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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Going to Alabama for a Free Dinner

The above title comes from a family joke. Those who know Mr. FS in person might be surprised to learn that in his younger days he had a motorcycle. He also subscribed to a motorcycle magazine, not one of the raunchy ones.

There was a funny story in one of these magazines about a man who had a sudden hankering for New Orleans chicory coffee. He went to a grocery in his midwestern city and discovered that the coffee was about $5.00. "That's ridiculous," he thought. "It only costs about $2.00 in New Orleans." So he hopped on his motorcycle, with $2.00 in his pocket, and set out for New Orleans. The rest of the article recounted how he earned money on the road, eventually arriving in New Orleans, where he bought his coffee. He then returned home. It was a wonderful essay!

So we say, "We're going to Paris to get some cheap couscous." There are variations for other destinations.

Now we'll be going to Tuscaloosa to visit Lucy Marmalade. She has a lot of meals left on her board card. And we'll be bringing Lucy's grandma also, not just to eat, but to see the beautiful campus.

Isn't it funny that we ended up living near New Orleans and drinking chicory coffee all the time?

Do you have any stories of funny--and false--frugality? And if anyone can find the article mentioned above....I'd love to read it again.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Good CD rates?

So, readers, what do you think of these rates from First Guaranty Bank:

2 year 2.75%
3 year 3%
4 year 3.25%
5 year 3.5%

Strangely, they don't have 1 year advertised.

Would you bite (and if so, which maturity) or would you wait?

I Still Love Big Lots:Pasta, Brownie Mix, Sunscreen

What won't I do for my dear readers? Last week, when my dental visit ended a bit early, I stopped at the Big Lots in the town where I work.

I discovered that even 30 miles apart, Big Lots will have different merch. Where I work: a lot more Hispanic food, including the Nescafe Clasico I recommended (at $5.00 a bit more than at Target).

Back home, I found brownie mix for $0.50. It came with Halloween sprinkles. Interestingly, the Christmas and Valentine's Day editions were $1.00. Perhaps those holidays are more popular?

I put 10 boxes in my cart (for Lucy M, who likes brownies). When I wheeled by that aisle, the rest, maybe 30 boxes, were gone!

They also had De Cecco organic pasta for $1.00 and Coppertone Nutrashield Sunscreen ($2.00 for either 6 or 3 ounces. Guess which size I bought?). The sunscreen is 70 SPF, which is not as important as the fact that it contains Avobenzone, one of the full-spectrum ingredients.

They still had lots of the 28 oz cans of tomatoes with basil for $0.50.

No other good deals, which is, as Martha would say, a "good thing," because my cupboards are bursting, in spite of a $25.00/week grocery budget for the last 6 weeks.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ten Years to Retirement?

Ten years--give or take. My dream is to go till almost 70 and I'm hoping that I still love going to work then.

My 10 year number is a wake-up call, not so much to saving, though that's part of it, but to decluttering and NOT buying stuff.

What if we move in ten years? Having witnessed (from afar) my in-laws' sudden, emergency-instigated decision to move from a house they had lived in for more than 40 years, I just don't want to go through the agony.

With this logic, I should unload 10% of my stuff every year. That would include books. I really will not be needing my academic books at that point; some, indeed, are worth a pretty penny since they are out of print.

And, no, I should not buy any furniture, no matter how scraggly some things are getting. Same goes for kitchen items, especially heavy ones like dishes and pots and pans. Here's hoping that my children will want some of kitchenware, not to mention some of my zillion cookbooks. See above.

Luckily, I don't need to dress for success. Most conferences don't require suits anymore, except for the most snobbish. Besides, if the whirling rumors (firing! across-the-board pay cuts!) come to pass, I won't want to be looking at the pricey clothes in my closet instead of cash in my emergency fund.

I am, then, between the Scylla of moving in ten years and the Charybdis of economic uncertainty. The first calls for decluttering; the second calls for not-buying-and-banking-savings. It's a win-win situation. Talk about making lemonade from lemons!

