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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Polenta: Easier than Easy

A few days--weeks?--ago, Mark Bittman published something on "polenta without fear." No, you don't have to stir your cornmeal in a copper pot for an hour straight, like the Italian grandma of legend (if such really existed). Just stir every now and again. I've read this before. Predictably, commenters chimed in with what's become known as Paula Wolfert's easy oven polenta, even though Paula herself acknowledges that she got the recipe from the polenta package.

You can make polenta in a slow cooker. I copied the recipe from somewhere. Here it is: 1 1/2 cups polenta (aka cornmeal), 7 1/2 cups water, salt. Whisk. Cook on high for 30 min-1 hour. Cook on low for 5 more hours. Stir now and again.

It is worth having a slow cooker for this one recipe. Polenta is comfort food for many, though, sadly, not for me. I am working on it. My favorite thing to do with polenta is to spread it on a plate or cookie sheet. Then, after a bit, cut it into squares and fry it. Top with whatever you're having for dinner.

Do you like polenta? If so, how do you eat it?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Roasted Vegetables for Easy Meals

Roasted vegetables are delicious, as you either know or should know. My first foray into roasted vegetables came with a Marcella Hazan recipe: put potatoes, onions, peppers and tomatoes in a roasting pan with some olive oil and salt. Out comes a wonderful side dish, or, if you're like me, meal.

There is another level of roasted vegetable cooking, perfect for lazy people like me. I had an overabundance of onions, so I roasted them and stuck them in a bag in the freezer. Then ditto for bell peppers.

With these two frozen treasures, my cooking life got ridiculously simple.

1. African peanut soup. Onions and peppers, plus some chicken broth, a can of tomatoes, and--if you want--chicken. Stir in peanut butter to taste. Proportions are flexible. Don't forget the pepper flakes. Serve with rice.

2. Shrimp and corn soup. Onions and peppers. Add some flour and brown. Add can of tomatoes, water, regular corn, and creamed corn (if you have it). Then add some frozen shrimp. This is not the BEST, but a pretty good version of my daughter's beloved soup. Serve with rice.

3. Quesadillas with onions, peppers, and cheese. Add salsa.

4. Red beans and rice. Mix the roasted veggies with some cooked (even canned!) red beans. Add some sausage. Serve over rice with hot sauce.

5. Ye Olde Thai Curry. Start with the onions and peppers. Throw in whatever else you have that looks likely. Add coconut milk and curry paste.

Without the prep time for the onions and peppers, these are virtually instant meals. Plus the roasting adds a ton of flavor to whatever you're cooking.

Do you have any similar tricks?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Should I Be the Safety Net?

Over at Get Rich Slowly, a new staff writer summarizes the plight of yet another blogger, who writes on the dire situation of herself and her 4 kids--move, foreclosure,job loss,and so on. They now live in a situation reminiscent of the one recounted in the Boxcar Children.

All these stories terrify me, not so much for me, but for my children, both still in college. What world are we sending them out to? I am watching the news on Healthcare Reform, not just in a theoretical, but in a personal way. Frugal Son is going to graduate from college in a year or so. And hence will be off my insurance.

Sad day. I have told him, tongue not completely in cheek, to find someone to marry during his year in France. I realize that it might even be prudent to go to graduate school--not to get a desired degree, but to hang on to insurance for a few more years.

I'm hoping things will work out for him and my daughter, who has a few more years safe in college.

So many young people who can't find jobs, who can't find jobs with benefits, who haven't had time to amass the Emergency Fund.

So it occurred to me that I should keep to my frugal ways. To have a double--or even triple--emergency fund. Not for me, but--just on case--for my children. There is not much of a safety net that I can see. So I am wondering: should I think in terms of being my children's safety net?

Am I crazy?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Currency Conversion Fees: Credit Union Debit Card Solution

I wrote a few days ago about my uncharacteristically cavalier attitude toward the much-hated currency conversion fees (2-3%) levied by credit card companies. My attitude was born out of the suspicion that however much time I put into researching the options (like the Capitol One card), I would be spending a lot of time for at best a small return.

