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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Donating, Decluttering, Disaster

Mr. FS is driving to Tuscaloosa to pick up Miss Em. The rest of the semester has been canceled; finals are optional. Miss Em emailed a request list from the United Way: food, toiletries, clothing, linens, the usual.

So I am filling boxes and Mr. FS will drop them off at the collection centers. As usual, I need a kick in the butt to get around to giving back, paying forward, whatever you want to call it. I am sorry to say that I occasionally feel the pull of the object and resist giving it away. That's usually no big deal, but, in this case, the opportunity is now. By the time we return in the fall, the need will be much less. I have to force myself at times to let the object go.

Lesson 1 was the pull of the object. Lesson 2 was/is the realization that a lot of the stuff in my storage boxes would not be chosen by a recipient. Even giving some of this stuff would be an insult. To avoid dealing with my own issues, I will use Mr. FS as an example: how many boxes labeled "Work Tee shirts" does one need?

Interestingly, many of the tee shirts were given to us: blood donations, science fairs attended by others, school stuff. Since Mr. FS works in the yard a lot and does painting, we are the recipients of much tee shirt largesse. These NEVER wear out; they only acquire more stains.

So Readers: a confession. We threw out all but a few tee shirts. So far, I filled one box with shoes, one box with men's clothing, one box with women's, one extremely large box with sheets and towels, and one big shopping bag with soaps and stuff. I am only giving away NICE things.

I guess I should be glad to have so many nice things to give away.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Shopping List for Funny!

Thanks heavens for Funny About Money. First of all, I love her writing. Second of all, her dilemma at Safeway gives me an easy and (to me) enjoyable project to take my mind off all the suffering experienced by those in and around my daughter's college town of Tuscaloosa, AL.

I think Funny lives in Phoenix, so I moseyed over to the Safeway website to check their ads. The key to saving on food is to eat around the ads. Step 2 involves buying extra of canned/pantry/freezer items when they are on sale. As I keep repeating, I don't even use coupons. It takes a few minutes to look at the ads. My one frugal colleague and I do this at school on Wednesdays when the ads come out! Everyone laughs at us, but it will be a sad day when he retires and I lose my one frugal colleague.

Whoa! Prices at Safeway are kinda high!

Still, Funny found the chicken at 99 cents/lb. I would have bought the breasts, since they have more meat.

--Milk (I think Funny may have an allergy?) is half the price that I pay!
--Red seedless grapes are 99 cents a pound. That's good.
--baby carrots are the same. Good too. These last a long time, as do grapes.
--kiwis are 3/$1. Nice treat.
--squash is 99 cents/lb.
--oranges ditto.

How about a stir-fry with chicken, squash, and carrots? Or a creamy pasta with the same?

Sometimes I think I'd like to be a professional grocery shopper.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Back to Basics

As you might not know, Miss Em, the younger of my hostages to fortune,* lives in Tuscaloosa. We were among the lucky ones: not only is she OK, but she was able to call on a friend's cellphone shortly after the storm passed through to tell us she was OK. She is now at a friend's house in a city less hard hit.

She called to say that she doesn't know what to do with herself. School is now over for the year (no finals). But one can't go live it up at Anthopologie when you've just left a place where friends--or friends of friends--may have died. Not to mention all the other ruin you witnessed. So what can you do to honor the people who suffered more than you did?

Well, I certainly don't know the answer to that one. Miss Em said, "It was easier after Katrina." True. We spent the days (no power) sitting around and sweating, walking downtown to see what the Red Cross was serving, getting all excited when we got granola bars. When we were lucky, we would drive to the Target parking lot and pick up goodies handed out by volunteers from all over. By goodies, I mean water.We couldn't do that very much because there was nowhere to buy gas. So we kept busy.

So what to do? All I can think of is to keep being frugal. By frugal I mean being mindful of resources, including, but not limited to money. What else can we do?

Any ideas?

*He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune, Francis Bacon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Food Prices on the Rise? Yes, but...

Food is still very cheap in the U.S. So says my Frugal Son. He's right. Plus, Americans spend a relatively small percentage of income on food. The global/philosophical picture notwithstanding, I still like to practice my frugal ways on food.