What helps you declutter? What helps you save?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Free to a Loving Home: Books

The bane of the declutterer is the desire to find a loving home for all the discards. I myself suffer from this problem. Even though Flylady and her ilk urge us to LET GO, it's hard.

For me, it's especially hard with books. Most of the bookbuyers at the thrifts I habituate don't even look at the titles: they just scan with their phones, and wait for a "YES." But I have luckily found a few places where my books will find loving buyers.

First, I donate to the English Club at my place of employ. The money raised is used for travel to conferences.

When I went to the library today, I saw a sign that the Teen Club is collecting books for soldiers. What could be better than that?

Finally, Lucy Marmalade and the scholars in the "Fellows" program will be doing a three-week service project in rural Alabama, an area with over 50% adult illiteracy. The hardest books for me to unload are children's books. We are hoping that the library will take donations of books to be given away to children who participate in the program.

Last week I was playing with the tiny baby belonging to one of my students. The student was telling me that she loved to hold the baby while she fell asleep, even though all the books said it was wrong. ERGHHHH. I brought my very own copy of Penelope Leach's masterpiece to the next class. Finally, I found a good home for my beloved baby book.

I just packed up many books for the soldiers.

Free to a loving home.

What do you have problems with in the declutter department?

Friday, March 26, 2010

From the Mouths of Colleges: Search for Low-Need Students

Every now and again, I glance at the websites of the liberal arts schools where I had short-term jobs. I love the ethos of such schools, but was, for my own children turned off by the expense.

I've seen musings on the internet about the relation of the housing bubble and the tuition increases of colleges: people seemed more than ready to borrow from their housing appreciation. And, of course, there are many wealthy people around. In case you didn't know, colleges ARE businesses, albeit non-profits. The particular college below was, during my brief period of employ, in the money, the recipient of the largesse of a major drug company's foundation.

From the mouth of a college: the targeting of students from families that can afford to pay its almost $50,000/ year tuition and room and board fees:

Faced with falling enrollment due to the current financial situation, members of the community are devoting significant time and resources toward attracting more students to the college.

The Office of Admissions is pursuing a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the applicant pool and improving the yield of admitted students who end up enrolling. Some of the initiatives are aimed specifically at students who are low-need, or whose families can afford to pay a higher portion of tuition costs.

Mr. X explained that the goal of the initiatives is to increase enrollment from last fall’s total of 1,124 students to the college’s target figure of 1,200 students.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is College Necessary? Two Cases

How could I even think such a thought? But many of my cherished and longstanding beliefs on education have undergone changes over the past few years. To wit: the virtue of private liberal arts colleges, a la Oberlin and the like. I was saving up for these, but when it came to the decision, we went for free public institutions over pricy (even with some merit aid) colleges. I think Mr. FS and I feel more agony over the decision than my children do. Had we only had one income, and our children thereby eligible for full need aid, then it would have perhaps been a different story. Likewise, if we had higher incomes or wealthy families backing us up.

Two cases I have heard of late are making me ask "Is college necessary?"

Case 1: Talented musician, mediocre student. Got into out-of-state college with good music department. Received instate tuition, but entered on academic probation. After 3 years of Ds in all subjects other than music performance, he is taking a year off and working in a restaurant. The manager loves him and suggested that he think of a career in restaurant management. The restaurant in question is part of the empire run by a superstar Louisiana chef. He has a significant amount of student debt. What would be the point of his getting a college degree?

Case 2: Heard this one yesterday. Academically talented student, only child, attended prestigious lefty New York college. Suffered a tragedy: her boyfriend died suddenly of a congenital condition. Took leave from college. Working as buyer in mother's uber-successful clothing boutique. She is brainy enough to learn on her own. Or she could avail herself of the many nearby colleges. What is the point of her getting a degree?

That I--a true believer in art for art's sake--even entertain such thoughts is a shocker.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happiness or Stress? Let's Do Happiness First, with Proust

OK. Will do. Setting aside for the moment the dire headline "More Cuts to Higher Education" and the fact that the heads have started to roll among the most vulnerable people and programs. Let's discuss happiness.

