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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Did I Pay for My House By Saving on Groceries?

I'm sure there are errors in my math and assumptions, but I would bet that my general point is sound (economists: correct me if I'm wrong).

One of my great skills is being a black-belt grocery shopper. (Another, in case you are curious, is analyzing poetry.) I have never spent more than about $200/month for my family of 4. And, no, I don't use coupons (I'm too messy). And even though we eat a lot of beans (because we love them; because they are a superfood; because they are environmentally good--oh, and cheap), we eat lots of luxury items too. So last week, Mr FS and I dined on lamb: we had lamb twice, lamb stir-fry once, and then--oh bliss--Scotch Broth, which Miss Em, back from college, declared her new favorite soup.

Last night, we had Miss Em's former favorite shrimp and corn soup.

I buy in the seemingly bizarre way advocated by the couponing-help site The Grocery Game: buy a bunch when it's on sale. There, you don't have to subscribe to the Game, which costs a little bit of money. Anyway, my cart will have one week 20 coffees; another week 20 peanut butters, whatever. When you are a poverty-stricken beginner at this, you can buy 3 coffees or peanut butters. Anything is better than nothing.

So, according to the USDA, in 2010 a family of four spent--per month--$582 for the thrifty plan, $758 for the next one, then $948, then $1150.

OK, let's ignore inflation and compounding. The fact that we eat well on less than the food stamp allotment (!) over 20 years: around $400 a month (around $5000/year) over 20 years=$100,000! Hey, that's around the principle on my house. Which I paid off early, btw. Now I see how.

Little savings over many years matter a lot. And really add up. That's good news for those of us who can't (or don't want to) find ways to earn more money.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Frugal Treats and Celebrity Sighting: While Saving for Hermes Scarf or Whatever

So much advice on how to save money focuses on Just say no. But such advice is so dreary. So many treats are within reach.

Today, in honor of the arrival (finally) of Miss Em for her vacation, we went to New Orleans.

First stop: Whole Foods to use the bathroom, buy some fruit, and check out the samples. Cost: a couple of dollars.

Second stop: While on Magazine Street, which has a somewhat European vibe with its small shops, Miss Em and I (with the shop-averse Mr FS reluctantly tagging along) went into two shops to hone our aesthetic sense. We went to Pied Nu (great name!) to look at items by John Derian. Then, we looked at Hazelnut, one of whose owners is Bryan Batt of Madmen fame.

While I was trying to show Miss Em the bowl I would like to buy if I ever get the house sufficiently in order, she got distracted. There was Bryan Batt on the sidewalk right outside. So we said hi and shook pinkies, because he was carrying a tray.

Third stop: Buffalo Exchange, where I waited on line to unload some Goodwill mistakes. Meanwhile. Miss Em did her shopping. Mr FS (poor guy) went for a walk and then read in the car. Sorry! Miss Em found two tops and two holiday gifts for friends. We still went home with $92.00 from the Buf boxes.

Fourth Stop: St James Cheese. OMG. this place is amazing. We weren't that hungry, so we shared two sandwiches from the menu. Which would you have chosen?

Oh and what would you rather see: a sandwich or Bryan Batt?

Total Spent: Around $25.
Total "Earned": Around $120.00.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Instead of Hermes, try...leather bracelet

Ever since I became enamored of my thrifted Hermes scarf, I have wanted another. This has led to some time spent on the Hermes site, looking at their wares. The prices are truly eye-popping, like the coloring book for $130.

Strangely, the silk scarves at around $400 don't seem so overpriced, given the complexity of the patterns and the labor involved. They are printed by hand, as opposed to photographic printing.

I have also learned that there are addicts for many Hermes products, including their leather bracelets. The most famous bracelet of all was copied by Target last year, which led to howls of shock and despair all over that corner of the web.

How about a leather bracelet that's not a copy, but is just itself. Check this out!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Incongruities at the Thrift Store

I justify my thrifting expeditions in various ways: I am helping a good cause! or No one appreciates this abandoned item! or I am actually conducting sociological research!
Not that I'm a sociologist. Not that I need anything.

Still, some strange and (to me, anyway) interesting moments. For instance, at Goodwill the other day, I heard the cashier exclaim "I didn't know Jimmy Choo made purses!" To which the proud purchaseer replied, "Yes."

Also shopping that day was a woman in a sweatshirt of interlocked G's with a tag saying GUCCI. Also, a giant purse to match.

A few days earlier, Mr FS and I went to New Orleans to go to the art museum. I said I wanted a brief stop at Bloomingdeals, run by the Junior League. I've written before about how much I loved this place when my children were small. Since Katrina, the stock and general ambience are quite forlorn.

There, I spied a gaggle of young volunteers. They were huddled together, discussing in loud tones the fact that Saks was going to have an additional 40% off sale starting Monday and that their husbands would kill them when they got the bills.

Status! Class differences! So much to see at the thrift store.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wonderful Books for Children for Chanukah and Christmas: Not for Children Only

Just thinking about these books fills me with emotion. They are worth owning (I do), but remember: LIBRARY.

Do you have any favorite books from these and other traditions?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cheap Chic at the Table: French-style

It seems that every trip has a taste memory. Our first trip to Paris together (children with grandparents--merci beaucoup) is evoked by the memory of the coffee served in Hotel Vernueil, a splurge for us (both hotel and breakfast) unlikely to be repeated.

On our last trip, we were lucky enough to have meals with three families, all arranged by the people whose home we stayed in. At two, we had prunes wrapped in ham. That's the recipe. Heat in oven. How could that be so good? The teenage boys of our second dinner hosts were ecstatic also, never having had it.

Here is an official recipe: Prunes and cured ham
Amuse-bouche jambon pruneaux

These ham appetizers a warm and satisfying treat, with next to no effort. If you're going to do just do one appetizer, pick this one. It is fast, fast, fast and delicious.
4 ounces raw ham, such as jambon de Bayonne or prosciutto
20 pitted prunes (I prefer smaller ones for this, so that the final roll is small enough to eat in one bite)
Slice the ham in about one inch by six inch slices. Place a prune on each and roll up. Place under the broiler until the ham sizzles - about 2 minutes depending on your broiler.

Careful to let these cool a bit before enjoying - the hot prune can burn your mouth. If you want, you could add a toothpick afterwards, but don't put these under the grill.

I am a recent convert to prunes. As a child, I associated them with very old people. They are now called dried plums, in order to them of the fusty associations.

Mr FS and I bought a tiny amount of prosciutto at Whole Foods. This was enough to make us a small portion of the prunes before 4 or 5 dinners.

They were as good as we remembered.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Lands End Now 40% off plus Free Shipping

In case you didn't get the email. Nothing for me, thanks.

* 40% off your entire order
Excludes gift cards, special services, duties & taxes. Savings reflected at checkout when valid promotion code and PIN are applied at time of order. Offer ends 11:59 p.m. Central Monday, December 19, 2011. Christmas delivery applies only to in-stock items without monogramming, engraving, hemming, cuffing or other special requests. Delivery within 48 contiguous states excluding P.O. Boxes. See Shipping Calendar for details.
** St. Nick's Picks
Prices shown reflect savings. Offer ends 11:59 p.m. Central Friday, December 16, 2011

Or at checkout‚ manually enter the Promotion Code DONNER and PIN 1585.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Frugality and Hermes

This is kind of funny. There is a huge discussion group on the purseforum, with a section devoted to Hermes, the superluxe leather and other goods company. Many women--and a few men--discuss their desires, model their latest purchases, critique various collections, and get ebay and other secondhand offerings authenticated.

Needless to say, I don't really fit into this group. I wanted to see pictures of scarves. They really are beautiful. But wait! There is a group where I feel right at home: the Saving Up for Hermes group. On this thread--which began in 2007 and continues to the present--posters lay out their schemes for saving up for their desired item.

Here you will find the usual suspects: eat at home, sell your excess on ebay, don't buy things you don't really want, and so on.

Really, the laws of frugality are timeless, and, with enough time (and barring major financial meltdowns), you can save for what you want.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Another Hermes scarf...maybe?

As my devoted readers may recall, I fulfilled one of my low-level fantasies last year: I found a Hermes scarf at a thrift store. I like it.

Then, I was reading the blog of one of my readers--Viviennefiles (check it out if you haven't)--and glanced over at her blogroll, where I discovered a blog called aestheticalterations. Well, I'm all in favor of aesthetic alterations, so, my interest piqued, I took a peek.

Very interesting! Here is a woman who, with (I am presuming) an average income, manages to buy the occasional Hermes scarf, accessory, and even handbag. It can be done. This to me is the epitome of frugality: conscious spending so you can get what you want. What you want, of course, is up to you.

Most of us in the middle-income bracket assume we can't have certain things. I met the wife of a cardiologist (average income in my area $500,000-$700,000) who said she had never been to Europe because she couldn't afford it. Meanwhile, she was wearing many, many thousands of dollars of jewelry on her arms, neck, and ears. She had made her choice.

