Cover Girl AquaSmooth Makeup SPF 15 ($9.99)
* L'Oreal HIP Flawless Liquid Makeup SPF 15 ($13)
* L'Oreal True Match Super Blendable Makeup SPF 17 ($10.95)
* Revlon Age Defying Makeup with Botafirm SPF 15 ($13.99)
* Revlon Beyond Natural Skin Matching Makeup SPF 15 ($12.99)
* Revlon ColorStay Active Light Makeup SPF 25 ($12.99)
* Revlon New Complexion One Step Compact Makeup SPF 15 ($12.99)

* At the Department/Specialty Store:
* Chanel Mat Lumiere Long Lasting Soft Matte Makeup SPF 15 ($54)
* Clarins Truly Matte Foundation SPF 15 ($37.50)
* Cle de Peau Beaute Refining Fluid Foundation SPF 24 ($115)
* Clinique Even Better Makeup SPF 15 ($24.50)
* Clinique Superbalanced Compact Makeup SPF 20 ($28)
* Dior DiorSkin Compact SPF 20 ($41)
* Estee Lauder Nutritious Vita-Mineral Loose Powder Makeup SPF 15 ($33.50)
* Guerlain Terracotta Ultimate Bronze SPF 15 ($42.50)
* Jane Iredale PurePressed Minerals SPF 18 ($48)
* Illuminare Ultimate All Day Foundation/Concealer Matte Finish Sunscreen Makeup SPF 21 ($27)
* Lancome Absolue BX Makeup Absolute Replenishing Radiant Makeup SPF 18 ($57)
* M.A.C. Studio Sculpt SPF 15 Foundation ($28)
* M.A.C. Studio Stick Foundation SPF 15 ($29)
* Paula's Choice Best Face Forward Foundation SPF 15 ($14.95)
* Prescriptives AnyWear Multi-Purpose Makeup Stick SPF 15 ($35)
* Quo Cosmetics Optical Illusion Foundation SPF 15 ($20)
* Shiseido Stick Foundation SPF 15 ($37.50)
* Shiseido Sun Protection Liquid Foundation SPF 42 ($33.50)
* Tarte Smooth Operator Oil-Free Foundation with SPF 20 ($35)
* The Body Shop Flawless Skin Protecting Foundation SPF 25 ($25)

*Note: Foundations with sunscreen appearing on the lists for normal to dry and normal to oily skin are suitable for all skin types.

Neutrogena Healthy Skin Glow Sheers SPF 30
Tinted Moisturizers

* Best Tinted Moisturizers with Sunscreen:
* At the Drugstore:
* Boots No7 Soft & Sheer Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15 ($11.99)
* Neutrogena Healthy Skin Enhancer SPF $20 ($11.99)
* Neutrogena Healthy Skin Glow Sheers SPF 30 ($12.79)

* At the Department/Specialty Store:Paula's Choice Barely There Sheer Matte Tint SPF 20
* Aveda Inner Light Tinted Moisture SPF 15 ($26)
* Bobbi Brown SPF 15 Tinted Moisturizer ($40)
* Clinique Almost Makeup SPF 15 ($20.50)
* Estee Lauder DayWear Plus Multi-Protection Anti-Oxidant Moisturizer Sheer Tint Release Formula SPF 15 for All Skin Types ($38.50)
* Estee Lauder DayWear Plus Multi-Protection Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15 ($35)
* Laura Mercier Illuminating Tinted Moisturizer SPF 20 ($42)
* Paula's Choice Barely There Sheer Matte Tint SPF 20 ($14.95)


Pressed Powders

* Best Pressed Powders with Sunscreen:
* Avon Anew Beauty Age-Transforming Pressed Powder SPF 15 ($12) Avon Anew Beauty Age-Transforming Pressed Powder SPF 15
* Clinique Almost Powder Makeup SPF 15 ($22.50)
* Dior DiorSkin Forever Compact Flawless & Moist Extreme Wear Makeup SPF 25 ($42)
* Paula's Choice Healthy Finish Pressed Powder SPF 15 ($14.95)
* Prescriptives: Flawless Skin Total Protection Powder SPF 15 ($30)
* Shiseido Compact Foundation SPF 15 ($37.50)
* Shiseido STM Smoothing Compact Foundation SPF 34 ($25.50)
* Shiseido Sun Protection Compact Foundation SPF 34 ($25.50)
* Shiseido Pureness Matifying Compact Oil-Free SPF 16 ($20)