Of course, if you are talking about larger amounts of cash--as Duchesse and Shelley pointed out in their comments--what to me might be a mosquito-size annoyance would be a rat-size irritation.

I took a look at Frugal Son's bank statement. Just by chance. He is, as you might know, in France. In addition to a credit card linked to my credit card, he uses his own credit union account, which comes with s debit card.

Withdrawal: $46.95
Multi-Currency Conversion Fee: $0.46

Withdrawal: $436.91
Multi-Currency Conversion Fee: $4.32.

After a gasp of horror (OMG 10%!!!!), I realized that the fee was around 1%.

Debit cards seem to be the way to go, or perhaps specifically debit cards issued by credit unions. Of course, debit cards carry their own risks, especially if someone gets a hold of your PIN#.

I have found that it is best to have multiple sources of cash when abroad. This after our ATM card did not work--at all. We called the bank in the U.S. only to be told "Oh yeah, a lot of people are having problems."

Or when we went to Italy and discovered that--even in Florence--almost no business took credit cards.

ANy other tips for avoiding those nasty fees?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Am a Frugal Goddess

Because my daughter says so. She also calls me Frugal Mommy Dearest. Should I be concerned?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chico's Bad Customer Service: Bad to Worse to Indifferent

Note: If you want to skip the saga, read the poem at the end.

OK, I promise I won't write about this after today. Sparknotes version of Chico's saga:

1. Ordered something on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Got acknowledgment.
2. After more than a week w/out shipping confirmation, I called.
3. Lengthy hold followed by "We didn't get enough of what you wanted."
4. After more than another week with no cancellation, I wrote an email.
5. Response was "Sorry you feel that way" form letter.
6. Replied saying that none of my issues were addressed.
7. Followed by another canned response, with whine about being a speciality store.
8. Wrote about this on my blog.
9. Contacted by Noelle, who told me to contact her at Chico's.
10. Did so.
11. No response from Noelle.
12. Wrote about that on my blog.
13. New response from Noelle, saying she never got my email, but that I should contact Robert Konst of Customer Service.
14. Did so.
15. Mr. Konst responded that he would be happy to speak to me.
16. I said I would prefer to lay out my issues via email. I sent him copies of the emails I got from Customer Service and wrote a summary of my issues.
17. I sent my email February 6.
18. Are you surprised to hear that I received not a peep from Mr. Konst, not even an acknowledgment that my email was received?

Does all this--admittedly minor--stuff indicate internal problems at the big company?

Thinking of the indifference of the big company to my customer service issues, I am reminded of a poem by Auden:

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

Wait! This is a wonderful poem. I took the lines out of context. Truly, it is not worth wasting this great poem on a story about indifferent customer service. So here is the whole thing.

The More Loving One
W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

Online text © 1998-2010 Poetry X. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Blog to Check Out

Is it nepotism if I publicize a new blog--created by my dear daughter and two of her friends. They are trying to break into the overcrowded field of fashion/college/thrifting. So, dear readers, give them a hand and take a peek at their creation: Lucy Marmalade. The name comes from a story written by my dear daughter back in her younger days.

So check out Lucy Marmalade.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Currency Conversion Fees and Sales Tax on Food: What Me Worry?

All those fees and taxes. Funny About Money faces a new 2% tax on groceries in Phoenix and is considering whether it's worth it to go to the no-tax Commissary with her frugal friend.

The New York Times has a piece on the 3% fees for currency conversion that the evil credit card companies tack on.

Needless to say, 2% or 3% is more than you can make on your money in most bank accounts or CDs these days. So why do I say What ME Worry? Am I losing my frugal edge? After all, I did counsel a fellow blogger to get the designer purse she wants, rather than several less thrilling alternatives.

No, I don't think I'm losing my frugal edge. After all, I popped into Big Lots this morning to take advantage of their 20% off sale.

Sometimes it's just not worth it to worry about those percentages because it doesn't pay or because you can't win.