No, this will not be a review of The Happiness Project, by a wealthy woman. I'm sure this book would annoy me as much as Simple Abundance, which counseled women of the middle and upper classes that they (we, I guess) should take time for simple pleasures because we WORK SO HARD. The woman who wrote that tome had a sequel, in which she recounted divorcing her now unacceptable husband because he did not present the desired response to her query: "Do you believe in soulmates?" I asked Mr. FS the same question and he rolled his eyes and snorted. Luckily, we are still together.

Oh yeah, happiness. As you may recall, we are listening to the unabridged audiotape of the first volume of Proust's masterwork. As you may also recall, Proust is the love of Mr. FS's life. This is lucky for me: whenever I have a question, I stop the tape and get an answer (often lengthy, this being Proust).

Today, as we were driving by the Piggly-Wiggly and Dollar General, we came to the iconic Madeleine section, which, I believe is much-referred to by people who have never read Proust. It is great moment: where the tea and madeleine unexpectedly cause a moment of complete happiness and unleash the flood of memories that comprises the next section on Combray. As I listened, I got the chills up the spine that indicate that I am in the presence of a masterpiece. Then I had a moment of happiness because, as the narrator recounted the unfolding of his memories, I thought, "That is like a Japanese paper flower." And then THAT was the image! Of course, I had read the book many years ago, so perhaps my memories were unfolding too.

I stopped the tape and asked Mr. FS some questions. Then I said "So it's like a cathedral." That made Mr. FS happy, because it turned out that Proust himself uses that image later--far beyond what I had read years ago. Mr. FS is a good teacher.

What has this to do with frugality?
We got the audiotape from the library.
We used our commuting time for something extra.
What triggers the moment of happiness for Marcel is a cup of tea and a madeleine: two humble items, affordable by anyone.

Mr. FS told me that later in the book (in the last volume, I believe), a similar moment of happiness and unfolding of memories come from the following: the touch of a napkin, the sound of a clink of a spoon on a glass, the sight of a book jacket.

And what could be cheaper than one of those paper flowers you put in a glass of water? Or more beautiful?

Have you had a moment of happiness today?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Big Lots Scouting Expedition: Sidetracked by Children and Dogs

I should be waxing philosophical about something or other in the frugality department, but I have been sidetracked by the presence of Lucy Marmalade and a little dog named Sandy. We put out the word that my mother was in need of an older, trained dog. She is very lonely without my father. First, courtesy of the Lenox (MA) Humane Society, a wonderful dog named Molly, whose owner was going into a nursing home. Said owner estimated that Molly was 5 years old, but a visit to the vet revealed that she was 14. My mother's carpenter John took Molly.

Next is Sandy, a tiny dog found in a ditch and then adopted by Lucy's friend's mom, Deb. Sandy is very sociable and Deb works all my mother can adopt Sandy when she visits next week. Sandy had an overnight chez nous. We love Sandy, though a name change may be coming up.

Then, I noticed that a loyal reader went to her Big Lots many hundreds of miles from my own and bought the 50 cent Thai broth. Isn't that great? Since I only live a mile from Big Lots, I get to stop in often. So I did some research today.

Good deals are:
28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes with basil at 50 cents.

28 oz cans of organic tomatoes at $1.30.

De Cecco kamut pasta for $1.30. That's a specialty item and I don't know if it is any better than regular old pasta.

Most of the food at Big Lots isn't all that well-priced, at least not for fanatics like me.

At Dollar Tree, right next door, they have Muir Glen tomato sauce (vodka spiked) and Muir Glen canned soups for $1.00. Good price for organic food.

I am still overstocked on everything, so my only purchase today was a head of garlic (desperately needed) and some tangerines. My trips to the world of discount food were in the spirit of public service.

Speaking of which, I have been absolutely riveted by the Health Care vote today. Back to CSPAN.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Decluttering: Abundance and Memories

It's getting to be spring, plus my mother will be visiting in a week or so. Time to declutter.

I live in a little house that is almost 100 years old. There's little storage space and what there is is ad hoc. Not only do I not have a linen closet, but I don't have a real laundry area. The washer and dryer are in a small closet off a hallway. My linen storage is above, on shelves. It's a good thing I don't iron, because there's no place to do it.