Since I was having so much fun with my scarf, I decided I wanted another. They cost $400. Can I save $400? Yes. I'm pretty sure it can be done. Could I spend $400 on a scarf? I have my doubts.

So I have decided to defer the decision. I will save $400. Then, in a year, if I still want one, I will think about it.

I even bought a little piggy bank at the thrift store.

Which one should I pick?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If you want to know what frugal sounds like...

Here is a true slice-of-life from the frugal household. It is recorded for posterity in our gmail chat account.

After chatting with Miss Em for a bit, I let Mr FS get on, for HIS turn with our beloved daughter. When he got on, he announced his arrival (and my departure) with this:

MM (c'est moi) is going to CVS now to buy toilet paper so you can go to Europe.

As if that's not sufficiently ludicrous, Miss Em replied:

Yes! I understand! Thank you.

That's what frugality is all about: little choices so you can do what you want. Don't mock us toooooo much.

Here is a visual representation of what I mean:


over many days can equal THIS,


and THIS!

Can you believe it?

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Swore I Wouldn't Do This: More Bargains from LL Bean and J Jill

I really don't think I'm going to succumb, but there are some good deals out there IF you need the stuff--or if one of your intended recipients does.

LL Bean has 30% off all backpacks--today only. I bought a travel pack for Miss Em last year. For a while, she pined for a leather backpack; she seems to have gotten over it.

J Jill, from which company I have bought exactly one item, has 25% off everything and free shipping.

By the way, I turned in all my grades. After having absorbed the stress of my 100plus students over the last few weeks, I need a rest. How about a book? I'm reading The Magic Mountain, which I abandoned halfway though over 30 years ago.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Frugal Stress Relief in the Faubourg Marigny

Grades are due tomorrow morning and my week of misery will--perforce--be over. Since some decisions are ALWAYS at the last minute, Mr. FS and I decided to play hooky and go to New Orleans. Our plan was to go to Whole Foods (which was having a "Taste of the Season" sampling) and then the Aquarium.

Well! the tasting was awful: many samplings of fingerling potatoes in various guises. Then we couldn't find decent parking for the Aquarium. Plus, it was a beautiful day. We decided to drive around the Faubourg Marigny, which I just read is one of the "most intact 19th century neighborhoods in the United States." No parking there either.

Then we saw a big SUV try and fail to get into what seemed to be the only parking space. Yay for the Honda Civic.

We walked for the duration of our parking: almost 2 hours. Honestly, we felt as revived as we do during our mammoth walk-fests in Europe. And we were revived physically, mentally, and aesthetically.

This site has some nice pics of the area.

Do you have any nearby spots that offer physical, mental, and aesthetic renewal?

Friday, December 9, 2011

I Was Treated Like a Queen in a Store

Now, how did that happen? Usually, I frequent thrift shops, where I am left alone. Every now and then, I do go to a retail establishment and watch the salesperson's eyes flicker to my shoes and my bag--usually I am found wanting. That's OK, since I like to scrounge around and hate retail pressure.

But a few weeks ago, I got a taste of being treated like royalty in the retail arena: at the Encore Shop in New Orleans, a half thrift/half consignment shop that benefits the New Orleans Symphony. I had been perhaps twice in the last 20 years, leaving empty-handed both times.

But for some reason, I felt the urge to check it out. In I walked, my usual scruffy self. Mr. FS said I could have 10 minutes.

I saw a tall blond right out of Town and Country magazine. She was trying on clothes, but rushed to meet me, asked my name, and followed me around. I told her what was on my wish list, but--alas--nothing on my wish list was my size. She made me promise to come back on one of the days she worked, so she could help me. Imagine: I was being helped by a New Orleans society lady! What a thrill.

I even found her picture in the paper, so you can see what I mean.

I didn't see any Coach shoes for $4 (indeed, this place was rather expensive). I did buy a pair of shoes, which looked brand new. They were $22.00, half of which goes to the orchestra.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Good Deal on Best and Most Frugal Skincare: Cerave

Cerave lotion is cheap to begin with, but this week (till Saturday) it is "Buy One Get One Half OFF" at Walgreens. That brings it to about $10 for a bottle. Check out Paula Begoun's glowing review.

Love this stuff! So does Miss Em! And I make Mr FS use it too.

If you get the regular lotion, remember to use sunscreen.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Some more good deals I am not going to avail myself of

I know this seems ridiculous. But a few readers have used the codes I have posted (Duchesse got some down jackets for the men in her family). Not to mention that I have over 200 items to grade (some requiring a mere glance, most requiring sustained attention) before I can take a breather. So no (or few) posts or responses for a bit.

Anyway, if you can stand Chico's, the code 10977 will give you 50% off your highest priced item if you spend $50. The last thing I bought from Chico's had a gaping hole in the knit fabric when I pulled it from its box. UGH. Now I have to shlep it and myself to a Chico's for the return.

LLBean has 20% off outdoor gear this weekend. Plus, if you spend $50, you get a $10 gift card. My colleague bought himself 4 new plaid flannel shirts. He knows I love soft fabrics, so he let me rub his elbow!

Subway has 2 $2.00 6 inch subs. You have to ask for these. One is meatball; one is cold cuts.

Every day, Lands End has a St Nick's pick. Last year, I got a tote bag with this promotion. They usually have free shipping.

Oh yeah, Powells Books has free shipping and 25% off till Monday. There's a unique code, but they sent me 3, so if you want to patronize this venerable institution, let me know, and I will send you one of my codes. I remember old Mr Powell coming to campus to buy books back in the early 70s.

And remember: it will all be on sale in a mere few weeks.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Cyber Monday Shopping

Well, I succumbed to two cyber Monday tempations: two wearever tank tops from J Jill (which came to $15 bucks a piece) and two black mock turtlenecks from Lands End for Mr FS ($9 bucks each). Free shipping, of course.

Honestly, does it not seem that clothing is too cheap?

What if we were like Germany, with few and strictly regulated sales?

I know for sure that I'd have a lot less stuff.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

One More Good Deal

Garnet Hill: 40% off clearance items PLUS free shipping.

BLACK FRIDAY SALE: TAKE AN EXTRA 40% OFF ALL ITEMS on SALE & CLEARANCE --- and FREE SHIPPING! Use code H1W235B at checkout. Hurry in for the best selection and get your gifts done early!

I think this is valid through Monday.

AMEX Small Business Saturday: $25 Credit

If you registered your card, today is the day to use it. We're off to buy some wine at the little store down the road.

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Specials I Will not Avail Myself Of: Black Friday and Beyond

No way will I enter a store today! However, several stores entered my email with some tempting offers. I really don't need anything right now, but maybe you do.

Cuddledown: luxe linens. One day, I will get linen sheets. Today, 25% off EVERYTHING. I suppose that includes the furniture?

Ballard Designs: decor. I've bought two things from this company, burlap curtains on supersale last year and some Olivia tables, which are on sale right now. 10% off everything (except Bring Home Ballard, which includes my tables) PLUS FREE SHIPPING. This last is a real deal (over $50 for the free ship)!

LL Bean: preppy stuff. 10% off (15% if you have their Visa) plus FREE shipping (which they always have) plus a $10 gift card if you spend $50plus. The last is good till December 24; the first for a few days.

Lands End: LLB wannabe. Now it's 30% off sitewide, plus free shipping. These offers have become so commonplace as to be ho hum. I mean, ho ho ho.

Mr FS was planning to go to Lowes to buy a router for woodworking. He didn't know it was Black Friday. I talked him out of going to the store.

I asked Frugal Son via on-line chat what he wanted for the holidays and he said "Dunno. Meh."
Miss Em wants a camera.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CHEAP Decor from Cote de Texas

Now that I'm trying to improve my living space, I've discovered some of the cheap chic blogs. Of course, what these bloggers present as cheap and what I think of as cheap are often different. There are so many opportunities for inspiration--not to mention procrastination.

The other day, singlemomrichmom--a blogger whose posts I look forward to--was ruminating on the very subject of decor, wondering if she'd have to buy a bunch of junk--I mean, stuff--and hire someone to arrange it artfully. I can relate. I have lots of stuff, but I am a poor arranger.

Then I noticed a post from the uber-blog cotedetexas, a proponent of white slipcovers, European furniture, and seagrass rugs. Most of her posts feature places waaaaaaaayyyyyy beyond my ken. Recently, though, she discussed her daughter's college apartment. This apartment features a white slipcovered sofa from Ikea (the famous Ektorp) with the matching ottoman used as a coffee table. There is a sunburst mirror (available at many price points) over the sofa--and that's about it.