Grocery tax. My esteemed state with its regressive tax system has long had sales tax on food. It used to be the regular tax (almost 10%). A few years ago, it was made more progressive and lowered to about 4%, with a concomitant rise in state income tax. I supported this, even though it went against my own pocketbook. Plus, I don't spend that much on food. It seems to me that it's better to learn frugal grocery shopping tips, which will save you far more than a few percentage points, than to worry about the tax.

That's why I stock up: I have lots of cabot cheddar that I got at a killer sale ($3.40/lb), plus loads of canned tomatoes that I got a Big Lots. Ditto for the 50 lb. sack of oatmeal I bulk buy.

That's why I learned to cook. As it happens, home made food is healthier, better, and--it is true--quicker than going to a restaurant or a fast food place.

Now the currency conversion fee charged by credit cards is awful. We tried to evade this a few years ago. I learned--as did many people who responded to the Times article--that Capitol One does not charge the fee. So we looked into getting their card. But their customer service and general ratings leave much to be desired.

So I called every one of our cards to inquire about the fee. Our LLBean visa (only used for free shipping from that company) had the lowest fee. I called three times to double check. I even asked if there were any additional fees that I might not know about. I was assured that there were not. We got the bill--and presto--they did have the lowest fee for currency conversion, but they also had tacked on a surcharge for something or other. I called the company to try to get the surcharge removed, arguing that the customer service reps had not informed me about the charge. No success.

We figured out that, given our generally frugal ways and the fact that our credit cards have rebates between 1% and 2%, we should just be mellow about the currency conversion charge. It is, as Mr. FS pointed out, a tiny part of the cost of the trip. We save more than the charge on the whole trip simply by buying less in the souvenir department and subbing a few picnics in a park for restaurant meals.

In other words, sometimes apparent frugality really doesn't pay. In fact, I use the term apparent frugality because it's not frugal to waste your time and drive yourself crazy when you have little chance of succeeding. Funny did the math and came to the same conclusion.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Vice, Virtue, Expensive Handbags

Sometimes I surprise myself. A new blogpal, Hostess of the Humble Bungalow (and beautiful garden), asked for advice on a new purse, while lamenting that she could never afford the LV, Chanel, or Hermes of her dreams. In my response, I said something along the lines of: Instead of buying a nice second choice bag a year, why not frugalize your life a bit and buy the one you want? I pointed out that if she cut out $100.00-$200.00 a month from her budget, she could get her bag in a year or two. At least the Chanel or the LV. She could maybe buy a Hermes wallet.

I know it can be done, because I did it. Mr. FS fell in love with some artwork in a gallery back in grad student days (circa 1978). It was called "Stitched Metaphor" and was made of strips of handmade paper stitched together. It was $300.00. That was the monthly stipend. We decided to get it together for $30.00/month. That proved pretty easy to do. The gallery owner let us take it home after a few months. She knew we would keep our promise. Surprisingly, we still like it, but even if we didn't, it would have been worth it.

When my future mother-in-law saw the artwork, she said, I wish I could afford something like that. People always say things like that. If I tell them they can afford it, they disagree.

I'm not a purse girl, but if Ms. Hostess is, why not pick a bag and use it for the next 5-10 years. They never go on sale, so you know you won't be upset to see one for half price.

I skimmed through a post on Get Rich Slowly, which was on how to deal with your financial vices. The vices in question were not heroin addiction or the like, but things like martial arts lessons. Commenters rightly pointed out that these were not really vices. Defining some of the wonderful things we can do with our money "vices" reminds me of the oft-heard Oh, I was bad. I ate cheesecake. OR I was wicked. I bought some shoes.

Honestly, the whole point of frugality is to be able to get what you desire. If someone handed me a couple of thousand dollars and said Indulge yourself!, I wouldn't buy a Chanel bag. I would probably buy an armoire.

I read somewhere that iconic bags can be sold on the secondary market for about 80% of their original price. So honestly, it's a good investment, at least compared to my mutual funds.

I await further reports from the Hostess on this important issue.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Near Death By Frugality: A Cautionary Tale

Every now and then, there's a story about how frugality--specifically do-it-yourself--doesn't pay. These are the tales of home repair that necessitate a call to the professional, plumbing efforts that lead to a flood followed by a ceiling collapse, falls and broken limbs caused by efforts to catch dropped items, and so on. These stories are exceedingly silly, because--of COURSE--some efforts at frugality fail, but in a lifetime of (prudent) choices, you save more with DIY than with not-DIY.