Lip Balms
Paula's Choice Moisturizing Lipscreen SPF 15

* Best Lip Balms with Sunscreen:
* B. Kamins, Chemist Lip Balm SPF 20 ($19 for 0.53 ounce)
* Blistex Clear Advance SPF 30 ($2.19 for 0.15 ounce)
* Jane Iredale Lip Drink SPF 15 ($11.60 for 0.15 ounce)
* Mary Kay Lip Protector Sunscreen SPF 15 ($7.50 for 0.16 ounce)
* MD Skincare by Dr. Dennis Gross Powerful Sun Protection SPF 25 Lip Balm ($18 for 0.25 ounce)
* Paula's Choice Moisturizing Lipscreen SPF 15 ($8.95 for 0.16 ounce)


Have any questions about Paula's Choice products or need to talk to a real person?
Contact Customer Service via phone 1.800.831.4088, email, or Live Chat.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Letter from Reed College Prez Colin Diver and a Primer on Financial Aid

Poor Reed! People really don't understand how college financial aid works, so President Colin Diver sent a clarifying letter to all alum. Like me. And Mr. FS.

Diver explains that the college meets DEMONSTRATED FINANCIAL NEED of all who are admitted. NEED is the same whatever college you choose: it is based on a combination of family income, assets, etc. If your family is determined through the formula to be able to contribute $10,000, then that is what your family will contribute, whether you go to a state institution or to Harvard. Hence, if your family is low income, you can choose the most expensive college you get into.

Then there is MERIT aid. Most of the top colleges do not give MERIT aid. This is because they don't have to. Harvard, Williams, Reed--no MERIT aid. Schools that DO give MERIT aid do so not because they are NICE, but because they want to attract better students. The young woman featured in the Times essay got $13,000 (as I recall) from Reed. That was NEED. She got more from Willamette. That, no doubt, was a combination of NEED and MERIT. Most people don't know this.

We do. That is why our children ONLY applied to colleges that give MERIT aid. Indeed, they got substantial merit aid at all the colleges to which they applied. Some are famous: Tulane, for instance, throws MERIT money at applicants with high test scores. Some of the comments on the Times site urged Steve Jobs (!) and other rich alum to fund the young woman's education. Reed, as Diver points out, meets all NEED. My children would have loved Reed or Amherst or Swarthmore . . . but we did not want them to be enticed by colleges that cost so much. The student featured in the article was enticed by Reed; she was more enticed by the substantial merit aid she got from Willameete (also a fine college, by the way). She is doing what my children are doing; she just didn't know about it beforehand.

Another problem is that most families think they are NEEDY. My brother-in-law was shocked at the price of Reed. We told him that $50,000 is about what most private colleges of that caliber cost. Many families of our acquaintance tell their kids to apply "wherever they want." Then, these engineers and lawyers, who consider themselves "middle-class," are shocked that they don't qualify for NEED-based aid.

Reed is not, by the way, a very wealthy college, Grinnell, which does give merit aid, has an endowment that is twice as big as Reed's. That is why my son applied to Grinnell and not to Reed.

Reed, as Diver notes, is not entirely need-blind; that is, it does not admit students without regard to need. Only the very richest schools can be need-blind and, I suspect, some that were need-blind last year are no longer so.

Dear alumni:

I am writing to provide some additional information and context for the discussion of Reed College's financial aid policies contained in a June 10, 2009, article in the New York Times. The article was based on extensive research and interviews and open access to Reed's budgetary decision-making process and used Reed College as a case study to explore how American private educational institutions are coping with the economic downturn.

Some who have read the story were left with the impression that Reed has changed its financial aid policies or awarded less grant support to prospective and continuing students for the coming year. In fact, the opposite is true. Reed increased its financial aid budget by 7.8 percent for next year; we were able to offer aid to 14 percent more applicants for next year's incoming class compared to last year. For continuing students, we have increased financial aid awards as necessary to meet any adverse changes in their families' economic circumstances.