Experts say to start with what bothers you the most. Because my house is small and I have so little storage space, things reach a critical mass with unsurprising regularity. Well, the laundry area has gotten so bad that I had to avert my gaze.

Mr. FS built a small storage area off a little building in our yard. It used to be a kindergarten. Mr. FS has claimed that as his study. He says the storage area is mine, however.

One rule of organizing is to only have things you use regularly in prime space. Well, all the storage in my house is "prime," owing to its scarcity. So I now have boxes to go in the storage shed.

Even though the process is a painful one for a clutterbug like me, I had an emotional afternoon. There were the tin soldier quilt covers my kids used; there was the beautiful baby quilt my old friend made for my son; there were the dancing duck pillow cases my son loved; there was the Japanese shibori fabric I bought at a fundraiser before Katrina that was donated by neat people who moved away; there was the old table cloth from the 40s that I bought at a yard sale when I was in graduate school; there were the toile sheets with hidden cherubs that fascinated my children when they were little. There was the Marimekko fabric I bought in Finland when I was 18 (shout out to Metscan). For a few years, it served to hide my doorless closet in college. That's just for openers.

I hope you don't think I'm getting rid of any of this. I see though that I won't need to acquire anything for a while. What wonderful things I found!

P.S. I did find a few things to donate.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Big Lots Alert: Thai Coconut Curry Broth

I used to be a super-grocery shopper, checking out the loss leaders and stocking up when appropriate. I still do that, sort of. I realized, though, that probably 80% of my grocery savings can be attributed to my beloved Big Lots, which opened in my town a few years ago.

Big Lots is in the frugal shoppers paradise: a small strip mall about a mile from my home. There we have Rouses, a local grocery chain, Big Lots, and Dollar Tree. There are other shops, not worth mentioning. Across the parking lot is Goodwill.

So even though I still check the circulars, I mostly buy the good deals at Rouses. (Forgot to mention that Rouses also has a small post office inside!). Most of my stocking up is at Big Lots.

Last week, they had a zillion cartons of College Inn Culinary Broth--this time Thai coconut curry flavor. 50 cents for a 32 ounce carton. I bought a bunch, regretting a bit that I had gotten so many of the plain chicken stock a while ago. Let me tell you, this flavor is good.

I made the soup on the back of the carton: sauteed onion, broccoli, carrots cooked in the broth with some vermicelli and some coconut milk. Excellent! Miss Em/Lucy Marmalade came home that evening to the bowl we had saved for her and was quite crabby that we hadn't saved more. So I made it again.

In the interest of research, I nipped into Big Lots today. There's a lot left. If you have this trove of bargains in your locale, see if your store got some.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Too Much Dishwashing Detergent Is Bad for Your Machine

First, it was the Wall Street Journal on laundry detergent. Now the venerable New York Times has spoken. We are using too much dishwasher detergent, which messes up the machine, necessitating expensive repairs. Ditto for dryer sheets in the dryer. Ditto (as we've already figured) for laundry detergent.

An expert--someone who does repairs and hence does not benefit from your detergent use--suggests we use between 8 and 10 times too much! That would mean--for laundry detergent--that my 3 bottles of generic purchased for $1.50 each, would provide not 50 loads as promised, but at least 400. I guess I'm set for a while.

Ah, and note to Mr. FS who is obsessed with saving water: You are NOT supposed to rinse dishes before putting in dishwasher. That is an order, backed up by scientific fact.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cleaning Your Closet: Mommystyle

Lucy Marmalade (formerly known as Miss Em) arrived home on Thursday night for spring break. Mr. FS and I went to work as usual on Friday. When we got home, who should greet us with a great big smile but Lucy?

She looked nice: black knit top, belt, floral skirt. Then I noticed: MY black top, MY belt.

There are two kinds of mommies: the go ahead you can have it mommy and the it's mine mommy. My own mommy was of the former kind. Hence I feel it is my obligation to give it forward through the generations.

Lucy said, "I noticed a new green shirt on your bed (from Penney's--marked down to $2.00!), so I decided to see what else was in your closet." Okay. I used to do the same with my stylish and generous mommy.