It's a mighty good looking space in and of itself. And, unlike many such spaces, it's frugality itself!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cheap Gifts for Your College Student, Adult Child, or Yourself: Rice Cooker and Slow Cooker

Far be it from me to promote shopping for something you don't need. I don't need a slow cooker or rice cooker. But many need one or the other or both. In fact, a colleague recently asked me to pick her up one at the thrift store. I told her that thrift stores sell those appliances for basically the same price they cost new.

So, no, I am not going to link to the famous on-line retailer. Instead, you will have to go to Target. There they have a 3 quart slow cooker for $10 and a 6 cup rice cooker for the same. Note that the slow cooker is smallish (mine is 4 or 5 quarts) and the rice cooker is a medium size. Still, you can cook at least half a pound of dried beans in that slow cooker. And make enough rice for a few meals.

For $20, you can get both! That leaves enough money to buy some provisions, for which your recipient--starving student or regular person--would, no doubt, be grateful.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gifts for Teachers: FRUGAL Gifts for Teachers, that is

My second re-posting of this "classic."

Since this is the season of TEACHER GIFTS, I'm taking the liberty of reposting an oldie (but I think still goodie).

No, I'm not going to recommend that you buy a mug with an apple on it. Or a mug that says A+ Teacher. These are to be found at any Dollar Store.

There are also scores of such mugs, along with similarly emblazoned teacher gift items, at any thrift shop. Do not burden your child's teacher with these; your teacher has already donated last year's gifts. Since my definition of frugality involves getting the most from the resources of time and money, even $1.00 mugs are not frugal, since every teacher is given scads of these, every year.

Frugal Son had a wonderful teacher in grade school. Mr. Callahan was so gifted at classroom management that his class was filled with a large percentage of kids with behavior problems. At assemblies, I would watch with awe as he, with only a small gesture, would quiet down a kid about to go out of control. Mr. Callahan was also an artist, and retired in his 40s to pursue that full-time. He disappeared from our purview after Katrina. If you see him, say hi.

Mr. Callahan also had a gift for gifts. He told his class that he didn't really need anything. So no gifts were necessary. This in itself was thoughtful, since more than half the children at the grade school received free or reduced lunch. But, he said, if their parents HAD to buy him something, they should mention that he didn't need any coffee mugs. He already had a lot. Oh, and he needed socks, calf-height, size 10 and always appreciated coffee beans.

What a wonderful gift to us. Frugal Son and I spent perhaps an hour at the local coffee shop deciding what kind of coffee beans to purchase. There were so many choices: Colombian, Tanzanian, Ethiopian, and more. We picked two half pounds because we couldn't decide on one kind.

At the year end party, Mr. Callahan opened his gifts. He got a lot of coffee and a few pairs of socks. Then he opened a box and out came a mug. Grade school kids don't have the "politeness" of adults. One child blurted out, "You said you didn't want any coffee mugs." Without missing a beat, Mr. Callahan replied, "I wasn't talking about THIS mug. This is the exact one I wanted."

Many thanks, Mr. Callahan. The lesson here for recipients: if possible, indicate what it is you want. For givers, consumable gifts (who wouldn't want coffee? or tea? or a gift card?). We often gave teachers bouquets from our garden. These were always well-received. The best-received gifts: appreciative notes from parents and children.

Dear Readers: what are your best gifts for teachers?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Special Offers I Will Not Avail Myself Of

But maybe you want to:

Garnet Hill has $20 off $100 on full price merch.
Savings alert! Now through Monday, SAVE $20 when you spend $100! It’s the perfect time to grab gifts, or that special something you’ve been eyeing. Use code H1W158B at checkout to SAVE!

*$20 Off $100 offer is valid through November 14, 2011. Offer applies to full-price merchandise total on orders shipping to a single address and does not include the purchase of Gift Cards, g...

Then, Lands End has 25% off everything and free shipping over $50. Remember, you can return to Sears.

LL Bean has 10% off everything through Sunday night.

Then, Ballard Designs has a 15% off code. Email if you want it.

I myself don't need anything at the moment. What a wonderful feeling of (over)abundance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Freebie for American Express Card Holders: Small Business Saturday

This seems to be too good to be true, but it IS true. American Express is running its second Small Business Saturday on 11/26. You have to register your card (with Amex); Amex sends you a confirmation, and then you spend $25 or more at a SMALL BUSINESS on 11/26 and receive a $25.00 statement credit.

Naturally, I'm going to spend my $25.00 at the little grocery and wine store that is a short walk away.

Hope this info is useful to someone.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Credit Card Relief: A Frugal Mantra

So many tempting offers are coming my way: on-line sales, catalogs from the few places where I've bought things over the last year, and so on.



THAT's around 50 DAYS





How do you keep yourself from succumbing to temptation?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wedding Bell Blues: A Modest (Frugal!) Proposal Instead of a Wedding

A colleague told me that a friend of his just received a directive from her future daughter-in-law: Buy a blue dress for the wedding. This is probably normal, right? People want color-coordinated pictures, I suppose.

As the veteran of a $30.00 wedding (all inclusive), I am obviously not the most wedding-centric person. I was discussing the blue dress request with Miss Em when she was home a few weeks ago. She already knows I hate big parties and could not perform as expected at a wedding. So I figured that she was also aware of what would next come out of my mouth.

Instead of a wedding, I wish more people would take the money and go on a trip. We would give you $5000 or $10,000 for a trip if you didn't have a wedding.

Well, her eyes bugged out! She had no idea.

You could take two trips with that money!

Am I heartless?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Iconic Fashion

As it happens, I am an ICON. Yes, on Halloween, one of my students came to school dressed as---me. She was wearing a long cardi, a long tank, skinny jeans, a scarf and ballet flats. The pièce de résistance: glasses on a chain. Before I realized what she was doing, I told her she looked nice. I guess I like how I dress!

Sadly, I was disappointment to her that day: I had to go to a post-funeral service at the home of an acquaintance. Therefore, I did not wear my usual garb. With my usual jeans, I wore two thrifted iconic pieces: a black St John knit jacket and my Feux de Route Hermes scarf (I'm almost certain it's not a fake). Well! Many compliments at the informal service, delivered mainly to Mr. FS. He said, "I've never seen before the power of an accessory." Yes, he said it.

Have you ever caused a minor sensation with an iconic item?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Plethora of Onions

A while ago, Funny About Money wrote of near-apoplexy at the sight of a $1.00 onion at the grocery. Even though she had gone to the grocery expressly for the onion, the price so shocked her that she left---onion-less. Most of us frugalistas have done similar silly things: after all, a dollar won't kill you, plus you wasted that money on gas, plus you wasted your precious time. I know I've had price freak-outs myself.

So imagine my delight when the most recent ad for Piggly-Wiggly featured 3 pounds of onions for a mere dollar. How I wish I could pass that price on to Funny! The great thing is that a new Piggly-Wiggly opened right on our commuting route. I check the ad every Wednesday and stop off to get whatever is good. Mr FS snoozes on the car for the 15 minutes it takes.

Now I am the owner of 9 pounds of onions. Needless to say, these will not last forever. Here's what we do: we roughly chop 3 pounds and put them in the slow cooker with a bit of oil. For a long time. This results in an approximation of caramelized onions. We freeze the resulting much=reduced onions in a zip-lock.

I've written about this before. The best part is how much time it saves. The money is actually merely a nice bonus. What percentage of recipes start: "Chop and saute an onion"? 50% at least. Then you have to wash your cutting board, knife, pot, and hands.

So, once I have my frozen treasure, I might break off a chunk and throw it into a pot of potatoes. Add a little stock (or not), simmer, and puree when soft with your stick blender. Add some butter. Dinner is ready!

Oh, you need more veggies? Throw some chopped spinach into the pot.

Think of all the recipes you could use this for. Do you have any tricks like this?


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CHEEEEEP Shampoo and Conditioner

I love Paula Begoun: she does her research and loves inexpensive products. She just put together a list of the best inexpensive shampoos and conditioners--among them a Suave product! Think of what you can do with all the money you save.

The 5 Best Inexpensive Shampoos
The products listed below are presented alphabetically by brand. After analyzing dozens of competing products, we selected them based on price, great performance, and intriguing formulas (well, as intriguing as hair-care formulas can be given their widely repetitive nature). All of the listed products are readily available at drugstores and mass-market retailers such as Target and Wal Mart. We're betting that some of these prices will shock you, but once you use these products, you probably won't go back to the expensive ones because of how well these work!

1. Aveeno Nourish + Shine or Nourish + Moisturize or Nourish + Volumize Shampoo ($6.49 for 10.5 oz.). Regardless of which one you choose, these all work great for all hair types without causing considerable buildup—the formulas are nearly identical.

2. Dove Volume Boost Shampoo Weightless Formula ($3.49 for 12 oz.). A great all-purpose shampoo for the whole family that's also a wise choice for normal to fine or thin hair. Most stores sell a larger size, too.

3. John Frieda Smooth Start Repairing Shampoo ($5.39 for 10 oz.). A brilliant conditioning shampoo for dry to very dry hair that's normal to coarse, curly, or thick. Note that many of Frieda's shampoos contain drying detergent cleansing agents, but this one (packaged in a tube) doesn't.