Reed's financial aid policy has been, and continues to be, based on three firmly held principles:

1. We award financial aid solely on the basis of financial need. Unlike many of our peers, we do not award "merit aid."
2. We meet 100 percent of the demonstrated financial aid need for all admitted students. Unlike many of our peers, we do not practice "gapping" (i.e., awarding less than 100 percent of need as a way to stretch financial aid dollars).
3. We guarantee that we will meet 100 percent of the demonstrated financial aid need of all continuing students by re-evaluating financial aid packages on an annual basis.

There is a fourth principle that we aspire to achieve, namely, to be fully need-blind. Ideally, the ability to pay should never enter into a decision of whether to admit a particular student. In recent years we have come quite close to attaining this ideal. The vast majority of applicants are admitted without consideration of family resources. But, compared to a handful of truly need-blind colleges and universities, we have had to put a limit on the number of students we could admit on a truly need-blind basis. The troubling news about the current recession--and the central message of the Times article--is that demand for financial aid has increased this year even faster than our sizable increase in the financial aid budget.

This does not mean that Reed is ungenerous in providing financial aid. Indeed, the case is quite to the contrary. Over the past 10 years, our financial aid budget has more than doubled. In the upcoming academic year, we expect that 51 percent of Reed students will receive financial aid, with the average annual grant awarded being $32,630. Of this amount, more than $30,000 comes directly from Reed's endowment and operating budget, with the remainder coming from state, federal, and other private sources. The percentage provided by these external sources has steadily diminished over time.

Nor does this mean that Reed has had to make compromises in the quality of its educational program. The college continues to attract a student body of uncommon intellectual passion and talent, and it maintains the academic rigor and intensity for which it is justly famous.

The recession has set us back in our longstanding aspiration to become fully need-blind. But it is, we hope, only a temporary setback. With the generous support of loyal alumni and friends and the momentum of the recently announced $200 million centennial campaign, we intend to redouble our efforts to build the endowment to the point of never again having to make the painful choices forced upon us by the current recession.


Colin S. Diver

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Paradox of Choice, Reed College, Tote Bags

I seem to specialize in bizarre juxtapositions as in the above title. As I mentioned yesterday, reading about my alma mater--Reed College--precipitated a minor stress attack. First of all, as I also mentioned, Reed is a college that inspires conflicting and conflicted emotions. Second, my realization that it would be madness for me to even think of sending my children to Reed made me feel like a failure as, not so much a parent, but as an earner. Truly, it is a head vs. heart kind of thing. In my head, I know that you can get a fine education anywhere (as well as a bad one); in my heart, I have a soft spot for a handful of fine liberal arts colleges.

But then there is the paradox of choice, which I've mentioned before. This is the title of a best-selling book by a professor at Swarthmore. This is one of those books that--sorry--you don't really need to read; the title tells the story. Too much choice is stress-inducing. I read an essay in, I think, the Wall Street Journal about a student who applied to 18 colleges, including Ivies, got into all of them, and was so flummoxed by her choices that she took a gap year. I found this pretty amusing: a student could not decide among loads of fine choices (at $50,000/year) and so took an expensive (I think it was $30,000) gap year trip that included "service." Total self- and over-indulgence as far as I'm concerned.

With both my children, I guess you could say that we minimized the paradox of choice by using as a criterion total cost. So perhaps it was good that money was an object for our family. I had a friend in college who was from a very wealthy family. We once went shopping and I gaped in shock as I watched her pick out a few items and take them to the cash register. Only when she was paying did she look to see how much the items cost. I remember thinking: "How can she choose when she can have anything?"

And, for a screeching transition, that's why I like Goodwill and thrift stores generally. Most of the stuff is awful. There are only a few nice items on any given day, thereby minimizing the paradox of choice.

Today, as is my wont, I took a spin to Goodwill for some stress relief. My faithful readers know that I have been mulling over a tote bag to carry my papers and books. So many choices! I wrote about how, even if I limited myself to LL Bean totes, I would have the color choice (so many!) AND the free monogram choice, etc. etc. Today at Goodwill I came upon two LL Bean totes, both new, both in natural canvas, size medium, short handles. One had lime green handles; one had red. Like all the other bags, these were $1.99.

Both also were monogrammed: AEB, EMP. When I was in dire graduate school poverty, I worked in a vintage clothing store, where I met some talented and eccentric people. One was Gail, who, sadly, never realized her dream of designing costumes for the theater. Her theory was that monogramming was only interesting if the initials weren't yours. As of today, I have adopted her theory. I don't like my initials. Each bag has one of my initials (those of you who like puzzles can figure out which it is).