Today though MR FS--a DIYer to a sometimes ludicrous degree--came gasping into the house. He explained: "I put some soap and bleach in a bucket to wash the canvas window blinds. A weird film formed. Then I felt I couldn't breathe."

Somehow, I bet, Mr. FS created chlorine gas. There was no ammonia in the soap blend, so we don't see how this could be, but still...He donned a gas mask (!) and got rid of the offensive blend.

But those buckets! They are a sore point with me. I know I shouldn't complain, because Mr. FS cleans a lot more than I do, but...If Mr. FS had his way, we would have buckets in every room, with some article or other soaking in them. These would seldom be emptied, because the soap was still good and could be used for another item. YUCK! I frequently have to insist that a bucket be emptied and removed from wherever it has taken seemingly permanent residence.

OK. I've gotten my hatred of buckets off my chest. Aside from the fact that Mr. FS almost killed himself, this story is revealing in another way.

Both Mr. FS and I have moments of too-frugal mania. With Mr. FS this is his bucket obsession and his use of items beyond the "expiration" date. Those ancient blinds--which were in the house and then in the back building Mr. FS has fixed up as a study--were past the expiration date. i will not divulge my own maniacal moments at this time.

After making sure he was OK, I chided, "You should never have washed those blinds! I TOLD you I got replacements at Habitat last year and that when the blinds got dirty, you should get rid of them."

And indeed, last year at Habitat I acquired a set of never-opened roman shades from JC Penney's for $3.00 each.

So here we have the collision of two styles of frugality. MR. FS the DIYer and washer and Ms. FS the thrift shopper. Together we have frugal synergy. Usually. As today, we have frugal conflict, bickering, and even, near-disaster.

Go ahead and share your near-disaster tales. Also, are you a bucket person or not?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is Frugality Trivial? A Welcome Back to Chance

Chance, one of my first and still one of my best blogfriends, has returned from her bout with chemotherapy and surgery. So I will now cross one of my two worry checking tasks off my list. Thankfully.

Whenever I consider all the dread and dire events, some in the big world and some in my little world, I wonder: Is frugality too too trivial?

I asked that very question in one of my first posts, which probably remains unread. As I recall, Mr. FS responded to my query with "Life is trivial." I think he got that answer from his fave writer Marcel Proust, though I'm sure Proust's version was more lengthy, roundabout, and, of course, in French.

I don't know what Chance would say. I don't know if she will be continuing her blog as it was. I think frugality is very important and NOT trivial for people mired in debt or just not getting what they want out of their financial life. I do know that it increases the quality of my life, both in material terms and in the less quantifiable but more important area of stress.

I don't really have to be frugal anymore. That's in part because it's a habit, but also because my house is paid off and my children's education taken care of. If I wanted to, I could enter the state of early retirement, IF I chose a much less costly lifestyle than I have now. I don't want to.

Still, I work away at my frugality and continue to save because it's fun and involves good stewardship of resources. I also think it's easier to be frugal than to deal with a sudden drop in income. It's a wonderful thing to be frugal by choice.

So, Readers, check out Chance's wonderful blog and tell me: do you think frugality is trival?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Who Cares What It's Called

A Happy Lundi Gras to all

My second post with a "Who Cares" title. Perhaps this will be a series. A while back, Funny About Money was passing on various frugal household tips, some of which had to do with dish towels and napkins. In the safety of the comment section, I confessed. As a child, I hated napkins and used the nice big terry dish towels. My mother "allowed" me to do this and even told others about my peculiar predilection.

Fast forward to adulthood. As the boss of certain aspects of my household, I have declared dish towels the required napkin for the whole family. Why use skimpy cloth napkins that require ironing and look bad after a few washes when you can luxuriate with a large towel that always looks nice? Who cares that it's called a dish towel? I mentioned that I had come out of the (linen) closet on this domestic issue.