4. Suave Naturals Daily Clarifying Shampoo ($1.74 for 22.5 oz.). An exceptional bargain for a shampoo that works beautifully to remove product buildup and restore a healthy bounce and shine to hair, especially if you routinely use heavier styling products (pomades, waxes, or silicone serums). This is also a great shampoo to remove chlorine and hard water deposits from hair.

5. VO5 2-in-1 Moisturizing Shampoo + Conditioner, Normal Hair ($1.49 for 15 oz.). Although those with dry or color-treated hair will want to follow this with a good conditioner, this 2-in-1 formula is suitable for its intended hair type. This is a much better option than the other VO5 shampoos because those contain the drying cleansing agent sodium lauryl sulfate (not to be confused with sodium LAURETH sulfate, which is gentle).
The 5 Best Inexpensive Conditioners

1. Clairol Herbal Essences Hydralicious Reconditioning Conditioner for Dry/Damaged Hair ($2.99 for 10.1 oz.). This is great for daily use on dry hair, whether it's chemically treated or not. This can be too heavy for those with fine or thin hair.

2. Garnier Fructis Color Shield Fortifying Cream Conditioner for Color-Treated Hair ($3.09 for 13 oz.). Among the many Garnier conditioners, this is a good option to smooth, soften, and add shine to color-treated hair. It doesn't have any advantage for helping color last longer, so you can ignore that claim.

3. Neutrogena Triple Moisture Daily Deep Conditioner ($5.74 for 8.5 oz.). A must-try for dry, damaged hair that's normal to coarse or thick, this rich smoothing formula makes hair beautifully soft and helps combat frizzies.

4. Pantene Nature Fusion Moisture Balance or Smooth Vitality Conditioner ($5.89 for 25.4 oz.). Most of Pantene's conditioners are good, but their Nature Fusion options capitalize on the silicone technology for which Pantene is known, and also adds intriguing conditioning ingredients that have research showing they help strengthen hair and protect against heat damage, at least to the extent possible (no product can completely protect hair from heat damage). The Moisture Balance and Smooth Vitality formulas are nearly identical, so it doesn't matter which one you choose—both are good for normal to dry hair of any thickness.

5. TRESemme Moisture Rich Conditioner for Dry, Damaged Hair or Smooth & Silky Conditioner for Dry or Damaged Hair ($2.89 for 15 oz.). The formulas of these products are nearly identical and with each you get an outstanding daily conditioner that's best for normal to dry hair that's normal to slightly thick, curly, or coarse. These can be used on fine or thin hair, but only if applied to the ends and rinsed thoroughly.

It truly is possible to have beautiful, manageable hair without spending a lot of money.

Check out Beautypedia for other recommendations.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Benefits (?) of the Economic Downturn: Health Club

For many years, we belonged to the area Y: we had a killer family rate ($300/yr) and used it for various things: Mr FS used the pool, Miss Em took ballet, Frugal Son did this and that, and even I--when I could rouse myself from my comfy chair--walked on the treadmill. Then they moved to a very bad facility with no pool. We stuck it out, even though we seldom traveled to the distant facility because the manager said we could keep our special membership rate. They built a big new Y and--after years of holding on to our cheap membership so we could use the new facility--the director said the "computer wouldn't take our membership." Right. The new facility is very far away and the new cost about quadruple, so good-bye.

Last spring we bought a Groupon for two months at a facility (no pool) about a 15 minute walk from our house. We didn't plan to renew after the 2 months. When the facility opened about 4 years ago, we inquired and discovered that there was a MASSIVE joining fee, plus a monthly fee of $120 for the two of us, to be paid upfront for the year.

We finally activated the Groupon yesterday. Out of politeness, I asked what the fees were. NO JOINING FEE! Monthly fees: the owner said "Where do you work?" When it finally emerged that we were teachers, she said "We love our teachers! You get the public servant rate for $60.00/month for the two of you!" I said that we went away in the summer, "No problem! You can suspend your membership." Then I asked if you had to pay for a year in advance. "No, not in the current economic climate."

I can't think of another way that the economic downturn has benefited me or most people. I guess bankruptcy lawyers and the like are doing fine.

But I think we may join the health club at the end of our trial. So happy.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chic Surroundings: Frugal Style

My first exposure to frugal decor was in a magazine my mother got, perhaps Ladies Home Journal. My father worked at an ad agency at the time (Kenyon and Eckhart, mentioned on Madmen) and the magazine was a freebie that my mother--not much of a reader--never opened, as far as I can remember. Anyway, I remember a feature on furnishing a room where most of your budget went to a single high-ticket item: one was a piano, one was a rug, and I can't remember the others. Perhaps that article was the origin of my belief that you can always cut your spending to afford what you want. Like my trip to Europe!

I've been trying to improve my home for a while. It is a slow process, exacerbated by my frugal mindset. It would be easy enough to go to any of the elegant shops around town--even my little town--and pull out the credit card.

The internet is a great source of inspiration. It turns out zillions of clever people post their budget ideas and projects on-line.

Have you ever seen Copy Cat Chic?

Or--for the DIYer--a burlap ottoman slipcover. The handy Miss Em swears she can make this.

Any other good resources?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Advice and Opinions Wanted: from Francophiles and Others

Soooo, we asked Frugal Son to keep a look-out for rentals in France, since our freebie of last year was probably a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event. Lo and behold: another Assistant would like to sublet her apartment in the old part of Le Mans for 500 euros a month.

Le Mans does not seem as chock full of stuff to do as Nantes, which was our nearest city last summer. Still, Le Mans is closer to Paris and the price seems quite good to us.

What do you think, dear Readers? Should we make arrangements or keep on looking?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Art, Debt, Sharecropping

What does it say about me that I wrote about a consignment shop in Alabama before I wrote about the Kentuck art festival, which was why we visited Miss Em to begin with. I guess I am shallow.

The festival was wonderful, but there was so much to look at. It was quite overwhelming. Since I suffer from decision-making anxiety, I didn't get anything. Miss Em bought a pretty ring; she is very sure of her decisions.

One of the booths had a huge line. The artist--who, according to Miss Em is very well-known--produces letter press posters. These had pithy sayings, many having to do with coffee. Some shaded to the too-cute-for-me. One celebrated Samuel Mockbee, the great Alabama architect who, before a too-early death, focused on housing for the poor. Miss Em's friends hadn't heard of him, but I told them to look him up.

One of Miss Em's friends said, Miss Em: you should buy this one! It was a poster saying A penny saved is a penny earned. I guess Miss Em is frugal like her mom and dad.

Then I saw another one. Sadly, I cannot remember the exact saying. It was along the lines of Don't be a sharecropper to your credit card company. Unlike the Franklin saying, this one took a bit of time to figure out. Like the Franklin saying, this one is full of wisdom. Truly, if you have credit card debt, which often involves ridiculously high interest rates which make it ever harder to extricate yourself from debt, you are working for the credit card company. The company gets a piece of what you earn, perhaps forever.

Have you seen any pithy sayings of late?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thrifting in Tuscaloosa: Financial Lessons

Mr FS and I had sooooo much fun visiting Miss Em. As per our tradition, we went to Twice as Nice, an excellent consignment store. I can't believe how nice the stuff is, ranging from pretty nice up to a Vera Wang wedding gown that originally sold for $22,000. (Note to Miss Em: please do not buy such an expensive dress for a one-day event.) There are also very posh homegoods and even furniture there: the shop is pretty much the only game in town.

As is my wont, I had a chat with the owner. She told me that she has 12.000 consignors, though I don't suppose all are active. I told her about the book The Millionaire Next Door, which suggests that auctioneers are often secret millionaires, because they see how much value consumer goods lose. The owner agreed. She said, People think we're like Sanford and Son, but they should see what I have in my house. Interestingly, hers was a soft sell. I was swooning over some candle sconces (my latest desire). She said, Oh, I'll get more in sooner or later. I always do.

So not only does the owner have access to all sorts of great stuff (and she pays only 1/2 of the already low price), but she knows there's no need to rush: something just as nice or nicer will always show up.

Miss Em and I were rather like girls gone wild and we bought way too much. So, as penance, and to get the closets back in shape, I am filling boxes with my no-longer-desired clothing. Miss Em will consign them after she comes for a visit next week. I'm hoping we'll make enough money to pay for what we bought PLUS the sconces.

I'm getting the feng shui whoooosh of energy that comes with de-cluttering.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Crabby Post: What Do You Think of Tom's Shoes?

Luckily, I live a virtual life here, so I can't get in toooo much trouble for crabbing out about Tom's Shoes. I see these shoes--usually slip=ons made of cotton canvas-- everywhere. On all sorts of feet. They are extremely chic. The company is classed as an example of social entrepeneurship, but it is--in my opinion--not in the league of the various micro-lenders and companies like Newman's Own mentioned in the wikipedia article.

