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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!