So until I find the perfect tote bag, I now have 2 LL Bean totes, and the little Longchamp bag I found last week. All these are so useful that I will keep them even after (if?) I find my ideal.

Perhaps that is true too of college choices. One thing my son (now finished with his sophomore year) is that all his friends are happy with their college choices. Isn't that great?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reed College and Me, My Children: The Usual Ambivalence

I have lots of plans for blog posts. Then I get sidetracked by something in the news. Today, as is my wont, I was reading the New York Times online and saw this headline: College in Need Closes Door To Needy Students. So I clicked and, of course, it was my college: Reed.

Reed is a school that inspires conflicted feelings. Indeed,these feelings are welling up as I type. Those who have been reading me for a while may recall that I have written on other sorts of ambivalence as well: mainly, that I have children who are as intellectually curious as I was, but that I simply cannot afford to send them to a private liberal arts college without severely affecting all of our futures. I won't go into all the details, but suffice it to say that Mr. FS (also a Reed alum, though we got together in grad school) and I together make little more than one English teacher--Robert Knapp--whose salary is mentioned in a comment.

I was comforted by the fact that my feelings are shared by some commenters: one mom
lamented, as I do, her inabilty to offer her children the same kind of education she got; others (rightly) note that you can get a great education anywhere. Read comment 114 for more details on the last.

I have a lot more to say, but I'm getting overwhelmed by those conflicting feelings mentioned above. Once again, let's retreat to the safety of numbers:

Talbots stock: $4.86
Edmund Andrews's Busted: Amazon rank 13,594
**Interesting note: my blog is mentioned in one of the comments on a review! Also, all of the 5-star reviewers have written only a single review--on this book--which suggests to me that these might be acquaintances (at least one owns up to this).

And, of immediate interest and benefit to me and mine, sugar is on sale for $1.79 for 4 pounds. Mr. FS needs some for his frugal homemade sportsdrink (for which, see his post with recipe). At least one thing is under control around here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More Numbers: Talbots, Edmund Andrews, Longchamp Pliage, and Dostoevsky

For some reason, I wrote a post yesterday about an hour after emerging from anesthesia. I'm afraid to reread it! Judging from the comments, I must not have made the point I thought I was making. So Readers, I will respond to those comments tomorrow and I apologize for shooting out a post in 15 minutes in a somewhat drugged state.

Since words can often fail us, I will offer up some more numbers, mostly updates on my earlier list. I find numbers comforting, but, of course, they can be as ambiguous and difficult to interpret as words.

1. Talbots stock price--$5.01 (unchanged).
*No, I didn't buy any stock and no, the clothes though nice still don't fit me.

2. Edmund Andrews's book Busted has an Amazon sales rank of 11,393. He's moving up! Maybe my blog is more influential than I had supposed.

3. The twin of my thrift store little Longchamp Pliage bag (same size, color) sold for $42.00 on Ebay.

4. Here's my frugal moment of the week. Number of 13 oz. bags of coffee and chicory I bought when it was on sale for an unprecedented $1.69: 42.
*No, I did NOT clear the shelves; there are hundreds left.

5. Number of times I have started Dosteovsky's The Brothers Karamazov: 6.

6. Page I am up to in The Brothers Karamazov: 14.

7. Pages still to go: 762.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Edmund Andrews: More Excuses from Mainstream Media

I know I said I couldn't post today. I had a routine medical test that involved sedation, so I figured I would lounge around for the rest of the day with no guilt. But here I am reading the Washington Post and who pops up but Edmund Andrews.

The finance writer, Michelle Singletary, has a review of his much-reviewed book, Busted. OK. Whatever.

What I now find most interesting about this fellow and his book is not the content, or even the author, but the way that the mainstream media protects its own by not asking the real questions. So here is Singletary on the notorious omitted bankruptcies.
Unfortunately, a rather regrettable omission mars this intriguing personal account. Andrews failed to mention that his wife had filed for bankruptcy - twice. She filed once to get out from under debt accumulated because of her failed first marriage and a second time to again shed debt amassed while raising four children as a single mother with little, if any, child support.