Yes, the company gives a pair of shoes away to a needy child for each pair sold. But, honestly, I've seen the shoes, which sell for around $50.00. Frugal Me thinks these are awfully expensive, the donation notwithstanding. Now if Tom's gave away FOUR pairs for each one sold, that would be something. I bet they would still make a tidy profit.

Am I too crabby? too unfair?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thai Peanut Sauce plus Customer Service Rant UPS and USPS

OK. I was going to start with the rant, but you don't really care. On my other blog, I wrote about a dinner party I'm planning for my daughter and her college friends. Part of the menu: Thai peanut sauce, which we will serve on tofu and whatever else we can think of (vegetables?).

There are many complex recipes for the sauce, but, owing to my lazy and frugal ways, I searched for the easiest. It is soooo easy. Just made it. It's good.

4 TBS peanut butter
4 TBS vegetable oil (NOT olive)
4 TBS soy sauce
4 TBS sugar
4 TBS vinegar
1 tsp Asian sesame oil (if you don't have this, leave it out. That's what a Thai grandma would do)
a little hot pepper, if you so desire

Now when you crave Thai food, you can pick up a rotisserie chicken and make this sauce. That will save you about $20.00 right there.

OK. I HATE UPS CUSTOMER SERVICE. Of course, hating UPS is like hating the sky: through 3 levels of customer service, I received ye olde "There's nothing I can do about that. I'm sorry you feel that way."

While I'm at it, I also hate the postal service. My p.o. has managed to hold my mail ONCE out of FOUR requests. Oh, and the passport person doesn't feel like processing passports. So no matter what day you go in, you are told, we do that only on ANOTHER DAY. They say this even though the sign says M-Th. Actually, the USPS has much better customer service, because something was done when we complained.

But isn't that peanut sauce good? Check out collegecookingcrashcourse for the rest of the menu.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Big Lots Coupon! Plastic Storage Bins! Happiness!

The great thing about being frugal is that it doesn't take much to make me happy. That is because I have many make-do "systems" in my house that I have been making do with for many, many years. Add to that the fact that both Mr FS and I are terrible at decluttering AND at organizing: any little improvement makes a big difference.

So the confluence of two forces.

First, I read an organizing book that recommended plastic storage tubs so that you could see the contents. I guess most normal people know this.

Second, Big Lots has one of their 20% off coupons today! I missed the last two since I was out of town. The sale started early, so I bought two 66 quart bins ($8.00 each after the discount) and-WHOA-they are great. Big Lots is about 1/2 mile from my house, so it's no problem to return and get a few more today.

They look so good. They hold so much. And they replace cardboard boxes of various sizes with legends like Sentimental Sweaters (knit by deceased family members--no we are not getting rid of them). The we have the labels written by Mr. FS. He is better than I am at most things--and a good cleaner to boot--but his labels are terrible. To wit: medium good misc Fall 2008.

See, with the plastic containers, you can SEE the contents.

I also buy food at Big Lots. They have tons of Bob's Red Mill at the moment. It's not much cheaper than on Amazon, but with the coupon, it's a little cheaper.

Have any little things made you happy lately?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Retirement and Riches!

I've been slogging through almost 200 pieces of student work over the last few days. Hence this post is part of my PROCRASTINATION PROJECT. This is a project that I don't need to explain: we all have expertise in this area, except for a few very focused souls.

Anyway, reading the prose of more than 90 students is not conducive to writing. So I will instead send you over to Duchesse of PassagedesPerles, who used to write about jewelry and style (still does), but also meditates on retirement. She outlines some creative responses to this dilemma: how can I travel?

Next, let's check out Funny About Money. Like many of us, she is often in a panic about money. Well, today, she posted quite a cheery piece about her new sources of income and the snazzy St John suit, rich lady attire par excellence, she snagged at a consignment shop.

Somewhere in the depths of history, I wrote about getting a St John jacket (still unworn by me) at a thrift store. I was inspired by this WSJ article. In a comment to Funny, I mentioned that Nancy Pelosi and other Washington bigwigs wear St John. According to the article, wearing St John garners you R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Back to grading. My outfit: a pair of Eileen Fisher pants that are too big but very comfy, topped by a Hanna Andersson pajama top. Both from thrift stores!

When I'm done grading (I have a few more days), I will resume commenting on my comments. Thanks, Readers!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Keeping Money in the Family: Family Capital

I've read here and there on the blogosphere thoughts on social capital, which seems to be a fancy way of saying do unto your community, so your community will do unto you. There's not as much of this around as in days of yore: we each seem to be living in our households, every kid with a full library of identical toys and Disney tapes.

Recently, I've been thinking of family capital. This probably means trust funds for those who have them! I'm thinking of my own more humble family version.

Miss Em, for instance, has been cutting my hair for several years. After witnessing my misery with professional cuts, she said, "I can do better." Even aside from the psychological benefits, I save, perhaps, $150/year. I can't remember when she started, but I suppose she has at least $600.00 in her family bank account. She cuts Frugal Son's hair too.

Meanwhile, I'm cooking up some freezer meals to bring her.

i suppose I'm the one who benefits, since when she saves money, I save money, and Miss Em remains under parental support at the moment. Still, we had the money to fund her course in Italy last summer.

I don't know how to transform the virtual family savings account into something "real." Mr. FS says that it is good to promote the idea that we are all in this together: that what benefits one family member, benefits all.

That is why Mr. FS and I fantasize about babysitting for our (at present imaginary) grandchildren. We could be adding at least $10/hour to our children's virtual bank accounts. Tax free for both worker and employer!

Does your family engage in similar money-saving activities?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

What is Your Image of Retirement Anyway?

Shelley wondered in a comment yesterday if I would take my mother in. In fact, I would. In fact, my mother is horrified at the very thought. It would be very low on her list of desired retirement options. She has said that, if she can no longer stay in her Florida condo, she wants to move to assisted living so she can be with friends. Not necessarily the friends she has now, but friends nonetheless.

As for me and Mr FS. We are unlikely to do what my parents did: move AWAY from the area where they had lived for many years (and where one child still lived...and lives) to move into a condo/golf community with constant social activities. Mr. FS and I hope we can move TO wherever at least one child settles. We're hoping that would be OK with our children.

My parents and Mr. FS's parents had no interest in babysitting for grandchildren. My parents took a few weekends when Mr FS and I had professional obligations. Mr FS and I, by contrast, hope that our children don't wait so long to have kids, because we would love to do a lot of childcare.

I guess that in days of yore, people didn't have so many choices.

Do you know what you want to do?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Elderly Parents and Overspending: Responsibilities

Ahhhhhh. Since my anonymity has long since been compromised . . . an embarrassing topic. What do you do when you see an elderly parent overspending?

My mother is 81. My father, who handled all the money, died almost three years ago, during the depths of the economic meltdown. Three days after he died, my mother got an accountant (a neighbor). Four days after that, she put half her money into the hands of an advisor, recommended by the accountant. The other half is in TIAA-CREF. The advisor has been urging her to take that money out and let him manage it. The advisor has not told either her or me (I asked him directly) how he is compensated. He did tell me that he and his wife made $700,000 in 2007.

Anyway, my mother has been totally transparent about her assets. I noticed that she is taking more than 10% from the TIAA account. I told her that is not a sustainable withdrawal rate, even for an 81 year old.

I don't want to go into the details of her spending at the moment. I did get her to call someone at TIAA, who told her that her money would run out in 9 years.

I guess it's good that I'm pathologically frugal! My mother gets angry at me as the bearer of bad news. My un-frugal sibling said that the advisor seems like a great guy!

So...what does one do when one sees an elderly parent overspending? Any advice would be appreciated.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cheap Chic for Your Home: Burlap and Indian Print Spreads

Aside from de-cluttering, which is free, are there any home decor items that are truly frugal? I've been giving this some thought and there don't seem to be many candidates.

Years ago, in a small town in Michigan, the town librarian bragged about her chair that cost a quarter. Further questioning uncovered the fact that she spent $250.00 on fabric and labor for reupholstery. This was in 1986.

A few years ago, one of the rich ladies in my town insisted that her couch only cost $250.00 to reupholster. After a bit, I figured out that this was exclusive of fabric.

In other words, I remain skeptical. Often, what you save in money, you spend in time, which is why antique dealers often have so much neat stuff: they spend all their time shopping.

So here are my candidates.

1. Burlap: This costs only a few dollars a yard. i first saw burlap curtains at a fancy shop in my town. It is still going strong and looks amazingly like linen (to me).

2. Indian print Bedspreads. These are still handblocked. Strangely, the French provencal fabric we all swoon over was originally made as a cheaper copy of the pricy Indian imports. Of course, this was over 100 years ago.

Two questions: can you think of anything else that would qualify?