During a recent trip to San Antonio for a conference, Mr. FS and I hit a local grocery for some snacks for the long drive home. It seemed to me that food prices in San Antonio are lower than they are here. In fact, boiled crawfish (which has been the subject of many local laments) was incredibly cheap, not that one wants to spend a 9 hour trip in the company of boiled crawfish.

So, how do you save money on food? Easy. Read the ads. I scanned the ads today and discovered that Albertsons has the most stuff on sale. Now I'm only going to buy one or two things since I am still trying to eat from the pantry and freezer. But if you lived here, this is what you could get.
--whole chicken @ .49/lb
--pink lady apples @ .99/lb
--red seedless grapes @ .99/lb
--celery,green beans,sweet potatoes @.99
--tuna @ .59
--barilla pasta @ .88
--camellia red beans @ .88/lb
--frozen veggies @ .88/bag

For $20.00, you could get a lot of food, some of which could last more than a week. Notice that I didn't mention coupons, because I am too lazy and messy to think about using them.

Hmmmm. A Waldorf-esque salad? Salade nicoise? Plain old roast chicken? Chicken chil1? So many wonderful possibilities.

Do you pore over grocery ads?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Do You think/Know about Medical Tourism?

Poor Funny About Money. She has a terrible dental bill coming up! I am very aware of these, since Mr. FS and I have never had dental insurance. In the past five years or so, I've had four root canals plus one implant. Mr. FS has had a procedure or two.

I think dental procedures are horribly overpriced. Sorry. That's how I feel. So you can bet your booty that once I retire--or maybe before--I will consider a trip to Costa Rica or Mexico if I need something that can be planned in advance. It's not like the American professionals are so great anyway: SOMEBODY messed up my root canal/crown and I ended up with an implant! SOMEONE messed up several root canals needed by a friend: she now goes to the LSU dental school.

I suppose I'm fairly nonchalant about medical tourism because a fellow student of Frugal Son needed an emergency appendectomy in China: she is fine. I know someone who was destitute and so signed on to teach English in China so she could have a baby there--about 25 years ago. Mother and child are doing just fine.

Also, Miss Em went on a date with the most handsome and sweet exchange student from Mexico. Alas,they had to part ways. His father is a doctor and the student promised to recommend dentists to us and doctors to a friend who has lupus.

Interestingly, the new cashier at Goodwill (around my age, very well-educated, just moved from Oregon--what is her story, I wonder) told me her ex-husband runs a website about finding a good Mexican dentist! Of course, I forgot to get the info, but I will, Funny, I promise!

Would you travel to save money on a medical procedure? Do you know anyone who has done it and lived to tell the tale?

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Favorite San Antonio Spot: Goodbytes Cafe

We love going to san Antonio, but internet sccess is sometimes a pain when you're on the road. Imagine how thrilled we were, while strolling to the famous Mexican market, where we planned to buy a pastry at Mi Tierra, when we came upon the GOODBYTES CAFE.

This is an internet cafe (with free access!) attached to a Goodwill store. Can we say bliss? I usually find a book or two there.

I love San Antonio. It is a very inexpensive city to visit. The good people of the city worked to keep the Alamo free from Disney-ish embellishments. The Riverwalk is beautiful.

This time, I am determined to find a tortilla factory, so I can bring home REAL tortillas. You may hear from me, via the Goodbytes Cafe!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Frugal Bliss with Diana Phipps: More Frugal Decor, with a Luxurious Air

In case you don't know, Diana Phipps is a countess, whose family had to leave their ancestral castle in Czechoslovakia, owing to political changes. She now has returned and fixed up the castle, but for many years, she practiced frugal home design, while hanging out with the social and cultural elite.

Many years ago, when I was in graduate school, I spent a lot of time going to yard sales as a way of avoiding finishing my dissertation--oops, I mean, as a way of making ends meet. I bought a copy of Phipps's book Affordable Splendour. I was transfixed by her tales of ingenuity and making do; the results were luxurious and elegant, though not to my taste at the time.