Last time Lucy was home, I was reading in the living room. I could see Lucy going back and forth between my bedroom and her own. First trip: my new velvet hangers (Can I have these? Yes). Second trip: my green sweater. And so on.

It's a great way to declutter.

Do you have any similar family traditions?

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Love of My Life

Ahhhhhh, thanks to one of my favorite new bloggers (new to me, that is), Simple Life In France. She asked about the Thomas Browne passage I posted. That's when it occurred to me that maybe it was OT to include a passage from a seventeenth-century doctor, and great prose stylist, and quirky thinker in a blog that is purportedly about frugality.

What can I say? Reading--especially literature of the 16th and 17th centuries--is the love of my life. As it happens, it is also a frugal love, since books aren't all that expensive to begin with (thanks to Aldus Manutius for inventing the pocket-sized book back in the day). Plus there's always the library.

Every Frugality 101 writer exhorts: Use the library! You will save $xxxx/year. In truth, however, that doesn't do too much if you don't like what the library offers.

While other avocations are frugal in themselves--sewing, cooking, gardening come to mind--others are intrinsically expensive, like sailing and anything to do with horses. It's much harder to stick to the frugal path if your loves are intrinsically expensive.

On our drive to school today, Mr. FS and I listened to the unabridged recording of Swann's Way. Proust, incidentally, is probably the love of Mr. FS's life and he's read ALL of them, numerous times, in French as well as in translation. Rather fortuitously, the part we heard concerned Swann's efforts to interest Odette in the arts. Though she claimed to be interested, her response often involved the glassy-eyed boredom I sometimes see when I try to teach my admittedly arcane true loves.

The audiobook was from the library, by the way, which ordered it at Mr. FS's request.

I've written before about how lucky I am that the love of my life--in all senses--just happens to be frugal.

Because Sir Thomas Browne, who is the originator of the phrase "lie down in darkenss," died many a year ago, his works are long out of copyright, and are available all over the internet, free of charge.

What is the love of your life? Is it a frugal one?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Melted Finances and Melted Cheese?

After I wrote my panicked post yesterday, where I discussed the flying rumors of impending cuts and comforted myself, not with apples, but with melted cheese, I realized I had missed an opportunity. How interesting that--unwittingly--I wrote about a financial meltdown, in both a macro and micro sense, followed by visions of a cheese meltdown?

Unwittingly, I missed an opportunity for wit, feeble wit to be sure, but wit nonetheless.

As often happens, the writers of seventeenth-century England beat us to many of our modern and post-modern "discoveries." Those writers--particularly the Anglicans--saw all these witty correspondences in the world, and believed they recognized them not because people were witty, but because God was.

Here is one of my favorite writers, Sir Thomas Browne in Religio Medici. He is seldom read these days, so sad, because he is a lot of fun.