And also: where can you buy Indian print spreads nowadays? They used to be available on every street corner, but no more.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Free Music and Free Enterprise

We were lucky to notice that--contrary to the info from my source--Museum Day for New Orleans was yesterday, September 24. When I figured this out, we jumped into the car and hightailed it to the New Orleans Museum of Art, where we saw an interesting show of religious figures from India.

That left today free for another free cultural opportunity: Musica di Camera, an early music group, will be performing for free at a nearby Abbey.

The Abbey is a beautiful place. The church has some incredible murals, painted in the 30s (I think) and recently restored. One of my friends worked there during the restoration and I got to meet the art restorers--an itinerant husband-wife duo.

You may have heard of this place: it has been much in the news because the Louisiana Funeral Directors sued the monastery: asserting that it was against state law to sell monk-made coffins. The monks are winning so far, but the case is destined--so it says in the news--for the Supreme Court.

Two cultural events in one weekend. What bliss. Did you have any wonderful experiences this weekend?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My Bad! Museum Day is Sept 24 and Sept 25

My "source" was mistaken. Anyway, we're off to the big city to see a show. Link is in previous post.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cheap (FREE!) Culture: Smithsonian Museum Day

Have all you (USA) residents heard about Smithsonian Museum Day? Museum Day is Sunday 9/25 and scads of museums all over the US are participating. You can check what museums are participating in your area and print out a free ticket for 2 on the Museum Day site. You can see the link here.

Is anyone taking advantage of this?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Garnet Hill 25% off Everything (almost) and another sale...

Is 25% off frugal? Only if it's something you need or really want that doesn't normally go on sale. Garnet Hill, the catalog whose aesthetic I have been swooning over for more than 20 years, is celebrating reaching its Facebook goal--with a 25% off all full-priced merch AND free shipping. TODAY ONLY. YOU MUST LINK THROUGH FACEBOOK PAGE.

Am I going to buy anything? No. Yes, I swoon over the Eileen Fisher and the boots, but I am TOOOOO CHEEEEEEEP. However, if I was also swooning over some of the furniture, this would be a good time to buy, since it never goes on sale.

Also, my bete noire--Chico's--has a bunch of stuff for $9.99. Plus, there's a code for 20% off everything right at the top of the page. Site is down right now, so you'll have to link yourself.

You did it! With your help, our Facebook community has grown to 35,000! As a thank you for spreading the word, take 25% off all full-price items AND get FREE SHIPPING through Thursday, September 22*, just click through the link below and your discount will be automatically adjusted in your shopping cart! Keep sharing us with your friends --- the more, the merrier and watch for other exciting things coming to Facebook in the coming months!

* Save 25% + Free Shipping offer is valid through midnight ET September 22, 2011. Offer is valid for Free Standard Ground Shipping and does not apply to Express Next-Day or Express 2nd Day shipping fees. Offer applies to full-price merchandise total and does not include the purchase of Gift Cards, gift packaging, monogramming, or items from our online Sale & Clearance section. Excludes Hanky Panky, Hanro, Patagonia, Wacoal, Company C, Dash & Albert and Simon Pearce. Your savings will be reflected in your shopping cart. May not be combined with other offers. Not redeemable on prior purchases.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Gift from singlemomrichmom: Early Retirement Extreme

Waiting on my doorstep: a package from Canada. Hmmmmm. Yes! A book sent to me by the great blogger singlemomrichmom: her copy of the fascinating tome by the very interesting Jacob, of earlyretirementextreme.

I'm thrilled to have the book. Jacob brings the brains of a physicist to questions about how we might want to live. For a taste of his way of thinking: he has a post titled not How much do you need to retire, but How little do you need to retire?

I'm probably too old to retire very early, plus I like my job. Still, it's inspiring to see what one can do.

So thanks to Jacqjolie for her generosity. Check out her blog: it's a great read.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What's In Your Pantry? A Meal in Two Minutes or Less

Miss Em called this morning. She observed that few of her friends have anything to eat in their off-campus apartments and so must go out--to grocery store or to restaurant--when they are hungry. She was surprised by this.

I replied that her own grandma has a kitchen with few groceries, necessitating a trip to the store for every meal. Ditto for the other side of the family.

The thing about shopping for each meal--or going out--is that after that meal you are back at square one. This lack of a system is wasteful of both time and money.

So, for the one area of domesticity in which I have skills, let me--yet once more--sing the praises of the pantry. Miss Em has a little pantry in her dorm: oatmeal, boxed soy milk, coffee, tuna, peanut butter, canned beans, canned tomatoes, rice, and a few other things.

My pantry has all that and more. My two-minute emergency meal is a bean and cheese burrito. If that's too much work, I always have at least one can of New England clam chowder, a convenience food I find acceptable.

I get hungry with amazing frequency--and hunger is swiftly followed by dizziness. I suppose my best frugal habit has its origin in my metabolism.

Do you have a Two-Minute Meal?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Shoe Polish Question for Chanelistas, Frugalistas, and Fashionistas

Now and again I mention that I have a pair of Chanel loafers courtesy of Goodwill. They are the comfiest shoes I've ever put on--alas, since I doubt I will be buying a replacement.

Anyway, they are rather scuffed by now and two of my students--who were admiring the interlocked C's on the front--told me I should polish them. Naturally, polishing shoes is one of the skills I am lacking. I am sure I can figure it out.

Question: can I use any old shoe polish or is there a particular polish for super-expensive footwear?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whole Foods $20 voucher for $10 via LivingSocial

You probably have seen this, but in case you haven't: you can get a $20 Whole Foods voucher for $10 through LivingSocial, which is one of those Groupon type outfits.

I find most of the offers unappealing: so far Mr FS and I have sprung for an art museum membership. Most others (for restaurants we aren't enticed by or for services--pedicures and the like--we don't want) we delete without reading. But we did get our voucher and hope Miss Em will take advantage also.

Here's the notice on a "Deals" site.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Do You or Would You Couch Surf?

We saw Frugal Son off yesterday. He left some stuff behind: a few single socks (the mates are perhaps in Paris?), some dirty cups, and AN IDEA. Couch Surfing. This is what it sounds like: an on-line community where you can seek or offer overnight accommodations.

Frugal Son has done it a few times, most recently in Portland with a few friends. Since he is 22 I can't really say anthing about his activities! Miss Em (age 20, so still under my care) did it (without telling us) in Greece when her accommodations fell through (I have a panic attack as I think about this incident, about which I know nothing).

I figured this was something for which my age disqualified me. Why would I do this when I can afford a humble hotel? Why would I stay with some hipster types? Who would want me, anyway? Then I was peering over Frugal Son's shoulder as he tried to find accommodations in Paris. Opportunity one: a couple working for advanced degrees in Paris. Opportunity two: a family with two pre-teen kids, who take surfers in Paris and in their old house in the south of France. These people all sound so interesting!

The system is self-regulating, with ratings for hosts and guests much like the EBay community in its early days. We loved our visits in France last summer, where we stayed with friends-of-friends-of friends for a few nights.

Frugal Son made a pre-flight phone call to his grandma, age 82. The plan is that she will fly to France next spring and then she and Frugal Son will make a trip to her childhood city: Vienna. When he told her about his couch surfing line-up, she said, "Oh, I want to do that!"

Who knows? Would you do it?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

To Save Money on Ink Cartridges: New Laser Printer

The few weeks before transitions--end of semester, graduation, leaving on vacation--are incredibly productive. You do all the stuff you've been putting off. Frugal Son, who is leaving tomorrow for at least a year in France, has been bugging us about our printer--a cheap one that required pricy and short-lived ink cartridges. We read somewhere that printer ink is the most valuable liquid in the world. Even Hewlett-Packard, which is getting out of the computer biz, is staying in the ink cartridge biz: that's where the money is.

Here is the printer Frugal Son picked out for us. The printing costs are a fraction of our previous printer. The quality seems fine, but we're not doing anything very fancy.

The newest member of our family. No, it does not replace Frugal Son. So glad we put an end to our procrastination on this.

Have you replaced a money-sucking product recently?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Au revoir, mon fils and an idea for the recent graduate

Frugal Son is home for two more days and then off to his new job in France. Yes, job. Low-paying, but that's OK. In fact, I would love the job myself. He--along with a squadron of others--will be assisting in English language classes all over France. His pay: around 800 euros a month after taxes. HOWEVER, he will only work for 7 months, which include 8 weeks of vacation!

He just found out that he is one of the lucky ones who will receive free room and board right at the lycee where he will work. So--as he said--My salary just went up. His work week is 12 hours/week! Because of his free room and board, he will have plenty of money for travel.

What's the idea? Go abroad, graduate. Every American is in possession of something desired the world over: the English language. Many recent grads are heading to Korea, for instance, which is noted for its extremely high pay. Korea, in fact, has become the place of choice for grads with student debt: housing is provided, costs are low. You can pay off some--or all--of your debt in a few years and see Asia on the side.