Naturally, a friend borrowed the book right after I got it and lost it (her name was Rose). And I always wanted to look at it again. So, I put it on my wishlist at And lo and behold, it arrived yesterday.

Unlike those days, when I thought I might one day cover walls with fabric, figure out how to do staplegun upholstery, paint lovely trompe-l'oeil pictures on cabinets, make a wall look like tortoise shell, I now know that I hate doing things that require fine-motor skills. Plus, I lack Diana's fearlessness and patience.

As it happens, I--older and wiser--love her style. I will never attain it, because, in addition to lacking her skills at DOING all these things, I lack the discrimination that let her find all these neat bits and pieces (which she uses in clever ways) at flea markets and auctions. Here is the picture of her living room, courtesy of another blog.

And her writing style! It probably helped that she numbers among her friends Gore Vidal and Antonia Frasier; still, the book has a really distinctive voice.

I look for frugal friends everywhere and how thrilling to find a frugal countess. This is another book to check out of your library (or buy on Amazon). I link to one that shows the cover, but there are copies available for under $1.00!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Make Your House Look Better...for Free

Yesterday, I wrote about how Susan Heller, my own Princess of Chintz, is helping me with fabrics and colors. I have the basics--couch, chairs, rug, and so on. And those basics are nice.

The reason my basics are nice is that I read a book a while back that explained how to USE WHAT YOU HAVE. In fact, that's the name of the book.

Lauri Ward recounts how she became unhappy with the traditional mode of interior design: urge the client to throw everything out, replace with stuff that's not necessarily nicer, and charge according to how much the client spent. This book--and she has others, but the first is the best--explains how to organize (and at times eliminate) what is in your space to make it look more coherent.

The two that were most useful to me involved how to arrange your sofa and chairs (and Lauri explains why she loathes love seats--you will too) and how to use pairs to establish a sense of symmetry and order. She says that if you do what she says, your room will look better in a few hours. She is correct.

I have to say that this is one of the UGLIEST design books I have ever seen. Unlike most design books, this one features furniture that is no doubt mostly worse than what you have. The photography is hideous.

But persevere and do what she says. She is right. In fact, once you read this, you can analyze the zillion dollar spaces in fancy magazines, and see the symmetry, and so on.

Now Lauri isn't great on color (that's why I need Susan). But this book is a great start in getting a space shaped up.

I bet your library has it, though it's mighty cheeeeep on Amazon. And I warned you: the photos are hideous.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Decorator: A Frugal Choice?

Amy Dacyczyn says it thus: Where we live has a marked effect on our sense of well-being. If we are happy in our home we have less need to leave it and spend money. As tightwads, how we feel about where we live is important.

So true. Unlike Amy, with the sense of neatness and order common to graphic designers, not to mention patience and a handy-streak, I remain a messy klutz,always yearning for beauty. I do live in a very pretty house, with high ceilings, tall windows, and old wood floors. That's 75%, if not more.

But the last bit always eluded me. I can almost, but not quite, get things the way I want. Once, when we visited my mother, I marveled at a pillow. How, I asked, did you find that fabric. It is perfect. Oh, Susan did it for me, was the reply. This scenario was repeated--with other pillows, a valance or two, and some upholstered stools. Susan has a color sense equal to any I have seen featured in glossy magazines.

Since my mother helped Susan leave the furniture store where she used to work, by recommending her to friends who needed home beautification, Susan is immensely grateful to my mother. That is why she is willing to give me three hours of her services for $250.00.

Does that seem like a lot? I don't make that much per hour, that's for sure. What do I get? I get an envelope filled with swatches, from which I can select and either order myself or have her send me yardage. I get some paint chips.

Even thinking about finding fabric and the right paint color makes me start to sweat. What would take me many hours that would most likely end in failure and remorse takes Susan perhaps 30 minutes.

With the rest of the time, she drew pictures of various things on print outs of the living room--showing me where to put things for maximum effect.

When she suggested fabric and paint for my kitchen/great room (how I loath that large ungainly space), the room was transformed. I never would have picked yellow bisque as a wall color--not liking yellow--but it is the perfect color. The fabrics are as beautiful in the space as the ones she picked for my mother.