XVI. Thus there are two Books from whence I collect my Divinity; besides that written one of God, another of His servant Nature, that universal and publick Manuscript, that lies expans'd unto the Eyes of all: those that never saw Him in the one, have discovered Him in the other. This was the Scripture and Theology of the Heathens: the natural motion of the Sun made them more admire Him than its supernatural station did the Children of Israel; the ordinary effects of Nature wrought more admiration in them than in the other all His Miracles. Surely the Heathens knew better how to joyn and read these mystical Letters than we Christians, who cast a more careless Eye on these common Hieroglyphicks, and disdain to suck Divinity from the flowers of Nature. Nor do I so forget God as to adore the name of Nature; which I define not, with the Schools, to be the principle of motion and rest, but that straight and regular line, that settled and constant course the Wisdom of God hath ordained the actions of His creatures, according to their several kinds. To make a revolution every day is the Nature of the Sun, because of that necessary course which God hath ordained it, from which it cannot swerve but by a faculty from that voice which first did give it motion. Now this course of Nature God seldom alters or perverts, but, like an excellent Artist, hath so contrived His work, that with the self same instrument, without a new creation, He may effect His obscurest designs. Thus He sweetneth the Water with a Wood,28 preserveth the Creatures in the Ark, which the blast of His mouth might have as easily created; for God is like a skilful Geometrician, who, when more easily and with one stroak of his Compass he might describe or divide a right line, had yet rather do this in a circle or longer way, according to the constituted and forelaid principles of his Art. Yet this rule of His He doth sometimes pervert, to acquaint the World with His Prerogative, lest the arrogancy of our reason should question His power, and conclude He could not. And thus I call the effects of Nature the works of God, Whose hand and instrument she only is; and therefore to ascribe His actions unto her, is to devolve the honour of the principal agent upon the instrument; which if with reason we may do, then let our hammers rise up and boast they have built our houses, and our pens receive the honour of our writings. I hold there is a general beauty in the works of God, and therefore no deformity in any kind or species of creature whatsoever. I cannot tell by what Logick we call a Toad, a Bear, or an Elephant ugly; they being created in those outward shapes and figures which best express the actions of their inward forms, and having past that general Visitation29 of God, Who saw that all that He had made was good, that is, conformable to His Will, which abhors deformity, and is the rule of order and beauty. There is no deformity but in Monstrosity; wherein, notwithstanding, there is a kind of Beauty; Nature so ingeniously contriving the irregular parts, as they become sometimes more remarkable than the principal Fabrick. To speak yet more narrowly, there was never any thing ugly or mis-shapen, but the Chaos; wherein, notwithstanding, (to speak strictly,) there was no deformity, because no form; nor was it yet impregnant by the voice of God. Now Nature is not at variance with Art, nor Art with Nature, they being both servants of His Providence. Art is the perfection of Nature. Were the World now as it was the sixth day, there were yet a Chaos. Nature hath made one World, and Art another. In brief, all things are artificial; for Nature is the Art of God.

[Footnote 28: Exod. xv. 25.]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Panic and Reprieve

First day back and the rumors are flying: 25% cut in instruction costs. A leaner and meaner school.

After a day of panic and trying to figure out who will be in the 25%, a new figure emerges: 10%. Less scary, unless you are among the unhappy few.

As always, the only thing one can do for definite sure is to be frugal. So, in that spirit, I went to the new Winn-Dixie, which was offering a $25.00 gift card with a transferred prescription.

I bought 11 pounds of cheese, which was on a killer sale. In times of stress, what could be better than a grilled cheese sandwich?

I guess the financial meltdown is not over. Are you still dealing with stress along those lines?

Monday, March 8, 2010

What They're Upset About in California

Just back from a few days in Northern California, where we visited an Aged P, my 91 year old father-in-law.

It's a whole different feeling fiscally from the "let the good times roll" of my native state. And, of course, we've not fallen so far from a state of extreme affluence.

In addition to the bitterness about bonuses for bankers, we heard a lot of bitterness about state workers. No wonder! A front page story in the local paper, which was presumably carried by many other papers, concerned overtime earnings. The story began with the example of a prison nurse, whose $102,000 salary was reduced by $10,000 to $92,000 after a furlough. Then she earned $177,000 in overtime, bringing her salary to well over $250,000. She said the furlough had made things hard.

I try so hard not to let stories like this get to me.

Here's the story

How about you?

P.S. Thanks for sticking by me and commenting, Dear Readers. Will respond as I have time.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Kicking It Down Another Notch: Commercial Stock

Since I'm in the True Confessions mode, let me admit to another culinary transgression. I bought 26 boxes of College Inn Bold Chicken Broth at Big Lots. Reader, I was tempted. They were only $0.50 for a 32 oz box. And no, I did not clear the shelf.

I confess: I believe in homemade stock. But aside from being tempted by the super-low price, I had to take a good look at myself. I seldom buy chicken these days and, when I do (another transgression), I buy IQF breasts. In fact, I try to make my Thanksgiving turkey stock last as long as possible. Often, I admit, I water it down a bit too much.

So now, I can make my beloved potato-corn chowder, chicken pot pie, Thai coconut curry soup with chicken, Mexican tortilla soup, African peanut soup (oops--already did that). All these can be made with plain old water, but are better with broth. And how can I forget the ultimate soup: chicken and andouille gumbo, which cannot be made with water. Will all those boxes of broth doom me to an eternity of convenience foods?