Besides, it looks good on your resume. Living abroad gives you skills only talked about in today's popular major: international studies.

I have read so many sad articles about recent graduates un- and under-employed. No, I will not link to them.

Isn't Frugal Son lucky?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Why Aren't You Frugal Anymore?

So asked two of my students who found my not-so-secret blog. The post where I discussed my luxe-on-a-budget lunch at Restaurant August.

First, I should point out that my being LESS frugal than I am normally would be EXTREME frugality for others--not quite in the Amy D. of Tightwad Gazette category, but pretty darn close.

What I said to my inquiring students was this: I had three major financial goals, and I've reached two of them. Goal one was HOUSE. Goal two was COLLEGE for kids. Goal three is retirement, a scary proposition, but the only one left.

Once I realized that, we decided to live it up a little more. Just a little.

Have you reached any of your financial goals?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cutting Off the College Graduate: Thoughts

Frugal Son--a recent graduate--has asked me this a few times: Why do parents let their kids spend extravagantly in college and then--at graduation--insist on immediate financial independence? He went on to say that many of his friends, many of whom are from families more affluent than ours, lived a snazzy college lifestyle, with cars (and insurance!), lots of clothing, meals out, and so forth.

Then, according to Frugal Son, upon graduation, the ultimatum comes: You must be independent within x months. So from the upper-middle class lifestyle of riches . . . to rags, especially in this scary job market. Frugal Son said that for some of his friends, the ultimatum came suddenly upon graduation.

Frugal Son and I were discussing the fact that it might be better for mom and dad to put a rein on the student's spending during the college years. This would teach the student how to survive a somewhat less opulent lifestyle than the one they had growing up. It would also allow the parents some time to secret away bits of cash that might otherwise have gone to meals out and clothing purchases college-style. What a gift it would be to give the graduate a small dowry of sorts to make the transition easier!

So: do you think our idea--the dowry for the recent grad--is just MORE parental over-indulgence? Or is it sensible for parents who can squirrel away some extra money?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Frugal Splurges: Restaurant August for $20.11

Here is an update of our meal at Restaurant August, second installment of a conscious decision to be a LITTLE LESS OBSESSIVELY FRUGAL. We don't eat in restaurants all that much, primarily because I like my own cooking better than what we get in most restaurants; also because it is for us an easy way to save money for the big stuff. A while back (a long while, now that I think of it) we had some truly bad meals at New Orleans restaurants, the worst at NOLA, part of Emeril's empire. This was really embarrassing because we were being treated by relatives. Otherwise, we would have sent the food back--all of it.

Anyway, the COOLINARY prices--$20.00 or less for lunch--seemed a good occasion to dip our toes back in. It was a good experience. The food was good, the staff nice. Customers were a blend of upscale New Orleans types (a power party of people in power suits, including seersucker with Panama hat, Hermes ties in pink and baby blue on both men of the party), tourists, and regular old people. The power types ordered a la carte and the regular people ordered the COOLINARY selection.

Everyone got an amuse-bouche of what looked like a soft-boiled egg in shell. Turned out it was a layered fish mousse topped with local caviar, truffle oil, and a toasted brioche crouton. John Besh himself was there, having his picture taken with various patrons.

You really want to see the pictures, right? We had peach salads and pate to start; we had all three main courses, and the three desserts. We are a sharing family, so all was fair.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Graduation Lunch: Pretty Frugal

If you like reading menus, here are our choices for Frugal Son's graduation lunch. Luckily, we are a party of three, so we can try all the main courses and desserts.


(Choice of)

Washington Parish Watermelon Gazpacho
Covey Rise cucumbers, pickled red onions, mint


Salad of Grilled Chilton Peaches
Aceto baalsamico, basil pesto, bacon crisp, whipped ricotta

Main Course
(Choice of)

Crispy Mangalitsa Pork Belly
Creole cream cheese malfatti, mustard greens, tomato confit,
sauce blanquette


Pan Seared Gulf Sheepshead
Silverqueen corn custard, succotash, tomato vinaigrette


Brandade de Morue
Ravioli nero, mint persillade and soffrito marmalade

(Choice of)

Tart of Local Celeste Figs
Brown butter and bourbon ice cream


Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Croquant
Salted caramel and McEwen's buttered popcorn ice cream

House made Ricotta Custard
Candied citrus, toasted brioche, local pecans, and Aleppo honey


Excluding tax & Gratuity

What would you pick?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Treat Time! Frugal Food Splurges

I do have a tendency to be a little too hair shirt in the frugality department. I keep saying--to my family, not here--that I am going to loosen up. It's easy for me to loosen up in the travel department, as witness my blissful month in France. We came in way under budget on that one--mostly owing to the fact that we had a free place to stay, courtesy of Frugal Son's beloved teacher.

Frugal Son will be going back to France soon: he will be an assistant in a lycee. So exciting. Certainly, his recent graduation from college and his upcoming departure are good excuses for loosening up.

First loosen up: We bought soft shell crabs at the local grocery. Only $5.00 a piece, these are fried and made into po-boys.

Second loosen up: There's a Coolinary celebration in New Orleans: many famous restaurants are participating. So, we are taking Frugal Son for his graduation lunch to Restaurant August, part of the empire of John Besh, who has even served as a catalog model.

Third loosen up: Louisiana lump crabmeat is $9.99 a pound. So Frugal Son will make us crab cakes on Monday when we get home from work after a 12 hour day, weary.

These three treats will be under $100.00. Not bad for three threats.

If you want to check out some wonderful cookbooks for inspiration and temptation, see these!

What are your latest treats?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Listen to Funny: Debt Consolidation and Getting Out of Debt

Once again Funny About Money has taken the time to explain something: debt consolidators are not your friends. Some of these outfits are OK--sorta--but it's hard to tell the real non-profits from the faux non-profits. Funny mentions that she is often offered "free posts" by these companies: so one gets an advertisement disguised as a blog post.

All I know is that the two people I know who sought help from debt consolidation companies--more than TEN years ago--are STILL paying their debt. One person told me the debt has grown--and then listed all the reasons why this was a good thing (??).

The best book I've seen on getting out of debt is an inexpensive paperback based on the model of Debtor's Anonymous: How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously.

I learned a lot from this book; it is more than a get out of debt tome: it's also about how to value your life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Frugality 101: No Coupons Needed

I hate coupons, partly because I have enough trouble keeping track of the little bits of paper in my life, partly because I don't buy convenience foods and don't want to be tempted in that direction by freebies, and partly because the whole scene strikes me as obsessive and addictive. But that's just me. Yesterday, when I gave some students the first lesson in frugal grocery shopping (buy two peanut butters when it's on sale), they were amazed that I didn't use coupons. They had all seen the shows featuring extreme couponers on television--something I haven't done yet.

So I nosed around the internet and discovered that Teri--of The Grocery Game, a for-pay site that teaches you how to combine coupons with store sales--says that MOST of your savings will come from store sales. In fact, she says, you save about 50% with store sales. She says with coupons, you can save UP TO an additional 17%. Note the UP TO, by the way. Read it here.

I've been saying for years that I wouldn't save that much with coupons. I would have to buy a paper, for one thing, which would add even more clutter to my life. Now, thanks to an expert in the field, I KNOW that I don't need to use coupons.

Do you use coupons?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Frugality 101: How to Save Money on Food

Yes, again. This morning--as I was getting a cup of coffee--I was surrounded by eager faces. Was this because of my great presentation on The Wanderer? How about Shakespeare's Henry 4, Part 1?

No, everyone was listening because a student said "I need to learn how to save money on food." And I said, "I know how to do that." And I do. I do what I do without coupons, by the way.

The answer is stockpiling when stuff you use is on sale. How do you know when something is on sale? Just keep track of what you usually buy. You don't need to create a lengthy price book: I buy mostly coffee, cheese, pasta, rice, veggies,fruit, and meat: not that much to keep track of. Oh, and I'm addicted to peanut butter, which I read is going to be in short supply next spring. OH NO!

I used to buy two bags of lentils back in grad school, so I wouldn't starve. All I bought this week: grapes at 99 cents a pound. Everything else came out of my stockpile.

This works like a snowball. After a few years you can tackle a gruesome expense--like a root canal. Or do something fun. I did both last year.

What's on your shopping list this week?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Punishment of Savers: Why Save?

It's not like you don't know this: savers have been punished over the past few years and will continue to be punished. That is because interest rates are artificially low: this benefits businesses and borrowers, but not individuals looking for some safe returns. This is especially bad for the elderly and retired, who have no income coming in.

If you don't believe me, the Wall Street Journal wrote about it.

My high-yield savings account is now at 1%. Recently, a financial mag had a headline trumpeting "Get 5 times more for your savings!" What they meant was that you could move money from a .2% account to 1%. That wouldn't make much difference, unless you had a big balance. The $5000 account would get $50 vs $12--good for some groceries, I guess. Oh yeah--you have to pay taxes on the interest, so the spread just contracted.