Honestly, I would zap this if it were turned in to me in an undergraduate writing course. First marginal zap: "Why 'rather'? Why are you lessening the omission with your language?" Second marginal zap: "Re: 'She filed once to get out from under debt accumulated BECAUSE of her failed first marriage': Why the BECAUSE? Isn't the appropriate word DURING? What evidence have you provided to show that her first marriage caused the bankruptcy?" Third marginal zap: "Re: 'a second time to again shed debt amassed while raising four children as a single mother, with little, if any, child support.' How come you left out the fact that this bankruptcy involved discharging a $30,000 debt to wife's SISTER and around $20,000 of other debt to doctors and vets and others?"

Singletary used Andrews's own excuses (presented to NPR as I recall) as her text. So much for doing research. Using someone's own excuses is akin to my occasional run-in with plagiarism. I copy the source of the plagiarized paper. Call the student in for an unpleasant meeting. Show student the source and the work handed in to me. almost without exception, the student denies the plagiarism; it is a coincidence. Whatever. I suppose the Washington Post writer would say, "Oh. OK." And give the student an A. Or a B.

Some Numbers for Thought: Edmund Andrews and Talbots

I won't be able to post till Tuesday, so I thought I'd just post some numbers for thought.

As of Sunday evening, here is the Amazon number for Busted: Sales Rank: #20,955 in Books.

Remember? I wanted to buy stock in Talbots when it was around $1.80. As of Friday, it was $5.01!

So, it looks like Busted is going down and Talbots is going up. Of course, all is subject to change at any time. Back tomorrow, I hope.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Getting Ready for College the Frugal Way

My daughter, Miss Em, is truly divine. That is because she sees herself as a part of our frugal family and thinks about what she wants and what she doesn't want. Last week, I ran into an acquaintance at a consignment sale. She was frantically gathering up all the Vera Bradley bags, which to me seemed somewhat shabby and overpriced, and calling her daughter Sophie to see what would do.

You see, Vera Bradley is de rigueur on college campuses, much as LL Bean backpacks with monogram were required back in junior high. Sometimes kids DO need to fit in. I told the mom about the sale section on the Vera Bradley website, which offers prices lower than those at the consignment sale. She found the bag Sophie wants, but even on sale it was $69.00. I said, "That would be a great going-to-college gift." The mom looked dubious and said, "But she needs so much other stuff. A comforter set. A new waste basket. Matching message board." On and On.

When I got home, I asked Miss Em if she wanted a new comforter. Really, I worry about my pathological frugality sometimes. I don't want my kids to become crazed materialists or to feel shabby because of me. Miss Em rolled her eyes. She is happy with the cute Marimekko truck comforter Frugal Son used in his toddler years.

So the key, as always for me, is to THINK it through first and then find a frugal way. Both my children got their Bean backpacks. Frugal Son said, "I have achieved a level of normality I never dreamed possible." Miss Em got her Vera Bradley duffel bag WAY on sale early in the spring. They got what they wanted.

And, if you really need new linens for college, I'd say to check out the Garnet Hill sale, which should be coming up very soon (June or July). I got Miss Em some funky pillowcases there for $2.00!

Dear Readers, how do you work through the issues of convention, needs, and wants with your students? Or with yourselves??

Saturday, June 6, 2009

How to Kill Desire 2: Dumpster Diving

No, I am not a Dumpster diver, though I think it is probably a valuable practice ecologically and economically. My goal here is not to champion the practice, but to bring your attention to a wonderful writer. A wonderful writer who wrote a wonderful essay On Dumpster Diving.

The writer is Lars Eighner. The book is Travels with Lizbeth. This book attracted a lot of attention when it came out in the early 90s. Eighner was homeless for several years and the book chronicles this time. Until recently, I thought that this was one of the many books that is soon forgotten after publication. I see so many almost new books in thrift stores, which is where I got my copy of Travels: novels and non-fiction works only a few years old. No one wants them even for $1.00 or less. So much work! So many hopes and dreams! So many good writers!

As it turns out, Eighner's essay has found a place in American culture. One of my colleagues informed me that it is included in many anthologies used in college writing courses. A quick romp through the internet confirmed this; there are numerous sites offering papers to plagiarize for your college course. You can even find a Marxist analysis.