In Paradise Lost, part of Satan's temptation of Eve involves suggesting that KNOWING evil (by doing it) can help you resist evil the next time:

if what is evil
Be real, why not known, since easier shunned?

As we all know, this is specious reasoning, as Satan well knows based on his own track record.

Is this broth a permanent addiction? Not likely! Luckily, I am too cheap---errrrr, FRUGAL---to buy this stuff at the regular price.

P.S. This stuff is potent. So I dilute it. That makes it equal about 50 boxes of broth.

Any culinary confessions you would like to share?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Kicking It Down A Notch: Instant Coffee

Miss Em, oops I mean Lucy Marmalade, decided she was spending too much money at Starbucks, plus she wanted to have a way to get coffee late at night when she was studying. We decided that making coffee in a dorm room would be too troublesome and messy. Instant--which I haven't imbibed in over 30 years--would seem to be the answer.

Oh, how I love the internet. No sooner did I type "BEST INSTANT COFFEE" than I had the answer: Nescafe Clasico. It is made for the Hispanic market. Post-Katrina, my locale became something of a Hispanic market, as people from Central America came for work. So we found it at Target and elsewhere.

And I am here to say: it is quite good! Now I've bought some for me and Mr. FS.

For Lucy, it saves time and money. For us, it saves time. Frugal all around.

Back in grad school, when I bought my first Melitta drip pot, my friends would have gaped in shock at the thought of instant coffee (or bottled salad dressing or bouillon cubes or frozen broccoli or....lots of other things). What a relief to lower my standards a bit.

Have you lowered your standards in any food area?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Independence Day: A Funny Story

At least I think it's funny. This is yet another post on American ideas of independence.

When my son was born, our pediatrician was named Dr. Winter. We didn't pick her; she was picked by the HMO. Allegorically, however, her name was perfect. She was a cold and wintry soul. Here is a summary of some of those regular visits you have with newborns.

Dr. Winter (with questionnaire on clipboard): What formula are you using?
FS: None. I am nursing.
Dr. Winter: But what is your supplemental formula?
FS: None. I am home all day with him.
DR. Winter: SIGH and EYE ROLL. Obviously, the questionnaire does not have a space for "none." She writes something.

Dr. Winter: Where is the baby sleeping?
FS: In a bassinet next to the bed.
Dr. Winter: Does he have his own room?
FS: There is another room, but he stays in our room because he wakes up a zillion times every night.
Dr. Winter: He should sleep in his room.
FS: But it's so hard to drag myself in there!
Dr. Winter: You need to encourage his independence!
FS: But he's only three months old!

Dr. Winter: Is the baby in his own room yet?
FS: No.
Dr. Winter: see above

Dr. Winter: Is the baby in his own room?
FS: (Long pause) Yes.

As an infrequent liar, my face turned red.

Dr. Winter: Every night?

No wonder I loved the work of Penelope Leach, the great (English) friend to Moms and Dads everywhere. And thanks, dear sister-in-law. I remember--as you might not--that you gave me the book as a baby gift.

And what has this to do with frugality? Well, formulas is expensive. Also, frugality requires that you--at least now and again--go against received wisdom, like ideas about infants and independence.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Independence Day: An American Issue?

Unbeknownst to you, dear readers, I have been out of town for a few days, in an area with only sporadic internet connection. So I will respond to your comments at a later date. And, if I run out of posts, check out what the inventive and adorable Lucy Marmalade is posting.

Anyway, as my children approach the age of independence, I have been giving some thought to the whole issue, made, perhaps, particularly acute by the recent--and even on-going-- financial meltdown. Last year, there were all sorts of stories in the news about adult children returning to the nest. I think this is called boomerang something or other. These stories provoked lots of comments--along the lines of tough love required! set down ground rules! you're creating a slacker!

The responses upset me, which was a puzzler, since in general I agree with the authors of The Millionaire Next Door, who argue that parental Economic Outpatient Care to adult children indeed creates low-productivity adults. I have certainly seen this among some of my acquaintance.