Now my living room may stay a version of the color it is now--terracotta--or it may end up a blue--another color not on my radar. Here is my estimate of costs:

Susan: $250.00
paint: $40.00 (painting done by Mr. FS)
fabric: $200.00
sewing of several pillows and ottoman slipcover: $200.00
burlap drapes: $250.00
this and that: $200.00

Total: $1140.00.

That sounds like a lot for a frugal girl like me, but this is my treat for the year. I feel so lucky to have someone of her caliber work for so little. I know many people who hire decorators, and I never like what they do. I see lots of things I like in fancy magazines, but somehow I don't think Mario Buatta, the Prince of Chintz, would work for me.

Mario and Amy: As John Donne put it contraries meet in one.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Museum Memberships: Reciprocal Memberships, a Frugal Bonus

Back when I was an art-loving high school student, I joined the Museum of Modern Art. Later. I belonged to the Art Institute of Chicago. One good thing about joining museums--if you live close by--is that you tend to use the membership a lot. At least I did.

I haven't joined anything--except a Children's Museum--for a long time. Then--BINGO!--my one and only Groupon purchase was a membership to the Ogden Museum in New Orleans. The main draw was Ogden After Hours, which features performances on Thursday nights. I am embarrassed to say that we haven't made use of the membership yet. BUT WE WILL.

However, we will be going to San Antonio soon to attend a conference. We love San Antonio! I was exploring the museum situation. We will be there on a Thursday night, which is free night at the wonderful McNay Museum, which is in a beautiful house (now much augmented) in a beautiful setting.

Then--and I don't know how I thought of doing this--I checked the Ogden, to see if there were reciprocal memberships. BINGO once more! The Museum of Texan Cultures.

We've been to San Antonio numerous times and love it. If you are ever there, and are feeling poor, know that it has wonderful fast food, which will set you back about $5.00.

So, check your museum memberships. Often, you can get free admission to other museums. Frugal culture!

Do you belong to any museums?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Frugal Decor: Bedspring Chic

Every now and again, I noodle over to ruralintelligence, a blog or site or something that covers the Berkshires and environs. Thanks to Viktor Polatschek, a clarinet player with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, his niece--my mother--owns a little house on a lake near Tanglewood, home to the BSO in the summer.

While most of their articles deal with events pertaining to the uberartsy and/or uberwealthy--folk far above my ken--it's still fun to read. And they do often make a point of casting their eye upon the common folk.

Anyway, today I was noodling, when I came upon this: an article on folk art dealers. The proprietors of the Splendid Peasant now sell out of their home. I was wondering what the item over the fireplace was: it is a set of rusty bedsprings!

What an eye! What daring! What do you think?

By the way, my mother receives about $20.00/year in royalties from this:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Frugal Decor

I haven't written much about my treat for 2011: making my living room nicer. I have engaged the services of Susan Heller, a designer who owes her start in business to my mother. Because of her gratitude, she's making recommendations by email for a small hourly fee. I feel so lucky! This woman really knows what she's doing.

I will report back when I'm further along. Still, I love reading about thrifty beautification. Recently, the New York Times featured an article about Katrina patina: a couple (with the woman now a designer and shopkeeper) lost their house and rebuilt and refurnished thriftily. Love it!

There are pics of a plastic Dollar Store mirror, with the look of an antique. There are pictures of rooms filled with fabulous thrifty finds.

What often strikes me about the homes of designers is how often people make frugal choices for themselves and pricey choices for their clients. Like financial advisers, designers often charge based on a percentage of purchases: the more you spend, the more they make. I am lucky that Susan is charging me for only three hours of work. Of course, I have to do a lot of the work myself.

Back to designer choices. I noted, in the days when I was doing my kitchen, how often the homes of designers and architects featured Ikea cabinets. For clients, custom is often the order of the day.

Back to Katrina patina. The story links to the designer's wares on 1st Dibs. A rather pricey group of items. One item--now sold--is a painting by Amanda Stone Talley. Paintings by Talley run in the thousands. But a look at slide 5 shows a painting on a drop cloth from Lowe's done by the designer that looks a lot like a Talley painting.