However, I know that some would be repulsed by this, so we do keep a small stash of paper napkins for guests. It's hard to go against convention. And my convictions waver at times.

We have had some terrible cold spells this winter. So I thought about getting wool long underwear. Those babies are expensive! Then I remembered that I had a pair of Eileen Fisher wool knit pants. I bought these at a very upscale consignment shop in Wellesley MA, as we waited for my mother to emerge from her high school reunion. The pant were 80% off ($6.00) and I bought them to test run the famous Eileen Fisher waist band for the middle-aged.

Who cares if I'm wearing Eileen Fisher pants as long underwear or even pajamas? They go just fine with the thrifted cashmere sweaters I already wear around the house when it's cold.

But, of course, often people DO care. I was invited to a baby shower for an adopting single mother a few years ago. I did not have baby shower wrapping paper, but, since the mom is Jewish, I used some Chanukah paper that I did have. The baby was still in Guatemala at that point and I'm sure she didn't care. But the mom did care. Every other gift was wrapped in pink paper and most of the invitees were also in pink (I didn't know this was a custom). When I handed over the gift, the mom started laughing and showed the paper to various people. I was embarrassed at further consolidating my reputation for awkward eccentricity.

Do you have any "Who cares what it's called?" habits? Have you ever offended anyone?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Are Homemade Valentine's Day Cards Frugal?

I was my usual nosy self at the grocery yesterday. I love to inspect people's shopping carts--surreptitiously, of course. The woman in front of me didn't have too much. Then I saw the cards: 18 Valentine's Day cards at $1.99 a piece.

She explained to the cashier that they were for her grandchildren and other relatives.

As is usual with me, this brought me down memory lane. I spent many happy hours making Valentine's Day cards with my children. Red paper, doilies, glue, glitter. There is a rule in many schools that children must bring a card for every child, so this activity was quite time-consuming.

Even at the time I knew that this was not the cheap way to go. You can buy packs of little cards (conveniently containing 30 cards, enough for your whole class) for about $1.00. If you are a frugalista who plans ahead, you can buy these for NEXT year at the post-Valentine's Day clearance, sometimes for a mere 10 cents a pack.

Needless to say, this activity takes more time AND money than the homemade route. Yet we did it every year. There's been so much around the blogosphere of late about outsourcing to save time and money. I suppose you could outsource making cards to your nanny (tongue-in-cheek here). Or just buy the cheapies, as most do. I'm going to have to ask my children if they remember making the cards. They might not!

As for the woman in the checkout line. I remember a reader anecdote in one of the Tightwad Gazette books. The writer recounted being horrified by the cost of greeting cards. So she sent each of her grandchildren a homemade card with a few dollars folded in. Needless to say, this strategy elicited an ecstatic response from the grandchildren. Perhaps it became a tradition.

Happy Early Valentine's Day, dear Readers.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who Cares If It Gets Ruined?

Poor Miss Em! We last heard from her when I posted her happy response to the Super Bowl. She called yesterday, with a litany of woes.

1. She got a pull in the fairly expensive Anthropologie sweater I bought via Ebay (not the one I wrote about: the one she REALLY wanted).

2. She got a snag and small hole in the tights I got her from Garnet Hill.

3. An opal fell out of my old ring that I bequeathed to her.

She apologized for calling, saying that she knew her concerns were "shallow and trivial." She was so happy when I said, "No big deal. It's just stuff. The first two can be repaired. And the opal was tiny, so it probably won't show." No, I'm not mad.

This brought me back to the younger days of my children, when holes and stains and snags were an everyday occurrence. Whenever something got ruined, I would think "Thank heavens it's from a thrift store!"

So, in addition to saving money, thrift shopping saves on stress. Your kids can splash through those puddles and skid through the dirt. It's OK.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Email from Miss Em far away


I can't stop grinning. "Bless You Boys!" I feel the Spirit of New Orleans. Yes, Spirit with a capital S. We needed this! WHO DAT!!

Politics at the Dentist's Office: The Saga Ends

Since I reported on my on-going time-waste with Chico's customer service, I thought I should mention the blessed ending of my argument with the oral surgeon. You may recall that I objected to the presence of anti-Healthcare Reform literature in his waiting room. Aside from the fact that he should not politicize his office, the material was xeroxed from some right-wing blogger--not exactly a vetted source.