I like the way that Eighner discovers in Dumpster diving a sense of abundance, indeed, of over-abundance. This is a useful reminder for me. I get the same sense at thrift stores, which, for me, serve paradoxically both to protect against and to promote accumulation. Here is the end of Eighner's essay, which is informative, analytical, and meditative:

I find from the experience of scavenging two rather deep lessons. The first is to take what you can use and let the rest go by. . . . I was shocked to realize that some things are not worth acquiring, but now I think it is so. Some material things are white elephants that eat up the possessor's substance. The second lesson is the transience of material being.

Anyway, I find my desire to grab for the gaudy bauble has been largely sated. I think this is an attitude I share with the very wealthy--we both know there is plenty more where what we have came from. Between us are the rat-race millions who nightly scavenge the cable channels looking for they know not what.

I am sorry for them.

Isn't that great, Dear Readers? Do you think these are valid lessons?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thrift Store Gods Encore: Longchamp Le Pliage

As my devoted readers may recall, I have been intermittently on the prowl for a nice tote bag in which to carry my books and to-be-graded papers. Yes, I already have various canvas totes with logos of publishers. Yes, I already have an LL Bean tote with the logo of a detested architect (now stained with Robitussin; see earlier post for this tragic event). These were, needless to say, free. Should I be embarrassed that I crave something more, shall we say, iconic?

One perpetual candidate in the iconic department would be the Longchamp Le Pliage tote, ubiquitous on the streets of Paris. It is also becoming ubiquitous on American college campuses. I saw a few in Tuscaloosa, among the even more ubiquitous Vera Bradleys. I am sorry to report that the bag did not have the je ne sais quoi I associate with the iconic. Perhaps it's more iconic in Paris?

I wrote a post a while back on the Thrift Store Gods laughing at me. This is because whenever I even think about buying something new, I find almost the exact same thing in a thrift store. If I ever buy anything new, I find a better version in a thrift store within a few days. It seems to be my fate to be a thrift store shopper.

Yesterday, I stopped by a 3-day consignment sale in my town. This is a very cleverly set up production, which I will write about another time. Tons of stuff! Some very cheap, cheaper, in fact, than at my local Goodwill. I ended up not buying anything (I already HAVE black tops from Banana and Loft). I said to myself on leaving, "Not much point in going to thrift stores, since the prices here are lower and almost everything is nice."

Well, of course, I couldn't resist stopping at Goodwill a few hours later when I drove RIGHT BY while on another errand. There I found a Longchamp Le Pliage. I was sure it was fake, but after obsessively checking every detail, I'm quite sure it is real. But here's the thing: the Thrift Store Gods are laughing once more. They did NOT send me the tote. They sent me the little "S" bag in forest green.

What should I do with this? The EXACT same one is being offered on ebay and is now up to $20.50 with a few days to go. Should I sell it? Should I use it to see if it will acquire that je ne sais quoi?

As always, I await your thoughts on this dilemma, Dear Readers.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Border Crossings: College Choices and Student Loans

Little do you know, Dear Readers, that we have been on a road trip to Tuscaloosa, where dear Miss Em will be going to college. Out of all the zillions of colleges here and abroad, is that her ultimate choice? No, I don't suppose it is. Would she rather live in Paris, Boston, New York City, or San Francisco? No doubt. Would she rather go to a nurturing, top-quality liberal arts college like Swarthmore or Oberlin? No doubt.

I've written about the college choice issue before, so let me just aummarize. Miss Em had very high scores on some of the tests that count, so we applied to schools that offer substantial merit aid to those students. That limited our choices right off the bat.

Yes, here we are at the paradox of choice, which is the title of a book written by a professor from, as it happens, Swarthmore. His basic point is that too many choices create confusion and clutter. He noted that his students--brainy and savvy enough to get into a competitive college--are not as happy as one would expect: they are stressed out by all their choices. I had a similar experience when I had to choose kitchen cabinets. Even toothpaste can be a problem! So a key to greater contentment is to create boundaries.

I am thinking about this today because Gail Collins has a piece in the New York Times on college loans. Luckily, education loans will not be an issue for my family. Actually, being loan-free was a choice as outlined above.

Predictably, the essay includes a vignette: a student from Texas who went to NYU and found himself upon graduation the possessor of $50,000 in student loans. He claims that the lenders never told him what repayment would look like! I happen to think that lenders are just as manipulative with students as they are with uneducated subprime borrowerers (and that does not include the now-notorious Edmund Andrews). But that's not what I'm interested in right now.