I don't want to discuss the ethics of this painting. But note how thrifty practice is celebrated in the article. I was quite inspired by the story. In fact, it reinforces my belief that there is always a frugal solution for whatever it is you desire.

Any thoughts? Aesthetic or ethical?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Time and Money: Using Resources

I surprised myself the other day. I had to send a picture of some curtains to my adviser on such things. I didn't have curtain rods, so I bought some cheapies at Big Lots, even though I was pretty sure they were too skimpy. They WERE too skimpy. Nevertheless, I had Mr. FS put them up for the photo.

Now I can't return them. I will have to replace them. Big Lots is less than a mile from my house, in the frugal line up (grocery, Goodwill, Walgreens, Dollar Tree). I was there anyway. I didn't feel like driving in one direction to Penney's or the other to Bed Bath and Beyond. Each is within a few miles of my house, but the post-Katrina population boom means that those drives are stressful, plus, when I have a lot of choices, I spend too much time deciding. I estimate that each trip would have cost around 2 hours.

So I weighed two hours against $18.00 and decided that I would sacrifice the Big Lots curtain rods (via donation, of course!) and get better rods when I was doing shopping for other things in those areas.

How do you choose between time and money? Did I make a good choice?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cleaning Out the Pantry: Mushu with Broccoli Slaw

I have been quite insulated from the rising food prices that are so much in the news, because I am ramping up my clean out the pantry project. Last week, we spent $12.00 on food, and I could have spent even less. In about three months I will start complaining about food prices.

One of the discretionary food items I bought was a pack of broccoli slaw, which I picked up from the REDUCED section. Mr. FS and I used to refer to this as USED FOOD. Most people use the slaw in the now ubiquitous Asian slaw recipe, which includes a pack of ramen noodles. You know the one: even if you've never made it, you've no doubt had it at a pot luck.

I like this recipe for an Asian-esque meal, which--fusion-style--also uses flour tortillas. The recipe is from Desperation Dinners.

Mindless Mu Shu Chicken

Makes 4 servings

Cook's note: You can substitute broccoli slaw for half of the cabbage coleslaw, if desired. If you can't find a 16-ounce bag of the coleslaw mix, use 16 ounces of fresh shredded cabbage.

5 teaspoons vegetable oil or peanut oil

1 bunch green onions (for 1 cup chopped)

1 large package (16 ounces) coleslaw mix (see Cook's note)

1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 to 3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/4 cup sherry or white wine

1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon bottled minced garlic

2 teaspoons Asian (toasted) sesame oil

8 small (8-inch) flour tortillas

Hoisin sauce or plum sauce, to taste

Heat vegetable oil in an extra-deep 12-inch skillet over medium heat.

Slice the green onions, using all of the whites and enough of the tender green tops to make 1 cup. Immediately add the onions, coleslaw mix and mushrooms to the skillet. Increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, cut the chicken through its width (the short way) into 1/4-inch-wide strips, adding to the skillet as you slice. Continue to stir and cook until the chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

Mix the cornstarch into the sherry in a small jar that has a lid. Shake well to combine.

When the chicken is done, shake the sherry mixture again, and add it to the skillet along with the soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil. Stir well. Cook until the mixture thickens slightly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Place the tortillas between two paper towels, and microwave, uncovered, until warmed through, about 1 minute.

To serve, spread hoisin or plum sauce on each tortilla. Divide chicken mixture over. Roll up, burrito style, and serve.

PER SERVING: 519 calories; 24 g protein; 63 g carbohydrates; 5 g fiber; 16 g fat (4 g saturated); 33 mg cholesterol; 1,190 mg sodium

I'm going to substitute for or leave out the chicken and various other things. This is a somewhat gimmicky recipe (and the book is filled with even more gimmicky recipes), but I like it a lot: it satisfies my Chinese-food-of-childhood cravings, which used to be satisfied at Kwong Ming in Wantagh. OMG: the restaurant still exists!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Gift Cards with Credit Card Points: Worth It? Too Much Trouble?

I just discovered that Chase Freedom Card occasionally lets you swap points earned for discounted gift cards. Some come with a 10% discount, others with 20%.