Anyway, when I had my last visit with the oral surgeon, he APOLOGIZED and said he had taken the material out of his office. Of course he did so when I had just had a dose of nitrous oxide and had my mouth wide open. A vulnerable state.

Usually, complaints and customer service issues end up being complete time-wastes that make you feel worse.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Chico's Customer Service: The Saga Continues

This is such an old story that I no longer am filled with irritation when I think about it. However, since Noelle got in touch with me again, saying that she did not get the email I sent her (note to Chico's: work on communication issues) and that I should get in touch with Robert Konst, I decided to follow up. Mr. Konst responded and offered to speak to me, within the confines of his busy schedule. I decided to reply by email and sent him a short note, followed by my two annoying email exchanges with a customer service rep and an excerpt from my blog post.

And, dear readers, I will let you know what the response from Mr. Konst is.

Here's the note I sent him.

Dear Mr. Konst,

I am busy as well, so I will send you copies of my blog post on the customer service followed by my email exchange with customer service. Let me say that it is extremely frustrating to take the time to compose a message to customer service and then to receive an email that fails to address directly a single issue! As it happens, I bought a few things from your company when I visited a FL store in late December. There I had additional trouble using the coupons sent to my internet account (as an example--the manager said I could not use the coupon but that the 20% off promotion "might be as good as" the 50% coupon I was sent. I pointed out that that was mathematically impossible. To her credit, she did unravel things and bought my mother, who is a more than excellent customer, a cup of coffee at Starbucks). I do love the things I bought on that trip and wear them all the time. I probably would buy more than I do now, but am filled with irritation whenever I think of the issues recounted below and in this email.

It would have been an easy task to send me a cancellation notice (I never did get one). It would have been almost as easy to send a free shipping coupon, especially since one was offered during that time period. It would have been extra nice to let me know that the pants were available again.

Even if you can't do any of those things given the rules of your customer service, at the least the rep could say something like "We're sorry that we didn't send you a cancellation. We know how frustrating it can be."

Let me know if you want further elaboration of my issues. Thank you,

And so: what do you think would be a good response from Mr. K?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Black and Gold Karma

I assume that even the unsporty folks know that the New Orleans Saints are in the Superbowl. And that the colors are black and gold. And that the NFL does NOT own the rights to Who Dat? And that thousands of men wearing dresses paraded in honor of Buddy D, a sportscaster now deceased, who said he would parade wearing a dress if the Saints ever went to the Superbowl. And that the real party will be in New Orleans, not Miami. And that my classes Monday will be ill-attended no matter what. And that many schools are closed on Monday. And that Sunday night MASS is cancelled in New Orleans.

Well, I am not a sporty type. But still. It has been so fun to see all the handmade signs in yards on the way to school: Bless You Boys.

This is a place that loves to dress up. Being a dour and lugubrious Yankee, I have never participated in the usual Halloween scene, where all the teachers dress up as witches, monsters, and the like and bring candy to students. I usually forget to wear green on St. Patrick's Day. I suppose that the dignified teachers at Tulane and LSU wear their regular clothes on holidays, but I definitely show my outsider status at my more friendly school with my urban black.

Yesterday, I realized that I was the ONLY person at the grocery store not wearing black and gold. Even the babies had Saints tee shirts. So this morning, I decided to try to fit in. Black was easy. Gold...well, I didn't have anything. I was going to make a joke to my students, but cannot divulge it here without revealing my REAL identity.

Then I remembered last this week's trip to the Food Bank Thrift Store. I was donating bags of bags, which they use for their merchandise. I did peek in, and bought a Talbots wool jacket in a cornsilk yellow. Not my usual color, but it was so pretty. I decided that the color passes as GOLD. I am wearing it right now.

Now that I think of it, the official name of the thrift store is ALL SAINTS.
WHO DAT say dere's no thrift store karma?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fantasies of the Frugal: Thrift Shopping

Since I've already revealed a dream I had about student loans, I might as well get into my fantasy life. There are two fantasies that thrift shoppers share; I've experienced one, but the second so far is unrealized.