So why save? What else is the frugal person to do?

How I wish my children were in the market for a house!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Easy, Quick, and Even Frugal Cooking

A few days ago, Deja Pseu. chic blogger, said in passing that she was in a bit of a cooking rut. While I can't help her with the style rut that was the main subject of her post, I am a cookbook reader and lazy cook. Those qualify me as an expert.

I wrote about Marian Burros a while back, but I probably had no readers then, so I will repeat myself. Burros, who was also New York Times restaurant critic for a bit, wrote about food politics, health, and cooking. Her recipes are easy, health-conscious, and quick. She has an excellent palate and everything comes out, which is not always the case with cookbooks, especially those by celebrity chefs.

Deja Pseu said her husband was a picky eater, I think. Marian's recipes are a bit foodie, but nothing is outlandish. She also presents her recipes in menu format, so you really don't need to think.

Would le Monsieur like this? Chicken oreganato, brussels sprouts with tomato sauce, Greek salad? Probably he would wince at the sprouts, but you could do another veggie.

Or how about this? Scallops with garlic and parsley, Sherley's tomatoes, curried rice.

These are 30 minute meals, by the way, and Marian provides a 'game plan" telling you the order in which to prepare things.

Marian's books were big sellers back in the day. You can pick up one for pennies on Amazon. No doubt you can get some at your library. If you happen to have a credit at, my fave books are available!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On-line Shopping: Good Deals? Surveillance?

Every now and again I think I should mention the discount site Sierra Trading Post. I first heard of them when I was sent a tiny catalog, with mostly men's outdoor wear and gear. Over the years the company has gotten more and more successful and the catalogs--and now the website--have gotten so unwieldy that, afflicted by too many choices, I don't buy anything.

One reason I love the company is that it is among the few with a no-questions asked, no time limit return policy. I looked over the site a few days ago and found that they carry all sorts of desirable stuff, some even for fashionistas. So, for the sporty, they carry Keens. For the middle-aged comfort-oriented woman, they carry Lilla P. And for the fashionista they carry Lafayette148. And much more.

Needless to say, I was hooked by some (forgive me fashionistas) jean leggings. They were half price. I put them in my cart and decided to think about them for a few days.

The VERY NEXT DAY I received a 40% off coupon/free shipping offer. Now, I get these all the time and just delete. I am wondering if the offer was triggered by having the items in my cart, languishing unbought.

Does anyone know? And should we be worried about surveillance? I still love the company.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Economics: Little Picture, Big Picture

There's so much wonderful stuff to read around the blogosphere. I had a lot of catching up to do. Two pieces that struck me--especially when juxtaposed--are by iamtheworkingpoor and grumpyrumblingsoftheuntenured.

Iamtheworkingpoor must be very busy: her grown kids moved back home, something common in these economic times. Here is what she has to say:

When you are on a frugal path with a goal you have to stay the course until your goals are met. If you jump too soon any small setback can put you right back where you were before. Keep your skills fresh, remember these times will not last forever, celebrate small victories, and plan out your future without losing sight of your goals.

That's the little picture. Then, from Nicole and Maggie, two social scientists (?) who may even be economists (?), we have the big picture: what needs to be done to get us out of the economic pickle we are in. Here's the graph. They seem to have turned off the comment button, probably a wise move.

Here I am in my little picture world, thinking about Shakespeare and other wonderful things and also filling boxes with Miss Em's back to school needs. She gets back tomorrow!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

College Costs and Parental Resentment: After Graduation

No, not my resentment. I have noticed a common theme in my chats with parents of recent grads: resentment at the costs.

I was chatting with a volunteer at the Food Bank Thrift the other day. I mentioned that I was searching for some nice clothes for Frugal Son, a recent grad.

Her:Do you feel that you were paying to fund a small country?

Me: No. Frugal Son made use of TOPS, a Louisiana free tuition program. He also got some other scholarships. I'm so glad he chose to go to a public institution.

Her: My daughter didn't. She went to *** (some private college I've never heard of in Iowa??? It must be fairly obscure if I've never heard of it.).

Me: Oh, well at least she's done. I hope it was a good experience.

Her: She liked it. I paid for it all. Then she went to grad school for physical therapy and dropped out after a semester. She's working at the Y and living at home.

Me: It's great that she has a job! And a lot of kids are living at home, so that's OK too.

Her: No, it's not OK. I told her to figure out what she wants to do. She's going to have to pay for it herself.

WOW!!! I don't know if I managed to convey the resentment and even anger emanating from this normally sweet-natured woman.

Anyway, it's probably too late for the soon-to-be college students, who have already made their choices and paid their tuition. Still, the message to parents has been let your child follow his or her bliss. The message from colleges is we're worth it! The abysmal job market for recent grads has perhaps revealed to parents some unarticulated and unacknowledged expectations.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Am I TOO Cheap? Airplane Food and Icelandic Wisdom

The above question sometimes worries me. I am frugal by upbringing (frugal parents), necessity (many years in school), and marriage (frugal husband--yay!). My frugal habits are so--well--habitual that it never would occur to me to buy food on an airplane. Do you indulge in such things?

To and from France, we flew Icelandic. The flight attendants wore snazzy outfits, the fleece blankies were cozy, the water bottles were stylish. BUT--even on a 3 hour leg and a 5 hour leg--no free food was served, except to first class and to all kids. (I thought long international flights served meals???)

I still have the brochure for MATUR & DRYKKUR: sandwich for 5 euros, cookie for 2 euros, pasta salad for 10 euros. Almost everyone bought food, as far as I could tell. That includes the family with a kid across the aisle. The kid rejected his free sandwich and ate only the free snacks. The parents tossed the sandwich and purchased two sandwiches for themselves. Am I the only one who thinks that is weird?

Anyway, Mr FS and I munched on food we brought from home. The Icelandic snacks looked good though!

Interestingly, the airport in Iceland offered free postcards with Icelandic sayings. I took the one with the frugal message: Everything is hay in hard times.

Do you buy food on the plane?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where's My Emergency Fund? On my Credit Card!

No, don't worry. I'm not counting on credit cards to fund emergencies. But I was rather nervous about expenses for my long sojourn in France, which extended over two credit card bills. So--since my emergency fund isn't earning anything to speak of--I overpaid my credit cards, both of them.

As it happened, we spent a lot less than anticipated. So when I got my credit card bills, I found a big, fat credit. My emergency fund, however, is a bit on the meager side.

I'm not worried, since we are due for paychecks at the end of the month. If my emergency funds were earning the 5-10% I can remember from not all that along ago, I would think twice about overfunding. But the dangers of NOT paying a credit card bill are known to all: huge fees, interest payments on all your new charges, and so on.

Do you have any tricks like this for when you're on the move and might not be able to pay your bills?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Summer (Financial) To Do List and Scary Financial News

At the end of the summer, I am always filled with sadness over things left undone. There are always many. But as I was cleaning up--as we prepare for our last family visit for the summer--I found a list.


Yes, I did all those things. Thanks to the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which covers college textbooks, we got a hefty refund, all of which is going to our next summer's travel. Returning unsatisfactory items to LE and LLB is being a conscientious consumer, something my Frugal Dad would have been proud of.

The scary financial news coming every day is reminding me of the dreaded year 2008. Honestly, all I can do is focus on my little frugal ways.

Are you scared by the news these days? How's your To do list?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Oh No! Goodwill is Moving!

No sooner do I return from my long vacation in France and my short vacation in Massachusetts than I learn the news: Goodwill is moving! To the building formerly occupied by Circuit City. It will no longer be one mile from my house (with Big Lots, a grocery store, Dollar Tree, and Walgreens), but about five miles away, near (UGH) Walmart. Just far enough not to go very often. Bliss must come from elsewhere, I guess.

To add insult to injury: I stopped in to scope things out and the selections were atrocious. It turns out that they are picking out all the best stuff for the new store, slated to open in September.

Karmically, this is a good thing. I have plenty to wear. I don't need anything except a bathroom remodel. So the net result will be less clutter: a good thing.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of response to your comments, people. I was using a tiny keyboard, which was a miserable experience. Many thanks for the comments!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Give Away: College Cooking Crash Course ebook

Do you know a clueless student who would like the little ebook Frugal Son and I put together last summer? Or would you like one for yourself? You don't need to be a college student to benefit from our 20 ingredient/2 weeks of meals/cheap/easy/low mess system. Oh yeah: no stove. But it's good even if you have a stove. You do need a rice cooker for some of the recipes.

Anyway, I will give away one copy on each blog: see College Cooking Crash Course.

Entry is easy: just leave a comment below. You can double your chances of winning if you leave a comment on both blogs. I'd love it if you'd tell all your friends, but that is not required. The winner will be chosen on Friday.

If you don't win this time, don't despair. I'll be doing this now and again.