As it happens, I have a bunch of points which I planned to swap for good old cash. I feel rather pressured by gift cards. 20% is a lot, though, especially if (and only if) you were going to buy an item anyway. Here is the info.

I have almost enough points to get something I want from Pier1: a rattan stand in which I want to put fruit and veggies. Lands End also has a 20% discount and I JUST spent about $40.00 there for some luggage. You can also use Lands End gift cards at Sears, if you want to get a washer there.

I don't know how often Chase offers things like that. I mostly use a Cash Back AmEx. But I spend a few hundred dollars a year at Lands End, so waiting for those discounted gift cards may be the better deal.

Or is it too much trouble to even think about? What would you do?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Victory, Panic, Reprieve

Like Funny About Money, I had a customer service win recently: the email I sent to Asics about Frugal Son's fallen-apart shoes was successful! I sent in the old shoes and they will send a new pair! Savings: about $60.00.

I didn't post about this because of a financial panic, also involving Frugal Son. As you may know, he spent 2009-2010 in Nantes, studying French. Upon return, he had to get credits from the home insitution. Hello, Bureaucracy! Hello, Procrastination! In the meantime, his scholarship was affected by the delay in not getting credits.

"Oh, by the way, I just got a bill for $9200.00, retroactive. I'm sure it will work out."

Yeah, maybe. So Mr. FS and I called various places at the university and the state offices. So far, we have gotten a partial reprieve. As of Friday, the bill is down to $5200.00.

The problem with bureaucracies is that you don't know if you've done something wrong (or not done something) until it's too late. I've heard horror stories about students losing scholarships (in one case of about $16000) because of neglecting to fill out a piece of paper. I almost made a mistake myself.

Now that the total reprieve is in sight, I can be happy about the replacement of the defective shoes.

It seems that the little financial victories are often accompanied by panic-inducing dangers also of the financial sort.

But it's worth taking a chance with Asics I guess. Just be mindful of the scary bureaucracies that hold so much power over us.

Any good customer service lately?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Frugal Zeitgeist: Decluttering and Closets

As usual, I'm right in the zeitgeist, along with everyone else. I spent a hard day reorganizing a closet (Mr. FS's, still not done). Like everyone else, we have too much stuff. We live in an old house with very paltry storage space. Even so, we have too much stuff. Thank HEavens for tiny closets, I say. Big closets would just attract more stuff.

Anyway, I seem to be in synch with everyone else. According to the Wall Street Journal, Baby Boomers are trying to unload their household goods and there aren't too many takers. The couple profiled has more and fancier stuff than I do. It's good to know that we can upgrade if we so desire, but I confess I love my scruffy stuff.

One motivator to declutter all by yourself comes from contemplating what it would cost to hire someone to help you. Similarly, fantasies of closet renovation are dashed when you consider the likely price tag. Once again, the Wall Street Journal has just the article you need.

I save the cost of a professional organizer by consulting my hero, Don Aslett.

What's your best motivator?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Free Cultural Events

I am always amazed by how many free cultural events we have in my little town of 8500. Next week is amazing! I am sharing in hopes that you seek and find similar events wherever you live.

Tuesday: Julius Caesar. Free dress rehearsal. At my school.
Wednesday: Bonerama plays at the Trailhead downtown.
Thursday: Nothing, thank heavens.
Friday: Sunset at the Landing Concert.
Saturday: Louisiana Philharmonic concert followed by Spring for Art, a downtown art walk, with music, food, and art.
Sunday: concert at local church, featuring Michael Gurt, an amazing pianist. The concert is followed by a food and wine reception.

Except for the Tuesday event, all events are within a short walk of my house, another bonus.

Any exciting cultural events in your town?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Roth IRA for my Daughter

Ahhhh. A poignant moment. Miss Em earned about $1100.00 last year, so I urged her to start a Roth IRA. Of course, I had to help her through the complexities, which were exacerbated by computer glitches and other stuff. So a 15 minute on-line process ended up taking a lot of time.

Miss Em doesn't quite understand WHY I am so insistent on her Roth. I said, "In 40 years, when Mr. FS and I are gone, you will see this account and be happy you did it."