The one I have not yet experienced: the virgin thrift store. A virgin thrift store is a new thrift store. You don't have to slog through racks of stuff that's been there for weeks. Every single thing is new and unseen. A new Goodwill opened today, just a few miles away, but with the potential for traffic jams en route. This store has been much-anticipated, with the excitement fueled by employees (They're taking all the good stuff to the new store) and customers.

I ended up not going, because the weather was bad. Thank heavens, I am just not that hungry for bargains any more. I ran into a fellow Goodwiller who had gone: she said it was overpriced and the lines were long.

The new Goodwill, by the way, did not open in a spot designed to serve the community of the needy. The woman I spoke to is a member of the rather large underclass that inhabits my town. The new shop faces one of the high prestige gated communities in the more affluent next town. Rumor had it that the location was designed to get better donations and take away the donations from the new Habitat for Humanity that also moved one town over. Who knows?

The second Frugal Fantasy actually happened. Related to the virgin thrift store fantasy is the ability to "go in the back" and see the new stuff. Thrift shoppers grouse about the "dealers" who may or may not have first access. (This is true: a book dealer prices books for Friends of the Library sales here and there are other similar abuses.)

Anyway, here is my fantasy come true. When I got my first teaching job--which seemed miraculous--I went for a last time to my favorite thrift store: The Opportunity Shop in Bloomington, Indiana (I hope it is still there). I told one of the nice ladies that I was moving to Texas for a year. She said, "Oh, then you'll have to come in the back."

I emerged with armloads of treasures. My thrift store pals were agog at my good fortune. They weren't jealous though. They knew I wasn't going to be around anymore.

Do you have any frugal fantasies?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Kitchen Remodel: How I Kept It Frugal

Back to my KITCHEN SAGA. If this can save anyone even a few minutes or a few dollars, I will feel a lot better, since I over-researched the whole process.

How to keep it frugal. For many of the non-frugal, this is easy. You have the boundary of your budget. Then you can say to the sympathetic designer (aka cabinet salesperson
ON COMMISSION in many cases): Oh, I WISH I could afford the WHATEVER, but must alas settle for the WHATEVER MINUS.

Thanks to my frugal ways, I, of course, have to set my own boundaries. I could have spent pretty much whatever I wanted. The first of my two boundary-creators is common to us all; the second is peculiar to my situation. You may have to find your own way to stick to the frugal path.

Boundary 1: If you cruise the discussions of kitchens that are all over the internet, what is most desired is a timeless kitchen. Some people justify their extravagance with excuses like This is my forever kitchen. I can't fool myself like that. I know that whatever I like now, will be nothing special in 5 years and seriously dated in 10.

Once something gets really old--like my friend's 1940s bathrooms, which I swoon over--it does indeed become timeless. But kitchens and bathrooms don't usually get to that point, because people tear out almost new kitchens all the time. Even in this post-housing meltdown age, the curbs are littered with torn-out kitchens when a house changes hands.

So my first boundary-creator is the knowledge that whatever I do will be trashed when my house changes hands.

Boundary 2: I have a bonafide French friend. The french, of course, are noted for their frugality, though French frugality and American frugality are quite different. My French friend, let us call her Brigitte, redid her kitchen a few year before I did mine. Her kitchen was in worse shape than any of the slumlike kitchens in my graduate student apartments, by the way. Brigitte is the epitome of French frugality and also a quick decision-maker (the opposite of me). She planned her kitchen, saved up the cost, and did her kitchen with extreme rapidity. On a budget.

Whenever I told her I was pining for some expensive thing or other--like a French stove or a Wolf stove or stainless counter tops--she would roll her eyes in a French way and say, But that is ridiculous. And she was right. So every time I contemplated an indulgence--like the $8000.00 French stove--I pictured her discovering the cost and rolling her eyes in shock. If even a French person thinks the cost of a French stove is ridiculous...well, you get the picture.

I highly recommend a French person as a boundary-creator.

How do you keep it frugal?