In an earlier post, I suggested that we not "cross borders" in our experiences. Hence, you go to Disney World to have fun on the rides, not to eat overpriced mediocre food or to buy souvenirs. Similarly, you go to college for an education not to live in a great city. The student in the Collins essay said that he could have gone to a Texas state college for a bargain price (true dat), but that he wanted to be in New York.

How about this? Go to UT Austin (if you can get in; otherwise pick another excellent state college). then, in the summer, go to New York, stay in a youth hostel ($20.00/night); eat in ethnic restaurants, go to shows, museums, and people watch.

UT Austin: I'm guessing here--maybe $15,000/yr in-state for tuition, room, and board. Four years would be $60,000.

NYU: around $48,000/yr for tuition, room, and board. Four years add up to almost $200,000! (Note--if your family earns under around $80,000/year, you qualify for massive need-based aid, so go ahead and apply to NYU, BU, etc. You won't pay any more than you would at a public institution). Good colleges in great cities generally don't offer merit aid because they don't have to.

Mr. UT Austin would save $140,000 over 4 years. That's pretax income. That would pay for a lot of summers in New York City, In fact, it would probably cover several years in New York City after graduation!

Once again, I am in favor of thinking through the border issues. For college, this would involve separating location from education. If you are massively wealthy, it matters not a whit. If the college in Boston costs the same as the one in a tiny Louisiana town far from anything cultural, then it doesn't matter either. But if it does matter, think about the consequences both of crossing borders and of not crossing borders. Besides, I've heard that Austin, Texas is a great town.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Frugal Athletes: Make Your Own Sports Drinks.

By Mr. FS

It’s summer, and the sales of various sports drinks are certain to increase dramatically. But even during the coldest days I see people toting their bottles of Powerade, Gatorade, and so forth. Are they worth it? Of course not. (As part of the research for this posting I was going to look at brands and prices at our local grocery store, but I decided it wasn’t necessary: they’re overpriced, for sure.)

Current research indicates that sports drinks aren’t even necessary except when exercising intensively for an hour or more. In most cases water is as good, or better. And in any case, what are you paying for? What adds the “power” or “sport” to these drinks? Basically two things: simple carbohydrates (often as high fructose corn syrup) and “electrolytes” (mainly potassium), and in some cases a few vitamins (which you could get for pennies in a multivitamin) or caffeine (which you could get with a nice espresso).

So if you really do need a “power” or “sport” drink, why not make one yourself? It’s couldn’t be easier. All you do is add sugar and Morton Lite salt to water (or tea), and flavor it however you want (generic unsweetened “koolaid,” etc.). Morton Lite salt (or any “lite” salt) is half sodium chloride and half potassium chloride—and so provides the potassium that’s the backbone of any so-called sports drink.

Here’s one recipe:

10 tbs sugar
¾ tsp lite salt (i.e., with half potassium chloride)
2 litres of water
Koolaid or whatever to taste

What I like about home-made sports drinks is that you can vary the amount of sugar/potassium. If it’s very hot, and I’m going on a long, hard bike ride, I cut back on the sugar, since what I want is a higher proportion of liquid to carbs. You can only absorb a limited number of calories per hour, so you don’t want more than you can burn during and shortly after the exercise. If it’s cool, I may up the sugar content, but lower the potassium, since I’m using the same amount of energy, but sweating less. I’m not sure that it really makes much difference, to tell the truth, but it’s fun to play around with, and helps—if only psychologically—to keep you in touch with your body. The best part, of course, is that this sort of sport drink costs literally pennies, and there are no bottles or cans to recycle or clutter up landfills.

By the way, there are also many great substitutes for those ludicrously over-priced ”power” bars, which are, like the sports drinks, just carbs and salt. Best is probably the humble banana (because of the potassium), or the equally humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but almost anything with complex carbs, a bit of sugar (simple carbs) for quick energy, and a bit of salt does just fine.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ben Franklin, Lumber Sheds, and the Case for Working With Your Hands: Rationalizing Frugality

By Mr. FS

In his Autobiography, Ben Franklin recounts his fall from a vegetarian diet, justifies this lapse, and then notes that “So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for every thing one has a mind to do.” I was reminded of Franklin recently when I decided I needed to rebuild our garage.