I don't have any answers, but I have been mulling over the cultural basis for assumptions about independence. I always liked the responses to the boomerang tales that were written by Asians, who said that in their culture, families helped each other and that multi-generational living was the norm and not the shameful exception.

My son has lots of friends of Asian descent and has visited Japan, China, and Korea. He says that the adult children of Asian families give the older generation a certain percentage of income. He also said that he plans to participate in this tradition!

Who knows? But I wonder if the financial meltdown will provoke a rethinking of what is the "norm," including ideas about independence within families.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bargain High: Danger Ahead

On Friday, I saw a sign "Yard Sale for Youth Group" at the church down the street. This is a very upscale church. My newer car--a 2003 Civic--would be on the very low end in their parking lot, which is filled with Lexuses and the like. So this is a prime shopping occasion.

Since it is against my frugal creed to drive around looking for sales, I decided to make it my morning walk on Saturday. When I got there, I could see the long line.

Even with a poor shopping strategy, I got 40 classical CDs for my music-loving spouse, 10 books, a bag of dish towels (my weakness!), a quilt cover and matching shams, a pepper grinder, a can opener--all for $17.00! The CDs necessitated a phone call to said spouse for carrying aid.

All these items will be put to good use and don't take up that much space anyway. And the bargains! I was positively delirious. Such delirium is common to bargain hunters--I have a colleague who gets a similar high at the grocery store.

Truly, this is a dangerous thing. It can lead to driving around for hours searching out yard sales. It can lead to piles of things in your house. How do I know this? Because I succumbed to this addiction when I was in graduate school.

I have not gone cold-turkey. I confine myself to the Goodwill that is next to a grocery store--around 1 mile from my house. Occasionally, I'll go to another thrift that is near the library. I do not go to the thrifts that are farther away. I do not go to yard sales.

This is a good maintenance program. If you have these tendencies you know what I'm talking about!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An Unexpected Time and Money Saver: For Shoppers Only

For a Frugal Scholar, I spend a lot of time and money shopping for and with my dear daughter, formerly known as Miss Em, and now known as Lucy Marmalade, since she is the proprietress of a blog of that name.

In part, this is family tradition. My mother did the same for me. She even bought me a pair of pants this year! Also, the best way to create frugal children is to help them see that frugality does not involve deprivation and an air of shabbiness, but can involve fun, creativity, chic, and abundance.

Also, Lucy M. has proven to be a household asset. She cuts my hair, Frugal Son's hair, and she would cut her father's hair, only he has almost none at all, so he can trim it himself.

Finally--and maybe mostly--Lucy M. is very economical. She chose a no-cost college. It's not that I feel I owe her anything for that choice, but, as Mr. FS says, people should see that there are consequences to decisions. In this case, a no-cost college option leads to more treats.

Anyway, Lucy M. has been pining for a coat. I got her a wool jacket at Goodwill to serve as a temp coat. Then I noticed that Nordstroms is having a very good coat sale. I realized that we could have coats sent ($8.00), try them on, and then return what we didn't want ($6.00). So for $14.00 we could have a no-time-at-all shopping experience, even aside from the fact that there is no Nordstroms in my state.

So, Lucy M. picked out a few to try on. We ordered them. Guess what? Over $200.00 and shipping is free. This will be a $6.00 shopping trip, for whatever we return.

I hate going to malls and department stores. The coats will be waiting for Lucy to try them on over Spring Break. Perfect.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Parental Safety Net

I wrote on this issue a few days ago and anticipated horrified responses such as I've seen on other blogs: : "Tell your slacker kids to grow up!" " Too bad! They should have planned better." On and on in a similar vein.

I was happy to see that others agreed with me: that in these times of scary and not necessarily your fault financial disasters families should stick together, much as they did in days of yore. This is especially critical in the United States, where health insurance is unaffordable to those who lack benefits and one accident or illness can ruin you. Forever. It is hardly a sacrifice for me to forgo a Coach bag now and have that $200.00 JUST IN CASE someone needs it down the line.

So thanks dear readers for assuring me that I'm not crazy and that these are--indeed--perilous times.