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Friday, December 18, 2009

Regifting and Me: Tweed Jackets and Book Jackets

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

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

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 I declined, Annie Hall being somewhat out of date at the time.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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thank You to the Universe for my Emergency Fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bad Customer Service: Example of Chico's

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Great Gift for Kids: Klutz Shrinky Dinks Book

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

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

The Shrinky Dinks Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Frugality and Education as Necessary Evils: Milton and Mascara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how can education be evil?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Can frugality be a "necessary evil"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Normal Person: Buy both for $14.00. Whatever.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2009

Gifts I Think Are Good for Teachers

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

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

How about some tea?

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

Any other suggestions?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pumpkin Sausage Pasta Sauce: GOOD

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Teacher Gifts Encore: Just Say No

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

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

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

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

Trust me on this.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Frugal Habit: Food Rescues

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

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

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

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

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

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

What food rescues have you performed?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cell Phone and Rice: Further Instructions for the Frugal Cure

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wet Cell Phones and Rice: Cured!

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