The garage really does need to be rebuilt. But to do that I need some place to store everything that currently calls the garage home. I had the brilliant idea of converting the lumber shed attached to our back house to an enclosed work/storage room which could hold my tools and, temporarily, the contents of the garage. I do need a work space/storage as well. But to do that I had to find a place for the lumber.

I found the perfect solution to that problem too. My compost heaps were next to the lumber shed; I’d move them, and use the three four-by-four posts as the starting point for a new lumber shed. Reuse and recycle!

All perfectly reasonable. So I built a nice, solid, tin-roofed 8 foot by 16 foot lumber shed. It wasn’t until I began moving the contents of the old lumber shed to their new home that I began to question whether this new construction was even necessary. For one thing, I had apparently saved any piece of lumber longer than 12 inches, and even the “good” stuff didn’t amount to all that much in the grand scheme of things: I probably could have replaced it all for a couple of hundred dollars.

Finally it struck me: what normal, suburban, non-professional-carpenter-type person needs an 8 by 16 food lumber shed? It’s crazy! I realized that I’d spent several hundred dollars in materials (though I used some that was on hand) and several days of hard labor to house lumber that probably cost less than that--lumber I probably shouldn’t have bought in the first place, which I might not use for years, and which I could have stowed under a tarp someplace with a lot less trouble and expense.

On the other hand . . . .

I like my new shed; I like to look at it, and I like to think of how happy all those lumber scraps are in their new home. And as Frugal Son pointed out, I could always convert it into a magnificent rabbit hutch or chicken coop, or both: a duplex! Most importantly, however, I enjoyed building it. So I was particularly happy to run across the recent New York Times article by Matthew Crawford titled “The Case for Working With Your Hands.” Crawford has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Chicago, but operates a small motorcycle repair shop, and he points out that those of us with desk jobs of one sort or another often find it difficult to see any tangible results of our efforts at the end of the day, and so “the experience of individual agency is elusive.” His argument is much more complex than this, as befits his philosophy background, but mine is simple: working with your hands is not only fun, but makes the abstract world tangible and opens new channels of thought and reflection. So if I add the difficult-to-quantify value of all this to my shed, it turns out to be a real bargain. And besides, how else would I have easy access to the scraps from which I assembled the “scarecrow” figure that now wears Frugal Daughter’s graduation outfit?

So thank you Ben Franklin: it is indeed convenient to be a reasonable creature when one can find a reason for whatever one has a mind to do.

So Readers: Do you have any similar stories? Share, please.

Monday, June 1, 2009

How to Kill Desire: For Stuff, that is

Title courtesy of Sir Philip Sidney(1554-1586), nephew of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester (known, among other things, for his very close relationship with Queen Elizabeth 1). Also, more to the point for me, a wonderful poet, known especially for his sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella. Of course, Sidney is talking about erotic desire. He ends one of his sonnets with the line:"Desiring nought but how to kill desire."

So, with a transition to my frugality mode, isn't that what so many frugality posts are all about: how to kill desire for stuff? Even I, pathologically frugal, find all this a bit hair shirt. Stuff can be wonderful.

Still, I have two tips on how to kill desire. One for each child.

One: have your college student son come home. With 7 garbage bags filled with stuff. Dirty clothes mixed with school books mixed with mugs mixed with shoes mixed with change. Separate. Help do the laundry. Try to put it all away.Confiscate all the bills ($5.00!) that emerge from the dryer. So much stuff. That's a real desire-killer.

Two: have daughter return shortly thereafter. This meant that we had to get Frugal Son's stuff put away, because we were using Miss Em's room as a staging area. Miss Em is a lot neater than Frugal Son. Still, in addition to clothing,linens,and the like, Miss Em returned with 4 seven foot "people." These are fabulous looking, but...where to put.

And where to put the graduation robes? Well, Mr. FS made a statue from a rake a while ago. It is now wearing the graduation robes.

To keep this honest, I have to confess that the main clutterbug/slob in our household is me. But except for Miss Em, we all have problems in this area. If you've been wondering where my posts are: in the dryer? in a big garbage bag of college papers? The upside: a big infusion of stuff is a great way to kill desire for more.