In case you are wondering, she got Vanguard STAR, a balanced fund, which is the only one with a $1000.00 minimum. We are putting it under our family account umbrella, so she is exempt from the low balance fee.

My college-age children earn very little money. They chose fully-paid-for scholarships, so we are happy to provide spending money and support summer programs. Both also volunteer in the summer. Their scholarships allow them the luxury of participating in service activities.

But when they earn some money, it goes into the IRA. Now our family has funded its Roths for 2010 and Mr. FS and I have funded for 2011. You have till April 18 to fund your 2010 Roth. JUST DO IT.

If you are lower-income, you may be eligible for a Saver's Tax Credit.

Do you love the Roth IRA as I do?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Frugal All-Clad Alternative?

Since I re-discovered my All-Clad pan (and set it next to its friend, the All-Clad saute pan), I have had All-Clad on the brain. But of course, "being as I am" (said by my precursor Eve in Paradise Lost when she tries to excuse her weaknesses), I had to check around for alternatives.

It doesn't take long to discover that (oh no!!!) Walmart makes a knockoff that is endorsed by none other than the overly-serious folks at Cook's Illustrated. Since I don't have a subscription to the magazine, I can't link to their discussion, but you can check out the discussion on Chowhound, wonderful and addictive site.

It seems that the Walmart model is undergoing some changes. Whatever. The old model (of which there are few left on site) is available in a set or two and in the very pan I crave: a 4-quart saucepan.

Here is the Amazon model.

The Walmart version is about 1/3 the price! A newer version, branded Better Homes and Garden, is also available.

So, dear readers, what would you do?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Are All-Clad Pans Worth the Price?

Well, I can't answer that one. They are expensive. Many years ago--before it was easy to find things on the internet--I read glowing reviews of All-Clad pans and decided I wanted to get a 12-inch saute pan. Being a frugal girl, I could not pay the $200plus price. So I started to search. Eventually--many many hours later--I happened upon a book in the library that had a reference to "Cookware and More," a store that sold All-Clad seconds.

I called up (this was before email) and eventually bought the pan of my dreams for about $100.00.

Now, you can find anything on the internet. At minimum wage, my search for the All-Clad probably made the pan cost well over the retail price I was so intent on beating!

What if you want an All-Clad now? The gorgeous All-Clad 6 quart saute pan.

However, if you are willing to give up the straight sides of the saute pan and get a frying pan instead, you can save a bunch.

That last one probably has somewhat less capacity than the saute pan. But the saute pan is so huge that I seldom use it, especially now that my household is down to two.

What about Cookware and More, now--like everything else--on the internet. My big saute pan is under $200; it's irregular.

Williams-Sonoma has a pretty good deal on an All-Clad 4-quart pan; it's the brushed aluminum, not the stainless steel.

As with everything else, you have to compare and contrast. If you are obsessive about getting good prices (as I am) you can waste a lot of your precious time seeking out the good deals.

I love my All-Clad, even though its purchase occasioned a goodly amount of cognitive dissonance.

The best deal in the entire universe of cookware? Everyone knows it's the Lodge cast iron frying pan!

How much time do you spend seeking out a bargain before giving up? Do you ever feel you spent too much time?

Friday, April 1, 2011

My New All-Clad Frying Pan

I have been pining for an All-Clad frying pan to supplement the huge saute pan I spent OVER $100 on about ten years ago (it's a lot more now--see below).

Guess what? I am the owner of one. As I was decluttering, I decided to pack away some of the pots I don't use too much. I'm keeping them because they might be desired by Miss Em or Frugal Son in the not-so-distant future. As I was packing things away, I uncovered--you guessed it--a 12-inch All-Clad with a $10.00 sticker. I must have bought it at a thrift and forgotten about it.

Unbelieveable. It says something about how all these bargains don't make a dent on my consciousness. I certainly neglected to honor the wonderful pan that came my way....when?

All-Clads are great. Now I just have to decide what I will get with the money I saved.

These are my beauties.

I don't have a lid, but this one does and is a pretty good deal for a lifetime pan.

Have you ever "lost" something wonderful because of clutter--mental and or physical?